Monday, May 8, 2017

Ready to Launch

 
 
My firstborn will graduate from the University of Virginia  in less than two weeks.  His four years there–really good years, I believe–passed in a nanosecond.  In metaphorical terms, he is perched at the edge of the nest, about to take flight.  He has been testing his wings for quite a while now, however.  He went away to camp.  He roadtripped to Bonnaroo.  He's an avid camper. Last summer he worked and studied for two months in Ireland.
 
Crowdsurfing at Bonnaroo? Check.
 
Petting a fox in Ireland? Check.
Three days after he graduates on May 20th, he's flying to Quito, Ecuador to explore South America with a group of friends.  His plan is to travel up and down the west coast to see what he sees and do what he does. Machu Picchu.  The Galapagos Islands.  Maybe even Patagonia. He hopes to spend a few weeks working at a farm that practices sustainable agriculture while he's down there. 
 
After that, he'll move to Austin, Texas to start a job at Oracle.  He's ready.  We've done our job.  He's thoughtful, intelligent, and positive. He's self aware and empathetic. He is full of youthful world-changing optimism. He'll graduate from a great school with an Economics degree and he has friends with whom he will remain close for a lifetime. We are of course extremely proud of what he already has achieved and the person he has become. We know he's ready. 
 
But are we? 
 
This is the crossroads that we parents reach eventually.  The moment we know has to come  The fact that it isn't a surprise doesn't make it any easier. We pour our love, time, energy, and money into raising our children in the hope that they will become better versions of ourselves, that they will go on to have opportunities and successes that may have eluded us. We raise our children so that we can let go.  Not completely of course, but enough.  There are thresholds to cross and facts to face.
 
 
The separation process began when we dropped him off in Charlottesville four years ago. College is the test run.  Can he take care of himself? Can we handle not being involved every day? In this time of helicoptering and overprotection, it's easy to be fooled into thinking that your child needs you for even life's basic things. Does he know how to write a check? (No one his age writes checks anymore.)  Can he do laundry? What will he do when he gets sick?  Thankfully, Jack didn't need us for any of these things.  As most parents eventually discover, our child was much more capable than perhaps we originally gave him credit for.   There is a point at which the artist has to step back from a work and say, "Enough.  It is done." So it is with parenting. We are never completely finished, but the majority of the work is now done. 
 
He'll move out of our house in early August to begin his professional life in Austin, TX. The room that has been his since he was a boy will ostensibly still be "his" room, but in reality it will become the guest room that we have never before had.  Will we keep the giant Carson Palmer Fathead sticker on his wall?  I doubt we will do anything initially, but eventually Carson will come down, which probably should have happened when he was traded to the Cardinals from the Bengals. Jack is a Bengals fan, not a Cardinals fan.
 
Austin will be a great place to visit.  It's first on my list of cities I most want to see.  I can't wait. Texas.  Yee Haw!  I don't suppose our initial introduction will be all that pleasant since I hear that Austin in August is absolutely not the place to be. Austin, however, is a vibrant city bursting at the seams with energy, music, entrepreneurship, and outdoor activities.  This college town seems like the perfect place for our son to start his post-collegiate life. 
 
For perhaps two hundred years my family stayed close to its roots in southeastern Virginia.  Generations and generations of my family lived and died in those counties that comprise southside Virginia. My generation has changed all of that. I have cousins and nieces now in Vermont, Florida, New Hampshire, California, Illinois, and Alabama as well as in Virginia. We are about to add Texas to the list.
 
My sister, who has been down this parenting road already, has advised me not to get too hung up on this.  There's nothing to fear, she tells me. Your children will always be part of your life.  With texting and free long distance and video chatting there are multiple methods of instant communication.  Besides, she says, if they live in a great city we will enjoy going to visit.  There's no finality to any of this. Austin is just the beginning.  Enjoy the ride with him!  I do have to admit that she is walking the talk.  They visit their daughters frequently.  They have the annual family vacation that now includes three grandchildren. The adult stage of their children's lives appears to have had little effect on the family dynamic.
 
We raise them in order to let them go.  Their success is our success.  I imagine we will find lots of reasons to visit Austin.  The Derailers playing at the Broken Spoke?  Yes. SXSW? Absolutely! BBQ festival?  Hang on, I'll be right there. And of course when Jack wants to come back to Charlottesville for a football game, we'll be there to meet him at Bunny and Joel's tailgate. We will even keep the too-short bed in "his" room for when he comes home to visit.
 
Good luck my boy!  I hope you always walk on the sunny side of the street!
 
 

 
 
 

 
 

Monday, March 13, 2017

Serendipity

I have written previously about synchronicity, the relationship between things and events that have no obvious link.  But what about serendipity?   Our daily lives are filled with the unlooked-for but "fortunate discoveries" that  define the term. However, the nature of those discoveries becomes serendipitous only when it leads to something else. Something good.

I may have had such an incident last Saturday.

I was sitting in an incredibly crowded airport terminal, having lucked into the seat when it was vacated just as I walked past.  After first making sure that there were no women or disabled veterans  or aged people in the immediate vicinity who might have made better use of the seat than I, I settled in to await the boarding call some 90 minutes hence. 

As flights departed more seats freed up, including the one next to me. I was scanning my phone and deleting emails that had built up during the week while I was away from the office when I looked up and saw a woman motioning to the vacant seat.  My return glance let her know that the seat was free.  She took it. I smiled and went back to my emails.

The fractious nature of flying makes it such an unpleasant experience that most people just want to be left alone to suffer the indignity in silence. Your seat neighbor–whether in the terminal or in row 14–probably isn't looking to make small talk and likely isn't interested in you or your story, even if you are the "most interesting man in the world" and have won the same lifetime achievement award–twice. Sorry, but it's true. The serendipity would be in discovering that you are indeed sitting next to the world's most interesting man, but most people do not allow themselves that opportunity these days.  

She pulled out her laptop and went to work.  As is often the case when  circumstances place us in such close proximity to one another, I couldn't help but notice that she was writing.  Not an email or a memo or a legal brief, but actual dialogue.  She was writing a story. She's an author, I thought to myself.  How interesting. As a person who has always enjoyed writing and been told that I do it well, I was intrigued. I've been working on a story idea off and on for perhaps 20 years now, but for reasons that are entirely my fault–mostly ignorance of the process–I have never reached the critical mass that would allow me to finish what I have started so that I could enjoy all the publishing house rejection letters. 

When I have an blog idea or when I am writing an article for the sports website to which I occasionally contribute, the words spill out and I finish in a span of time that any deadline-challenged writer would find impressive.  With regard to my book however, I'm stuck.  If every journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step, before I took that first step I bent down to tie my shoe, then I took a phone call, then I decided I needed more hydration and stretching and another look at the map, and before I knew it here I am twenty years later still wondering if my premise  is workable. I don't know if a writer can have writer's block before actually writing anything, but that's what I call it anyway.

Airports hardly seem like an environment conducive to creativity, but here she was churning out dialogue.    If she can write here amid this chaos, I thought, then writer's block certainly isn't an issue for her.  She's probably a female Stephen King, the author who has made a career of turning the most insane ideas into bestsellers.  Man, I'd love to talk to her. But alas, she was a stranger and we were in an airport and she was working and the rules of  society dictated that I not be profoundly nosy and butt in.  Remember the fraternity rush scene in "Animal House" when Flounder asks the guys playing cards if they are playing cards? 


Hey, whatcha writing?" Nope, I wasn't going to be Flounder.

But then, serendipity.
  
Her children appeared.  Her son was wearing a UVA sweatshirt. That changed everything.  Wahoos,  (or Hoos) as students and alumni of the University of Virginia are known,  always exchange  greetings when away from the mothership.  I'm sure that this ritual applies to alumni of every school, but UVA is something of a cult and we take especial delight in making our affiliation known.   My non-UVA friends generally are sickened by the over-the-top affinity we have for our school, but like I said, it's a cult.

"Wahoowa," I offered. (This is the UVA call sign. The University community is divided on the correct spelling of this term and some spell it "Wahoowah."  Not me.  Not ever. I suppose that since it's a made-up word it shouldn't matter.  But it does.)

"Wahoowa," she replied.  And as simply as that we became acquaintances.  In the matter of a few short minutes I discovered that her husband and I had overlapped in Charlottesville, that I remembered him as an athlete even though we hadn't actually known each other, and that she was herself a UVA law school graduate. And yes, she was an author. And in literary circles outside of  mine, a well-known one. Famous even. New York Times bestseller list famous. Numerous times.

Besides UVA, we discovered additional common ground. We talked politics and sports and her writing.  She professed an interest in this blog. She was engaging and friendly. Feeling more at ease than I probably should have, I asked the big question. 

"Where do you find your ideas?" 

I worried about my temerity. Is this an appropriate question for an author or is it akin to asking the Coca-Cola CEO to show you the Coke recipe?
 
"From life. From everywhere," she replied.

Not exactly the revelation I was hoping for, but given the circumstances it was enough of an answer to get me thinking.  What I determined was that if you are attuned to your surroundings and locked in, there are ideas everywhere.  So what if there already are fifty books exploring vigilante justice or unrequited love.  No matter.  Your approach and tone will be unique.  Ideas are everywhere.  Look at Larry David.  He made "Seinfeld," the greatest television show in history, a "show about nothing."  Lunch at the diner?  That's a show. Waiting for a table at a Chinese restaurant?  Another show. He even made a show about pitching to NBC a show about nothing.

Over the span of that visit I remembered my love for writing and for this blog.  My output has tailed off these past few years as I have been distracted by life's more immediate responsibilities but thanks to her I plan to rededicate myself.  Sometimes we all need a nudge.  A serendipitous nudge.

I'll start with this entry. 

Wonder if she will see it. I hope she does because I want her to know that I'm thankful for the gift of her serendipity.

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Trump. Literally.




"Voters take Donald Trump literally but not seriously.  Reporters take him seriously but not literally."

Republican strategist Brad Todd uttered this now-famous phrase last August during an appearance on MSNBC's "Meet the Press Daily."  It was an attempt to explain the disconnect between Trump's media coverage, which regularly lampooned him, and the fact that he was, despite media scorn, the Republican candidate for president. While his supporters believed that his campaign promise of a border wall meant just that–an actual, physical wall–the press apparently took a more metaphorical view. The "wall" wasn't actually going to be a wall, it was going to be some method by which he made our borders more secure.  Building a 2000-mile long wall and declaring that Mexico would pay for it seemed ludicrous and the press couldn't take him seriously. Big mistake.

One week into this new administration it now appears obvious that our president doesn't think metaphorically. He literally is doing as president everything he said he would do as candidate. And boy is this making citizens uncomfortable. Citizen activism has to be at generational highs. Marches, lawsuits, protests, petitions and outright defiance are the means by which Americans are standing up to the new administration and its–to put it politely–unconventional governance methods.  Donald Trump continues to defy any attempt to rein in his maverick behavior.

Again, he gave us no reason to believe that his presidential demeanor would differ markedly from his candidate behavior, but perhaps we expected it. The Oval Office historically has demanded that of its occupants. Our leaders usually lead with messages of inclusion and optimism, speaking of our country's ability to come together to meet the challenges confronting it.   In March 1865, on the occasion of his second inaugural address and just a month before the Confederate army surrendered at Appomattox, Abraham Lincoln, whose legacy depended on the war's successful outcome, magnanimously extended this olive branch to the estranged southern states:

"With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation's wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations."

Safe to say that, despite using Lincoln's bible at his swearing in, Trump is no Lincoln.

In fact, he is unlike any other president we have ever had.  That much is clear. What isn't yet clear are his ultimate objectives. The flurry of last week's executive orders lends an air of "rule by decree" to his still-developing governing style, as does the personnel shuffling. The reaction to all of this has been fear that we don't know what he is doing, but even more than that, fear that he doesn't know what he is doing.

Concomitant with this fear has been the rise of conspiracy theories and comparisons to history's "bad hombres." As it just so happens I currently am reading In the Garden of Beasts, a non-fiction account of William E. Dodd's experiences and observations from 1933 to 1938 as the United States' first ambassador to Nazi Germany. I didn't choose this book in response to the current political climate but given the persistent comparisons of Trump to Hitler, I may find this read useful.

I read yesterday that all of these executive actions are but feints designed to test the limits of opposition to his moves, that all of this is a pre-cursor to a power grab, a coup d'état.  That the immigration order was designed to direct attention away from the far more nefarious reshuffling of the National Security Council.  I don't buy it.

I understand that people are uneasy with this guy and his seemingly whacko demeanor and governing style, but it stretches credibility, I think, to believe that he is the second coming of Adolph Hitler and that his intentions are equally sinister. Believing thus gives him way, way too much credit, in my opinion.   I mean, how smart can he be if he thinks his hairstyle flatters him? He sees things differently than most people, certainly. He does things in a way that violates social norms. There is probably something to the belief that he suffers from some sort of megalomania or narcissistic personality disorder.  Whatever the case may be, what absolutely is true is that winning the election did nothing to soften his sharp edges.  He is a pugilistic, crass, micro-managing, spontaneous insulter of everyone, yet he believes that he knows how best to make America great again.
  
The fear of a coup d'état or martial law comes from the uncertainty accompanied by his ascendancy. In such times it is natural to assume the worst case scenario is the likely one.  It's a self-preservation move. Prepare for the worst, hope for the best. However, to believe that Trump and his cabal are going to lock down this country, send off to labor camps those who oppose him, and limit the freedoms of those who don't, is to believe that the army will be a willing accomplice, that the government won't work as it is supposed to, that Republicans will fall into a goosestepping line behind him.

 Donald Trump may have run as as a Republican but he is no Republican.  He said so himself.  He's a capitalist, but he most surely is an Independent who utilized the structure of the Republican party simply because an Independent cannot be elected president in this country. The two-party system is too ingrained here. Because Trump isn't really a Republican and is waging war on government in general, Republican lawmakers should be as free as their Democratic counterparts to vote as they see fit. Voter backlash should be minimal and probably would be very favorable. There are certain elements of his campaign platform that adhere to Republican ideology so the party that reluctantly adopted him cannot abandon him altogether, but they don't have to be his toadies either.

I don't fear a coup as much as I fear clumsiness, and I suspect that's what all this is. Building walls and enacting tariffs and angering our allies and trade partners–not to mention those who he singled out in his immigration order–in an attempt to restore manufacturing to its once prominent position in our economy while trying not to alienate us from the rest of the world is an extremely iffy proposition, but that's what he was elected to do and, by God, he's going to try to do it.

Donald Trump is attempting to steer the ship of state as though it were one of his business entities.  Again, this is exactly what he said he would do. He is accustomed to making his own decisions, handing down edicts, and having them carried out. If he hasn't already realized it after just one week, our system of government doesn't allow the president rule by fiat. That isn't how it works. An activated citizenry is reminding him of that and I suspect it won't be much longer before his Congress does too.

Disclaimer: I voted for Donald Trump, not because of any love for the man but because certain fiscal elements of his platform were in alignment with my own beliefs.  I want lower taxes, I want a repeal of the estate tax and the Alternative Minimum Tax, I want energy independence for reasons of national security. I also listened to the Supreme Court argument, but think it preposterous that Republicans might take offense at attempts to block the appointment of Neil Gorsuch when they did exactly that to Merrick Garland, Obama's nominee. 
                                                            

Monday, October 17, 2016

Decision 2016. How Did We Get Here?




This Presidential campaign has to be the most despicable and disappointing referendum on American democracy ever conducted.  Both  major party candidates are cannon fodder for their critics, lacking in temperament, trustworthiness, appeal, or perhaps in all three. We hold true to the belief that the United States of America is the result of the greatest system of government the world has ever known, that we are a beacon of light and hope for the world's oppressed. Yet our election process has left us with two candidates that, together, give voters the least appealing choice in perhaps ever.

How did it come to this? Donald Trump's ascendance to the top of the ticket has been well chronicled, swept there by a populist fervor that perhaps caught even him by surprise.  However, his candidacy has divided further a Republican party that already contains a yawning chasm between the party's conservative  and more moderate constituents.  The aftereffects of the Trump candidacy may be such that the Republican party will never recover.  The GOP has always been a cobbled together constituency anyway, the catchall party for anyone who doesn't identify as a Democrat.  This makes for some odd bedfellows and that awkwardness has never been more apparent than now.

And Hillary Clinton, what about her?  Her open pursuit of the top job strikes many as unseemly.  Sure, all Presidential candidates want the job, but perhaps she wants the job just...a...bit...too...much. The Presidency looks much better on those who appear to be heeding the call rather than perpetually campaigning for it.   It is, after all, a service position.   In the strange political climate we find ourselves in, Hillary's career as a lawyer, wife of a former President, former Senator and Secretary of State seem to be disqualifiers rather than qualifiers.   We want our candidates to be experienced, just not this experienced. To those who oppose her, this experience is a taint not a  bonus. It's bizarre.

And what of the process?  Trump's candidacy may be doing more harm to the idea of democracy than it is to the Republican party (and the damage to the GOP appears substantial.)  Facing a defeat of McGovernian proportions, Trump has resorted to claims that the process is rigged, that the media shills for the Democratic party.   He hasn't backed his claims with any definitive proof, but Julian Assange and his Wikileaks project has come to the rescue, bringing to light several instances that appear to lend some credence to this claim.  Bernie Sanders' supporters certainly got an unfortunate  peek behind the curtain when it was revealed that that the supposedly-impartial Democratic National Committee favored Clinton over Sanders during the primary race.

Another Wikileaks email dump last week has revealed that Democratic National Committee chairperson and CNN contributor Donna Brazile provided Clinton with a question in advance of the second debate, hosted by, you guessed it, CNN. While each candidate engages in pre-debate preparation (or should), the debates are supposed to be a gauge of each candidate's ability to think quickly and articulate clearly.  If Clinton did indeed know a question (or questions) in advance, she would have a huge advantage in a setting where appearances and comportment are almost as important as thoughtful answers. Looking, sounding, and acting Presidential are voter prerequisites.  If you don't think so, just ask the many candidates spurned by voters because they didn't pass the eyeball test.

This election, more than any other, has peeled back whatever veneer of respectability politics had left and laid bare for us all to see the certainly imperfect, usually dirty, and sometimes illegal processes that previously went on out of our view.  Not anymore.   Trump's pronouncements are undoing whatever voter trust was left in the system.  People who don't believe in governmental conspiracies are being forced to confront the possibility that conspiracies are real and that we are in the middle of one.  We now routinely elect the candidate who best presents himself or herself as the least bad choice. Campaigning may have always have had a negative slant but Trump vs. Clinton is Presidential Fight Club. No rules. When the prize is this big, anything goes. Not that this should come as a revelation to anyone who is old enough to vote. "Politics is a dirty business" is the aphorism that young voters cut their teeth on.

The Tea Party movement may have been the first shot across America's bow from the populist movement but Donald Trump's candidacy is the bunker buster, the campaign that threatens to explode two centuries of political enlightenment.   Democracy is the "grand experiment" that has worked here well enough for almost two hundred and fifty years but the rise of the special interests increasingly is pitting American against American. Trump  picked up on the anger of–and became the voice of–middle-class conservative white America, a segment that those with political ambition previously wouldn't touch because disaffected white people offered little in the way of political capital. What Donald J. Trump discovered is that thanks to NAFTA, thanks to the fact that real wages haven't risen in this country in almost four decades, and thanks to the increasingly unintended consequences of the Affordable Care Act, there is a whole lot of jingoism in the United States these days. 

This segment of America is being squeezed from all sides.  They don't want to give more of their money to people who are less fortunate because they themselves are feeling pretty unfortunate right now.  They want immigration barriers to protect what jobs they still have. They don't want to pay for someone else's health care insurance. They don't want make it easier for the wealthy to stockpile more wealth but they don't want bigger government or more regulation.  All they hear is that Trump is going to make America great again and to them that means restoring upward mobility to the middle class.  Never mind that Trump's plan lacks specifics or is full of harebrained ideas like building a wall along the Mexican border and making Mexico pay for it, they figure if they elect someone so far outside the political fraternity that he can't help but shake things up.  The Republican party apparatus reluctantly fell into line when it became clear that he was going to be this year's candidate.  Until recently, that is.

Two years ago: Trump?  No way.  He's a clown.
One year ago: Trump? Really?
Six months ago: Trump? I'll be damned.
Two weeks ago: Trump? He's a disgrace.

Now, however, the reality of Trump's probable failed insurgency is sinking in.  Barring the most unexpected result since David KO'ed Goliath, Trump is going to lose and lose badly.  He might lose so badly that the taint of his unpredictable behavior has down ballot consequences.  Republicans may lose majorities in both the House and Senate.  As the election result has become increasingly apparent, Republican candidates have sought to distance themselves from the party's appointed standard-bearer.  This only serves to highlight for voters the dysfunction in the Grand Old Party and increase the likelihood of a Democratic vote.

The net effect of anointing someone who has behaved in an increasingly unelectable manner is that disenfranchised Republicans are going to get the opposite of what they want: they are going to get a Democratically-controlled and bigger government  and a President who may be given the chance to shape the direction of the Supreme Court for the next thirty years.  Not exactly the hoped-for result.  It's important to remember that winning an election requires putting forth a candidate who can win. Donald Trump has shaken things up and perhaps forced Americans to confront some of the uncomfortable issues that continue to persist here, but he can't win the election. 

Just as one should never choose a spouse and hope for a change in his/her pre-marital behavior, voters should never choose a Presidential candidate and hope that the weight of that awesome responsibility will tamp down undesirable behavior or traits.  Elect-and-hope is a terrible outcome for the American people but that's the choice we have this year.  Voters won't elect Donald Trump, but they will elect Hillary Clinton and when they do it will be with the hope that all the revelations and negativity surrounding her amount to nothing. Hillary's supporters–and she has tens of millions of them–are as blasé to revelations about her behavior and ethics as Trump's supporters are to his.  It's not supposed to be this way. We should be electing the best candidate, not the least bad one.  Sadly, such a candidate doesn't exist this year and thanks to big money's corruptive influence, may never again.

Friday, September 11, 2015

Nitwits. Nitwits Everywhere.

The Republican party is full of nitwits.  Seriously. I believe this and I am a Republican.  Not like the super-conservative Republicans who dominate the headlines these days, but a moderate who has been left behind by the move of the party to the extreme right wing of the Republican house.  I am a pragmatist in a party run by idealists.  I am a Republican because the Libertarian movement cannot–inexplicably, in my opinion–gain any traction in this country. 

The theater of the absurd that is the Republican party took its standing ovation last week in Rowan County, Kentucky, where Presidential hopeful Mike Huckabee stood side-by-side with religiously-confused County Clerk Kim Davis as she was freed after being jailed for refusing to fulfill the duties of her office. Never mind that Huckabee's claim of religious persecution was so lame as to be laughable, but the fact that he would even grandstand at this rally is an indication of his own questionable Presidential suitability. I guess when you are barely registering in the polls you can't be too picky about where you campaign.  The Washington Post's Jonathan Capehart wrote an excellent article on the circus that unfolded on the day of her release. He wrote:

Just when you thought that the rally for Kim Davis couldn't get any more surreal after her release from jail on Tuesday, it did.  At moments, the absurdity filling the television screen looked like one of  those clubs Stefan used to recommend on "Saturday Night Live."  It had everything: angry people, crosses, placards, Bibles and cloying Republican politicians hanging on a violator of the law whose husband was dressed like a cast member from "Hee Haw" while "Eye of the Tiger" played in the background. 
Kim Davis leaves the stage with her husband, Joe, after a rally in her honor on Sept. 8 in Grayson, KY. (Ty Wright/ Getty Images)
He went on to note that someone, having determined that this was the right time and place for such a statement, even brought a Confederate battle flag to the rally. Whatever your conservative cause might be, last week's rally was the place to go for some free publicity. I didn't see a mention of the Westboro Baptist Church, but I wouldn't be at all surprised to learn that its members also were there.

Whoops, my bad.  Of course they were involved. This group is so whacked out that they can't even align themselves with a woman who believes, as they do, that homosexuality is a sin.


As I said, nitwits everywhere.

In trying to position itself as the party that stands in opposition to everything the Democratic party holds dear, Republicans have had to lay down with some unsavory bedfellows. Anyone remember David Duke, the white supremacist and one-time Louisiana state representative who ran for national office as a Republican? Most of the wacko zealots in this country don't want government nosing around in their lives, so they vote Republican since one of that party's tenets is smaller government. If a movement or group can be identified as conservative, chances are its adherents are Republican.

Democrats' call for social equality, bigger government and a bigger governmental safety net appeals to both the wide-eyed optimists and to the disenfranchised, the downtrodden and the unlucky. In a sad commentary on the state of the American Dream, this demographic seems to comprise a majority of the voting public.  The Republicans, in order to have a chance in national elections, have to take whatever voters are left after the Democrats make all their promises and try to cobble together a platform that satisfies all of these disparate interests.  The Republican party is the party of leftovers–survivalists, creationists, capitalists, evolutionists, elitists, non-conformists, individualists.  It's messy and the result is FUBAR.  For example:

Evangelical Christians, who many believe have hijacked the Republican party, oppose abortion because they believe that all life is sacred. Yet this same demographic is solid in its support of capital punishment. As a result we have fence-straddling political candidates who are both pro-life and pro capital punishment. Huh?

The party is populated with progressives who don't care to impose their own morality on others, but also by those who are only too happy to shame those who don't believe as they do. As a result we have fence-straddling political candidates who try to be both evangelical and socially progressive. Is that even possible?

Put all the contingencies together and you get a scene like the one described by Capehart in Rowan County the other day.  Were it not for Republicans almost-universal belief in fiscal discipline, the Republican party would come apart like the universe at the moment of the Big Bang. Most of the time the party is dysfunctional.  However, come election time the Republican candidate will offer up the one thing that all Republicans can agree on–lower taxes and smaller government–and that, miraculously, is enough to allow party members to put aside their differences long enough to go to the polls. Remember how everyone was nice to each other for a few months after the September 11 attacks?  That's what it's like for Republicans at election time.  The unity never lasts but it works well enough during elections to occasionally fend off the Democrats.

Really, it's no wonder that there are sixteen announced Republican Presidential candidates.  With so many constituencies under the Republican tent, there almost has to be that many candidates because no one hopeful can straddle that many fences.








Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Competitive Gluttony


In the movie Talledega Nights, Ricky Bobby is driven by the one thing his deadbeat father shared with him before driving off and out of his life.

"If you ain't first, you're last!"

Nowhere in sports is this more true than in feats of gastronomic excess.  Did you happen to catch the Nathan's hot dog eating competition this past weekend?  You know what's worse than finishing second in an eating contest?  Nothing.

Look at these people.


"Don't throw up, don't throw up, don't throw up..."
 
Does this look fun to you? Only in America. In other parts of the world there are people eating dung and feeling fortunate to have it.  Here in the U.S.A., we've discovered yet another way to irritate the rest of the planet.
 
"Hey world, we have it so good here that we are going to show you just how much we can eat in ten minutes. Check this out! Don't be too jealous."  
 
If you did watch it, how many times did you almost retch? Even if you love hot dogs more than anything else, I'll bet you anything that the thought of eating 50 of them in ten minutes is enough to end the love affair.   If one of these contestants had thrown up it would no doubt have started a vomit chain reaction amongst the entrants, the crowd, and the television audience. Every one of the competitors at some point made a throw up face. By the way, as you might expect in contests of this sort, vomiting results in immediate disqualification.
 
So, imagine for a minute that you are a competitor in this contest.  You eat in ten minutes more hot dogs than any health-conscious person would eat in a year.  This year's winner, Joey "Jaws" Chestnut ate 61. (UPDATE: In the 2017 contest, he ate 72.) For you calorie counters out there that's almost 20,000 calories.  In 2011 Chestnut made more than $200,000 eating competitively. Okay.   I suppose making six figures partially offsets the dangers inherent in competitive gluttony. Maybe not. 
 
But how about the guy who finished second by eating 56 hot dogs?  Do you know his name without looking it up? Didn't think so. Think about your post-Thanksgiving meal food coma and multiply that uncomfortable feeling by infinity.  You've just eaten 56 hotdogs in ten minutes and lost.  You feel godawful. There is no trophy. No fame. No paycheck. 
 
 
 
In competitive eating, if you ain't first, you're last.
 
 
 


Monday, June 30, 2014

On Today's Supreme Court Decision




I have written previously on the Affordable Care Act (ACA, Obamacare) and in that article I referenced the Supreme Court case in which Hobby Lobby, a privately-held business, had sued the United States government for requiring it to include in its employee coverage a certain type of birth control called abortifacients, more commonly known as "morning after pills."

This morning, in a 5-4 decision that split along ideological lines, the Supreme Court rendered its verdict, ruling that privately-held companies whose owners have a religious objection to birth control  cannot be compelled to provide contraceptives to employees. It must be understood that the plaintiffs are not opposed to all forms of birth control, only those that can be used to halt pregnancy after fertilization has occurred.

Women, the Obama administration, and liberals in general are voicing their displeasure with the verdict.  In her dissenting opinion, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg wrote that "the exemption sought by Hobby Lobby and Conestoga (the other plaintiff) would...deny legions of women who do not hold their employers' beliefs access to contraceptive coverage."

Do you not see the irony here?  Women who favor choice and who have long told the government to mind its own business in these matters found themselves turning to the same government for protection in this case.  I'm sorry pro-choice America, but you cannot have it both ways. 
We want to be left alone unless we can't get what we want.  If we can't get what we want then we want you to get it for us.  

You either want the government to mind its own business or you don't. Perhaps this is an oversimplification of a complicated issue but it seems to me that contraception is a matter of choice and that it should NOT be the responsibility of the employer to provide you with it. If you want birth control, go get it yourself.

Should the government require your employer to provide you with a car so that you can get to work? Should the government require your employer to build you a house so that you have your own single-family residence? Despite the fact that many employers offer these types of perks, they are not required to do so.  A recent survey of large American corporations found that nearly 85% of them already were offering some type of birth control coverage before the ACA mandated it.  Today's decision is not a defeat for employee-sponsored birth control per se, only for after-the-fact birth control in privately-controlled companies whose ownership has a religious objection to it.  The ruling itself is a narrow one but Justice Ginsberg opined that this decision is one of "startling breadth" and  "would allow corporations to opt out of almost any law that they find incompatible with their sincerely held beliefs." I am dubious.
  
I understand that unwanted pregnancies are a tremendous societal burden whose costs  far outweigh the cost of contraceptives. For the record, I am in the camp of those who say that there is no good answer to the issue of abortion. That being the case, you might feel that I should support the Affordable Care Act's contraceptive mandate so that pregnancy can be prevented, right?  Well, as uncomfortable as I am with abortion's unanswerable questions I am even more uncomfortable with the idea of cradle-to-grave government control of our personal lives.

In their majority opinion, several justices offered suggestions for resolving the issue.  Justice Kennedy wrote in a separate opinion that a solution could be arrived at "by requiring insurance companies to cover, without cost sharing, contraception coverage for female employees who wish it."  There is no law that I am aware of  that states that insurance companies must participate in the healthcare segment of the insurance business.  They do so only because they believe that they can offer coverage profitably. If the cost of Obamacare coverage supersedes the ability to make a profit, companies will cease participation. This is what critics of the ACA argue eventually will happen.

If that were to happen and insurance companies abandon coverage, the burden will shift to the government.  Again, critics predict that this is what will happen and that healthcare insurance will become a governmental program.  Justice Alito alluded to this when he wrote that if the government wants women to have unrestricted access to contraception, it can just go ahead and pay for it then.

The single-payer system–in this case, the U.S. government–is where Obamacare is headed.  Insurance companies, hobbled by the inability to profitably offer coverage, will opt out of the program and the government will have to step in.  Justice Alito all but said that today.