Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Three Questions

I've been contemplating things for the past six months and noticeably absent from my blog (not that anyone other than my four faithful followers would notice). And while that seems like a long time to think about something, there's been a lot to digest.

Back in March, I came to a strange point that I couldn't reason myself around. The barrier, unmoveable, manifested into three questions about our society and culture. What the hell is going on? How the hell did we get here? What have I missed?

I didn't like the answers that I found. Still don't. Not that I have the all the answers, because I certainly do not. But I've found some assemblance of peace as a result.

So, over the next few posts I'll be exploring those questions. Perhaps the words on paper (sic) will help solidify things for me. Perhaps they'll justify the time I've invested. Perhaps, if nothing else, they'll express the concern I have for my children. And yours.

Friday, February 26, 2010

Confidence Wanes

Governor David Paterson announced that he's not seeking re-election this year after a hubub involving one of his aides. Charlie Rangel's in hot water about a trip to the Caribbean. Frozen cash in a freezer belonging to a congressman from Louisiana. War hero Duke Cunningham was on the take - like his recently deceased colleague, John Murtha. A love child here, a blue stained dress there, on and on it goes.

Don't get me wrong, all of our elected officials aren't like these schmucks. There are some good folks in office. But it seems like their numbers are shrinking.

Election to office - public service - is an honor. A sacred trust. When that trust is broken, its very hard to earn back. And if you pay attention to current events, it is very difficult not to become cynical. After all, you can only kick a dog so many times before it just doesn't come back to you.

I think that's where many Americans are at right now. We've lost confidence in our leaders and our system because we've been kicked so many times that we're just tired of it all. The people of New York deserve better. So do folks in Louisiana, California, and Pennsylvania.

We all do.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

The Super Bowl at Daytona

Another season kicks off on Sunday. Just in time.

As a kid, we used to always watch the Daytona 500 and some other races if they were on ABC's Wide World of Sports on Sunday afternoon. Those were the days of the the king, Cale Yarborough, and Darrel Waltrip. A time where stock cars actually looked like cars on the street and the drivers were tough guys that threw their helmets at each other fought each other after a race.

Up until a few years ago, I had a passing interest in stock car racing. It never really clicked with me - until I went to see a race. My son and I went to the Busch series race at Kansas Speedway three years ago and I got hooked.

I guess it's a primal connection of sorts. The same connection that you feel when you're driving - just driving for the pure joy of it. And become driving has become utilitarian, many people have either forgotten or never experienced the joy of the pure freedom that driving affords our most basic of instincts - that of life and death. After all, you control your destiny on the road. You choose the level of danger, the route, the way you interact with the environment and others you encounter.

Stock car racing is a true sport. Competition between groups where teamwork is key. Fast cars on hot asphalt powered by finely tuned engines that scream. You can't really imagine the sound unless you've heard it from a 20 yards away - a cross between Godzilla's howl and a jumbo jet. Athletes of a different sort that have heightened senses, strength, and eye/hand coordination that rivals the best home run hitters.

If you haven't tried it, give it a run. You might get hooked.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

A Reckoning for Arrogance

Scott Brown and his truck with two hundred and umpteen thousand miles crashed a party on Tuesday night. To some it was a welcome relief. To others, it was unwelcome as an end-of-the-nose zit on your wedding day.

Since Tuesday night, the talking heads on cable have blathered and opined in a cacophony of disbelief, joy, and despair on his victory. How did he do it, they ask. What turned the Democrat rank and file against his opponent, they wonder. A referendum on Obamacare? A referendum on the economy?

What Scott Brown did was simple. He ran a great campaign. Most importantly, he wielded his opponent's greatest weakness against her - the arrogance of the political machine.

It was the Kennedy's seat after all, had been since 1953. A bellwether, that senate seat. Always in the hands of a Democrat. What could change that? Turns out, simple complacency - created by an arrogant party that believed with their heart of hearts that is was destined for one of their own to be seated in Teddy's stead.

Never mind the challenger, they surmised. He lacks the credentials of a Massachusetts senator. Forget his message, they thought - the rank and file won't buy it. After all, the electorate thinks like we do. They want the same things we do. Or so they thought.

Turns out, the citizens of Massachusetts are pissed off. They don't like Obamacare. The economy's still in the dumpers - and after all the promises of $787 billion, jobs keep vanishing. We're giving enemy soldiers the same rights for which our forefathers bled and died. They realized that vague platitudes don't fix problems.

What happened to the Democrats on Tuesday will not be an isolated case - it will be repeated many times over this November. Just like 2006 when the Republicans lost the congress. Just like 1994 when the GOP took the congress. Keep going back in time, you'll find many cases. Politicians get elected to solve problems, then they shirk their responsibilities and think no one's paying attention.

Guess what? We do pay attention. We recognize arrogance when we see it. We will do something about it - no matter who's in office, what letter is in parentheses after their name, or what family held the seat for 56 years.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

The Hankie Dance

[DISCLAIMER: this entry is intended for mature football audiences only. Seek counsel from a qualified fan if you do not understand the content.]

Last Sunday I was parked in my recliner watching my favorite sport - football. The game was unspectacular - actually dreadful for a Denver Broncos fan, since they were being diced by a rather horrible opponent, the Kansas City Chiefs. Already in a foul mood due to the performance of my mensch, I was pushed over the edge by a stench that permeates the league these days. The hankie dance.

Third and six. Broncos on their own 43, empty back field, pro set, twins right. Orton drops back to pass and sends a shot 15 yards down field, intended for Gaffney. Gaffney goes up for the pass and is interfered with by the corner back (name escapes me - its the Chiefs, so it really doesn't matter now does it?). No yellow flag. Gaffney jumps up and pirouettes into his version of hankieness. Orton flits into the "Skip to My Lou." Broncos punt on the next down.

The hankie dance. A trend that started a few years ago, performed by wide receivers. Spurred by the growing sense of whining impropriety, now anyone on the field is a potential dancer - capable of breaking out in a rendition at some point. It has grown in popularity over the years, and even spawned several variations.

There are three basic steps to the hankie dance:
Step 1. A player or teammate has to believe he was the recipient of, or witness to, an offense by an opposing player.
Step 2. The player or teammate raises an arm and in a quick motion, flicks his wrist.
Step 3. Repeat step 2 and scream curse words at the official.

Primary variations include:
The "Madman" (quarterback running down the field, flicking his wrist and screaming) The "Skip to My Lou" (player half-skips, half-jogs during step 2 of the basic dance)
The "Oh man, you've got to be kidding" (an add on at the end of step three where the player throws his head back, opens his mouth, and rolls his eyes)
The "Plays not over" (the basic dance is performed while the play is still alive)

When it comes to football, I'm old school. I prefer to see men on the gridiron act like men, not prancing poodles. When you score a touchdown, spike the ball or hand it to an official. When you level someone, help them up (unless their tibia's poking through their sock). When you're wronged by an official, cowboy up and move on. Leave the self-serving prima donna act to Paris Hilton.

So it is with the hankie dance - a reflection of the 21st century game. But how pathetic does it look when a quarterback goes skipping down the field raising his arm and flicking his wrist in the air like Evita Peron on a caffeine high? How goofy does it look for a 6'4" 300 pound offensive lineman to do his version? Where's the shame? I expect such behavior from wide outs, if anyone. Usually those players have the biggest egos; wide receivers believe the world revolves around them. In their eyes, they're on "the island" - alone in space with the talent and ability to save the game, if given the chance. Everything that happens is someone else's fault. With that mindset, which I believe 90% of them posses, its no wonder the trend started with them. But offensive linemen? Give me a break.

We are have evolved over the past 40 years into a "me" society. Everything's alright, as long as it revolves around me: what I want, what I need, what I do. Perpetuated by our growing affluence and facilitated by Oprah, Dr. Phil, a host of "me" periodicals (see your local check out stand), and Madison Avenue - the "me" mentality has grown like kudzu over an abandoned shed in Georgia. The mentality is impressed on our children by society at large. It is self-perpetuating.

One element of sport is that its reflective of society. While we can admire the competition, athletic prowess, and camaraderie of sport - we're also witnesses to the degradation of our value set on the gridirons, courts, and fields of America. While I still love to watch the games, I'm saddened by the mirror held up to our society.

More than likely, the hankie dance will continue to see many more acts. But I hope someone draws the curtains on it - much like the Ickey Shuffle.

Friday, January 1, 2010

Debt We Cannot Afford to Pay

My family's household budget is probably not that much different than yours. Money comes in, money goes out. And at the end of the day, the budget equation is simple: revenue (-) expenses = money left over to do...well...whatever. Basic math. It's not rocket science.

We have our bills to pay: the mortgage, a car payment, food, utilities, and so forth. The expenses get paid. We are able to save for retirement, the kids' education, and put money away for a rainy day. Things are in good order with our household CFO managing the books - and she's a good looking CFO if I do say so myself. But, there's one bill that bugs me to no end. The credit card [insert Darth Vader's theme here]. Not entirely useless, but pretty darn close. It is the evil of convenience.

So as I was recently perusing articles and analyses about our nation's debt, it hit me. The feds have the ultimate Visa Platinum card. Run it up, raise the debt ceiling, then run it up some more. A very unhealthy fiscal policy - whether it's Jane Schmoe down the street or Uncle Sam on the banks of the Potomac. Fortunately Jane doesn't come looking for a hand out to make her minimum payment, but that distant uncle does.

Our national debt stands at $12.153 trillion. That's $39,513 for every person in America. So why is that a big deal? After all, since Americans buy that debt in the form of savings bonds, Treasury bonds and T-bills, don't we owe the money to ourselves? Consider this...foreign interests own 49% of our outstanding Treasuries and T-bill dominated debt - so I'd say its a pretty big deal. Being in hock and reliant on other nations to fund our government's "activities" doesn't put us in a very good position, geopolitically speaking.

I wonder if this is what Alexander Hamilton had in mind when he argued for the creation of national debt back in 1790. Do you think that $12.153 trillion meets his expectation of a "reasonable debt" that is the "...powerful cement of our union."? I would suppose not. I even doubt that Hamilton's whiskey tax would help balance the budget now, even with Kid Rock pimping his own line of Kentucky windage to the masses.

So what do you suppose is scarier? The total amount we owe or the fact we may actually be unable to pay the interest on the 500 pound gorilla clinging to our back? There are some projections that show the interest on our debt to exceed $500 billion in the near future - if interest rates remain low. But if interest rates go up...as they must...we've got a big problem on our hands. Think "adjustable rate mortgage" on steroids. You've certainly heard of the "too big to fail" theory as it applies to our commercial financial institutions, just imagine if the Federal Reserve Bank fell into that category? Who would bail them out?

At the end of the day, it really does come down to that basic equation: revenue (-) expenses = money left over to do...well...whatever. With 2010's budget deficit over $1 trillion, I don't think the uber smart guys on Pennsylvania Avenue understand the equation. Perhaps a night school class is in order to help clear things up a bit. After all, we can't rely on the evil of convenience any longer.

So where do we draw the line? Our main entitlement programs are basically off the table. As is defense spending. Those won't ever be touched - our pols don't have the nerve. But can we really afford another $1 trillion a year in medical "reform?" Do we still need the Department of Housing and Urban Development? What about the Department of Labor or the Department of the Interior? Did you know we had a National Ice Center? Its not that our government's organizations don't provide meaningful services - but can they be reorganized, trimmed, leaned-up a bit? Are there some hidden overlapping of responsibilities or outdated organizations that can be excised like that pesky mole on your chin?

And that, my friends, is the problem. That pesky mole on Uncle Sam's chin is the size of a bowling ball. No one has the nerve to follow through or even suggest that he goes to his doctor to have it removed or at least shaved off a bit. Every government department, office, administration, or agency is a sacred cow. Moo.

In my house, when things get tight we quit spending money. Plain and simple. You probably do the same thing. When things aren't tight, we're constantly on the lookout for ways to spend less, cut back, or reduce the outflow. That's how it works in the real world. Perhaps the crew in D.C. need a new CFO - one that's much better looking than Nancy Pelosi, Harry Reid, and Pete Orszag. But unfortunately for our great nation, my wife won't move there.

Monday, December 21, 2009

The Smell of Fresh Cut Grass

I like to mow the lawn.

To some its a chore that's accomplished begrudingly, but for me its one of the few opportunities I have to do something completely mindless. Not that mowing can be done in a mentally vegetative state - you do have to keep your wits about you, less accidental amputation will result - but it is one of those activities where all of my worries vanish. Even if it is only for a few ticks of the clock.

It is my Saturday routine. About 10:00 a.m. I'll walk the yard for errant clutter, head to the garage, gas up the Toro, and fire it up. There's a refreshing sense of calm as the machine sputters to life, pukes a cloud of exhaust, and hits it stride. I recently heard a enviro-head on TV talking about the carbon footprint of all the mowers in America - it made me chuckle because on Saturdays I guess I'm just not that concerned about ice floes breaking loose in Greenland. It is, after all, mowing time. Come hell or melting ice caps.

There is a certain precision about it; ensuring the rows are nicely parallel, the pattern looks good from the street, the sidewalk and driveway trimmed to a crisp edge. Now I know that sounds anal retentive. Actually, very anal retentive. I'm proud of my yard and I want it to look just right. A person's yard, I think, is an extension of themself. So there you have it - I am an anal retentive perfectionist. About my yard, at least.

But there's more to it than my sense of landscaping perfection. Mowing the yard is a simple pleasure. As a matter of fact (my fact, I suppose), it is one of the simplest pleasures that exist. People need simple pleasures - they keep people sane and help them cope with a horribly troubled and complex reality. Some people knit scarves, read novels, or any myriad of activities in which they can lose themselves for a brief period of time. For me, its mowing.

Our lives have become hyper. Not just busy, but hyper busy. Work, activities, organizations, church (temple, mosque, whatever), school, meetings, schedules all compete for our time. With the great enabler and facilitator mindlessly attached at our hips (thanks, AT&T), we get lost in our schedules and forget how quickly it all passes by. Our attention seems in great demand by everything except those things that are really important - like for instance, enjoying the simple things. But to each his own. Some groove on the business of busyness. Me? Not so much.

At the end, the best thing is the fruit of my labor. The smell of fresh cut grass.