Friday, March 27, 2009

Down at the Twist and Shout: Clogging Memories

Saturday night and the moon is out
I wanna head on over to the Twist and Shout
Find a two-step partner and a Cajun beat
When it lifts me up I'm gonna find my feet
Out in the middle of a big dance floor
When I hear that fiddle wanna beg for more
Gonna dance to a band from-a Lou'sian' tonight.

I heard this on a C&W radio channel the other day, and it brought a funny little grin to my face that didn't fade away until the music did.

When we moved back to Colorado in 1990, with our four children aged 10 and under, we cast about for something for Lori, our third child, to do. We wanted to find something that she could excel at, something where she would not be in the shadow of her older brother and sister. After finding several alternatives and talking it over with Lori, we enrolled her in Clog Colorado, a local clogging group founded and run by Cyndi Thalman.

It was while performing on stage that she discovered the pleasure of an audience's applause. That prompted her to excel at clogging, and it set the course for the rest of her life. The whole world admires Lori, and stands in awe of her skills on the stage, but that's a blog entry for another time. (For the record, I am her biggest fan.)

Eventually clogging became a family activity, as all of us became members of Clog Colorado. By then, Lori had enough of a head start that there was no danger of anyone overshadowing her, and we all took to it with enthusiasm. Even #5 Christopher, as a toddler, would stomp and clomp the rhythms as his four older siblings practiced in the kitchen.

But it wasn't just a family activity - at least, it wasn't just the six of us. Clog Colorado became our family, as we mixed with some of the finest young people (and their parents!) in Colorado. All of these kids grew up together, and we watched them clog through high school, graduate and go to college. Some of them came back to continue dancing as adults, or to teach.

Most of our dancing was to Country and Western music - not all, but most of it. The younger kids clogged to Animaniacs, Alvin and the Chipmunks, and Mary Kate & Ashley Olsen, while the older kids created their own routines to music of their genre. But mostly we clogged to danceable tunes like The Watermelon Crawl,, Couldja Wouldja Ain'tcha Gonna If I Asked You Wouldja Wanna Be My Baby Tonight,, Whatcha Gonna Do With a Cowboy, Hillbilly Breakdown and so many others. Some of my favorite clogging memories come from watching Katrina, Paul, Abbey, and the rest of the older teens swirling and clicking to Down at the Twist and Shout.

We were in demand all over the region. We went on road trips to county fairs, to the state fair in Pueblo, to Cheyenne Frontier Days, and twice to an annual festival in Wray, Colorado. The group grew very close on those trips, this allowed us to give our best to the audience, and the audience always responded with equal enthusiasm.

Before we left on one trip, I was preparing to drive a vanload of kids. Cyndi came to the driver's side window, looked me in the eye, and told me: "Now Ray, I want you to repeat after me: 'I am a responsible, mature adult.'" I looked her in the eye and said, "I am a respuuuuuuuuuuh ... I am a r-r-r-rrisp ... I am aaaaaaaahhrrrr ..." As Cyndi rolled her eyes and walked away in mock disgust and my passengers shrieked with laughter, I called after her, "I'm trying Cyndi, I'm trying, but it won't come out!"

Of course, I was a responsible, mature adult. But it was fun to watch Lori Dawn and all of these kids have fun together, to grow and mature, to excel and to discover themselves through dance. The friendships we made with these kids and their families endure to this day. And the memories of Clog Colorado are so sweet that I still get a funny little grin on my face anytime I hear Mary Chapin Carpenter's 1990 anthem to Cajun country, a grin that doesn't fade away until the music does.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Walking the dog in a blizzard

We've needed more snow here. The mountains have gotten enough, but the plains have been dry for most of the winter, and we really need the moisture. The weather service issued a winter storm warning last night, and this morning their prediction finally came true.

A moderate snow was falling at 6:00 a.m. The snow was falling harder at 9:30 a.m., and I passed several cars that had slid off the road on my way home from Fort Collins. I got home at 10:00 a.m. and smiled at the snow that was falling gently, but straight down. I went in the house and put my things away. At 10:08 a.m., I looked outside and saw a blizzard. In those eight minutes, the wind had arrived and the whole world had changed.

At 10:30 a.m. the schools closed and everybody went home. Evening meetings were canceled, and everybody snuggled up in their homes to enjoy a spring blizzard. I grouched about it at first, because it's hard doing my normal job-search activities when the family is at home. But I eventually got into the spirit of things.

This evening, I took dog-ra for his usual constitutional, but I was really into the spirit of things, and decided to do it right. I donned leather hiking boots, wool socks, Swiss military wool pants, Cabela's gaiters, fleece vest, ski jacket, ski gloves, and wool felt wide-brim hat with the built-in unfoldable ear flaps. I was warm and dry the whole time. The dog just wore his skin.

We were out in the blizzard for a good half hour. First we tromped across a field with um, maybe 10 inches of snow (twice that in the drifts), and then we took to the back roads. Baggy was off his leash most of the time. Post-holing through the deep snow helped to keep me warm. The crystals stinging my face and whirling in the light of the street lamps made it a magical night.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

All Hail Phineas and Ferb

If you've watched any of the Disney Channel on cable or satellite TV, then you're familiar with the half-hour cartoon, Phineas and Ferb. Today, I salute Phineas and Ferb, the cartoon.

The story line of the show is always the same: it's summer vacation, and two stepbrothers are trying to decide what they're going to do that day. (Okay, that's eerily like Pinky and the Brain, but we're not going to go there.) They always settle on a project that is completely off the wall: an elevator to the moon; a flying car; a real beach in their backyard. And then they go ahead and do it.

At the end of the half-hour (and the end of the cartoon day), they always manage to get everything back to normal, mere seconds before their sister can tattle on them to their mother.

Although it's irrelevant to the point of this blog entry, I have to give a nod to their pet platypus. Every episode features a subplot involving Perry, their pet platypus, who disappears into his underground hideout, assumes his Secret Agent P identity, and goes off to do battle with his arch-enemy, the evil Dr. Doofenschmirtz. The Agent P vs. Doofenschmirtz battle usually meshes with Phineas and Ferb's project towards the end of the show, thwarting both Dr. Doofenschmirtz's evil plot and their sister's attempt to bust them.

The story line is augmented by some of the most imaginative studio music since the glory days of Fame and Miami Vice. I would buy a Phineas and Ferb soundtrack album, if such a thing existed.

The greatest thing about the show, though, is what it teaches its young viewers. The creators of P&F may not have done this intentionally, but it's there nevertheless.

Remember the second half of that famous George Bernard Shaw (swiped by RFK) quote? "I dream things that never were and say why not." Today's world seems aimed at squashing "why not" dreams, at squelching creativity and innovation. To make matters worse, this same world portrays the careers and the personal attributes of successful scientists and engineers as uncool or worthless.

(Go on, admit it: it's true. Even the hit shows that could be fostering these values, such as House and NCIS, attach way more value and coolness to physical appearance, a sharp wit, an acid tongue, and fighting and shooting ability, than they do to the more cerebral attributes.)

P&F turns that around. Every episode shows the boys having fun with the skills and character traits that make scientists and engineers really successful: creative thinking, innovation, planning, project management, systems engineering, design, problem-solving, leadership, determination, and self-confidence.

Repeatedly, Phineas takes delivery of some crucial material for their project, such as a truckload of sand for their beach, and the delivery person says, "Aren't you kind of young to be doing this?" Without missing a beat, Phineas replies, "Why, yes. Yes, I am." Then he smiles confidently and keeps going.

Everything the boys tackle, they tackle with enthusiasm. Especially in today's business climate, with businesses on the ropes and employees afraid of losing their jobs, you don't see a lot of enthusiasm in the workplace. Phineas and Ferb find fun in everything they do, and the work is always its own reward. To the (adult) members of today's workforce, sitting down and watching 30 minutes of this kind of enthusiasm is healing and refreshing.

They also display an interesting character trait that the world could use more of: honesty. No, it's more than that. It's a complete lack of guile. The missuz and I were talking about this last night. Their sister is never successful at busting them -- their parents never get to see their sons' grand creations. But it doesn't mean the boys are sneaky. They don't try to hide anything. In one episode, Candace tells her parents that Phineas and Ferb have built an elevator to the moon. Mom and Dad don't believe her, so Phineas says, "But it's true!" and he and Ferb display an American flag and some moon rocks to support Candace's story.

Another admirable trait of the boys is their complete unflappability. (I don't even know if that's a word.) Nothing fazes them. If their inventions fail or their plans go awry, either they go to Plan B, or they successfully wing it, or they shrug their shoulders and say, "Well, that was fun while it lasted."

It seems to be a modern tendency to panic and brood over things that go wrong, or even to find someone to blame and someone to sue. Not so with Phineas and Ferb. After all, life to them is just one summer day after another, and as long as they can find something fun to do every day, life is good.

Friday, March 20, 2009

And now we find out they owe BACK TAXES?

The late famed witch / hotel queen Leona Helmsley is reported to have said, "Only the little people pay taxes."

In today's news is this AP report:

"At least 13 companies receiving billions of dollars in bailout money owe a total of more thean $220 million in unpaid federal taxes, a key lawmaker [Rep. John Lewis, D-Ga] said Thursday."

One of these companies owed $113 million from 2005 and 2006. Another owed $102 million from before 2004. And yet, according to the AP, all recipients of government bailout funds had to sign a contract stating that they did not owe any back taxes. In other words, these companies, or their representatives, LIED.

But they got their money anyway. They got their money from a treasury secretary who has had to pay $43,200 so far to cover back taxes, interest and penalties for taxes he "forgot" to pay between 2001 and 2004. I'll bet that Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner wouldn't even have ponied up the money if he hadn't been caught during his confirmation hearings.

Enough about Geithner. He's already a national embarrassment, who ought to do the honorable thing, resign and go home. Let's go back to the bailout beneficiaries.

Why should we give any government money, funds from the public trust, to anyone who has not paid the government their dues, who has basically swindled the government, and then LIED about it? Don't give them a cent!

Living here in small-town America, we have seen what happens to individual taxpayers and to small businesses when they don't pay their taxes. The IRS comes down on them like a ton of bricks.

I guess once you're "too big to fail," you're also too big to pay taxes, right?

This is the spot where I should insert several fragrant expletives.

This entire bailout fiasco is going to turn into a huge scandal. It will taint the Obama presidency, and it will permanently taint the reputations of many, many people in the executive and legislative branches of the federal government, as well as many titans of industry. Oh sure, they'll all get rich out of it, but their names will be mud for the rest of their lives. The American public, the "little people" who pay taxes, will have lost the last dregs of respect for, and trust in, all of these people.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

"Too Big to Fail" is TOO BIG

Here's another letter I wrote and sent to my elected officials. Some of you may recognize the tune -- I've sung this song before. I read a news story today that pushed the wrong button and sent me off on this rant again.

Once again, feel free to repeat this, and to write your own elected officials in Wash DeeCee.

Dear [insert title and name of elected official here]:

Once again today, I read about businesses that are "too big to fail." Today, it was AIG, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. I've also heard the term applied to General Motors and Ford.

If you look around the country, you will find other businesses that claim to be "too big to fail." These are the giants in banking; aviation; oil and gas; health care; electric power; telecommunications; the military-industrial complex; and other industries that I'm too tired to list right now.

Essentially, these are giant companies whose tendrils of influence extend into other companies and other business sectors, and if one of them does "fail," the aftershocks are enough to weaken many other companies, not to mention cities, states, branches of the federal government, and even signficant parts of the rest of the world.

Please, listen to me carefully. IF A U.S. COMPANY IS "TOO BIG TO FAIL", THEN IT'S TOO BIG.

I don't have an MBA. I'm not a politician. I don't even have a job right now. But I'm not an idiot, either.

I voted for a president, for senators, and for representatives. I expect these people to run the federal government. I DID NOT VOTE for the CEOs of GM, Ford, or Chrysler. I did not vote for the executives of AIG, Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac. And yet, like the proverbial tail wagging the dog, it is these giants of industry who are dictating your actions and the actions of the majority of elected officials in Washington RIGHT NOW.

I want to suggest a change. Take all those companies that managed to grow until they became "too big to fail," and break them up. Break AIG, Bank of America and the rest of the megabanks back into the smaller companies they used to be. Do the same thing with GM and Ford.

The history of American enterprise, and indeed the recent history of international commerce shows that smaller, nimbler companies perform better in this 21st-century world. The time of the megacorporations is over.

There is precedent in the U.S. for such actions. U.S. Steel, Standard Oil, and AT&T come immediately to mind.

The major obstacle to making this happen is political courage. In the modern world, ruled by greed and financial power, a course of action like this is as dangerous as real tax reform, or Social Security reform. Please, have the courage to do the dangerous thing.

I'd be glad to speak with you in person about this.

Ray Depew
[address and phone number deleted]


I sent this letter to my senators, my representative, and the prez. My Canadian friends can translate that into Canoobian, right? Right.

I'm well aware of the fact that the prez will never see my words, but at least my opinion will be tabulated and added to the statistics that get reported to him daily. As for the others, chances are pretty good that they'll actually read my words, or an excerpt therefrom.

You can help by reprinting my words. Make sure you include my name.

Dear [insert title and name here]:

I'm writing to you today about the bonuses that have been making the news. I'm adamantly opposed to the bonuses, and I want to convince you to oppose them and to do whatever you can to discontinue them.

I understand the principle behind these annual bonuses.

On reason for the bonuses is that when a company is doing well, those executives who are responsible for its success are rewarded more than the rank and file, supposedly because they are more responsible than the rank and file for the company's success. That's a bunch of bull, but I won't get into that in this letter.

The other reason for the bonuses is to "retain" top talent so that they're not wooed away by their competitors. The NFL, NBA, and MLB do the same thing. We know how it works. This isn't rocket science.

But when a company has a disastrous financial year, its stock price falls through the floor, it has to lay off thousands of its employees to rescue its bottom line, and THEN it has to call on the federal government for financial help, ITS EXECUTIVES DO NOT DESERVE A BONUS, NOR ARE THEY WORTH RETAINING.

And they especially don't deserve a bonus if ONE CENT OF IT comes from my taxes. I'm out of work right now. I can't get a job. I've been trying since December. I know people who have been trying for longer than that. Don't go giving my money to someone who was in some small part responsible for the mess we're in right now.

I'd be glad to speak with you in person about this.

Ray Depew
[address and phone deleted]

It's Been a While

It's been a while since I wrote on this blog. I expected to be more prolific. I guess that in the eternal scheme of things, there were tasks more important than keeping up with this blog.

No apologies. No excuses. Well, okay, excuses. I have spent nearly every waking hour for the past 2-3 months job hunting. Thanks to Van and others, I have used the telephone more than the Internet lately, and it's been beneficial -- but I still don't have a job. I'm working on a couple of hot leads this week, but I have nothing to report at this time.

Watch for Adsense ads to start appearing on my blog. I'll be honest: they're there to make me money. I'll take whatever I can get. If you see a seriously inappropriate ad (not just one you don't like, come on), let me know.

In the meantime, I'll follow this short entry with a couple of letters that I recently wrote to my elected national officials.