Wednesday, December 31, 2008

A good way to end the old year

It's still 2008, in this time zone anyway, and my daughters are still awake, trying to make it to midnight. So I invited them out to watch the ball drop in New York in case they didn't make it. And as they sat on my lap, I was reminded of a poem I wrote on New Year's Day 2000, when my eldest daughter was just three months old. So I dug it out and read it to them. I share it here:

Old Long Ago

She was in her father's arms
as December turned into the year
they said would end us all.
She looked at him up from her rest
with eyes that hadn't yet changed
from their native blue--
unblinking on his face as
he watched the face of his
grandfather's clock.
He remembered the story his father
told, of when he was a boy and his aunt
on New Year's Day said she couldn't
believe it was already 1950.
He remembered when he was a boy--
flashbacks, mostly, from random faceless
years--of dropping the old calendar (December face up)
into the trash, saying "goodbye nineteen seventy something"--
of standing on the street oustide his grandmother's house
and taking a ladle to her biggest pan--
of running in the snow around his cousin's house
in pyjamas and moon boots,
faces red from the cold, lungs scraping for breath
and hearts pounding.
And he wondered what she would remember
about so many New Year's Eves
from old long ago.

Goodbye, Farewell and Amen

Dear 2008,

As we have been bombarded for the past couple weeks with end-of-year lists, summations, reviews, analyses, top tens, bottom tens, highlights, lowlights and prognostications for the upcoming year, I feel like as a blogger, I’m compelled—nay, required—to add my own two cents’ worth to the conversation. However, I’m a little reluctant, because you were, in many respects, one of, if not the worst years on record.

I’m not just talking about the mess the world, the economy, and our state are in. I’m talking strictly about my own personal life. You, to put it mildly, blew. So to come up with some sort of retrospective without either spilling all of my guts or sounding like I’m just playing the “poor me” routine will be tricky. But I also feel the need to say goodbye to you, to put you in my rear view mirror and hit the gas as quickly as possible—and that need outweighs my hesitation.

You threw the usual things at me—money problems, mostly. But I’m used to that. I know that every so often, I’m going to have to shell out cash I don’t have for things over which I have no control—like when I had to pay for—out of my own pocket—new flooring in one of the basement bedrooms because the people who built our house left a 6-inch hole in the foundation that left us with ripped up walls, soaked carpeting and an awful smell. Oh, did I mention that I had to pay for it myself because the builders went bankrupt and therefore didn’t have to honor the 25-year warranty on the foundation? It took until late summer before we could use that room again. So thanks for that start to the year.

And thanks for the health stuff, too. I know things like that happen to everyone, so it was no surprise when my little boy broke his arm, and was in a cast up to his shoulder for 6 weeks—then less than two weeks after he got that cast off, one of my girls broke her foot right before going on vacation to see her grandparents in Arizona for the first time. My wife is also enjoying her dental problems (again), which are not adequately covered by my insurance. And being in a shoulder immobilizer for the last month following my surgery has been a blast, let me tell you. But that’s okay—it’s an old war wound that was well worth it.

I don’t want to forget the transportation problems, either. I was selling my scooter this year, and twice had people in my front door with cash in hand to buy it when mechanical problems I’d never had before suddenly surfaced on their test rides, forcing me to sell for so much less that I couldn’t buy a new scooter. The best part, though, was finding out five days after Christmas (yep! yesterday!) that we’re going to have to come up with $350 to pay for new brake pads—and rotors—on our sole remaining mode of transport, which we’re constantly having to juggle and schedule around.

I also had the one-year anniversary of finishing my book, complete with a year’s worth of rejections from agents, despite the fact there are things out there getting sold (and made into movies) that barely appeal to the stupidest common denominator. But, hey, tits and ass and crashes always sell, so I can’t fault people for that. And my quest to publish was derailed for the year, for reasons which will soon be enumerated.

And I STILL don’t have a nice, hi-def flatscreen television.

But like I said, crap like that I’ve had to deal with before. What you threw at me and my family in the early spring, however, was completely uncalled for.

I mean, I know we weren’t trying to get pregnant with our fourth child (with me at age 35, and my wife at age 41), and I know we were initially shocked and having a hard time warming up to the idea. But to put the fear of a fatal birth defect into a blood test result wasn’t fair, especially when you consider the difficult pregnancy history we’ve had. At least, though, we found out on March 24 that everything was going to be all right and finally be able to tell the kids they were having a little brother was a relief, I’ll admit that. And for two whole days, everything was wonderful. Until the baby stopped moving on the 26th, that is. The doctor told us the next day there was no heartbeat. Everything after that was a blur, but I remember when my wife was induced to deliver a stillborn Christopher John (named for my brothers Chris and his great grandfather) on March 28 of your year, 2008. And I remember the funeral on Tuesday, April 1 of your year. I remember that the weather had been not so bad up until that day, and I remember thinking how stupidly appropriate it was that the wind was suddenly roaring out of the north and that my tears were freezing to my face at the cemetery. I remember kissing his little white casket before it was lowered into the ground. I remember not wanting to let go of the roses we were dropping into the grave. I remember my wife and me hugging our dear friend and Bishop who tried to comfort us. I remember feeling very alone. But you were there, 2008, weren’t you? You were there when I was walking through a nightmare, when I kept waiting for weeks and weeks to wake up, thinking all the time, this can’t possibly be real. This has to be a dream. It wasn’t. It was 2008. It was you.

And, as years before you can attest to, I don’t often handle reality well. I like to turn my brain off and escape from things, as most people do for a little bit here and there. But my escapism brought an unthinkable amount of further strife into my life and marriage in your year. To quote Sir Paul, “I took my brain out and stretched it on a rack / now I’m not so sure I’m ever gonna get it back.” As a result, I can handle reality and stress much more capably now; however, I’m not so sure the residual damage isn’t permanent and irreparable.

So don’t be offended, 2008, if I’m glad to see you go. Sure, there were some genuinely great moments during the year—backyard marshmallow roasts, Wall-E at the drive-in and Horton Hears a Who with my little dude, tubing with my homies at Bass Lake, the presidential election, finding ancient friends on Facebook, and, of course, starting this here blog. I also cherished my kids every second I was awake, each second more than the last. In that, I guess, is the only way I’m sad to see you turn to 2009. That means my children are getting older. That means they’re one day, one month, one year closer to growing up and away. I lie in bed at night with tears in my eyes thinking of them, every detail of their faces, what it feels like to kiss them, to hug them, to hear them laugh. I lie there practically shaking with terror wondering what it’s going to feel like during one of your colleagues down the road when they leave the nest, or when (not if, but when) something bad happens—an accident, a heartbreak, a disappointment, a failure of some sort. And God forbid, if the truly awful happens to one of them—at least I can say it didn’t happen during 2008. I can’t guarantee that ten years from now; I can’t guarantee it even in your immediate successor. So in that way, I wish today could stay December 31, 2008 forever. But it can’t.

And, ultimately, I’m really glad for that. Maybe it can stay January 1, 2009 forever, instead.

Good bye, 2008, and good riddance.


Thursday, December 11, 2008

Fire that [expletive]er. [expletive] 'em.

As I sit here and ponder the events of the past couple days regarding Rodney R. Blagojevich, soon-to-be-former-Governor of the State of Illinois, [henceforth to be known as “Blago” because a) ‘Blagojevich’ is too long and difficult of a letter combination to repeatedly type whilst on narcotics and b) I sure as hell ain’t calling him ‘Governor’ no more], a strange parallel keeps leaping to mind. Do you remember the scene in the movie “Animal House” when Otter stands up before the Interfraternity Council hearing to defend the Deltas against Niedermayer and Marmalard and Dean Wormer? (“I’m pre law.” “I thought you were pre med.” “What’s the difference?”)

Otter stands up and says something to the effect that you can’t blame a whole fraternity for a few bad apples, for if you do, isn’t it an indictment of the entire fraternity system, and if you indict the entire fraternity system, mustn’t you indict the university as a whole, and therefore the entire American way of life? (That’s when the Deltas walk out humming the Star Spangled Banner, in case your memory hasn’t been jogged yet.)

Here’s why I think of that silly scene, besides the fact that Blago’s defense during his upcoming impeachment hearings (he surely won’t resign--see below) will be only slightly more ridiculous than Otter’s: for as reprehensible as Blago is, he’s not the only one to blame. We need to blame the history of politics in Illinois (and Chicago specifically). We need to indict the historically acknowledged and approved pay-to-play system that put him there. We need to point the finger at the people who ultimately put him in the Governor’s mansion (if he actually lived there, that is).

We need to point the finger at you and me.

Even if you voted for Roland Burris, Jim Ryan, Judy Baar Topinka or Rich Whitney in 2002 or 2006, it’s just as much your fault as if you punched your pay stub, er, ballot, for Blago himself. You see, simply by casting a vote in an election for a statewide office in Illinois, you’re guilty.*

You’re guilty because by voting for one of those candidates, you weren’t working against all of them, even by choosing the lesser of two evils. Unless you ran for office yourself, you’re guilty. Unless you encouraged, financially backed, knocked on doors or handed out bumper stickers for somebody not affiliated with a political party in the State of Illinois, you’re guilty. Simply by allowing people the likes of Blago, Topinka, George Ryan, Dan Walker, Otto Kerner, Orville Hodge, William Lorimer, Len Small, Dan Rostenkowski, Ed Vrdolyak and scores of other Chicago aldermen to even get on a ballot, makes us all guilty by association.

I’m not talking about denying them their rights as Americans to run for office. I’m talking about our obligation as Americans to see through their self-serving bullshit.

My daddy taught me two things growing up: you never get something for nothing, and if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. It seems that if the electorate in Illinois had a good dose of that common sense, we wouldn’t be in this mess today. Yet we still insist on voting for these people, whose egos are so bafflingly grand, whose lines of bullshit are so thick, I’m stumped as to how we were hornswaggled into not thinking this is too good to be true.

I’m not saying there aren’t good, qualified people in statewide elected office right now. There are probably a couple. But there is no one I trust, that’s for damn sure. I don’t think there’s a one of them that wouldn’t sell out a colleague or piss on a campaign promise if it wouldn’t get them more power or money from whatever the source, however ethically icky it might be. Maybe all politicians are like that. I hope not, but I’ve lived in Illinois all my life, grew up watching Fahey Flynn talk about the Council Wars in Chicago. My parents grew up in Fast Eddie’s famed 10th Ward on the Southeast Side of Chicago, for heaven’s sake. So, in my world, words like "honorable” and “decent” and “trust” don’t often appear anywhere close to the word “politician” in the same document.

My worry is that there’s no solution. I mean, we can hope this sudden light that been shone on Illinois’s kitchen and exposed all the Blagockroaches that have been scurrying about unabated for a hundred years now so that we can spray them with a giant can of Honest and figuratively kill them all. But how likely is that? Do we really trust other perhaps-not-quite-so-crooked-yet-still-crooked politicians to fix the mess that Blago, Ryan, et al. have gotten us into? (See above paragraph about trust.)

The quickest and simplest solution from where I’m sitting is to just break up the state. Split it in two. Chicago and the collar counties should be its own state (“Bladolyakowski”) and the rest of us could retain the name of Illinois. If you’re in that area and are offended by that, I’m sorry, but that’s where the bulk of the money, power and influence (and therefore corruption) resides. Border it off and let them grift it out to the death. If you live there and don't want to watch it implode from the front row, feel free to move to Illinois. But let the other 95 counties start over. Or, anything above I-80 could be its own state. You could keep the name Illinois, and we could be Southern Illinois, because, after all, everybody north of I-80 thinks anything south of that distinguished road is hick country anyway.

I think we should secede and establish the true Land of Lincoln and name it after him. After all, U.S. Attorney Pat Fitzgerald rightly said that what Blago has done would make Lincoln roll over in his grave. But I’ll go him one further: had Lincoln known what was going to happen in this place he once made hallow, he would have handed Booth the pistol himself.

The worst part of all of this is symbolized in a couple lines from this Associated Press report from December 10: “Ensconced in his downtown office, Blagojevich gave no sign he was contemplating resigning, and dispatched his spokeswoman, Kelley Quinn, to say it was ‘business as usual’ in his 16th-floor suite, situated a few blocks from Obama's transition headquarters.”

Business as usual. I don't know about you, but that scares the shit out of me. And nothing says more than that about Blago or the citizens of the State of Illinois who haven't yet stormed his office demanding his resignation.

*For the record, I didn’t vote for Blago in 2006. I voted for Green Party candidate Rich Whitney over him and Judy Baar Topinka, whom, I’m convinced would have been just as, if not more, corrupt than Blago-—not that that excuses him--I’m just sayin’. But I did vote for him the first time in 2002 when he ran against Jim Ryan. Sorry Abdul.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Re: Blago

I've been in my semi-drug induced state the past two days watching all this nonsense with Blago. (I refuse to call him by his title anymore, by the way). I was mortified that in the midst of the biggest story of the year (yes, bigger than the election and the bailouts) that because of my operation, I'd only be able to type one-handed, and therefore not be able to do the subject justice.

Good news: I can type with two hands. I hope to post later tonight, in case anyone was eagerly anticipating my thoughts.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Hello friends!

Things have been busy lately, getting ready and traveling for Thanksgiving, work, and doing various outdoor things before the first dumpage of snow for this year. That's why I haven't posted in a bit. Plus, most of my relevant thoughts have been about more of the same things I've addressed previously; namely, the automakers' bailout, the holidays, and stupid people. So I didn't think I'd bother rehashing more of the same.

And now, I might not post for a little while longer, due to the fact I'm not excited about typing anything of any length with only one hand. (insert comment here...)

The reason I'm going to be down to one hand is that in about 7 hours, I'll be undergoing surgery on my left shoulder, and I'll be in a sling anywhere from--get this--five days to five weeks. It depends on the damage the specialist in Chicago finds. Best case scenario, it's a little cleanup and I'm slung for five days. Worst case scenario, everything's shredded and it's five weeks. The MRI showed one tear already (on the tendon that attaches the biceps to the humerus, which isn't very), and based on my symptoms, there's likely a tear in the top of the labrum (the tissue that makes up the shoulder socket). Now, if those tears are too close to each other, they'll have to remove the biceps tendon entirely and re-anchor it somewhere else so that it doesn't pull on where the labrum is healing. I had surgery in 2003 on my elbow to repair a torn tendon that involved detaching it from the bone and reattaching it, and that involved drilling three tiny holes in my elbow and laying the repaired tendon over it, and letting the bone ooze reform a new tendon. So you see why, in my shoulder, that could turn out to be an extended time in a sling.

So please don't think I've given up on blogging. Although, my new addiction to Facebook hasn't helped me much! ;-)

If I'm not able to type for an extended period of time, I want to wish you a Merry Christmas (fuck, I just quoted "Feliz Navidad"! Aaaargh!) and a happy and prosperous new year.

I will be checking in for comments, certainly I'll be on Facebook a lot, so I won't be completely incommunicado.

Peace and love.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Enough Already!

I generally look forward to the holidays every year; it’s a time of giving and sharing and friendship and family and usually nothing but good times. I don’t expect this year to be any different. However, I was reminded yesterday (yesterday, already!) that there are a couple things about the season that I’m dreading. You know the usual things—relatives invading your space for days on end, constantly having to keep the house clean for drop-ins, cooking for several thousand people, and the incessant, syrupy Christmas music.

On the subject of the latter, I think there ought to be a law that radio stations (and stores, too, for that matter) should be prohibited from playing Christmas music until at least the day after Thanksgiving. I don’t mind Christmas music, in fact, I quite enjoy it sometimes. But, damn, do I have to start listening to “Holly Jolly Christmas” before I’ve mowed my lawn for the last time? Likewise, stores should not be allowed to put out Christmas decorations until after Halloween. It’s just wrong that on one side of the seasonal aisle Santa is merrily cavorting with his reindeer, whilst on the other side of the aisle, gruesome, bloody rubber limbs are displayed next to giant hairy oozing rats.

But what drives me absolutely bat-shit from November until January has to do with Pyotr Ilich Tchaikovsky. “Pyotr Ilich Tchaikovsky?” you ask. Don’t play dumb. You know exactly what I’m talking about: the Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairies.
I don’t even need to describe it—the same ubiquitous eighteen glockenspieled notes pop into everyone’s head (count ‘em if you don’t believe me), followed by some warm-voiced grandfatherly-sounding man encouraging you to buy vinyl siding or a subscription to Netflix or something else completely unrelated to Christmas.

Don’t get me wrong—it’s sound advertising…no eight seconds of music is more evocative of the holiday season. It instantly sets the mood. And it’s non-religious, not to mention part of the public domain, so no royalties need to be paid upon its use. But it’s gotten to the point that every time I hear even the first four or five notes, I want to puncture my eardrums with the top of the Chrysler Building. I want to burn every glockenspiel in existence. I want to dig up Tchaikovsky and kick him right in his shriveled nuts. But being that we have the kinds of laws a civilized society should, I settle for changing the radio station or TV channel. All I can say is, thank [insert the name of your deity here] for the ability to fast forward through the commercials on DVR’d shows.

So if anybody involved in advertising or marketing happens to come across my little corner of cyberspace, I beg you, please, kill the urge to use The Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairies. Because if you don’t, I will find out who made the commercial, I will hunt you down, find you, and roast your chestnuts over an open glockenspiel fire.

P.S.: I want everybody to add a comment with every time you come across a different ad with that music in it! Let’s see how big of a list we can compile!

Friday, November 21, 2008

How typical

By Ken Thomas
Associated Press

UPDATED 11:50 a.m. WASHINGTON, D.C. -- The Bush administration sharply criticized Democrats in Congress on Friday for taking a recess without approving a multibillion-dollar lifeline for the Big Three U.S. automakers.

“It is appalling that Congress decided to leave town without addressing a problem that they themselves said needed to be addressed,” White House press secretary Dana Perino said.

A bailout-shy Congress punted a $25 billion auto industry rescue bill on Thursday. Democratic leaders announced they wouldn’t help the beleaguered automakers until the companies presented them with a plan showing how they will use federal assistance to stabilize and reprogram their faltering business.

The preceding couple paragraphs from this morning's news indicates why we need change in Washington. I know some people are skeptical of the concept of "change" and what it actually means, but the statement from White House Flak Dana Perino that it's "appalling" that Congress refused to act is blatant posturing on behalf of an administration that is just as clueless as ever, and a sharp example of why Americans overwhelmingly supported Barack Obama's bid for president.

I understand that the administration wants a bailout for the automakers, so they can continue to make cars that burn lots and lots of gasoline, which makes lots and lots of money for the oil companies that are no doubt part of the only barely blind holdings for Bush, Cheney & Co. And everybody has finally been able to peek through to the man behind the curtain (and the two men controlling him) and find out what he's really been about for the past 7 4/5 years.

But what's "appalling" is that Perino (i.e., George W. Bush) wants to blame "Congress" (i.e., the Democrats, since they control Congress) for, gasp, wanting the automakers to actually have a plan on how they're going to use that $25 billion. The automakers have been dying for years; what's another six weeks to wait? They showed up in their private jets (they didn't even jetpool!) to ask for all this money, and had no idea what they were going to do with it. By one estimate I heard yesterday, GM (I believe) is losing 5 billion dollars a month. So what would that one-third of $25 Billion dollars have given them? Six weeks of break-even business. Big fucking deal. Because then what?

I don't know if the banks needed the money free and clear more than the automakers; it certainly seems so. It seems the point was for the banks get the money so they can lend it, to free up money to get the credit markets moving again. Perhaps that was why "Congress" elected so quickly to give the banks the money with no apparent strings attached. The bank crisis would have had much greater a ripple effect on the global economy than three buggy manufacturers going belly up.

I think the Big Three ought to file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy reorganization. That would nullify the bloated union contracts, and allow them to cut the dead wood from each of the three companies. They could then merge into 2 companies: one that makes a few trucks/SUV's, and one that makes smaller sedans and coupes. They could then use the bailout money to retool the remaining factories to produce the kinds of vehicles that are a) required for the US to be energy independent, b) better for the environment, and c) actually ones that Americans can/will afford and buy. They would also have to show a, gasp, plan that indicates how much they're going to invest on R&D for more efficient vehicles in the future.

But the point is this: it's just more of the same from an administration that has nothing but bitterness, failure, fear, divisiveness and pessimism left to offer. You know, kind of like the last 7 3/4 years.

And all I can say is, 12:00 EST on January 20, 2009 can't come soon enough. I'm not saying Barack Obama will solve this mess, but at least we can be fairly certain he won't have his clueless lackies spouting such transparent partisan, divisive garbage.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Seen any good movies lately?

It's been a little while since I've posted, so I thought I'd throw something out there that's a little lighter, just for fun. Everything's been so serious lately, with the election, with Prop 8, with the economy and all the other junk going on in the world. We need a little fun, I think.

Please note, this list is not in any particular order. And this isn't a list of the "greatest movies of all time"--just my top ten. There are better movies and more important movies than the ones on this list. I haven't seen Citizen Kane or Schindler's List, for example, so they can't make my top ten. I have, however, seen The Godfather trilogy, and none of them made the list. As an aside, I want to do a stand-up comedy bit on The Godfather someday, because to me, The Godfather is a lot like my first marriage: too long, overrated, and no sex. Funny?

So here is my All-Time Top 10 Movie List:

1. The Incredibles

2. Casablanca

3. Rear Window

4. Planes, Trains and Automobiles

5. Star Wars

6. Patton

7. Saving Private Ryan

8. City Slickers

9. The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance

10. Glory

Just missing out: South Park: Bigger, Longer, and Uncut; Amadeus; Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade; Stargate; My Cousin Vinny. There are others, but I don't want to steal anyone else's thunder. Post away!

Feel free to post your top ten, and any you think I'm wrong about.

Monday, November 10, 2008

With Apologies to XTC

Dear [insert the name of your deity here],

I want to thank you for answering not only my prayers, but the prayers of the billions of right-thinking folks in this country. You truly do hear us, and you heard us at a time when we needed you more than perhaps any time in our history. I’m speaking, of course, about the recent election.

The results could not have spoken louder. The will of the people is clear. We now have hope for the future. You see, if California can ban gay marriage, everybody else should be able to as well.
I, for one, am glad. Who wants people of the same sex to get married? It’s wrong. It shouldn’t be allowed anywhere. It’s just…icky.

I’d have to look at their rainbow flags and ‘gay pride’ bumper stickers, and those little window stick-ons that say trite things like ‘hate is not a family value.’ It would suddenly be all around me.

They’d have gay pride parades and dress in drag while raking their leaves—all on my good old, American street, where my family has lived since my grandparents came to this country in the 20’s.

I’d be forced to live next to gay couples and watch them do their gay things in their gay bedrooms of sin, through the gay glass walls they’re sure to erect. And, yes, that pun was intended.

The next thing you know, should gay marriage actually be allowed in California, the law everywhere else would have to change, right? And then, it would require me to get divorced and find some queer to take as my…wife. And that’s just wrong.

Churches would be forced to perform these perverse ceremonies, these…these unions. Even churches that are anti-homo would be required to marry them inside their hallowed walls.
And since they’re all child molesters, I’d have to accompany my kids everywhere they go, just to make sure they don’t get accosted by some out of control homo, drunk on his newly-gained power.

I really don’t care that all they want—besides professing their alleged love—is a chance to give each other medical coverage, insurance protection, tax benefits and such. It’s not my fault if some pole smoker’s father can get his will invalidated after he dies (probably of AIDS—they all have it!) because he says his son’s gayness indicates he was “mentally ill” and therefore the will isn’t legal and he can take everything away from his partner. (Partner…eww…what a gross term.) I shouldn’t have to put up with a change in a law that will effect me, a straight-as-an-arrow, [insert-the-name-of-your-deity-here]-fearing [insert your whack-job ultra-right-wing religion here] so profoundly on an everyday basis.

I can’t believe a Reagan-Republican Governor like Arnold Schwarzenegger actually supports gay marriage—he likens it to allowing blacks and whites to marry. I know that’s supposed to be okay these days, but doggone it, something about that just rubs me the wrong way, too.
I particularly thank you for motivating all those decent, yet peculiar folks from Utah, whose church suddenly and officially abandoned its political neutrality for time and all eternity by encouraging them to meddle in the affairs of a neighboring state. Without them, gay marriage in California might have passed, and then, there in Provo and Salt Lake City, where would have they been? Up Gay Creek, that’s where!

I thank you for your bounty and your wisdom, and for the peace I have knowing that none of my children will ever grow up gay. I know that fact simply because we pray, and because gayness is a sickening, deviant choice that we would never even allow to enter their precious, fragile little minds. I know that parents who end up with gay kids—even if they express disapproval—will join them in hell one day, because it was probably some failure of theirs in the child-rearing process.

Good night, [insert the name of your deity here] Bless America, and Amen.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Election Night

I sit here wishing I could think more about the events of the night before I posted, but I feel a need to chronicle the moment as it happens--for my own personal record, as much as anything.

I saw at precisely 10:00 Central Standard Time the graphic on CNN's wall:


I felt like a great, giant weight had been lifted from my chest, like some great darkness passed from the sky, and the sun was finally able to warm my face again. And the tears came.

It was not so much a dislike of John McCain, but it was a fruition of hope; it was a realization of a belief. It was the promise of better days ahead. It was about leaving the last administration in the rear view mirror...quickly.

I saw the crowds cheering in Grant Park in Chicago, in New York City, in Los Angeles, in Atlanta, in Kenya, at the White House and other places around the country and around the world. And I thought to myself, when was the last time, if ever, crowds that large and diverse cheered anything besides a sports championship, let alone an elected official in America?

The crowds featured white Baby Boomers cheering, but were energized thoroughly by the younger set. It was beautiful to see so many younger people that excited about politics and government, likely for the first time ever. Whites and blacks, probably strangers, hugged and exchanged high fives. Jesse Jackson, whom I'm no fan of, who stood on that balcony in Memphis in 1968 as Martin Luther King was gunned down, wept. American flags--not Obama/Biden signs--waved by the thousands. A million people--a million people--are expected in Grant Park tonight.

And then I watched John McCain deliver his concession speech. He confirmed what many have said about him all along, and what I suspected as well: that there is no greater patriot alive. John McCain would have made a great president, of that I have no doubt. Sure, I didn't like his campaign, and I didn't like his running mate, but there can be no question as to the man's love for his country and his desire to do right by it. I hope President-elect Obama takes Senator McCain up on his offer to help in whatever capacity he's able. And I hope that McCain's supporters--not the fucking tools who booed when he mentioned Obama during his speech--and those who voted for him will echo his call to offer their hands as well. I thank John McCain for his service to his country and wish him well in the future, and I sincerely hope he continues to act as an advocate for honest, straight talk in government.

The next president is about to speak. I will wrap up for now.

Election Day

Wow. It's finally here. After all the campaigning, all the excitement on both sides, all the negativity, too--it's finally time to make our decision.

What a great day it is to be an American. We didn't invent this system, and other countries have followed suit, but you know what? We perfected it. Sure, there are flaws, but this is about as good as it gets.

Both candidates campaigned for change. I just hope either one can follow through. And I hope there's none of the vitriolic, bile-spewing hate that has surfaced among bar-stool voters on opposite sides of the fence that there was both times W was elected. I'm not just talking about the bumper stickers in 2004 that joked "Re-Elect Gore." I'm talking about the people who were saying things like "George W. Bush is not my president--I didn't vote for him." Guess what...he was, and still is for ten more weeks, your president. A president isn't just president of the people who voted for him, and he's not just president of only the people that agree with him. I didn't like W when he was handed the election over Gore, and I liked him even less when he beat Kerry. But he was my president.

It's easier for me to encourage people to accept the new president because it looks like the horse I'm backing is going to win, if you believe the polls. But if he doesn't, I'd like to think I can give the other guy a chance before I write him off. As I've written before, I believe they're both good, decent men who care deeply about this country and the need to do things differently. I just wish McCain hadn't listened to whomever he did while running his campaign--I think he would have done just as well, perhaps even better--if it weren't so negative. And I think our country would have been better for it.

One last note--did you see the ad the RNC started running last night? It really slammed Obama on Rev. Wright. Fine, that's a valid issue (I guess). But, my goodness--that was about the most horrifying ad I've ever seen. It hit on Obama and how his whole life he's associated himself with extremist radicals, and, oh my Gosh, he must be a closet radical, too. However, if you look at the subtext of the ad, it's not saying Obama is a radical. It's saying, "Don't vote for him--he's black!" If you think it's saying anything else, I'm sorry, but you need to look around for the turnip truck you just fell off of. That's the kind of bullshit I wish would disappear from politics. You see that kind of crap in local races all over the country (there's one in the Peoria area between Jehan Gordon and some other lady that's completely off the damn hook!), but that really should stay out of the national conversation. We're too good for that. I'm not saying there's no place for negative ads--hell, it wins elections--and I'm not saying Obama didn't run any negatives. But the Rev. Wright ad was shameful, especially on the eve of what will be such an historic day, regardless of who wins.

Friday, October 31, 2008

Security and Freedom, a response

I left this comment on my very good (and smart) friend Mike's blog, in response to his post on Security and Freedom...I thought I'd post my response here, just for fun and to possibly generate more discussion. Mikey and I tend to be on opposite sides of the political spectrum, and we have occasionally had very fun and spirited discussions on some topics. I tend to lean left and he tends to lean right, but I would hazard an extremely educated guess that neither of us would ever declare for a particular party, following ideas and ideals, rather than party platforms and people. Here is the comment:

I was going to leave a smarmy remark about how I'm leaving room for you at the next ACLU meeting, but then I realized I kind of disagree with Franklin a little bit, which came as a surprise to me. Franklin's far-left assertion is completely theoretical--just as is the far-right's position to let the free market decide everything, potential economic collapse be damned. Franklin didn't have to worry about dirty bombs in train stations, jumbo jets crashing into football stadiums and the like. Whilst I value my freedom above anything, I also value not having to worry about some extremist drop a 747 on my head just because I'm at the Super Bowl. (Note, in the Declaration of Independence, Life comes before Liberty!)

By the same token, to do nothing in the current economic climate, while staying true to a pure free market economy, would be completely foolish. Sure, you keep your "American" principles, but big deal, there's no economy left because we have no banks and no American auto or real estate industries. That's like if people no longer had to take their shoes off at airports--sure, that's a freedom back, but big deal, somebody drove a plane up my ass while I was just trying to enjoy a ball game.

I find it curious that countries that are much, much older than ours have moved to the left (a lot, in some cases) socially and governmentally, and to the right on some issues like security (there are cameras ALL over London, for example). They've been through all this before, and they learn from their histories so they do not repeat it. We're still learning. That's why the great Greek and Roman empires flamed out--they grew too far, too fast and didn't learn quickly enough. If you look into a crystal ball, America will look a lot like Western Europe in another 20 years, I think. And you might say we deserve neither freedom or security if we do that, but I would argue that it's just societal evolution--survival of the fittest and flexiblest.

Monday, October 27, 2008

What's In A Name

Spending as much time in schools as I do, I come across lots of names for kids. It inspired me to write this...

A very good friend of mine* called recently to let us know that he had some very good news to share. He and his wife** found out that next spring, they will be welcoming their first child*** into the world. My wife**** and I were overjoyed for them, and we invited them over for dinner and a movie, and to talk about the upcoming blessed event.

While we were enjoying our pizza, the subject of what they were going to name the baby came up. My wife and I put a lot of thought and effort into the naming of our kids, so naturally we feel like we are allowed to meddle in the process for other couples, especially younger couples having their first child. The conversation went, more or less, something like this:

Me: “So, have you given any thought to names yet?”

Him: “Yeah, but we’re still pretty undecided.”

Her: “Pretty undecided? We’re clueless!”

Wife: “Oh, I know what you mean. We struggled, too. There are so many things to consider!”

Her: “Definitely. There are just—so many—names out there to choose from.”

Me: “Well, have you started to make a list? Kind of figure out what you want?”

Him: “Oh, sure. We know we want the name to be unique, but we don’t want it to be too different from, say, other kids in school.”

Me: “Okay, so…different, but the same.”

Her: “Right. Like, if it’s a girl, we’re not going to go with a Jane or a Mary. We want something more modern.”

Wife: “Like what?”

Her: “Well, we like something along the lines of Allie, Hallie, Hailey, Bailey, Caylee, Kylee, Kayla or Katelynn.”

Me: “Wow, that’s a mouthful.”

Him: “We also like McKenna, McKenzie, Madeline, Madison, Addison, Zoe, Chloe or Sophie.”

Wife: “Madeline is nice.”

Her: “Plus, we can do an alternate spelling with Madeline.”

Me: “Alternate spelling?”

Him: “Yeah. Madeline is a little too traditional, so we’d call her Maddie, but we’d spell it something like ‘M-a-d-y-l-y-n-e.”

Me: “Why all the y’s?”

Her: “That way it looks different, but is pronounced the same. The unique-but-fitting-in thing, remember? We can do the same with ‘A-d-d-y-s-y-n’ or ‘M-a-d-y-s-y-n’.”

Wife: “Oh, I get it.”

Me: “Hey, why not Radisson? It’s a highly respected hotel chain—and you can even spell it ‘R-a-d-y-s-y-n.’”

Him: “The boy names are a little trickier.”

Her: “Yeah. Our current favorites are Aiden, Braden, Caden, Jaden, Jordan, Jaylen, Brady, Brody, Cody, Taylor and Tyler. Caden and Cody could also start with a K. You know—the alternate phonetic spelling.”

Me: “That sounds like the cast of characters in High School Musical 11.”

Him: “We also like the Irish-sounding names Keegan and Teegan.”

Me: “But you’re not Irish.”

Her: “We know, but we like the ethnic sound of them.”

Me: “Have you considered Helmut, Lars or Guiseppe? Those are pretty ethnic-sounding.”

At this point, my wife got up and left. She thought I was starting to get sarcastic.

Him: “If it’s a boy, we also are thinking about tough-sounding names.”

Me: “Such as?”

Her: “Colton-with-a-K, Tyson, Bryson, Brayson, Grayson, Dakota, Jack and Troy.”

Me: “I have an idea—you could go ethnic-sounding and tough! How about Angus, Thor, Zeus or Jackie Chan?”

Him: “Speaking of Dakota, we’ve got place names that we like, too, that can be either boy or girl.”

Me: “Do tell.”

Her: “We’ve got Branson, Dallas, Brooklyn, Denver, and Sydney.”

Me: “Hey, Sydney has two y’s, but I think Hoboken or Walla-Walla might work, too.”

Her: “But we’d spell Sydney something like ‘C-i-d-n-e-e.’ You know, non-traditional.”

Me: “Uh, couldn’t that be pronounced like ‘kidney’?”

Him: “And then, there are the Biblical names.”

Me: “Biblical? Dude, you haven’t been to church since we used communion wafers as poker chips!”

Her: “It’s more about themes in the Bible. We like Faith, Hope, Charity, and Chastity, as well as Eden and Nevaeh, which is ‘heaven’ spelled backwards.”

Me: “If you’re looking for prominent themes in the Bible, there are also Lust, Greed, Envy and Sloth. Those would be interesting names, don’t you think? I mean, can’t you just hear it now—‘Sloth! Time for dinner!’”

Him: “We also like Mercedes, Lexus, Portia and Avalon. You know—high class things we can aspire to.”

Me: “You’ve lived in an apartment for five years. If you’re looking to name the child for something you aspire to, try Down Payment. Or at least Renters Insurance.”

Her: “Finally, if it’s a girl, we’re also considering influential modern women as examples.”

Me: “Ah, excellent! Like Hillary Clinton, Sarah Palin, Eleanor Roosevelt, Gloria Steinem, or Virginia Woolf?”

Her: “No. More like Oprah, Madonna, Lindsay, Brittney, Paris or Delilah.”

Me: “Delilah? Delilah who?”

Her: “The radio host. We really like her. Plus, it’s kinda Biblical, and we can spell it D-e-l-y-l-a-h.”

Me: “Wait…you missed a phonetic-spelling opportunity here.”

Her: “I did?”

Me: “Yeah…the first syllable of Delilah could start with D-U-H.”

* I don’t really have a very good friend—this is just a literary vehicle to begin a mostly opinion-based, first-person account of an event that didn’t really happen, featuring a topic like silly, cutesy, alternatively-spelled modern kids’ names. That’s not to say that I don’t have any very good friends—I do. But none of them were involved in this encounter.

** Since I don’t really have a very good friend, the wife doesn’t exist, either. That’s not to say that none of my very good friends have wives—they do. But none of them were involved in this encounter, either.

*** Since there is no very good friend, nor is there a wife, it would only logically follow that there is no child, either. That’s not to say that none of my very good friends have children—they do. But…well, you get the idea.

**** I am indeed married, but my wife was also not involved in this encounter, since it didn’t really happen.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Between a Slug and a Turd

Yesterday I came across somebody’s blog entry that offered this brilliant analysis of this year’s election: the choices for president are between a slug and a turd. Aside from trying to figure out which candidate was the slug and which was the turd, I thought to myself that, wow, that was one disillusioned voter.

No doubt he was tired of choosing between the lesser of two evils, and I can certainly understand that—especially because the last go-round we had to pick between Howdy Doody Dumbass and Flip-Flop McHorseface. But this year, I think I disagree. I actually think we have two people running for president that are competent and genuine.

And, really, that’s all I want in a president: can you do the job, and will you put my interests ahead of your own and ahead of the special interests.

Regardless of which political wing you belong to, I think the problem most people have is with how those in office, once they get elected, make a beeline for the deep pockets of the power brokers that can get them re-elected. After all, what is the one thing all first-term politicians want that is exactly the same? Yep—a second term.

As I’ve said before, I don’t profess to belong to any political party because I think the vast majority of them on both sides are bought and paid for (see Blagojevich, Rod and Ryan, George). I will say, however, that this year, as a matter of complete disclosure, I’m supporting the Democratic candidate, Barack Obama. But it’s not because I don’t like John McCain. Sure, I disagree with some of his policies (and certainly his awfully negative campaign—thank you, Karl Rove’s “How to Win an Election for Dummies”—not to mention his choice for VP), but I really think I could live with McCain in the White House.


Because I honestly think that John McCain, as much as Barack Obama, wants to change the culture in Washington, that he genuinely cares about the good of the people of this country more than his own skin, and that he’s able to step in and do the job with integrity and credibility. I didn’t agree much with Reagan, but was the economy good and did the Russians stay behaved? To quote Tina Fey, “You betcha!”

And to me, that’s all that matters. People get so wrapped up in superficial things (“he didn’t wear a flag pin!”) and irrelevant things (“he’s old!”), or latch onto one issue, that they become completely blind to anything else.
The fact of the matter is both men are qualified to lead this country in a manner befitting the ideals set forth by our Founding Fathers.

But that hasn’t always been the case in the voting booth. So I started to think back about the history of presidential elections—and I came to the conclusion that for the first time in a very, very long time, we’ve actually got two good candidates for president.

Think about it:
2004: Bush vs. Kerry (The Lesser of Two Idiots)
2000: Bush vs. Gore (The One That Got Away)
1996: Clinton vs. Dole (Slick Willie and Captain Viagra)
1992: Clinton vs. Bush (Governor Grab-a-lot and Read My Lips)
1988: Bush vs. Dukakis (Dude, seriously?)
1984: Reagan vs. Mondale (The Cowboy and the Sacrifical Lamb)
1980: Reagan vs. Carter (Heston’s biotch and Joe Powerless)
1976: Ford vs. Carter (I’m glad I was only 4)
1972: Nixon vs. McGovern (Paranoia and The Prairie Populist)
1968: Nixon vs. Humphrey (Tricky Dick and LBJ's puppy)
1964: Johnson vs. Goldwater ("War! War!" or "More War! More War!")
1960: Kennedy vs. Nixon

Stop right there. Kennedy vs. Nixon. That might have been the last time we had two good candidates. Of course, we know what Nixon turned out to be, but back then, he was a sitting vice president under a very popular president (Eisenhower), and might very well have gotten elected had television not been so newly prominent. And, of course, there was Kennedy, with his youth, “vigah”, heroism, and optimism. We never did get to see the full measure of what he could have become, but that wasn’t exactly his fault.

Kennedy vs. Nixon was 48 years ago. My father wouldn’t have been able to vote in that election—he wasn’t old enough yet. How sad it must be for somebody of that generation who has never had two good, decent candidates from which to choose.

I’m as jaded and cynical as they come with respect to the political and governmental process in this country. But if you don’t think the two people running for president this year are at least genuine and competent, whether you agree with them or not, you’ve got a much, much darker view of America than I do. And I feel bad for you—because it might be another few generations before we have this opportunity again.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Making the heart grow

Wow, it's been a while since I've posted. And I apologize for that, to you, all three of my readers. But I'm running out of gas--at least temporarily. You see, it's Fire Prevention Month, and while I haven't tallied my events since the beginning of October, suffice it to say it's been a poopload. I talked for four hours today. I feel like Wayne Newton doing back-to-back shows in Branson--it takes a lot of energy to be entertaining and informative, and not to appear like you're mailing it in, despite the fact it's about the 800th time I've said the same thing in the past 9 years. My knee is killing me for some reason (and not the knee which usually bothers me), my back is starting to ache from lifting my 65-lb. display case in and out of the car several times a day and my voice is starting to give out. I feel like there's a pack of angry bees with light sabers in my throat. Oh...and did I mention we're short-handed in my office, after Pee-Wee left last month? So, this, in October, after spending all of September doing my work, the rest of Pee-Wee's work for September, and then all of my October work, and much of Pee-Wee's October work. I'm ready for a break.

But, that being said, I do have a little something in the works, hopefully I'll get it together tomorrow or Friday and get it wrote. It's pretty funny--at least it sounds, as do most things, funny in my head.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Single Issue Voters - one from the archive

Single Issue Voters

Originally written May 4, 2007

I don’t profess to belong to either major political party, so until candidates are set for the general elections, I usually don’t much follow what goes on until the races are down to one candidate from each of the parties. That being said, I was reading an account of the first Republican presidential debate at the Reagan Library, which, presumably, took place between the stacks of “How Ronnie Whipped the Russkies” and “Jellybean Quarterly,” and I noticed a particular statement from one of the candidates had been called out and set apart as one of the “quotables” from the event.

The statement was from 61-year old Colorado Congressman Tom Tancredo, who, if you do the math, has been around for a few notable events in the recent history of the planet. But I’m getting slightly ahead of myself.

Tancredo said, in regard to the 1972 Roe v. Wade decision legalizing abortion, “That would be the greatest day in this country’s history when (it) is overturned.”

Pardon me?

The “greatest day in this country’s history”? Regardless of where you stand on the issue of abortion, calling the overturn of Roe v. Wade “the greatest day in this country’s history” is laughable, at best, and horrifying, at worst. At the very least, it shows how much ignorance and hyperbole can be exhibited by the single-issue voter.

I’m going to give myself about thirty seconds, give or take a few, depending on how fast I can type, to come up with just ten days that are better than a potential day on which Roe v. Wade might be overturned. I’ll even include the event that happened on that day, so those losing contestants on “Are You Smarter Than a Fifth Grader” don’t have to get out their encyclopediae.

In no particular order: July 4, 1776 (duh); June 6, 1944 (D-day); July 1, 1969 (Armstrong walks on moon); February 22, 1980 ("Do you believe in miracles? YES!"); January 1, 1863 (Emancipation Proclamation issued); August 18, 1920 (19th Amendment - Women's right to vote - ratified); September 12, 2001; January 20, 1981 (Iran Hostages released); April 30, 1789 (Washington’s Inauguration); December 15, 1791 (Ratification of the Bill of Rights). December 5, 1933 (repeal of Prohibition) just narrowly missed the list. Sorry.

Where would Roe v. Wade appear on that, or any list, of this country’s great days? Well, I suppose that would be where you stand on the issue. However, I would argue that even if you’re on the farthest feather of the rightest wing, such an event might not even crack the top 100. It might rank among the top political achievements ever (and, again, regardless of where you stand, it would indeed be quite the political achievement), but to include it as part of the list of this country’s greatest days would be a travesty.

And so I return to the idea of the single-issue voter—or candidate for that matter. Usually, these folks represent a pretty narrow interest; I’d call someone whose main criteria to support a candidate is his or her position on saving the spotted owl (tasty with a light brushing of oil and oregano, by the way) a “single-issue voter.” I wouldn’t call someone whose main interest lies with national security by the same moniker.

These kinds of voters and candidates scare me. I might be in favor of gay marriage, as an example, but I’m not going to vote for a candidate who supports such a position, but also thinks we should disband the army and only allow rich white men to vote. But there are people who vote like that. And Congressman Tancredo’s statement is an example of the rallying cry for those kinds of people. My question is, if he gets elected (which is highly unlikely) and he gets Roe v. Wade overturned, what would he do next?

Would he have the chops—or the interest—to take on other issues? Or would he sit back, put his feet up on the desk of the Oval Office and say, well, we accomplished the Greatest Thing Ever for this country, so there’s really nothing else to do, because everything else is comparatively minor?

You know, just like the Abraham Lincoln did after he signed the Emancipation Proclamation.
I guess what I’m trying to say is to encourage people to keep an open mind to more issues than just the one that’s most important to your own interests. After all, isn’t that the central idea for a democracy? Or have we gotten so red-state/blue-state that now it’s important as to which shade of red or blue we are?

Monday, October 13, 2008

A Hybrid *what*??

I was watching my favorite late-night talk show the other night when I saw the most amusing thing I’d seen in a very long time. No, it wasn’t Craig Ferguson’s “Michael Caine in Space” bit, which is very funny; rather, it was a television commercial I hadn’t seen before.

Except that it wasn’t supposed to be funny.

It was an advertisement for the new Cadillac Escalade Hybrid. Excuse me? Cadillac Escalade Hybrid? They’re making a luxury sport utility vehicle (yes, I said luxury SUV) you won’t have to spend as much on for gas? That’s kind of like booking a penthouse suite at the Plaza and not opening the $16.99 bag of Godiva-covered macadamia nuts.

I mean, isn’t the whole point of owning an Escalade to show everybody how much money you have? And isn’t part of that conspicuous consumerism the ability to flaunt being at the gas pump smugly reading Cigar Aficionado as the “total sale” readout pole-vaults over the triple-digit mark as everyone else around you wrings their hands and gnashes their teeth in disbelief at how little gas you can buy for twenty bucks?

But I guess for rich people, who, sadly for them, I guess, have become somewhat looked down upon by the rest of us slobs, it’s no longer enough. They get sidelong glances from the rest of us at the gas pumps as they lean carefree against their gleaming black mobile palaces. They get eye rolls from us as they saunter by in their oversized Paris Hilton-style sunglasses, iPhone in one hand, Starbuck’s non-fat half-caf extra whip iced mocha latte in the other. (Wow…I’ve never ordered anything from Starbuck’s before…I just made that up…somebody should check to see if they actually have something like that on their menu!) We groan quite audibly when they talk about their “busy” day dropping the kids off at cello lessons and lacrosse practice, picking up a pre-school entrance exam/application, going for a mani-pedi, shopping at Von Maur, and then—can you believe this—the cello instructor ended the lesson ten minutes early and they had to go pick up the 6-year old (who, naturally, called from her own cell phone) before they were able to pick up the dry cleaning.

So the rich needed something to put them back on top, where they deserve to be, dammit, where they’ve been admired and envied since the first well-to-do Neanderthal family could afford to have someone else sweep out their cave. And because there is nothing more admirable and buzzworthy right now than social responsibility, some twerp in sales and marketing at GM made the connection that, hey, what could be more awesomer than a socially responsible rich person? Enter the Escalade Hybrid. Problem solved.

Think about it—it’s the ultimate “fuck you” to everyone else. We’re rich, and we’re saving the planet. We could spend our money on gas, but we won’t. Now you have nothing to criticize us for. You can love—and more importantly—admire us again.

I guess I’m not sure what I’m really saying about all this nonsense. I guess I just found it funny that there was even a need for this vehicle, that it was important enough to enough rich people that Cadillac had to make an Escalade that saved on gas. But really, as I try to think of a way to wrap up these thoughts, all I’m feeling is sadness and disgust that I can’t provide for my family much in the way of groceries this week, while some fuck gets to feel better about himself because he can spend 60 k to save a few gallons of gasoline here and there.

Friday, October 10, 2008

As a matter of record...

I'll be periodically adding things that I've written in the past in other forums. Some of it has to do with local stuff around here, but much of it is pretty general and worthy of posting, I think. To wit:

Blaming Andre Agassi (originally written in October 4, 2007...note the reference to gas prices...)
Personally, I blame Andre Agassi. For what? Well, the state of the American auto industry, for starters.

You see, back in the early 90’s, ol’ Andy did a television commercial for some camera, in which he declared “Image is everything” whilst his flowing mane and dangly earring glittered in the artificially-generated breeze. This, of course, was shot long before Agassi figured out that substance was more important than style and started winning major championships. Perhaps a lesson can be learned from that—but I digress.

My point is this—in the late 70’s and through the 80’s, the American auto industry was getting its collective behind kicked by Japanese and European automakers when it came to quality, durability, performance and fuel consumption. But then, in the 90’s, the U. S. and A made a little comeback. SUV’s were all the rage, mini-van sales surged like one of W’s troop call-ups, and pickup trucks continued to be the hottest sellers.

And then—Steffi’s husband had to say it. Image is everything. What happened? Well, our SUV’s got bigger. Our mini-vans became upscale. The category of “luxury full-size pickup” entered the automotive lexicon. People started buying ginormous homes with sub-prime mortgages and interest-only loans. They started living beyond their means and buying Hummers and Navigators so they can take their 2.1 kids along while they picked up their dry cleaning. Why? Because image is everything.

The rest of the advertisers bought into the idea and followed suit. You have to have a high-def TV with a Klipsch 7.1 surround system and a subwoofer the size of R2-D2. You have to have a $5.50 coffee from Starbuck’s. Subsequently, you can’t just have a pickup truck anymore—it’s got to have a hemi—and leather seats. Your minivan has to have stow-n-go seating, a moonroof and a DVD player. Your SUV has to be trail rated. All these features have increased vehicle power, size, fuel consumption—and price.

Meanwhile, back on that little island we rebuilt after vaporizing a couple of its cities, they continued working their plan that was so successful in the 70’s and 80’s. They’re building economical, practical, yet sporty-enough small cars, crossover SUV’s, and solid, dependable mini-vans with enough features to make soccer moms happy without breaking their bank accounts in the showrooms or at the gas pumps.

You know, Barack Obama is a brave man for calling out the auto industry on its reluctance to implement stricter mileage standards. But he’s absolutely right. He wants to achieve his goals in part by targeting a 4 percent annual increase -- approximately 1 mile per gallon each year -- in fuel standards.
He says, "For years, while foreign competitors were investing in more fuel-efficient technology for their vehicles, American automakers were spending much of their time investing in bigger, faster cars. Whenever an attempt was made to raise our fuel-efficiency standards, the auto companies would lobby against it, spending millions to prevent the very reform that could've saved their industry."
China, one of the world’s worst offenders when it comes to carbon emissions, has higher fuel mileage standards than we do. The result? Can’t sell our cars in China, the world’s fastest growing market.
Detroit’s response? "If you go that high with fuel economy, something else has to give," said Gloria Bergquist, a vice president for the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers. She called a 35 m.p.g. standard advocated by Obama "unattainable" because consumers have largely rejected small, efficient vehicles in the past.
Well guess what, Detroit. That was before gasoline was one refinery disruption away from four dollars per gallon. Let’s do a little math here. An SUV that gets 15mpg in the city (which is extremely generous--the Durango we had for 3 years got about 9 in the city) and has a 20 gallon tank at $4.00 per gallon would cost $80.00 to fill up. You’d get about 300 miles out of that tank. Driving 900 miles a month (which averages out to a conservative 10,800 miles a year) would require three fill-ups, totaling a whopping $240 dollars—or $2,880 a year for fuel. Pocket change for some people, but not for most, I’d reckon. Certainly not me; and with three kids and a 4-bedroom house with a white-vinyl picket fence, I’d have to count myself as pretty average.
Now, back to Mr. Agassi, and the lesson we can actually learn from him. After some spectacular flame-outs, he decided to get serious about his tennis. He lost the poofy mullet, he lost the extra body fat, he worked hard on his game, discovered that image isn’t everything, and what do you know—he won Wimbledon en route to a successful career well into his 30’s. The lesson is: why don’t the automakers lose the hemi engines that get 12mpg, the ridiculous Hummers that men think have the medicinal effects of Enzyte, and the trail rated, commercial-grade nonsense that we use for nothing more rugged than going over the curbs into our driveways. They need to concentrate on their game, remove their excess fat. Cut back on SUV production. Increase hybrid and flex-fuel production. Make the cars more fuel efficient while keeping them safe, reliable and comfortable.
What happens if they don’t? Well, we keep buying more Hyundais, Toyotas, Hondas and Kias. American automaker sales continue to plummet. Maybe we lose one of them, and the other two merge. The Big Three has been renamed the Detroit Three in some circles, because they’re no longer the three top-selling automakers in the world. Given the current state of affairs, in another dozen years, it could just be the Detroit One.
Or maybe just the Big One, as in, “the American auto industry has bitten the Big One.”

Thursday, October 9, 2008

How's it goin', eh?

Just a brief introduction about the things you will be reading here...some will be funny, some will be serious, some will be rancorous, some will bear a little of my soul. But it will all be me. And some of you might find it offensive. But I really don't care. If you don't like it, call me on it. Let's have a debate. Let's go a few rounds. And then, let's be friends (or spouses) again. Because I know everbody's not going to agree with me--even my friends. I know for a fact that there are some people I know pretty well and am pretty close to that hold diametrically opposing views about certain things. And that's okay. I don't like them any less just because they have the wrong opinion about things. (Some things will be sarcastic, too :P ) But none of us should ever be afraid to debate things with our friends for two reasons: one, if we think our friends won't be our friends afterward, maybe they weren't really our friends to begin with; and, two, maybe our opinions aren't strong enough to survive a debate and therefore need to be reconsidered.

The things you will read here will, for the most part be rated PG to PG-13. I will warn you that you'll run across an occasional F-bomb. The MPAA says, "If a film uses 'one of the harsher sexually derived words' one to three times, it is routine today for the film to receive a PG-13 rating, provided that the word is used as an expletive and not with a sexual meaning." So if you feel okay about watching PG-13 movies, but not rated R (yes, LDS friends, I'm talking to you), don't be shocked and horrified by the occasional expletive.

Finally, the title of the whole shootin' match comes from something my best friend's mom always told us before we went out and did something: "Have fun, do good!" Having fun was always the most important, that's why it came first. But we also had to do good--in both connotations. We had to try our best to succeed at whatever we were going to do, but more importantly, we had to try to leave the world a little better place for our having been out in it.

Off I go.

This is NOT a blog.

Let me start by saying this is NOT a blog. Call it a periodic-though-non-deadline-oriented online expression of my thoughts. I hesitate to call it a blog because I've generally been annoyed by all things blog as we move farther along into this digital age. (I don't even like the word blog. Blog. It sounds like the noise I make when I vomit. Blogggggg. See?) When blogs--weblogs, as they were initially christened--first started, they were great ways to keep your family updated on your life, to share pictures, etc. Hence, the 'log' part. My good wife and several of her friends have blogs, and that's what they do. They post pictures, recipes, updates for out-of-town families, swap ideas on child-rearing, and vent when the tools they're married to do something stupid. But more and more, blogs have to come to have an influence that I think is a little unhealthy.

Mind you, I think it's great that anybody can now contribute to The Conversation--it's truly free speech in action. However, I'm an elitist. You see, I believe people should have the right to express their opinions. But I also think I have the right to discount those opinions, especially if they're dumb or unduly prominent. I don't like having those opinions thrust upon me. I hate that media-types are constantly gauging the temperature of the blogosphere. (Blogosphere--isn't he the Governor of Illinois? And if there's a really hot topic in the blogosphere, would that be considered contributing to blogal warming?) I also just don't think most people's lives are that interesting or exciting that they need to chronicle every bit of minutiae for the rest of the world to see.

I kind of view blogs--what they've become, not what they were meant to be--with the same kind of disdain as I do short stories. I think people write short stories because they're not skilled enough writers to turn their ideas into opems, nor is a partiuclar idea good enough to sustain a novel. (See? Elitist.) In other words, blogs have become a medium for people who don't want to write letters to the editor, or can't write well enough to have an article published. But because they're instant (oooh!), online (aaah!), current (wow, Britney just did that!), accessible by everyone, and are a facsimilie of words on an actual page, they're often assigned an importance that just isn't warranted.

There's also a danger of blogging making the art of the verbal dance dry up. If everybody blogs in their own little way on the things they know about the most to a limited audience of people who generally already agree with them, what happens when you happen upon, in person, a topic that generates some discord? People who are used to having time to create a measured opinion, or used to tempering a short comment on somebody else's measured opinion from behind the luxury of a comfy chair and a flat panel, won't be able to do the dance. They won't be able to verbally defend or advance their position. There will be no debate. Heck, even if it's a friend's blog that stirs such a fire in you, and you don't want to offend that friend by being offended and making a comment, you have the easiest of outs: "I didn't see the entry." No such out in an actual conversation.

Further, what, at all, might be the point of face-to-face conversation anymore if everyone has a blog? Everybody's going to know everything about everybody else. You're not going to have anything to say. It's all already been expressed, commented upon and replied to. As I said to my wife the other night, in response to the fact that she and her circle of friends are all blogging: "Do you guys actually have conversations anymore? Or, when you get together, do you all bring laptops and just read each other's blogs?"

So even though I probably deserve to have my voice heard above the fray by way of crafting an influential, much-heralded blog, I'm not going to call it that. I'm too much of an elitist.