(O'Rourke) The View From the Couch: Believe It or Not 

Some things others must have noticed, or not. 1.) In Saudi Arabia, our president, Barack Obama, got out of town without any pictures being snapped of him holding hands with the merry old King Abdullah. 2.) In Obama's Cairo University speech (one more important than his University of Notre Dame speech — the prez likes universities), Obama extended how long Gitmo will remain open. He said it would be closed "early" next year. What's early? March? April?

Life continues to be a surprise. If you would have asked anyone soon after 9/11 what the odds would be that before the decade was out we would have a president with the middle name Hussein, what would they have been? What is our projected budget deficit for next year? 1.75 trillion? Yep, that's what the odds would have been: 1.75 trillion to one.

Why Obama is such a transcendent figure is because of his improbability. The whole world is equally surprised. "Can't believe it" is spoken in all the world's language. So, trotting around the globe, family in partial tow, everyone is wowed, as everyone should be. The crazies back here at home can't say anything weird enough to trump the weirdness of the new reality.

During the campaign the GOP didn't devote every last resource to discover where Obama was born (tracking down his elusive grass hut birthplace), because John McCain was, unfortunately, born in the Panama Canal zone in 1936. So birth location was a freebie, letting the wingnuts loose with their speculations about Obama's. It should have been enough for the sane that his father was African, a Muslim. That's why the Clintons thought they were home free — and why Bill Clinton reacted so badly when it was clear they weren't. It can be said again: It's impossible to imagine Hillary Clinton being president now.

Ain't America great! That was the message underneath the Cairo U. speech. The Muslims in the audience thought what they were seeing and hearing was as hard to believe as most Americans did, pre Iowa.

So, we watch and wait and what is disappointing is when Obama no longer appears improbable, the sui generis guy, doing the unexpected. It's when he does the everyday, begins to look like all his predecessors, another pol kowtowing to banks, insurance companies, lobbyists, special interests, the whole the don't ask, don't tell status quo, that he seems all too believeable.

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A "The View From the Couch" Extra: A shorter version of the following appeared in the South Bend Tribune, June 6, 2009.

Having a national parks gun-toting provision slapped onto credit card reform legislation isn't as odd as it might seem. It's all in the name of freedom. When credit cards went viral the last three decades they turned individuals into mini-Feds. Anyone could be Alan Greenspan and print money! It's refreshing to have the money supply be set by your next door neighbor. Counterfeiting took a big hit when printing cash became discretionary. Over the years I've kept the twenties' presses rolling. So, why not let freedom ring? Since individuals can print money, why can't they arm themselves at least as well as third world militias, ready for whatever jihad interests them? From my cold dead hands, etc.

My household (wife, child, me) went to Yellowstone last June. And when you go to Yellowstone in June, you get more than a summer vacation — you get a spring/winter vacation. Snow remains both on the mountain tops and in the valleys. Our boy was seventeen at the time and wanted nothing but adventure, whereas, as I keep saying, I'm an OAF, an older American father, trying to keep up.

So we're climbing snow capped peaks (Bunsen) at the tip of the park, way up on the northern edge, near Mammoth Then we're searching for grizzlies, not an occupation I ever sought. There's a lot of wild life around that you can see by car (by rent-a-car in our case); it is wonderful to see two grey wolves running along side a river, or a pronghorn giving birth, bouncing on her thin legs to shake out her new offspring. Or a moose resting in a grassy gully alongside the highway.

But it was the long hikes I tended to balk at and not for cardiovascular reasons. In Yellowstone you see this odd lemming-like crowd movement, the crowd made out of a variety of vehicles. A grizzly sighting! The roads in early June are not heavily traveled and one comes upon suddenly a clot of caravan grouped on a road. Cameras and binoculars are rife, all pointed at the animal or animals, but, as of last June, no rifles, shotguns, Glocks. The first one we saw was a large black bear playing around a tree. Later in the afternoon, a mother grizzly with a newborn, lopping down a hill. Isn't that cute! June in Yellowstone, since it's actually spring in Yellowstone, sees a lot of birthing. And you know how parents are when they have young to protect.

As I watch the people trying to get as close as they can for their picture taking (until a ranger shows up and shoos them back to the road) I think of Jeff Goldblum's lines in the second Jurassic Park movie. First it's aahs and oohs and then it's screaming and running. He was talking about dinosaurs. It is, what?, thrilling, to see a grizzly. That mother was large. Unfortunately for me, the hill she was running down was around the corner from our destination, the starting site for our long hike. But that wouldn't deter my wife and son.

So, we park at the trail head and walk. I had read the handouts. If you see "carcasses" when you're hiking you should be alerted to the presence of bears. When we reached a high plateau there was nothing but carcasses along the worn path. When we hit the half way mark of the hike there was a very large carcass, not that old, in a nearby thicket. Maybe it had just dropped dead. Heart problems. The trouble with preserving wilderness in its "natural" state is that it remains wilderness. The centuries evaporate. This could be the nineteenth, but where was my buckskin and long rifle? At least a big Bowie knife. Only an idiot would travel this landscape unarmed, I said to myself, long before I became aware the NRA wanted to equip me with a Kalashnikov for our tour of the park.

We made it back to the car after wandering through a herd of bison. They're big, too, up close and personal as they were. I guess we were like the majority of clueless tourists escaping our wild west experience unscathed. Over the history of the parks not many civilians have been killed by animals. Not many — but some! At least a handful.

Heading back to the Grand Tetons and Jackson Hole, we did think of looking up Dick Cheney, a resident of sorts. It's nice to have an airport in a national park where the rich and well-armed can fly in. We had heard about Cheney and tales of his secret service detail from a river guide. He had to rescue a couple of them who got beached on a island in a stream. Cheney had scuba divers on hand in case he ever fell in the river while fishing. Cheney, an espouser of the thumb screw way of life, of course, knows how to fire guns. And it won't be just him any longer packing heat this summer in our magnificent national parks. Look out.

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William O'Rourke

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