Anthony Wayne Webner

My other grandfather, Anthony Wayne Webner, was born on March 31. Oddly, one of my grandfathers was born on March 1 and the other on March 31.

I am embarrassed to admit that I don’t know nearly as much about Grampa Webner as I should, probably because he died of lung cancer when I was young. As a kid, I thought the most interesting thing about him was that he was a painter. He painted landscapes, and portraits, and a kind of abstract depiction of piano keys in a blue swirling mist that he called “Rhapsody in Blue.” He set up an easel on their screened-in porch and painted out there while chain-smoking unfiltered Camel cigarettes. The porch was a neat place to visit because it had lots of odd objects — a palette that he would let you pick up if you were careful, rolled up tubes of oil paint, a collection of pipes (which he also smoked) and a big ashtray with a knob in the middle that he used to knock the ash out of a pipe, a neat wooden Indian, pieces of driftwood, and other bric-a-brac that he used to make up still life scenes.

I was told that Grampa Webner worked for the railroad and then as a bookkeeper for Goodyear before he retired. His co-workers must have liked him, because they cared enough to give him a classic retirement gift — a cutout picture of his face on a drawing of a guy frantically pedaling a biplane that was signed by everyone in his department with the heading “Web Takes Off.” He was a distinguished looking man, with white hair and a neatly clipped white moustache, and my grandmother took great pride in the fact that people used to tell her that he looked like a doctor. He was meticilous about his painting — often painting and repainting portraits of loved ones — and meticulous about his personal appearance. He was attentive to other details, too. For example, he was disgusted by the way we kids sprayed the cake blowing out our birthday candles and (good-naturedly, but firmly) asked my mother to put wax paper on top of the cake and punch the candles through the wax paper, so he could have his cake without a coating of our saliva. Not a bad technique, actually.

A Disturbing Reminder

I saw on the RealClearPolitics website that today is the 28th anniversary of the attempted assassination of Ronald Reagan. It sent a shiver down my spine and brought back some weird memories. President Reagan was shot during the first week I was on the job as the press secretary and legislative aide for Congressman Chalmers P. Wylie. The shooting happened not too far from our offices at the Rayburn House Office Building, and I had to write about the shooting for the Congressman’s weekly radio broadcast. Fortunately, the President was not fatally wounded, and his brave and uplifting reaction to the shooting — I recall he told his wife, “Honey, I forgot to duck” — helped everyone to get past a traumatic incident.

It seems odd now, but I grew up with political assassination attempts as a regular part of the landscape. President Kennedy was shot when I was in kindergarten; I remember the news coming over the loudspeaker system and my teacher crying. When I was 11, Martin Luther King and Bobby Kennedy were assassinated. Then George Wallace was shot, and there were two attempts on the life of President Ford, the killing of Harvey Milk, and finally the shooting of President Reagan. And then, seemingly as abruptly as they began . . . the shootings blessedly stopped. The worst incident that I can think of since the Reagan shooting was the recent Baghdad press conference where the Iraqi journalist threw his shoes at President Bush. This change obviously is a wonderful move in the right direction — but what caused it?

Jobs Well Done

I like doing little chores around the house — things like loading dirty dishes into the dishwasher, or picking up debris that has blown into our yard, or folding the laundry and putting it away. Yesterday morning, for example, I shined my shoes.

I find this kind of work both mentally relaxing and rewarding. You don’t have to think too hard about shining your shoes. It’s something that can be done by the reptilian brain, leaving the higher brain to wander into more creative pursuits. For those of us who have jobs that mostly involve working on long-term projects, where the effort can be months, or years, removed from the ultimate result, it’s very pleasant indeed to finish a chore and see an immediate result.

Uncharted Territory

Projected Deficit

Projected Deficit

This graph, taken from the Washington Post website and based on CBO and OMB data, tells several interesting stories. One is the impact of 9/11 and the recession and military spending that followed on the federal budget. Another is the clear trend in reduction of budget deficits from 2004 until the economy hit the wall and the first bank bailout legislation was passed in 2008. And the third is the order of magnitude difference between the actual Bush Administration deficits and the proposed Obama Administration deficits — a breathtaking fourfold increase in the deficit from 2008 to 2009 and then, even under the more optimistic White House projections, continuing deficits for 10 years that all are significantly larger than the largest deficit incurred during the Bush Administration.
It may be that the Obama proposal is what the economy needs — economists apparently disagree. What this chart demonstrates, however, is that if the Obama Administration budget is passed in anything close to its current form we are moving as a society into wholly uncharted territory. I doubt that anyone can predict with any certainty what the effect of such extraordinary deficit spending would be. It also is clear that, if the President’s proposed budget is enacted, considerable parts of the federal budget for years to come will be devoted to simply paying interest on our national debt — interest that will be paid to many foreign investors who purchase our debt instruments — rather than paying for infrastructure improvements, or military equipment, or health care, or other federal programs. I am sure that no one thinks that inevitable result is a good thing.

Dulce Pinzon

These are an interesting series of pictures from Mexican photographer Dulce Pinzon. It shows immigrant workers in the US dressed in costumes of super heroes. I just thought they were really great — kind of an expose of who the real superheroes are in our modern world? Then again, Pinzon decides to include how much money the ‘super heroes’ send home to their families in Mexico. So, through one lens they work and sacrifice for their family, on the other they undermine the American economy with a steady outflow of money. Oh, and the pictures are really great, too. The wonder woman one especially.


The View

One morning when we were down in the Bahamas, after having eaten one of Laura’s very fine breakfasts, we watched a bit of The View. It’s the first time I’ve ever seen that show.

During the roundtable discussion we watched, Barbara Walters made a comment criticizing Alaska Governor Sarah Palin. Governor Palin had reacted negatively to President Obama’s ill-considered remark about the Special Olympics during his appearance on The Tonight Show, and Barbara Walters faulted Governor Palin for being too quick to criticize the President. In short, the President said something insensitive, and people who comment about it are the ones who get admonished! Although the four of us occupy different points on the political spectrum, we all agreed that Barbara Walters’ observation aptly illustrates how many members of the “mainstream media” are wholeheartedly riding the Obama bandwagon. In this era of political correctness, is there any other politician who could make an insensitive remark and be defended from criticism about it?

I think this kind of evident bias will not be good for the President in the long run for at least two reasons. First, eventually everyone will get fed up with it and begin to attribute every positive comment about the President or his policies to bias rather than objective consideration. Second, it isn’t good for us to have a President who isn’t used to being harshly criticized. Although many members of the news media may treat the President with kid gloves, foreign leaders and the foreign media clearly won’t. If there is any good thing about the American process for picking a President (and there aren’t many) it is that anyone who makes it through that process is toughened up and becomes used to criticism. Unfortunately, I think President Obama missed some of that toughening up process. It’s too bad, because we need tough Presidents who know the press is going to jump on any mistake — not Presidents who are used to having the news media make excuses for them.

A Break-Even Buck-Back

Well, I’m out of the Buck Back. This year, I drafted last, which means the first-round pickings are slim. After the first two days of the tournament, however, I looked very strong. Each of my first six draft choices had won their first game. Unfortunately, those six teams won only two more games, and with Kansas’ loss on Friday my last team was drummed out of the tournament. So, I put in $8 and won $8, and now I’ll sit on the sidelines until the tournament ends. Eight bucks is not a bad result in the Buck-Back, but it is tough to see such a promising start end so quickly.