Arizona, Christmas, Church, Visions

Establishing a Vision

ArizonaArizona Seeks Better Jobs, Environmental Protection

A fascinating series of stories in the venerable Arizona Daily Star, the Tucson paper, reporting on a massive statewide public opinion survey conducted by the Gallup organization and commissioned by the Center for the Future of Arizona.

The survey effort is designed to build upon a statewide visioning exercise and has resulted in an impressive action report – The Arizona We Want.

As the Star reported: “‘Most states don’t tend to have a vision,’ said Lattie Coor, chairman and CEO of The Center for the Future of Arizona and Arizona State University president emeritus. ‘The Arizona We Want’ report was released this month.”

Perhaps it is no big surprise that quality, 21st Century jobs topped the list of Arizona priorities, followed by protecting the state’s natural wonders and improving opportunities for young people.

Like most of the rest of the West, Arizona’s political leadership is locked in a prolonged battle over budget cutting and fiscal priorities. The state has a huge deficit to address and a legislature not often on the same page with the governor. So, it is also not surprising that the Gallup survey finds that folks in Arizona have lost confidence in their political leadership. A remarkable finding: only 10% of those surveyed, and it was a huge sample of 3,600 interviews, expressed confidence that the state’s political leadership would look out for their interests.

An old saying comes to mind: If you don’t know where you’re going any road will get you there.

Some in Arizona are trying to determine where the state is going. At least that much is encouraging.

Cenarrusa, Christie, Economy, Idaho

A Long, Slow Recovery

Idaho Struggles to Regain Economic Footing

Years ago when Idaho’s economy was built around timber, mining and agriculture, the state tended to come late to a recession and leave early. No more apparently.

At the annual Idaho housing conference, organized by the Idaho Housing and Finance Association, the state’s top economist, Mike Ferguson, predicted an agonizingly slow recovery in Idaho. Ferguson opining that it could be a year from now before the Idaho economy really starts to feel like it is growing even modestly.

Other participants in a panel on issues and trends in Idaho – Bob Uhlenkott and Randy Schroll of the Idaho departments of Labor and Commerce, respectively, and health insurance industry watcher Elwood Cleaver – generally agreed. Slow recovery is the expectation and unemployment could go higher. Idaho’s current unemployment rates slumps at 8.9%.

Brad Carlson at the Idaho Business Review has another estimate of the not exactly gloomy, but still very measured outlook.

Ferguson, the long-time state economist, made a telling point when he said that Idaho’s economy has suffered more than might once have been the case during the current downturn thanks to Micron downsizing in the high tech sector, Albertson’s (now Supervalu) headquarters departure from Boise and the demise of the much touted, but now bankrupt resort at Tamarack.

The increased diversification of the Idaho economy since the 1970’s has been a good thing, but at the cost perhaps of having the state’s economy behave more like the rest of the nation when a slide begins.

Always looking for a silver lining, I would note one minor growth area in the Idaho economy. The No. 1 Idaho wolf tag has sold to a North Carolina bidder for $8,000. I wonder, does that qualify as foreign investment?

Air Travel, Airport Security, Books, The West

The Big Burn

The Big Burn by Tim EganPositive Notices Roll in for Egan’s Latest

As I noted in this space a while back, Tim Egan’s new book – The Big Burn – is a winner both as western (especially Idaho) history and as a cautionary tale about natural resource policy.

Publisher’s Weekly gave the book a starred review and Kirkus said it is a must for any “green bookshelf.”

Egan’s work deserves a wide audience and appears to be getting one based upon accolades so far.

The Seattle Times said: “The Big Burn shows off Egan’s writerly skills and will bring attention to both how the Northwest was won — with big timber at the front — as well as the current debate over fire prevention in the wilderness.”

The Washington Times, a newspaper not likely to embrace much of what Egan writes in his New York Times column, nonetheless loved his book: “Not since David McCullough’s 1968 The Johnstown Flood grabbed readers and hurled them down the narrow Conemaugh Valley to certain doom can I remember a natural-disaster yarn that yanks one by the back of the neck face to face with horror the way Timothy Egan’s The Big Burn brings the great Western fire of 1910 over the mountain to destroy the town of Wallace, Idaho.”

The Oregonian’s review focused on the heroes of Egan’s story: “Timothy Egan loves the story of Ed Pulaski and tells it with relish, gesturing with his arms and lowering his voice to imitate Pulaski. He also loves the story of Teddy Roosevelt and Gifford Pinchot, the future president and the first chief of the Forest Service, stripping to their underwear and wrestling to seal their friendship in 1899.”

The Idaho Statesman’s Rocky Barker has a good piece on the book and, like me, loves the story of forester Pulaski who left his family during the worst of the great fire to march back into the woods to help his trapped firefighters.

In a long essay on the first chief of the Forest Service, Pennsylvanian Gifford Pinchot, who plays a center role in The Big Burn, the Philadelphia Inquirer said: “Central to Egan’s story are the nation’s forests themselves. And Pinchot’s efforts to conserve them.”

And, the Christian Science Monitor says: “What makes The Big Burn particularly impressive is Egan’s skill as an equal-opportunity storyteller. By this I mean that he recounts the stories of men and women completely unknown to most of us with the same fervor he uses to report the stories of historic figures.”

For Idaho history buffs, Egan’s book also resurrects one of the state’s true political characters, Senator Weldon Heyburn, who has mostly been forgotten.

The Twin Falls Times-News notes that the mean-spirited Heyburn was a “hard man to like” and that, “In his hometown of Wallace, the U.S. senator from Idaho once stopped a visiting band in mid-performance and ran it out of town because he didn’t like a tune it was playing.”

Heyburn State Park near Plummer, Idaho – the oldest park in the Northwest – is named after the Senator. After you read Tim Egan’s book, you may well conclude that renaming the park to honor Ed Pulaski would make some sense.

The Big Burn is as good a piece of northwest political, cultural and public policy history – all in the wrappings of an adventure story – as we’ve seen in a long time.

Go read it.

Baseball, Politics

Playing the Fatso Card

ChristieNew Jersey Governor’s Race – Off the Scales

The Republican candidate for governor in New Jersey is a big guy. Some might even say he’s, well, chunky. His opponent is alleging that he “throws his weight around.” Subtle.

In the never ending quest to push the envelope on political advertising, Chris Christie’s waist size (girth, fat, fitness) has become an issue in his race against incumbent Democrat John Corzine, a 62 year old jogger.

The race, in a state with real problems, has become so nasty that the unfavorable poll numbers of both of the major candidates have sunk into the toilet. You wonder how either of these guys can win.

The Associated Press has referred to Christie’s “Henry VIII-like girth” and noted that one of Corzine’s recent ads seemed to delight in featuring a “a clip of a rotund Christie, his extra pounds rolling beneath his shirt, lumbering out of the back seat of an SUV.”

For his part, Corzine, saddled with an awful economy and some of the highest property taxes in the nation, seems just fine with changing the subject to his opponent’s need for Sansabelt slacks. When asked by a reporter if he agreed that the opponent was fat, the governor touched his head and asked, “am I bald?” He is.

Nasty stuff? Probably. Effective? We’ll know next month. Does every New Jersey voter know that candidate Christie is also a candidate for a seat belt extender? Of course.

Given the 30 second nature of politics, and the power of a picture, it is a safe bet that the image many voters will take to the ballot box on election day is that Christie is chunky and Corzine is a chrome dome.

The late 19th Century political humorist Finley Peter Dunne is credited with saying, “politics ain’t beanbag.” He was right it is tough, nasty, unfair and always has been. After this race, politics might be feedbag.

My favorite political analyst has a theory that most elections come down to a decision about which candidate an individual voter will feel most comfortable seeing night after night on the tube. In this race, you got your choice – fatso or the bald guy.

TMI: Nate Silver took a look at all the nation’s governors on the skinny to not so scale, for example – Otter (ID) “skinny”, Schweitzer (MT) “full bodied”, Gregorie (WA) “attenuated.”

Find all his rankings under the headline: “Honey, Does This Governor Make Me Look Fat?” Gotta love politics.

Basques, Media

Save Balloon Boy!

Ballon BoySomeday, Someday…

The cartoon from the St. Louis Post-Dispatch kinda says it all.

Someday , I just know (if I live long enough), I’ll be able to say I was impressed by the journalistic judgment shown by cable news. Someday.

Yesterday, on the other hand, fell just a little short.

My favorite part of the “balloon boy” story was watching the once-credible CNN anchor Wolf Blitzer. It was quite the situation in “The Situation Room.”

This is the same guy who used to report with some authority on the Middle East peace process and interview presidential candidates. But, hey, what’s that compared to a live balloon chase over the eastern front of Rockies. There is news, after all, and then there is news.

Linda Holmes, a writer on popular culture, has some thoughts. As she points out – listening Wolf – “It’s not always easy to know what you’re looking at, even when you’re staring at it with your own eyes.”

After Wolf, and a close second as a favorite part of the “balloon boy” story, comes the merchandise.

At www.SaveBalloonBoy.org you can own the tee-shirt commerating the “most disappointing conclusion to helium-filled balloon journalism ever.” Retail $20, unless you buy at least 25 shirts and qualify for the 10% discount.

The only quick lesson to draw from “balloon boy” is that the 24-hour news cycle needs lotsa material. After all, Michael Jackson can only die once – presumably.

Andrus Center, Baseball

Rooting for Microsoft

The Splendid Splinter…

I confess. I was pulling for the Red Sox to advance in the American League playoffs. Alas, as usual for me, baseball in October is about disappointment.

The Yankees – big surprise – appear to be on a roll and why not. Money buys happiness in Yankeeland – new stadium, a pitching staff that is an embarrassment of riches, a team leader (and MVP?) in the too perfect Jeter and, thank God, a quiet George Steinbrenner. Beyond Alex Rodriquez’s little steroid problem, the Yankees have almost become the no drama Bombers.

Still, while granting the remarkable history of Yankee success – Joe Girardi wearing No. 27 as the millionaires in pinstripes seek their 27th World Series – how can you not like the Sox?

The famous line about what it’s like being a fan of the Bronx Bombers is credited to a number of people and it may have been the great sportswriter Jim Murray who said it first, “Rooting for the Yankees is like rooting for U.S. Steel.”

Perhaps that line needs updating considering the state of basic manufacturing in America. Rooting for the Yankees these days is, what, a little like rooting for Microsoft. Pulling for the Red Sox, by contrast, is like rooting for your favorite uncle or for the kid’s soccer team.

Being for the Sox is blue collar. Being for the Yankees is, well, pinstripes.

During the playoffs the camera frequently catches the big city swells at new Yankee Stadium, lounging in the thousand dollar seats, still decked out in ties and jackets after a hectic day of trading. They sip $12 Bud Lights, while yakking on their cell phones, no doubt checking on the Tokyo market opening. At Fenway you see guys in sweatshirts, hanging on every pitch, holding their daughters in one arm and tugging on a real beer.

Every baseball fans knows the Great DiMaggio, but brother Dom (who patrolled the outfield in Boston, made seven All-Star rosters and had a career .298 average) is mostly forgotten outside of Boston. Pesky, Yastrzemski, Cronin, Rice, all were greats and played in the best ballpark ever. Now, those are guys you could root for.

Another reason to like the Red Sox is that really good writers like them. David Halberstam’s Teammates is a wonderful little book about friendship. It begins with a 1,300 mile trip by DiMaggio and Pesky to visit the great Ted Williams.

John Updike wrote a wonderful piece – Hub Fans Bid Kid Adieu – about Williams last game at Fenway in 1960. Williams, of course, in epic style, hit a home run in his last at bat at the band box and, typical Williams, refused to acknowledge the adulation of the fans.

Updike described the moment: “Our noise for some seconds passed beyond excitement into a kind of immense open anguish, a wailing, a cry to be saved. But immortality is nontransferable. The papers said that the other players, and even the umpires on the field, begged him to come out and acknowledge us in some way, but he never had and did not now. Gods do not answer letters.”

No cheers for me in the American League this year. Red Sox out. Tigers done. Twins foiled. The Angels of Los Angeles or West Covina, or whatever they are, will be next. That’s the other thing about the Yankees – they are ubiquitous and, I’m afraid, inevitable. It comes down to their operating system, like it or not.

Put me down as not. I can’t bring myself to root for Microsoft.

Allred, Stigers

Curtis Stigers

New Album, Big Tour, Great Press

Boise’s musical gift to the world, jazz singer and songwriter Curtis Stigers, continues to rack up accolades as his lengthy tour in Europe continues.
Stigers’ new album – Lost in Dreams – is out and being well reviewed.

Here’s a quick sample of some of the press in Britain:

“Curtis Stigers is now regarded as being at the forefront of a new generation of jazz singers.”Surrey Today

“With one of the most distinctive voices in music, Curtis Stigers continues to blaze a path as one of his generation’s finest and most original interpreters of modern songs.” – Burton Mail

“Lost in Dreams is the latest chapter in a career that can only be described as a musical odyssey.” – The Daily Post

And check out the video of Curtis and Seth MacFarlane performing together at the BBC Proms late this summer at Royal Albert Hall in London. Good stuff.

The really big Stigers tour continues through most of November. A big talent and a good guy puts us on the international music map in a big way.

Biden, Lincoln

More Lincoln…at Cole and Ustick

Lincoln As War Leader

Mark this post down as “shameless self promotion.”

On October 15th at 7 pm, I’ll be at the marvelous new Boise neighborhood library at Cole and Ustick for a talk on the Abraham Lincoln as a war leader.

A big and happy crowd (above) gathered at the new library a few weeks back when it opened.

The Library has been nice enough to host both of my Idaho Humanities Council Speaker’s Bureau lectures on the great Lincoln.

The upcoming talk explores how Lincoln, with virtually no military experience, invented the role of “Commander in Chief” and became a better military strategist than most of his Civil War generals.

Here is a link to more on the event. Hope you will consider attending.

American Presidents, Catholic Church, Nobel Prizes, Obama

Did Obama Get the Wrong Nobel?

Updike and Marc This Just In: the Nobel Prizes are…Gee, Political

 

The great American writer John Updike never won the Nobel Prize for Literature. He should have.

When Updike came to Idaho a few years back, I spent a marvelous day with him and asked if, considering his enormous body of work, it was a disappointment never to have won the biggest prize in literature.

After all, Faulkner won. So did Hemingway and Steinbeck. He got that marvelous twinkle in his eye and just smiled and said something about not writing for awards. Nonetheless, I got the sense that the snub was a disappointment, but one he had become resigned to.

Personal opinion – Updike should have won the Nobel, but did not because of the Nobel Committee’s alleged (more recent) bias against American writers.


Some of the rap has been that Updike, Philip Roth, Norman Mailer, John Cheever, just to name a few, are too commercial and not sufficiently literary by Nobel standards. Bunk. Decisions about awarding Nobel Prizes are political whether we’re talking peace, prose or poetry.

I’ll leave the dissection of the Obama Peace Prize to all those who have already had their say, but I did take note of two particular reactions.

Senator John McCain, as the LA Times noted, has once again proven” that he is still out of touch with his party.” McCain told CNN, “I think all of us were surprised at the decision. But I think Americans are always pleased when their president is recognized by something on this order.” The old McCain.

A second reaction – Louisa Thomas – at Newsweek suggests the president should have won the literature prize on the strength of his two excellent books.

Who knows, Obama may get a second chance for a Nobel. Winston Churchill won the literature prize in part, no doubt, because he was a great political leader, but also because he was one hell of a good writer and had accumulated a substantial body of great work.

I was thinking this morning of the intensity of the 2008 political campaign just a year ago. The daily drama and intensity of that unforgettable campaign has faded, but amidst all Palin, Bill Ayres, fist bumps and Joe the Plumber, not to mention the financial meltdown, who would have thought we’d be talking about the Nobel Peace Prize and an American president 12 months later?

Like him or not, Barack Obama has been a transforming figure on the world stage. His challenge may ultimately be to live up to all the world’s out sized expectations.

 

– – – –

As for the great Updike, just because it is so good, here is one of his last short poems. Appropriate, I think.

Requiem

 

It came to me the other day:
Were I to die, no one would say,
“Oh, what a shame! so young, so full
Of promise – depths unplumbable!”

 

Instead, a shrug and tearless eyes
Will greet my overdue demise;
The wide response will be, I know,
“I thought he died a while ago.”

 

For life’s a shabby subterfuge,
And death is real, and dark, and huge.
The shock of it will register
Nowhere but where it will occur.
Carter, Famous Americans

Who We Choose To Honor

Statue Statuary Hall: A Curious, All-American Mix of Politics, Art and Political Correctness

At the very heart of American government, inside the U.S. Capitol Building in Washington, stand 100 statues of famous and not-so-famous Americans. The statues – two from each state – depict the individuals each state has chosen to represent its story to the rest of the nation.


The collection – a fascinating national cross section of great, near-great, and some mostly forgotten Americans – recently added a new honoree from Alabama – Helen Keller. The Los Angeles Times blog has that scoop.

The Statuary Hall collection from the Northwest states is fascinating.

Montana’s Jeanette Rankin (left), the first woman elected to the Congress and the only member to vote against U.S. participation in both World Wars, is in the Hall. Montana’s other statue is a great likeness of the wonderful cowboy artist and sculptor Charlie Russell.

George Shoup, Idaho’s last territorial governor and first state governor and also a Senator, is in the Hall. Idaho’s great progressive Republican William E. Borah is Idaho’s other pick and a natural.

Oregon is represented by Jason Lee and Dr. John McLoughlin , two early day Oregonians who played key roles in establishing the state. Not exactly household names, but interesting choices.

Washington’s picks are the pioneering missionary Marcus Whitman and Mother Joseph, a Catholic nun, who raised money and built early hospitals, schools and orphanages.

As with all things political, you know that there must be a back story (read political deal) regarding how each of these folks were chosen for this special attention in such a special place.

Earlier this year California, acting at the behest of the legislature, replaced its statue of Civil War-era preacher Thomas Starr King – he had been in the Hall since 1931 – with a likeness of Ronald Reagan. Minister King was credited by Abraham Lincoln with helping prevent California from becoming an independent republic during the great rebellion. Quite an accomplishment, but King was clearly not the Gipper.

Alabama’s new Helen Keller statue displaced a guy named Jabez Lamar Monroe Curry, a Confederate Army Lt. Colonel and pre-and post-war politician. Southern states tend to honor Confederate generals and politicians. Bobby Lee, for example, stands erect for the Old Dominion and Jefferson Davis represents Mississippi.

Some of the picks are no brainers. Utah – big surprise – honors Brigham Young and the Kingfish, Huey P. Long, in full oratorical flourish, stands in the Hall for Louisiana.

Statuary Hall seems to me a particularly American idea – each state honoring its own in the nation’s capitol and every pick saying something interesting about each state.

I have not read the new Dan Brown best seller – The Lost Symbol – but I’m told Statuary Hall plays a role in the novel. Considering that the book sold more than two million copies in its first week, perhaps Dan Brown will help a whole new group of Americans discover this unique piece of American real estate.

Once readers have solved the mystery of The Lost Symbol, they can turn their attention to discovering Jacob Collamar, the extremely forgotten Vermonter who was President Zachery Taylor’s postmaster general. He, too, is in the Hall.