Thursday, June 30, 2011

A National Primary: The Cure to Iowa and New Hampshire

I don’t like to argue politics, but this is an issue that’s been bugging me, and it’s really not a Democrat vs. Republican argument.

It’s time for a national primary to select our candidates for President of the United States. Think about the current system: a bunch of idiots in Iowa and New Hampshire basically control who we will be able to vote for in November. Is it fair to rest the nation’s future on how a candidate shakes someone’s hand in a cornfield, or how well they tip a coffee shop waitress? Are the people of Iowa and New Hampshire especially wise? Do their needs jibe with ours? I say no.

Presidential preference primaries were a 20th-century creation, an effort to give more of a voice to the common voter and stem the influence of party bosses. Methods might differ from state to state, but the end result was a slate of delegates to the national party conventions - where the party bosses could still make deals in smoke-filled rooms and nominate someone else.

Conventional wisdom in today’s presidential politics says that a candidate must do well in Iowa - or New Hampshire - to have a chance at that party’s nomination. Just think about that for a minute. How stupid! Why Iowa and New Hampshire? Why not South Dakota and Delaware? It makes no sense when you begin to question the current set-up.

None of this, mind you, is spelled out in the Constitution. The parties have been making and changing the process since the 1820s. Nothing about primaries, or conventions for that matter, is sacred. So let’s change it!

As with most things in modern society, the undue influence of money and media has warped the political process. Many would argue that without the primary system, the less-well-funded candidate doesn’t stand a chance to get his or her message to the voters. But does a candidate without a big war-chest stand a chance in the current system? Let’s not kid ourselves.

Here’s what we should do:

1. Let’s take the television money out of the equation. Paid political ads will only be allowed during a two-week period leading up to the national primary (and, later, the general election). Every qualifying candidate gets the same amount of commercial time. I think France does this. Direct mail, telephone banks and personal appearances are permissible before, during, and after that two-week period.

2. We need a qualifying standard for candidates to participate in the national primary. Do they need to qualify in all 50 states? I say no, because that would eliminate the less-well-funded candidate. What should that qualifying standard be? Maybe they should be required to take a test and undergo a background check, like many people do when they apply for real jobs.

3. Let’s set the voting date for the national primary some time in May; a different date for each party. You can only vote in the primary if you’re registered in that party. We’ll have nationally-televised “debates” with each of the qualifying candidates invited to participate. And if there are, say, 15 qualifying candidates? Fine. Pop an extra bag of popcorn and settle in.

4. Let’s hold a runoff for each party, if necessary, in August. If one candidate doesn’t get 50 percent of the primary vote, then we take the top 3 or 4 to a runoff. Many states do that now with local elections. We won’t need party conventions, because they have turned into bloated television commercials that no one watches anyway. A party nominee could run on his own platform, his own ideas and convictions, without being hamstrung by a party platform plank insisted on by a vocal minority.

5. Here’s the best part. Let’s say the Republicans don’t have a candidate who can get 50 percent of the primary or runoff vote; then the top 2 Republicans both wind up on the November election ballot. Same with the Democrats. We might have a November presidential election with four candidates from the two parties. Now you have crossover voting - Ds can vote for Rs, and vice versa. Alternatively, maybe those candidates team up as candidate-running mate. Maybe they each choose a running mate.

6. What about Independents? We would need a qualifying standard for them as well. Maybe we lump them, along with the odd qualifying third-party candidate, into a catch-all primary. Or maybe they have a different qualifying standard to participate in the general election.

The bottom line is that voters would have more choices than they do in the current system. Over time, this might even lead to the creation of a legitimate third or fourth party - or, best of all, maybe the current political parties would fade away.

We shouldn’t be afraid to change the current system. Who knows? Something good might happen.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

The Majesty of the Dawn

Hot! Hot! Good....
One by one, over the next hour, my senses began to focus with the help of my bitter, wonderful, caffeinated friend. Dawn peeked through the kitchen window as I stared intently at the knuckle hair on my left hand. Not the hand with the death-grip on my coffee cup. The other one. An unstifled yawn nearly unhinged my jaw and brought tears to my eyes. That bump on my shin began to throb again as I rocked back slowly in the wooden chair. Barking dog next door...probably won’t stop until the paperboy reaches the end of the block. My nose wrinkled involuntarily. Leftover cat food? Something worse?

I stood, slowly, transfixed by the feeling (sound?) of my skeleton straining against gravity. One more cup of coffee, I told myself, and I’ll be ready to carpe the diem.

Or maybe two.


Postscript: What the hell was that? Excellent question. The text above is an attempt at Flash Fiction, directed, in particular, to the Three Word Wednesday blog.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Scout Camp 1977

As I prepare to accompany my son and his Boy Scout troop to summer camp, I find myself reminiscing about my own Scout camp days.
It was a long time ago, in a camp far, far away....
The year was 1977, which means I was close to turning 13. In those days, Troop 168 went to summer camp at Slippery Falls Scout Ranch near Tishomingo, OK, every year. We arrived at camp in a convoy of cars - most of them station wagons (and many of the station wagons had faux wood trim on the sides).
Let's pinpoint this moment in time further, shall we?
If anyone had a radio with them, it was a battery-powered transistor radio. These are some of the songs we probably heard (they were all chart-toppers in June of 1977):

  • I'm Your Boogie Man, by KC and the Sunshine Band
  • Sir Duke, by Stevie Wonder
  • Dreams, by Fleetwood Mac
  • Got To Give It Up, Part 1, by Marvin Gaye
  • Gonna Fly Now (theme from Rocky), by Bill Conti
Jimmy Carter was President of the United States, and no one is really sure how that happened. Billy Martin was manager of the New York Yankees - and he had not been fired even once.
Oh, and that was the summer that Star Wars hit theaters...not "Episode IV: A New Hope." Star Wars.
So, yes, this was a long time ago.
But so much of what we did at that summer camp resembles what the troop will do at summer camp this year. They will sleep in tents. They will earn merit badges, in diverse subjects like Swimming, Reptile Study, Canoeing, First Aid, Horsemanship. They will swim. They will sweat. They will get bug bites. And they will take away memories that will last a lifetime.
There are some differences.
We put up our own tents, because the camp didn't have platform tents in those days. My patrol combined three baker tents into one big tent with a center pole that slept six to eight Scouts. Heavy canvas. No floor. You can see it in the background of the photo above. I remember one night a snake passed through the tent, and we were all grateful we were sleeping on cots.
Probably the biggest difference was that we cooked our own food. No dining hall. We brought our troop patrol boxes, the camp dropped our food at the campsite, and we cooked and ate three meals a day all week long.
At night we would run around with no flashlights, because the moonlight was so bright.
So much fun.

Postscript: That's me in the yellow cap in the picture above. I don't remember why I was standing like a flamingo. My dad took this lunchtime photo in the middle of summer camp 1977. We were the Cobra Patrol. In the back left was Brian Jolly. Drinking milk was David Haunschild. Jeff Culbert was in front in the blue jeans (bell bottoms). Back then, our shorts were short, but our socks were long. And it was considered OK for boys to wear tank tops back then. There were other guys in the patrol who aren't in the picture - which is sad, because I don't remember who they were.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Summer Solstice

Matthew Weems sighed heavily while shifting his weight from one foot to the other. The task before him was a grim one, but it was one that he knew he must face. Rituals such as these were to be taken seriously. His upbringing taught him that. Likewise, his upbringing, in the form of a domineering but well-meaning father, led him to maintain a sense of calm in situations like these. After all, it had to be done, so why lash out? Clearly, others were present who did not share Matthew’s equanimity, their curses filling the air around him.

Life was to be savored, at least in moderate doses, but one must not omit, forget, or otherwise neglect those unpleasant obligations that are always a part of the package. Matthew knew this, not instinctively, but as a learned behavior, the sound of his father’s voice in the back of his head. Others might shirk their responsibilities, but the thought of such a serious misstep made Matthew gag a little. He would do his duty, and it would feel good when he was finished.

“Number 75! Number 75! You are next!”

Matthew jumped at the sound of the loud voice, then looked down at the slip of paper in his left hand.

93. It wouldn’t be much longer now.

Matthew Weems sighed heavily while shifting his weight from one foot to the other.


Postscript: What the hell was that? Excellent question. The text above is an attempt at Flash Fiction, directed, in particular, to the Three Word Wednesday blog.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Did I Ever Tell You About the Time...

...I Jumped Out of an Airplane?
The flyers appeared all over the campus of Oklahoma State University on a sunny spring day in 1985. Come learn about skydiving! We were in college to learn, weren't we? Four friends and I went to the lecture, which turned into a commercial for a group called Sky Dive Chandler.
What did we learn? That we, too, could jump out of a perfectly good airplane for $20 that weekend. All we had to do was find the tiny airport in Chandler, Oklahoma. And bring $20. And sign a waiver. I think the only question anyone asked was whether or not we could drink beer (that would be No).
The Chandler airport consisted of a rusting Quonset hut hanger and one short runway. There must have been 40 of us there, mostly college-aged men. We learned how to pack a parachute - though we didn't have to pack our own. We learned about the harness, and how to wear it properly. We learned where the freaking ripcord was located, and how to pull it.
After an hour of rudimentary instruction, conducted by the same young Sky Dive Chandler club members we met on campus, everyone filed out of the hangar onto the tarmac.
There sat a dirty red and white Cessna.
"Where's the plane we're going to jump out of?" someone asked. "All I see is this little red piece of shit."
I reasoned that if they used a really nice airplane, no one would want to jump out of it.
I don't remember how they decided the order in which we would jump. I do remember that we could only go one at a time, and that we spent all day standing around waiting. With no beer.
During the third or fourth flight of the day, before the next sky diver jumped, we watched the plane suddenly fly in a tight circle over the airport, over and over and over. None of us knew why this was happening, and in due course the plane straightened out and disgorged its human cargo. When the plane landed, we learned that it had caught fire, and the pilot circled until the fire blew out.
Oh, OK.
A few people left after that, but the hearty (stupid) ones stayed.
My turn came just as the sun was setting. My sky dive would be a night-time experience.
With my harness in place and the parachute on my back, I climbed inside the small airplane. The instructor who was already on board was busy trying to light a joint as I settled into my seat. We began to taxi down the runway, and as we picked up speed, the pilot began to thump one of the cockpit dials with one hand.
"Ah, there we go!" he cried, and suddenly we were in the sky.
I don't remember what the altitude was when the instructor said, "OK, buddy. Out you go!" I do remember suddenly regretting every choice I had made that led to that moment.
Proper procedure dictated that you step out onto the landing gear or wheel on the right side of the plane, and hold onto the strut under the wing. Then, you let go of the strut, and off you went.
I can tell you that letting go of that strut is the hardest thing I've ever done in my life. My handprints are probably still on that strut - assuming they haven't crushed that airplane into a cube by now.
But I did it, eventually, and began to free fall.
When sky diving is depicted on television or the movies, free-falling looks like flying or floating.
No. You are plummeting like a rock.
"AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!" is what I remember saying as I experienced free fall.
Then the ripcord was pulled...
...And I truly was floating. It was wonderful! My scrotum returned to its proper place below my abdomen, and I enjoyed a beautiful night-time view of the countryside as I wafted toward a grass field next to the runway. In short order, I landed and fell to my knees.
Then I went home and had a beer. And vowed to never again jump out of a perfectly good airplane.
Postscript: My good friend Jeff Darlington took the photo of me just after I got inside the plane. You can see the terror in my eyes. It's good that you can't read my lips.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011


“I would prefer that you grip the thread gently between your thumb and index finger,” the seamstress said sternly. “If we’re going to do this, we’re going to do it properly.” She was right, of course. I tried my best to relax, and closed my eyes to visualize the thread piercing the eye of the needle.
“Excellent,” the seamstress hissed. “You may begin.”


Postscript: What the hell was that? Excellent question. The text above is an attempt at Flash Fiction, directed, in particular, to the Three Word Wednesday blog.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Happy Flag Day

In honor of Flag Day, here's a photo I took in 2009 at the Oklahoma United Methodist Circle of Care's annual Boys Ranch Rodeo...

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Now There Was a Coach...

As I watch the field take shape for the College World Series, it's easy to see what this year's NCAA baseball championship tournament will have in common with the last 11: Oklahoma State is once again watching at home.
If you were an Oklahoma State baseball fan in the 1980s and early '90s, you thought it would last forever.
The conference titles. The College World Series appearances. The domination.

Sigh. Now look at them.

Under the leadership of the comatose Frank Anderson, the Cowboys have consistently squandered talent and underwhelmed their fans. Following a shocking Big 12 Tournament championship in his first season (2004), Anderson has managed to put more distance between the team and its glory years.

The Gary Ward Era
Gary Ward came to OSU in 1978 from the Arizona junior college circuit. He immediately transformed a moribund also-ran into the dominant baseball team in the old Big 8. The numbers speak for themselves:
  • 16 straight Big 8 championships 1981-1996
  • 13 Top Ten finishes in final Baseball America poll (since 1981)
  • 10 College World Series appearances.
  • 3 appearances in the national championship game.
  • 953 wins against 313 losses. Oh, and one tie.
The Cowboys never broke through and won the College World Series under Ward (the school's lone national title in baseball came in 1959), but they were always relevant. They were always right there. Any serious discussion of college baseball in the 1980s had to include Oklahoma State.

Ward taught the science of hitting, producing All-Americans like Robin Ventura and Pete Incaviglia. But more than that, he taught attitude. The Cowboys swaggered. They carried themselves like champions. Incaviglia would warm up in the on-deck circle by swinging a sledgehammer.

Nowhere was that attitude more in evidence than in the Big 8 Tournament, which the Cowboys owned for 16 consecutive years. In some years, it looked like the Cowboys run might come to an end, at the hands of the Oklahoma Sooners or an upstart Kansas team. But the Cowboys always came through in the end, staving off all challenges in the double-elimination tournament.

That success never translated fully to Omaha and the CWS. Ward's two best teams fell short in the final game to Stanford (and Jack McDowell) in 1987 and Georgia in 1990. Pitching usually let down the Cowboys in Omaha, and indeed, was always the team's Achilles' heel in the Ward era.

After making one last run to Omaha in 1996, Ward announced his retirement. He blamed a chronic back ailment, but in truth, lack of support from the OSU athletic department at the dawn of the Big 12 conference era pushed Ward out the door.

So naturally, they hired Tom Holliday, Ward's longtime pitching coach, to replace him. The same Holliday who was reponsible for the pitching that never measured up to the offense. Holliday made one trip to Omaha, and then was fired after seven mostly-underwhelming seasons.

The funny thing is, Holliday had more success than Frank Anderson. Anderson, however, soldiers on with the support of the athletic department. And Cowboy fans are left with memories of the days when they had a real baseball coach.

Postscript: I took this photo of Gary Ward during the Big 8 Tournament at old All Sports Stadium in Oklahoma City during the late 1980s. I believe he was threatening to make the shortstop walk home if he made another error (kidding). Baseball uniform buffs will note the sans-a-belt pants look, along with the pullover jersey. Those were great uniforms with "Oklahoma" in block lettering and "State" on the black baseball bat underneath. They frequently wore orange or black jerseys with the white pants. And black stirrups, by God.

Next time: More fun with black and white photography...

Thursday, June 09, 2011

The Case of the Missing Lips

El  Reno, Oklahoma was more exciting for a newspaper reporter than one might think. There was the bar fight that ended with a guy impaled by a broken pool cue...the wife-swapping/child sex ring...the bank failures...the armed robber we dubbed "The Tenderizer."

But what really got the locals excited in the late '80s was the time Channel 4 came to town to broadcast the news. It's a fairly common ratings stunt today, but I believe Channel 4 was the first Oklahoma City station to do it. For a week, they visited a different small town each day and broadcast the 10 p.m. news (and 6 p.m. too, I think). 
As a self-important young newspaper reporter, I looked down on the so-called journalists who worked in television. We who wrote for daily papers were the real deal, and the TV people were "personalities" and little more.
Let me give you an example of why we thought this way. 
In 1986, the nationwide savings and loan crisis was just budding, and El Reno turned out to be the scene of one of the very early bank failures. One afternoon, we got word in the newsroom that First National Bank of El Reno was about to be closed (the town's S&Ls failed the next year). This was big news - bank failures were the kind of thing we associated with the Great Depression, and now we had one in our own backyard!
I grabbed a camera and a notepad, and headed for the bank, which was only a block away from our office. Sure enough, the doors to the bank were locked, and a letter from the FDIC was posted, saying that the bank had been taken over by regulators.
As the news spread, people came and stood on the sidewalks. They thought they should be there to witness the spectacle (and nobody really knew what would happen). Soon, the TV newspeople from Oklahoma City arrived. No satellite trucks back then, just camera people and the on-air talent.
I stood in the alley behind the bank with the TV people, and a guy from the Oklahoman, for hours waiting for an announcement...or something from inside the bank.
Finally, at nearly 9 p.m., a bank-regulator-guy emerged from First National to make the official announcement. Due to a preponderance of bad loans, First National had failed, and its good assets were being sold to a bank from Lawton, Oklahoma. It would re-open the next day under the new name, blah blah blah. It was an important story, but a boring one.
We asked a few questions, and received canned, non-informative responses. Then, as the bank-regulator-guy was about to go back inside, one of the TV reporters spoke up.
"Uh, I was down the street having dinner and missed your announcement. Could you run through all that again?"
The TV reporter was, truly, a moron. And so I tarred them all with the same brush in my mind.
Fast forward to the next year, and the traveling circus that was Channel 4 came to town. People were very excited. At the newspaper, we chose not to interview the on-air talent. I mean, why would you?
I did, however, take pictures as they broadcast the 10 p.m. news from the Canadian County Historical Society museum. Located in the old train depot, the museum provided a great backdrop for the news - but the stage lights made the place unbearably hot.
In the picture above, co-anchors Jerry Adams and Linda Cavanaugh appear to have shown up on-set without their lips. But they have people for that, so it's OK.
Adams went on to piss away his career and was the subject of a few police mugshots. Cavanaugh is still the co-anchor at Channel 4. Who knows how many sets of lips she's gone through since that night in El Reno?
Postscript: I took this picture using natural lighting. They didn't allow me to use a flash during the broadcast.
Next time: Remembering a real baseball coach.


Steve felt oddly tranquil as the balloon carried him slowly upward. His fond wish was that the wind should not alter his course into the looming power lines.


Postscript: What the hell was that? Excellent question. The text above is an attempt at Flash Fiction, directed, in particular, to the Three Word Wednesday blog.