Et al, et cetera

Why would Houston, of all cities, have more Words With Friends players than any other?  Can’t be literacy.  My bet goes to the competitive spirit and that irresistible urge Texans have to cheat, ala word-builders.  It’s harder to cheat in regular Scrabble . . . .  That the world’s most nasty person, Newt Gingrich, calls Obama “the food stamp president” would be amusing if not so sad and taken deliberately out of context.  While true, the rolls of Americans receiving “food stamps” from the Nutrition Assistance Program have swelled by 10 million in the last two years, Gingrich does not speak of those countrymen of his who have been thrown out of jobs and into the ditch during the financial crisis.  A crisis, one might add, largely due to the laissez-faire policies of Gingrich’s own Republican Party. . . .Who is the most embarrassing Arizonan, Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio or governor Jan Brewer?  I give the edge to Brewer, particularly after her finger-wagging incident at President Obama during his visit here on January 25.  The only thing Brewer is half good at is promoting her ghost-written book.  And I thought Republicans were the champions of an individual making his or her way through life unaided.  Say it ain’t so, Jan, tell us you wrote the book yourself. . . .

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The looming wildflower season

Harbingers of spring: A pair of lonely poppies along Quartz Ridge Trail.

Last Saturday, on January 28, I noticed a new crop of wildflowers emerging.  I was hiking the Quartz Ridge Trail in the Phoenix Mountains Preserve, coming down off a saddle about a mile and a half south of the 40th Street Trailhead.  And there they were.  A pair of golden poppies by a rock in a narrow valley shaded from the winter’s afternoon sun.  That means the full-blown season is not far away.

On the next day, the 29th, hiking the Sunrise Mountain Trail in east Scottsdale, I found even more wildflowers.  Poppies, lupine and two or three others I didn’t recognize.  One, a dainty plant with tiny yellow flowers no more than 1/16 of an inch across.  Not in great profusion yet, but still a sign of what looms in February and early March, the height of the Sonoran desert’s wildflower season.

Not only are the wildflowers starting up, but the entire desert is coming alive with green, and other plants are starting to show color.  The ocotillo along the Sunrise trail were thick with their small green leaves turning red at the tips of branches.  Some brittlebush was sporting yellow flowers.  And I saw at least one creosote with a few tiny yellow flowers

This is the beginning of an exciting time in our desert, and the weather couldn’t be better for hiking.  January was one of the warmest and sunniest I can remember.  The last few days have seen temperatures rise into the 70s.

Driving home at sunset, the fuscia, red, dark blues and purples of the western sky were exhilarating.  As I admired the heavens,  three groups of geese flew over, bearing north, following their migratory paths of many, many moons.

All of it together, the wildflowers, greening desert, sunset and geese, might make one feel a tad nostalgic with a sense of commonality.  Even in this land of angry, racist citizens, loaded guns, disparate finances and divisive politics there are moments like these that give hope to America, hope that this nation might once again pull together and reach for its great potential.  Sadly right now we are heading in the opposite direction.

Sermon on the Mount

A coach (center, in white shirt) speaks to his players from on high.

On the summit of Piestewa Peak yesterday afternoon, a high school football coach delivered a message to some of his veteran players, a message that hopefully would resonate with all Americans and particularly with our politicians and corporations.

I was perched on one of the highest rocks, eating a deli sandwich before heading back down the steep and precarious trail.  It was then that I heard a loud voice.  I looked down to a nearby point where trail enters the summit area to see a young man in a T-shirt.  Across the shirt was written “Alhambra Football,” Alhambra being a Phoenix high school.

Scattered around the summit were maybe a dozen teenagers.  They were mostly Hispanic.  A trim black kid sat close to me.  I think I saw a few white kids as well.  These obviously were players, projected starters, probably juniors awaiting a football season still seven months away.

The “coach” asked the players to look around and take in the vista.  That vista opens in all directions.  The vast urban basin in the foreground which is Phoenix and its suburbs, surrounded by South Mountain, the White Tanks on the west, Bradshaws to the north, the McDowells to the east.  In the far distance you can even see Picketpost Mountain and Vulture Peak, both 60 miles away in opposite directions.  All of this, the coach said, are components of where you live, who you are.  Down below, you see little.  Maybe yourself and a few friends.

He asked the players to see the big picture, that they are all parts of something larger.  In this case, they are parts of a team, the Alhambra football team.  He urged them not to think of themselves as individuals.  Some of the players seemed to listen, others maybe not.  And soon, the group, young and strong and a symbol of our nation’s future, headed back down to the trailhead, back to everyday life.  But up here for a few minutes they had heard The Word.

For me and, I suspect, the rest of the 19 people I counted on the summit, it was a great message, a message of unity.  Striving to be all that our potential will allow.

I only wish our divisive politicians who lost in battle seem to get nothing done, and our corporations who send their jobs overseas and who in doing so diminish our society, I wish they would heed the coach’s sermon.

But my gut tells me, no.  We’re still a country in a period of deep discord with no common goals, just individual ones.  We’re all over the field, no teamwork, a successful season nowhere in sight.

Telling it like it isn’t

In an apparent attempt to prostrate itself before its ultra-conservative audience, Channel 5 allowed tonight a Chandler vice-mayor, a virtual nobody, to attack a President Obama speech in Arizona before it is given.  Obama is scheduled to appear on Wednesday afternoon at the large Intel plant in Chandler, a suburb of Phoenix.

Presumably, neither the vice-mayor, Jeff Weninger, nor any other Arizonan, knows for sure what Obama will say.  But Weninger apparently suspects Obama, a Democrat, will take credit for Intel’s growth.  The real credit, says the disingenuous Weninger, goes to conservative legislators and city officials in Arizona.

The comments proved a blatant and feeble attempt to blunt Obama from gaining momentum in what the President regards as a swing-state in his re-election bid in November.

That Channel 5 allowed this non-story to air on its 10 o’clock news under its “Telling It Like It Is” segment is yet another sad example of how amateurish and naive local TV news has become in Phoenix.   The story was propaganda, not news.

Et al, et cetera

Gabby Giffords did the right thing by announcing on January 22 her immediate resignation as an Arizona Congresswoman.  It is obvious she needs far more rehab after being shot in the head a year ago . . . .  You have to wonder if that controversial first question posed this week to Newt Gingrich during the CNN Republican debate in South Carolina was orchestrated to give the candidate a boost in today’s state primary.  The conservative moderator John King asked Gingrich about a comment made by one of Gingrich’s ex-wives that he wanted an “open marriage.”  The ensuing attack by an “angry” Gingrich on King and the media played beautifully to the largely-GOP audience.  A recent Gallup Poll showed 75 percent of Republicans distrusted the media as “too liberal.”  It seemed an odd first question and one certainly to make maximum impact.  Did King bite the bullet for the cause, thinking the front-running Mitt Romney too far to the left? . . . The late legendary singer Etta James likely was best known to younger generations as a popular crossword puzzle clue:  “Singer James.”  Answer:  Uh, let’s see.  James died January 20.  And a sign of the times, if you’re in to longevity:  A news report described James’s death “at the young age of 73.” . . .Notice all those TV ads that have popped recently regarding treatment for cancer patients?  They’re a good indication there will be no cure for cancer any time soon.  Too much money to be made by the likes of Cancer Treatment Centers of America, too much money invested in treatment rather than fierce research and development.  Capitalism is a poor way to go when dealing with health issues. . . .The most electable of the four GOP presidential “finalists,” in order:  Romney, Gingrich, Rick Santorum and Ron Paul . . . .

Missing the boat

The New York Times is like a huge boulder on the edge of a hill.   It takes an act of the gods to move it.  But once it moves, it rolls downhill, gathers speed and surpasses most other media in telling the story, at least the factual story.  Such is the case of the cap-sized cruise ship, Costa Concordia, off the Tuscany coast in Italy.

A few days passed before the Times seemed to realize this was a big story and finally put it on Page One where it belonged all the time.  This is not the Times‘s kind of story.  It’s too visceral for its editors to grasp at first.  They prefer the intellectual approach, cooler heads guiding reportage of stories of what they see as long-lasting significance.  Like the Arab Spring, Putin’s political future in Russia and, at home, the GOP presidential race.

But perhaps there is an agenda stirring as well.

The paper’s sluggish steps off the starting line with the Costa Concordia story made me wonder.  Was the Times deliberately pulling its punches to protect the tourist industry?   The Travel section on Sundays is a tremendous money-maker and is noted for its industry-friendly coverage.  That includes cruise lines.  Did editors at the Times first fear a rush to judgment on the capsized ship would offend advertisers?  You have to wonder.

The insanity of the Tebow mania

There he was Sunday after the game, Tom Brady, walking to midfield for the obligatory meeting with the opposing quarterback.  Brady had just led his New England Patriots to a ridiculously easy victory over the Denver Broncos in the NFL playoffs.  Not only was he a winner, but Brady had thrown six touchdown passes, tying a playoffs record.  A tremendous feat by one of the best players football has ever seen.

But here’s the thing.  Brady was walking by himself.  Not a soul around.  A true football god if there ever was one.

But then there was the losing quarterback.  Tim Tebow had a miserable game.  His team had lost by an obscene score.  In fact there are many who believe he is a marginal NFL player.  But guess what?  Surrounding him was a horde of film-hungry cameramen and other media types dying to get close.  They in turn wanted to feed their crazy Tebow-hungry viewers.  How is that for putting everything in proportion?

This is how crazy America is, how absolutely insane the infatuation with Tebow really is.  His name has become a verb.  Tebowing.  You know, dropping down with your elbow on a knee, the head resting on a bent fist.  Supposedly in these ubiquitous poses, Tim Tebow is praying to his Christian god.  For what, of course, we don’t know.  Perhaps after all these years of self-proclaimed celibacy, for a night with a cheerleader.

It is true the Broncos won numerous games this year after Tebow became the starting quarterback.  But was it do to Tebow or pure blind luck?  Magic, I call it.  If something good can happen, it sometimes will.   But it has little to do with Tebow.  Or even a team for that matter.  How else to explain the Cardinals winning 8 games this season by 7 points or less?  Or the Diamondbacks miraculous series of wins before September?  It is just the way the ball bounces during a specific period.   Sometimes you’re lucky, sometimes not.

Life is chaos and randomness.  Given those same miraculous Broncos comebacks in 2011, you could replay the same games, and Tebow and the Broncos could have lost every one.

It is this unhinged belief in special people that brought the cameras to Tebow’s losing side of the field on Sunday.  If I were him, I would be embarrassed and put an end to it all.  But Tebow is more than just about his Christian faith.  He seizes the day, seeing the dollars signs of all this publicity starting to come his way.

You had to wonder what Tom Brady really thought of all the Tebow commotion.  Who after all was the god-like creature on Sunday?