Friday, February 24, 2017

A Brief History of the World (That I Lived Through) Part One

There's no doubt that our country is deeply divided. It's hard to put a finger on when it started to happen or how, but there are some pretty clear indicators that the cracks started to form in the 1980s. I remember in the late '80s listening to a liberal pundit talking on the news about the legacy of the Ronald Reagan presidency. He said that Reagan had made us comfortable with our prejudices. At the time, I thought it was a pretty mean thing to say, but in hindsight, I think the guy was spot on.

In the 70s. I grew up in a blue-collar town filled with Southern transplants who had moved north to work in the factories that filled our community. I can't deny that there was quite a bit of racism in my community, but it was kept largely out of sight. I'd hear the "n word" dropped fairly casually and the occasional grumbling about people on welfare driving Cadillacs, but there was a general mood in the country, following the events of the '60s, that it just wasn't proper to be openly racist. We even had some African-Americans and other minorities living in the neighborhood, and no one was threatening them or treating them with any hostility.

Most everyone was a registered Democrat because most of the fathers were union men and the Democrats looked out for workers' rights. It was the party of Social Security and Medicare and of generally helping out the little guy. Nevertheless, as the Carter administration chugged along, there was a growing sense that the working class were taking a back seat to minorities, immigrants, and gays. The party was becoming too intellectual, too elitist. All the while, the Industrial Age was sputtering to a halt as automation and competition from other countries was undercutting the strength of the mighty steel and auto industries.

My father was not a blue collar guy. He worked as a cryptanalyst for National Security Agency (NSA). I felt like a bit of an odd ball in school because, while other kids could say that their dads were pipe fitters or they made suspensions for Chevrolets, I never really could explain what my dad did (he couldn't tell me either). I also couldn't understand why other families had boats and motorcycles and took fancy vacations while we struggled just to get by. Only later did I realize that, while my dad was quite smart and had an extremely important job, he was paid far less than my neighbor's dad who spent his whole day bolting bumpers onto station wagons. That was the world we lived in then. Someone from the back woods of West Virginia with barely a high school education could come to Maryland, get a union job, and make more money than a college-educated man who was decoding messages intercepted from the Viet Cong and the Soviets.

But it all started to unravel around 1979. Younger workers were getting laid off. Older workers were being asked to do more for less. Even older workers were given buyouts to retire with a fraction of the benefits that were once promised. The American Dream was disintegrating and Jimmy Carter was droning on about a "malaise," as if all this was somehow our fault.

Then came Ronald Reagan. He was cheerful and confident and telling us that the only thing we needed to do to "make America great again" was to unleash the shackles government had put on corporate America and prosperity would rain down on us once again. That sounded really good to the people in my community. These life-long Democrats voted for the Republican with the big ideas about trickle-down economics. It sounded good at the time. It was simple and straightforward. No fussy intellectual mumbo-jumbo like the Democrats were babbling about.

In 1982, I was turning 18 like most of my senior high school class. We were trotted down to the cafeteria to register for the upcoming election. Many of my classmates registered as Republicans. They were probably the first Republicans in their families, and it was all because of Reagan. Never mind that the unemployment rate had jumped to over 10%, up from the 7.5% it was when Reagan first became president. Never mind that the huge tax break he gave the wealthy never turned into actual jobs. They were not paying attention to the man behind the curtain, but rather were mesmerized by the gleaming face on the TV screen.

During my college years, there was a heating up of the economy, but it was largely based on wild speculation. Businesses were expanding for no other reason than because tax breaks and deregulation had made it possible to do so. I was working as a clerk in a Sherwin-Williams store at the time, and I saw how they were opening new stores all over Maryland at a feverish pace. I talked to one of our sales reps about that, wondering why on Earth they were doing it when we already faced steep competition from Duron, Martin's, and the newfangled warehouse hardware stores popping up everywhere. He talked about how they were being "aggressive" and other business babble, but there was nothing in what he said that indicated a sound business plan for growth. It was simply a case of exuberant optimism.

During my senior year of college, Timbuk 3 had a big hit with the song "The Future's so Bright (I Gotta Wear Shades)." I loved the irony of it, but at the same time, I was hoping that all this enthusiasm for a booming economy might actually make it come true. I was about to get my first "real job," and I needed a strong economy to grease my career skids. I graduated in 1987. It was the year that brought the junk bond scandal, the Savings & Loan debacle, and "Black Monday" when the Dow Jones Industrial Average lost almost 23 % of its value in one day. Instead of wearing shades, I was breaking out a flashlight to see where my future had gone.

To be continued...

Friday, February 17, 2017

How Did We Get Here?

I started this blog nearly a decade ago because I needed a place to vent. We were in the waning days of the George W. Bush administration, bogged down in two wars, deficit spending was out of control, and an overheated economy was about to crash and burn. In spite of all this, Democrats were relatively silent on these matters. Yes, the Democrats had taken over Congress in 2006 and we were about to elect our first African-American president, but there wasn't all that much outrage being voiced over the failed policies of Republicans. I felt like I needed a place to unleash my frustrations even if only a handful of people would read it.

Then Barack Obama became president during one of the dreariest periods in our country and, slowly but surely, he started turning things around. An infrastructure bill created much needed jobs, a loan to GM and Chrysler saved the American auto industry, and work began on the Affordable Care Act. Democrats felt like they had found a savior, and my frustration and outrage started to ebb. My posts shifted from a political nature to grousing about football and baseball. I, like a lot of other Democrats, decided that we were now safe and could go back to living regular lives.

Sure, I didn't like the racist tone that seeped into the right-wing rhetoric, particularly from the Tea Party Movement as it was usurped in its mission by white supremacists and Christian extremists. I was concerned when the Democrats didn't turn out for the mid-term election, causing us to lose the House. I was even more concerned about the continued loss of Democratic seats in Congress during the 2012 election, but hey, Obama got a second term! That had to count for something, right?

By 2016, the field of presidential candidates was not looking good. The Democrats had the inspirational but clearly too-liberal-for-middle-America Bernie Sanders and the extremely qualified but extremely reviled Hillary Clinton. I kept wondering, where's the young blood? Where are the Gen X-ers and Millenials who have been trampled by this rigged economy? Are we still letting the Baby Boomers call the political shots after half-a-century of "Look at me! We're the most important people on Earth!"?

Despite all this, I took solace in the fact that the Republicans were rolling out the same clown car of idiots, racists, and con men, including the biggest con man of them all, Donald J. Trump. I'd always been physically repulsed by the man since he made himself a household name in the 1980s. In the era of runaway avarice and classless conspicuous consumption, Trump was the personification of everything I hated about the Reagan era. But things were different now, right? Nobody was taking this blowhard game show host seriously, right?

As the results rolled in on election night, I had that same sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach as I do when the weathermen suddenly realize that that 1-inch snowstorm they'd been forecasting all week has turned into a whopping blizzard. I mean, I knew with Hillary there was always a chance of failure, but surely people could not want Trump as our president? I got a hard lesson in just how little the American people understood about the complexity of the office and the fragile state of Trump's mind. This was not another case of, "Oh well, our person lost, Maybe next time." This was, "Oh my God, the American people just put a mentally unstable person in charge of the launch codes."

So here I am again, frustrated, angry, and venting. The only difference is, there is an awful lot of people out there venting with me. The Americans who see this man (and the Republican Party) for the true threat that it is are voicing their concerns, backing liberal causes like never before, and in general fighting to retain our principle values and thwart what could become our descent into fascism. I think Democrats stayed silent for so long because I believe, by nature, progressive thinkers are reasonable, rational human beings not easily swayed by hyperbole or given to impassioned demonstrations. We couldn't bring ourselves to believe that things could ever slip to this level. That was our Achilles' heel, and the Republicans had the perfect knife to slice it.

Once again, I'm writing to get my thoughts out there for what they're worth. I turning off the comments on this blog because I'm not about to fall into the rabbit hole of right-wing trolls baiting me with straw-man arguments or talking points from their favorite alt-right sites, Besides, I'm not here to pick fights. I just want to sort through where I see our country and some possible ways out of the mess we're in. I truly have sympathy for many Trump voters who were looking for someone to create new job opportunities and an economic system that helps bring the poor and middle class out of this downward spiral we've been in for the last 36 years. I would say that is a goal most Americans want.

The real villain here is a political system that favors the wealthy and lines the pockets of the politicians. In upcoming posts, I hope to offer my two cents on how we got here and how we might get out. Lord knows I've been wrong quite a bit, and I don't profess to be any more learned about these subjects than others, but I need to get these ideas out there and I hope you will find them interesting.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Jets Soar; Ravens Crash to the Ground!

A few months ago, I wrote a blog post about how I was thinking of changing my fan devotion from the Ravens to the Jets because, while both teams had roughly the same record, the Jets showed far more fight and passion than the Ravens. Based on the outcome of this weekend's divisional playoff games, I think my first instinct was correct.

The Ravens have suffered from inconsistency all season, and that inconsistency showed itself in the game against the Indianapolis Colts. You just never know which Ravens team is going to show up from week to week: the feisty, dominating team or the lackluster, penalty-prone team. Unfortunately, the latter was the team that played Payton Manning. The Jets, on the other hand, played with guts and gusto against the overrated San Diego Chargers and moved on to the conference championship. Now, it's quite possible that the Ravens could have beaten the Chargers as well and that the Colts will make the Jets look just as bad as they made the Ravens look last Saturday. However, I'm sure Payton Manning is not looking forward to another pounding defense two weeks in a row, and the Jets might just have enough bravado and fight left to knock the Colts out of the Super Bowl. I can only hope Rex Ryan and the Jets can do to Indianapolis what the sad Ravens could not.

J-E-T-S! Jets, Jets, Jets!!!!!!

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Ravens vs. Colts - Here We Go Again

Just like three years ago, the Baltimore Ravens and the Indianapolis Colts will meet in the divisional round of the playoffs, fighting for a chance to play in the Super Bowl. This year, however, the roles appear to be reversed.

In 2006, the Ravens went 13-3 on the season placing them as the second seed, which gave them a bye week and home field advantage. The Colts barely made a wild card spot and had to play on the road. The Ravens came into the game rested and confident while the Colts were beat up and hungry. The Colts beat the Ravens soundly and went on the win the Super Bowl.

This year, the Colts secured the top seed in week 14 with a perfect record and benched their starters for the last two weeks, giving them a 14-2 record. They've had their bye week and will have home field advantage. The Ravens squeaked into the last wild card spot and had to play a big game on the road against the Patriots. They are going into Lucas Oil Stadium beat up and hungry. Judging by the way they put a whoopin' on the Patriots, they are very hungry. I'm hoping this role reversal plays out the same way and the Ravens are Super Bowl bound.

The trouble is Payton Manning. There's something almost super human about his ability to win ball games. Even when you have him against the ropes the way the Ravens did earlier in the season, he somehow pulls out a win almost by force of will. It's as if he puts some sort of telepathic whammy on the other team so they will give up and let him score those extra points to win. In fact, I don't even think of the Colts as a team but as Payton Manning and his support players. If the Colts had to lose Payton Manning for a season the way the Patriots did with Brady the previous season, I doubt that they would come out with a winning record. I think they would look a lot like the Cleveland Browns if they had to go through a season with Curtis Painter under center.

But the fact is, Manning is healthy and rested after having not played in almost a month. Of course, this strategy has always worked against them in the playoffs and I have to hope that this will hold true this year as well. Frankly, I don't respect a team that doesn't come out and try to win every week regardless of whether or not they have anything to play for. Sure, they were 14-0 and had already secured the top seed, but saying that you are willing to throw away a perfect record so you can focus on the playoff run is simply un-American, in my opinion. There has to be some kind of bad kharma in being a professional athletic team and simply giving up because you think you have it made. I know the Colts fans are angry, and Payton Manning looked pretty angry about it although he took the company line publicly. This has to come back to haunt them. At least, I have to hope it does.

More importantly to me, I have to believe that last Sunday was not an aberration and that the Ravens will come out again with something to prove. They damn near beat the Patriots in the regular season and they damn near beat the Colts as well. The Ravens settled the score with the Patriots, so they must do the same with the Colts. This is the way it should be if they are to make it to the Super Bowl. The Ravens have to beat the elite teams in order to prove that they belong in that same category. I think this is quite do-able if they stick to the game plan they had with New England and mitigate Payton Manning as much as possible. The trouble is, it's much harder to get pressure on Manning than Brady. Sack Brady a couple of times and he becomes rattled. Even if you manage to sack Manning at all, he seldom loses his focus. He's just too damn good.

So all I can hope for is rusty starters and bad kharma and a really hungry Ravens team. If the Ravens can take out the Colts, I think the rest would be gravy. If they have to face the Chargers, so what? The Chargers are soft and the Ravens have beaten them before. If the Ravens have to take on the Jets, how cool would that be? Rex Ryan and John Harbaugh in a fight for the championship. That's like comic book stuff! I can't wait!

If only there was no Payton.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Registered and Tracked by the Republicans

Yesterday, I received a rather important looking envelope in the mail that demanded my immediate attention. In the upper right-hand corner, it said something about "2010 Obama Agenda Survey." A few years back, I made a donation to the National Democratic Party and ever since I've received tons of junk mail and spam from every liberal group you can think of, so I assumed this was more of the same. However, when I opened it, I found that it was a letter from Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele. He begins by threatening me with:

"Your immediate action is required."

No hi, how are you? No how's the wife? Nossir, he needs me to hup-to it toot sweet! And what action does he need me to perform so urgently?

"Please read carefully and complete the enclosed 2010 Obama Agenda Survey which is REGISTERED in your name and affixed with a tracking code to ensure that it is accounted for in the tabulated results." (The emphasis is his, not mine.)

Leave it to a Republican to register me and affix a tracking code so I will be compelled to obey his command. He goes on:

"I am sending out this questionnaire to gauge where you and other grassroots Republicans stand on the critical issues facing our nation..."

Wait a minute. Mr. Steele is under the impression that I am a Republican even though I've been registered (in the League of Women Voters sense, not in the tracking sense) as a Democrat since I was 18 years old. It doesn't give me much faith in a political party when they can't even read a voter registration roll. Maybe that's how they messed up with that whole WMDs in Iraq thing.

Before I get too cynical, Mr. Steele informs me that "the Republican Party is not dead and we are not going away." Given the amount of hot air I've been exposed to from Rush and Glen and Fox News, I really had no doubt. Anyway, Mr. Steele wants me to fill out this survey so that I can have a voice regarding what he calls the "Obama Democrat Agenda." Earlier in the letter, he talked about "conservative principles" and Republican ideals and goals. Obama and Democrats have no such things, merely an agenda. The Democrat in me is beginning to feel like some evil communist from the Cold War.

He reminds me again that I am a "REGISTERED participant" and that "no matter what, do not discard or destroy your Survey. In order for our sampling of Republican opinion from your area to be as exact as possible, you must return your survey - even if you leave some of the questions blank."

Ya vol, mein herr!

The letter goes on for three more pages (even my best friends don't write me three page letters) about how the "ultra-biased media" is covering up "Obama's top priorities" such as amnesty for illegal immigrants, raising taxes, and nationalizing health care. First of all, this talk about some sort of liberal media conspiracy really has to stop. All news organizations are owned by massive corporations run primarily by rich old white guys who are primarily Republicans. Everyone knows that Fox News is a 24-hour mouthpiece for the conservatives, and the only real alternative to that is MSNBC, and they only jumped on the liberal bandwagon because there was a commercially sound reason to appeal to a liberal demographic. For the Republicans to act like a bunch of beat up chess club members is really absurd.

As far as their claims of Obama's top priorities, none of the items listed have ever been emphasized by Obama if mentioned at all. Amnesty for illegal immigrants was a Bush initiative, not an Obama priority. Raising taxes will likely occur, but only because of the massive debts started by the Bush administration and their tax cuts. There is no nationalized health care plan on the books. It's health care reform which is focused primarily on how insurance companies conduct business. Of course, the Republicans are totally against government intervention in the practices of big business. We've already seen how well deregulation worked with the banks, mortgage companies, and Wall Street.

I could go on and on about Mr. Steele's other claims, but you've probably heard it all before, and I want to get to this all important survey about Obama's agenda. You've already been set up to believe whatever is asked in the survey must be President Obama's and/or the Democratic Party's view, but they are completely out of left field (pardon the pun):

Do you agree with Barack Obama and the Democrats that taxes should be raised for the sake of "fairness," regardless of the negative impact it is likely to have on the economy?

I guess fairness is not a conservative principle. Sure, it's much better to tax the poor and middle class. They're just going to spend the money on frivolous things like food and shelter. And the bit about "negative impact" on the economy is an allusion to the ol' trickle down economy notion that by letting the rich keep more of their money, they will invest it in businesses to create more jobs and so forth. This was Ronald Reagan's guiding principle, so how did he do? When President Reagan took office, unemployment was at 7.6% before quickly ballooning to over 10%. By the time of his re-election in 1984, unemployment had drifted back down to 7.5%, pretty much the same as when he started. During his last year in office, the rate was down to 5.5%, but it soon went back up during the George H.W. Bush administration. And where was employment during Bush's final year in office? 7.5%. So much for creating jobs Republicans. Of course, the Dow Jones Industrial Average went from around 800 to 2,600 by 1987, but half of that was wiped out in the stock market crash, and we also remember the junk bond scandals and the savings and loan collapse which cost almost 100 billion of tax payers dollars. Who exactly was trickled on here?

Should English be the official language of the United States?

I know President Obama has really been pushing that Esperanto for America campaign lately.

Do you believe that Barack Obama's nominees for federal courts should be immediately and unquestionably approved for their lifetime appointments by the U.S. Senate?

When has any senator, Republican or Democrat, given up the right to question executive nominees. In the immortal words of Chad Ochocino, "Child, please!"

Do you support the creation of a national health insurance plan that would be administered by bureaucrats in Washington, D.C.?

Again, this is not on the table and the Republicans know it. This kind of fear mongering is as bad as that stupid terrorist threat level bullshit (I believe it is fuchsia today).

Are you confident that new medicines and medical treatments will continue to be developed if the federal government controls prescription drug prices and sets profit margins for research and pharmaceutical companies?

Because, that's how the system works. All the profits made by the altruistic drug companies are poured directly into new drug research. Better let us charge whatever we want, America, or we won't make any more medicines and you'll die painful, agonizing deaths! Bwahahahaha!

There's more of this tripe, but you get the idea. Mr. Steele and his merry band of fear mongers are scaring the crap out of their core constituency so that they will cough up big bucks to the Republican National Committee. That's right, at the end of the survey is a contribution form so that you may contribute "$500, $250, $100, $50, or even $3o" to help them fight against the evils of Democrats and that half-breed foreigner Barack Obama. That's why this survey is so important that they have to REGISTER everyone who receives it and track their actions. They want their damn money and they want it now!

To soften the sell, Mr. Steele explains that he has to do all this because in the 2008 election, Congressional Democrats out-raised Republicans by 2 to 1. Here we go with the beat up chess club members routine again. The Republicans have a far wealthier base than Democrats, so it stands to reason that the Democrats were so successful because a far greater number of Americans believed in Democratic principles rather than Republican ones. Maybe we were fed up with eight years of an incompetent president and six years of a Republican Congress that never had the balls to stand up to him. Maybe the Democrats had ideas that were not tired and proven wrong over and over again. Perhaps the Democrats really did appeal to a broader section of the country. No, I'm sure Mr. Steele would explain that away as the lies of the ultra-biased media elite.

Since I am REGISTERED and I must return the survey even if I leave some questions blank, I think I will do just that with no questions answered. I will attach a note saying that I am a life-long Democrat and proud of it no matter how much they wish to demonize the "L" word. I'm really more moderate than liberal, and I recognize that the left uses similar tactics as the right, but when a national political party can't even send their propaganda to the correct constituency, I think it's time they reevaluate their ability to lead a nation.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Flying the Coop on the Ravens

After watching the first half of the game between the New York Jets and the Miami Dolphins last night, I'm almost tempted to switch allegiances from my home town team the Ravens to Rex Ryan's Jets. I know, they lost the game last night, and they have about the same record as the Ravens, but at least Rex Ryan looks like he's trying to go to the Super Bowl. After the Ravens' embarrassing showing against the Bengals on Sunday, I'm beginning to question their commitment.

When Rex Ryan left the Ravens to become the head coach for the Jets, not only did he steal two of our best defensive players in Bart Scott and Jim Leonhard, I think he stole our drive and swagger as well. The Ravens keep saying our defense is playing aggressively, but I don't really see it, unless you consider unnecessary roughness penalties as sign of aggressive defense. John Harbaugh did such a great job last year of instilling discipline in a once ragged team and limiting penalties. Now, we're looking more like the sloppy Ravens of old, except the defense can't get to the quarterback, can't stop the rush, and definitely cannot stop the passing game. During the preseason when the press brought up how small and ineffective our cornerbacks are, the Ravens kept saying, "Don't worry. We're fine." Well, it's pretty clear they are not fine, and it's a big concern as the schedule gets more difficult.

Of course, we also heard the argument that it was inevitable the defense would give up more yards as the offense improved. The theory went that, as the Ravens offense ate up more time time on the clock and put more points on the board, the other team would have to throw more deep balls to make up for lost time and try to score quickly. As a result, the defense would statistically give up more yards, but they would not let the other team win. That theory held up against soft teams like the Chiefs, the Chargers, and the Browns, but when we had to face tough teams, the Ravens' defense simply let the other team score points and the offense had no response against a tough opposing defense. It seemed inevitable against the Patriots, but our offense looked like the old Kyle Boller/Brian Billick Ravens when we played the Bengals last Sunday. They're simply not as good as they thought they were.

The biggest failure on the Ravens' part, in my opinion, was not snapping up one of the many good wide receivers who were available during the off-season. Now that Joe Flacco has proven himself as a strong quarterback, they needed to get someone reliable that he could throw to besides Derrick Mason. We kept hearing, "Oh, we like the guys we have." Really? Mark Clayton has been a wash out since we picked him up in the draft several years ago and, while Demetrius Williams can make a great play now and then, he's not consistent and injury prone. Even when he's healthy, like last Sunday, Cam Cameron doesn't put him in the game. Cameron's ability to invent and adapt on the fly, so obvious last year, has not been in evidence this year. Even when we win, I'm still baffled by some of the play calling.

But it's really the wide receiver issue that baffles me the most. When I saw Braylon Edwards making such a great show for the Jets last night, I couldn't help but think, "Why didn't we make that trade?" Is John Harbaugh so intent on keeping problem children out of his locker room that he will turn down great talent and a shot at the Super Bowl? Not everyone is perfect, and sometimes you have to take a risk when the need is great. At wide receiver, the need is great. If Derrick Mason gets injured and is out for all or a major part of the season, we might as well turn out the lights. Even Cam Cameron admits that you have to throw in today's NFL to win. Flacco can throw, but who's going to catch the ball?

Beyond players and strategy, a team needs to have a powerful desire to win. That's another reason why I'm so excited about what Rex Ryan is doing with the Jets and not so thrilled about Harbaugh's Ravens this year. When Ryan went to the Jets, he put everyone on notice that they had every intention of being the team to beat this season. A franchise so beaten down by Eric Mangini and the Favre Experiment would now be a team that stood tall. Those two faked punts to get first downs last night proved how Ryan will try anything to win, and it's exhilarating to watch.

While more conservative in approach, John Harbaugh showed similar enthusiasm last year as he reinvented the Ravens into a dedicated, discipline team. This year, Harbaugh seems worn out and sullen. I don't see the same drive, and he's falling into the Billick trap of complaining about officiating to explain away losses. During the preseason, the Sunpaper's Mike Preston talked about how united the team was and that they had a spirit of camaraderie he had not seen with the Ravens since they had been in Baltimore. Unfortunately, I don't see that camaraderie translating into a real winning spirit. I definitely felt more of a drive to succeed last year when there was less at stake.

Of course, it could be that everyone's expectations are too high. It's possible that the Ravens were not as good as we thought they were last year either. The Patriots lost Tom Brady and still managed to have an 11-5 record, the same as the Ravens. Because of divisional wins, we managed to get into the playoffs when they didn't. Those divisional wins were helped greatly by the fact that both the Browns and the Bengals were a mess. Even still, we couldn't beat the Colts last year and the Steelers beat us three times. If we had played the Patriots, we may not have beaten them either.

So far this year, we couldn't beat the Patriots and we couldn't beat the much improved Bengals. Now we have to face the undefeated Vikings and the undefeated Broncos, and we still have two Steelers games down the stretch. If the Ravens can't beat any of these teams, they are truly mediocre. The Ravens need to have a gut check and really decide which team they want to be: the one they were hyped to be or just an average team like so many other teams in the NFL. Harbaugh and his coaching staff have to make key changes now or the season is lost. I think they should look at their former colleague Rex Ryan to see how motivating a team and taking risks to win is done.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Hello Muddah! Hello Faddah!

With summer on its way and the kids starting to filter out of school, I got to thinking about that perennial summer ritual of childhood: summer camp. I went to summer camp in 1976 just before my 12th birthday. The place was called River Valley Ranch in Manchester, MD. I checked their Web site to see if they were still around, and boy are they ever. Check this out:

This video is so slick, it looks like something from Nickelodeon, and all those activities almost make me want to go back again. Half pipes! Zip Lines! Go Carts! Paintball! We didn't have anything like that when I was there. I guess with all the helicopter parents nowadays wanting to give their kids the absolute best, they had to upgrade big time to compete. When I was a kid, the parents just wanted a safe place to unload the kids for a week.

There was the horseback riding and the swimming pool when I was there, but we only got to ride the horses once and we went to the swimming pool twice. My aunt and uncle had a horse farm, so riding a horse was no big deal to me, and this was even less exciting because you were basically led around in a conga line by the counselors with no freedom to ride on your own. The equipment was pretty worn out too. One of my stirrups fell off my saddle.

Most of the time we sat around bored out of our minds. There were volleyball nets and some balls, but it was up to us to organize a game. The counselors were generally too grumpy or too busy flirting with each other to pay any attention to us. You could buy little craft kits to tinker with. I bought a leather comb holder kit where you just sewed two pieces of leather together with some vinyl string and you could put a complimentary plastic comb in it. With my tangled curly locks, I couldn't drag a comb through my hair anyway.

Speaking of grooming, I was impressed with the bathroom facilities in the video. When I was there, the showers and toilets were something out of Turkish prison. I remember one afternoon taking a dump only to discover there was no toilet paper in the stall. With no one in the bunk house, I thought I was stuck until I remembered having a packet of tissues in my duffel bag. Holding my pants around my knees, I had to shuffle all the way down the long bunk house to my bed which was right next to the front door. As I riffled through my bag with my pants down, one of the counselors walked in and stared at me like I was about to engage in some unChristian-like ritual of self love. Huffily, I declared, "There's no toilet paper in the stalls!" Rather than make an attempt to find any for me, he just walked away, happy that I wasn't committing a sin.

When I was there, River Valley Ranch was divided into two basic areas: the main ranch known as Frontier Town and the smaller area up on the hill called Fort Roller. The younger kids stayed in Fort Roller and the teens were in Frontier Town. I stayed in Fort Roller. The video for that area looks more familiar to me:

This video is also more blatant about revealing the Christian focus of the camp with the cheesy Christian pop soundtrack and the children waving their arms in the air in praise. I find it a little disingenuous that the Web site has so few mentions of anything Christian. The brochures from the time when I went there were more upfront about their agenda. What they don't tell you in all these slick videos and fancy graphics is that the children will spend most of their time in bible study or being preached to with all the fire and brimstone of a televangelist. If that's what you want for your kids, that's fine, but they should be more upfront about it.

I went to RVR because a friend of mine talked me into it. His family was Southern Baptist and perfectly comfortable with this kind of Christian indoctrination. My family were casual Lutherans who talked about spiritual matters in a fuzzy, touchy-feely sort of manner. I was a babe in the woods when I went to that first revival meeting. There was a Christian music group performing that week which consisted of a family whose style was basically bluegrass, as I recall. In between songs, the father would get up and preach about burning in hell for your sins and eternal damnation and such. Kinda put a damper on the bluegrass music. More specifically, it scared the crap out of me. No more sinning from me, Lord, no sir! That is, if I had committed any sins at age 11. I must have. The preacher said we were all sinners.

We sat through these revival meetings every night for the whole week, and during the day had regular bible study. For some strange reason, though, we were always reading Revelations, like the rest of the bible had nothing to offer. Let's get to the good stuff! The earth will end and only the good Christians will go to heaven. At this point, our counselor said, "You know how much you are missing your family right now? Well, this is only one week. What if you are a good Christian and they are not and you go to heaven but they do not. You'll have to spend all eternity never seeing your family again!" That one brought some tears. No amount of swimming or volleyball will wipe out that buzz kill.

Everything was so Christian-centric, you felt more like you had joined a cult rather than going away for some fun at camp. Every night, the counselors would read us stories from the bible. When one kid asked if we could tell ghost stories instead, the counselor sniffed, "We don't tell ghost stories here; we tell God stories." Then he would try to lead us in singing some Christian songs. One of the ornerier kids in the group would counter with a hymn of his own that went something like, "Get down, get down! Pull your panties down!" At least it had a beat and I could dance to it.

Mercifully, it was only a week and my mother and brother soon arrived to rescue me. My friendship with the boy who talked me into camp soured after that. I didn't talk to him at all for the rest of the summer, and very little after that. I was just shell-shocked by the whole experience. However, it did get me thinking more seriously about my spiritual beliefs and I began to study more about religion on my own, which I suppose is a good thing. And I'll never get that camp song out of my head:

Sing the RVR song,
as you're ridin' along,
over river and dale to the end of the trail,
sing the RVR song!

Jesus Christ by my side,
he's my friend and my personal guide,
over river and dale to the end of the trail,
sing the RVR song!