Thursday, December 30, 2010

New Year’s Revolutions

Revolution (noun): major change: a dramatic change in ideas or practice; or complete circular turn: one complete circular movement made by something round or cylindrical, e.g. a planet around the sun.

One more trip around the sun is nearly complete, so time to take stock and set our sights on the 2011 journey.  Many of you are planning your resolutions for the coming year.  Perhaps these sound familiar:

1.       Lose weight.
2.       Exercise more.

There is nothing wrong with these vague ambitions, but let’s face it.  These 2 have been done to death, and have a shelf life of 4-6 weeks before being added to the scrap heap of good intentions.  Resolution #3 is often “Stop procrastinating, you lazy bum”.  We might be more successful with our goal attainment if that became Resolution #1.

I take the New Year’s resolution business seriously.  I carry my New Year’s resolutions in my wallet, and I do look at them from time to time throughout the year.  I’ve made some progress over time, and on some pretty large goals.  It’s important not to allow perfect to be the enemy of good, I like to say, so I celebrate the progress and vow to work harder at the shortcomings.
  
I am not into sharing my goals for 2011 with the virtual sea of humanity that’s flooded the Internet, except for this one public declaration:

I will grow grass.

No, not that kind.  Not that I couldn’t use the extra income, but I am somewhat risk averse in my middle years.  I mean the regular “kids running and playing on” kind.  Simple, right?  Now, let’s make this more specific:

Grow a thick, even, lush, weed-free lawn in the backyard by June 30, 2011.

I will watch You Tube videos demonstrating the proper care and feeding for the lawn.  I will read newspaper columns on the topic.  I will listen to friends and neighbors drone on about their lawns, and this year, I’ll pay attention.   I will not cheat by installing Astroturf.  For some of you, this goal doesn’t demonstrate much ambition on my part.  Let me tell you, though, it is a challenge for me.  I don’t have a green thumb.  In the yard, I am all thumbs, and none of them are even shaded green.  The ambitious part for me is overcoming my fear of failure.  If anyone can kill a lawn, it’s me.  I am the oo7 of lawn care, baby - licensed to kill.  A man’s got to know his limitations, and yard work is one of mine.  Accepting and embracing my problem is the first step towards recovery. 
     
Our backyard experiences both heavy shade in spots and full sun in spots, and it is built on rock solid Virginia red clay.  There are bare spots.  There are spots that collect water during heavy rains.  There are heavy traffic areas.  It can be done, however, with perseverance, dirty hands, and dumb-luck.  I begin 2011 with confidence, the confidence of the ignorant.  It is also the confidence that comes from knowing I won’t have to face the reality of this goal until it gets warmer.  Growing a beautiful lawn in my backyard won’t change the world; just my little corner of it.  I think globally and act locally, and how much more local can I get than the backyard?

I will do this.  It says so in my wallet. 
 
“Our dilemma is that we hate change and love it at the same time; what we really want is for things to remain the same but get better.”
-          Sydney J. Harris

Happy New Year.  I hope to see you or hear from you during the 2011 revolution.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Debrief

I remember that my father asked for very little each Christmas from his children – socks, underwear, and to be left alone for 5 minutes once in awhile.  I realize now that all three items could be easily hidden from public view, unlike a Charlie Brown tie, or a pom-pom knit cap, or a night out at a Disney double feature.  He aspired to the simple, quiet life, but he did have twice as many kids as I do.  Simple was not an option for his every day, but at least he could try to simplify his own Christmas experience.  Now that I have attained a similar age, I ask for the same things he once did.  Ah, the Holy Grail of Simplicity, where are you?  This year, I am happy to report 66% success on my three main requests – I took a nap and got new underwear.  I’ll have to buy my own socks.  Here’s a summary of some other notable Christmas 2010 gifts:

6 New Pairs of Underwear:  Yes, this is what Christmas has become for me – the predictable joy of annually replacing aging pairs of underwear that are a few threads beyond their expiration date.  My new assortment of 6 pairs gives me permission to dispose of 4 pairs.  I cannot bring myself to do a one-for one swap, because I never want to get caught ‘short’.  Hope for the best, but plan for the worst.

Tin of Altoids:  The longer one is married, the more important minty fresh breath becomes.  The tin also fits comfortably into the toe of the Christmas stocking, and this benefit cannot be underestimated.  On top of that, they are “curiously refreshing”.

University of Delaware Hooded Sweatshirt:  This gift is 30 years too late, but I can finally cross it off my Bucket List.  This blue and gold masterpiece garnered me the best compliment of the season, from my 6 year old daughter:  “Daddy, you look young in that sweatshirt.”  Kids never lie.

Starbucks Gift Card:  $10 value, good for 2 grande lattes.  So unfair, but so appreciated.

The Dad's Book: For the Dad Who's Best at Everything:  Thomas is at that in-between age, where I can’t tell if the book is meant as an innocent compliment (“You’re the best Dad ever”), or a self-help instruction guide (“Dad, you have some work to do, so read this to see where you are failing to meet my expectations of a father.”)  I’ll assume the former, and would appreciate not being corrected if it is the latter.

Nestles Crunch (Mini-Size):  It makes no difference to me that Lucy has saved this for me since Halloween (hopefully Halloween 2010, but you can never be sure).  It also makes no difference to me that Lucy has given me this same candy treat on several other occasions, including each day leading up to Christmas.  In her mind, this is the first time, and she knows that Nestles Crunch is my favorite candy of all-time.  It isn’t – I’d have to go with Reese’s (preferably frozen).  It was the joy and enthusiasm with which she presented the gift and insisted that I eat it that made the gift special.  No gift receipt with this present – she wanted to see it chewed up, swallowed, and savored.  The real gift was watching her face as I ate the candy.  Sweet. 
 
Toby’s Favorites:  When all the gift cards are spent, the underwear replaced, and the candy consumed, and I am left with only fading memories, this gift will most likely stand out.  As regular readers know, Marra  and I enjoy spirited musical battles over the car radio stations (see Station Break).  Marra’s gift is her attempt to bridge the generational divide, and it is inspired.

The title of the gift, Toby’s Favorites, comes from the name of the HOT 99.5 FM DJ who commented on one of my blogs a few months ago.  For the gift, Marra printed out the lyrics and acoustic chords to some of her favorite songs that I admitted that I could stomach.  Thanks to her compilation, I can now play Lady Gaga’s Poker Face on the guitar; Rihanna’s Only Girl in the World; Jay-Z’s Empire State of Mind; and other popular club hits.  My versions lack the pulsating beat of the studio tracks, but I make up for that with my soulful strumming...or not.

If you are lucky, you will never hear me play and sing Poker Face, but in the quiet of my basement cave, I can now rock out to Lady Gaga.  My teenager is trying to meet me half way, and that doesn’t happen every day.  In fact, who knows when it will happen again?
 
Christmas is really about the giving, not the getting, so what did I give as the big Sherrier family gift this year?

Justin Bieber:  At ages 14, 12 and 6, my children are ready to take on more responsibility in their lives, so I broke down and bought a pet.  I wanted to start small, something that if we failed, we could flush.  That ruled out dogs and most cats.  Thinking ‘simplicity’, I opted for a betta fish – small, low maintenance, quiet.  As an added bonus, I am not required to carry the fish’s feces around the neighborhood in a plastic baggie.  Based on the fish’s flowing mane, youthful enthusiasm, and uncanny ability to carry a tune, we named him Justin Bieber.   He lasted through Christmas Day, before I had to provide an unceremonious “burial at sea” the next morning with a flick of the handle.  Rest in peace, Justin Bieber.  Your 15 minutes of fame in our house is over, but the memories live on in the bowl of tepid water you once called home.

Now it’s time to straighten up the house, and prepare ourselves for the January blues and the onset of seasonal affective disorder (otherwise known to my children as “back to school after winter break” disorder).  As I look back on the holiday, I believe I will hold the underwear gift closest throughout the year as a daily reminder of Christmas 2010, and with luck, it will reciprocate and hold me close (for about 20 more years).

TMI.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Best Blogs Not Written 2010

Time to clean up and clean out to be ready for the New Year.  I like to start January 1st with a clean slate, a fresh outlook.  This exercise is both physical and mental.  Clean closets, clean mind.  As part of my annual housecleaning, here is a summary of several topics I have wanted to blog about this year, but never found sufficient inspiration to finish.  I need these out of my mental in box so I can focus on 2011:

Peek-A-Boo:  A New York University professor had a digital camera implanted into the back of his head to capture a still image once each minute for a full year.  This was part of an avant-garde art project.  This could have been a posting about how parents and some perceptive elementary school teachers already have this capability without the fuss and muss of implant surgery, or an interesting discussion on what constitutes art.  We’ll never know.

Can You Hear Me Now?:  The 111th Congress, to my knowledge, was not accused of Constitutional overreach when it passed the Commercial Advertisement Loudness Mitigation Act, “forbidding TV advertisers from abruptly raising the volume to startling levels during commercial breaks.”  I do look forward to some activist judges legislating from the bench working legal definitions of ‘abruptly’, ‘startling’, and measurements of sound ‘volume’ that cross the legal threshold, since legislators conveniently left these concepts vague.  The marketplace, it seems, could not root out the loud advertisers and punish them with fewer customers, so the government had to step in.  Bipartisanship works, at least when TV watching is involved.  Pass the Bud Light, please.

In the Hole:  According to Bloomberg.com, Americans have cut over $1 trillion in consumer debt since the 3rd quarter of 2008.  This is good news/bad news.  Less consumer debt means a more secure future for our country, but it also means less spending at historic levels today, and the 2010 economy takes the hit.  Had Americans continued to spend frivolously, our short-term economic conditions would look better.  Apparently, smart personal money management is destroying the Democratic Party.  Once the GOP guts financial reform, maybe we’ll get those confusing credit card deals back again, and get America moving!

Lame Stream Media?:  The 2nd largest stockholder in News Corp., owner of Fox News and The Wall Street Journal, is Saudi Prince Alwaleed bin Talal.  He owns $2.3 billion of News Corp. stock.  Keith Olbermann is suspended for a few days for giving less than $7,000 total to 3 different Democratic candidates.  I wonder if anyone who leans on Fox for information could spin this Saudi ownership fact so that it fits smartly into the slogan “Fair and Balanced.”  I dare say $2.3 billion has more impact on election night than $7,000.

The War on Learning:  According to the Associated Press, due to budget shortfalls, more than 120 school districts across the country hold classes just 4 days per week.  The USA ranks 18th in college and high school graduation rates.  Compared to other nations, we are 25th in math, 21st in science, 15th in reading literacy.  76% of Americans nevertheless report that they are completely to somewhat satisfied with their children’s public schools.  Hard to address a problem that no one thinks is a problem.

The time for a revolution is our educational system is long overdue.  It is not just a tax revenue issue, it is not just a budgeting issue, it is not just a union issue.  Until it becomes a national security issue, we’ll continue to run our public educational system like it is 1960.  What will be the next great innovation in education?  (…and I don’t mean a new computer software package, either.)

The Right to Choose:  The makers of Aquafresh and Colgate toothpaste are in the middle of a pitched legal battle for the trademark rights to the “nurdle”.  As we all know, a “nurdle” is the perfectly swirled tri-colored curl of toothpaste on the outside of the package.  Aquafresh has used this nurdle for over 20 years, and claims Colgate is trying to trick oral hygiene shopping enthusiasts to buy its brand instead.  This is silly, but important, since the lawyers quote studies that demonstrate that consumers spend between 1/20th and 1/100th of a second identifying their preferred product on the shelf.  For men, I’d say that’s a generous estimate.

Monkey See, Monkey Do:  Humans share approximately 98.5% of their DNA code with chimpanzees.  It would be misleading, however, to say that humans are 98.5% chimp.  I thought of this whenever I saw campaign signs that said “______ Voted with Pelosi 97% of the Time”.  The associated quote in the article in The Week read, “What makes each kind of biological organism unique is determined by their small genetic differences, not their numerically greater similarities.”  Keep this in mind when watching the GOP 2012 Presidential candidate debates, which begin this April, by the way.  The small differences matter when deciding who is a Neanderthal and who is presidential timber. 

I feel more free already.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Rational Rationing


This is the night the adults take over Christmas.  Parents all over America will put the kids to bed, break out all the hidden presents for all their little kiddies, ask tough questions and make some tough choices.  Are the piles even?  Did we spend equally on each child?  Did we hit enough marks on their Santa lists to meet expectations?  Are the stocking stuffers adequate to fill the entire stocking?  Should we shift some generic, non-gender specific items from one recipient to another?  It’s the last day to make adjustments! 
 
This is the dark underbelly of the decision-making in Santa’s workshop.  The children won’t want to know about the messy process of separating the booty based on criteria other than the omnipotent “naughty/nice” list, but it is what happens.  We don’t think of this ritual as the “rationing” of the presents, particularly in this country where it is more likely that we’ll just buy more to even the gift distribution.  We are a people of wealth, abundance, boundless credit, and dare I say, gluttony.  We don’t like to think about limits, especially during the holidays.  But on this night 2 days before Christmas, limits are on the table.  Rationing is as American as apple pie on this eve of Christmas Eve.

This rationing of children’s presents is not as painful or inconvenient as some of the events traditionally associated with rationing in history.  Noah only had room for two of each, and choices had to be made.  George Bailey enforced strict rationing in Bedford Falls during WWII.  I personally waited in long lines on even numbered calendar days for overpriced $0.75 per gallon gasoline in the 70s (outrageous!).  Noah, George Bailey and I recognized that, however inconvenient shared sacrifice was, it was required for the benefit of all.  We could have cheated.  Noah could have slipped an extra kangaroo onto the ark in its mother’s pouch.  I could have switched my license plates to ‘odd’ on odd days, ‘even’ on even days (kids, ask your parents what I am talking about…or google “1970s odd-even rationing”).  We didn’t.  Rationing, however painful, helped save the animal kingdom, win the Second World War, and insure enough gas was available for emergency needs in the late 1970s.

The concept of rationing, however, has been dragged through the mud over the past year or so.  Critics of health care reform freely tossed the word “rationing” into every debate on the topic, hoping that it would ignite a firestorm of revolt.  For the most part, it did.  Discussions of rationing centered around dictatorial, shadowy committees who sole purpose was to disrupt the natural purifying force of the Invisible Hand.  Darwin was heresy and should not be taught in school, they said, but his concepts were spot on when it came to the health care markets.  No one dared mention that it was the beloved Noah who was at the head of history’s first “Death Panel”.

I read a piece in The Week recently that drove home the health care rationing dilemma in stark terms.  There is a new drug called Provenge, a treatment for advanced prostate cancer.  Studies have shown that it can extend the life of a patient on average 4 months.  A decision is pending on whether this treatment will be covered by Medicare and Medicaid.  If that’s your life, those 4 months are pretty darn important.  The cost of the treatment, however, is $90,000.  So for 30,000 patients in a year, that’s almost $2.7 billion, and this is just one drug for one condition.  The numbers can add up quickly for a nation concerned about its balance sheet.

So there are 3 choices – cover the costs, and the budget be damned; don’t cover the costs, and some lives end sooner; cover some of the costs, and allow those with enough private money to live while others of less means do not.  If we don’t cover the costs, or only cover part of the costs, we are “rationing” between rich and poor.  If we cover all of the costs, we are on a fast track to bankruptcy, and acting more like the socialist regimes our far right loves to compare us to.  This is before we begin to include the availability of competent health care in the rationing debate.  When resources are scarce, rationing occurs, whether it is managed or allowed to just ‘happen’.  The argument should not be whether or not to ration health care; we already do.  It should be about the best way to ration.

On Saturday morning, the children may scream and cry that they didn’t get enough presents, or presents of equal or greater value than their siblings.  The left and right will scream and cry that everything is covered by Medicare, or nothing is covered by Medicare.  Tough choices require tough decisions, and these decisions need to be made by adults, in an adult manner.  We need grown-ups to make choices that children cannot or will not.  We could throw all the presents into a big pile under the tree, and let the strongest kid enjoy the spoils while the youngest and weakest cry in the corner, plotting retribution.  That may not be the best solution for anyone involved, so the adults step up.

The truth is that we ration limited resources every day, and sometimes it even stings a little.  When we make our daily decisions and difficult choices out to be evil and un-American, it demeans us all, and drives adults away from the necessary conversation.  It’s Christmas time.  We can act better than that.

So here’s an eggnog toast to the adults who have to decide.  Let’s hope all the kids are happy when they see what limited resources Santa has wrapped under the tree. 
 
“It is logical.  The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few…or the one.” – Spock, Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan.  And remember, he was a Vulcan.  You can’t get more adult than that.


Tuesday, December 21, 2010

The Audacity of Hope


It is such a blessing to still have one at home who believes in Santa Claus with all her heart.  Her innocence brightens the entire Christmas season for all of us.

I vividly remember when the Santa bubble burst for our oldest daughter.  We were on vacation in Florida one April (I think it was 2001), and she and I were alone discussing how the Easter Bunny would schedule his annual home invasion around our availability.  I must have fumbled the explanation somehow, perhaps a momentary hesitation or an involuntary twitch.  My facial expression might have changed ever so slightly, a tell sign that I was freelancing my answer.  Kids can be very perceptive that way, and Marra was no exception.

There was a pause in the conversation, as she considered my apparently nonsensical answer to her reasonable question.  The wheels were turning inside her head, and I could hear the roar of all her childhood assumptions and constructs crashing down around her.  She stared me down and furrowed her brow.

“Are you the Easter Bunny?”  It was equal parts question and statement, since she obviously knew the answer.

I felt so small.  “Yes, yes,” I confessed, “I am the Easter Bunny.”  No sooner had the words hit the ground when the next domino fell.

“Are you the Tooth Fairy?”

I could see where this was headed, so after my second confession in less than a minute, I paused the interrogation to gather a witness for the defense.  “Cherie!  You’d better get in here!”  If my daughter’s childhood was going to end right then and there, we’d both needed to be present to pick up the broken pieces – not of Marra’s shattered dreams, each others’.  Our little girl was growing up, and we were growing old.

We welcomed her with a hug to the There Is No Santa Ever Long Club (TINSEL, for short), and made her swear the oath of secrecy.  “Tell your brother and the real Santa will deliver real coal to your stocking this year, understand?”  She kept our secret, but I imagine it was not out of loyalty to her promise made.  I think she more enjoyed watching her baby brother buy into some phony-baloney story mom and dad made up, and hoped for the day when his belief would be dashed on the rocky shores of real world, just like happened to her one warm Floridian morning.
 
My own recollection of the end of believing was not a singular moment, like Marra’s.  My hopes in Ol’ St. Nick’s existence suffered a long, slow demise, a few years of tears before the flame was finally extinguished with the certainty of logic.  There were several years of fleeting doubts, even though the clues were everywhere, especially the clues hidden amongst the cache of unwrapped gifts on the floor of my mother’s closet (I was just playing in there, honest!).  But each Christmas morning, I’d wake up and run down the stairs to find half eaten sugar cookies, an empty glass of cocoa, and a few carrot nubs.  On top of this obvious proof that a kindly old elf had come down the chimney, eaten our food, and fed his flying reindeer, there was always one gift whose source was shrouded in mystery, and that was enough to keep the flame alive one more year.  Never mind that we had no chimney and the front door was securely locked (remember, this was Jersey).  I was pretty sure for awhile that Santa was an invention, but for years, at least that faint flicker of belief gave me an excuse to stay up late and spy the brightly lit artificial tree from the top of the staircase, looking for evidence that never came.

The revelation to my kids that the Santa story is fairy tale represents the first loss of innocence for them, but I know that many more will follow, and subsequently sharpen their defenses against the real world.   There’s the first season of sports when they don’t get a trophy. There’s the first rejection by a member of the opposite sex.  The first loss of relative.  The first time they realize that their parents are flawed human beings (OK, that one might not happen to my kids, but I hear that it does happen in other families).  I know they need the immunities from these hurts that only life experience can build, but it’s OK to wish for a few weeks every winter that these hurts get postponed somehow.

Today, I realize that I do believe in Santa, in the spirit of the season that the big bearded lug represents.  The warmer, friendlier people around the holidays can overwhelm the line cutters and the parking space stealers.  The lights and the songs drown out the darkness and the silence.  Every once in awhile, a pleasant surprise happens, whether it’s as simple as a funny Christmas card, or a re-gift that suits you perfectly.  That’s the Santa spirit that I can teach the kids about.  He may not eat the cookies and drink the cocoa, but he can be as real as you can be.

Lucy still believes, and so do I, at least a little bit.  I mean, somebody drank that cocoa, right?

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Pass the Ginkgo Biloba


At the annual neighborhood Christmas party, I have been elected Quiz Master for several years running.  We've done matching 80s music lyrics to song titles, matching 80s movie lines to movie titles, holiday trivia, anagrams, the Price is Right, and a few others games I might have forgotten.  Forgotten.  That led me to the idea for this year's challenge at the party.  Let's see how much we remember from just this year - 2010.  How hard could it be???  Here we go - test your knowledge, don't cheat, and the answers are at the end of the post, so scroll slowly:

Busy year.  As we age gracefully, however, the memory tends to go first (for some of us, maybe memory goes second).  How much about 2010 do you remember?  Let’s find out.

1.         Who won the World Cup this year?
2.         Who won the Stanley Cup this year?
3.         Who won the Kentucky Derby?
4.         Who was the World Series MVP this year?
5.         How many points did the Saints score in their Super Bowl victory?
6.         In January, who will be the new House Majority Leader?
7.         Who was the most recent Supreme Court Justice to retire?
8.         Sarah Palin has a new book out.  What’s the title?
9.         How many seats did the GOP gain in the House in the 2010 mid-terms?
10.       Who is the Mayor-elect in DC?
11.       In what month was the Gulf oil leak finally capped?
12.       In what month was the earthquake in Haiti?
13.       How many days were the Chilean miners trapped underground?
14.       This year’s Big Blizzard Season set a new snow record.  It beat out the snowy season of 1995-96.  How many inches fell at Dulles during the 19995-96 season? (within 5”)
15.       Who is the Prime Minister of Great Britain?
16.       Who is Taylor Swift dating today?
17.       What was Miley Cyrus doing in a controversial You Tube video this month?
18.       Who is the actress that plays Sue Sylvester?
19.       Name at least 2 movies that starred Angelina Jolie and were released this year.
20.       What was Lady Gaga’s dress made of at the VMAs?
21.       What is the top grossing movie in 2010?
22.       According to iTunes, what was the year’s best selling song?
23.       What movie won Best Picture in March?
24.       What was the first year that Grey’s Anatomy appeared on the air?
25.       What season number of SNL began in September?
26.       For how many months was Conan off the air?
27.       What is the name of Jim and Pam’s baby?
28.       What caused Joy Behar and Whoopi Goldberg to walk off the set of The View in October?      
29.       What was the Chantilly HS varsity football team’s record this season?
30.       According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, how many Americans were unemployed in November? (within 1 million)

The answers:
  1. Spain - only the most watched event of the summer.
  2. Chicago Blackhawks - of course, I assume everyone knows this.
  3. Super Saver - I do remember a time in my youth when this question would have been easy every year.  Not any more!
  4. Edgar Renteria - I admit, I had to look this one up.  I probably should have asked if anyone at the party knew the teams in the WS this year.
  5. 31 - Tough one, but equally tough for some was "who did they beat?" (Indy)
  6. Eric Cantor - Trick question for people, even before a few beers.  Boehner will be Speaker of the House - Virginia's own Cantor moves to Majority Leader.  I figured since we live near DC we should know that.  I was wrong.
  7. John Paul Stevens - I went with this question instead of asking them to pull Kagan and Sotomayor from their memories.  Apparently SC Justices was not a strong suit of party attendees.
  8. America By Heart - I thought everyone followed Sarah on her book tour. 
  9. 63 - Surprisingly, most people were within one of this number.
  10. Vincent Gray - DC is right down the street, so no excuse not to get this one.
  11. July - The Feds declared the well "dead" in September, so I allowed much wiggle room on this answer.
  12. January
  13. 69 (1st got out after 68 days)
  14. 61.9” - A completely unfair question.  I have a mean streak.
  15. David Cameron - Only one person knew this.  The crowd couldn't get past Tony Blair.
  16. Jake Gyllenhaal - Most of the women got this one - shocker.
  17. Smoking from a water pipe - We seem to know more about Hannah Montana than Justice John Paul Stevens.
  18. Jane Lynch
  19. Salt; The Tourist; Beyond Borders - I knew Jolie was famous, but I couldn't name any of the movies without the Internet.
  20. Meat - many thought that without adding "raw" to the word meat, I should not accept the answer.
  21. Toy Story 3 - No, it was not Avatar.
  22. Train’s “Hey, Soul Sister” - This even stumped my 14 year old.
  23. The Hurt Locker - I am not certain that anyone at the party saw the movie.
  24. 2005 - Again, the women got this one.
  25. 36 - I assumed this was common knowledge, but I go to parties with folks that no longer stay up for SNL.
  26. 9 months - I wonder if they would have known what team Coco was?
  27. Cecelia - Or Cece, also acceptable.
  28. He said Muslims were responsible for 9/11 - Everyone just shouted out "Bill O'Reilly", and received full credit.
  29. 10 wins, 3 losses - Local trivia for the parents of Chantilly High kids.
  30. 15.1 million - Kind of a bummer final question, I know.
I plan to give the exact same quiz next year, and see how everyone does.  High team score this year was 16 out of 30.  I predict 17 will take the title next year.  How did you do?

Friday, December 17, 2010

Bright-Sided

The pervasive cult of positivity in our culture is ruining this nation, so argues Barbara Ehrenreich in her thought-provoking book, Brightsided: How the Relentless Promotion of Positive Thinking Has Undermined America.  If a primary goal of her writing is to challenge the conventional wisdom that we must all be positive to achieve wealth and health, she certainly accomplished that mission with me.  I think about this book, and the counterintuitive thinking it encourages, nearly every day.  I finished her book, and it crystallized in my mind why comic strips like Dilbert and shows like The Office resonate with me (and many others).  In every strip or episode, reality is revealed and laid bare within the corporate fantasy backdrop of positivity.  This book focuses the reader on reality, and isn’t that where we should live most of the time?

Her journey in the book begins with her breast cancer diagnosis, which most would agree is a negative event.  Not to worry, she finds out.  If she remains positive, she can “beat” cancer.  She can be a survivor, if only she “fights” harder with her mind, and remains mentally tough.  Stay positive, and she will “win” is the constant message drummed into her from friends, support group members, the mainstream media, and even doctors.  “Winning” is defining as surviving, while “losing” is synonymous with dying.  It sets up a difficult position for anyone who succumbs to the disease.  “If only you had been more positive, more spiritual, you might have survived.”  That’s the not-so-subtle message.  This shifts the blame for a poor cancer prognosis directly to the individual, a punishment for their lack of positivity and “mental toughness”. 
 
Ehrenreich, who before becoming a writer was educated in biology, reviews the available research, and finds that positive thoughts and positive emotions are completely disconnected from the biology of cancer cells.  While some studies do support positivity’s role in warding off colds and some stress-related illnesses, there is no documented connection between positive thoughts and slowing the growth of tumors.  Whatever the benefits of a positive attitude, it cannot cure cancer, and a patient’s negativity has never been proven medically to have been a determining factor in someone’s demise.  It couldn’t be the poor medical treatment, the chemicals in the food you ate, or the toxic air in the workplace to blame for the illness, right?  Those are external forces.  It’s your fault, so quit whining and WIN!

History, she writes, has seen this inward blame game before.  This country has a rich history based on Calvinist thinking that success or failure in life comes from either the openness to, or rejection of, sin.  If things are not going well in your life, look into yourself and find the sinfulness that is holding you back.  You cannot have success with the weakness of sin on your soul, and sin can be absolved through hard work and the elimination of any distractions.  The Protestant work ethic drove great accomplishments in our country, to be sure, but it also encouraged those less fortunate to blame only themselves for any of life’s misfortunes.   

The common thread between the Calvinist philosophy and the modern day positive thinking philosophy, Ehrenreich explains, is that blame for life’s difficulties rests squarely within yourself.  It ignores, or seriously minimizes the impact of others, of societal structures, of circumstance.  In this way, what is sold as an empowering philosophy (“you can control life”) becomes for many a fatalistic reality in which you are never good enough, but keep working within yourself and the outside world will bend magically.

Sound like ‘magically’ is too strong a word?  One of the bestselling books of the last century was “Think and Grow Rich” by Clement Stone.  His book was pedaled to a generation of entrepreneurs and salespeople, teaching that money could be “attracted” to you through positive thoughts.  The book counsels the reader to pick a specific dollar figure, and fix that in their mind.  This fixation will magically attract that sum to you, but only if you think about it all the time and remain confident in its attainment.  Is this goal setting or hypnotic delusion?  That depends on the reader, but the author states clearly that the only barrier between you and financial success is within your own mind and the attitudes you own.  Failure, therefore, is yours and yours alone.  Apparently, in this realm of Stepford salespeople, well-reasoned financial regulatory legislation is unnecessary and sound tax policy can never be “positive”.

Could your inability to achieve financial independent be influenced by the outside world?  Should you dare say something negative about the way in which society and corporate America operates?  Of course not, we learn quickly that naysayers need to be kept at arm’s length.  Questioning these structures opens the door to negative thoughts, and it is negative thoughts that brought misery and misfortune.  Besides, human resources is taught to terminate the employment of negative influencers in the workplace, because they drive down productivity! 
 
Let’s say you can’t find a job.  That’s tough.  Stay upbeat, and you will.  The backdrop in 2010 for your job search is this:  Wages have been stagnant for the last 10 years.  U.S. companies just finished their most profitable quarter ever - $1.659 trillion in profits.  How did that happen in these difficult times?  Increased productivity by workers – fewer workers working harder for the same or less money.  We are trained, however, that looking behind the curtain to see what systemic issues might be contributing to the challenge of the job search is counter-productive.  “Look inward, and be positive.  Question us, and you are negative.  Negative people are not welcome here.” 
 
Ehrenreich worries that anyone within corporate mortgage brokerages who shouted warnings about the housing bubble was seen as “negative”, and exited from the organization, or at least marginalized as someone who doesn’t see the big picture, someone who can’t “get with the program”.  Could we have used a few more negative voices in 2007?  Within our political structure, it is Reagan’s “Morning in America” positivity that is the gold standard, while Jimmy Carter’s reflection of negativity is an example of self-fulfilling defeatism.  Leaders should project positivity, but shouldn’t they also govern with a strong foundation in realism?  The question that has to be asked is “If everyone who sounds the alarm bell or questions flawed decision-making is run out of our businesses and government for their bad attitudes, could we be left with a bunch of smiling appeasers, happy to get along spouting Successories’ platitudes and hiring life coaches for their compass?”  Tough issues require tough questions and answers, and sometimes negativity is a necessary warning signal to others.

Ehrenreich reveals a liberal bias when she turns to attack corporate American for its embrace of positivity as a means of control of workers.  (She also authored Nickel and Dimed, another book of hers I recommend, on the plight of the minimum wage underclass in America).  Do you think that the promotion of “staying positive” and “eliminating negative people” isn’t a form of corporate mind control?  Companies are spending billions on coaches and motivational speakers, all charged with upholding and improving morale, and corporate profits along the way.  I clipped this excerpt below from www.workforce.com, and an article by Michelle V. Rafter titled “The Yawning of a New Era”

“Some companies have figured out ways to keep employees’ spirits and energy up during down times. For example, Xonex Relocation, a New Castle, Delaware, relocation services company, says it realizes its employees are under added stress with many people making work-related moves… The company has mandated other stress reducers, including the “sunset rule.” Every day before quitting time, the company’s customer-service agents must phone clients with a move update, so there’s no unfinished business hanging over employees’ heads when they go home. The company sells the end-of-day check-in as a special feature for clients, but it’s really about giving employees’ peace of mind, Humphrey says. “I don’t want them going home and picking their kids up from soccer and thinking of the calls they didn’t make. It’s a very beloved thing here. Everyone commits to making those calls.”

So let me understand this:  Companies have a vested interest in keeping “employees’ spirits and energy up during down times”.  The solution is to demand more work (the end of day calls), packaged as “we’re doing this for your mental health”.  Perhaps hiring more help would be a possible solution to the stress of overwork.  Oops, was that a negative thought?  I’m fired, with a “bad attitude” notation next to my name in my permanent personnel file.

This is a must-read book, however difficult the message is to hear and absorb.  This should not be taken to mean that being positive isn’t a good thing.  What I have taken away from this read is that we need to force balance back into the equation, and resist the overwhelming tilt towards nothing but blind, happy thoughts.  We don’t want to live in a world of irrational fears and negative images in our minds.  Conversely, we shouldn’t want to live in a world where all risks are hidden behind a blank smile and an unbending belief that “everything will turn out OK if we just will it to happen.”  Besides, isn’t the real world where we should spend the majority of our time?

Barbara Ehrenreich is a curmudgeon and a cynic, alright, but I’m the type of guy who loves Larry David, and he would love this book, too.  It’s easy to read, contains challenging ideas, and is highly recommended by me– four stars.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Kevin Bacon is not really my friend



Today, I lost a friend.  More accurately, he “quit” me.  Not in the real world sense of drifting apart or having a terminal argument about some personal or political matter between us.  This was a virtual loss, and it was felt by me and approximately 500 other people, to a greater or lesser degree.  One of my 144 “friends” announced that he is leaving Facebook.

He posted on his wall for all 500+ of us to see his list of 10 reasons for the decision.  From time to time, I believe that we have all experienced similar thoughts and feelings about Facebook like the ones he details.  He lost interest in knowing what his high school lab partner had for breakfast that particular morning.  Some of his connections he didn’t really even know.  He felt that he was spending time with virtual connections in exchange for quality time with the flesh and blood people that occupy his daily personal space.  In short, the technology that lured him with the promise of an increased connection to people was leaving my friend more disconnected from people.  Be careful what you wish for.

Now, my former “friend” had another motive for using Facebook in the first place.  He was selling.  I think that is part of the problem.  Facebook seems to me to be about giving, not getting; sharing, not selling.  I blog for myself and as a gift to those I know.  I am not charging a subscription for access (yet…).  It’s self-affirming, and the benefit for me is not monetary.  It’s more meaningful than that.  He approached FB from a different angle, to scratch a different itch, and left disappointed.  Maybe he started from a point where disappointment was the inevitable destination. 

Truth be told, he was more of a business acquaintance than a friend.  That is not to say that I don’t like him as a person.  I do.  However, I have never been to his home, never met his family, and I don’t know where he grew up.  We’ve never yelled at the TV together while watching an important sporting event, or confessed any private fears or personal shortcomings.  That sounds more like an acquaintance to me…not that there’s anything wrong with that.  I was glad to count him amongst my personal collection of 144.

I try to limit the friend list to those that are either true friends past or present, relatives (we’re stuck with those, right?), or acquaintances with potential.  I guess he was in the latter grouping.  All of my connections, though, have contributed to who I am, whether intentionally or not, whether for the good or not.  It’s doesn’t represent everyone in or from my life, but it is a fair representative cross-section.  For me, you are who you Facebook.  Think about that the next time you scroll through your Friend List.  Since I come from this perspective, it makes his defriending all the more relevant to me.

In an odd way, I feel a bit lonelier today.  Someone has fallen off the grid.  He’s gone rogue.  He’s let go of whatever thin fiber of digital connection he and I had between us.  I can understand his disappointment that the medium didn’t give him what he thought it had promised, but I don’t feel the same way he does.  Once I got past the initial tedium of reading the minutiae of everyone’s daily inspirations, errands, dietary fiber intakes and outputs, Seinfeldian ‘observations’, and “Likes”, I began to look forward to it.  For me, it provides, for a small time investment, a sense of comfort and continuity to my life.  I like knowing that the people that have impacted my life in ways they can could never imagine and in ways that I could not easily quantify are OK.  They continue on.  They are out there (some are literally “out there”, but I’ve known that about those people for a long time, and you know who you are).  Sure, I may never really know if my former high school lab partner is happy in life – I only get his links to videos of cats playing the piano – but that person is still moving forward, living his life.

On top of that, there is a weird, grounded feeling I get knowing that others are cranky in the morning, get frustrated waiting in long lines, think funny thoughts, and are proud of their kids.  The realm in which we communicate may be virtual, but at least I can be reminded (poked) daily that we all participate in two competitive races together:  the rat race and the human race.  That’s good, and it’s real.
  
I wish him well without Facebook, and I will keep in touch with him through other forms of modern communication, I have no doubt.  But I am sticking with this FB nonsense that I delayed joining for so long.  I still have hope that it can be good and beneficial, and will do no harm.  I hope I am right.

Monday, December 13, 2010

WikiLeaks: The Santa Files


The most secret and best protected database in the universe has been compromised by Julian Assange and his self-righteous band of techno-pirates, and their ill-gotten findings have been released as part of their War on Privacy (I thought Facebook had already won the privacy war). While I condemn these invasions of privacy and lament the harm that these breaches cause, I must nevertheless press the “Publish” button, in the name of petty voyeurism and mindless entertainment. After all, what could be more American than that? I give you selected excerpts from The Santa Files: Letters Unleashed.

CLASSIFIED

Dear Barry (or Mr. President, as you now prefer),
I was surprised to receive your Wish List dated December 1, 2010. It was quite lengthy, and the vocabulary somewhat pretentious. That aside, I was under the impression that your 2008 gift would last at least 4 years. Imagine my surprise when I opened your letter and read your gift request for Bipartisanship. I cannot deliver this one for you, my friend, and further, I do not recommend it as a gift. My experience in giving the gift of Bipartisanship has not been positive. It breaks easily, and melts away quicker than Frosty the Snowman in a microwave. Besides, Sarah has already written to me asking for Partisanship as her gift, and she has recently been spotted heavily armed and approaching the North Pole. I’d better oblige her on this one, since Donner and Blitzen are getting nervous.

How about a nice new electric car?

Santa

Dear Tiger,
I am in receipt of the letters of recommendation from your corporate sponsors, the President of your local HOA, and Jim Nance. It is true, you are a tradition like no other. Unfortunately, I regret to inform you that you will remain on the Naughty List indefinitely, or until you win another major, whichever comes first.

S.

PS – How’s the Norwegian candy I brought you 5 years ago? Any left? If so, please leave it under the tree for me on Christmas Eve, in case I am in the neighborhood and have a craving for that sweet stuff. Ms. Claus doesn’t approve, but Christmas only comes once a year!

Dear TSA Airport Screeners,
You have a lot of nerve asking for anything else this year. I suggest you ‘stand pat’ (wink wink) with the ‘packages’ that I have already delivered to you. Keep pushing me, and I’ll send Richard Simmons on that nationwide exercise tour he’s being asking for.

S.

Dear Brett,
My, my – immortality! That’s a pretty tall order, even for Santa. Sometimes, you need to save a player from themselves, however, and I must deny your gift request. In my judgment, once you have saved and then destroyed all 32 NFL franchises one by one, you would eventually get bored and try minor league baseball. Immortality would then seem more like a curse than a Christmas present. I will put you down for a new iPad instead. It makes everything on the screen look bigger.

S.

Dear Sidney,
That’s funny – Alex Ovechkin asked for the exact same thing to happen to YOU this Christmas! Be careful, Mr. Crosby. One more Gordie Howe hat trick and you will be shifted into my penalty box – the Naughty List.

S.

Dear Glenn Beck,
I viewed your video Christmas letter. Very creative! The use of the chalkboard was quite original. Unfortunately, I have no idea what you were talking about, or what you really want. For some reason, I am very angry, though. Please resubmit.

S.

PS – I do not think that my beard makes me look dangerous, or that the twinkle in my eye makes me look shifty.
PPS – I’m Santa, not Castro. I give presents once a year, which is not the same as redistributing wealth and discouraging work….and my elves are documented.

Dear Lindsay Lohan,
Ho Ho Ho, and I mean it! Your Gift List has been received, but it is currently tied up in my legal department. It seems that your requested gifts cannot be delivered to your current address. Apparently, there is some sort of court order. Perhaps I’ll substitute the “white” Christmas you requested with an appointment on Oprah’s couch.

S.

Dear Vice President Joe,
Where do you find the time to write so many letters? Based on your public use of profanity, I probably shouldn’t; however, your authentic Robin costume will be under the tree this year. Remember, you promised not to wear it during Cabinet meetings. I am certain they have a dress code in the West Wing, even for Super Heroes.

Go, Fightin’ Blue Hens!

S.

Dear Sen. McCain,
Your Christmas Wish List arrived this week. It began in a cordial, lucid and polite manner, but I must say that the more I read, the more bitter, angry and incoherent it became. What started as reasonable requests devolved into a litany of complaints and non sequiturs. Your tone was extremely argumentative, and frankly, not appreciated.

Because of your hostile letter, you will not find a new battle tank of your very own under the tree this year. Be sure to check your stocking for some extra happy pills, and a referral to a specialist I know. He has helped me through my bouts with seasonal affective disorder, and you could use the couch time. Mellow out, dude.

S.

Dear Sherrier Children,
What a lovely Christmas letter! Unfortunately, I cannot deliver a replacement for the defective paternal model in your home. Apparently, my elves were instructed to break that mold 48 years ago (part of a legal settlement, I believe). I will bring you a new TV instead. Trust me, it’s just as good if not better.

Santa Claus

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Ye Olde Basement Antique Shoppe

Antiquing requires patience, an imagination, and a compulsive need to hoard everything, regardless of its utility or condition.


A collection of gently and not-so-gently used treasures and trash spanning 20 years of togetherness and irrational compulsions.  Inquire Within.

My wife and I visited Ye Olde Basement Antique Shoppe this weekend, a welcome respite from the hustle and bustle of the upper floors of our home. When we closed the door to the basement from the inside and descended the dusty stairs, we entered a new reality, where old was new, and trash was (perceived) treasure. What memories will we find among the piles of…not sure what that pile is....

Our eyes slowly adjusted to the flood bulbs of the vintage track lighting, but that only added to the sense of nostalgia in this basement.  I am optimistic that we will leave with something today.  There is always hope.

"Look, honey. It’s a hurricane glass from your 1979 Senior Prom." The clouded glass is inscribed with the theme of the gala - Enchantment Under the Sea.  While holding the glass, we are transported back to those heady times of our youth, and the reckless abandon of immortality. The memories are intoxicating, much like the actual event itself. Keep it.  Could be valuable some day.

Here are some fine collectibles from Chez McDonalds, acquired during the first generation of the McRib menu addition. Sure, some pieces are missing so the Ogre’s mouth no longer moves, and Hercules’ sword is hopelessly lost in the bucket of unloved stuffed animals, but the vintage Taiwan plastic speaks to us. Keep them.  Kids might want to play with them some day.

Hidden beneath the timeless Holly Hobbie style quilts and juice stained dress up clothes are the real treasures – broken and obsolete electronics. The 10 watt boom box with dual cassette capability transports us back to long days in the park, reclining on a blanket together, dreaming about how life-affirming it would be to have kids. Hmmm. Keep it. Cassettes could make a comeback. What could this remote control be for? Perhaps that VCR I bought you on our first Christmas together. How romantic! No, not enough buttons. What if this remote powers the radio controlled car that must be down here somewhere? Better keep it, just in case.  The car is useless without the remote.  I am sure we'll find the car soon.

Do you remember this blazer? Look, I can still roll up the sleeves, just like Crockett and Tubbs. This will fit one of the kids soon, and throwing it away will lead to nothing but regret. A Halloween staple.  Keep it.

You might think these are nothing but old newspapers, but there is history nestled in the newsprint. At least there must be, or else why did we save them in the first place? Let’s save these, and we’ll go through them later.  Put them over by the empty shoe boxes that will become educational dioramas for one of the kid's school projects.

Speaking of school, this heavy book is chock full of memories from college.  It's my Introduction to Sociology textbook, Individuals and Groups.  The kids will be glad that we held on to this gem.  The important parts are already highlighted.  Think of the time they'll save studying this material now!

What’s that smell? The old cigar box from Uncle…are you sure it was from him? You could be mistaken. I think this was a white elephant gift from Christmas 2006. We will definitely need this again soon. Let’s hold on to it.  It has sentimental value.

Look out – a spider cricket!!! No worries, he’s been dead a long time. I’ll bet the kids would get a good scare from this one. We’ll keep him over here, with the other ones from last winter.

Yes, a trip to the basement is just like antiquing. We admire all the junk, touch a few items, and walk away empty handed. Everything in the basement is old, useless, but utterly priceless. Someday, the same will be said about us.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Hall Pass


I noticed that Bon Jovi is on the short list of nominees for induction into the Hall of Fame. I hope he gets in, and not because I am a Bon Jovi fan. I’m not. I’m indifferent, really. Contrary to popular stereotypes, it is not a requirement to listen to and love the rock of Bon Jovi if you are from New Jersey, like I am (pretty sure liking Springsteen is a requirement, however).  The idea of eligibility for the Hall did get me thinking, however.  It got me thinking mostly about the hypocrisy of those who vote for inductees, and it cuts to the true meaning of what it means to be a Hall of Famer.
 
I hate the double standard on the use of performance enhancing drugs.

The use of these banned substances has allowed performers to write and play songs whose popularity has lasted generations, and to produce a dizzying array of hits.  Some of the records achieved during the so-called LSD Era may never be broken. Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon was on the Billboard charts for 736 consecutive weeks. Can anyone with a straight face tell me that setting this iron man record is possible without pharmaceutical help?  Please. Just like the “Steroids Era” record of 73 single season homers from Bonds was Ruthian, Pink Floyd has a record that may never be broken…all because of the performance enhancers.  The difference is, Bonds will never be inducted, and Pink Floyd is already in the Hall.

Mark McGuire has more career hits than the Rolling Stones, yet the Rolling Stones are in the Hall of Fame. McGuire will probably never make it, and his lone black mark is the use of performance enhancing drugs during his career. Is that really fair?  Keith Richards made no secret of his juicing to improve on stage performance.  Did the voters hold that against him?  No way – straight into the Hall he went.
 
It is crystal clear that those who did not use PEDs were at a significant disadvantage to those that flaunted their use. Ted Nugent, for example, had a few big hits in his day, and he is well known for not using any performance boosters while playing. You have to wonder how much better Cat’s Scratch Fever could have been if Nugent was a juicer. Would Ken Griffey hit 800 home runs with PEDs? You’ve seen the swing, you be the judge.  How many Grammy Awards could Ted have won with just one year of chemical help?  You’ve seen his stage antics, you be the judge.
 
How many more hits would the Little River Band have had if their lead guitarist had been on PEDs? Those gentle riffs in their 70’s hit, Reminiscing, might have sounded more like haunting screams from Roger Waters and David Gilmour’s electric guitars, and history could have been made. Instead, the Little River Band is the answer to a trivia question in a bar argument.   Little River Band is not in the Hall of Fame.

It’s not like the voters for Hall of Fame induction can’t see what’s happening.  You could tell who the users were, by the lines on their faces, the giant biceps, and the tracks on their arms. You could see the dramatic physical changes when they stopped using PEDs, too. In many cases, they shriveled up and starting writing acoustic love songs or hitting weak infield singles. How sad for them, but it does prove the powerful effects of the PEDs on their creativity and stagecraft.  Billy Corgan of Smashing Pumpkins cleaned up his act, and he hasn’t written a hit since.  Jason Giambi went off the juice, and quickly became nothing more than a shrunk head with a baseball bat.   The stuff works, but the voters seem to selectively apply the rules.

It is always difficult to compare players and performances across generations, but isn’t the double standard on juicing unfair to bands like Bachmann Turner Overdrive, or players like Larry Bowa? Without drugs, The Who might have been no better than BTO. Or said another way, add Keith Moon to the BTO line up, and Takin’ Care of Business becomes the equivalent of iconic rock classic Won’t Get Fooled Again. Is it realistic to think that a sober drummer could match the intensity that a doped up Keith Moon could create? The answer is obvious - of course not. When PED users are on your team, you generate more hits. It’s that simple.  Larry Bowa could have been Alex Rodriguez, but he played in a different era.  Larry Bowa is not in the Hall, but perhaps with a few injections…
  
Look, I am not na├»ve enough to think that there has never been cheating over the years.  We know about the spitball and corked bats.  We’ve heard the stories about lip-syncing, sampling, and other computer aided sounds. Heck, Queen would leave the stage while the a cappella part of Bohemian Rhapsody played from a recording! Have they no shame! If that’s not cheating, I don’t know what is. They are Hall of Famers, by the way.  Gaylord Perry wrote a book about cheating, and he’s in, too.  The fact is that sometimes the cheaters are rewarded with a Hall of Fame plaque, and other times, they are banned from what they love.

There is enough blame to go around.  The owners have looked the other way for years. Both players and owners were making money, and the fans were happy and showing up at events. Owners can pretend that they didn’t notice what was going on, but who is kidding who. I’ve seen the videos of Iggy Pop concerts. I’ve seen and heard Jim Morrison on stage, slurring his words. No PEDs? Give me a break! Both, by the way, the voters honored with induction to the Hall of Fame.  Sammy Sosa, however, will never get in.

Sure, you can say, “everyone was doing it at the time.” That may be true, particularly in the record-shattering years from 1968-1972, but I don’t believe that should be the standard for the Hall. Being a Hall of Famer used to mean something, something special. Not ‘everyone’ was doing it. If everyone was doing it, how can you explain Christopher Cross? No one using performance enhancers would write those songs, trust me.

Some have suggested these issues could be resolved with mandatory testing. The competitive spirit of these players is too great, and the financial rewards too large for this to work. The doctors and chemists would stay one step ahead of testing, and we’d never know the truth about who had “assistance” writing killer songs or stealing 150 bases, and who wrote their music or threw a no-hitter without performance enhancers.  It’s completely unworkable.

In conclusion, I believe that players being considered for the Hall of Fame should have their records judged against the period in which they performed. If PEDs are part of the act, then vote ‘em all in, if they have had enough hits.  It’s only fair.

And while I am on the subject of the Hall of Fame, the HOF Committee needs to address gambling once and for all.  The inconsistency is criminal.   I mean, how can Charlie Daniels be in the Hall of Fame after admitting publicly that he bet on music…with the Devil, no less! If Pete Rose can’t get elected to his Hall, why should Mr. Daniels deserve any better treatment? This Hall of Fame had better clean up its’ act, before it loses the public trust forever.  

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Wikileaks – The Biden Files


Buried within the deluge of diplomatic cables and hidden under the treasure trove of classified information lie these juicy morsels, unreleased for public consumption – until now.  It seems that Vice President Joe Biden has some secrets, too.  The entire file is too large and too racy for this forum.  I give you below only the highlights from the Instant Messenger chat transcripts with the President:

CLASSIFIED

Biden:   Hey, Barry.  Good one.  It took me 2 years to figure out that the Middle Class Task Force you put me in charge of doesn’t exist.  There is no middle class anymore!  LOL.
Obama:  I have told you a thousand times, Joe – stop calling me Barry.
Biden:  OK, Barry ;)
Biden:  Hey, BO.  Can I play in the big game this week?  It’s a big deal, a big f***ing deal to me.  I’ve got sick ball handling skills.
Obama:  No. 
Biden:  You scared I’ll show you up?  I am a Veep Wrangler, baby, ready to drive through the lane, take the rock to the peach basket.
Obama:  Peach basket?  How old ARE you???
Biden:  I’ve been working on my game.  No daily briefings until I hit 100 free throws.  Drilling the baby hook with consistency, too.  C’mon, let me play.
Obama:  If you play, no more trash talking Scalia.  He’s pissed.
Biden:  He’s no activist judge…stands there along the baseline like a statute.  He sucks.  Does he have to wear that robe when he sits on the bench?  He’s a showboat.
Obama:  Be nice.  We need his rebounding.
Biden:  Rebounding?  Everybody knows neo-cons can’t jump, my brother.
Obama:  You are not my brother, Joe.  Cut it out.
Biden:  It’s all good, yo.
Biden:  So can I play?  I think you won’t let me play ‘cause I’m white.  I talked to Holder.  He’s with me.  That’s reverse discrimination, man!  I got a case.
Obama:  It’s not discrimination.  We just don’t need another Salami out there.  Geithner’s our Salami.  That’s our quota.
Biden:  OK, I’ll be there for warm-ups.  I’ll bring my ABA vintage ball.  It’s the schezel.
Obama:  Help me, Lord.  

Later that same day:

Biden:  Nice game, Who-Sane.  BTW, that last basket was a travel.
Obama:  No, it wasn’t.  Please call me Mr. President.
Biden:  Not a travel?  You could have walked halfway to Kenya on that last move.
Obama:  That’s a cheap shot, Joe.  I wonder if Bill Richardson is available for 2012.  At least he’s not a chucker.
Biden:  I AM NOT A CHUCKER!!!  I had open looks.  Maybe if you passed the ball once in awhile.  You were feeding the biscuit to Reid all day long.  All he did was hold the ball and stall.  He was lost out there while McConnell ran circles around him.  At least I tried to make something happen. 
Obama:  When I talk about transparency, I don't mean for you to disappear on defense.  And you missed 10 straight shots.  Why don’t you shut up and just play sometimes?
Biden:  I couldn’t concentrate out there, with Bachmann screaming “Fascist!” every time I touched the ball.  You try it.  Saw Pelosi checking me out from the bleachers.  Think she likes me?
Obama:  That is not appropriate.
Biden:  Yeah, I should just go talk to her.  Hear how she squealed when I took the charge from Boehner?  I think his bronzer stained my jersey.  Think he’ll pay the cleaning bill if I bury it into the Defense authorization?  Ha ha.  Yo, you playing poker tonight?
Obama:  Poker?  Tonight?
Biden:  Oops.
Obama:  Why wasn’t I invited?
Biden: Cantor says you run up debts you can’t pay.  Says he doesn’t want to live his life holding your IOUs. 
Obama:  Really?  He lies and he cheats.  I ought to have Hillary pay him a visit and break his thumbs.  LOL.
Biden:  Word.
Obama:  Please stop that.  You used to be so much more articulate.  What happened?
Biden:  OK, you can come, but you'll have to bring food to the table.  And not that healthy crap from Michelle's garden.  Real food - wings, chips, salsa.
Obama:  How come every time I play cards with Cantor and Boehner I have to bring something to the table.  What do they ever contribute?
Biden:  They'll bring the tea ;)  LMAO!!!!
Obama:  That's not funny, Joe.
Biden:  Lighten up, Francis.  Just keepin' it real.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Who DADT?


I must admit that my military experience is limited to serving a 2-year tour of duty as Assistant Webelos Den Leader, and once running the Marine Corps Marathon. Dangerous assignments, no doubt, but neither elevates to the level defined by Col. Nathan R. Jessup, “Ever served in a forward area? Ever put your life in another man's hands, asked him to put his life in yours?” So forgive me if I don’t fully understand or appreciate the concept of “unit cohesion” in a military sense. Unit cohesion must be pretty darn important, however, since the strength of unit cohesion is threatened by the imminent repeal of Don’t Ask Don’t tell. I know this to be true, because decorated war hero and failed Presidential hopeful, Sen. John McCain, has told me so. Why am I so skeptical?

Could it be that disruption to “unit cohesion” was used to delay the integration of blacks into the military? Could it be that “unit cohesion” was supposed to be sacrificed once women were assigned into combat roles? It could be that unit cohesion is always the last argument in a losing fight, a phrase so mysterious and vague that it is rivaled only by the equally persuasive parental, “Because I said so.” Kids accept it because they have never been parents. Am I supposed to accept McCain’s judgment because I have never served in the military and can’t possibly grasp the subtleties of unit cohesion?

I am dismayed at how fragile unit cohesion is perceived to be by Sen. McCain. Apparently, asking people to lie to their fellow soldiers about the reality of who they are does more to build unit cohesion than a simple truth among friends and teammates. It would seem that the Marines can conquer any enemy, yet the thought of Nathan Lane fixing a jeep or packing a parachute tears at the very fabric of unit cohesion. That’s insulting to the members of the military, and the results of the recent survey of service members attitudes towards repeal back me up. They can handle change.  They can handle the truth.

Here’s the bigger picture. Unit cohesion is just another one of the moving goal posts of GOP politics to be overcome. The first goal post, as set by Sen. McCain (and other Republican Senators), was that he would support repeal of DADT as soon as military leadership came to him requesting such a change. They did. Sen. McCain next decided that in addition to support of military leadership, he would need to see the results of a study of field level reactions to such a repeal. As Sen. McCain stated, and I paraphrase, “Good leaders never move forward without input from their team.” While this may not sound much like the way a maverick would make decisions, no matter. Accepting group think to bring people together is a new form of military leadership, a sort of “leadership cohesion” theory. Survey results were received, and members of the active service overwhelmingly either supported the repeal, or didn’t care either way. (Of course, if a survey of the all-white military was conducted in 1948 that supported segregation of the races in military facilities, Sen. McCain’s brand of leadership by consensus would have rejected integration).

Did I mention that in this country, the military is controlled by civilian authority, and not the other way around?

Now the survey is flawed, according to the Senator. Of course it is. Goal post once reached must be moved again. Until a survey supports McCain’s position, it must be flawed somehow. Climate science is rigged, because it is anti-Big Oil. Judges are ‘activist’ when rulings go the other way. Disagree with us? You’re a Socialist. I disagree with you? I am a brother of the Revolutionary War patriots, dumping tea into the harbor, expressing my God-given right to civil disobedience.

Moving goal posts seems to be a GOP specialty. Take health care. Nixon proposed pay-or-play. Clinton proposed the same in the 1990s, a GOP idea.  It was rejected by the GOP, who favored individual mandates.  The Democrats built on that idea, the same one Republican Mitt Romney enacted in Massachusetts.  Now the GOP says it's all unconstitutional.  Take cap and trade. Part of the McCain platform in 2008.  Now it's an assault on free markets.  There is no middle when one side keeps drifting further and further right.  Bipartisan compromise should not be sold to the public as synonymous with capitulation to the extreme. Meeting half way isn’t the same as abandoning your position in submission to mine. Negotiation does not demand a zero sum result (i.e. if I win, you lose).

It could be that I have this all wrong. The real story isn’t the Republicans moving the goal posts further on the Democrats. It’s the far right moving the goal posts on John McCain. The closer he comes to embracing their positions, the further he is asked to bend. I know many Democrats who could have voted for McCain 2000. By the time he reached McCain 2008, he was tied in too many contradictory knots by kowtowing to the far right in his party. McCain pushed for limits on corporate money in elections.  Now, not so much.  He was a key player in immigration reform, until he was blasted as an amnesty advocate.  Now all he knows are bigger fences.  McCain 2010 could probably become governor of South Carolina in a walk.

Sen. McCain is becoming Colonel Jessup before our eyes.  It is a very small leap to imagine this coming out of McCain today, when discussing DADT:

Son, we live in a world that has walls, and those walls have to be guarded by men with guns. Who's gonna do it? You? You, Lt. Weinburg? I have a greater responsibility than you could possibly fathom. You weep for _______, and you curse the marines. You have that luxury. You have the luxury of not knowing what I know. That {DADT}, while tragic, probably saved lives. And my existence, while grotesque and incomprehensible to you, saves lives. You don't want the truth because deep down in places you don't talk about at parties, you want me on that wall, you need me on that wall. We use words like honor, code, loyalty. We use these words as the backbone of a life spent defending something. You use them as a punchline. I have neither the time nor the inclination to explain myself to a man who rises and sleeps under the blanket of the very freedom that I provide, and then questions the manner in which I provide it. I would rather you just said thank you, and went on your way, Otherwise, I suggest you pick up a weapon, and stand a post. Either way, I don't give a damn what you think you are entitled to.


Self-righteous, and ultimately wrong.

Time to Ask and Tell.