Monthly Archives: May 2009

Kelsey’s Graduation

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Kelsey with her proud parents, Jim and Kelly.

Last night (Friday) we attended the graduation ceremony at Whitko High School in South Whitley, Ind. Kelsey Mize, Pam’s niece (daughter of her brother) was graduating. And she was valedictorian! She had to give a speech! So of COURSE we went.

Her speech was delivered with confidence (or fake confidence) and full of wit. She did great. Toward the end, she rattled off a barrage of cliches, like, “If at first you don’t succeed, try again,” probably 15 of them all strung together. Ratatatat. That was my favorite part.

The graduates were all dressed in red or blue gowns, depending on whether they were Republicans or Democrats. Curiously, all of the girls were Republicans, and all of the guys were Democrats. Maybe I was missing some hidden symbolism in those colors.

I’d like to say South Whitley is heartland America. It felt like my stereotypes. But the high school gym was lilly white. I saw no blacks among the graduates, though I’m told there was one. One. I mentioned that to Pam’s oldest nephew, Spencer. “It’ll hit them when they leave. If they leave,” he said.

Can you be heartland America when you’re entirely Caucasian? I don’t know. It certainly doesn’t seem representative of today’s America. A bigger question in Indiana is: can a school like that actually win basketball games?

Make no mistake: this was a quality group of graduates. They gave a lot of statistics about academic accomplishments and college plans and such. Real high academic achievements. Lots of tassels and medallions and such. A good share no doubt headed to college. Four entering the military.

As for Kelsey: full ride to Indiana University. She’s a great girl from a great family.

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Joe Klein is a Fan of Robert Gates

Excellent article about Defense Secretary Robert Gates, a holdover from the Bush Administration. The piece, by Joe Klein, is called “Robert Gates: The Bureaucrat Unbound.” Here’s one excerpt:

A military intelligence officer who was an Iraq specialist told me he had been pleading for more resources throughout the Rumsfeld years: “Iraq was Rumsfeld’s fourth highest priority, after China, North Korea and Iran,” he said. “But Gates called me in and asked, ‘What do you need?’ And he gave us everything we requested.”

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Sotomayor and the Character Assassination Follies

We’ve launched another game of “Assassinate the Supreme Court Nominee’s Character.”

Nobody plays this game better than the Democrats. Just think back to Robert Bork and Clarence Thomas. They went after Samuel Alito pretty hard and unjustly, too, though nothing stuck. 

But what Republicans are doing right now is way over the top, in my book. It disgusts me, in fact. They’re not attacking Sonia Sotomayor’s decisions, but her basic character.

  • She’s a racist.
  • She’s a bigot.
  • She’s an angry woman.
  • She’s treats other people badly.

Sotomayor is no racist. Republicans are taking one quote out of its context. If you read the whole text of what she said, it’s exactly what you would want someone in her position to say. But the right-wing pundits lack intellectual integrity. They aren’t interested in helping viewers get a true picture of this woman. They just want to destroy her reputation. And for no good reason. Because in the end, she WILL be confirmed. Yet both parties always feel duty-bound to destroy a nominees character and distort his/her record.

I wish we could just stop it.

None of the justices are bad people. They rose through the ranks because of their brilliance and competence (with or without help from political connections). They’ve distinguished themselves. All of them have issued rulings that angered people on the right and on the left. 

Sonia Sotomayor is not a conservative, certainly. But I’m not afraid of her, either (like Rush et al want me to be). I’m not afraid of any of The Nine. When you’re one of nine, any radical leanings get averaged out. I want diversity on the court. I would be afraid of having nine conservative justices, or nine liberals, or nine moderates. That wouldn’t be good for America. We’re a diverse country. The Court needs to reflect that diversity–not only in politics, but in gender and race. 

The Democrats won the election. One of the spoils is the privilege of nominating Supreme Court nominees. The lunatic left fringe of the Democratic Party wants a flaming liberal on the court. Instead, we’re getting a moderate liberal. I think Republicans should be content with that (and privately, they probably are).

And yet, we still go through this character assassination charade. Most Supreme Court nominees emerge relatively unscathed. Ginsburg, Breyer, Kennedy, Alito–they all endured fierce attacks from the opposition party, but who, now, can even remember what the charges were? I can’t. 

It would be nice if the Republicans could just say, “We’re okay with Sotomayor. She’s not who we would have picked, but it’s not our choice, because you won the election. Thanks for not choosing a radical liberal. We can live with this pick.”

But that’ll never happen. Instead, Sotomayor will endure months of unfair criticism from Republicans, who will make her sound like the absolute Worst Person in the World. But in the end, she’ll WILL become a Supreme Court justice, and she will serve my country well for many years. She won’t represent my views all of the time, but she will represent the views of many other Americans in this richly diverse country. 

But for now–she’s evil and must be destroyed. And when Republicans regain power and nominate someone, Democrats will do the same thing. 

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Hoop Dreams

We could have a very interesting, highly-watched NBA finals, Lakes vs. Cavs, Kobe vs. Lebron, dueling superstars.

Or, we could very well have the Denver Nuggets vs. the Orlando Magic. Just the thought makes me want to go to bed.

Which matchup you think TV execs are praying for?

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Sunday Afternoon Nap, with Molly

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Books: Invisible Prey, Body Copy

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John Sandford is among today’s best mystery/detective writers. His Lucas Davenport mysteries, set in Minneapolis, are always  good reads. I started with his first book, “Eyes of Prey,” many many years ago. I’ve missed a few in the “Prey” series (all of his titles use the word “prey”), but I think Pam has read them all.

“Invisible Prey” is one of those mysteries where the reader knows who the killer is long before the protagonist does. We follow along, watching Davenport go down some blind alleys, yet inch closer and closer. And yet, there are still plenty of surprises.

There are a number of big-time, prolific mystery writers today. I read just four of them: James Patterson’s Alex Cross mysteries; Robert Parker’s Spencer, Jesse Stone, and Sunny Randall books; and John Sandford’s Davenport books; and Lee Child’s Jack Reacher thrillers. That’s enough to keep anyone busy. Of those, Davenport is probably the least interesting to me, which may explain why I’ve missed some of the Prey books. I would never, ever, skip an Alex Cross mystery.

“Body Copy” is the first novel by Michael Craven. It’s hero is Donald Tremaine, a former world champion surfer turned Private Investigator. He’s an interesting character. I enjoyed the book, with its mystery that really didn’t unfold until near the end. For most of the book, I just watched Tremaine follow lead after lead, none of which really seemed to be going anywhere. 

I suspect this is only the first in a series. Craven writes with some quirkiness, with some similarities to Elmore Leonard and Carl Hiassen. I’m not a big fan of either of them, but if another Tremaine book came out, I’d probably have to read it.

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Remembering Chuck

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Pam and I visited the grave of Chuck, Pam’s Dad, who died in December 2007. He’s buried in the veteran’s section of the cemetery, having been drafted and served during the Vietnam era (though never in Vietnam itself). Pam laid a red, white, and blue wreath at his gravestone. Four roses already lay there. We assumed they came from Dave, Chuck’s brother, and his wife Elaine–one rose for each of the surviving siblings.

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Garage Sale Days

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Mom and Dad’s house. You can see them with Pam, especially if you click on the photo to enlarge it.

Pam and I spent the last two days helping Mom and Dad with their Memorial Day Weekend garage sale. We did three garage sales last summer, and will be following the same schedule this year–May, August, and October. 

The four of us were selling not only for ourselves, but for my sister-in-law Joyce and her daughter, Paula. So it was a job tallying everything separately. But with a crack CPA running the cash register (well, okay, the legal pad with rulered columns), it was no trouble. At least, not for anyone but Pam. 

Of the $1083 we made collectively, I made $187 and Pam made $139. So that was pretty good. But Mom took in the most money, thanks to her cookies, which she sells for 25 cents each in bags of 2 or 6. She made 58 dozen cookies, and all of them sold. 

Mom’s cookies–peanut butter, sugar, and monster–are famous. People come early just to get cookies, which she bakes fresh and brings out to the garage as soon as they’re ready. We ran out by noon today, and all afternoon disappointed people stopped by to ask, “Got any more cookies?” People would buy cookies, move on to the next garage sale, and then, having dipped into their cookie bag, would return for more cookies. Happened over and over.

Oh, and let’s not forget the homemade noodles. Those went real quickly. We convinced Mom to raise her price, which was at $2.50 a bag last year. We suggested increasing a dollar, but she went with $3.00. People didn’t flinch. Didn’t even notice the price. They just saw noodles, started salivating, and grabbed a bag or two. 

Probably a dozen other homes in the neighborhood also held garage sales. I toured the neighborhood once, checking out the other sales (and bought nothing, I’ll have you know). This is a neat neigborhood, located in a somewhat secluded area on Fort Wayne’s south side, near Waynedale. The neighbors are neighborly; they know each other, enjoy each other. Quaint.

Here are some of random observations:

  • For some reason, the “professional” yardsalers who arrive while you’re still setting up–they annoy me. Hey, wait until we’re ready, you vultures.
  • A large percentage of the people who come to Mom and Dad’s garage sales are Hispanic. Seemed like a much greater percentage this time.
  • I favor a national moratorium on manufacturing mugs. Garage sales are littered with mugs people are trying to unload. We have enough. No more, at least for ten years or so, til we deplete the excess inventory.
  • Quite a few Amish people came thorugh. Nice people. I was noticing footwear. Pretty much any footwear seemed okay, as long as it was black. And no open toes. Some women had slip-ons with open heels. Men all wore full shoes–no sandals or anything of the kind.
  • I’m not a fan of dealing. None of us were. “Will you take 75 cents for this?” someone would ask, trying to knock 25 cents off an item that originally cost $25. No, we wouldn’t. The price that’s marked–that’s the price. Sure, we did some minor bargaining, but not much. Spoilsports.
  • Several people remarked about how clean and organized our garage sale is. Mom is a garage sale commando. She doesn’t go to garage sales, but she loves holding them, and like the perfectionist she is, everything is in its place and properly marked.
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Keith Olberman in a Minute

I am not a fan of partisan “news” shows. And I use “news” in a very loose way, because too much of what we see on the TV news channels is not journalism, but punditry. That seems to be the future of journalism, unfortunately, as print media subsides in popularity. 

Actually, there’s still a lot of good TV stuff in the general news realm. “60 Minutes” and “Dateline” and “Anderson Cooper 360” and most of the Sunday morning programs deal more in news and information than in punditry. But then there are shows like Keith Olberman, which are unabashedly partisan and, therefore, totally lacking in credibility with me. They will show only one side of things, and only what shines positively on their political end of the spectrum.
 

This Youtube video pretty much sums up Olberman. Now we need one for Sean Hannity.

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Book: The Forever War

foreverwar.jpg“The Forever War” is a great piece of war reporting. Dexter Filkins, a New York Times reporter, entered Afghanistan with US troops, and in 2003 entered Iraq with the US invasion. He spent seven years covering those wars, and helps us see what he saw.

This isn’t an anti-war book, nor a pro-war book. Nothing partisan about it. It’s just reporting of a very personal nature–progressive journalism, it’s called, where the reporter is part of the story. We see what Filkins sees. He doesn’t pass judgement, doesn’t analyze. Just observes,experiences, and reports.

The book almost reads like a novel, a series of scenes. He’s talking to a Northern Alliance commander. He’s with US Marines amidst a desperate firefight in Faluja. He’s in the Green Zone. He’s in the home of an Iraqi official. He’s accompanying Ahmed Chalabi to Teheran. Story after story. Beautiful, descriptive, yet strangely sparse writing. 

The first 70 pages take place in Afghanistan. This, to me, was the best part of the book. He describes the constantly shifting alliances, a long tradition in the Afghan history of war. One day an Afghan would be commanding Taliban troops in some town. The next, he and his men would be part of the Northern Alliance, storming that same town to oust the Taliban.

“Battles were often decided this way not by actual fighting, but by flipping gangs of soldiers….The fighting began when the bargaining stopped, and the bargaining went right up until the end. The losers were the ones who were too stubborn, too stupid, or too fanatical to make a deal. Suddenly they would find themselves outnumbered, and then they would die.”

He described how scary, how ruthless, the Afghans cold be.

“One of them would be sitting across form you in a restaurant, maybe picking at a kebob, looking at your from across the centuries…and you knew he’d just as soon kill you as look at you. Dumb as a brick, but that hardly mattered. Great cultures are like that. Always have been. The Greeks, the Romans, the British: they didn’t care what other people thought. Didn’t care about reasons. Just up and did it.” 

Filkins finds himself in a soccer stadium, where a thief’s hand is amputated, and where another man is executed as part of a sanctioned family revenge. The world Filkins reveals in Afghanistan is very foreign, and you realize what we’re up against.

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Above: Filkins (left) with some US troops.

But then the Iraq war comes calling, and Filkins transfers there. The remaining 250 pages take place in Iraq. Some things that stand out to me:

  • Chalabi, whom I’ve taken as a fool, is really a brilliant, hard-working guy–and probably in the pocket of the Iranians.
  • Suicide bombing happened a whole lot more than we realize, at least in the earlier years. It was practically a daily occurrence–if not far more frequent than that.
  • We see, very clearly, the hatred Iraqis have for Americans. Even if they hate the insurgents, they want the Americans to leave their country.
  • We clearly see the constant fear that follows Iraqis. One woman said that under Saddam, you just had to watch what you said, and you would be okay. But now, there are many ways to die, and many people who want to kill you for many different reasons.
  • Many times in the book, Filkins barely escapes being killed, whether in a battle or, more often, at the hands of mobs or fanatical insurgents.
  • “There was no entering an Iraqi home, no matter how hostile your relationship with its host, without being embraced by a hospitality that would shame anything you could find in the West.” 
  • You see a lot, a LOT, of death. Sometimes gruesome death.

The best parts are when Filkins is with US troops, whom he usually refers to as “the kids.”. I remember impressions from the books I read about Vietnam; our troops seemed undisciplined, unruly, easily drawn to drugs and alcohol, unkempt, lacking in conviction about their cause. The US troops in Iraq, by comparison, come across as very professional. They’re still kids, many of them, and war can bring out the worst in people. But Filklins paints a picture of US troops who are well-trained, disciplined, and superb at what they do. One of them takes a bullet for Filkins.

“There wasn’t any point in sentimentalizing the kids; they were trained killers, after all. They could hit a guy at 500 yards or cut his throat from ear-to-ear. And they didn’t ask a lot of questions. They had faith, they did what they were told, and they killed people. Sometimes I got frustrated with them; sometimes I wished they asked more questions. But…out there in Faluja, in the streets, I was happy they were in front of me.”

“The Forever War” is a remarkable book, and I recommend it highly.

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