Thursday, February 24, 2011

The right mix for the USA
Now’s the Time                          

A Cocktail Party

Various commentators have been urging a “wait and see” attitude toward the Egyptian revolution, and it appears our political leaders are planning to do just that. There is a time for caution in world affairs. This is not one of them. This is the time for bold action.

The United States for years has supported the Mubarak dictatorship in Egypt to the tune of about $1.5 billion a year. Most of that goes to Egypt’s military, which now has control of the country. Our annual gift, a huge amount for a struggling Middle Eastern nation, provides just the lever needed to make a worthwhile change in our policy.

Right now, we can replace our traditional lip service in support of democracy with concrete action, and it won’t cost American lives or make any additional impact on our depleted treasury. President Obama should announce to Egypt and the world that if the key demands of the protesters who unseated Mubarak are not met by dates certain, our financial contributions to Egypt will come to a screeching halt.

This simple action might restore a measure of respect for America throughout the Muslim world and elsewhere. It would send a clear message to other dictators we support that they must provide their people with fair judicial systems, free media, and personal security, or our support will be withdrawn. It also has the virtue of being the right thing to do.

So do it, Mr. President . . . now.

For the announcement of the founding of the Great American Cocktail Party visit the August 5, 2010 post titled “Coffee, Tea, or . . .” in the archive on the right-hand column of this blog.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Power to the Pizza

Tens of thousands of demonstrators have turned out in Madison, Wisconsin, to protest the new governor’s proposal to bust unions that represent teachers and other public employees. As things in Madison tend to do, the story has developed an odd twist. News reports say people from around the world are ordering pizzas from a restaurant near the State Capitol to feed the protesters.

As an old, skeptical, journalist, I checked it out. A phone call to “Ian's on State” verified the story. It took me about 15 minutes to get through to an Ian's employee. He said the number of foreign callers had increased in just a few hours from people in 12 nations to citizens of 25 countries, including people in Africa and the Middle East. Egypt and Turkey were among the latter. Orders had come in from nearly all of our 50 states.

Business is so good at Ian's that the firm has suspended its regular delivery service in Madison to concentrate on making and delivering food for the demonstrators. They have also simplified the system. The only orders being taken are for $20 pizzas. Callers are asked if they want to tack on a tip for the delivery person.

If you want to support the demonstrators, phone an order to Ian's at 608-257-9248 and hit 3 during the automated message to reach the State Street location. If you want to oppose public employee unions, you can post a comment on Ian's Facebook or Twitter sites. 

Thursday, February 17, 2011

High Standards

Those who believe college fraternity members learn only how to consume a lot of booze and charm young ladies are incorrect. I learned many skills as a Sigma Nu at the University of Wisconsin, some still useful.

When I was a pledge, active member Lou Kocsis served as House Manager. The job paid the cost of his room, which was $25 a month. Kocsis fulfilled his duties as though his compensation was several thousand dollars a month. He was studying engineering on the GI Bill after serving as a sergeant in the U.S. Air Force.

The biggest part of Kocsis’ responsibilities was making sure the public areas in the Sigma Nu house were cleaned weekly. We pledges did the work, most of which was assigned every Saturday morning to be sure things were in top shape before the usual Saturday night party with dates.

I clearly remember Kocsis, on my first Saturday as a pledge, instructing us in the fine art of toilet cleaning—the Air Force way. That involved getting close to the work and a lot of elbow grease. The result was supposed to be sparkling white bowls that would have made any inspecting officer proud. Kocsis was a fairly big man with a big voice. I never forgot the lesson, although it didn’t seem like the type of instruction that would be very useful to a college grad in later life.

But it proved to be useful.

BW (beautiful wife) Sandy and I had several long discussions when I was considering early retirement. I was more than ready to join the ranks of the gainfully unemployed, but wanted to be sure we had carefully considered the change and were in agreement. I was pretty sure Sandy would approve if I chose to retire. But just to sway her if there were any doubts, I said she would never again have to clean a toilet.

A little basic math says I most likely tidied up toilet bowl number 17,000 sometime in the fall of last year. And every time I get up from my knees (the only Kocsis-approved position for bowl cleaning), I think:

Does that measure up to Brother Kocsis’ standards?

Thursday, February 10, 2011

What’s He Full Of?

The Rev. Ralph White, pastor of Bloomfield Full Gospel Baptist Church in Memphis, TN, has decided to refuse to baptize a child in his church unless the parents are married.—WMC-TV news report. 1/31/2011.

“Suffer the little children to come unto me, and forbid them not: for of such is the kingdom of God.” –Jesus of Nazareth to the disciples. Mark 10:14, St. James Version, Christian bible.

What “full gospel” does Ralph White subscribe to?

Tuesday, February 08, 2011

Last on the List

Everybody, except me, thought it was a joke. All who asked were told the very last item on my “Bucket List” was to watch the Green Bay Packers win one more Super Bowl.

Ridiculous? No. A careful assessment after watching the movie about the two old codgers who wanted to do many things before they cashed in, plus several reassessments later, showed about three years ago I had done the next-to-last specific thing I wanted to do in my lifetime. The Packers gave me the opportunity to take care of the last one. I was content as I tore up the old bucket list Sunday night.

However, even before the old list hit the bottom of the recycling bin, a successor called my “dream list” started developing. It includes three items at the moment. Only two are likely to happen.

The first really is a “targets of opportunity” generality. Now that my bucket is empty, I want to concentrate more on doing things that benefit other people. This one is sort of like a New Years' resolution. Maybe I’ll make it happen; maybe not. Chances of success: 70-30.

My second dream is that those idiotic wars in the Mideast will come to an end during my lifetime and not be replaced by other unjustified military adventures. Chances of success: near zero. When will we ever learn?

Once again, the last item on my list depends on the Packers. To fulfill my dream, they need to build on this year’s improbable Super Bowl win to put the franchise where it rightfully belongs—atop the football world.

The Packers and Chicago Bears have played 182 times, and it is galling that Da Bears are eight games ahead of the Packers in the series. That needs to be corrected.

Although the Packers have won the most professional football championships—thirteen—The Steelers have won six Super Bowls and the Dallas Cowboys and San Francisco Forty Niners each have triumphed five times. This is an intolerable situation for Packers fans. Our heroes only have four wins. We need three more to make things right in the record books.

I wrote this year’s team off after the fourth game as the number of players out for the season with injuries was growing faster than a snow drift on the east shore of Lake Michigan in January. I was wrong. I underestimated the depth and talent of the squad. The coach and general manager turned out to be far smarter than some of their public appearances led me to believe they were.

Sunday’s achievement, events in the weeks leading up to it, and the age, contract status, and ability of the entire complement of players foretell a bright future. Barring serious injury to the quarterback, Green Bay is going to be a powerhouse for eight to ten years. That’s plenty of time for them to take care of their responsibilities on my “dream list.” And I’m expecting to spend at least that many years working on the other items and anything else that seems important.

Friday, February 04, 2011

Then, Spin Dry

It’s impossible to work up the kind of intense dislike for the Pittsburgh Steelers that true Packers fans have for the Chicago Bears. Really, it’s hard to work up any sort of bad feelings for the Super Bowl opponents, so this will have to do for a pre-game razz:

The wife of a Pennsylvania man was ill, and he gallantly offered to do the laundry, a task he never had undertaken before.

Soon after he entered the laundry room, he yelled to his spouse, who grew up in Wisconsin, “How do you wash a sweatshirt?”

“It depends,” she answered. “What does it say on the shirt?”

“Go STEELERS,” he yelled.

“Use hot water, a full box of Tide, and four cups of bleach.”

Thursday, February 03, 2011

May the Ranchers Be With You

One of the things we like about our new home is the way Michigan state and local governments have provided connections with recycling systems.

Most of our household trash is picked up monthly at the curb by a private contractor hired by our township who separates plastics, glass, and paper for processing. State law makes it possible for cans and bottles of many types to be returned to major supermarkets at any time for a refund of the 5 cents each that we pay when we buy the originals.

Where we previously lived in Utah, aluminum drink cans were the only items readily recyclable. We saved them in big bags in the garage for a couple of months, and then had to make a 12-mile roundtrip to a junkyard in a shabby part of Ogden to collect five or six dollars. We did that, not because we were hard up for five bucks, but because we were strong believers in the benefits to society of recycling. Lots of people didn’t bother.

Enthusiasm for new large-scale recycling programs surged throughout the country in the early 1970s as the environmental movement began to flower. The new activists no longer were satisfied with supporting an occasional paper drive by the Boy Scouts or our traditional reliance on random trips to junk dealers who bought scrap metal.

I was the Public Information Officer for the Boise National Forest in Idaho in 1972. The Forest Supervisor was designated as the liaison between the U. S. Forest Service and the state legislature. One of my duties was to help with the legislative tasks.

Up popped a bill in the legislature to require food markets to pay five cents for every metal can turned in to them. At the time, most cans sold in Idaho were steel, not aluminum, and the economics of reusing can metal were not good. An association of can manufacturers and several large grocery chains announced their firm opposition to the “five cent bill.”

One legislator and two prominent environmentalists asked us to testify in favor of the bill. We had to get approval from the Regional Forester to give testimony on a state matter. We asked for approval. A denial came quickly. Regional Office staffers said although we had littering problems on National Forest land, it was a minor concern compared to other issues. They did not want us to appear to be interfering in a state matter by pushing a recycling bill in what was a very conservative state.

Dick Stauber, our Recreation and Lands staff officer, wanted to support the bill. So did I. Stauber was a stickler about keeping our facilities and adjacent lands in good condition, and he thought anything that would reduce litter was worthy of endorsement. I thought supporting the bill would give us some needed support from local environmentalists.

As good civil servants often do, we found a way to game the system. Stauber volunteered to testify, and we had a little strategy meeting with Supervisor Ed Maw. Maw grew up in Idaho and had many contacts in our area. He was well aware that environmental groups were relatively weak, and commodity groups were powerful. He also knew ignoring Regional Office people generally was not a good idea. He reluctantly agreed to let Stauber go ahead. Maw told me to accompany him to the hearing. I got the feeling he wanted me there to take the blame if something went badly wrong.

The hearing room was crowded. Opponents of the bill spoke first. Maw was fidgeting around nervously in the chair next to me. Then, a few supporters spoke before Stauber was called. His opening words were:

“I’m Richard Stauber, Recreation and Lands Staff Officer for the Boise National Forest, U.S. Forest Service. I’m testifying in favor of this bill as President of the Boise Chapter of the Society of American Foresters.”

Who could argue with that? He didn’t really claim to represent the Forest Service. I wondered later if he actually asked any SAF members what they thought about the bill. He indeed was the local chapter president that year, so maybe he felt he didn’t have to.

A few minutes later the hearing ended. Maw had stopped fidgeting and had a little smile on his face.

I said, “Stauber did a nice job, don’t you think.”

Maw said, “Yeah, but that didn’t matter much. As soon as I heard that guy from the Cattlemen’s Association support the bill, I knew we were in good shape.”

Unfortunately, our trickery didn’t carry the day. The bill died in committee. But we did come away with a few new friends, and no new enemies.

Wednesday, February 02, 2011

Thanks, Adam and Phil

As we contemplated a foot of new snow covering our "nothing-should-really-be-this-long-and-wide" driveway, two wonderful things happened.

Our good neighbor Adam appeared with his snow blower to clear most of the white stuff.

Puxatawney Phil appeared above ground to forecast an early spring.

Thanks, guys. We needed help . . . and hope.