New Shoes in the Rain

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!