Tuesday, April 27, 2010

The power of helping others helps you, too

Before he left for a new job and opportunity in Philadelphia, I became e-mail/blog friends with journalist Rod Dreher, formerly of the Dallas Morning News and author of “Crunchy Con,” a book about being a reasonable conservative.
He works as director of publications for the John Templeton Foundation and much of his postings concern religious-themed discussions. But he also tells the touching and moving story of his sister, Ruthie Leming, who is battling cancer.
His stories of her courage, that of her daughters and fireman husband, Mike, who recently returned home to St. Francisville, La. (Rod’s hometown), after serving in Iraq (imagine THAT double whammy to face … ALONE), were as moving as anything you can see on “Oprah.” I’ve told Rod that God commands him to write a book about this to share with the rest of the world – beyond the blogosphere.
So I wrote to him about a venture I led last weekend:
“Chalk this one up to another Ruthie Leming victory. Here in Dallas, there is a well-known Celtic musician/singer-songwriter named Michael William Harrison, who has been performing in local venues and pubs for years. He’s my age and like me, grew up in the Motor City. But most of all, he’s a nice guy who scratches out a living pickin’ and singin’ Irish tunes.
In the past few months, he has been battling throat cancer, which is as bad a malady that anyone singer can suffer. No voice, no living. The chemo kicks his ass and he has lost his trademark beard and hair. At the moment, he is just trying to fight as best he can.
So ... I sat there thinking at ye olde Irish Festival, what can be done to help this nice guy? In other words, WWRD (either the call letters to some station somewhere … or What Would Ruthie Do?).
We both know the answer and, yesterday at our annual NTIF at Winfrey Point overlooking a windy White Rock Lake, I organized exactly what your sister would have done for anyone in St. Francisville affected by the same problem. We held an impromptu silent auction (I had all of 3 weeks to get stuff and spent much of last week driving all over DFW collecting items – from CDs, to paintings, to photos of Scotland, to fine 12-year-old bottles of Scotch, to handmade jewelry, and even tossing in a couple of cookbooks from my collection and an old Juan Gonzalez autographed baseball … which looks a little TOO juiced up if you know what I mean.
Hell, someone even walked up with a home theater sound system and I had to talk anyone lady out of donating a single serving set of dishes (wow, that just screams you live alone).
Having no expectations and no clue about the generosity of those in attendance, I kept my hopes fairly low, hoping to collect $1,000, which I thought would be great. But, ah, the power of the shamrock and Celtic music in general ... I’m still collecting checks but it appears we will more than DOUBLE that and everything donated was sold! And people waited patiently to allow me to settle accounts ... and NO ONE fought over anything!
Even MORE special, Michael was able to attend since his chemo schedule had changed. And his expected hour-long visit (it was the first time he got to hear LIVE music in months, he said) turned into THREE hours because ... people DO feed off the energy of others. Love and good will overcomes a lot and makes you stronger; able to face any challenge and slay any dragon.
I saw it up close and in person yesterday; having read your blog postings, I have no doubt your sister will make it through because everyone’s energy down in Loo-ee-si-ann is helping to carry her.
Is it a miracle? Dunno. These things carry different names under different labels. But in the end, it’s about helping and caring for other people (a trait too many people have misplaced in this age of ME-ism).”
I added a few more thoughts in a subsequent email:
“My father taught me one hugely valuable lesson and rule of life: You’ve GOT to make your surroundings better for others than you found things. And in life, aside from raising your children to be their best (or at least try), helping others (without going for the credit) is the right thing to do. Hence, I volunteer to do PR for the Samaritan Inn, Collin County’s only homeless shelter, because it’s the right thing to do.
And I don’t think I can say this enough ... one of your missions, for the remaining time you have on this planet and with your infinite writing ability (I bow to such greatness) IS to tell HER story. In formal written form ... old school ... as in BOOK! Not just her personal battle, but how it HAS touched others to do things "to make things better for others because it’s the right thing to do."

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Why does this shit ALWAYS seem to come from Arizona???

Do you know what an illegal Russian émigré looks like? What about an illegal Thai or Vietnamese immigrant? Can you automatically pick them out of a crowd? Or even in a group of 5?
Somehow I highly doubt it, so this new law that the sad state of Arizona affairs has passed and signed by its Republican primary-challenged governor Friday, is as worthless as Goldman Sachs’ defense. In essence, an individual state is now demanding that people carry identification papers, as they did in Europe before and after World War II, to PROVE they are U.S. citizens, or at the very least, in this country legally.
Now it is a bald-faced lie to say that this is NOT racial profiling. Horseshit! It IS and everyone knows it, including the Republican fear-mongering state senator who led this charge (Russell Pearce – keep that name in mind because he will soon become the Tea Party darling and rising star in Republican circles). People automatically associate illegal immigration with one word – Mexican. And too many older white, less-than-astute Arizonians, ALL Hispanics are Mexicans!
Of course, that’s as far from the truth as you can get, but in Arizona, they don’t give a shit.
The new law extends powers NOT granted to it under the Constitution and this crap about the sanctity of the 10th Amendment is for the fucking birds. Border security and the status of immigrants is a federal problems and states do NOT have the right to demand ID papers when such a system does not exist. After all, the IDs requires are issued on a state-to-state basis and there are NO universal standards.
Again, this nation has a hypocritical attitude to immigration, including the illegal kind. Employers WANT (desperately) the cheap labor and the fines against such hiring practices are laughable. Begin enforcing a $100,000 per illegal per day FINE and you’ll see a quick attitude adjustment.
But let’s say you are illegally entering the country from … CUBA! You actually make it past the Coast Guard and land on U.S. soil; what happens? You claim political asylum and WHAM!, you are AUTOMATICALLY granted legal status.
WHY? Why is a Cuban different from those escaping the violence in Mexico and seeking a better life? Because the South Florida Cuban-American population is a forceful voting bloc of conservative Republicans; that’s why! They alone stand between any kind of normalization of relations with that country (despite the fact that we, as a country, have established “normal” relations with the likes of Vietnam, China, Russia and other former “enemies” of the U.S.).
Highly hypocritical! And the same Republicans whiners about the lack of federal response to the immigration problems were only tepid in their criticism of the former administration which did absolutely NOTHING in that regard (as it did nothing in many, MANY other areas that Obama had to inherit and is receiving unfair blame).
Of course, THE most single stupid claim made by proponents is how EASY it is to ID an illegal due to attire, and even shoes (what, are their Nikes spelled Nikis????). Listen when it’s 120 degrees in Phoenix in August, EVERYONE dresses the same goddamn way…everyone looks like they’ve sweated up a storm! Fuck this shit about “dry heat;” an oven is dry heat and you don’t stick your head in that.
Perhaps a discussion should be held about a national ID card system, something that can serve as a social security card, driver’s license, voters registration, etc. Such information can be loaded via a scanner and would outputted in the same manner. Technology can be employed to our societal advantage and make it harder to falsify.
But, in the end, it will be up to individuals to make a judgment about who IS and who ISN’T an illegal. It will take a long time to properly educate officers to handle this action with kid gloves because the first naturalized citizen, or fifth-generation citizen, stopped and questioned and held, because they didn’t have proper “papers,” will be suing in court faster than you can say “Constitution.” And unless the judges are simply blind or paid off, the law will be overturned in a heartbeat.
Sadly, in Arizona, incumbent Senator John McCain has sold his soul to the devil of re-election and reversed almost ALL of his previous stances, including on the very immigration bill he attempted to push through Congress (now he denies it), because he MUST pander to the drum-beating base of the right-wing Arizona GOP. Nothing could be sadder than the site of McCain bowing at the stiletto feet of Sarah Palin who would still be a white-trash Peter-Principled trollop serving as governor in the state of Hell Frozen Over – begging for her to get his votes.
Illegal immigration is a major problem in the U.S. but the Arizona law is NOT any sort of logical solution. It is racist at its heart and stupid in its conception. It is completely anti-American and unconstitutional in every sense of the word.
Shame on the governor for bowing to her own crass desire to snag an extra vote and shame on State Senator Pearce for whatever blowback falls on the Grand Canyon State (including possible economic boycotts).
P.S. – Why does this always have to happen in Arizona? Remember the anti-Martin Luther King holiday bill signed by the soon-to-be-impeached Gov. Evan Meachem????? It’s too beautiful of a state to allow this constant governing by such blatant assholes!!!!!!!!!!!!

Monday, April 19, 2010

Parallel thinking: exactly who taught some people how to drive?

Author's Note: This is the orignal version of the column published in the April 18, 2010 edition of the Dallas Morning News' Collin County Opinions Community Voices section. I can always be reached at chuckbloom@hotmail.com.
If, as it is said, women are from Venus and men are from Mars, it’s probable a manned spaceship will actually land on the Red Planet, and if a man is piloting, the craft just might back into the parking space reserved on the surface.
For some reason, here on Earth, and the sliver representing North Texas, many of the male persuasion like to back into parking spaces at sites like grocery stores, hardware centers or those large collections of shops known as malls. You seem them far too frequently, taking their sweet time … slowly easing their vehicles (SUV, sedan, pickup truck or compact) into spaces … trunk-end first.
I don’t know the why or wherefore for this action. Is it to escape at a moment’s notice? Or is it to annoy the other drivers? As I rant within the confines of my vehicle, the question is always the same: “Who taught you have to drive?” Actually, it’s a very good question.
No one is taught the “reverse” method in any reputable driver’s education class (at least none of which I am aware). Back in the horse-and-buggy day when I learned to drive (in ice and snow up yonder), you were instructed on the disappearing art of the parallel park. In fact, it was one of the key factors in passing the driving portion of the state’s examination to obtain a driver’s license.
My father was the one who made me master that particular maneuver. One Saturday summer morning, he drove me to Belle Isle, an island in the middle of the Detroit River, and stopped in an empty parking lot. He got out, placed two metal trash barrels about 10-12 feet apart and returned to his Chrysler 300 (which had a push-button transmission) – with me behind the wheel. The instructions were simple – park the car between the barrels and do NOT hit anything (perhaps upon losing my head if I did).
Slowly and deliberately, I learned the tricks to parallel parking; the exact moment to turn the wheel, the proper angle for approach and when to straight out the car without a scratch on anyone’s bumper. It took 30 or so minutes; it involved massive amount of sweating on my behalf and a tremendous amount of patience from my father.
After three consecutive (and properly completed) runs, he got into the front seat and simply said, “OK, let’s go home.” It was like graduating from a special course, except Dad bought a Dairy Queen chocolate-dipped cone afterwards.
These days, modern multiple-parking locations require diagonal or perpendicular movements; you turn the vehicle INTO the open space and THEN you back yourself out to leave. Unless you’re on a street in an older section of town, you rarely see anyone parallel park; most of the time, you whip in and whip out. End of story.
Excuse me, but how hard is that? If you’re going to get a gallon of milk, why is it necessary to back into a silly parking space, take twice the time required if done normally and often jam up traffic as other motorists try to proceed? Is this just another fruitless sign of attempted male dominance? Or are we just showing off? I just don’t, and won’t, understand.
One last thing: when I actually took my driver’s test, the examiner charted me for all things necessary – turn signals (remember those?), adjustment of rear view mirrors, looking in all directions, proper maintenance of speed and smooth stops at intersections.
Finally, we returned to the office and he had me pull into the parking lot and turn off the engine so he could exit.
“What about the parking test?” I asked.
“You just did it,” the man answered.
A wave of massive disappointment enveloped me; all that practice and nothing to show off for it. I should have backed in.