Tightening at the Top

Times are tough even for yes-men.

The British news agency Reuters recently reported that austerity of a sort has even reached the Chinese parliament, a group that basically exists to gather once a year and kowtow to the Communist Party. This year, that party for the Party is required to be much simpler: no welcoming ceremonies for deputies at the train and railway stations, no flowers in the hotel rooms, no fancy galas or pricey meals.

Put it this way. When the state isn’t even sure it wants to shut down the road as you drive by, things are sensitive.

A little belt-tightening? Not exactly. According to Reuters, it’s more of a charm offensive.

“The party, which has shown no sign of giving up its tight grip on power, has struggled to contain public wrath at a seemingly endless stream of corruption scandals, particularly when officials are seen as abusing their posts to amass wealth,” the agency reports.

Hmm. A government afraid of the public? Needing to calm the waters, sharpen its image, make at least symbolic moves to straighten up?

How do we get a piece of that?

The cases, of course, aren’t perfectly analogous. The Chinese Parliament is a rubber-stamp body connected to a system that’s perceived to be increasingly out of touch with the people. The U.S. Congress is a brawling system that can’t often agree with itself, never mind anyone else – and is perceived to be increasingly out of touch with the people. When the IRS has a higher approval rating, there’s definitely room for improvement.

But where?

This should probably be a serious call for reform, I know. But with the Chinese example in front of me, my mind couldn’t help taking a few flights of fancy: “If I could set some new rules for Congress, what would I do?”

Tip the Waiter, Please: Let’s face it. As much as we’d like to get all the special-interest money out of Congress, it’s not likely to happen. We could put a delegation of angels in there and within six months, half of them would be getting campaign assistance from the National Halo Association (“A brighter tomorrow – today”).

So if we can’t stop it, can we at least benefit from it? Under the new Decrees, 15 percent of all special-interest money received by a congressman or senator would be set aside for the voters themselves, to be totaled and dispersed every Dec. 1. Call it a Christmas stimulus, if you will. (Oh, if you want to be boring, we can put that finders’ fee toward the debt instead. Meanies.)

Hit the Highway: It’s admirable that so many delegates want to travel home so frequently. But from now until your terms are up, planes are forbidden to you. (Sorry, Hawaiian and Alaskan congressmen, it’s for the greater good.) If you travel, it will be by bus, train, or personal vehicle – the perfect chance to get an up-close look at both the country and the state of its infrastructure. Highway bridges become a higher priority when you may be rolling over the next collapsing one yourself.

The Grand Tour: One big issue with today’s Congress is that many delegates – both Democrat and Republican – come out of “echo chamber” districts where they rarely hear opposing viewpoints until they get to the Capitol floor. So let’s bring in the scheduling geniuses from the National Football League and start planning some away games. At least half of the visits back home must be to districts in your state that had a majority for the other party, with a “Congress on the Corner”-style public meeting that lasts at least an hour.

And yes, Colorado Republicans, we can probably talk about scheduling a Denver visit on Bronco weekends. But no public meeting, no game. Capice?

I know. Idle fantasies. Waste of time, right?

I mean, next thing, I’ll be thinking these folk work for us. That they’re actually supposed to be accountable to us. That if we want something different than what we’ve got, we actually have the power to make it happen; that it’s our country, to be reshaped by us as we see fit.

Whoa. Better get down from those clouds. It’s getting me a little light-headed.

Maybe I should go get us a meal.

Chinese sound OK?


And Off They Flu

In case you ever wanted to know, the words I Hate The Flu come up 16.4 million times on a Google search.

By now, Heather’s ready to add another 500,000 personally.

That’s right. My wife is down, despite hope and caution and a flu shot of her own. So is Missy, though our favorite developmentally disabled ward may have actually run head-first into a killer cold instead. But either way, it leaves me in the position of Jerry Lee Lewis, the “Last Man Standing.”

Goodness, gracious, great balls of fire!

It happened on a Wednesday, of course. Strange things often seem to in the Rochat household, be it back injuries or vomiting dogs. If Johnny Cash had lived here when he wrote “Stripes,” the song would have begun:
“On a Wednesday, I was arrested,
“On a Wednesday, they locked me in a cell …”

Ahem. Where was I? Oh, yes, shifting from Carl Bernstein to Florence Nightingale.

From the outside, taking a day off work to care for a sick family might not sound too bad. No one likes having people under the weather, of course, but a change of routine is good, right? A little peace and quiet on “hump day” might be just the thing in a busy week, yes?

I agree. It sounds great.

It bears no resemblance to any kind of reality this week, but it sounds great.

As every parent of small children knows, this is the beginning of a domestic decathlon. Everything’s on you now, from brewing tea to canceling rides, from stories to toast to trips to the bathroom. An Olympic-level competitor in this event will climb and descend stairs like a fly trapped in an M.C. Escher painting, each time bringing up or carrying away something new.

By the time you’re done, the return to work is a well-earned vacation by comparison. But don’t tell my bosses I said that.

(What’s that? Oops. Well, maybe they’ll skip to the comics this week.)

Complain? Not a bit. This is what you do. If I learned nothing else from my own parents, it’s that the biggest part of being a spouse or a parent is being there, even when it’s difficult or inconvenient. No, especially then.

I’m not saying hover constantly. I think we’ve all had more than enough of “helicopter parenting,” even before the Cincinnati college student last December who got a restraining order against her folks. But when a crisis hits, you do the job you’re needed to do.

Pity Congress can’t seem to figure out the same thing, right?

Hmm. Maybe we can use this. This could be the next big march on Washington – a million parents, all with flu-stricken children, advancing on the Capitol. The battle cry would be terrifying in its simplicity: “You don’t mind keeping an eye on them while I run a quick errand, do you? Thanks!”

With the right coordination, we could bring gridlock to its knees. Or at least to its tissue boxes.

So what do you say? Families of the world, unite! We have nothing to lose but our mucus, and millions of Google hits to win!

I think Wednesday’s good for me.

Big Blake

It might be a rustle coming from the kitchen.


Or a person knocked off balance by a loving charge and jump.


Or even just a moment when everyone realizes it’s been too quiet for too long.


Take whatever evidence you prefer. The conclusion is the same: there’s a lot more canine in the Rochat household than there used to be.

As regular readers know, Heather and I have kept a one-dog household for quite some time. But now, Duchess the Wonder Dog, the shyest lab-border collie mix in the universe, has company. Bounding, exuberant, seriously clumsy company.

I usually tell people that Blake is part Labrador and part Clydesdale. He belongs to my sister-in-law Jaimee, who has a soft spot for black dogs that are big on muscle and short on coordination. When she stayed with us over Christmas, Blake stayed, too.

And when she left after Christmas, Blake left, too … but not for long. A few days later, we had a boarding request on our hands.

With his people moving into a new place and shifting to a new schedule, it seems Big Blake was having big trouble adjusting. And like many a big guy in a confusing situation, Blake began singing the blues. I’m told the concerts were quite moving … and quite audible to the new neighbors.

So he wound up boarding with us. Just for a while, until things stabilize and Jaimee can help bring the big lug into his new home a little more easily.

And, like all parents, we’ve found you can’t judge the new child by the old one.

Duchess, when you return home, will scamper and smile and sometimes bark. Blake will run up and slam you like the front four of the Denver Broncos.

Duchess will give “cookie eyes” when you have food nearby. Blake will reach out and sample unguarded plates … on high countertops.

Duchess will bark to warn you of a stranger. Blake will bark to warn the stranger.

Duchess often keeps her distance until someone is close family. Blake will park on your feet and be ready for love.

And the two together … hoo, boy. The day they joined forces to break into Blake’s food bin will forever live in family legend, as well as in the X-rays of Blake’s massively distended stomach.

If it sounds like I’m teasing Blake … well, yeah, a little. But you do that with family, even with dogs-in-law.

Really, it’s been a learning experience. And that’s the best part.

It happens with any new arrival: a spouse, a child, a pet, a roommate. Half your time is spent learning the new person, but the other half is spent learning yourself. You start to see yourself in the other person’s eyes, become aware of absent-minded habits, maybe even start to trim your behavior to better suit your teammate.

In that learning, through it, love grows.

So yes, we’ve surrendered a little more space on the bed. (OK, more than a little – Clydesdale, remember?) But we’ve gained so much. More life and laughter, more warmth and affection, more company in quiet weekends and late nights.

It’s going to be hard when the time comes for him to go back with Jaimee. I don’t deny it. But she needs her stumbling klutz, too, and I won’t ever be the one to say no.

Besides, I doubt anyone would hear me over the thundering gallop, anyway.


Good boy.

Looking Forward

I wish I could be more surprised about what happened to RG3.

If football news isn’t usually your thing, let me explain. RG3 is the headline writer’s favorite nickname for Robert Griffin III of the Washington Redskins.(We all love a cute abbreviation in this business, especially one that rhymes). Griffin’s been maybe the best rookie quarterback of the season, and a big reason why Washington made the NFL playoffs at all.

And now he’s broken. Maybe badly enough to miss next year entirely.

Why? Because he played hurt in the team’s only playoff game. And got hurt even worse.

There’s been a lot of recriminations by fans. Not aimed at Griffin himself, of course; he’s a young man with the judgment and inexperience of many young men, and given a chance to play, he’ll play. No, the growling’s been saved for the team’s coach, for its doctor, for anyone who actually let him. “Sacrifice your future for the chance to win one game? Sure!”

But again, why is anyone surprised?

If Washington, D.C. has shown a gift for anything, it’s burning long-term needs for short-term gain.

Too cynical? Consider this.

We just went through a stunningly negative election with enough bad feeling to go around. Why? Because it works. Never mind if it further deepens distrust of the nation’s leaders (in 2011, 89 percent of Americans said they didn’t trust government to do the right thing), so long as it gains your candidate or party an edge now. Right?

Heck, you don’t even have to wait for an election. Just watch the fiscal cliff debates. Or maybe the budget ceiling talks. Or any of the key long-term decisions that get turned into an excuse for political games of “chicken.” So long as you look good to the folks back home, a solution doesn’t matter much, right? Especially if, deep down, you don’t believe one is possible in the first place.

And that’s the saddest thing of all, whether you’re talking football or politics. At a base level, these are decisions of despair. In a real sense, it’s giving up on the future to say that tomorrow’s consequences don’t matter if you don’t win today.

No wonder zombie apocalypses and “The Hunger Games” are so popular now.

Now, I’m not arguing to obsessively worry about the future, either. “Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof” the old verse goes; don’t worry too much about tomorrow because today has enough trouble of its own. I understand that. I even try to remember that.

But there’s a balance. If you’re smart, you don’t blow the kids’ college savings on a trip to Hawaii. You plan, to the limits of your resources and ability. You think about consequences because otherwise consequences think about you.

It’s something both coaches and congressmen would do well to remember.

The sad thing is, there’s an excellent example of how to do it right – and it’s also out of Washington. Last season, the Washington Nationals had a hot young pitcher, Stephen Strasburg, come back to them after surgery and a year of rehabilitation. When he came back in 2012, the team set an innings limit for Strasburg to protect his recovery. This far and no further.

It meant Strasburg sat down in September in the middle of a hot pennant race. It meant he couldn’t help his team in the playoffs.

But it also meant he may be around to help his team for a long time to come.

We could use some more of that thinking. Starting at ground level. If fans or voters want a longer view in the arenas they care about, there are ways to reflect that. Few enough votes, few enough ticket sales, can drive home the point that ignoring the future has consequences now.

And if we stick to our guns, the ones who think otherwise may not have much future at all.

Just a Minute

Union Station has the words “All aboard!” My niece Riley puts it a bit more simply.


And off the Riley Express rolls again.

The Riley Express is a red Radio Flyer wagon that arrived under the tree this year with a label by Santa, shipping information by Riley’s dad and assembly by a whole lot of sleep-deprived elves. It’s a thing of beauty, capable of hauling every plaything Riley has ever owned.

Or one 2-year-old with a suitable bodyguard of toy ducks.


Since the weather’s been chilly, the Riley Express has stuck to indoor routes, going around and around the first floor of the house. It sometimes means clearing a dog or two from the track, but that’s the price you pay for an all-season infrastructure.

The locomotive, of course, has mostly been the Uncle Scott No. 1. It’s a used engine with an uncertain drive train (as a co-worker pointed out), but so far the on-call record has been fabulous.


Some routes last longer than others. Some have musical accompaniment that ranges from Sesame Street to Johnny Cash. But they all have one thing in common: if the locomotive’s in the yard, the train will be ready to roll.

There’s time.

Even on the craziest days, there’s time.

That’s harder to remember than it sounds.

You all know this. After all, we just started a new year. The time when some of us still make pledges and promises, resolutions and good intentions, to take something we’ve always wanted to do and make it real.

“This is the year I finally learn to cook.”

“OK, I will hit the gym this time. Five days a week, no exceptions.”

“That novel I’ve been thinking about? Totally going to do it.”

It’s sort of like the Mayan apocalypse in reverse. With an old calendar gone away, it’s as though prior history was wiped out with it. This is the fresh start, the new dawn. The time to do what we always wanted to do.

But that’s the catch, isn’t it?


We make the commitment. Sometimes we even start well. And then suddenly it’s June and we haven’t thought about it for five months.

“Things just got so busy. But I’ll fit it in, when I can find the time.”


Now, I know some of us have a genuinely insane situation. The ones working two jobs. The ones trying to be two parents in one body. The ones who probably don’t even have time to read this column, never mind add one more commitment to their life. (If you are reading this column in the midst of all that, by the way, I’m flattered.)

That I understand.

The rest of us, as Ricky used to put it on the late-night reruns, have some ‘splainin’ to do.

I’m not talking about productivity or hyper-efficiency or all the other grand buzzwords that bosses use to mean “Get off your tail and work already!” None of us needs to pack every minute or grind our lives into exhaustion.

But one thing I’ve noticed. If something’s important enough, the time can be found.

It might not be found quickly. But then, J.R.R. Tolkien spent more than 10 years writing The Lord of the Rings.

It might not be found easily. The Russian composer Alexander Borodin had to squeeze time for music while also working as an organic chemist, with friends on both sides of the line convinced he was wasting his time. Closer to home, I once met a children’s author who wrote his first book during stolen minutes on an assembly line.

But more often than not, the time is there if you want it to be. If it’s important enough to be.

I’m going to try to remember that a little more this year. There’s things I’ve been meaning to do for a while: books and plays to write, skills to learn, visits to make. Maybe it’s time to put my clock where my mouth is.

Once I give Riley one more pull in the wagon, anyway.

Because when the really important things call, you simply have to go-go.