Sunday, December 16, 2012

Merry Christmas 2012!

Merry Christmas 2012!

It has been unseasonably warm even for sunny Virginia Beach, highs in the seventies, and Christmas  is just a couple of weeks away.  If this is global warming, so far it’s actually rather pleasant -- I recommend warming for everybody’s globes.  And what a year 2012 has been.  Republican voters gave Newt the boot, while American voters decided that once you go Barack you never go back, and then told the GOP to keep its Mitts off the White House.   “Jersey Shore” found itself starved for attention, while North Korea just starved.   The President talked to the GM chairman and Clint Eastwood talked to a chair.   Hurricane Sandy made many beaches on the Atlantic coast considerably less so -- Hurricane Un-Sandy.  The Egyptians attacked our embassy, the Libyans walked like Egyptians, and the plural of Syria is serious.  It’s a crazy world, and getting crazier by the day -- in other words, situation normal.  Time now to sit back.  Relax.  Have a martini.  And when the world situation hands you lemons, remember that martinis go better with a lemon twist.  Don’t let the lemons twist you.

Yes, the year was too much.  Too much of what?  For starters, too much of Lee.  According to Newton, force equals mass times acceleration -- and because the acceleration of gravity is a constant, we can only conclude that the force was with me.  I was carrying more mass than a month of Catholic Sundays.  How fat was I?  I rented myself out part-time as a beach umbrella.  When my beeper went off, people thought I was backing up.  I walked into the Gap once -- and filled it.  Well.  Finally, when they took my ID photo by satellite, I decided I’d had enough of this.   I had the motivation – now, I just needed the right strategy.  Debbie has had continued success using the Weight Watchers’ portion-control strategy -- she took off sixty pounds and has kept it off for three years.  But portion control just doesn’t seem to work for me.  The doctor explained that the older we get, the less well we can handle carbs.  So I tried an experiment:  why not just see what happens when I cut out sugary and starchy foods, but otherwise eat whatever I want?  That was about nine months ago, and today I’m carrying about forty pounds less.  It’s an answer to prayer (thank you, Lord!) and still a work in progress.  The downside is I’ve had to spend some money on clothes, but that’s decidedly more pleasant when the salesman can walk past you without becoming your satellite.  One thing Debbie and I have learned is that, just like it’s always after five somewhere, Jos. A. Bank is always having a sale!  Their slogan:  “List price is for suckers.”

As usual, I went to the Eastern Trombone Workshop in March, and last June I took a trombone lesson with Dave Fedderly, the tuba player in the Baltimore Symphony.  Fedderly was a student of the late Arnold Jacob, legendary tubist with the Chicago Symphony.  He explained to me that I don’t know the first thing about something I’ve been doing, literally, my entire life: breathing.  You mean, being a blowhard doesn’t help one’s musicianship?  Well, what does he know?  Seriously, Jacob was the world’s leading authority in the physical mechanics of breathing and how it relates to wind musicianship.  Fedderly reminisced about when, as a grad student, he had played alongside Jacob with the Chicago Symphony.  Jacob was then in his sixties, suffering from emphysema and missing a lung -- Fedderly said, in awed reverence, “I still couldn’t keep up with him!”  And I can’t keep up with Fedderly.  Let’s keep it simple:  blow in the small end, take cover at the big end.  Sounds like good advice for dealing with all sorts of wind.  Speaking of which, I played again this past summer with the Tidewater Winds, and will perform a Christmas concert with them tomorrow.  My personal goal is always to evoke an expression of shocked disbelief from the conductor.  Since leaving the Air Force Band program almost thirty years ago, I’ve had to achieve musical success by defining it downward.

We’re still living in the same house, but you don’t have to move to change neighborhoods.  A family moved nearby that owns a veritable flotilla of vehicles – more ATVs, pickup trucks, boats and motorbikes than we can count.  For years, Debbie and I had been missing out on the aesthetic joy of listening to the subtle yet delicate ostinato phrases of thrumming V8s and diesels and revved-up ATVs speeding up and down the street.  Well, no more.  Turn off the Khachaturian, let’s hear the Cummins… Mmmm, sublime, and could you get me another glass of cabernet, Debbie?  As a bonus, the neighbor works at a landscaping firm and uses the street as the overflow for his industrial equipment.  So the view out of our picture window is more resplendent in flatbeds than in flowers, more backhoes than blooms.  The housing market being what it is, we’ve decided not to move, but to wait out this petroleum-powered siege in hopes that our neighbor’s business will succeed wildly, at which time maybe they’ll set sail with their rolling armada and move to a much nicer neighborhood.  In the meantime, we try to look at the bright side.  He’s friendly and owns cats.

Speaking of which, we acquired our kitty, Gabby, back in 2004, just before moving to our current house.  At first, she was emaciated -- her previous owner had simply thrown her out into the wild to survive on her own.  Somehow she lasted two weeks in the woods, without her claws, and with nothing to eat.  That experience made her what she was, the only cat I’ve ever known who hugged her food dish while she ate.  There was no cat in all Creation with a greater vocabulary -- we did name her Gabby, after all.  When you stroked her fur, you were likely to hear some combination of:  “Meow”; “Rah-Ah”; “Aahhh”; “Ack”; “Urf”; “Argh”; and my favorite, “Whooh!”  All the other cats we’ve owned were Debbie’s kitties, especially Nutmeg (our first) -- they worshiped Debbie like she was a made of a sweet elixir comprising catnip and mouse fur.  But Gabby loved me.  She would be waiting patiently at the door when I came home from work, and then bounce back and forth like… well, like a dog.  Last June she started moving very slowly and eventually stopped eating.  The vet told us she was suffering badly from a bad spine.  We tried putting her on pain-killers and steroids, and she did respond for a short time -- but she was fourteen years old, and it soon became clear that this couldn’t continue.  She took her last trip to the vet.   Both Debbie and I see “ghost sightings” of her now and then -- a flutter of the curtain, usually, or a fleeting shadow.  The hardest part is coming home from work, half-expecting a furry and vociferous greeting when I open the door.  In Cat Heaven, we hope she’s happy and has a food dish that actually hugs her back.  We miss her.

Debbie is still teaching elementary-level strings here in Virginia Beach.  The hearing issues she acquired when undergoing chemotherapy (more than ten years ago now) have gotten steadily worse –- tinnitus (ringing in the ears) and hyperacusis (certain sounds are much louder that they should be) plague her constantly, exacerbated by loud and (in the case of elementary strings class) shrill noises.  Fortunately, she had made for her a new set of earplugs, which help a lot -- we’re hoping they will get her through until retirement.  (I’ll bet my former band directors wish they’d thought of that.)  Debbie is still the music director at our church.  Her greatest gift is her ability to teach three-part choral pieces to a congregation that is largely without formal music training.  I’m still her favorite draftee, and of course I’d follow her anywhere, and do, even into Talbot’s, sort of the female version of Jos. A Bank (though against my better judgment).  Anyway, my job is to sing tenor or bass, as the occasion calls -- that's what I get for being a baritone – but I could even sing soprano if necessary, as long as Debbie is there to perform the necessary encouragement and timely wedgie.

When I was a kid, the local amusement park had a “penny arcade”, with arcade machines that were ancient even then, which would show you a “movie” if you inserted a penny and turned a handle on the side.  It was really just a series of photos that flapped in your direction, the speed depending on how fast you turned the handle, which gave the impression of motion -- that’s all movies are, after all, a series of photos presented in a sequence and at a speed that simulates motion.  These days, it seems like penny arcade machines are a metaphor for life -- the years just flip past and present a quick image, only we’re not the ones controlling the speed.  One of these days, the movie will be over, and we will be in the presence of the Cinematographer.  At this time of year, celebrated as His birthday, we like to reflect on the picture that we have shown the world this year, and give thanks to the One who gave our lives a screenplay that promises a happy ending.  Thanks be to the Lord, and please accept our best wishes for a wonderful holiday season and a blessed new year to come.

Friday, November 9, 2012

Fat Like Me

Fatboy.  Fatso.  Lardie.  Fat Albert.  Fat-Ass.  The Crisco Kid.  That last one's actually pretty funny.

I grew up being called these names and others like them on a daily basis.  It used to be confined pretty much to the schoolyard, or at least the schoolyard mentality -- in my experience, even some of the teachers were glad to join in.  But the joy of ridiculing fat people was too sublime to be forever contained, and so has become institutionalized in the popular culture.  A chosen few from among the myriad examples:
  • In the third Indiana Jones movie, the opening sequence shows young Master Jones as some sort of boy scout having an adventure with his troop, which included the obligatory obese fellow scout as comic relief.  Ha ha, poke fun at the fat kid, it's a lot easier than actually writing something, you know, funny.
  • In the 1980s movie, "Back to School", Rodney Dangerfield plays Thornton Mellon, a multi-millionaire clothing tycoon -- he owns a chain of "tall and fat" stores, which opens up a plethora of opportunities for fatty jokes.  E.g.,:  "Are you fat!?  When you go jogging, do you leave potholes?  When you go to the zoo, do the elephants throw you peanuts?  When a waiter hands you a menu, do you say, 'Okay'?"  Actually, these jokes are funny, and somehow they're not as hurtful when good-naturedly hurled by Rodney himself, who was no lightweight.  But what other group of people could you get away with insulting like that?
  • In one scene in a made-for-TV movie chronicling the life of George Washington, no less a personage than George himself gratuitously ridicules one of his officers for being fat.  (Had it happened that way in real life, one might deduce that being fat takes away any points earned for volunteering to run around in the cold winter wilderness fighting Redcoats to the death.)  
  • The narratives of innumerable commercials revolve around the pretty, trim and savvy wife mugging and smirking while throwing verbal barbs at her hapless husband, who is required by Madison Avenue to be fat and stupid (perhaps to encourage us to believe they are one and the same) and who just stands there mute as the deserving personification of the Stupid Consumer, in awe of his superior mate.
In short, all that trendy and high-minded talk about abolishing bigotry is baloney, a mask for finding more socially acceptable targets for it.  People do cherish their little hatreds, and obesity is high on the approved list.  Anti-fat bigotry is so much fun we can no longer confine it to the private sector; now we have the government weighing in, so to speak, that obesity is a "crisis".  My guess is, with ObamaCare, we will soon be the ones weighing in.  Remember, it's nobody's business who, or what, we have sex with, but if we eat too many Ho-hos, the national glare will be focused directly on you-know-who.  Let the witch hunts begin.  What did he eat and when did he eat it?  Maybe eventually Uncle Sam will steal fitness ideas from the Soviet Union and send overweight people to fat camps deep in the bowels of whatever part of the country most resembles Siberia.  (Duluth, maybe?)  It's for our own good after all, just like when one of Stalin's men took a pick ax and explained communism to a slow-learning Trotsky.

Come to think of it, big government often does solve obesity problems in a population.  Like Ethiopia did with Eritrea.  Like the Soviet Union did with the Ukraine.  Like North Korea is doing now with its own citizens.  You can't overeat if you don't have any food.  The obesity epidemic and public health will be the pretext for even bigger government, notwithstanding the number of people that big government has killed.
But I digress.  The consensus, even among people who don't believe in an objective morality, is that obesity is a moral failing.  The popular culture dives into that presumption like torch-wielding Puritans on a tethered witch.  I have heard obesity alluded to  as a sin from the pulpit -- the fruits of gluttony -- and as a threat to national security by a military leadership getting in step with the government's ever-changing cadences.   Joe McCarthy: out.  Your employer's Wellness program: in.  The idea that obesity might be a different kind of failure, perhaps genetic, recedes from view even as homosexuality, once thought to be a lifestyle choice, emerges with claims to genetic legitimacy.  We celebrate the glorious diversity of different lifestyles -- but only so long as it does not require super-sizing your fries or looking bad in Spandex.  Besides, being gay is cool and gays dress better.

But what if obesity is not a moral failing at all?  What if it's simply a problem of ignorance?  What if a lack of knowledge is at the root of this so-called epidemic?  Worse, what if obesity is actually being caused by misinformation emanating from the same authority figures in government and the nutrition field who are now chiding us for our girth while telling us things that are just not so?

In my next post, I will relate my personal struggles with obesity and detail some of my successes and failures in fighting this lifelong battle.   Meanwhile, let's just acknowledge the tremendous incentives to get thin -- gaining societal approval, looking and feeling better, perhaps living longer -- and observe one thing: people quit trying when they sense they cannot succeed.  Dismissing this as a simple lack of willpower is facile but arrogant, for the simple reason that you cannot directly feel what the fat person feels -- neither his hunger, nor his shame, nor the heartbreak of failure.  Set aside prejudices for just a short while, and consider the possibility that the deck may have been physiologically and/or psychologically stacked against many fat people.  And if you're a fatty like me, take hope in that there may be a solution that is far easier than you dreamed possible.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

The Electoral Dance

Things are not always what they seem.

I've been watching elections since about 1968, and here is what I generally see:  relative to the final results in November, the polls throughout the summer and into early fall show Democrats ahead of where they end up, and Republicans behind where they end up.  Then, sometime around about two weeks before election day, there is some sort of an "adjustment", and behold!  By election day the polls are much closer to the final results.

Classic example of this was the 1980 election.  Carter had been running five points ahead of Reagan all summer long, clear up until their debate.  After the debate, the polls had Reagan pulling up to more or less even, and the morning of the election, the headline on the San Francisco Chronicle's front page (I was stationed in California in 1980) proclaimed, "Too Close To Call!"  Well, nobody told the Reagan voters.  Reagan won by a significant margin, about 51% of the vote in a three-way race (Carter got about 41%, and renegade Republican John Anderson garnered most of what was left over).

Even the elections that Republicans have lost usually turn out to have been much closer than the pollsters had prognosticated.  In '96, there were many polls showing Clinton with huge double-digit leads.  But the "adjustments" appeared at the last minute, followed by a relatively miserable showing for Mr. Clinton -- in neither of his two elections did he even break the 50% mark, but he did beat Dole by nine or ten points.

Even in off-year Congressional elections, the strength of the GOP on election day often appears to catch the media flatfooted.  The Republican takeover in '94 hit them like a runaway train; I don't know whether they were surprised, but they certainly acted surprised.  First time since the Eisenhower administration that both houses of Congress went Republican, and nobody had predicted it.

More recently, in 2010, the media acted like it was "shocking" when some people predicted a Republican congressional landslide.  But election day came, and there it was.

There's a pattern here.  So the next question is, are the polls reliable and the electorate just routinely shifts toward the Republicans as election day nears?  Or are the polls stacked to favor Democrats for as long as they can, until they must either adjust or lose credibility?

The latter seems more likely.

Now, is it some vast conspiracy to demoralize the Republican base to try to lower voter turnout?  Why would professional pollsters risk their reputations to do this?

Pollsters are trying to make money, like the rest of us, and their behavior just might be a simple, rational market response aimed at pleasing their customers.  Most news-media outlets are run by liberals, and liberals want to hear good news about Democrats.  So if you're running a polling company and a major network hires you to produce a poll, and you know the people you're dealing with prefer Democrats, you have a very clear incentive to give them what they want.  That is, until it comes into conflict with another stronger, countervailing incentive -- namely, keeping your reputation as a polling outfit intact.

Either way, it's easy to get a poll to say what you want it to say.  Here's a link to an illuminating article by PJMedia's Charles Martin, explaining how pollsters can achieve whatever results they're looking for and make it look credible:

Most pollsters this year have been (until recently) polling registered voters as opposed to likely voters (which tends to skew towards Democrats); and for the most part they have been oversampling Democrats.  In one Quinnipiac poll, for example, it was claimed Obama had an eight-point lead in Ohio -- but in their sampling, Quinnipiac gave Democrats a nine-point edge.  Ohio is a swing state; does it seem likely that nine percent more Democrats will turn out than Republicans?  You do the math -- in fact, you'd better do the math, as Quinnipiac doesn't seem very interested in doing it for you.

I'm beginning to suspect that the news media understands all this.  Why?  For the simple reason that, all along, Obama has been campaigning -- he's been behaving -- like he's behind.  The Obama campaign has been nasty, surly, and issue-free, focusing its attentions on assassinating Romney's character and trotting out red herrings about how rich he is.  That's not how someone who believes he's ahead in the race runs a campaign.  It shows a lack of confidence.

This tells me Obama's internal polling numbers have been closer to the real mark all along than the polls that get trotted for general consumption.  Obama behaves like he's behind because he is behind, and knows it.

And I don't believe all this has gone unnoticed by veteran reporters.

The polls now have "adjusted" -- of course, the election is next week -- and are giving Romney anywhere from a dead even to five-point edge, but many are still saying Obama still has the advantage in the Electoral College tally.

I think that, where they're saying Romney is now, is where he was all along -- but he is now strengthening his lead.

Right now, I'm expecting a solid Romney win, perhaps even a landslide.  Let's see if I'm right.

But here's another prediction:  if the election is within one state's electoral votes, and that state's election is within two or three points, the Democrats will airdrop a thousand lawyers into that state and try to steal the election.

Wait and see.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Saints, Players, and Useful Idiots

Some of the best writing to be found on the Internet is at the Belmont Club, a blog hosted by, by one "Wretchard" -- a pseudonym for Richard Fernandez, a Harvard-educated Filipino.  I know very little about him other than he is a source of profound wisdom.  There is a link to his writing on this URL, and I highly recommend reading his stuff if you want to understand anything about what's going on in the world.

Mr. Fernandez will happily mix it up with commenters, and some of his best insights are in the comments section of his blog. Here's one such gem that touches on some of what I want to talk about today...
"The population on the Left can be divided into three categories — the “useful fools”, the revolutionary saints and the players. Of the useful fools we will say no more. Then there are the “saints” for whom Marxism is a religion and whose reward is to blind them to its actual purposes. It’s there to give them the transcendental experience that mysticism once gave the contemplatives. That’s what they’re in it for. They give the revolution whatever dignity it has; they do all the dangerous and necessary things and few of them survive it. Those who do are killed off by the third category, the players.
"All Communist societies are built on the bones of its saints. That’s all they’re good for really: to dream and to die.  But the players are those who actually know what it is all about. Which is that it is about power and money. Always was, always has been and always will be. That’s why they survive and while all the saints won’t. Because they know the Big Secret, they know what really matters. As for ideology, the players know that “Marxism” is just a disinformational narrative for the useful fools. They believe in Communism in the same way a crooked preacher believes in God. That is to say, not at all."
I agree 100% with Wretchard here, but would expand his generality to include all political parties.  If the distinctions seem less descriptive of the Republicans, it is only because they are less moved by raw politics and more moved by its trappings.  (If given a choice between being Queen Victoria and Benjamin Disraeli, the Democrats would pick Disraeli every time, but the GOP would inerringly choose being the Queen.  Democrats would much rather hold power than seem to hold it; Republicans would rather hold the position than the actual power.)
What we have here in the U.S. is a two-party system -- two liberal, free-spending, drunk-with-power political parties. But one of them has to pretend to be something else on election day because they drew the short straw and have to scrounge votes from among those who don't like liberals, free spenders, or power-drunk politicians.

But the news media provides some cover for them, so they don't have to be all *that* conservative. Just enough to lie convincingly every other October.

As Wretchard sketched out for us, every political party consists of:
  • Saints.
  • Useful idiots.
  • Players.
The Saints are the ones who stand conspicuously and bravely for the Cause, or are portrayed as such by the Players.  Sometimes they are the ones who die for it, either metaphorically or bodily. They are an inspiration to their party. The Nazis had Horst Wessel. The Democrats -- hell, they practically manufacture Saints: Franklin Delano Roosevelt; the Kennedy Brothers; Hubert Humphrey; Martin Luther King; and scores of others, even Sandra Fluke, who has managed to make sex boring. The Republicans have only Reagan. No political party can function without a few highly celebrated Saints.

The Useful Idiots, also called True Believers, are the dutiful troops who man the booths, lick the stamps, make the calls, invest their faith. They believe the Myth. No political party can function without the active participation of an army of Useful Idiots.

The Players are the organization people, the backroom deal-makers, the power brokers. They are reptiles, scaly and repulsive.  No warm blood.  No beliefs to speak of. No ideals to live up to. And they are pretty much indistinguishable from their counterparts in the opposition. Karl Rove is hated by Democrats and James Carville by Republicans, but they could easily switch sides.  And if they were to do so, so would the hatreds.

By some strange quirk of human nature, the Players always wind up in charge of the party. This is in accordance with Jerry Pournelle's Iron Law of Bureaucracy, which holds that every organization contains people who work for the cause and people who work for the organization, and without exception it is the latter who always wind up in charge.

In a suicidal spiral ever since Reagan, the Republican Party has all but purged its Saints. That's why they have to keep invoking the memory of Reagan. It's a party of Players vs. Player-wannabes. It's gotten so cynical that many of their Useful Idiots have wised up and joined the Tea Party.  There's a moment in Shostakovich's orchestral tone-poem "Stepan Razin" where the Czar's goons are trying to rouse the rabble to cheer the impending execution of Razin, a Cossack rebel for whom the rabble should really be sympathizing if they had their thinking caps on straight.  It's a musical moment full full of empty, hollow, forced huzzahs.

That's what the Republican Party sounds like when they invoke the spirit of Reagan.  Nobody is buying it, and Ronnie, if his spirit is loitering nearby,  is taking one of his famous naps.

And that's why Romney is struggling just a bit. He's somewhat hard to read, though. Seems too pure to be a Player, too non-ideological to be a Saint, and too smart to be a Useful Idiot.

Once I was a Useful Idiot. As John Lennon said, it took me so long to find out. But I found out.

Friday, August 31, 2012

The Ryan Express

The Republican National Convention wrapped things up last night for election year 2012, concluding with an amusing sequence by Clint Eastwood, no less, and a masterful speech by their nominee.  Mitt Romney seems like a sincere fellow.  Well, don't they all?  As the saying goes, once you can fake sincerity, you've got it made.  The difference between an honest man and a liar does not reside in what either will tell you, as both will insist they're telling the truth.  So which is Mitt?  I can't really say.

But to me, at least as interesting as what Mitt said were the things he left unsaid.  He said remarkably little about the most important political issue of our time:  the out-of-control spending and the impending catastrophe that awaits if we don't find some way to stop it.  Conservatives are expected to presume that, with the simple act of nominating Paul Ryan to be the vice-presidential candidate, Romney has shown that he favors dealing with the problem head on.

Perhaps.  But I'm not yet convinced.  Is Ryan's main issue, fiscal responsibility, the engine that motivates Romney?  Or is that just part of the confetti, another float in a dishonest parade intended only to garner the cheers of the faithful -- all the better to line the fiscal trough with Republican snouts for the next four years?  And assuming the desire is there, would a Romney administration really have the political and moral gumption to deal with the debt?  Or would his win amount merely to another casting change -- same business-as-usual taxpayer rape, different rapist?

If the Republicans were serious about fiscal sanity, the skeptic could ask, then why are their relations with the Tea Party so strained?   The Tea Party should be their natural allies -- indeed, there would have been no need for a Tea Party in the first place if Republicans did as Republicans said.

The sad truth is that Republicans have been all too eager to join in the Washington spending orgy. We have two political parties in America and each one wants to spend us all into the poorhouse. But one of those parties, the Republicans, has to pretend otherwise every two years -- and it is their misfortune to be dependent on the votes of millions of people who really do want to stanch the financial hemorrhage. This makes life quite inconvenient for the GOP -- not unlike, say, a preacher with a pious congregation who really wants nothing more than to strip off his clothes and dance with the girls at the nudie bar. The hard part, from the GOP perspective, is doing what you want while managing to keep your job.

We're never going to get restraint from the Democrats, as they are the party of the strippers. The Republicans don't want it either, but the hope is that they can be threatened into embracing it by their congregation. The Tea Party exists for the sole purpose of grabbing the GOP by the scruff of the neck and duck-walking them out of the nudie bar and back into church. They are that part of the Republicans' constituency that felt upset and betrayed when they discovered that the fiscally-responsible puritans they thought they had sent to Washington turned out to be sybaritic nudie dancers after all.

The name for all this is accountability, and you can just tell nobody likes it.

Friday, August 24, 2012

No Good Deed Goes Unignored

I guess the news media is way too busy with important stuff, like Mitt Romney's dog Seamus riding on the roof of Romney's car, to talk much about the piddly little stuff, like Romney finding and saving a lost girl's life.

You can understand why that is. Putting a dog in a carrier on the car roof thirty years ago displays Romney's flawed character and "lack of humanity", as Jerry "Whip It Good" Casale of Devo opines.
Whereas, regarding the lost girl, all Romney did was to take "...immediate action. He closed down the entire firm and asked all 30 partners and employees to fly to New York to help find [his colleague] Gay’s daughter. Romney set up a command center at the LaGuardia Marriott and hired a private detective firm to assist with the search. He established a toll-free number for tips, coordinating the effort with the NYPD, and went through his Rolodex and called everyone Bain did business with in New York and asked them to help find his friend’s missing daughter. Romney’s accountants at Price Waterhouse Cooper put up posters on street poles, while cashiers at a pharmacy owned by Bain put fliers in the bag of every shopper. Romney and the other Bain employees scoured every part of New York and talked with everyone they could – prostitutes, drug addicts – anyone."

And they found her. Overdosed, shivering, but alive. Another day might have been too late.

So it would seem that when a problem comes along, you can whip it by calling Mr. Romney.

And if you're a reporter in the tank for Obama, you report on... anything else.

Friday, July 20, 2012

Dancing the Faux Pas de Deux

Political commentator Michael Kinsley once explained the Washingtonian definition of a faux pas: when someone accidentally tells the truth. The President told the truth last week -- at least the truth as he sees it -- and since then all hell has broken loose.
"You didn't build that."
The idea is that someone who has worked hard, sacrificed, taken risks, and built a successful business up from nothing has not really earned his success. That may be true, at least in part, based on some Olympian perspective of cosmic justice for all.

But it is a distinctly alien perspective, more akin to the grim determinism of Marx than the optimistic, free-wheeling American spirit.

But of course the question arises: if businessmen did not earn their success, why should we believe anyone else did? Like, for example, Mr. Obama himself?

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Yesterday When I Was Young

Liberals may not agree with what you say, but they'll fight for your right to say it.

Oh. Sorry, that's so yesterday.

Today, the Oscar-winning producer of "Schindler's List" is prohibited from speaking at a high school graduation ceremony because he is "a right-wing conservative."

In Montana, of all places.

Hat tip:  Glenn Reynolds at Instapundit. 

Friday, June 8, 2012

It's So Hard to Get Good Help These Days

Should companies refuse to hire married men who have stay-at-home wives? Why not ask the Social Science Research Network...
"In this article, we examine a heretofore neglected pocket of resistance to the gender revolution in the workplace: married male employees who have stay-at-home wives. We develop and empirically test the theoretical argument suggesting that such organizational members, comp ared to male employees in modern marriages, are more likely to exhibit attitudes, beliefs, and behaviors that are harmful to women in the workplace."
It's such a shame that we can't condition such men to conform their attitudes to the approving trills of feminist ideology without having to stigmatize them. Well, we drove the Neanderthals to extinction once. Perhaps we can do it again.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Shake Your Booty!

 A writer at PJMedia comes to the shocking conclusion that musical skill no longer matters in music...

Longtime conductor of the Chicago Symphony, Georg Solti, was once asked why he didn’t program more modern repertoire. Solti’s response was, I thought, illuminating: all of us reach a point in our lives where the music we already know is sufficient for us and forms the basis of what we cherish, and we lose the ability to truly appreciate anything (stylistically) newer. Solti said, for him, music stopped sometime around 1950. So, yes to Bartok, Hindemith, Prokofiev, and Shostakovich; no to Stockhausen, Lutoslawski, Carter, and Xenakis.

I notice the same sort of thing in pop/rock music. For me, music stopped sometime around 1980. So, yes to Gerry Rafferty, Dire Straits, Supertramp, Robert Palmer, and ZZTop; no to Madonna, Pat Benatar, the Culture Club, rap, crap, and hip-hop.

Once upon a time, a musician did not need to be charismatic to sell a good tune, but it helped. Elvis was king, but there was also Roy Orbison and Bobby Darin, neither man being a sexual god. Barbra, for crying out loud, was no beauty queen, though Barbra might disagree. What I’m seeing nowadays is the opposite situation: the music has become a mere vehicle for the charisma (such as it is). Britney Spears is not a musician or even a particularly talented singer, and the songs? If you’ve heard one, you’ve heard ‘em all. Britney Spears shakes her butt and the music helps with the packaging. That makes her a butt shaker, not a singer.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Flattery Will Get You Nowhere

English professor Janice Fiamengo's perspective on what's wrong with students -- and education -- today, here:

On the streak of narcissism that results when you teach self-esteem rather than actual subject material...

"[The students'] belief that nothing requires improvement except the grade is one of the biggest obstacles that teachers face in the modern university.  And that is perhaps the real tragedy of our education system: not only that so many students enter university lacking the basic skills and knowledge to succeed in their courses — terrible in itself — but also that they often arrive essentially unteachable, lacking the personal qualities necessary to respond to criticism."

On grade inflation...

"In the past twenty years, the well-documented phenomenon of grade inflation in humanities subjects — the awarding of high “Bs” and “As” to the vast majority of students — has increased the conviction that everyone is first-rate."

(Which, of course, flies in the face of the truism that half the population is below average.)

On where the progressives jumped the track:

"Memorization itself, the foundation of traditional teaching, came to be seen as an enemy of creative thought: pejorative similes for memory work such as “rote learning” and “fact-grinding” suggest the classroom equivalent of a military drill, harsh and unaccommodating. The progressive approach, in contrast, emphasizes variety, pleasure, and student interest and self-motivation above all."

I was always suspicious of education fads that dismissed any learning done by "rote memorization."  On the contrary, I have always instinctively thought that memorization is to learning as calisthenics and drill are to playing football, or basic training is to warfare, or scales and arpeggios are to performing music.  In football, nobody skips the practice field or the training camp and goes straight to the scrimmage.  In warfare, nobody starts his military career by charging up San Juan Hill.  In music, you don't perform in Carnegie Hall without having first played a few thousand scales.

One lesson that you learn when studying music is that there are no A's for effort.  I never had a music instructor who felt it necessary to boost my self-esteem, though I could have sworn there were several who had quite the opposite goal.  You pay these folks to criticize your playing, and criticism is what you get.

You can't teach someone who thinks he knows everything already.  That makes humility a valuable commodity.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

It's All About Him

Did you know that, at the official White House web site, the historical blurbs on every President since Coolidge (except Ford) now include little congratulatory notes on the Obama administration? It's almost like President Hoover was already thinking of the future zygote that would become the change we were waiting for, when he invented the vacuum cleaner.
Hat tip to Glenn Reynolds at Instapundit.  And Jim Treacher, as usual, is without mercy.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Rhetoric, Obama-Style

The President came out today in favor of gay marriage, as best as anyone can tell.  Well, at least he is no longer a bigot.

Obama: "I have to tell you that over the course of several years as I have talked to friends and family and neighbors when I think about members of my own staff who are in incredibly committed monogamous relationships, same-sex relationships, who are raising kids together, when I think about those soldiers or airmen or marines or sailors who are out there fighting on my behalf and yet feel constrained, even now that Don’t Ask Don’t Tell is gone, because they are not able to commit themselves in a marriage, at a certain point I’ve just concluded that for me personally it is important for me to go ahead and affirm that I think same sex couples should be able to get married."

That's all in one sentence, too. But the key part... "I’ve just concluded that for me personally it is important for me to go ahead and affirm...." Now, that's a full-throated defense of gay marriage right there.

It's right up there with other great declarations in history.

Patrick Henry: "But as for me personally, I think it is important for me to go ahead and affirm that you can either allow me an appropriate degree of liberty, or at some point consider terminating my functioning as an organism."

Thomas Jefferson: "We feel the time has come when it is important to us to go ahead and affirm that we hold certain truths to be personally relevant, that all men, and women too, are created equal, that they are endowed by such a creator as would be congruent with our personal belief system, with certain unalienable rights, that among these are human life (where it is wanted), liberty -- of course, in the sense that we should all be liberated from want -- and the pursuit of happiness so long as it doesn't conflict with the more important goals of the government, and involves no bitter clinging."

FDR: "I have to tell you that over the course of several years as I have talked to friends and family and neighbors when I think about members of my own staff who have been living in fear, that at a certain point I've just concluded for me personally that we have little in the way to fear, actually, except for the generic fear in and of itself that can paralyze a positive response to the threats that I, personally, perceive as facing the country."
With inspirational leaders like this, no wonder America is such a great country.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Blowing Smoke, Mittens Style

Conservatives have been rallying behind one NotRomney after another, even behind some candidates who aren't particularly conservative themselves, in order to stand in Mitt Romney's way. Interesting and, I think, insightful article by David Steinberg at PJMedia on why this is, and why Mitt has not already wrapped up the Republican nomination.

Steinberg writes:
"The viable candidates are not fiscally conservative enough for our preference, but all importantly, the candidates are not fiscally conservative enough to halt decline [my boldface]. Recent elections held the promise of a GOP win being a satisfactory result, 2012 does not, considering a fall-of-Rome national debt and the structure of unfunded, impossible-to-fund “safety net” liabilities."
When President Obama took office, the national debt hovered at about $9 trillion; today it soared to about $15 trillion, with no endgame in sight, but with huge new entitlements on the horizon. Our national net worth is estimated at roughly $50 to $60 trillion -- that's everything in these United States, every house, every store, every car, every pair of shoes. The United States of America faces an existential crisis at this point in its history. We are well on our way toward spending ourselves into oblivion.

Now, either you believe what I just wrote, or you don't. If you don't, let them clear off a seat for you in the Democratic Party. There was a time not very long ago when, arguably, we could afford wishy-washy RINOs eager to get good press and anxious to negotiate conservative positions away. The Bible has a phrase to describe such flexibly-principled allies -- "I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other! So, because you are lukewarm -— neither hot nor cold —- I am about to spit you out of my mouth." (Revelation 3:15-16) The country simply cannot afford any more Republican dithering and blundering on this issue.  We don't need two liberal parties; one is more than enough.

But Mitt says he plans to get all this under control. Ann Coulter, going to bat for him, scolds conservatives for their doubts. She tries gamely to build a case that Romney is "most conservative candidate we've run for president since Reagan". And what's her exhibit A? Can you believe... RomneyCare?!
"Romney pushed the conservative alternative to national health care that, had it been adopted in the 49 other states, would have killed ObamaCare in the crib by solving the health insurance problem at the state level."
So what's Ann saying here?  That the way to fight federal socialism is to institute widespread state-level socialism?  That the federal government's lust for money and power would have been sated, or thwarted, once and for all had the states decided to pursue that lust first?  How likely does that sound?

Does Ann think that lots of little tyrannies are better than one big tyranny?  Or that little tyrannies prevent big ones from muscling in?  I'd hate to have to count on either notion.

Romney argues that RomneyCare was a conservative solution because it was done at the state level.  Well, there may be less question of its constitutionality at the state level, depending on which state we're talking about.  Does that make it good policy?  Does that make it conservative policy?  I must be old -- I remember when conservatism was about economic freedom.  Forcing someone to participate in a state-run medical insurance scheme doesn't sound much like economic freedom.  More specifically, it doesn't sound much like Reagan.  It sounds like conservatism only to someone who doesn't understand conservatism.

I have grown to expect Republican presidential candidates to blither like idiots, but it is monumentally unsatisfying to watch Ann Coulter play dumb.

Ezra Klein is a liberal who writes for the Washington Post.  But liberal or not, he gets what it is that makes Romney unpalatable to conservatives:
"...left-leaning constituencies... in Massachusetts [were] asked about the pitch Romney made when he was running for governor. According to individuals who were in those meetings, Romney didn’t just say that he supported choice and environmental protection. He said that supporting him was a strategic decision for those groups.

“'You need someone like me in Washington,' [Romney] reportedly told the advocates. The GOP had swung too far right, and he would be 'a good voice in the party' for left-leaning groups. His support for their agenda would mean more than the support of another Democrat. His would be 'widely written about.'"
So Romney told the leftists in Massachusetts they could count on him, and today he tells the conservatives in America they can count on him.  Surely he is not the first politician to play both sides.  I don't necessarily expect to vote for a candidate who has never told a lie.  But it would be nice to know which side was being lied to
Now, it so happens that I know how Mitt could sew the nomination all up.  Tomorrow, if he wanted.  He can do this, but it means giving up on his ludicrous defense of RomneyCare.
All he has to do is schedule a press conference and say something very much like this:
"Look guys, I made a huge mistake with RomneyCare.  It's a mistake we cannot afford at the federal level, and not one I ever intend to repeat, or allow to be repeated on my watch. And if I accomplish nothing else in my tenure as president but the repeal of this awful ObamaCare law and taking this important step toward balancing the budget, I will count my term as successful."
Short. Sweet. Simple. It would show he's not living on another planet. It would show he understands how unpopular ObamaCare is and how he can harness that dislike for the GOP's advantage. It would show he understands the grapes of conservative wrath.

That statement, right there, would win him the Republican nomination. And probably the general election.

So why doesn't he say it?

Because he doesn't believe it? Or believe in it? Then he is not the man we need in the White House.

Because he's too proud to admit a mistake? Well, tough.  Sometimes pain is necessary. Making that statement would show at the very least that he feels conservatives' pain and wants their votes and is prepared to deliver something in return for them.

But all this juking and jiving about socialism being conservative as long as it's at the state level is smoke, and he's blowing it right up the great conservative keister.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Thoughts on the Evitability of Mitt and the Mutability of Newt

(As I write this, Newt Gingrich just won South Carolina in a convincing fashion, spanking the dollar-regurgitating Romney machine with a rolled-up newspaper. Of course, newspapers aren't as thick as they used to be. I've been posting at PJMedia in the Comments section, usually picking a fight with anyone who loftily declares the nomination of one Mitt Romney as "inevitable." I'll summarize some of my thoughts here....)

Yesterday, Philip Klein of the Washington Examiner tweeted: “The theoretically electable candidate isn't very electable & the theoretically conservative one isn't very conservative.”

That’s a good and quite amusing description of Romney and Gingrich.

I had actually written off Newt long ago, which shows you how much I know. If Newt can get this far, without an organization, without money, without the blessing of the Republican National Committee, and with all his backroom betrayals, ex-wives, global warming commercials with Nancy Pelosi, weasely little eyes, high-pitched voice and irritating smugness... well, imagine where he'd be now with only half of all that baggage.

As for the other guy, I think you can stick Mittens in a cedar chest for the summer, he’s done. If he can’t win with all that cash and half of Washington on his campaign payroll, plus the endorsement of the RNC and even National Review -- to me, it says he’d be a great Republican candidate if only there were any actual Republicans who liked him. Too bad for Mitt that Democrats can't vote in the Republican Primaries. Though you should never actually say that to a Democrat, he'll take it as a challenge.

No doubt, Mitt's problems with the conservative base are a plus in the eyes of the RNC, who in the past have been known to let their dislike of conservatives show. In years divisible by four, the RNC likes to ask, “Can we not run a Republican and just say we did?” They’d really rather run a Democrat, only Joe Lieberman won't return their calls and Zell Miller is too conservative. If the RNC issued currency, Arlen Specter would be on the dollar bill. Maybe Larry Craig would be on the $3 bill.

But the RNC appears to harbor no love for Newt, who is just not satisfied with keeping Republican snouts in the trough, but occasionally says or does something alarming -- like, e.g., he's been known to disagree with liberals on... something, I forget what.

Which is to say, Newt doesn’t mind agreeing with liberals either. I figure he’ll treat conservatives the way he’s treated his ex-wives, vowing love and respect until death do us part. But then he'll get caught flying Air Force One to that shack outside LaGrange, hooking up with the sleaziest mascara-dripping liberal he can find, and wearing cowboy chaps. And when caught, he'll explain to you convincingly how your own dirty mind is playing tricks with you. You'll be ashamed of yourself. Look at CNN's John King. When King played the open-marriage gambit on Newt, the explosion of righteous indignation from the unrighteous ex-Speaker of the House went way past 8.9 on the Richter scale, past 9.9, past even 10.9, all the way up to Jimmy Swaggart-point-nine. Newt had everyone in the auditorium, including John King, hating John King for asking the question.

The greatest debate never staged would be Newt vs. Newt. It would be like watching the Tasmanian Devil chase his own tail. If anyone can talk his way into the White House, it’s Newt. Of course, it’s two-to-one that he’ll talk himself out of the White House instead.

But Newt does the one thing mainstream Republicans can never bring themselves to do: he looks liberals square in the eye and fights. That goes a long way with conservatives who too often get the feeling that their own champions are too embarrassed to be seen with them. The only times GW Bush ever squared off against someone like that, it was against his own base.

Monday, January 2, 2012

Merry Christmas, 2011

Merry Christmas 2011!

Okay, time for a break in the Republican debates. Time will tell whether the GOP is a worried mother admonishing us to put on our Mittens, or a witch turning the party into a Newt. We don't need to worry about that now. The politicians we have with us always, and if they had a favorite Christmas carol, it would surely be I Ponder as I Pander. The burning question is, have you ever noticed how much life is like a roll of paper towels? When your towel roll is young, the world is young, and you can use up sheets like you have all the paper in the world to look forward to. But as time advances, each sheet that gets used and tossed makes a more significant dent in the size of the roll. To us, Christmas seems like the culmination of each year, when we pause our routines long enough to appreciate the year that has past and to gear up in a hopeful way for the year to come and the challenges it will bring. We find ourselves taking more and more care about how we tear off the next sheet.

It has become a yearly event for my buddy Ray Crenshaw and me to spend a few days in Arlington, VA, every March for the Eastern Trombone Workshop. Maybe my favorite thing in the whole world is to walk into a room full of trombone vendors, like a kid in hydrogenated-fatty and processed-sugary candy shop, wishing I had Bill Gates' credit card. My mom bought me my first professional-quality trombone back in '72 -- $390 for a Conn 88H tenor trombone. The ravages of time and inflation have raised that price to about $2000, but in the interim period we have seen the rise of the custom instrument makers, with prices pushing $8000. The biggest mistake you can make, if you're not Bill Gates, is to play one of these expensive trombones -- if you have a Chevette budget, best not to test-drive the Lexus. At the other, more Chevettish end of the market, a Chinese manufacturer made a first appearance. I played their bass trombone, on sale for $1000 -- not bad. But then I wanted to play it again an hour later. Just kidding. Their booth was manned only by the owner, who spoke no English, and his beautiful daughter, who spoke English but not Trombonese. They were largely ignored, and I felt a little sorry for them. I wonder how long before they own the entire industry? Someday, perhaps. But in the meantime, they could learn something about marketing from the German makers; they just hire an intense New York salesman who negotiates like Billy May shoving the world's very last Veg-O-Matic down your throat. And that's not all. The most memorable workshop was given by two LA studio trombonists, telling us how much fun it was to work with John Williams (lots) and how much demand there is for contrabass trombones (think of a bass trombone on a steroids-and-spaghetti diet). According to these two, trombone players are the only studio musicians who enjoy having lunch with others from their own section. Over one lunch, a violinist asked if she could join them, and she did. But after five minutes of conversation, she exclaimed, "Wow, you guys are hard on each other!" One of them smiled and replied, "Ma'am, we're trombone players; the knife always goes in the front."

This past April, Debbie and I took a mini-vacation in Philadelphia -- Debbie loves history and has always wanted to see the places and artifacts -- the bronzed baby-shoes, so to speak -- of our country's infancy. We met our friends Kevin and Ann Schmalz there and we all stayed in a downtown hotel, walked everywhere, and tried to take in all the sights. We visited Independence Hall, where the First Congress took place, miraculously without any ethics violations, and the Liberty Bell, which is everything it's cracked up to be. And Betsy Ross' house is still there, for those whose interests are flagging. We also took the time to visit something called the Mutter Museum, which displays medical tools -- and curiosities -- of the past, many of which were quite disturbing in an Addams Family kind of way. It certainly makes you appreciate antibiotics and cosmetic surgery. Philadelphia's food was great, though. We found the best cheese steak on the planet at the Famous 4th Street Deli, and the best ice cream too, at Bassetts' in the Reading Terminal Market (dark chocolate ice cream!). Walking past the Curtis Institute of Music, we applauded one of the trombone students while he was playing an etude -- he sounded great, and waved to us through his window. We also heard the sad news that the Philadelphia Orchestra had filed for bankruptcy. Not enough rich blue-haired ladies or enough young fans. Times are changing. We spent our last afternoon in a South Philly bar, and entertained the bartender to no end when we described our home town, Virginia Beach, as "the Redneck Riviera." He even tried to defend our own honor, but finally gave up when we told him about the time we ate at a nice waterfront restaurant about twenty feet away from a tractor pull.

We took another mini-vacation in August, traveling to South Carolina to see our friends Ray and Sonja Crenshaw and, with them, to visit Charleston. On our way into Charleston, we were hit by one of the worst thunderstorms we've ever experienced, not knowing whether we'd be drowned or electrocuted. In Charleston, we ate at a little cafe called the Hominy Grill, where I sampled a regional dish called "Shrimp and Grits", which could also as justifiably have been called "Bacon and Cheese." Though a breakfast dish, it went well with the "Hops and Barley". Our hotel room displayed the signature architecture of the Old South -- tall ceilings with ceiling fans, louvered doors, chandeliers, detailed woodwork, and mosquitoes ( "Bzzzz, y'all!"). The houses tend to have a doorway at the street, with a long walkway leading through a small courtyard to the actual house. A friend of Ray's owns such a house in use as a bed & breakfast, and gave us the cook's tour . The house was hundreds of years old; the guest rooms in the back were once slave quarters. Heard lots of historical commentary, a fair amount devoted to "damn Yankees." Though the horse-drawn carriages do look terrific in the brochures, truth in advertising should demand that the pictures somehow communicate the aroma. But it does add color to the cobblestones. Charleston is a colorful city -- indeed, a beautiful city, and we plan on going back again soon, probably after the next grits harvest.

We thank the Lord for our good health, but we had a couple of scares this year. Debbie called me at work one day and told me she was having symptoms similar to a heart attack -- shortness of breath, numbness in her shoulders and upper arms, wooziness. I work only five minutes away from home, so I rushed home and her symptoms had gotten much worse. We live about a ten-minute drive from the hospital, so we got into the car and I was going to drive us there as quickly as possible, legally or not. But as we passed by the local fire/rescue station, Debbie tried communicating to me that she might faint before we make it to the hospital. But what she got out was, "I don't think I'm going to make it."  Aaack!!!! So, panicking, I pulled into the fire/rescue station and let the professionals take over. One of the rescue workers looked at me and asked, "She's the one having a heart attack!?" The good news is that Debbie's heart is healthy as can be -- she had suffered something called "vasovagal syncope", which can mimic a heart attack's symptoms. So thankfully, with apologies to Billy Joel, we didn't trade in our Checker for a cardiac-ack-ack-ack-ack-ack. But you ought to know by now. Then just a couple of days later, she was getting chummy with a very friendly local kitty, but then the cat turned and bit her. And then disappeared. There aren't many cases of rabies these days, but we didn't know that cat and haven't seen him since. So, Debbie took a series of rabies shots, which thankfully are not as painful as they used to be. For a couple of weeks, I was calling her "Shotsie". She felt pretty sheepish, but I say much better rattled than rabid, and better to have syncope than get sympathy.

Our big cat, Buster, was not so fortunate this year. He was never healthy, and apparently had suffered some sort of a stroke last May. Buster was a very needy cat, requiring constant reassurance. He didn't so much sit in your lap as commandeer it -- which could be a problem, as he weighed 22 pounds and could put your toes to sleep. He adored both Debbie and our other cat Gabby, but he was the fat nerd and Gabby was the prom queen -- each new scheme to get her attention was met with feminine disdain and feline indifference. Prone to melancholy, Buster always brightened up instantly whenever anyone (Debbie, me, you, the mailman, the Jehovah's Witness folks) paid attention to him. After Buster was gone, Gabby wandered around the house caterwauling for days (the perfect word for it, really), wondering where her tormentor was -- sometimes I think cats are almost as complicated as we are. Gabby noticed, as we did, that a little bit of brightness had been lost.

So then, here we are, back to the Christmas season again, getting ready to tear off another sheet. It's only fitting that we ponder on the brightness He has brought into our lives, giving us hope that we will not drown in sin. That's God's Christmas gift to us. The world may at times overwhelm us with wickedness and sorrow, but we will win, and all because unto us a Child is born, a Son is given. Have a blessed Christmas and a wonderful New Year.

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