New Shoes in the Rain

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Not here yet

Good morning to you, from foggy central Kentucky.  We had a quick reminder that spring has not yet arrived here Sunday night, as we awoke to around five inches of snow here in our home area.

Before leaving for some work in the field, I shoveled our driveway, weighing out whether or not I should.  A friend confided upon hearing my dilemma that I should have opted for what meant less work, but I persisted.  Turns out I could have left it exactly as it was and it would have melted, as the driveways of our neighbors were untouched.

Oh, well, I needed the exercise.

This is always an unpredictable time of year in our area.  I have probably mentioned before our plans to take the family to Florida on spring break, which one year was the first week of April.  We woke up to find that we had received four inches of snow, totally unpredicted.  That made for an interesting trip south.

I have to say that I'm more than a little pleased with myself in that I recently fertilized my yard, and that generally needs to be accompanied by some rain (or snow).  So my timing was just right this year.

For once.

Now, on to other things.....

Kentucky's men's basketball team certainly didn't get much of a draw in the NCAA tournament that starts tonight.  They were positioned as a 5 seed and will play their first (and second, if they win in round one) game in Boise, Idaho.  Not exactly around the corner from the heart of the Big Blue Nation, but a nice place to visit.

Coach John Calipari, never one at a loss for a comment or opinion, has always felt that his Kentucky teams fail to get adequate consideration by the tournament selection committee; even as a higher seed they still often have a more difficult path to the Final Four than other comparable teams.  I suppose an argument could be made either way.

Did you see the headline that the House of Representatives' Intelligence Committee, or at least the Republicans on that committee, announced the conclusion of their investigation of potential Russian interference and collusion in the 2016 Presidential election?  They made the announcement late yesterday, over the objections of the committee's Democratic members.  Nothing to see here, move along, please.

The Senate Intelligence Committee is continuing its corresponding investigation, as is Special Counsel Robert Mueller, and the latter, in particular, continues to identify additional possible issues and corroborating witnesses.  So whether or not there was or wasn't Russian interference or collusion is still debatable, depending on who receives the question and their specific motivations.

I also was amused to see that adult film actress Stormy Daniels, still wishing to tell her story about an affair with the President prior to his election, has offered to return the "hush money" she received just before the 2016 election in order to be released from her obligation to remain silent.  I don't think that's how non-disclosure agreements work, but I admire her for keeping the story alive all the same.

Movie review update:  we just purchased "Darkest Hour" over the weekend, which was a predictable move on my part, having been a major fan of Winston Churchill over the years.  As you may know, Gary Oldman won the Best Actor Oscar for his portrayal of Churchill, and he was mesmerizing and I highly recommend it.  Apparently he put about a year of effort into mastering the mannerisms of his role.  After a career of playing mostly villains and offbeat characters and then stepping into more positive roles in Christopher Nolan's "Dark Knight" Batman trilogy, the Harry Potter series and other projects, it's nice to see a skilled actor receive his due.

Wish me luck driving in the fog later this morning.

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

What progress looks like

Friends, things are happening in a few places....

Congratulations first to the teachers in our neighboring state of West Virginia.  This state has long been known as one of the lowest spenders on education of its children (48th in the Union at last report) and their teachers finally reached a breaking point, striking for nine days until finally the state legislature voted to give all teachers (and many state workers) a 5% pay increase.

The only catch is that a member of the legislature acknowledged that the money will come from general cuts in Medicaid and other services.  So they're robbing Peter to pay Paul, it seems.

Regardless, the teachers uniformly stated that they knew when they became teachers that they'd chosen the wrong profession in which to become wealthy, but this was about creating stability for students, so that teachers could afford to stay in their positions.  That's a noble thought.  I sincerely hope it works out.

That would likely never happen here in Kentucky, where there is widespread panic over the state of the retirement system our teachers have relied on for a long time.  The latest developments center on benefits that retired teachers receive, including health insurance and cost-of-living increases.  And things will be different for new teachers, as they'll be put into a cash-balance retirement plan that is less lucrative than a traditional pension, but supposedly safer than a 401K plan like most non-government employees have.

Kentucky's teachers have reportedly been watching the goings-on in West Virginia and may be considering a strike over pay and retirement benefits.  Stay tuned on that.

Florida's legislature appears to be close to passage of a gun control bill, largely on the strength of the movement of the students of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.  The bill adds a three-day waiting period on the purchase of the gun, and those purchasing firearms would have to be 21 years of age before being allowed such a purchase.  And there are aspects that address arming certain school employees, but not teachers.  And it does not ban semi-automatic assault-style weapons.

But it's a start.

Contrast that with the United States Senate, where Majority Leader Mitch McConnell indicated that late last week that his body would not be taking up debate of any gun control legislation or any action toward the resolution of DACA, the controversial program concerning those young people and children brought to this country by emigrating parents.  The Senate, instead, is debating a banking bill that will ease some regulations put into place during the 2008 financial crisis.

McConnell is from my home state of Kentucky, of course.

I won't make an attempt to detail what the Russia probe, led by former FBI Director Robert Mueller, has shifted focus toward in recent days, but suffice it to say that the number and speed of subpoenas for information and grand jury appearances probably indicates that his group is also progressing in carrying out its work.

About the only progress we're seeing from the White House is that they continue to jettison high-ranking officials with dizzying speed.  Late yesterday senior economic advisor Gary Cohn announced his resignation, in part because he could not persuade President Trump not to move forward with tariffs on imported steel and aluminum that could spark a trade war with certain trading partners.

Last but not least, I'll just mention that our weather seems to be in a pattern of confusion right now....our weather was sunny in the high 50's yesterday afternoon.  It snowed overnight.

Oh, well.

Wednesday, February 28, 2018

The rainy season

Good morning, friends.  Not a huge surprise that it's raining here in central Kentucky.  Again.

Most of us here in this locality are a little tired of rain, but grateful that temperatures are such that this much rain isn't several inches (or even feet) of snow.  And I find it amusing that there is a direct correlation between how far from home business will take me and the amount of rain expected on a given day, at least during the work week.

As the title of my blog states, having "new shoes in the rain" certainly is a mixed blessing....

Keeping with the rain metaphor, when it rains, it pours, and the news lately has been raining down on us.  Yesterday there must have been eight or ten items concerning the tumultuous goings-on in the Trump White House, what with relatives saying they believe the President when he denies various claims made against him, or another of those relatives being stripped of a contentious security clearance, or a senior aide being questioned (again) by a Congressional committee, and on and on and on.

Then there's the growing story of agents having contact with prospective college basketball players prior to their entering schools, and records of loans and payments.  This seems to happen every few years, and this latest set of university and player names corresponds to the news that broke in the early fall and led to the firing of Louisville coach Rick Pitino and numerous assistants around the college basketball world.  There also were three players who play or played at the University of Kentucky named, as well, including one current player.  

Is there guilt?  Most likely.  Should the rules be changed?  Probably.  If memory serves, when the International Olympic Committee revised how it viewed amateurism, there were far fewer problems in that part of the athletic world.  And it's clear that college basketball (and football) is the money-maker for most universities that allows the "non-revenue" sports to exist.  Sports like baseball and track & field and swimming and volleyball and so on.  The NCAA needs to modernize its approach to what is and isn't allowed, and ensure that when a basketball coach is paid $5 million a year and the university receives millions in television revenue, players are allowed to share in that, at least a little.

In my opinion.

The Oscars are next weekend, and I still have only seen one of the Best Picture nominees, Christopher Nolan's masterful war picture "Dunkirk."  I was able to watch this for the second time recently and am stunned by its narrative structure and the images it conveys, including some rather unconventional camera angles.  

And to be honest, there are probably only a few of the other nominees I'd want to see, namely "The Post" and "Darkest Hour."  The remainder are not of as much interest to me, but that's why so many movies come out each year--hopefully something for everyone.

And I'll confess here--I saw "Justice League" recently and was pretty impressed with it, overall, in spite of the negative reviews it received at the time of its theatrical release.  The best line in the movie?  When asked by someone "what's YOUR superpower," Bruce Wayne (who, of course, is also Batman) replies "I'm rich."

One more thing before I go....

The students at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida are returning to school this morning, having laid all of their departed friends to rest.  Please keep them in your thoughts today.  They seem to be keeping the rest of us in theirs.

Thursday, February 22, 2018

Courage under fire

I am more than impressed with the way that the surviving students of last week's tragic shootings at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida have channelled their grief, sadness, anger and bewilderment into a burgeoning national movement that appears to be gaining traction.

So far these students, along with supportive parents and teachers, have traveled to the Florida state capitol in Tallahassee to confer with and in some cases confront lawmakers (who for reasons passing understanding debated and voted on a measure identifying pornography as a teen health risk, but would not take up a measure on gun control on the same day); organized numerous rallies and marches; inspired a national movement, #neveragain, that will result in a march in Washington and elsewhere next month; prompted a televised town hall in Sunrise, Florida last night; and instigated a "listening session" with President Trump at the White House yesterday.

All is not positive with this effort, though, and that's not entirely unexpected, as opposition has surfaced in a number of places.  I'm aware of multiple claims that many of the students who have been so vocal and visible are one of the following:

a)  "crisis actors" who are being paid to work from talking points scripted by far-left influences
b)  part of a "false flag" scenario in which the shooting itself was a hoax designed to gain sympathy for gun control advocates
c)  attention seekers who will eventually lose interest in this cause

That entire line of thinking is repugnant, and as a father and grandfather, I can't imagine how the parents of these brave kids who are in such pain must feel, watching their children process these events, the loss of their friends and classmates and the resistance they're already meeting from those in elected office.

These students are not about to accept "thoughts and prayers," the standard talking point following most such events, and are pressing elected officials on what they'll do.  Florida Senator Marco Rubio was confronted about whether or not he would ever accept another campaign dollar from the National Rifle Association and answered the student questioning him with a meaningless and vague response.  President Trump's primary recommendation was the elimination of gun-free zones in schools so that at least some teachers and other staff (and he has clarified that he means those with the skill and training to properly handle firearms) could carry weapons inside of our schools.

I honestly thought after the Sandy Hook shooting that, finally, something would happen, and it didn't. The same went for the shootings at the Congressional softball practice last summer, as I had mistakenly assumed that attacks on their own members would cause members of Congress to finally take action.  They didn't.

Maybe this will be the turning point.  I really don't know.   But I do know how much I admire these kids, for their bravery not only when the shooter was roaming the halls of their school, but now, facing down politicians and online trolls and conspiracy theorists and, as one female student kept proclaiming at a rally last weekend, "calling B.S." on the reasons why nothing good can come of this.

Sunday, February 18, 2018

18 in 45 days

As you well know, our country experienced another tragic school shooting last week, and depending on the criteria used for identification, it may be the 18th such event to have occurred just since the beginning of this year.  That's three per week.

Seventeen students and staff members were killed and numerous others were injured in the attack.  As has been the case multiple times in the past, the perpetrator appears to be a former student with a history of behavioral issues and numerous warning signs that something like this was possible.

To me, the difference with this incident is that many of the students are speaking out about the need for someone to do something.  These students articulate the frustration that so many of us feel in the face of these events, that there must be SOMETHING we as a society can do.  I applaud these students and parents for their statements and hope that they don't let up, now that they have captured the media's attention.

Worth noting here that last February Congress passed a law--and President Trump quietly signed it--that made it easier for those with mental illness to obtain guns, reversing a law that was enacted under President Obama.  The primary Senate sponsor of that bill, Iowa Senator Chuck Grassley, said on camera last week that the government "has not done a good job" preventing mentally ill people from acquiring weapons.  How ironic.

Nearly every time that something like this happens, I attempt contact with the members of Congress who represent me.  Sometimes I write e-mails, other times I use Twitter, but the results are always the same--responses rarely come, and when they do, they're filled with gobblety-gook about "protecting our citizens" and "preserving our heritage" and the customary reference to "thoughts and prayers," although we're not hearing as much of that as we sometimes do.  Worth noting for those outside of my home area that these three men--Senators Mitch McConnell and Rand Paul and Congressman Andy Barr--are all Republicans.

Google this:  look up the list of politicians to whose campaigns the National Rifle Association has contributed.  I found it enlightening.

It didn't escape my notice that the President, who was already on his way to his resort in south Florida for the President's Day weekend, stopped at the hospital where most of the victims were treated, as well as the local sheriff's office, and praised those medical professionals and first responders, and even met with groups of those people and posed for "thumbs-up" photos in both locations.

To my knowledge, he did NOT encounter any of the groups of students and other citizens holding public rallies.  Or attend any funerals or memorial services.

In fairness, the President did address the nation on Thursday, reading a statement about the incident and how we as a country are there for the victims and their families and that we need to make our nation safer.

But since that time he has also managed to chastise the FBI for failing to pass forward reports about the alleged shooter that the FBI received, claiming they were too busy with what he persists in calling the "Russian collusion witch hunt" to investigate.

We know that's not at all true, but we also know that Friday the special counsel who is investigating what he continues to call a "hoax" handed down specific indictments related to direct interference by thirteen Russian individuals.  These indictees will never see the inside of American courtrooms, but it's the clearest definition of the Russian involvement in the 2016 presidential election, so that, and not the 18th school shooting in the first six weeks of 2018, continues to be top of mind of our President.

I wish that all of the Sunday morning political shows would feature some of these students who are speaking with such passion and fervor about how our government is letting us down.  They're the ones being shot at, it seems, so having them speak directly to some of the people in Congress who are in a position to act only makes sense.

Sunday, February 11, 2018

And now, something completely different

Borrowed today's title phrase from Monty Python's Flying Circus, a British comedy troupe containing some of the funniest people I've ever seen.

Yes, enough of the gloom-and-doom of current events.  Let's talk about something far more enjoyable.  Or several more things that fit that description!

I've always liked British things, for some reason, from the time I was a kid and could do a passable  British accent (or so I thought, anyway).  The Pythons, as noted above, were always a favorite, and they were well liked by my father, too, despite the fact that he didn't like much of anything foreign.  Kentucky Educational Television used to show Monty Python on Saturday nights at 11:00, and we were allowed to stay up and watch.  I don't know that I always understood the more subtle parts of their humor, but the broad, physical stuff was always a winner with me!

The Anglophile in me always enjoyed music by English performers, too.  As a kid I was aware of the Beatles, but since my mother (the family's music lover) was an Elvis fan, there wasn't any room in the family record collection for the Beatles as well.  So as a young teen I discovered Elton John and became an instant favorite of mine.  And then to see him on television once in a while, in his outrageous costumes, was quite something, too.

As time wore on I came to be a true fan of the Beatles, but not until adulthood, when a friend who WAS such a fan loaned me his collection of half-speed mastered LPs (those are records to those who don't know or remember), and I made recordings of all of them.  Wore a couple of them out, and what's left of those tapes reside in my son's garage, since he still has a cassette player.  Not to worry, when we converted to CD players in our cars I reacquired most of their catalog in that format.

And I think I have mentioned this here before, but both of our cars are equipped with satellite radio, and since they're both too old to connect to our phones, we keep that service active.  I was teetering on cancellation until last spring when SiriusXM introduced the Beatles Channel, which was just what I needed.  The Beatles' music, both together and as separate performers, plus other singers' cover versions of classic Beatles songs and shows that delve into their history are among the channel's program offerings.  When my wife gets into my car to go somewhere with me, she almost always comments that "is the Beatles channel all you listen to?"  I shrug and smile and off we go, but I notice her tapping her hand on her knee all the same!

The greatest surprise for me in this quasi-British invasion is that my wife, as it turns out, also enjoys a lot of things that originate across the pond.  For instance, one of her favorite shows that we've discovered on Netflix (and there have not been many) is "The Crown," which traces the history of Queen Elizabeth II from just before her ascension to the throne onward.  It's a show that's well done, well acted, and endlessly interesting and enjoyable.

And since we like a lot of cooking shows, it follows that we watch the Great British Baking Show, which is a stately competition of home bakers in a weekly elimination tournament.  The grand prize, if you can believe it, is a cake plate.  Not $20,000, but a cake plate.  And to see the angst these folks go through to produce baked items that we've never heard of is really something.

The show is hosted by two female comedians who would likely fit right into the Python troupe, and the judges are a rather blunt man with a northern English accent in tight jeans named Paul Hollywood (no, I'm not kidding) and an elderly but kindly woman with a lilting voice named Mary Berry (also not kidding).  We've gone through two seasons of that, and enjoyed them both.

There's another English cooking show we've watched a few times but I don't think we're quite as taken with that one.

If you're wonder if we have high tea and crumpets while we watch "the telly," rest assured that we still like most 'Murican things, too.  But it is kind of fun to travel abroad without leaving one's living room or car!

Thursday, February 8, 2018

Just when you think things can't get any worse

It's Thursday and our weather here in central Kentucky is still of two minds, apparently.  But we all know that the groundhog is never wrong, so best to brace for more cold.

It seems that hardly a day goes by that we don't learn something about a White House or Trump Administration employee at some level that makes us shake our heads.

Not much question that the overarching news of the last few days is that of the sudden revelation that the White House staff secretary has a history of abusing women, that this history was known to White House staff, that this individual rose through the ranks of White House staff to his current (and soon-to-be former) position as high-ranking members of the administration knew of this history, that prevented this individual from obtaining an appropriate security clearance to do his job (the staff secretary apparently is the person through whom all official paper makes its way to the Oval Office for the review or signature or approval of the President), and that the White House Chief of Staff fought to keep this person in his job, despite all of this information that became public in the past 36 hours.

It also was revealed that this staff secretary was known to be currently dating the White House Communications Director, a close ally and favorite of the President, complicating this situation even further.

It's well documented that the President was accused of sexual misdeeds by a number of women during his campaign for his current office, accusations which have been uniformly and repeatedly denied.  An adult film star was recently reported to have had an affair with the President some years ago, shortly after the birth of his youngest child, an accusation that was also denied in the same terms.  The very possibility of the President having had questionable contact with members of the opposite sex other than his wife is something that I don't think our society has ever contemplated, at least not while that person was in office.

Yet here we are.

So I suppose it follows that those in authority in the White House would view the accusations against the outgoing staff secretary a bit differently than past administrations might have.  And it's doubly disappointing in the wake of all of the reports of sexual misconduct by famous men in politics and business and show business, with the #metoo and #timesup movements fully in motion.

I should note here that I have a great many women whom I count as friends, and I am certainly the better for it.  I know from  conversations with a few of them that they have been the victims of abuse at the hands of a man close to them, and that such abuse, whether physical or emotional or both, changes a person forever.  Knowing each of them, I am always stunned to learn that they were ever abused and, even more, impressed that they have in most every case overcome these situations and not allowed them to govern their lives.

I suppose that this salacious story will be pushed downward in our newsfeeds soon enough, as yet another scandal or misstep or controversy will take its place at the top of the headlines.  That appears to be normal in our current situation.