Saturday, January 29, 2011

It's my party and I'll cry if I want to . . .

Saturday. Sofa. Coffee.

I've got a great movie idea to pitch. The main character has held a position of national significance for years. However, his position was secondary for decades, allowing him to, for the most part, stay out of the limelight.

Suddenly, due to the abdication of power by those ahead of him in line to seat of power, he is no longer the heir to the power, he holds the power. He is thrust into leadership, and consequently into the public eye.

The problem is, he suffers from a disorder that people don't talk about, that people don't understand. His opponents question his stability. His allies defend him yet insist that he must get over it and do better. The public doesn't know what to think.

When the microphones appear and the cameras turn on . . .

He weeps.

"The King Weeps". Making room on the mantle for the little gold statue. Not really. I don't feel like dusting.

(The above part of this post is a clever analogy based on the Academy Award Nominated Movie "The King's Speech." If you have not yet seen the movie or read of its plot I apologize, for the above will not make sense nor seem so very clever. If you have not seen the movie, you should. It will make you cry.)

So John Boehner cries. I thought this was another one of those things that get exaggerated that the politicos, pundits and public enjoy talking about, but, actually, it is true. He has done it for quite a while, apparently. Only now he is sitting at the front of the room facing everybody.

That is a difficult position. It is like singing in a church choir when you have a cold, especially if the anthem is a particularly moving piece of music. The tears and snot (sorry, I just couldn't think of a more appropriate word) begin to flow. There is a spectrum of available remedies, assuming you decide to stay and stick it out. My first reaction when I feel the onset is to ignore it. The problem is that when one is in the spotlight of choir lights, tears and snot begin to glisten as they make little trails down your face. If it is really bad it might drip onto the sheet music you are holding, which makes the pages stick together the next time it is used which is frowned upon by the next user of the music.

And tears can affect your vision, making the words and notes of the music hard to see, so sometimes it is necessary to free one hand and wipe your face. I never have a Kleenex or handkerchief at such times so I have to use my hand, which creates other problems. One dare not use the sleeve of the choir robe for such clean-up. That would probably be grounds for dismissal from the choir. And if you know anything about church choirs, it takes a lot to get dismissed.

But the flow of fluids is a result, not just of a virus, but of the emotion of the music, an emotion that is real, that comes from deep within the soul somewhere. Most of the time I do not understand it. That's one of the mysteries of music. A language spoken so deeply in the soul that we don't know where it comes from nor have words to express it. But it is real. Probably more real than the audible words we speak or sing.

So, it doesn't bother me that John Boehner cries. He is dealing with "big things". It gives me hope that it affects him so deeply.

If he wants lessons on not crying, I can think of many in Congress who seem to have no feelings and would be willing to help, but in a spirit of a more civil discourse I won't suggest who.

But I think brown suits and a box of Kleenex would serve him better.


Wednesday, January 26, 2011

A duck walks into a bar . . .

I watch the state of union with the same anticipation as I have for a good televised sporting event. I like to watch the pregame prognostications and predictions. The parade of commentators who never played the game and those who don't play anymore. The snacks are placed within easy reach. (Actually the snacks, tv, and comfortable chair were provided by Terri and Tommy, much appreciated). And I don't like a lot of chit chat or socializing while the clock is running. Then I enjoy the post game analysis and interviews. Last night was good.

The president covered a lot of ground, the kind of stuff I have posted about in the past and will again in the very near future.

But first an observation that had little to do with all of the policy and politics.

The President can be funny. Whether or not you questioned his timing on delivering on his legislative promises, it is hard to argue with his timing when he is delivering a punch line. Who can forget his routine at the White House Correspondents Dinner last year. Several powerful people would like to.

"John Boehner is, after all, a person of colour. It's just a color that does not occur naturally in nature." I liked that one. It was good stuff.

Last night the President got a few subdued laughs when he observed that he had heard that there were a few people in the room who had some concerns about health care reform. He is gifted in making such disarming comments.

But the State of the Union speech is serious. To have them rolling on both sides of the aisle has never been an appropriate goal and generally not achievable by many elected to that high office.

But the salmon joke was a winner. In making the point that the federal government needed some reorganization, the president observed that when salmon are in fresh water they are under the authority of the Interior Department, when they are in saltwater they are under the authority of the Commerce Department, and it gets even more complicated when they are smoked.

It was funny. Folks laughed. And for a moment everyone felt better.

I had already laughed during one of the state of the union game day shows earlier in the evening on MSNBC. Chris Matthews of Hardball was insensed over a speech given by Tea Party Repulican Congresswoman Michele Bachmann. Rep. Bachmann said, among other things, that the writers of the U. S. Constitution, the founding fathers, including John Quincy Adams, worked tirelessly to abolish slavery, seeming to deny that slavery existed after the founding of the nation eighty years before the War of Northern Aggression (Civil War to some). While sad, and it truly is sad, that a U. S. Congresswoman could be so woefully ignorant about basic American History, it was so absurd that I couldn't help but chuckle a little. Matthews heard about the speech shortly before the state of the union of address. A political history buff, he was completely flummoxed, and could not stop talking about Bachmann's historical gaffes, even as the state of the union address was about to commence, and wedged a full segment featuring the speech into the already crowded pre-game line-up. He constantly called her a "balloon head." Bachmann made me sadly chuckle. Mathews made me guffaw.

Laughing is a good thing. Side-splitting, pee in the pants, soda through the nose guffawing is even better. I have read that a couple of belly laughs a day are highly beneficial in improving overall health by reducing stress, increasing blood flow, and releasing hormones that do something good. You know it's true.

I laughed at lunch today. It was the laughter at the kind of irreverent and inappropriate discussion that co-workers often share to preserve their sanity. We laughed with each other and at each other and even more at other people, which I know sounds bad, but it made us feel so good. It was so loud that a stranger from the next table joined in. He had some good stuff. The names and subject matter involved shall remain confidential to avoid legal repercussions.

We face serious problems as a country. We face serious problems as communities, families and individuals. But take heart. Like Jesus said in Luke, chapter 6, " Blessed are you who weep now, for you soon will laugh."

We need to laugh. It doesn't mean we aren't serious or thoughtful.

It means we are human. It has always been part of our makeup. Wise King Solomon around the 10th century B.C, and later Pete Seeger in 1962 and the Byrds in 1965 told us that there is a time to laugh.

It's like the man who sat up all night waiting for the sun to rise. Finally it dawned on him . . .

It's time to laugh now . .. .


Thursday, January 20, 2011

Moles, Polls, and Souls . . .(it's about the Governor)

When I was a student at the University of Alabama I suffered a minor injury in an intramural football game. An opposing player was flailing at me for some reason, as if I were a threat, and raked his fingernails across my chest. One of his nails caught on a mole, not the animal but the skin growth variety, and partially removed it for me. Who knew it would bleed like that?

Anyway, he did not offer to remove it the rest of the way, and I didn't want to do it myself. At the time moles were sort of mysterious to me, as were many things in those days, so I went to the yellow pages to find a doctor, a dermatologist. I did not think that this particular problem could be solved with the sample Sucrets Sore Throat Lozenges they always dispensed when you went to the University Infirmary.

As I looked down at the listings I was quite surprised to see that one of the few dermatologists in Tuscaloosa was Robert Bentley, M.D. With a name like that, I thought, he must be a prince of a fellow and a fine physician, so I called his office and got an appointment.

Dr. Bentley did a fine job removing the rest of the mole and patching me up. Apparently there wasn't nearly so much mystery as I had imagined. We exchanged laughs about having the same name and I went on my way. Our paths did not cross again while Iwas a student except for a couple of wrong numbers and junk mail.

That is how I met the Governor. Before he was governor. Before he was even in politics at all. It was a good experience.

I became aware that Dr. Bentley was getting into politics when a couple of youth from the church brought me a yard sign that they somehow obtained after attending a Bama game which said "Robert Bentley for Senate." Under that in smaller letters it said he was a Republican. That was back in the day when the candidate's name was more important than whether he was a Republican. These days in Alabama it is clearly more important to put "Republican" in large letters. The candidate's name is secondary. But I digress. Back to Dr. Bentley.

So it was fun when Robert Bentley decided to run for governor. Fun for me, I mean. I had my picture taken in front of his campaign tent on the quad before a football game. It turned out rather well I thought, with all my paraphernalia with my name on it in the background. Long lost acquaintances got in touch to see if I was the one running for governor. I said sure, send the donation on in. With my name on all those signs along the rights of way I felt like every trip I made anywhere in the state was a homecoming. On election day I received several phone calls at the office seeking information about what my plans were after the polls closed. Some were prank calls from friends, but still fun, nonetheless.

For those of you who are familiar with this blog and familiar with Governor Bentley, you probably recognize some differences in the political views held by the governor and me. Very few similarities. Mostly differences. Sort of like Bizzaro World Bob. This was borne out more as the campaign heated up, especially during the debates. I winced as Governor Bentley answered. But to be fair I winced at Democrat Ron Sparks as well. The answer to every question cannot be gambling. At least that's what I thought before I heard Sparks. I was wrong. But again I digress, back to Governor Bentley.

I, like many, was surprised that Robert Bentley was nominated, and then elected. During the campaign he presented the image of a decent, concerned, competent, albeit extremely conservative candidate ready to heal what ailed us.

I believe he is truly decent, concerned, competent, and extremely conservative. I hope that he is a great governor, even though I disagree with him on so many things.

So I guess I am going to cut him a bit of slack. For those of you who don't know, Governor Bentley committed what many consider to be a gaffe at best, and a sin at worst, in a speech during the inauguration festivities. Briefly, he noted that as a Christian he had many brothers and sisters in Alabama who were also Christian. But he was not the brother of non-Christians though he would like to be. He used a lot more words. Probably shouldn't have used any of them.

It was bad. Very offensive. At best it was horrible speech writing. At worst it was a distortion of Jesus message, according to many. I agree.

Lots of folks spoke out against him. You know how brothers and sisters can go after each other. I am one of them.

Then I read a letter from Rabbi Jonathan Miller to the governor. Do a search on his name and you'll find it. It was strong in expressing his concerns, but so very, very gracious. Grace from one who could only assume he was not part of the Governor's family. I'm pretty sure Rabbi Miller knows he is part of God's family.

So, I'm off the bandwagon. I am once again embarassed by something we have done here in Alabama, and I am sad the Governor said what he said.

But Rabbi Miller suggests the higher road. He acknowledged the hurt, but provided a means for restoration and reconciliation.

Sounds like something I learned in Sunday School.



Saturday, January 15, 2011

A running start . . .

Saturday. Sofa. Coffee.

I have skipped posting a few Saturdays lately. I still have the drafts. They start out "Saturday. Sofa. Coffee." As a writer it is usually helpful to have that first sentence already written, something to get one started, like a sprinter's starting blocks. But the only blocks I have experienced on recent Saturdays would be of the writer's variety.

Oh I have written a few lines, sometimes a few paragraphs. But as I rest on the sofa sipping my coffee in the quiet stillness of Saturday mornings the words and thoughts just don't seem to work.

What you have just read is me attempting to build a ramp, a steep slope, to get me started today, sort of like finding a steep place to start a sledding run, something I did in a literal way a few times this week. But that's another story.

Take last Saturday for instance. (Back to writing, not sledding or sprinting) I started a pleasant enough post in the morning, but had to quit to do a few necessary Saturday kind of maintenance activities. Before I had returned to the key board (laptop not musical instrument) I had spent a few hours riveted to the news channels learning of the now infamous shooting in Arizona.

Suddenly the pleasant musings of my earlier efforts seemed stupid. They were quickly deleted, from the laptop and from my psyche, as a weird feeling of what can best be described as shame came over me. How could I have been writing such inane palp as this tragedy was unfolding?

That is the struggle. We live multiple lives as we move along the timeline. There is our own life, that life that is lived completely within each of us, that life that is guided by our conversations with our own self. Think I am crazy? Well of course I am ("we're all bozos on this bus", one of my favorite comforting phrases courtesy of Firesign Theater, 1971), but that doesn't mean I can't occasionally have a lucid thought. The trick is picking out the wheat from the chaff.

Saturday mornings I enjoy this part of life the most. Do I want to get up now? What kind of coffee will I make? Which of my favorite mugs will I use? What do I want to do today? Sometimes the conversation with myself is actually verbal, even audible, though no one else is around, I hope.

After the stresses of the week, I generally try to avoid stressful thoughts on Saturday mornings. So when I open the laptop on the sofa on Saturdays, the words tend to reflect that easy-going conversation.

But there's another life that each of us live. An "It's a Wonderful Life" kind of life; a life within a small community of family, friends, and others that we share daily existence with face to face, or at least email, text, facebook or tweet to email, text, facebook or tweet. (I am sure there are more social networks by the time I finish this post, but you get the idea).

And there's another life that this generation is realizing more than any previously. We each live in a larger world, a much larger world, the whole world, which sometimes seems to have been placed in our hands before we are ready. A world that we know more and more about as horrific events occur in Birmingham, or Arizona, or Tunisia, or Australia (about as far away as one can get from me on this globe). And we know about them immediately. Sometimes quicker than we learn of events in the life of a friend or family member across town.

It's not really three different lives. I know that. But it sure gets complicated. It's all part of the same life. Like politics, religion, culture, war and peace, and fried foods, its all part of one life.

Sorry about this post.

But maybe it'll be enough to get me going next time.


Thursday, January 13, 2011

Ready on the right . . .

The tragic shooting in Arizona this week brought a hue and cry over gun rights. Second amendment enthusiasts are defensive, assuming that there will be a resulting tide of public sentiment for some type of restrictions on gun ownership.

Rhetoric from the golden oldies vault has been digitally remastered and is available now at this toll free number 800 672 3888. Sounds better than ever.

Don't blame the gun. Blame the shooter. Guns don't kill people. People kill people.

Solid Gold. Number 1. Been on the charts longer than Pink Floyd's Dark Side of the Moon, and produced far more hits.

But we miss the target.

The gun used in this horrific slaying will not be punished nor blamed. It is just a piece of metal (and plastic). The shooter will be blamed and he will be punished, as he should.

But that won't do anything for the six people who were killed, or the hundreds of Americans that have died in similar incidents in the recent past, nor will it do anything for the next group of victims of a shooting spree.

There might be fewer victims if there were fewer bullets. Instead of thirty one shots there might have been eleven in Arizona. That was the law of the land until 2004. A law with enormous loopholes, but the law nonetheless. The Automatic Weapons Ban limited magazines of semi-automatic weapons to a capacity of ten bullets. Again subject to enormous loopholes, but still, it was an impediment, which grew more effective as the years went on as the supply of pre-1994 high capacity magazines became more scarce and more expensive.

But that law left town before sundown, or actually right at sunset, in 2004, ten years after it was enacted, and has not been replaced by a conservative Republican Congress or a gutless Democratic Congress.

Blame, whether it is aimed at the gun or the shooter, is a weapon that will only fire blanks. It will save no one's life or limb, no one's child, spouse, parent, grandparent or friend.

But reasonable action might.

Nineteen people were shot. Do the math.

At least eight would not have been victims if only eleven shots had been available.

Is our right to be able to shoot twenty more bullets per minute worth the life of a nine year old child? Of a beloved husband and father? Of a promising young political aide? Of a retired grandmother? Which of the victims were not worth our consideration?

It's not about blame. It's about the right.

Not the Second Amendment Right, or the Poltical Right, or even being right.

It's about the right thing.

Doing it.


Thursday, January 6, 2011

The crashing of symbols

Republicans opened the 112th Congress with symbolism as Speaker John Boehner, Ohio Republican, began the reading of the Preamble to the U. S. Constitution. The remarkable document has much more depth than length, and the exercise did not take long, as members took turning reading the articles aloud until the entire document had been heard by all. **

I liked the idea of opening Congress in that manner, no matter what motivated it.

So now the 112th Congress is in place and sworn in, at least most of them. Two Representatives, incumbent Republican Pete Sessions and freshman Republican Mike Fitzpatrick actually were not sworn in before they started voting. It could happen to anyone, forgetting to attend your own swearing in ceremony. Perhaps they should have paid a bit more attention to the Constitution that their party so ceremoniously insisted on reading. Taking an oath of office is a constitutional requirement after all. It was a serious enough error to prevent Sessions from calling a committee meeting into session. The meeting had to be adjourned before it started because he had no authority to act having not taken his oath of office. Apparently watching the ceremony on TV is not constitutionally sufficient.

I place this in the things that make me chuckle category. It doesn't make that much difference in the big scheme of things, sort of like whether or not Cam Newton wears his mouthpiece. I do worry about Cam though. I doubt that he will ever be hit hard enough while playing for it to matter, but when he jumps into the stands those rowdy Auburn fans might accidentally injure him in their excitement.

The difference is Cam Newton never claimed that he always followed the rules about mouthpieces. He never insisted that the rules about mouthpieces be read aloud in the stadium before each game. I imagine if the ref calls him on it, he will just flash that engaging grin, which is evidence that he hasn't needed a mouthpiece so far, put it in for a couple of plays, and go back to being the superhuman football player that he is, with very nice teeth.

Republicans, by reading the constitution aloud on the floor of the house at the opening of Congress, by creating a rule that each piece of legislation must contain an explanation as to its constitutional basis, by creating a rule that no legislation shall increase the deficit, and touting new rules of transparency and frugality, have set a standard for themselves.

If only they would honor it.

They violated the Constitution before they even got started when the two Congressmen voted without taking their constitutional oath. No, as I said, that embarrassing gaffe will not make much difference in anything except for the sweet taste of irony and a good chuckle.

But I am afraid it is the real symbol of the opening of the 112th.

The Republicans defiantly and triumphantly announced that no legislation shall be passed that will increase the deficit. Except legislation that they favor otherwise, apparently. The first substantive matter to be taken up by the House will be an attempt to repeal Healthcare Reform, an attempt which they know is futile.

The Congressional Budget Office, which is a non-partisan agency whose duty it is to inform and advise Congress as to the economic and budgetary consequences of legislation, wrote a letter to Senator Boehner stating that a repeal of Health Care Reform will increase the deficit by a quarter of a trillion dollars.

Boehner responded that he doesn't believe the non-partisan agency, and that he believes that Health Care Reform will increase the deficit. He gave no basis for his opinion, other than he felt like it would cause unemployment to rise as employers were forced to buy health insurance for employees, a position that is also unsupported.

So apparently the Republicans promise not to add to the deficit was not exactly a promise. It just depends on what they want to do. Surely we should trust them to make these policy decisions. After all, they didn't get us into this financial disaster, this monstrous deficit.

Oh, wait a minute. They did.


Nevertheless, I wish them well. Maybe all the posturing is necessary for the sake of politics. Maybe in the end good things will be accomplished.

The strange thing is that while they were talking about cutting the deficit today by introducing legislation that has no chance of becoming law, another solid symbolic gesture, the President left them standing at the starting line in the race to cut spending.

The Administration announced a 78 billion dollar cut in the defense budget today. Some of that will regrettably be in health insurance benefits for veterans, and not so regrettably in boondoggle pork barrel defense contracts for useless weapons systems. And there will be a cut in the number of military personnel.

Not symbolic.

The thing about symbolic is that it doesn't hurt.

Because a symbol is just a representation. A representation of something real. I pray that Congress will do that for us.

Real representation.

**(There are those who have suggested that the Alabama legislature should do the same, since it is now in Republican hands. Two positive things could emerge. It would take so long to read the Alabama constitution aloud that the Alabama legislative body would have little time left in the regular session to do any damage, or, they could finally realize how ridiculously long, or how ridiculous and long, the Alabama Constitution has become, and is becoming with every passing statewide election.)


Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Stuck in the middle, stuck in my head . . .

I suppose when you have a TV show that will become pointless one way or the other on a certain date it makes sense to run it often. The History Channel is getting its money's worth out of a couple of programs that explain the prediction that the world will probably end in 2012. The prediction is based on the Mayan calendar and writings of Nostradamus. It's shelf life is only a couple more years at best. I hope the end of its run is the result of an embarrassing mistake rather than unexpected accuracy.

The narrator's voice, loaded with gravitas, takes a spin on the apocalyptical machine. Then an image of Nostradamus writings is flashed up on the screen. Nostradamus' prediction is clear, the voice says. Max out the credit cards, it's over in 2012.

Nostradamus said, "The huge dog will howl at night." That obviously means the United Kingdom. It doesn't seem so obvious to me, except that we all know that Churchill looked like a bulldog. I admit I have watched the show a couple of times. But ND's symbolism is not as clear to me as it must be to some. Maybe I'm in denial.

Some of the historians say that ND's predictions were couched in strange symbolism to protect him from persecution by Church authorities. He was a bit hard on the Roman Catholic Church. I always assumed he was just communicating in the language of the mystic.

Gerry Rafferty died yesterday. I don't think that was predicted by Nostradamus.

But Gerry did a lot of writing, just like Nostradamus. Except Gerry wrote songs, not quatrains. And some of the references were obtuse.

"Winding your way down on Baker Street."

I don't know where Baker Street is, sort of like I don't know what Nostradamus' "bearded star" really is.

But Gerry, like ND, made a bold prediction of hope later on in the song.

"Another year and you'll be happy. Just one more year and you'll be happy. But you're cryin', you're cryin' now."

I'll take that prediction for 2012 over Nostradamus' anyday.

And Rafferty made another eerie prediction about our political situation in 2012 that has been running through my head for the past two days, possibly because it played on every newscast that covered the story of Gerry's passing.

"Clowns to the left of me, jokers to the right, here I am, stuck in the middle with you . . ."

Gerry Rafferty left quite a list of pop songs. He had a solo career and played with several bands, the most famous being Stealers Wheel. It would be incredible to write a critically acclaimed piece of music like the classical composers. But I often thought that it might be just as wonderful to write music that made the world smile, even if some critics were more critical than acclaiming. Who doesn't smile when they sing "clowns to the left of me . . ."

Most of the songs that Rafferty gave us were like that. They made us smile. Songs to sing out loud in the car. But like most artists, he gave away a lot more of his life than he kept. Even pop artists do that. He suffered from depression and substance abuse. So, I'm hoping that he is enjoying the relief that he sometimes wrote about in his more obscure songs. Like "Time's Caught Up on You":

"One night -- you’ll stand again in the spotlight
And everything will be all right
And you’ll wake up from this dark night of the soul.
One night -- you’ll spread your wings and you’ll take flight
And everything will be all right
And you’ll wake up from this dark night of the soul."

Here's to hoping he finally feels "home and dry, home and dry . . ."

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