Friday, August 29, 2008

Sarah Who?

Sarah Palin, that's who. Our latest candidate for vice president, the person who could be one (lack of) heartbeat away from being commander in chief and chief executive of the United States. John McCain's latest joke.

I spent a little time today learning about Sarah's background and watching her appearance with old John. No gravitas. It's an insult to all Americans that John McCain would nominate a person who was mayor of a tiny Alaska town only 18 months ago to be vice president of the United States. McCain dies; would anyone choose Palin to deal with Boris Putin or Iran? McCain lives; can you see Palin as president of the senate, which is one of the vice president's jobs? What has she done to earn the respect of those in high places? She is a child by comparison.

This episode points out the sad truth of our electoral process. It seldom identifies the best leaders because it must attract votes from the lesser educated masses who understand little about policy and the political process. Palin will appeal to many who share her starkly conservative agenda, admire her beauty queen freshness, and don't have the faintest clue about what her job would be if she were elected. However, she terrifies me.

There are only about 63 days until the election. I'm trying to be optimistic about it. It's hard to believe that a majority of Americans could choose McCain and Palin over Obama and Biden, simply because of the latter's giant advantage in experience and accomplishment. It's not about republican -vs- democrat; it's about us turning over leadership of the world's richest and most powerful country to people who we feel have the judgement to move it forward and avoid stupid mistakes. We know what happens when we make a mistake in choosing...America has been slipping in every category for eight years. McCain-Palin would be a worse mistake, not because they are bad people but simply because they are the wrong people.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Southern Exposure

Good Witch and I traveled to Tennessee and North Carolina on Friday and Saturday, and we've been enjoying southern hospitality for the last couple of days. It's great, but clearly different.

The first sign that we're arriving in the south is the appearance of "Southern Exposure" roadside billboards. "Southern Exposure" is the name of the chain of skin bars that dot the interstate, beginning in West Virginia. Their parking lots are populated most times of day, but I can't speak for what's going on inside. Not interested.

After arriving at my brother's nice home near Kingsport, Tennessee, I was soon gifted with a quart Mason jar of nice clear moonshine, made not long ago, and legally, by a friend of his whose family has been in the moonshine busness for a couple centuries. I've not had moonshine since I lived in central Tennessee about 40 years ago. It will put hair on your chest!

For breakfast Saturday morning we enjoyed some delicious pork sausage with our eggs and toast. The sausage came from a 400 pound pig that my brother shot in the head with a .22 rifle before being tutored by the farmer in the fine art of skinning, splitting, and butchering a pig. You may wonder what kind of guy my brother is: he's president of a large high-tech company who spent part of last week in Bangkok dealing with the Thai government, who is a major customer. He just butchers pigs in his spare's a southern thing.

After breakfast we drove across the Smoky Mountains to Hendersonville, NC, just south of Asheville. Every time my car reaches Erwin, TN, and the huge mountains come into view, I'm amazed that I once hiked across them on the Appalachian Trail. They seem almost insurmountable, but actually they are quite traversable one step at a time. It just takes a few weeks to do it.

My 87 year old mother and her slightly younger husband live in Hendersonville, comfortable in a villa that's part of a multi-tiered senior living community. We've been to an Agatha Christie mystery play with them, and also had a fantastic brunch at a 1930's stone mansion, now a B&B, just across the South Carolina border. Tomorrow Bob and I play golf, weather permitting. He's over 80, but he still lives to chase the elusive golf ball.

Tomorrow marks GW's and my 42nd anniversary! It can be true that everything, and I mean everything, about a marriage can still be improving after that many years. In our case, it is. Maybe it just takes a long time to get it right.

Politically speaking, western North Carolina is pretty redneck. There are many transplanted northerners here, but they are still outnumbered by the locals who have been isolated in these mountains for a long time and are subjected daily to a local newpaper owned by reactionaries. McCain will take Henderson County by a large margin. When I reflect on Hendersonville being representative of most of the south, I wonder if the founding fathers were right when they attempted to restrict voting rights to those who were likely to be educated.

We'll hop in the car early on Wednesday morning and I'll drive 800 miles to Rochester in one 14-15 hour stint broken up by short potty breaks every two hours. It's a grind, but Good Witch reads a novel to me for a few of those hours. On our way down we made it halfway through "The Sweet Hereafter", by Russell Banks, and we'll finish it on the way home. Then it will be back to business with a church mortgage closing on Thursday morning, a board meeting Thursday night, and then the overnight shift at the ambulance. But our "Southern Exposure" will have given us a nice break in routine and some interesting experiences. We'll do this trip over and over again until the people we come to visit have moved on for the last time.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Will the Oldsters Put McCain Over the Top?

I worry about the world-view gap between septuagenarians, nonagenarians, centenarians, and the rest of us. I worry that this gap may cost Obama the election in November, and I'm not happy that those with little at stake in America's future may make the difference in determining what that future will be.

Yes, it's risky to talk in generalities, and I know that there are grandma's and grandpa's who are rabid for Obama. But, in general, I believe a large majority of oldsters will vote for McCain. Why would they make this irrational choice? Because they think he's the rational choice, of course! McCain appeals to their world-view.

I recently observed a well-dressed, tight-lipped old lady sitting in a car repair shop waiting room reading one of the latest swift-boat books about Obama. She fit exactly the profile of the Fox News watching, Limbaugh-listening senior who lives in a world very different from mine.

If I had tried to chat with this lady I'd surely have found she's ruled by fear. Fear of blacks. Fear of Muslims. Fear of latinos. Fear of Russians. Fear of taxes. Our imaginary conversation would be all about what she's afraid of and nothing about what she's for. Her vision would be a return to the America of the 1950's when she was in her prime and society was not yet homogenized. She liked it when the white cream was clearly on the top, and she identifies with anyone who rants at how America has changed in the last 50 years. And, unfortunately, she votes.

Is this lady a caricature of her generation? Are they all so buttoned-up and sour? Of course not. But her generation certainly leans hard in her direction. Their knee-jerk reactions have little to do with today's realities and everything to do with the programming they received as young people. Less wealthy oldsters fear the democratic party because it represents a multi-colored society, and wealthier oldsters add the fear that their wealth might be redistributed to those who are different from them. McCain looks like them, and he speaks their language. He will get their vote.

My world is also largely caucasian and well-to-do, but it's a world one generation ahead of this older woman's. We've been through the period when other races and women proved they are just as capable as whites and men. We've been through the period when homosexuals "came out", and we learned they are not the scary deviants that they were formerly portrayed to be. We've been through the period when the Vietnam war and the recent Iraq war showed that American militarism can be a cancer on our country. We've been through a period when our government failed to enact sensible energy and fiscal policies. My baby-boomer generation understands that a return to the past would be retrogression rather than progress.

Will the votes of people who live in a world long past put John McCain in the White House? Will we who want to capitalize on America's new strengths have to wait four more years before it's obvious that America's gone down the wrong roads for too long? I hope not. But I worry about the voting power of those who won't be around to suffer the consequences of their fear-filled choice for the republican party and its backward-looking agenda.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Think Twice Before Multi-tasking in Car

I've been a medic on two serious head-on crashes. One resulted in a fatality, the other in a life-changing event for the victim. Both resulted from drivers who attempted to do something else while driving and subsequently crossed the center line.

Unfortunately, the deadly or serious injuries happened to the unsuspecting drivers who were suddenly presented with a car coming at them in their lane at high speed. They never had a chance...

I feel sorry for the victims, but also for the careless drivers. Who would want to have the memory of their stupidity causing such carnage?

Drive your car. Save the cell phone, the text message, or the kid's discipline for when you are safely parked.

Friday, August 08, 2008

Election Fatigue

There's almost four months left until the 2008 elections, and I'm already fatigued. What was once interesting is now turning into a soap opera.

McCain says we need an "economic surge". Obama supports a windfall profits tax. Hillary and Bill are keeping their irons in the fire, just in case. The race card has been played again (by McCain's surrogates). What crap! I can't wait for the next bit of non-news. Four more months of this agony?

Everything McCain and Obama will say from here on is unimportant. The lines have already been drawn, the candidates have already shown their colors. At this point both are reduced to pandering to some small fraction of Americans who are undecided or wavering. And in their pandering, both are reducing themselves. Ugh!

This coming election offers clear choices. We can elect a rich, flag-waving, semi-corrupt, poorly educated old guy who will pursue the corporate agenda, or we can elect a rich, populist, semi-corrupt, well educated young guy who will pursue the center-left agenda (ala Clinton). Each day that the election cycle continues will corrupt each candidate just a little more as they sell pieces of their soul for a few more votes or an endorsement.

The Europeans have a much better system. Call the election and get on with it! I wonder: "Can I die of election fatigue?"

Sunday, August 03, 2008

"ZZ Top" Who?

Last night as I was thumbing through channels I heard this very cool guitar sound, so I stopped thumbing and saw: a guitar player and a bass player with long white beards and a wild-looking drummer generating pulsating music on a very large stage. I pushed the "info" button and found out I was watching MTV and the music-makers were called "ZZ Top". For the next 40 minutes I was mesmerized by their driving rhythms, their creative themes, and their showmanship. They were just plain fantastic and the huge crowd was going wild on every song.

Partway through this adventure I googled "ZZ Top" and found their "wiki" entry. It turns out they are the longest lived original rock band still performing with their original artists. Their first hit was in 1969, they've put out a plethora of albums since then, and the guitar player is regarded as one of the finest players around. I scratched my head...why didn't I know about these guys?

I am a music nut, and I'm not picky about genre. I'll never forget the first time I heard Stevie Ray Vaughn's "Pride and Joy" on the radio late one night, years ago - I had the CD the next day, months before he became a star. From Bach to country and jazz, I like all the good stuff that demonstrates real musicality. How could ZZ Top have escaped my ears?

Well, on reflection I realized that ZZ Top is considered "hard rock", a genre that I just couldn't handle. Every time I tuned in, it insulted my ears with harshness and my mind with lyrics I couldn't even decode. So I tuned out and in the process tuned out ZZ Top until last night.

This experience confirms to me that there is beauty in about every kind of music, including hard rock. I'm sorry I've been deprived of their talent all these years, but I'm also happy that I've now found it for the first time. Life is full of pleasant surprises!