Saturday, October 30, 2010

Sanity 1 - Fear 0, But Who Keeps Score?

I did not attend this afternoon's comedy show.  There is nothing funny about searching for an available (and clean) Port-O-Potty in downtown DC.  Besides, I was the target audience - someone who doesn't have time for all these rallies.  I did follow the proceedings on the Internet, however, and I have to share some of my favorite signs.  This was one creative group on the Mall today.  Remember, we're not laughing with you - we're laughing at you (and you know who you are...):

My Top Twenty-Five:
  • Vote lawyers out
  • God Hates Snuggies
  • The Founding Fathers were East Coast liberals
  • I already regret choosing to carry a sign around all day
  • Save the dinosaurs
  • In reason we trust
  • I’m against protest signs, but I don’t know how to show it
  • Green Tea Party
  • Moderates do it both ways 
  • Have you seen my keys?
  • I Support Privatizing Fire Depts.
  • A sign in Islamic script with a subtitle reading: "Relax, it just says McDonalds"
  • Ask. Tell.
  • Rally to restore manatee
  • We could be wrong
  • I hope this isn't a trap
  • ...and TAKE OFF THE CAPS LOCK!!!
  • The Founding Fathers Fathered Anchor Babies
  • If Obama's a Muslim, can we have Fridays off?
  • Freedom Fries! NEVER FORGET
  • Death to the Extremists
  • Birthers for Hawaii Statehood
  • Free Charlie Sheen
  • Jon 3:16
And for my friends in Delaware: “I Masturbate, and I Vote”

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Ignorance is Bliss

Are there no bedrock principles left that the right will not pervert to meet their own agenda?

Editor's Note: Some of this is mine...most comes from The Washington Monthly, written by Steven Benen.  I highly recommend   The outrage is both of ours.

Christine O'Donnell, candidate for the US Senate in Delaware, was asked during a debate at a law school, "Where in the Constitution is the separation of church and state?" Challenger Chris Coons reminded her of the constitutional language, and she asked, "That's in the First Amendment?"

Nevada's own embarrassment, candidate Sharron Angle, who actually has a strong chance of winning, has made similar remarks. Rush Limbaugh soon after weighed in and endorsed the idea that the separation of church and state is not a Constitutional principle. Limbaugh claimed the left has used the shorthand "separation of church and state" as a rationale for excluding religious people from government -- as evidenced by the profusion of atheists serving in national office.

Are there a lot of atheists in the federal government? I guess they couldn’t be plotting to impose Sharia law, as Newt Gingrich has hysterically warned us about, if they are all non-believers.

"Are you telling me separation of church and state's in the First Amendment?" Limbaugh asked. "It's not. Christine O'Donnell was absolutely correct -- the First Amendment says absolutely nothing about the separation of church and state."

Limbaugh is correct. You can look for the phrase "freedom of religion" in the First Amendment, but those three words don't appear. It is also correct that the 2nd amendment clearly states the right to keep and bear arms for a well-regulated militia. Individuals' rights to own guns are not mentioned. The right to a fair trial is not literally in the Constitution, either. "Separation of powers" is a basic principle of the U.S. Constitution, but it isn't mentioned.

Let’s review a little history – actual history, not fabled history:

In a January 1, 1802 letter, President Thomas Jefferson wrote of the intended relationship between religion and government: "I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibit the free exercise thereof, thus building a wall of separation between church and state."

The Establishment Clause sets up a line of demarcation between religion and government in our society, and the Supreme Court determines where the line is drawn to accommodate liberties in our ever-changing society. Although the exact language is absent, the Supreme Court has repeatedly determined that the Constitution does indeed call for separation between church and state.

Jefferson's "wall of separation between church and state" was first noted by the Supreme Court in an 1878 opinion by Chief Justice Morrison Waite. Justice Hugo Black later reaffirmed the wall's significance in the landmark case Everson v. Board of Education (1947). Black wrote "In the words of Jefferson, the clause against establishment of religion by law was intended to erect 'a wall of separation between church and state.'" The wall forbids government to actually or effectively favor one religion over another, favor religion over non-religion and vice-versa. Requiring neutrality removes the authority of government from religious practice and protects each citizen's right to express his or her personal beliefs.

The rational conservative objection to "separation of church and state" is based on the idea that the 1st Amendment only prevents the Federal Government from infringing the rights listed, not the states: "Congress shall make no law...". It appears to have been so interpreted until 1925 when the Supreme Court ruled (Gitlow) that the 1st amendment does not apply only to Congress. "Originalists" such as Clarence Thomas want to revert to that interpretation. Of course that interpretation would mean that freedom of speech and the press is not universally guaranteed by the Federal Government either, and states and local governments would be able not only to establish religions, but to eliminate the freedom of speech and the press.

Perhaps the biggest irony here is that the right wing seems to forget how much the 1st Amendment has done to DEFEND their right to freely practice their faith. I wonder how many of them have ever stopped to consider that removing this protection would have the potential to put government in charge of their kids' religious instruction. And what a nightmare THAT would be. Is that something they really want to have happen? Which version of the Bible is the preferred translation?

The idea of the separation of church and state originated from the Catholic Church in the 9th century as a way to protect the church from the corrupting influence of the secular government. Times have changed, but the history remains.  Ironic, isn't it?

The wild rhetoric surrounding Constitutional principles and the hypocrisy of those running as "constitutional conservatives" needs to be met head on. Should the GOP prevail next week, I fear that this silly talk might actually make it into legislation. We’ve got problems in this country, and we need smart, serious legislators. People who espouse this kind of contempt for basic American values will not get it done for us. How low has the bar been set for candidates, anyway???

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Trending Pink

OK, I am shamelessly providing you with the text of a Daniel Pink blog entry (see below).  Dan Pink is the author of several best sellers on the changing world of work and the workforce, including Free Agent Nation, A Whole New Mind, and most recently, Drive.  I recommend them all.  His style is easy to read and the concepts and ideas are relevant and thought-provoking.  In the entry I have clipped here, he muses about the future based on a snippet of census data.  What future questions would you add to his list, and what are your predictions?


October 5th, 2010

When “I do” becomes “I don’t”

Last week, the Population Reference Bureau crunched some Census data and disgorged a rather shocking statistical nugget: For the first time in U.S. history, the number of young adults (those between 25 and 34) who have never been married exceeds those who are married.

A Wall Street Journal story adds some additional perspective: “The long-term slide in marriage rates has pushed the proportion of married adults of all ages to 52% in 2009, according to the Census, the lowest share in history. In 1960, 72.2% of adults over 18 were married.”

I don’t believe that demographics are destiny necessarily — but these numbers do qualify for what I call a BDD, a Big Demographic Deal. The implications are potentially huge — in economics, culture, politics, and business. Here are some questions off the top of my head:
  • Economics: It’s harder to buy a house with one income than two, and tougher to commit to a gigantic purchase if you’re living together instead of officially hitched. Is this trend another reason — i.e., weaker demand — that the housing market could stay sluggish for a long while? At the same time, these data seem further proof that women are gaining power economically. (Indeed, they’re already a majority of the U.S. workforce and, on average, are beating men on educational attainment.) Is this phenomenon a sign that women are finally gaining something close to economic parity? If so, what does that mean for everything from wage inequality to the work-family practices of companies?
  • Culture: We’re already hearing about 20-somethings delaying adulthood. Is this, like the new health care law’s allowing people to stay on their parents’ insurance until age 26, another sign of a new stage of life — somewhere between adolescence and real adulthood? Also, it’s clear from the data that men are becoming more economically dependent on women, especially men without much formal education.  Does that suggest an impending backlash among men or perhaps a redefinition of masculinity?
  • Business: Seems to me a ton of new business could arise to take advantage of this trend.  What about gift registries or legal advice services for couples deciding to live together?  A line of single-sized gourmet food for well-compensated people eating alone?  What about a group buying service to give singletons some collective leverage in the marketplace?  Or a real estate brokerage devoted exclusively to helping single women with enough money to buy homes?  Since postponed (or never realized) marriage usually delays the decision to have children, will there be new opportunities in adoption services and fertility treatments?  Or fast-forward a few decades and imagine large numbers of elderly singles. Are we looking at dorms for seniors in 2060?  This is America, baby! Someone will figure out a way to make some money from this BDD.

Monday, October 25, 2010

A Polling Tax

“A man must be both stupid and uncharitable who believes there is no virtue or truth but on his own side.” – Joseph Addison, quoted in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Welcome to the Political Stimulus Program Season for the opinion polling business, otherwise known as 1+ week before Election Day.  As many have said, and will continue to repeat (particularly those on the wrong end of polling data), the only poll that matters takes place on November 2nd.  Those same many will quickly pivot from this statement with the latest catch phrase, “Now, having said that…”** which is immediately followed by a series of statements meant to contradict the fact that the only poll that matters takes place on November 2nd.  Remember, the pollster on your favorite infotainment program has the interpretation of data points that actually are more important than the poll results on Nov. 2nd.  So stay tuned, and be sure to support our sponsors.

** - For a more comedic take on this infectious expression of contradiction, I encourage you to watch Season 7 of Curb Your Enthusiasm, and enjoy as Jerry Seinfeld and Larry David discuss the benefits of such a useful phrase during Jason Alexander’s book signing party for his pamphlet, “Acting Without Acting”.

I for one believe that we deserve more honesty and transparency from the pollsters about the number of variables that impact the colorful and convincing bar graphs, scattergrams and pie charts of findings.  I would like to see the sources of polling data broken into meaningful demographic groups:
  • All people who don’t screen calls to avoid pollsters
  • All people who are home to accept calls vs. those who work and don’t have time to answer questions from strangers
  • All people who have weighed both sides of an issue
  • All people who give a sh*t
  • All people who would vote the same way if they would be required to work and/or sacrifice because of their viewpoint
  • All people who actually heard and understood the question
  • All people who can correctly name the last 5 presidents, in order
  • All people who read books, not just the crawl across the bottom of the screen
The statistics on the screen may be factual.  The interpretation of what those factual statistics mean is pure opinion and conjecture.   The phrasing of a question matters.  The demographics of the respondents matter.  There is a real difference between registered voters and likely voters.  The results of 2 nearly identical polls can vary wildly, and I’d like to hear the commentators admit that.

Accepting the results of fickle polls as the ‘will of the people’, and arguing that no one has the right to thwart the ‘will of the people’, based solely on that poll’s results, is silly.  Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn set up a website to solicit citizen suggestions for improving the city.  The most popular requests were for better mass transit, legalized marijuana and nude beaches.  So much for an informed citizenry helped our elected officials make the tough choices that will improve our society today and into the future.  I would venture a guess that this survey had some fatal flaws.  At least I hope so.

The fact is we are not a democracy.  Even if the polls are well designed and provide a genuine snapshot of the electorate, the majority does not have the absolute power to control or subjugate the minority.  That’s a good thing.  We are a republic, and we should theoretically elect someone smarter than us, that represents our values, to make the hard decisions with an eye out for everyone.  We shouldn’t want someone who agrees with us 100% of the time, which we could never find anyway.  We should elect someone who has good judgment, someone who will fairly decide on issues that we have yet to think about or anticipate.  Someone with the time and the passion to weigh both sides of an issue by examining facts.

Ezra Klein noted recently the other day, "This isn't a very popular statement, but there is a role for elites in public life. Just like I want knowledgeable CEOs running companies and knowledgeable doctors performing surgeries, I want knowledgeable legislators crafting public policy. That's why we have a representative democracy, rather than some form of government-by-referendum."

So let's ignore all the polls and the pollsters and the hidden agendas.  Let's listen for ourselves, read points of view from both sides, and try to make an informed choice.  Polls open next Tuesday.  Now, having said that, be sure to vote.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Head Games

From Friday:

I’m headed to a high school football game tonight, and the sports talk chatter all week has been about dangerous hits to the head in the professional game causing long-term damage to players.   When the game begins tonight, I will probably not give this issue a second thought.  I will become caught up in the frenzied mob mentality supporting my chosen team.  In the hours before kickoff, however, I wonder if I should be more worried about the health of the 14-18 year old boys who are trained to separate the opponent from the ball by any means necessary.

I love watching football, although I do not enjoy going to games.  Football is perfect for television.  The huddle time between plays allow ample time to dissect the previous action through the miracle that is instant replay.  The fall/winter weather lends itself to sitting indoors and overeating comfort foods, like hot chili and thick crust pizza.  The price of watching on TV is significantly lower than buying a ticket, and the bathroom accommodations are far superior to any stadium parking lot Port-O-John.  The violence of the game, it seems to me, is best enjoyed from behind the safe buffer zone of an HD TV, listening to commentary by men wearing jackets and ties describing the pain delivered on the field.  Do we have to watch Joe Theismann's leg being snapped in pieces one more time?

I don’t know how you eliminate the violent impacts and the potential for injury from the game.  Frankly, I’m not sure you can, short of playing flag football or two-hand touch instead.  Not sure the ratings would hold up for a league where hitting is frowned upon.  Even hockey can’t outlaw fighting from their games.  That would be bad business, and the NFL is a business - a big one.

You could continue to improve the safety of the equipment worn by players, but this can have the unintended consequence of allowing players to feel completely safe and indestructible, causing them to take even greater risks on the field.    

The pain in the games is real, however, as much as I would prefer to ignore it. As long as players are taught to crush, take the heart of, kill, and/or destroy the opposing team, this is a problem that will never be solved, and we will never agree on how much violence is too much, or just enough.  Players choose to play, and maybe those that do not suffer brain injuries actually learn some important life skills, like teamwork, sacrifice, leadership, and the proper application of ice and heat.  So let 'em play.  To borrow a phrase from another major sport, "I love this game!"

Postscript:  Chantilly won, 17-14 on 17 unanswered points in the 4th quarter.  I enjoyed every hit, and the kids on the field seemed to enjoy the hitting even more.  It might have been more dangerous in the stands.  Some kids had hot chocolate poured on them when visiting the opposing fans in the stands. 

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

On Writing

Over the years, I have read many books and articles on the subject of writing (I recommend Stephen King’s On Writing in particular), and there is one common piece of advice that connects them all:

Write when you don’t feel like writing, and especially when you don’t feel like writing.  So that’s what I am doing now.

Of course, this must be a disappointing admission to you, the loyal reader, that I have nothing to say and no desire right now to say it.  It doesn’t build a compelling case for you to continue spending time with me.  Suddenly, those banner ads and annoying pop-ups are looking pretty interesting as alternatives.  Perhaps a CSI re-run is on…

I can’t blame you, but I will thank you.  If you’ve read this far, I must have said something in the past that made you smile, made you angry, or just made you think.  Good.

As my kids like to say, “Ha ha, made you look!”

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Losing Nemo

MSRP stands for Music, Sports, Religion and Politics.  These were the main topics of conversation that I envisioned for this blog.  As I scroll through the previous discussions, I see that the ‘R’ topic is conspicuously underrepresented.  This should not be surprising, given that religion can be the 3rd rail of friendly relationships.  I heard a sermon on Sunday, however, that struck me as worthy of a mention.  It is rare that something from the pulpit inspires me to write, and even rarer that it inspires me to write without a hint of disagreement with the speaker or the message.  The moral of the story on this particular Sunday seemed relevant in these divisive times.

The priest told the story of a boy who won 4 goldfish at a carnival.  The boy’s father could see the excitement in his son’s eyes, and he vowed to do whatever it took to keep those fish alive and thriving.  The father knew that the fish would need an aquarium, but he had little money.  After some searching, he found a tank, a light and a filter at a garage sale for only $10.  It wasn’t in the best condition, but the father was determined to make that fish tank shine.  He carried it into his basement workshop and scrubbed the glass and trim with a special cleaner inside and outside until looked new again.  He worked on it tirelessly for most of the afternoon, and the results of his hard work paid off.  His son was thrilled, and by evening, the 4 fish were happily swimming in their new home.

The joy of that afternoon was replaced with sadness the next morning.  One fish was floating lifeless on the top of the water.  By the 2nd night, 2 more had died, and after only 3 days in the tank that the father had prepared with such passion and sweat, the last fish floated to the surface.

The father and son were determined to find out what had gone so terribly wrong for the fish that they loved, so they called an expert.  After reviewing the events of the past few days with the owner of the local pet shop, the problem was quickly identified.  The father, in his enthusiasm for the project and his love of his son and the defenseless little fish, had used a harsh cleaning solution on the aquarium, and the cleaning chemicals mixed in with the tank water.  The chemicals that had cleaned the tank had killed the fish.

The priest then compared zealous Catholics to the father in the story – full of good intentions, confident in their righteousness, and unflinching in their drive to create a world that is scrubbed clean and thoroughly disinfected.  Catholics, he said, like the father in the story, can sometimes be too harsh and abrasive in methods, and in the rush to cleanse, they may actually be discouraging the spirits that they are trying to foster and grow in the faith.  He closed with the famous quote about attracting more flies with the sweetness of honey than the bitterness of vinegar.  Hmmm… 

In these modern days when matters of faith are politicized by both parties (and many world leaders), I wonder how many curious, vibrant, and innocent fish are having their spirits silently poisoned and killed by today’s zealots of all denominations.

As Nemo’s father once said, “KEEP SWIMMING!”

Thursday, October 14, 2010

To Extend or Not to Extend

The GOP has a plan on taxes.  Extend the Bush era tax cuts, which the GOP originally voted to expire at the end of this year, permanently.  They offered no cost estimate of this plan.  Fortunately, the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office did.  They reported that the plan would add close to $3.9 trillion to the national debt over the next 10 years, as well as increase interest payments on the debt by $950 billion.
My question for the Republicans is quite simple: if you are so incensed by deficits, how could you possibly support this option?  If you believe that this tax cut will generate a matching amount of revenue because of increased economic activity, I would respectfully ask for a reference to the economist(s) who back that claim.  If you believe that spending could be cut in order to balance out the reduced revenue, please outline exactly those cuts that equal $3.9 trillion over the next 10 years.  Can you do it without using the tired, nondescript scapegoats of “waste” and “abuse”?
The Democrats also have a plan.  They’ve made the tough choice of extending the Bush era tax cuts to only 98% of the population, thereby adding close to $3 trillion to the national debt over the next 10 years (to be read in a sarcastic tone).  The bravery of such a decision is apparent…until you consider that they were too afraid to campaign on it.

Everyone is in favor of making tough choices in theory, and solidly against tough choices in reality.  Sacrifice is the other guy's problem.
We’ve got quite a group of professionals working the hallowed halls of power, don’t we?  I am pretty sure we do not need a witch in Congress (thank you anyway, Christine O’Donnell), but a magician might be a good idea.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Reality Bites

I came across a book in our main level powder room this morning.  I had stopped in for a quick powder.   I guess that’s where the expression “take a powder” comes from.  The book was titled, Words Every Child Must Hear.  It was a miniature book, about 4” x 4” in size, and obviously a gift from some thoughtful friend or relative at a baby shower long ago.  The book contained touching images of mothers and babies, surrounded by words of childhood encouragement and positivity.  The giver of this gift did not want us to forget to say nice things to our children when we were sleep deprived or publicly embarrassed by their deviant and disrespectful behavior. 
Among the Victorian era paintings of little cherubs on the high gloss pages were heart-warming expressions brimming with self-esteem, such as “I would never do anything to crush your spontaneity”, and “I’ll pay attention to your verbal and nonverbal messages.”  Lovely thoughts, but the writer has obviously never had children.  The language is a bit unrealistic for everyday use around the kitchen table and the playroom.  My preferred response to my children when they have done something worthy of praise can sometimes elevate to “Good job.  You may continue to live here rent-free for another week, and then we’ll re-evaluate.”  Oddly enough, I did not find this statement of affirmation anywhere in the book.  Perhaps a sequel is planned.

The book got me thinking about a complimentary edition, as yet unwritten.  I respectfully make my copyright claim right here and now.  My title will be Words Every Child Will Hear.  This would be a slightly more pedestrian tome, with a healthy dose of reality sprinkled onto every page.  My illustrations will favor more of a Baby Blues flavor than the Michelangelo style.  I mean, as a parent, you have to laugh just to stop from crying, right?

Here are some of my draft entries for Words Every Child Will Hear:
  • I’m going to count to 3.  1…2…
  • Take that out of your mouth right now.
  • What was that noise up there?
  • That is not worth crying about.
  • 3 more bites first.
  • We don’t have dessert every night.
  • What’s the magic word?
  • I said “Maybe”. 
  • “We’ll see” means “we’ll see”.
  • Stop it.
  • I will not tell you again.
  • OK, fine.  Go ahead and do it your way.  You’ll learn.
  • I am not your friend.  I am your father/mother.
  • I don’t care what the other kids are doing.  I am not their parent.  I am your parent, and you will do what I say.
  • Turn that off – now.
  • I never said that.
  • If you listened the first time, I wouldn’t have to repeat myself.
  • If you spent half as much time doing what I asked as you do arguing about it, you’d be done by now.
  • Don’t you dare.
  • I don’t want to hear any doors slamming up there.
  • How would you like it if someone treated you like that?
  • Loading the dishwasher is not torture.
  • Who left this out?
  • Who put this in?
  • Is this yours?
  • Well OK, but next time…
  • Don’t make me come up there (or back there, or over there, or down there).
  • That wasn’t very nice.
  • Too bad, that’s what’s for dinner.
  • Who said you could do that (have that)?  I know I didn’t.
  • Does that have your name on it?  Then why are you reading it?
  • Because I said so, and that will have to be good enough.
  • I am sorry that I am ruining your life.  Someday you’ll understand.
  • Pick that up and put it away now or I’ll just throw it in the trash.
  • You are not the only one who lives here, you know.
  • Go ask your father/mother.
  • No.
This could become a full-time career enterprise for me.  There could be a whole series of books, suitable for that special someone in your life.

Words Every Child of a Tea Partier Must Hear:
  • I would gladly provide you with an allowance; however, I did not raise you to become a dependent ward of the nanny state, and an allowance would only hasten your journey towards socialism and its’ evil philosophy.  As a true patriot, I cannot let that happen.  I am raising a capitalist, and your freedom isn’t free.  (Editor’s Note:  This one might be a bit extreme…)
  • Child, you are taxing me emotionally right now, and I will not stand for it.
  • How would you like it if I dumped you into Boston Harbor?
  • Hitler never made his bed, either, and look how he turned out.
  • You’d better get those chores done before I decide to water that tree of liberty with you, young man.
Words Every Republican Child Must Hear:
  • No.
  • Wait til no one is watching, dear.
  • Do as I say, not as I do.
  • Never apologize, son.  It makes you look weak.
Words Every Democratic Child Must Hear:
  • Stop digging in that dirt.  The Earth is your friend, not your personal playground.
  • I’m sorry.  I gave your allowance to all the other kids in the neighborhood.
  • You will always be indebted to me, my child.
Haiku Every Child Must Hear:
Sit up straight my child
Or else you will grow up curved
And need surgery.

Vegetables are good
You must eat them all up
To grow big and strong.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

The True Meaning of October 7th

I was raised to hate the Yankees, but it wasn’t my fault.  The division of loyalties between the two NY baseball teams was absolute and unyielding as a kid growing up near Exit 13 off the Turnpike.  If you loved the Mets, you hated the Yankees.  I had to choose, and my older brother worshiped the Miracle Mets who won the 1969 World Series and captivated a nation.  Life was much simpler then.  Tom Seaver was a mythical hero.  Reggie Jackson was evil incarnate.   Some argue whether we are primarily shaped by our genetics or our environment (see Mortimer Duke v. Randolph Duke, 1983).  When it came to my Yankee hating, I believed it was both factors.

The passage of time shifted priorities in my life, and hate for a team of athletes that I have never met seemed a bit extreme, and frankly immature.  Life became more complicated, and relationships to sports teams more nuanced and tolerant.  Free agency led to more players having a pedigree that included both rival NY teams.  Cone was a great Met and Yankee; ditto for Doc Gooden and Darryl Strawberry.  Jeter seemed like an OK guy.  Paul O’Neill wasn’t a great player, but he worked hard.  Bobby Bonilla and Ricky Henderson did not represent the Mets I grew up loving.  The lines became less clear.  Maybe I was growing up.

The innate and learned hate for all things Yankee is hard to completely deny, however.  While on vacation this past summer, I took notice of all of the NYY merchandise on the beach – towels, hats, tote bags, tattoos – and I felt the bile rise in my throat.  Met fan were loyal through the bad times and the worse times.  These Yankee fans only knew success in their lifetimes.  Their love of team had not been forged by the burden of being a national punch line, or by the heat of a late September collapse.  While in my head, I can cheer a fine performance by the Yankees, in my heart, I still quietly cheer when they lose. 

12 years ago this month, the Yankees defeated the Indians four games to two and went on to sweep the Padres in the World Series.  New York won 114 games during the regular season, and they suffered their only two losses of the 1998 postseason in this series.

In Game 2, October 7, 1998, twenty-game winner and former Met David Cone went for the Yankees, hoping to go to Cleveland up two games in the series.  They squandered many chances in the game to score, and the game moved to extra innings.  Jim Thome led off the top of the twelfth with a single. Enrique Wilson was then called on the pinch run. Travis Fryman laid a sacrifice bunt down, and, as Jeff Nelson went to throw it to first, he hit Fryman and the ball rolled past Chuck Knoblauch covering. Knoblauch tried to argue the call as the ball continued to roll. Wilson and Fryman continued to run and Wilson would score as the ball was still not dead. An error by Tino Martinez put Fryman at third. The Indians now had the lead back and would score two more and tie the series at a game apiece.

12 years ago to the day, I was in a hospital room watching that game while coaching my wife through her contractions.  My son was born under the shadow of the wall mounted television sharing the images of a tragic Yankee playoff loss.  I watched both events with great interest and passion.  Deep down inside, I must admit, both happenings that day made me smile, and still do.

Happy birthday, Thomas!  Twins in 5!!!

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Of Mice and Men

How do we explain our love affair with mice that take on human characteristics? 
The mouse ranks at the top of the pantheon of culturally significant cartoon characters.  There’s superhero, Might Mouse, the nerdy Stuart Little, and Angelina the rodent Ballerina.  There’s Tom and Jerry (I always forget which one is the mouse and which one is the cat…like it matters), and lest we forget, our handicapped representatives to the list, the Three Blind Mice, who ironically, cannot actually ‘see’ how they run.  Mickey Mouse is without question the Granddaddy of them all, having given rise to a girlfriend (Minnie), children (after a proper marriage to Minnie, we hope), and lots and lots of black-eared aunts, uncles and other scurrying relatives.  Where there is one mouse, there are probably a thousand, and odds are, they are selling something.

Mice long ago surpassed bears as the most beloved animals-made-human, for one key reason: a mouse will never be accused of mauling a child to death in the forest.  Hard to explain to Junior why Yogi Bear just ate your neighbor.  The delicate field mouse may cause an emotionally weak person, or cartoon elephant, to shriek in horror at its mere presence, but by and large, we’re pro-mice in this country.

This brings me to my main topic, one Chuck E. Cheese.  Another one of many giant mice that can sing and dance, and serve as a corporate shill for grocery store quality pizza and migraine headaches, free with coupon.  You will note the clever use of the middle initial “E” in his proper name, which distinguishes this harmless, birthday loving rodent from another famous Chucky.  The other Chucky is better known as a homicidal ventriloquist doll, and that sort of market confusion would not be good for business.  This Chuck E. would never kill for sport.  He is more content luring you into his colorful nest and infecting you with a wide variety of invisible childhood germs, everything from the common cold to whooping cough.  In fairness, we have been injecting his long-tailed white relatives with diseases for years in laboratories across the world, so turnabout is fair play.  The Petri dish that is the local CEC may be some perverse mouse family's sweet revenge on humanity.  This no doubt rings true to you conspiracy theorists out there, and I know you are out there.

I took our youngest to a birthday party at a nearby CEC this past Sunday afternoon.  She's almost 6 years old, and this was her first visit.  This fun fact shocked the other parent chaperones -  shocked them.  "How is it possible that your little Lucy is almost 6, and has never been to a Chuck E. Cheese?"  Easy, I thought.  She has no money, no transportation, and she can't read a party invitation.  I have total control, unquestioned authority, and apparently, a dark hole in my heart.

I come by that dark place in my heart about CEC from experience.  My last visit ended badly.  My son tried Sprite for the first time, and mixed in bouncing and heat to create a projectile cocktail that eventually washed out of my clothes but left a permanent stain on my psyche.  On another ocassion I will share the story of one father, one overfed boy, and one token cup with a leak in the bottom.

When Lucy and I arrived at the restaurant, she left me.  She was still with me physically, but her mind was lost in the maze of flashing lights and ringing bells.  The place is like a warm up act for a future trip to Vegas,  before you add the cigarette smoke and strippers, of course.  There are games of chance that award tickets, noise, confusion, and no clocks, just like the adult playground in the desert.  Scary.  I did steady her by the shoulders and give her the 2 golden rules of Chucky E. Cheese: never walk away without telling me first, and wash your hands afterwards until you draw blood.  Safety first, we always say in my house.  You can never be too careful.

The party itself requires no detailed description.  It was the same as every other Chucky E. Cheese party that has ever been held.   Play, eat, cough on one another, sing Happy Birthday, cheer the Chucky E. Cheese appearance, touch the walls of the elevated tunnels above the restaurant floor that are covered in boogers, have cake, more play, crying by kids and parents.  Regular fare.

We kept Lucy home from school yesterday.  Her forehead felt warm, and she had a runny nose.  Who could have predicted that?

Maybe it's time we stop laboratory testing on mice. I think we might be making them mad at us.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

No Fear of Music

We're long over due for Talking Heads time, so let's fix that.

I dove back into Remain in Light recently, the Heads 4th album, most widely known for the hit, Once in a Lifetime.  The music video of David Byrne and his spastic gyrations (dancing would be overly kind) was the visual backdrop for his famous line, "Same as it ever was", and was the precursor to his Big Suit incarnation on the live Stop Making Sense.

Remain in Light introduced us to the band's world sound.  They transformed seemingly overnight from a 4 piece band to a large ensemble of background vocalists, unique percussionists, and pulsating ethnic vibrations.  I had the pleasure of seeing them once in concert, Central Park 1980.  Hypnotic is the only adjective that describes the noise experience.

The lyrics of one particular track, Seen and Not Seen, epitomizes Talking Heads hypnotic poetry best for me.  It has to have been several years since I worked my way through the entire album, front to back, but on a long car trip last month, I did it.  I was alone in the car, so the volume might have been a tad "enthusiastic".  Odds are good that I was singing in a loud, off-key baritone, and that cars passing by honked and bored travelers had a healthy laugh at my expense.  No guilt, and no You Tube version available, to my knowledge. 

I encourage you to listen to the music, but here are the words.  Tip for you kids out there - good poetry doesn't need to rhyme; it only needs to speak unique emotional truth.

He would see faces in movies, on T.V., in magazines, and in books....
He thought that some of these faces might be right for him....And
through the years, by keeping an ideal facial structure fixed in his
mind....Or somewhere in the back of his mind....That he might, by
force of will, cause his face to approach those of his ideal....The
change would be very subtle....It might take ten years or so....
Gradually his face would change its' shape....A more hooked nose...
Wider, thinner lips....Beady eyes....A larger forehead.

He imagined that this was an ability he shared with most other

people....They had also molded their faced according to some
ideal....Maybe they imagined that their new face would better
suit their personality....Or maybe they imagined that their
personality would be forced to change to fit the new appear-
ance....This is why first impressions are often correct...
Although some people might have made mistakes....They may have
arrived at an appearance that bears no relationship to them....
They may have picked an ideal appearance based on some childish
whim, or momentary impulse....Some may have gotten half-way
there, and then changed their minds.

He wonders if he too might have made a similar mistake.

Original Release Date 1980