Monday, October 31, 2011

Republican campaign update . . .

And so it has started. Sexual harassment charges against Herman Cain from a few years ago were discovered a couple of weeks ago and published today by Politico. The charges were settled out of court in a confidential settlement years ago when Cain was a lobbyist for the National Restaurant Association, so it is not yet known whether Cain's assertion that there was nothing to them is accurate. Sometimes such cases are settled for what is called "nuisance" money, meaning that the money paid was not because the accused was guilty, but that it would cost more to defend the case in court than pay a small amount to the complainant. That could be the case here. Cain should have been forthright from the beginning. His avoidance, vagueness, and inconsistent answers today did not help him at all, especially having been given ten days by the reporters at Politico to prepare a response. That may ultimately cost him the nomination, even if the accusations turns out to be minor. But the guy can sing.

Like chum to circling sharks the issue will draw every news agency, pundit, and opponent. We will know the complete truth soon, I expect. So let's move on.

Perry is gone. I mean he is on another planet. If you did not see his blast-off during a speech in New Hampshire last Friday, check it out. It defies description, other than he would fit in well in a smoke filled dorm room sitting on the floor discovering the apparitions hidden in the floor tile next to the nacho bag.

Michelle Bachman has yet to go anywhere. Like everyone else I continue to consider her a viable candidate, but I don't know why. Perhaps we would all just miss the joy of seeing what she says next. Ms. Bachman's mantra regarding her qualifications to be president is that she is a former federal tax litigator and has the knowledge to reform the tax code. Currently she is expounding the merits of the tax flavor of the day, the "flat tax." The problem is, many of her opponents are also "flat tax" advocates. So, using her vast tax lawyer knowledge and experience, she proposed her own "flat tax" during an appearance a day or two ago on ABC's This Week.

"I would not have just one rate, but I’ll have several rates,” she said.

I'm no federal tax litigator, but that sounds more like a progressive tax than a flat tax. She is just too much fun to lose.

Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich are not funny. But we may hear more from them as the rest of the field disintegrates.

John Huntsman is actually a good candidate. But, he believes in science, which is apparently a deal breaker in Republican circles this year and has struggled to break the three percent polling ceiling. He had the quote of the weekend regarding Mitt Romney, who he has really been going after.

Huntsman, in an ad, pointed out Romney's flip-flops, and at the end called Romney a "lubricated weather vane.

John Huntsman may be the only one left standing at the end of this all.

As he pointed out, the front runner can't seem to stand for anything for long.

To be continued. I am sure of it.


Sunday, October 30, 2011

How great your art . . .

I figure it must have been a day like this one when God finally sat down and rested, looked around and said, "Not bad . . ."

I got up in the dark this morning. The stars were brilliant pinpoints in a navy velvet canopy as I pointed the Prius toward Tuscaloosa. It has travelled that route so often I don't have to steer, especially on the empty roads of Sunday morning, so it offered me a chance to see the glory of a perfect late October morning in North Alabama.

There is something about the lay of the land and water along Highway 75 a few miles north of the Jefferson/Blount County line, right beyond Mitchell/Alex Smith farm, starting at the double bridges, that occasionally creates fog. Big, rolling, cotton pillows that absorb whatever comes through. The sun had appeared above Pine Mountain, but the gentle morning rays were no match for the ground hugging clouds. The Prius slowed to a crawl as I prayed that no one was stopped in front of me or speeding closer behind me. But it seemed we were alone in the grey quietness.

Then there was an explosion of light as the fog released us, and the mountains were on fire as the sun ignited the trees, flaming in red, orange, yellow and fading green, straining upward toward the cloudless, pure, striking blue, sky.


"Who said that?" I thought, but then realized the utterance came from me in kind of a froggy tone, being the first effort I had made at speaking since waking.

I get all het up about things, about politics and politicians, about justice and injustice, about religion and religiosity, about games and losing the top to the shampoo and incorrect change at the convenience store and the TSA confiscating my snowglobe statue of liberty at the airport and having to go to Walmart, again.

But there was no heat this morning, in the air outside or in my troubled soul. All those things that I make so important seemed so small, so insignificant, dwarfed by the morning masterpiece of the One who created and is creating.

As did I.


Saturday, October 29, 2011

Smiling faces, sometimes . . .

Saturday. Sofa. Coffee.

I enjoyed the World Series. My criteria for support in each game was which team had to win to make the series continue through the maximum seven games, because I had no dog in the hunt (a colloquialism that means I have no investment in the outcome of a contest, or in this case, I was not a supporter, or detractor, of the Cardinals or the Rangers). I just enjoyed watching the games, so my main concern was that the series continue for my entertainment.

Which brings me to the horse race for the Republican Presidential nomination. I love this stuff. I hope it continues for awhile. Looks like it will. Santorum is moving up on the outside on the far right even as we speak. Gingrich is bullying his way into position. Perry is tentatively holding his own. Bachman trails the pack but still denies it and will never be out of shouting distance. Not because she is close to the pack. She is just loud. Ron Paul is running his own race, refusing to be told what course to run. And Mitt Romney is boxed in against the rail to his left by every other rider to his right.

But for today Herman Cain is in the lead. And he is in Alabama. So let's talk about him. Seems like a really nice guy. His educational achievements are impressive. His life, family and religious experience resonate well with America.

He has a world class smile.

I don't know how these things happen, but when being referenced in articles, blogs and broadcast news, his name is generally followed by the appellation "former CEO of Godfather's Pizza." Until I looked it up I thought Cain probably still had flour dust on his apron from walking straight out of the pizza kitchen to run for president. Actually he resigned from the position in 1996, some fifteen years ago, after overseeing the fall of Godfather's from a #3 position nationally to #5, and a fall in annual sales of $10 million dollars over the ten years he ran the joint, first as an employee of Pillsbury, then as a part owner. It seems that the modifier after his name would be something more recent and perhaps represent a more successful experience, but for some reason that hasn't happened.

On the other hand, Herman Cain, the Washington lobbyist who attempted to prevent smoking bans for restaurants just doesn't seem so folksy.

And Herman Cain, the Washington lobbyist who attempted to prevent strengthening DUI laws by the lowering of blood alcohol content standards, just doesn't seem so "Washington outsider."

That's what Herman Cain did, and did right well, after he resigned from Godfather's Pizza. He was a Washington lobbyist. He made a lot of good and rich friends. He is gifted at making rich friends, like the Koch brothers, of Americans for Prosperity (AFP) fame.

Perhaps a more appropriate appositive following his name would read, especially after the now famous defiant smoking ad of last week,

"Herman Cain, lobbyist for tobacco and alcohol interests and friend of the uber rich . . ."

I suppose that didn't play as well in focus groups.

Another interesting, and now revealing, part of Cain's resume', is his work with Burger King in the '80's. He was a successful manager. He really was. Frustrated with a lack of authority to make any real changes in his 400 restaurants, like pricing and menu, he looked for something, an innovation, to increase sales.

He basically taught his employees to smile. And sales went up. The prices were exactly the same. The same artery clogging, empty calorie filled, nutrition deficient but addictably tasty menu was being offered.

But it was offered with a smile.

And the people bought it.


Thursday, October 27, 2011

Debates are empty . . .

It's what makes America great.

America watches as they take their positions on the center stage, in the bright lights, scrutinized by cameras from every angle, putting all that they are on the line, ready to answer the questions that remain. Well prepared. They know their stuff. They've been getting ready for months as other competitors have fallen by the wayside, to join and watch with the crowd, destined to wait and hope for another chance in another year.

The looks on their faces are serious as the gravity of the moment rides weightily upon their shoulders. Under sometimes furrowed brows their eyes are steely when taking stock of their adversaries, searching for weakness, constantly sizing them up, challenging their every move. Their faces glisten slightly from perspiration. This is a chance to win it all.

The audience is almost as impressive. They know their stuff. They wince at the mistakes. They hope, pray, applaud and cheer for their favorite. They are not as kind to those they oppose. They know their stuff and they let their opinions be heard.

The Republican Presidential Candidate Debates?

Are you kidding?

I was talking about the World Series. The Cardinals and the Rangers. They take this stuff seriously.

It is time for the Republicans to get a clue.

And take the world serious.

It's no game.


Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Smoke one for America . . .

Finally, a Republican candidate did something that really got my attention in a positive way. And it was the conservative Senator from Pennsylvania Rick Santorum, with whom I disagree on almost everything political.

When caught clandestinely watching the screen of his smartphone during a series of political speeches by other candidates at a rally last Saturday, he came clean. He was checking the score of the Penn State football game. A breath of fresh air.

Speaking of fresh air, who is advising Herman Cain? Check out his TV ad, if you have not seen it. Watch the whole thing. If the Republican race were not already so bizarre, you might have noticed Cain's hopes going up in smoke at the end of that video oddity. In the wake of gaffes left by former front runners Bachman and Perry and Trump and whoever else I mercifully forgot or mercifully never made it to the top of the polls, this little bit of strangeness will hardly be noticed.

But the ad intrigues me. I have two theories of how it came to be.

First, perhaps Democrats have infiltrated the campaigns of Republican candidates and are giving them horrible advice. Some have had plenty of experience doing that for Democrats. Remember the John Kerry wind surfing ad? Or Dukakis in the tank? (both the military kind and the resulting poll results). That would explain a lot about the fortunes and actions of the Republican front runners so far this season.

But I think Republicans are too savvy, or paranoid, to let something like that happen.

I think Herman Cain knew exactly what he was doing having Mark Block end the ad taking a big drag on a Marlboro and blowing the smoke right back at the camera.

Herman Cain knows that the votes he needs to become the Republican nominee will be from people who are tired of the government telling them what to do . . .like telling them where and when they can light one up.

It is a subtle message for personal freedom, blown right back in the face of big, over-reaching government. and inhaled joyfully by a group of fed up, nervous voters.

I can see the next one, if Herman would allow me to offer an idea. The scene is Ellis Island, that sacred entry way into America. Lady Liberty herself bends down, not to an immigrant, of course, but to some workers on a smoke break, and offers her torch while saying . . .

"send me your huddled masses, yearning to breathe free . . .that delicious nicotine enriched carbon monoxide without government intervention. . . "

In a totally unrelated story, Herman Cain was a lobbyist from '96-'99, fighting against smoking bans in restaurants and gaining great favor with the tobacco industry.

All that smoke isn't coming from burning pizza.

And that's no exhaust vent he's trying to blow it up.


Saturday, October 15, 2011

Voice lessons . . .

Saturday. Sofa. Coffee.

I am voiceless this morning. Okay, not really voiceless. I have a voice. Terribly low and quiet. J. D. Sumner without talent and therefore mercifully without volume. I forget how much I depend on my normal, loud voice. In the wonderful clatter of the Huddle House it was difficult to make my order of a farmer's omelet and wheat toast heard by the counter waitress. Conversation with the Saturday morning breakfast crowd was impossible, and I felt alone, even among the host of folks dressed up in their finest Roll Tide regalia. The best I could muster was to mouth RTR. I noticed mothers holding their children close to their sides and mouthing something that looked like "call 911" as my indistinguishable words were no more than muttering, so I decided it was better not to try to communicate any further.

I made a few more stops this morning, and learned that having no voice leads to invisibility. It is hard to get folks attention, much less communicate what is needed. At a couple of yard sales and the CVS I wandered aimlessly, feeling like Ebenezer Scrooge as he viewed his life without being able to be heard.

Lately I have had the occasion to spend time with a cat. A fine cat indeed. This cat has a voice, a persistent voice, which she is not afraid to use. What Bimba lacks in vocabulary she makes up for in volume, both loudness and number of utterances. She meows as she wanders. clearly attempting to draw attention to the wonders of her life to those around her. If proper attention is not given to her observances, she resorts to those amazing ways that cats have of getting attention. She has an uncanny catty ability to determine where a human's eyes are focused, be it a computer screen, a magazine, a book, or another human, and places herself directly and unavoidably in the line of sight, sometimes reclining directly on the human's object of focus, like a living bookmark. She knows that she should not be ignored, and knows how to make that impossible.


Humans are not so different from Bimba. If our voices are too low or too quiet to be heard, out of desperation we we ultimately find other ways to get attention, to let our needs be known. And it can be really annoying to those of us whose focus is elsewhere.

The wild-eyed homeless man holding the cardboard sign asking for food or work interrupting our lives at the bottom of the exit. Picket lines of workers who have lost their jobs, health insurance, and pensions blocking the entrance to a public building. Arab Spring protesters in the streets of Cairo and Benghazi. My favorite Mexican restaurant closing in protest of the Alabama immigration law.

Tea Party. Occupy Wall Street.

Sure, there are eccentric fringes among the crowds of the voiceless. For those of us who don't want to hear, it is easy to dismiss the lunatic fringe. But the fringe is only the fluttery, unraveled edge. The middle of those groups are not so lunatic. They are just desperate. In the middle of voiceless groups there are things that need to be heard by the rest of us, no matter how inconvenient. Because when you are voiceless for a long period of time, you are forced to listen. Forced to listen to the voices of power that drown out everything else. Forced to listen to those who seem to have taken your voice. Forced to hear things that the rest of us have been able to ignore because we are too busy talking with our respected, loud voices.

The thing about being voiceless is that you are forced to spend a lot of time listening. And there can be a lot of truth and wisdom gained from listening. But that wisdom is useless unless it is given the opportunity to be shared. And the respect to be heard.

When the voiceless plop themselves right down in our paths, right in our precious focus, we get irritated. We call them lazy, crazy, shiftless, right-wing nuts or anarchists or hippie wannabes. And we hope they go away.

But as diverse as these groups are, like the Tea Party and Occupy Wall Street, the thing that they have in common is they felt like their voices were not being heard.

It was hard to let my order be heard among the chatter and clatter of the Saturday morning Huddle House crowd. But a waitress came to me as I sat at the counter, leaned in close as she heard my struggling voice and asked what I wanted. I had to repeat myself a couple of times before she could understand. But she stayed right there with me, patiently listening hard.

I could tell she had done this before. Stopping and listening hard among the noise and commotion until she understood.

We could learn a lot from that Huddle House waitress.

We could learn a lot if we stopped and listened . . .

for the wisdom of the voiceless.


Saturday, October 8, 2011

Chewy goodness . . .

Saturday. Sofa. Coffee.

I helped eat a pan of Special K Bars last weekend. Not the snack bar found on convenience store shelves. Homemade. A healthy base of Special K cereal mixed with peanut butter, corn syrup, butter, sugar and chocolate. There is probably some other stuff, but I don't know because I didn't help make it, I just ate it. It took all weekend to eat because this batch of Special K Bars had an added benefit.

You couldn't do anything fast when trying to eat them. I don't know if there is a scientific scale for such, but this batch of SKB could have been used for the standard for the ultimate degree of chewiness. As a result of that consistency, removal of a piece of the confectionery delight from the pan required such a whole body workout that the number of calories consumed was matched by the number of calories burned during the removal process. A couple of Cutco knives were dulled during the effort. And then, when success had been achieved in excavating a chunk of the gooiness and it was popped into the mouth, it had staying power, providing about 983 chews per tablespoon. If you have been wanting to develop that strong, square jawed look so valuable when running for political office, negotiating a sale, or taking a photo for a dating website, then this is the snack workout you have been looking for.

Eating the Special K Bars required a little more work, was a little messy, and took time. They were delicious. And slow. Something to chew on.

There will always be a place for quick fix snacks, small, mostly sugar morsels that melt in the mouth and disappear after a quick burst of satisfaction, like Pixie Stix or Skittles. They will get you by for a moment when there is no time to do anything else. But they have no staying power.

There is nothing to chew on.


Wednesday, October 5, 2011

That's Radical, man . . .

At the OBS (Ongoing Bible Study) at Lester Memorial UMC tonight I sat in on a study of David Platt's book "Radical." I have not been able to attend the study, so I was just a spiritual parasite as I sat around the table, listening to and engaging in the discussion with people who have actually been involved in the group study for several weeks.

Platt, who is the pastor of the Church at Brook Hills in Birmingham, Alabama, is on a prophetic mission, it seems, to exhort Christians to take back their faith from the American dream. Read the link above for a far better synopsis. Perhaps even buy the book.

Tonight the discussion was centered on the question "What is enough?"

The question has two meanings in the context of the book. One of the primary premises is that American materialism is an obstacle to living out the gospel. The question of what is enough regarding the accumulation of stuff, or wealth, runs throughout.

But the second meaning of the question, in the chapter discussed tonight, is, when have we given enough of our stuff, or wealth, or life away?

In the course of the discussion it occurred to me the frustration created by the exercise. If we are exposed to the hurts of the world, the poverty, the hunger, the disease, the oppression, the injustice, quite often we have a desperate desire to do something. Sometimes we might even adjust our way of living, not spend so much on things, give money to good causes, even engage ourselves in service.

But there are millions of people in the world in misery, and my efforts simply cannot make a difference, it seems, in the face of slums and tenements that stretch for miles, or countries where there is no food, or where disease is rampant and medical treatment is lacking, or where governments or religions oppress the masses.

That is no excuse for me, of course.

But it is obvious that the efforts of individuals, of me, while necessary, are not enough.

We simply must learn to do these things together, without worrying about who gets power, or credit, or religious or political benefit, or anything at all.

As a follower of Jesus, I am not called to save the world all by myself, but to be part of a body, a connected organism, moving and working in concert. I am afraid that the Body of Christ in the world today is like an uncoordinated, unsteady infant, unable to control its limbs and balance, unable to focus its sight, unable to articulate its thoughts, as it struggles to make its way out of the arms of its encouraging parent and walk.

An infant is by nature self-centered. The capacity to be concerned for the needs of others comes with maturity.

It is time to grow up.

If all of us who profess to follow Jesus really were following, and that would be hundreds of millions of people across the world, then working together there is no limit to what could be done.

But maybe that's not even enough.

We talked again about Matthew 25:31, known as the parable of the sheep and goats. Read it if you want to, it is a scary story told by Jesus. It has always been interesting to me that Jesus said nothing about the religion of the people who were headed to heaven. He just said that they were good to go because they had been good and kind to the least, the last and the lost. Period. No other requirements listed. In fact Jesus said that there would be many who said "Lord, Lord," and claim to have done great things in His name that would not make the heavenly traveling squad because they didn't do His will. Another scary passage. So it seems the will of God is the most important thing.

I have felt a call in my life to follow Jesus. But I don't know what others feel, nor have I heard their call. I do know of Jews and Muslims, secularists, agnostics and atheists who share my desperate feeling to do something about the misery of the world. The desire is common to the better part of being human. Where that desire comes from is an interesting point of discussion, but to a starving child, a dying mother, an imprisoned political figure and others in misery, these interesting points are painfully irrelevant.

And I wonder if they are irrelevant to God as well.

If it is best to accomplish what Jesus commanded, to feed the hungry, heal the sick, clothe the naked, visit the imprisoned, stand with the outcast, to love and to serve, then who are we as Christians to deny the company of any person who has the same intense desire, no matter their belief or disbelief?

Enough is enough.


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