2008 Had a Bad Day

People keep saying how glad they are 2008 is over and that they are looking forward to next year, which starts Thursday. This year is an ex-spouse, the bad pizza, your nephew who calls you collect from prison. The year had its promise. The SuperBowl was super, the elections were genuinely interesting, but then the media reported Sarah Palin’s press release about her pregnant daughter, which caused Washington Mutual to collapse. Stupid media.

Like spouses, pizzas and relatives, you can always find another one. That’s where 2009 comes in. The new year comes to save us. We get to write new numbers on our checks, and a new president. It will be like watching Idol and going from “The Hotness” to Kelly Clarkson.

Trouble is, 2008 doesn’t take all its baggage with it. Instead 2009 gets the Oakland Raiders, a bad team with incompetence everywhere that hamstrings even the best of coaches. The good news for 2009, it can’t be fired for another year, whether it’s “ohhhh-fullll” or just “a little pitchy.”

Gardner for Congress

congress buttonU.S. Rep. Hilda Solis, D-Calif., was just named as Secretary of Commerce in the Obama Administration, which means there’s an opening in Congress. Not just any opening, I tell you, Solis represents the area I grew up in. Of course we all know that it’s inevitable that one day I will return in triumph to my nesting ground to represent my fair peers in the halls of the House of Representatives. It was pretty much foreordained. The question is whether now is the time to accept my destiny. The first thing I would have to find out is whether this calls for a special election or an appointment. (Checking, checking, checking . . . ) OK, there’s an election and there are names already being surfaced. According to the Los Angeles Times:

State Sen. Gloria Romero (D-Los Angeles) said publicly last week that she was interested in pursuing the seat.

Speculation over who would run has been swirling in political circles since Obama’s choice of Solis was made public late last week.

Both Chu and Romero were suggested, as were Assemblyman Charles Calderon (D-Montebello) and Assemblyman Ed Hernandez (D-West Covina), neither of whom have announced their intentions.

The most compelling part for me, though, is the next sentence.

But the law doesn’t require a candidate to live in the district, so the field could be open to many other candidates for the sought-after seat in the House of Representatives, which is not subject to term limits.

So technically, I don’t have to move back and once I’m in there are no term limits, so I can be a congressman as long as I want, assuming I don’t do something stupid, like, say, writing a bill that would make cars or pancakes illegal or as long as I don’t take bribes from politically incorrect sources.

Of course, to make my decision, I have to weigh the pros and cons. There are things going against me, but if I’m smart I can turn those into positives.

Con: Doesn’t live in the area.
Pro: Isn’t burdened by favors to local special interest groups.

Con: Doesn’t have any political experience outside of reporting on politics in Washington state and a few months as an intern in D.C.
Pro: Not sullied by the insiders’ games.

Con: Doesn’t know many people in the district anymore.
Pro: People I do know probably wouldn’t vote for me anyway.

It’s an intriguing idea. I’ve run in the district before and won and lost. I ran for president of Rowland Avenue Elementary School in sixth grade and came in third. My own campaign manager voted against me. In 12th grade I was ASB president at Covina High School, though, which meant I got to at least go out with some girls before they got disgusted with me.

If I do run, I’ll announce it here, not on Leno. Leno’s not San Gabriel Valley enough.

If You Lived Here, This Could Be You

Everyone in the Midwest and Northeast, and pretty much all of Canada for crying out loud, relishes in believing we’re a collection of whiners here in the Pacific Northwest because we’re worried about a bunch of snow that’s soon to be dumped on us. I don’t care. Chuckle at me all you like those of you in far-flung places like Peoa, Utah or Intercourse, Pennsylvania. This a’int no little thing here.

The kind and amount of snow we get here in the Pacific Northwest is ideal, most years. It’s enough to shut down school for a day or two a year. True enough, the amount of snow we get isn’t typically enough for people in other parts of the world to consider putting on shoes, let alone cancel school. But we get enough to see it, to play in it, to talk about it, to think about building a snowman before deciding against it, and then to forget about it. Good enough.

Last year, in fact, we had quite a few days we call “snow days.” We even had a white Christmas. Beautiful, it was a year colder than usual.

We didn’t know that last year was a warm-up for this weekend. We got snow yesterday morning and there’s still an inch or two on the ground outside. It was enough to keep a lot of folks home from work and the rest of us to consider it, because people who drive snowplows here don’t really have full-time gigs.

The roads here are still not in very good shape and on Saturday night and Sunday morning we’re supposed to get as much as a foot.

So tonight I bought the last set of chains in the entire county and tomorrow I’m guessing I’ll be out filling up gas cans in case we have a power outage. We’ve got enough heat to last us because of our new gas stoves, but lights are another issue.

When I lived in Utah I never worried about having chains because I didn’t ski much and because once I got away from the streets I lived on the roads were pretty clear. People prepared for snow there, because it happened so often. It doesn’t here. So we have the attitude that we let it come and inconvenience us every once in a while, but we’re sure not going to spend a lot of money on a bunch of snow plows that get used a couple times a year at best.

In a few days, by Christmas I hope, we’ll be able to write about this snowstorm in the past tense. We’ll muddle through it. We’ll be stocked up and prepared so we don’t suffer without water or tortilla chips.

Even better, one day before long the snow will be gone, the leaves will be back, the windows will be rolled down and we’ll have to be reminded the price we paid this winter for living in this paradise.

Electoral College

On Monday I got to witness an electoral college event in Olympia. I blogged about it at work. In 2000 the speculation I heard before the election was that Bush would win the popular vote, but not the electoral college. That it turned out the other way might explain why we still have it. I could be wrong, but it appears to me anecdotally that Republicans are its biggest protectors. So they would have to be the ones to get burned if there were to be any change in it.

Even then, I’m not sure there would be enough of an appetite to discard it. There are movements to make more states like Maine and Nebraska, which assign the seats allocated from the two senators to the state’s winner, and the others depending on the votes within congressional districts. Obama got one delegate in Nebraska this year. I believe I read that was the first time those states ever had been anything but winner-take-all.

That would not be the case in Washington, however. Instead of the 11-0 split Obama received Monday, were this state to go with the Maine/Nebraska model, I’m guessing it would have either been 8-3 or 7-4.

The problem with that method, however, is that it has the potential of making the electoral college a bigger stretch from the popular vote reality than we see already. The point I’m making in my blog at work is that the real goal of changing the system is to pretty much guarantee that no one ever wins the popular vote without winning the presidency ever again. If that’s the point, then just scrap the college. Any alterations to the process and we’re just hanging on to the process out of sentimentality. What I saw Monday was pretty neat, because it mattered to the people there. And what they did mattered.

A compelling argument, though, for a revised version that doesn’t completely rely on the popular vote is that it would be far too difficult to have a national recount if the race were close. So it’s understandable why some would still want the responsibility of choosing our president to officially reside with the states. In 2000 the overall race was close, but the only state that warranted a recount was Florida. As messy as that was, I can’t imagine having to do it nationwide.

Now for the demon “other hand.” Gore’s popular vote margin in 2000 was slightly more than one-half of 1 percent. Based on the rules in our state, that means there would be no recount. Had it been slightly less than a half-percentage point, there would be. So in 2000 the entire country could have gone through a recount, with each state carrying it out, and not so much attention would have been paid to what Florida was doing. We can only speculate on other matters, but you could also imagine that third-party candidates wouldn’t have had the sway they did that year and more votes would have gone to Gore and Bush.

Ah, but if my aunt . . .

Another Change at Field of Steve

You may notice above that the photo changed from the baseball diamond to this beauty from Washington’s state capitol in Olympia. I liked the baseball field, and there may be something like it that returns. It may amaze you to know, however, that the photo from Dodger Stadium (aka “Heaven”) was not my photo. So I wanted something up there I took, or at least had permission to use. Since this blog will probably get closer to politics than baseball, I figure a political picture with a baseballish name would be a good mix. Until it isn’t.

At Seventeen

When I wasn’t quite yet 17, a few years away, Janis Ian was a buzzkill about the world I was aspiring to conquer, the world of high school popularity. She sang the song “At Seventeen,” which is a devastating and accurate take on life in high school for those who don’t have a shot at living the ideal. When the song came out I was in junior high school. I wasn’t immensely popular, but it wasn’t hopeless for me, either. I knew this song wasn’t written about my life, but I wasn’t unsympathetic. Despite my own quest for emminence, I wasn’t out of touch with those for whom such a quest was futile.

“To those of us who knew the pain
Of valentines that never came
And those whose names were never called
When choosing sides for basketball
It was long ago and far away
the world was younger than today
when dreams were all they gave for free
to ugly duckling girls like me…”

Perhaps every kid my age could relate to this song, I don’t know. To some degree didn’t we all question how we measured against our peers? Even the most popular girls and boys experienced some rejection, didn’t they? For just a moment or several, it’s hard for me to imagine that every kid did not have at least one experience of being the outcast. I’m not talking about the kid in the dirty clothes who found a way to get in a fight every day. I think even the kid who was popular with all the girls and got in trouble for smoking pot off campus, which was just about the coolest thing a kid could do back then, had to have doubts about himself.

As a kid who only walked the outskirts of the popular neighborhood in junior high, it’s understandable I related to the song, because Ian actually wrote it about her years between age 12 and 14. “At seventeen” sounded better musically. During those years I heard from girls other than my mother that I was cute, I didn’t believe it. My brothers, much older than I, had grown into attractive men, but I still felt like I had an awkwardly ugly face. Even when I did achieve the pinnacle of popularity by getting elected president, I still felt awkward and unsure of myself. Hard to believe now, I know, because of how dashing I have become.

A few nights ago I watched a pretty lame program. They were announcing nominees for the Grammys. I won’t watch the Grammys themselves and I don’t need a show to announce who gets nominated. But I’m on vacation and it seemed like there could be some good music. Some of it was.

It’s not cool anywhere to admit liking Celine Dion, but she sang “At Seventeen” and was wonderful. You can see the video here. There are also a few videos out there of Janis Ian, too, and I recommend you go see them.

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kiSBYh30LHA&hl=en&fs=1]

Hope for People My Age and Older

Sometimes I experience the lament of what I might have accomplished had I stuck with journalism for the 10 years that I got out. One movie I didn’t learn anything from was that one where Jim Belushi wishes his whole life he could have hit the home run in that game instead of striking out way back then. He got to see how his life would have been different and, boy howdy, did he want his old life back. I don’t care enough to look up the name of the movie. One of the two or three of you who read this can do it for me.

When I get over those thoughts, which happens the moment I realize any changes would mean those things that are good about my life (There are at least four of them and they live in my house.) probably wouldn’t be here with me right now, I rely instead on the idea that I’m what you call a late bloomer.

Truly, it has always been so. I married at 34, became a dad at 36, started slowly in all sports, and in what is probably the most telling way, I won’t see “The Dark Knight” until it’s out in the video store.

My goal for a long time was to be a columnist and book author. I did get a book published once but that only turned out to be a good experience, because the publisher I settled for did not perform as a traditional publisher and I did not stand up for the work enough to demand better performance. So now I know. In the end I’m kind of glad that book didn’t sell well. But hey, if you’re interested, Amazon is still selling it.

Well now at the age of 46 and seeing Barack Obama’s speechwriter is 27, I can get a little down.

Alas, there is hope. Malcolm Gladwell writes of late bloomers in a piece, Late Bloomers: Why do we equate genius with precocity? in The New Yorker. In it he compares a couple of authors, one who took about two decades to hit it big, another who got it done almost by accident on his first attempt without anything related to reseach. He also compares Picasso to Cézanne. The pieces that fetch the biggest prices for Picasso are those that were painted early in his career. For Cezanne it’s the stuff he did when he was older.

Far from being a result of luck or just not getting discovered until later, there was a depth and skill in Cézanne’s later work, whereas Picasso’s strengths were best displayed at a time when his youthfulness played to his creative process. Gladwell, in a six-page article, sums up Cézanne like this:

Cézanne was trying something so elusive that he couldn’t master it until he’d spent decades practicing.

So that’s the reason I spent much of November writing a novel. When that first book was finished and the experience was complete, one of the reasons I did not venture to write another one was that I was not all the impressed with the first effort and didn’t feel confident I was the kind of writer who could come up with a solid story that would sell. November’s experience convinced me otherwise. It wouldn’t have happened without the last decade in journalism and it probably wouldn’t have happened without the 10 years that preceded it. Funny thing, perspective is.

The Others I Missed

If there is truth in the statement, “You had to be there,” it was lost on me in the early 1980s. At least it was shown to me how witnessing something in person doesn’t necessarily create the most accurate picture.

In 1983 I returned from 16 months in Chile as a Mormon missionary and headed to Utah to go to college. During the late summer a group of former missionaries got together at a home in Salt Lake City to reminisce about our shared experiences, brag about our new lives and to watch a movie that had been released around the world, except in Chile, while we were away.

Last night I watched the movie, The Lives of Others, set in East Germany about a year after my friends and I were watching Missing. In The Lives of Others a member of the German Democratic Republic’s secret police spies on a playwright. The story is mostly about the spy’s transformation and I believe does tell me a lot about life in East Germany, though some critics say the movie does not go far enough to reveal just how oppressive East Germany’s Stasi was. No Stasi agent would have been trusted enough to dupe his bosses the way this one does. It’s a story, though fiction, that gives me a chance to relate to East Germany in a way I might not have even if I had visited the place myself. A woman I dated after college had a chance to visit the Soviet Union and the USSR and I asked about her experience. She said she could “feel oppression,” but it wasn’t what came to her discussion first. I got the sense that what she felt was based on her own fears, based in reality or not, of how her visit was being watched, not on any evidence she did, in fact, see firsthand.

One of the other main characters in the movie, ends up discovering how unaware he had been of what was happening around him. That was my experience after seeing Missing, months after I had come home. Only then could some of the conversations I had while I was in Chile gain some context.
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For the First Time, a Field at Field of Steve

The banner atop this blog, you have probably noticed, was changed. Not knowing CSS code myself, I called upon a friend to see if he could help. Help he did. I don’t know if he’s willing to be named, because he didn’t charge me anything. At least I don’t think he did.

So, anyway, thanks be to my as of yet unnamed friend. I’ll post his name if he consents.

The friend is Jeff J. Snider, who lives in the sprawling ‘burb Eagle Mountain, Utah. I know Jeff through the Eric D. Snider Web site. His mother, in some places known as SnideMom or Momma Snider, allowed me and photographer Larry Steagall to sleep at her house while we attended a NASCAR race in California. Come to think of it, I’m guessing Momma’s husband Rocky had some say in that, too, but he didn’t make us brownies before we left like she did.

Thank you again, Jeff.

Finished the Novel, Controversy Awaits

The novel itself, should it ever be something that gets published, will not be the source of controversy. My status as a National Novel Writing Month winner will be.

I started Sunday morning about 18,000 words short of the 50k mark each writer has to meet to be called a winner. All month I have really wanted to get there. I started off well, but got to visiting with family and stuff, so the last weekend I had a lot of catching up to do. I wrote 5,000 words on Saturday, which was enough to make me realize that I could pull it off if I hustled on Sunday.

So for most of the day I have been sitting on the most comfortable chair in the house, laptop in hand, unaware that every wasted second could cost me the right to call myself a winner. And one or two wasted seconds may have just been the difference. The judges are still out on that one. Here’s why.

The NaNo site has an official counter that counts the manuscript length for you. Throughout the day, when I knew I wasn’t near finished, I would submit my text to see how close I was getting compared to the word counter in Microsoft Word. Each time the NaNo site was giving me one more word than my own word processing program.

Between 10 p.m. and 11 p.m. I had hit 40,000 words and change. I went to the site and wanted to get a count. Doing so, by the way updates the word count on the overall display, so there was a psychological bonus for doing it. Well, on this occasion, I must have hit “paste” twice, because the word counter gave me credit for 80,000 words and I suddenly had the “winner” tag on my page. I figured it would be no problem to correct it. So I deleted the text, resubmitted it and the correct word count came up. It did not, however, remove the winner tag. I tried a couple more times and it didn’t work. I eventually realized I was wasting time, so I got back to the novel and the task of finishing it so I could feel good about what the Web site was saying about me.

I was getting close to the end, watching the clock and realizing I was cutting it dreadfully close. With about a minute to spare I did a word count and it came in at 50,000 on the nose. I thought the NaNo site would clock me at 50,001. To my surprise, though, when I went to the site it said the deadline had passed. I was feeling pretty good about finishing the novel, really good in fact. But I wanted the validation from NaNo. My site said “winner,” but the word count was stuck in the 40k range.

So I got resourceful, went and changed the time zone and found out the word counter would work. It clocked me at 50,000 exactly, just like Microsoft Word.

So I was feeling OK about it, but that doesn’t last. So I wrote to NaNo and came clean about what I did. If I get the official nod from them that I finished, then I might flash the NaNo “winner” button and print the certificate. Then again, I don’t know that I can feel good about that. I mean, rules are rules. By changing the time zone I got around them, but I’m not sure I deserve the button. According to the NaNo clock, I didn’t write a novel in a month. I wrote a novel in one month and one minute. Dang. Now I’ll have to do it again next year.