25 October 2008

Opie, Andy, The Fonz & James Taylor...

How cool is this?

See more Ron Howard videos at Funny or Die

And then, of course, my main man...

19 October 2008

Gravitas, Sophistry and Presidential Timber vs. Kindling


In a campaign steeped with so much surreal sophistry, I have been searching for gravitas. I was eager to watch "Meet the Press" this morning. Distinguished former JCS and Secretary of State Colin Powell was the featured guest. I was anxious to hear what he had to say because technically he's a registered republican like me and also, I have the highest respect for this man. I've always thought him to be a reasonable, brilliant and sensible gentleman who would, in my opinion, have made a fine president in his own right.

As Tom Brokaw lead him up to the $64,000 question, Powell offered a studied assessment of both Sen. McCain as well as Sen. Obama. His points were concise, topical, thorough and I personally agreed with just about everything he said.

I've always personally put a lot of stock in Powell's opinions because he's seen things from within the inner circle of government and the military. Like a lot of Americans, I feel as if I can trust this man's view because of the positions he's held and, frankly, I always thought Bush threw him under the bus.

These are some of the most challenging times America has ever faced. No matter where you find yourself on the political spectrum, most of us can agree that our plate isn't simply full, stuff is spilling off of it in huge dollops. Our plate can barely contain its contents at the moment.

I've had serious and deep conversations with people I highly respect in these past few weeks, people I have known for years and put a lot of stock into what they believe., their opinions and views. Anyone who reads this blog or knows me personally understands that my own parents top that list. I can't think of two humans I respect and have more faith in than Barbe & Maxine Cook and I say this because in my 48 year history with these folks, they have been right something like 99.99999% of the time with a negligible margin of error. It is, in fact, uncanny how often they are correct on a myriad of subjects. These aren't knee-jerk, radical or prejudice people. In my estimation they have managed to be progressive without ever abandoning their beliefs or ideals. I would trust them with my life and have on several occasions. On a few important occasions they have, in fact, taught me to be more open and thoughtful in my approach to pivotal situations in raising my kids and they've gently guided me from being too rigid or judgmental. They have lead me not by preachy sermonizing, but by their impeccable example and graceful guidance. My parents may not be perfect, but they're just about as close to it as I've ever known.

I've also had talks with others that I respect including close friends and even my exhusband, Tim. I have a long history of observing his compass and I have known him for twenty-nine years. I respect him, too, even if I don't agree with him on everything.

I've searched for answers, read volumes of text and listened intently to interviews, all three presidential debates and one vice-presidential debate. I have practiced as much objectivity as I possibly can and in doing so, I can't help but continue to feel strongly that Barack Obama is the better choice. It's tough for me, coming from a predominantly conservative background.

I must say, however, that McCain's selection of Sarah Palin did make it easier and she continues to validate my initial feelings about her as being someone about as qualified to be vice-president or president as my dog or three cats. I continue to look at her biography and recent campaign performance as comic book in nature with even less substance. I can't for the life of me figure out what John McCain was thinking in choosing her. I read one headline out of the UK this morning that asked the question, "Is Sarah Palin Presidential Timber" to which I immediately thought, my gosh, she's not even presidential kindling.

Honestly, I believe that at his core, John McCain is a good man, a decent, respectable man who is inarguably an American hero in every sense of the word. He has served his country far more brilliantly than his own campaign staff and advisers have served him. Having said that, I just don't think McCain was well-qualified to be the next president because Bush's "legacy" has been too painful and the thought, there mere idea of four more years of a continuation of his policies is more than many of us can stomach.

Like I said, I was deeply torn before McCain chose his running mate but with his choice of Palin, I pretty much realized not voting for McCain wouldn't be as difficult as it might have been had he chose a more appropriate and well-qualified running mate. A pistol-packing hockey mom might make a colorful friend to grab a cup of "Joe" (and not Joe the unlicensed plumber who owes back taxes) with, but to consider this woman who uses phrases like "palling around with terrorists" or sometimes reverts to a syntax only Yoda could understand and appreciate, is beyond horrifying. I'm not in the slightest bit elitist, but I would prefer our national leaders to be articulate and knowledgeable and yes, even have more than a page or two of stamps in their passport. I don't necessarily fault Sarah Palin as much as I do the McCain Camp for inserting her in a position she is completely ill-prepared or qualified to assume. It kind of strikes me as the type of non-forward thinking that landed us in Iraq: Yes, doing so made a huge splash and bold statement, but once we situated ourselves there and whoops, didn't find any WMD's, what do we do now? In a sense, Palin's selection was big on "splash 'max" factor'" but after the ripples receded, what does she bring to the table? It turns out that her "international vision" is restricted to the horizon looking West across the Bering Sea where, on a clear day, you can see maybe not forever, but sometimes catch a glimpse of Russia.

That is literally and figuratively short-sighted and very scary. We're in a high-tension situation that doesn't allow us to affect short-sightedness. We need the ability to see as far and wide as we possibly can - even further than the tip of Russia from across the Bering Sea. As Secretary of State Powell said this morning, we need someone "transformational". In this race, for me at least, that translates Barack Obama and Joseph (Joe the Senator) Biden. Someone who doesn't look as if he's going to blow a blood vessel from sheer, barely controllable rage, but who is deliberate, studied and forward thinking, who doesn't spout off in anger or legislate based on emotion.

So I was grateful for Powell's thoughtful assessment of both McCain and Obama this morning. It was well-presented and elaborative and while his endorement may not be the clincher for a lot of folks, it did comfort me and validate my feelings. No matter where you are in your thinking on this election, it's worth listening to Brokaw's interview with Powell.

This has been such an internal struggle for me - this crossing party lines on a presidential level, grappling with my hopes and dreams for the future of my now grown up kids and, someday, their own children and what I hope and pray their future looks like. It's interesting how our vision changes with our station in life. I now find myself thinking of grandchildren that might appear at some point in the next five or seven years. I want it to be as safe and dream-laden as I feel it's been for me.

It's never been perfect and of course it won't ever be, but it's been such a stellar country to call home and there is such a profound pride in being an American. We're such a diverse country and independence courses through all of our collective veins. As Americans, we're not simply encouraged to dream, but it's tacitly expected of us to be dreamers, to reach for our own stars and we're told from birth that because we're Americans, ANYTHING is possible and, as evidenced by our myriad achievements, many of those dreams evolve into a personal reality. We're Americans. We do great things a lot of the time. What a history we have and yes, we're in a tough spot right now, but we've been in tough spots before. I don't know if I fall into one of those geographical areas that Sarah Palin has determined to be "real America", but I think "real America" isn't just in a few pre-determined locations but everywhere there are Americans. We take it with us. How arrogant of Palin.

I was talking to my manager Friday and noticed he had a "YES WE CAN - NC FOR OBAMA" yard sign. I remarked on it and he said I could have it - he has one in his yard. Me, with a sign like that here on McCain Street. Even my pro-McCain parents have remarked on the other signs on our street touting the republican nominee, saying they don't think much of placing yard signs regardless of their choice. At first I found that odd and then, after a little reflection, it was quintessential "Barbe & Maxine". It's how they are about everything - not showy or "in your face" and certainly not pushy at all. They don't need to post signs just as they never force-fed anyone their beliefs, religious or otherwise. They live what I have come to refer to as a "quiet calm". It's why they have a plethora of friends far and wide. It's also why their family, both immediate and extended, respect and adore them. I grew up watching them "walk the walk" and rarely heard them talk much about it. Truly, my parents embrace "to be rather than to seem". Never offensive or obtrusive and never, ever in your face. Rare are the people who can effectively comingle idealism with common sense. For my parents, it is like breathing. Seamless. Remarkable.

When I told my Dad about the sign in my car, he looked at me and I quickly said, "Of course, I'm not going to put it in the yard...it's going in my office upstairs.". That was a close one! And that's where it will go - on the wall of my office as a memento of this election. A reminder of this moment in our history as we prepare to make even more of it. I want to remember this time when my political beliefs, feelings and thoughts have felt so challenged. Someday, I want to tell my grandkids of this election and they will be bored with it I'm sure, but maybe they'll look at that sign someday and say, "What's up with that old campaign sign, Grandma?". I will smile and launch into a story of the time way back in 2008 when I wasn't exactly sure what was what and who was who. By then, the Obama-Biden presidency (if they win as expected) will be one for the history books and I hope, I dearly pray, that my hunches and feelings and hopes and dreams will maybe even be exceeded.

On this Sunday in late October, days from this historical election, it is leap of faith. Regardless of how it all goes, let's hope for a safe landing on the other side and because we're Americans, on 5 November, we'll rally behind our next president and get to work with him, whoever he is. That's what we do.

That is who we are.

13 October 2008

The Facts...Just the TAX Facts...

This little fact box wasn't part of a paid campaign advertisement. It appeared in Sunday's (October 12, 2008), Parade Magazine.

It's interesting and maybe it's something to think about...

October 12, 2008
How Much Would You Pay in Taxes?
Sens. Barack Obama and John McCain both say they’ll cut federal taxes if elected. Here’s what their proposals would mean for you.

Obama McCain
If you make... you'd
less than $19,000 $567 $21
$19,000-$37,600 $892 $118
$37,600-$66,400 $1118 $325
$66,400-$111,600 $1264 $994
$111,600-$161,000 $2135 $2584




If you're in the top 5% of earners... you'd pay
an extra...
$227,000-$603,400 $121 $8159
$603,400-$2.87 million $93,709 $48,862
more than $2.87 million $542,882 $290,708

*Source: Tax Policy Center. Numbers have been rounded. For complete details, go to TaxPolicyCenter.org.

If your annual salary is less than $112,000, you’d pay less in taxes under Obama’s plan; if your salary is higher, McCain would cut your taxes more. “While the aggregate tax cut is bigger for McCain, a larger number of voters get more money under Obama,” says Alan Viard, a tax-policy expert at the conservative American Enterprise Institute. “Obama is choosing to emphasize tax cuts for the middle class, whereas McCain’s strategy is to keep rates lower at the top as a way to facilitate long-run growth.” For example, a person with an income of $1 million could see his taxes increase under Obama by as much as $94,000, whereas under McCain’s plan he could save about $48,000.

— Rebecca Davis O'Brien

So I guess you could conclude that if you are middle class and keen on paying more taxes, I'd say McCain is your guy. If you're in the top five percent of wage-earners or you're a trust fund baby with more money than you know what to do with, McCain would seem a prudent choice.

If you're middle class and struggling and living paycheck-to-paycheck like many of us, well, you do the math.

05 October 2008

Warm Reminders of Roberta, Thoughts on Cause and Effect and a Happy Birthday Shout-Out!

Of Palin...and an Exceptional Parrot

One year for Christmas, I believe it was 1993, Tim bought me an African Grey Parrot. She was a mere eight weeks old and was still being hand-fed which is really the perfect age to establish a close bond with an African Grey. In terms of sheer intelligence, African Greys are the "Einsteins" of the parrot world. They're vocabulary and gift for mimicry is simply astounding. Not only can they repeat complete sentences, they can do so in a voice that will make you swear it's the person they are imitating.

I remember many times in Florida, hearing Roberta scream in a voice that sounded more like Justin than Justin, "Mom! Come here Mom! Quick!". I would race down the stairs more times than I care to admit, knowing full well Justin was in school, thinking..."Oh no! Is Justin OK?". I mean, her mimicry was dead on! Roberta would also take great delight in calling the family dog, a big lumbering yellow lab named Blossom, who would fall for Roberta's tricks, same as me. Blossom would scamper from wherever she was, thinking one of us was calling her, only to find a room devoid of any human family members, and a parrot perched on top of her cage, looking innocent, though I always figured Roberta must be thinking..."what a stupid dog! fell for it again, did you?". Roberta probably thought the same of me.

I must confess something; Roberta had a Republican handler, though she didn't have index cards.

Did you watch the vice-presidential debate Thursday Night? Were you one of the lucky ones to catch a wink or a shout-out? I have to give credit where credit is due. I can't imagine how Sarah Palin pulled herself together amid such low expectations and managed to stand up there before a huge television audience and, at the very least, form complete sentences in a quasi-coherent fashion. I have to give her credit for showing up, no question about that. She didn't look terribly addled and certainly seemed to warm up to the bright lights, even though she dodged or simply refused to answer most of the questions. Ms. Palin was poised, showed some style and even some down home "Joe Six-Pack" humor, but I don't think you win debate points for that.

Aren't we just finishing up with a "regular, Joe Six-Pack" kind of guy? Hey, I voted for Bush and I have to tell you, that didn't work out so well, did it? It feels to me like "Joe Six-Pack" turned out to be "Bud Extra Light". I dunno, I think we've had enough of that. It hasn't worked out so well, has it?

And one more thing, watching the VP debate brought back fond and affectionate memories of Roberta, my smart, feisty little maverick of an African Grey. Most of the time, I'm sure Roberta had no clue as to what she was saying, but we, "her handlers", used to coach her and feed her lines and, let's give a parrot credit where credit is due, she would pick up a great deal of her repertoire by passive listening to rote phrases. When we moved from Florida, we gave Roberta to our vet tech who loved that bird. It was sad saying goodbye to her. We never got around to teaching her how to wink or send "shout-outs", but I'm betting she could have mastered that as well. What an awesome parrot. Darn right you betcha she was!

One of the things that make me so unnerved to consider the very real possibility that Sarah Palin might wind up as commander-in-chief, are index cards. What will happen if, when she's conferring with world leaders, she looks down and doesn't have the right note card? If our collective well-being lies in our leaders being experienced, educated and have an solid understanding of foreign and domestic affairs, I would like to think they have more to lean on than an index card. A "house of cards" is a flimsy defense. It doesn't convey a level of comfort for this writer. Frankly, it's something that's scared me for, how long has she been at this, five weeks? Like, yeah.

Another point that struck me in the VP Debate, is Ms. Palin's dismissal of the importance of determining the causes of global warming. She wasn't as much noncommittal as she was totally incurious in discovering the key practices that have imperiled our environment. Gov. Palin was reluctantly agreeable that we needed to discover ways to protect the earth and try and reverse some of the damage that's already been done, but to completely find no valid reason or desire in discovering the exact causes of environmental devastation made me happy that she's not in charge of something like cancer research.

Can you imagine if the world of oncology was interested only in treating the symptoms of a disease without discovering the etiology? What if there was no cancer research? We would have made absolutely no significant gains in lowering mortality rates, survival statistics or improving quality of life. It is from research and cellular detective work that new weapons of cancer destruction are created - learning how to use monoclonal antibodies, harnessing the body's own biological immune system which allows us to move away from bombarding fragile systems with toxic chemicals and radiation. The face of cancer treatment has changed significantly because of research and ongoing discovery. Many treatments are now tumor-specific because researchers have studied the disease process and it is only in adding to this knowledge that gains will continue to be made. Specifics matter. Points of origin teach us essential information so that we don't repeat past mistakes. Knowledge is power.

The same principle is true for just about everything. We can't repair this economy unless we look deep into what has created the recession; sloppy lending practices, a Wall Street that fed corporate CEO's scurrilous salaries and bonuses; teaching our kids to live on a "credit and carry" basis, rather than pay for it as you go and if you don't have the cash on hand, you don't really "need" it. The line between our "needs" and "wants" has become unforgivably fuzzy.

When I was a little girl, and even after I wasn't such a little girl and had my own family, I would watch as my Mom would be putting away the leftovers, and I would laugh almost in a punkish, glib manner, as she would save even 3 or 4 tablespoons of leftover corn, beans or even spaghetti sauce. I'd think, "how silly she is. saving a few bites of something when all she has to do is just open a new package next time.". I could never understand (and certainly didn't bother to try), why my parents saved EVERYTHING (and I do mean EVERYTHING). Things in our home weren't replaced until they were completely and totally inoperable and even then, they would be deconstructed to their essential parts with the thought that "this piece or part might come in handy someday...". I remember being chastised not too long ago for idly tossing away the empty inner plastic wrapper that had contained cereal, only to find that my Mom had fished it out of the trash and washed and rinsed it because "it makes a great wrap for vegetables or cake. you can do all kinds of things with these great wrappers! Better than those expensive Ziploc bags!". I'd shake my head again and again, never quite getting it.

In fact, my parents are children of the last "great depression" and obviously, it wasn't all that much fun and anything but "great". My mom and dad recycled long before it became fashionable and not because they were scratching for money. It made good sense to them and, as is often the case they were, and are, right. I remember years ago when my Mom got a new dining room table but rather than get rid of the smaller one, she simply had my dad saw off the legs of the older, smaller one, sanded and painted it and was proud as punch of her newly appointed coffee table. And it is still our coffee table. I would never have thought of doing that and to my parents, such DIY money-saving tricks are like breathing. They learned from the school of "how many uses can we think of for this?", employing creativity, cost efficiency and style, not to mention the satisfaction of knowing they are being prudent stewards of their money and the earth.

For far too long, we've become a nation that thrives on consumerism and now our consumerism is beginning to consume us, but to those who have lived through tough times before, this new economic downturn was never a matter of "if", but more a function of "when".

Guess what? It's "when".

I never fully understood that growing up under the tutelage of Barbe & Maxine Cook would teach me such incredible life lessons, but I am profoundly grateful. I remember last year when my Mother beamed as I created a pot rack from an old bicycle wheel. In some small way, I imagine she must have been thinking..."there may be hope for her after all.". I believe I got a gold star that day.

Now, the upshot of tough times is that it causes us to change and, generally speaking, this is usually for the better. While we may be a country of rampant consumers, we're also an inventive lot, and that will no doubt serve us well in the coming months and years. Human beings generally don't change their ways unless they're in pain or, at the very least, feeling a modicum of discomfort - this is true of alcoholics, addicts and yes, even out of control spenders with an addiction to credit. We learn things when we face tough situations and some of the greatest gifts spring up from those times. America is in the middle of a redirection which is probably long overdue. If we can get out of our own way, work hard and think before we act, we'll probably be just fine.

However, I will submit to you, that if Maxine Cook were to find herself the winner of the North Carolina Lottery tomorrow (which would never happen because she's never bought a lottery ticket in her life) and presented with a check for 29 million dollars, I would bet the farm that it wouldn't change her habits one bit. She'd still save the cereal bags, those last few bites of vegetables and though she might buy a new piece or two of furniture, you can be certain she would find a useful purpose for the one retired. That's as basic to my parents nature as their goodness - it is who they are. Living around these two is a daily eduction and I'm a pretty blessed daughter.

Take Me Home...Road Trip!

We held a formal family council this weekend and came up with the idea of visiting Justin and Stephanie for Thanksgiving and yes, that means we will be spending the holiday in West (by God) Virginia. I can't wait! Well, mostly, I can't wait to see my son, but also, I can't wait to walk around downtown Charleston with him, revisiting my old haunts, seeing the streets I used to know so well, walking on the grounds of the capitol, looking at all that has changed and what has remained the same, in the company of my favorite (and only) son who will turn 22 six days before Thanksgiving. We're all looking forward to it. Now all I have to do is figure out who I can get to come in my house and take care of my six aquariums and 3 cats. Cassie may be going with us, though she doesn't know it yet. I have to check with Justin on that but I can't bear the idea of leaving her behind and besides, she's never visited WV. Cassie, like Justin, is from Amarillo, Texas so I'd like to show her that part of the country. We shall see.

On the automotive front, the car is still in the sick bay of Aamco and release isn't slated until at least Tuesday or Wednesday. I'm over the initial shock, I guess, but that doesn't mean I'm happy about it. What can you do? You grit your teeth and what I do is think of all the things that could be worse and, as it turns out, there are many things that could be far more distressing. My family is healthy, we're all fine and still very blessed in the things that count most. I keep reminding myself of this. I know it's true.

Not to belabor the point but there was one moment in the debate, however, which I didn't find "adorable" or cute. Remember when Senator Biden was talking about his family, and understanding what it was like to sit by the bedside of a child, not knowing if he would live? Biden became emotional when he described this, clearly overcome from the recollection of that painful memory. When it was Gov. Palin's turn to respond, she launched right into lauding the maverick ways of John McCain. There was absolutely no reverence or even one kind word of empathy regarding what her opponent had just shared.

The next day, I wondered what the press would have had to say if the roles had been reversed and it was Gov. Palin who had opened up in the debate with a similarly personal and painful moment from her own past and what if Biden had ignored it and launched into peppering Sen. Obama with a flurry of accolades. You can bet it would have made a ripple in the MSM (mainstream media). He would have been labeled cold, uncaring or worse.

I guess those mavericks don't have time for much compassion. It's kind of a shame, really, because it seems that in a time when the economy is tanking and we're in the middle of a dangerous war, with so many Americans forced to live without health insurance from their employers, that we could use all of the compassion we can muster. Times are hard and it doesn't cost one penny to care about each other. That's the kind of "bail-out" that has to come from within. Congress can't fork that over and it shouldn't be in short supply, but apparently it is.

Republican, Democrat, Independent or undeclared, no matter where any of us fall on the political spectrum, we're in for some interesting days as election day nears. What we learn in the next 30 days, in terms of plans, campaign tactics and tone, will be paramount in making an intelligent, wise choice as each of us head into the voting booth. It's a real soul-searching time for Americans on so many fronts. No matter who's side we eventually land, let's pray that whoever inhabits the White House has the wisdom, Faith and spiritual guidance to lead us back to where we need to be, and can coalesce us into a united front on the right path.

And one last thing - today is the birthday of one Tim Parker! Happy Birthday to you and best wishes for an exciting new year!