Saturday, November 29, 2008

Animal Edition of Jackass

There was a time, when I thought one thing that separated Man from the other animals, was Man’s incredible habit of doing the incredibly stupid on purpose. The pet rock, streaking, and the election of Barack Obama come to mind as obvious examples. But over time I have found that animals can also choose stupid things to do, for no practical reason whatsoever.

Today’s edition features Bingo & Cody, my dogs.



Bingo is a Collie, and Cody is a Black Lab. They are both intelligent, caring and gentle dogs where children are concerned ... and the exact opposite where birds are concerned. More than once, a low-flying bird has discovered how fast my dogs can be, and how high they can jump.

So I'm studying for a final exam, and I hear the dogs making a ruckus, and I go out and see ... a scene from "The Birds".

About fifty crows had apparently been migrating, and sat along the fencetop peering at the dogs. The dogs would jump at them and the birds would fly off for a while, then come back. And every so often a crow would make a low pass through the yard, as if daring the dogs to catch it.

Stupid.

Yet very popular.

Three times I saw a bird lose feathers to a jaw snap, and one bird only survived by frantically pecking at Cody to get his wing free. Yet a few seconds later, here comes another one to try his luck.

It seemed like a crow frat pledge initiation; survive the dogs, buy your pin and the tickets to the next dance, and you're in.

Sheesh.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Thanksgiving

Every other day of the year, pretty much, bloggers spend their time criticizing the world and the people running things. Today, however, is a day where we should stop and give thanks for the good things and the good people. And I have many things to be thankful for.

First, my wife Mikki. I do not write much about my family for reasons of privacy for them, but if there are any good qualities to me and accomplishments to note, she is a major part of how they came to be. My wife has worked – for years – on my rough edges and my ideals, making me a better, more diligent, and more courteous man than I would ever otherwise have been. Obviously, I am very much a work in progress, but what good I have done is largely due to my wife.

Next, my daughters. No names here because we live in a world of creeps and criminals, but there is no office or title a man can hope to receive, that ranks with being a father and doing the job properly. There is no satisfaction to match with hearing ‘I love you’ from your child. And there is no standard higher than being a good father; failing at that task brings greater consequences than anything with money or paperwork could ever do, and so all good fathers focus first and most on their duty to their families.

I am also thankful for my cancer, or rather, what it has taught me. A little less than two years ago, an oncologist told my wife that not only was PMP incurable, but also there was no effective treatment possible and I should give up and simply choose an ‘end of life’ regimen. Thank God he was wrong!

The actual turn of events has been most merciful to me. My cancer is in fact incurable; there will always be a possibility that the cells in my abdomen which now are so quiescent could abruptly turn malignant and attack my internal organs – no one knows precisely what causes such cells to metastasize, and so I live with a biological sort of grenade in my guts – but the main suspects have all been addressed, first by surgery then by a simple process of drugs and checkups every so often at MD Anderson. For over a year now the reports have been clean and promising.

But every time I go to MDA for a workup, I see many who have not been so fortunate, and for whom the cost of their battle has been much more severe than my own. Ironically, I often see that cancer is not as hard on the patient as on his/her family. I still recall the big tough guy I saw in a CT Scan waiting room, who reminded me of a construction foreman, who was going through hell waiting to find out if his wife would be okay. I have seen unmistakable stress and pain in the faces of parents who feel everything their child is going through, but who can do nothing to fight the thing that is trying to kill their child. I have seen patients go through more pain and suffering in a week at MDA than most people endure in their lives. And those are the survivors. As I wrote above, I have no hope at this time that my type of cancer can be cured, and many types of cancer are like that – you learn to deal with a different kind of reality, what you used to call ‘normal’ is gone forever. But you learn right quick not to bitch too much, because you don’t have to look far to see someone who has things a whole lot worse. There are people with only a few years left to live, who are thankful because they remember those whose time is already up.

I am even thankful for our recent election. No, I don’t like the winners, but I am grateful for a process where we get a lot of information and can freely support our chosen candidate and criticize anyone on whatever grounds we choose. Dissent is not only tolerated, it’s our tradition, and the conversation and debate continues before, through, and after the election.

I am thankful for America. The people who treat America as the same as any other country just don’t get it, and that’s not surprising, but in every meaningful sense America is what the rest of the world wants to be. That does not mean we don’t have a whole lot of work to achieve more of our own ideals, and to work at Justice and the true American Dream, but we believe those dreams are real and attainable, and we consider that everyone has the right to pursue them so long as they do not trample others in that pursuit.

I am thankful for football. That may seem a trite thing, but football as it is played in America is unique, very American, and reflects both the ideals and reality of our country. You either love it or you don’t get it.

I am also thankful for blogging. The triumphs, the blunders, the work, the discussion and the community, the new media is not just about information, but noting and encouraging the dimension that is coming of age. We are all part of it, and I am thankful for everyone here.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Absurdia

It’s been a while since I have had a thorough examination of my eyes, so this morning I went in for a full work-up. Mostly, because the Supreme Local Authority, aka my wife, said to do so.

Like most medical examinations, there is a prolonged period of waiting in the examination room, where you cannot do anything but sit and waste time, usually in a condition of relative vulnerability. In today’s case, that meant sitting with my eyes treated with three different sorts of drops, dilating them and doing who know what else. At such times, you cannot do much of anything but think, and it occurred to me that many of our nation’s leaders spend a great deal of time just waiting, themselves. Despite the hype, there are real and sometimes adamantine limits on the Congress, Courts, and President, so that each spends time waiting for the other to do something, to which he will then respond.

It also occurred to me that there are a lot of things patients have to put up with, either for very good reasons that we simply do not understand, or maybe just because that is how the doctors demand things be done and we have no choice in the matter. The political equivalent, of course, are such presumptions that it will take a long time for domestic drilling to have any effect on the economy, so it should not be done at all, or that because reforming Social Security is a difficult and complex problem, we should ignore the coming catastrophe of its collapse.

That line of absurdity is a very well-established one in Congress. Because they did not face up to his crimes when he was politically powerful, republicans this year found themselves supporting a convicted felon in the Alaska senatorial race. Because he did not address his past support of ACORN and explain the difference between his work and their attempts to commit voter registration fraud, President-elect Obama has already cemented his name to a corrupt group of unscrupulous partisans. And both parties have accepted money and support in various ways from groups that most Americans consider immoral and hypocritical.

In the end, I got a prescription and a bill, and I have to trust my doctor that his opinion will result in better health and vision in the future. In the same way, as bizarre as it seems we Americans have little choice but to pay the bill for what our government does, and hope they know what they’re doing.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

The Liberal-Conservative War

Comments on this and many other blogs make clear that a war continues between people of liberal and conservative nature. The way that partisans have treated the last two presidents elected, demonstrate how harsh the judgment and rhetoric has become. Bill Clinton was blamed for all manner of offenses by conservatives, and later liberals, for his presumed liberal policies and on the other hand for ‘betraying’ liberals by working with republicans on some issues. George W. Bush, on the other hand, received even more vitriol for being conservative, or for not being a ‘real’ conservative. The extremists on either end were displeased with both presidents; they demanded a polarity which would have been impractical and unreasonable, yet they poisoned the reputations of both men out of spite. From what I can see, there has never really been a purely ‘liberal’ or ‘conservative’ President elected yet; Kennedy championed many liberal causes, yet was fiscally and militarily far more conservative than today’s liberals would tolerate. And Reagan, the definitive icon for modern conservatives, cooperated with liberals far more often than many on the Right are willing to admit, especially with regard to immigration and environmental issues.

This is not to say there is a moral equivalency between liberals and conservatives. There are many ethical and logical reasons to choose one standard over the other, and I will not go into that here, except to acknowledge that the decision is often made by serious, intelligent people who intend to follow the best possible moral course in their political foundation. Yet historically, liberals and conservatives have often been able to find common ground, and to reach mutually acceptable compromises. The modern version of each group is far less willing to even look for such accommodation, preferring to destroy the loaf rather than let the other side have even a slice, let alone half.

Some people will look at the 2008 election, as a mandate for liberal policies. I disagree, for the same reason that liberals argued that the 2004 election was not a mandate for conservative policies. As a conservative, I naturally believe that in general conservative polices are better for the country than liberal policies, and I would even go so far as to suggest that in an unbiased environment, voters will prefer a solid conservative candidate to a solid liberal. However, I recognize that moods and environments change, and that the nation in general prefers someone they consider more ‘centered’, that word changing from year to year in meaning as well as specific policy, but usually meaning that the public does not like hard shifts towards any perceived extreme.

As much as I prefer conservative policies and candidates to liberal goals, I concede that a balance of some sort is necessary. This comes from history again, where we can see that unipolar moral systems tend to devolve to individual and systemic corruption, as there is no effective check to the party or leader in power. There needs to be a counter-balance to extremist tendencies, whether or not we like the direction in general that the leadership wants to pursue. It is distinctly unhealthy, however, for disagreement in policy to become vitriolic hatred, for a different perspective to be condemned simply for expression.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Chaos and Democracy

When I was very young and first encountered History, the concept of Democracy seemed the obvious right choice to me. After all, who could argue with everyone having an equal say in matters of power and responsibility? It seemed that it was just a matter of getting evil people who had power to let go and for regular people to rule themselves.

Then I grew up. Oh, I am still a big supporter of Democracy, in so far as we mean self-governance, the duty of a man to rule his mind, heart, words and actions. That’s hard enough to do for anyone! But I am less confident that Democracy is really a functional plan in its true form, not least because it appears everyone is eager to take the power, but not carry the responsibility that comes with it. Over and over again, I run into people who want someone else to do the hard work and they only want the benefits. I first noticed this in work situations. When I worked on the floor in retail, many of my co-workers hoped for promotion to management, where they assumed they could relax and just make money off someone else’s work. I noticed many situations, especially in unions, where the more senior employees took advantage of and sometimes cheated the junior employees, and considered it their “right” to do so. Amway runs that way, I discovered, and so do many corporations. After I graduated from college and started working as a manager, I discovered that the managers were the same way – some worked hard while others schemed ways to gain money and promotion off someone else’s work. I also noticed that when it was time for hard decisions, when a crisis emerged, many people hid from participation, from the duty of making a suggestion or trying to address the problem.

This, I think, explains the popularity of kings. You get a highly visible figurehead who can take all the criticism and attention for the business of making things work. As he is one person, he cannot possibly have all the answers, and so at some point he takes on advisors to find the answers he needs, and this is where the ambitious men aim their efforts. That way, they get money and power and maybe a few honors when things go well, and they can hide and deny when things go in the sewer. You might think that just because the United States does not have a monarchy that we are different, but don’t be hasty. Presidents are often treated as the focus of attention and criticism, and many a CEO is targeted, fairly or not, when their company goes south. In the end, it’s a rare individual who is willing to take on the whole package of true leadership, and being willing to face a hostile environment of press and activists is just as tough as any medieval quest.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Setting the Bar

For the last seven plus years, democrats have refused to give President Bush credit for any of his work. Keep the nation safe from a follow-up to 9-11? Coincidence. Establish a democracy in the heart of the Middle East, and in so doing place a physical check to the aggression of Iran’s Islamic radicals and take out one of the more disgusting dictators of our time? Blame him for every death as if War is normally fought without cost or pain, and ignore the clear evidence and decisions which authorized the war. Democrats have blamed Bush for things he might have done better, along with things he could never have done better and for which no prior President was blamed, and yet they consistently refuse to grant credit for any of the many accomplishments during Bush’s terms. Democrats have paid no attention to Bush’s unprecedented work in fighting AIDS and Malaria, and in developing African countries’ infrastructure. Most Americans have never heard of PEPFAR, or that two of every three sub-Saharan African countries are governed by democratic elections, an accomplishment considered impossible by most just a few years ago. In addition to a number of clear successes, George W. Bush is also notable for being the first president in more than a decade to attempt to proactively address the Social Security crisis which will begin to hit in less than 3 years from now, and for trying to create a realistic solution to border control (Bush spent more on border security than any prior president) and immigration reform. While reasonable people may and do disagree on whether a specific action should be praised, the deliberate denigration of every action by President Bush is dishonorable, and portends problems for President Obama.

It is no secret that I consider President Bush to be one of our better presidents, easily the best of the last three men to hold that office. So I understand that many who read this article will disagree with my appraisal of W. It is not to establish his reputation that I write today, however – Time will give us the judgment in better context. It is, rather, an admonition to the democrats that they may find their tactics used against one enemy, may as effectively disable their own chosen leader. After the 2002 elections, in particular, the republicans held power to a degree remarkably similar to what the democrats expect to enjoy this coming January. But it will now be their lot to try to defend their claims and keep their promises, some promises being especially hard to make real given the wild and exaggerated standards used in their speeches and campaigning. It’s one thing to note that some voters expected Obama’s administration to pay their mortgage for them and give them money, but quite another to consider how these people will react once they realize they have been lied to by the democrats.

Barack Obama has backed off a lot of his promises, wiping them from his website and choosing far more restraint in post-election comments than he ever showed during the campaign. It’s increasingly obvious that Obama is dialing back expectations before he takes office, though it is absurd to imagine that the voters will forget everything he promises, just because he cannot possibly do what he said he would do. But they’re trying hard to spin things in the most positive light – the grudging admission that raising taxes on the people who provide jobs and doling out money to people who do not even pay taxes would both be very poor plans, is being touted as ‘leadership’ by his team, in hopes that folks will ignore that the inability to keep these basic promises means either that Obama was so na├»ve that he did not understand how the office works, or that he was so dishonest that he figured no one would hold him accountable for the lies. It’s quite a double-standard: Bush is blamed for ‘lies’ which were never false or else were never intended to be misleading, while Obama is praised for clearly false and misleading statements used to win the election. The bar for expectations and standards in the Obama Administration is being set, and it seems quite a low bar indeed.