February 4, 2009

Hello Darkness, My Old Friend...

...I've come to talk with you again.

It's been almost a year since I've posted. I've thought about it from time to time. There was much to write about -- flooding, tornados, elections, and life. Recently I opened a Facebook account and have been having fun with it.

If you happened to have landed here through Facebook and want to see what wandered through my mind in 2006-08, read the archives. You'll read about my church, my faith, my family, my politics, my sports, and the rest of me from head to toe.

So, nothing big to write about now, except to say that I do remember the password, and I may have something to say tomorrow. Stay tuned.

March 4, 2008

Super Tuesday 2

Political commentators are making the case that today, in the Alamo state, Hilary Clinton is making her last stand. Win in Texas and she continues to fight for the Democratic nomination for president. Lose, and Obama is heading straight to the convention.

Albeit drawn out longer than in previous elections, the contests of caucuses and primaries has done what it is supposed to do -- give the electorate an opportunity to weed through the long list of senators, representatives and governors who want to be President, and dash some dreams along the way. The first campaign to fizzle out was that of former Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack, who ended his run many months before the caucus calendar began, due to poor fundraising (he has since backed Clinton). The last campaign to fold may be that of Clinton.

From a field of more than a dozen contenders, we are left with four. (Ron Paul would make five, but he has turned his attention to getting re-elected for his Texas congressional seat. If he can't be President, he at least wants to retain his excellent group health benefits.)

I came out on this blog with support for Mike Huckabee before it was the hip thing to do. Thanks to my vote, he won the state of Iowa and enjoyed the limelight for exactly one week. Then, John McCain rose up to win in New Hampshire, and continued to win across the country. Huckabee has won on several other occasions in southern contests, but has not caught fire on a national level. He is the most socially conservative candidate left (perhaps the only social conservative) and certainly the easiest of the candidates to listen to, but that's where his attributes have seemed to end for most.

John McCain has been waiting for eight years to become the Republican nominee for President. The wait will become reality by 9 p.m. this evening. McCain is many things -- a war veteran (many say hero), a lifelong politician, and a man often at odds with his party's talking heads. According to candid interviews I've read, he's also is a hothead that, when crossed, might loose his tongue and call anybody any name in the book. That kind of guy doesn't appeal much to me.

But McCain would have to be a far worse candidate for me to seriously consider voting Democrat. If you're feeling blue, Obama appears to be the man with the momentum. Near as I can tell, his campaign has had one single theme -- I didn't vote for the war in Iraq, and don't you forget it. To his oratory credit, he has remained consistent in speech after speech. You know Obama is the candidate of change (because that's what he's told us over and over again). But change from what to what? He's said a lot of things, but can he deliver? He is an undistinguished, short-term Senator, with no proven ability to enact and pass the kinds of legislation he speaks of.

As for Hilary Clinton (now that she's running for president and using her husband as the bullhorn, apparently she isn't using her maiden name Rodham anymore), her time seems to have come and gone. As her hopes fade, so too will the Clinton dynasty. Bill will go back to his million dollar speeches, Hilary to the Senate, where she will become Obama's most adamant supporter and legislation author. The two will cook up a universal health care plan so big and expensive it will make the war costs look like chump change. Never mind that social security and the national debt remain the two biggest fiscal challenges our country faces. Who has a plan to address those issues?

When I go to the voting booth in November, I anticipate having a choice between loose lipped, military hawk John McCain and loose wallet, military wallflower Barack Obama. Oh, it's a tantalizing decision.

Eany, meany, miny, mo,
Which way will my ballot go?
To the left or to the right,
To end the war or keep the fight?
To pay for guns and tanks, and planes,
Or pay for every one's aches and pains?

February 26, 2008

Illegal Substances

The whole Roger Clemens incident and general topic of banned substances in baseball is getting pretty long in the tooth. So, let's talk about another substance that's now illegal in many settings, is grown right here in the states, and is still the rage of stage and screen.

Driving around Kentucky you see two different kinds of fences -- black and white. The white ones nearly always signal a nearby horse farm. The acreages are so large you may not actually see any horses, but you can rest assured they live there. Each one is dotted with an elaborate barn -- not a barn really, but a horse palace. Kentucky is, of course, home to the Kentucky Derby, and many of the horses that win someday compete for that horse racing crown.

Then there are the black fences, and black barns. They represent the other cash cow of Kentucky -- tobacco.

Tobacco is perfectly legal to grow, to buy, and to have possession of. But use it for its intended purpose, and you may find yourself in water. Lighting up is getting harder to do in government buildings, around hospitals, and even in your favorite restaurant.

In the Iowa state legislature, a bill has been introduced that effectively bans smoking everywhere but in your own home (unless your home doubles as an in-home daycare, then smoking is a no-no even there). Walk within a few feet of the doorway to the mall, and you better be putting your cigarette out! There are exceptions, of course. Your corner tavern is one. Casinos are another. If you're caught blowing chemical smoke in the general vicinity of another, you could pay a $500 fine.

What do we make of this? Tough call.

I have never smoked a cigarette, not one. I hate cigarette smoke. Put me in a room with a smoker and I'll limp out with a headache after a half hour. I am in favor of restaurant owners making their establishment smoke-free. I'm certainly in favor of other business owners deciding whether their own employees have the privilege of lighting up while on the clock. And I know that, as a taxpayer, I'm footing the bill for millions of tobacco users who may become cancer carriers someday. I certainly don't like that.

But, I'm not sure that this broad-based ban on smoking is a good thing. Smoking is legal. Tobacco is legal. Are we trampling on individual rights? Are we creating laws that are nearly impossible to enforce? Are we taking away the liberties of individual business owners and giving too much responsibility to big government?

Seems to me we've been down this road before. It was called prohibition. It lasted a few years, and ultimately was lifted. Changes in the way society morally views alcohol has made consumption more acceptable today. "Adult beverages" are big business. Whether that's good or bad is another topic altogether.

So, what do we do about smoking? Lift all bans, pass local and state laws limiting usage, or get rid of the "heart darts" at the federal level? What say you?

February 22, 2008

Ch Ch Changes

Wow, it's been more than a month since my last post. Looking backwards, there are a lot of topics I could have shared my thoughts on. But the truth is I've been busy, and frustrated by my computer.

A year ago I purchased a used computer through Ebay, a Dell Inspiron 9100. Near as I can tell it was a couple of years old at time of purchase. It's a laptop, but almost as heavy as a desktop. I've been really pleased with it until a couple of months ago. This particular model has both a mousepad (which I use often) and a little rubber pointing stick (which I never use). The pointing stick began to fail -- it has a mind of its own and wanders off when I create vibration on the computer's keyboard. Once it wanders it doesn't come back, and I have to pound on the keyboard to reactivite it. Argh!

My solution came in the form of a wireless keyboard/mouse combination I purchased at Staples this week for $14.98 -- a steal. Seems to be a good workaround, especially since I use the laptop primarily as a desktop replacement.

But besides the computer issue, I have been super busy with the big change coming in my life -- a new job. For the last (nearly) six years I have been an agent with New York Life -- a life insurance salesperson. I recently had an opportunity to interview for a NYL management position in Cedar Rapids that gives me the responsibility of training and teaching other agents, and two weeks ago, accepted the job. My start date is March 3. I have been busy completing some responsibilities of my current job, and learning the ropes of the new one. In addition, doing some project work for our church. Whew, it's been a handful. But, it's all good.

January 15, 2008

Broccoli, Celery, Got to Be ...

Y'all know the rest, don't you? Of course you do.


My children came along at just the right time to catch the peak popularity of Bob the tomato and Larry the cucumber. Up until we gave them away, we owned a dozen VHS tapes and more than a few plush toys. We were among those who went to the movie theatre on opening day to watch the first VeggieTales movie, Jonah. Alas, not many more followed.

VeggieTales was the brainchild of Phil Vischer, born here in Iowa, and was taken to the retail world in 1993. It was a unique creation -- talking vegetables that humorously told Bible stories to the under 10 crowd. Like any good youth-oriented product, it was written at a level that both kids and adults could enjoy -- kids for the sheer entertainment of it all, and adults for the cultural references only an adult would understand. VeggieTales become a Christian cultural phenomenon that would eventually become a mainstream phenom too, culminating with the Jonah movie in 2002.

About that time, VeggieTales became VeggieFails -- from a business perspective, anyway. As outlined in the humorous and captivating Vischer book Me, Myself, and Bob, Vischer's Big Idea Productions company had taken on too much debt and could not continue. The vegetables declared bankruptcy and embarrassment. They survive today as an entity of a huge conglomerate, with only moderate creative input from the original players.

This past week the veggies became stars in their second motion picture -- The Pirates Who Don't Do Anything. The picture will be panned by "critics" as being too nice, or too simple, or too archaic in its animation. Remaining fans of the series will hungrily lap it up as one of the very few movies they can take their small children to and not have to be even slightly concerned about obvious, or even subtle, innuendo. To be sure, the most onerous part of taking your kids to a Veggie Tales film is the previews for the other films you must sit through.

My 12 and 9 year-old kids no longer long for VeggieTales, though it wouldn't surprise me if we see this film sooner or later. I'm pretty sure the novelty of talking vegetables telling Bible stories is beyond its expiration date. Yet nothing has taken its place in the retail world.

As I've written before, creative types at Disney, Pixar and other media giants could make a financial killing if they could simply give Christian parents -- any parents -- and young children what they want: squeaky clean entertainment. No eight year-olds swearing, no bare bottoms, no innuendo sexual humor, no political statements. The task seems so easy, yet ... it must be harder than I think or someone would be doing it.

There has never, ever, ever, ever, ever been a show like VeggieTales. Perhaps there never will be again. So come on down to the local theatre -- its time for VeggieTales.

January 4, 2008

Hawkeye Caucus Results

Imagine my surprise Thursday night when we pulled within a quarter mile of our Republican-only caucus site last night and came to a grinding halt because traffic was overflowing. Republicans are uninterested in the race for 08? I guess not everyone got the message.

We arrived 30 minutes early to avoid traffic. Instead, cars already lined the side street to Antioch Christian Church in every direction available. We chose to park on the shoulder of a 65 MPH highway and walk quickly through the ice and wind to avoid getting locked out (must be in the caucus by 7 p.m. OR ELSE!). Once inside a sanctuary-turned-precinct site, we quickly surmised that the 500 or so seats were already 90 percent full. We found two chairs and sat, while the sanctuary filled to overflow.

An hour later we drove home listening to the radio announce that Mike Huckabee and Barack Obama were already being declared winners. Our precinct votes had yet to be counted and called in. I thought, "These two must be winning big."

Turning on Fox News, we quickly learned that they were, in fact, winning big. In the end, both Obama and Huckabee won by wider margins than the polls had predicted. Both must be pleased beyond peaches that they won the way they did.

One big story coming out of Iowa is that a record number of Democrats turned out to caucus, about 225,000. That's about the number that the pundits predicted would come out for the two parties combined. It was a record total for Dems. But lost in the shuffle was that a record number of Republicans also turned out -- about 120,000. This is 36 percent more than the previous Republican record set in the 2000 George W. Bush caucus. So, both parties set records, and of course, the 345,000 or so total voters (about 17 percent of Iowa's registered voters) was a record. In other words, Iowans from both parties were excited about their candidates and did their job well.

Though I did not and will not vote for Barack Obama, many did. It is exhaustively reported that Iowa is not representative of the country because we're neither red or blue -- we're vanilla -- 95 percent Caucasian. Yet the black-American Obama was the leading vote-getter. That shows that Iowan's do listen to the candidates and evaluate their merits beyond more superficial characterictics. If that's true of the Obama vote, it is also true of the Huckabee vote.

So, coming strong out of Iowa are a black man and a Southern Baptist preacher, who six months ago were defined exclusively in just those terms. Today they wear a new labels -- winner, and legitimate candidate. Those are terms not applicable to Chris Dodd and Joe Biden (both dropped out immediately following the vote tally) nor Bill Richardson and Duncan Hunter (both will surely fall away within the week). Another job well done by Iowans -- winnowing the candidate pool to a formidable number for future debates.

The cameras and talking heads all boarded their planes at midnight to move to New Hampshire. Not one candidate will be back in Iowa until late summer when the general election swings into gear. Even then, the visits will be few and far between. So, we take a breather until March 2011 ... the likely timeframe for the beginning of the 2012 election.

January 3, 2008

The Story of Iowa

The day has finally arrived -- caucusing in the lead state of Iowa will begin this evening at seven. No later than 8:30, the nation will know which candidates are leaving Iowa on a galloping white horse, and which are limping towards a political grave. As I have previously written, I will be caucusing for Mike Huckabee.

Much has been made in the press, both pro and con, about Iowa being the kick-off state for presidential elections. Our local Cedar Rapids Gazette reported the following statistics this morning:
  • Upwards of $40 million has been spent on campaign ads (the last few days, political adds have run six at a time to fill the entire commercial break of television programming). Of course, much more has been spent on travel, mailings and all the other trappings of being on the road
  • Candidates have spent the equivalent of 600 days in the Hawkeye state (I'll bet that's a conservative number, as John Edwards spent much of the 2004 campaign here as well)
  • 2,500 media pundits have said everything there is to say about campaign stops in such obscure places as Grundy Center and Dike
In addition to these, by all accounts Mitt Romney alone has spent about $7 million on his Iowa campaign, a good portion of which is his own money. That's a lot of dough for a job that pays $400,000 a year.

Whether Iowa should be the first caucus in the nation and the nine-month focus of the political process is another topic for another day. But this much is true -- the caucuses are important to Iowa. If Iowa was one of two dozen states casting their votes on Super Tuesday February 5, few of the candidates would be here at all. Iowa would be off the map, like our Midwestern counterparts in South Dakota, Kansas, and Nebraska. Maybe a few TV adds here and there. Perhaps a media conference at the airport between stops in Illinois and Missouri. But not the untold millions that are spent now, and the countless coffee shop appearances by a dozen or more candidates.

The last time Iowa was in the news as much as it has been the last month, was in January of 2004 -- the last caucus. The last national impacting news story out of Iowa that doesn't relate to the caucuses was probably the floods of 1993, now 14 years ago. Whether or not the nation needs the Iowa caucus may be a debatable topic. But this is not up for debate -- Iowa does need to be the first-in-the-nation stop for the next President of the United States. If not for your benefit, then for ours.

P.S. It is estimated that about 250,000 Iowans may caucus tonight. If indeed upwards of $40,000,000 has been spent wooing my vote, perhaps in 2012 one of the candidate might just consider writing me a personal check. I don't want to suggest that my vote can be purchased ... obviously the candidates are already convinced that it can be.