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Weekend Potpourri

Odds and Ends on Easter Weekend

Need a movie recommendation this weekend? Join Elwood P. Dowd and his buddy, Harvey, the invisible – except to Elwood – 6’3″ rabbit. The film was one of Jimmy Stewart’s favorites and, no, Harvey wasn’t an Easter bunny.

Good reads this weekend:

The Los Angeles Times has a piece about the uncharacteristically adult like behavior of the “gang of six” U.S. Senators who are trying to craft a true bipartisan approach to the budget. The “gang” includes Idaho’s Mike Crapo.

The extremely well-reviewed new bio of Malcolm X is on my bed side table. This review makes me anxious to get after it.

And this book I can unequivocally recommend – Unbrokenby Laura Hillenbrand, the author of the acclaimed book Seabiscuit. It is an absolutely riveting account of the combat and POW experiences of Louis Zamperini, an Olympic track star, who somehow was able to overcome his completely dehumanizing experience in a Japanese prisoner of war camp and go on to lead a fascinating life. You won’t be able to put it down.

Can’t say I’ve spent much time following the imminent nupitals of the British royals, but the announcement of the champagne they are serving got me to pay attention.  “Pol Roger,” the Decanter.com website says will be served and it, “has a long and honourable association with the British aristocracy. It was the favourite Champagne of Sir Winston Churchill, and in 1984 Pol Roger created the Cuvee Sir Winston Churchill in his honour.”

Good stuff…fit for a future King and Queen. No word if Sir Winston’s favorite Romeo y Julieta will also be available. I’m guessing not. A shame.


Weekend Potpourri

Jerry BrownJerry Brown, Raul Labrador and the Boss

Politics is a fascinating business. Many of us – me included – bemoan the ungodly length and expense of the campaigns of our political process, but you have to admit this much: a long, grueling campaign can provide a glimpse of the real character of the candidates.

Take Jerry Brown, for instance. Brown may be in the midst of making one of the classic mistakes in politics – assuming too much. The San Francisco Chronicle has an interesting story on Brown’s troubles connecting with folks who don’t remember him from his earlier days as governor of the ungovernable nation of California. Brown is hazy on policy specifics, its said, and his claim to be the candidate of experience rings hollow for those under 40 who just don’t know what this old guy is all about.

A couple of years in politics in a long, long time. A decade or more is a lifetime. Jerry Brown is finding, as I’ve noted before here, that a comeback in politics is darn tough. Newer voters don’t know you, many of those who do know you wonder if you have any new ideas and, of course, your enemies seem to be the only voters with really long memories.

Polls and Money in Idaho’s First

Raul Labrador, the GOP candidate in Idaho’s First Congressional District, did something unusual this week – he touted a poll that showed him ten points behind incumbent Democratic Congressman Walt Minnick. Candidates tend to tout polls that show them in the lead or, at least, within striking distance.

Labrador’s pollster, the respected Oregonian Bob Moore, did note in the release on his research that the challenger’s challenge is to become as well known and as well liked as Minnick.

The real news in Bob’s survey, seems to me, is that Minnick is “personally well liked” by 52% of the voters polled in the First District. His negative score was 21%. Right now, any incumbent will take those numbers to the bank and Minnick has. The other major news in this race this week is that Minnick has a million bucks in the bank. Labrador has less than $69,000. That won’t buy much name recognition for a challenger who needs to become better known.

So Long to the Boss…

When I heard on Tuesday that long-time New York Yankee owner George Steinbrenner had died, I have to admit my first reaction was – just like “the Boss” to die the morning of the Major League All-Star game. What timing. His bigger than life story would dominate the mid-summer classic and overshadow a rare National League win. It could have been the storyline of a Seinfeld episode.

I come genetically by my dislike for the Bronx Bombers. My Dad taught me a good deal of what I know about the great game and his genes held the DNA of a Yankee hater. It would only follow that I’d never have much use for George and his antics.

I remember quizzing Dad about some of the all-time greats of the game. I asked about DiMaggio who, Dad admitted, was a “great player, but also a #@&* Yankee.” Enough said.

Still, as George departs for whatever rewards await a Major League baseball team owner, we need to give the ol’ boy his due. Steinbrenner burnished one of the greatest “brands” in sports, maybe in business – period. He insisted in perfection. OK, perhaps boorishly at times, but he hated not to win and found anything but winning unacceptable.

Perhaps he can’t take the World Series victories with him, but Steinbrenner – I hope – enjoyed them while he could. We will not, I suspect, see another like him. God rest his soul and go Red Sox.

Weekend Potpourri

flagJuly 4th…Things to Savor and Remember

In no particular order, some items from the weekend papers:

Boisean Tony Doerr has a nice little piece on the Op-Ed page of the Sunday New York Times. Tony searches for morel mushrooms, among other things. Tony’s new book will be out this week.

In Reno this weekend, the locals are remembering the “fight of the century” in 1910 between the first African-American heavyweight champion, Jack Johnson, and the former champ, Jim Jeffries, who some saw as the “great white hope,” able to recapture the title.

Johnson won in 15 rounds on a blistering hot day and Jeffries, a great boxer in his day, is now remembered as the hope that faded away. Johnson was one of the great characters of American sport. He paved the way for many other athletes of color, as recounted in Geoffrey Ward’s fine book Unforgivable Blackness. The PBS film of the same name by Ken Burns is outstanding.

The effort to gain a presidential pardon for Johnson John McCain is now on board – continues. Johnson was convicted of “white slavery” for allegedly transporting a woman across state lines for “immoral purposes.” His real crime was that he merely kept company with white women.

Finally, no one disparages more than I the lack of civility in our politics these days, but it is worth remembering on this 234th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence that we’ve always – always – had a quarrelsome politics. It is the nature, perhaps, of the beast. A fine little essay by historian Sean Wilentz reminds us that Jefferson was vilified as “a snake in the grass” for his role in the Declaration and John Marshall, the future great Chief Justice, could hardly bring himself to give ol’ Tom credit for the first draft of that famous and essential paper.

The more things change, as they say.

Happy July 4th to you and, yes, I’ll raise a glass today to all the Founders. They didn’t get everything right, but they did their part. What a country!

Weekend Potpourri

menckenFrom Mencken to the Dodgers…

Ever wonder about the origin of the term “banned in Boston?” It originated with what was called the Watch and Ward Society, as in watch for something bad and ward it off.

The caustic critic and reporter H.L. Mencken took those Boston blue bloods to task in 1926, trying and succeeding in getting himself arrested for distributing banned and “obscene” material – his magazine, the American Mercury.

My friends at the Massachusetts Humanities Council issue a wonderful, daily e-newsletter with a highlight of each day in the Bay State’s history. This week they featured the Mencken story, a classic example of one crusaders effort to counter censorship.

One of Mencken’s great quotes: “All [zoos] actually offer to the public in return for the taxes spent upon them a form of idle and witless amusement, compared to which a visit to a penitentiary, or even to a State legislature in session, is informing, stimulating and ennobling.” So there.

All is not well in Dodgerland

The Daily Beast has some of the lurid details of the high stakes, high money divorce of the McCourts, the owners of, among other things, one of the most storied franchises in sport – the Dodgers. Frank McCourt has said the divorce from his wife, Jamie – a divorce that the L.A. Times says will end up being the most expensive in state history (now that is saying a mouthful) – won’t disrupt the team.

“My kids will own the Dodgers someday,” McCourt said. “As we get this matter resolved… things will get back to normal.” I hope so, but only for Joe Torre’s sake. He’s the only thing this Giants fan likes about the Angelenos.

And, oh by the way, you ever wonder how the super rich manage to get by? The Times also reports that from 2004-2009, the McCourts banked $108 million and didn’t pay a cent of income tax. Now, I really dislike the Dodgers.

Egan on Earthquakes

In his New York Times on line column Tim Egan ruminates about the earthquake that will someday hit Seattle.

“Living in earthquake country,” Egan says, “is the life embodiment of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s line about the ability to hold two opposing ideas in the mind at the same time while still being to able to function.”

The human mind is amazing. Intellectually we know disaster can strike any moment, but practically we (mostly) continue to carry on despite that realization.

Better it is to hold the cynicism in check and live the life of an optimist. As the great Mencken said: “A cynic is a man who, when he smells flowers, looks around for a coffin.”

Have a good weekend.

Weekend Potpourri

cartoonScanning the Papers: Diverse, Unconnected, But Interesting…

The big news in southern Arizona on Friday was the reunion of John McCain and Sarah Palin in Tucson.

The cartoon is the work of David Fitzsimmons at the Arizona Daily Star.

Friday’s rally at the Pima County Fairgrounds was the first time since last November that the 2008 GOP running mates shared the same platform. Unlike that election night tableau at the Biltmore in Phoenix, where McCain graciously conceded to the new president-elect and Palin reportedly seethed because she wasn’t allowed to say a word, yesterday Palin was the big attraction and she did plenty of talking.

The Star’s coverage of the rally noted that one McCain constituent “stood out front holding a sign that said he wouldn’t forgive McCain for attempting to control his guns, speech, energy, health care and vitamins.”

That quote pretty well sums up the Senator’s problems in Arizona as he faces what is shaping up to be his potentially toughest ever re-elect. Gone, forever it seems, is the old McCain – unpredictable, working across the aisle, making common cause with Ted Kennedy and Russ Feingold. A very conservative former GOP Congressman is running against him now and McCain is running right, sort of like he’s late for the Tea Party. Utah Republican Bob Bennett has similar problems.

More Health Care…

One remarkable thing about the Internet is that no past statement of a politician is long safe from discovery. Writing at the Daily Beast Matthew Dallek, the son of the presidential biographer Robert Dallek, pieces together the origins of what, before this year, was Republican thinking on health care. Dallek makes the case that many of the ideas now the law of the land started with guys named Nixon and Dole, and the Associated Press, among others, tweak Mitt Romney for now being against what he once supported. History is a wonderful thing.

Perhaps this is all just evidence of the truth in Emerson’s famous quote: “A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds, adored by little statesmen and philosophers and divines.”

With all respect to Emerson, in politics a lack of consistency is usually called a flip-flop and those are to be avoided like the plague, as Romney will continue to discover.

And…Now For Something Completely Different…

Most papers anymore give little attention to baseball. Some barely find room for the box scores and offer the shortest possible game summaries. For a baseball fan, the joy of sipping a morning coffee and consuming the detailed baseball summaries from the day before is mostly a thing of the past. Like everything else, the fan of baseball detail, finds it online. Check out a great baseball blog – Joe Posnanski – who wrote recently about the great Ichiro.

I like a baseball writer with a name like Posnanski. Sounds right.

Good Works…

When the Irish writer John Banville won the Booker Prize a few years back he was asked what he planned to do with the cash prize. His response, not to mention his writing, has endeared him to me ever since. Banville simply said he’d spend the cash on “good works and strong drink.”

His new book is The Infinities and it is being much commented upon. The New York Times noted Banville’s connections to Joyce, while others have noted that his writing, always elegant and stylish, has become more playful over time. Whatever it is, it is good stuff.

Weekend Potpourri

IHRCA Save – Maybe – for the Human Rights Commission…and Other Odds and Ends

Some news on Friday that may give Idaho Human Rights advocates hope that the Idaho Legislature will craft a workable path forward for the 40-year-old Idaho Human Rights Commission.

The devil will be in the details, but the Commission may find a soft landing at the Idaho Department of Labor and legislators praised the efforts of Labor’s Roger Madsen for working with the Commission’s Director Pam Parks to create a sustainable budget solution. As noted here earlier, there was statewide push back to an Otter Administration plan to phase out state funding for the Commission that enforces non-discrimination laws and advocates for human and civil rights.

Long-time Coeur d’Alene human rights advocate Tony Stewart made the obvious point, if the Labor-Human Rights Commission lash-up can work it will have to ensure the Commission’s long-time independence and visibility. Stewart also points out that hate crimes and examples of racial intolerance appear to be on the rise again in Idaho. Stay tuned.

Too Big To Fail…

In the fall of 2008, after the national and world economy came within inches – or hours – of a complete financial collapse, Rep. Barney Frank, the acerbic chairman of the House Financial Services Committee, was interviewed on 60 Minutes.

“The problem in politics is this,” Frank said. “You don’t get any credit for disaster averted. Going to the voters and saying, ‘Boy, things really suck, but you know what: If it wasn’t for me, they would suck worse.’ That is not a platform on which anybody has ever gotten elected in the history of the world.”

New York Times reporter Andrew Ross Sorkin uses Frank’s quote near the end of his masterful, encyclopedic account of the financial crisis that precipitated the Great Recession. The book – Too Big To Fail – is, at the same time, a great piece of documentary reporting, a story of human folly, greed and crisis management on a vast scale, and a profoundly cautionary tale about how remarkably close the world came to what then-Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson said would be “a depression deeper than the Great Depression.”

There are few, if any heroes in Sorkin’s account – Paulson comes closest for his constant focus during the crisis and his willingness to make tough decisions quickly – and the book liberally assesses the blame.

Sorkin summed it up this way [the editorial comments are mine]: “The seeds of disaster had been planted years earlier with such measures as: the deregulation of the banks in the late 1990s [a move that received bipartisan support in Congress and endorsement from Bill Clinton], the push to increase home ownership [a Clinton and Bush legacy]; lax mortgage standards [poor business practices by many banks]; historically low interest rates, which created a liquidity bubble [part of Alan Greenspan’s tenure at the Fed] and the system of Wall Street compensation that rewarded short-term risk taking [mark this down to old fashioned greed]. They all came together to create the perfect storm.”

Sorkin has written an important book. I hope it is being read in Washington.

The Rest of the Story…

Fascinating story in the Washington Post yesterday about the long-time friendship between the popular radio broadcaster Paul Harvey and the director of the FBI for most of the 20th Century J. Edgar Hoover.

The Post obtained 1,400 pages of FBI files that show that Harvey often submitted scripts to Hoover for approval and comment and the creepy FBI director showered the broadcaster with effusive praise. Perhaps the most amazing aspect of the story, and any number of other documented accounts of Hoover’s relationship with politicians and celebrities, is that the top G-man from the 1920’s to the 1970’s spent so much of his time on this kind of thing.

I have had a couple of opportunities, while doing research, to examine FBI files. There are, for example, pages of FBI reports in the Franklin Roosevelt archives at Hyde Park, New York. The files, mostly centered on FDR’s political opponents, often consist of material that reads a bit like a teenagers diary – raw gossip, material culled from widely available newspaper accounts and the musings of informants. In other words, it is mostly useless chatter and often, well, creepy seems to describe it pretty well.

I’m sure the FBI is devoting its time to more essential duties in the age of global terrorism, but some of the agency’s history – confirmed again by Paul Harvey, of all people – makes you wonder about the rest of the story.

Good day…and a good weekend.

The Poetry of Cities

sandburgCarl Sandburg and Downtowns

It is the birthday of the poet and Lincoln biographer Carl Sandburg born January 6, 1878 in Galesburg, Illinois.

Twice winner of the Pulitzer – The War Years about Lincoln’s presidency won the award in 1940 and his Complete Poems won in 1951 – Sandburg is often dismissed today as too much the sentimentalist. Perhaps that is why I like him very much.

I thought of Sandburg’s poems about Chicago and Omaha and other cities this morning while absorbing the news that downtown economic mainstays – big Macy’s department stores – in Missoula and Boise are soon to close. As Idaho Statesman reporter Tim Woodward noted, the Boise store was a fixture in the heart of Idaho’s Capitol City for decades; a meeting place, a lunchtime destination. Such icons are hard – impossible perhaps – to replace.

Boise once had five downtown department stores. Now it will have none. Boise and Missoula are still among the most attractive downtowns in the west, but big, old time department stores are magnets for people and help support other small merchants and one hates to see them close and you wonder what can possibly fill the void.

But, back to Sandburg.

The editor of a recent collection of Sandburg’s poetry, Paul Berman, told NPR a while back that the writer was inspired by cities: “His genius, his inspiration in [the Chicago] poem and some others, was to look around the streets, at the billboards and the advertising slogans, and see in those things a language,” Berman says. “And he was able to figure out that this language itself contained poetry.”

There is poetry in great cities and, yes, a yearning for the variety and uniqueness of downtowns where people gather, things happen and the look and culture is much different – and vastly more interesting – than a strip mall or suburban shopping destination surrounded by acres of parking.

In one of my favorite Sandburg poems – Limited – the narrator is headed to a city, or at least a final destination.

I am riding on a limited express, one of the crack trains
of the nation.

Hurtling across the prairie into blue haze and dark air
go fifteen all-steel coaches holding a thousand people.

(All the coaches shall be scrap and rust and all the men
and women laughing in the diners and sleepers shall
pass to ashes.)

I ask a man in the smoker where he is going and he
answers: “Omaha.”

Read some Sandburg. This is a great site to sample some of his enduring work.

Weekend Potpourri

kitzhaberSecond Acts, Italian Justice, Politics & Crime and Small College Football

It has been correctly said that in politics your friends die and your enemies accumulate. This is perhaps particularly true for a politician attempting to make a comeback after being out of the game for a while. Voters have short memories for good accomplishments and the bad odor of political failure tends to linger like week-old fish. And your friends die.

Nonetheless, four former governors are trying to accomplish the comeback, including Oregon’s John Kitzhaber. The New York Times has a wrap-up that is good reading for those who remember guys like Terry Brandstad in Iowa, Roy Barnes in Georgia and Governor Moon Beam – Jerry Brown – reborn as the Democratic front runner at the Hotel California.

Italian Justice – Sort Of

The Times’ Tim Egan has written at least twice before on the bizarre case of 22-year old Amanda Knox of Seattle who was convicted this week in Italy after a long, sensational murder trial. Egan is convinced Knox is a victim of the weird Italian justice system. If you have followed the case, you will want to read his take which he composed just before the verdict was returned. I suspect we have not heard the last of this one.

Huckabee the Former

The tragic murders of four Pierce County Washington law enforcement officers may get some sense of closure on Tuesday when the officers are memorialized in Seattle. The political fallout for former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee, who commuted the sentence of the alleged killer of the officers, Maurice Clemmons, is no where near closure. The Daily Beast’s John Batchelor has a tough read on Huckabee and I tend to agree. Prediction: no Huckabee win the Iowa Caucus in 2012. He won’t be in the race.

Football on a Smaller Screen

With Boise State and Oregon now headed to major bowl appearances, a moment of reflection on another outstanding football program in the region – little Carroll College in Helena, Montana – is in order. The Saints lost their bid for a return national title on a snow covered field in Helena this weekend, but what a program and what a school. The Saints have won NAIA national titles in 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005 and 2007. Not bad for a school that is really known for its academic excellence.

Have a good weekend and stay warm.

Weekend Potpourri

In No Particular Order

Crapo Draws “Opponent”

Idaho Senator Mike Crapo, occupying (and defending in 2010) what is perhaps the safest seat in the Senate, has an opponent. Sort of.

Betsy Russell in the Spokesman-Review has the story of a New York resident – always a part of a winning political resume in Idaho – announcing that he’ll take on the two term GOP incumbent. Other than not living in the state, the new challenger may have other issues with Idaho voters. He’s never been west of Buffalo, for example. And not Buffalo, Wyoming, either

Here is a key paragraph from Betsy’s story: “(William) Bryk, for his part, has run for offices including district attorney, state legislature, city council and Congress, but has never been elected. He ran for Congress as a Democrat in 1980; and eight years after his New Hampshire win on the GOP ticket in 2000, ran again for vice president there as a Democrat, and lost.”

Last time, Crapo gathered in 99% of the vote against various write-ins. I think you can safely keep this one in the “leans overwhelmingly GOP” column.

A Udall Comes Out for Nuclear Power

Here is a man-bites-dog story from Colorado.

Democratic Senator Mark Udall delivered a speech on the floor of the U.S. Senate this week saying it was time for the nation to reconsider nuclear power. Udall said he hoped new nuclear facilities could be constructed over the next decade and then added: “For some, news that a Udall is speaking favorably about nuclear power will come as a stark – and perhaps unpleasant – surprise.” Udall’s father – Mo – the great Arizona congressman, campaigned for the White House in 1976 in opposition to nuclear power.

There was immediate speculation that Udall’s stance would draw serious environmental push back, but his positioning on the issue could also have a “Nixon goes to China” quality in that it may prompt other Democrats with environmental credentials to re-examine long held positions on nuclear power.

The Times on “The Big Burn”

New York Times on-line columnist Tim Egan – his new book is called “The Big Burn” – will be featured in the Sunday Times Book Review. The Times offers a generally strong review, something the book deserves as I’ve noted here before, but it wouldn’t be the Times if the review didn’t offer a bit of snark, even for one of its own. Egan was also a great interview this week on NPR’s Fresh Air with Terri Gross.

Afghanistan Policy

Everyone it seems has advice for the president on Afghanistan. Two thoughtful pieces over the last few days are worth a view: Christopher Buckley cites the reasoning of a former Marine-turned-State Department official, Matthew P. Hoh, who resigned recently over the Afghan war and Ted Sorensen, the former JFK speechwriter, offers up what may be the worst possible analogy for Obama – Afghanistan is already his Vietnam.

A Great Humanities Event

On Thursday, the Idaho Humanities Council’s 13th annual Distinguished Lecture was delivered by the superb Lincoln scholar, Harold Holzer. Holzer’s talk focused on how every president, since at least Teddy Roosevelt, has appropriated Lincoln – his words and deeds – to fit their own needs and circumstances, often unfairly.

Republicans naturally claim the political Lincoln, but Holzer’s survey made the case that Democrats, starting with Woodrow Wilson and continuing to Barack Obama, make some legitimate claims on the great president, as well.

Lincoln’s legacy clearly weaves through the political reality of the two major parties swapping positions and geography over the last century. FDR largely took the African-American vote, that had been solidly GOP since the Civil War, to the Democratic Party during the New Deal and Richard Nixon broke up the “solid south” after Lyndon Johnson picked up the mantle of civil rights in the 1960’s.

Holzer diplomatically took a pass when asked if Lincoln were alive today would he be a Republican or a Democrat. He did point out that Lincoln was a fan of big public works projects and he did push a civil rights agenda. The interesting thing to consider is that through the evolution of the two major parties since Lincoln’s day, the great president’s priorities still stay in the mainstream of American political thought.

Holzer, author of 34 books, including an award winning book about Lincoln’s coming to national prominence by virtue of his speech at Cooper Union in New York in 1860, has also had a major hand in a grand Lincoln exhibit at the New York Historical Society.

Harold Holzer is a really nice fellow and a very engaging speaker. If you get a chance to hear him talk on Lincoln and the presidency – do it.

The Livability of Rocky Mountain Cities

Dan KemmisDan Kemmis – Sustaining the West’s Urban Economy Means A Focus on “Livability.”

I had the pleasure of introducing Dan Kemmis, the former mayor of Missoula, Montana and speaker of that state’s House of Representatives, at this week’s City Club of Boise luncheon.

The Kemmis speech and Q-A airs Saturday at 8:00 pm on KBSX (91.5) or you can catch he program on the City Club website.

Kemmis is the rare political leader who has successfully combined people and political skills with the ability to create new policy approaches – he’s a champion of civic engagement and collaboration – and then write about them with clarity and intelligence. He is now a senior fellow at the University of Montana’s Center for Natural Resources and the Environment.

As the Idaho Business Review noted, Kemmis made the case that the “real driver … of the new western economy has been the livability of our communities.”

Kemmis maintains that “livability is bigger, deeper and stronger as a driver than growth itself.”

He makes a pretty compelling case that cities like Salt Lake, Missoula, Boise and Denver have thrived, and will again, because they are essentially really decent places to live. (I could add a few more cities to the list – Portland, Bozeman, Coeur d’Alene, for instance.)

Think about Salt Lake’s good and getting better transit system, Missoula’s great parks and open space, Boise’s foothills and marvelous parks and greenbelt, and Denver’s revitalized downtown (and the Colorado Rockies).

As our region struggles to climb out of a deep recession, Dan Kemmis would remind us to focus on the basics of what makes cities great – intellectual infrastructue (libraries, for instance), open space, parks and outstanding recreational opportunities, ease of movement, and a culture of civic engagement.

I spent some time with a friend from the east coast recently. His business will allow him to live anywhere he likes and he and his bride spent a few days in Boise assessing the city as a potential new home. Searching for an alternative to the old rat race of long commutes and no sense of community, smart folks look West and have for ever. Like all young parents, they want good schools and a good environmental for the kids. I wasn’t selling paradise and I didn’t need to. Boise – and other good cities in the West – tends to sell themselves on the basis of “livability.”

Dan Kemmis is right. Livability, quality of life, whatever you call it, is an economic driver. The real challenge is not to screw it up or undervalue what we have and, perhaps too often, take for granted.