Thursday, August 26, 2010

Two Dumbs Don’t Make a Smart

Just because you can open your mouth doesn’t mean you should. Often, that's not smart. Just because you can erect a building where a whole lot of people don’t want it doesn’t mean you should. Usually, that's not smart.

Our President is an excellent speaker, but once in a while it appears his mouth starts working before the idea is fully developed. Such was the case that added fuel to The Great Mosque Controversy.

Barack Obama could have stayed out of the whole matter, which would have been smart. Instead, he uttered a basic truth one day—that we have religious freedom in the United States and we should defend it—and qualified the statement the next day—he was not going to make a value judgment about whether or not religious freedom should be exercised by building a mosque in downtown New York City near the 9/11 attack site.

Taken out of context as I’ve just done, the two statements seem harmless. But the context is that a significant number (20 percent or so) of Americans believe two falsehoods about Obama. They think he was not born in the U.S. (he was born in the State of Hawaii) and that he is a Muslim (he was baptized by a United Church of Christ minister more than 20 years ago, and regularly reads the Bible). Despite the truth of the matters, anything Obama says or does to reinforce either of those unfounded beliefs damages him and his political associates.

The rest of the context is that a very large number of Americans are suspicious about Muslim beliefs and intentions. After all, that was not a group of Seventh Day Adventists who launched attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. Those are not roving bands of Baptists killing our young men and women in Iraq and Afghanistan.

American Muslims could best counteract the distrust by assuming activist roles in the fight against terrorists and speaking out against them at every opportunity. That would demonstrate their good intentions to their fellow Americans. Building a mosque near the 9/11 site would have the opposite effect. The intent certainly is not to exacerbate Judeo-Christian ill will. The reality is it would do just that, and the mere idea already has done so.

It seems fair to say American Muslims can expect more sympathy and tolerance from a government controlled by Democrats than one dominated by Republicans. The New York Muslim group shot themselves in the foot with the mosque proposal. They handed the right wingers in the GOP in issue they will use to their advantage in November election campaigns. The mosque issue will help energize GOP activists, and give party candidates some votes from independents they might otherwise not have received.

Although he was morally and ethically correct with his first statement and sensible with the second, Obama hurt his party’s chances in the Congressional elections by elevating the discussion to center stage when he chose to make presidential comments about the issue in the manner he did.

Dumb and dumb.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

A Record Run

We’ve reached the “dog days of summer,” which is bad enough in itself, but for thousands of young male bodies this is a horrible time. Boys (and a few girls) across the land who fancy themselves as football players are about at the midpoint of preseason practices.

Just the thought of this late-summer punishment nearly six decades after my last gut-wrenching pushup on a hot, humid August day is sufficient to take most of the fun out of one of my current better days. An old (very) song advised “You Gotta Be a Football Hero” to “get along with the beautiful girls.” Well folks. the goal is worthwhile, but the price is too high.

I went out for the football team at Tomahawk High School as a freshman because it was the thing to do. For me, it probably wasn’t the thing to do. I liked the games, but I hated those practice drills.

Facilities at our small northern Wisconsin school hardly matched student enthusiasm for athletics. Our tiny, overcrowded locker room was upstairs from the school boiler room. When a lot of sweat from a lot of over-worked bodies and steam from the even smaller communal shower permeated the locker room, the boiler room might have been the better place. Football practices and games were conducted at Pride Park, six long blocks from where we suited up in front of our lockers.

Pride Park was named for a person, not as an endorsement of the quality of the facilities. When we went there for summer football practices, the restrooms were locked. Relieving a full kidney, throbbing bowel, or unsettled stomach required a run to the woods behind the decrepit baseball grandstand. When you got to Pride Park in football regalia, you were six long blocks from civilization.

In my freshman year, a benevolent coach, Ed Kidde, let us walk those six blocks to and from practices. Unfortunately for the slackers among us, Otis Mehlberg, a fitness fanatic, took over a year later. He required us to run the six blocks. Upon arriving at the practice field, we ran a couple of laps around the perimeter of the field, did a couple of hundred yards of wind sprints, had a calisthenics session, and then started practice. It was brutal.

A few over-enthusiastic team leaders actually sprinted for most of the six blocks in a macho contest. The rest of us dogged it as much as we could. We hid behind trees to avoid coaches’ eyes. Or, we jogged when we spotted the coaches nearby (they drove in Mehlberg’s personal car, yelling at any slackers they spotted), and then lapsed into a brisk walk, or a slow one if we could get away with it.

The sprinters posted some impressive times, but a plodder set the standard for the six-block trip. A big tackle, Bill (Gunny) Sachs, covered the distance in record time. Sachs was a good athlete, who also was a very nice guy. He got the high school-practice field sprint title in a way he didn’t deserve.

Our manager, Jack (Doc Swab) Hanson, dispensed few medications, but he was known to occasionally rub on some Atomic Balm (also known as red hot) to loosen taut, aching muscles. On the day Gunny Sachs set the speed record, someone rubbed a bit of balm into his jock strap before he put it on.

We noticed Sachs twitching around and performing strange gyrations when the team assembled at the practice field before starting the usual lap runs. He finally went over to Mehlberg, urgently whispered something into the coach’s ear, and tore out of the practice area in the direction of the high school. With the shower room as the goal, we were sure Sachs covered that six blocks faster than any runner before or since.

We blamed the prank on Gene Schreiber, not necessarily because he was the culprit. We automatically blamed anything like that on Schreiber. Usually, he was guilty. Schreiber once showed up in the boys’ locker room wearing a pair of girl’s gym shorts he somehow liberated from the locker room next door.

Were I to counsel teenage males nowadays on how to “get along with the beautiful girls,” I would tell them to forget about striving to be a football hero. A better idea would be to buy a guitar and try to make it as a rock star.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Sorry, Brent

Darn, he proved me wrong. Brett Farve showed up in Minnesota yesterday, and today threw a pass in practice. Thus, he kept more faith with his Vikings teammates than I thought he would. He showed up two weeks before I said he would. I apologize for my error in judgment.

Fave said this will be his last season, maybe. The prima donna of football ought to apologize for his unending, childish waffling.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

A New Brand?

His own agent recently called old number 4, Brett Favre, a “Drama Queen.” Wonder if they’ll put it on the back of his jersey when he shows up just in time to suit up for the Vikings’ opener against the New Orleans Saints on September 9?

One teammate said it would be “fair” to the alternate quarterback and other members of the squad if Favre would declare his intentions to play or not play this season at least a few weeks before the first game. Wanta bet he’ll do that?

There’s no fair in Favre.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Internet Garbage

Cal Samra is a former Associated Press reporter and a reporter and columnist for the Ann Arbor News. For the past 25 years, he and his wife have published The Joyful Noiseletter, a delightful compilation of humor and wisdom used in sermons and church bulletins by Christian leaders of all denominations.

Samra is not a fan of internet “news.” In a speech at a recent conference on “Newspapers in Crisis,” he deplored “the explosion of misinformation and slander on the Internet and the ‘hit-man mentality’ of so many journalists and bloggers.” He said, “The Internet is a haven for hatemongers, fearmongers, and rumormongers whose pronouncements are equivalent to road rage.”

Geez, I hope he wasn’t including this humble blogger among the miscreants. But I can comment on his commentary with one word—Amen. As in real life, a few strong dashes of common sense and common courtesy applied to what is written and sent over the Internet would make cyberspace a better place to visit.

I resolve in the future to challenge every falsehood forwarded to our e-mailbox (most are of the political variety). If that costs me a few friends, so be it.

Thursday, August 05, 2010

Coffee, Tea, or . . .

The right mix for the U.S.A.
Extremists want their position, and only theirs, to prevail on political issues. If the often-expressed definition of politics as “the art of compromise” is correct, they have no chance of being satisfied with any government action, or lack thereof, based on laws enacted by our elected representatives. Frustration is inevitable.

Lately, the frustration seems more intense than usual. We have a motley collection of right-wing nuts in the Tea Party and other fringe groups getting a lot of media attention. We have an equally motley group of left-wing nuts mucking about with something called the Coffee Party.

What’s new? Our present radical parties both claim they are not parties at all. The Tea Party crowd steadfastly refuses to propose its own candidates or develop a coherent platform. It seeks to exercise clout by vehemently opposing anyone who is “not conservative enough,” whatever that is, or who supports “big government,” whatever that means.

Tea Party adherents have spewed hate, waved obscene signs, and even advocated violence in a few cases, at rallies across the land. Not everyone has engaged in this sort of reprehensible conduct, but many did. The trouble with right-wing extremists is that too many of them are mean and selfish people. Many are woefully uninformed concerning the things they keep howling about.

Unhappy with what they viewed as excessive media coverage of Tea Party activities, two radical liberals formed the opposition Coffee Party in January. It quickly ballooned into more than 200,000 Facebook members by the end of April, and millions visit its web pages. Adherents have held one round of local meetings and are planning a national convention.

Coffee Party leaders say one of their goals is to restore civility in political discourse. That’s a laudable, but tall, order. America seldom has experienced a lot of civil political discourse, although most agree there has been even less civility than usual lately. Some practice runs may be needed. At an early Coffee Party meeting, several attendees hissed and booed various statements that mentioned conservatives. Surely, this was not a demonstration of civility.

True to the common perception of way-out liberals, the Coffee Party intends to employ a vague process of “collective deliberation” to arrive at a decision (they don’t say what problems are being addressed!), and then implement the decision, whatever that means. Vague nonsense such as this is why left-wing extremists are such a small minority in our country. The trouble with left-wing extremists is that too many of them are wildly impractical, and often the upper-crust among them exudes an abrasive arrogance. They are as out of tune with mainstream Americans as the arch-conservatives on the other end of the spectrum.

It is interesting that the Coffee Partiers banded together because the Tea Partiers were getting too much ink and air time. That remains true. One hardly hears or sees much about the Coffee Party and their ideas, or lack thereof, in the media. We hear a lot about the Tea Party. Whatever happened to the “liberal media” invented by and complained about by far-right wingers for years?

What does the advent of the radical “parties” tell us? It appears a fair number of Americans are dissatisfied with the performance of both traditional political parties. The role of political parties is to define positions and produce slates of worthy candidates who will support the positions. A lot of people believe Republicans and Democrats have done a poor job of that lately. So, what should we do?

We should form a new party that better reflects core American values and fearlessly uses analytical approaches to solving our many problems. I propose we do that without delay. The American Cocktail Party’s goal will be to “serve the people of the United States by creating an excellent blend of good government and personal freedom.”

I would volunteer to be the party’s first presidential candidate, but I’m wary of taking on such heavy responsibility. I wouldn’t vote for myself. As a fully mature adult, I might need to take a nap when the red phone rang, and that would not be good. I will, however, respond to what is expected to be a huge groundswell of interest by serving as party chairman.

Unlike me, the Cocktail Party will be constantly on the alert. After all, it always is meeting time somewhere. Unlike the Tea and Coffee parties, the Cocktail Party will not be automatically against anything, and we will shoot straight arrows rather than warm fuzzies at problems.

The party will encourage grass-roots participation up to a point. The problems are obvious, so Cocktail partiers will save a lot of time by leaving it up to the chairman (me) to describe the issues. Anyone may propose problem solutions; however, the party platform will be developed by a small committee. The planks will be specific, not a bunch of generalities. The Cocktail Party will back candidates who sign statements pledging support for at least 90 percent of the actions recommended by the party. Voters will actually know what they are voting for!

Leaders of the American Cocktail Party will consider all ideas, but scant attention will be paid to gutter-sniping from the extreme left or right. Instead, Cocktail partiers will march straight down the middle, advancing Old Glory as the standard of a nation steadily moving forward. We may stagger slightly at times, but we shall never fall or retreat.

What do you think? Want to sign up? The party starts at 5 p.m. everywhere.