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.