Thursday, January 31, 2013

In the Tub for Taft

So the Mount Rushmore of Baseball Mascots has a new member.  The Washington Nationals have unveiled a fifth Big Headed President to participate during the 4th inning stretch President’s Race, and it’s William Howard Taft, former President and Supreme Court Justice.  While Zachary Taylor and Franklin Pierce reportedly made the short list, the Nationals preferred to exploit the historical rivalry between their lovable loser, Teddy Roosevelt and his hand-picked successor, Taft.  

History tells us that Teddy came to hate Taft so much that he formed the Bull Moose Party to oppose Taft and thus open the door to a Woodrow Wilson Presidency.  Were it not for Teddy’s grudge, we may never have had a League of Nations or a Wilson Bridge connecting Virginia and Maryland to the south.  Can you imagine the traffic on the Beltway if Wilson had never won?  Thank goodness for the Bull Meese!

While the choice of Taft may seem inspired at first glance, not everyone believes that our 27th President made a successful public debut this week.  To everyone’s surprise, it seems that Taft has been on a diet the past century and is in regular season condition to take on Washington’s Biggest Loser (no, not John Boehner – Teddy!).  The sports world was stunned to meet a skinny and fit Taft. 

For the 2nd time in 100+ years, Taft’s benefactor turned bitter enemy, Theodore Roosevelt, has taken exception to Taft’s election and he’s ready to weigh in about it.  

An Open Letter to the Lerner Family (owners of the Washington Nationals):

I am writing to you today to express my objection to the selection of the newest participant in the 2013 Washington Nationals President’s Races, William Howard Taft.  While I had initially given my ascent, I must withdraw my support based on troubling questions surrounding President Taft’s surprising lack of girth.  I believe that I was misled about his foot speed in order to gain my approval.
I believe that I have been a good soldier for several years supporting the team.  My epic losing streak in the 4th inning races took the pressure off the team as it suffered through consecutive 100 loss seasons.  Fans at the ballpark could transfer their sympathy for the perennial losers on the field to me and my perennial losing ways.  For one half inning of every home game, loyal Nats’ fans could think about poor Teddy and his losing instead of their own misery of losing, stuck watching Lastings Milledge drop a fly ball in the sun, or Wily Mo Pena strike out, or Elijah Dukes ignore a court order.  I was a good soldier and I took one of the team.

I appreciated that you gave me the right of refusal when the addition of Taft was initially considered.  You were sensitive to my concerns that his back stabbing political reputation would bleed over onto the ball field.  As a tenured mascot, I deserved to be consulted and I thought you were listening.    

However, the William Howard Taft that I was led to believe would be competing against Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln and myself in a race of speed and endurance was a 330-pound, out of shape, lumbering cow who once was stuck inside his own White House bathtub.  This is the character I expected to race and this is why I agreed to accept him in our costumed fraternity, even though his likeness is not and will never be carved on Mount Rushmore like me.    

Instead, the William Howard Taft that was introduced at the recent Nationals’ FanFest event bears no resemblance to the man I knew.  The Taft I saw at FanFest was svelte, trim and ready for competition.  I will admit that his head was as big as I had remembered, but his chiseled body below the neck was a shock and frankly, not natural.  There is no way he achieved that condition without banned substances or surgery.  No way.

Lerner Family, this Thin Taft is an affront to the history of our great nation.  While it is possible that Taft hid some miracle weight loss under his Supreme Court robe all those years, it is highly unlikely.  Every child with a 4th grade education knows that Taft was rotund and morbidly obese.  I expected 81 opportunities this season to outrun Fat Taft.   Instead you caved to the idealism of Thinness and have presented us with this imposter. 

I have considered that the organization means to provide healthier role models for the fans.  I understand that the 7th inning stretch is an insufficient exercise period and that Michelle Obama is applying pressure to replace ballpark half-smokes with locally grown fruits and vegetables.  But like the magazine models with their airbrushed perfection, a Skinny Taft creates an unattainable body image in the minds of impressionable fans.  Shouldn’t we be supportive of all different body types?  Let Taft be Taft and allow his belly to spill over his belt the way it was intended.  

I admit that I agreed to include Taft in our little Rushmore group of mascots, but I did so under false pretenses.   Taft should be fat.  I am tired of being your Loser Whipping Boy.  It is high time that this franchise embrace historical accuracy over modern day political correctness.  Unless you plan for me to start losing again every game, every race, I suggest you add some poundage to the character.

If you cannot agree to my request, I will have no choice but to publicly call for mandatory Presidential Mascot drug testing for the presence of weight loss enhancers and HGH.  No one could be that thin, that fast, with such an enormous head.  He looks like a white Barry Bonds out there, and no one likes Barry Bonds.

Why do you hate me?


Teddy R.
Newly Appointed Executive Director and Spokesmodel

Little Feat singing Fat Man in the Bathtub

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

For and Against Violence

Many years ago, we sat around our 19” non-HD 4 channel tube televisions late on Saturday nights and laughed at the antics of Gilda Radner as loveable and disgruntled commentator, Emily Litella.  Poor Emily was easily disoriented by the crazy world around her, mostly as a result of her questionable auditory skills and advanced age.  The pressing issues of her day caused her great angst, and she was prone to shouting and raging against the imagined changes in national life.  We laughed and laughed.

Today Emily is no longer with us but thankfully we have a real life Emily Litella, John McCain, to entertain us and not just on Saturday nights.  The Senator recently announced his opposition to something, but we’re not sure what.

Statement from the Office of Senator John McCain:

I’m confused.

As someone who once plucked an armed woman from obscurity in Alaska and placed her unprotected on the world’s greatest stage, I believe that I hold a unique position in American culture to speak out in defense of women and on the protection of women.

Two issues of great importance to women in this country were addressed this week and I believe these issues are clearly at odds with one another.  They are diametrically opposed yet this administration supports them both.  How can that be?

First, the Pentagon announced the end of the U.S. military’s exclusion of women as combat soldiers on the ground.  Up until this week, the Department of Defense policy defended women from such dangerous and unladylike tasks as killing and maiming in close quarters.  Now the finer sex can participate in these patriotic activities alongside their male companions and theoretically be eligible for promotions previously denied because of their lack of combat experience.  This decision will open approximately 237,000 positions to women across the services, including 5,000 positions for female marines in ground combat elements.

At the same time as this decision, Senators Leahy and Crapo re-introduced what I like to call a Crapo Bill, the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA).  The VAWA had previously been reauthorized on a bipartisan basis, but the Democrats have since poisoned the bill with extra protections for female criminals like undocumented immigrant women.  This bill as updated federalizes the protection of felons.    

Here is where the conflict lies.  Within days of Democrats vowing to reintroduce the VAWA in Congress, Democratic lawmakers cheered the Obama administration’s decision to subject women to the ultimate in violent encounters, the front lines in a war zone.

The hypocrisy is stunning.

According to liberal orthodoxy, violence on the home front against our mothers, sisters, and daughters must be punished to the fullest extent of the law.  Violence on the battlefield against our mothers, sisters, and daughters however is a virtue to be celebrated in the name of equality.

I know as well as anyone that a woman with a gun is a formidable foe.  But in order to truly treat women as our alleged equals means no special treatment under the law.  That’s what Susan B. Anthony would have wanted, and she was once on a coin.    

Equality means no special protection from angry boyfriends, drunken spouses, or roving urban mobs.  I receive no special treatment from these hazards.  It means allowing women access to the same conceal and carry permits that we lifelong hunters and sportsmen have taken for granted.  Equality is an empty platitude without a gun to enforce its application.  

If women can fight in war, they should be allowed to fight off their enemies on the home front just like a man.  It’s only fair.   
We cannot simultaneously fight domestic violence against women while encouraging foreign violence by women.

I’m confused.

For the record, it is a tad confusing, isn’t it?

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Where There Was Smoke...

In the 1980s, C. Everett Koop became a cultural icon.  For those not blessed with sufficient age, Dr. Koop was the Surgeon General of the United States appointed by Reverend Reagan.  He became an icon as much for his turn-of-the-century ship captain looks and his signature bow ties as he did for his persistent messaging on national health issues.  You see, Koop was not the first, but he was the most vocal opponent of cigarette smoking.

The U.S. Surgeon General is not actually a real General and does not command an army, but the position does convey with a powerful bully pulpit from which the incumbent can promote various health pronouncements.  During his 7 plus years in the office, Koop’s department released 8 reports on the dangers of cigarette smoking and the first on the consequences of second hand smoke.

25 years later, smoking has gone up in smoke.

In 1985, over 30% of adults in this country smoked.  You could smoke on elevators.  You could smoke on airplanes.  You could smoke in restaurants and in the mall.  Smokers could smoke at their desks at work.  It’s hard to remember how pervasive cigarette smoking was, but it was everywhere.  

By 2009, less than 20% of U.S. adults smoke.  You cannot smoke on an elevator.  You cannot smoke on an airplane.  You cannot smoke in restaurants and in the mall.  Smokers cannot smoke at their desks at work (for the vast majority of workers).  You cannot smoke in some outdoor parks in this country.  The attitude about smoking changed and smoking rates decreased.  It became uncool.

Our national relationship with cigarettes was beginning to change, and the change caught fire thanks to Dr. Koop’s commitment to telling the truth about tobacco to the face of the powerful tobacco companies.

Yesterday I read that in my state (commonwealth), a Senate committee endorsed legislation making it illegal for adults to smoke with kids in the car.  The Courts of Justice Committee voted 10-5 to send the bill to the floor for a vote.  Times have indeed changed.  Our commonwealth’s relationship with tobacco has changed.  The safety of children trumped the freedom of adults.  A reasonable restriction on personal freedom will become law in Virginia.

The bill would prohibit smoking in a vehicle in the presence of a child under the age of 15. The offense would be charged as a traffic infraction punishable by a $100 fine. Similar legislation failed in the General Assembly two years ago but time has snuffed the influence of the cigarette industry.  When introduced on the floor, in Virginia, no member of the legislative body spoke against it.

Nobody spoke against it.  In the Old Dominion.

Let’s have a thought experiment .   Fast forward to the year 2038.  In 25 years, guns may be equally seen as insidious threats to public health and their ownership and usage marginalized in this country.  Owning a gun, carrying a loaded gun – these activities, so glorified in our culture like the once mighty Marlboro Man, may become uncool.

Don’t think it could happen?  25 years ago, not many thought that smoking would ever be this taboo, especially in Virginia.  If in 2013, we can have a public debate on whether or not the game of football is too violent, then anything is possible.  

Times change.  Attitudes change.  The attitude about unlimited guns for all will change too.

You can still smoke in Virginia but the once thought unbreakable choke hold of the tobacco industry has been broken.   The right to smoke still exists, but it is restricted for the public good.  Call me in 25 years and we’ll see if guns are equally restricted for the public good.

If Virginia legislators can vote to outlaw an individual smoking in his/her own car without a peep of protest, then it is not a stretch to imagine the day when the romantic imagery of gun ownership may go the way of the Marlboro Man.

Monday, January 28, 2013

Facing the Issue

The Obama administration is trying desperately to be seen by gun owners in this country as “one of them”.  This past weekend, the President took part in some skeet shooting during a visit to Camp David.  Supporters of the President hope that the photo op of Obama shooting a gun for sport will endear him to responsible gun owners and help calm fears that he is out to ban all guns.

Vice President Biden, looking for any opportunity to remain in the spotlight as part of his 2016 electoral strategy, has done the President one better.

In what detractors are calling a “transparent pander” to the gun lobby, Vice President Joe Biden today announced that he ‘accidently’ shot a friend in the face during a turkey hunt, reminiscent of former Vice President Dick Cheney’s shooting of his friend Harry Whittington during a similar hunt in 2006.

His statement said in part, “Look, folks, I’m just one of the millions of responsible hunters out there, just like Dick Cheney, who had a bad day.  I know I’ve been accused of shooting off at the mouth for time to time but this was just an accident.  Hey, I’m just like you.  I was clinging to my gun, and before you know it, BOOM.  Scared the crap out of me, that’s the God’s honest truth.”  

The Brady Campaign Against Gun Violence believes Biden deliberately shot his hunting partner to look more like his predecessor Cheney, a favorite among the gun crowd for his unapologetic support for gun rights and wars of choice.

“Gun owners loved Cheney and anything that makes Biden sympathetic like Cheney is a win for him,” said Les Killin, regional lobbyist for the cause.  “Nothing says “I feel your pain” to gun owners than shooting a friend in the face and Biden’s smart.  He knows that.  We only hope it works so Biden can advance our agenda.”

The NRA, in a reversal, quickly leaped to the Vice President’s defense.

Wayne LaPierre, speaking from an undisclosed underground location, said that “accidents happen” and that Biden’s victim should consider stocking up on more weapons in order to provide adequate security from future “accidents”. 

“The only thing that stops a Vice President hunting turkeys with a gun is an armed hunting partner with a gun,” thundered LaPierre.  “In fact, there is a 20% sale on all rifles at Wal-Mart this weekend, and if you mention my name, you receive a free bumper sticker with Thomas Jefferson’s quote that ‘The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants’, while supplies last.  I think it’s time to stock up, don’t you?”

Jay Carney, the President’s Press Secretary told reporters that this incident should reinforce the arguments that the nation needs tighter background check standards. 

“Do you really believe that Joe Biden could have legally purchased a rifle with his history of unforced political gaffes and bizarre public behavior if we had a thorough background check system in place?  The President is committed to tougher mental health standards and now you know why.”

The name of Biden’s victim was not immediately released, but the person was described by a Biden spokesperson as a “former supporter”.

Biden is not expected to face charges. 

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Beck's DIY

The world of creativity knows no bounds.

The eclectic singer-songwriter Beck has a new project in stores today.  In the normal world of commercial music sales, that would mean a new CD or a new digital download or a DVD of a live performance.  If you are familiar with Beck’s sound, ‘normal’ is not an adjective that first comes to mind.  His new project stretches the concept of normal even further.

His new music isn’t available on a vinyl album or in a digital series of 1’s and 0’s.  It’s in a book.  It’s a book filled with lines and symbols.  He wrote and published the sheet music to his new songs and is asking fans to interpret the written musical notes, perform the songs on their chosen instruments and post the recorded versions online for all to hear.

It’s the ultimate puzzle game.

Centuries ago, this must have been the common approach to distributing new music.  After all, Mozart couldn’t sell concerto singles on iTunes.  He would write the sheet music during his fits of madness and genius, and the transcribed notes would be delivered across the continent for foreign orchestras to perform.  Each orchestra must have interpreted his aural vision in a slightly different way but that made the pieces fresh and original every time.

Isn’t that the way music should be?  

I am a guitar hack.  When I hear a song that I would like to be able to play, I search for the chord progressions from an online site.  If the online sheet music includes an unfamiliar chord (like a G9++ sus or some other gibberish that requires 6 fingers on one hand to play), I fake in my own chord interpretation.  G9++ sus becomes a G9.  I justify the move by telling myself that I need to make the music my own.  I must own it.  I’m not playing Sympathy for the Devil by the Rolling Stones.  I’m playing my interpretation of Sympathy for the Devil, originally penned and performed by the Rolling Stones.  There’s a difference, and if you have ever heard me play, you know that’s a fact.  

This is what Beck is doing.  He is forcing his tribe of fans to own his songs in their own personal way.  He is giving them a puzzle to solve and the fans who accept the challenge will be more connected to his songs in the end.  

If you are brave and talented enough, it’s called “Song Reader” and it is retailing for $34.  Pick up a copy for the musician in your circle.  Don’t buy it for me though.  I am certain Beck has a multitude of Am++ with Dmaj ## overtone notes tossed throughout the songs that will serve only to frustrate and discourage me.

One has to wonder where this experiment will go, but it is wildly interesting.  If you find any renditions online, please share.  Beck would approve. 

In case Beck is foreign to you, here's a simple introduction:

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Lip Servicing

On a cold January day outdoors in Washington, DC, superstar Beyonce chose to lip sync her critically acclaimed rendition of The Star Spangled Banner.  Oh the humanity!  We have been duped again. 

First Manti Te’o didn’t really have a girlfriend (in the traditional sense of the word ‘girlfriend’), then Lance Armstrong didn’t really win the Tour de France 7 times without a push, and now Beyonce juiced her singing with pre-recorded assistance.  At this rate, it is only a matter of time before that elusive Kenyan birth certificate surfaces.  Truth is the first mass casualty of the 21st century.  Maybe Roger Clemens is lying too, if you can imagine that.

As far as crimes against humanity, lip syncing ranks below lying about your age on an Internet dating site and slightly above fishing stories.  We have been victimized by lip syncing for years and no one has been injured.  Milli Vanilli did it.  Ashley Simpson did it.  Justin Bieber did it.  I wish Roseanne Barr had done it.  Faking it is as American as saying that Aunt Edna’s apple pie is as good as store bought pie.  It isn’t and you know it.

Lip syncing should be expected, like politicians stretching the truth or football players thanking the Lord after a victory.  What we did not expect was Beyonce’s appearance on Oprah so soon after the faux-troversy.  The portico of the Capitol was still warm when she sat down today to confess her sins to the High Priestess of Celebrity Redemption.  Let the comeback story begin:

From the transcripts of her Oprah appearance:  

Oprah Winfrey: Did you ever lip sync to enhance your singing performance?

Beyonce: Yes.

OW: Did you ever blood dope or use blood transfusions to enhance your singing performance?

Beyonce: Yes.

OW: Did you ever wear blush, eyeliner, lipstick, or use Photoshop to enhance your appearance?

Beyonce: Yes.

OW: In all seven of your world tours, did you ever lip sync or blood dope?

Beyonce: Yes.

OW: Was it humanly possible to win a Grammy without lip syncing?

Beyonce: Not in my opinion. That generation... I didn't invent the culture, but I didn't try to stop the culture.

OW: For 13 years you didn't just deny it, you brazenly and defiantly denied everything you just admitted just now. So why now admit it?

Beyonce: That is the best question. It's the most logical question. I don't know that I have a great answer, besides that I was caught. I will start my answer by saying that this is too late. It's too late for probably most people, and that's my fault. I viewed this situation as one big lie that I repeated a lot of times, and as you said, it wasn't as if I just said no and I moved off it.

OW: You were defiant; you called other people, like Milli Vanilli, liars.

Beyonce: I understand that. And while I lived through this process, especially the last two years, one year, six months, two, three months, I know the truth. The truth isn't what was out there. The truth isn't what I sang, and now it's gone - this story was so perfect for so long. And I mean that, as I try to take myself out of the situation and I look at it. I won Grammys. You have a happy marriage, you have children. I mean, it's just this mythic perfect story, and it wasn't true.

OW: Was it hard to live up to that picture that was created?

Beyonce: Impossible. Certainly I'm a flawed character, as I well know, and I couldn't do that.  

OW: You said to me earlier you don't think it was possible to win a Grammy without lip syncing.

Beyonce: Not in my generation, and I'm not here to talk about others in my generation. It's been well-documented. I didn't invent the culture, but I didn't try to stop the culture, and that's my mistake, and that's what I have to be sorry for, and that's what something and the industry is now paying the price because of that. So I am sorry for that. I didn't have access to anything else that nobody else did.

OW: MTV issued a 164-page report. It said you pulled off the most sophisticated, professional and successful lip syncing programs that music has ever seen. Was it?

Beyonce: No. It definitely was professional, and it was definitely smart, if you can call it that, but it was very conservative, very risk-averse, very aware of what mattered. One song mattered for me. But to say that that program was bigger than the East German doping program in the '70s and '80s? That's not true.

OW: What was the culture? Can you explain the culture to us?

Beyonce: I don't want to accuse anybody else. I don't want to talk about anybody else, like Rihanna or Lady Gaga (she winks). I made my decisions. They are my mistakes, and I am sitting here today to acknowledge that and to say I'm sorry for that. The culture was what it was.

OW: Was everybody doing it? That's what we've heard. Was everybody doing it?

Beyonce: I didn't know everybody. I didn't live and train with everybody. I didn't sing with everybody. I can't say that. There will be people that say that. There will be people that say, 'OK, there are 200 singers on tour, I can tell you five singers that didn't, and those are the five heroes', and they're right.

OW:  Are you a cheater?

Beyonce:  I looked up cheater in the dictionary.  It said that a cheater is someone who claims an unfair advantage by her actions.  I didn’t believe I was gaining an advantage by lip syncing.  I truly believed that everyone was doing it and that I was only leveling the playing field.  Obama uses a teleprompter so I used a little back recording.  We all have some help.  Now the industry is talking about stripping me of my Grammy awards.  I just wanted to be able to sing well on a cold day, and because of that, I can’t even sing at a church social. (tears)  

None of these shocking revelations compared to the bombshell admission at the end of the interview.  On the weekends, Beyonce confessed to sometimes drinking Pepsi. 

Truth is the first casualty of the 21st century.  Oh the humanity!

Monday, January 21, 2013

Inauguration Day

Happy day for Democrats and progressives.  Sad day for Republicans and conservatives.  End of days for Tea Party patriots.  That sums up the Inaugural mood this January 21, 2013.

Four years and one day ago, I was there for the official botched swearing in (nice going, Justice Roberts) of the nation’s 44th President, Barack Obama.  On that day, and that day only, there was a shared sense of national pride that a nation so defined by its racial divisions for so many years in its history had elected a black man as its President.

My buddy Tim and I celebrated the day with a chilly bike ride into the city.  We reveled in the peaceful transfer of power that should be a source of national pride for all Americans.  Like most memories, it is much better in retrospect.  Miserable in the moment but glad we went.  Soaring rhetoric and searing cold is what I recall that sunny afternoon.  At the time, we were not reveling in the crowds, the cold, the trash or the Port-O-Johns.  I vowed that day to wear a diaper to my next Inaugural.  Yes, public facilities were that foul.   

That inauguration seems like centuries ago.  Since that day, we’ve had a downgrade, a recovery, a long form birth certificate, a 9-9-9 plan, 22 GOP debates, the passage of Romneycare, several mass shootings, an Arab Spring, and most importantly, a new hair style for the First Lady.  History has been busy.

Since this is the anti-climactic 2nd swearing in ceremony (sequels rarely live up to the original), I did not attend.  In fact, many other loyal Americans did not attend either.  Here’s a sample of what some of my fellow citizens did instead:

Aging rocker Ted Nugent decided to commemorate the day by killing something with a flaming arrow and eating it.

The world’s greatest prognosticator Nate Silver spent the day hanging out with Charlie Sheen, drinking tiger blood and partying like a rock star.

Sarah Palin slipped into her NRA Snuggie and cuddled up on the couch with Todd to watch the Honey Boo Boo marathon on TLC.

Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te’o spent the day arguing with a campus priest about why he should continue believing in a Savior that he has never met personally and only knows through cryptic Gospel messages.

Joe Biden missed the whole day because the Secret Service changed his alarm setting from AM to PM.
Newt Gingrich was out of town serving as Master of Ceremonies for a Civil War reenactment convention in Ames, Iowa.

Patriots’ quarterback Tom Brady, after initially planning to be busy today, unexpectedly had a cancellation and was able to attend the inauguration with his beautiful wife, Giselle, and his entire offensive line.

Wayne LaPierre, spokesperson for the NRA, finally cut through the first layer of duct tape that has been used to hold him out of public view since his disastrous appearance on Meet the Press.  He vowed once he escapes, he will seek vengeance against the fellow NRA Board members responsible for his captivity.

Texas Governor and failed Presidential candidate Rick Perry stayed home to study the list of federal agencies he planned to abolish someday.  He has the first 2 down cold, but the rest are proving to be a challenge.

Jodie Foster issued a statement about the Inauguration, but we’re not really sure what it means.  We think we know but it’s a bit unclear.

Bo, the First Dog, did not attend any official events.  He chose to hide under the bed in the Lincoln bedroom and lick himself.  I think we all know the answer to why.

Lance Armstrong did not attend the festivities but has sworn that he was going to be at the Inaugural Ball tonight.  No one believes him.

Speaker of the House John Boehner couldn’t stop crying so he stayed home.

Mitt Romney was still in Massachusetts, waiting on hold for Karl Rove to come back to the phone.  On November 6th, Rove told Mitt that he’d be right back after he checked with the Fox News prediction desk.  Mitt has been patiently listening to the soothing sounds of Kenny G hold music through the receiver for over 2 months knowing it should only be a few more minutes, please stay on the line.

Hillary Clinton was in town, but only to measure the drapes in the Oval Office.  She missed the parties.  Bill went in her place and hasn’t been seen since.

Back to business tomorrow.  There must be a looming cliff deadline coming up.  There always is.

That's me in 2009 walking on the frozen pond in front of Capitol.  Yes I Did.

Friday, January 18, 2013

My Pet Peeve

My love of dogs is legendary among those who know me best.  I have no love for them.  I have maintained for years that animals belong in their natural habitats, the jungles or the forests, not living a life of servitude in our 2000 square foot suburban prisons.  I believe that is a very humane point of view.  What animal wouldn’t prefer freedom?  It’s the American way.

Let me be clear.  It’s not that I don’t like dogs.  OK, I guess I don’t.  Don’t judge me.  I’m sure your dog is the exception.  I’m sure I would like your dog.

I tolerate the occasional visit with a dog, as long as it’s not inside my house.  Some can be rather pleasant in moderation.  The dogs I can usually tolerate do not bark, do not smell and do not sexually assault my leg without first buying me a drink.  I prefer that they do not make eye contact with me too.  It creeps me out.  

For the record, I was never bitten by a dog, attacked by a dog, or otherwise scarred as far as I know.  (Yes, Greg, I remember that one time when Judy Derzinski’s little white dog chased me into my car, but it was dark, he was a loud barker, and I was in a disoriented state).  It is merely a case of personal preference.  Dogs are unpredictable.  Dogs are hard work.  Dogs can be inconvenient.  Dogs can be expensive.  Dogs cannot carry on much of a conversation, unless your name is Berkowitz.  My cold hearted cost benefit analysis keeps coming out the same.  More cost than benefit.

This hasn’t dissuaded my children from working to change my mind.  My kids are like the proverbial dog on a bone when it comes to this issue.

And this is my pet peeve.  I cannot be left alone with my life choice to be canine-free.  I am under a sustained and coordinated attack to change my mind and open my home to a four legged doggie.  My two legged little buggers will not take no for an answer. 

What began as subtle hints has grown into extended arguments.  Apparently only a dog’s hypersensitive ears could hear me saying repeatedly, “We are not getting a dog.”  They leave me notes.  They draw me pictures.  They tell me cute little doggie stories over dinner.  The more they push the deeper in I dig. 
They have even tried the salesperson’s friend, the presumptive close.  I received a phone call the other day from a nice woman who was returning our call, a call of which I was unaware had taken place.  She told me all about my application to become a foster family for little doggies in need.  In as kind a voice I could muster through my incredulity, I told her that the decision-makers in the family must not be at home and they would need to call her back.   
As a child, I went through the same predictable period of wanting a dog to have and to hold in health and in more health (someone else could handle the sickness times).  Every child, once he realizes that the stuffed bear will never speak back and the plastic action figure will never move independently, longs for a living pet, preferably one with lots of personality and no messy bodily functions to clean up or step in.  Lassie never pooped and Benji only barked at the bad people.  That’s the examples I had.  In short, I wanted Snoopy.

Snoopy took care of himself.  Sometimes he begged for his dish to be filled, but there were times when he could cook his own Thanksgiving feast.  That’s the kind of dog I wanted.  One with his own place.  One that would help me get girls.  One that would live for 50+ years and never age.  Alas, the Snoopy I wanted was a rare breed.  He was a cartoon.

My parents were smarter than me at that time (until I became a teenager).  At an early age, my mom explained to me that my father was allergic to dogs, and that’s why we could never have one.  I believed her.  She was very convincing.  This was long before I knew about Lance Armstrong and how convincing a motivated liar could be.  It was years later that the truth came out after I administered a particularly harsh Oprah Winfrey-type interrogation on my mom.  My dad was never allergic.  They just didn’t want a dog and didn’t want me to badger them about it.

Damn plan worked.  I dropped the subject and cried myself to sleep every night in my dogless bed.

I tried that allergy line with my kids but my lie was either unconvincing or they were OK with my potential sinus suffering and skin rashes.  Daddy might itch and sneeze but it would be worth it, they reason.  They still want the dog.  They still badger me.

I’ll try this one more time: We are not getting a dog.  Period.  End of story.  Give me back the remote before I drain your college funds and hack your Facebook pages.

So along with my deprived children, I will live the lonely and unfulfilled life of a non-dog owner.  I’ll never experience the unconditional love of a loyal pet dog.  I will also forego the smells, the chewed up furniture and shoes, the vet bills, the stained carpeting, the winter rain walks through the neighborhood, and my favorite – the scooping of the canine fecal matter with my hand.  I will survive as best I can.

I’m really not this heartless.  My bark is worse than my bite. Woof.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

23 Harmless Bullets

On Wednesday, the President outlined 23 steps that he was taking in response to gun violence in this country.  Before he had finished his Top Ten list, the Far Right was in full revolt against what some of my friends refer to as Obama’s “unconstitutional power grab” and his “gun confiscation” proposals.  After reading all 23, I have no idea what they are talking about.

Here they are.  It’s a quick read.  If you see an “unconstitutional power grab” or a “gun confiscation” example amongst these bullet points (no pun intended), then please point it out to me:

1. Issue a Presidential Memorandum to require federal agencies to make relevant data available to the federal background check system. Since the background system is ‘federal’, it seems to make sense that ‘federal’ agencies should make the necessary data available.

2. Address unnecessary legal barriers, particularly relating to the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, that may prevent states from making information available to the background check system.  The action word ‘address’ is sufficiently vague to the point where the phrase ‘power grab’ probably does not apply.

3. Improve incentives for states to share information with the background check system.  Incentives imply that states would still maintain free choice in the matter.

4. Direct the Attorney General to review categories of individuals prohibited from having a gun to make sure dangerous people are not slipping through the cracks.  This is otherwise known as “Enforcing the laws already on the books.”

5. Propose rulemaking to give law enforcement the ability to run a full background check on an individual before returning a seized gun.  Proposing a rule or piece of legislation is the opposite of a power grab.

6. Publish a letter from ATF to federally licensed gun dealers providing guidance on how to run background checks for private sellers. Publishing an instruction sheet on how to work an existing process is not “confiscation.”

7. Launch a national safe and responsible gun ownership campaign.  This is what the NRA says it does all the time.

8. Review safety standards for gun locks and gun safes (Consumer Product Safety Commission).  A review does not equate to a mandate on anything, and making guns safer is actually a good thing that I would hope a majority of Americans support. We made cars safer and that seems to be constitutional.

9. Issue a Presidential Memorandum to require federal law enforcement to trace guns recovered in criminal investigations.  Catching bad guys with guns should be common sense.  I’m more shocked that this doesn’t happen already.

10. Release a DOJ report analyzing information on lost and stolen guns and make it widely available to law enforcement.  Releasing a report is constitutionally acceptable (see Nixon v. Warren Commission, 1973).

11. Nominate an ATF director.  The position has been vacant 6 years.  What took so long?

12. Provide law enforcement, first responders, and school officials with proper training for active shooter situations.  Training sounds like something the Founding Fathers would have accepted as a reasonable restriction on public employees.

13. Maximize enforcement efforts to prevent gun violence and prosecute gun crime.  This one doesn’t deserve a point of its own but OK.  These efforts do not sound like they are outside the realm of good policy.  Most Americans favor prosecuting crimes.

14. Issue a Presidential Memorandum directing the Centers for Disease Control to research the causes and prevention of gun violence.  This is research that the NRA does not want to happen, much as the tobacco industry thought studying the effects of smoking was a colossal waste of resources.

15. Direct the Attorney General to issue a report on the availability and most effective use of new gun safety technologies and challenge the private sector to develop innovative technologies.  This is standard issue bully pulpit messaging, certainly within the President’s rights.

16. Clarify that the Affordable Care Act does not prohibit doctors asking their patients about guns in their homes.  The doctor-patient relationship demands that any health risks be discussed in a confidential setting.  Nothing should be off limits.

17. Release a letter to health care providers clarifying that no federal law prohibits them from reporting threats of violence to law enforcement authorities.  Clarifying an existing law is not an example of tyranny in action.

18. Provide incentives for schools to hire school resource officers.  Mental health assistance for school children who need it.  Is someone against this?

19. Develop model emergency response plans for schools, houses of worship and institutions of higher education.  Model plans for emergency response sounds benign.  If the final recommendations state in the first step, “Take everyone’s guns”, then you can complain.

20. Release a letter to state health officials clarifying the scope of mental health services that Medicaid plans must cover. See Comment under #17.

21. Finalize regulations clarifying essential health benefits and parity requirements within ACA exchanges.  This has nothing to do with guns directly.

22. Commit to finalizing mental health parity regulations.  See Comment under #21.

23. Launch a national dialogue led by Secretaries Sebelius and Duncan on mental health.  This dialogue could lead to lower gun sales in the future, a major problem for the gun lobby, but I find no evidence of an impending dictatorship in this effort.

So what am I missing?

Captain Tuttle

According to Manti Te’o, star linebacker of God’s Chosen Team at Notre Dame this season, he was duped into falling in love with a person who did not exist and with whom he had never met in the flesh.  According to Manti Te’o, he was duped into speaking about this imaginary girlfriend and her untimely death at length in national interviews.  According to Manti Te’o, when his girlfriend allegedly died, he did not attend her funeral.  According to Manti Te’o, he just another in a long line of lonely folks who believed that life on the Internet was reality.

I have no idea what to believe anymore.

This Deadspin story is in its early stages but in this early stage, it is incredibly damning for a football player who was projected as a top ten pick in the upcoming NFL draft.  If you assume that he was duped by all of this, he must be damaged by the experience beyond words.  If you assume that he was complicit in the deception, he must be deranged beyond words.  Either way, the young adult’s judgment is now in question and this incident will be stamped at the top of every job application he ever completes in the future.  “Te’o?  You’re the guy with the fake girlfriend.”  That’s quite a cross to bear, even for someone from Notre Dame.

As the story goes today, one man may have been deceived but his story deceived the millions who heard it and read about it over the past several months.  Who is to blame for that?  I blame America’s favorite villain: the media.

What this Deadspin story exposes more than anything is the shoddy research and story writing that passes for journalism in this country.  The “Te’o Succeeds Despite Dead Girlfriend” tragedy has been proliferating across the paid media since September and no one ‘major’ (translation: for profit) media outlet took the time to confirm any facts or independently verify any of the information offered by the football star.  This was one story in 2012 that could have used some of the fact checkers that were deployed to the Romney campaign.

The paid media in this country did not only blindly accept for fact whatever the player told them.  They reprinted information from other sources without independently verifying anything.  Sports Illustrated wrote stuff that they never vetted.  The South Bend Tribune printed stuff about Te’o and his relationship with the imaginary Lennay Kekua that could not have been verified independently.  Yet they printed it as fact and we believed everything we read.

The standards of journalism on the Internet are suspect and most folks understand and accept that (I thought).  There is however an expectation that paid media outlets, such as national publications and newspapers and network television news programs, maintain a sliver of journalistic integrity.  Surely these outlets check information for its veracity before broadcasting.  Surely I jest…and stop calling me Shirley.

Today is one of those rare days that I walk in lock step with the Far Right conservative voices in America: Don’t trust the media.  I differ in that I have learned today not to trust either the liberal or conservative media.  Both are either too cheap, too lazy, or too inept to do the hard work of verifying the information they market as fact and entertainment.

From the Deadspin report:

There is no SSA record there of the death of Lennay Marie Kekua, that day or any other. Her passing, recounted so many times in the national media, produces no obituary or funeral announcement in Nexis, and no mention in the Stanford student newspaper.

Nor is there any report of a severe auto accident involving a Lennay Kekua. Background checks turn up nothing. The Stanford registrar’s office has no record that a Lennay Kekua ever enrolled. There is no record of her birth in the news. Outside of a few Twitter and Instagram accounts, there’s no online evidence that Lennay Kekua ever existed.

The photographs identified as Kekua—in online tributes and on TV news reports—are pictures from the social-media accounts of a 22-year-old California woman who is not named Lennay Kekua. She is not a Stanford graduate; she has not been in a severe car accident; and she does not have leukemia. And she has never met Manti Te’o.

I have no idea what to believe anymore.  No one else should either.

A report today from The George Washington University Graduate School of Political Management finds that more and more people across the political spectrum believe and rely upon social media for their facts.   According to survey respondents, information learned from social media outlets is just as well-regarded as traditional news outlets like television, radio and print.

As written in Politico today, “The survey finds that nearly two-thirds of voters reported that political information on social media was either higher quality or on par with traditional media outlets. For users younger than 25, 71 percent put the same or greater level of trust in content.”  You can believe this because it’s in my blog and I cut and pasted it directly from Politico, a source of full vetted factual information, independently verified before going to upload.  At least that’s what I thought until today.

The Baby Boomers coined the phrase, “Don’t trust authority.”  The Millennials have coined the phrase “Trust Facebook.”  Modern journalism has been reduced to 140 characters or less and is ruled by the philosophy that facts should never get in the way of a good story.  A Heisman candidate from a religious college says his girlfriend from Stanford was in a car crash and later died of leukemia.  A story like that has GOT to be true so fact checking it would be disrespectful.  Or maybe fact checking it would cost too much money , take too long or involve too much work.  Maybe all three.

I now understand the perspective of the various truther groups out there.  Maybe we didn’t land on the moon.  Maybe 9/11 was an inside job.  Maybe Obama staged Sandy Hook.  If everyone believes that everyone else did the journalistic work, then no one could be doing any of the journalistic work.  Maybe our reality is a Twitter hoax.

The real Manti Te’o story is that I have no idea what to believe anymore.