Saturday, March 17, 2012

Southern exposure . . .

Saturday. Sofa. Coffee.

First, a few things that have been on my mind at some point this week.  While I am a Democrat, I was glad the State of Alabama finally got some attention in a presidential race.  We have made it too easy on everybody for too long.  Since Alabama went all in for Goldwater in 1964, Republicans have been able to take Alabama for granted when it came to presidential elections, except when we voted for Georgia Democrat Jimmy Carter, our neighbor on the east, in 1976, and our own favorite son George Wallace, in 1968, who ran as the nominee of the American Independent Party.  Before Goldwater, or more accurately, before the Civil Rights Act of 1964, Alabama voted for the Democrat almost as automatically.  The only exceptions were when Robert Byrd and his vice-presidential choice Strom Thurmond, staunch segregationists, decided to run as independents in the fifties and early sixties.  (Robert Byrd received 6 electoral votes to JFK's 5 in Alabama in the 1960 election).

Normally, the Republican nominee has been ordained by the time Alabama gets a say in the matter, but not this year.  The now tiresome struggle for the identity of the GOP required the traditional lock-step to re-choreograph into a rather contrived square dance as the campaigns polished up their stereotypes and came to the strange new world of the real south.

While I disagree with most of my neighbors on the issues, I was impressed to hear how they expressed themselves during the TV interviews.  Reasonable, passionate and appropriately concerned, for the most part.  Worried about federal spending and big government.  Worried about the economy. Strong opinions about church and state and social issues without seeming crazy. More interested in expressing a position than being negative.  One side of an appropriate public dialogue.

By contrast, I was not nearly so impressed with the candidates themselves.  Creased designer jeans, cheesy grits, barbecue, football and y'all.

Bless their hearts.

I think they missed a chance.  The one thing we Alabamians don't like is being fake.  If you're from the north and say "you guys" instead of "y'all" we can handle that.   If you have more money than our state's budget, we don't care. Perhaps you are just a good business man.  If you like to wear preppy sweater vests, that's your choice.

But be yourself.  If you don't like who you really are, why should we?  And learn to laugh at yourself. I promise you could pick up a few votes and get a little more forgiveness.  I may be too sensitive, but the behavior of the candidates almost made it seem like they were laughing at us.  Not with us.

Anyway, I thought my neighbors represented us well.  Don't get me wrong, I still disagree with a lot of the positions they took, but the folks I saw seemed reasonable and genuine.  If Democrats ever matter in Alabama again, I promise to do the same.

I've been pondering a couple of other things this week.  Cousin Robert Bentley, the governor, announced across the board pro-ration of over ten percent in the state budget this week, while the legislature considers passing ideas from other states about mandatory ultrasounds for women or religious education. Serious tax reform to address the budget shortfall was summarily dismissed from consideration. Meanwhile, Alabama citizens who make less than $50,000.00 a year pay more in state sales and income taxes than those who make more, including sales tax on groceries. That is a moral value that a good Christian state  should correct.  It is wrong in anyone's book, especially in the Book for which our belt is known.  These are subjects for next week. Remember, it is important to pay attention.

I drove with my dad to the farm late yesterday afternoon to de-stress from a ridiculous week..  I was reminded  what a beautiful world we get to live in. The air was cool, the trees were budding, flowers and shrubs were blooming, rabbits were darting in and out of the greening wild rose bushes, and the sunset was indescribable.  It reminded me of a much bigger picture. I was refreshed.

It was dark by the time I got of the Prius at my house.   The scent of a cocktail of blooming wild shrubs was soothingly intoxicating.

I think I'll go out and dig some sassafras today.  I need a little spring tonic after the week I've had.

 And sometimes it's comforting to dig for real Alabama roots.


Saturday, March 10, 2012

Surely we can all agree on poison oak . . .

Saturday. Sofa. Coffee.

It is a beautiful morning in North Alabama. The bright sun has not yet taken the morning chill away, and the deer are still roaming at the edge of the woods behind the house.  Patches of  blue sky can still be seen through the bare branches of the trees up the hill, but it won't be that way a couple Saturdays from now.  The tips of the branches are loaded with green buds ready to explode.

Yep. Things are about to change around here.  Dandelions polka dot my yard, accented by wild onion.  Blackberry and wild rose bushes, sprouting tender young leaves, clandestinely sharpen their briars. Birds soar, dive and dart through my carport as nests appear in the corners of the ceiling, and in the utility room if I leave the door cracked.  I must remember not to let that happen again.

I enjoy the changes.  It is like traveling without going anywhere.  The changing scenery comes to me.

Which brings me to today's agenda.  When the world around me changes I have two choices.  I can participate in the change, or I can ignore it.  In Alabama, if one ignores the changes that come when Mother Nature awakes from her winter's nap, one might never be seen again, disappearing by mid-summer under a shroud woven of kudzu, blackberry, honeysuckle, summer cedar, wild rose, and Johnson's grass.

 As in life, participation can take different paths.  Often our first reaction to change is resistance.  Some changes must be resisted.  Take poison oak for instance. Please.  But please be careful.  That stuff is evil.  And like evil in our world today, it is everywhere.  When everything else was dying because of recent droughts, poison oak, the cock-roach of the flora world, thrived. Two years ago as the forest floor crunched with dead dry plant remains of all descriptions, a tempting, luscious bed of green carpeted the forest.  Poison Oak. And it lurks just outside my door, even today.  It must be resisted, if I can find my hazmat suit.

Other change must be controlled. That's a little trickier.  For one, honeysuckle is a nuisance, for another it is a vine to be cultivated.  Well pruned shrubbery is a delight to some, to others it looks like the lawn of an insurance company.  Bird nests in the carport are metaphors for the miracle of new life for some, but for others are just a source of nastiness, nuisance and disease.

So, I think I'll attack the evil poison oak first.  That will make it safe to go out and do those other things that aren't quite so obvious later.

Excuse me, I must go now, someone is knocking at the door.  I think it's kudzu. Or poison ivy . . . so creepy.


Thursday, March 8, 2012

Thurvey 3/8/2012

Thurvey time.  The air is full of politics and pollen as March brings an early spring and Republican presidential hopefuls to Alabama.  The stage is set for freedom of expression, economic, political and spring break at the beach.  So spread a bit of your own fertilizer and let the marketplace of ideas bloom with the flora of your responses to the Thurvey this week.  Simply write your thoughts in the comment box below, click on the "comment as"  drop down menu, click on "anonymous", then click on "publish".  Sign your name to your response if you wish.  If the comment box does not appear below, click on the little "comments" word below the post and the box should appear.

#1   Spring historically gets mixed reviews.  Tennyson wrote "In the Spring a young man's fancy lightly turns to thoughts of love . . ."    On the other hand, the Shakespeare's soothsayer warned Caesar " . . .beware the Ides of March."   I love the first warm breezes of Spring.  I don't care for the pollen carried on those breezes into my nose, or when those breezes start swirling into a funnel.  When I was a younger buck I enjoyed the early preview of swimwear on the lawn of Tutwiler dorm.  Now it bothers me that they let children enroll in college and behave like that.  What are your likes and dislikes of the vernal season?

#2  There is a lot of conversation about climate change.  Some say that it is due to the greenhouse effect in the earth's atmosphere from carbon dioxide, either naturally occurring or man-made.  Some say it doesn't exist at all. I suggest that this year's mild winter and spring is definitely a result of human activity . . . the bloated hot air and gas emanating from the politicians criss-crossing our nation.  Expect weird conditions in Alabama this week as the Presidential hopefuls join the locals in Alabama.  Which politician or other person has been a dangerous source of hot air?  Give your favorite, or most perhaps more appropriately, least favorite example of such blustery gusts.

#3  As recently as this yesterday,  God's name has been dropped in the political arena.  Romney said it would take an act of God for any other candidate to get the nomination.  Santorum said that he would certainly welcome an act of God.   While this exchange was more light than some of the other invocations, some have raised serious issues about the intersection of faith and politics.  Have you ever been inspired by a politician's comments about God?  Have your ever been troubled?   Describe the incident or comment.

#4  If the Alabama legislature could do only one thing during this session, what should it be?

As usual, feel free to suggest another question you want answered, or just free-style.


Sunday, March 4, 2012

The trouble with sleeping is the nightmares . . .

The state and, unfortunately, national debate over Alabama's immigration bill of 2011 continues as the Alabama legislature is getting back to work.  Groups are protesting.  Business people and educators are complaining. Religious groups are questioning. Conventions are being cancelled. Legislators are saying nothing much is expected to change.

I re-learned a lesson  last year, starting about this time. You gotta pay attention.  That horse that already got out of the barn can be a real jack-ass about getting back in.

This post won't be about the Alabama immigration law.  I am still against it.  I still believe it may be the most ridiculous piece of major legislation ever signed into law.  Even more than when I read some of the first drafts in the spring of 2011.  When I read the drafts I thought it was scary,an opinion based partially in self-interest.  Some of the original drafts  included the language in the prohibited activities language:

". . . and officers of the court."

That meant lawyers.  I am one of those.  The authors of that early draft were saying that any attorney who had knowledge of an illegal's status but did not follow the requirements of this law would be subject to its sanctions.  That was scary.

But so was the rest of it.  The "officers of the court" language was omitted from later drafts.  But the rest of the absurdities were not.  While we refused to watch, it passed.  It is terribly difficult to get a law unpassed.

I am not suggesting those of us who oppose this legislation give up.  I am suggesting we all be more attentive to what our legislative representatives are doing.  Perhaps raising our voices before laws are voted upon would be more effective.  Or at least the legislation might be improved by the protest, no matter which side of an issue you may stand on.

For instance, in the present session there are several ideas being considered that are worth a public conversation.   Rep. Blaine Galliher of Rainbow City is proposing legislation that would allow local school boards to approve elective credit for religious studies classes provided off-campus by churches or other groups for students whose parents approve. The school boards would have the final say to what extent their district participates, if at all, and set the policies and procedures.  Providing more religious education for students in the Bible Belt buckle is hardly a politically risky move. . . for the legislature.  But for the local school boards who are empowered to administer such a law?  What if the classes are held in mosques?  How will that fly in Alabama?  If that opportunity is available for one public student, is it available for all?    For a state already strapped for cash for education, one might wonder where the extra funds to implement and defend such a program will come from.  Just a few things to start talking about.  Especially by you local school board members.

Sen. Clay Scofield of Guntersville is proposing legislation to require ultrasounds for women seeking  abortions, with other requirements that they be verbally advised of the results of the ultrasound before signing the surgical consent.  The issue should be important to pro-lifers, pro-choicers, women's health advocates, women's rights advocates, libertarians, fiscal conservatives, physicians liability carriers.  We need to talk.

A proposal by Richard Laird of Roanoke to raise property taxes by half a mill seemed to have sufficient support in the House to move forward until Alfa and the Alabama Forestry Association lobbyists stepped in and squashed it like a pine beetle.  The proposal would have raised taxes on Alabama real estate.  An owner of a $200,000.00 home would pay about $8.00 more each year.  The measure would raise about $28 million dollars annually,  Twenty percent of the money raised would go into annuity funds for policemen and firefighters, and the remainder would go into the general, non-education, fund, to help alleviate the shortfall in medicaid and other programs for the elderly that are in trouble.  But it's not going to happen. Because we don't want to pay more taxes. For anything.  I wish we would talk about that.

Because Alabama is in a money crunch.  Governor Bentley is asking to cut roughly one third of the children on All Kids Health insurance because the State is out of money, even though the State only pays one=third of the costs.(And even though Alabama already has the 6th highest mortality rate in the nation for our children).  He is about to approve $300 million dollars in bonds for highway and bridge construction.  Fancy words for borrowing money.  It actually makes sense to borrow it now if we are going to, the interest rates are extremely low, but debt is debt.  Where are the fiscal hawks?   I favor the proposal, but where is the public discussion of how we spend our money?

See, this is the problem.  I doubt that many folks made it this far.  It is hard to make this stuff entertaining, inspirational or fun.  But with the health and education of our children at stake, with our beliefs being codified, and with actions toward others, humane or inhumane being sanctioned by Caesar, we must pay attention and have a good conversation.

I don't know about those mandatory ultrasounds.  But perhaps a public dose of Ritalin in the water systems to help us  keep our focus when the legislature is in session might be helpful.

Just a thought. Let's talk.


Thursday, March 1, 2012

Thurvey 3/1/2012

It is Thurvey (Thursday survey) time again.  Time to hear from you, dear readers.  Leave your timidity, false humility, inhibitions, apathy, or whatever is holding you back from expression, at the cyber-door.  If you wish to answer one or all of the Thurvey questions or freelance with a totally irrelevant response, simply type your response in the comment box below, choose "anonymous" from the drop down menu, and click on  "publish." If the comment box does not appear below, click on the tiny "comment" word below the post, and it should appear.  Now, to the Thurvey . . .

#1:  Rick Santorum recently said that President Kennedy's speech to the Greater Houston Ministerial Association, a group of primarily protestant clergy in the Houston area, on September 12, 1960, made him want to vomit.   That speech was delivered more than fifty years ago, as Kennedy assured the Protestant clergy that he would not be controlled by the Roman Catholic church.   Republicans pounced recently when it was suggested that Roman Catholic Hospitals might be required to provide employees' health insurance  that included payment for contraception, which that church does not condone. The tricky, yet wonderful principal of the separation of church and state, or if you don't like that, the anti-establishment protection of the first amendment of the U. S. Constitution, creates a constant tension in our country, filled with irony and passion.  One person's free exercise of religion impinges on another's freedom from establishment of religion. For the moment it is a major focal point in the 2012 Presidential election.  
Most of the Presidential candidates have spoken about their faith, some more than others.  What role would you like a President's faith to play in the conduct of his duties?   How does the interjection of religion into the political debate make you feel?  Do you believe religion is under attack in America?

#2:  I went to a concert in a cavern in Tennessee last week.  It was very cool. The Civil Wars was the last act to play.  What cool thing have you done in the past year or two that is good to throw out at a party to prove that you are a cool person who does cool things?  You can make something up if you need to. I don't. I went to a concert in a cave.

#3  Davy Jones died this week.  He was the squeezably cute, English accented member of the sixties made- for-TV,  Beatles knock-off band, the Monkees.   Who can forget the timeless lyrics to "Daydream Believer?"   

 " . . .Cheer up sleepy Jean, oh what can it mean, to a Daydream Believer, and a, homecoming queen . . ."

What is your favorite Monkees' song?  Or if you don't have one of those, what is your favorite most meaningless song that just makes you feel good to hear or sing?

Sorry. That's all the choices I have this week.  Feel free to post your own question if you think you can do any better.


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