Sunday, September 21, 2008

Family Ties

Several of the NASCAR guys who are in the running for this year's Sprint Cup Championship were on the Regis and Kelly Show this week. Kelly asked why Dale Earnhardt Junior was consistently (5 years in a row) voted the Most Popular Driver. No one really gave a serious answer because, of course, the real answer wouldn't be politically correct, and that answer is that it's because his last name is Earnhardt. Does anyone believe for one minute that if he was Dale Jones, Jr. rather than Dale Earnhardt, Jr., he would win the popularity contest? There's no way - but you'll see few people acknowledging that fact, especially other drivers (or even the supposedly neutral media). In NASCAR, you just do not take Saint Dale's name in vain and that includes his off-spring.
Junior is a decent driver but he's done nothing to prove he isn't somewhere in the pack with other decent drivers. I wouldn't doubt that he doesn't improve his record and that he won't eventually win a championship, and more power to him if he does, but so far, he doesn't deserve the adulation he receives simply from being Dale's boy.
And commercials? Good Lord, I get sick of seeing back-to-back Dale, Jr. commercials on SPEED and ESPN. I hope Wrangler sells tons of jeans to Junior Nation because they might be turning off some of the rest of us with Dale over-kill. Earnhardt may or may not ever collect the big bucks that come from winning a Sprint Cup championship but he's definitely dragging in huge loot from peddling products (as well as his own memorabilia, the highest selling in all of of NASCARdom.)
I don't care that families frequently tend to establish dynasties in whatever profession an original member chose. I'd have gladly done the same and in fact, I have, although unfortunately, my father and grandfather before him specialized in being unstable rolling stones, more interested in having new experiences than consolidating the old ones. I know doctors and lawyers and politicians who followed in Dad or Grandpa's footsteps and some of them were just as good as Senior. But don't try to convince me that they didn't get a headstart from shoehorning their way onto someone else's success.
For one thing, they learn about their chosen profession through osmosis. Just hearing a parent talk about what life is like as a cop or a fireman or a senator gives them knowledge newbies have to gain on their own. Secondly, the parent is there to offer tangible help and advice. And, thirdly, and most important, they have contacts that ease their way into the world they are choosing to enter. How many people did Dale Earnhardt, Jr. come to know as his father's son who were happy to give the kid a hand up compared to drivers who've struggled up from nowhere, like Jimmie Johnson and Jeff Gordon and Greg Biffle? Lots of them and it is a huge advantage.
I bear Dale Earnhardt, Jr. no ill will. If he wins, that's fine. I don't care one way or another. Family ties only take you so far. Eventually, he'll have to prove himself as Junior and not Dale's son. But, in my heart, I root for the ones who had to start from the back of the pack without family advantages to smooth their way into Victory Lane.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Jimmie supports McCain!

Oh, hell! It doesn't hurt as bad as it might in another year when I was passionately into politics. Since I'm taking a hands-off attitude during this presidential election, it shouldn't matter to me that Jimmie Johnson, my favorite NASCAR driver, is a McCain-supporting Republican but still....and I tell myself that I love other Republicans, namely, Tim Roberts my former boss and sheriff so I can overlook this one little character flaw in Jimmie.

I don't really know the details. I just saw the title of a YouTube video but I couldn't bring myself to watch it so I don't know what Jimmie bases his support on. Maybe the fact that he got a $7,000,000 pay off for winning the Sprint Cup championship last year and the one before that and has a good chance for another big check in 2008 and he doesn't like the idea of giving over a big stack of it to taxes should Obama win and raise taxes on the rich.

Of course, it could just be that NASCAR itself is weighted heavily toward Republicans, be they rich or be they poor, so that to be a Democrat would be rather unthinkable in that environment.
What always amazes me though is that people develop their perceptions and then that's it. "I'm a Republican and Republicans are better for the economy." But if you left emotion out of it and just flat-out looked at cold, dry statistics, you'd discover it simply isn't true. Consistently, the stock market performs better and is less volatile under the Democrats. On average, stock market returns are about 5 percent higher when a Democratic president lives in the White House. Between 1927 and 1999, the stock index returned about 11 percent more a year on average under a Dem president versus three-month T-bills. The index returned 2 percent more under Republicans.

And speaking of volatility, what about the times we are living in right now? The stock market has plunged in the last two days as I write this....under George W Bush....and it is a little too late to blame a) 911 or b) Bill Clinton.

The fact is the economy performs better when Democrats run the show. From 1948 to 2007 (Republicans in the White house 34 of those years, Democrats for 26 of them), Republicans managed only an average growth in national product of 1.64 percent. For Democrats, it was 2.78 percent. Over eight years, that amounts to 9.33 per cent more income per person. For Jimmie Johnson, that's about a gazillion dollars, so why is he a Republican?

Statistics show that even rich people, like Jimmie, do slightly better under Democrats over time but poor and middle income families do significantly better (presumably, the average NASCAR fan is in one of the latter two income classifications - if they are fans who attend races, they're more likely to be in the middle - it is expensive to go to a NASCAR race).

Take another important issue - job creation, possibly the most important statistic for people in the lower income brackets. Here are the job creation rates for all of our presidents since before World War II.

Franklin Roosevelt 8.8% prior to WWII, 2.6% during WWII
Harry Truman 2.4%
Dwight Eisenhower .5%
John Kennedy 2.1%
Lyndon Johnson 3.5%
Richard Nixon 2.1 %
Gerald Ford .8%
Jimmy Carter 3.3%
Ronald Reagan 2.3%
Clinton 2.6%
George Bush I .4%
George Bush II .4%

Looks to me like whether you have lots of investments and depend on the stock market for growth of your portfolio, like Jimmie Johnson probably does, or whether you're a working stiff counting on the weekly paycheck from your job, either way you'd be better off under the Democrats.

Not that I expect that to ever happen because most people don't analyze why they are what they are, they simply lead with their emotions and carry on.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

New Favorite Authors

I took six library books with me on vacation and read them all so when Lisa wanted to do some shopping at Target, I immediately went to the book department. There were no books there by any tried and true authors that I didn't already have so I had to take a chance on something new. I ended up picking out 1) Dry by Augusten Burroughs and 2) Dearly Devoted Dexter by Jeff Lindsay, neither of whom I'd ever heard of before.

Both were inspired choices. Dry is a bitterly humorous bestselling autobiography, characterizing the author's comeback from raving alcoholism. Calling Burrough's childhood dysfunctional is like calling Mount Everest a hill. His father was an alcoholic; his mother was psychotic. When Augusten was 12, his mother gave him to her psychiatrist who, if anything, was even more of a lunatic than she was herself. Augusten and the doctor's own several offspring were allowed to do as they pleased, it being the father's belief that children should be allowed complete freedom to evolve naturally. For Augusten, this meant never returning to school, which he hated. It meant that being sexual active with his much older boyfriend was tolerantly accepted. It meant drinking and drugs were shrugged off. It would have been more abnormal to grow up to be normal under the circumstances of his youth but Augusten, while succeeding as a public relations copy writer far beyond what might have been expected from an elementary school drop-out, was definitely a product of the cruelties, abandonments and sheer madness he endured. His drinking nearly killed him and even his road to sobriety was rocky. The fact that he could make this memoir, by turns, hilariously funny and heartbreakingly touching is a testament to his superb writing ability.

I fell in love with Augusten Burroughs reading Dry and was thrilled to discover he'd written several other books, including Running with Scissors, Sellavision, Possible Side Effects, A Wolf at the Table and Magical Thinking. I've ordered all of them and have finished reading Running with Scissors and Possible Side Effects, both of which were as good as Dry. If you like your humor dark, your descriptions graphic and your heroes neurotic, I can't recommend it enough.

The second group of books, the Dexter books, by Jeff Lindsay, are about a serial killer, but a good-hearted one, who channels his lust for dealing death into tracking down and eliminating other serial killers. Like Augusten, Dexter is funny in his lunatic way. He is like Clark Kent (by day, Dexter is a mild-mannered forensic scientist for the Miami PD) turning into Superman if Superman got off on cutting bad people into bloody bits rather than being a super-hero.

I gather the Dexter stories have now become a regular show on HBO. I don't get HBO but if I did, I might tune in at least once to see if they manage to capture Dexter's endearing qualities along with his black aptitude for vengeance. It has been my experience that film can't begin to compare to writing for detail and depth of personality but who knows?

In addition to Dearly Devoted Dexter, there are also Dexter in the Dark and Darkly Dreaming Dexter, both of which I've ordered through Amazon.com.

I have always been a book hoarder. While my Mom obsessively stacked cans in the pantry and packages in the freezer, I piled books on the bookshelves. When I lived in the country, I went into the winter with an enormous backlog of books because what if I got snowed in for months? But, of course, I lived in the a-town-every-10-miles civilization of Indiana, not in the back country of Wyoming. The longest I ever remember being isolated was three days during the infamous Blizzard of '78. But we are overtaken by our anxieties. Mom lives six blocks from the grocery store but still lives in terror of a catastrophic event cutting off the food supply even as I am six blocks from the library but continue to live in dread of someday finding myself with nothing to read, or at least, nothing good to read. That is why I've always held in reserve the last book or two by my favorite authors so I had them to look forward to.

Oddly, this phobia has been joined by another, equal and opposite one. Now that I am in my 60's, I worry that if I don't read all the books by the writers I love most, I will die someday having not read them all. I would hate being taken with two Iain Banks', a Declan Hughes, a David Fulmer, a Reginald Hill, an Augusten Burroughs still sitting in the bookcase. I know I'd try to make a bargain with God - "please, please, please, just let me stay long enough to read these last ten books and I promise, I'll go without protest". (Of course, if He agreed, then I'd beg to be allowed to stay long enough to see if Jimmie Johnson wins his third Sprint Cup championship.)

So, to read or not to read? Take a chance on running out or on leaving them behind? It is a quandary for sure and one I've not come to terms with yet.


Sunday, September 14, 2008

Vacation

Mom and I went to visit the kids at their latest posting in Hackensack, New Jersey. I drove right straight to their apartment complex without a hitch, through the busy traffic in that part of New Jersey right across the Hudson from Manhattan.
We went the first weekend we were there to Atlantic City. I walked into Caesar's and within 15 minutes, I hit a $1,000 on a 50 cent slot machine. That was great because I made this trip without a lot of extra funds and suddenly, the concern about finances was gone. It was a wonderful day to walk along the Boardwalk (we hired a rickshaw for Mom), shopping, people-watching and leaning over the railing to watch the waves slide into shore. We had drinks at a bar on the beach. It was a great day.
Atlantic City has been called the "Las Vegas of the East" but it's not. It's not even close. A few steps away from the Boardwalk and the bigger casinos, A.C. (as the natives call it) turns shabby and sad, filled with rundown motels and beaten-down houses and businesses that cater to desperate people - pawn shops and buy here-pay here car lots and check cashing places and cheap diners. Looks like where old gambling addicts go to hang out when they've given up up hope to the slots and tables. Too bad. Atlantic City has potential of a Las Vegas, with the additional bonus of the ocean, to be a great resort area but no one seems interested in turning it into a first-class attraction.
Incidentally, we stayed at a Residence Inn, my first time, and it was great. I have a hard time traveling with others because my schedule is always off kilter. When I get up at 4:00 a.m., I have to try to be quiet and make my coffee in the dark to keep from disturbing the normal ones in my group. Residence Inns have separate bedrooms that can be closed off so I can get up and turn on lights and computers. We had 3 televisions, one in the living room and one in each bedroom which meant I got to watch the NASCAR race without depriving anyone else of what they wanted to see.
We spent the next couple of days in John and Lisa's apartment which is a different way of life from here. It required 9 turns to navigate the parking garage to their slot (as well as going from one building to another). From there, you had to find the right bank of elevators to get to your section (all sections look alike so you can be easily confused, condemned to wander the halls for hours, desperately seeking Section B) and then a walk down a long hall to the right door. There is no such thing as running out for a quick trip to Village Pantry from where they live.
You can tell I'm a hick from the sticks because one of the things I enjoyed most was watching the planes from their balcony. They are on a flight path for, we decided, LaGuardia Airport (though not close enough to be bothered by the noise). The night sky looked like a summer evening filled with lightning bugs blinking on and off. Planes arrived and left from all directions. They were stacked up in the clouds in layers. In the course of smoking one cigarette, 27 planes filled the air above me. I can't even imagine the stress of being an air traffic controller trying to keep track of them all.
The second weekend we were there, we went into Manhattan which is about a 25-minute drive from John and Lisa's apartment under ideal traffic conditions (!). John has developed the east coast driving attitude, sliding into speeding traffic, muscling his way past buses, changing lanes like a maniac. The drivers there are cool though. They don't get upset at any of these tactics but just take them for granted. They also turn two-lane streets into three when it suits them. Cops are laid back, seeming to believe than anything short of causing a wreck is acceptable.
We drove into New York City but were stymied getting to our hotel because the streets around Times Square were closed off due to the big Labor Day parade. After driving round and round, up and down one-way streets, we ended up in a parking garage about 7 blocks from where we were staying ($100 for 24 hours). Manhattan hotels do not provide parking. You're on your own for that.
We stayed at the Broadway Millenium on the 43rd floor overlooking the traffic and changing signs and masses of people that make up the go-go-go environment of Times Square. We booked a two-day bus tour which is the best way to see the city with an elderly person (or even if you don't have a senior citizen with you for that matter). The bus makes a loop around Manhattan and you can get off wherever you please, be it Greenwich Village or Soho or Chinatown or Wall Street, and then catch the next one when you're ready to move on, with the driver explaining the history and pointing out landmarks.
My favorite part was the boat ride around the harbor that took us past the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island and under the Brooklyn Bridge and offered the most incredible views of the Manhattan and Brooklyn skylines. We had lucked into another gorgeous day - neither hot nor cold, but sunny and clear.
It's a good thing I won that $1,000 in Atlantic City or I'd have been hurting. NYC is very, very expensive. Every meal we ate, even breakfast, was well over $100 for 4 people. But, oh, my God, was the food wonderful. We had corned beef sandwiches 8 inches high and melt in your mouth beef brisket with barbeque sauce and steaks you could cut with a fork. I bought 6 pieces of pastry at a bakery and it came to $30. On the other hand, from the street vendors, you can buy knock-off Coach purses and Rolex watches and Christian Dior sunglasses for $10-$30 that you can't tell from the real thing.
My biggest disappointment: if I had been there two days later, I'd have been in Manhattan at the same time as the NASCAR guys. I might have gotten a glimpse of Jimmie Johnson!
I had driven to John and Lisa's without a hitch, right into their apartment complex, hundreds of miles and through busy New Jersey traffic. And then, at the last, I got lost in the parking garage trying to leave. Mom and I drove aimlessly through a concrete hell for about 15-minutes until finally I saw John's car. His arm was out the window waving to indicate that if I followed, he would lead me out.
"How did you know I was lost?" I asked him.
He grinned. "I just figured."
Then it was back to Indiana and the real world. My $1,000 was spent but I have pictures, memories and a $30 Coco Chanel knock-off to show for it.

The Interchangeable Woman

I feel insulted by John McCain's choice of vice-presidential running mate, Sarah Palin. (Although I was also insulted by Obama's decision to snub Hillary in favor of Joe Biden so the parties are equal opportunity disrespecters so far as females are concerned). Does anyone believe McCain would have picked Palin if Barack Obama had selected Hillary as his running mate? Not hardly. Palin is the generic female, chosen to pick off some of the furious Hillary supporters' votes. Didn't really matter who it was. A woman is a woman, right? And we don't care about her policies or beliefs or experience, just so long as her gender is correct. This was such a mercenary, manipulative decision but it may work. As someone once said, nobody ever lost an election by under-estimating the intelligence of the American voter.
If McCain had truly cared about his country, he would have looked upon highly regarded Republican women, of whom there are many including Kay Bailey Hutchinson and Olympia Snowe to name just a couple. Supposedly, McCain's rap on Barack Obama is his dismal lack of experience so who does this 72-year-old cancer survivor select to step into his shoes should anything happen to him? Why the former mayor of a small city and short-term governor of one of our least populous states. And doesn't it also seem ironic that the man who rages constantly against ear marks chooses the governor of the state that collects more money from the federal government compared to its population than any other?
Of course, Obama did the exact same thing. After saying Hillary was the politics of the past and from the old been-in-Washington-too-long mindset, he has a running mate who has been in Congress decades longer than Hillary and represents the politics of the past as much as anyone you can name.
I'm not exactly sure just what it was about Palin that caused McCain to choose her as opposed to other female Republican leaders. But she has caused a stir and excitement for the Republicans, I'll grant you that. In fact, the new and novel factor seems to be playing in her favor now just as it did for Obama during the primaries. Of course, the Obamacrats loved it then - not so much now. And some pissed-off Democrats seem ready to vote for the Republican duo as punishment to their own party although how a former Hillary supporter could vote for Palin with whom she differs on almost every issue, I don't know.
I have lots of Republican friends and they love Palin. First and foremost, the men, at least, mention her ability to kill and gut a moose. They say this isn't really the reason they support her but the fact is, it IS the first thing they bring up. Seriously, is that an important part of the skill set necessary to be a good president? Or does moose-killing/gutting symbolize something deeper for them? This is so outside my area of expertise that I have no clue why it is so enthralling to the men who adore her.
The rightest-wing Republicans have always been wedded to the idea of the family values, stay-at-home Mom but now the idea that the mother of five, one a Downs Syndrome baby and one a pregnant 17-year-old, should fly off into the ozone layer on a practically non-stop campaign for vice-president is just fine and dandy. Strikes me as slightly more than hypocritical. It would be fine for Democrats who've always preached equal opportunity and judgment for all (honored in the breach more than in the reality) but Republicans, at least the fundamentalist Republicans, haven't believed that way - until now, but it's okay, you know, because Dad is going to stay home and watch the kids! It is amazing how people can change their attitudes at the drop of a hat when it's to their political benefit.
I'm watching all this from the sidelines, having pretty much decided I don't like the Democrats or the Republicans and our choices this time suck so I'll let you all decide and then put a "Don't blame me, I voted for......whoever" bumper sticker on my car depending on how it turns out.
I'm actually much more engaged in NASCAR's Race for the Cup final ten races than the presidential race.
At first, I thought I was going to have to abandon my driver, Jimmie Johnson, for his own good because usually I'm the kiss of death for anyone I'm rooting for and right after I picked Jimmie he had bad luck in a couple of races. But then he won the last two so he's third in points going into the finals.
If he wins, he'll be the only driver since Cale Yarborough back in, I believe, 1978 to win three championships in a row. The Chase will end just about the same time as the presidential election. Go, Jimmie!