Month: August 2017

DON’T Park the Car in the Harvard Yard

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Marleen and Old State House in Boston

My wife and I were looking at a map of Boston the other day, planning an upcoming  vacation in old Bean Town.

As usual, Marleen’s done most of the work to get us ready to go, but as I looked at the map I asked, “Would you have any interest in seeing the Harvard Yard?  It’s certainly historic and not too far from where we’re going to be staying.”

“Absolutely not,” she replied, not skipping a beat.  “I’m sick of those spoiled rich kids rioting and burning flags and killing police.”

I was a bit taken back by the vehemence of her reaction; she sounded more like me than I sound like me.  While she’s married to a former politician, and I know that her views are more like mine than not, she not infrequently has to advise me not to get “too ramped up” about politics.  And here she was, pretty much doing just that.

One might take issue with the specifics of her indictment of college kids as”cop killers.” But I certainly don’t take issue with the generalities.  Especially those in elite schools like Harvard that embrace what President Trump has accurately described as the icons of  the “alt left:” “white privilege,” the “antifa,” “Black lives matter,” and, my personal favorite, “micro-aggressions.”  Come on people, if you’re going to dish it out, you better be ready to take it.

This little vignette with my wife is a pretty good measure of just how far out of touch the left, and its handmaiden, the rarified world of academia, is with ordinary Americans.

For 35 years, Marleen worked hard as a registered nurse.  And her back, from shifting patients-of all races-between their beds and carts, has the aches and pains to prove it.  Despite her diligent efforts to keep it at bay with physical therapy and exercise, pain is her nearly constant companion.  She doesn’t tolerate fools gladly on things in general.  So start lecturing her on white privilege, and you’ll run up against the limits of that tolerance pretty quickly.

She, in other words, is about as close to the political middle of the road as you’re likely to get.  Equally removed from the alt-right as she is from the alt-left.  I would be surprised if she’s even heard the terms.  And stunned it she knows what they mean.  Like most Americans, the fine detail of politics is not her thing.

Marleen gets much of her political information from the national, evening news.  Which, if you believe as I do, would probably lead you to conclude that she’s hard left, the slant I tend to see in the mainstream media.

But that overlooks how she actually “watches” the news.  She’s often making dinner when it’s on.  Which means she misses most of it, what with the chopping and stirring. And supervising me.  Which also means that “if it bleeds, it leads,” is true in spades with her.  So, once the Harvard and Berkley rioters have faded from the screen early in the broadcast, so has Marleen; she’s too busy.

It’s a rich irony, therefore, that while the mainstream media may intend to push average Americans to the political left, the way they actually deliver their message, makes it tough to do so. It is the left, after all, that is most likely to employ street violence.  And that’s where the TV cameras gravitate.  So, while my wife, and so many other average Americans, might not fully understand the “story behind the story” of campus riots, they fully understand that they don’t like them.  And the spoiled college kids who perpetrate them.







Old Dog, New Tricks

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In my last post, I discussed my recent trip to Washington for the Colorado Capital Conference.  While the event was interesting, it was also disheartening to marinate in the unhealthy atmosphere of the D.C. political miasma-even for a few days.

However, on the last night of the event, a “happy mistake” at the hotel caused me to miss the scheduled trip to watch the famed Evening Parade at the Marine Corps Barracks.  In truth, I was not too downcast; I had to catch an early flight the next morning and the Parade would run late.  Maybe next time.

Instead, I asked the concierge for his recommendation for a good place to get oysters.  After all, D.C. is a lot closer to the Chesapeake Bay than Denver is; how could I go wrong?

He recommended Hank’s Oyster Bar.  So, after a short cab ride, I found myself at a quiet table on the sidewalk outside the restaurant.  The concierge knew what he was talking about; Hank’s slippery little rascals went down very satisfactorily.

But as I sat waiting for my dinner to come, I began thinking about getting back to the hotel.  And giving Uber a try.  After all, my kids use it routinely and like it.  And when I had been in the Legislature, I had enthusiastically supported allowing it and Lyft to compete with traditional cab companies.

Thus, old dog and grandpa that I may be, I went to the App Store on my iPhone and loaded up the Uber app.  If my kids could see me now!

So, when dinner was over, I put in a request for my first Uber ride.  And there, as I watched transfixed, the little car icon on my phone began making its way toward me.  Soon enough, the real thing pulled up in front of the restaurant.  I got in and was back at the hotel in about the same amount of time as the taxi ride in the other direction.  But at a lower price and without the hassle of having to dig out my wallet for the cash or a credit card to pay the fare; all that was built right into the app.

I repeated the process well before the crack of dawn the next day for the ride to Dulles. With the same satisfactory results.

Would I use Uber or Lyft again?  Absolutely.  Now if I can just persuade my skeptical wife to give it a try on our upcoming visit to Boston.


Into the Swamp

Capital Washington DC

I had breakfast with Joe Rice last winter; it had been quite a while since we had seen one another.  We served together in the Legislature for two years.  While we didn’t always see eye to eye-he’s a Democrat-Joe was a good legislator.

But he was also, perhaps, foolhardy at times.  He sponsored the bill to raise car registration fees for highway improvements.  It was an end run around TABOR, the provision in the Colorado constitution that requires voter approval for tax increases.  Drivers-voters, in other words-hated it.  So they threw Joe out after only one term.  I never quite figured out why Democratic leaders allowed Joe, who represented a very competitive district, to carry the bill.

But, then again, Joe’s a Colonel in the Army who’s done several tours in Iraq.  I don’t imagine that angry voters put much of a scare in him.

Over breakfast, Joe suggested that I apply for the 2017 Capital Conference in Washington.  I did, was accepted (I suspect that Joe had his thumb on the scale on my behalf), and so, I  recently found myself in the D.C. swamp.  When they describe the place as a swamp, it’s both literally and figuratively true:  while the temperature was in the 90’s during the conference, with the humidity, the heat index said it was in the 100’s.  By the time we finished the three block death march from our downtown hotel to the Capital, men were sweating through their suit coats.

The figurative swamp is harder to describe.  Let alone understand.  And that’s just what Washington politicians and bureaucrats, no doubt, intend: like mushrooms, they do their best to keep the rest of us in the dark and under a pile of manure.  Nonetheless, here are a few thoughts.

The event was co-hosted by Colorado’s two U.S. Senators, Michael Bennet and Cory Gardner.  At the opening reception, we got a load of happy talk by members of our Congressional delegation about how bipartisanship guides “the important work” of what gets done in Washington. While I’m sure that many of those at the conference like to think that’s how things operate, I suspect that a good deal fewer really believed it.  Especially given the toxic nature of politics in our country these days.

Questions about “why can’t Washington get anything done?” were common.

For my money, Senator Bennet gave the best answer:  “It’s supposed to be hard to get things done,” he replied.  “That’s the whole point of the separation of powers and the checks and balances set out in the Constitution.”  I expect what attendees really meant when they asked the question is, “Why aren’t they passing the legislation want.”

Conspicuous by their absence were questions about how much longer we are going to be fighting bloody, costly wars all over the world. Wars that, if nearly 20 years of futility is long enough to judge, we aren’t going to win and which are doing little more than kicking over more hornets’ nests.

Madeline Albright, the former Secretary State, was one of the speakers.  It’s not infrequently that I suffer from delayed intelligence.  And during the brief Q&A following her talk that the syndrome hit me again: I didn’t think of asking the war question of someone who was pretty well qualified to address the issue until the opportunity was gone.

But during a break I did have the chance to pull Senator Gardner aside and ask him, “How much longer are we going to be fighting all these crazy wars?”  I have a bit of an in with Cory; he and I served two years together in the Colorado House.  “I’ve talked,” I told him, “with several other people here at the conference and we just don’t get the point of these endless wars.”  Although I didn’t mention it to Cory, a couple of the people at the conference who agreed with me was a prominent Denver businessman who has made a fortune selling furniture and a Fountain rancher whose missing finger tip was mute testimony to his work around farm equipment.

“Spencer,” Cory responded, his face clouded over with its characteristic intensity,  “if you knew what we know, what we hear about in our secret briefings here at the Capital” (he gestured vaguely to his left), “you would understand.”

No, I’m sorry, I don’t understand.  Our government has had us continuously fighting wars for over 16 years and they can’t tell us “Why?”  Preposterous is not a strong enough.  Given the staggering costs in terms of broken bodies, minds, and families, inexcusable is probably more like it.

Unfortunately, however, the hits just kept on coming.

On the next day, we were addressed by the South Korean Ambassador to the U.S., Awn Ho-young.  He touted, of course, the warm relationship between his country and the U.S.  He highlighted the bloody price American G.I.s played in saving his country from communist aggression when the North swarmed across the 38th parallel in 1950.  “When we were invaded,” said the Ambassador, “we were the poorest country in the world.  We badly needed your help.”

It got creepy, therefore, when Mr. Ho-young to told us how important it is that the close military ties between his country and the U.S. be continued.

“Now,” he boasted, apparently not recognizing how weird his argument was, “South Korea’s GDP is just behind Japan’s-and we’re gaining on them quickly.”  But if that’s true, why do we still have nearly 30,000 troops in South Korea?

Is the ambassador anticipating a military confrontation with Japan?  Hardly.  It’s North Korea’s nut job dictator, Kim Jong-un, as we hear in the news almost daily, that’s rattling the saber.  But by comparison with North Korea’s 90 pound weakling economy, South Korea’s is now a muscle bound Charles Atlas.  And the same is true when you compare the two nations’ populations, military expenditures, and per capita GDPs.

The signature campaign issue that propelled President Trump to a stunning upset victory was his promise to build the Mexican wall to defend the U.S. border.  Not defend a Korean border half a world away from our shores.

Would it make sense for this county to have a robust missile defense system to protect the continental U.S. from the North Korean dictator’s insane threats?  Absolutely.  But the 30,000 U.S. troops on the Korean peninsula probably look like no more than a tempting target to the mad man.  Especially given that the newly elected South Korean president, Moon Jae-in, has suspended the deployment of a U.S. antimissile system in South Korea that could defend our troops.

How weird is this?  Putting thousands of American lives at risk for a country that refuses to give them the tools to defend themselves?

For my money?  Come home America.  And quit letting establishment political hacks in the Washington swamp, both Republican and Democrat, keep dragging us into costly, bloody, futile wars.




Let Down Your Nets

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Joyce, with the windblown buster brown cut, surrounded by her family on the North Dakota prairie. Before the Depression was over, they had all been blown off their farm.

My 93 year old Aunt Joyce died recently.  She was the last but one of my mom’s six siblings.  Joyce’s was a life well lived.  The funeral and celebration were in Boise, her home town.  I wouldn’t have missed it for the world.

My sister, Linda, and her husband, Jim, came in on the same plane from Denver with me.  We met up at the luggage carousel.  Jim and Linda are well acquainted with these devices; since they retired, and even before, they have seen more of them in more different parts of the world than I can even begin to guess at.  But aside from the two of them, I didn’t see anyone else in the terminal who would be at the funeral.

“I hope we get a good turnout,” I said, watching the bags begin dropping off the conveyor belt.  “It would be a shame if we can’t give Joyce a good send off.”

“I know there will be more, but I don’t know how many,” answered Linda. “You know how funerals are; not much notice.  We’ll just have to wait and see.”

With that, her bags came around and they took off to get their rental car.  My bag came a few minutes later and I headed out of the terminal; I was going to be riding with my cousin, Mike Lee, another of Joyce’s nephews.

When I got to the sidewalk, Mike and his big F-100 pickup and camper were to my right.  As I headed his way, we both raised our arms in greeting.  Mike is a character.  And a guy with an interesting history.  After graduating from Nampa Nazarene University just west of Boise, Mike went “North to Alaska” where he spent most of his career as a park ranger.  But also on his resume are bush pilot, moose hunter, dog sledder, snowmobiler, cross country skier, and logistical support for fighting forest fires. Now retired, he spends summers in Fairbanks.  He winters in the Northwest where he lives a semi-nomadic life from his camper with family and friends.

“Mike,” I said as we shook hands, “how are you?  Thanks for picking me up.  I’m looking forward to catching up.  Are we going to head right over to Monica’s?”

“Yep,” replied Mike, “that’s where everyone is gathering.”

“Remember,” I said as we left the airport, “I’m buying the gas.”

We left the airport, got on I-84 and began rolling west toward Eagle.  When I was a kid and we drove from Denver to Boise for fondly remembered summer vacations to visit family, Eagle was a small farming hamlet.  Now, it’s being swallowed up by nearby Boise, where big box stores incongruously bump up against rapidly disappearing fields of alfalfa and corn.

Monica Davis, Joyce’s very successful mortgage broker granddaughter, lives in Eagle and was playing host for the the celebration. Monica has a spacious home with a kidney shaped swimming pool in the backyard.  She’s generous with her house; over the years, many similar family gatherings have taken place around that elegant little pool.

With the limited visibility afforded by his rear view mirrors, Mike awkwardly maneuvered his big rig into a space at the end of Monica’s cul-de-sac. And, as we have done several times before, we let ourselves into her home through the garage.  I couldn’t help ogling a curvaceous Alpha Romeo that was partially visible behind a mound of stuff and a car cover.  “Just like Monica,” I thought, “to drop a bundle on a car like that and then let it gather dust in the garage.”  She also likes Las Vegas, where, I’ve heard, she qualifies as a “whale.”

We stepped into the kitchen down a short hall from the garage.  The food, as usual, was spread over wide kitchen counters just inside the sliding glass patio doors.  It was not so much a meal as grazing; just the way the Lee family likes it.  At least judging by the amount of food that appeared to be in the offing, my concerns about an inadequate turnout for the event were badly misplaced.

On a nearby end table, there was an urn with Joyce’s ashes.  Again, just the way she would have liked it; in the middle of the action and near the food.

My other sister, Catherine, also from Denver, was already there.  When Mike said he had heard that she “likes the finer things,” he pretty much hit the nail on the head with her. Peter, Catherine’s son, was also there.  An REI executive who looks the part, Peter had come in from Seattle for the weekend.  Following his mom’s lead, he had developed a warm relationship with Joyce over the years.  But, taking his cue from so many smart and perfectly eligible young men these days, he can’t seem to get the wife and kid thing figured out.

I recognized many of the other faces; the names were going to be more of a challenge.  It had been a long time since I had seen many of them; a few were strangers.

Mike’s sister, Joy, stepped forward with a broad grin on her freckled face.  “Spencer! How are you?  It looks like we’re going to have a good turnout for Auntie!”

“Boy,” I replied, “you got that right.  It’s great to see you.  How’s . . . Craig?”  I hesitated before I could summon up her husband’s name; I didn’t see him there.  Joy and her husband, live on a farm near Pendleton, Oregon.  But that doesn’t, of course, mean they make a living farming.  She’s supplemented their income driving school busses, taught, and worked somewhere in the welfare system.  He commutes back and forth to Portland every week, where he is a supervisor at a factory, living out of a camper.  Aside from Monica, Joy and Mike were the ones Joyce relied on most during her last years in the nursing home.

Joy and Craig, if possible, are even more conservative than I.  Which places them somewhere to the right of Attila the Hun.  Unfortunately, that hasn’t immunized her family from tragedy.  A drug addled daughter who lives in Alaska recently witnessed her boyfriend get murdered in a drug deal gone bad; Joy went to Alaska to provide moral support during the trial.  The daughter, to my knowledge, hasn’t changed her ways.

There’s a strongly Nazarene musical thread that runs through the Lees-although it bypassed me entirely.  Joyce loved to hear her nieces and nephews perform.  Byron, Mike’s half brother, sang for years with the Seattle opera.  Mike carries a rich base harmony line to the old time Nazarene hymns that he’s always itching to sing.  Joy sings and plays the electronic organ, which she had brought along for the event.  Merilee, Mike and Joy’s sister, has a sweet voice and is a pastor’s wife.  The quartet led us in song as the sun began to find us under the porch.

I could go on; the weird uncles at what, in effect, was a family reunion provide endless fodder.  There was the fundamentalist preacher with the wide, crucifix tie that faithfully preached at Joyce’s nursing home.  Joyce, just as faithfully, had planted herself in the front row of his nursing home flock on Sunday mornings.  And, as a result, he was asked by Monica to officiate.  But, within a few minutes of his launching into his fire and brimstone sermon, it was obvious that Monica had played hooky at every one; she had no idea what was in store for us.  To her obvious discomfort, the sermon went on way too long for her liking.  But who knows? It may have hit someone right where they lived.

A weekend, in my mind, is just about right for an event of this sort.  Long enough to reconnect with most of the folks I yearned to.  But not so long that our inevitable annoying tics overshadowed the era of good feelings.

The next day, Mike gave me a lift back to the airport.  Jack in the Boxes, luxuriant potato fields, shopping malls, and rows of corn snapped by on either side of us as we drove east on I-84 through the Treasure Valley.

Over the growl of the motor and the hum of the tires, I said, “Mike, that was a great weekend.  I’m really glad I was able to make it.”

He gave no sign of hearing me; he may not be stone deaf, but it’s a tolerably good imitation.  I turned up the volume another notch and tried again.

“You’re right,” he said this time.  “Joyce would have liked it.”

“I only have one regret,” I added. “None of my kids were here.  Next time, I’m going to do a better job of encouraging them to come.”

And I will.