Lipstick on a Pig

This week marked the end of the Iraq war and I am in agreement with Bob’s post earlier this week that the president should not be touting this war as a foreign policy success.

During the time prior to March 20, 2003 when we initially invaded Iraq we were told that this would be a quick war, that we would be greeted as liberators, that the war would be paid for in full by Iraq’s oil revenues, that Iraq had connections to al-Qaeda and that Saddam had weapons of mass destruction.

What ended up happening was the war lasted almost ten years, we were considered occupiers by many in the Arab world, we ended up paying $2.7 trillion in conflict spending ($4.4 trillion if you add in obligations to wounded veterans and interest payments on the money we had to borrow to fund the war), there were no connections between Iraq and al-Qaeda and Saddam’s nuclear, chemical and biological weapons were discontinued in 1991.

It’s not surprising that John McCain came out against the president’s decision to withdraw having said in the past that it was fine with him if we were in Iraq for one hundred years since we have been in Japan for sixty years and in South Korea for fifty years. It’s this kind of thinking that I voted against in 2008.

Below is a brief exchange between Senator McCain and Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta about a month ago regarding the Iraqi withdrawal that shows a stark contrast between the current administration’s foreign policy and McCain’s had he become president.

I particularly liked Panetta’s comment where he says “we need to stop telling independent nations what they need to do”. The Iraq War turned out to be a pig and putting lipstick on it just isn’t pretty.

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Lawn Service

I’ve just come in from doing my weekly “lawn service” chores. At this time of year that is reduced to “raking” leaves and pine straw off the yard and driveway. I say “raking.” That’s what it used to be. Now it’s blowing. No one rakes much of anything anymore, everyone blows their leaves, grass clippings (snow) with a gasoline or electric powered blower. It isn’t quite the exercise that raking was, but it is almost as satisfying to see the cleared area when you are finished.

I really enjoy doing yard work. For over 40 years I went to an office every day (a whole lot of weekends too) and at the end of the day was left with many things to re-do the next day. Everything required review, revision, further analysis, more editing, comments from the client and more revision. And, of course, the client wanted all of it “yesterday.” With yard work you can look back at the end of a particular chore and see what you have accomplished. You might go back and trim a little more but at the end of the day, the job is done. And there is no client. (There is a wife, but that’s different.) While you have to do the same chore again the next week, it’s not the same as arriving at the end of the day knowing you are not done and that tomorrow you will have to review, revise, redraft, correct, discuss, revise again and still wonder when you are “done” if you have adequately covered all of the necessary points. Then at three in the morning you awaken to again consider the myriad of details hoping that you have covered them all appropriately. Not so with yard work. Yard’s mowed. Won’t think about it again until next week. Yard’s trimmed, done for a week. Bushes trimmed, they look neat and I did it. Of course, if you were making your living doing yard work for others, you might worry about the business of doing yard work. But as a home owner, these are of no concern.

For some reason it irritates my wife that I insist on doing my own yard work instead of hiring a service to do it for me. She alleges that the reason she wants a lawn service is her fear that I’ll have a heart attack, stroke or something. I think it’s because she doesn’t think I do the same job those “professionals” do. After all, the lawn mowing part is done by me sitting on my Cub Cadet rider mower. The “raking” is accomplished with a gasoline powered blower and the bush trimming is done with a gasoline powered clipper (and some minor hand trimming). If I have a stroke out there, I was as likely going to have it sitting on the couch.

As I do these tasks with my enhanced power driven equipment, my mind often wanders back to when I was a kid and had my own fledgling lawn service in which I would go around the neighborhood asking to mow yards to get some spending money. In those days we had a push mower that had metal wheels, cogs , blades and a handle that was made of wood with a cross piece bolted to it for grips. At nine or ten or so, that bolt was just the right place to hit you in the chest when the wheels locked up from running over a stick. I’m surprised I didn’t grow a bone spur on my sternum. When I was “finished,” the old lady (probably all of fifty years old) would inspect the job and always find something I didn’t do right (usually a legitimate find). After I did or re-did what she wanted, while missing out on the pick-up baseball game the neighborhood kids were playing, she gave me the fifty cents I charged and said “don’t forget next week.” Shoveling walks in the winter had much the same story just different equipment (no snow blowers in those days). I haven’t seen a kid mow a yard in years. While we don’t have snow down here, I don’t remember seeing a kid shovel a walk in the last few decades I lived up North, either.

Around here it costs about $70 + a week for a lawn service to come do what I do. Granted with two or three people doing the mowing, blowing and trimming it gets done quicker, but I contend they don’t do as good a job as I do because it isn’t their yard. At $70 a week, it didn’t take long for me to amortize my mower, blower and trimmer and $70 worth of gas and oil covers most of the in-season work. Ultimately, I will no doubt reach a point in life where infirmities or the inevitable will put an end to my doing my own yard work. Then there will be plenty of time to hire “professionals” to do those enjoyable tasks they call work.

Christmas With Dino

There are lots of good Christmas albums out there.  One of the better ones is Christmas With Dino — Dean Martin’s happy contribution to the holiday season.

Christmas With Dino is a good example of intelligent matching of song and artist.  Dean Martin’s well-lubricated, jovial singing style isn’t exactly well-suited to religious carols like O Holy Night or We Three Kings (unless he sang the version about the rubber cigar).  But it’s pitch-perfect for the lighter songs of the season, songs that celebrate snow, snuggling with your significant other, swinging parties, and general holiday merrymaking.

There are lots of good songs on this album.  My favorites are Let It Snow, Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer (or, Rudy the red-beaked reindeer, as Dino sings at one point), Christmas Blues, Jingle Bells, and I’ve Got My Love To Keep Me Warm.  The best song, I think, is a definitive version of Baby, It’s Cold Outside, with Martina Mcbride singing the role of the indecisive female.  You just know that, by the time the song has ended, his entreaties and well-made cocktails have convinced his lady friend to cast aside her worries about her maiden aunt and spend some more quality time with ol’ Dino.

The Gerrymander Game

Ohio Republicans and Democrats have agreed to a final, revised map for Ohio congressional districts.  It has been a contentious issue that might have produced yet another referendum vote.

From the hyperbolic e-mails sent by Ohio Democratic Party Chair Chris Redfern, you’d think this was the greatest victory for representative democracy since the Revolutionary War.  Is it, really?  A Cleveland Plain Dealer article shows the new map and provides links that allow comparison to prior versions.  Are there material differences in terms of how the districts have been drawn?  Are those in the new map more soberly rectangular or geographically cohesive than those in the prior map?  Not so far as I can tell.  Both maps feature spidery and sprawling districts with notches and carve-outs than can be explained only by conscious decisions to move blocs of voters from one district to another in an effort to make a district more “safe” for the Democrats or the Republicans.

And that, at bottom, is what I find so galling about the redistricting process.  Our political classes view neighborhoods and communities like bricks to be moved from here to there, as if the voters who live in those areas will always mindlessly follow the same voting patterns.  Their goal is always to protect their parties and their incumbents.  Fortunately for everyone, voters aren’t robots.  They move from one area to another, and they change their minds about candidates and parties based on actual performance.  That’s why, despite the most carefully drawn redistricting plans, incumbents still can lose.

So forgive me if I don’t join in any hosannas about the changed Ohio map.  I’ll just trust the voters of Ohio, instead.  So long as they remain healthily skeptical of our political leaders and willing to evaluate their actual performance, the machinations of people like Chris Redfern and his Republican counterparts won’t irretrievably damage our state.