Friday, October 28, 2005

Valerie PLUME: Legal Mushroom Cloud Over D.C.

I must confess I'm going to comment on the topic everyone else is talking about. At least everyone else who is remotely connected to politics and has access to a microphone, whether it's plugged in or not. That subject is former Soviet leader Nikita Khruschev banging his shoe on the table at the U.N. Haha! Kidding. That hasn't been a hot topic of conversation since the era when men wore hats. No, I'm referring to The Leak. It seems our government has sprung a significant one, and it needs to be plugged before the Ship of State threatens to sink. But before we start taking on too much water with sinking metaphors, I should mention the leak involves the outing of covert CIA agent Valerie Plame. Revered, Pulitzer-prizewinning, First Amendment Award-accepting star New York Times reporter Judith "Aluminum Tubes" Miller did not actually write a story on this topic, but if she had it surely would have been incendiary. Simply because (according to her Mysteriously Missing Notes, which had gone on hiatus for about a year) she understood the agent's name to be Valerie FLAME, rather than Plame. Another scorching typo I've seen on her name is Valerie PLUME. There's a bonfire of a metaphor! So there's no doubt we have plenty of vivid imagery from which to choose, ranging from all wet to highly inflammable. However, my job is to provide a unique insight on the story no matter how many people comment on this subject. All 280-plus million Americans could weigh in on Special Prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald's indictment of VP chief of staff Scooter "G. Gordon" Libby today, and I feel reasonably confident I'm the ONLY person to have this thought. But before I get to that I want to present a special award to MSNBC political commentator and Hardball host Chris Matthews. Chris has been on a lot this past week as everyone (or Democrats, at least) has been waiting with bated breath for the indictment announcement. I can certainly appreciate this, since Mr. Matthews is one of MSNBC's most articulate, informed, interesting and dynamic analysts. So of course he was on as early as Don Imus' program, and spent most of the morning providing commentary prior to the noontime announcement. Then, naturally, he talked through most of the afternoon. Finally at 4 pm he said he would be "returning at five" for more commentary. (All in addition to his regular 7 pm show) At last, MSNBC executives allowed poor Chris Matthews catch a bathroom break! So if the Society for Professional "Journalists" (sic: DUPES) can give Judith "Aluminum Tubes" Miller a worse-than-meaningless First Amendment Award, then I'm perfectly qualified to give an award of my own. On Chris Matthews' behalf I'll call it the Swimming Eyeballs Award, or S.E.A., for the host who appears to have gone the longest without a a trip to the bathroom. (Look! Another water metaphor!) The award is a special recognition for analysts whose commentary is so critical that their presence is in constant demand. Kudos, Chris! Considering that his show is called Hardball, I'd characterize his performance today as going well into extra innings. Anyway, as Pat Fitzgerald was giving his terse explanation of the indictments, I found myself closing my eyes and just listening. It is the first time I had ever heard him speak. Know what I heard? Comedian DAN AYKROYD!. Yep, the Saturday Night Live veteran famous for playing everything from a Buzzing Bee and Daddy Conehead to a Wild and Crazy Guy and former President Jimmy Carter. Pat Fitzgerald's Chicago accent is pure Blues Brothers! I know Fitzgerald is not a Chicago native, but I can definitely hear the flattened Chicagoland vowels in his speech. So his time spent there must have rubbed off. And of course the movie's Blues Brothers are Chicagoans. And it is not just the accent, it is the actual sound quality of his voice that recalls Mr. Aykroyd for me. Interestingly, Aykroyd, a Canadian, is a police buff whose father was a Mountie. And of course he starred in (dramatic pause for sound effects) DRAGNET. So tell me, is there any other person on the planet or in the solar system who thinks the Special Prosecutor is channeling Elwood Blues? I think not! I will say Mr. Fitzgerald appeared to be every bit the honest, non-partisan straight shooter he's been rumored to be. In spite of the serious subject matter, his sense of humor also shone through. So unless the guy is a world class thespian, I think he's just doing his job to the best of his ability. We'll see what comes of all this, but I think the only people with something to fear are the guilty.

Thursday, October 27, 2005

Wilma Gives Florida Whiplash

Hurricane Wilma roared through Florida Monday with the speed of a shoplifter exiting your local mall. To everyone's surprise, she left as much damage on the east coast of the state as she did on the west. At the height of the storm, six million Floridians were without power. (That's almost a third of the state) Even today many are waiting in long lines for food, water, gas and ice. Forget earth, wind, fire and water. The stuff of life down here is FOOD, WATER, GAS and ICE. Did everyone forget to stock up on these items prior to the hurricane? Or were we mesmerized by news coverage that told us that Naples and Fort Meyers might be in big trouble, but barely mentioned Miami-Dade and Broward Counties? Heck, the hurricane wasn't even supposed to hit central Florida, and WE stocked up. You don't want to leave everything to the whims of a hurricane and the efficiency of FEMA, I say. I even have this cool item that provides makeshift toilet facilities....but I won't go on and on about that for fear you'll think I'm a nut. I may be a nut, but I do NOT like to pee in the bushes. Anyway, with prayers and best wishes for those who are still suffering the effects, I have to say Hurricane Wilma was a great experience for us, for a number of reasons: 1) Wilma body slammed South Florida, but barely air kissed Central Florida. 2) We had a day off from school and work consisting entirely of board games, eating and watching weather updates on TV. 3) We never lost power. 4) We were blessed with a visit from good friends seeking shelter from the hurricane. Friends from Buffalo have a winter place in Lee County near Ft. Meyers. Joe and Irene Lynch have known my parents for over half a century. Last week I got a call from Irene wondering if I could recommend a central Florida hotel. Her daughter Maureen (married to Brian Krause) and their four kids ranging in age from six months to eight years old, were visiting. They did not feel it would be safe to stay in their mobile home (a nice one in a nice community) with a major hurricane scheduled to hit. That's for sure! Even a Category I hurricane sounds like a helicopter hovering over your house. No, I would not subject kids to a Category II or greater. However I pointed out I would be insulted if their family drove RIGHT BY our house in order to get to a hotel in the Orlando area. Sheesh! We are the Buffalo Embassy to Florida! Just bring your New York driver's license and Erie County tax bill and we'll book you in a room right upstairs! I told my 4-year-old and 6-year-old about the impending arrival of four children to play with. (Although, technically, the 6-month-old is more of a decorative creature for playing purposes.) They immediately started "getting the toys ready." By Friday, with gas stations on Florida's east coast starting to run out of fuel, the Lynch gang (and for reasons of humor we also refer to them as The Lynch Mob) decided they'd better hit the road to our place before running into weekend traffic problems. The. Kids. Were. Thrilled. THRILLED! A whole gang of little ones their age to stay for an entire weekend and do nothing but swim and play games. On top of that, we did an impromptu trip to the Magic Kingdom on Saturday. Hey, no sense sitting around waiting for a hurricane when you can be visiting theme parks. It was a terrific excuse for us to get up to Orlando for a kid-oriented outing. We were sort of amazed, though, looking around at the crowd, at just how many people seemed completely uninterested in the fact that a Category II or III hurricane was swirling its way toward the state. Was this the equivalent of fiddling while Rome was burning? I hope not. And we hoped it wasn't a Last Hurrah Before Chaos, either. By Sunday the hurricane was too close to risk any more jaunts. Instead we watched the Buffalo Bills lose while we swam in our pool. (thanks to satellite TV) If you're gonna wait for a hurricane, that isn't a bad way to do it. By nightfall we're watching women with breast implants partying in Ft. Meyers and the Keys, telling TV reporters they're going to be riding out the storm on their boats. BOATS! I was picturing a direct hurricane hit, followed by thousands of loose implants bobbing around in the Gulf. However they turned out to be luckier that the people in South Florida who are now without many essentials, and a potential of waiting days or WEEKS before power is restored. I guess Florida's grapefruit and tomato crops got smashed, too. Which is good for anyone who still HAS a grapefruit or tomato crop. Now as Tropical Storm Beta is slated to morph into Hurricane Beta, I'm wondering who's going to step up and start pelting Mother Nature with rotten fruit. We had a windy and rainy morning, I think things only gusted to about 60 mph at the max, though, and with only one tornado spotted. No damage. Big sigh of relief. Thank You to the Lynches: Irene & Joe, along with the Krause Family: Maureen & Brian, plus kids Michael, 8, Andrew, 6, Emily, 3, and Kevin, 0, (as my 4-year-old describes all babies under the age of one) for being such great company to us and our kids. If you have to endure a hurricane, you want to do it in the company of friends. This time, at least, our wish was granted!

Thursday, October 20, 2005

Saddam in the Bouncy Seat

The news media was utterly fascinated this week with the start of Saddam Hussein's trial. They could barely tear themselves away to give us an update on Hurricane Wilma's historically low barometric pressure reading. I was not nearly so fascinated. Isn't this guy old news? I even found it a bit boring. Except for the visuals! This is the first time since childhood I have ever seen someone interrogated in a playpen. Yes, for some reason Saddam and his fellow henchersons were seated in contraptions that looked no different than a crib, playpen or port-a-crib from a couple decades ago. (And since the crimes they were being tried for were a couple decades old, also, I guess that seems appropriate!) It recalled the era of cloth diapers, plastic pants (which were more commonly called "rubber pants") and big, fat diaper pins. I can imagine there are plenty of people who might like to jab Saddam in a very sensitive area with a very sharp pin. Well be my guest! You can probably poke him right through the bars of his playpen. I feel certain we can get the fledgling justice system in Iraq to agree to a group bathroom break while we change Baby Saddam. Apparently he even had several toddler-style temper tantrums, refusing to acknowledge that the court existed, and holding his hands over his ears going, "nah nah nah nah." It's always fun to make such declarations, and for the record I'd like to suggest that gravity, taxes and calories don't exist. So if you see me tethered to my van (floating in a relaxed manner), munching doughnuts and thumbing my nose at the IRS, you'll know why. Saddam also insisted he is still the rightful leader of Iraq. Now that we've looked under every mosque, camel and couch cushion for WMDs without finding any, maybe we should concede him the point. Let's set him up back in his palace, fully armed with perhaps water pistols. Then let HIM deal with the "insurgency." We could save money and lives! It's like spending an obscene amount of money to draft a dud rookie quarterback, or to get an expensive free agent. You keep playing the dud because if you don't, then it seems like you've wasted a lot of money. Well this war in Iraq is taking on some dud-like characteristics, in my opinion. The quarterback efficiency rating is just terrible! So let's get rid of the dud and save all the money we would've spent to stay there battling an endless supply of insurgents. True, we would look ridiculous as a nation, but no more ridiculous than we did after Hurricane Katrina. Maybe we can blame the war in Iraq on former FEMA director Michael Brown. Let's pay him a couple million to accept responsibility! A bargain, if you ask me.

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Wilma Planning Florida Vacation

I've been trying to ignore the tropical depression, make that tropical storm, okay now it's HURRICANE Wilma for days. But now that the Weather Sadists have predicted it to "go major" and become at least a Category Three, I have to acknowledge it could prove to be more than a walk in the park on a windy day. In fact it is forecast to zip past Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula, sideswipe Cuba, and then guess what falls into the Cone of Inevitability? Florida! Yes, Hurricane Wilma is threatening to hurl the Sunshine State back to the Stone Age if she hits as a Category Three or Four. I know what you're thinking. It's "Florida's Turn." Leave the poor Texans, Louisianans and Mississipians alone! Well I beg to differ. First off we already had Hurricane Dennis disco through the Panhandle earlier this year. And last year's four horsemen and women: Charley, Frances, Ivan and Jeanne, were WAY in excess of Florida's quota. So we really don't want to adopt Wilma for our own. But I have some TERRIFIC news on the hurricane score. For the U.S. this is the LAST hurricane of 2005! Yup, I heard it on the news. Wilma is the last scheduled named storm. After that we are OUT of letters for named storms. So any hurricanes that form after Wilma will be named after letters of the Greek Alphabet, and, accordingly, will be rerouted to Greece. Isn't that terrific? Alpha, Beta, Gamma, Delta, Epsilon, Zeta, Eta, Theta, Iota, Kappa, Lambda, Mu, Nu, Xi, Omicron, Pi, Rho, Sigma, Tau, Upsilon, Phi, Chi, Psi, Omega. See, that sorority training came in handy for more than just crossward puzzles, finally. For some oddball reason the Hurricane Naming Committee does not use the letters Q, U, X, Y, or Z. I have no idea why -- all those letters have valid names associated with them. How about Hurricanes Queenie and Quentin? Uma and Ulysses? Xena and Xavier? Yvonne and Yogi? Zora and Zachary? I don't see why these letters have to be ignored just because they're less common. It's just Typographic Discrimination! It was back in May or June that I reported that most people living on the Gulf Coast were woefully unprepared for a major hurricane to strike, both physically and mentally. Most of them had never lived through one, and had almost a fictional sense of what it would be like to "ride one out." (Hint: NOT a party.) In fact I described these people (some of whom felt you only needed, ahem, 30-60 MINUTES to evacuate in case of a hurricane) as standing on their front porches with a flashlight and a bagel, yelling at the sky, "Bring it on!" Well, someone did, whether you want to blame Mother Nature (abusive!), God (overstepping His authority!), Sin (outrageous!), Global Warming (It's the government's fault no matter how much gas I use!), Hurricane Cycles (don't worry, this one will be over by the time we're dead!) or just plain old Bad Luck (my favorite!). It's dangerous to make fun of a hurricane before it decides whether it wants to strike your house. So it is with utmost seriousness I say to Wilma we're not home and won't be taking any visitors for the next week, so there will be no reason to leave your calling card. But I'd like to end with a quote from the famous Wilma Flinstone: "I work hard all day, too, and what do I get? A lot of YAK from you!" She's gonna hear a lot more yak from our cable news forecasters in the coming days. The name Wilma, technically, means "fierce." Haha! Okay, you don't have to convince me. I'll let you slide by on reputation alone. Let's hope if Wilma does take aim at Central Florida, that she sprints past with the speed of Wilma Rudolph.

Friday, October 14, 2005

The Whole Tooth and Nothing But The Tooth

There is a large event that is evolving at home. We can see it coming. We anticipate it. We really can't do anything about it. Just wait until it arrives. No, no one's pregnant in this household! Well, there are three males and I that reside here, so I feel fairly confident in saying that. No, what is coming is more on the order of watching smoke billow out of Mt. Vesuvius, or the eye of Hurricane Wilma swirl closer to Florida, or Sherman's Army marching on Georgia. Except it is not a terrible event we're awaiting! It's just that we've been given fair notice. (And hey, there's no "Wilma" yet as far as I know. But that doesn't mean Fred won't be yelling for her any minute now.) It developed suddenly, like a tropical disturbance off the coast of Florida, and blew up into a Big Deal. Our 6-year-old is having Category Five Euphoria over it. He got out of school the other day, his skinny body vibrating with glee. "I have a loose TOOTH!" E-Chomping-Gads! Once they achieve school age, this is the first event that kids universally worship as a significant "growing up" milestone. For the first grade set, this is the equivalent of getting the keys to your own car! (Note to parents: Enjoy this moment. Tooth Fairy rates are a BARGAIN compared with car insurance.) In Florida the cut-off date for school enrollment is September, so with a late July birthday my son is one of the youngest in his class. I think he is the only one who has not lost a tooth. He turned six this past summer, commemorated with a baseball-themed party and a magician that captivated the 6-and-under crowd by making small objects vanish and reappear at will. Throughout the performance our 4-year-old was bellowing, "WHERE'S the CHICKEN?" (I guess he had promised a chicken. What ever happened to rabbits?) End of birthday party digression. Interestingly, cultures worldwide agree to payoffs for baby teeth. It's part of our collective consciousness. And in places where they don't use pillows, they have the kids throw the tooth on the roof! Which makes me wonder what rolls off those roofs on rainy days. Probably not cats and dogs. Maybe little white hard things, floss and dental appliances. I'm so glad our tradition is confined to the Great Indoors. So apparently to Tooth Fairy is not a Christian Entity like the Easter Bunny. Even atheists can summon the tooth fairy! The 6-year-old has been eating an inordinate amount of apples in an attempt to facilitate the Tooth Mining Process. Because if you don't already know it, Six ushers in the Golden Age for children. It's when they discover their mouth is filled with the equivalent of cold, hard (albeit moist) cash! In the form of baby teeth, lined up and glittering like enamel-covered Kiddie Mutual Funds ready to pay a mouthful of dividends. The discussion of "baby teeth" confused the 4-year-old, who said the 6-year-old couldn't possibly have those. He insisted they must be "Brother Teeth." Only the 4-year-old could have baby teeth, and then only when he wasn't in a Little Kid mood. Hubby and I have Dada and Mama Teeth, respectively. The 6-year-old is eagerly awaiting this first nibble at manhood. As a first grade status symbol, it is impossible to hide! Either you are missing a tooth or two, or you're not. There's no way to fake this important milestone short of donning Dracula Teeth. We have not told him any Suburban Legends about string and door handles. We don't want to cause nightmares. So I can see the Handwriting on the Dental Chart. I made a special trip to the bank for silver dollars. Back in ancient, pre-tooth whitening days, we kids were awarded a quarter for each newly excavated tooth. In that era a quarter was worth about $200. You could practically fill your gas tank on one! Quarters are passe these days, barely worth the metal they're stamped on. The first grade rumor mill has ground out the tale that "some" local Tooth Fairies (probably the ones with Designer Wands) are slipping a crisp five dollar bill under the kids' pillows. Let me repeat that so we can all shudder at the inflationary horror of it all. FIVE DOLLAR BILLS. Per tooth! Hubby and I are not part of the landed gentry, nor are we related to Bill Gates. We are not members of the lobbying class, and we don't drive fancy foreign cars. So needless to say "our" Tooth Fairy is not going to be doling out fives to anyone in our household. She has been instructed to limit herself to money that "clinks" when jangled together. Hence my trip to the bank. Which turned out to be a big hit amongst the tellers. They never get to do stuff this interesting! Once I made my request for "five of the shiniest dollar coins you've got" and explained why I needed them, they all joined in, searching through their drawers for the coins with the most sparkle. They were even giving me tips on how I could shine them up better. ("Ketchup" one confided to me. "That works even better than silver polish.") It is a tiny bit possible that the person behind me was getting annoyed at all the attention my frivolous request was getting, but who's to say my son's potential nest egg was any less important than her employee payroll deposit? (Kidding! They have a special commercial line for those customers!) So the coins are tucked away in the Fairy Vault while we await the magical event that will socially, dentally, and financially change my son's life. And for the record, the 4-year-old says he's planning to lose a few teeth any moment now, also. As soon as he decides which ones he can spare.

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Chicken Little Says: "Ah-CHOO!"

The "Bird Flu" problem has bubbled to the top of the national consciousness, finally, like a cheap champagne uncorked two months after New Year's Eve. If we watch enough of the breathless coverage it is sure to give us a collective hangover. Scientists and medical people have been trying to inject this issue into public discourse since 2004, but so far no one has given a hoot, except possibly the Chik-Fil-A spokecows. ("Click, Clack, Moo. We may be in trouble here.") After virtually ignoring the story for most of the year, the news media has apparently declared October National Bird Flu Coverage Month. In the past week every medical person from Dr. Doolittle to Dr. Dre has weighed in on the bird flu's implications for humanity. Tom Cruise allegedly thinks it is all in the heads of over-reacting Asians. The Last Samurai is suggesting they buck up and take a Scientology class! Kidding. He actually thinks it's all in the head of an overly dramatic Brooke Shields. After taking samples and analyzing the voluminous amount of medical hot air expended on the subject, I've come to a couple rock solid conclusios: 1) There is nothing to worry about, and 2) We're all DOOMED. Now that we have that cleared up, let's take a closer look at H5N1 (a.k.a. High Five No One). An "expert" on one of the cable news shows said the term "bird flu" is really a misnomer because ALL influenzas orginate with birds. So it's like calling the sniffles an "upper respiratory infection cold," or referring to a "multi-car traffic jam" or even a "dead cadaver." (As distinguished from life-of-the-party cadavers such as Bernie from Weekend at Bernie's.) Of course with my extensive non-medical background I was able to meander through the mists of my memories and conjure the question: "What about the SWINE flu?" That was the global health disaster we narrowly averted in the early 1980s (I think) after millions of Americans got inoculated against a virus that, uh, decided to call in sick. Apparently it preferred its swine hosts to any human ones. How do the bird flu experts explain THAT? I think I know the answer, and it probably has something to do with pigs flying over a frozen hell. You're probably wondering what Joe Average Person is supposed to do once bird flu becomes a public health issue in the U.S. Actually, it would be up to Jane Average to do something, since Joe will resolutely use up every box of tissues in the house while insisting he isn't sick, and wouldn't dream of consulting a medical professional just because he had blurred vision and a temp of 105. Anyway, Jor-El Q. Public (so named in honor of Superman's biological father, and actor Nicolas Cage's to-be-pitied infant son) is supposed to do one of the following: 1) Demand from your doctor a prescription for Tamiflu, the virus-fighting medication, or 2) Nothing According to experts (which we seem to have a surplus of), both of those treatment methods are equally effective. At this point those medical people in the "alarmist" camp are suggesting that the population of the earth is, proverbially speaking, up a creek without a needle. We face a global pandemic on the order of the 1918 Spanish Flu that killed an estimated 40-50 million people worldwide. What, you're wondering, is the difference between your garden variety "epidemic," and the worrisome possibility of a "pandemic?" As any self-respecting etymologist will tell you, "epi" means BAD, and "pan" means WORSE. "Demic" is simply a suffix that means "for you-all." Right now all the overseas vaccine companies are working round-the-clock to ensure we will have a big enough supply to meet the expected demand once people start dropping dead at work, in grocery stores, and in line while waiting to gas up. The vaccine companies are all overseas because the local drug companies got tired of having their pants sued off them and gave up on the vaccine market after being ticketed for Indecent Exposure by the FDA. (liability risk is also considered "exposure" so that really works on two levels!) What is the likelihood of you being able to get this life-saving vaccine? According to "experts" your odds are: 1) Slim, to 2) None Yes, more bad news. But not totally! Because on a different channel I heard an "expert" who assured viewers that the vaccine was NOT going to work, anyway, so people would be developing sore arms for nothing. Plus they will be 50 percent more likely to let commuters cough in their faces, mistakenly thinking the vaccine offers "protection." I would share more of my extensive knowledge of the upcoming Global PanEpidemic, but I have a feeling this story is going to have "legs," and I will get to write about the social implications of everyone having to wear those masks everywhere they go. And what this will mean for our terrorism profiling pastime. We all got some good practice with SARS a couple years ago, so we should definitely be ready for this one now that we know FEMA is going to be in charge of the federal response to Hurricane Bird Flu.

Saturday, October 08, 2005

Wally Gator and Kaa Do Lunch. Rush and Rosie Take Precautions.

I suppose by now you have heard about Florida's exploding python problem. Actually, I don't consider it that big of a problem as long as it isn't occurring on public transportation in the seat next to me. For one thing, I would MUCH rather see a python "go off" than have a chance to sneak up on me. It isn't the sort of thing that you would be sad to have smashed with the grille of your vehicle, like, say, a butterfly, or your family room wall. It sounds more like a detective case set in the deepest Amazon. Sherlock Holmes and the Case of the Python Exploding in the Night-Time. "Quick, Watson, the game's afoot!" Watson peers suspiciously at the jungle floor. "My dear Holmes, the game appears to have detonated." The python in question had swallowed much more than a can of baked beans. The snake was less than six feet long at the start of the incident. It had its eye on dinner, which in Florida tends to be mostly a chain restaurant meal. But in the wild, I suppose, anything moving might look edible to a python, so it apparently seized an adult-sized alligator. One that was closer to 10 feet in length than six. Unfortunately there is no videotaped footage of the struggle or subsequent explosion. There is only the remains of the python skin with the alligator's hindquarters protruding from its snake belly. But isn't it creepy to think a python can open its jaws THAT WIDE to begin with? If the AARP hasn't already sent out a senior citizen alert on this, it ought to issue one tomorrow. Let's face it, any species that thinks alligators are edible is not to be trifled with. Most of me did NOT want to know that the Everglades contains pythons. Another of my growing list of reasons to encounter nature solely on film or in theme park costumes. But even though alligators are as prevalent as mosquitoes, I don't have any objections to the python population trying to consume them. I don't care who wins! The reason there are pythons in the Everglades is that stupid python owners get tired of feeding them and drop them off in the swamp. Once they are no longer housed in your bathtub they can grow to virtually ANY length. (Source: My Overactive Imagination) It is only a matter of time before they start growing to 30 feet long and start swallowing NASCAR vehicles and tourist buses. There have been four other documented cases of alligator/python battles, with more sure to come. I imagine "exploding pythons" has the potential to evolve into a tourist attraction, ranking right up there with "storm surge" and "shark encounter." Apparently scientists were aware of the danger all along, and were secretly hoping that the local alligators would tame the python population and keep it from growing. Yep, looks like everything is under control! Like the time my toddler told me he had "cleaned" the bathroom with the baby powder. With each momma snake producing up to 100 hatchlings, it looks like the problem isn't going away anytime soon. As if this weren't bad enough news on the Ability To Take A Relaxing Walk In the Park front, we're now hearing about the burgeoning population of Nile Monitor Lizards in the Southwest coast of Florida. This is a species that has been imported from Africa by the Stupid Boob species of American Pet Collector. These things are cute with their bulging eyes and darting tongues. Then they get too big to hide from the landlord and once again are turned loose in the wilds of Florida to feed on small pets. Nile Monitor Experts suggest small gators may be at risk from these things too. Think "velociraptor" only not as cute. (Mr. Nile Monitor, meet Mr. Python.) Wouldn't it be nice if we could detonate these reptiles just by feeding them rice, like in that old wives' tale about birds that attend weddings? With both Rush Limbaugh and Rosie O'Donnell residing in South Florida, I suppose there is the risk that the Burmese Pythons and Nile Monitor Lizards could be at risk of taking on an entertainment giant that is too big to handle. Now THAT would be tabloid fodder.

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Does the Planet Need to Chill Out?

I have some good news and some bad news. Knowing that Americans prefer the bad news first so they have ample time to ignore it as they merrily carry on with their busy lives, I will lead off with the bad news. In a snug nutshell, we’ve got too many people and not enough earth. The situation promises to grow exponentially worse each year, to the point where we may soon be tempted to hitch-hike out of the solar system. (And you thought the Mission to Mars was for “research purposes?” The Automobile Club is developing an emergency triptik as we speak.) Yes, I KNOW you could shoehorn the entire population of the planet into the state of Texas with room leftover for hurricane refugees. Everyone would fit comfortably in houses designed for families of four with a driveway, modest yard, HDTV and high speed internet service. Wyoming would retain its two senate seats even if no one is technically living there, a situation we pretty much have currently. I am fully aware that we have the natural resources to sustain a lot more people than we already have. The Chicken Littles warning of a ticking population timebomb have been proven wrong time and again. BUT! That’s assuming we’re all content to eat mostly green, leafy vegetables, walk to work, and read books for entertainment. Certainly a viable lifestyle, one which was even common a century ago. Modern lifestyles in industrialized nations are nowhere near as economical, and are inadvertently wreaking havoc on our environment, and straining our natural resources to the snapping point. Motorists have their Road Rage. The earth may have its Tectonic Rage. The oceans, Surf Rage. The climate, Atmospheric Rage. And so forth. As we continue gobbling resources unabated, will the earth wreak its revenge against us for causing gastric distress to the planet? Perhaps in a cranky, volcanic way? Why, I sound like a member of Greenpeace! Does it matter that Americans consume 25 percent of the world’s energy output each year as long as we can afford it? Would we object to any other spendthrift country doing that? I’m not nearly an environmental activist. Environments are notoriously ungrateful. You spend all this time making the world safe for algae, and the next thing you know a hurricane levels your expensive coastal home. I look upon the earth as a consumer good, there for our use and not for its own sake. Still, I’m aware that if we don’t protect our little orbiting playground we will soon be drowning in our own foam, plastic and chemical-based debris. I’m fond of fresh drinking water and the ability to take hot, uncontaminated showers whenever I want them. Here are some things that should concern us: Countries more densely populated than ours have millions of people living in misery and squalor. I would venture to bet Misery and Squalor conditions worldwide are more common than lower middle class, working poor, or even welfare lifestyles in this country. And a lot less comfortable. We seem to have no problems growing food. America is, after all, a world-renowned Carbohydrate Producer. In spite of this, 8-10 million people around the globe starve to death each year. These, of course, are the very populations that have high birth rates. Can’t we send some Nobel prizewinners to work on this problem? Lock them in a room with nothing to eat but green, leafy vegetables until they solve it? So many people are undernourished I’m not sure which bogus agency to send my charity dollars to. So I send it, but it doesn’t assuage the guilt that I’m eating my third doughnut and have no way to assure every kid on the planet gets a decent breakfast. (which would probably include a fruit, and definitely would not include doughnuts.) Water is another big problem, even in this country. Third world nations don’t have enough to grow their crops. What they do have is usually contaminated enough to be the number one cause of childhood deaths from waterborne illnesses. Even the difficulties in the U.S. are becoming more obvious. Massive illegal immigration. Endless, choking traffic jams in major metropolitan areas. Inner city blight. Gas prices rising like a runaway hot air balloon. Vanishing forests and wetlands. A hazy layer of grime and air pollution. Farmland and citrus groves giving way to sprawling neighborhoods and more asphalt. Acid rain. Increasingly inaccessible health care. In a mere 60 years the U.S. population could double to around 600 million. (extrapolating based on current growth rates of 5 million annually) That is becoming claustrophobic. Okay, so by now you have to be wondering, WHY ARE YOU TELLING US THIS WHEN: 1) There is very little we can do about it, and 2) We’ll be all be dead in 60 years, so what difference does it make? (I am assuming for research purposes that 10-year-olds do not read my blog) Well, partly because these problems aren’t going to show up en masse six decades from now. They’re going to start (checking watch) a couple weeks ago! Surely you’ve noticed the prices at the pump. The rest of the stuff is going to reach a crescendo, too, especially if our economy goes south. (However this may ease up those pesky traffic problems.) But it is legitimate for you to ask at this point, “WHERE IS OUR GOOD NEWS? YOU PROMISED US SOME GOOD NEWS!” And so I did! I saved the best part for last. The good news is that this Bird Flu thingie has the potential to wipe out a quarter of the citizens on the planet, without regard to whether or not you’re a celebrity or have ever appeared on a reality show. That should ease a lot of the pressure on resources right there! Then our shortages will probably be limited to caskets. See, I TOLD you there was a silver lining!

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

Open Letter to the Buffalo News Grammar Czars

I'm going to reprint here a letter I faxed to the Buffalo News grammar czars. I assume they have them, even though no one ever wins an award for overseeing mistake-free copy. It's like everything in life, people only notice if you get something wrong. Well I noticed in the Sunday Buffalo News that one of their syndicated columnists had mangled a common colloquial phrase. So I had to write to the News about it, although I went on at such length that they really couldn't print the letter since it would use up all the valuable space needed for people to complain about high taxes, lack of services and the new design of the Skyway. And because such a letter complaining about errors practically DEMANDS that the author make a mistake, I've managed to include one in my letter. I've left it intact, see if you can find it! See, I don't use a spellchecker myself since my teachers pounded one into my brain so I carry it with me wherever I go. And a spellchecker wouldn't have caught it anyway. But I think this means someone needs to award me a syndicated column! Dear Buffalo News Grammar Czars: I brush up against typos each day as I bustle through various newspapers. I see “grammos,” too, which are worse, because that usually means the brain has made a mistake rather than the fingers. Worst of all are the colloquial phrases waltzing around the paper dressed by careless writers who didn’t first browse through the grammar closet to see if anything matched. In Sunday’s paper Lisa Earle McLeod’s column features the phrase “shoe-in,” which appears in the same sentence as “gifted and talented.” Hmmm. There are two phrases which should never go on a date in public. The writer wasn’t referring to horses in a barn, and no blacksmith was summoned. Nor were hordes of bridesmaids descending on a bridal shop demanding to get their shoes dyed to match. So it appears the writer was reaching for the term “shoo-in” and came away with something in the wrong size. Now the theme of Ms. McLeod’s columns is that “nobody’s perfect” so it seems almost useless to kvetch about this. On the other hand, writing a column about imperfections does not give her license to commit identity theft on a perfectly respectable phrase. I’m not perfect, either, but if I butchered a phase into a rump roast when it was supposed to be a sirloin tip, I think my very next column would be about civil rights for homophones. I realize pointing this out puts me in the ranks of being a Crank. But someone has to fill our rapidly-depleting Grammar Crank Ranks, and after a hotly contested primary I nominated myself. I see it every day in newspapers and on those crawls on the cable news stations. “Jury-rigged” when the writer clearly meant “jerry-rigged!” “Bold-faced lie” when they meant “bald-faced lie.” “Grizzly murders” committed by non-bears! I could go on, but I’m about to “blow a casket.” So I beg you to set free your copy editors. Allow them to indulge their inner grammarian! Let them read ALL the copy, even the syndicated stuff, and when they spot those errors, either fix them, or toss me a big SIC so I don’t drown in despair. Otherwise I’m left wondering if anyone else at the paper reads these articles and notices these things. True, it will not affect gas prices or end social security as we know it, but if the newspaper is perfectly willing to let these things appear in its pages, it helps solidify the faux phrases as being correct. We will all soon be eating “shoe-fly pie,” hold the laces! Hopefully I will have made a spelling or grammar mistake myself, thus completely negating my point. Wait, there it is! “Hopefully” was not my mood as I started that sentence. Oh, wait, yes it was. I guess, then, it’s okay even if that isn’t what I meant. Cheers! Patricia Reilly Panara Homophonic Grammar Crank

Sunday, October 02, 2005

Charismatic Dictator of the Short People

In the past year the 4-year-old has evolved from a baby to a full Personality. It turns out he is Dictator of the World, starting with his own personal universe. He knows what's best for all of us, and that greater good just happens to coincide with his wishes. One of the great things about babies is you can dress them any way you want. Even if you bought something that was a weird color, oddball design, or just left sitting on the rack marked down to 79 cents because no one else wanted it, it doesn't matter. The baby WILL wear it. He may protest certain colors by immediately upchucking on them, but he or she will still wear it long enough for you to feel like you got some use out of it. Not so 4-year-olds. They, inconveniently, have OPINIONS. And who knows where these opinions came from! From TV? From other toddlers? From the Weird Gene that must belong to your spouse's side of the family? I'm not sure where he gets the opinions from because up to now (preschool) I've been with him approximately 30 hours a day, up to and including when I have to go to the bathroom, so I've seen no opportunities for unapproved opinions to develop. Perhaps they're like hurricanes, developing out of a couple of clouds sitting lazily off the coast of Florida. Speaking of the bathroom, obviously I don't want him in there with me all the time. When he was younger I'd hand him off to Hubby so I could use the bathroom. Well now, naturally, he has an OPINION on the subject. He asks me "why" I would want to be in there by myself. I tell him, "sometimes I need some privacy." So now when he trails me into the bathroom he announces, "I want to WATCH your privacy." (Me to Hubby: "Couldn't you just teach him how to chew tobacco, or something, so I can use the bathroom?") The other day we were on the purple playground during the 6-year-old's tee ball game. The 4-year-old was dressed in sweat pants and a Buffalo Bills sweatshirt. The temperature was in the low nineties with a heat index higher than that. I could feel the late afternoon sun singeing the back of my neck. The 4-year-old had rejected the nice cool short and t-shirt outfit I had offered him. It was fall! He wanted sweats! And was, now, appropriately sweating. (I should also point out that his favorite mode of dress in the house, where it is consistently air conditioned, is "nude.") But he found a cute toddler girl in the vicinity of the purple dinosaur stairs leading up to the slide. (No, this was not a Barney-themed playground. I think all children's dinosaurs tend to be purple to make them look like giant gummy candies.) The girl toddler was dressed in pink polka-dot pants, white shirt with a design, and pink plastic sandals. She was blonde and carefree, except for a mother lurking several feet away. My 4-year-old approached her. "Hi, I'm four. How old are you?" (This is the toddler equivalent of "What's your major?") She smiled at him. Then her brow furrowed in concentration. "I'm (pause) S-s-s-seven." Okay, she was maybe three or so, certainly no older than he was. And she's already playing the Experienced Older Woman Card! Probably thinks she's going to get to ride the more aggressive theme park rides with her fake I.D. My 4-year-old was taken aback, I could tell. He hadn't expected her to be that old. He tried to recover. "Well, I'm almost five." "When's your birfff-day?" she asked him. "After my brother's," he said. "He's SIX!" Then he spelled his name for her. Probably so she could start text messaging him as soon as she gets a phone! I made a mental note to not let him start dating until he's 30 or I'm dead, whichever comes first. I was in his preschool classroom for Rodeo Day last week. When the kids came in from the outdoor activities (riding stick ponies, milking faux cows, cavorting in hay) it was snack time. Everyone formed a line and washed their hands while the teacher and helping parents put out paper plates filled with "trail mix" snacks of crackers, candies, pretzels etc. The kids were anxious to dig into their trail mix when they arrived at their seats. "No, wait!" the teacher said. "We're going to pray first." They all clasped their hands in a solemn attitude. The teacher began the prayer. I could see my 4-year-old's eyes darting surreptitiously to the teacher, then back to his table. I noticed his folded hands getting closer and closer to his head. Then I saw him secretly trickling TRAIL MIX into his mouth during the prayer. E-genuflecting-Gads! I'm sure, though, he thought he was multi-tasking. Praying and eating at the same time! And clever enough to conceal such a distracting sight from the teacher. He introduced me to one of his buddies. He told me his buddy's name. Then he said, "This is Mama. (Pause) Her name is Patti." Hmmm. We hadn't ever actually taught him formal introductions. Not bad for winging it. When we're in the van my two sons will often argue about theoretical things. Like the 4-year-old will make a solemn pronouncement such as "Zebras live on the North Pole." The 6-year-old will engage him in a five minute argument as to why they couldn't possibly live there. Then he will appeal to me, "Is that true?" Before I can respond the 4-year-old says, "EVERYTHING I SAY is true." "THAT'S not true," the 6-year-old insists. "Yes it is." They argue about that for several more minutes. "Mama, he's saying everything he says is true!" the 6-year-old complained. "Does that sound true?" I asked him. "No, but he's SAYING it!" "Well just ignore him." Then of course they fight about that. The 4-year-old also issues a lot of threats. To me. Hubby. The 6-year-old. Various relatives. So far though I haven't heard of any difficulties in school, where apparently he is either angelic, or very good at faking it. Some of his favorite threats: "I'm going to turn you into SKELETONS!" "You're going to sleep outside the house with the BUGS and the ALLIGATORS!" "I'm going to CRUSH you into CRUMBS!" But my favorite, which he utters anytime I make him especially unhappy, is angry pouty face, followed by, "Mama, you are NOT a genius!" How true that is.