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.