Monday, December 21, 2009

Modern Day Nostradamus?

I had a strange experience this week when a former reader managed to track me down to inquire about getting a copy of a column published back when I was writing for King Features Syndicate. The column appeared in the Youngstown, Ohio Vindicator in 1986. How she found me all these years later, I don't know, but she did. I dug into the back of my closet and pulled out the old notebooks in which I kept these columns, not having looked at them for a couple of decades. I found the column she wanted and as I was looking, I found another one that I'd forgotten about.

It was one I'd written about things my father used to tell me. At the time, I thought of him as being rather a conspiracy theorist, his paranoia branded into his soul during the terrible times of the Great Depression. He died on my 27th birthday, 1972.

As I read it, I was stunned by how prescient he had been about what might occur in the times ahead. I always remember my father telling me, as his mother had told him, to get myself "a little piece of ground", a bolt hole for tough times, if you will. If could rig up an independent energy source, such as wind or water power, so much the better.

For my father believed that "They", meaning the people in power, I guess, would eventually try to control the populace through Six Steps:

1) Long before Jimmy Carter and OPEC, Dad expounded on his view that They would manufacture a phony energy crisis and that oil prices would soar. Eventually, he thought, they might go up to as high as $2 a gallon (a little off the mark there!) but then, they would subside and the people would be happy that their representatives who'd managed the crisis had their best interests at heart. In the aftermath, those who controlled energy would hold the levers of power.

2) Step Two would be a push to break the unions. My father's prediction was that they would choose one particular union and convince the people of its outrageously unfair demands. When it was sufficiently unpopular, it would be crushed with the blessing of other American workers. (PATCO, anyone?) One by one the other major unions would begin to topple.

"They won't tolerate a highly-paid workforce with as much excess income as we have now. By the time you're 40 (which was in in 1986 when I wrote this column), you'll see people standing in bread lines (now, called soup kitchens) again and if you're fortunate enough to be working, you'll be making close to minimum wage. It will take most of your income to pay for the basics - food, shelter, transportation."

Step Three. Breaking labor would be following by dispossessing the family farmer. Dad didn't think both things would happen at once because, They couldn't take a chance that labor and the farmers, typically somewhat adversarial, would align as allies.

"By the end of the century," he told me, "the small farmer will be on his knees. If he's still farming, he'll be nothing more than a tenant to the banks."

In conjunction with the others, Step Four would consist of encouragement by the government of more and more installment debt with less and less savings. Dad thought the Communists were stupid to rule their people through repression when they could convince people to give up their freedom voluntarily by extending them unlimited credit.

I remember him saying, "when a man is ass over elbows in debt, he can't go on strike for better wages, he can't protest, he can't quit, because he needs his paycheck to keep his creditors off his back."

About the time, these other events were taking place, Dad thought businesses would begin to stress the thinking of thoughts rather than the making of things as the key to the country's economy. There would be few good jobs for young men who got out of high school and started a family. The vast middle class workforce, our former economic backbone, would become superfluous.

"Wait and see," Dad said, "by this time, you'll see that the same group of men are on the boards of directors of all the largest corporations."

Lastly, would be Step Six. "When you see the insurance companies come from behind the scenes in a naked power grab, you'll know it's almost over. If you haven't protected yourself by then, my girl, you'll be in a world of trouble."

An eccentric man, my father. I wish I'd paid more attention to him when I had the chance.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Tiger's Troubles

Some people are outstanding in particular areas of their lives. Case in point, Tiger Woods and Bill Clinton. Tiger is an exceptional golfer; Clinton is an exceptional politician. That is what they offer us and that is all we have a right to expect. But Americans are naive. We want our heroes to be well-rounded in their perfection and free of human frailty. We like them perched up there high on their pedestals.

But, we are almost always doomed to disillusionment because, of course, it is the rare person who can live up to what we require of them to remain on that pedestal.

Most of us are fortunate if we excel in one endeavor, be it sports or art or invention. It doesn't follow that having reached that level of achievement, we are free of fault in every other part of our lives. Being the best at politics, golf, investing, singing, etc. doesn't protect us from exhibiting weakness regarding sex or gambling or substance abuse.

Come on, people, Tiger is a golfer for God's sake. He fascinates us by providing us a show that no one else can. He enthralls us with his incredible talent. Isn't that enough? No? Well, how about the massive amount of money he donates to charity through his foundation? Still not enough?

Oh, you say he has to also be true to his wife, loving toward his family, appreciative of his fans and, in addition, he has to go to church every Sunday. Well, you know what? I think you better find yourself another hero/heroine. Mother Teresa is the only one I can think of who might have met your criteria.

And Bill. We elected him to be our president. We hoped he'd be an excellent one and for the most part, I believe he was. He was known as a president who worked his heart out for us. Spent less time on vacation and at Camp David than any of the others. Put our budget in surplus. Lowest unemployment rate ever. Highest stock market ever. No piddley little wars, like Grenada, to stroke his ego. But, he faltered on the rocky shore of sex as we all know and was impeached as a result. No flawed leaders allowed in our White House! Like there are any other kind.

You can be a great football player and be violent; you can be a great baseball player and be a gambler; you can be a great actor and be an alcoholic; you can be a great politician and be addicted to sex. As far as I'm concerned, none of that is any of our business unless it affects the bargain you made with us and that's to satisfy us on the field, on the stage or in the Senate.

We don't own these people's lives because we watch them or listen to them or elect them. There is no such thing as a role model. We should teach our children to admire skill without expecting perfection and to assume that professional honor may not carry over into the personal. Greatness is something to be aspired to but for most of us, there will be some slips along the way. Those slips don't necessarily negate our accomplishments.

Tiger is still the world's best golfer. Can we continue to respect him for that?

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Same Old, Same Old

It looks as if any effective healthcare legislation is dead, just as I predicted months ago. It's not that I'm psychic, just that I've been through this movie before, so I could just about guess how the debate would go. In the end, they'll pass a little something, enough so the Democrats can brag to their constituents that they passed a healthcare bill, little enough so the Republicans can brag to their constituents that they gutted it into a farce. The Republicans will be more right than the Democrats.

And in the end, what will have been a prime factor in the downfall of health care? Why, that old bugaboo, abortion, the scene of so many of our legislative crimes, the same issue that has torn us apart for generations.

Funny, how we continue to tie ourselves in knots arguing about whether or not children should have to be born then pay so little attention to the end result. My job is to interview low income citizens to help them find pro bono counsel for their legal problems. Although I haven't recorded the statistics, I don't have to. I know from first-hand experience that children are the cause of most of my clients' legal and financial and emotional woes.

I have the desperate Moms whose partners (sometimes these are husbands but more often, they are not) have disappeared, taking any responsibility for their children with them when they go. Therefore, her family survives, barely, via food stamps, Section 8 housing, Medicaid, and what we in Indiana label, TANF (Temporary Assistance for Needy Families), which is cash in the amount of approximately $229 a month per child. The temporary part of TANF is a joke because what is she going to do to to make it temporary? Not take a low paying job because that would risk her benefits and only a fool would trade something for nothing. Get an education? Maybe for some, if she can figure out how to find decent daycare and get to classes with the piece of crap car that is all she can afford. And if she still has the determination and dedication after struggling with kids and poverty on a day to day basis.

I have the frantic Dads, some of them able and willing to pay support for their children. Eager to remain a part of the kids' lives but that's not how Mom wants it. She has an excuse every time he calls to make arrangements for his visitation. The child is sick or staying with a friend or whatever, whatever. His recourse is to file Contempt for Failure to Comply with Visitation against her. They go to court. The judge gives her a lecture. She must comply with his Order. Except she doesn't. So, he takes her to court again. It is a vicious cycle they engage in until he finally loses heart and gives up. Does this mean that at least he'll get out from under his child support obligations. Oh, no. Child support and Visitation are not linked in the law's eyes. He'll keep on paying whether he is ever allowed to have a relationship with his kids or not.

Or she relocates to another state with his children, although she is supposed to file an Intent to Relocate with the court 90 days before she moves and wait for the judge's permission. She doesn't, and what happens then is....nothing. I've never known any state to extradite a parent who moved without waiting for a court order. He has no clue where she and the children are at even though she is supposed to keep him informed. The State damned well knows because she'll make sure to sign up for her support to be sent to her new location. The money will be taken out of his pay. You'd think the Child Support office would tell him but they won't. It seems he has no right to be informed.

I have hysterical mothers who have received court papers notifying them that the father of their children has filed to take custody from them. He has a decent job and can afford an attorney; she can't. And that's where I come in. I try to find her representation so it will be a somewhat fair fight. But most of my attorneys are reluctant to take custody cases for free because they are ugly and often, never-ending. I've seen cases where a multitude of filings are hurled at one another over years until the only thing that ends it is the children growing up.

Child support offices are set up to help custodial parents so that the payors are left to fend for themselves. Child support isn't modified on a dime. If your child support was based on a good job from which you are now laid off, good luck getting it changed in a timely manner. Now you're living on unemployment benefits but your same amount of support is being deducted from your check, leaving you almost nothing to survive on yourself.

Get too far behind, for whatever reason, and you'll eventually come to the attention of the Prosecutor's office. If your arrearage mounts up too high, charges will be filed against you. You could end up in jail. Or you can have your professional license revoked or your tax refund attached or your driver's license suspended.

All these laws had a positive rationale. In general, it is in the best interests of the government to insist that parents help support their children but, in reality, the way they are administered is often wildly unfair.

I have emotional young fathers. Their ex-girlfriend is pregnant and now she wants nothing to do with him, doesn't even want to acknowledge that the child is his. She just wants him out of her life. "But it's my baby too," he cries, "surely, I have some rights!" Well, maybe - if you can pay to have a paternity test done and if we can find you an attorney and if you want to take the chance of putting yourself on the line to pay support for the next 21 years even though she might flee with a child you'll never see.

Or I have the opposite. He signed the birth certificate even though he wasn't sure, you know, that the baby was his because he loved her and was willing to accept the child as his own. But, now, she's broken up with him. She's keeping the baby from him but she's filed for support!

I have cases in which Mom didn't file for support right away but finally, she does (perhaps because the State requires her to name the father if she collects any benefits for the baby, such as Medicaid). So, after all this time, he gets a notice to come to court and ends up owing a huge debt of arrearage, dating back to the birth which, he has considered a non-event until now. Good luck paying for the next two decades, son.

I have heartbroken grandparents trying to get guardianship of their grandchildren. Neither the young father or mother are responsible enough to function as parents. They don't work; they're on drugs; their homes, if they have homes, are filthy; they're neglectful, perhaps even abusive. Tearful Grandma and Grandpa tell me tragic stories about the conditions in which their grandchildren exist.

And Child Protective Services, supposedly the agency that moves to protect children? I'll leave that pathetic story for later.

In my experience, the younger generations shrug at the idea of marriage. It doesn't occur to them that marriage is for the protection of themselves and their children. Marriage creates a legal family. If that family fails, a dissolution of marriage sets the conditions regarding custody, child support and visitation. Lays everything out with at least an attempt at fairness. She's the mother; he's the father. They both have rights and privileges under those designations.

Forego marriage and it all becomes a big mess. No one quite knows where they stand without a series of hearings so the judge can try to straighten it out. Usually, no one is happy with the end result.

I've had young mothers come to see me because Partner A signed the birth certificate but Partner B was really the father. Now, she's split with Partner A and she and Partner B are together. Can I find her an attorney who can help her get the birth certificate changed so that Partner B is deemed the legal father and the baby's last name can be changed to his?

All this makes me want to grit my teeth in frustration. I want to ask, "do you not give a single moment's thought to the consequences of having a baby?" The unfortunate answer is: no, a lot of them don't.

And while this is going on, what our politicians fight about is abortion. I would love to sit everyone of them down and force them to listen to me for about a week. I would love to ask, "while you're spending all this time worrying about bringing more babies into this world, do you ever spare a freakin' minute to think about the ones who are already here?"

The politicians and the pro-lifers and the priests who are more concerned with fetuses than actual babies make me sick.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Losers

The casinos in Las Vegas during my visit this time took my money even more greedily than I remember them doing in the past. Maybe I'm just looking back through rose-colored glasses and it's not so or perhaps, times are tough all over and they need the income more than they used to. It's not that I cared that much. I brought the amount I felt I could afford to spend and I expected that most likely I'd go home without it, just as it would have been if I'd gone to, say, Disney World instead.

But couple my casino losses with what happened in NASCAR on Sunday and it was definitely disheartening. I went up to my room to watch the race in an upbeat mood despite my dwindling stash of cash because Jimmie had escaped disaster at Talladega the week before and was coming into Texas with an almost insurmountable lead of 194 points. I had barely settled in when on the third lap, he crashed. Crashed hard.

The 48 car looked like it was headed for the hauler to be sent back home to North Carolina. Instead, Chad directed Jimmie to the garage where the car was all but rebuilt. An hour and eight minutes later, it was back on the track, limping along to gain as many laps and points as possible. When the green flag flew, he had finished 38th and lost 111 points. Oh. My. God. What looked like a sure lead toward the championship was ripped apart along with the sheet metal and rubber on the car.

When the girls and I went to Las Vegas in the past, we jokingly flashed one another the "Loser" sign, by making an L with our forefinger and thumb. When the race was over, I gave Jimmie the old L while he was being interviewed. I thought maybe he'd be able to sense my sympathy psychically even if he couldn't actually see me.

The next week, Jimmie bounced back, winning at Phoenix in triumphant fashion.

Me? It's going to take me slightly longer to recover.

Who is Doing Who a Favor?

In early November, I met John and Lisa in Las Vegas. I love Las Vegas and hadn't been there for a few years. There was a lot new to see as there always seems to be in that ever-changing city. We stayed at the Paris where the kids had comped rooms. The Paris is the most up-scale hotel I've ever stayed at in Las Vegas. I'd spent the previous night at the Hyatt Regency in Indianapolis, compliments of a plan administrator's retreat, sponsored by the Pro Bono Committee. The Hyatt is also a step above my usual lodging choices. When I'm paying myself, I'm normally a Quality Inn/Best Western/Baymont, etc. kind of girl.

Here is what is odd about that: at my mid-priced hotels, wireless internet access is always free and so is parking and they always have a coffee pot in the room. As an "I want coffee instantly upon arising" traveler, this is extremely important to me.

So, this time I stay, first, at the Hyatt Regency, both more prestigious and more expensive than my typical on-the-road digs. The Hyatt does feature an in-room coffee pot but they charge $9.99 to log on to the internet for 24 hours. In addition, parking costs $20 ($28 plus tip if you use the valet, which I did because their parking garage was full and I didn't want to trundle my bag from a block away).

The next night, I move on to the Paris, which is even more expensive than the Hyatt (and, of course, it is in Las Vegas which certainly adds to its desirability). At the Hyatt, it cost $14.95 to use the internet for 24 hours AND they don't offer a coffee pot in your room, which I think is probably because they want you to order the $10-for-4-cups room service coffee. And I actually don't even have a problem with that except room service doesn't begin until 6:00 a.m. Las Vegas time, which happened to be 9:00 a.m. Indiana time. I haven't slept until 9 o'clock in the morning for decades. I should have asked the kids how much it cost them to leave their rental car in the Paris parking garage but I forgot. I assume it is probably even more than the Hyatt Regency in Indianapolis.

It strikes me as strange that the more you pay for a hotel room, the fewer amenities you are offered. Everything else is more or less the same. You know, when you've seen one king-sized bed and a toilet and a television and a hotel chair, you've pretty much seen them all. So, it just must be snobbery that leads them to the attitude that you should pay an extra $15.00 a day to use the internet at the Paris when it's free at the Baymont Inn.

And here's another thing. At the Hyatt Regency, the concierge happily offers to print off your boarding pass for your flight. I thought that was a thoughtful and convenient service. I figured I'd be afforded the same for my flight home from Las Vegas. But, no. At the Paris, you are directed to an internet kiosk where a computer is connected to a printer so you can print your own boarding pass. The only problem is that you must purchase a minimum of 5 minutes of time which, considerately, they allow you to put on a charge card in case you lost all your actual cash in their casino. I didn't pay any attention to how much 5 minutes cost because I had no choice so I just did it. In addition to purchasing a minimum of 5 minutes (although it takes about 30 seconds to get your boarding pass), they also charge printing fees of $1 per page. Every boarding pass I've ever printed is one page but at the Paris kiosk, it is two pages. The second page contains one tiny line of incomprehensible nonsense at the top but for this, you pay the extra buck.

You wonder why people don't complain. Seems like for the price you pay at the Paris, you should at least get a free freakin' wireless internet connection. Do the affluent people who stay at these kinds of places all the time just not care about getting ripped off? Do they not even realize that not every place charges for the internet or thinks it is a privilege to park at their hotel when you're a guest there? Or charges a fee of $25 per visit to use their gym as they do at the Paris? Especially, when you are probably also leaving a big hunk of money in their casino?

The difference is that at my mid-class hotels, they think that I am doing them a favor to stay with them while at the upper-class ones, it is the other way around.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Religion and Judgment

Some of my Facebook friends are having a mini-discussion about beliefs and issues and what being judgmental means. Most of them are Christians. It almost seems to me that to be religious translates into being inherently judgmental. Religions usually come with a full set of rules and regulations and laws. If you have faith in your religion then you must also believe in these various tenets - so it is natural to make distinctions between the people who abide by what is "right" as your particular dogma defines it and those who don't. Even those especially kindly people who don't condemn their fellow man for straying have, at heart, the desire to bring them into the fold of salvation.

Then there are people like me. I don't believe anything. I don't disbelieve anything either. I'm an agnostic. I just say I don't know. Furthermore, I don't think anyone else knows either, not for sure, no matter how much they profess to have the true answers. Personally, I don't care what faith anyone else follows. More power to them if they find comfort in Christianity or Buddhism or Paganism. Life can be frightening without boundaries to guide us. Sure, we may slip outside them now and then but most religions offer the means to find forgiveness for our transgressions, whether through prayer or confession or apology.

I find that a lot of Christians are offended when I verbalize my lack of belief even if I'm only answering a question and not trying to pry anyone away from their religion, something I'd never do. Usually, their response lies in indignantly quoting the Bible in a "there, take that!" tone of voice, as if they have proven their point once and for all, discussion over. I usually just let it go because if I say what I think, which is that I respect the Bible, even though I don't necessarily accept it, they are aghast. Most often, the discussion ends with being told I'm going to hell (something else I don't believe in, so this pronouncement doesn't affect me much).

If there is a God, I'm not convinced that s/he feels about issues the way we think He does (I'll stick with He here since the most common belief is that God is a male, which considering that most religions were started by men is understandable, I guess). For instance, my own opinion is that God probably doesn't care one way or the other if people are gay since, after all, if he created everything, I assume that means he thought of up the concept of heterosexual and homosexual. Maybe gays are only here to test the rest of us for compassion and understanding.

But even if He does disapprove of same gender sex, it seems like that's their business to work out with Him and not ours. The 85-90 or so percent of us who are straight struggle enough to stay true to our own principles so maybe being faithful spouses and caring parents and generous neighbors and helpful co-workers is what we should concentrate on.

I could think of a hundred Bible quotes right off the top of my head that we ignore every day. "Give what you have to the poor and follow me", for instance, hardly translates into "thou shalt not pass health care." We are lots more focused on the verses that point out the other guys' sins than the ones that point out ours.

I always have to smile in amusement when someone who has just experienced a tragedy, expresses the belief that "I only got through it because of my faith". It is so typical of the sense of superiority that goes along with religious belief. What do they think happens to people who don't have faith? Do we just disintegrate into a puddle of goo? Nope, you know what? We grit our teeth and get on with life just like you do. Christians don't have exclusive ownership of the ability to exhibit grace under pressure.

We say that God created us in his image but, actually, we've created God in our own image. Our God tends to have the sames biases and prejudices as we have ourselves. Imagine that. If I believed in God, my God would be a liberal and an environmentalist. He'd be kindly father figure, tolerant of our frailties, rather than a harsh authoritarian. My God wouldn't be the type to kill anyone's firstborn or to send a plague of locusts to destroy our crops or drown all of us but one boatload.

The fact is that none of us know the absolute truth and we won't until we die....and maybe not even then. In the meantime, all we can do is the best we can.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Fall Infestations

Fall is my favorite season but there are a couple things about it that I don't like. One of them is mice and the other is ladybugs. They infest my house, each taking a floor. The mice take over the downstairs; while the ladybugs rule the upstairs.

For some reason, mice have an affinity for the electrical cord on the hand mixer. They ignore the ($5) bag of dogfood sitting on the floor and go directly to the drawer than holds the ($20) mixer, where they gnaw off every bit of rubber coating, leaving nothing but bare wire. This is the third mixer that has bit the dust due to mice. They aren't attracted to any other cord - not the coffee pot or toaster or blender. I'd love to talk mouse talk long enough to ask them, "what the hell is it with you people and the mixer cord?"

This year, I've also had to replace pasta, crackers and cereal which got eaten before I knew the mice had staged their annual pilgrimage to the house. Now the cereal is on top of the freezer while the bread and noodles are crammed into the metal bread drawer along with the mixer.

Mom refuses to allow traps in the house. She says she'd be a nervous wreck waiting for the snap that indicated a dead (or even worse, wounded) mouse. If I wasn't home, she'd have to leave until I got back because she couldn't stand to think of a mouse body in the drawer.

So she puts out De-Con or Mouse Kill. She's been doing this for a couple weeks now. Every day she checks and every day, the bait is gone so she puts more down and by the next morning, that's gone too. I think the mice's digestive systems must have mutated, allowing them to flourish on De-Con.

Meanwhile, I go up to bed to discover huge clumps of lady bugs (not really lady bugs like we used to have, the cute little red and black spotted ones - these are bigger, orange Asian beetles and they bite) in the window frame and lady bugs crawling around on the lamp shade, creating monster bug shadows on the wall, and lady bugs wandering across the ceiling and in the ashtray and on my pillow.

I was afraid to spray the room with Raid for fear I'd die of Raid asphixiation so I sprayed them to death with Rave (hair spray) instead, on the grounds that I've been subjecting my respiratory system to clouds of hair spray for 50 years and if it was going to kill me off, it would have happened by now.

Let me tell you, Rave Mega Hold stops the little buggers in their tracks. It is kind of a lady bug equivalent of embalming. I went to sleep surrounded by a thousand lady bug corpses along with the body of one lone moth.

My secretary told me that I could prevent the influx of lady bugs by placing moth balls against the foundation of my house so Mom got some today at the store. I'll let you know if it works. In the meantime, I wish I knew what to do about the mice.

Success!

Well, the chili cook-off was a huge success again this year. We finally reached a long-held goal which was to have 100 teams register. We worry every year about the weather which can be iffy by the third week in October. This year was unseasonably cold but it didn't seem to stop people from coming.

We worried about the economy this year too and whether it would keep people home but actually, the chili cook-off is a bargain - $5.00 for an afternoon of family entertainment - 100 chilis to taste (if anyone is brave enough to try them all), the creativity of the showmanship contestants, music, the chance of winning prizes and at the heart of it all, the fun of running into friends you may not see often.

For the most part, our committee has consisted of the same people for its entire existence. The cook-off was the brain child of Bill Gerding and Steve Bowman. They conscripted the rest of us to come along for the ride and it has succeeded beyond anyone's wildest expectations. It is now the largest chili cook-off east of the Mississippi. In little old Wabash, Indiana!

There is a moral to the story of the cook off and that is you can do good and have fun at the same time and that starts with the committee itself. We meet in the back room of the Market Street Grill where we drink and/or smoke as we choose. We don't go by Roberts Rules of Order, in fact, we don't have much order at all. People jump in, interrupt, make fun of one another, throw in their thoughts as they please. Sometimes, we joke and laugh, losing our train of thought so that we have to go back and start over.

Somehow, in spite of what might seem like disorganization to those who run a tighter ship in so far as committee meetings go, we get everything done. It all comes together on time. Everyone does their part. Cook-off day dawns and the trains run on time.

I've have been on many boards in my years in government and attended meeting to numerous to count. Recently, I've resigned from all of them. I've done my part. Time to hand the reins over to the younger generation. No more City Council meetings or Board of Zoning Appeals or AACTION or Domestic Violence Task Force or Chamber of Commerce Governmental Affairs or Animal Control Board or..... all with their very formal Agendas and Minutes and Rules and Regulations. The only one I've stayed with is the Chili Cook-off Committee because it's more like play than work which proves, again, that it is possible to do good and have fun all at the same time if you have the right people.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Obama and the Nobel Peace Prize

My main reaction to President Obama winning the Nobel Peace prize was disgust. According to what I've read, the Nobel committee began consideration of nominees in February. February! Obama hadn't even been president for two months then. What could he possibly have done at that point to be a candidate for such an illustrious award?

"Well, isn't it prestigious for America to have our president win the Nobel?" people to whom I've grumbled have asked me and my answer is, "no, it isn't prestitious if its a farce. It isn't prestigious if people believe it was a rigged election. It isn't prestigious if it was based on politics instead of solid achievement."

Did the committee mean for the peace prize to be a reward to the American people, by way of Obama, for having rid ourselves of the evil Bush/Cheney cabal in favor of a more politically correct president (politically corect, that is, in the eyes of people who consider the Nobel a commendation of the highest order). Was it meant as an symbolic honorific to America for proving that we have thrown off the shackles of racism in electing a black leader?

President Obama himself expressed his surprise at having been named the recipient of the Nobel Peace prize. But he shouldn't have been surprized because this has become his m.o. I think his greatest talent is convincing people to give him honors, awards, prizes....and elections he hasn't yet earned. He should be used to it by now.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

I Don't Care Who People Sleep With...

My pre-going to work ritual includes watching Morning Joe on MSNBC while I put my make up on. I think I watch this program to get my blood stirring for the challenges ahead because, more often than not, Morning Joe pisses me off, most especially Our Lady of the Self-Righteous, Mika Brzezinski.

In a perfect liberal world, Mika would be the Chief of the Lifestyle Police because she knows what is best for all of us. People like me would be arrested and sentenced to walk five miles a day, eat a fat and sugar-free diet, drive alternative-fuel vehicles and watch only Mika-approved television programs (goodbye NASCAR with your ear-splitting, gas-guzzling engines and white-males-only entry application and idolatry of elemental men who settle their differences with skill and speed on a dangerous racetrack instead of smug discussion behind the safety of a podium).

And in the New World Order, we would have to have our sexual relationships approved by Mika. We would be allowed to consort only with our own kind because it goes without saying that in any affair between superior and subordinate, the subordinate is being coerced, at least, if the subordinate is a female. And that is true, even if the woman, herself, is screaming that it was voluntary and consensual and she's an adult who knew what she was doing and doing what she wanted to do.

"No!" says Mika, "you're a weak-willed victim even if you're too dumb to realize it!"

Which brings me to David Letterman. Who had an affair, or several affairs, with women on his staff. Which was found out by a producer who was in a tough financial situation. Who tried to blackmail Letterman for $2,000,000. Letterman went to the authorities who set up the producer and caught him after Letterman wrote him a check. At that point, of course, the story broke and became public. Letterman confessed on his show, rather gracefully, I thought. He handled it in a gently humorous fashion, which is probably what you'd suspect out of a comedian. Most of the people in his audience laughed. Of course, he was trying to protect himself. Wouldn't you?

All of which sent Mika soaring into the ozone layer of outrage. She was indignant that Letterman resorted to jokes when she thought torrents of tears, followed by a hiri-kiri sword would have been more appropriate. She was disgusted that his viewers, for the most part, agreeably, let him off the hook. She was irritated by the men on Morning Joe, none of whom took it quite as seriously as she did, being only mildly critical of Letterman. And Mika was horribly upset that none of the women involved were willing to come forward and file charges for sexual harassment.

Because, of course, it had to be sexual harassment, didn't it? There was no possibility that these were grown women making voluntary choices to have sex with who the hell they wanted to have sex with. Wouldn't surprise me if that didn't happen now. I've read on the blogs that some newspapers and magazines are offering big bucks to the first one who spills her guts. I'm sure Mika will have her on to cuddle and hug and urge her forward to admit how she was taken advantage of and used because she had no clue what was happening. Poor little pitiful thing.

So who will be the manipulator then? The man with whom she had sex or the one (assuming it is a man) who writes her a very large check for her teary-eyed story?

And it seems to be forgotten in all of this that David Letterman himself is a victim - of a blackmailer. And extortion is an actual crime, unlike extra-marital sex. But Mika evidentally isn't concerned about man-on-man offenses because I've barely heard a word about about the awfulness of the blackmailer.

Here's the thing. I don't care who people have sex with as long as it doesn't involve violence or children. I didn't care when it was Bill Clinton and Monica Lewinsky. I didn't care when it was all those Republican representatives and senators whose names I forget now because there were so many of them. I don't care when it is John Edwards. That doesn't mean I don't think he's slime but I don't care. What he does is between him and Elizabeth.

And if it would happen to be me, I don't need Mika Brzezinski rushing to my rescue. I'm fully capable of freely making my own decisions and standing by them without anyone's assistance, thank you very much. I resent being told that my sexual choice was made out of foolishness and that I need my betters to sort it out for me.

In short, I believe Mika should mind her own damn business and let the rest of us do the same.

Monday, October 5, 2009

The More Things Change.....

I have been engaged with a member of my NASCAR discussion group and it has gotten pretty heated at times. He's a long time fan and he hates NASCAR, not the sport, but the sanctioning body itself. NASCAR may be the only sport that is privately owned and operated. It is a dictatorship. NASCAR makes its own rules and enforces them with whatever sanctions and penalties it pleases. At least half of all NASCAR fans believe it is corrupt and dishonest. To them, it does things like fixing drug tests so it can ban a driver it doesn't like or cheating on a speeding penalty or inspection to favor a particular team.

It is ironic that I left politics for essentially, these same reasons (the leadership manipulating elections to dictate the outcome, i.e. Obama versus Hillary) and now find myself embroiled in the same kinds of arguments I fled politics to NASCAR to escape.

This all started with my fellow discussion group member practically from the beginning but it has recently gotten more intense. Our latest round of debate was precipitated when NASCAR took Jimmie Johnson's and Mark Martin's cars back to the R&D Center for a post-race inspection after they finished one, two at Richmond. NASCAR said that it warned Hendrick Motorsports that while both cars were legal, the tolerances when the templates were used, was so small, they risked failing inspection if measurements varied by so much as a thousandth. They advised Hendrick it might be wise to back off rather than taking that risk. Which is where the story should have ended. But it didn't, because rumors became rampant that Jimmie (not Mark though, of course, because it isn't p.c. in NASCAR to say anything detrimental about Mark Martin) actually failed the inspection but NASCAR lied so as not to have to penalize him.

It all boils down to me preferring to take NASCAR's word and my friend (?) preferring to believe the sanctioning body is willing to risk it's multi-billion dollar industry to lie, cheat, steal and I don't know, probably commit murder as well. He gets off on his anti-NASCAR passion.

It is somewhat amusing to look back on our past posts. I am the classic Democrat, trying to use soft persuasion, walking softly so as not to hurt feelings, speaking in weasel phrases, like "I could be wrong, but...", never resorting to name calling or making the deads nuts claim that I couldn't possibly be wrong. Meanwhile, he's 100 percent Republican in his debating style. (I don't really know his political affiliation but I assume he'd consider this opinion on my part a compliment)

He accuses me of living in a fairy tale world and in a land of "Jimmie love" in which I refuse to accept that my driver is a cheater. He's got his 40+ wins and those 3 championships, not through skill and luck and strategy, but because NASCAR has the fix in for him. I am the soft-headed romantic while he is the tough-as-nails realist. I am obviously too stupid to know when I'm being conned. Occasionally, he apologizes if he "offended" me but then he goes ahead and offends me again, or he would if I offended easily, which I don't.

So, I left the bare-knuckle warfare of politics to find peace in NASCAR, only to discover that nothing much has changed.

Democrat Disappointment

I'm sorry for some of my friends. They had so much faith in Barack Obama, it was scary. I was a Hillary supporter but even if I hadn't been passionately in her corner, I would have been uncomfortable with the Obama worship some of them exhibited. To me, it verged on the cult-like, although it made them furious if you expressed that view. If you tried to talk them down, they lobbed ever more extravagant adjectives at you. "Obama, the Enlightened One".

I was accused of being old and cynical and perhaps I am, but I don't believe in putting human beings on pedestals - not movie stars, not athletes, and certainly not politicians. People who impute near God-like qualities to other men or women are bound to be disappointed. There are some folks who excel in various areas - in charm, in skill, in intellect, in courage - but in the end, they're simply people with their own fears and frailties.

Some of the Democrats really bought into the whole bipartisan concept the Obama campaign pushed so relentlessly. They truly believed that through the sheer power of his mesmerizing personality, Barack would win over the Republicans, so that we'd all be singing Kumbaya together, unlike, of course, my gal, Hillary, whom they would fight tooth and nail. With Obama, the lion would lie down with the lamb.

Uh huh, sure thing. The Republicans impeached Bill and they swift-boated Kerry but Obama would pass his hand across their heads and convert them? I never believed that for one minute. For whatever reason, our national politics have degenerated into civil war. The Dems still don't want to admit it even as the Republicans are launching nuclear warheads in their direction.

Under the circumstances, I thought the best thing the Democrats could do was send a proven warrior to the front lines but a majority of my party disagreed. They were in favor Mahatma Obama and peace negotiations. How's that workin' out for you, folks? Have you seen any signs that the Republicans are starting to come around yet?

Think they are going to lie down and help Barack pass health care? If you do, you must see pots of gold at the end of rainbows. I think that, once again, a health care plan was murdered in cold blood. Oh, something may be passed that is sold to us as an "incremental improvement". They'll display the corpse and try to convince us it's still breathing, but don't believe it. The insurance companies and the politicians in their pockets, have screwed us again and the saddest thing is how enthusiastically we cooperated in our own betrayal. "By God, don't you dare give me healthcare!" citizens screamed at town hall meetings, convinced by the gazillion dollar pay-offs industry lobbyists made to our representatives and the booming voices of people like Rush Limbaugh who are able to pay for their drug rehab with a personal check.

Some people expected miracles from Obama but so far, they aren't coming to pass and I doubt they ever will. I never thought he had super-natural abilities. I thought he was bright, a nice guy, a well-intentioned guy, a not very experienced guy. I thought he'd probably be a decent president if he was tough enough not to be destroyed by the Republicans. I also thought he was a middle-of-the-road guy and not at all the liberal knight in shining armor so many Democrats were praying for. I thought he was a half-a-loaf compromiser.

So far, I'm not disappointed because I never annointed Barack Obama as the Democrat savior. For those who did, reality is beginning to bite.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Sweet Sixteen to Senior Citizenship

I had lunch with Donna today. We became friends the summer before our junior year of high school when I first moved to Wabash. From Sweet16 to 63. Hard to believe that many years have passed but our 45th class reunion was this summer, proving to us that we are, in fact, senior citizens.

Between us, we've been married to five husbands, borne two children, lived in several states and worked at jobs too numerous to mention. She was a telephone operator once, sitting in a room all night by herself, sticking cords into holes to connect callers. She used to dial me from West Virginia at 3:00 a.m. when her work was slow. Difficult to imagine in an era of cell phones and instant connections that phone calls happened that way. She also opened the first video store in our town when most of us didn't even know what a VCR was. Since then, they've become obsolete. I wrote a column and was provided one of the earliest computers by my syndicate when almost no private citizen had a computer. I could even send my columns electronically...at 1200 baud. Yee-hah!

None of the factories where either of us worked exist any longer, like the old General Tire down the street from me. Many Kentucky families, including Donna's own, moved up here to Indiana to get jobs at General Tire during World War II. My family moved to Wabash because of General Tire too. Mom was a Quality Assurance Representative for the federal government sent here to inspect gas masks.

I can't remember if Donna ever took her turn there but I did, cutting the excess rubber off of gasket pieces for a short time. It was piece work and the older women there warned me off producing too much which would cause them to get time-studied and the rate adjusted upward.

General Tire changed its name several times as it was sold and re-sold. A new sign would be put up out front but no matter what it said, we still called the place General Tire. It was such an elemental part of this community, we couldn't imagine that it ever wouldn't be there. Now, it's closed and weeds are growing up in the parking lot. Almost no place we have today pays as well, relatively speaking, as General Tire did. The workers came off their shifts black as pitch and stinking of rubber compound. They were, collectively, a rather rough bunch, prone to acts of violence during strikes. We felt sorry for them, having to spend their lives there in that hot, ugly place but wouldn't we like to have it back now? Thousands of Wabash families were raised on generous GT paychecks.

As for me, I worked as a realtor (good luck surving on what you can make selling houses in Wabash these days), a bartender (in a rock and roll bar where we had so much fun, most of us would have worked for nothing, and sometimes did when, it was all we could do to scrape the money together to pay the band on Saturday night) and a secretary (serving both sweethearts and shitheads - my favorite bosses: a Democrat mayor and a Republican sheriff). I was also employed in other factories bending pipe and cutting hose and taping harnesses, running a laminating machine and a drill press, soldering and stamping and inspecting. And for one horribly memorable shift, I worked in a chicken house which was a mini-Auschwitz for birds instead of humans. Afterwards, I wouldn't even accept my day's wages, it felt so much like blood money.

I worked at a Sheriff's Department and travelled the country bringing extradited prisoners back to face justice in Wabash County. I didn't care so much about the justice as the fact that most fleeing felons run to cool places, with beach towns being at the top of their list. Transporting a prisoner from Fort Lauderdale isn't exactly like taking a vacation there but, on the other hand, traveling is lots more fun when you do it in a fully marked squad car.

Donna and I both seemed to gravitate to government in our later work lives. I worked for a Mayor, a Sheriff, a Prosecutor, a School Principal. She worked for a high school, a county auditor. Some of our friends went on to the automotive industry and made more money than we did but, nearing retirement, the security of government turned out to be a a positive.

I was consumed by politics; she thought politics was the province of hypocrites and shied away from getting involved, although we both tended to be liberal Democrats.

She loves the Indianapolis Colts and Peyton Manning; I love NASCAR and Jimmie Johnson. We both love to read.

She's a dedicated Grandma; I'm not a Grandma at all.

Sixteen to 63. We have shared graduations and weddings, poverty and maternity, death and divorce, happiness and heartbreak....47 years later we're still facing whatever comes together.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Republicans are Crossing Over.

A few weeks ago, I wrote about how many NASCAR fans I think are certifiable in their penchant for paranoia. Now I have to say the same about the Republicans. (Of course, those two groups may be largely interchangeable so perhaps I'm really talking about the same people).

At a recent meeting of our Chili for Charity Cook-off committee, one of the members, who is a teacher, sounded off loudly about how he would not attend the convocation his school scheduled to allow students to watch a video made by the president to urge them to get their education.

"They can't force me watch!" he declared furiously.

And I'm thinking, "what's the big frickin' deal?"

To hear them tell it, the Republicans believe Barack Obama has Pied Piper-like qualities, able to lure their children, en masse, into converting to socialism, communism, fascism (whatever ism they are most afraid of). Maybe they even doubt their own strength to resist the president's magnetism. Why else would a 64-year-old man find watching a video so fraught?

Schools all over the country were in an uproar about WHAT TO DO! Parents protested that Obama was out to brainwash the youth of America. It couldn't be allowed because, I guess, our students are so weak-minded that even hearing so much as a few words by a president that didn't agree in jot and tittle with their parents' own political philosophy would corrupt them totally, turning them unthinking Obamabots. In today's Republican America, the kids must only be exposed to the party line. There is no such thing as debating issues, listening to opposing points of view, tolerance of the ideas of others....

Most schools ended up letting parents make their own decisions which may be the proper course of action, although I have my doubts about where that resolution eventually takes us? Can parents also make their own choices about curriculum, required reading, letting kids be taught by African-Americans, Hispanics, Muslims? Does it lead to educational anarchy when parents get to call the shots about what or by whom their kids can be taught? I'm more inclined to think that the school system should make the decisions and any parents who disagree should find a private school that suits the comfortable environment of unquestioning non-diversity they require to feel secure, a school where judgement is discouraged in favor of obedience.

And when it finally all came down, what did President Obama say? Why, he encouraged kids to stay in school and get their education. That was about as subversive as it got. I'm sure the parents who saved their children from this kind of terrible propaganda heaved a huge sigh of relief and self-satisfaction.

Get a grip, people. You're losing it.

The Chase is On!

The last few weeks have been rather relaxing. I could watch the NASCAR races without biting my fingernails to the quick because, barring major catastrophe Jimmie's place in the Chase was secure. By the last two races, he'd locked in, so he was absolutely and positively safe.

Now it is back to high stress racing when my nerves start sizzling from the minute the green flag drops until the checkered does however many hours later.

The first 26 races almost seemed to be the tale of two seasons. The high achievers in the first 13 races were not necessarily the high achievers in the second 13. Jimmie and Tony Stewart and Matt Kenseth and Kyle Busch shone at first, then all of them trailed off as time went on. In the end, neither Matt nor Kyle even made the Chase. Jimmie and Tony had built up enough points to stay at the top but face it, their last few races have been dismal.

Meanwhile, Brian Vickers and Denny Hamlin and Kasey Kahne and Mark Martin, all of whom had struggled at the beginning, came on strong at the end. Those are probably the four with the most momentum heading into the Chase races.

Finally, Jeff Gordon, Kurt Busch, Juan Pablo Montoya, Carl Edwards, Greg Biffle and Ryan Newman maintained their place in the point standings, not with flashy performance, but steady competence.

So, if this is a season of divisions, perhaps, we can assume that the field will be tumbled again. That could mean that Jimmie and Tony's string of bad luck has ended and they'll be ready to fire up. Maybe, those who have been blazingly hot in the last several races will cool off. Or possibly the consistent middle will just stay consistent and tortoise their way to the championship while the hares self-destruct around them.

I've always been terrible at predictions but I'll make some none the less, just to show that I have the courage of my NASCAR convictions.

First, I put my faith in past experience. Jimmie and Tony are former champions with generally excellent execution, despite the series of glitches, like oddball lug nuts and inoperative radios and broken axles, that have caught them up in recent races. I think they'll be back at the top during the Chase. I'd include Jeff Gordon in the top three as well, simply because he's kept himself there all year.

Second, I'd be surprised if teams that haven't excelled in the first 26 races suddenly jump into superiority in the last ten (although last year, Kyle Busch was the exception that proves the rule in the opposite direction). This means that Roush will continue to be good but not great. Ryan Newman and Juan Pablo Montoya will remain the middle. (I don't buy the theory that Juan will now take the gloves off and race all out. I'm not sure it would work to establish a dynamic of cautious points racing for the Race to the Chase, then be able to suddenly flip your strategy in the Chase, but we'll see.) Kurt Busch is capable but I'd guess his crew chief leaving him right at the start of the Chase will be at least some distraction. For one thing, I wouldn't think there wouldn't be too much love lost between them (which may be part of the reason Tryson is leaving in the first place) and it may prove difficult for them to work together cooperatively. Busch is already a bit on the temperamental side and now Tryson doesn't have to take any crap.

Third, we wait to see if any of the last of the season high performers can keep it up. If any of them can, I'd say it would be Denny Hamlin because he's been oh-so-close to being in the brotherhood of the elite before, just hovering on that edge. He seems to have found his footing now. It doesn't feel like a flash-in-the-pan, but the real thing.

No so, Brian Vickers. There may be championships in his future, probably are. That whole team is outstanding considering they are only three years old but I believe they'll be tripped up in the end by that very inexperience. They'll fit into that "need to lose one to win one" category.

Kasey Kahne is a hot property right now, capable of winning a championship but I doubt it happens until RPM gets all its ducks in a row and gets settled. They've been such a muddle of mergers and manufacturers that it seems like it would be hard for Kasey to put blinders on and ignore it all. It's bound to bleed through no matter how hard he tries to work around the stress.

Mark Martin - Mark is the one I find it most difficult to be unbiased about. If I put on my objective hat, I have to say that despite his early ups and downs, he seems to have found his stride and that stride could take him right to the championship. He's probably the most driven of them all. Jimmie and Tony and Jeff and Kurt can say they are champions. Whatever happens this year, that will never change. Maybe that takes a tiny bit of the edge off. Their places in the record books are secure.

The rest of them are young. Denny Hamlin and Brian Vickers and Carl Edwards, et al, at least have the assurance that if they don't get the trophy in 2009, they have several years ahead of them to accomplish that goal. By contrast, this is put up or shut up time for Mark. Last chance to git-er-done. That adds an extra element of motivation to Mark's racing and could provide the edge.

So, what do I think is going to happen? I'm afraid to be arrogant enough to predict with any confidence for fear I'll be a jinx....but my fervently hoped for conclusion is Four in a Row for Jimmie.

I may need a ten-week prescription of Valium until we find out.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Computer out of the Hospital

I had no clue where the blaring siren was emanating from or what danger it was trying to warn me about but, judging by the noise level, it was obviously something drastic. Panicked, I ran through the house trying to track its location, finally discovering that it was coming from the computer. The S.O.S. on the screen read: "WARNING! FAN FAILURE! SHUT DOWN AND HAVE SERVICED IMMEDIATELY!"

I instantly pressed the power button to Off. That was on Sunday afternoon. First thing on Monday morning, as soon as they opened, I took it down to Visionary Web. The woman there said it might take a few days to fix it....if it could be fixed. She said he would have to take a look and make a diagnosis. I didn't know who He was but I thought about him in roughly the same way I thought about Dr. Robert after my Dad had his heart attack. The All-Powerful who had my loved one's life in his hands.

My computer is old and faded. I bought it during one of my lowest financial points. It was the cheapest they had at Walmart. It has always done everything I've ever asked of it, never complaining about the clouds of smoke that swirl constantly about its face, never holding it against me when I spilled coffee on its mouse or crumbs into its keyboard. It has held my manuscripts and photos and music downloads with tender, loving care. I love my computer. We are a lot alike. We're getting old but we both keep plugging along. It is one of the least elite of computers; I am one of the least elite of computer users. Many times, it has patiently waited, enduring my curses, as I fiddled and fumbled trying to figure out how to download software or install a program or upload a picture, getting it wrong before I got it right.

While it was in the hospital, I got out my laptop, a much newer computer than the desk top. I hate my laptop. I especially hate the keyboard. I can type about a thousand words a minute on the regular keyboard but I have to resort to hunt and peck on the laptop keyboard. The keys are too close together. There must be a secret "Vanish" key on the laptop keyboard because I'm always sending my Word document or website off into cyberspace without knowing how it happened. Or the cursor mysteriously moves itself to the paragraph above where it was so my words are inserted in the wrong place. Or it creates a new paragraph where I don't want one to be or changes the margins at its own whim. Or I can be right in the middle of reading an interesting article on NASCAR.com when it suddenly shoots me off to a new screen about the history of motor oil.

And I can never quite figure how the cursor pad and buttons equate to a mouse. Or why I have to sign in to Google (which I can never remember my Google password) before I can access my Favorites. Or how to hook the laptop up to a printer.

Anyway, I never quite appreciated how much of a friend my old computer really was, especially in the mornings. My days start with the computer and cigarettes and coffee and silence. Reading my e-mail, catching up on Facebook, roaming through the NASCAR sites, writing on a manuscript. There was a huge gap when I had to do all these things with the laptop, which seemed to enjoy being as uncooperative as possible.

By Friday, I was beside myself. I thought Monday through Friday consisted of "a few days" and I didn't want to go into a long weekend without the computer. So, I called. It seemed they'd been trying to get a'hold of me but called my office where I wasn't, to leave a voice mail asking my permission to run an intensive scan.

"Yes, yes, whatever it takes," I said, "but please, please, try to have it done before the weekend."

They did and it was. I brought it home Friday evening at about 6:00 p.m. Turned out, the only thing wrong was that it was filthy inside. The fan blades were so covered with dirt and dust, they couldn't go around. Besides cleaning out the physical dirt, He also cleaned out old files and registry errors and checked for viruses.

I brought it home. Hooked it up. It has a new lease on life. It's faster than before with all the crud cleaned out of both its innards and its memory. I typed some just for the sake of typing. My fingers flew, hitting only the correct keys. I checked out all my Favorites, just because I could.

I patted it. "I'm so glad to have you home."
"So, are you going to quit smoking in my face?" it asked.
"No," I replied, "but I might not wait until you are on the critical list before I take you for a check up next time."
I thought I heard it sigh but I could have just imagined it.

The King is Dead, Long Live the King

Ah, Teddy, the great lion of the Senate is dead. I wonder who will take his place? No one who is on the scene right now seems even close to being able to fill his shoes. Certainly not the other Massachusetts senator, the mealy-mouthed John Kerry. When Kennedy roared, people listened. No one listens to Kerry. His wife, Teresa, is the lion in that family. On either the Senate floor or in the younger generation of Kennedy's, I see only pale imitations of the patriarch.

I went to Washington once to testify before a Senate policy forum on unemployment that Kennedy was hosting. There were a handful of us, unemployed and poverty-stricken all, who were flown into our nation's capitol to participate. It was heady stuff for us to stay at an elegant hotel in Georgetown, to be wined and dined at a fine restaurant, to ride the senators' little subway between the Capitol building and their office building, to have lunch in the Senate dining room (Senateburger - $5.00, which was a lot in 1984), to visit Kennedy's office to view all the memorabilia of Kennedy accomplishments, including that of JFK's presidency, to be given a limousine ride to see all the landmarks of Washington.

It was obvious even then that Kennedy was a rock star of the Senate. The hearing room was filled with Senators and media people who were all ignoring each other until Kennedy made a late, grand entrance, at which time, every reporter and camera swung as one in his direction. The Boss had arrived.

He greeted each of us at the witness table. I still have the picture of our handshake. But I felt no warmth flowing from him. I got the distinct impression that he was all about the big picture, that he cared about us collectively but not personally. His focus was on issues, not individuals. That wasn't anything I felt slighted by. I acknowledged that his visions were larger than me as a person but that almost every political battle he fought was for the betterment of people like me....the uninsured, the unemployed, the discriminated against.

I turned against him during the primaries of 2008, both he and Caroline, whom I'd long admired, when they supported Barack Obama. To me, that tarnished both of them. I will always believe that they were motivated in large part by the fear that the Kennedy dynasty would be superceded by the Clinton dynasty....and that they weren't about to let that happen. Above all, the Kennedy legacy had to be protected against the upstart Clintons.

I don't know how much their endorsement affected the outcome. It wasn't even enough to enable Obama to carry Kennedy's own state of Massachusetts against Hillary. Both Bill and Hillary Clinton had campaigned for Ted in his last election when he had a surprisingly strong opponent so it was a slap in the face when he took Hillary's rival under his wing during the primaries. I guess his main loyalty was to his family and that's the way it played out. Although I remained an admirer of Senator Kennedy, I never felt the same fondness for Kennedy the man as I'd had before.

Still, Ted Kennedy will remain forever as one of the giants of American politics. He went from being the handsome, spoiled, lazy younger son, with Chappaquidick hanging over his past as an indelible black blot, to losing one brother who was president to losing another brother (who I firmly believe would have been president) to stepping up as the leader of the family. He could have said, "screw politics, the Kennedy's have sacrificed enough for the people," and lived a life of ease, but he didn't. Rather he worked tirelessly for over four decades to improve conditions for those who hadn't been given as much as he had.

Rest in peace, Teddy. You earned your place in history.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

NASCAR Sacrilege

Mark Martin is my least favorite driver. Oh, I know that is almost blasphemy to NASCAR nation because Mark has been nominated for stock car sainthood. Every time he's on t.v., listening to the announcers describe him in terms just short of reverential, I expect to see wings sprouting from his shoulders and a halo floating above his head. I've heard that NASCAR fans are vastly more Republican and conservative than Democrat and liberal and from the message boards I read, I'd say that true. Conservatives have always proudly proclaimed their opposition to political correctness in all its forms, but it turns out, they have their own rigid rules of p.c.-ness and one of them seems to be that never a discouraging word should be heard about Our Hero.

I'm prejudiced against Mark for several reasons. First is simply because even when I was young, I wasn't captivated by the too-good-to-be-true, holier-than-thou Pollyanna character. Heroines (and heroes) are more interesting if they have some human flaws.....and I expect Mark probably does have some flaws. I'd probably warm up to him a little more if I knew what they were but that's not allowed in the "Mark is perfect" mode NASCAR is in. From reporters to drivers to fans, they all know what is expected of them and so they speak the fawning words of flattery that make me want to roll my eyes and say, "oh, please, enough." I expect the driver who said anything but the required, "I look up to Mark soooo much," would be penalized by the sanctioning body.

The second reason for my anti-Mark bias is how much extra credit he gets just for being older. I'm old myself which is why I can get away with pooh-poohing the exaltation of age. Yes, I understand that Mark is 51 and I understand that he works out religiously to remain fit and yes, I think that is admirable but good Lord, he hasn't exactly returned from the dead. He was barely gone before he was back. Because of his age, Mark is judged by a different standard than the other drivers. Everything he accomplishes is seen through the prism of the number of birthdays he's accumulated and he's placed on an undeserved pedestal because of it.

For instance, I guess you're allowed to be nice if you're old. Jimmie Johnson is called a bland, vanilla corporate clone for being gracious and generally positive in interviews but when Mark is the same, its considered being a class act.

Kyle Busch is admired for his "winning is everything" attitude. Even people who don't like him have to admit that he's a great driver. That passionate, go-for-broke spirit seems to be what NASCAR applauds when it is Dale Earnhardt or DW, but when Mark forgoes the win and settles for second by not bumping Kyle out of the way, he's praised for his integrity.

Third, Mark strikes me as a dog in the manger. Oh, how coy he was about letting Rick Hendrick lure him back to racing. He debated; he was dubious; he was doubtful but in the end, he agreed, really, more as a favor to Mr H. than because he really wanted to, don't you know? Because Rick Hendrick appeared to have a plan - let Mark hold a spot with the 5 car in 2009 and then bring Brad Keslowski up from the Nationwide series in 2010. (Hendrick was quoted as saying that Brad was the future of Hendrick Racing).

But Mark has done extremely well with Hendrick equipment and Hendrick resources so after racing a few months, low and behold, it turned out that he wanted to stay on, for sure in 2010, and maybe even longer. And what about Special K anticipating the spot in Cup he thought was his? Well, "sorry about your luck, Kid, 'cause the 5 is mine and I'm keeping it". So, poor Brad is left hanging out to dry, looking around for a ride. We hear now that he's going to be racing for Roger Penske in 2010, not too shabby, but not exactly the primo HMS slot either.

I assume there is a killer instinct lurking beneath Mark's pretense of humility because I doubt you can be competitive in NASCAR's elite series without it. I could be totally wrong about him. Maybe he is every bit as humble and loyal and good and true and honorable (add your own descriptive adjectives here) as he is touted to be but excuse me if I decline to join the hallelujah chorus of Mark Martin adoration.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Citizens Committed to the Constitution

I've been invited to a meeting of a new group that calls itself Citizens Committed to the Constitution, or C3, for short. C3 members are worried about America. They demand that the U.S. return to "the core principles that made this nation great". They ask citizens to join them if:

1) you are alarmed by the present insane borrowing and spending by an out-of-control government;
2) you reject the present march towards socialism by our elected representatives; or,
3) you find yourself wondering where in the world our nation's ethical and moral values have gone.

C3's Mission Statement states that it was created to: "promote the Constitution, its values and principles, and to inspire and empower others to do the same".

I read an article written about C3 in our local paper and also went to their website seeking more information about what they believe in but there wasn't much to explain their philosophy in any detail.

For instance, I wonder if they remember that Bill Clinton ended his presidency with a surplus that had us on the road to paying down our debt? I wonder where they were during the last eight years when George W Bush "insanely borrowed and spent" until we had a higher deficit than we'd had under all the presidents who preceded him, put together! Odd, that C3 would only just now notice this state of affairs.

And I wonder just what they mean by socialism and what they'd give up to get us back to that idyllic time in America's history before we developed these socialist tendencies. Social security, I suppose. Obviously, because the very term SOCIAL security, gives the game away. Damn, here I am just about ready to start collecting too! I guess we'll all be put in charge of taking care of our parents, just like back in the good old days. Or maybe they'll go to the Poor House like they used to when they didn't have children to take them in. But, hell, even the concept of the Poor House is kind of socialistic, isn't it?

And it goes without saying that Medicare will have to go along with social security. And any form of welfare, of course. Let the deadbeats go out and get jobs and if it means their kids go hungry, well, hell, it isn't our fault they had children they're not able to care for.

What else? Highways? National parks? OSHA? (For sure, what do I care if workers have safe conditions when I work in an office)? EPA? (I say, let the factories go back to spewing their pollutants into the air and water - it's the American way - capitalism at its finest). Child labor laws? Food and Drug Administration? (I'm willing to trust the pharmaceutical companies and agribusiness to give us only well-tested, high quality meds and food without government looking over their shoulder, aren't you)? And, damn, I think unemployment benefits should be the first thing to go. People shouldn't get paid for not working. No matter how high the employment rate is, they could get some kind of job if they tried hard enough! And student loans and grants. If you can't afford to pay your college tuition, you haven't got any business going. We'll go back to the way it used to be in our heyday when only the kids of the affluent were eligible for higher education.

I could go on and on about the various government programs we'd be better off without. I sure wish I had lived back in America's glory days when the rich built their magnificent mansions and the rest of us damn well worked our way up by our bootstraps. Maybe if I'm lucky, I'll get to see that again before I die. Of course, I wasn't especially smart and my bootstraps haven't taken me very far and it's too late to start over now so I sure hope they don't take MY social security and Medicare but it's all right if they take everyone else's.

And C3's emphasis on the Constitution? Again, I have to wonder where they've been the last eight years or so. Here are some of the items mentioned in the Constitution:

1) The Writ of Habeas Corpus shall not be suspended except during an Invasion of Public Safety. I guess George W thought 911 qualified since he suspended it.
2) The right of people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers and effects against unreasonable searches and seizures as well as no warrant to be issued without probable cause. This amendment in the Bill of Rights was added in 1791. Seems like the founding fathers were pretty adamant about this so I expect they'd have considered phone calls and electronic messages part of "effects" if they'd known such things would ever exist. George W Bush obviously didn't agree with this amendment either since he embarked on "warrantless domestic surveillance".
3) Due process - Yep, the Bushies bypassed this one too.
4) The right to have an impartial jury, to be informed of the nature of the charges against you, to confront the witnesses against you, to have the assistance of counsel in your defense. George W blah, blah, blah ....you can fill in the rest.
5) No cruel or unusual punishment. Most people would consider torture cruel, if not unusual in a world of bullies, but evidently not the Bush administration.
6) All persons born in the U.S. or in its jurisdiction shall be United States citizens. (I don't know if the C3 folks disagree with this one but I expect they probably do).

In fact, because they've not enunciated their beliefs, I really don't know exactly what C3 does believe. They have recommended some particular reading materials though which include Glenn Beck and Jonah Goldberg, among others. And since I'm familiar with the authors they are pushing, it is pretty easy to guess the direction they are going.

They appear to be racing on auto pilot as far and as fast to the right as they can go without a clue as to their eventual destination.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Bill Clinton, My Hero

Ah, Bill Clinton, my hero. I always thought of Bill as larger than life - larger than life intellect, larger than life appetites, larger than life ability to connect with people. The appetites tarnished his reputation in spite of the other achievements. I doubt if we'll see schools or highways or bridges named for him any time soon and that's too bad because Bill Clinton is us, classic American achiever, son of poverty and alcoholism who climbed to the top via sheer hard work and ambition, a collection of out-sized strengths and weaknesses that are often contradictory.

Still determined to make a difference (and perhaps, reparation), the years since his presidency ended have been dominated by sweeping acts of service - by the Clinton Global Initiative, by his contributions toward ending AIDS, by his work with George Bush I in raising funds to assist those struck by disaster, and most recently by his successful rescue mission to North Korea. Bill Clinton is still casts a giant shadow on the world stage.

By contrast, consider the president who succeeded him - George W, a spoiled child of the silver spoon, accepting the presidency as his by inherited right. He never seemed to enjoy his job very much, ceding much of his power to Cheney and Rumsfield and Rove, fleeing to his ranch in Texas as often as possible. He appeared to be relieved to be cutting brush rather than making policy. He was frequently tone deaf about the needs of his people (Katrina) and often inarticulate about what he was in the White House to achieve. What I most often thought about W during his eight years in office was that he was in over his head.

I may be underestimating W. Perhaps after a long post-presidency rest, he'll re-enter the fray. Maybe he'll become a globe trotter, like Clinton, working tirelessly to improve life for human kind, meeting with other world leaders to plan strategy for issues he believes are critical for the benefit of America and the world (whatever he thinks those are). Perhaps future presidents will think of him when they need someone to send on a high-profile rescue mission.

But, I doubt it. Because if George W Bush's vices were small, so were his gifts. That's often the way it works.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

What Percentage of NASCAR Fans Are Crazy?

I have decided that about a third of NASCAR fans are certifiable. I've thought that for a while but their take on the Jeremy Mayfield case elevated those feelings. An unbelievable number of NASCAR fans seemed to consider it perfectly logical that NASCAR, a multi-billion dollar industry, would risk their credibility, indeed, their very existence to fix a drug test to get Jeremy Mayfield, a minor league driver at best, out of racing (for whatever nefarious reason they might have had for doing that).

Now, those same conspiracy theorists are at it again, being sincerely convinced that NASCAR deliberately "threw" the Brickyard 400 by lying about Juan Pablo Montoya speeding on pit lane. They attribute a number of different motivations to NASCAR. One is that the sanctioning body is inherently racist and didn't want a foreigner to win. Two is that they have a deal going to only let Hendrick's cars win because Rick Hendrick pumps so much money into NASCAR. Three is that, well, if there is a three, I forget what it is.

I personally believe that the leadership of the sanctioning body probably wrung their collective hands in anguish over having to give Montoya a pit road speeding penalty. What a terrific headline they have gotten out of it if he'd won. "JPM makes history - first to win both Indy 500 and Brickyard 400". That would have made news all over the world. It would have brought in new Hispanic fans in droves. Instead what they got was: "Jimmie wins Brickyard...again", which happened to be my preferred outcome but , let's face it, was a far more ho-hum result.

As for NASCAR favoring Rick Hendrick, if they were truly going to fix races for HMS, wouldn't they fix them for Dale Earnhardt, Junior to win? What would excite the fan base more than Junior winning races? That alone would probably fill the seats and up the television viewing audience to its pre-recession levels.

The most obvious argument against NASCAR cheating on either drug tests or race results is that it would be stupid and NASCAR hasn't got to be the second most popular sport in America (after the NFL) by being led by stupid people. All it would take would be one iota of proof that NASCAR manipulated a drug test or fixed a race and the entire entity would go down the tubes. Without faith in its credibility, the sanctioning body has nothing. I don't believe Brian France etal have the slightest desire to do this but even if they did, they wouldn't.

I don't why know so many "fans" seem to have such a seething hatred of NASCAR, finding it logical to believe there is no evil of which the sanctioning body is incapable. And why do they even stick around? If I thought NASCAR was so inherently corrupt, I'd go find something else to occupy my time. If I loved racing, I'd go hang out at my local short tracks and get away from NASCAR altogether. Instead, they come to the blogs and message boards, wearing their tinfoil hats, and force the rest of us to listen as they spew their lunatic opinions.

Manipulating reality

Okay, I'm curious. At the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, I paid very close attention to the apparel that people wore and the gear they carried. I was expecting to see mostly Dale Earnhardt Junior, because he's the most popular driver, and Tony Stewart, because he's from near by Columbus, Indiana.

It turned out not to be that way at all. If shirts and hats and jackets and tattoos and can coolers, etc. are an accurate indication of driver popularity, then Jeff Gordon was the overwhelming fan favorite at Indy. I'd estimate that we saw Jeff's face and number twice as much as everyone else put together. I was also gratified to see that Jimmie ranked right up there with Tony and Dale Jr. He might even have had a slight advantage but because my prejudice might have boosted his numbers somewhat, I'll say those three were pretty close to even.

There were only a handful of people advertising their support for any other driver - half a dozen for Kyle Busch, a sprinkling for Ryan Newman, Denny Hamlin, Matt Kenseth, Greg Biffle, Carl Edwards. Nothing for Mark Martin (I watched for him especially).

It was also pretty obvious where the most desirable stuff was being sold in the rain-softened souvenir hauler lot by the giant mud holes in front of Jeff, Jimmie, Tony and Dale.

These choices were echoed by the cheers for the drivers as they walked from the garage to the track. A veritable roar for Jeff Gordon, loud shouts for Tony, Jimmie and Dale. A respectful acknowledgment for the rest. (Except for poor Kyle. I'm not a big Kyle Busch fan but it seems to me that when you have a man trapped into running a gauntlet, booing him is tacky and petty).

Okay, so those were the results of my informal survey at the track. Fast forward to the next day. The Brickyard 400. In the pre-race shows, I heard from the announcers and reporters that the crowd was rooting for their hometown hero, Tony Stewart. Hmm, I thought, really? Because that's sure not what was reflected in what I saw. Tony certainly had his share of supporters but the numbers didn't begin to compare with Jeff Gordon fans. And Jimmie and Dale Junior equalled him at least.

Then those last 24 laps, the battle between Jimmie and Mark Martin for the lead. Now the reporters were convinced that "the crowd is cheering for the sentimental favorite, Mark Martin!" One announcer in a post-race show even said so to Jimmie - "the fans wanted Mark to win, he was the sentimental favorite". Jimmie, being Jimmie, answered politely. I don't remember exactly what he said. If it had been me, I might have been tempted to ask - "do you have figures to back that up or is it just what you want to believe?"

I never saw one Mark Martin thing on qualification day. Maybe Mark Martin fans aren't into buying gear or appearing at the track until race day. Whatever, they weren't in evidence when I was there but according to the media, they must have appeared en masse on Sunday.

I think its more likely that the NASCAR media, like the political media, have their favored story lines and they spin the truth to fit their memes. They thought the spectators should support "the hometown hero" and they thought the fans should cheer "the sentimental favorite" so they stroked reality to make it come out right.

Indianapolis Motor Speedway

Brenda and I went down to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway to see qualifying and practice for the All-State Brickyard 400. It was a day of peaks and valleys. No one asked us for any money although I'd been told tickets to get in for qualifying would be $25, so that was a peak. The rain that postponed qualifying and initially looked like it had set in for the day was a definite valley. No matter what had happened weatherwise though, just being at the venerable old track in its centennial year, with its pagoda and grandstands on both sides and beloved yard of bricks and all the racing history that has taken place there, would have been a peak.

We hiked out to the souvenir haulers in spite of the drizzle. I bought a Jimmie Johnson jacket on sale which I figured I was getting for free since I didn't have to buy a ticket. (Peak.) You could tell the most popular drivers because they had the biggest mudholes in front of their haulers.

We ate lunch. I would advise against an IMS breaded tenderloin which was a definite valley. Listened to the live band playing on the plaza, which were all pretty good. The sun came out, the dryers were on the track. It was announced that qualifying would start at 2:00 p.m.

We crammed against the fence to watch the cars being pushed out onto the track. They were followed by the drivers, crew chiefs and other personnel I've become familiar with via television. As Jimmie was walking out, a man stopped him and he stood right in front of me for a minute or two. He is even handsomer in person! (A big peak). All of this was probably more exciting for me than it was for Brenda who is only a second-hand NASCAR fan.

My discussion group friends have always told me that you can't really appreciate NASCAR until you've had the thrill of actually hearing the cars on the track and they were right. The roar of the engines is so loud, the grandstands practically reverberate. The noise affected me the same way the scream of rock and roll the guitars used to back in the day.

My cheerleading did not help Jimmie any in qualifying. He was sixteenth. (Valley). Mark Martin got the pole. (Deeper valley - Mark is one of my least favorite drivers).

We stayed for practice which made me think I might not choose the Brickyard if I was going to an actual race. At Indianapolis, with the grandstands on both sides, the cars are in sight only when they are on the straight-away directly in front of you, then they disappear for two miles until they come back around. Maybe it is my age but the television screens weren't clear and I couldn't hear the announcers very well so I had no clue what was going on in the others parts of the track. Of course, I'm probably lying. Give me the opportunity to get tickets and go with someone who knows how to navigate the raceday traffic and see what happens.

During practice, someone stole my jacket when I wasn't paying attention. So much for saving money on my ticket. (Valley).

I have been a NASCAR fan for exactly one year. The first race I ever watched was the 2008 Brickyard. I've listened to thousands of miles of the Sirius NASCAR channel since then. I've watched thousands of hours of NASCAR programming on t.v., not only the races themselves but the pre and post-race shows. (Although prior to NASCAR, my television needed GPS to know how to get to Fox and ESPN and SPEED). I've read millions of words about drivers and crew chiefs and owners and paint schemes and statistics and history. And now I've seen it all up close and personal. In spite of a few shallow valleys, I felt like I'd been to the top of Mount Everest.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Unions

My friend told me she'd been called in by management and informed that her job of several years was most likely winding down. She might work a few more days, or perhaps, weeks but being permanently laid off is now something she should expect. Not a pleasant prospect at 60 years old - too old to be employable, too young to retire. It's not that the company won't still have a substantial number of employees working but they are all relatively new hires. They make $9 a hour, quite a bit less than my friend earns. Ironically, her daughter got fired from her job on the very same day. And, guess what? Her employer is also hiring new workers and what is their new starting rate? Nine dollars an hour.

We debated whether it was a coincidence or if business is making a concerted and cooperative effort to lower the standard wage for new employees to the neighborhood of $9 an hour. Are there websites where corporate managers hang out and discuss these things?

"Okay, Guys, it's decided then, we'll all pay 9 bucks to start. That's high enough that no one can accuse us of paying slave wages but low enough to cut costs. Of course, we have to find ways to get rid of our old employees who are making more. In a bad economy, it's a buyer's market and they'll have to take what we give'em and be damn glad to get it." And so it is and so we are.

America has hated unions for a long time. Even the most put-upon workers were contemptuous of unions. Was it jealousy, I wonder? They were working for lower pay under crappier conditions while the union elites were making the big bucks and receiving huge benefits. Instead of aspiring to at least part of what the Autoworkers or the Steelworkers had won for themselves, we wanted to bring them down to our level. God, fools that we were, we did management's work for them.

And how self-righteous were the employees of non-union plants that matched union wages? They thought they had the best of both worlds - all the benefits without having to picket or pay union dues. And their bosses patted them on their agreeable little heads and said, "you don't need no steenkin' contract."

And, of course, the unions didn't help themselves much because like all large organizations, the head honchos got greedy and corrupt. And, geez, in some of the unions I've belonged to, we voted in some of the most ignorant representatives we could find, like it didn't matter, instead of the ones we needed, the brightest people with the best negotiating skills.

Still, corporate America's leaders were greedy and corrupt too but management wasn't foolish enough to throw their cooperative partnerships away in favor of going it alone, like workers did.

At one time, approximately a third of us were unionized. Then, we voted in a series of Republican administrations, starting with Ronald Reagan who were aligned with the corporations and willing the help them by busting the unions. Sadly, no one clapped louder when Reagan fired the air traffic controllers than their fellow working Americans. Yeah, by God, they got what they deserved. The Great Communicator told us so.

There was a time in America's history when a scab was the lowest form of life. The members of my blue collar family would have starved before they crossed a picket line, realizing as they did that if working Americans didn't stick together, they would fall apart. We didn't stick together and we have fallen apart. My state, Indiana, is a right to work state. That means, as an employment attorney advised me when I was fired by the sheriff, that "if you're not working under a contract, your employer can fire you if you come to work wearing yellow socks and he doesn't like yellow socks." Lots of us are working without contracts these days and lots of us must be wearing yellow socks, or their equivalent, too.

When we lived in Houston, Texas, the first question you were asked at an employment interview was, "how do you feel about unions?" If you hoped to have any opportunity for a job, you'd better give the required answer. No one really minded much then. The Houston economy was booming, there were a lot of jobs available and wages were high. Maybe they did care later when it all went to crap and they were at their employer's mercy (and, in case you haven't noticed, the majority of employers don't have much mercy) but by then it was too late.

By now, it doesn't even make much difference if you do belong to a union. Little by little, organized labor lost numbers and clout. Only about 8 per cent of us belong to unions now when we need the protections afforded by collective bargaining the most. Eight per cent isn't enough to have the strength to take on management in a fair fight.

Except for the few who were willing to man the battlefields in the management/labor war, working America is, collectively, a herd of sheep. We are so easily manipulated to cooperate against our own best interests. Back in medieval days, we would have pulled our forelock when our Squire passed by, content to be one of his faithful little peons, probably selling out any rebels who tried to plot the overthrow of the feudal system. In slave days, we'd have been the ones who loved Old Massa, resenting instead of admiring, those courageous few who made a break for freedom.

Herd animals are vulnerable to predators unless they band together but we've been brainwashed into believing that banding together is unAmerican and so they pick us off one by one. We stand and watch without protest until it's us but by then, it's too late.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

The O. J. Syndrome

Geez, NASCAR people are naive about drug testing. They act like it is brand new science instead of something that has been going on, without much controversy, for years.

NASCAR just instituted its new drug-testing policy in 2009. A few garage and pit crew guys came back with dirty drug screens and got kicked out of the sport. There wasn't any fuss about it. But then, Jeremy Mayfield, a Sprint Cup driver, tested positive and was suspended from racing and, Lord, all hell broke loose. Jeremy swore he was innocent, that NASCAR's testing procedures were flawed. First, he said that he was taking Adderall (for adult Attention Deficit Disorder) and over-the-counter Claritan and the combination of the two had caused a false positive. Of course, prior to a drug test, those to be tested are asked what medications they've recently taken so they can be accounted for but, for whatever reason, Jeremy failed to do that at the time.

Then Jeremy hired the most high-profile attorney in the NASCAR world. Well, maybe "hired" is the wrong word. I doubt if Jeremy hired Bill Diehl since he has barely enough money to fund getting his car on the track so I assume the operative phrase was: "will work for publicity". And there was a lot of publicity with Diehl filing a flurry of motions alleging that NASCAR had screwed up Jeremy's drug test and their lab was incompetent, etc. etc. Eventually, it was reported that the substance for which Jeremy's test had come back positive was methamphetamine. Jeremy's team produced a doctor who declared that it was very possible that the combination of drugs Jeremy claimed to have taken could have resulted in a false reading but then it turned out that Jeremy's doctor's wasn't really even a doctor.

In the course of time, Jeremy's legal team filed for an emergency injunction to lift the suspension. The judge agreed that more harm could come to Jeremy if he was innocent and didn't race than would be done to NASCAR if he was guilty and did - a decision not necessarily agreed with by many of the drivers who'd have to be going 200 miles an hour on the same track with him. The judge, however, did give NASCAR the right to test Jeremy whenever they chose.

In spite of the supposed emergency nature of the injunction, Jeremy did not appear at Daytona, the first race after his suspension was lifted. And he did not appear at Chicago, the next race. He said he planned to be at the Brickyard 400 in Indianapolis at the end of July. NASCAR then informed him that he was required to do another test. What followed next was a comedy of errors. First, Jeremy said he didn't hear his phone or read his voice mail in time to appear at the testing site in the two hours he was allowed. He finally got in touch with somone who told him to go to a closer location but he got lost and never found it. And then he couldn't reach anyone at NASCAR or the testing facility to find out what to do next. So he just went home. Eventually, NASCAR appeared on his doorstep with someone to administer the test, as well as a security guard. It still took almost an hour before Jeremy gave the sample. His attorney was incensed because NASCAR insisted that someone watch him urinate in the cup. He lawyer thought it was outrageous that NASCAR implied Jeremy couldn't be trusted. Anyone who has ever worked in law enforcement or the criminal justice system for as many years as I did knows that the most common method of beating a drug test is to substitute "clean" urine for your own. Some substance abusers have even been known to make their children provide them with urine.

Well, we waited a week and a half and guess what? Jeremy tested positive again. In addition, his step-mother gave a sworn affidavit stating that she'd seen Jeremy snort meth on several occasions. Did Jeremy fold his tent and admit defeat faced with such overwhelming evidence? Nope, now he believes NASCAR deliberately falsified results to target him and his step-mother is a lying bitch.

All this is exactly what I predicted at the start of this circus. I never believed Jeremy would ever race again. It seemed obvious that this court battle was all about pressuring NASCAR into a large settlement to make the negative, high-profile case go away.

What amazes me is how much so many NASCAR fans seem to hate the sanctioning body of their sport. They willingly suspend their common sense in their desire to believe that NASCAR is capable of falsifying records with the goal of destroying a driver although what the motive would be, I have no idea. None of this has been in NASCAR's best interest. The case has tarnished NASCAR's reputation right along with Mayfield's. But fans want so strongly to identify with the little guy against the powerful organization that they ignore what seems to me to be incontrovertible evidence of Jeremy's guilt.

Poor NASCAR. I think if the situation had been reversed and they'd only slapped Mayfield on the wrist, they'd have been accused of letting Jeremy get away with it because he was a elite driver while the lower level people got tossed out of racing. They can't win either way.

What confounds me most though is the smoke screen that this case has thrown up around drug-testing. Folks, we've been doing this for a long time. Jails and probation departments around the country order thousands of drug screens daily and judges invariably accept those results. As a consequence, thousands of Americans lose their freedom, not just the chance to race a car. Most of them don't protest their fate.

It is a sad fact of our legal system that if you have access to high-powered counsel (a la O.J.), you stand a good chance of beating the rap via attorneys who swamp the court in a tsunami of paperwork. They hire paralegals to comb every document for the smallest inconsistency or innocent error to protest. A misspelling or a misplaced comma can be the cause of an indignant appeal. Definitions are twisted, statements are distorted, witnesses are tormented.

And you are oh-so-much more likely to make the court of public opinion work in your favor if you are well-known. If O. J. Simpson had been O. J. Jones, he probably would be in prison right now for murder. If Jeremy Mayfield, Sprint Cup driver, had been Jeremy Smith, garage mechanic, nobody would likely give a damn about his future, or lack of, in auto racing.

NASCAR nation wants to root for the underdog but Jeremy Mayfield isn't the underdog any more than O. J. Simpson was the underdog. The underdog is that anonymous little garage guy who fails the test and doesn't have a team of attorneys to help him beat the system.