Wednesday

Trichinosis

John Edwards was right . There are two Americas. And that fact is beginning to be a big problem for the mass marketers of our political candidates.

Both President Obama and Mitt Romney have recently been caught engaging in the retail politics of this new reality. In a Black church and at a private fundraiser, Mitt and Barack respectively have sought approval from the haves and the have nots, using language not meant for distribution to that narrow slice of demographic, the undecided voter, who must eat only soft foods, and not be fed raw meat under any circumstances. For the carnivores, Obama and Romney serve up a plates of steamy resentment, wading in fully clothed to test the hot waters of  American life - race, money, power, privilege.

The chasm between The Two Americas is felt most as presidential elections approach, when the sides become as obvious as the colors of opposing athletic teams. Obama promises hope for everyone, but especially the poor. Romney promises hope for everyone, but especially the well off. Presented as bland and well seasoned in public, the views turn acrid in private, welcomed by those who like the heavy spice, unwelcomed by those accustomed to milder fare, the difference between a steak well done or blood rare..

But raw meat can bring on trichinosis. Diners are urged to not gorge on it, lest the morning bring pain and regret. Politicians who serve it up red may find that the trichinosis is on them.

We are in a bad way in America. Our leaders are playing games that are more suitable for less serious times, as all games are. The talk time is just about done. We are about to choose what we hope is a a way out of this grim season. Both Americas need a table of plenty again.

Blue October

It is Blue October here in Jacksonville. This is the season when, as the landscape turns to yellow and orange, our professional football stadium increasingly takes on the color of teal, the backs of more empty blue seats becoming visible to us, and to television viewers across the nation. Our Jacksonville Jaguars have won only one of four games this year, and seem unlikely to perform much better as the season progresses. It is about this time that fans begin to find other things to do, perhaps watching a NASCAR race instead of a Jags game, or spending a Sunday afternoon at the beach.

Since we are at low risk for any sudden outbreak of football mania, it will be nice to watch autumn overtake us. The fall comes slow as syrup in Florida, but it's taste is just as sweet as it is in more northern climes. These are screen door days, times to taste and smell the outside, to let the house breathe in freshness denied to it in the cooped up, refrigerated summer months.

The heat has begun to wane, as much a result of the shorter days as anything else. Waning sunlight is silently, almost imperceptibly, putting nature to rest  for the evening. In their sentimental softness, the bright, short days of autumn are the best of all. They scatter leaves upon the grass like a welcome mat, laying a path for trick or treaters, and for the coming arrival of family and friends.




Friday

Fresh Tomatoes

Fresh tomatoes did not seem to be so sweet, but as time passes their taste becomes more vibrant to me, Perhaps it is because they link to past days when tomatoes were pleasantly eaten, a databank that is becoming more full with each passing moment.

Having spent a lifetime immersed in junk food, I think my romance with it is finally on the wane. Fries no longer interest me, nor do chips. A cookie every once in awhile will do, not a handful, though. Salsa replaced ketchup a  long time ago, and I cannot remember the last soda I drank, much preferring the clean tastelessness of cool water nowadays.

No one told me when I was younger that milk would make me bloated and gassy, that fried foods would make me tired, as would red meat. I did not learn until adulthood that orange juice and other high sugar concoctions would give me only fleeting energy, followed by a sleepy sugar hangover.

I had to learn on my own, but all is well that ends well. Peaches taste so much sweeter now, and a slice of tomato on a hot summer day is like a magic carpet, taking me back home again.

Thursday

Air Mail

If your street corner looks different nowadays, it may be because of the post office. The USPS is beginning to remove many public mailboxes  from service.

The Postal Service itself is in dire straits, and will likely not survive in it's current form for much longer. Management has said it needs to decrease the number of mailboxes as a cost saving measure. Studies are showing that not only are the boxes expensive to maintain, but the amount of mail deposited in them has dropped precipitously in the last few years. It is no longer cost effective to have employees spend time unlocking them to retrieve just a few items.

Paper mail is going the way of the telegram. Cellphones and email have made communication across vast distances instantaneous, and cheap. The Postal Service, like the Pony Express, has been displaced by a faster technology. There is no going back. The big, clunky steel boxes seem to call to mind an era long since past, a time  before plastic, before fiber optic cable, before silky glass computer screens. Steel is for massive things, and postal volume is no longer massive, and never will be again.

The demise is tragic for USPS employees, who have comprised a virtual army of well paid union workers in this semi - government super bureaucracy. Postal jobs have long been considered among the most stable of careers. People worked there for life, and enjoyed a good retirement. Many veterans found permanent work at the Post Office, where their service and background were particularly valued in the vaguely military structure. 

Would you like that sent Air Mail? the postman would ask, in days now in the distant past. Air Mail meant your letter flew, not rode, to it's destination. It was the latest technology, the quickest way to get a communication from Point A to Point B. Now, a message can be sent from Birmingham to Bombay quicker than the question can be asked.

Long Christmas  and tax day lines are not so long anymore. Greeting cards and 1040 forms now zip though the air at the speed of light, on December 24 and April 14. The big blue boxes are disappearing, as are the glass phone booths that used to sometime sit beside them. We will have to explain to our young children someday just what a mailbox and phone booth were, just what a newspaper, a typewriter and a telegram looked like.



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Kidnapped

There are plenty of drawbacks to life in the digital age, but one big advantage is our ability to track criminal activity.

Most crimes have been around since the dawn of mankind - murder, rape, robbery and battery are an unfortunate part of humanity. But one crime is losing it's appeal. That crime is kidnapping for ransom.

In advanced western societies, kidnapping  for ransom is fast becoming a no win proposition. The kidnap itself can still be accomplished, but the funds transfer cannot. Only a few years ago  a criminal who successfully picked up ransom money could reasonably expect to spend it in peace. But no more. From exploding red dye packs to embedded microchips, cash picked up at a "drop site" is very likely to be booby trapped, and lead directly back to the culprit.

Kidnapping for ransom has become a third world crime, profitable only in countries with little or no law enforcement. The Somali Pirates get away with it, as do others in backwater lands where technology has not yet made an appearance.

The last major American kidnap for ransom I can remember was the JonBenet Ramsey case in 1996, and that ransom note was highly suspect, and may have been written as a ruse. In this day and age, not only can cash be tracked, but writing paper and pens can, also, especially if trace DNA is found. This makes kidnapping a very high risk crime, too high for most criminals who can opt to knock over a liquor store instead and not have to fool with cash pickups.

Kidnapping is becoming more rare. Thank Goodness this crime is on the decline. Thank Goodness, and thank those people who have brought us all into The Digital Age.


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Tuesday

Split Personality

Ad man David Ogilvy once made this observation - If you tell a crowd of people that Coca Cola does not have arsenic among it's ingredients, a substantial portion of the  people will leave the meeting with the idea that Coke and arsenic are related, that Coke does indeed contain arsenic.

This is the power of anchor words, the use of vivid or incendiary language to relay a thought. People tend to pick up on the most  colorful of words and phrases, and will often innocently link one phrase with another. I imagine that this is how many "urban legends" get started.

Herman Cain's wife was attempting to defend her husband from charges that he is a sexual harasser. During an interview filled with the usual nice guy and I've known him for forty years references, she said he would have to possess a split personality in order to have done the things he is accused of.

Bingo. Split Personality. Everything else she said went out the window. The story became Herman Cain and split personality. She inadvertently nailed exactly the thought in the back of many people's minds - that, like most married philanderers, he may actually have a sort of split personality, able to function as a married man by day and a playboy by night. The phrase had blown up in her face, as she coupled her husband's name with a vivid term used to describe mental disorder.

There are certain words that should be included in conversation only with great care. Among those are the well known curse words, most of which indicate disrespect for the listener, or for a subject in the conversation.  Derogatory words like idiot or fool should be used sparingly if at all. Hate is a strong, violent word. Overuse of negatives like can't, shouldn't and won't can make the speaker look like a negative person in general. Overuse of phrases like Whatever or It is what it is or Wassup? tend to give the impression that there is not a lot on your mind.

Very little good ever comes from interjecting the words Hitler, Stormtrooper or Nazi in any conversation, no matter what the context.

Even innocently spoken words can create misunderstanding. Some Jewish people resent the casual use of the term Jew, although most consider it perfectly acceptable. The people of Romany, whose roots are in India, were long ago tagged with the ethnonym Gypsy in the mistaken belief that they were from Egypt. Gypsy is an offensive word to most of them. Many Native Americans are offended by the term Indian, as their roots are in the Americas, not India. Certain people from Asian backgrounds resent the term Oriental, due to it's connection with Hollywood movie stereotypes.

The best politicians use very bland, neutral words to convey ideas. That is smart for them, and, in most cases, smart for us all. As for innocent words that may be misinterpreted, the best rule is If you don't know, don't go.


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Cain

It is a heart warming idea. A man of the people with no political background rises to lead his party, and the nation. Unstained by Washington shenanigans, he governs with simple, common sense and good judgement.

A beautiful story. And a fantasy.

If anyone has proven that people cannot step from political obscurity to lead the American government, it is Herman Cain. Among the frontrunners of Republican presidential aspirants, he has appeared in recent interviews not to know that China is a nuclear power. He didn't know what to say when questioned about recent events in Libya. He had to be prompted by questioner Chris Wallace when asked about the Palestinian question. He offered a future Secretary of State position to 88 year old Henry Kissinger, later saying it was just a joke. He wanted to energize a border fence with Mexico. That was a joke, too.

All five issues would be on a Page One of the book Running For President For Dummies. Not knowing enough to intelligently address them is inexcuseable.

We are suckers for these types of candidates. Cain is not the first. Jimmy Carter, Ross Perot, and Donald Trump are just a few of the anti-politicians who have captured our attention, all promising to go to Washington and clean up the mess made by our elected representitives. Only Carter made it all the way, and then failed once in office, instead creating a bigger mess.

Can a "Man of the People" become president?

Sure. Most presidents are from average upbringings. The difference between them and the Cain types, though, is that our "common man" presidents worked their way up from the bottom of politics, and did not presume to start at the very top.

Presidents can spring from modest beginnings and rise to greatness. Reagan, Truman, Nixon, Johnson and Clinton come to mind. Or they can be born to priviledge. The Bushes, Roosevelts and John Kennedy all came from great wealth. Can you see the difference? The wealthy presidents were from political families, involved for generations in politics. The sons and grandsons of mayors, congressmen, senators and ambassadors, their ascension to the presidency was a culmination of many years of generational effort. In contrast, the presidents born of modest means all rose though the system, and were already wiley and experienced politicians when they began their presidential campaigns.

Obama broke the mold. He is a man born of modest means who came to the presidency with little experience and no family history of political involvement. Like Carter, he is the latest Man Of The People who talks a great game but has proven himself unable to effectively govern. Like Carter, he will probably be a one termer, remembered as someone in way over his head from the git go.

Herman Cain is not ready for prime time, and probably never will be. It is shocking that 30% or so of the Republican electorate still backs a man who has demonstrated such a profoundly shallow knowledge of subjects our leaders must thoroughly comprehend. The stakes are too high, the matters too important to leave in the hands of an ameteur.

There are only two Republican alternatives to the now - experienced Obama. Only Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich have the extensive executive and governmental experience needed to be a successful president.

My guess is that one of the two will be the next president.


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Thursday

High Tide

Tuscaloosa is probably the only land locked town in the country that has a high tide, and this year the water is rolling over the seawalls like a tsunami. Alabama's Crimson Tide has swept away all of it's competitors so far, making this Saturday's clash with also undefeated LSU one for the ages.

No need for hype here - the hysteria in T-Town and Red Stick is already built in. The new Nick Saban statue on the Alabama campus was robed in purple by some  mischief maker this past weekend. The Tigers are roaring We Want Bama!, and in 72 hours, they will get their wish. Whether they will still want Bama in 76 hours is a different matter.

The shootout is already being billed as the "Game Of The Century", but, of course, the century is only ten years old, so the match is really just the first of many. Still, for old fashioned, whoop and holler SEC football, the game cannot be beat. The state of Alabama has had two national championships and two Heisman Trophy winners in the last two years. People there are hungry for a third, in either or both categories.

It doesn't hurt either team that the game is nationally telecast in prime time on CBS, and will probably be the most watched (and enjoyed) college football contest in many years. Saturday's extravaganza will be show off time for both teams and for the already showy SEC, which has taken the last five national championships, and will almost certainly take a sixth.

Thank God this game is at Bryant Denny. We have had enough earthquakes this year without 90,000 or so gassed up Coon Asses creating another one in Louisiana. Saban is still personna non grata in the state, about as popular as Ghadafi was in Sirte, and his presence plus the presence of the ominous Tide would probably be too much for the locals to bear.

There is some talk the Tide may break out the old white helmets with red lettering for this game. It has been over twenty five years since they were last seen, and over thirty five since they were last used regularly. It would be an odd surprise, but not a shock in this season of style. I still think Georgia's opening game Nike uniforms were cool, though the majority of Bulldog fans do not. Oregon's Darth Vader threads look sharp and mean, even if they are a little disconcerting on a team called the Ducks.

It is an unusual confluence, and makes for a barnstormer of a game. Bama and LSU play Saturday night, the winner with a good chance to take the SEC West and go on to crush the East team in Atlanta. Regardless of who wins, will the teams remain numbers one and two and meet again in the BCS Championship?

Now that would be The Game Of The Century!






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Tuesday

All Saints Day

It is fun to see the children come by on Halloween. I especially like to see the costumes that depict fantasy, like princesses and cartoon characters. The blood and gore ones are a little much, and some adults take these things to extreme. I wish the holiday would lose it's association with death and mayhem, but that will likely never happen. It's roots are, after all, in a mockery of the Catholic All Saints Day on November 1, when Catholics pray for and remember the dead. All Hallowed Saints Day Eve, Halloween, is forever linked with the darker images.

Halloween is the only holiday that celebrates the macabre. It is probably good that the holiday is followed so closely by those warmest and brightest of times, Thanksgiving and Christmas. It is fitting, too, that Halloween falls among the darkest days. This weekend marks the return of Standard Time. The mornings will be brighter soon.

I am always a little annoyed by these last two weeks of Daylight Saving Time. It is 7:40 as I write this and the morning darkness has just barely begun to lift.  Starting school and workdays in darkness can be a little disorienting. DST used to start the first Sunday in April and end the last Sunday in October, but that was changed in 2007. Now DST starts the second Sunday in March and ends the first Sunday in November. Adding the extra week in the fall makes for the dark mornings we are experiencing this week.

It will be better after this coming weekend, though, as the time finally resets and the day begins to feel right again. I don't mind that the darkness will come sooner. This is, after all, November. It is supposed to be getting dark early. The sunlit evenings are fine in the spring and summer months, but cookouts and such are pretty much over now anyway.

In this day and age Halloween ushers in the holiday season, so with the ghosts and goblins gone for another year, people will begin to turn now to Thanksgiving and Christmas. The shopping centers are usually the first to put up their decorations, and I expect to see that happening any day.

Gone are the ghosts. Scarecrows are packed away for another year. Orange will turn to gold now, black to deep brown.

The rapid ascent to the holidays has begun.



In memory on this day of my dear brothers Jerry, Tom and Jim, as well as my parents and all of their generation in our family. They are all gone now, but not so far away.










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Friday

October Spring

Since drought pushed spring away this year, it appears Mother Nature has compensated with a spectacular autumn. Last weekend's pouring rains invigorated the thirsty, sandy Florida landscape, and our world is alive with violet Morning Glorys,  scarlet Knockout Roses, and deep purple blooms from the Butterfly Bushes, whose nectar is still of interest to the last, lingering butterflies.

How beautifully the leaves age, wrote the poet John Burroughs, filled with light and color in their last days.

The flaming leaves flutter in ever cooler breezes, beneath endless Baby Blue skies that are unmarred by even a single stray cloud. They drift to the ground, but the trees are at ease with the loss of  cover, knowing that there is plenty where it came from, in the graceful spring.

It is not the sun that shines so brightly now, but the moon. In deepening autumn days lights glimmer ever earlier, ever later, like dying candles, short of wick. Golden kitchen windows, an early passing school bus, come to life in morning darkness. Evening arrives quickly, and stays long. People settle in at dusk, bicycles and lawnmowers locked in a safe place, beyond the lighted path.

Amidst the majesty of fall lies a tinge of bittersweet, knowing that a leafless, birdless winter's dawn is looming. No, No, No, says November, we've had our fill of play. It is time to go to sleep now, to put the summer away.

Good night, she softly whispers, before the slumber comes. I will wake you in the springtime. 












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