Thursday, December 23, 2010

The new True Grit

First off, no it's not as good as the original. In some ways it's better. I love John Wayne, and the role of Rooster Cogburn seemed made for him. While I like his lighter, more smart-ass portrayal of Rooster Cogburn, Jeff Bridges is wonderful as the grizzled, worn down, and very flawed US Marshal. As much as I think Matt Damon is a pompous ass hat, comparing his acting ability to that of Glen Campbell's is like comparing LeBron James to me on the basketball court. The role of Mattie Ross is a toss up, I like Kim Darby's spunk in the original, but Hailee Steinfeld's intensity and drive brings new depth to the role.

The new True Grit is darker, dirtier, rougher, more authentic and grittier; definitely a Coen brothers film. There are no back-lot production scenes, everything looks worn out, used up, rode hard and put away wet. You can easily imagine how bad Rooster Cogburn's room in the back of a Chinese market smells. Everyone in the movie, except Hailee Steinfeld, looks like they were dragged face down through a sage brush patch; very real and in desperate need of professional dentistry.

The new film leaves out some familiar scenes, including the final cemetery scene, but replaces them with something even better. It's not as neatly wrapped up as the original, but this is the Coen brothers, and the ending does come full circle.

I really can't say that I like one over the other, although I am so much more familiar with the 1969 version. The new one is, well, it's new. It's kind of like getting a new dog that replaced and old favorite. All you remember are the great times you had with the old dog, never the time he chewed up you new boots. It's easy to find some things in the new film you don't like about , but then again, I have fast-forwarded through the Glen Campbell scenes in the old one too.

Go see it, and keep in mind, the Duke will never be replaced, but I think he would like it.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Cows don't care about Christmas

Once, I applied for a position at UC Davis as a farm maintenance worker/reserve milker. I am fortunate I did not get that job; I think the cows are fortunate too. That position went to a full time UCD milker who wanted to do something different, and he was definitely qualified for the milking part of the job. In time, I did get a job in the Animal Science department, and talking to my co workers did nothing but reinforce my belief that the job of a milker is no fun.

When I tell people I live in the country, people mistake me for a farmer. I always correct them saying I have a cattle ranch, therefore, I am a rancher. Then they ask if my cows are milk cows. My answer is always this; do I look crazy to you?

Growing up, we had a milk cow. Bessie was her name, and as cows go, she was a very nice cow. This did not save her from my constant derision and hostile feelings. I hated milking Bessie. Getting swatted in the eye with her swishing tail, having the stainless steel bucket almost full, just to have her step in it or knock it over were some of my least favorite parts of the job. Milking cows by hand should be banned by some sort international criminal court on the basis of its cruelty; to the milker.

Thankfully, I was spared this job by my constant sniveling and complaining, and when the new Albertsons super market was built in Redding, Bessie was retired.

Cows need to be milked twice a day. Rain or shine, flood, famine, pestilence, or alien attack from outer space, the cows must be milked. The job at Davis is a ten hour, four days a week, split shift position. Three to eight, and three to eight. Yes, that means getting to work at 3:00AM, herding the enormous bovines into the milking parlor, prepping their bags, and working them through in groups until all eighty or so have been milked. This should take you to 8:00AM, and then you head home. After a nap, you come back at 3:00PM and start the process all over again until eight that evening. Sounds like fun, right?

This should give you an insight into my choice in cattle operations. My cows are for eating. I raise them, sell them, and eventually they end up in cellophane packages at your local supermarket. All I have to do is feed them. While feeding them is much quicker than milking them, they do need to be fed twice a day in the winter. Winter, as you may know, is very wet. Feeding cows (or horses) in the rain, for lack of a better word, sucks.

We feed with an old ATV that pulls a small trailer. After we load up the hay bales, we head out to the pasture to feed. This should be easy, but it's not.

We are hampered right now with having horses, cattle and a small gang of goats in our pasture. And a llama. I take no responsibility for the goats or the llama; any questions should be forwarded to my wife.

All animals have a pecking order, both inside and between species. On our ranch, the horses, especially Polly the Percheron mare, are on top. The cattle follow behind them in the pecking order and the llama just waits until everyone is finished to sneak a bite. The goats are like an inner-city gang. They all stick together and muscle their way into the middle of the feeding area. When the horses try to run them off, they scatter, only to reform their gang. Eventually the horses just give up and let them eat next to them.

When you drive into the field, the horse come running up and start trying to pull the hay bales off the trailer. Horses have a full time job being nuisances, and they seem to thrive at their occupation. Once you are half finished with feeding, the cows arrive and start scratching their heads and necks on the hay bales, the ATV, and you if you're not careful. Cows are always itchy, I'm not sure why, but it's a fact. The worst part is when the goats decide they want to ride on the trailer and help you feed.

On a regular day, this can be amusing. On a day when it's raining sideways, there's no humor involved. Trying to find the least muddy place to feed, running the gauntlet of kicking horses, scratching cows and hitch-hiking goats, all while be pelted with rain makes for a miserable day. These are the times when you question the wisdom of living in the country. You imagine living a small condo in town. Then you remember having neighbors, separated by a few sheets of drywall, and you come to your senses.

This Christmas, I will be out feeding the cows, although I should admit that my wife feeds the critters more that I do these days. In the winter it's dark when I leave for work and dark when I get home. On my days off my wife makes sure I get back into the rotation. Nevertheless, this Christmas we will open presents, make breakfast, and then head out to feed. Anyone who owns livestock will be doing the same. I hope it isn't raining cats and dogs, but we will go out either way. I am just glad I will not be getting up at 3AM to milk cows. All across the world, and right here in Yolo County, there will be people who will be doing just that, making sure Santa gets has a glass of cold milk for his cookies. Merry Christmas milkers.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

How to lose an election you just won.

As I sit down this evening to write, the lame duck session of the 110th Congress is considering two big bills. They are trying to pass a 1.2 Trillion dollar Omnibus spending bill, basically a budget for 2011, and then they take up the tax-rate deal the President worked out with congressional Republicans.

The Omnibus spending bill is a 1,924-pages filled with over 6,000 earmarks, totaling in excess of 8 Billion dollars. For the next few weeks, Democrats are still in charge of both the Senate and the House. They are trying their best to get the remainder of their budget-busting wish list passed before the GOP takes control of the House of Representatives in January. This is no surprise to me, the rout Democrats took in November has not made a dent in their philosophy; spend all you can, as fast as you can, and worry about paying for it later. In this case, the Democrats don't even have to worry about being held accountable for this round of reckless spending, they won't be in charge when the bill comes due.

My worry is the Republicans. When President Obama met in secret with the current GOP leadership last week, the President came home with a nice new cow, while Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and House Minority Leader Boehner came home with a pocket full of magic beans. I understand the President can be persuasive, but did he use Jedi mind-tricks on McConnell and Boehner? Why would they agree to another round of non-stimulating stimulus just to postpone Obama's plan to raise tax rates for only two years? Oh sure, they did get a few concessions in the deal, but as soon as word hit the street, Democrats were already piling on Corn Ethanol subsidies, windmill subsidies, rum subsidies, and other pork to gain enough votes to try to get this deal through the Senate.

Do Republicans remember the Pledge to America they took when they were running to unseat Nancy Pelosi and her gang? I certainly do.

Page 21 of the pledge says the Republicans will "Act Immediately to Reduce Spending" and to "Cut Government Spending to Pre-Stimulus, Pre-Bailout Levels." How about "Reading the bill," remember that? You can find that one on page 33 of the pledge. Does any of this ring a bell?

Look, I don't expect much from the Democrats, but if the first votes by Republicans, after the American people put a shot across the bow of the big-spending government, is to increase the deficit, I have absolutely zero confidence in the leadership of the GOP. I have been listening to pundits and talking heads explain why this is a good deal; they fear a government shutdown and negative fallout from an early standoff with the President. Talk about tone deaf; cutting spending is exactly what the country just told you to do.

I don't fear "the political fallout" from a government shutdown or a fight with the President. Just wait until Americans open their paychecks on January 15 and see the Obama tax increases; the Democrats will fold up like a beach chair. Republicans can extend the current tax rates in January when they take control of the House; if you don’t believe me, ask Bill Clinton. When President Clinton says he thinks the Republicans will be in a stronger position to bargain come January, I rest my case.

I know, I know, I don't understand the finer points of legislation, and the inner working of Washington DC. You're right, I do not understand this at all.

No more wild spending sprees, no more non-stimulating stimulus, no more 2,000 page bills passed in the middle of the night. No more.

Get it?

Wednesday, December 01, 2010

How we learn

If you go to an office supply store today, you will more than likely see a huge display of new office furniture. They look great, all set up with the fake plants and books on the shelves, like a model home in a new development. You think to yourself, this would look nice in my home office. So you take the tag up to the register and purchase your new modular desk set, with matching file cabinets. To your amazement, the clerk brings out two boxes, the size of a coffee table that weigh eighty pounds apiece, and crams them in into your trunk.

When you open the boxes at home, you find twenty sheets of particle board with a vinyl, wood-grain sticker on one side, and an assortment of pieces and parts. You also receive a set of instructions, written by someone for whom English is a second language.

"Part A going into the Part B screwing tight by application of three of Part C screws," etc. Look,if they are going through all the trouble to ship this stuff half way around the world, is it too much to ask that the instructions make sense? I have assembled a few of these in my day, and I can honestly say the instructions are much better than they used to be. At least today they use pictures.

Computer hardware and software is another story all together. The instructions are in English, or high-tech English to be exact, detailed in every way, and almost completely useless. The instructions are so complex, unless you have a degree in computer engineering given out in the last two years; you are going to have to call tech support to get it working.

Not everyone is challenged when it comes to instructions and instruction manuals. I know people who will open a package, actually read through the entire manual, and referring back to it a few times during the process, will build or install anything the correct way, the first time. I hate these people. I really do.

I learn by doing, or to be more precise, I learn by screwing things up. I have a history of building things only to have to tear them apart, twice, and then rebuild them the right way. It is a bit frustrating, but I have resigned myself to this particular way of learning. As you may imagine, I would not make a good bomb technician, parachute packer, or high-rise building engineer. I am pretty good at thinking outside the box and coming up with new ways to get things done, but the tiny details sometimes elude me. Most of the time it’s messy, but it usually works.

There is another way to learn; by watching other people screw up. Like I said, I am great at screwing things up. You could say I have a black belt making mistakes. However, screwing up office furniture, and Jeep engines are minor inconveniences. I am talking about watching people wreck their lives.

Having seen people make bad decisions that affect not only their lives, but also the lives of their family and friends, has made me very aware of the real life consequences of my own actions. Believe me; I made my share of really bad decisions over the years, and I probably have a few more in my system that will come out somewhere down the line. The point I am trying to make is if there are lessons to learn from someone else’s mistake, learn them well. It is much less painless.

It is easy to armchair quarterback someone's life from afar. There is an endless supply of celebrities who seem to make a career of making destructive choices. It is harder when the people screwing up their lives are close to us. No matter how hard we try, no matter how much we care for a person, we are usually unable to stop them from making a wreck of their lives. It can be devastating. Sometimes, the only possible good that comes out a terrible situation is being able to learn from their mistakes.

From completely irresponsible financial decisions, terrible relationship decisions, or falling into destructive addictions, these are real life situations that are happening all around us. If you spend a few decades on this planet, you will see most everything. I have seen firsthand how to screw up your life with any number of poor decisions, and I have tried to learn from them, and not to repeat them.

There are a few things I don’t want to learn by doing.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010


On Thanksgivings past, I have written about the ever changing way America celebrates this holiday. We have certainly strayed a long way from George Washington's original proclamation about this being a day of prayer and thanksgiving to God for the blessing and benefits He has bestowed upon our nation. I'm not sure what giant, cartoon-character balloons, parades and NFL football have to do with thanking God, but I loved watching the parades as a kid and still enjoy the Cowboys game while waiting for the turkey. Anyhow, this year I wanted to talk about gratitude itself, and the many ways it is manifested in our lives.

Giving thanks, being thankful. What do these words mean to you? If someone holds a door open for you, gives you a compliment, or passes you the cranberry sauce, saying thank you is just common courtesy, it is not what we are talking about here. Real gratitude comes when you change the focus of your attention. Real gratitude is turning from the universe of me, to think about others.

We spend most every waking hour wrapped up in ourselves; egocentric in other words. I am probably guiltier of this than anyone. What do I want? How does this affect me? Why is this happening to me? How do I get what I want? These are the questions that fill up our thoughts and take up most of our attention. While it is our human nature to focus on ourselves, here is a question you might want to contemplate this Thanksgiving; how did I get where I am today?

As much as we like to think that we are the authors of our success, everyone had some help. Most of us had plenty, even if we don't realize it. Certainly, there was a lot of hard work and effort, but I could not begin to count the hundreds of people who helped me get where I am today. It is easier to recount the individuals who have helped us out, they shared their love, support, and encouragement, gave us a chance, or gave us a second chance. They have a face, they are familiar to us. Sometimes we forget those Americans who came before us, like our founding fathers and our fallen soldiers, whose shoulders we stand on today. We owe so many, so much, it is good that we should stop and give thanks.

Back to George Washington's point; our gratitude should always start with almighty God. When was the last time you sat down to give thanks to God for the blessings in your life?

Like most families in America, before we sit down to eat our Thanksgiving meal, we will say grace and thank God for our families and the meal. Thanksgiving might be one of times, like Christmas and Easter, where people who normally don't say grace, do it out of a sense of tradition, or because it's a special occasion. Let me pose another question. How would our lives change if we reflected on our blessings, and focused on that feeling at least once a day for the next year? I would bet that small change of perspective could lead to the most content year you may have ever experienced.

This year has been a challenge for many in our community. No matter what life brings us this coming year, turning from the universe of me, to appreciating all the people and all the blessings we have, can make every day just a little bit better. And some days, just a little bit better is what we really need.

I feel so grateful today to have a loving family and great friends. To all the people I have met since I started writing this column, thank you. Your encouragement keeps me going. To those who hate my writing, thanks for keeping me on my toes. Have a wonderful Thanksgiving.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Coach Singletary, watchin' the film....

Coach Singletary, that was quite an embarrassing loss yesterday. What happened out there?

Well, I don't want to jump to any conclusions, we will have to check the film and see where we went wrong.

Check to see what coach? I mean it's pretty clear to anyone who watched the game, you were beaten in every aspect of the game. Why do you need to watch the film?

Well, we need to watch the film to see what parts of the film we need to watch closer.

Coach, that really doesn't make any sense.

That's why we have to watch the film!

Is there any chance you could watch the film first, and then hold the press conference so you can answer our questions?

We will check the film to see how we can watch it faster, but we'll just have to watch the film and see.

Tuesday, November 09, 2010

Sanity will eventually come to California

Americans delivered a message to their political leaders last Tuesday, and here in California, we sent a message too. The message California voters sent to the politicians in Sacramento is; we believe in you to solve our problems, and we gave you all the power you need, so get it done.

Basically, the Democrats just assured themselves a beat-down in the 2012 election. Why? They control everything now. They will not have Republicans to blame in two years. With Jerry Brown sitting in the Governor's seat, Democrats hold huge majorities in both houses, and with Prop. 25' allowing a simple majority to pass a budget filled with higher taxes, Democrats are in complete control of the Golden State. Sound familiar?

If the Democrats succeed in taxing their way to prosperity, they can crow all they want. They will hold political power for generations. By next summer, around budget time, it will become increasingly clear they are not going to succeed. Why? The Democrat's core belief of raising taxes on the "rich" all the while spending money they don't have on programs that don't work has never succeeded, anywhere on the planet. We are about to find out what happens when you take the handcuffs off big government Democrats, backed by public employee unions and liberal special interests, in the middle of recession. This is going to get ugly folks.

As the rest of the country starts to climb out of this economic recession, California will wallow in budget deficits, higher taxes and a continuing toxic business climate. California is borrowing 40 million dollars a day from the federal government to keep unemployment checks flowing. We have sold bonds (borrowed money) to pay for the fantasy of high speed rail, green energy, along with a host of other happy sounding money pits that continue to add to future deficits. California voters have bought into the Democrats' argument that all we really need is never ending stream of ever increasing tax revenues. This scenario is pure fiction, but I guess Democrats can always hope. As I say all the time; hope is not a plan.

Watch the freeways in the next few months; you will see a more than a few moving vans heading out of the Golden State. These are not just backwards rednecks leaving this progressive utopia; many of these folks will be small business owners. You know, the "rich" people who actually create jobs. They will join a not so small group of business owners who have moved to states like Arizona and Texas. These are business friendly states, states who do not paint hard working, successful people as villains who must be punished for their prosperity. They welcome new business to their state with open arms, and they are taking some of the best and brightest from California.

So as business flees higher taxes and crippling red tape, Democrats will be faced with paying back the teachers unions, public employee unions, and the big environmentalist groups with a smaller number of "rich" people to extract taxes from. How will they get all this new tax money? From you and me. Get ready for new taxes on everything. Higher gas taxes, sales taxes, energy taxes, unemployment taxes, car taxes, you name it, and the taxes on it will be going up. Will raising all these taxes bring new jobs to California? According to Democrats, it's a sure thing, you can count on it.

As we have seen from President Obama, Speaker Pelois and Majority Leader Reid, you can print money by the train load, and you can borrow trillions from China, but you can't print jobs. Here is something the Democrats fail to grasp; small business creates the vast majority of new jobs in America. If you want to grow something, grow the private economy. Small business owners are not the ATM for states like California, they are the engine that makes the economy run. Could we not treat them like a piƱata to be smacked around until all the candy falls out. Good grief.

The lesson we should learn over the next two years is this; if you have to choose between bigger business and bigger government, choose the one who makes the money, not the one who spends it. The former makes the latter possible, not the other way around.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Gridlock, sweet gridlock.

Barring a miracle of old testament proportions, on January 3, two thousand eleven, the next congress will be sworn in under new leadership. The House of Representatives will be in Republican control, and even if the Senate remains in Democratic hands, it will be by the slimmest of margins. With President Obama in the oval office for another two years, the next congress will be ruled by one principle; gridlock.

Now before you go getting in a huff, let me tell you why this is not such a bad thing. Gridlock means you have to have both side on board before anything is done. Gridlock means one side cannot push through its agenda unilaterally. Gridlock means the days of Democrats passing Cap and Trade legislation, or mandating twenty percent of America's green energy comes from recycling magic unicorn poop are over. Gridlock can be frustrating at times, but it is a real check on power.

Remember 1992? Remember when President Clinton, with a Democratic congress, governed way to the left in his first term and gift-wrapped both houses of congress back to the Republicans in 1994? For everyone who points to the Clinton era as proof that Democratic policies work, just remember who controlled the purse strings of the nation during those times. It was the GOP. Well, to be exact, it was the real GOP, the ones who actually knew how to cut spending and grow the economy.

All spending bills start in the House of Representatives. Whoever controls the House has control of the nation's checkbook. Remind me again who has been in control of the national checkbook since two thousand six? Oh yea, Nancy Pelosi. How has Nancy done with the national checkbook? Forget the checkbook, how about the nation's credit card? But, I digress.

As much as I like the thought of Nancy Pelosi getting her credit card yanked, here is the real problem with gridlock. Doing nothing isn't a real good option right now.

I know that Republican's will propose spending cuts, and probably pass them in the House. If they get through the rules and procedures of the Senate, they await a certain veto from President Obama. My prediction is the Republicans will pass legislation, President Obama will veto it and the GOP will try to run out the clock until the 2012 election, when they hope to gain back the White House.

I am not sure we can wait two more years to start tackling the structural problems that await the nation with Medicare, Social Security, other entitlement spending. In a year of voter anger, tea parties, incumbents going down to political novices, the only hope we have is the Washington insiders (in both parties ) start getting scared. When politicians have to worry about their constituents anger, that is a very good thing. Scared politicians can actually work through the gridlock to get things done if they know it's the only way to save their jobs.

So how will this new crop of Republican revolutionaries do? Time will tell. Establishment Republicans, like House Minority Leader John Boehner, will try to buy them off them with committee memberships and big offices to bring them into the fold. I hope these new Republicans rally behind new leadership, say Paul Ryan, or Eric Cantor. Republican retreads like Boehner are not the ones to bring independents and Reagan Democrats together with the Republican base to form a solid majority.

To win the back the White House in two thousand twelve, Republicans will have to walk the walk for the next two years. I hope they have comfortable shoes, they will need them.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Waiting in line, made faster by more lines? I'll explain

Most days I wander through my day oblivious to my surroundings. I know that is a shock to some of you, but I believe many of you do the same. In our modern world, we are constantly surrounded by technology, even if we don't realize it, and even if we hate it.

Having once been a working cowboy, (yes they make horses big enough to haul me around) I have met my share of people for whom anything with a microprocessor is a "gadget" and gadgets are not to be trusted.

A waterproof digital watch with an alarm clock and stopwatch function? No thanks, get that plastic piece of crap away from me. I have a Timex that I bought at a Sears ten years ago, it works fine. A smart phone? I wouldn't know how to turn it on. An iPad? I would never use it ( pssst, what's an iPad? )

Now some of this hostility and apprehension is warranted. When many of these technological breakthroughs came to the market, some we not ready for prime time. A bad first-experience with a gadget that was supposed to make life easier, or replaced something that worked well, leaves a bad impression.

No matter your comfort level with technology, you simply cannot escape it. As I said, it's all around us. The good news is, technology does make our lives better, and I can prove it.

Have you ever heard of Bernard Silver, or Joseph Woodland? I hadn't either until I started doing a little research. These two gentlemen have made an impact our lives in a very real way, and we don't even know who they are. The way we buy things, the way stores stock their products, the way business is done around the world is all made possible by their invention. So what did these guys invent? The barcode.

I know, how does that funny looking little line-thingy on a can of soup affect my life? In more ways that you can imagine. Let's go into a tech-saturated home for a minute. Let's say you want to order a new book or DVD online. You go to a website, buy the DVD, and in three days, or tomorrow if you want to pay the extra shipping, you can be watching your new DVD. Behind the scenes, that barcode is the key to you munching away on your popcorn as you enjoy Die Hard 7.

The retailer puts a product number barcode on the DVD and tracks how many are in inventory, how many are going out that day, how many they need to restock and by when. The warehouse guy pulls the order, scans the DVD, and packages it. The package now gets a new shipping barcode and heads down the road. The retailer, the shipping company, and even you, can track that package through the entire process. That shipping barcode will be scanned a dozen times in different local receiving centers, airports, regional shipping centers, down to the delivery guy, scanning it as he hands it to you while you're still in your slippers.

Without the humble barcode, the selection and availability of every product bought through a retail store would suffer and the price would go up. Efficiency is the name of the game in retail, and barcodes are a primary way to collect, track, sort and manage data. Not to mention how much they speed up checkout! Remember the clerks punching in the price of every item at the grocery store, if you are over 40 you do.

So how about the not so tech savvy guy? Well, that wheel bearing for your combine uses that same type of bar code to get from the factory where it's made to the John Deere dealer and into your hands just in time to finish the harvest. Not bad for bunch of little lines eh?

There are hundreds of technological breakthroughs we use in our everyday lives. Some you will never even notice, and some you say, why didn't I think of that.

So the next time you are in line at The Nugget and someone stops the process to write a paper check, and you start tapping your foot thinking this is taking forever, just think about Bernard Silver and Joseph Woodland. If not for them, a full basket of groceries used to take about five minutes to ring up, if the checker had fast fingers.

Saturday, October 09, 2010

Facing the arithmetic

In the midst of the Civil War, President Abraham Lincoln was in a terrible situation. The union army had suffered loss after bloody loss and the President had replaced the head of his army several times. Although the union army had vastly superior numbers, better material, and every other conceivable advantage, Lincoln could not find a general to defeat the enemy. After the disastrous rout at Fredericksburg, Lincoln confided to his staff, "No general yet found can face the arithmetic, but the end of the war will be at hand when he shall be discovered."

A case in point; General George B McClellan.

After losing the first major battle of the war at Bull Run, the dapper, highly educated McClellan was named General in Chief. He was the darling of the newspapers, brilliant when it came to organizational structure, and preparing his army for battle, there was only one problem; he was tentative in battle. Always overestimating the enemy's size and strength, he would vacillate and demand more troops and more supplies.

McClellan's failure in the Peninsula Campaign earned his demotion. He was replaced by a string of generals, who were in turn, soundly defeated by the confederates. Lincoln faced the unenviable choice of bringing McClellan back. McClellan reorganized the army and through incredible circumstances, and stout fighting by his men, defeated General Robert E. Lee at the Battle of Antietam. With Lee's army in retreat, McClellan failed to pursue the confederates, and they escaped back to Virginia. McClellan could have won the war that day, but he did not, and the nation would suffer through three more years of bloodshed.

Lincoln understood that the war was not about gaining or holding territory, the war would only be won when the confederate army was defeated, down to its last man.

In 1864, Lincoln finally found the general who could face the arithmetic. Ulysses S. Grant was no one's idea of a Major General. At the start of the war, he was working as a clerk in his father's tannery shop in Galina Illinois. His early reputation was one of a hard fighting, simple man, who was prone to drinking. In Grant, Lincoln found the one general who knew how to win the war. Engage the enemy, never let him regroup, and use your superior numbers to the best advantage.

After taking overall command of union forces, Grant was defeated in his first encounter with Lee at the Battle of the Wilderness. The nation waited for another retreat back to Washington, but Grant would have none of it. The next morning, instead of retreating, Grant pressed on toward the confederate capital. He would simply fight the confederates on their turf and grind them into submission. He did.

I know what you must be thinking, “thanks for the ninth grade history lesson, but so what?” I want to talk about this November's elections.

I know who I am voting for and which campaigns I am going to contribute to, but similar to the two thousand eight election cycle, there will many, many new voters going to the polls this year. What will they be voting for, and more importantly, what will they be voting against? Just as people voted for change when they cast their ballot for Barack Obama, this year many will be voting for a change to something else. The Republicans in Washington are licking their chops, as they should be. If the GOP can't win the House this year, they should just go home.

Here is my question; are we going to be voting for the second command of George McClellan, or are we voting for U.S. Grant?

The Tea Party is filled with U.S. Grants. Sure, some of them have rough edges, and they do not have the polish of seasoned politicians, but that is the point. The GOP, and more importantly the nation, needs people who will stand up for the founding principles. Yes, these new Republicans will say some unflattering things, and yes, they will fall into traps set by the media, but they will press forward, always forward. The Washington Republican establishment had better start recognizing the tidal wave of anti-politics-as usual sentiment heading their way, or they will be looking for life rafts when it hits.

When the national party keeps backing the establishment, moderate, GOP candidates against this new breed of Republicans, they are showing how out of touch they are. If we lose a few seats this cycle by backing new blood, we lose them. The worst thing the Republican Party could do right now is to gain control of Congress with the same crew who spent their way right out of power.

There is a political storm brewing out there. This storm is tired of broken promises; it is tired of spending away our children's future. This coming storm wants smaller government, less taxes, and people who are willing to make tough choices, and stand behind them. They are looking for a government that can face the arithmetic.

Have no illusions, if the GOP gains control and actually propose spending cuts, the media and the Democrats will howl with disapproval. This new breed of Republican, the ones who have those Tea Party roots, they can take the heat. The moderate, milk toast, Washington insider Republicans will wilt under the pressure.

Midway through his command, Grant was labeled a butcher, a cold-hearted beast who cared little for the soldiers who were dying. The reality was this; Grant knew what had to be done to win. That is exactly what he did.

Let's vote for a few Grants this November.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

The missing ingredient.

Driving down the road one day, I happened upon a radio program that caught my attention. The guy on the radio was talking about relationships, and how we always want what we don't have. As the miles ticked by, I listened to him recount his college dating experiences. It seems whenever he returned from a date, he would explain to his roommate what he thought the most important feature or trait in a woman was. Every time he came back from a date, the most important thing changed. Looks, personality, sense of humor, warmth, spirituality, you name it; the most important thing seemed to be a moving target.

One day he came back and proceeded to tell his roommate what the latest "most important thing" was, when his roommate stopped him cold. "Do you know what the most important trait in a woman is?" his roommate interrupted. “It's whatever trait your latest date lacked.”
I began to think about this as I continued down the road. The longer I ran that thought through my own experiences, the more it rang true.

No matter how great a person is, every human being has shortcomings, character flaws or some missing ingredient. Everyone; you, me, Mother Teresa, everyone. If you were ever shocked by a marriage breaking up, or a couple who split up when they seemed perfect for each other, you have to ask, what happened? Maybe there was no single incident, or as we hear so often, maybe they grew apart, or fell out of love. Looking back, I wonder if the idea of that missing ingredient came into play.

If you would, please play along with me here. Imagine your perfect mate. Physical attributes, height, weight, hair color, personality, spiritual make up, political views, moral compass, even thoughts on family size. Do you have that picture in your mind? Good; now you have to give up at least two of those things. You still get everything else, just the way you want them, you just have to give up a few of those things from your list. In a few short months, or maybe a few years, how much would you be willing to wager that the things you focus on will be those missing ingredients?

Why do we do that? Why would we focus on the negative when there are so many good things all around us? I understand that people change, and there are some real horse's asses out there, people you should run, not walk away from. However, I know too many wonderful people who have split up, and I find it hard to imagine why. When two people, who once loved each other, look at each other and only see the bad things, and can’t see the things that drew them together, it is very sad.

Like I said, we all have faults; however, we tend to overlook our own faults because we know our intentions and motivations. We don’t intend to hurt people, but we do. When we do hurt someone we ask for forgiveness, or at least I hope we do. When we are hurt, forgiveness becomes a little harder. We stop seeing the good in them, we start focusing on their shortcomings.

So, is it as easy as just looking for the good in your spouse or significant other? I really do think it is a big part of staying happy and staying together. Another big part is not always concentrating on each other's faults. I know I am guilty of this, and I have exactly zero room to complain when it comes to faults and shortcomings. There isn’t a day that goes by when I don’t thank God for my wife. If I do forget how lucky I am, and start taking her for granted, it’s because I’m an idiot.

I know she has overlooked many of my shortcomings in our twenty-three years of marriage. I hope she can still find some of those things she once saw in me when we first met. I know I still see them in her. All those little things, those ingredients are the good stuff, the glue that holds us together.

You can spend the rest of your life, searching for that elusive missing ingredient; there are plenty of people who do. They may find someone who has the missing ingredient from their last relationship, but that new person will be missing something different.

If you have ever been drawn into that downward spiral of continually focusing on the negative aspects about the person in your life, take a step back. Take a fresh look. Both of you maybe in this same spiral, and you might have to look hard to find those ingredients that first caught your attention, but they are there. Look for the good, concentrate on that for a while. You may be surprised what you see when you start looking for it.

Friday, September 10, 2010

What would we think about us?

As I sit down to write this on September 10, 2010, I wonder what tomorrow will bring. Do you remember the outrage, the sorrow, and the shock of that day nine years ago? I am curious if any one of us could have predicted, on this ninth anniversary, what we would be talking about today.

Did you think we be talking about some backwater Pastor of a 50 person church in Florida burning copies of the Koran? Who would have thought the only real debate about building in lower Manhattan would be the discussion surrounding the building of a Mosque?

With the image of the falling towers still freshly burning into your memory on that fateful day, what would you think if you were transported nine years into the future and walked down the sidewalk of lower Manhattan, picked up today's newspaper or watched the evening news? Would you be shocked about what we are concerned with, or would you be more shocked by what we have lost sight of?

Would that transported 9/11 American give a rip about the Koran burning Pastor, President Obama's approval ratings, the start of the NFL season, or the legalizing of marijuana. I am pretty sure they would not. They would be asking, did we kill Osama Bin Laden? Did we kill the rotten SOBs who were behind the attacks? Why haven't they built anything at Ground Zero? Are we even at war? What the hell is going on with you people?

I understand that life goes on and we must look forward, but sometimes I think we would rather believe that 9/11 was some one-off, singular act that we can just choose to forget. If we do forget who attacked us that day, we do at our own peril. The radicals have not gone away, but reading the newspapers and watching the news today, you could conclude that terrorism is a back burner issue.

We are at war, and that seems to get lost in all the headlines screaming for our attention. The soldiers and Marines out on patrol in the Kandahar area are just as brave, just as hot, and just as miserable living out of a rucksack in a tent as the troops who beat back the insurgency in Iraq. When we say, "Never forget" this isn't aimed solely at those who perished on September 11. Remember the troops as well; they are trying to kill those who would love to bring us a much bigger sequel to 9/11.

So, nine years later, I wonder what we would think of us? Maybe some are glad that we have moved on, and have "gotten past" 9/11. For some of us "never forget" is just a bumper sticker slogan. For those who lost loved ones on that day, or any day in the last nine years fighting this war against Islamic radicals, it means much more. It also means a great deal for those who have family and friends serving on the front lines.

I am putting out my flag tomorrow in remembrance, but I also think I will make a donation to Soldier's Angels. As the events of September 11, 2001 fade from our memories, I hope I never forget who is fighting for my freedom today.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

The lightning round

I know I haven't written a piece for a few weeks, but I have a good excuse. Well, not really a good excuse, but here it is anyway. I am busy moving 18 years worth of horse/cow/ranch stuff from our business in Sacramento back home to Esparto. That is a piece for another day, and I assure you, I will write it. It's a case of government mismanagement that should make you pretty angry. I know our long time customers, the local community and most everyone associated with Gibson Ranch are very upset right now.

So, what have I missed? Let me go straight to the lightning round, where the questions and answers come fast.

What's your take on the Ground Zero Mosque?
That is a tricky one for me. Do I think they should build it two blocks from ground zero, on the site where the landing gear from one of the hijacked planes crashed through the roof of the building? No. It is terribly insensitive to the victims’ families, and it is my thinking that the area of impact around ground zero should be treated more like a national battle field. I don't want the Ground Zero Virgin Atlantic store, the Ground Zero Wal-Mart, or the Cordoba Mosque built there. How about just a great big office building with a memorial park around the 16 acre site?

On the other hand, it is private property, and the local zoning agency, even if they are a bunch of hand-wringing, politically correct, ninnies, has approved the building site.

I think the offer to give the Imam another site, a little further away, is the right thing to do, and he should take it. If this Imam is truly concerned with 'building bridges' between our cultures, he won't build this bridge so close to the grave site of the thousands killed by people acting in the name Islam. Maybe he is just angling for someone to offer twenty million dollars for the building and he takes his fifteen million in profit and opens a franchise of Cordoba Mosques around the city. It is amazing how doubling or tripling your money seems to belay your outrage about religious freedom.

Bottom line; you have the right to build it, it' just not the right thing to do. Not by a long shot.

What do you think about President Obama's "Recovery Summer?"
Who ever came up with that idea should be fired immediately, if not sooner. 14.6 million People without jobs and an unemployment rate of 9.5% does not a recovery make. At this pace, if we borrow and spend another ten trillion dollars, we might get back down to 5% unemployment in a few years. The people know who owns this economy now, and his name isn't George Bush.

What about all the combat troops leaving Iraq?
I guess it is a good news story, but it really isn't a true story. The fawning media is reporting all the combat troops have left Iraq, and President Obama has kept one of his campaign promises. I don't know who is happier, the people at MSNBC or the insurgents who want to topple the Iraqi government.

In fact, we still have 50,000 soldiers stationed in Iraq. Barring a miracle of biblical proportions, a considerable amount of them will remain in Iraq for the foreseeable future. Basically, the combat brigades have been reassigned with new designations. The 2nd Stryker Brigade Combat Team of the 25th Infantry Division is still deployed in Iraq; they just call it an Advise and Assist Brigade. Same soldiers, same weapons, different name. Nice try, but it kind of reminds of the aforementioned recovery summer. Call it whatever you want, but it is what it is. As long as the Iraq government squabbles, fights and creates a leadership vacuum, we will have to prop them up, or watch the country completely collapse. I would love to see all our troops come home, but unfortunately, we are there for the long haul. You can call the troops there peacekeepers, ambassadors of good will, or The Salvation Army, but the fact remains, Iraq is still a very dangerous place.

Last question; what do you think about the November election, will the Pelosi, Reid and the Democrats lose the Congress?
Ask me on Halloween, but right now it doesn't look good if you have 'D' next to your name. I would say the GOP gets the House of Representatives for sure, and comes very close in the Senate. Let's see if the Republicans can actually come up with a message that resonates with the voters other than "we are not Obama." We saw how well that worked in the last election when Democrats ran on the "we are not Bush" platform. You can win an election, then what?

Cutting spending, reducing the growth of government, if not an outright reduction in size, is great to talk about, but much harder to do. It takes a political will, a good deal of courage, and a tough chin, because it is going to be a fistfight when you start taking even a little slice off someone sacred cow. I hope the Republicans are up to the task. We will see.

Friday, July 30, 2010

The upgrade generation

I am old. Not, moss growing over me as I sit in my rocking chair decrying all these new-fangled inventions old, just middle aged old. I am, however, old enough to remember when the things you bought would last. It’s not that you didn’t want to upgrade to something newer, it’s just the thing you bought was well made, still worked, and you really couldn’t justify upgrading it. This concept is completely foreign to most people raised in the computer/cell phone generation.

See if this sounds familiar. You can’t wait for the two year contact period to end so you can get the free upgrade on the latest and greatest new smart phone. Remember when you upgraded to your current phone? Remember how this phone was so great, so superior to your old phone? Now, it’s just a phone. It doesn’t have the ability run the coolest new applications, or apps as they say, and it doesn’t stream live video. No matter. Twenty months ago, it was the latest, cutting edge device, and it was free when you signed up for a two year contract. Now, it’s a piece of junk.

The same goes for gaming consoles. I’m old enough to remember staring in awe at the white dot flashing across the screen of my Pong game. Then came all the gaming consoles. Atari, Nintendo, Sega, Playstation, Xbox, and now, Wii. If you have a Playstation1 today, it might as well be a boat anchor.

Don’t get me started on computers. My laptop I bought back 2003 is a doorstop. Actually, I upgraded the software, and until recently, it still did some of the accounting work for my church. It is almost useless now. It still runs fine, it’s in great shape, but the technology has evolved so rapidly, it's now functionally obsolete. The dual processor PC that I bought two years ago is showing its age, as the once lighting fast processor speed and vast memory are now just enough to keep up with the latest software.

If it has a central processor, you had better enjoy fast, because soon it will be off to the high-tech scrap heap. For my son’s generation, this is this way the world works. You buy it, use it, and start looking for its replacement immediately, or at least in a few months. This was not always the case.

Before, iPods ,iPhones and iPads, there were radios, rotary phones and books. A transistor radio would last decades. If you go to a Goodwill store, you can probably pick up an AM radio made in nineteen seventy-four. Take it home, plug it in, and it will still work. If you had one those heavy, Bakelite rotary phones from the nineteen sixties, you could hammer a nail into the wall or crush the skull of a burglar with the handset, and it would still work. On my bookshelf, I have a pocket Bible given to me as a gift. It was printed in nineteen thirty four. It still works too.

Being in the telecommunications field, I have to stay up on the latest technology. Nevertheless, I am also a fan of artisanship, craftsmanship, of finely made things, things that will last generations.

I have a Winchester shotgun that is twenty years older than I am. I refinished the stock last year and it looks wonderful. It will last a few more generations, and break a few more thousand targets if I take it out the safe enough times. I have a saddle that was made for me seventeen years ago; it’s just now getting broken in. If I could find a nineteen forties era Martin guitar, or a nineteen sixties Fender Stratocaster, or Gibson Les Paul, I would sell all three dogs, both cats, and a few cows, to buy a handmade guitar like that. Well, I would have to clear it with the boss first, but she knows how much I would love to have one.

In our single serving, microwaved, high-speed data driven world, is there still an appreciation for well-made things?

Do you ever look at a piece of handmade furniture and appreciate the detailed joinery, how every piece was hand fitted, shaped, sanded, and rubbed with eight coats of finish, to get it just right? Can you look at a nineteen fifty nine Chevrolet Impala, or a forty nine Mercury Coupe and enjoy the lines, the style, the beauty of a classic car? Have you ever taken the time to read a poem by Whitman, or become wrapped up in a book by Falkner? Can you stand at the foot of a stone bridge and take in the imagination of the designer, the skill of the stonecutter, the hand fitting labor it took to make that bridge, one hundred years ago?

I hope we are not becoming so caught up in the next new thing, the latest improvement, the newest wonder-gadget that promises to make our life better, or more likely, to keep us entertained, that we forget the simple beauty of a well made thing.

Monday, July 05, 2010

A sure bet.

I have never been a big gambler, although I do remember my first trip to Reno as a high school senior. At seventeen years old, I was six feet tall, two hundred twenty pounds and looked much older than I was. My father, for reasons I still haven’t figured out, gave me some of his winnings and turned me loose to gamble. Those first few hours, I was struck with an unbelievable run of beginners luck. I had no idea what I was doing, but I had chips all over the craps table and kept winning with the longest odds. At one point, I had over a thousand dollars in front of me, and thought I had found my new occupation; professional gambler. I was wrong.

Somewhere around three in the morning, I had lost most of the money, but still had a few hundred to take home. My next trip to Tahoe a few years later, when I was twenty-one, I lost all my money in the first twenty minutes at the casino. I had to spend the rest of the day walking around South Shore with just the lint in my pockets. It was great lesson for me to learn. The odds are always with the house.

Casinos are built not on luck, strategy, or skill, but on built simple mathematics. The odds are always with the house, even with the “best” games, your disadvantage is just a little smaller. People continue to gamble, even when they know the odds are against them, because they do have some chance of winning. However, the longer you play; the odds will always catch up to you.

What about a bet where the odds are 100 percent against you. Would you still make that bet? If you were certain to lose, would you go “all in” and bet everything you have?

With that end in mind, I would like to ask a question. I believe it is one of the most important questions you can ever answer. How will I spend my life?

I’m not talking about a career or a profession, I am talking about how you will spend the minutes, hours, days and years that will make up your life. What will you spend them on?

As human beings, we have a one hundred percent fatality rate. We are all going to die. There is no way out of this wager, we cannot elect not to play, we are in this game from the day we draw our first breath. Our bodies will all return to the earth in one way or another. All the possessions we have acquired over the years will be passed down, sold, or simply thrown away. Every physical thing we hold as important, or essential, will become meaningless to us. As a friend of mine is fond of saying, “I've never seen a hearse heading to the cemetery followed by a U-Haul trailer.”

This is the wager we are making, every day when we wake up. We seem to be betting that all the stuff we have, all the money we saved, and all the good times we chase after will mean something to us when we come to the end of our lives. This is a suckers bet.

Having had the privilege to officiate the funerals of a few friends, I can tell you from experience, what matters most is what you do for others. With your family, your friends, your community, or your world; do you make a difference? Do you spend all your time, talents, efforts, finances and attention on yourself, or do you leave any room for others?

I know people who spend their entire lives with the goal of an early and comfortable retirement. They work hard to build that 401k so they can one day relax and “enjoy life.” Their focus is spending as much time as they can, doing whatever they want to do. Golfing, traveling, a beach house, collecting classic cars, gardening, or just watching the sunset each evening. This is how you are going to spend your life? What a waste.

As I said up front, I’m not much of a gambler, but If you want to make a wager, how about this. When you are lying in a hospital bed someday, and the doctor is giving you the bad news, I’ll bet the BMW in the garage, or the size of your house will not matter to you at all. What will matter is the peace that will come from knowing you did right by people, that your life had purpose. That you made a positive difference with the people around you, and especially with those you never met.

Sure, you can leave your fortune to charity, or have a lecture hall named after you at your alma mater, but it isn't the same as being actively engaged in making someone's life better right now. Religious or atheist, whether you believe in an eternal life or not, what you do on this planet matters. There are an unlimited number of organizations that would love to have some of your time, talent, and yes, financial support. There is also the neighbor down the street who is going through a tough time, the young person who needs a positive role model or mentor to help them, or a child living in desperate poverty whose life you could change forever with the money you spend at Starbucks each month.

Find a way to contribute to others. Find a way to spend some of those those precious days in a way that lifts others up. This is not about guilt. This is about making the most of your life by helping others. This is about living your life to its fullest.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Why elections matter.

This week brings the confirmation hearing of President Obama's nominee for Associate Justice to the Supreme Court. The nominee, Elena Kagan, will undoubtedly be a fitting replacement for Justice Paul Stevens. Stevens was one of the most liberal members of the court, and Kagan seems to be cut from the same cloth. Although her paper trail is a bit harder to track than most nominees are, I am certain the President and his team have done their homework and know the views of Ms. Kagan quite well.

The theatrics of the nomination process are now in full swing, as conservative members of the Senate Judiciary Committee will be trying to get Ms. Kagan to own up to her liberal views. This is nothing but politics, and anyone paying attention knows it. From a political standpoint, the nomination is brilliant. Kagan has never served as a sitting judge, has very little in the way of legal writings, and has a very narrow paper trail that could be used against her. She does have reams of paper from her time as an Associate White House Counsel and policy adviser to President Clinton, and in current roll as Solicitor General for President Obama. However, if you think the Clinton library is going to make her solicitor’s documents public, don't hold your breath.

From all indications, Ms. Kagan is an incredibly smart person. Professor, Dean of Harvard Law School, and her time working in two White House administrations make for an impressive resume. She is nowhere near my choice for an Associate Justice, but she is the President's nominee, and he won the election. That is the long and short of it.

Elections matter.

There was a time, not so long ago when the President picked his nominee, and unless there were huge red flags, allegations of corruption, mental capacity, or shady dealings in the nomination process, the President's pick would be seated on the court. This is not the case today.

Ever since the nomination of Robert Bork, and to a lesser extent Justice Clarence Thomas, these nomination hearings have become very contentious. Robert Bork had mountains of past decisions and opinions as a circuit judge, Solicitor General, as well as being an anti-trust scholar. During his confirmation hearings, Bork was very candid. He answered the probing questions with his honest opinion. Basically, he hung himself with a rope of his own making.

Elena Kagan once thought the Bork hearings should serve as a role model for the process. She thought his honesty in answering direct questions was very educational, and helped the committee come to an informed decision. I doubt there will be much openness or very many direct answers to the Senator's questions when she in front of the committee this week. This is the game where you try to get the nominee to give that one juicy sound bite so you can beat them relentlessly with it for the remainder of the hearings.

With the last three Justices taking the place of their similar-minded predecessors, the balance of power on the court has remained the same. It is a four-four split, conservative and liberal, with one Justice, Anthony Kennedy the one swing vote.

Barring a conservative justice retiring during the Obama presidency, when Justice Kennedy retires, that is when you will see the no holds barred, battle-royal to replace that all important swing vote. Whet that day comes; the confirmation hearing of Elena Kagan will seem like a taffy pull.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

The better angels of our nature.

Last night I took my wife out to diner and a movie to celebrate our twenty second wedding anniversary. I'm not sure how twenty two years has slip passed me, but they surely have. I remember being nervous going out to dinner with my future in-laws to announce our engagement. Some days it feels like we have been married for four or five years. Nothing is ever perfect and there are those days when I feel like we have been married two hundred and twenty two years also, but those days are few and far between. It has been a great ride.

While we were at dinner, a young Marine and his family were seated behind us. We listened as the waitress would bring their meals and tell them someone wanted to pay for their dinner anonymously. The next time she would come by, she said three people now wanted to buy their dinner. The Marine, in his dress blues, must have been twenty years old with his new baby. More than a few people came up to shake his hand and thank him for his service.

Some of my friends from the Vietnam war era, tell me of coming home during the war to terrible looks at best, and downright hostility and abuse in some cases. No matter how badly they were treated, they love to hear stories about situation like the one we encountered last night. I would not surprise me that some of the people offering to buy that young Marine dinner wore that same uniform in a different war, in a different time.

It gave me me hope that people still care about the ones who fight for their freedom. God bless that young Marine father, I hope he makes it to his twenty second anniversary, and many more.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

600 days later, what have we learned.

This weekend will mark 600 days since Barack Obama was elected as the forty fourth President of the United States. So, what have we learned about the man since that shiny, happy day in November 2008?

President Obama does hold one rock solid belief. What exactly does the President believe in? He believes in the power of government.

Whenever there is a choice between the private sector and government, the private sector loses. No matter what the problem is, the solution must be more government. Even if government created the problem, the solution is more of the same. Unless we are talking about the military. That type of government is bad, and kept in check at all times. It seems to be only form of government the President does not believe in.

Name your crisis, from the economy to the gulf oil spill, the President will always reach for the same tool in his toolbox. It is obvious government is the only tool in his toolbox; because it is the only one he knows how to use. The problem, as everyone outside of Washington and faculty lounges knows, is government is not a very effective tool. The larger the agency, the less able it is to adapt, learn, or even function in some instances.

Most of us know this instinctively. If you own a business, you could probably go on for several hours retelling stories of bureaucratic nightmares, red tape triplicate, and higher fees to support the ever-growing sea of cubicles. The President has no experience with the private sector, except as a source for campaign cash and tax revenue. If he did, he would know the only way out of this recession is private sector jobs. When you see growth in small business payrolls for three or four months in a row, that is when you will see the economy turn around.

For those of us who tried to explain this back in 2008, the current stream of never ending bad news is not surprising, in fact, we predicted it. If you never started a new business, made a payroll, or tried to figure out if you have enough money to pay your quarterly taxes, you are going to be painfully ignorant about the very engine of the American economy. We are paying the price for that ignorance right now.

I know many of my friends who voted for President Obama tell me this is still all Bush's fault and I should give the guy a chance. I guess I have to sit back and watch the President borrow and spend our children and grandchildren’s futures to pay for the one-size-fits-all solution that is bigger and bigger government. No thanks, if we start now, we might be able to turn this ship around. It all starts in November, which means it we need to get moving today.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Fathers Day - more like Labor Day

Father's Day is coming up this Sunday and with it, sons and daughter will be searching for a present for dad, if he is lucky, or maybe a goofy father’s day card. I don’t need a new tie, and I have aftershave, so this is what I would like to receive from my kids; A card listing three things I am doing well in their lives, and three things I need to improve. No presents are necessary, although I would not turn down dinner at Vince’s if it were offered.

Here is the thing about Father’s Day; it should be a day to celebrate the meaning and importance of fatherhood. Being a father for your children is an occupation, not a title. Just as you would for your career, being a father is something you should work on continually. Improving your skills and capabilities, trying to become a little better every day. It's not easy, but nothing important ever is.

With all the broken homes, single mothers, and blended families out there today, the traditional role of a father seems to be more of the exception rather than the rule. Many stepfathers I know are more of a father to their stepchildren than their biological one ever was. No matter what your situation, here is the deal; if have a child, you have a job. Some days it is frustrating, patience-testing, nerve-rattling, thankless, hard work. Some days it consumes your every waking thought, and some days it’s just being there for them.

I love my job as a father, I really do. Not that my children are perfect, they are not. Not that I am some super-dad who always gets it right, I don’t. We still struggle through the tough times, disappointments, report cards, messy rooms and theatrics. However, as a father, I would not trade one hundred tough days for one fewer of the "great days." The great days are the ones that will stay with you forever. If you haven’t had one in a while, try to catch your children doing something right. It’s amazing how just appreciating them, and loving them for who they are, can turn an ordinary day into a great day.

As fathers, whenever we get together, we complain about how much money we spend on our kids. All kidding aside, for all the money we spend on our children, the one currency we may not be as generous with is our time. When your child grows up, they will probably forget all the hi-tech gadgets you bought them, the latest fashions they no longer wear, but they may want to know why you didn’t spend more time with them. As a father, that question hurts, and it should.

Spending time with your children is critical. If you have crazy hours, or a career that takes you away from home; when you are with your children, be fully there. Live in that moment. Listening to what they have to say, even if it doesn’t make a lot of sense, it lets them know they are important. If you don’t give them your full attention when you are together, believe me, they will get your attention in other less desirable ways.

So this Sunday, I hope you get to spend some time with your children. Accept any present, eat any breakfast they fix, even if it's awful. Besides, who doesn't need a "World's greatest Dad" coffee mug? I hope you have a happy Father's Day, but I really hope you have one of those great days.

Monday, June 07, 2010

Decorating your conversation

I love a good euphemism, as well as metaphors, idioms, and other handy expressions. I do get them confused, as I do with most grammatical rules of our language. However, if they are particularly good ones, I will try to file them in some dusty corner of my memory to use again. They can be organized by the time period they came from, geographical region, nation, culture, and by varying degrees of vulgarity. If indeed you could call it an art, I have known a few artists who have mastered this particular medium.

One thing to consider when using these expressions is you have to have the right audience. If I tell someone who grew up in the 1940s, “that game was for the money, marbles and chalk”, they would know it was for everything I had. If I said it to a high school student, I would get a blank stare. Some of these expression are rural, some of them are urban, and many of them are downright hilarious.

Growing up in the country, I did not have close contact with our extended family, but I do remember Uncle Vern. He wasn’t really my uncle, but he was close family friend and loved to tell stories. His stories were filled to overflowing with colorful expressions, metaphors, puns, hyperbole, and some not-so-appropriate language sprinkled through it all. I would listen for hours.

My most memorable Uncle Vern expression described a person who was very nervous. He would say, “That guy is fidgeting around like a three-legged cat trying to bury his (poop) on a frozen pond.” Thinking of that phrase days later, I would be laughing to myself at the dinner table with my parents looking at me as if I had lost what little mind I had left. “Dumb as a sack full of hammers” was another one, along with, “ugly as a mud fence.” Gosh, I do miss Vern. That man could decorate a conversation.

As descriptive as these phrases can be, they sometimes raise more questions than they answer. For example, just how long is a coon’s age? How much is a butt-load? Why would you try to make a silk purse from a sow’s ear? Have you ever seen a blind squirrel, let alone one with a nut? Why is the grass always greener on the other side if the fence, did you forget to water the lawn?

My friend and I once weighed a butt-load of hay; just for your information, a butt-load is 6 and half tons.

It seems that today, the way to decorate your vocabulary is to curse. I haven’t watched MTV since I was in high school, (yes, they had MTV back then and they used to actually play music videos) but I hear that the MTV Music Awards show was laced with over 100 four-letter words and the sensors only caught 70 of them. I guess that is what passes for entertainment, but it makes me a little sad.

Don't get me wrong, I have spent years in the construction industry with people who held a black belt in profanity. While I try my best not to curse, I do let a few slip out when I do something really stupid, which is often. Heck, some of my favorite expressions cannot be repeated in polite company. However, using the f-word three times in a sentence is no substitute for being witty or clever. Crack open a dictionary, there are thousands of verbs out there; use them.

I am still on the lookout for more of these. I find that most of them come from older friends who heard them growing up. Do you have any? I would love to hear them, especially if there is a story attached.

Tuesday, June 01, 2010

Is your church male friendly?

A very interesting thing happens across America each Sunday. The coffee maker brews a fresh pot, and the kitchen is bustling with activity. Mothers scurry to comb unruly mobs of hair, find missing shoes and get the kids ready as they head off to church, alone. They leave their bathrobe-clad husbands behind to watch the ball game or sleep in.

Some guys have a regular tee time setup on Sundays with their friends while the rest of the family attends church. Why is that? Are men not as spiritually connected as women? Are there too many distractions on Sundays for men to be pulled away from their recliners and big screens?

I am not sure about the first question, there are times when the playoffs roll around when I will stay home and get the bratwurst ready for kickoff. Then Tony Romo throws three interceptions, and next week I am back at church. However, there is another question to ask; are most of today's churches men friendly?

Something is keeping men away from America's churches. In evangelical circles, women make up 53% of church attendees. Those figures are from Pew Research, but I have seen many churches where the women outnumber the men two or three to one.

The church I attend has a pretty good mix of men and women, young couples, singles, seniors and kids. I think that is why it is growing. Some churches I have visited are attended by mostly elderly women with a few men sprinkled through the pews. I cannot help to think these churches are not going to be around in a generation.

Many churches today have an almost feminine character to them. Not that there is anything wrong with that. In fact, that compassionate, caring, empathizing, relation-based emotion is part and parcel of who Christ wants us to be. However, there is another side of a church's character that cannot be left out. This side is where men can find that connection they seem to be lacking. This side is all about strength, service, action, fellowship, being a better man, husband, father, oh, and a lot of fun. That's right, I said fun.

Having just returned from our men's retreat in the Santa Cruz Mountains, I can attest that church can indeed be fun. If it doesn't kill you that is. Fat guys should not play 9 games of outdoor volleyball, work out with weights, and play relay games for a few hours if you have not laced up your cross trainers in few months. After a dangerous amount of Ibuprofen, I was walking again and able to enjoy the second day.

Your church may not have a specific Men's ministry, or you have tried it in the past and it kind of withered away. Please try again. Men need to feel they have place in their local church where they are free to be men. Keep the grunting and scratching to a minimum, but guys like to do guy stuff. We are planning a day at the River Cats, trap shooting, indoor cart racing and we try to have a men's breakfast with a non-cardiologist approved menu each month.

What ever it takes to get that new guy plugged in. I have made some great friends through church. Friends who are helping me become a better father, husband and person. I continue to be a work in progress, but finding a safe place to connect with other guys who share the common goal of being the best person they can be is priceless.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Is it too much to ask?

So, you walk onto a car lot looking for a mid-sized sedan. You have done a little research and you have narrowed it down to the Honda Accord and the Chevy Malibu. The add from the car lot showed a Honda and a Chevy, but when you get there, you find a lot full of rental-return mini vans.

The salesman strolls on up like your long lost high school friend and says he'll find the "perfect car for you."

"So where are the cars in the ad", you ask?
"Oh, don't worry", he says, "These mini vans are just like the Accord and Malibu."
"But I don't want a minivan, especially a rental return" you reply.
"These are better than the Accord or Malibu, trust me." He says smiling.

What if you stopped by Starbucks on your way to work for coffee and a scone only to find that they have changed the menu.
"Sorry, we don't have coffee today, but how about a nice plate of spaghetti?"
"It's 6:30 in the morning, I want coffee, not spaghetti." you say.
"Well, spaghetti is a better way to start your morning."
"But this is Starbucks." you insist.
"It sure is, would you like a Joan Baez greatest hits CD with your spaghetti?"

Some times all you want is what you want.

I feel this way about politics. I felt this way in 2008 when I wanted to vote for a conservative presidential candidate, and they gave me John McCain. I am having flashbacks right now in regards to the upcoming gubernatorial primary. I really want a fiscal conservative on the ticket in November because we really need one right now. We need a conservative to save our state from drowning in this sea of debt and higher taxes.

Am I going to get my wish? Nope, I am going to get a mini van, with a side of spaghetti.

Believe me, I have read the campaign mailers, and I have met both Meg Whitman and Steve Poisner, and I am still looking for a conservative. Don't get me wrong, I know that Whitman and Poisner are the best candidates to defeat Jerry Brown, but just for once I would like to win or lose with a candidate I believe in.

I know there are many folks backing the Whitman and Poisner campaigns, some are my friends. But is it too much to ask for a Republican candidate who has not given money to Barbara Boxer as Whitman has, or Al Gore as Poisner has? I can overlook a few mistakes, we all make them. A bad vote on a controversial piece of legislation or backing a liberal member of your party in a primary race, but giving money and support to Barbara Boxer and Al Gore? Really, these are my choices?

The Democrats have been in control of both houses of the legislature since 1996. That's 14 years of spending, taxing, borrowing, then more spending, taxing and borrowing, followed by a bit of borrowing, taxing and spending. California's unemployment rate is around thirteen percent, and people are screaming for change. This could, and should, be a very special opportunity for conservatives here in the golden state, much like Republican Chris Christie was for New Jersey.

Come June 8th, Republicans will go to the polls and chose between the two front runners hiding behind the label of conservative. Being the stick in the mud I am, I will be voting for Bill Chambers. Who, you ask? He is a railroad engineer from Auburn and a very down to earth guy. I know he has no chance against the two dot-com millionaires, but I am pretty sure he has never endorsed Barbara Boxer or Al Gore.

Tuesday, May 04, 2010

It's the terrorists stupid

Let me ask you a question. When you first heard of the attempted car bombing in Times Square, did you ask yourself; I wonder if it was a Buddhist? Probably not. Why is that? Why don't we equate Buddhism or Hinduism with terrorism? Why doesn't the thought of Mormons or Baptists committing such an act flash into our mind? For most of us, we don't think of these religions committing terrorist act because it doesn't make sense.

Most of us know that if there is a terrorist attack in America, it is more than likely the perpetrator will be a radical, Islamic male. Well, unless you work for the government or MSNBC.

If you work in the US Attorney General's office or the Department of Homeland Security, your first thought will probably be; it must be a member of the tea party. If you work for mainstream media, you are probably a little disappointed that the Time Square bomber turned out to be a Muslim man. MSNBC's Contessa Brewer let the cat out of the bag when she said what most on the left were thinking. "I get frustrated...There was part of me that was hoping this was not going to be anybody with ties to any kind of Islamic country." It’s nice to know that MSNBC has taken sides in the war on terror.

Through very painful experience, Americans have experienced many acts, and attempted acts of terrorism, carried out by people who profess faith in Islam. I fully understand that the vast majority of Muslims here and around the world just want to live their lives, and raise their families. I know that every time a Christian says something stupid, or commits a terrible act, the media is quick to beat the story into the ground. So I do understand how it feels to be painted with a broad brush. However, if anyone I met started talking about committing acts of terrorism in the name of my religion, I would strongly rebuke them, and if I thought they were serious, I would report them.

Since 911, we have seen the DC sniper, the shoe bomber, the LAX shooter, the military recruiting center shooter, the Fort Hood shooter, the Christmas Day plane bomber and now the Times Square bomber all attack this nation. What do all these folks have in common? Were they all members of AAA or radical fans of the Minnesota Golden gophers? No, they were all Islamic terrorists here in America. How many more are waiting for their chance to attack?

But don't worry folks, the government is busy tracking the real potential terrorists; angry tax protesters at the tea parties. At least Contessa Brewer should feel better about that.

Monday, April 26, 2010

here we go again

Just when we were getting back on speaking terms with our friends and family members after the divisive health care fight, we are now heading into another battle. Illegal immigration.

Can I just sign up for a root canal without Novocain instead?

I can already hear the cries of racist, bigot and anti-immigrant being hurled at me. The last one is my favorite, anti-immigrant. Sure, on my father's side, I can trace my family back to 1731 in Maryland, and that is pretty cool, but even he emigrated from Ireland. On my mom's side, my great grandfather received his US citizenship in 1932. So as the great grandson of Issauro Vieira Silveira, I am a product of immigration and proud of it. But none of that matters.

If I had just received my citizenship yesterday, I would be labeled a racist and bigot if I dare oppose open borders. That is the way the progressive movement works today, prey upon people's fear of being called racist. It makes your opponent go on defense. That play from the left's playbook has worked for quite a while, but I wonder what will happen this year?

I will admit, the left has a huge home court advantage with the media. Just like the tea party folks this year, those who oppose open borders will be smeared as violent, right-wing extremists, ready to blow up buildings if they only had the smarts to mix the chemicals. I can almost write the script for you now. The nightly news will pick out the most extreme "spokesman" from the crowd and make him the poster-child of the movement.

The networks will do prime-time programs detailing the plight of illegal immigrants here in the US. They will focus on the sad cases of people who just want escape the poverty and corruption in Mexico. They will ask, what do we do with the millions of illegal immigrants here, although they will not use the term illegal immigrant, they prefer plain old immigrants or if pushed, undocumented workers.

To me, this is a simple question, one that must be asked and answered. Do we believe we have a border between our sovereign nations, and do we believe there is a legal process in which to become a citizen? Yes or no.

Even Ellis Island had a process, with interviews, exams, and they turned many away.

As the government of Mexico slowly sinks into a power struggle with the anarchy of the drug cartels, the violence and chaos is spilling over the border into places like Arizona.

I hear a lot of talk about comprehensive immigration reform. If you haven’t figured this out already, and most people have, comprehensive means amnesty and citizenship for the millions of illegal aliens already here in the US. That is what it meant when President Bush introduced it years ago, that is what it means today. Whichever party can deliver amnesty and social spending programs to these millions will have a very loyal voting block for generations to come. This is about votes and political power as much as anything else.

How about this for a comprehensive immigration solution; a nice big fence first. I am willing to discuss some sort of way to deal with millions here, but only when we have secured the border. Don’t we have tens of billions in unspent federal stimulus money? I can hardly think of a better way to spend it. If we are not going to credit it back to offset the trillion dollar deficits, let's put a few hundred thousand workers back to work building walls and fence.

The Democrats are always telling us how much they love the work programs of FDR’s New Deal, let them prove it. We already borrowed the money; let’s put it to good use for a change. Wow, who knew big government was so useful?

Friday, April 09, 2010

Fame, power and the human condition

As I sit down to write this, Eldrick Woods has just finishing playing golf at the immaculate and meticulously manicured, Augusta National golf club. Watching the highlights of The Masters golf tournament, one might get the impression that Tiger Woods is back, and has put his public relations nightmare behind him. Not so fast.

To be sure, there are hundreds and thousands of Tiger's fans who are following him on the course, cheering just as loud as they ever did. Unless there is another monumental lapse in Tiger's behavior, fifteen years from now, after a few more major championships, people will say that Woods was the best golfer the world has ever seen. However, his public image, an image just as meticulously crafted and maintained as Augusta's greens, will forever carry a tarnish that can never be polished off.

I remember seeing Tiger when he was about 13 or 15 years old on TV, and I was amazed at his talent. He seemed like a great young man who possessed everything needed to be a sports super star. In the first years of his professional career, Woods was a machine. Win a few golf tournaments, practice, make a few television commercials, win another tournament, repeat. He kept his private life private, as he constructed a professional image that drew corporate sponsorship dollars like no one since Michael Jordan had.

Today, I guess everyone is asking the same question; why? Why would Tiger Woods jeopardize everything he has?

The frailties of human nature, especially the human male, are not a mystery to most of us. As men, we know that no matter how good our lives are, no matter how much we love our families, we are surrounded by temptation. The temptation of more, better, perfect, pleasure, they are all out there, and we are bombarded with their message in every type of media we encounter. So why do some men submit to these temptations, while others are tempted, but turn away? In my case, that answer is easy; my wife knows how to shoot.

Given the choice, I'd take a 5-iron to the noggin over a .38 caliber slug any day.

No one can know for sure what caused Tiger Woods' moral implosion. Nevertheless, I would bet that he didn't start down this dark road of infidelity knowing he would end up here. We never do.

The one thing about success, especially at a super star level, is you start believing too much in your own abilities. The mental discipline, the focus, the decision-making abilities you used to succeed in your profession seem like they allow you to do whatever you choose. So why not choose a little fun?

Why not go back to the hotel with this beautiful woman? You have the discipline; you can have this one sinful treat, just this one time. You can have this one little weekend together; you have the strength to stop any time, right? You can have this one relationship outside your marriage, and maybe one other, you deserve it. I can have these two separate lifestyles, one for the corporate sponsors, my public image, and this one where I can do whatever I want with whomever I choose. I can stop at any time, I can.

To quote scripture; Pride goeth before destruction, and an haughty spirit before a fall. (For some reason, the King James version seems to hit he between the eyes)

Many a politician, celebrity, athlete, pastor and postman have fallen from grace, telling themselves they can stop any time. When we convince ourselves we are strong enough to go down this road, just a little way and then turn back, we are heading for a fall. The distance we fall, and the damage we cause, is only a matter of when we are caught. Thank your lucky stars if you do catch yourself taking that off ramp and veer back onto the straight and narrow in time. You are fortunate indeed.

So, Tiger Woods is back playing golf. This may be the one place where he feels in control right now. I once was a big Tiger fan. The things he can do on a golf course are amazing. That concentration, that focus, and his natural talent are all things to admire in a professional golfer. As a person, I cannot quite bring myself to root for him. I don't know if I ever will.

I am all for forgiveness and second chances, but when you screw up this badly, when you have been living 180 degrees away from you carefully managed public image, you need more than just a press conference to make things right. Either your marriage and your children are the most important things in the world, or they're not. If you never played another round of golf, you would still have more money that ten people could spend in a lifetime.

I'm sure you are sorry that you were caught, but it seems like you have turned that famous focus and discipline into rebuilding your public image, not rebuilding yourself as a person. This could be a golden opportunity to become a great person, not just a great golfer. I know the latter pays better than the former, but I guess we all have our priorities.

If Tiger goes on to break Jack Nicklaus’ record for major championships, I will tip my hat and say, he is the best golfer to have played the game. He could be so much more.

Monday, March 29, 2010

What is a citizen?

What is a citizen? That is a tricky question. Everyone used to know the answer, today I'm not so sure.

I believe that in our quest to produce "well rounded children" we have forgotten to teach them something very essential; what it means to be a citizen of the United States. Do not confuse “citizen” with a legal standing, or a label to be thrown around in an election year. By citizen, I mean a person who understands who we are as Americans. A citizen understands not only our rights, but also our responsibilities. A citizen understands our history, warts and all. They understand the ideas behind our founding, and the origins of democracy and western civilization.

No matter your ethnic background, the nation in which you were born, whether you can trace your family history back to American Revolution, or you were recently sworn in as a new citizen, you need to know a few basic things about America. In order to function as Americans, we all need this same basic understanding of where we came from, and who and what shaped us. In short, we need to know our history.

We need to know a little about the Greeks and the Romans. We need to understand the origin of western law, philosophy and science. We need to understand a bit of European history. The Renaissance, the Protestant Reformation, Martin Luther and the Age of Enlightenment. We need to know who the Puritans were, and why they left England for the new word, to start this little experiment in religious freedom we call America.

We need to know who the founders of America were, what they believed in, what they feared, and why they wrote the Constitution the way they did. We need to know what the Constitution says, and what it does not say. Why they chose this form of government. We need to know the meaning of free-market capitalism, socialism, communism, and fascism. These are not meaningless labels; they are difference between being a citizen, and being a subject.

A great deal can also be learned by studying military history. From Alexander to Napoleon, from Alcibiades to the Duke of Wellington, from George Washington to General David Petraeus, all these men had a profound impact on our world. We need to know the stories behind places like Saratoga, Shiloh, The Somme, Bastogne, Guadalcanal, Inchon, Ia Drang, Kandahar and Fallujah. The sacrifices our men and women in uniform have made, and are making, have secured our freedoms. Freedom of speech, freedom of the press, freedom of religion, and even the freedom to walk around without a clue.

We need to know when we head to the mall and see a half million square feet of retail space, or see a grocery store teaming with fresh produce and meat, these things didn’t just get here by accident. We need to know if you work hard, really hard, you can achieve great things in this country. We need to know when we go the polls, if we don’t like the folks running the government, we can throw them out, and they will go. We need to know that for society to function, the citizen must be informed and involved. As I like to say; the world is run by those who show up.

Being a citizen of the United States carries some responsibilities, although you would not know that by today’s society. Today, we have two or three generations who believe their rights come from the government, they don’t. I am not sure what part of “they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights” people do not understand these days, but it they are slowly losing touch with what being a citizen is all about.

If we are to stem this tide, I believe we must start with this generation of children. How do we instill this sense of citizenship in them? That is the question we need to answer, and fast.