Wednesday, February 27, 2008

God and Man now wail

I received the news that William F. Buckley was dead. I recalled the description of Woodrow Wilson when he was handed a note describing the death of Theodore Roosevelt, “First, a look of shock, then a small sympathetic nod, followed by a satisfied smile.” Buckley has been the scourge of liberals for half a century, a haughty, born to the purple elitist who once backed down on his position that blacks should not vote in the south by adding, “well, neither should the ignorant whites.” Bill Buckley and his former model and heiress wife spent a good deal of time sailing to the Canary Islands and skiing in Switzerland. Like George Herbert Walker Bush, he was born on third and thought that he’d hit a triple. He took everything that riches and prestige could buy him at Yale , including membership in the Skull and Bones Society, then he graduated and published a book (that he had to give $10,000 to the publisher to get  done) called God and Man at Yale, in which he attacked that venerable old institution as a cell of collectivist atheists. William Buckley was everything that I am not, and everything I detest most, packaged into a smirking , smarmy, cigarette inhaling body. Yet I loved the guy. I shall miss him and pronounce the world poorer for his passing.

 

My first memory of Buckley was as an oft quoted spokesman for Barry Goldwater in 1964. A year after that debacle, he decided to run for Mayor of New York City. A metropolis fresh off a World’s Fair, a race riot, and three straight last place finished by the Mets. The Yankees were down, the Giants were down, as were the Knicks and anyone else with New York on their jerseys. The swinging Sinatra town of the 50s had been replaced by a city in which over a million members of the middle class had left, abandoning it to a few very rich and many very poor. Mayor Wagner, sensing that New York’s run was over, at least for awhile, stepped down and the Democratic Banner was carried by the diminutive Abe Beam of Brooklyn, an  “old school” ward healer. The Republicans chose the very glamorous John Lindsey, Liberal Republican representing an East side silk Stocking Manhattan district. A Kennedy handsome do-gooder, beloved by  socialites with a conscience everywhere. These were the final days of Rockefeller Republicanism, the greatest and most sensible brand of Republicanism in the history of the party. My kind of guys.

 

Apoplectic at the thought of Lindsey representing the Republican Party in Gracy Mansion, Buckley called a Press Conference and announced that he was running for mayor. When asked how many votes he expects to get he says “one, my secretary”, when asked what he will do if he wins he says “demand a recount”. So for the next couple of months, Buckley blows around town, debating Beam and Lindsey, in fact, making mince meat out of them. All in the hopes of electing Beam and running the Rockefeller Repubs out of the party. But a funny thing happens. Buckley starts appealing to Democrats, at one point running with about 20% points, a very close third. In a panic, Beam and Buckley meet and Buckley agrees that he will not respond to any criticisms Beam makes. But it’s too late. Lindsey wins.”The best laid plans..”. The thing I recall most about it is that Buckley and Norman Mailer then show up on the Tonight Show (starring Johnny Carson) to discuss the race in a light hearted manner. That’s when I knew, this is a civilized man. He may have some Neanderthal views, but he behaves like a civilized man.

 

Lindsey went on to challenge Richard Nixon for the Presidency and ended up converting to the Democratic party. Beam hung around New York and finally got himself elected Mayor, just in time for the city to go Bankrupt in 1977 (“Congress to New York City, Drop Dead”).Buckley started a TV show called Firing Line, wrote most of his fifty books, and continued editing the National Review until fairly recently. The paper says that his book on Barry Goldwater is due out soon. I have never purchased a Buckley book, and I won’t buy this one, but somewhere along the way I plan to read it. We are all diminished when our enemies pass on. We are doubly diminished when those enemies were  decent human beings. It is a sad day for the literate. Even those of us who don’t spell so well.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Here's to Harry

As I type this, I am joining many fans across the nation, toasting the 10th anniversary of Harry Cary’s death. In just two minutes, Harry’s widow, Dutchie, will be making a toast to Harry at Harry’s old restaurant in Chicago. I can’t believe that he’s been gone for ten years, especially since I feel that I am personally responsible for his death.

 

In March of 1998 I was at HoHO Kahm park in Mesa, Arizona, watching an exhibition game involving the Chicago Cubs. As was usual in those days, octogenarian Cubs announcer Harry Cary grabbed a mike in the middle of the 7th inning and lead us in “Take me out to the ball Game”. Harry usually left the park after that duty and as I saw him walking toward my seat and toward the exit that day it suddenly hit me that I really wanted to introduce myself to Harry. I’d been listening to the guy all of my life and I had always enjoyed the fact that he seemed to drink pretty heavily on his job. I also enjoyed the fact that he did not much care how he pronounced the player’s names, whether properly or not. He was just my kind of guy.

 

So Harry is strolling toward the exit with an entourage of hangers on and security men. I hesitated in leaving me seat. Indeed it was that hesitation that was my (and Harry’s) undoing. Realizing that Harry was moving faster than anticipated, I picked up my pace to a very fast walk, some may argue a trot, and I am not going to dispute the fine difference between the two forms of locomotion. At any rate, Harry looked up and saw this six four three, two hundred and whatever pound man moving toward him at a quick clip. I might have also had a rather determined look in my eye. Harry, I must say, over reacted, his did the rest of his crew. Harry flung himself backwards and up against a wall next to a restroom door and began to sort of slide or slither down the wall, limiting himself as a target in case I was armed. A couple of security guys stepped forward to block my progress. After a few seconds, the security noticed that my hand was stuck out in the universal sign of friendship and they relaxed a bit. Harry, his eyes clouded from drink and fear, slowly began to rise to his full old man height and he very gingerly, with bent are, stuck a hand over the arm of one of his protectors for me to wringe.He withdrew the hand as quickly as possible and, continuing to hug the wall, continued his exit from the ballpark. I will never forget the look of drunken terror behind those owlish black framed glasses. I took a second to recover my thoughts and began the walk back to my seat. I remember telling my friend Gaston, damn, I could have given him a heart attack. Gaston agreed and we both had a good laugh over it. We laughed about it right up until the next February when harry did die. I have felt responsible ever since.

 

Here’s to you Harry.

The morning news shows were all a flutter this morning over the prospect that the presumptive  Presidential nominee for the Republican party, John McCain may have had an affair with lobbyist Vicki Iseman eight years ago. The news guys are trying to treat it as an implied “sex for influence story”, but that aspect is so weak that the main impact seems to be to remind the voters that McCain was once a close personal friend of good old Charlie Keating, who got convicted of all matter of scandalous savings and loan dilly dalliances about 20 years ago. A Senate committee sort of cleared McCain of all that, all though they did formally question his behavior.

 

McCain, who was 64, to Iseman’s 32 at the time of the questionable activity between those two, brought his wife to a press conference this morning to denounce the smear campaign. This served to remind everyone that Iseman is a dead ringer for McCain’s wife (his second wife by the way, nudge, nudge).The best part of the story involved a bunch of unnamed former aids to McCain who said that they had taken it upon themselves to “save McCain from himself” eight years ago by insisting that the Senator stop showing up in public places with the blonde lobbyist. They also claim to have had a secret meeting with Iseman at the Union Station in D.C. to try to get her to stop the apparent maneuvering. McCain denies all of this and I tend to accept his version, that these grandstanding aids are simply trying to tell all of us that their vigilance saved McCain for the country by breaking up a tawdry affair. Would that Bill Clinton had had similar friends.

 

One particularly sanctimonious talking head (cough, cough, Matt La…cough cough) said that “they”, he and his cohorts in the media elite, had known about this story for months, but had not broadcast it. It is clear that it only came out in the New York Times today because the New Republic was about to go with a story on the fight at the Times over whether to print the story or not. As was said this morning, the Times would rather be wrong than scooped. The New Republic would have used the cover that they were not writing about a McCain affair, just writing about the media struggle over what is news and what is not news.

 

At any rate, the Republic has now been saved and Ms. Iseman can join the ranks of Monica Lewinski and Paula Jones as footnotes in journalistic and political history. Somewhere, probably at the National Review, someone is talking to Obama’s old cocaine supplier and we will be treated to a cool story  about that aspect of his life. It will be a lot livelier than what he, himself, has written about. I look forward to its publication and the subsequent denials and press conferences involving that too. Because it is a poor country which chooses its leaders based on the issues and how a candidate responds to them. All of us should be focusing only on the worst moments of any particular candidate’s private life. That’s how we ought to elect Presidents.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

The Ageing of America

There has been a dramatic life expectancy increase in America which no one ever talks about. Pets are living longer and longer, and consequently are running into many of the same problems as the ageing human population. I got interested in this when I read an article about the Japanese opening up old age homes for pets. While this may not happen next week in America, it will happen soon. Your Federal government funds a number of old age homes for chimps, complete with plentiful outdoor activity (one assumes tires swinging from trees) proper nutrition and VCR facilities in the common room. As of now, I don’t think that the chimps are getting televisions in their bedrooms, but if the Democrats win the white House next year, who knows ?

 

But back to household pets, and this is astounding, cats have increased their life expectancy since 1988 from between four to five years to fifteen years. That is amazing. Think of what that would mean to a human. Twenty years ago you died at 75, today you would live to be almost 300. One article I saw gave the primary impetus to the increased lifespan as “nutrition”. Perhaps it is time to add “Little Frisky’s” to the dinner time menu for all of us.

 

I think about ageing pets because I live with two of them. An 11 year old dog and a 12 year old cat. The last thing I do before I go to bed every night is try to coax the dog in from her last trip to the backyard. This almost always takes a bribe of a “treat” of some sort. Once I’m in bed, I spend many evenings trying to move the cat from the middle of my back over to a place where I will be able to sleep. This is harder than it sounds for two reasons, the cat is very stubborn and I am a wimp. In an earlier day, the concept of “kicking the cat” was not even considered animal cruelty. Farmers would often gather up a bag full of new born kittens and go drown them. But things have changed. Such action would be a crime today. In California, the legal concept of “pets” has passed away. Animals that live with humans out there are legally “companions”. Here in Austin, we allegedly have an animal control system that will not exterminate animals. I recently talked to a volunteer who works with the animals in Austin that are exterminated. Huh ? She explained to me that they still exterminate “non-adoptable” pets. So just about as many pups and kitties get the gas as ever, but no one in town knows it. It is as if workers at orphanages went through the wards and picked our all the older, fatter and less attractive kids and put them down.

 

The Japanese probably have the right idea. One of my law partners told he that the Social Security System had been a great boon to this country because “it got the smell of death out of the house”. Back in the 1930s, pretty much everyone died in a back room of their home, or, a home that used to be theirs, but was now run by their ungrateful progeny. Sometimes these folks would linger for years. Social Security gave the old folks enough cash to where the kids did not feel so guilty about kicking them out and putting them in a home for the aged. No muss, no fuss, call  me when Granny kicks in. Well the way my “companions” are behaving. Leads me to believe that this is not such a bad model to follow. I spend hours a week doing things for my “companions” that are directly related to the ageing (if not dementia) process. The dog wakes me up every morning, sometimes at 4:00 a.m. by putting its nose on my hand and pushing. This is her sign that she wants to go downstairs and stare out the window of the front door. She does not need any help from me to do this, she just does not wish to do it without my being down there. Once I reach the first floor, I am greeted by the cat who meows at me until I turn on the water in the kitchen bathroom sink and lift him onto the sink so that he can drink water. He has all the water he needs in a bowl, but prefers, indeed insists on, moving water. Then the cat meows at me for a few more minutes until I lift him up on the counter and feed him. He has taken to doing this several times a day, at all hours. Over the last year , the cat has taken to finishing his breakfast and then coming over to the couch and chasing his tale for several minutes, in a way which can only be described as manic. The dog, who used to go outside two to three times a day, now  insists on going our eight to ten times a day, most of those times after I get home from work. In these animals, I see the same crotchety behavior that I see in most humans over the age of about 70. They are impatient, demanding and, often abrasive. I’m sure that they see me as impatient, self centered and uninterested in their lives. I have been down this road before.

 

The thing that no one will talk about is the possibility that the cat lifetime will continue to increase, with the dog not far behind. If the cat increases its life expectancy at the same rate it did over the last twenty years, we are all going to be living with a bunch of senile, 60 year old cats. I guess this was the plan all along. Dogs and cats “mans best friends” have always been the “Uncle Toms” of the animal kingdom. While virtually all animals avoided domestication , dogs and cats took to it like gold fish to a gold fish bowl. They could not wait to do their little “Step n’ Fetchit” routines in order to ingratiate themselves with and finally, move in with the humans. We have been feeding and pampering these species for thousands of years now. Soon, they will be outliving us ! Their sneaky little take over plan will be complete. It took awhile, but soon every dog (and cat) will not only have its “day” but everything else it wants.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

 

Meat Cleaver Massacre

I see by the morning paper where a 30 year old man killed his grandmother with a meat cleaver because grandma objected to the man bringing home a prostitute. This happened in San Antonio. I would have possibly guessed San Antonio as a likely spot for a meat cleaver murder, although Bayonne, New Jersey would have been my first choice. That just seems a more likely place.

 

Meat cleavers are very, very common implements to be used for murder, if you happen to live in Toontown, home of Roger Rabbit. Some animal or another was always getting hold of a  meat cleaver and chasing some smaller animal around with it, back in the cartoons of my youth. Don’t know why the meat cleaver was the preferred method of killing over, say, a steak knife, but it was. I think it may have been that a meat cleaver is wielded (at least by oversized cats who can run about on two legs) with both hands and creates a more interesting picture of mayhem than a knife, when carried across the screen. Visualize, if you will, with me, Sylvester the cat, meat cleaver waving over his head, chasing after the little yellow Tweetie Bird. Funny stuff. I don’t recall a single cartoon character who was ever actually killed or wounded by a meat cleaver. I have a vague memory of one being split from head to toe by a cleaver, but then coming back together in the next scene.

 

We had no meat cleavers around my house as I was growing up. Nor were there any loose sticks of dynamite, falling boulders, short cannons with large mouths that worked by simply pulling a string, mill saws and conveyor belts, soft barreled pistols that could be bent by your enemy so that you ended up shooting yourself in the face, Mexican jumping beans that when you swallowed made your stomach, and then you, bounce around, balloons that when grabbed would carry you up into the stratosphere where you were liable to  take quite a fall when a road runner shot the balloons with a pea shooter (for that matter, I never had a pea shooter),floor boards that would spring up and flatten your face, doors that opened directly onto deep canyons or trains that might come steaming through the living room. I never saw a steam roller in the neighborhood, or a black ball shaped bomb with a burning fuse.

 

I suppose that we will never know why this fellow in San Antonio had access to a meat cleaver. Maybe he was a butcher. I have never read that butchers were more likely to bring prostitutes to their grandmothers house than other occupations, say, Architects, but I have never studied the matter. At any rate, this was apparently no cartoon. If it had been, the Grandma would have had a little Tweetie bird who would have ended up taking care of the situation. “Gwandma, I taught I taw a pwahstitoot ! and a puddy tat wit a meat cweaver ! “ Then,  the  cat would have swung the meat cleaver and missed and continued rampaging through the house until it befell some grizzly end of its own making. I don’t know what would become of the “pwahstitoot” in the cartoon. That is an angle that the Warner Brothers seldom played up. I know what happened to the “pwashstitoot” in San Antonio though, she was found dead from a single gunshot wound to the head ,caused by a 357 magnum. “ Ha he, hee hee hee, hee hhee hee, that’s all folks”

Friday, February 15, 2008

From the Onion

Not much happy news today, rather than drag you down I have just inserted this story from my favorite newspaper “The Onion”

 

 

Blogger’s Mother Only One to Mourn Missing Blog

 

Austin (The Onion)- Jay Porter, mother of Wade Porter is apparently  the only person to notice the gap in her son’s blog on February 15 of this year, and certainly the only one to miss the story. “ I don’t actually have a computer myself”, said Mrs. Porter ,82, of Houston, Texas. “But my daughter in law knows how much I enjoy the stories and she prints them off and sends them to me every week or so. I became concerned when the new batch got here this week and it was missing Friday, February 15.I called Rayda to see if Wade had been sick, but she said no. She had not even noticed the gap. I love Wade’s blogs, especially the ones about his Fifth Grade teacher, Mrs. Gryder, that bitch ! and his little friends Tracy Davenport and Herb Farnsworth. I tell my friends, Wade’s characters are so universal !”

 

When reached by his mother at work, Porter assured her that he was feeling quite well, he just had not been able to come up with anything worthwhile to say that day. Porter told the Onion, “Usually the blog writes itself, especially if there is some real bizarre news story on C.N.N., but that day  all the news was bad, and nothing was coming to me.On the way to work I thought about doing a blog on writer’s block and how scientists had discovered that it was really just constipation of the brain. I had come up with some funny names for brain laxatives, like” Keo-brain-tate” and “Gray Matter Flush” but I just did not think that I could sustain the joke for 500 words. I guess I could have run a “Best of Mill of the Gods” but all my blogs are on archive so that my fans can read them anytime they want. They deserve better than an old blog.” At this point Porter pounded his desk and said, “my readers deserve the best, the very best, I’m not going to short change them with some 200 word homily”

 

When questioned about the extent of Porter’s readership, his wife said that three or four friends will look at it occasionally. “He really is pathetic, one day he called me at my job at the library to say that he had written a blog about the homeless guy who had urinated all over several hundred books at our downtown  branch. He wanted me to show it so some co-workers. I told them about it and I guess they must have  looked at it because when he got home, the first thing he said to me was ‘my blog got seven hits today’ . You’d have thought he had won the God damned Pulitzer the way he was strutting around.”

 

Rayda Porter is also bothered by what she calls the “delusion” that her husband has developed, that people in the real media are stealing his stuff. “About once a month I will get up and find a marked up story from Newsweek or the New York Times on the kitchen table. There will be a note from him like “took this verbatim!”Like he’s the only one who could have thought of some clever line of analysis. For awhile he was e-mailing  that Lou Dobbs with some pretty angry accusations.”

 

None of Porter’s other “occasional readers” were aware of the missing 2/15 blog. His law partner Matt Ryan exclaimed “For crying out loud, I’m practically running a law firm and raising twin daughters at the same time, does he really think that I would notice that he missed a day on that stupid blog ?” Ryan went on to explain that what had started as a somewhat cute and eccentric hobby for Porter had actually blossomed into a rather nasty habit. “Sometimes, early in the morning, I’ll go into his office to ask him about a legal issue and he will be in there staring at his monitor with that big stupid grin on his face that  he gets when he thinks that he has really nailed someone. His blog is really kind of an inside joke around here among the lawyers and staff. Sometimes the younger associates will read it before they go to lunch with him. Then they bring up the topic he wrote about because they like when he leans back in his chair and says ‘as I said in my blog this morning.’ He is not exactly H.L. Mencken.”

 

 

Blog expert and ethicist Myron Fitzwater had never heard of Porter’s “Mills of the Gods”. At the Onion’s request, he reviewed several blogs and pronounced it a “typical pedantic effort by a guy who is frustrated in his job.” Fitzwater went on to say, “there are literally a million blogs just like his, he ought to call it “Run of the Mill of the Gods”. Of course no one notice that he missed a day. The average blog, worldwide, has a readership of 1.73 hits per day, and this one would get nowhere near the average number of hits. It’s the usual whiney stuff about politics, with the occasional light hearted , overly sentimental tale  about his childhood and his  family. He sometime does some caustic and  pieces about guns. Look, the Second Amendment has been around for 200 years Porter, get over it.”

 

The Onion was a bit surprised to learn that Porter’s senior partner, William Allensworth had not only never heard of Porter’s blog, he had never heard of blogs at all. Within days, however, Allensworth had turned out several credible efforts of his own, all of them dealing with the coming crash of the world economy and its effects on various retirement scenarios he has under consideration. As Fitzwater explained, “that’s about the only good thing about most of these blogs, a trained psychiatrist can use it to diagnose Narcissitic Disorder. It is much more reliable than the DSM-II test.”

 

 

Thursday, February 14, 2008

The greeting card

I wrote the only Valentine’s story I know back in January of last year. I suppose that I should just direct you to that blog, but that seems like the lazy way out. I thought that I’d give you the benefit of my views on the subject of, not only Valentines, but all greeting cards. Some of it was stolen from that guy who plays “Doug” on the show “King of Queens”. He has a monologue which perfectly captures the division between men and women on the subject of the greeting card and the place they hold in the heart for each gender.

 

At one time, I suppose, the idea of the greeting card made sense. About the time of the Pony Express, I can see folks getting excited over sending cards out with some hope of them being received in a timely fashion. In the UK, at least according to the old stories my wife reads, they had about six mail deliveries a day and, in those circumstances, cards would be like phone calls.

 

But Alexander Graham Bell (as played by Don Ameche) really changed the need for cards when he invented the telephone. Instead of going to the store, buying a cards and sitting down and writing on , finding a stamp , addressing and mailing them, you could pick up a phone and tell someone , instantaneously, and in your own voice, that you were thinking of them, and why you were thinking of them. I will stipulate that for many years, cards served a purpose for those who could not afford long distance phone calls. But long distance calls are just about free now (at least on nights and weekends and among your fave five)and no one even has to use the phone anymore. You can e-mail or text. The impact of a card at a fraction of the cost in time and effort.

 

So why do they survive ? One word. Women. For reasons that I do not fully understand, the female sex elevates the greeting card to the status of holy scripture. And woe to the male who does not understand this worship. You can shop for days, spend a million dollars, buy her  something that she has always wanted, but never dared asked for; but before she opens the present, she will look at you with a hurt expression and grievously utter “No card ?” The moment will be ruined.

 

I have thought long and hard about this. I don’t think that we can blame this on Hallmark. They seem to be just filling a need. I do admit that they have managed to increase the number of times that a card is expected, but they are not responsible for the female obsession with the card itself. That comes from deep within. I think that it may come from a fear they had as children, that they would not get a Valentine, or at least not the Valentine they wanted (and from whom they wanted). I have seriously considered demanding that Valentine’s Day celebration in schools be stopped. It is the most hurtful day imaginable for many children. A day of almost public humiliation. But the guys can shake it off. I never got many Valentines in school, but that has not warped me into a greeting card junkie in my old age. A call or an e-mail is enjoyed much more because  1. I can instantly reply and 2. I do not have to feel guilty for not buying the sender one.

 

I cannot tell you how many greeting cards I have signed in my car, or on the pathway coming up to my front door. No one can ever read my sincere personal note penned on the card, because it was written without  back support, and, at times, at a trot. Even when I remember to get the card, it is seldom judged worthy. That is because the car wash place does not specialize in sentimental cards, and you have to be willing to spend more than two minutes to pick out a card that screams sincerity, at $4.00 a pop. “Do you like the card ?” “Yeah, it’s fine, did you get it at the car wash place ?” “Well how about the diamond necklace ?”  “It’s nice, when did you buy the card ? did you read what it said inside ?” 

 

My great hope, and I know that it is too late for me, is that the current generation of environmentalists will ban the card as a logical way to save trees, maybe  even that rain forest that they are all so hepped up about. What is the carbon footprint of Hallmark ? It must be gigantic, bigger than most third world countries. How can the women of the 21st century expect to receive  a greeting card that in and of itself is probably responsible for global warming. It is time that this nonsense stopped, for the good of the earth. Happy Valentine’s Day (no trees were murdered to type this greeting).

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Three beautiful words

I think it was that hard luck right-hander Charlie Brown who first said that the four most beautiful words in the English language are “Pitchers and catchers report”. Tomorrow in Kissimmee, Florida, the pitchers and catchers of my old team will report for the 47th Spring Training in the team’s history, each of which I have followed closely, and the baseball season for me will have begun.

 

When I first started following baseball in 1960, there had been 55 World Series played. I remember looking at that list and thinking how impossibly long ago those first World Series were. Since then, 46 more have been played (one was  skipped) since then  and I can’t imagine thinking that the 1960 World Series was that long ago. It is still so vivid in my memory (that s.o.b. Mazeroski). I only think about the time passing when I see the GRANDCHILD of someone I saw play in my youth, out there on the field, living proof that I am ageing (when does ageing become aged ?)

 

For the last 23 Springs, friend Broyles and I have been attending Spring Training. What started out as a fan’s “trip of a lifetime” became an annual occurrence, somewhat to the chagrin of my wife, who, although always invited, does not attend. Spring Training baseball has pretty much ruined me for the regular game. The weather is nearly always perfect, you are very close to the action, and just about every person you meet is relaxed and on vacation from some God forsaken place up north where it has been snowing continuously for three months. My favorite smell of all is the smell of the Orange Blossoms in Scottsdale, Arizona as you walk to the ballpark there. I have often wondered about getting some aroma therapy for myself, with that smell, whenever I felt tense.

 

Spring training has changed in the last 23 years. When we first started out, the ballparks were all old and small. Few people went to the games. You could walk up to the window the day of the game and buy a good seat. Today, sellouts are quite common, you have to have your tickets a  month in advance, and even then, you won’t get the best seats. They have separated the players to a large extent from the fans. In the old parks they had to wander past you on the way to the game. Manny Mota would ride his bike around the grounds, in uniform, fungo bat in his basket. But Spring Training is big business now, it is inconceivable that you could take a nap, lying  under a tree just a few feet from play, as I did in my first Spring training game at Al Lopez Field in Tampa (both that field that that tree are long gone).No games are played at fenceless Huggins-Stengel Field in St. Pete these days and the beautifully sculpted ballpark at Chandler is no more, although the Ostrich fest still exits there.

 

But the glass is still more than half full. The sun still shines and the orange groves still blossom. The games are still played in stadiums which are built to watch baseball and not simply to contain the maximum amount of people. The peanuts are still roasted and salted and the beer is still cold. They still sing take me out to the ballgame in the middle of the 7th inning at Hoho Kam Park in Mesa, and still encourage you to sing it so that “Harry can hear you”. It’s not like it was when Harry lead us in song, but it’s still pretty nice. The great old guys we used to see, Harry Cary, Gene Autry, Jimmie Reese (who roomed with Babe Ruth’s suitcase) are gone, but I can call them up in my imagination anytime I want to. I can see Tony Perez’s grand slam  and the not yet disgraced Pete Rose as vividly as I did that March day in 1986 when I first walked into the ballpark in Tampa. I can see Sammy Sosa’s homerun over the scoreboard and Ronny “Woo-Woo” Wick go crazy over it. I can see the old California Angels team celebrate after they pitched a collective no-hitter. I can see the old airplane hangars at Joker Merchant Park in Lakeland where the pitching machines never got tired of serving up batting practice. I  can taste the muffins at Lee’s On the Lake in Lakeland and the Tilapia at Biospehere,Arizona.And I can hear Officer Fife apologizing for the fact that the  wreck that totaled my rent car interfered with my getting over to the old ballpark in Tucson. I can also see the look on the face of the Budget agent as I pulled up in the wrecker, tossed the keys to her and said, “I’ll need another one.”

 

So tomorrow is the day, “Pitchers and catchers report”. The season slowly changes and we ease into the pennant races, ever so nonchalantly. Put me in coach, I’m ready to play.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

If only they could read between the lines, Happy 100th G.M. !

“home folks think I’m big in Detroit City,

 From the letters that I write they think I’m fine.

But by day I make the cars, and by night I make the bars,

If only they could read between the lines.”    Detroit City

 

 

This year marks the 100th anniversary of General Motors. The good news is that they still sell as many cars as any company in the world. The bad news is that they no longer sell more cars than anyone in the world and during their 100th anniversary year will slip into a permanent second place, at least until the Koreans and the Chinese can gear up to pass them, as Toyota is doing.

 

G.M. lost almost 40 billion dollars last year. That’s over 100 million dollars a day. Think about that, every day, the president of G.M. goes to work and knows that his company is going to lose 100 million dollars that day. At least things can’t get much worse if he takes the day off. Today G.M. is offering tens of thousands of its employees about $150,000 a piece to go away. In other words, they can now “make the bars” both day and night, because they don’t need them to make the cars anymore. At least not at $28 an hour plus pension and benefits. G. M. wants to pay about $16 an hour for their replacements. That sounds like about $32,000 a year, which is not going to buy many drinks in Detroit city, or anywhere else. You don’t really have to read between the lines to know how truly awful all of this is.

 

When I was young, the Chairman of General Motors could look a Congressional Committee collectively in the eye and say “What’s good for General Motors is good for the USA”.  Actually, he never really said it quite like that, but that did not keep it from being an oft quoted line for the next 20 years. It even got incorporated into a song in the musical “Lil Abner” starring the immortal, but height challenged ,Stubby Kay. But no one was bigger or more powerful than G.M. back in the salad days of America’s post war boom. Buicks, Cadillacs, Oldsmobiles, Pontiacs, and, of course, Chevrolets were turned out and bought by  the millions. In return for their good fortune, G.M., although sometimes at the gunpoint of the UAW, kept raising pay and distributing benefits for workers, under the assumption that the good times would last forever. It was a particularly American arrogance. Especially since the country had lived through ten years of devastating depression within the memory of everyone who was making or buying the cars. I sometimes think that the euphoria caused by the victory over fascism  made the country believe that the normal rules no longer applied to it. There is a strain of optimism in the American that very often crosses the line into delusion. Never was that strain more pronounced than in the post war days.

 

There are a lot of things about economics that I don’t understand. I don’t understand how a company can lose 100 million dollars a day and still give away thousand dollar scholarships in the name of two football players who played well on each college football game that is televised. I don’t understand how a country that owes a trillion dollars to creditors can vote to give each of its families making less than $150,000 a year a check for $1,500. I don’t understand how a country can have the second highest tax rate in the world without supply universal health care for its citizens. I don’t understand how a country can keep two wars going and cut taxes at the same time. I guess it can only happen in a country where none of the rules apply.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Caesar and Christ

“Render unto Caesar that which is Caesar’s,

 And render unto God, that which is God’s”  Matthew 22/21

 

 

Over a period of six days last week, I had the pleasure of seeing my 17 year old daughter preach a sermon at a service in the chapel of the Church in which she grew up, and participate in a debate on the floor of the Texas House of Representatives. It struck me that these two bookend events, to a large extent summed up much of the work she  has participated in, and the energy which she has expended over the course of her childhood. In just a little over a month she will no longer be a child. She will be 18, fully emancipated, a legal adult, capable of doing anything except drinking alcohol and renting a car from Hertz or Avis. If she wants to join the Army or the Circus, I can’t stop her. She can go as far as her little Honda, her slim bank account and her non-existent credit can take her. She can seek my advice and counsel, but does not have to seek my permission. Actually, it has been awhile since she sought any of those things, but in theory, she was supposed to.

 

Our family gave subtle pushes of our daughter into two areas, Christianity, as understood by the United Methodist Church, and formal policy argumentation and debate, which, as near as I can tell, is not understood by anyone, anymore. At least not by me. In other words, we proposed that she engage both God and Caesar, and do her best to keep them in proper balance. Well, actually, we said nothing about balance because we never thought of that. Over the years, we have seen her struggle with that balance, sometimes leaning one way, sometimes the other. If you are serious about either of these courses of study, which she always has been, it is really more of a tightrope act than it appears.

 

The Pharisees who asked Jesus if the Jews should pay Roman taxes knew about the tightrope. Indeed, many scholars thought that the very question was unanswerable, in either direction, without the direst of consequences. The coin Jesus asked to examine had a picture of Caesar on its face, with a reference to his divinity. It was a graven image. Payment of a tax, especially with such a coin, could be easily interpreted as subservience to a graven image. The kind of thing that could get a Jewish boy killed. Yet failure to pay the tax, or even denouncing the payment of the tax, was treason to the Roman state and could result in crucifixion. Indeed, one of the charges against Jesus at his trial was that he had worked against the Roman tax system. A charge that did not get too far, by the way.

 

Two thousand years later, the choice would seem not quite as dangerous, although it still has significant consequences, even if with we  discount any post death judgments that might be lying out there. Failure to properly balance God and Caesar, i.e. the spiritual and corporal sides of life, carries with it the possibilities that you may lose touch with God or humankind, and, just as bad, be ineffective in your pursuit of supporting the ideals of either or both.

 

The thing which I am proudest of, is that my daughter is engaged in that struggle. Relatively speaking, few people on the verge of adulthood worry about either issue. One of the wonderful things about the Obama campaign is that it has excited great numbers  young adults to participate in electoral politics for the first time in many years. They may lose the election, but that’s not what is important. What will be important is, if they lose, they will appreciate the fight, and make the fight again and again. It is the same with religion. While I waited for my daughter’s sermon last Sunday, I sat through a service that was quite unfamiliar to me. Electric guitars and drums, youth in t-shirts and jeans, in the largest Methodist Church in central, Texas. It would be fair to say that I was uneasy. But it was this energy that had filled the chapel and made the Christian religion accessible to those young people.

 

As I type this, I think that my daughter is on the verge of a present balance between the political and the religious. I am obviously proud of that, because I have never been able to get the balance right. Although I’m still working on it. The politicians of the world need the spiritual strength that she is obtaining, the theologians of the world need her hardnosed strength of political character and belief. I think that she is going to function well in both worlds, and be of service in both worlds. I could not be prouder of her.

Friday, February 08, 2008

sin of commission

The final line in Eliot’s “Murder in the Cathedral” is “ Blessed Thomas pray for us.”, not  “Gentle Thomas pray for us.” I forgot that Eliot, like Becket, was a Catholic.

Will no one rid me of this turbulent priest ?

Rowan Williams, Archbishop of Canterbury claims that it may be, in his words, unavoidable that some form of sharia law will be introduced in Britain. These alternative sharia courts would render enforceable law, and might apply to such subjects as marital law and the regulation of financial transactions. Since sharia law can impose the death penalty for adulterers, there are a good many Brits this morning who I am sure are hoping that that nothing of this sort happens in their lifetimes.

My friend and former employee, John H.H. Bennett, a strict anglophile, by upbringing, had the following suggestion for the handling of the Archbishop (and this quote is given, as all qoutes in this blog, without the permission of its author),

"This idiot needs to be excommunicated,drawn and quartered,his entrails burned, and his head buried beneath the crossroads."

Well, I suppose that sounds all right for starters.

Why the Archbishop of Canterbury, who works in the same building where Thomas Becket was murdered by knights (possibly) in the employ of Peter O'Toole, for Becket's suggestion that religious courts should have sole jurisdiction over religious matters in Britain, felt the need at this time to take up this crusade is anybody's guess. Benett's suggestion, that perhaps the Archbishop is an "idiot" ,would seem to be one of the better explanations.

Like Richard Nixon, I have been fearing all my life over an apocolyptic battle between the east and the west. To his credit, Archbishop Williams is looking for ways to avoid that battle. But in the true spirit of British history, he is suggesting that we do so by appeasement. It would be the height of folly to allow sharia law into the common law countries. Once that camel's nose is under the tent, the game is lost. This is not to suggest that muslims ride camels, they do not, many of then drive taxis. But many of them, like my mother's oyncologist, are brilliant, sensitive and loving people who are helping the world advance to a better place. This planet really can't afford to lose even one of them, just as it can not afford to lose any of the rest of us who might come up with some solutions for the state we are in. But that does not mean that we need to change the entire philosophy and culture of a country to make any specific religion feel more comfortable with our laws. Many sharia laws are wrong, outmoded and outragous. The one that would allow me to be stoned to death for typing that last sentence in Saudi Arabia comes to mind.

Will we never solve this problem ? Are we doomed to spend the rest of our existence worrying over the tension caused by the accidental trodding on the toe of Abdullah Bulbul Amir by Ivan Slavinsky Skivar ? Remember the prophetic outcome of that great battle ?

"They fought all the night 'neath the pale yellow moon,
the din it was heard from afar.
And multitudes came,so great was the fame,
of Abdul and Ivan Skivar.

As Abdul's long knife was extracting the life,
In fact he had shouted 'Huzzah'
He felt himself struck by that wily Calmuck,
Count Ivan Skavinsky Skivar "


Perhaps like Abdul and Ivan, we are all meant to perish, perish over a stepped on toe. But the day of the apocolypse will not be dealyed, only hastened, by the changing of secular democracies to theocracies.No one in England, no one in the United Sates, no one in Canada, Australia or New Zealand, no matter which religion they espouse, should have to be judged by a relgious figure, who is allowed to exercise the power of the state. That is the kind of thing that can get a fellow killed at the altar.If you don't believe me, ask Richard Burton.

"God have mercy upon us,
Christ have mercy upon us,
God have mercy upon us.
Gentle Thomas, pray for us." T.S. Eliot, Murder in the Cathedral"

Thursday, February 07, 2008

Joy

"Sometimes your joy is the source of your smile,
but somethimes your smile can be the source of your joy." Toch Nhat Hanh

"Keep on smiling,
cause when you're smiling,
the whole world smiles with you." When You're Smiling, as sung by Nat "King" Cole


Nhat and Nat really said (or sang) the same thing. That joy is an active concept, not a passive one. That joy is within you, not something you receive, but something you discover.I confess that the greatest source of my problems is not understanding that simple truth. It is the greatest problem many of us have. The great physicist, Fritjof Capra, spoke of those who are "feverish little clods of ailments and grievances complaining that the world will not devote itself to making you happy".Well, Fritjof baby, that's most of us.

I think that the problem has grown worse over time, because there is so much external to us that we look to to make us happy. Ever get upset that there is nothing good on television ? Get mad because the waiter in the restaruant has kept you waiting ? Demanded treatment from a doctor that would make you feel better, right now ! Bet you have. At least I have. It is so much easier to look to someone or something else to bring us joy than it is to look within. Introspection is not much fun. I think it was John Adams who was told to "think about something for a second" and replied, "But pain is a thoughtful process, and a second is a long time." But you can't know joy without introspection. It is the smile that brings the joy, not joy that brings the smile. The smile or laugh which comes from the joke you hear is not from the words of the joke itself, it is from the built up memories and understandings that,as a human, you have accumulated and understood throughout your life. The laugh is within you, the joke may bring it out, but it did not bring the joy, only the recognition or awakening of that joy. So listen to Nhat and Nat. Keep on smiling.

Friday, February 01, 2008

Chump time

I was listening to a talking head on MSNBC explain for the 100th time this week that Rudy Gulliani is an idiot, when my wife received a phone call from a friend whom she was to transport to the hospital the next morning for some surgery. After she hung up she tried to explain to me over all of te political noise that her friend's surgery time had been changed from 10:00 to 9:00 a.m., and they now wanted her at the hospital at 7:00 instead of 8:00. "Why so early ? " she asked. "Chump time" I replied without taking my eyes off of the talking head who was now comparing Gulliani's expenditure of $30 million to acquire one delegate as the worst record since Phil Graham, who once spent $23 million to get no delegates (what with the current value of the dollar, I was thinking, Graham still looked worse). " Oh yeah, chump time" she replied.

I had first stumbled onto the theory of chump time when I was in college and having to have some oral surgery which required an overnight hospital stay (today they would not let you stay an hour for this procedure after you woke up). The hospital administrator person/looks like nurse person, told me that I needed to be at the hospital two hours before the surgery. I dutifully got to the hospital two hours early. Checked in in under three minutes, and spent the next hour and fifty seven minutes pissed of about the wait. Following that experience I began to carefully track the times people were asked to come to the hospital for surgery and the times the surgery was scheduled.After several years I had confirmed the thoery of chump time.

Chump time is an agreement between surgeons and hospitals (some might say a conspiracy) to get patients to the hospital for any given procedure as early as that person will tolerate without canceling the surgery. The "chump" in "chump time" is the patient. The "time" in chump time is the agonzing and unecessary hours you have to wait in a waiting room for any given surgical procedure.Now before you get too upset over this waste of your valuabale time, the theory behind chump time is actually benign, at least for the perpetrators of the act. Unlike the offices of a general practicioner, who will keep patients waiting in rooms full of coughing,vomiting and generally contagious people for hours on end, surgeons and hospitals need some kind of order.A general surgeon can schedule operating rooms for only 24 hours a day, and can work only about 16-18 of those hours.People, especially those about to be sliced up, can not be relied upon to show up to the hospital on time. There are many reasons for this which you can well imagine on your own, without me detailing them. So to keep operating rooms from backing up like waiting rooms at a G.P.'s office, the concept of chump time was invented. The Dr. thinks, if I tell this guy I am going to cut him at 8:00 there is only a 50/50 chance that he will make it on time. We will tell him to be there at 7:00 the odds go up to about 75% and if we tell him to be at the hospital at 6:00 I have a 95% chance of bilking medicare or some hapless insurance company for at least a portion of my fee.

In reality, without chump time, surgeries would become like a trip to the G.P. and you would have no earthly idea when, if ever, your procedure would be performed. But the problem with chump time is that it is, by its very definition, set up for chumps, something which you and I are not, or at the very least, I'm not. Why should I (and maybe you) have to suffer the indignity of chump time when I (and maybe you) are chumpless, completely without chump ?Well you don't.
If you, like me can be trusted to get to the hospital on time, ignore what they tell you about check in. Now I do recommend that you get there a half hour ahead of schedule, but only because if you don't, they will call you at home and make you think you are letting down the entire practice of medicine by you recalcitarance. But whatever you do, don't let the hospital, or your surgeon know that you know about chump time. Just act accordingly.

Some years ago, my former law partner and stil great friend Rick Reed managed to develop a disk problem in his back. By the time he got around to doing something about it he had lost about 50-75% of his arm strength and was in terrible pain.Rick does not trust western medicine and actually got a consult with some eastern swami who looked at his x-rays and told him "Go get the surgery". It was that bad. Well, because Rick had to start fasting the day before surgery, he had me take him out for a few after work drinks 24 hours earlier, to talk about the problem and screw up his courage.Upon refelection, I was the wrong guy to take out. Our conversation went like this.

Me: When you going in ?
Rick: I see the surgeon again tomorrow and then I go in for 8:00 surgery the next day.I have to be there at 6:00.
Me: Yeah, chump time
Rick: chump time ?
Me:yeah, the average Joe can't get to the hospital on time so that tell us all to be there extra early. It really sucks. Just get there when you want to.
Rick:gee, thanks

Well the problem was, of course, that Rick saw his surgeon between when he saw me and when he checked into the hospital. By way of background, Rick had the finest, but meanest general surgeon in Austin. Believe it or not, this guy had a picture on his wall of a triple amputee plowing a field with a mule (or maybe gathering a harvest in a combine, my memeor is hazy) with a note to his patients underneath the picture stating " Now this is a handicap". Translation, "stop your whining you lousy pussy and let me fix your back, then get to hell back to work."I mean, I am positive that this guy would have performed surgery without the anastehsia is they would have let him.

At any rate, Dr Atilla asks Rick, "They tell you what time to be there tomorrow'? " The doctor never tells the patient the chump time, he/she leaves that to the hospital or one of his/her office minions, that way there is deniability. " Yeah" said Rick, "about that, that time they told me to be there is 'chump time', right?" At this point the doc flew into a rage (as most people do when they are caught). "Chump time ?" he is said to have screamed. "Who in the hell told you that, listen, I'm going to be VERY disappointed in you if you are not there on time." Again, notice the wording, he just said "on time" not at the time Rick had been told to be there. But Rick,wary now of a scalpel wielding maniac, checked in exactly when the hospital had told him to, and sat and worried for two full hours when he could have been making calls to the real estate criminals he represented and helping Austin add anothe big box or hideous strip mall to the landscape.

Fortunately, Rick never told his doctor who had spilled the beans about the chump time scam. If he had, I would have been hearing from the AMA and perhaps been the subject of a restraining order. So chump time has continued unabated. It is an interesting pheneomen to study. It is not perfectly predictable, like say 9:00 Eastern, 8:00 Central. Chump time is more an art than a science. for instance, my wifes' friend had her surgery moved up and she had her chump time changed from an hour and a half to two hours. That is actually known as the chump time corrollary which states that the earlier your surgery, the more chump time you are given. In something that works very much like police profiling of criminals, patients ar given chump times based on stereotypes. A hippie, like I was was given a huge chump time. A physician getting surgery for himself or his family is givcn only the amount that is required to cover up the fact that there is such a thing as chump time

One last thing. Chump time is not for everyone. When American pop star (and subject of the new English ballet "Meltdown")Brittney Spears decided she wanted to go to the psychiatic hospital, again, yetserday, they let her checkin whenever she wanted and the City of Los Angeles detailed twelve policemen on "motor cycles, in cars and in helocopters" to get her there. That is hardly chump time, although I'd have to say that the citizens of L.A. who paid for that may feel somewhat chumplike. When one of the most dangerous and crime ridden cities in America details that kind of police power to get one nutcase back to the hospital, it begins to look like we are all chumps. Everyone except Brittney that is.