Money And Mouth

LeBron James got into some hot water this week for making some statements about the ongoing protests in Hong Kong.

The drama began when Daryl Morey, the general manager of the NBA’s Houston Rockets, tweeted a message supporting the Hong Kong protesters:  “Fight for Freedom.  Stand with Hong Kong.”  The tweet provoked an angry backlash from the Chinese Communist government, which is trying to figure out how to deal with the pro-democracy protests, and caused it to cancel and change certain events surrounding the NBA’s annual tour of China — which is viewed as a big, and growing, broadcasting, merchandising, and sponsorship market for the NBA.

34siop24cjgffnpmwtq4iwgubqThe Chinese government’s response affected LeBron James, who was in China with  the Los Angeles Lakers to play a basketball game as part of the NBA tour.  James then spoke out, saying that Morey “wasn’t educated” on Hong Kong and had put the Lakers through a “difficult week” in China.  “So many people could have been harmed not only financially but physically, emotionally and spiritually. So just be careful with what we tweet, and we say, and we do,” James said.  He later added:  “Let me clear up the confusion. I do not believe there was any consideration for the consequences and ramifications of (Morey’s) tweet. I’m not discussing the substance. Others can talk About that.”

As a result of the comments, LeBron James has been depicted in some quarters as a kind of sell-out who has kowtowed to the Communist government in the interests of the money that could be made in China.  His comments were popular on official Chinese social media platforms but drew criticism among the Hong Kong protesters, who accused him of supporting totalitarianism.  Some others have risen to James’ defense, arguing that there was nothing wrong with what he said.

One of the more interesting aspects of this little drama is that many people seem to be surprised that a larger-than-life public figure like LeBron James, who has not been shy about speaking out on social issues, might conceivably be motivated in his views by base considerations like making money and his own personal convenience.  I’m not quite sure why this should come as a surprise to anyone.  James is a human being, after all, and as prone to advancing his own interests as any other person.  Perhaps his Hong Kong dust-up will help to remind people who are interested in what Hollywood stars or pro athletes are tweeting about the public issues of the day that the celebrities and sports stars may not be acting altruistically and may well have their own special personal and financial motivations for their public positions.

The old saying refers to “putting your money where your mouth is.”  The reality is that, in many instances, the mouth follows the money.

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One State, Two State, Red State, Blue State

One of the candidates who came to Columbus for last night’s spirited Democratic candidate’s debate made some news when he announced that, in his view, Ohio can no longer claim to be a “swing state.”

411c7uuosfl._sx425_The candidate, Tom Steyer, is a billionaire who used to run a hedge fund but now is running for the Democratic nomination in 2020.  According to a news story in the Columbus Dispatch, this week on his visit to town Steyer told a group of 15 young Democrats:  “You guys live in a red state. I know people call it purple, but it’s pretty darn red.”  Steyer apparently noted that President Donald Trump won Ohio by 8 points in 2016 and that Republicans dominated statewide elections in 2018.  Steyer then said, however, that if Trump loses in Ohio and the rest of the country in 2020, it will represent a shift that will leave Republicans losing “forever.”

I don’t know much about Tom Steyer, but I do know this:  he’s off base in his views about Ohio.  The Buckeye State is a classic “swing state,” as the results of presidential elections over the past few cycles will confirm.  Before going for President Trump in 2016, Ohio had voted for President Obama twice, President George Bush twice, and President Clinton twice.  In short, in the last seven presidential elections Ohio has voted for the Democratic candidate four times and the Republican candidate three times.  Equally important, in none of those races did the winning candidate get more than 52 percent of the vote in Ohio.  That record sounds like the very definition of a “swing state.”

But there’s even more that’s wrong in what Steyer is saying.  He’s apparently one of those “classifying” people who like to put people into buckets.  To him, you’re a red state or a blue state, and if you change that change will be for “forever.”  That’s not my experience with Ohioans, at least.  In Ohio, as in any state, there are groups that are solidly for one party or another — but the key to Ohio is the group in the middle who will look carefully at the competing candidates and make their best judgment about who deserves their vote.  Their votes can change because their views, informed by experience and current events, can and do change.  Anyone who thinks Ohio is moving “forever” into one category or another is going to be proven wrong in the not-too-distant future.

Many of us, myself included, were astonished to see President Trump win Ohio by such a significant margin in 2016.  Rather than concluding that the 2016 results mean that Ohio is now a “red state,” candidates like Tom Steyer would be better served by looking carefully at why the middle group of Ohioans voted as they did in the last presidential election and thinking carefully about how they can appeal to that group to change their direction when the 2020 vote rolls around.  If you want Ohio to swing your way in the next election, that’s what you need to do.

A Mid-Size In A Monster Truck World

If you’ve been out on the road lately, you’ve probably noticed that it’s a monster truck world out there.  The huge, oversized, tricked up, jacked-up pickups dominate the traffic flow, and the drivers of those colossal contraptions tend to be . . . well, let’s just say they’re a tad aggressive in their approach to merges, lane changes, assured clear distance, and other basics you were taught in your driver’s ed class.

hqdefaultIf you drive a mid-size — once the prevailing vehicle on the American road — you’re out-sized and hopelessly out-numbered out there.  Between the grillework of the enormous jet-black truck that is tailgating you and fully filling up your rear-view mirror, and the looming pick-up in front of you that blocks any view of the road ahead, you wonder if there’s even a place on the road for the basic, unassuming mid-size that just wants to finish its commute without being crushed between two threatening, inescapable forces who don’t seem to care much about what might happen to you as they rat-race and joust and engage in testosterone-laden antics.

The more I read political news these days, and see the anger and the clashes at rallies and the vehement, over-the-top depictions of opposing viewpoints that seem to prevail at every point on the political spectrum, the more I feel like a humble mid-size car in a monster-truck world.

Orange Man

Kish received Orange Man as a gift from her long-time pal the Beagle Lover.  Orange Man is a plump figure about the size of a large Idaho potato made of light, durable, ever-squishable foam.  With his fierce expression, open mouth, orange skin, and shock of carefully coiffed blond hair, Orange Man is a pretty unflattering caricature of the current occupant of the Oval Office.

The Beagle Lover explained that Orange Man is intended to be a kind of stress-relief device.  If you’re upset with the day’s news or an ill-advised tweet, you can squeeze, punch, or hurl Orange Man to work out the anger and frustration without causing any real damage, and Orange Man will always be ready for more.  In that sense, Orange Man is designed to be a kind of “rage room” in miniature.

During my lifetime we’ve had some pretty unpopular Presidents, among certain segments of the population at least, but I don’t remember the creation and sale of mocking Nixon figures or Carter figures that were made to be thrown around.  President Trump has to win the prize for generating the most tangible ways of expressing opposition — from bumper stickers to internet memes to figures like Orange Man.  In fact, I wonder:  how much of the current strength of the economy is attributable to the production of Orange Man and other anti-Trump items?

Hot Sleep, Cold Sleep

Sometimes you wonder if the federal government consciously does things to make you think it’s out of touch with reality.  Here’s one recent example:  the federal Energy Star program, which is jointly run by the Department of Energy and the Environmental Protection Agency, has come out with recommendations on how to operate your themostat during the hot spring and summer months.

setting-thermostat-82According to Energy Star, during spring and summer you should set your central air conditioning thermostat to 78 degrees when you are at home.  If you’re not going to be at home, you should set the temperature to 85.  And when you’re sleeping, you should set the temperature to 82 degrees — or higher.  That’s right — 82 degrees.  And, just in case you can’t make basic, practical decisions without federal government instruction, Energy Star also recommends opening the windows on cool nights to let cool air into your house, and closing the windows during the day so hot air doesn’t invade the premises.

According to Energy Star, every additional degree at which you set your thermostat produces a three percent decrease in your utility bill.  No doubt that is true — but has anyone at the Energy Star program actually tried to get a good night’s sleep in a house where the thermostat is set at a sweltering 82 degrees?  The quality of my sleep is directly tied to the temperature of the room where I’m sleeping.  If it’s above 69 degrees, I’m going to be spending a miserable night tossing and turning in hot, swampy sheets.  If it’s 69 or below — as occurs in Maine, where we don’t even have air conditioning and instead open the windows and sleep in delightful cool breezes — I’m much more likely to sleep soundly.  Trying to sleep in the Energy Star recommended 82-degree room would be a nightmare — except I wouldn’t be able to fall asleep to have the nightmare in the first place.

I can’t imagine trying to sleep in 82 degrees, or coming home to a house that where the internal temperature is 85 degrees, or higher.  It seems to me that enjoying the coolness, and getting a good night’s sleep in the process, is the whole point of air conditioning.  So thanks for the tips, Energy Star, but I’ll nix the 82-degree sleep setting, because to me a good night’s sleep is easily worth the additional utility bill cost.  In fact, I’m willing to pay just about anything for a few hours of uninterrupted, cool, peaceful slumber.

Tube Steak Follies

Food & Wine magazine, recognizing that we have entered the height of the outdoor grilling season, has published an article about their taste test of the best hot dogs out there.  The article raves about a hot dog that “tastes like steak.”

f5xdfnkThe article says that the Kansas City Cattle Company Uncured Wagyu Beef Hot Dog — which is a mouthful in itself — will change grilling forever.  It explains:  “The umami! The spice! The beefiness! It was basically like eating a steak in a bun, or an elevated “tube steak,” if you will. The flavor had real depth and smoky undertones, and the texture and color (darker, more brown than red) was different than most hot dogs—in a good way.”

It’s nice to know that American food producers have finally developed a tube steak that tastes like a steak — it’s another sign of the rapid progress being made by human civilization, I suppose — but I’m a little disturbed about the apparent migration of identifiable tastes from one food to another.  After all, if you’re looking to have a hot dog, don’t you want it to taste like a hot dog?  A traditional grilled hot dog, in the right outdoor setting, perhaps with a ball game going on in front of you, can be better than a steak.  Don’t we want to keep food tastes in their proper place?  What’s next?  A hot dog that tastes like a cheeseburger or carrot cake?

Plus, as the 2020 election draws closer, we’re heading into the politician hot dog-eating season.  I don’t want Joe Biden and the other candidates out there to take a big bite of a dog and do a spit take when they taste steak instead.

All Politics Is Local

The old saying is that “all politics is local.”  We’ve seen some very tangible evidence of the truth of that saying here in Stonington, Maine.

Last night there was a public hearing at the Stonington Town Hall about food trucks.  It’s a hot issue here for the small business owners.  There’s a limited “summer season” in Stonington when local businesses hope to sell their wares to tourists and visitors enjoying the sunny but not-too-hot weather, and also a limited amount of four-hour on-street parking in the “downtown” area that those tourists and visitors can use.  Business owners are concerned that food trucks can come and use those precious spots for the full four hours, potentially making parking a challenge and causing a visitor to pass their business by.  And the restaurants, all of which are locally owned businesses, aren’t happy with the idea of food trucks swooping in and taking away customers.

Stonington doesn’t have an ordinance governing food trucks.  Should there be one, and if so what should it say?  Last night the town’s Board of Selectmen heard from the public on the issues, and now they’ll decide.

And sometimes the politics is even more local — specifically, about one person with a piece of cardboard and a magic marker.  The sign below was posted on a telephone pole just at the eastern entrance to the downtown area.  Not knowing anything about the “whale rules” that the sign mentioned, I did a Google search and learned that the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has promulgated a proposed rule to protect the endangered North Atlantic right whale.  NOAA believes that the whales are at risk of death or injury from entanglement in the many buoy lines that connect lobster traps on the ocean floor to their buoy markers on the surface,  The new proposed rule would require Maine lobstermen to remove half of their vertical buoy lines in the water — which means directly reducing the potential catch.  In a town like Stonington, where many people are self-employed in the lobster industry, that’s a federal rule that could potentially have an enormous and direct impact on the town.  Public hearings on the rule will begin soon, and Maine’s congressional delegation has appealed to President Trump to quash the proposed rule.  They argue that there really isn’t evidence that the lobster buoy lines are responsible for the decline in the right whale population.

That hand-lettered sign just outside of town got my attention, and made me look into an issue that i wasn’t aware of before.  It just shows the impact of a little local politicking.