You think you're pretty damned smart, don't you? You know most of the state capitals and which fork to use. Your diplomas are like wallpaper.
Unfortunately, Einstein, no matter what you think you know, you still have to answer to your child's fourth grade English, where they're deep into the study of irregular plurals and you're expected to know the answers. And for a genius like you, even if you've already had dinner, that means dessert tonight will be a nice, big, steaming helping of humble pie.
For the benefit of the many people who aren't quite as smart as you, let's just pretend for a moment that you don't know what an irregular plural is. It happens when there are more than one of something and you don't just put an "s" on the end. For example, you don't say "mouses" or "childs." You say "mice" and "children." People. Skies. Radii.
You get the basic ones without breaking a sweat. You know that scarves is the plural of scarf. Stadia is the plural of stadium. Matrices. Octopi. Aquaria. Corpora. Plateaux. Sons-in-law. Hooves. Abysses. Fungi. Mottoes. Chateaux. Emphases. Fish. Cacti. Attorneys General. Hippopotami.
It's all very easy for you. But then the fourth grade teacher turns up the heat a little bit. And that's when the snakes get on the plane.
What about mongoose? Runner-up? Series? Suddenly, for the first time in your life, you've become a cheater. You're red faced as you look at your iPhone under the table for the answers. You recover your aplomb and help the child with the plurals as if they were in your head the whole time. Yes, you say, I know those. Mongooses. Runners-up. Series.
And then, here it comes: moose.
The child bites her pencil for a while. But the answer isn't there. She looks up at you in surrender. You've gotten the others so easily. Could you help with this one too?
Moose should be easy. You've seen a moose. You've talked about a moose. It's a moose, for Pete's sake.
But when have you seen two? When have you talked about two? You've never done it in your life. A moose is a loner. An individual. A moose doesn't like a crowd. They raise their children and then they set them free and when that job is done, they themselves go free. They die alone. There's only one Bullwinkle.
She's looking at you and waiting. You'd love to look under the table again for the answer. But you can't. There's still some pride left within you. What are you going to say? What are you going to do?
I think you'll agree that the government shutdown was a miserable experience for everyone, and there isn't much to miss about it. Still, now that a couple weeks have gone by, it's fun to reminisce about some of the inflammatory statements that came out of it. See if you can spot which of the shutdown quotes below are real, and which ones are fake (answers below):
A. "This is my idea of fun." U.S. Rep. David Schweikert.
B. “I do not like green eggs and ham. I do not like them, Sam I am." Senator Ted Cruz.
C. "The national parks are overrated, and I think it's good to give the bears a little time off." U.S. Rep. George Johansen.
D. "We're not going to be disrespected. We have to get something out of this. And I don't even know what that is." — U.S. Rep. Marlin Stutzman.
E. "I just don't think it's right at all to call Barack Obama a traitor. I haven't come across any evidence yet that he has done one thing to harm Kenya." North Carolina Rep. Larry Pittman.
F. "Just as the Fugitive Slave Act was an overreach by the federal government, so too we understand that Obamacare is an assault on the rights of individuals." New Hampshire Rep. William O'Brien.
G. "I think the American people are watching all of this. The American people are studying all of this very carefully. And I think the American people have reached one conclusion: They are tired of being called 'the American people.'" U.S. Rep. Julie Coksentoasten.
H. “I like their little burgers. I’m a big fan of eating White Castle burgers.” Senator Ted Cruz.
I. "This country isn't ran by just one individual. It's ran by four branches." U.S. Rep. Markwayne Mullin
J. "I think the American people should look at the shutdown as an opportunity. Let's say it lasts 15 days. That's about 4 percent of the 365 days in the year. So they can just deduct 4 percent from their federal income taxes." Senator Fitzhugh McDuffie on the tax advantages of the shutdown.
K. "There's no towel service. We're doing our own laundry down there. And we pay a fee to belong to the House gym." U.S. Rep. Bruce Brayley on sacrifices by members of Congress at their gym during the shutdown.
L. "Yes, it's a drag not to get a paycheck. But thankfully, I'm rich." U.S. Rep. Paul Pratt.
M. "Today was good. Today was fun. Tomorrow is another one." Senator Ted Cruz.
N. “[John McCain] is a guy who's been to Syria and supported al Qaeda and rebels.” U.S. Rep. Louie Gohmert.
O. “Whatever gets them good press. That's all that it's going to be. God bless them. But you know what? I've got a nice house and a kid in college, and I'll tell you we cannot handle it. Giving our paycheck away when you still worked and earned it? That's just not going to fly.” U.S. Rep. Lee Terry, comparing his decision to accept a paycheck during the shutdown with some colleagues' decision not to.
P. "We're very excited. It's exactly what we wanted, and we got it. People will be very grateful." U.S. Rep. Michelle Bachman.
Q. "Does anybody remember Charlie Sheen when he was kind of going crazy? And he was going around, jumping around saying, 'Winning, winning, we're winning?' Well, I kind of feel like that, and I'm not on any drugs." U.S. Senator Rand Paul.
R. "They may be 33 years old now and not making a lot of money. But in a few years they can just [become lobbyists] and make $500,000 a year. Meanwhile, I'm stuck making a $172,000 a year." U.S. Rep. Phil Gingrey.
S. "Are we accomplishing anything? No. Are the American people fed up? Yes. Was all of this a complete waste of time and money? Yes. Why am I asking myself questions? I'm not really sure." U.S. Rep. Charlene Green.
(Answer: C, G, J, L, M, and S are fake, although M is an actual quote from One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish by Dr. Seuss. Senator Ted Cruz really did quote from Seuss's Green Eggs and Ham on the floor of the Senate in quote B, but he used it in the exact opposite way from what the book meant.)
I'm not the only one who felt compelled to respond to the article attacking Pete Cenarrusa within days of his death, and several of us agreed to write a joint post on the subject. I'm happy to add my name to it.
Our post appears in A Basque in Boise (English); About Basque Country (Spanish); Basque Identity 2.0 (Basque); The Angry Brazilian (Portuguese); and 8Probintziak (French). There will be others joining.
I've run a longer version of the post below, adding my personal views.
His parents were immigrants who grew up in neighboring Basque towns but met thousands of miles away in the middle of Idaho. Pete’s first language was Basque, and he kept speaking it for the rest of his life, sometimes filling in with English words along the way. He'd say things like, "Hori egin genuen Nineteen Seventy-Two-en." (“We did that in 1972.”) He could get away with it. If you are somebody like me, who learns a language later in life, that is a hero. To hear him speak Basque was like listening to poetry.
He went to the University of Idaho, where he was on the boxing team and completed degrees in agriculture and animal husbandry (at age 92, he blogged that his favorite courses were nutrition, organic chemistry, and bacteriology — "I would recommend these courses to everyone in college"). He joined the Marines in 1942 and became an aviation instructor. He flew for 59 years, finished more than 15,000 flight hours without an accident.
Eventually, he became interested in politics. He was elected as a Republican to the Idaho House of Representatives in 1950 and served nine terms, including three as House Speaker. In 1967, when Idaho's secretary of state died, the governor appointed Pete to fill the position, which he held until 2003.
He wasn’t a politician from central casting. As Ben Ysursa, his friend and successor in office, said at his funeral, Pete wasn’t a good public speaker; but unlike most politicians, Pete knew it. Still, it’s hard to argue with success: Pete never lost an election, and he was in public office for 52 years, the longest-serving elected official in Idaho history.
When he died in his home last Sunday, Freda, his wife of 66 years, was there with him.
Pete was a kind man, my parents' good friend, somebody who probably helped thousands of others in his life. He seemed like one of those people who would live forever. After I learned of his death, I wanted to write something about him. But what to say? It was a big life.
Then I read an article in the Spanish national newspaper ABC by Javier Ruperez, the former Spanish ambassador to the United States (the Spanish version is unavailable online; here's the English translation). Ruperez calls Pete a "Basque separatist,” a man filled with “blind obstinacy” against Spain “until the very day of his death.” It was a piece written with venom stored up from an event that happened more than a decade ago, then spewed out just a couple days after Pete died.
For full disclosure, my brother is a former Idaho legislator and current Boise mayor who was involved in some of the underlying events. What I'm writing here is only my view. I didn't consult with my brother. He can speak for himself. Pete can't.
And an important bit of background: Ruperez, the author, was kidnapped by the Basque terrorist group ETA in 1979. He was held for a month. After he was released, 26 Basque prisoners were freed, and the Spanish parliament agreed to create a special commission to investigate charges of torture of Basque prisoners.
I can’t imagine what Ruperez went through, and I wish it had never happened. A horrifying event like that would certainly shape one’s world view. But Pete had nothing to do with the kidnapping and would have been the first to condemn it. That’s where Ruperez is wrong about Pete and about Basques generally.
Toward the end of his career, Pete announced the introduction of a declaration in the Idaho legislature that addressed a critical series of events in the Basque Country and Spain. The declaration, officially known as a “memorial,” called on leaders in the United States and Spain to undertake a peace process and end decades of violence under the Franco dictatorship and ETA.
In 2002, Ruperez caught wind of the memorial and immediately flew out to Idaho, alerted the Spanish prime minister, the State Department, and the White House. The draft declaration’s intent to put an end to violence wasn’t good enough for Ruperez, who probably had to look for Idaho on a map before he booked the flight. Suddenly, a statement by the legislature of a sparsely-populated Western state blew up into international news.
As the memorial approached a vote, there was a lot of back and forth among the many parties that had suddenly become involved. I wasn’t there, but I suspect a doctoral candidate could make an interesting dissertation out of the whole affair. You could also write a book about Pete’s reaction, which was pitch perfect (and I’m paraphrasing, but I’m probably close): Since when did the United States start checking with foreign governments about its foreign policy?
In the end, the Idaho legislature unanimously approved this memorial. It described the history of Basques in Idaho, the earlier actions by the Idaho legislature to condemn the repression of Franco’s dictatorship, the efforts of Basques to maintain their culture, and all “but a marginalized fraction” of Basques’ condemnation of violence.
Perfect or not, it was a statement by a democratically elected governent. But it seems to have haunted Ruperez all these years. Before Pete’s body was even buried, Ruperez condemned him as “the inspirer and visible leader” of an effort that turned a blind eye toward violence, an effort that an Idaho Senate leader later purportedly told him was the result of “extreme ignorance by local representatives” about Spanish affairs and “the generalized willingness to please Cenarrusa in the last initiative he took on before retiring.” Ruperez suggests that Pete was not typical of Idaho’s Basque community, that there are other, worthier representatives.
I don’t know Ruperez. But he certainly didn’t know Pete. In writing his piece all these years later, Ruperez probably is trying to please a constituency that has every reason to make Basques out as something they are not, and Pete offered an easy target.
Regardless, it’s a small person who sticks a knife into the back of a man who has just died.
Ruperez closes with a quote he says comes from Mark Twain: "Not all deaths are received in the same way." Maybe that’s true. As somebody who was lucky enough to know Pete Cenarrusa, I can assure Mr. Ruperez that Pete’s death was received with a lot of sadness, with the respect worthy of somebody who did great things with the life he was given.