Saturday, May 23, 2009

On Identifying Trees

I took a morning walk today to the college campus, with the idea of trying to identify as many trees as I could. The sugar maples were plentiful and easy to identify, but I was pretty much lost after that. I realized I need a refresher course in how to approach tree identification.

1. The first step is to determine whether the leaves are needlelike, scalelike, or broadleaf. I am going to deal only with broadleaf.

2. With a broadleaf, you need to examine the positioning of the leaves on the twig to see if they are alternate or opposite. My approach this morning of bringing back a single leaf to study at my leisure doesn't work, because you need to see the leaf in relation to its neighbors.

3. The next step is to determine whether the leaves are simple or compound. There are technical ways to work through this, but just use your common sense and you'll get by here.

4. The other characteristics to work through are whether the leaves are lobed or not, and whether they are toothed or smooth.

Once these characteristics are determined, look in the guidebook under the appropriate subcategory.

On Speaking Truth to Power

Two things recently brought this topic to the forefront. One was the movie "The Court-Martial of Billy Mitchell". This is a true story, about a highly-decorated World War I veteran who spoke out in the 1920's about the need to develop air power, and when nobody in the military would listen to him, he spoke out to the news media, knowing it would get him court-martialed. His position was there should be a separate branch of the armed services for the air force, that the air force should have its own academy, that more resources should be put into making flying safer, etc.

At the time the brass simply rejected him, laughed at him, and demoted him. Then after the press conference, they court-martialed him. An incredible moment happened during his cross-examination at the court-martial, when the hot-shot army lawyer asked him what bases would be vulnerable to an attack from the air, and he mentioned Pearl Harbor. Then the guy asked who might want to attack Pearl Harbor, and he said the Japanese. This court-martial was in 1925!

Billy Mitchell has of course since been elevated to the status of hero, but the point is that at the time he was laughed at and scorned.

The second instance was a United States Senator who spoke out againt the deregulation of the financial industry 10 years ago. I saw a clip of his speech, and it is eerie how accurate his predictions were as to the consequences we could face if the bill to deregulate would pass. Nonetheless, very few listened to him (the bill passed overwhelmingly), and look where we are now.

There are two lessons to be learned: 1) We should be willing to speak truth to power whenever the opportunity arises; and 2) When we do we will be scoffed at by the powers that be.

On a somewhat broader topic of speaking current truth as opposed to prophetic truth, we have the example of the appearance of Larry Wilkerson on "Hardball" yesterday. Larry Wilkerson was chief of staff for Colin Powell when Powell was Secretary of State. Wilkerson was responsible for working with Powell to prepare the presentation Powell made before the United Nations in support of invading Iraq. He now understands that this was based on completely bad intelligence, and he readily admits he feels "ashamed" (his word) for his involvement in this fiasco.

I say the world needs more people like Larry Wilkerson, people who aren't afraid to admit they screwed up. As the famous Jonathan Swift saying goes, "A man should never be ashamed to admit he is in the wrong, which is but saying in other words that he is wiser today than yesterday."

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

How the Republican Party Lost Its Soul

Once upon a time the Republican party had principles. It was the party which believed in limited government, and no candidate better exemplified those principles than Barry Goldwater, who surely was one of the most principled people who ever ran for President.

But somewhere along the way the Republican party has completely lost its sense of principle. This was driven home to me today when Chuck Todd mentioned that one of the things which brought George W. Bush into disfavor was the federal government's involvement in the Terry Schiavo case.

This ridiculous and pathetic involvement in a family's very personal and private decision represents the mentality of the Republican party today. Instead of based on limited government, as it used to be. the party now has repeatedly opted for government regulation of people's private lives. The list is endless: abortion, contraception, drug use, viewing dirty pictures in the privacy of one's own home, prostitution, in all of these areas, the Republicans today are for draconian regulation of our private lives, and is responsible for putting millions of people in jail for victimless crimes like drug use.

Add to that the fiscal irresponsibility practiced by the Republicans since 1980. Reagan and the first Bush quadrupled the national debt, and under George W. Bush this process continued. Under Clinton, by contrast, we actually had a surplus! And the Republicans still dare to call Democrats the party of big government! What liars!

No wonder the party is practically extinct.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Abortion and the Catholic Church

Yesterday President Obama gave a speech at Notre Dame in which he talked about the search for common ground on the abortion issue. Now today, Chris Matthews has two members of Congress on his show, one a Democrat who supports abortion rights, and the other a
Republican who opposes abortion rights. These two have been working together on legislation designed to reduce the need for abortion, just the kind of thing Obama was talking about.

The Republican stressed the fact that most women seeking abortions are poor women, living, as he put it, "within 200% of the poverty level". He stressed the need for access to contraceptives, which brings the Catholic Church's position against contraception squarely into focus. What I wonder is, when are people going to start talking truthfully and frankly about how much harm has been done by the Catholic Church's position that it is a sin to use contraception. No politician is willing to buck the powerful Catholic church, so it has to be done by commentators like myself. Until legislators are willing to face the issue and simply say that the Catholic Church s wrong on this issue, until that day comes, progress will remain elusive.

Monday, May 11, 2009

A Trip down Memory Lane

Coming out of the library a few hours ago, I noticed a girls' softball game in progress down at Harmon Field. I wandered down there and noticed that for the first time since I've been back in town, I could actually get into Harmon Field. I watched a bit of the game, and then, with the lady Pirates still locked in a 1-1 tie with Ada, I wandered over to where the field used to be that I had played baseball on for 7 years as a kid. It is no longer a ball field, rather, the girls' softball field has been built on what used to be our right field. (The boys baseball field is now out at Village Park.)

I was surprised to see how close Riley Creek was to the area which used to be our field. I never explored this branch of the creek as a kid, as it was in another part of town from where I lived. I would walk there to play baseball, then back home.

My mind wandered back to that wonderful day in my last game as a Senior in high school, when I got hold of a pitch and hit it over the right fielder's head for a home run. I wish I had an image of where the ball landed, but I could only imagine where that might have been, probably somewhere close to where the girls' softball third base is now, or perhaps the shortstop position. I was running as hard as I could, as one is supposed to do in that situation, and not watching the ball. The third base coach waved me around to home, and I got the home run standing up, with no play at the plate. The coach (who I'd had a recent run-in with) and all the players came off the bench and down the line toward home plate to congratulate me, and how often in life do we ever get this kind of experience?

Later my friend and teammate, first baseman Jim Matter, made a comment about the right-fielder misreading the ball and starting in at first. This wouldn't be the least bit surprising, since the weakest player tended to be put in right field in those days. (Indeed, I remember playing an inning in right field my Sophomore year, when the coach was trying to get me some playing time near the end of a game. The rest of my career was, thankfully, spent in the infield, where the real action is.)

Poetic license (briefly) tempted me to write that this was the high point of my life, and it has been downhill ever since. However, this would be absurd in light of the fact that I have been blessed with three wonderful children, and their births certainly outrank any more mundane achievements or experiences in life. Nevertheless, the home run still sticks in the memory.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Manny Ramirez Gets Suspended

Ramirez gets suspended for 50 days for violation of the MLB drug policy. His ludicrously lame excuse is that he had an unspecified "medical condition" and got a doctor's presecription which he didn't realize would be a problem. This has been like a broken record with these MLB cheaters--blaming it on an innocent "mistake". Ramirez lame statement reminds me of when Sammy Sosa got caught using a corked bat and blamed it on a "mistake", saying that he grabbed the wrong bat on his way to the plate.

If Manny wants us to believe him, he needs to fill in some blanks:
1) what specifically is this alleged "medical condition" that you needed medication for;
2) what was the medication you were prescribed;
3) who was the doctor who prescribed it;
4) did you have the medication checked out to make sure it was OK; and
5) how long did you take the medication.

But did we get any specifics. No, of course not. Kudos to LA writer Bill Pleschke for emphatically saying what a joke this whole explanation is. And kudos to both Bill and ESPN analyst John Kruk for saying the Dodgers should not pay him even when he is eligible to return, as he entered into the contract on false pretenses, i.e., that he was in compliance with MLB rules.

Every time one of these sad cases comes up, it just dramatizes how pathetic Don Fehr and the players association have been in this whole mess. They bend over backwards to protect the cheaters, while ignoring the non-cheaters who are hurt by the unfair advantage obtained by the cheaters! Aren't the non-cheaters equally important members of your association, Mr. Fehr?

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Republican Party Careens toward Oblivion

Chris Matthews interviewed Republican bigwig Mike Pence yesterday on "Hardball". Chris, who has a genuine love and passion for the rough-and-tumble world of politics, was trying to put his finger on the Republican problem, and thereby point the way to how the party can become relevant again. He repeatedly asked Pence whether he believed in evolution., and Pence repeatedly refused to answer the question! It is obvious that Pence does *not* believe in evolution, but he refused to say so forthrightly, and this highlights the dilemma Republicans find themselves in these days. No Republican candidate can get nominated without getting the "seal of approval" from the so-called social conservatives. Yet, no candidate can win a general election without being able to appeal to the moderate portion of the electorate.

Mathews' point was that if the Republicans do not believe in science, they become merely a fringe party, a relic of a bygone era. The recent defection of Arlen Spector is instructive here. Spector made it clear that his defection was based on recent polling which indicates he could not have won a Republican primary for re-election. The reason is precisely as I stated above, that the anti-abortion, anti-gay marriage, anti-everything forces control the primary process. Spector, a cancer survivor, mentioned stem cell research in particular as important, and stressed how he has always been a supporter of increased funding for NIH.

As a Democrat there is a part of me which welcomes this Republican slide into oblivion, as the Whig party did many years ago; but as an American, I can't feel good about this ominous development in our national politics.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Funtrivia Snapshot

Total points -- 914,454, ranked 680th out of 1,031,845 players
Level -- 65, 33 from points and 32 from badges
Brains -- 862
Knockout points -- 34
Quizzes played -- 6,733
Questions correct -- 66%
Quizzes authored -- 78
Level rank -- 300th spot goes down to 68
Most popular author rank -- 49th, games played 97,482 times
Highly rated author rank -- 88th, average rating of 4.10
Current (May) focus -- easy game, mixed game, team quizzes
Easy game May rank -- 39/131, 909 rank points in division; overall 117/500, 683 rank points
Mixed game May rank -- 65/176 in division, 852 rank points; 100/500 overall, 730 rank points
Team points -- 17,418
Global Challenge user rating -- 1602