Things are hectic, but I've got too many odd thoughts floating around in my bean to wait for a good time to blog. So this entry may be a bit scattered.
A while ago I mentioned a college some 40 miles from here (Northwestern College in Orange City, IA to be exact) that hung some artwork done by an alumnus in a public space, causing some controversy. The artwork was a replica of an American flag, dyed black, with a pretty scathing (and poorly written) explanation below. Many of the veterans in the area took offense to the art and raised quite a ruckus, wanting the art to be removed.
I asked around, and got comments ranging from "we should go tear it down, I don't care if I go to jail, I'm defending our flag," to "it's only art, lighten up." A few people had thoughts along the lines of "veterans shouldn't wrap themselves in the flag so much -- what the artist did was disgraceful, but there's no need to get up in arms about the issue."
I truly wish I had a week to ponder and research the issues and morality behind free speech, imagery, loyalty, art, symbology, etc. But I don't...
When I heard of the "Black Flag" my first reaction was surprise. "Art? In this part of the country? Really?" My second reaction was, "Oh man... Some 18-year-old freshman art student did this simply to create controversy and get attention. What a cheap ploy." Was I upset that the American flag was desecrated? You betcha! The flag is an important symbol to me, one that's not easily defined.
My actions in the matter? I wrote an e-mail to the president of the college. I told him I found the exhibit to be disrespectful, and asked that it be removed. I received an e-mail from him later in the day (it was a form letter, by the way) thanking me for my opinion, stating that the artwork was there to spark debate and open discourse amongst the students. I was happy with that, to be honest. I saw a situation I didn't agree with, I voiced my disagreement, let's move on. In other words, the flag bothered me, but I understand free speech and the "campus environment."
In the end, quite a few other people wrote letters to Northwestern as well, and rumor has it that some major donors were threatening to pull funding. The college finally put the "Black Flag" in a locked room in their art hall; to see it you had to ask for a key.
Note: Turns out the artist who designed the "Black Flag" wasn't an 18-year-old freshman after all. He was a 50-something alum of the school who graduated in the 1970s. He made the flag for the FIRST Gulf War, and recycled it when the Iraq War came along... In a statement to the press he said he was pleased with his work.
I haven't been watching the local news much lately, but I did catch one addition to the taser story. The day after the news hit the streets that a security guard (who is also a police officer) had used his taser on a 13-year-old girl to stop a violent confrontation, a local TV station interviewed a lady who said, in effect, "I was there, I saw the whole thing, and I can't believe the officer waited that long before he used his taser."
Some people in the community, and some of the people who commented on my blog, think it's unconscionable for an officer to use physical force on a minor. Other people think he was well within his authority to do so. Personally, I tend to agree with the latter -- if someone trained in law enforcement and crowd control deems it necessary to use a taser, he's probably right... A 13-year-old girl should know enough that when an officer tells her to quit fighting, she should quit fighting -- NOT attack the officer.
The lady being interviewed continued to say that the two girls who ended up arrested (the tasered girl and her 14-year-old sister) were out of control, biting people, crawling on the floor, hitting, kicking, and wouldn't stop. The lady held up her thumb, which had a very visible bite mark, and said the girls were out of control.
Sadly, the girls' mother did NOT discipline the girls for fighting, attacking a police officer, biting strangers, kicking and screaming and eventually getting arrested. Instead she demanded the City Council look into the matter, saying the officer used force because (and I didn't mention this in my last post) the girls are Native American. Now the Native American community in the area is actively defending the two girls as well, and is demanding a full accounting of how the local police use force in regard to minorities. (Turns out the police around here taser people on an average of twice a week. How many Native Americans have been tased in the past year? The phrase I heard was, "a couple.")
To me, it's still a simple issue. Every parent wants to defend their children against spurious accusations and unfair situations, but every parent should realize that their children are not infallible, and that sometimes their children need to learn to be responsible for themselves. The children attacked a police officer, causing the officer to use non-lethal (though painful, from what I hear) means to subdue them. What made the girls think it was proper behavior to brawl and attack an officer? Why did they think they were going to get away with it? Because they knew they would. And that's sad.
As a side note from this issue, many people around here are now talking about getting tasers for personal protection. I was trained in the use of various firearms as well as very basic hand-to-hand and bladed weapon combat, and I'd personally rather have a taser in my house than a handgun or a knife.
Random Thoughts 1. "Hmmm... Our nation's vice president has somehow managed to put the 'ick' in 'Dick.'" (I stole that one from a comment I left on Leonesse's blog. Is that plagiarism?)
2. I overheard someone say, "I can't afford to get my medicine because I have to pay my insurance bill. Too bad my insurance won't cover my medicine." That made me sad. Then I petted a puppy and I was happy again.
3. Speaking of insurance, my neighbor has lived in his house for over 50 years. He's paid homeowners' insurance the whole time. Fifty years. A few days ago an arsonist hit his house (his son's girlfriend got mad and lit a bed on fire in the middle of the night). They estimate the damage at $15,000. The man's insurance will give him $5,500. That just ain't right. Fifty years of paying premiums should get you a bit more than that. We need more governmental oversight on just how much profit the insurance companies can legally take. We're getting bled to death here.
4. You'll never regret doing the right thing. That concept often surprises me. I'm happy Ma and Pa taught me that.
A Pleasant Surprise and a Small Disappointment
The pleasant surprise was a phone call from one of the candidates. Living in Iowa, I get a fair number of these calls. "Hello, I represent so-and-so's campaign, and we'd like to know who you're planning to vote for..." They usually lead into a ten-minute long spiel that I don't want to listen to (I know, for the most part, what the candidates have done).
This time, however, the conversation was much different.
"Hello, I'm from Governor Bill Richardson's campaign. Do you have a few minutes?" asked the nice young man on the phone.
"Sure," I replied, looking around for a place to sit down. "What's up? Anything I can help you with?"
"Well, I was wondering who you're going to caucus for in the upcoming primary."
"Richardson, actually," I said. I like Richardson. I think he's got more real-world experience than the other candidates (he's negotiated hostage releases from some very nasty places overseas, and has experience both at the state and federal level, including Ambassador to the United Nations), and his commercials show a sense of humor. Seeing as how I've pretty much lost my sense of humor altogether, I live vicariously on others'.
"Well, that's great," said the voice. "May I ask what your top issues are in the election?" I had the impression the person behind the voice had a military background. Very matter-of-fact.
"Sure..." I paused to think. There are a helluva lotta issues, you know. "Environment, Iraq, and veterans' rights," I said.
"Do you know the Governor's position on those issues?" (Richardson was Secretary of Energy. That's important to me. We're going into an energy crisis -- we need someone in office who's NOT catering to the oil cartel, and understands the issues from political, economic and environmental standpoints.)
"Yes, actually. I do research."
"Very well then," said the voice. "Thank you for your time. If you need any more information, please don't hesitate to contact us. Have a good evening, sir."
Well, how nice! I wasn't bludgeoned with unwanted information, the phone call was short and pleasant, the caller was not pushy, nor did he sound desperate... Nice! Unusual.
Now, on to the disappointment.
I've heard a lot about Republican Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee lately. People seem to be impressed with his honest approach, and from what I'd seen, I agreed. Seems like a nice guy. Be great if the race came down to the Democratic Richardson vs. Huckabee. Two nice guys, vying for the top job... Then I heard Mr. Huckabee speak on television this morning.
The interviewer asked the Governor what he thought of Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton's positions on several issues. Governor Huckabee disappointed me by resorting to party rhetoric and outright misinformation, slamming Clinton's campaign pretty unfairly. (Remember, I'm supporting Richardson, not Clinton.) The thing that stuck in my craw most was when he said something akin to "Mrs. Clinton supports more government controlling your life, and she won't protect you from terrorists." That's quite simply incorrect and misleading.
Let's get this straight -- neither party supports the terrorists. Both parties want to squish their little heads. The Republicans do not have a patent on hating terrorists. (Nor have Republicans patented the words "Moral" and "Values," and they do not have exclusive rights to this "Christian" thing, by the way.) Both parties are American, and people of both parties can belong to the military, can support the military, and can dislike the war.
To answer Governor Huckabee's charge, a bit more specifically, I cannot think of any presidential administration in United States history that has imposed more governmental control over citizens than the current Bush administration. At the moment, the Democratic candidates, one and all of them, have agendas that will reverse this trend, actually lessening governmental control over individuals.
I honestly think that if Americans could put away the bitterness and hatred, we'd probably find that most of us are closer to Libertarians than we are to either of the main parties. Ah well.
Dirty Nasty Bikers
The American Legion Riders held a fundraiser for a local Iraq War veteran who was sent home with leukemia. It was a soup and pie supper, with an auction and a dance afterwards. We estimated there might be 350 people at the event, but just over halfway through the supper we'd already gone through 500 bowls of soup. We raised a lot of money for Joe's medical bills! (If anyone wants to donate, by the way, we're still taking donations for a few more days, just e-mail me for details. Or you can stop in at Vantus Bank in Le Mars.)
I bought Dagmar a rose. We danced, too. Well, she danced. I jiggled.
My thoughts and opinions on the local news this morning:
This one really bothers me. A 13-year-old girl was tasered by an off-duty policeman here in Sioux City a day or two ago.
It seems that the policeman was working as a security guard at the roller-skating rink when a fight between two 14-year-old girls broke out. When the man tried to break up the fight, one of the girls wouldn't listen and kept fighting, prompting her 13-year-old sister to jump in and start fighting as well. After being kicked and bitten, the policeman pulled out his taser and used a "short burst" on the younger girl, thus subduing her and stopping the fight.
The two sisters who resisted were taken to jail (or juvenile detention, I guess), and were apparently released to their mother shortly thereafter.
The mother is raising a fuss about this whole thing. "My daughters are going to carry this brutality around with them for quite some time," she said on TV. "Why that man had to use such force on an 85-pound girl is beyond me." She's appealed the matter to the City Council, who's reviewing and investigating the incident.
Police Chief Joe Frisbee issued a short statement on TV that went something like, "There were three combatants. One of them obeyed the officer, stopped fighting, and answered his questions truthfully. She did not go to jail. The other two continued fighting. They went to jail." In a later interview at the City Council, the Chief said the officer was licensed to carry and use a taser, and "utilized it minimally" in the altercation.
To me it seems pretty simple. Take responsibility for your actions. This is a prime time to teach a lesson to these young ladies -- if you disrespect authority, use violence instead of diplomacy, and ignore lawful commands, you will be punished. There is nothing personal about this.
If, at the age of 13, I had gotten into a fight, I doubt my parents would have even bothered to find out what caused the fight or who was right or wrong -- they simply would have drug me home by my ear and taught me not to fight.
Is it right for police to taser 13-year-old girls? Hmmm... Ask it another way. Is it right for 13-year-old girls to attack police officers and get away with it? What made this girl think she could beat up a policeman and receive no repercussion? Could it be that she's never been disciplined, or taught to respect elders in general? Or rather has she been taught that she can do whatever she wants, as long as she plays the role of wounded victim afterwards? That seems to be the lesson she's learning now...
This one's a little more clear-cut. "Yes, I shot my husband, but I don't remember doing it, therefore I shouldn't go to jail."
Well, do you know that killing people is against the law? Did you kill someone? Yes? Okay, what's the question?
This story positively sucks. There's nothing good at all about this. I didn't see it on the news, but my beloved Austrian snowflake Dagmar told me about it.
A 14-year-old boy was standing on 14th and Douglas waiting for the school bus when two men approached him and asked him for a cigarette. The boy told them he didn't smoke. The men then beat the boy so severely he's in the hospital now -- I don't know what his condition is, but it sounds kinda bad.
The city responded by saying they'd "move the bus stop to a safer location." Well, that's a good start. But how about making the first location safer while you're at it? Simply saying, "well, since that neighborhood's so bad and violent, we'll move the bus stop to a different location" means that the thugs won! They just took over the neighborhood.
I hope they catch the two buttheads who beat the boy, and I certainly hope and pray the boy recovers. And I hope the city wakes up to the fact that ignoring violence and gang activity is not the answer.
Last week I went with the American Legion Riders to Onawa, IA to escort The Wall That Heals to South Sioux City, NE. (The Wall is a half-size replica of the Vietnam Memorial.) So, a group of us put on all the leather we could find, got on our motorcycles and off we went through the drizzle down the Interstate. It never got above 50 degrees that day, which is awfully cold when you're going 70 miles per hour, wet. But we were all dressed properly, and no one complained. Much.
We met the semi-trailer and the rest of the convoy at a rest stop, where we regrouped, got the plan together, then off we went to South Sioux -- bikes followed by the semi carrying the wall, followed by more bikes.
I was honored three times that day. Once simply by being with the guys. Once by being one of the few chosen by the Ride Captain to do an interview for the local TV station. And I was honored to be one of seven riders chosen to do the "missing man" formation. (The "missing man" formation is when we ride in a block of eight riders, four rows of two, with one spot left open for the rider who can't be with us. So, there are seven riders in an eight-man formation. Normally riders will ride in a staggered formation while at highway speeds -- the missing man formation is one of the rare times when you'll see two bikes side-by-side. It's a bit tricky.)
Once we got to South Sioux, we paused at the outskirts of town to put our flags up (we don't ride under flag at highway speed simply because the flags will fray in the wind), then we proceeded through town. At the very first turn we made there were people sitting on the corner in their lawn chairs, in the drizzle and cold, waiting to stand up and see the wall come past. At the next intersection was a Legionnaire standing proudly, saluting as we went past.
I truly felt proud to be part of the whole thing. I can't imagine how the Vietnam Vets in our group felt -- and there were a good number of them in the escort. They must have felt some pretty strong emotions.
A few blocks later we saw a line of people along both sides of the street, waving signs. As we got closer, I could see they were school children. Standing quietly, hands over their hearts, some waving hand-drawn signs saying "Thank You" and "U.S.A.," the children watched the bikes and semis come past.
A few blocks later we went past another school -- again, all the children were lined up on both sides of the street.
Six blocks later, more children.
I thought of my buddies, the Vietnam Vets, and wondered how they were feeling. Their generation lost over 58,000 people in Vietnam. My generation was blessed -- we lost 148 soldiers in the Gulf War. I consider myself very lucky to NOT know what my father's generation knows, and what the younger generation is learning today. Both the generation before me and after me suffered casualties in an unpopular war, returning soldiers being shunned by parts of society. But today, a few Vietnam Veterans were riding their motorcycles through town, being saluted by school children.
When we arrived at the park where the Wall was to be placed, we got off our bikes in order to mill aimlessly around the parking lot, stretching our legs. Most everyone was wiping their eyes.
It was quite the experience!
Friday night was a different sort of experience -- we went to McKenna's in Omaha with some friends from Los Angeles for our yearly get-together. I was happy to find out Studebaker John and the Hawks were playing! Good band! It was a good time indeed -- good food (though the wings had quite a bit of after-kick), good beer (Fat Tire and Boulevard Wheat on tap), and good friends.
Saturday we got on the bike and went back to South Sioux to actually SEE the wall (all I'd seen on the escort was the truck). Again, it was quite the experience.
Even at half-size, the Wall took up considerable real estate. I'm not sure how long it was, but I imagine the "real" Memorial in Washington, D.C. must be quite impressive. They had several tents and exhibits set up, explaining the war and the memorial itself. If you wanted, they had people there with computers who could look up any name on the wall for you and tell you which panel the name's on, and what line. With over 58,000 names, there really isn't any way of finding a name by simply wandering around looking for it...
A few quick facts about the memorial: The Vietnam Memorial was designed by a young lady of Asian descent. The names start with those killed in 1959 in the middle of the monument, and continue to the right in the order of when the individual was killed. When the wall tapers to an end on the right side, the names continue from the left panel and meet up with the beginning, so the last casualty of the war and the first casualty of the war are placed in the middle of the monument, bringing about a sense of unit and closure. Most lines have five names on them, but there are some with six names -- they're still adding names to the monument, people who died of combat-related injuries after the war, and those remains who were listed as prisoners of war who have been identified by DNA.
I always assumed the wall was simply a wall with names inscribed upon it, but it has a distinctive shape -- tall in the middle, sloping gently to a point at either end.
Watching people's reaction to the wall is a lesson in humility and respect. So many people lost so much in the war... It's hard to imagine.
Sunday found us in Le Mars at the monthly Legion Riders meeting. We've been planning a fund raiser for local soldier Joe DeLaschmutt -- he went to Iraq with the Army National Guard unit in Le Mars and was sent home with leukemia. He's had several bone marrow transplants and is waiting to undergo further operations and procedures. His wife and two-year-old son have pretty much been living at the hospital with him, I guess. Insurance is NOT covering the medical bill. So anyway, we've decided to put on a Soup and Pie Supper for Joe next Saturday. We're gonna have an auction afterwards, too, with all proceeds going to Joe's family. If anyone wants to make a donation, feel free to e-mail me (chris at radloffs dot net) and I'll make it happen.
In an unguarded moment of uncharacteristic reckless abandon, I decided to move one of my web sites (www.radloffs.net) from AxisHost (whom I highly recommend, by the way) over to the same place all my other web sites live, simply to keep things consistent. "This will be fun," I though to myself as I sat in front of the keyboard and squinted myopically at the screen. "I should be able to do this just by changing THIS and THIS. Oh wait. I guess I have to change THIS, too. Uh oh... Um..."
In one swell foop I managed to lose my web site, my e-mail, my wife's e-mail, and my blog. All I gotta say is if you're gonna muck about with cName and MX attributes, you'd best have a cuppa coffee 'cause it's gonna take a while to get things straightened out, unless, I suppose, you know what you're doing.
So now (as you can see) I've got my blog back up and running, though its based on a standard template (I'll change that by and by) and I've lost all the photos in the archived entries. The sad part is that for various technical reasons I don't understand fully I couldn't keep my blog's URL, which means I have to contact everyone who reads the blog or may have a link to the blog and tell them where it lives nowadays. It's a pain for everyone, and I apologize.
I'm in the process of rebuilding www.radloffs.net, but it'll take a while. Please be patient. Pretty please.
In a totally unrelated incident, the people who govern the Web have decided that the "embed" file is obsolete now. Unfortunately, I still use that tag a LOT -- it's how I get Picasa slideshows to work on my Web sites. The tool I use to design my sites is HTML 4.01 compliant, and is therefore stripping all "embed" commands from my sites whenever I do any editing. I'm not sure what the workaround will be for that, but at the moment it seems likely that I'll simply have to get rid of the slideshows, bit by bit. (For some reason they still work in Blogger. Go figger.)
Dagmar and I are off to Omaha in a few hours to meet some friends, watch a good band (Studebaker John), and not think about computers.
Actually, Dagmar's not a dragon at all. She's a dragling. If you get time, check out Randal Spangler's artwork -- he has a whole series of Dagmar and Dewey Dragling art. Fun stuff!
Got called last night to go play at the Farmers' Market again. It's 8:45 a.m. and raining. They want us to play from 9:30 to noon... I hope it quits raining. Of course, rain goes well with folk rock and blues, I guess. Especially while people are wandering past fondling their melons...
Overheard (in my mind): "Gosh, we'll finally get to see what the Bush administration can offer us after six years of the Rove administration.."
We went to the local Renaissance Faire (called Riverssance hereabouts) last weekend. I found myself watching the tin men on horsies bash each other with big sticks, wishing I knew someone named "Shirley," simply so I could wait until she said something silly about the event. Then I could say, "Shirley, you joust."
"I'm so hungry my stomach is looking at my liver and dreaming of onions."
I went to the polls to vote (why else go to the polls? to go swimming?) over my lunch hour last Tuesday. I had a choice of five mayoral candidates, and was allowed to vote for one. The top two vote-getters get moved on to the finals in November. Anyway, as I plugged my ballot into the machine, I noticed the little counter doohicky on the top click from "12" to "13."
"Does this mean I'm the thirteenth person to vote?" I asked an official.
"But that's only on this machine, right?" I asked.
"Yep," was the answer.
"How many machines are there?"
The official shrugged at me. "Just the one."
"Oh," I said. "Thirteen people all morning. That's not a lot, is it. What time did you open? Noon?"
"Nope, we've been open since 7:30."
The guy I voted for came in third with 687 votes. The top two candidates tied with 1,956 votes each. Slightly less than 12% of the registered voters in Sioux City showed up at the polls. This makes me sad, but what makes it even worse is that this is the first time we've been able to vote for a mayor in 50-some years, and we still didn't bother to come out and vote. (But, conversely, a weak turnout at the polls makes MY vote worth much more -- my one vote counted for eight citizens this time. Made me feel powerful.)
Just out of curiosity, what is your opinion about THIS? I'd like to hear what people think...
I just realized something. My representative to congress, Steve King (R-IA), wants it both ways. He wants his cake, and he wants to eat it too. Go figger.
After United States President George Walker Bush, Republican, vetoed giving poor sick children medical help, Representative King stepped forward to defend the President. This in itself is not unusual -- looking at Mr. King's voting record reveals that he votes with the President nearly every single time he casts a vote. What was unusual in this matter is that people in Sioux City gathered outside Mr. King's office in peaceful protest, waving signs with the number of children in Mr. King's district that will be denied health care due to his refusal to stand up for his constituents.
I don't remember the exact quote, but I saw Mr. King on TV saying something like, "just because a bunch of people stand on the sidewalk with signs doesn't make them right." Mr. King never did talk to the gathered crowd, from what I understand.
The very next day (yesterday) I again saw Mr. King's face on TV. This time he was participating in a demonstration, standing on a sidewalk waving an anti-choice sign. I guess he felt the best way to get his point across was to stand on a sidewalk with a sign... I doubt the irony of this crossed his mind.
But what bothers me MUCH more than his "sidewalk politics" is the overall message Mr. King is sending. He protested abortion, yet voted against health care for children. So what he's saying to women is basically, "We demand that you have that child, yet we're going to block any legislation that might actually help you raise the child."
I guess it doesn't surprise me that a politician that supports cock fighting is capable of thinking women's rights and children's health are irrelevant.
As a sidebar, I've noticed that the Republicans have avoided rational discussion of SCHIP (health care for poor, sick children) by labeling it "socialized medicine." SCHIP is not "socialized medicine," it's health care for poor sick children.
The Bush administration is against SCHIP on the theory that it may help a few children who are either wealthy or here illegally. So they're not going to help ANY children, rather than run the risk that a fraction of a percentage of the funds may be misused. Here's a question... What would Jesus think if you told him you stood by and let a child die because if you had helped the child you might have, by accident, helped another child as well? I know what my conscience tells me.
I went home for lunch... I had some of the chicken wings, but I was still hungry so I had some chips and salsa too. I tried that new "Classic Marinara" salsa you bought (it was right in front of the fridge, so I thought I'd try it), and I really don't care for it much. It's kind of bland and, well, tomato-ie. Can we go back to using "Pace Picante" sauce? I like that better.
Here's a little slide show of my neighborhood for you to peep at if you're so inclined. I'll meet you at the end for an explanation...
My neighborhood, over on the West Side in Sioux City, has long felt neglected by the city government as well as by law enforcement. It's not a bad neighborhood, per se, but there are problems that need dealt with. (Note, most of the woes in the photos above have been fixed, but new woes continually pop up.)
A few days ago I attended a seminar. There were three speakers, all talking about how they and their companies foster growth in the community.
The first lady, a representative of the Chamber of Commerce, spoke in glowing terms about how much money was being funneled into the area by new business and how bright the future looks (referring to an oil refinery that may be built right across the river in neighboring South Dakota). "Sioux City is growing," she said, excitement in her voice. "We even have an Olive Garden now!"
The next speaker was from Midwest Energy, the local power company. He spoke about how they try to keep their costs down in order to get new business to come to the region. He seemed very pleased that his company was able to provide Google with enough low-cost power that they chose to build a new server farm (or something) in Council Bluffs, 90 miles south of here, right next to the new coal plant they opened. (It came up later that Sioux City didn't get the bid for the Google plant because energy HERE costs too much.) Someone asked him about wind energy -- specifically how they get the land to put their wind turbines on. "We lease the land from the farmers," he said. This is a direct quote: "It's a fifty-year lease, so some of the farmers are reluctant to let us build. We prefer to build coal plants; if the farmers don't want to sell us the land for a coal plant we can just have the area condemned and given to us."
The third speaker was a local banker. He spoke for forty-five minutes about how his bank is reluctant to give loans to start-up companies, and how you need to "develop a stable, long-term relationship" with your banker. He basically told us that his bank would NOT give a new company a loan unless the applicant had an equal amount of money in his or her personal bank account as collateral. "What good is it for us to repossess a factory full of, say, pipes?" he said. "If you can't make your loan payment, we want cash money, not pipes."
I wondered what these people were getting at. A lady who thinks Olive Garden is the wave of the future, a power company arrogant enough to say in public they steal land from farmers, and a banker who won't give loans until you're established. The tenor of the seminar was very upbeat, very positive. "Sioux City is moving forward! We're growing!" People clapped a lot and nodded their heads. When asked how we'd rate the attitude of Sioux City on a scale from one to ten, most everyone said seven or eight. I hollered "Try a three, maybe." The lady next to me whispered "look at them -- they come from the rich part of town, no wonder they're so happy about everything."
It got me started thinking, again, about the plight and blight in my neighborhood. What were these people seeing that made them have such a positive attitude about the city? What was I seeing that was different?
I guess I was seeing homeless people. I'm so used to seeing trash, graffiti, homeless people and general grunginess in my neighborhood that I forget that some neighborhoods DON'T have that stuff. We have three gangs in my neighborhood, all vying for attention via spray paint and bullets. People have learned that the adage "work hard and you'll get ahead" only pertains to other people. What happens in our neighborhood is that we work hard only to see our taxes go up while property taxes in the richer parts of town are cut. "We need those people to move here," one official told me after the seminar. "We want that kind of people living here, so we have to give them a tax break or they'll move somewhere else." I asked him how "those people" would make a living if there were no workers in their fancy manufacturing plants. He didn't have an answer.
Every day I hear things like, "I try to sell my paintings here in Sioux City, but no one here will buy them. I have to sell them to people on the coasts, but that means I lose half my profit in shipping costs. The funny part is that the people here buy similar artwork for twice the money I'm charging, but they have to have it painted by someone far away." I know when I played in bands we could play in Sioux Falls or Omaha for $1,200 a night, or we could play locally for $300 a weekend. No one here would pay us. People talk about the expanding job market. Wonderful! Can I have one of those new high-paying jobs? I've got a degree and over 15 years experience in my field... What? The new high-paying jobs pay eight dollars an hour? Oh. The packing plants pay more than that. Heck, McDonald's pays more than that.
Businesses in the neighborhood are leaving. There are abandoned and empty buildings all over the place. I saw the neighbor guy walking home with a McDonald's bag in his hand. We chatted for a few minutes, and he mentioned he really wished he could get a good meal. "What's that?" I asked. He waved the bag in the air. "This is crap," he said, "but I don't have a car -- I can't get to the grocery store. I can walk to McDonald's." He works at the local flea market. Being disabled, it's the only job he can get.
In any case, these are complex, complicated issues that have no easy answers. But these issues do exist, and they're not going away.
I think it surprised a few people at the seminar when I stood up and told them that their rosy scenario of Sioux City was all peaches and cream, "but there's still a homeless guy sleeping in my alley, and we need to do something to help him."
We need to dream big dreams and reach for the stars. We just need to remember to pause now and then to reach down and give the next guy a helping hand.
The other day I had to go to the Legion Club to help someone with a project. The guy paid me in beer, bless his heart... I drank Miller Lites (shush -- it's all they had) on his tab all night. Wheee! It was fun. I enjoyed myself...
"Ve need to stop und buy groceries on the way home," my beloved Viennese Snowflake Dagmar said as we got in the car to leave. She slid behind the steering wheel and continued, "Do you tink you can handle valking through the grocery store, mister 'Just One More Beer Please'?"
"Yeah," I said from the passenger seat, stifling a hiccup. "Yes, I c'n go grocery shopping."
"Und you're not goink to yell at the stock boy for raising the prices?"
"I'll try not to," I said, my fingers crossed.
Within minutes Dagmar was leading me by hand into the local food market. She grabbed a cart, looked me in the eye, and said, "I'm going to go buy groceries for the week. You go find something colorful to look at and don't vander off." I nodded, and off she went.
Ten minutes later I met her up front by the cash registers. "Vhat do you have there?" she asked me. "What's all dat stuff?"
"I found some stuff," I said, my arms full. "I'm hungry."
"You vant a loaf of Italian bread, a loaf of French bread, a bag of bagels, wheat crackers and some croutons?" she asked.
"I'm hungry for carbs," I said.
"You'll never eat all that," she replied. "Let's put some of it back..."
"NO," I blurted. "No. I'm hungry. I want bread."
"Okay... But if we have to next week feed ten dollars worth of stale bread to the birds I'm going to laugh at you."
That was days ago. I've eaten nothing but bread since. I'm sick of bread. I don't want any more bread. I don't like bread. But I'm NOT going to admit defeat. I will, however, stipulate that one should probably not go grocery shopping after drinking beer...
I just got an e-mail forwarded me from a friend of mine bashing a political candidate. A quick check on snopes.com verified what I had thought -- the forwarded e-mail was pretty much entirely wrong.
I don't mind political discourse. In fact I like it, though I've kind of been staying out of political thought the past month or two, simply 'cause I'm too busy to do the research necessary to write original political theses, and I rarely write about issues without checking the facts.
But candidate-bashing is not political discourse. Especially when the facts are wrong.
It really raises my blood pressure and, to be honest, makes me mad as hell when these e-mails hit my in-box. It only takes thirty seconds to check the facts... Why can't people check FIRST, rather than making me do it? Gaaaahhhh! And, of course, when I send an e-mail back to the person saying, "I'm sorry, but the e-mail you sent me was incorrect, here's the correct information," I know they're NOT going to read it, and they're NOT going to send a retraction to everyone in their address book -- because they want to believe what the e-mail said so badly they're willing to let the lies lie.
The truth should not be sacrificed. I just got done defending Hillary Clinton, and I don't even like her much. (Go Richardson.)
(Note: After I wrote this, I checked my e-mail. Sure enough, there was a message from my friend, the one who send the message that prompted this little rant. "I should have checked this before I sent it to you," he said. "It sounded too extreme to be true. Thanks for correcting me." He's a good man.)
I'm so used to going through computer switchboards ("Press 1 to talk to the morons, or press 2 to talk to the idiots...") that I just about panicked when I called my wife's new work number and a real live human being answered the phone. A receptionist.
"Hello, this is Company A, may I direct your call please?"
Caught completely unprepared to talk to someone in the "Not My Wife" class of humanity, I had no idea what to say. A normal person would probably have said something like, "Hello, may I speak to Dagmar please?" or "Can you connect me to the new lady with the European accent?" But all I could think of was, "Duuaaaahhhhhmmmmm..."
"Sir? Are you okay?"
"Gaaaahhh... You're a human, aren't you? Like, wow... Sorry. Um, can I talk to my wife?"
"That would depend on, like, who your wife is, now, wouldn't it?"
I have the distinct feeling that the nice lady who answered the phone will be wondering to herself the next time she sees my lovely, elegant and very intelligent wife just how poor Dagmar got saddled with such an ignorant (by the way, that's pronounced "ignernt" around here) boob for a husband. My poor wife. I'll have to do something nice for her to make up for it. Maybe I'll give her a nice loaf of bread or something...
I've been listening to Pandora Radio on the Internets all day today. Good stuff. Thanks to Bert for pointing it out. I'd reward him with a nice piece of bread if he lived around here.
A national embarrassment
Hey, you know how the Nazis controlled the German population? The same way the Soviet Union kept generations of citizens under control, and the same way many Islamic nations in the Mideast handle their populace... Childhood indoctrination, coupled with hatred. Teach children to hate a group of people and they will continue that hatred, no matter how illogical, through adulthood. The Nazies taught their citizens to hate and fear the Jewish population. The Soviets taught their population to hate and fear capitalists. The fundamental Islamic nations seem to be teaching hatred and fear of Christians. (Please note, Jews, capitalists, and Christians are all, last I checked, human beings.)
We don't do that here in the United States, though. We're open-minded. We realize that hatred fosters naught but violence and ignernts. The nation is already feeling fractured and fragmented due to the war in Iraq and a government that seems uncaring at best, cruel at worst. We're America, after all. We're understanding, enlightened people. Aren't we?
I thought so. Then I saw this book... (See photo to the right. If you can't see it, the title is "Help! Mom! There are Liberals Under My Bed!"
We need this like we need a hole in the head. "Yay, let's teach our children to hate and fear HALF of our own population, and distrust an entire political philosophy. Yes, that will unite us..."
I'm not a big fan of the Republican party. They simply don't reflect my personal values. But I'd like to think that I'd blanch a bit if I saw a book like this targeted against conservatives. I wouldn't want to see a book like this targeted against any group.
Children understand a lot, but let's leave politics out of the nursery, shall we? It can't do anything but make them distrustful, hateful and fearful. There's enough to distrust and fear out there without this sort of thing... Let the children grow up first. If you teach your children honestly and well, they'll turn out just fine. They can make up their political mind when they're old enough to decide for themselves.
Slightly on the same topic, sort of... The book mentioned above deals with two children trying to start a lemonade stand (from what I've seen on the Internet -- I have not read the book). The children are hassled by the bad liberal who comes and demands half their money in taxes. I'd like to think that the book would point out that without taxes, we'd have no roads, no schools, no water, no sewers... Personally, I'm pretty happy to pay my taxes, simply because I know I'd have to pay a helluva lot more to flush my toilet if the sewers were run by the same people who run the insurance, oil and power companies.
Ah, it was a weekend just like the old days... Made me sort of nostalgic.
One of my old bands called me on Friday. "Hey, we're booked at the Chesterfield Saturday night, but our bass player can't make it. Can you play?" I reviewed my schedule... Saturday night I was supposed to be in neighboring village Le Mars to help prepare a presentation for the Korean Veterans' Last Man Club, but gosh, I can reschedule that...
"Yep," I said. "I can be there." A few quick phone calls and my schedule was set. Oh boy! I get to play again!
It didn't really occur to me until mid-afternoon on Saturday, just hours before the gig, that I hadn't played with this band for nearly two years. Two years! I bet they learned a few new songs in the last two years... Will I be able to remember the old songs? Oh my. I looked at my bass. It had been sitting in the corner so long there was dust on the case. Not just a light sprinkling of dust, but the "I can see your fingerprints" kind of dust. It's been a while...
I found an old recording of the band from years ago and cued it up on iTunes, hoping to refresh my memory. I lay back and closed my eyes, concentrating on the key changes. Within five minutes I was sound asleep.
So... 7:30 that night found me standing on stage, plugging my bass into the house sound system, woefully unprepared, but well rested. After a quick sound check I ran through the list of questions I had for the band. "What's the key change in this song?" and "Do you guys still cue off the drums for the ending of this song?" and "When did you quit wearing sequined spandex pants, and why didn't anyone tell me?"
By 8:30 my beloved Austrian Snickerdoodle Dagmar and I were sitting at a table, me sipping beer, she sipping a Diet Coke mit der lime in it. The place was starting to fill up a little -- people slowly filtering in to see the show. (It never ceases to amaze me how a bar can be completely empty at 8:55 and be packed at 9:01.) I couldn't help but notice one elderly couple, dressed to the nines. I wondered if they would stay for a song, or if they would leave before the band started.
Promptly at 9:17 the singer gathered us together and we headed for the stage. I strapped on my bass, set my beer down, and proceeded to have a ball... I forget exactly what the first song was, but it was something along the lines of Ted Nugent's "Great White Buffalo," a very up-tempo, semi-distorted 70's song. I wondered what the classy elderly couple thought of it. The second song was in the same vein as the first -- a fast rocker designed to get people onto the dance floor early. And sure enough, people were dancing. There were at least three or four couples on the dance floor, jiggling away. Again, I wondered a little about the well-dressed gent and his wife. I felt bad that we'd chased them out of the place with our loud music...
Then I realized that THEY were the ones in the middle of the dance floor.
They stayed all night. They danced to "Margaritaville." They danced to "Brown eyed Girl." They danced to "Play That Funky Music." ZZTop, Ted Nugent, they danced to it all. When the dance floor got full, they danced in the aisle. About halfway through the night the gent lost his coat and tie and continued dancing in his shirt sleeves. They danced until well after 1 o'clock in the morning.
It did my heart good to see them.
Just like in the old days, I slept until 11 the next morning, then spent the day on the couch, remote in one hand, snacks balanced precariously on my belly, moaning about my headache, Alka-Seltzer fizzing away.
To top the weekend off in style, the Mighty Mighty Packers beat the Vikings to remain undefeated -- a perfect 4-0!
Then I fell asleep.
Things to Think About
I received an e-mail from a friend the other day saying, "Look at this -- the democrats are trying to take veterans' benefits away from us again. Boy, the nerve! I'm sure going to remember this when it's time to vote!" There was a link to a newspaper article. I didn't read it.
Things like this make me angry. I could tell at first glance that facts were taken out of context and the facts were distorted, but I didn't have time to even read the article all the way through. I want to rebut and refute, but I can't until I get time to do more research. But gosh, it sure seems to me like the democrats giveth and the republicans taketh away...