Tuesday, February 09, 2016

Time to Analyze the Situation and Fix Blame

With Republican and Democratic Party candidates for president of the U.S. filling the news with exaggerations, pie-in-the-sky proposals, insults to just about everybody, and downright lies, it seems time to take a more objective view of important trends and place blame for the situations that are making American ungreat.

* Latest data show unemployment has dropped to 4.9 percent, lowest in eight years, while average pay increased modestly.

* Some 30 million Americans whose lives would have been ruined by a major illness a few years ago now have insurance that allows them to live without fear of being unable to pay for a health disaster.

* Over the past six years, American military deaths in Mideast conflicts have fallen from several a day to several a year.

* Violent crime rates continue to decline in the U.S., a trend that began about 40 years ago.

* Expert observers tell us more illegal residents left the country than entered it in past few years.

* The geezer just filled up the family sedan with gas at $1.35 per gallon, half the price paid just a couple of years ago. Most predictions are that prices will remain stable or go lower at least through next year.

George W. Bush has been out of office for more than six years, so it no longer is reasonable or fashionable to blame these tragedies on him. There's only one thing to do. We should follow the example of our less-enlightened candidates for president and blame it all on Barack Obama's poor leadership.

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Good Strategy Routs Militia Loonies

Yesterday was a good day for the good guys in the West--the men and women who care for our public lands and the many users of the lands who follow the rules and support good management.  Federal and Oregon State law enforcement officers arrested the leaders of a motley group of anti-government loonies who seized the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge on Jan. 2.

Brothers Ammon and Ryan Bundy, both occupation ringleaders, and a handful of supporters were taken into custody at they traveled outside the refuge. Reports say Ryan Bundy and LaVoy Finicum resisted arrest and gunfire ensued. Bundy was injured and Finicum was killed.

It is unfortunate any violence occurred. Law enforcement personnel went out of their way to avoid bloodshed. They set up headquarters some 30 miles from the refuge, communicated often with the occupiers, and allowed free movement into and out of the compound for more than three weeks. In fact, the lack of a frontal assault or even  a show of force caused considerable criticism, including scathing comments by the Governor of Oregon about what was seen as a failure of federal agents to take immediate aggressive action against the occupiers.

The Bundys got no sympathy in Portland (Britt Anderson photo/ The Oregonian).
I admit to some concern that the feds were going to let the criminals get away with their actions as the days passed, but with positive results appearing it seems fair to say the law enforcement strategy has been excellent. I reached that conclusion after spending some time reading about the history of anti-government groups in the U.S., especially the various "militias," and reviewing a few cases of previous standoffs in the West.

Our nation began with revolt against what was perceived as government tyranny, although that belief was far from universal within the colonies. From the early days, Americans have prized individual liberty and personal and property rights. Criticism of government officials and actions is a cherished and legally protected right. It thus is not surprising that various anti-government groups sprang up. Some were tax protesters, some sought to impose their religion on others, some professed a need for self protection with arms. Most have come to be referred to under the umbrella term "militias."

Government responses to the militias have ranged from ignoring them to attacking their strongholds with brute force. In the 1990s, two incidents caused rising public sentiment that the forceful approach had gone too far.

In 1991 at Ruby Ridge in northern Idaho federal officials surrounded the family of Randy Weaver, a white supremist. The agents attacked and when the firing stopped a deputy U.S. marshal, and Weaver's wife and son were dead. A task force investigated the police actions, and its report called for reforms in federal law enforcement.

A year later a band of religious extremists accused of weapons violations was surrounded at the Branch Dividian Compound near Waco, Texas. Four federal officers and 82 civilians were killed when agents stormed the compound and fires in the buildings followed a gun battle. The events caused considerable public outrage over what was seen as a heavy-handed government response to a rather non-threatening situation.

It appears anti-government feelings about the two incidents combined to motivate two terrorists to bomb the federal building in Oklahoma City two years later. The death toll was 168 and nearly 700 others were injured in the tragedy. If the linkage between the three events is valid, changes in the federal approach to militia criminality obviously were needed.

Militia membership, primarily in the Midwest and West, increased after Ruby Ridge and Waco. But federal and state law enforcers avoided actions against groups of malcontents. Instead, they identified and arrested many individual militia leaders and members when they could prove criminal charges. Militia membership and activity went into a steady decline.

In the West, "Sagebrush Rebellion" leaders advocated views similar to the Bundys'--turn over ownership and management of public lands to local or state authorities with little or no regulation of grazing, mining, or timber cutting. In the extreme, the idea was to put the lands in private ownership.

When I was the Public Information Officer for the Boise National Forest in the 1970s, the "rebellion" was picking up steam.  Later, there were many documented cases of Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management employees, and sometimes their families, being harassed. Those favoring disposal of the public lands made increasing noise, but no changes in ownership resulted.

I left the West for four years, and when I returned to the Intermountain Region in 1981 there was little enthusiasm for the "rebellion." But the seeds of it remained, and it flowered last year when rancher Cliven Bundy invited militia members from across the land to help him resist efforts by the Bureau of Land Management to force him to honor provisions of his grazing permit. Hundreds of armed militia members and sympathizers showed up to back Bundy, and federal agents backed down and left the area.

That perhaps emboldened Bundy's sons to attempt the Malheur seizure of federal property. They appealed widely for public support and got very little. This time law enforcement people were prepared. Their leniency in allowing the occupiers to travel freely set up an opportune time to arrest the leaders. A few hours later, the entrances and exits to the refuge were blocked, and remaining occupiers were asked to surrender. They did not comply immediately, but now they can have lots of time alone to think about it. And if they refuse, the feds can merely arrest them one-at-a-time as the opportunity arises.

The public lands belong to all of us and preservation and use should be directed by law and science-based regulation. Our law enforcement people have done a good job responding to the latest group of criminal loonies who think otherwise.

Let's hope Cliven Bundy is having unpleasant days looking over his shoulder whenever he travels away from his ranch. His next stop might be a jail cell. And it should be.

Monday, January 11, 2016

We're Being Bowled Over

College football teams are playing tonight for the "national championship," and this old football fan couldn't care less.

Back when I did care, the college season ended on New Years Day. There were a half dozen or fewer bowl games. The "majors" included the Rose, Cotton, Orange, and Sugar Bowls. This year, a record 41 post-season games cluttered up sports pages and TV. The debacle started Dec. 10 and ends tonight.

I should be contented with results so far. My Wisconsin Badgers scored a bowl win. However, television producers thought so little of their contest that it aired at 10:30 at night. I thought so little of the timing that I taped it and watched a day later. Local favorite Western Michigan also won a bowl encounter, the first one in its history. So much holiday activity was going on at the time, however, I neglected to watch the contest. Son Lee's Minnesota Gophers also were victorious in a bowl, but they only won five regular season games to qualify, an indication of the reduction in quality when 6 bowls become 41. Neither of us watched the UM game.

Time to put a stop to bowl expansion.
We are being subjected to football overkill, and it just may end up killing the sport. Plenty of empty seats were in evidence when cameras gave us a glimpse of the "crowds" at some of the games. We also are being subjected to some nonsensical rhetoric by those who profit from the bowls--the overpaid coaches and athletic directors.

In most cases, the schools aren't among the financial winners. Consider the Western Michigan situation. The Broncos played in Popeyes Bahamas Bowl in Christmas Eve. If that name sounds ridiculous, it seems a step up in class from last year's appearance in the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl.

According to the Kalamazoo Gazette, the Potato Bowl trip cost the school $913,542. It was rewarded with a payback of $475,000. This year, the Western athletic director didn't provide details, but claimed the loss would be less. One reason is the Bahamas Bowl doesn't require participants to bring their marching band, nor does it demand the school pay for a specific number of tickets in advance. Nevertheless, there will be a loss when all the numbers are in.

The athletic director shrugs that off with one of the most ridiculous comments being repeated in sports interviews. AD Kathy Beauregard said, "I don't look at it like a loss. I look at the fact that we're going to be on ESPN at noon on Dec. 24 worldwide. So, you're going to be able to watch Western Michigan University for three-and-a-half hours on primetime television across the world. That's invaluable promotion for our great university."

Kathy, that really is a load of pure horse manure.

Find me a promising student who decides to attend Western because the football team played in Popeyes Bahamas Bowl, and I'll show you a nitwit that won't last six weeks at any reputable college. The only students who attend colleges because of the football program are the football players, and perhaps those intending to try out for cheerleading.

I'm pretty sure MIT has no football team, but last I heard students were fighting to get in. Ditto, Cal Poly. The University of Chicago, after years as a national power in the sport, dropped major-conference football in 1939. Enrollment and financial backing from alumni declined slightly for a time, but then rebounded and Chicago went on to become one of the premiere universities in the U.S. When's the last time Yale or Harvard played football in a bowl? When's the last time those schools didn't have a huge list of students seeking to enroll?

Instead of preaching a lot of nonsense to us, athletic directors might better spend their time thinking of ways to rekindle interest in college football. Nationally, attendance dropped 1 percent last year, following a 4 percent decline the year before. I'm betting 2015 numbers also will show a decline. Too much of anything is not a good thing.

Tuesday, January 05, 2016

It's the Big 8-0

As the last in a line of holiday boys in my family, the season just ended (except for gift returns, of course) had some special meaning for me.

My grandfather was born on Christmas Day. My father was born on Christmas Day. I was a bit late, but made my appearance on New Years Day--January 1, 1936. Reaching my 80th year inspired a special party hosted by son Lee (he broke the male holiday chain with a February birthday), Lee's fiancée Karen, beautiful wife Sandy, and Karen's mother, Ilse.

The party was lots of fun. Participants kept things on the positive side; a card from Ilse informed me
Something to celebrate--80
that 80 really is only 40 x 2. Nobody asked me if I had any regrets.

No matter how you frame it, however, 80 is closer to the end than the start of our individual journeys. I have spent a little time reflecting on that, and must confess to a touch of sadness. Life has been good; I'm still healthy, although not quite as wealthy and wise as I would like. Hanging around for a while longer would be nice.

My spirits got a boost when up popped a link to a November article in the New England Journal of Medicine reporting on a major study of life expectancies around the world. I learned that two-thirds of men in developed countries die before they are 80. I thus have outlasted millions of my contemporaries. The researchers also found that an American male reaching 80 has good odds of living to 87.

The nice thing about age statistics is that getting into the lead invites you to continue on. If I make the 87 marker, odds are I'll get into the 90s. Assuming reasonable health, becoming an octogenarian could be the start of a fairly long and pleasant addition to my journey.

I immediately experienced one of the minor joys of advanced age. There no longer is any need for those miserable New Years resolutions. They are supposed to have the laudable purpose of self-improvement, but after 79 years of striving, and usually falling short, in that department what you see is what you're going to get. I intend to take things as they come, and have some fun along the rest of the way, however long or short that part of the adventure may be.

Thursday, December 24, 2015

"Concussion" Hits Home

Although, it may be a holiday spoiler for many people, the Hollywood film "Concussion" is proving to be a box officer winner in the U.S. this season.  It is the sad story of football hero Mike Webster, and the doctor who was thwarted by the National Football League as he tried to expose truths about the dangers of head injuries in the sport that has become our national pastime.

Mike Webster was born near my hometown of Tomahawk, Wisconsin, in 1957. He starred as a center on the football team in nearby Rhinelander, Wisconsin, and later at the University of Wisconsin-Madison
Webster as a Pittsburgh Steeler.
and with the professional Pittsburgh Steelers. Webster is considered by many to have been the finest center ever to play football. The high school field in Rhinelander is named for him. He was inducted into the NFL Hall of Fame years ago.

Despite earning great fame and fortune, Webster died at age 50, after years as a demented drug addict who often lived out of the back of his pickup truck. His family provided his brain to a medical center that became a leader in documenting the causes and effects of concussions. Lately, pressure from those aware of the center's findings has forced the NFL to take a few safety measures that may spare current players the fate Webster suffered.

The film has been getting good reviews. Yet, despite the hometown connection, I'm not sure I'll go to see it. And knowing what I now know about concussions and football, I'm far from sure I would advise a son or grandson to try the sport.

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

May the Holidays Treat You Well

We'll have a few surprise packages to open, but one thing never changes at our place this time of year. Assorted treats will be provided at all times for all comers between full-scale banquet meals.

We alternate holiday events between our home and Lee's house, which is only a healthy walk away from us. Last year, Lee and his fiancée Karen hosted Christmas dinner. This year, we'll be taking on that responsibility. Due to a marked lack of culinary skills on my part, that means most of the work will fall to beautiful wife Sandy. I, however, am a fair hand in the drink pouring department.

Karen and Lee's dog, Pearl, is a major treat recipient no matter where we hold the main meal events. You can be sure she won't miss a chance to successfully beg for a tidbit of ham, sweet potato, or other delicacy.

We wish you health, happiness, and some special treats this holiday season.

Pearl on full alert for a treat during a  holiday cooking session.

Monday, December 07, 2015

Sagging Will Happen Soon Enough

As I prepared to sit down for lunch, a clean-cut young man at the next table noticed my Packers cap and struck up a conversation. He was a well-informed fan, and we had a pleasant exchange about the recent "Miracle in Motown" in which our favorites pulled off an unlikely victory over the Detroit Lions after time had expired.
Not a Pleasant Sight

When my new acquaintance departed with a "nice to talk to you" comment, I couldn't help but notice his low-slung jeans. They weren't quite as extreme as some (his were similar to the photo at the left), however another inch or two and the obnoxious "butt crack" display would have ruined his appearance. His display wasn't ruinous, but it certainly detracted considerably from the good impression he initially made on me.

As I got up and hitched up my trousers for the tenth or eleventh time that day, I wanted to stop the youngster and provide some senior advice. I didn't, knowing advice from elders rarely is appreciated, much less accepted.

Had I chosen to offer my wisdom, it would have been something like this: Back in the day I had a 32-inch waist, rounded hips, and a pretty solid butt. Any old belt easily held my pants up to the level of my navel or nearly so, and nobody ever accused me of being a slob.

Now, my hips and butt are disappearing rapidly and a lot of what was once youthful muscle seems to have migrated from various places to a protruding belly. When that happens, and it happens to many fully mature men, no matter how tightly a belt is cinched, trousers will slip and sag. It is not a pleasant place to be. When you are older, you perhaps will have enough trouble walking briskly without your pants hanging around your thighs or knees. Near-constant attention, or suspenders, becomes a necessity.

Young men should realize pants problems probably are in their futures. They don't need to practice the sagging jeans bit that offends some casual viewers and might cause them to blow an important job interview or other contact where neatness still counts. Wise up guys, and keep 'em up while you can.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Thankfully, All's Well For Us

Where were you when Paris was terrorized? That may well join others on the list of famous "where were you" questions--when JFK was assassinated, when man first walked on the moon, when the World Trade Center was destroyed.

I was at home, and more than a little nervous. Beautiful wife Sandy, son Lee, and Lee's fiancé Karen were in Europe to visit family in Germany, tour favorite places in Austria, and attend a special birthday party for Karen's mother, Ilse. Fortunately, nothing on their agenda took them to Paris. Nevertheless, as reports continued to appear of threats and discoveries of new terrorist plots my concerns deepened.

As things turned out, I had nothing to worry about. All the travelers said they had a great time renewing acquaintances with favorite people and places while fueled by liberal doses of schnapps and pretzels. Sandy had an unusual fall on an escalator in the Munich airport, but she somewhat miraculously emerged with only bruises and no pains. The only other problems were minor frustrations with needs to modify parts of the travel plan to avoid delays at borders caused by refugees.

Some of the hosts expressed worry about how I was faring as a solo act back home in Michigan. They should have known all was well. One of my responsibilities was caring for Pearl, who emerged
Pearl resting from guard dog duties.
as a fearless sentinel after years as a mere lap dog. When someone or something got too close to our house one night, Pearl routed the intruder with a chorus of strident barking. That may have been a first. Previously, she was known to emit various grunts, snorts, and snores, but never a real bark.

An event in the latter part of the travel scenario caught my attention. Shortly before the travelers started their journey home the U.S. State Department declared a world-wide travel alert. I was relieved when Lee phoned to tell me their 10,000 mile trip was going to end at our front door in about an hour.

Our reunion didn't quite happen on schedule.When the travelers arrived an hour and a half after his call, Lee appeared somewhat shaken. "What happened?'

"I hit a deer out on the highway," he said. The site of the collision was less than a mile from our home.

Years ago, I was a passenger in a sedan that hit a deer. The front end of the car was seriously damaged. A wrecker hauled it away for major repairs. A conservation officer hauled the deer carcass away the next day. There is nothing unusual about seeing dead deer on the sides our highways in southwestern Michigan, especially this time of year when the hunting season is under way and the animals are moving around during the  rut.

I expected really bad news. However, Lee took some evasive actions and the collision was a glancing blow. The deer limped away. The car showed no signs of significant damage.

Although some horrific things have happened in other places, our little family has much to be thankful for this year. We'll be celebrating Thanksgiving tomorrow. . . right on schedule. Best holiday wishes to you and yours.

Friday, November 13, 2015

A Bad Approach to Our Potholes

After several years of wrangling and the decisive defeat of a referendum, our Michigan legislators enacted a program designed to fix our deteriorating highways, roads, and bridges. Everyone agrees the infrastructure needs work. No one seems to agree the new program is a good answer to the problems.

The financing is far from what our accountant governor sought. Big tax collections for repairs are deferred for years into the future. Despite some smoke and mirrors, the program includes substantial tax increases, to the dismay of many of our Republican legislators. Democrats are expressing general dislike for a major part of the plan that will cut other important programs in the future should the economy fail to grow to unlikely levels.

Yet I've not heard a lot of complaints about one feature of the plan that I find worthy of scorn. The good guys among Michigan vehicle owners are going to be penalized for their efforts.

Our state has above-average rates of health problems, such as asthma, associated with air pollution. Sensible people would think our political leaders would be doing everything possible to clean up what we breath. Not so, it seems.

Vehicle registration fees will increase 20 percent starting in 2017 under the new plan to bring in additional revenue for infrastructure work. No problem there, BUT owners of electric or hybrid vehicles with pay $30 to $200 more than owners of comparable gas guzzlers. The tab for those who prove their concern for air quality by what they buy and drive will total about $216 million of the $400 million provided by registration taxes.

Supposedly, this unequal registration taxation is to level the field because the electrics and hybrids obviously use less gasoline and therefore pay a smaller part of the taxes collected at the pump than do other vehicle owners. That is true, BUT shouldn't the goal be to discourage gas usage, thus conserving a nonrenewable resource (oil) while helping to reduce air pollution? Of course it should.

In California, a state long concerned about poor air quality primarily due to motor vehicles, a better approach to registration fees is in place. Owners of electric vehicles pay about 6.5 percent less than owners of other vehicles, or about $20 less per year for a modestly priced new car. This is the right way to go; our Michigan legislators have chosen the wrong way.

(Disclosure: The Geezer's vehicle is an elderly Pontiac that runs on gasoline.)

Saturday, November 07, 2015

Will Detroit Lions Fans Fire the Owner?

In a National Football League season that began with optimism, loyal Detroit Lions fans once again have descended deeply into doom and gloom.

Avid team backers have a standard answer when questioned about their favorites: "Same old Lions." The "same old" Lions franchise goes way back. Its last NFL title was won in 1957. Since then, the team has won only a single playoff game. Fans have been treated to just one winning season in the past 14 years.

Halfway through the current campaign, the Lions have lost seven games and won one. In effect, their season is over. Only a highly unlikely miracle would get them into the playoffs.

Ford family members (yes, the auto guys) have owned the club since 1963. They have long been accused of having too much patience with inept team management. Response to the current losing season, however, has been anything but patient. Family actions are bordering on firing everybody. And a Lions fan, probably with tongue in cheek, has launched a movement to fire the Fords.

When the Lions record hit 1-6, Head Coach Jim Caldwell fired three top assistants. After a disastrous seventh loss in the league's annual game staged in London, England, Martha Firestone Ford fired the team president and the general manager. Caldwell has been spared, perhaps because he is a new guy in the organization or because there aren't many folks left to fill in as head coach should he be sacked.

Fan Jeff Tarnowski last month announced it was time to can the Fords. He started a Go Fund Me campaign to raise $1.4 billion to buy the Lions. CBS Sports reported initial enthusiasm was high, but initial contributions didn't measure up. Early donations totaled $930. Tarnowski says he will give the money to charity if a purchase fails to materialize.

Tarnowski has a way to go. Michigan's population is about 9 million. One amateur accountant calculated it would take a donation of $150 for every man, woman, and child in the state to raise enough cash to make a serious offer for the Lions.

Would the Ford family accept a serious offer? Not a chance. Martha Firestone (yes, the tire guys) Ford is 90 years old, but she is said to be very energetic and dedicated to changing the Lions losing ways. Forbes magazine says she is worth  $1.38 billion, so a shortage of personal cash is not a problem. Mrs. Ford's four children are vice chairmen of the team, and one is being groomed to assume the owner role.

William Clay Ford bought the Lions for $4.5 million 52 years ago. The club may have lost games, but it undoubtedly made big money over the years. The team has produced a tidy return on Mr. Ford's investment. Win or lose, Lions ownership will continue to be a family affair. The team will be playing at Ford Field for a long time to come.