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.

Sunday, February 4, 2018

Retail price

Good Sunday morning, friends.  Our on-again/off-again dance with winter produced a small snowfall early this morning, so if you're in central Kentucky with places to go this morning, please be careful!

My wife and I yesterday made a day trip to Cincinnati, just for a change of pace and to visit some places we don't have here in Cincinnati.  As I've explained in this space before, we like visiting Cincinnati, because it's the nearest "large" city to us and it's just a little more than an hour away by car.

Anyway, our primary destinations when visiting the Queen City (with apologies to Charlotte, which also calls itself the same) usually begin with the Kenwood Towne Centre, at the intersection of Kenwood and Montgomery Roads and adjacent to I-71.  This mall is one of the few well-maintained enclosed shopping malls in the region (we have Fayette Mall here in Lexington that could also be described similarly) and it generally a pleasure to visit.

We arrived yesterday just before the official opening time of the stores therein, and after recognizing that we'd need to work to avoid the aggressive yet oblivious mall walkers that have free rein until the place opens for business, we began to survey the end of the mall where we generally park and enter.

Women's clothier Talbots--gone.  Bankhardt's Luggage and Gifts--also gone.  Other stores had relocated into other spaces since our last visit.  But the sight of vacant spaces in such a bustling mall was a bit unusual in our lengthy history of visiting there two or three times per year.

To be fair, some of the relocating stores are doing so for good reasons, I'd assume.  For instance, Vera Bradley, the purveyor of brightly colored fabric handbags and accessories is relocating to space closer to the center of the mall, which will put them in the middle of far more foot traffic than being at the far end of the mall.  Worth noting that their current location is not far from Nordstrom's, an upscale department store, but without Talbots close by, perhaps they felt it best to be where the action is.

There were other spaces that were vacant as we made our way through the mall, but we were not able to identify what they formerly were, as our last visit had been seven months earlier.  The stores we especially enjoy--Apple, Pottery Barn, Dillard's, Williams-Sonoma--are all available here in Lexington, but not with the size or merchandise selection as the Kenwood locations.  All of them were enjoying a lot of traffic, but whether they were selling a lot was hard to tell.

So with the notable instance of some vacant spaces (and that's probably not unexpected in retail after the holiday shopping season), Kenwood Towne Centre is doing well.

Let me contrast that with another mall not all that far away, less than twenty miles.  On our way home last night we stopped at the Florence Mall to visit their Sears store, as we no longer have a full-sized Sears location here in Lexington.  My wife needed something from the Lands' End store, so that was an easy stop.  We entered through the mall entrance at the Sears end of the building and were greeted by low light and multiple retail spaces completely vacant, plus we noticed that a full-service Italian restaurant located by that entrance had closed.  There were vacancies in both the upper and lower levels, too.  

When we entered the Sears store there were no customers, at 7:00 PM on a Saturday night.  My wife found what she was looking for and then we had to search for someone to ring up our sale, which was no easy task.  I'd guess this location may be on Sears' next listing of pending store closures.

By chance I visited a Sears store in the Louisville area last week, and noticed roughly the same circumstances.  Really sad to see a former pillar of American retail falling on such hard times.  My reason for going there was to return a Lands' End item of my own which proved defective two years after purchase, and to my astonishment, they actually refunded my entire purchase price, advising me to take it to "the nearest Sears store" or return it to their Wisconsin HQ at my expense.  I will continue to buy certain items from Lands' End, especially having seen their dedication to customer satisfaction.

The decline of traditional retailing is inevitably going to continue, as our society opts more and more for the convenience and value of online shopping.  Clearly, Sears is one of those retailer that did not change with the times, at least not enough to help themselves avoid their current predicament.

Tuesday, January 30, 2018

The state of the union

Good Tuesday morning, friends.  Our schizophrenic weather has plunged us back into the deep freeze this morning, as the temperature is currently a balmy 25 degrees as I write this!

As you probably know, tonight is the State of the Union address, an annual requirement for the sitting President to report to Congress and, by extension, the country, on how we’re doing as a nation.  Historically it’s often an exercise in both self-congratulation and introducing new legislative objectives for the coming year.

I would emphasize the word “historically” here, because our current President is nothing if not willing to buck historical trends.

For instance, his administration sports the lowest year-one approval rating of ANY presidency in history.  He has had an alarming number of cabinet and staff personnel depart during that first year in office, whether they’ve left voluntarily or otherwise.  He and his allies in Congress have fully politicized and subsequently attacked the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Justice Department, two units of government that normally operate above the fray of partisan politics, almost entirely due to the ongoing probes into Russian meddling in the 2016 election and possible coordination with his campaign to assure his victory, and the subsequent efforts to block those probes.

Yesterday, for instance, a twenty-year FBI official, deputy director Andrew McCabe, finally succumbed to months of pressure and announced his resignation.  Two other senior FBI officials had been either dismissed or reassigned in recent weeks.  The administration announced that the current economic sanctions levied against Russia and specific citizens of that country (again, for their roles in undermining the 2016 election) are “working” and that further sanctions would not be needed.  And the House Intelligence Committee (there’s an oxymoron for you) chairman, who claimed to have recused himself from dealings with the Russia matter, since he was a member of the transition team following the election, forced a vote on releasing a memo (which he and some staff members supposedly wrote based on classified documents) that the Justice Department itself deemed “extraordinarily reckless.”

Got all that?

I won’t get into the many news reports of sophomoric phone calls insulting various persons in key positions that have been placed by this president throughout his year in office.  I needn’t remind you of the gridlock in Congress, a bad situation made worse by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s long-ago pledge of making former President Obama a “one-term President.”  Politics has a long memory, as we all know.

So tonight we’ll be told that the economy is doing great, which in some respects it is.  That the current administration has created large numbers of jobs, which it has, depending on how it’s measured.  And that we’re safer and more respected around the world, a point I feel is definitely debatable. 

But we’ll also hear about an infrastructure improvement plan that most likely will place financial responsibilities on state and local governments in partnership with private developers.  So get ready for more toll roads, bridges and other projects.

Just remember all that I mentioned earlier when you watch this speech (IF you watch this speech; I know a good many people who simply abstain from viewing spectacles like this, but I have to see what’s said, if only to know what promises are made and not later kept).  It all fits together far too well and the motives are heavily interconnected.

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Scanning the horizon

Greetings, friends.  We're out of the deep freeze here in my home area, although the thermometer can't seem to make up its mind what each day will feel like.  Yesterday our temperatures were in the high 50's with some scattered showers; today we have already achieved our predicted high temp of 43 degrees!

If you're an employee of the federal government, I'm happy that you're going back to work today.  But given the way that the entire shutdown drama unfolded, I wonder if you're not in for a longer period of inactivity come February 8.  That's the next date when the government ceases to be funded, and avoiding that shutdown rests on verbal commitments by politicians, most notably from Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, from my own state of Kentucky.

Worth noting that late Friday night McConnell procedurally objected to an bill that would have ensured that military personnel would retain their pay and the families of fallen soldiers their death benefits throughout the shutdown.

And now that the shutdown is over (for now), it seems President Trump will be traveling to Davos to mix with the super-rich, but I read last night that he'll be going without the First Lady.  Do you suppose that she is upset that one of the headlines from the last week concerned the President's yearlong affair with an adult film actress and his payment to her to assure her silence?

Moving on....last week I purchased last year's war movie "Dunkirk" and watched it with my wife.  I was absolutely stunned by this film, directed by Christopher Nolan, with multi-layered plot timelines that eventually intersect, astounding cinematography (including some really imaginative camera angles), a relentlessly loud soundtrack that no doubt echoed what those who really experienced these events would have remembered, and a relatively small amount of dialogue, virtually all of which was meaningful.  This assault on the senses lasted just a little more than an hour-and-a-half, and it's probably a good thing, as audiences in theaters would have found it difficult to take.

This morning the Oscar nominations will be announced, so now we'll be subjected to endless news stories about how this will be the first Academy Awards ceremony since the #MeToo movement ignited.  But it will be interesting to see how well "Dunkirk" does in the nominations. I'm a Christopher Nolan fan, and his movies are often overlooked by award voters.  On a side note, I'm rooting for Nolan to be chosen to direct the next James Bond picture, but that's probably a long shot.

I haven't seen any of the other movies that are getting a lot of mentions right now, and only want to see "The Post," directed by Steven Spielberg (another longtime favorite director) and starring Meryl Streep and Tom Hanks, two dependable performers.  I view that as a sort of "prequel" to "All the President's Men," a movie about the Watergate investigation from the perspective of the Washington Post reporters who broke the story.  That's a movie I have to watch if it happens to appear on television, even now.

Speaking of movies, I think I mentioned here that last year my wife and I decided to skip the Super Bowl and go to the movies.  Had never done that before, and it was fun (we saw the Star Wars offshoot "Rogue One" and enjoyed it immensely!).  Unfortunately, we learned on the way home that the hated New England Patriots appeared to be going down in defeat to the Atlanta Falcons, so when we arrived at our house I turned the television on in time to see the Patriots in the midst of their historic comeback (or the Falcons' historic collapse, if you prefer).

Sunday we learned that the Patriots would again play in the big game, this time against the Philadelphia Eagles, who continue to overachieve with a stiff defense and now their backup quarterback.  So we may be going to the movies again.

Sunday, January 14, 2018

I just don't know

Greetings, friends.  It's 6 degrees here in Lexington as I write this.  Not much more I need to say, is there?

The title of today's post refers to what we're seeing and hearing in the news, and that's true whether you rely on local and national TV news, newspapers, radio or online sources.  The things that are being reported that were said and done and arranged and kept secret are, well, they're just staggering. I've mentioned here before that I was a young teenager during Watergate, but because news was slower in coming and there was no Internet, the bits and pieces that we received were harder to put together quickly.

Not anymore.  Now we have major newspapers competing with television networks and purely online news platforms, all working diligently to scoop each other.  And the real problem I see is this:  as more and more outrageous things are reported, whether they are related to potential collusion with foreign countries during an election, low or even non-existent standards of personal conduct, yet another change in regulations that will undoubtedly create a disadvantage for someone or something, or statements reflecting not just insensitivity but outright bigotry, our society becomes desensitized to the damage that any one of these things can cause.  And we begin to accept these outrageous things as normal, as acceptable, and as what we would expect.

I truly think that the allegations against so many people, mostly men, regarding their conduct toward others of a sexual nature has reached the point where we're surprised that we're NOT hearing as many accusations as rapidly as we were.

I also think that our President has been exposing us to his way of thinking for long enough now (and let's face it, most everyone knew who he was before he rode down that escalator to announce he was running for office) that it's very easy to shake one's head in amazement or disgust or disappointment.

I don't think I'm that different from a lot of people.  I get a lot of my news from online sources, but also from television network news organizations.  I try to stay informed and aware of what's happening in Washington (and in my state capital, where a less-known version of the President presides as Governor) and keep track of how, if at all, these goings on may affect me and my family.

I think that's a realistic approach.  I could come to this blog site and rail daily but I doubt it would do any good, so I try to be selective in what I mention and how frequently I post here on matters of this type.

Stay informed.  Stay aware.  And be ready for the next thing.

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Items near and far

Good morning, friends.  We finally came out of the deep freeze here in central Kentucky over the past few days, and it's going to be around 60 degrees both today and tomorrow.  But it won't stay that way, sadly.

Lots of stuff rolling around in my gray matter this morning, with no particular order or priority....

Before we begin, I just want my readers to know that I'm using a bloc of my "executive time" to compose this post.

I read that CBS decided to add a male back to their "CBS This Morning" daily show, choosing respected journalist John Dickerson to join their remaining anchors.  I found this interesting, as NBC elected to make Hoda Kotb, a recent fill-in, the permanent anchor of "Today" just a few days earlier.  Since hearing both decisions I've wondered how both decisions are being received by critics of media companies, given their prior blind eyes toward sexual harassment in their own workplaces....

Speaking of media, it was almost impossible not to hear or read that Steve Bannon is leaving Breitbart News, after triumphantly returning there following his dismissal as Chief Strategist in the Trump White House.  Do I think that we've seen the last of Bannon?  Hardly.  The question then becomes whether or not Bannon can reestablish himself with another media outlet that will condone, if not tolerate, his brand of separatist politics.  I've already read this morning that Fox News, which I would have identified as a possible landing spot for Bannon, has announced they have no plans to hire him.  Suppose we'll see.

Another name back in the news is former Arizona county sheriff Joe Arpaio, who has announced that he is running for Jeff Flake's seat in the U.S. Senate.  Remember, Arpaio was pardoned by President Trump last fall and is now 85 years old.  I suppose that democracy means that anyone can choose to run for office, so let's just leave that there.

Complete change of subject....we didn't watch the Golden Globes, so I'm curious.  It wasn't a boycott, we just wound up doing something else.  If you watched, did you get any sense that things will be different in Hollywood going forward?  Do you think Oprah is going to run for President?  Did any men say anything as consequential as some of the worthwhile comments from women that I read?  And what was Mariah Carey doing there, anyway?

The funniest thing about the festivities after the Globes was that I read about multiple winners telling the press that they planned to visit In-n-Out Burger afterward.  Now that's a celebration.

Let's stay on fast food for a couple of quick thoughts.  Are you as confused as I am by Taco Bell's latest advertising campaign, concerning what their spots call the "Belluminati?"  Don't they realize that the literacy rate of their average customer is such that they will never, ever get this joke?

And I see this week that McDonald's is capitalizing on its recent success streak by hopelessly complicating the process of ordering from their Extra Value menu, with three tiers of pricing.  Prepare for long waits inside and at the drive-thru as people attempt to calculate which method of ordering is a better deal.

Let me add one more fast-food comment.  My wife and I visit one of the discount warehouse stores every few weeks (empty nesters don't generally need 36 bars of soap at one time, you know) and on our last visit had gone to a nearby restaurant called Freddy's.  Monday evening we went again, and also visited Freddy's.  I'm not sure where this chain is based, but I'll say that they have excellent food, featuring griddle-smashed burgers and crisp shoestring fries served with their "fry sauce."  A very nice alternative to the standard burger chains.

Most of you who visit regularly know that I'm in a position where I travel by car pretty frequently.  Let me just say that I count myself lucky that I have not yet experienced any weather-related problems.  A couple of times I found it necessary to adjust when I would depart for my destination due to fog or a related weather issue, but this deep cold is about all I've experienced.  Just two or three years ago I can easily remember my schedule being a complete mess for two solid months for the same reason, so I'll simply hope for continued good fortune.

With that, I'll wish everyone a happy Wednesday and a good rest of the week!

Tuesday, January 2, 2018

Off to a good start

Good morning, and happy new year to everyone!

I'm actually taking the day off today, as I had planned to do so between Christmas and New Year's, but had scheduled a few events during that time that I could not easily move.

Anyway, as I write this, my watch tells me it's 1 degree here in Lexington, so what else is there to do but hunker down and share a few thoughts?

Yesterday was the National Hockey League's annual "Winter Classic," made so by an actual game played outdoors, usually in a baseball or football stadium.  My wife doesn't much like hockey in general, but always enjoys this special event, and yesterday was no exception (and our grandson's entry into the sport a couple of years ago probably doesn't hurt, either).

Anyway, the New York Rangers hosted the Buffalo Sabres at the New York Mets' baseball park in Queens, Citi Field.  Temperature was around 12 degrees when they began and the game actually lasted into overtime, when the home Rangers finally scored to win it 3-2.  Lots of fun seeing these fellows who grew up playing hockey on frozen ponds and lakes playing outside.  I suppose the equivalent would be to have an NBA game on an asphalt court in a park somewhere.

So that was fun.  Perhaps even more fun was the see-saw Rose Bowl (also known as the National Semi-Final Playoff Game) between the University of Georgia Bulldogs and the Oklahoma Sooners.  My wife commented somewhere along the way that the team who had the ball last would probably win, and she was right, because that game, too, went into overtime, with Georgia finally prevailing.  It was the kind of game where even a casual observer felt badly that either team had to lose.

Georgia is the champ of the Southeastern Conference, throttled my own Kentucky Wildcats in their game in November and looked pretty much unbeatable most of the season.  They'll now face Alabama next week, as the Crimson Tide disposed of defending champion Clemson last night in New Orleans.

I'll briefly mention that Kentucky's men's basketball team had a good weekend, winning convincingly against arch rival Louisville on Friday and then coming back Sunday to beat a tenacious Georgia squad.  The Kentucky football team lost their bowl game to Northwestern by a point, also on Friday, with the game being affected by numerous questionable officiating decisions.

On to other things in the world....

Bravo to the Miss America pageant, installing 1989 winner Gretchen Carlson as its chairperson.  This came after former leadership (men) were forced to resign after multiple e-mails surfaced in which pageant leaders disparaged the appearance and other attributes of winners and other contestants.  Carlson, you'll remember, sued her former employer Fox News for sexual harassment, forcing the resignation of their chairman, Roger Ailes (who subsequently passed away in forced retirement) and gaining a $20 million settlement and writing a book about her experience.  Who better to put things right in that organization than someone who was a part of it in the past?

I also give credit to NBC for realizing that the male-female morning anchor stereotype did not need to be followed, as this morning the network announced that Hoda Kotb will be the permanent co-anchor of the Today Show.  NBC obviously had to do this now, as their splashy Winter Olympics coverage will land on Today, and they didn't want interim people in key roles with big ratings at stake.  It's a good move, and the fact that ratings have actually been better since the dismissal of long-time anchor Matt Lauer probably made the decision easier.

Speaking of NBC and the Olympics, this will be the first Olympics broadcast on NBC without Bob Costas since 1992, as he passed the torch a few months ago to the capable Mike Tirico.  And if you haven't been keeping track, the Russian Olympic team was banned from competing not long ago, due to continuing scandals in the area of blood test results.

Let me leave you with a funny story.  As I've mentioned here, my wife and I have both been under the weather for a while, but are just about out of it.  Anyway, after having our son and his family for dinner and presents Christmas Eve. we enjoyed a quiet day on Christmas Day, speaking with our daughter and other family members by phone.  Toward evening I had mentioned to my wife that some Chinese food might be tasty, and she agreed (this was at the point I was wracking my brain to think of things she would enjoy eating, as I was concerned she wasn't eating enough).  So I called our neighborhood place and was told that they were quite busy and that while they could fill my order, it would take about an hour.  No problem, I said, and planned to make the quick trip there in about that time.

When I arrived the small vestibule was crammed with about twenty people, some waiting for carryout orders and others awaiting seating in the restaurant, which holds a considerable number of diners.  The stream of people entering continued and so did the phone, with people attempting to call for either carryout orders or dinner reservations.  During the 45 minutes I waited, I listened as the staff maintained calm and yet turned away one request after another, as they said over and over that they were doing well to serve those who were already in line.  On top of everything else, they now accept online carryout orders from one or more food portals, which means that people had no way of knowing that they were in for a lengthy wait when they stopped by to pick up their food.

The staff handled this gracefully and with a sense of humor.  A youngish man working there was patiently explaining to those dining in that it might be upwards of an hour before food would be ready for those just seated, and he smiled each time, saying "I just didn't want you to not know that before deciding to be seated."  Likewise, the lady at the main desk said to no one in particular more than once that in the 30 years she had worked there it had never been this 'crazy.'

I left with food after about 45 minutes, as I mentioned, and our order was hot, fresh and exactly correct.  Worth the wait!

Hope your new year gets off to a good (and warm!) start!