Sunday, January 29, 2012

My Sunday Feeling

Super Bowl Sunday aside, I have for the most part never been one to pay much attention to commercials.  I have made it a practice to toss most direct mail solicitations that contaminate my mailbox.  I'm the kind of guy that pretty much knows what I want from the merchants that I tend to do business with.  For example if Jos. A. Bank announces a sale, and if I am in the market for a new suit, then I will pay attention because I buy most of my clothes from the Jos. A. Bank store a mile or so from my house.  If an ad for Men's Warehouse comes on, it's in one ear and out the other.

Without going into inordinate detail, I have been encouraged to start paying more attention to all of the propaganda with which all of us are bombarded on a daily basis.  The reason for my newly found interest in these communications will be disclosed in the fullness of time.  For now it will suffice to say that I am paying attention.

I had ESPN Radio on in the car while I was out running errands.  Many spots for insurance, both life and casualty.  There were ads hawking credit repair services and ads for outfits that will intercede upon your behalf with the IRS ("Do you owe more than $10,000 to the IRS?).  There were ads touting cut-rate Viagra you can buy on the Internet to ads offering participation in a "clinical trial" to the first 50 sufferers from "decreased male vitality" that called in.  The latter was swiftly followed by a disclaimer delivered at live auction speed which stated that these claims had not been evaluated by the FDA and that the product was not intended to be used to treat any medical condition or disease.  Finally, I noted an ad for a certain brand of gin that the ad claimed was "so smooth you could drink it straight." 

The only conclusion that I could draw from my afternoon swim in the media was that ESPN Radio's target audience is a frequently red-lined drunk and tax deadbeat that can't get it up.  I switched to classical programming as I am none of these things.

Things weren't much better back at the house.  During the Razorback game, I noticed a spot for a financial service that was dedicated to "saving your house" if you were behind on your mortgage or had lost your job using "local attorneys" to intercede with your lender.  Not long after that appeared an ad for a tax service that made the assertion that the IRS had gotten "lenient" and that this service's "team of lawyers and enrolled agents" was waiting to spring into action to lower my tax debt and get that pesky levy discharged. 

I know one divorced couple that is not making much headway with the Service on their compromise offer on back taxes.  And I know one guy who is spectacularly unsuccessful in getting them to make the levy on him go away.  Ask these folks about how frigging "lenient" the IRS is.  And they, too, have local tax professionals in there pitching for them.

Finally, today's mail brought me a cardboard item of correspondence ominously marked "2nd Attempt" and "Respond Within Five Days."  It looked very much like the tax documents I have been getting from the government the last week or so.  Alas, it was a solicitation for an extended warranty on my vehicle.  This would explain the 2nd attempt.  Undoubtedly, I had tossed the first.

As H.L. Mencken said, "Nobody ever went broke underestimating the intelligence of the American public."  Conversely, the purveyors of the various shifty services (Well, not the gin.  That one was pretty straight up. Pardon the expression.) that I described above are obviously moving product and reeling in clients.  Otherwise, they wouldn't be spending the money to put out the word.

And, all kidding aside, the target audience for these products are obviously the desperate and the incompetent.  Times are hard.  People are strapped.  Shady actors slither out from every other rock during times like these. 

I found another ad I heard yesterday to be exceptionally pernicious and misleading.  The ad was for an outfit that was touting gold as the only "safe" investment.  This pitch has gained some cache in recent times with lunatic Republican Presidential candidate Ron Paul advocating eliminating the Federal Reserve and returning to the gold standard. 

The ad was pretty slick.  A woman's voice, choked with emotion,  is heard telling of how her husband lost his job and can't find work. I paraphrase the pitch. "The economy is getting worse and the government is proposing even more wasteful spending that will put our country even further in debt.  That's why I rolled my 401k into gold, the only truly safe investment."

Of course, the ad is disingenuous on numerous fronts.  The speaker is most likely paid voice talent and not some harried wife and mother.  The economy is growing and more people are finding work.  The government is proposing spending cuts.  And gold prices are unstable.  Indeed, if our speaker had her 401k in a FDIC insured account she wouldn't have to worry about losing any money if the bank collapsed. 

But again, the target audience for these pitches are the desperate, the unsophisticated and the paranoid.  Who evidently listen to and watch a lot of sports. 

I have said it before and I will say it again.  If you have tax problems go a CPA or a tax lawyer.  If you are having financial problems, go see your lender.  Trust me.  They don't want your stuff.  They want your money.  Odds are that unless your situation is truly unworkable or if you have gone strictly deadbeat on them in the past, they will try to work with you.  If it can't be worked out go see a bankruptcy lawyer to see what relief is available.  If you aren't feeling well go see the doctor.

But stay off the Internet.  Lay off the 1-800 numbers. 

Like I said, I've never much paid any attention to advertising.  I'm paying attention now, boy.  And it is really interesting to hear what people will say to get you to part with your money.

Monday, January 23, 2012

A Man In Full

"This is a tragedy.  It is one of the great sorrows of my life.  With the benefit of hindsight I wish I had done more."

                                                                                                         Joe Paterno

Joe Paterno never wanted to retire.  On more than one occasion he reminded people that Paul "Bear" Bryant died shortly after he quit coaching at Alabama.  He did not wish to suffer the same fate.  And sure enough, JoePa, the beloved Head Coach at Penn State for 46 years, died yesterday almost 2 months after being fired by Penn State's Board of Trustees on November 9 after it became known that the most horrific story in the history of college sports had occurred on his watch.

Nobody could have seen this one coming.  How could you?  The Grand Jury indicted Paterno's former Defensive Coordinator Jerry Sandusky for unspeakable crimes against little boys.  One of the Counts described in graphic detail Sandusky allegedly molesting a 10 year old in the shower in the football team's locker room. 

A young Graduate Assistant witnessed the assault.  After speaking with his father, they both went to Paterno to tell him what he saw.  A day later Paterno informed his Athletic Director about what he was told.  The two accounts before the Grand Jury differ.  The GA testified before the Grand Jury that he advised Paterno that he had witnessed a sexual assault.  Paterno's testimony was that the account he heard was not as graphic as that.

Whatever the truth of the matter may be, an entire Nation was shocked by the fact that law enforcement was not advised of what Sandusky was alleged to have done to that poor boy on that awful night in the locker room.

Heads had to roll.  And one of them belonged to Joseph Vincent Paterno.

Paterno said the reason he didn't call the police himself was that he didn't want to go outside procedures for reporting incidents and that he reposed trust that his A.D. would take care of the situation.  And I believe that.  I also believe that a man in his eighties might not exactly be programmed to understand the gravity of the situation although how any sentient human couldn't be alarmed by the allegation that a former employee was seen naked in your team's shower with an equally naked little boy is pretty much beyond me.  But maybe that's what JoePa believed. 

But maybe a guy in his eighties doesn't need to be in charge of a football program.  And that's on Penn State's brass.  They tried to get him to retire in 2004.  He wouldn't do it and they didn't have the guts to push the button.  The tail of big time sports wags the dog in a lot of places.  I can't think of many other million dollar operations that have octogenarians at least nominally at the controls.

But let's get to it.  What is Joe Paterno's legacy?  He leads all NCAA Division I coaches in victories.  That record is not likely to be in danger. This is mainly because you will never see another head coach at one place for 45 years.  Ever.
His players tended to graduate and afterwards become useful and productive citizens.  Lord knows a bunch of Nittany Lions made it to the NFL.  Paterno and his wife Sue donated millions to the college.  And JoePa was a genuinely unpretentious sort whose number was in the phone book and who walked back and forth between the college and the modest ranch house where he and Sue raised their kids.  Bet you can't just ring up Urban Meyer.

But unfortunately, at least for the near term, Joe Paterno's legacy will be tarnished by the sex scandal that cost him his job and which will undoubtedly subject his Estate and his former employer to liability.  And to the limited extent that some good came of these unspeakable crimes, it is equally without doubt that new protocols are now in place in college athletic departments setting out mandatory reporting requirements concerning sexual assaults on children.  You know that while such incidents are isolated at the college level it is bound to have happened before.  Ask Roy Boeheim.  Or better yet, ask Bernie Fine's wife. 

One of his former players said that Joe Paterno died of a broken heart.  Of course, this is romantic nonsense.  There aren't many good outcomes when an elderly person gets lung cancer.  But I have no doubt that Joe Paterno grieved mightily as the full gravity of the inadequacy of his response came to rest upon him.  After all, the man has children and grandchildren.  You can't coach for as long as he did without loving young people.  And I am certainly willing to concede that the stress of all of this certainly didn't help matters any.  It had to have taken a terrible toll.  How could it not?  But still,  while you can bet that Internet message boards will be full of posts blaming Penn State's Board of Trustees for Paterno's demise, this is dangerous foolishness. 

The public record of the man in full is exemplary in the extreme.  Whether that public record will ever be free of the taint of this awful scandal is highly problematic.

A child got molested in his locker room.  For whatever reason, the authorities weren't notified.  All of these things happened on this good man's watch.  I don't know if the passage of time can unring such a horrific bell. 

And while the scar on Joe Paterno's otherwise exemplary public record is not the tragedy to which he correctly alluded at the top of this post, there are tragic dimensions to his downfall.

He studied the classics at Brown.  He understood tragedy.  In his dotage, maybe he forgot hubris.

Rest in peace, Mr. Paterno.  Rest in peace.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

My Sunday Feeling

I have said this before and I will say it again.  I typically am not remotely interested in the past or current sex lives of politicians.  After all, none of us are without sin.  And it would be unrealistic to believe that our political leaders are completely immune from the human condition.  So I have a pretty high bar when it comes to levels of hypocrisy that offends even me.

Maybe it isn't the hypocrisy of Rick and Karen Santorum that offends me as much that I am stunned by their sheer gall.  As is widely known, Santorum is running for the Republican nomination for President.  His is an exceedingly conservative platform in which he would make abortion illegal even in the case of a woman impregnated by a rapist.  He is opposed to some, if not all, forms of birth control.  And he and his wife both profess to be opposed to sexual relations outside of the bonds of matrimony.

That's fine.  He has tapped into a constituency out there that sings off this same sheet music.  Doesn't bother me.  I wouldn't vote for Santorum if he was running for dog catcher unopposed.  Indeed, I pretty much tune out most of the static over on that side of the aisle.  I am immune.

But the story of Karen Santorum's creepy past got my attention.  Here is the Reader's Digest condensed version of the story.  When Karen Garver was in her twenties she lived for years without the blessing of  clergy with with an OB/GYN in Pittsburgh.  So far, who cares?  Right?  Here's where it gets interesting.  The good doc was some 40 years older than her when they began shacking up.  Not only that, he was an abortion provider.  And if that isn't sufficiently stunning in and of itself, little baby Karen Garver was brought into this world by guess who?  You got it.  The guy she took up with later on in life.  You can read about it here:

As I said on my Facebook page the other night, you just can't make this stuff up.

To which a friend of mine from high school posted something along the lines of "people can change.  You should have seen me 24 years ago." 

Of course people can change.  Indeed my Bible encourages both change and repentance.  We all know a person who has struggled or has had a family member struggle with drugs or alcohol only to come out of that experience opposed to their use.  There are are militant former smokers.  And, like my high school friend, we all have done stuff in our collective past lives that we are not particularly proud of.

But it is one thing to "have done with lesser things" as the old hymn puts it.  It is quite another thing altogether to urge that the law of the land be changed regarding certain behaviors and medical procedures based on a belief system that you evidently did not embrace yourself during one fairly long stretch of your life.

Again, what were these people thinking?  That Karen Santorum's past would never be a campaign issue in a Republican race in which the candidates are falling all over themselves to prove who has the greater commitment to "traditional moral values?" 

Which leads me to the question concerning whether this is all just a scam anyway.  And I'm not just talking of the Santorums although their hypocrisy in this regard is simply the more stunning example.  Maybe none of the guys running to be the GOP standard bearer in November really believes this junk in the first place.  Maybe they are just pandering to the lunatic political base that has taken over the Republican party?  Indeed, a former associate of serial philanderer, and fresh from the oven newly devout Roman Catholic, Newt Gingrich said that if the prevailing political winds were blowing from the left, Newt would be a liberal. 

I don't know and I don't much care.  I do know that it is easier to wrap yourself in the flag and to pound the Bible than it is to actually run the country.  But I digress.

People can change.  And thank God for that. 

But just because you have changed doesn't mean that you are necessarily the best person in the world to be out front and center on issues that evidently didn't concern you very much at all at one point in time.  Most similarly situated people might prefer to keep what is past in the past.  But most people with dubious pasts don't have the gall to inject themselves into the searing light of a political campaign. 

The old smoke filled rooms that used to produce candidates look better and better to me each election season.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

My Sunday Feeling

I got a text message Friday night. 

"Tim Tebow has been arrested for driving drunk.  A hooker was in the car with him.  He also had an ounce of cocaine in his possession."

"Whaaaaaaaaaaat?" I texted back as I reached for my iPad in order to get jump on the Internet. 

"I can dream can't I?" was the response. 

This exchange fairly illustrates the the mixed feelings from football fans surrounding the confounding recent success of Bronco quarterback Tim Tebow.  For those that don't follow football, Tim Tebow is a second year quarterback for the Denver Broncos who, as I type this, are scheduled to play, and most likely be defeated by, the New England Patriots this evening. 

The Broncos turned to him out of desperation after former Chicago Bear bust Kyle Orton reprised this role with the Broncos in steering them to a 1-4 start.  Since then the Broncos limped into the playoffs at 9-8 although they did win 5 straight with Tebow at the controls.  Which, quite frankly, stunned most NFL experts.

After all, although Tebow won the Heisman Trophy he did it in a running system at Florida.  Although he is by any measure a phenomenal physical presence for a quarterback, it is Adventureland whenever Tebow is required to throw the ball longer than 30 yards downfield.  Think of a paler version of Vince Evans and you have Tim Tebow.  Further, it is whispered that he is not exactly the brightest bulb on the porch. 

But you know what?  The kid has won football games with more frequency than he lost them this year.  And he has gotten the Broncos to within spitting distance of the Super Bowl in spite of his deficiencies as a traditional NFL quarterback and in spite of the predictions of the "experts" who said that the Broncos could not win with what amounts to a tricked out version of a college offense.

This would be the sort of story that you would think every football fan could get behind as everybody likes to see an underdog do well.  But as you can tell from the text cited hereinabove, not everybody is a Tim Tebow fan.  And this is why.

Tebow is an evangelical Christian who is not shy about proclaiming his beliefs.  At Florida his eyeblack came imprinted with John 3:16 on it, an adornment which the NFL forced him to eschew.  When a Bronco touchdown is scored or when they win, he points upward toward Heaven in Praise of God.  This rubs many people the wrong way, including me. 

But you know what else?  I don't much care.  I do wish he would eschew the rather Pharisaic practice of somewhat giving God credit for success on the field.  While Tebow  hasn't exactly said that he finds the hand of God in all of this, he hasn't much gone out of the way to disabuse anyone of this impression.  While I find all of this to be pretty irritating, it is no more irritating to me than it is when other athletes give God credit for making the big free throw or hitting a home run. 

This is Bad Theology to believe that God intervenes in human history to fix athletic contests.  I would like to think that the Almighty has enough on His hands with disease, war, famine and every other cause of suffering on the part of the human children He allegedly loves and for whom the cynic might suggest that He hasn't lifted much of a finger to save.

But with me, it goes in one ear and out the other.  I have little interest in any professional athlete's views on how and when God moves in those mysterious ways, His wonders to impart. 

And it bothers me not all that some evangelical fans have a heightened interest in the Broncos due to the success of Tim Tebow.  This is no better or worse than Catholics that follow Notre Dame for that reason or Baptists who are fans of the Baylor Bears.  But what DOES irritate me is the view of some fans that the Broncos' success is a sign of God's favor or that the Tebow's accomplishments despite his many deficiencies is practically miraculous.

Don't take my word for it.  Just look at how Facebook blows up every time Denver wins. 

Look.  Might I suggest another explanation that does not take into account divine providence?  The Broncos have a great running game, an even better defense, a what-the-hell approach to offense by the coaching staff and sheer dumb luck.  There you have it sports fans.

And I find it equally irritating that some people seem to want Tebow to fail for this reason.  Or are predisposed to view him as a phony.  Look.  As far as anybody can tell, and believe me there are those in the media who have tried to find evidence to the contrary,Tim Tebow is completely sincere in his faith and that his many good works come from this sincerity.  Even if he is a pain in the ass about it at times. 

And sure.  There wouldn't be this kind of buzz about Tebow if he weren't such a polarizing figure which I'm sure that the Broncos front office views as a mixed blessing at best.

Here's what I predict.  Tim Tebow and the Broncos will get sent packing by the Patriots.  But it will be closer than some folks believe because New England's defense is held together with spit and baling wire.  And Denver's defense is awfully stout. 

In the off season, the Broncos will try to find another quarterback because nobody, and I mean nobody, believes that they will ever go to a Super Bowl until they have a quarterback who can actually read defenses and throw passes that don't go end over end.

But I wouldn't put it past Tebow to pull it off tonight.  And I kind of hope that he does, because this is fun despite the fact that I find his public displays of religiosity completely off-putting.  Or that some people can't stand him. 

I just don't care about any of that stuff.

Sunday, January 08, 2012

My Sunday Feeling

"The past is not ever dead.  It's not even past."
                                                                 William Faulkner

It is also said that history is written by the guys that won.  The folks that showed up in period drag for yesterday's commemoration of the death of David O. Dodd's execution by the Union troops that occupied Little Rock in 1863 would probably agree with both sentiments. 

It occurs to me that the phrase "occupy Little Rock" was not an abstraction in those days.  Forgive me.  I ramble.

I confess that I don't know much about Civil War reenactors.  Yesterday's performance was the first time I had ever encountered any of them live and in person.  It is my understanding that their attention to detail in their garb and equipment is painstaking and sincere.  Certainly there is something to be said for historical preservation.  There is much that is right and purposeful about remembering and maintenance of traditions.  And I suppose it might even be fun to spend the day pretending to be Johnny Reb. 

There is nothing inherently wrong with any of that.

The execution of David O. Dodd resonates still for a couple of reasons.  First and foremost, it is a compelling story about a brave young kid who refused to rat out a friend during a time of war.  And it cost him his life.  Personal bravery and steadfast courage in the face of certain doom are both exceedingly appropriate metaphors and/or examples to ponder.  The story of David O. Dodd is also a metaphor for martyrdom for the folks that showed up at Mount Holly Cemetery yesterday.  Martyrdom is a romantic concept.  To some, the death David Owen Dodd is a symbol of denial of self in the furtherance of a noble and just cause.

The speeches were instructive.  The great conflict that gave rise to yesterday's event was referred to repeatedly as "The War Between the States."  There were copious references to "freedom" and "the cause." The blessings of Jesus Christ were invoked repeatedly.  "Dixie" was sung by the troops.  Many variations of the "Stars and Bars" were on display.

And these folks have an absolute right to peaceably assemble (something of a figure of speech since the ceremony involved the discharge of ersatz weaponry) and make speeches in which they espouse whatever they wish to believe while wearing the symbols of these beliefs.

But it's bad history.  I am willing to bet that if you asked any of the organizers of yesterday's service to explain the root cause of the Civil War, none of them would mention the institution of slavery in the South.  I'm leaving the rank and file out of this.  I'm willing to suspend disbelief long enough to think that some of them are out there just to have a good time or because they gave up golf.

But as the great historian Casey Stengel might say, "You can look it up."  Off the top of my head, it is my recollection that every declaration of secession from every state that broke off from the Union mentioned preservation of "the peculiar institution" to borrow Mr. Lincoln's phrase.  And the "Northern aggression"-which was completely unaggressive until noted whiskey drinker U.S. Grant was given the keys-was instituted to put down the rebellion in service of preservation of the Union.

But you heard none of that yesterday.  And that's OK.  Everybody is entitled to their own view of history. You're certainly entitled to your own facts, I suppose, just so long as you're not in a debate.  And there was no debate about the sanctity of the cause yesterday.  Everyone there was a True Believer.  Well, everybody but the media types and a former lawyer armed with both a camera and unrequited curiosity about such events. 

The story of David O. Dodd is what it is.  But it's not what it's not. 

And we are certainly free, in this great country of ours, to believe what we will.  Even if the guys that won get to write the history.

Saturday, January 07, 2012

I Gotta Nikon Camera. I Love To Take Photographs.

Every January 7, local Civil War reenactors gather at historic Mount Holly Cemetery in downtown Little Rock to commemorate the death of David O. Dodd the so-called "Boy Martyr of the Confederacy" who was executed by Union troops for being a spy.  Those who are interested in the story can find it here: .

Here are some pictures from today's ceremony.  Suffice it to say these people take this stuff verrrrrry seriously.  I'll have more on this tomorrow.

Sunday, January 01, 2012

My New Year's Day Feeling

The course was pretty jammed up last Friday.  So Rick and I spent as much time talking as we did actually playing golf.  At least it seemed that way.

" 2011 was a big year for you," he said as he was teeing it up.  "Lots to deal with."

" Yeah," I said. "But it's mostly dealing with stuff.  Some people have real problems.  I don't have real problems."

"Don't sell this short," he said as he looked down range. " One of your best friends died.  You walked away from a career.  Granted, you wanted out for years.  But that's a major life change.  And then there was all that other shit.  That's a lot to deal with."

He pulled his tee shot into the woods.

" That's what I get for going all sensitive on you," he said.  "Let's talk about something else."

2011 was turbulent.  No doubt about that.  But as the Buddhists say, "Storms can't hurt the sky." The storms pass.  The sky abides.

There is not a day that passes where I don't think about my friend Hugh who died last February.  As I have said before, people die.  I get that.  They have car wrecks.  They have heart attacks.  They get cancer.  But Hugh was a big strong man.  And he flipped over into a traumatic respiratory disorder none of us had ever heard of after catching the flu.  None of us had any frame of reference for something like this.

The surgeon who did his trache pondered the irony with Laura and I.  "All of us have had the flu," he said." It doesn't turn over into something like this except maybe in the elderly.  This is just bad luck.  Bad luck, pure and simple."  Motor vehicle accident?  I have a frame of reference for that kind of bad luck.  Acute Respiratory Distress Syndrome?  I got nothin'.

Or as Chris Riviere said after the funeral, " Boys, back when we were at Tulane could you have believed that something like this would happen to one of us?"

Non, mah bah.  I still don't. 

In retrospect, I don't believe that I consciously thought of Hugh exactly when I made the decision to accept early retirement.  But I was keenly aware of the shortness of our temporal lives.  My father, who died at 52, had too many mouths to feed to consider retirement.  But he did express an interest on maybe going to law school at night.  To maybe become a patent lawyer.  Well, he didn't get that chance.  A friend of mine in Jackson who expressed approval of my walking away from the Federal Building reminded me that Hugh wouldn't get the chance either.  Life is short. 

I still don't really know what 2012 will bring. Ending my safe and secure career was scary at first.  But it's OK now.   I have been approached by 2 or 3 people who want to know if I am available to talk about working for them.  That is flattering and reassuring.  Sure.  I will be happy to talk to them.  Finished the edits on the first resume I have done in 20 years.  Those will be unleashed on an unsuspecting populace soon.  I look good on paper.  Then again, you've never seen a resume that starts off, " Well, to be perfectly honest....."  Anyway, we shall see what we shall see.  There are things I think I want to do that don't involve practicing law.  But I was also a pretty fair country lawyer.  I don't know what the future holds.  But I won't have to take in laundry or dip dogs in order to make money.  I'm not anxious.  I am at peace.

Rev. Nixon senses a spirituality about all of this that he encourages me to heed.  "Listen to yourself," he said the other day. " Take your time and let that new voice inside you lead you to whatever it is that you are supposed to do." 

I don't know about the spiritual aspect of all of this.  But retired or not, Vic is still a Methodist preacher.  He knows what he is.  His antenna for the spiritual is still on high gain. Me?  I'm still in the process of figuring it out.  But I am at least trying to listen to that new voice. 

2011 was for the most part just godawful.  But I am not anxious.  I am at peace. 

After all, the storm has passed.  The sky still abides. 

Happy New Year.