Thursday, August 25, 2011

It's Not Too Late for Resolutions!

In conducting a mid-year (it is mid-year, isn’t it?) check on my New Year’s resolutions, I discovered that I didn’t even remember some of the things I promised to do!  It appears my resolutions were shallow and without commitment.  Time for a mid-year correction.
Case in point:  I promised to make a pie!  Here it is August, and no pies.  No pies!  I am very disappointed in myself.  Of all my resolutions, I felt certain I would have completed this one.  Instead, I just let it go.  Forgotten.  No juicy fruit purchased for the purpose.  Not even canned fruit in the cupboard.  No homemade or frozen crust.  No rolling pin.  No pie.  I may have to go to Safeway and bring home a motivational sample. 

Given my failure on the pie resolution, it’s hard to explain why I’m only grams thinner than I was when I so earnestly made that resolution to get ounces thinner.  Did I mention I’ve switched to the metric system? 

I believe I deserve some credit since the scales tipped for a little while this year.  But then…alas…regression, inertia! 

So now, at the mid-year checkpoint (on the Aztec calendar), I redouble my efforts at slimmin’ (the British word for diet and exercise).  I can’t leave this resolution behind as it follows me, more literally than I like to admit, no matter my selective memory in a given moment. 

I resolved to dig out from under a desk in disarray.  A quick review of my surroundings reveals that I may have taken a positive step on the path toward tidiness; though in good conscience, I can’t claim it’s been as deliberate a step as the resolution implies.  Still, on a subterranean level the suggestion must have taken hold, as the desk itself is now visible.  Granted, there remain a couple of heaps o’ stuff that I haven’t figured out a more suitable situation for, neither item by item nor en masse.  But they’re smaller heaps than in January.  That counts, doesn’t it?

A key resolution was to be more generous in my manners and forgiving of those who might be lapsing in theirs.  I’ll give myself a “B” on this one.  I’m pretty automatic in holding doors, excusing myself, saying the magic words.  Why, in the produce department the other day, I pulled a plastic bag off the roll near the asparagus and gave it to a man who waited patiently for me to take it myself.  He said it was the first time that had ever happened.   

But I can’t rest too long on those laurels - in the privacy of my car, I’m still cantankerous and stingy with access to my lane.  If someone weasels in without permission, I get sarcastic unless I get a “thank you” wave, which is practically never.  I’m probably sending bad vibes into the cosmos.  I’m culpable for that.

Speaking of neglected resolutions, remember back in January when Congress resolved to behave better?  Recall when they mixed it up and crossed the aisle, sitting Democrat – Republican - Democrat for the President’s State of the Union address?  They did very well making nice that day.  Way back then.  In January.

I’m trying to be generous with them…but come on.  That was during the post-Christmas white sales.  Where’s the civility in springtime and the sweetness in summer?  Ok.  The President and the Speaker displayed a modicum.  I heard the President say a couple of times that Mr. Boehner has a tough time persuading his caucus of things he and the boss have agreed to.  That’s a generous statement.  He called Mr. Boehner a “good man.”  He seemed sincere. 

But past that, now it’s their promises that seem shallow and without commitment.  They took an oath to serve their constituents and our country, and to do so professionally, in good faith and with good will.  They're supposed to make the world a better place. 
They re-read the Constitution in January.  I suggest they read and refer to Robert’s Rules of Order and Miss Manners' Guide to Domestic Tranquility: The Authoritative Manual for Every Civilized Household.  That should cover the White House and both Houses of Congress. 

Somewhere in those two guides they’re bound to find an array of worthy resolutions like: listen, take turns, don’t interrupt, acknowledge others’ efforts, and validate their work.  Use your time wisely.  Play well with others.  Keep your eye on the prize.  Compromise. 

It’s not too late for a mid-year correction!

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Just Send Smoke Signals

Washington politicians could take a lesson from the process for selecting a Pope employed by the cardinals of the Catholic Church.

 As you recall, when a Pope dies, cardinals from around the globe assemble at Vatican City, huddle up in the Sistine Chapel, peruse the resumes of all the prospective Pope candidates, and haggle, haggle, haggle.  When they finally agree on a new Pope, they send up a plume of white smoke, thus proclaiming their decision to the world.  

Hooray!  Well done!  For us, painless.  For them, mission accomplished and dignity retained. 

In those intermediary moments, when they’re bickering and disagreeing, when the extremists among them will not budge and even threaten to bring down the Church before they’ll compromise, they send up a billow of black smoke.   

That’s how we know things are unsettled in the cloister.  We sigh and exhale, shrug our shoulders.  What’s taking them so long? 

There may be multiple iterations and repeated puffs of sooty effluent.  We wait.  Even we Southern Baptists twice removed sit at seat’s edge.  We’re intrigued.  We’re titillated.  We wanna know. 

Of course, we find out who the new Pope is, but we never get to know who voted for whom.  We never learn which radical cardinal dug in on what point of contention.  We don’t know who caved.  We never realize how close to the brink the Church teetered. 

Could the Cardinals improve the process by sharing their deal breakers with the masses before going into the huddle?  Maybe they could draw strength for their positions from the perceived moral support of Catholics around the world who agree with them, “Yeah!  The new Pope better not relax the Fish on Friday rules.”  (Forgive my flippancy.) 

I wonder how it would go for the new Pope if all good Catholics knew he was a compromise candidate.  Would they sandbag him if they knew their first choice for the top dog was vetoed by a recalcitrant conservative or hardline liberal cardinal? 

No.  The process would not be improved.  It would be worse. 

The new Pope’s ability to lead would not be enhanced.  He would have a more difficult time asserting himself.  

I think our congress should consider this process for the upcoming Gang of Six “negotiations” on the remaining trillions of dollars of cuts mandated by the recent debt ceiling deal. 

Both parties seem likely to send their dug-in, hard-nosed, party-line perfect representatives instead of the moderates among them who might actually be able to negotiate effectively.  We’re already bracing ourselves for the process of disingenuous proposals, haranguing, lamenting, insincere counter proposals, gridlock, and at last, compromise. 

Why not lock them in to a beltway backroom and let them slug it out like the cardinals do – in seclusion? 

The cardinals surrender their cell phones and iPads.  They even sweep the Sistine Chapel for “bugs” before the conclave, so adamant are they that their deliberations remain secure, no tampering occurs, nor outside influences allowed to creep in.  The cardinals don’t come out between ballots and complain about their colleagues’ well-known ideological stances. 

How could our representatives decline being treated like cardinals?  We can ferry in food and fresh shirts.  Heck, we can sing a song and buy them all capes.  They can send up smoke signals to let us know what we already know:  They’re still fighting.  They haven’t decided.  It’s hard. 

We wouldn’t have to listen to their infantile whining and complaining.  They couldn’t take false encouragement from mindless press coverage of their fingers pointing hither and yon.  We would view the dark vapors wafting from the chamber, recognize them as the typical emissions we’ve come to expect from our elected officials, and wait. 

I know, I know.  Transparency.  Sunshine.  But must we hear every cry of “wolf”?  Must we reel in all red herrings of proposal and counter proposal?  Must we endure the artificial anguish of falling skies again and again? 

I say No!  Lock ‘em up.  Don’t let ‘em out until the white smoke flies.  We will be just fine out here, living our civilized lives.  And, as always, when they’ve reached an agreement, we will deal with their decisions.   

Just once, save what’s left of your dignity by doing the difficult dirty work away from the cameras and out of earshot.  Spare us the maddening and predictable blow by blow.  Just send up the smoke.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Cee Lo Green Captures My Sentiments

Norwegian Tweeters are on to something.

 The hacker group “Anonymous hijacked a Twitter account belonging to Anders Breivik, the man behind the savage attacks earlier this month in Norway.  Disparaging tweets appeared this week made to look like Breivik himself sent them from prison; but the hackers eventually identified themselves as being part of the loosely affiliated hacker collective. 

 “This Twitter account has been seized by #NORIA@AnonymousNorway,” read a tweet.

“We want Anders to be forgotten.  Labels like ‘monster’ or ‘maniac’ won’t do either,” read another tweet.  “Media should call him pathetic; a nothing.  #Forgethim.” 

The account — which was created just days before the attacks — still exists, but all sent tweets appear to have been deleted.  The only tweet visible previously and presumably sent by Breivik, was a quote from philosopher John Stuart Mill: “One person with a belief is equal to the force of 100,000 who have only interests.”  

A group that undertakes protests and acts of vengeance through “hacktivism,” Anonymous announced its campaign against Breivik last week.  As part of their strategy, they posted a document titled “Operation Un-Manifest” exhorting people worldwide to re-write Breivik’s manifesto 

Their idea is to find the manifesto online; change it, “add stupid stuff,” remove parts, do what you like to it.  Then, republish it everywhere and declare the fakes to be the original.  And, they urge readers to “have a moment” for the victims of his cruel attacks.

We all are anonymous, they say.  We all are Legion.  We do not forgive murder.  We do not forget the victims. 

“Let Anders become a joke, [so] that nobody will take him seriously anymore,” their post reads. 

Godspeed to you, Anonymous. 

Would that it could be true with the murderer Breivik, along with the likes of Casey Anthony, Scott Peterson, Jared Loughner, Charles Manson, Osama bin Laden.  Would that we could declare them each “a nothing” and forget their faces and names.   

Now we can never, should never forget what they’ve done to us.  That’s right, to us.  It wasn’t someone else’s child who died, but our child.  It wasn’t the beauty or innocence of a stranger, but our own that was assaulted.  Our own buildings fell and our planes crashed.  We were attacked.  Wherever they were, and whenever they acted, we each suffered the manifestation of their sickness of mind and blackness of thinking.  Hence our shock, anguish, and outrage. 

Yet the media are duty bound to keep us mindful of their ugly faces and despicable deeds.  I’ve just done my own small part with the list above.   

I know we must forgive if we can, remember what we cannot let go, and forget the culprits as dust, or mites, or gnats to be waved away.    

So allow me to make an August resolution:  I vow not to mention the names of the infamous again.  I will do my small part to keep the distasteful out of my mouth and off the pages I produce.  I will spare you from thinking directly of them.  I will not contribute to the notoriety or memory of a thief, a pervert, a murderer, or a terrorist. 

We’ll see how it goes, but I have a feeling that, as it should be, we can all recognize the circumstances and remember the victims not the perpetrators.  We won’t be subjected, in this column at least, to discussion of the kidnapping and rape trial of __________  ____________, but instead for example, of the trial of Jaycee Dugard’s abductor. 

I would much rather be mindful of this remarkable young woman, her spirit, and her survival than ever to hear the names or gaze upon the foul vestiges of the man and woman on trial in her case.  Let me see her face again, never theirs. 

The Norwegian mentioned above quoted John Stuart Mill in a perversion to justify his crimes.  In spite of this I believe Mill was right – one person with a strong belief has strength beyond the good intentions of 100,000.  Otherwise, why write?  Why make a resolution? 

I also sometimes rely on the words of the wise, articulate ones who’ve preceded me.  They sum up my feelings with a wealth of experience and knowledge I do not possess.  

In the case of this man, since I can’t quote singer/songwriter Cee Lo Green in a family venue, I invoke Groucho Marx, who said, “I never forget a face, but in your case I'll be glad to make an exception.”