Thursday, September 30, 2010

The Cocktail Party is Tolerant

A misguided Salt Lake Tribune reporter recently suggested to a local representative of the liberal Coffee Party that the organization might do better in the Beehive State if it changed its name to “The Postum Party” or something similar. The Coffee Partier acknowledged his small group had caved in to local pressure when it provided mostly fruit punch and water at its first meeting.

Although coffee is served almost everywhere in Utah, sipping the stimulating beverage is contrary to the “Word of Wisdom,” and therefore strongly discouraged by the Mormon Church. The usual Cocktail Party refreshments fall into the same category. We cannot expect a surge in Cocktail Party membership in Utah.

On this issue, the Cocktail Party stance is clear and firm. We will not consider name changes that detract from the essence of our mission statement: “To serve the people of the United States by creating an excellent blend of good government and personal freedom.” We assert that “Cocktail Party” strongly reinforces the “blend” concept, and therefore is entirely appropriate for us. We refuse to pander to other viewpoints merely to recruit a few members.

The Cocktail Party, however, is tolerant of all. When attending meetings, you may bring your own bottle, or bottles, of anything you choose. We provide hot water as well as hot air, so you can whip up a nice cup of hot chocolate or an exotic tea if you like. Or, you can mix a hot toddy. It’s your choice entirely.

Cocktail Partiers value individual freedom. We think what people drink is irrelevant to what is in their heads and hearts, unless, of course, they fuzzy up their mental and physical processes with too much of the good stuff.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Sideline Humor

In 1964, I assumed much good humor was to be found in sports.

When my publisher at the Wisconsin Rapids Tribune decreed I would write a weekly column on subjects of my choice, I decided to end each offering with a sports joke. Some national stories were available from a news service we subscribed to. I was sure I could find enough humor in and around local sporting events to fill in any blanks and end my column with a rib-tickler every Wednesday.

I was overly optimistic. Despite efforts by many comics and writers, there really weren’t all that many good sports jokes around. After a couple of months, I dropped the “leave ‘em laughing every Wednesday” strategy for want of material. That dearth of sports witticisms hasn’t changed much in the ensuing 45 years. But on Sunday morning, I think I “heard a good one lately.”

I was telling a dedicated Detroit Lions fan of my intent to root hard for the local favorites that day, for two reasons: (1) my beloved Packers were idle, and (2) the Lions were playing the Vikings. Minnesota would be led by an aged quarterback named Favre, who readers of this blog may know is not one of my favorite guys.

“Didn’t you hear the news this morning?” the Lions’ booster asked. “They’ve renamed the team. From now on, the Lions will be known as the Detroit Possums. It makes sense. They play dead at home, and get killed on the road.”

He said it; I didn’t. The “Possums” played true to form that afternoon. They suffered their 22nd consecutive loss on the road, which ran their record to 40 losses against just 3 wins since the midpoint of the 2007 season.

Even a joke at the Lions’ expense eases the pro football pain around here.

Friday, September 24, 2010

In Grateful Memory

Senior Airman James Hansen, Athens, Michigan. Killed in an explosion, Iraq, September 15, 2010

Thursday, September 23, 2010

On a Clear Day

Mike Hathaway, who I worked with in the Forest Service’s Eastern Regional Office before he became Supervisor of the Nicolet National Forest in Wisconsin, recently sent along an entertaining list of fun phrases. The statements were created for Lexophiles, people who are lovers of words. Lexophiles favor wordplay when they try to create a bit of humor.

The phrase that tickled me most was the first one on the list:

“I wondered why the baseball was getting bigger. Then it hit me.”

Another item on the list, although a bit more of a groaner, reminded me of a story:

“When the smog lifts in Los Angeles, U.C.L.A.”

Smog obscures the landscape in several other places out West. I lived in one (Ogden, Utah) and occasionally traveled to another (Missoula, Montana) on Forest Service business.

Missoula was one of my favorite cities to visit. I liked the friendly people who lived there and the generally easy-going ambiance of the small city. However, temperature inversions often could blanket Missoula with thick fog mixed with air pollutants, creating dense soup very much like the more-famous L.A. smog. It happened fairly often.

Jim Blaisdell, an Assistant Station Director when I worked at the Intermountain Research Station, was in considerable demand as a master of ceremonies for special occasions. He had a dry wit and a talent for using it inventively. Blaisdell had worked in Missoula early in his career.

A visitor from Montana to Station Headquarters learned of Blaisdell’s earlier assignment and asked how he had liked living in Missoula. Blaisdell said, “Well, we lived there almost six years. One morning the fog lifted and we found out it was a pretty nice place."

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Instant Legality

About four years ago, the genealogy bug bit. My modest response to the itch was to google around a little on the Internet to see if any Klades would turn up in Germany or thereabouts. One did—a resident of Bremerhaven, a principal port city.

That was especially interesting, because family lore held that Grandma and Grandpa Klade both sailed from Bremerhaven to America in the mid-1800s. They did not emigrate together, however. They met and married in Wisconsin.

My German e-mail contact’s husband was a Klade who grew up in Austria. That also was interesting, because no American Klades I knew ever mentioned any Austrian Klades. The wife wrote to me because her husband was not fluent in English. She did very well with the language, and we exchanged many messages before the cyberlink was broken. Her address stopped functioning; I never learned why or was able to reestablish the contact.

We failed to establish any links between the American Klades I knew about and the Central European variety. Toward the end of that exploration, I asked about access to documents in Bremerhaven that might provide some details about the early days of my grandfather and grandmother. “Are you sure you want to do that?” my pen pal asked.

She said the local Prince who reigned over the area that now includes Bremerhaven decided to empty as many of his prison cells as possible to save money. He turned robbers, rapists, murderers, and other unsavory characters loose if they would agree to sail to America and never come back. To smooth the way, the Prince provided phony birth certificates and other documents. Many young German men, who violated laws by avoiding military service, joined the jail birds. Often, they used fake identities to get out of Prussia, Bavaria, or other Germanic countries and into the U.S.

“A lot of German-Americans were criminals,” my contact said. “There’s no assurance your relatives weren’t among them.”

We are a nation of all types of immigrants. Slave ships delivered many. Indentured servants stayed once they worked off the costs of their passage. Many fled political or religious persecution or economic deprivation. And, the official stamp on questionable documents at Ellis Island instantly converted many of our ancestors from illegal to legal arrivals.

Perhaps a dash of humility would be in order to temper some of the current intemperate rantings about illegals.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

No Words Came

It was the ninth anniversary of 9/11. I was not feeling well. I was late getting out in the rain to properly display my flag to honor 3,000 innocent people killed by a gang of thugs.

I spent some time standing in the drizzle looking at Old Glory dripping raindrops like tears.

I tried to write some memorable words to say how I felt. Nothing came.

I took a photo as the rain let up. It will have to do.

Thursday, September 09, 2010

A Total Jerk

Terry Jones is pastor of a 30-member, off-beat Christian church in Florida who intends to burn copies of the Koran on Saturday in remembrance of the 9/11 attacks on the U.S. Jones, who has been called a “dangerous fanatic” by members of a church he founded earlier in Europe, certainly is that. He also is a total jerk.

Of course, our Constitution allows Jones to burn Korans as long as he does it within the context of applicable laws and regulations. Jones has ignored the procedural part of the free-speech freedom. He intends to proceed despite the fact that local authorities rejected his request for a burning permit.

The list of those who have urged Jones to back off is impressive. Sarah Palin called his plan “an unnecessary provocation.” Secretary of State Hillary Clinton deplored the idea, and a member of her department called it “un-American.” General David Petraeus said the book-burning could “endanger our troops and the entire operation in Afghanistan.” The Pope condemned the plan from the Vatican. Other Christian and Jewish religious leaders world-wide have implored Jones to cancel the Koran burning.

Jones, at least at the moment, says he will go ahead anyway. One reason he gives for burning a book 1.5 billion people consider holy is to “honor the souls” of 9/11 victims. Does he include the souls of 59 innocent Muslims killed in the attacks by the jihadists?

Jones says he fully supports our troops, and is distressed that his action may endanger them, although he will go ahead anyway. Do those he supports include the 15,000 Muslims currently serving their country in the U.S. Armed Forces? It seems unlikely this poor excuse for a Christian will find a way to honor and insult those brave men and women at the same time.

Cocktail Party Explodes

Just a month ago, the Great American Cocktail Party was launched right here (“Coffee, Tea, or . . . “ posted 8/5). Membership has quadrupled in the few weeks since the organization unfurled its banner.

And there, folks, you have two examples of what to expect lots of in the weeks ahead as we move toward Election Day in November. Many think we can’t get there fast enough.

The headline is designed to get your attention and compel you to read what promises to be an interesting item. The problem is, it has little to do with the actual story. This sort of sensationalism has been raised to a fine art by reprehensible rags like the National Enquirer, a “junk journalism” publication many of today’s internet authors and radio and television script readers seem to have adopted as their model.

Cocktail Party membership indeed has quadrupled. The deception here is one of omission. Membership was on the low side to begin with.

With a little practice, one could become expert at phony headlining and statistical manipulation. That could earn a lucrative job as a talk show host. And, if the editorial black arts were practiced adroitly with charts and graphs accompanied by raving and ranting, the perpetrator could become a famous television commentator.

Although the body politic may have been under whelmed by formation of the Cocktail Party, a few individuals were whelmed to some extent. Bill Hamilton, who retired as national head of publishing in the U.S. Forest Service, signed on and even suggested a motto for the fledgling party:

“A politician should have a pimp for a brother, so he’d have someone to look up to.”

Hamilton, a stickler for accuracy, was quick to point out that this statement originally chastised editors, not politicians. It appeared in "The Portable Curmudgeon," by Jon Winokur, 1987.

As an ex-editor, I winced upon learning that. However, considering the number of “editors” who love to conjure up sensational headlines and story lines and let all sorts of phony statistical usage and analyses get into print and on the airways, perhaps the slap was deserved.

Thursday, September 02, 2010

They Also Suggested

The recent (7/22) post, “Let Me Suggest,” an uncomplimentary review of the Geezer’s experiences with suggestion systems, brought a flurry of reports from retired U.S. Forest Service folks about their unsatisfying encounters with the organization’s system.

Malcolm Furniss, entomologist and Project Leader, Intermountain Research Station, said he remembered the system as “Mickey Mouse.” He recalled receiving three $25 suggestion awards over a lengthy career, but said the ideas were so insignificant he can’t remember what they were. Furniss also recalled an associate getting an award for suggesting that employees should save paper clips.

Al Groncki, State and Private Forestry in the California Region, said he devised a form to make it easy for those considering retirement to analyze their financial situation. The calculations could be complex. His suggestion was adopted for national use. Why are we not surprised to learn the award was for $25? Groncki said he doubts today the form or references to it could be found within the Forest Service. Years ago, Groncki used the form to help out in an important personnel matter, so he thinks the government got its $25 worth.

At higher levels, sound suggestions could be ignored. Larry Lassen, who served as Station Director at the Southern and Intermountain Research Stations, said in his latter years with the Forest Service he frequently suggested that national meetings of Regional Foresters and Station and State and Private Forestry Area Directors (RF&Ds) should be less frequent, could have substantially shorter agendas, and ought to involve fewer individuals.

During Lassen’s career, the RF&D group numbered 20. Various others were invited to give presentations or just sit in for a while. I was drafted to help provide support for one RF&D meeting in Salt Lake City. Four of us devoted nearly two full days to routine support, and the number of individuals in the meeting room was 30 or more most of the time.

Of his frequent suggestions during critiques that the meetings be scaled down, Lassen says, “Alas, it seemed that the number of meetings increased and the number of non-RF&Ds increased.”

Tom Harlan, long-time Public Affairs Officer who retired as an Assistant Director in the national office, gets my vote for the best story. Harlan began by offering the opinion that employee suggestion awards “have to be in the most dysfunctional category of the public sector.”

Harlan recalled an incident from his early days in the 1960s at the Rogue River National Forest in Oregon:

"An employee got tired of having mops and brooms and other cleaning equipment thrown all over the broom closet. So he filed an employee suggestion that hooks be installed on the wall so the implements could be hung from them (he got a cash award for the idea).

"About a year later, the same employee made a suggestion that the hooks be removed from the walls because people kept gouging their heads on them. So the hooks were removed, and the employee received another cash award."

“How’s that for a great system?” Harlan asks.

How, indeed?

My blog post ventured into the private sector with some criticism of suggestion arrangements at Borgess Medical Center in Kalamazoo. The result was a prompt phone call from a gentleman in Customer Service at the hospital who had read the post. He apologized for the original failure of hospital staff to call me, and solicited my ideas about the suggestion system.

The phone call was a very nice response to my complaint. I was especially pleased that no mention of $25 was made.