Steve Coon Blog

Joy in England; Sadness in America

Caricature of SteveMillions of persons around the world watched and celebrated the Royal Wedding of American Meghan Markle and British Prince Harry.

The coverage of this spectacle was as expected—focusing on the joy of the moment, the attraction of celebrity and the extravagance that only centuries of royal opulence and tradition can realize.

On this side of the pond, however, there was another deadly shooting at an American school. This time it a student at Santa Fe High School in Texas where a student killed classmates and at least one teacher.

The year isn’t half over and already we’ve recorded 20 school shootings that either killed or injured someone.

The story is too familiar. He (almost always males) was a loner, didn’t have many friends, and started posting strange thoughts on social media.  The family will express shock and surprise.

But of course the warning signs were there long before the rampage.  People close to him weren’t really close to him.  Didn’t intrude his life (take an interest) to see how he was doing.  And they either ignored or refused to see the festering trouble.

In other words, they didn’t fulfill their parental responsibility of grooming him for the time when he was to leave home as a good person.  Everyone had their own rooms, own space, separated from each other (both physically and psychologically).

This weekend we have witness both the joyous and saddest of times. The pomp and ceremony of a royal wedding and the terrible, senseless of massacre at another American school.

We should celebrate good moments and wish the Duke and Duchess of Sussex all the best.

But we should also mourn the loss of the latest number of Americans who have perished at the hands of a gun-wielding killer as our elected leaders lack the courage to confront this reality.

This is the reality of our lives in 2018—a world of euphoria and evil.

National Security vs Civil Rights: China and America

Caricature of SteveChina has dramatically increased its domestic surveillance by investing heavily in new technology.

The effort is promoted as a means to beef up national security. But it also accurately reflects the hunger of President Xi jinping to consolidate his power and is a significant move toward a more authoritarian regime.

This might prove effective but we are reluctant do this in the United States.  The opposition to a “1984” scenario of Big Brother infringing on our civil rights still is too great.

There is no greater recent evidence of such reluctance than the failure of local and national law enforcement to stop Nikolas Cruz from massacring 17 persons  at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in South Florida February 14.  Police and FBI surveillance has indicated that Cruz was potentially dangerous.  But no action was taken.

Subsequent calls for increased surveillance following this tragedy will be countered by civil libertarians such as the ACLU who fear uncontrolled secret use of China-like technology by American law enforcement.

We in the United States value our constitutional rights and are willing to sacrifice shooting victims in order to prevent unconstitutional intrusion into and surveillance of our daily lives.

China’s President Xi obviously has no such concerns.  But then again China is no democracy.

The question is how is America to balance the constitutional rights of individual citizens with the equal right of persons to be safe in public places?

Democratic republics struggle to find an answer.  Totalitarian states do not.

China under President Xi is prepared to sacrifice individual freedoms to increase state security.  We in the United States are not.  At least not yet.

 

The Winter Olympic Games could be better if…

Steve Blog I always try to be helpful in words and actions. Often this fails because of the incompetence of the other persons. I just wanted to make that clear.

My latest contribution to betterment of society is how NBC can improve its coverage of the Winter Olympic Games.

Let’s take curling for example. I’ve watched several hours and I can tell you NBC is not explaining the competition well. The point of the game is to push a 42-pound circular stone that has a handle on top down a 150-foot path of pebbled ice (pebbles are important and more on that later) that is 16.5 feet wide. The odd foot width measurement is based on 5 meters. But the length of the playing surface is a precise 150 feet (45.7 meters). Go figure.

At each end of the playing surface is a series of 4 concentric circles. This is called the house. The inner circle (smallest) is a tee. I could give you the dimensions but I won’t.

The players push off from what is called a hack and looks like the starting blocks in track. The players must release their grip on the handle before the front edge of the stone  touches the hog line. This is just a boundary so you don’t cross it and make an illegal release. I prefer foul line but no one is asking me.

There are other details about the play but we only give a damn about scoring, right?

But it’s complicated. Instead of points you are awarded victories based on a shooting percentage. This of course involves math.  Which is one reason why it’s not as popular in America where public school students annually rank far below their peers in Europe and Asia in anything having to do with numbers.

Think of shooting percentage as similar to a professional quarterback’s rating. That’s a number, too. It’s a complicated formula that football fans cite when evaluating players in fantasy football competition but have no idea what the number means. Seriously, admit it. You really don’t!

Sweeping. This is the oddest aspect about curling. But it does have a scientific legitimacy. Apparently rapid sweeping of the ice in front of the stone increases the temperature of the ice, causing it to melt and thus allowing the stone to travel a little bit farther but not faster.

I said I would mention the pebbled ice but since I started writing this yesterday and am finishing it today, I’ve changed my mine. Just take my word for it. The ice is pebbled not smooth.

Biathlon This may have its origins in historical Norwegian countries when persons who were confined to rural regions and prolonged periods of snow-covered tundra had to take to their skis with rifles to hunt game. Well, at least it’s the story I’m sticking with.

The Olympic competitors ski a designated circular route twice then shoot at small targets. The first time the skiers grab their rifles they plop to the ground (prone position) and fire five times at a target the size of CDs. Are people still using CDs any more? Would young viewers even know what they are?

The skiers jump up and circle the route again. They return to the target area and this time–while standing–they shoot five more times at the same targets then race to the finish line.

Here’s the complaint: If you miss a target, you have to ski a penalty lap. That seems appropriate.  People should be held responsibility for their mistakes. According to the NBC commentators this detour takes about 20 seconds. Who knows? We never see the competitors actually do this. We don’t know where this alleged penalty lap is or if it truly exists.

Why? Because before the biathlon competition or any other long distance ski competition begins we see an aerial shot of the route. But unlike the network’s coverage of the Summer Olympic Games, we don’t actually see what path the competitors race.

A nice colored arrow tracing the precise path—including the penalty lap if there actually is one—would be nice. We saw that magic arrow prior to the Rio Olympic marathon competition and it helped. Where is that arrow now! NBC must have left it on Copacabana Beach.

I could write more but instead I’m going to refill my coffee, get two more cookies and salvage something before enduring the next TV chapter of the Winter Olympic Games.

White House immigration proposal should be a victory for everyone

Caricature of StevePresident Trump proposes an immigration measure that would clear the path to U.S. citizenship for so-called “Dreamers” but stiffen border security to prevent the arrival of more undocumented residents.

The idea makes sense.  It contains suggestions that should please virtually every interested advocate for meaningful immigration reform—a win-win to use the contemporary parlance.

But it inevitably will become embroiled in the boneheaded political posturing on Capitol Hill that stops too many good ideas.

Democrats–still smarting from their failed effort to halt a short-term budget compromise–will resist any discussion of a border wall.

Republicans–who strongly oppose what they term amnesty for undocumented children–will insist on greater border security measures.

Although this measure proposes answers to several of our most contentious immigration issues, those who should most fervently embrace the suggestions will–inexplicably–voice the strongest dissent.

Add to this the reality of mid-term election politics, and the prospect of an actual bill signed into law appears remote.

That’s too bad.  Because this is a good beginning to what could be meaningful reform.

What is the tipping point?

I am puzzled all year long by one American tradition. But this time of year I find it especially challenging. Who to tip and how much?Caricature of Steve
 
Yes, I know that should be “Whom to tip…” but we’re friends so we don’t have be so formal, right?
 
Recently we had dinner with friends at a popular Ames restaurant. And as always we gave a nice tip to our waitress. Well, I think it was a nice gratuity. But how do I know anymore. It’s difficult to tell from the expressions on the faces of employees.
 
But my real question is this. Why do we give some folks extra money for service but not others?
 
I always let the worker at one of my favorite coffee shops or restaurant keep a few coins or a dollar or two from my change to show my appreciation for good service. But why don’t we give that money to the cook or chef working away in the kitchen? I don’t know if the folk out front share their gratuities with the staff laboring to make sure that the food is worth the price.
 
My barber usually deserves a little extra cash—at least for trimming my beard. But the few strands of hair remaining atop my head take little time and effort to cut and therefore don’t merit additional remuneration.
 
But why don’t we tip other folks who provide good service? I don’t think to extend monetary thanks to my auto mechanic for making sure my car is operating well for the winter ahead. But I’m grateful he took care of it.
 
When we had some electrical work, furnace inspection and plumbing repairs recently, it never occurred to me to part with my money in addition to the bills they presented to us. All those tasks were necessary but should have I volunteered a few extra coins in appreciation?
 
Yes, we thank the postal carrier with a card and some money tucked inside for delivering our mail reliably throughout the year. But that’s a one time offering; we certainly don’t make it a daily habit.
 
Our homeowners association contracts for snow removal and lawn care. Although I see the workers frequently and chat with them occasionally, I never consider handing them a dollar or two in addition to letting them know we appreciate their work.
 
I often ask the staff at the grocery store for suggestions on selecting the best cut of meat (ok, the truth is my wife does that), but still when I can’t find something and they assist me. I don’t automatically reach for my wallet in response.
 
Lots of people I see help me through the day. But only a few get any monetary thank yous for their help. Why not?
 
They certainly are as worthy of a tip as our waiters, barbers, mechanics and grocery workers. However, we don’t extend that type of thank you to everyone.
 
In fact, no student ever came up to after a class and said, “Wow, professor Coon! That was a really good lecture. Here’s two dollars for expanding my knowledge and helping me plan my future!”
 
There may be a reason why that never happened.
 
Still I wonder why our reward system differs depending on the type of service or product they provide? I don’t think I’ll solve this question, but it’s one of several thoughts to occupy my mind during the coming Iowa winter.

President Trump’s National Security Strategy: Is this a new approach?

Caricature of SteveI read the full 68-page National Security Strategy report released by the White House two days ago. It’s a document that could have been penned by either a Democrat or Republican president.

Partisan foes will claim that this congressionally mandated report represents a significant reversal in the U.S. approach to world affairs. That’s not true.

Although billed as a picture of what an American First approach to security would look like, the report essentially repeats long-standing U.S. policies on political, economic and military relations.   In essence, this is a recycling of historical positions and practices

President Trump underscores his often-stated opinion that China and Russia represent our principal adversaries abroad.   But terrorism and transnational criminal organizations threaten our domestic security and well-being. Cyber warfare receives lots of attention.

This administration continues the Barack Obama view of Asia as the new focus of America’s security interests. A powerful, expansionary China is mentioned frequently as is North Korea as a potential nuclear threat.

Although the report does include some of Mr. Trump’s campaign promises and subsequent policy pronouncements, they do not constitute significant shifts in America’s traditional role on the world stage.

Again, this strategy reinforces the status quo that has transcended past administrations rather than a marked departure from tradition.

Contrary to the frequent complaints and worries of pundits and partisan foes about America’s changing international role under President Trump, this report essentially promises that the United States will continue along a familiar path.

Whether actual practice follows this promise, however, is the important question.

Keeping PACE on Capitol Hill

Caricature of SteveMUSIC: EMPERIAL REFRAIN

INTERIOR OF SENATOR’S OFFICE.  EARLY MORNING

Office STAFF exchanging nervous looks

MAN and WOMAN in black suit and dress wearing dark sunglasses and holding equipment

Officious SENATOR struts into office

 

SENATOR  ARI “Bubba” GANT

“Good morning, gang. How you all doin’ this fine morning.  Especially you lovely Southern Belles? (WINKS)

 

MAN and WOMAN approach SENATOR

“Senator, we’re here for you to begin the new PACE protocol that begins immediately today pursuant to Joint Congressional Resolution 101.555

 

SENATOR ARI GANT laughs faintly

“Sir, and lovely lady, (WINKS).  What joints? We don’t smo…uh…have any joints here…”

 

MAN and WOMAN step closer to SENATOR

“Joint Resolution, Senator.  Resolution.”

 

WOMAN staffer speaks to SENATOR in southern accent

“Bubba, um…Senator.  That’s the PACE resolution.  You know the one on…sex.”

 

SENATOR wipes his brow

“Sex…what do you mean sex?”

 

WOMAN in black hands document to SENATOR

“Senator, please sign this form.”

 

SENATOR looks at form turns to WOMAN staffer

“What in the world is this, Sally May…?

 

WOMAN in black removes her sunglasses and smiles menacingly

“It’s PACE in Congress, Senator.”

 

SENATOR says to WOMAN staffer

“Sally May, would you kindly tell these folks that we’re too busy with the pace of our own legislative agenda and promises to the good people back home to put up with this nonsense.”

 

WOMAN staffer nervously answers

“Senator, sir.  I’m afraid you have to sign it.  It’s PACE.  You voted for it, remember?”

 

WOMAN in black

“Yes, Senator.  It’s PACE…Purge Anachronistic Cultural Environment.”

 

SENATOR grabs paper from WOMAN in black

“Wait!  I thought PACE was to make decisions behind closed doors to speed up things around here without all those annoying public committee hearings.  And what is this form?”

 

WOMAN in black smiles again

“PRUDE”

 

SENATOR stares then laughs

“Prude?  Whoa, sweetheart.  I’m certainly no prude.  Tell her, Sally May.  I can have as good a time as the next good ole boy back home.”

 

WOMAN staffer yanks SENATORS sleeve and blushes

“You have to read it and sign it, sir.  PRUDE is Personnel Refusal of Uninvited Demands Edict.  I…I’m…sorry…but I signed it this morning along with all the other staff.”

 

STAFF nods their heads in unison

 

SENATOR’s face turning red in anger

“PRUDE form!  This is a bunch of…”

 

WOMAN in black steps even closer to SENATOR and hands him another form

“The PRUDE form…with your signature…then is attached to this document CRETIN.”

 

SENATOR throws  form angrily into wastepaper basket

Cretin!  How dare you! I’m a U.S. Senator!  You will respect me and my office!”

 

WOMAN staffer

“Sir, CRETIN is Congressional Report to Eliminate Touching and Inappropriate Notions.  You…well…you voted for that, too.”

 

MAN in black suit and sunglasses with equipment approaches SENATOR

“Senator, please put this on now.”

 

WOMAN in black puts sunglasses back on

“It’s EROTIC, sir.”

 

SENATOR confused

“You mean you’re asking me to watch porn?  Here in the office I usually don’t…”

 

WOMAN staffer

“Bubba, sir.  Not that kind of erotic. It’s Electronic Remote Observation of Transgressions in Congress.”

 

MAN in black attaches bodycam with microphone to SENATOR’s lapel

“Everything you do and say during your day will be recorded, downloaded to a server and reviewed by the SPOT team for entry into the Congressional Record.  SPOT is Surveillance Proof of Trouble.”

 

SENATOR looks at WOMAN staffer for several seconds

“What the devil!  This is outrageous!  Let me guess, Sally May.  I voted for this, too?”

 

MAN in black asks WOMAN in black

“We’re hooked up.  Is it working?”

 

WOMAN in black on cellphone to SPOT team

“Roger that.  SPOT says both the audio and video images are clear.”  (LAUGHS)  “Oh, he is is he?”

 

SENATOR shouts

“You mean I have to sign this form and wear this…stuff…everyday?”

 

MAN and WOMAN in black in unison

Yes, sir.  We have to keep PACE, sir.”

 

DISSOLVE TO INTERIOR OF OFFICE OF REPRESENTATIVE U.N. NOTEWORTHY

 

REPRESENTATIVE NOTEWORTHY sitting on edge of SECRETARY’S desk

“Sooo, missy…this is the progressive way to get things done.”  (PATS SECRETARY’S HAND)

 

MAN and WOMAN wearing black suit and dress and wearing dark sunglasses enter office

“Good morning, Representative, Noteworthy.  We’re from PACE.”

(WOMAN wearing sunglasses smiles)

“Let’s…share a moment…shall we?”

 

MUSIC: EMPERIAL REFRAIN UP FULL

INTERIOR WIDE SHOT AND MUSIC FADE OUT