Friday, September 30, 2011

Why can't we all just get along?

It’s been more than 20 years since Rodney King was arrested by the Los Angeles police for speeding on the 210 freeway in L.A., but his story has particular relevance for today’s society.

On the night of March 2, 1991, Rodney and two friends (Bryant Allen and Freddie Helms) spent the night drinking and watching a basketball game at another friend’s house. Later that evening, he reached a speed of 117 miles per hour while being pursued by the police for speeding. Five hours after he was stopped, his blood alcohol content was just below the legal limit, which meant that during the chase, his BAC was roughly 0.19, more than twice the legal limit.

When he was finally stopped by the police, he resisted arrest, and the police finally needed to use extraordinary measures to bring him under control. The “extraordinary measures” were captured on video by a man named George Holliday, and the video’s subsequent release to KTLA television created an uproar.

Ultimately, charges of police brutality were filed against the officers involved, and their trial was held the following March in a new courthouse in Simi Valley.

When the jury acquitted the officers involved, pandemonium erupted in Los Angeles. The Los Angeles riots lasted a total of six days. In the end, the damages included 53 deaths, 2,383 injuries, 7000 fires, damages to 3100 businesses, and roughly $1 billion in final losses. Businesses owned by Korean-Americans were hit especially hard by the riots.

Midway through the riots, Rodney King himself made a public appeal for a return to sanity:

can’t we all just get along?

Prior to his arrest on March 3, 1991, he had had two prior brushes with the law, which is why his defense team did not allow him to testify at the trial. More significantly, he has been involved with
NINE incidents since that night
, the most recent being September 29, 2001.

After the riots ended, pressure mounted for a retrial of the officers involved. Ultimately, Rodney King was awarded $3.8 million in damages by the City of Los Angeles. He invested most of his money in a record label called “Straight-Alta Records”, which folded shortly after its founding.

We can all argue until the cows come home about the cause of the L.A. riots of 1992, but my opinion is this:

The irresponsible actions of a lone individual (King) indirectly led to 53 deaths and $1 billion in damages. To add insult to injury, the city that suffered significant financial loss due to his actions was forced to pay him $3.8 million dollars in damages, which he squandered.

At this point, let’s fast forward to 2011, so that we can tie the events of 1992 to our current political environment.

In April of this year, the irresponsible actions of a small number of our elected officials nearly caused the Federal Government to shut down. In August, the same group nearly caused a default on our national debt. Just last week, the recent debate over FEMA funding again pushed the government to the brink of shutdown, but a last minute spending bill pushed the day of reckoning back to November 18.

Even though I told you not to blame the Republicans on July 15 ..

it’s time to blame the Republicans.

The Republican National Convention will be held in Tampa on August 27, 2012. As of this morning, there are FOURTEEN declared candidates for the Republican Presidential nomination.

In addition, there are SEVEN more potential candidates, and 15 others who have declined to pursue the nomination.

The general consensus among most of the political commentators is that George Romney is the only adult in the room, but the list of candidates DOES include a few folks who would be interesting alternatives. The list of candidates, and my comments on each, is attached below:

Michele Bachman - current chair of the Tea Party caucus, which automatically disqualifies her as a serious candidate -

Herman Cain - former chairman of Godfather’s pizza - interesting candidate, but being a black Republican will probably be a liability -

Newt Gingrich - a total idiot, and a morally bankrupt individual -

Jon Huntsman - personal friend of Obama - another interesting choice, but not enough name recognition -

Gary Johnson - unelectable due to name recognition

Fred Karger- strong gay advocacy would be the kiss of death for a Republican -

Andy Martin - another total idiot - originator of the hysteria surrounding Obama’s birth status -

Jimmy McMillan - unelectable, but fun

Tom Miller - former flight attendant - unelectable due to lack of experience

Ron Paul - Libertarian views - not conservative enough for the Republicans - unelectable

Rick Perry - another total idiot - extreme right wind views - unelectable due to extreme views -

Mitt Romney - front runner - still doesn’t understand Obama’s Cairo speech, but still the front runner -

Rick Santorum - bigoted and opinionated, which will make him unelectable -

Vern Wuensche - no name recognition

Presidential candidates aside, it’s safe to say that the general public has become damn tired of the politicians who are more concerned about their own agendas than the welfare of the country. As of this morning, the Congressional approval rate is 12%, one of the lowest scores on record.

Fortunately, there ARE some solutions that can be put into place sooner, rather than later, to help fix the problem.

19 out of the 50 states allow recall elections on a mid-term basis. Wisconsin recently “put the screws” to nine elected officials in August, but only two were recalled. Both Arizona and Michigan will be having recall elections in November, and I’ve already registered to vote in Arizona.

Even though the state of Minnesota was actually shut down for two weeks in July of this year, no recall elections are planned at this point in time because, well, the folks in Minnesota are famous for being nice and polite.

In my opinoin, Barack Obama remains the person who is the most qualified to lead our country, but he’s been hampered by the efforts of extremists who seem determined to undermine everything that he is trying to accomplish.

If you haven’t read, or listened to, his recent speech in San Jose about the American Jobs Act bill, you’ve missed some very important information.

For the record, has investigated an astonishing 274 rumors about Barack Obama. If you research all of them individually (as I’ve done) you’ll discover that 58 % of them are totally false, and another 20% of them are a mixture of true and false information. Although 19% of the rumors are actually labeled as “true”, fully HALF of those are simply verification that someone said, or wrote, something about the current President. That leaves a total of 11% of the total that are true, but NONE of them contain information that would be considered relevant by most people. Significantly, there also three links that would release a virus if you opened them up.

You’re certainly free to do your own research on any of the above topics if you’d like to, but here’s my advice:

If you receive any “Obama-bashing” e-mails from anyone, do the smart thing.

Hit “delete” without reading it.

I try to read 2 or 3 newspapers on a daily basis in order to get a balanced view of the world, but I can’t hold a candle to John F. Kennedy, who read ELEVEN newspapers on a daily basis. Included in that list are the following papers: the Baltimore Sun, Chicago Tribune, The Christian Science Monitor, New York Herald Tribune, New York News, New York Times, St. Louis Post-Dispatch, The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, and the Washington Star.

You’re free to read whatever newspaper that you’d like, but if you’re not reading The New York Times at least once a week, you’re missing a lot of intelligent conversation.

However, if for some reason you don’t read ANY newspapers, and get all of your information from Fox News and/or talk radio, you need to be aware of the fact that Rupert Murdoch controls both of those venues, and they are NOT reliable sources of information.

If you’ve read John Grisham’s book, The Appeal, you’re aware of the fact that wealthy people with loose morals can be very effective at distorting the wheels of justice and the electoral process. Unfortunately, that is EXACTLY what’s happening in America today. I won’t mention any names (since I already did that back in March) but be assured that the three billionaires most responsible for our current mess don’t have your best interests at heart.

We’re too good a country to be held hostage by thugs who are determined to destroy our country in order to achieve their own narrow objectives.

We need to have thoughtful and intelligent conversations again, and to eradicate as much negative news as possible.

To paraphrase John F. Kennedy, we need to (once again) ask not what our country can do for us, but what we can do for our country.

Most importantly (to quote Rodney King) we simply need to find a way to just get along better with each other.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

The wedding of the year

On August 20, Kim Kardashian wed NBA star Kris Humphries

The guest list included a number of well known celebrities, who were driven to the reception in white Rolls Royces or Maybachs. In all, there were 450 guests at the wedding ceremony, which was held at a private estate in Montecito, California. All of the bridesmaids, and Kim’s mother, wore Vera Wang gowns. The six foot tall wedding cake (designed by Hansen Cakes of Los Angeles) cost $15,000, and Wolfgang Puck provided the rest of the food.

If you’re dying to see more of the wedding than you’ve already been exposed to, the wedding extravaganza will be aired in a two part special on E! on October 9 at 8 p.m. and October 10 at 9 p.m..

(When the "wedding of the year" disintegrated after a mere 72 days, Kim had a very solid explanation for its demise:

“I would never marry for a TV show, for money, for anything like that. And I think that’s really ridiculous, that I have to even, you know, kind of defend that, but, you know, I guess that comes along with what’s, you know — when you film your wedding for a reality show.”)

One of the many celebrity magazines on the market breathlessly proclaimed Kim’s wedding to be the “wedding of the year” on its cover, but CNN (in deference to the wedding of Kate Middleton and Prince William earlier this year) called it “the other wedding of the year”. In view of the fact that William and Kate had 1900 guests, and their wedding cost an estimated $70 million, a lot of people would consider the wedding across the pond to be the BIG EVENT of the year.

Being a contrarian, I beg to differ, since the REAL wedding of the year was held roughly 200 miles to the east of Montecisto, on September 24. In total, there were less than 200 guests, and the whole thing cost SIGNIFICANTLY less than either one of the weddings mentioned above.

To put a little perspective on WHY the wedding on September 24 was the REAL wedding, I’ll have to refer you back to a book that you probably read as a child. The Velveteen Rabbit was written by Margery Williams, and illustrated by William Nicholson. It was first published in 1922, and it has been republished many times since.

In the story, the much loved plush rabbit, in spite of the fact that he has become shabbier over time, eventually becomes real due to the fact that the boy in the story really and truly loves it.

The wedding in question was between my niece Alex and her long time friend Thom. It was held at Crazzy’s Wasewagan Summer Camp in Angelus Oaks, California. The location was deep in the woods of the San Bernadino Forest, and you had to drive through a stream to get to the actual site.

The bride wore a dress that was made by hand by a close relative, and the bride and groom wore custom rings that were made by the same relative. The proud father of the bride wore a rented tuxedo, a hand tied bowtie - and tennis shoes.

The presiding minister affectionately referred to them as “big red” and “angel man”. At the end of the ceremony, she pronounced them as “married”, rather than “man and wife”, a subtle (but significant) change that may cause consternation in some circles.

All of the food throughout the three day event was vegetarian, and the dessert for the wedding dinner itself consisted almost entirely of homemade pies instead of an elaborate wedding cake.

The setting for the ceremony was an open area on the side of the stream, with air above and dirt below.

Several dogs with bows tied around their neck wandered throughout the setting, and the late afternoon sun produced a magical glow that provided a perfect setting for picture taking. Tinkerbell was in the audience too, but the license plate on her Jeep actually read “”TYNKERBL”.

It’s unlikely that Thom and Alex will ever be as wealthy as Kim and Kris, but their marriage (a union of two genuine lovers) will provide them with riches that money simply can’t buy, which is why it TRULY is the marriage of the year.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

The ghost of Tom Joad

During the Dust Bowl years of the 1930’s, 200,000 impoverished farmers, primarily from Texas and Oklahoma, migrated west to California for a chance at a better life. Although that’s a large number of people, it’s only a small percentage of the 2,500,000 that moved out of the Plains states between 1930 and 1940.

One of those impoverished farmers was a fictional man named Tom Joad, who was portrayed in the movie, The Grapes of Wrath, by Henry Fonda. Fortunately for Tom, America had opened a new highway in 1926 that made his journey west a lot easier. The road was officially called Route 66, but for many people (even today) it is best known as “the Mother Road”.

If you’re not familiar with the movie, you can get a sense of the desperation and despair that the Joad family experienced by listening to the ghost of Tom Joad, which was recorded by Bruce Springsteen.

The road started at the corner of Jackson Boulevard and Michigan Avenue in downtown Chicago, and ended in Santa Monica, California. In total, it ran 2448 miles initially (it was down to 2278 miles by 1947), and its existence created thousands of new businesses along the way. The massive construction of the Interstate system in the mid 1960’s became the death knell for a lot of those businesses, since travel along I-40, and a few other roads, has made the trip west a lot quicker and more convenient. If you’ve seen the movie Cars, you’ll recall that a town called Radiator Springs was especially hard hit, but it has had a recent resurgence due to Walt Disney Pictures and Pixar Animation Studios.

Although nostalgia just isn’t what it used to be, you’ll be happy to know that the original Route 66 still exists, and can be driven on today. Just off I-40 in New Mexico, there are six different segments of the original Route 66 that are easily accessible from the Interstate.

Arguably, the town that pays the best homage to the Mother Road is my new home town, Flagstaff, Arizona. Route 66 still runs through the heart of downtown Flagstaff, and a fair number of the businesses that prospered during the heyday of Route 66 are still in business today. Since its decommissioning in 1985, the road is, by and large, simply a memory. In recognition of those old memories, it seems fitting that at least seven locations in Flagstaff (including the train station and the library) are considered to be haunted sites.

Most of us first became aware of Route 66 due to the adventures of a couple of guys named Tod and Buz , who traveled the road in a new Corvette.

The series ran from 1960 to 1964, and a LOT of people (including the Rolling Stones) have done updates to Nat King Cole’s original version of the song about the road. The liveliest version of the song is the one
that you can hear by clicking on the hyperlink in this sentence, but ALL of the versions are fun to listen to.

When Tom Joad packed up his family in his old Ford and moved west, he didn’t have any guarantees of a better life, nor did he have any guarantees of gainful employment. To a very large degree, Tom and I are kindred spirits, since my wife and I (and our daughter) moved to town without having any solid employment prospects. Unlike Tom, though, my wife and I DO have at least some guaranteed income each month, and we’re all working on some opportunities to supplement our base income.

When you embark on any new adventure, it’s inevitable that things don’t always go according to plan. We had a few anxious moments before we left the Chicago area, and we also had a few moments of hyperventilation once we got to Flagstaff. With the help of friends and family, we managed to get by the rough spots, and are now settling into our new community.

Apart from the sheer beauty of Flagstaff (we’re immediately adjacent to Coconino National Forest, and we’re surrounded by the San Francisco Peaks) the biggest change that we’ve noticed so far is an overwhelming sense of quiet and tranquility. All three of us endured an awful lot of noise on a daily basis in Chicago, so the change in location has already put all of us in a better frame of mind.

I also discovered, just yesterday, that riding my bicycle up and down the hills out here (elevation 7000 feet) is a whole lot different than riding the flat landscape of Chicago. Since 1968, Flagstaff has been host for elite endurance training. In 1994, Northern Arizona University opened its Center for High Altitude Training. Although it recently closed due to budget constraints, 16 of the medal winners at the 2008 Beijing Olympics did at least part of their training for the games in Flagstaff.

I lived most of my life in America’s Midwest. Although there are a lot of things that we all enjoyed about the states that we lived in, the best advice that I could give to a modern day Tom Joan is this:

“go west, young man, go west”.