Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Steel or Feathers? Superbowl XL

Pity the poor Detroit Lions. This Sunday's Superbowl extravaganza at the Pontiac Silverdome is as close as the city is likely to get to that hallowed game. I think the team's been jinxed ever since George Plimpton donned the Lions uniform to provide research for his book "Paper Lion." Since then the Lions have played with all the determination of a paper team competing in a scissors league. They play like journalists in pads. But never mind the poorly scripted reality show that is the Detroit Lions. ("I'm a Detroit Draft Pick, Get Me Out of Here!" or "The Amazing Waste") We want to focus on the big game itself, now less than a week away. In spite of the Motor City's recent malaise as former powerhouse automakers GM and Ford tighten their belts to the point they look like Lindsay Lohan during Lent, Detroit is determined to put on a super show as the Superbowl enters middle age. Turning 40 this year, Detroit doesn't want Super Bowl XL having a midlife crisis. True, it's 40 years later and the original British Invasion seems complete. The Rolling Stones are performing at halftime. They're as American as shepherd's pie, yet here they are facing (let's be honest, early Geezerhood) and they're performing at our quintessential U.S. sporting event. I guess they are tamer than poor, maligned Janet Jackson. That's the other buzz on this event, that it could be the site of a spectacular Al Qaeda-fueled terror attack. With three threatening videotapes in the past month alone, you have to start wondering if they're going to start issuing press kits. Maybe Osama and the guy with the glasses will show up with the teams during media week? All I can say is if there are any surprises at the Super Bowl I'd rather see nipples than nukes! Word has it there has been a lot of terrorist "chatter" about Detroit and the date February 5th. Well, duh, it's the Superbowl. They're probably betting on the game. Somebody wiretap the bookies! I do have my preferences on this. The Steelers represent a traditional blue collar town, and an industry that is a shadow of its former self. As tough as the Seahawks team seems, they reside in an area famous for latte-sipping, tofu-eating hippies. How can we root for a city whose people might not care if their team wins? Also the Steelers still wear the same team uniform with its solid black and gold color scheme. The Seahawks abandoned their blue and gray for a hue that can best be described as "algae." Yes, it might be necessary for oceans to thrive, but it's still slime. Seahawks Coach Mike Holmgren has already won a Superbowl with the Packers. Steelers Coach Bill Cowher has been laboring for the Steelers for 14 long years (that's two consecutive Biblical famine periods) with no ring to show for it. What better going away present for retiring running back Jerome Bettis? Even though I'd prefer to see a Steelers victory, my number one goal here is to see a GAME. That's something I didn't see during the Conference Championship weekend, when the Steelers and Seahawks basically blew out their opponents by a comfortable margin. Also I am including in my nightly prayers, "Lord, please don't let this game be decided, or ruined, by ZEBRAS!" (Honestly, as Noah was closing up the ark I think I would've left the whole referee species behind.) The Steelers ARE at a bit of a disadvantage, playing in a dome. This is a team that is accustomed to battling the elements, along with the other team. And we all know Mother Nature can be a formidable opponent! In the controlled atmosphere of Ford Field they may feel like a pigskin science experiment rather than an athletic contest. It may distract them! But as long as the Steelers players keep their Terrible Towels firmly affixed to their bodies during any commercials with one or more Desperate Housewives, I think we can keep the FCC at bay. So my prediction: Big Ben Roethlisberger shakes off the thumb injury and takes it to the Hawks. If the two teams produce an exciting game, and we get through it without a hint of terrorism, then I will consider us all winners.

Sunday, January 29, 2006

Terrorocracy Triumphs in Palestine

The Palestinians held their big election, and by American standards the turnout was stupendous. An estimated 80 percent of the eligible voters went to the polls. (U.S. turnout is typically less than half) What a great day for democracy! Perhaps the winds of freedom and civil discourse will soon be sweeping over the entire Middle East! Except the developed world is not so happy at the news. You see, the winner of the Palestinian election was not some moderate. Not a pro-western leader. Not a party anyone can consider talking sense to. The winner in these elections was Hamas. Yes THAT Hamas. The radical organization that advocates the destruction of Israel. (Admittedly it takes more than desiring the destruction of Israel to be labeled "radical." It's a fairly common sentiment.) The thing is, this group is utterly devoted to terror as a way of life. They are now the officially elected and sanctioned Terrorocracy in the Middle East! Technically, the term HAMAS stands for: "Holy Armageddon! Mullahs Aiming Scuds!" So you can see why the normal nations are upset. I think we've already announced we can't consider negotiating with a duly elected terrorist organization. It would be like if we elected one of the Crips mayor of Los Angeles. John Gotti governor of New York State. Perhaps Tim McVeigh (before he was executed) and David Koresh (before he was incinerated) winning the presidency and vice presidency on the America First ticket! However, now that we've admitted WMDs were no longer the real reason for invading Iraq (at best they were a "consensus reason"), we've settled upon this "bringing democracy to the people of the Middle East" canard. It is certainly a duck of a story that is laying an egg as we speak. ("Canard" is french for "duck" if you'd like to secretly enjoy that statement a little more, perhaps with a nice irony glaze.) Now that we have Terrorocracy, we know darn well that Iraq is going to end up being a Theocracy the moment our "political advisors" skeddadle when the danger of kidnapping or an IED (Improvised Exposive Device, ie. "roadside bomb" or "shrapnel sandwich") gets too great. I have long felt we will not exit Iraq due to political pressure, overseas or domestic. We will exit when we run out of money to fund the operation. One more Katrina-style natural disaster should do it: L.A. earthquake, Northwest volcano, NYC hurricane, whatever it is. Really, do we want to keep wasting money and lives just so the ruling religious party over there can have their Theocracy? Even if it's democratically elected? Ah, for the good old days of puppet dictators! Whatever happened to benign rulers? Wise kings? People whose sole goal wasn't to trample the earth and the people on it? Well regardless, Hamas has announced it doesn't have any immediate terror attacks planned. However it has warned that Israel needs to "change its flag." Gee that's kinda personal! It's one thing to trespass on my lawn, but another to criticize my wardrobe. People in the south are still touchy about the rebel flag. Apparently Hamas wants two of the blue stripes removed because to the Palestinians it represents an alleged Israeli belief that the country's dominion extends from the Nile River (in Egypt) to the Euphrates River (Iraq). As if they didn't already have enough to fight about over there. I suspect it's no coincidence that geopolitics is converging with religion in a region commonly known as the Holy Land. It was the site of the original Eden, and the site of the future Armageddon. Let's just hope it doesn't occur in the "near" future!

Thursday, January 26, 2006

Oprah Does The Right Thing

I have to give Oprah Winfrey credit. She went on her show to say, loudly, Mea Culpa! That is something author James Frey* (his real name and unfortunately also the name of another author who does NOT lie for a living. I hope they sort it out via middle initials.) pointedly did NOT do on the Larry King show as he defended his version of the truth. Oprah obviously read my blog and had a change of heart! Okay, she probably read a smattering of the invective being hurled by some very fine writers in newspaper columns all over the country. But my point is, her media empire is vast enough, and audience entrenched enough, that she doesn't have to apologize to anyone. The fact that she'd bother to do so says she cares about her credibility. She even admitted to being embarrasssed at this whole thing. That is just so rarely heard from a celebrity of any kind, much less one of her stature. I'm a little bit amazed that Mr. Lying Author appeared on the show again soley for the purpose of being browbeaten by Oprah, columnist Richard Cohen, and others. He said he had "made mistakes," and when Oprah pressed him on it, even admitted to making mistakes AND lying. Granted, this second Oprah appearance will guarantee even MORE book sales. But honestly, the book was doing so well, fueled first by the book club selection, and now by the controversy, that the second show wasn't really necessary. I'm wondering if his publisher, Doubleday's Nan Talese, threatened to apply a very hot poker to his private parts. They are in major damage control mode. Now that financial success is guaranteed, apparently Nan would STILL like to maintain a shred of credibility. Hard to do when your own husband, Gay Talese, is doing the rounds on national TV basically disagreeing with you. Some have even suggested that the publisher may have subtly nudged Mr. Frey along the duplicitous path he ultimately took. Who knows! Wouldn't surprise me. I would really like the publisher to add a note at the end of the book. "Based on a true story." My brother called me this afternoon to ask if I knew anything about this "Frey guy" and why Oprah was interviewing him, and why he looked so uncomfortable. I said, "Read my blog!" But it also gave me a chance to flick on CBS and catch part of Oprah's show. Yes, it was fun watching Frey agree with everyone that he was, in fact, a big fat liar. I mean really, a root canal with no novocaine? I don't know too many non-Nazi dentists who would do that. So Oprah, from me to you, I'm sorry for calling you the country's most prominent enabler. I am heartened to see you stand up for Truth, Justice AND the American Way. Just like Superman would. As to Mr. Frey's book, well, heating oil prices are high. I hear a lot of people are buying wood-burning stoves. Let's put his book to good use!

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Why Good Things Happen To Bad Authors: Lies & The Lying Liars Who Sell Them

When it comes to book sales, there's nothing as good as a famous person to wave a magic wand and turn your pumpkin of a tome into a glittering coach. So when the Princess of Hype, Oprah Winfrey, selected James Lie's* (not his real name) memoir for her TV book club last fall, it was little wonder that it propelled him out of the pumpkin patch to the top of the New York Times bestseller list for non-fiction. He has reigned there for the past couple of months. Problem is, some super-sleuths at the TheSmokingGun.com suspected something was amiss with "A Million Little Pieces," Mr. Lie's* (not the name on his birth certificate) cindery tale of how he wrecked, then redeemed his life after years of drug and alcohol addiction. (Well, people have been calling it "gritty," but I wanted to stick with my Cinderella theme. So I decided "cindery" meant the same thing. Besides, the man's reputation is now in ashes.) They weren't the only ones to get a whiff of the ocean as they read the tale. Janet Maslin of the New York Times also wrinkled her nose at some of the book's scenes. But the truth crusaders at the Smoking Gun had the gumption to investigate some of Mr. Lie's* (not the name that on his police record) claims. What they discovered is that a Frey* Fact is not the same as a True Fact. For you grammar sticklers who thought "true fact" was redundant, well, no longer! A Frey Fact "may" be 95 percent true, or it may not be true at all. It may be something he thought was true, wished were true, or simply pretended was true. Take the several months he spent in jail. Turns out, it was a few hours. He didn't even have to change his underwear! His "street cred" is not even as good as Martha Stewart's. Now I KNOW it can seem like months when you're in a boring place with no good reading material. But it doesn't justify portraying yourself as a seasoned jailbird. (Martha, on the other hand, knows when to use her turmeric, and that cayenne spice is a weapon.) So Mr. Lie's* (not the name on his book jacket) reputation is in a Million Little Tatters, at least with the literary community, by which I'm referring to people who actually write, edit or review sentences for a living. In the book sales universe, the marketing people are probably in ecstasy. The more notoriety he gets, the better his book does! Oprah was not outraged about this. Instead of standing up for truth and justice, she settled for the American Way. Which is to say, it didn't matter. Yes! She has succeeded in becoming this country's most prominent enabler ever. Larry King invited Mr. Lie* (not the name used on his glossy bio sheet) onto his CNN talk show shortly after the scandal broke. Was he there to apologize? Hahahahahahaha. Surely I jest. He was there to RATIONALIZE. Now, most human beings are natural amateur rationalizers from the time they hit school age. (My 4-year-old: "I didn't mean to hit him. My BRAIN told me to!") However addicts are professional rationalizers -- they do it for a living. So Mr. Lie* (not his original nickname) told us that memoirs are a literary form that aren't about "facts" but rather about one's perception of the facts. Which I could buy if he were referring to his subjective experiences. It is one thing if Christina Crawford tells us her mother Joan was mean to her. It's another if she says her mother died in the Space Shuttle Challenger disaster. How much time you spent in jail is not just a matter of perception, it's a matter of public record. Oprah said that the truth didn't matter as much as the emotional experience people had while reading the story of Mr. Lie's* (not his real nom de plume) "truth." Forgive me for stating the obvious, but when it comes to non-fiction, some stories resonate simply because THEY ARE TRUE. Would the Diary of Anne Frank be a classic if we learned she was hiding in the attic due to agoraphobia, and went on to die of old age in a Belgian nursing home? Mr. Lie's* (not what kids called him on the playground) story failed to sell to publishers as fiction, so he punched up some of the scenes, painted himself as the key figure in some girl's death in a train wreck, and repackaged it as a memoir. Why not, there's room in DaVinci's Last Supper painting, too. Didn't Judas have an accomplice? But Mr. Lie* (not the name he uses on his IRS forms) had the nerve to say the book is "95 percent true," so overall the reader is being served a lot more fact than fiction. It would be helpful if the publisher would use a different color ink in order to differentiate the faux prose -- perhaps yellow? With respect to Oprah's contention of the "experience" being true for the reader, I just plea bargain to differ. Suppose a man or woman goes on a date and has an absolutely stunning time. The date of his or her life. Then, before the next date occurs, learns that the other person is in fact already married. Not quite the same date, is it? Sure, a good time was had. Enjoyed every moment of it, maybe. But the experience as a whole has soured because it was based on a lie. A restaurant meal that's only five percent arsenic? Well, I think I'd want the arsenic as an optional side dish, not baked into my entree. So James Frey (his real, sullied name) is going to profit nicely from his jitterbug with the devil. Can't wait to see the eventual movie: "Bogus Memoir and the Brotherhood of the Flaming Pants."

Friday, January 20, 2006

George Bush Made Me Do It

I'm not sure if the devil has been demoted, or our president has been promoted, but George W. Bush is catching a lot of blame these days. Some of it well-deserved, no doubt. (Harriet Miers! Poor thing.) But some things simply aren't his fault. Like people hitting their kids. I caught part of a radio talk show last night as I was driving the 6-year-old home from swimming lessons. (He calls them Stroke Lessons because "I already know HOW to swim.") So it was a show I don't normally listen to, but I had it on because these days you never know when the next terrorist attack is coming to a sporting event near you. Some guy calling himself "Larry the Angry Liberal" was on. He was not the host, but rather the guest, and if I understood correctly, he IS a host of his own syndicated show, with about 40 stations carrying him. But he was guesting on someone else's show. Well Larry was having a bad day. A very bad day. Seems due to his position as angry liberal talk show host, someone had confronted him in public (not on his show) and said something to the effect: "If you're against a war for OIL, how come you're still driving a CAR?" And then walked away from him and jumped in his own car with his buddies. This incident angered Larry the Angry Liberal. (Not hard to do, I guess.) It angered him to the point where his blood temperature shot up from 98.6 to 212 degrees. He was extremely angry that this person had asked this question which was designed to stifle debate. Not only that, he had the nerve to walk away and not wait for an answer! Which left poor Larry feeling like a Big Dumb Angry Liberal Talk Show Host. Now as he was relating this story on yesterday evening's talk show, the host asked what his answer would have been if the guy had waited for an answer. "Well I don't really have one," Larry said. But still, he hated the question, and the superior manner in which the man delivered it. He stewed about this so much that he went home and hit his 15-year-old autistic son. Backhanded him across the face. As he later added detail, he said it was dinnertime and the son had banged his spoon on the table (which is not atypical for autistic kids, apparently). Larry had told him to "Shut up," then elbowed him AND struck him. That's a lot of anger. Now, let me say first of all there is probably no person on the planet who hasn't done some awful thing to their kid that they regret immediately upon doing it. Whether it's raising your voice, saying something sarcastic, spanking, propelling, or breaking a toy. (My two kids were fighting over a flag on a wooden stick once. My words had absolutely no effect on them, no matter how I configured them or what tone I delivered them in. So I grabbed the flag and broke it in half right in front of them. Their faces were so devastated that I taped it back together, apologized for losing my temper, and then delivered a lecture on "we must not fight over toys." Which they sort of listened to.) So we're all guilty of this. If you're not, you're a saint, and please put in a good word for me at the Heavenly Happy Hour. And in Larry's defense, he sounded terribly remorseful, almost to the point of tears. Perhaps telling the story on a radio show had a confessional/repentance aspect to it. And I have absolutely no doubt he loves his son and hates the fact that he hit him. But here's where we part philosophical company. He went on to explain that it was not HIS fault that he hit his son. It was George Bush's. Yes! George Bush's "War for Oil" made him do it. That's how bad this war is. And how indifferent George Bush is to what happens to angry liberals' kids. He actually said this as a serious justification. It was not a radio parody or a goof. The host said"How is your son doing now?" and Larry mumbled something about that they would patch things up and everything would be fine and so forth. The host didn't really go after him, just sort of commented, "so you think this is George Bush's fault..." in a kind of incredulous tone. Then he took a caller. The caller was a lady who said it was NOT George Bush's fault, it was HIS fault he had hit his son. Whereupon Larry accused her of being a Bush supporter. (she said she was not) He then asked her what she thought of this War for Oil vs Driving A Car argument. She said she did not CARE about that issue, she was concerned about the guy's son, and his way of dealing with anger. Larry was much more interested in getting to the bottom of the oil vs cars conundrum, whereas this lady was extremely interested in his parenting skills. Believe me, I was rooting for the lady! Go Common Sense Woman, Go! This was irritating Larry, who then explained it this way. HE was like a bunch of dry weeds, and George Bush threw a match at him. It was not HIS fault he grew into a brush fire! The lady then said, "That's a bad anaolgy...weeds don't have BRAINS!" She was probably wondering if Larry had one. He then asked her if she was an educator. (No. Probably just a parent.) But let's put it this way, if Larry really does think he's like "weeds" he'd better think about what people like to do with weeds. Exterminate them! Not that I am suggesting anyone exterminate Larry. I'm just suggesting that his metaphors have managed to make him look like an even worse parent than his original story did. How is this any different than hitting your kid because your football team lost? Because your boss yelled at you? Because you misplaced your car keys? I totally agree with that lady. This was an anger issue, not a "George Bush made me hit my kid" issue. If you can use that as an excuse, you can use anything. It really made me want to tell Larry to shut up. And then elbow him and backhand him across the face. But I didn't. And I didn't do it to anyone else, either. How would Larry feel if "I" hit his kid because of "George Bush's War For Oil?" Gee, do you think he'd press charges or sue? Larry, whoever he is, is really sorry. But he needs to understand that nobody can make you hit your kid but you.

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

The United Flavors of America

Has something gotten into America's ice cream? People are saying all kinds of weird stuff lately. Yes, there was Pat Robertson doing the voiceover as God commented on Ariel Sharon's medical chart. Then there was Hillary Clinton telling us it takes a Plantation to Raise a Slave Child -- she did this in a mock urban African-American accent. Not that she was mocking. Just method acting, maybe! If you know what I mean. Wink, wink, nudge nudge, breakdance, breakdance. There was Senator Ted Kennedy lecturing Judge Samuel Alito on being a member of an exclusive club that wanted to keep women out of Princeton back in the 60s or 70s. Meanwhile Kennedy continues to maintain membership in Harvard's Owl Club. ("Who? Me? WHOOOOO!") The Owls don't allow women, apparently, but Ted thinks that paying dues is not the same as being a member. Hey, I'd be satisfied if he'd simply rescue women from inconvenient car accidents! Now there's New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin. And yes, being Mayor of New Orleans these days is sort of like being Mayor of Pompeii, or Alderman of Atlantis. Everyone knows what you're talking about, but the constituency is a little dormant. Anyway, you remember him. He's the one who told everyone to evacuate the city before Hurricane Katrina even though a majority of the inner city population didn't have transportation. Buses were allowed to sit unused while everyone was directed to go to the Superdome with their sleeping bags. (Well it wasn't HIS fault. The bus drivers all wisely took cabs out of the city.) He also encouraged everyone to RETURN to New Orleans just before Hurricane Rita struck. Causing quite a traffic jam between anyone trying to leave, and those trying to perform hurried U-turns in their rental cars. Now he's saying he wants New Orleans to be a "chocolate city." I had to call Hillary Clinton's office for the translation on this, and her staffers assured me he is referring to "people descended from those who used to work on plantations." Okay then! He's calling for an all-black New Orleans. Or a mostly-black New Orleans. Or a primarily black New Orleans. Or at least a mighty sweet New Orleans. I've heard the price of chocolate is set to skyrocket, so maybe it IS a good time to invest in the city. So I have decided that I LIKE Mayor Ray Nagin's idea for re-naming America's people based on foods. Here is a short list I have compiled: African-Americans are now CHOCOLATE Americans. White folks are now ANGELFOOD Americans. Native Americans can be called PEMMICAN Americans. Asian Americans become SAFFRON Americans. Hispanic Americans will be FRIJOLE Americans. The Martians, when they land, will be designated AVOCADO Americans. This will be a lot more fun for those college applications and for the U.S. census forms. And there's no reason we can't commingle food groups for people who are of mixed race! Even though New Orleans is not a city at the moment, I vote that we keep Mayor Nagin in office just for the entertainment value. He says stuff no normal person could get away with! He just needs a place to put his office that isn't six feet below sea level. Is there room, perhaps, in Yellowstone National Park? I keep hearing that volcanic region is going to blow its top. I can hear him now: "Please do NOT touch the hot lava. It is not safe to play in or around a molten area..."

Friday, January 13, 2006

West Virginia Mining Disaster 2006

My title is a nod to the Bee Gees and their mournful tune "New York Mining Disaster 1941" (which, according to them, was written in the dark, and actually was based on a mine disaster in Wales that killed more than 200 children.) It is hard to know what to say about the tragedy at Sago Mine that hasn't already been said by the families of the fallen miners. The mining industry is about as foreign to me as drilling for oil or creating clones. So I generally wouldn't take an interest in what's going on unless we run out of oil, start using coal to heat my house or I meet a copy of myself socially. So far none of that has happened. While loading web pages on the subject I was assaulted by ridiculous sponsored internet ads like "Miners Needed! Work From Home!" Let me guess, you send a check for $500 to some post office box and they mail you a plastic shovel and instructions on how you can earn thousands by starting your very own mine in the backyard. Won't the homeowners' association be pleased! But the news from Sago was serious. Whether the miners had been found dead or alive, it would've all been a part of a week's work for the "always on" cable news media. Even so, the word "Sago" may not have entered the general public's Proper Noun Vocabulary but for one small aspect of the story. They got it wrong. As wrong as it is possible to be wrong. Big, bad wrong. Wrong, wrong, wrong. Everyone got scooped by a mother with two kids who rushed out of the local church when Truth crystallized and hope shattered, punctuated by helplessly flailing fists. "There's but one alive," she said. She had hurried to the church with her kids when the bells first pealed the happy news that the men were alive. She wanted to celebrate with the families who expected to embrace their missing men that morning. Instead they were cold-cocked by circumstances that flowed from a tangled skein of communications. Stunned townspeople gasped their grief to CNN's Anderson Cooper, the only cable news reporter still on the scene in these desperate morning hours. Even he seemed disbelieving at first. Then the truth settled like the blackest of coal dust. Twelve dead. Only one alive. I was struck by the religious symbolism that seemed to permeate the story. Local businesses put up signs exhorting everyone to pray for the trapped men. People placing the fate of their loved ones in God's hands. Pleas for a miracle. The strains of the song "Amazing Grace" wafting from the church as waiting families struggled to keep despair at bay. At long last, the bells chiming the thrilling, but ultimately mistaken news. Then the Sago Mine's CEO had no choice but to bludgeon the ecstatic crowd with the facts. He had gone from Angel of Light to Messenger of Death with the phrase, "There's been a miscommunication." The stampede of emotions that followed was as inevitable as it was frightening. "God took away our miracle," said one family member. Several days later Anderson Cooper re-interviewed the woman who initially broke the story for (let's be honest here) the ENTIRE U.S. news media. She had taken two photographs inside the church. Not of the pandemonium that later occurred, but of the governor of West Virginia and Sago Mine CEO Ben Hatfield as they were about to deliver the stunning news. CNN showed both photos, which seemed unremarkable at first. (and I wish I could show you the photo but I can't find it online.) As I was staring at the shot of Hatfield I noticed in the background behind him a GIANT picture of the Last Supper. It was so big it almost seemed like a mural on the wall, the apostles looming over Hatield's shoulders. "Twelve alive, one dead." Is God trying to tell us something? If so, what? Maybe that our settled, comfortable way of life is about to be upended. That we're in for a reversal of fortune intended to pry us away from our material way of living and thinking, and toward our Creator. Crazy, I know. But no crazier that a big, fat picture of the Last Supper as a mute backdrop to that horrific announcement. No crazier than believing there is a meaning to everything that happens, and that God's healing power remains, all appearances to the contrary. No crazier than regarding this life as the briefest of rest stops, and realizing we'll all be moving on soon. I can only hope the hugely talented Canadian balladeer Gordon Lightfoot is composing a musical ode that will memorialize this tragedy as indelibly as his song about a sunken Great Lakes freighter, "The Edmund Fitzgerald."

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

The Late Great Andy Rooney

(Lakeland, FL) The world is a less curmudgeonly place today after the untimely death of Andy Rooney, 86, beloved syndicated columnist, CBS 60 Minutes commentator and former reporter for the Stars & Stripes. He died in his sleep while in the midst of an interview on Larry King Live. (Source: AP, i.e. "Argumentative Patti") At this time there are unconfirmed reports that Mr. King was also deceased at the time of the interview. Okay! Let me first be honest and point out that Andy Rooney the New York Giants fan is still alive, and grumbling about what a pain it is to get to the games. (Although they may have had to defibrillate him after his team failed to score in its playoff loss to the Carolina Panthers Sunday.) It is Andy Rooney the WRITER who has apparently hit the rim and bounced into the great Round File in the Sky. The yellow sticky note attached to his gravestone reads: Be right back, as soon as I think of something interesting to say!" Mr. Rooney has a terrific eye for minutia and a no-nonsense writing style. Problem is, the worse his trifocal prescription gets, the closer to his body his writing seems to gravitate. That is why we are now reading about: The piles on his desk! The contents of his pockets! The stubble on his face! I don't object to a writer taking on a small subject. A good one can make it anything but mundane. But for heaven's sake, if you're going to write about what's in your pockets or your junk drawer, at least make sure there's something interesting in there. I don't want to read about the color of your lint! More evidence that Mr. Rooney has passed away: Larry King was kind enough to mention one of Mr. Rooney's books, "Common Nonsense," and encouraged the public to buy it. Mr. Rooney let out a big guffaw and told us it was selling terribly. Whereupon I'm 100 percent certain his book publicist choked on her coffee. (Medical suggestion to the PublicAffairs Books marketing staff: Mr. Rooney could probably benefit from a coffee enema.) If some publisher wants to take on one of my books I promise if I get on national TV I will tell everyone it's a wonderful book and they should all buy it immediately. I may even have a portion of the profits donated to the Andy Rooney Memorial Fund for Giants Fans With Bad Seats. (Note to Larry King: I'm just wisecracking. Please don't hold that against me when scheduling for your show!) I also admit my attempt to have Mr. Rooney gossiped about in the past tense is a transparent ploy to grab the undivided attention of all four bystanders who have chanced by here. I am using Mr. Rooney's well-known name and magnificent Q-Score to promote my wholly obscure name and meaningless Z-Score. (Q-Score relates to celebrity popularity; Z-Score is an indicator I made up rating the likelihood of inducing sleep. As in, cranking Zzzzzzzs.) But I figure Mr. Rooney has annoyed me on at least three different levels: 1) His opinion on Mel Gibson's movie "The Passion of the Christ." I think it's a spiritual masterpiece, whereas the very idea of it seems to bother him. He then picked a few of the looniest letters and emails of criticism to showcase in his column, when I'm sure he got plenty of cogent well-written ones, too. 2) His opinion that women should not be sideline football reporters. This from a man who admits he knows NOTHING about baseball. And who is old enough to have watched Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig play. I was irritated enough by this to mention it in my novel, "Buffalo Winged." 3) He hates St. Patrick's Day. What kind of pint-sized leprechaun of a grinch would say that? He's the scrooge of the Guinness world! Any person of Irish descent who is not fond of St. Patrick's Day should keep his pie-hole shut instead of sharing his grumpiness with the rest of the parade-loving, sodabread-baking, green facepaint-wearing public. Maybe he doesn't like it because it's an inclusive holiday that encourages everyone to be Irish on that day! In one column this year he claimed that he'd never met anyone with some of the most popular boys' and girls' names of today. That's because his grandchildren are probably senior citizens by now, for Ezekial's sake! Of course he doesn't bump into anyone of the school-age set. There are a lot of things I like about Mr. Rooney. I think he's a good citizen, patriotic American, loyal family man and Giants fan, frugal consumer, honorable human being, honest commentator and, yes, excellent writer. His style isn't flashy, but it's highly readable and addictive. There are days when I skim through most of the paper, but I read his columns from start to finish. Even if it's just to see how he's described the head of a pin he's been staring at too long. That's why he's a syndicated columnist, and a good one. Long live Andy Rooney! Patricia Reilly Panara is the author of "Buffalo Winged" and "Nobody Move!" and regular columnist for WNY Media Network and her tiny population of blog readers. Contact: 863-838-2117 Beefonweck.com and Beefonweck.blogspot.com

Sunday, January 08, 2006

Going Postal

Since I'm sure we've all made New Year's Resolutions involving not only physical health, but also FISCAL health, I thought I'd contribute to your financial well-being with this great idea I had for saving money. Aside: when I was in college I was in charge of the newsletter for our living group, which happened to be a chapter of the Alpha Gamma Delta sorority. Even then my writing style was snarky. Anyway one of our goals was to save money, namely because any "saved money" on mundane things such as electricity could then be used for wonderful things like parties! So each week I would publish what I called a Pseudo-Energy Saving Tip, or PEST, that would help us cut down on the electric bills. Such as, wash your hair, then visit someone in the dorms and use her blow dryer! Well you get the idea. So it is in the spirit of my PEST tips that this great idea came to me. With first-class postage jumping two pennies to 39 cents today, I was thinking we as USA citizens should try to beat the increase. I will readily admit that publishing this suggestion TODAY makes my idea not only a day late, but the equivalent of an unsolicited opinion (two cents) short. But I wanted to share anyway, because I'm so enamored with my idea. Here goes: We push as much of our 2006 mailing into the first week as we can, in order to retain the 37-cent rate. Simple! But it will require ingenuity to make it work. First, obviously you don't pay your BILLS early. There is nothing money-saving about that, unless you are prone to late fees. It's the correspondence that can really reap you some big savings. So drag out that address book or event calendar and count up all those birthdays, anniversaries and weddings that might be coming up. Buy the number of cards you will need for the birthdays and start firing them out! The people born in February will marvel at your incredible efficiency. The people born in March through July may consider you a tad eccentric. Those born from August through October may wonder if you're on some funkily-interacting medications. And anyone born in November or December will assume this is a BELATED card from 2005. So be sure to mark very clearly on the card that you previously sent your 2005 card, and that THIS card is to be counted toward your 2006 obligation. This should give some of your recipients added joy, as they realize they are NOT already (fill in dreaded advanced age here), but still have a number of months to enjoy being only (fill in too-old-to-be-believed-but-heck-it's-younger-than-anything-you'll-be-turning-in-the-future). The next obvious money-saver will be getting your entire holiday card list taken care of 11 months early. No one can argue with getting a head start on Christmas. I'm sure you know people who are buying half-price holiday decorations for next year, or are stocking up on wrapping paper and cards. There is no law that says you cannot use these items in January for the express purpose of beating a postal rate increase. Now for those of you who have kids, there is the problem of how to photograph them now so they look a year older. For teen boys, try adding a little peach fuzz using those washable magic markers. For toddlers you way want to stand them on a box or cut their hair differently. And of course an outfit change is absolutely a must! The newsletter is a little more problematic. It requires you to call on all your psychic abilities and PREDICT what is going to happen to your family in the coming year! Well I suggest not trying to be too dogmatic about this. Rather than visiting fortune tellers, buying a dozen magic eight-balls, or reading up on Nostradamus, I think you should acknowledge that your Christmas newsletter is based on SPECULATION, or perhaps what you would LIKE to happen. You will need a very large footnote on the bottom that says something like: "* not responsible for the accuracy of events contained herein. Everything subject to Murphy's Law." Or somesuch. You can also have fun with it, maybe including multiple choice options on things like your vacation plans, so your friends and relatives can vote on where they want you to go. (Note: "hell" is not funny.) Also, as you include those upcoming graduation announcements as if they already occurred, you may even start getting money and congratulations in the mail. (A little added pressure, yes, but worth it!) This would also be an ideal time to insert some unrealistic parental expectations, such as "Phinneaus graduated summa cum laude! We're so proud!" (This is a nod to Julia Roberts' son, who may be the only person in the U.S. under the age of eighty who is named Phinneaus. Caveat: The Amish MAY trip me up here. Wouldn't it be cool if Julia Roberts' son grew up to be Amish?) Based on some horrific natural disaster in 2005, I suggest throwing a few of these in your newsletter just to give an added air of realism. Try something like, "of course we were horrified to lose all our relatives on the West Coast due to that awful earthquake/volcano/tsunami, but we donated Hazel's allowance to some Red Cross profiteers who are now using the proceeds for a gambling binge at the Floating French Quarter." You might also want to say something like, "And isn't it just AWFUL about Africa?" without specifying anything further. This is guaranteed to be 100 percent accurate no matter what happens in 2006. I have to ask, though, is there some reason the stupid post office (and I mean "stupid" in the nicest possible way there) can't come up with an even-numbered postage stamp? Don't they realize that if they have to raise the stupid rates (and I mean "stupid" in a snarling kind of way there) that we would just as soon pay an EXTRA cent so we can calculate what we owe more easily? And thus avoid another postal increase for an extra six months to a year while we enjoy the round number? Sigh. The Golden Era of easy postal calculation dates back to the oh-so-hot summer of 1988, when first class stamps were a quarter. Since that time they've been annoying us with stupid (and I mean that in an aggressively psychotic way) rates such as 29 cents, 33 cents, 34 cents (what, those idiots couldn't just make it 35 and stop torturing us? I mean "idiot" in the old-fashioned sense of "person with least amount of common sense in the whole neighborhood"), of course 37 cents, and now 39 cents. Just make it 40! Forty, I tell you! We'll pay it! Gladly! Thirty-nine is STUPID. (I mean that in the sense that obviously you are in no danger of being fired from your job ever, or you wouldn't come up with such a stupid number.) For the record, "drop letters" would be delivered for only a penny back in good old 1855. I know that it sounds cheap, but since you could buy your average cow for a penny, it was really a luxury item to send a "how-dee-doo" card to your aunt back then. (Don't believe me. For all I know cows cost as much as BMWs.) Also they charged MORE if you sent the mail more than 3,000 miles. (But figure, domestically, now much further could you send it? We didn't own Alaska or Hawaii at the time!) By 1932 the rate had risen to 3 cents, and this was in the Middle of the Great Depression! You have to realize, though, that people didn't "send resumes" back then. They just showed up in person, hat in hand, asking if you could spare a dime. (A dime! See, they were asking for a lot!) By the time JFK was assasinated in 1963 you had to spend a full nickel for a first class letter. But by then we had stopped sending polite correspondence and were glued to our TVs in case the Beatles showed up on Ed Sullivan or we tried to send a man to the moon. No wonder Vietnam was so far along before anyone decided to protest it. The Watergate years had first class postage at a dime. Figures! We were having an energy crisis, why not a postal crisis to go along with it? So we got rid if the president but kept the postal rate increase. The disco era saw a jump to 15 cents, but this was the domain of Jimmy Carter, who told us to lower our expectations even as prices were rising. It was a nice even 20 cents in 1981 -- who all got shot that year -- President Reagan? Pope John Paul II? John Lennon? J.R. Ewing? Well, you can decide who's important and who isn't. That zings us past the Unabomer Years to the modern era when you have to pay extra for anthrax-free mail. It is nice to know, though, that the NSA is probably using some extremely high-tech devices to spy on my Christmas newsletters. I hope they enjoy them!

Friday, January 06, 2006

Pat Robertson Moons Ariel Sharon

This is a story I'm also publishing on the WNYMedia.net site. At the moment I can't get the feed from that site to this one (hence the "blankness" below my Panara's Bodacious Blarney header), so I'm reprinting it here. I've gotten a couple of comments on the story over there, one person was chuckling over it, another accused me of not believing that God intervenes in the world. Hahahahaha. Anyone who knows me knows I believe God routinely intervenes in the world. I just don't happen to think Pat Robertson has any more insight into God than your average toddler. To quote my 4-year-old, "The letter T is JUST LIKE a cross, only it doesn't have God on it!" Anyway, here is my Pat Robertson piece, with bonus commentary on the status of mooning in our society: With Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon clinging to life after suffering a serious stroke, his supporters must be relieved to learn that his demise has been Divinely Ordained. So says televangelist Pat Robertson, self-appointed SpokesProphet of God. Apparently God was ticked over Sharon’s plan to give some land to the Palestinians, so he ordered up a severe medical problem that would (ahem) “take him out.” Far be it from me to argue with God or his Prophet! But even though mooning is strictly legal in the U.S., I’m not sure everyone is appreciating Pat’s attempt to metaphorically drop his trousers and point his heinie in the direction of Israel. It wasn’t enough for Pugnacious Pat to wish death on Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez last summer. Which he later amended to say he was only suggesting that some lucky gal “take him out” to dinner. Turns out Pat supports this Women’s Lib stuff after all! Now Pat is honoring the deathwatch over Ariel Sharon by claiming the 77-year-old Israeli Prime Minister’s recent strokes were God’s retribution for his plan to “divide” Israel and cede some of its land to the Palestinians. Would it be too rude to point out that the Palestinians are, in fact, “Native Peoples” to the area? It’s enough to make me want to rename the Washington Redskins. How about the D.C. Palestinians? That would certainly project an image of a team never willing to give up no matter how long the odds, or how awful the draft picks. And won’t the cheerleaders look tough in those bulky vests? But I digress, which is easy to do when discussing the Middle East. Since Pat is busy channeling God, would it be okay for me to channel the late Emily Post and ask if this is good etiquette? Shouldn’t major Christian leaders at least wait a seemly amount of time, say, until after the guy dies, before suggesting his death was evidence of God’s wrath, or, in any case, God’s official political opinion? If Sharon dies as the result of God’s displeasure over the country’s boundaries, does the CEO of the Rand-McNally mapmakers have something to worry about? Is he going to get bonked on the head by one of his own oversized globes? Do you think it’s remotely possible that Sharon is suffering health problems because 1) He is old, as in PAST the average age of death for chain-smoking white men, 2) He’s extremely overweight, even morbidly obese. Anyone want to venture a guess as to what the “morbid” part of morbidly obese represents? 3) He’s in a high-stress job. Oh, sure, everyone loves him, but he still has to worry about someone nuking his country or assassinating him personally. All part of a day’s work for the Israeli prime minister! If Polite Pat is so sure he knows what God thinks, would he mind asking if this Iran thing is going to explode into World War III? I, for one, would appreciate a little advance notice so I can put my head between my knees and locate my TV’s remote control. Obnoxious aside: If World War III actually DID break out, would the cable channels bother to break into their regular programming to tell us? Or would we have millions of teenagers who would never hear the news at all because MTV would be blithely continuing with its regular schedule? Anyway, Pat’s claim that God has come to earth and taken the form of a blood clot in Ariel Sharon’s brain is outrageous, but he is only “mooning” Mr. Sharon in a metaphorical sense. We’ve learned recently that baring one’s buttocks is a form of free speech that is “protected” in the U.S., and, most specifically, Maryland. Since “mooning” is a colloquial expression having nothing to do with illegal liquor stills or NASA, I feel I should at least define it as being “a form of expression that leaves the communicator at risk of sunburn and insect bites.” Actually if it hadn’t been for this recent court ruling I wouldn’t have guessed that anyone thought there was a law against it. I believe it may even be legal to moon motorists while standing in the median of a divided highway, thus tying up traffic for untold hours. I think we only have laws against exposing body parts that are involved in reproduction and lactation. Elimination and constipation are apparently protected by the U.S. Constitution. Personally, I think the accuracy of Mr. Robertson’s retribution statement is probably best symbolized by a steaming pile of you-know-what. So Pat is not so much “making pronouncements” as he is “eliminating thoughts” from his overtaxed brain. And we’re all getting to see the lovely results in our neatly manicured media outlets. A late holiday present from me to all of you: the official Pat Robertson Metaphorical Pooper Scooper. For collecting his pearls of wisdom and depositing them where they belong. Merry Christmas and Happy Hanukkah!