Sunday, March 19, 2006

Who I am

Next year in August, I will be 60. For years, entering your sixth decade was my definition of passing through the gateway to the golden years. Now that I am almost there, sixty seems no more than late middle age.

I feel not much different than I did at fifty, or forty, or for that matter, thirty. I still have a soft spot for outlaws. I still keep my car radio cranked on high, loving the guitar-drenched, rough-trade rock and roll of George Thorogood and ZZ Top. I still thrill to the throaty roar of a Harley. I still appreciate rare steak, real butter and strong coffee. I still admire the clever wariness of coyotes and root for them against their hunters. I still feel especial loyalty to my Vietnam vets, both those who overcame the war and those who were overcome by it.

At going on sixty, I still love Lilac-scented spring mornings and scarlet cardinals on snow-covered pine boughs. I still love chocolate chip cookies warm from the oven. I still love horses running and ocean waves lapping onto sand and big trees. I still get excited when I enter into the flashing lights and raucous noise of a casino. I still become mesmerized by the forward momentum of seeing an endless highway ahead of me, whether it is running through the live oak-studded pastures of Alabama, the red table-top mountains of Arizona or the rolling woods of Arkansas.

I still enjoy handsome men, although these days my idea of handsome is more likely to include the wrinkles and pot bellies or bald heads of men who've earned those things fighting wars or working in factories or staying up all night with sick babies, than the sleekness of untested youth.

I've found that as you grow older and your children reach a stage where you can lean on them more and more for support, your parents reach a stage where they lean on you more and more for support.

I've discovered that when you are young, pain has a cause - you twist your ankle, you sprain your wrist - but when you are older, pain comes for no reason at all. Suddenly, your knee aches or a bolt of agony shoots through your shoulder. You simply grit your teeth and soldier on.

I've learned that at almost sixty, the body may be warning that fall is coming, but the mind continues to believe in spring.

Friday, March 17, 2006

All-Volunteer Army?

I recently received word from a friend that his term of service in the National Guard has been "involuntarily extended" for an as yet, unknown amount of time, but long enough so that he could be deployed somewhere for 18 months. Somewhere, mostly likely meaning Iraq, of course.

Ironically, my friend had been having a discussion within his family about what he should do regarding his future military service. He was active Army for 3 years starting in 1994 and has been a member of the National Guard ever since. He signed a contract with the Army which would have ended his commitment on the 4th of July, 2006. He has been dedicated to the military; he loves being a soldier. He is patriotic in a way that counts, not just talking about service to his country, but actually offering it in a tangible way.

On the other hand, he is the father of three small children and he is dedicated to them too. He has a wife who is dismayed at the thought of her husband leaving her to raise the kids alone while he goes off to war. They have been talking through his options: to re-enlist or not to re-enlist. They had not yet reached any conclusion. Now it isn't a choice he has to make because the Army has made it for him.

As he says, "I find it odd that I had a signed contract with the government...for a specified length of time that was to end on 4, July, 2006. Now, if I break my part of the contract, I will be arrested, discharged, fined, jailed, etc. BUT if Uncle Sugar decides that 4, July really means 4, July, then there is nothing wrong with that and a soldier nor his family has any known positive recourse...."

In other words, despite promises given and received on both sides, the Army can renege on it's side of the bargain, so his future and that of his family is up in the air, waiting on Uncle Sam to decide.

He isn't bitter or angry, having always felt that being a soldier was a part of his destiny somehow.

I feel bitter and angry for him, however. He is the first person I care a great deal about to go to Iraq (if he ends up going there). I don't think this is the way it is supposed to work. If we are going to send our kids to war (and he is young enough to be my son), then let's be honest about it and simply reinstate the draft. If we believe in Iraq, then we ought to be fair and call whoever we need instead of using this sneaky method of refusing to let soldiers leave when their time is up so that we can keep enough bodies available to fuel the war. This stretches the definition of "voluntary" and allows us to remain in denial about the true costs of Iraq.

What do you all think?

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Some things I don't understand:

  • Why do the most successful modern-day politicians have to be from the South? Obviously, those of us in other areas of the country must be willing to vote to vote for "their" guys but they must not be willing to vote for "our" guys. Why do voters in other parts of the country put up with this? (California is the exception that proves the rules, i.e. Ronald Reagan and Richard Nixon.) We have George W. Bush, a Texan. We have Bill Clinton, an Arkansan. We have George Bush the Elder, who always struck me as an East Coaster at his core, but claimed Texas as his home state. We had Jimmy Carter, a Georgian and Lyndon Johnson, another Texas. So, we have to go back to JFK to find a president from the East. And Eisenhower to find a Midwesterner. And in Congress, most recent leadership positions have been held by Southerners. In the Senate, the current Majority leader is Bill Frist, a Tenneseean, who was preceded by Trent Lott, a Mississippian. And in the House, Dennis Hastert, from Illinois, was an afterthought after Bob Livingston, from Louisiana, resigned in scandal and Newt Gingrich, from Georgia, was kicked out in a coup by his own party. But, who has really controlled the House? Not Hastert, but Tom Delay, a Texan. As a Hoosier, I'm beginning to feel a little resentful of this seeming insistence by Southerners that only they are worthy to hold the reins of power.
  • And what is this argument we have going about whether or not pharmacists can prescribe certain medications with which they disagree on moral grounds, such as the Morning-After pill? What would be the logical extension if everyone could decide for themselves which parts of their job they would do or wouldn't do. If an inspector in a factory was a pacifist, could they get away with declining to inspect certain products that go into missiles? I work for a Prosecutor's office. What if I decided that one of the offenses deemed criminal by my state wasn't really a crime in my view. Would my boss allow me to choose not to process the paperwork on those charges? I could go on and on but the point is that you have a job, you do your job. If you find your job so morally repugnant that you can't bring yourself to do it, you quit your job. This is rather like the debate we used to have when pro-life supporters claimed that they shouldn't have to pay taxes to support something they were totally opposed to on moral and religious grounds. That was always a bogus argument (although the anti-abortion people won in the end because it is the rare abortion that is taxpayer funded). What the heck would happen to our system of governance if we could all decide for ourselves what purposes we did or did not want our taxes to be used for? I can tell you one thing: there would have been no Iraq War if I'd had anything to say about it but, of course, I didn't because we choose our leaders to make our decisions and we pay for those decisions, like it or not. If we don't like them, then we vote those leaders out....assuming we can convince enough of our fellow citizens to agree with us.
  • Why is New Orleans still a basketcase? Can anyone doubt that in another era, we wouldn't have charged into that city with the kind of American can-do spirit that we put into sending a man to the moon and re-built it from the ground up? Can anyone doubt that Bill Clinton wouldn't have sent whatever men, money and material were necessary to bring New Orleans back? Can anyone doubt that Ronald Reagan would not have faced the nation and promised that one of America's crown jewels woud not be allowed to die on his watch and then did whatever it took to keep that promise? This is the America I remember. America the bold; America the believer that anything is possible if we put our hearts and minds to the task. What has happened to that America? The sight of New Orleans today is a pall that hangs over our national psyche.
  • In the same vein, what does America actually do now? We obviously don't manage ports. We don't build cars or pour steel - at least to the extent that we used to. If you go to Walmart to buy almost anything, you'll discover that we don't weave or mold or solder or assemble - at least to the extent that we used to. If you call Tech Support for a computer problem, you'll soon discover that we don't man most of the help desks. I recently read that a revolutionary new way of creating solar energy has been invented....in South Africa. This used to be America's province - our inventors found answers to the world's problems; our mighty industrial base created products of all kinds; our tech people conceived the concepts that changed the face of communication. Our dollar was stable and solid and sought after by the rest of the world, particularly the developing nations. Now, in the 21st century, America seems diminished somehow. Our confidence in our place in the world is shaken. We our a debtor nation, having to hope that China and Saudi Arabia continue to purchase dollars to fund our deficit. Our production workers are insecure as good-paying jobs, pensions and health care become more elusive. The workers who listened to their leaders' advice that education was the key to continued employment as production work fled overseas are discovering that computer programmers and engineers can also be out-sourced. Where did we go wrong and what can we do to put it right? The thinking of our leadership in Washington is stagnant. I think we must look for new ideas in new places.

Monday, March 13, 2006

Who is for the Little Guy?

After the 2004 election, the political discussion centered on the Red State/Blue State divide and the so-called moral values that defined it. This is a spurious debate because politics is always about how the spoils are divided between the elite and the working class, it is only that the losers generally aren't aware of it. Most of our national politicians remind me of magicians, waving scarves around with one hand to divert attention from the ace they're slipping up their sleeve with the other.

When I was young my Grammie used to say that the Republicans were for Big Business and the Democrats were for the "Little Guy". Now, 50 years later, Republicans are still for Big Business but most modern Democrats appear to be for....Big Business (although there exceptions on both sides). Actually, it seems to me that both parties have morphed into a collective Corporationist party. The pharmaceutical industry won big with the Medicare Prescription Drug bill; the mining, logging and drilling interests won big with misnamed legislation like "Healthy Skies" and "Healthy Forests". The banking industry won big with the bankruptcy bill. The oil companies actually helped write the administration's energy policy.

Unfortunately, the majority of Little Guys buy into the political spin. While we are busily obsessing about intelligent design or gay marriage, we don't notice that our wages are falling behind the cost of living, that our jobs are fleeing overseas, that our employers are dumping the pension plans they once promised us. We shake our heads in agreement with doing away with the "Death Tax", although only the 2% of us with estates large enough to qualify would have ever have to concern ourselves with estate taxes anyway.

Little Guy families provide their children when we go to war while our leaders offer only stirring speeches. It is my class that struggles with a deteriorating health care system. (Remember how terrible they told us it would be if we let Hillary give us national healthcare? The joke is on us now. I tried to contact Harry and Louise for advice when I was out of work and uninsured but they were nowhere to be found). It is telling to compare how our leaders let the unemployed hang on by their fingernails, being oh-so-reluctant to extend unemployment benefits to the glee with which they press huge tax breaks onto their wealthy cohorts....and revealing how they think billionaires need more money while evidently minimum wage workers do not.

Bread and butter issues - jobs, healthcare, war - the Little Guys are losing all of them. Meanwhile, the party we used to consider "our party", the Democrats, trembles at the prospect of being accused of fomenting class warfare, of being called soft on defense, of being labeled "sore losers". Kerry folded like a deck of old cards when conceding the election after promising that in 2004 every vote would be counted, despite myriad voting problems, especially in Ohio. Even if the election results wouldn't have changed, he should have kept his promise until these issues were fully brought to light and fixed...for all the Little Guys who wanted to vote and couldn't or voted and had their votes thrown away. Does anyone doubt that if the election had turned out differently (and if 59,001 Ohio votes had gone differently, it would have), George W. Bush wouldn't have taken it all the way to the Supreme Court...again? (This being be the party, by the way, that is hot to curtail lawsuits with Little Guy victims).

Truthfully, I saw Kerry as the Democrat side of the Bush coin, having no illusions that in a Kerry administration, life wouldn't still be safe for lobbyists and special interests. If I was wrong, then John Kerry did a poor job of delivering his message or perhaps, I am simply over-cynical about recycled Washington pols.

Now, as we ponder 2008, the media is already happily placing their bets in the presidential horse race and it is the same old, same old. Hillary versus John McCain. I actually like Hillary Clinton but I don't want her to run for president mainly because, if she does, for the last 28 years a Clinton or a Bush would have been on every presidential ticket. Please. In a country as large as this one, there must be someone we can turn to to lead us besides a Bush or a Clinton. I've really had it with political dynasties.

As for McCain, I used to like him too but no more. George Bush savaged him in the 2004 primaries, particularly in South Carolina. I've been involved in politics myself often enough to know that sometimes your enemies become your allies but McCain has taken that to a sickening new level, hugging or kissing the president at every opportunity to try to endear himself to the Republican base. The straight-talker has become the butt-kisser as far as I'm concerned and it isn't a pretty picture.

My ideal candidate in 2004 was General Wesley Clark, mainly because I yearn for a leader with integrity, someone highly intelligent, someone from outside the usual Washington world of partisan politics and corrupt lobbyists. I hope he runs again and I'll support him if he does but in any case, I'm going to watch closely to see who is strongest on Little Guy issues. America's largest employer used to be G.M.; now it is Walmart, and that sums up in a nutshell, the plight of the American worker (and by extension, the American family) in the early years of the 21st century.

Sunday, March 12, 2006

The Un-Constant Gardener

Yesterday was such a beautiful day, I thought seriously about doing an early spring survey of my flowerbeds. I've always wanted so badly to have beautiful blooms like one ones in Rebecca's Garden. In the end, I didn't do it though because I have had a conflicted attitude about my flowers ever since Terri and Tim and I opened GoodFella's Pizza in the old flower shop on Stitt Street. The flowers that grew in the cracks in the asphalt affected me like a slap in the face every time I saw them. Self-planted by falling seeds, they sprang up as festive clumps of bright red and charming bouquets of yellow and purple. They thrived, scorched by a blazing sun, dependent on the unpredictability of rain to quench their thirst. They were neither fertilized nor insect-protected and yet there they were, happily dotting the ugly black pavement.

Meanwhile, back at home, plants that were babied and coddled, mulched and watered, fed and sprayed, staked and trellised, are just as likely to wither and die as prosper. Or to do well one year, never to appear again, presumably having found something wanting in my stewardship.

Take my Clematis. The typical Clematis outdoes itself with overflowing mounds of royal purple blossoms. My Clematis, by contrast, is obviously the victim of an inferiority complex. In anticipation of its growth, I bought an out-sized trellis, five strips of wood, arcing into a fan shape. But my plant never grew beyond its original slender strand, clinging timidly to the outermost slat. Last summer, it produced a total of three small flowers.

The Peonies that blossomed abundantly when I moved here have died out completely. Peonies! Plants that soldier on for decades near the foundations of fallen-in farmhouses. What could I have possibly done wrong to cause their demise? Experts can't tell me because they've never heard of it happening before. It usually takes nuclear fall-out to kill off Peonies.

Over and over, I tried to get Poppies started. Last spring, a single Poppy leaf appeared, as if to taunt me. I hovered over it in an attempt to will it to grow but in a short time, it wilted and melted back into the earth.

I have a nine-year-old Lilac that has never bloomed and Rhododendrons that produce flowers one year out of every three. My Rambling Rose has taken its name too much to heart. Instead of confining itself to a compact area, it produces suicidal runners that wend their way up the house, trying to disappear into a hole behind the gas meter. A single strand of this rose can run along the ground for several feet as if in an attempt to physically flee to the neighbor's yard. If there were a Rose Court, it would have filed paperwork requesting to be emancipated from my custody by now.

Only the Yucca, which I have made repeated efforts to destroy, arises anew each year. Although I chop and dig and spray, a piece of root the size of a single atom must remain so that each spring, the Yucca bursts exurberantly from the earth like a Phoenix.

Sometimes I become a little bitter. I get tired of pampering spoiled brats and getting slapped in the face in return. One year, I may just decide to divorce the rose myself and to quit planting Poppies. Left alone, the Yucca would, in short order, produce enough children to completely over-run the unappreciative Lillies and Daisies. And it would be good enough for them. If they're so unhappy here, let them go down to the parking lot to live.

Saturday, March 11, 2006

If it's Saturday, This Must be Urbana!

Mike's campaign group have started what we call an SRT, which stands for Supper Response Team. Sort of has a law enforcement ring to it, doesn't it? Like a law enforcement response team, when the call goes out, the group mobilizes and prepares to.....eat! So far we've had soup at Northfield, chicken at Southwood, breakfast at Lagro, pancakes at Urbana, tenderloins with the Roann Volunteer Fire Department, fish and tenderloins at the Lafontaine Methodist Church, breaded tenderloins via the Richvalley Lion's Club and today, fish prepared by the Urbana Lion's Club. Tonight is spaghetti at Scout Hall in North Manchester. This presents a great opportunity kill the two proverbial birds with one stone. First, it enables us to socialize with a lot of people in the county while eating a lot of good food and at the same time, we are also contributing to all the worthy causes these dinners take place to support.

There is really only one problem with being a member of the SRT and John put it in a nutshell when he asked me if we were going to have "before" and "after" pictures taken - now and 20 pounds from now. I felt Mike out about whether he would pay our Weight Watchers dues when the campaign is over but he said it is every eater for him or herself!

Beginning Blogger

In the last couple of years, I've become a blog addict. Every morning I check in with my favorites to see what is going on in the world of blogging. As a writer myself, I guess it was natural that I would eventually want to have a blog of my own. My problem is that, while I believe my writing talents are good enough to hold their own with other bloggers, my computer-literacy is dismal so this is definitely doing to be a learning experience and I hope to become more proficient as I go along.

For over twenty years, I wrote a column for the Wabash Plain Dealer. Not a week goes by that I don't run into someone who says they miss my column. My readers almost became family and I miss them too. At least in its initial stages, this blog is an effort to re-connect with some of those people. This first post on this blog will be a kind of synopsis of what I've been doing in these intervening years.

Blogging is a freeing medium because you don't have to confine yourself to the dictates of an editor but can say pretty much anything you want, although it is wise to keep in mind that there are still people in your life, like your boss, who can register their unhappiness with opinions they deem too provocative!

When I last wrote my column, I was running for the office of Clerk-Treasurer of the City of Wabash. After working in many political campaigns, it was my first venture into being an actual candidate myself. I lost that election and, while rejection isn't fun, Meredith Brown and I both ran good, clean campaigns and I was proud of mine. I continued to work at the Wabash County Sheriff's Department until 2004 when I was fired by Sheriff Leroy Striker, who very forthrightly told me it was for political reasons. He told me that although I was a "superlative" secretary, he wasn't sure he could count on my 100 percent support in the next election and he believed that constituted "insubordination". Indiana is a fire-at-will state, something that surprised many people who believed you actually had to do something wrong before an employer could terminate you. An attorney told me that unless you work under a contract that spells out your rights, your boss can fire you "if he doesn't like the color of your socks".

After working for so many years, the first couple of months of being unemployed were enjoyable. It was pleasant to get up in the morning without having to rush around and get ready for work. When others were racing out the door, I was pouring myself another cup of coffee. When others were worrying about pouring drinks or showing real estate or keeping books, I was reading blogs and watching t.v. and working in the yard.

I soon became restless. I was used to going out into the world of people, used to having definite tasks to complete and used to having a real paycheck instead of a direct deposit receipt from the unemployment office. I was becoming anxious about money and about having no health insurance. I started hitting the job trail. I thought I had such excellent credentials (7 years as a mayor's secretary; 9 years as a sheriff's secretary) that it would be easy to get another job. That turned out not to be the case. I blamed that on being 58 years old, although it is, of course, illegal to discriminate because of age.....

I was unemployed for nine months before being hired by Bill Hartley, the Wabash County Prosecutor. I was thrilled to be working again, particularly in a world with which I'm familiar and with so many people I already knew and liked. Having health insurance again, I had the urge to go see my doctor just to prove I could!

I am still a political junkie. I am strongly supporting Mike Shrider in the upcoming Sheriff's election. I worked with Mike for almost ten years at the Department so I know how dedicated he has been to the Sheriff's Department his whole working career. I know that he never received so much as a write-up in all the years I knew him and was promoted by every Sheriff for whom he worked. I know what an intelligent, honest and professional officer he is and what an excellent sheriff he would make.

On of my major achievements in 2005 was becoming a mother-in-law. Yes, John finally got married at age 37. Mom and I were worried because the wedding almost didn't come off. They were scheduled to be married at 9:30 a.m. on the beach at Key West. Hurricane Rita arrived on the Keys at the same time they did. They became a salt-sprayed, wind-tossed husband and wife and then immediately had to evacuate but it was done and I now have a terrific daughter-in-law, Lisa.

My mother, who will soon be 87 years old, is fine. Those of you who garage-sale still see her out there tracking down bargains.

So this is my catch up blog (assuming I did this correctly and it actually can be found on the internet!) Blogging is more interactive than writing a column for a newspaper. I hope some of you will post comments when later blogs are more issue-oriented. Maybe we can get some hot and heavy discussions going!