Friday, December 15, 2006

CUDDLY PET PEEVES

Cold weather makes me irascible. Adding to this discomfort is a litany of annoying little things that society imposes on me. Here are a few of my favorite winter irritations:

Pasteurized Cider -- Every fall for many years I have purchased cold, dark, sweet, unfiltered apple cider locally. I would then leave it overnight on the kitchen counter until it started to ferment slightly. Finally, after a day of rechilling, I would then drink my slightly-carbonated, libation to autumn in New England. Now, due to a one-in-a-billion food-processing accident in California, all I can find is a pale, insipid, pasteurized product called “apple cider,” but much more like apple juice. One again, the food Nazis have made my world a little smaller.

Anonymous Answering Machine Messages -- It is quite grating to have placed an important and expensive call to an unfamiliar person in Saskatchewan only to get a terse answering machine message that says, “Hi, it’s us. Please leave a message.” Now, these provincial putzes at least could include their phone numbers so that I know I haven’t called a bordello in Biloxi. (By the way, to be grammatically but annoyingly correct, it is “Hi, it’s we.”)

Magazine Inserts -- My main motivation for becoming insanely rich is so that I can hire a “magazine valet.” This would be one who, dressed in full livery with white suede gloves, would riffle through my newly-delivered magazines and remove all those loose solicitation cards. That way, when I read these periodicals, my lap would not be constantly littered with such detritus.

Prolonged Voice-Mail Messages -- Frequently overly conscientious business people feel compelled to leave elaborate and up-to-the-minute phone messages, “Hi, this is Fred Mertz and I am in the office today, Thursday, July 23rd, but may be in a Board of Directors meeting or lunching with the Sultan of Brunei. I am interested in returning your call but, if it is important, you may want to contact my Executive Assistant, Siegfried Sassoon, the fourth, on extension 34895 ... or, if he is unavailable, my Executive Secretary, Nancy Drew, on extension 34897. If this is an emergency, you may call my beeper at 888-555-2345 and then enter 678-999. On Tuesday, my daughter had a bouncing baby boy, Mergatroid, weighing eight pounds, six ounces. We plan to vacation in the Barbados in September. My father’s gal bladder has stopped acting up. Thanks for your call. Please leave a message after the eighth beep.” I have reproduced the whole message here, but I generally hang up somewhere around the Sultan of Brunei.

Neat Litterbugs -- What possesses people to be fastidious while they are trashing things? There is a brand of urban slob who will reach down and carefully place a Starbucks latte cup right-side-up beside his/her car before leaving a parking space. Or neatly wrap a used diaper and put it under the nearest park bench. Do these teeny fits of tidiness really mitigate such gross slovenliness?

Architectural Food -- It seems these days that every dish I order in a fancy restaurant comes piled high as a tottering pilaster ... defying gravity and good gastronomic sense. Has the measure of culinary merit now become altitude and not sapor? Another paradox to ponder -- why are all our newly-built civic monuments flatter than the proverbial pancake?

Public Grooming -- In olden days it was considered impolite to comb you hair or put on your makeup in public ... hence powder rooms. It’s not that I don’t enjoy inhaling clouds of dandruff on the “T,” but need I also sit on the finger-nail clippings of others? I suppose public tooth brushing or face shaving are just a whisker away.

Dial Tones -- Few of us use dial (pulsed) phones anymore. So why do digital-keypad telephones have “dial tones?” And how do we “dial” a phone by punching some buttons? When we send E-mail do we call it a “telegram?” When we consult our watches, do we still view a “chronometer?” Do we call refrigerators, “ice boxes?” Of course not! So, please, let’s update our phone terminology.

Plastic Thread -- There should be a new place in purgatory into which the inventor of clear plastic thread and its users would be hurled. Garment manufacturers, in order to save a few pennies by not having to change thread colors, now torture their wearers with the constant scratching from the cut ends of this filament. This purgatory locale would a briar patch filled with nettles and razor wire.

E-mail Junk -- By this I don’t mean junk E-mail (or “spam”). This has been lambasted enough. Rather, I refer here to all those annoying extras you get in E-mail messages, particularly those that have been forwarded. For instances, why must all the co-recipients of E-mails be listed twice in painfully convoluted ciphers? Does the computer forget in that short span of message text to whom it is addressing this E-pistle? Also, why is the message text often repeated (sometimes twice or more) in the body of a forwarded message? And why do all those little greater-than signs (>>) scatter themselves all over forwarded E-mail messages like chicken tracks? Come on you Internet techies ... these are not difficult problems to solve. If you can transmit smut to our children, the least you can do is get rid of this E-mail junk.

Big Word Users -- Few scholarly artifices engender my trenchant passions like those literati who espouse antiquated synonyms whilst composing expository prose. These inane and erudite accouterments generally bequeath naught to their reader’s comprehension other than an acute discernment of their author’s ego-inspired hyperbole.

Compulsive Call Screening -- Due to such things as phone solicitors, some clever people now never ever answer their telephones. Instead, they screen all their calls through an answering machine. This, of course, is understandable, but can sometimes cause extreme frustration. For instance, like when you know that they are at home and you need to reach them in a hurry ... say to tell them that someone with a hockey goalie’s mask and chain saw is jimmying their cellar door.

Airline Lies -- Every time a flight is canceled, airline counter personnel offer the same lame excuses: “Your plane is experiencing mechanical difficulties.” or “Weather at your plane’s feeder airport has forced the scrubbing of this flight.” Just once I would like to hear: “This plane is not fully booked, so we are canceling it and cramming you into a later one so we can generate higher profits.”

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

ON BEING JUDGEMENTAL



A while ago a very bright liberal daughter of some friends said that she didn’t like the religious elementary school that she had attended because they had been “judgmental.” I then engaged her in a short colloquy about this subject (I, being in favor of drawing conclusions) and didn’t make the slightest dent in her social armor. So I have decided to try to memorialize my feelings on this issue in order to argue my case further and perhaps even open her mind a little.

The definition of “judgmentalism” I would like to use here requires a little visualization. Imagine that you are sitting in the middle of a large circle drawn on the ground and that you are metaphysically sorting through all the thoughts and things of life. You place those thoughts and things that you find acceptable inside the circle and those that you don’t, outside. I think we all perform such a chore with some regularity and even pleasure. For instance, you might place “fouling the environment” outside the circle, or unacceptable; and “the smell of baby powder” inside, or acceptable. At some point you must make such a placement decision on “being judgmental.” Aha, now comes the conundrum! Can you place this behavior outside the circle without being hypocritical? And if you do, then you are denying the very process you may savor.

The best path off of this uncomfortable paradox might be for this young lady to admit that she just didn’t like this elementary school because its value system differed from hers. In fact, her put down of people and institutions for being “judgmental” is nothing more that an easy pejorative, a semantic substitution for ideas too weak or embarrassing for social expression. Such pejoratives (for example, “homophobe” or “knee-jerk liberal”) have become, at least to the unthinking, a way of quickly winning arguments with a backward wave of the hand and the nodding approval of one’s clique members. In other words, they are a dialectic code for “the social norm is to find this behavior unacceptable and, if you don’t comply, then we will think less of you.” Notice, I say “we” since such tête-à-têtes are usually sprinkled with such aphorisms as a way of testing newcomers to see if they have enough common receptor sites to be considered as someone to whom we will pay attention. Of course, this newcomer may also be applying a similar Rorschach to the testers to decide whether they too are worth a fiddler’s fart. Then the ridicule-or may become the ridicule-ee.

Historically these code words shift and jive. The older, cruder forms were often short and stabbing, such as “pinko” or “crybaby” or “bum.” Today, our salon societies have evolved much more subtle and sophisticated membership applications ... polysyllabic (and often humorous) aphorisms that slip off the tongues of our dilly dandies like cheap oil off of freshly-opened sardines. There are even those who seem to coin such terms for a living. Those that quickly come to mind are Rush Limbaugh (“femi-nazi” -- a hyper-radical feminist), Tom Wolfe (“x-ray” -- a socialite whose skeletal-look seems to be her only claim to self worth), and James Carville (“sexual McCarthyism” -- daring to pass judgment on President Clinton’s peckerdilloes).

Therefore, I am here pontificating on nothing really new. I’m old enough to remember, in the 1950s and 1960s, when similar semantic weapons, which are now so capably used against the right, were leveled at liberals with equal efficacy. However, I do not recall conservatives denying their left-wing foes the ability to think or form judgments. This is the insidious demagoguery against which I now rail. I honestly hope that this one flicker of liberty is not snuffed out as tribute to our current worship of feelings over consequences.

Friday, December 08, 2006

TRADITIONAL TRADITIONS

“In olden days a glimpse of stocking was looked on as something shocking, now heavens knows, anything goes.” (Cole Porter)

Recently I wrote a blog on another site (Dartmouth Traditions) about college traditions, their plusses and minuses. This has caused me in turn to think about much of today’s social and political conflicts in these same terms – the push and pull between modernity and traditions. To be specific:

Gay Marriage – a main argument against gay marriage is that it changes the definition of “traditional” marriage (one man, one woman). Therefore, the “modern” view is pro gay marriage. However, I find it most ironic that gay couples often wrap themselves in the age-old marital traditions (a walk down the aisle, a wedding cake, exchanging rings, etc.). This has just a touch of pathos to it.

Radical Islam – it seems that much of bin Laden’s hatred of the West has to do with the creeping modernity with which we seem to have infected the world. Sex, drugs and rock-and-roll would clearly vanish under traditional Sharia rule (the ultimate world goal for Al Qaeda). Women (and I suspect many minorities) would lose centuries of emancipation. And whole populations would resemble Afghanistan ere its recent liberation: one-eye burkas (see BeliefNet), brutal stoning-to-death executions, destruction of centuries old art works, etc. “Civilizations” would clearly become a lot less civil.

Journalism – Ernie Pyle exemplified journalism in the Second World War. David Gregory exemplifies it today. There is a rift between these two styles of reporting as wide as the seas. Is the traditional journalism mold better than the “modern” one? I’ll let you be the judge.

Rap Music – Does anyone really think that out-year reunions of today’s youth will nostalgically involve Gangsta Rap? Modernity is not always indisputably better.

Old Europe – Without traditional garb, food, architecture, etc. Rick Steves would have to find another line of business. The charm of traveling through France, Germany, Spain, etc. is experiencing these delights first hand. Usually, however such vacations do not include a sampling of the local politics … which is far from traditional.

Art Movements – Impressionism, Cubism, Abstract Impressionism, Pop Art, Op Art, etc. Art movements come in quick succession like waves sucking on a money-strewn beach. Which of these movements are “traditional”? Time alone can make this ultimate judgment. But please give me just one opinion … Andy Warhol has done more to trash the progress of art in the twentieth century than the Taliban ever could have.

The lesson here is that everything old is not necessarily good and everything new isn’t necessarily bad. However, once a tradition is establishes, it has an inertia that should not be fooled with carelessly. But changing circumstances can devalue a tradition as well as make a good innovation poisonous. It is only mindless insistence on a style of behavior that seems truly dangerous.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

BOOBY PRIZES

Dartmouth College has once again come up almost empty when prestigeous international scholarships are handed out to outstanding seniors. (Well, we can still console ourselves with the fact that we have a crackerjack football team.) Perhaps the recent vote by the alumni regarding the proposed new constitution may be reflective of this situation. See the below links for the bad news:

Rhodes Scholars (not):
http://www.usatoday.com/news/education/2006-11-19-rhodes-scholars_x.htm#list

Fulbright Scholars (not):
http://www.fulbright.co.uk/awards/announcement.htm
To be absolutely accurate, eight Fulbright awards were awarded to Dartmouth students to study outside the United Kingdom. See http://www.dartmouth.edu/~news/releases/2006/05/18.html

Marshall Scholars (not):
http://www.marshallscholarship.org/winners.html

Luce Scholars (not):
http://www.hluce.org/4datefm.html

To repeat myself, I once asked President Wright at a luncheon in Hanover why Dartmouth didn’t have more Rhodes, Fulbright, and other senior honors scholars. His response was stupefying … he said he didn’t want students, who tried for such honors and failed, to have this failure define their Dartmouth experience. (We must have a lot of self-satisfied students.)

Monday, November 13, 2006

I RAQED MY BRAIN

The President has invited suggestions for solution to the Iraqi conflict. Being bold beyond logic, I will wade in with the following advice. (And since Americans are still dying there, I will try to avoid being humorous or flippant in this analysis … a temptation that many TV personalities can’t seem to resist.)

I view the mayhem in Iraq consisting of three distinct belligerent activities:

1) Bad guys killing bad guys

2) Bad guys killing innocents

3) Jihadists (and paid thugs) killing Americans

The strategies that I suggest we might use in dealing with each of these categories are:

1) Ignore them, and discourage the front-page reporting of these incidents … since the American public can’t seem to differentiate between this category and the other two. I see the torturing and killing of bad guys as just doing the jobs that American troops are forbidden from doing. Sunnis capture Shiite bad guys, torture them to get the names of other Shiite bad guys and then go kill them all … and dump their bodies in Baghdad. And the versa for Sunni bad guys killing Shiite bad guys. After about ten years of this bloody attrition, there should be a lot fewer bad guys … and/or the appetite for such revenge killing might be somewhat abated.

2) Retaliate brutally against the specific group that sponsors each incident by killing one or more of its leaders (e.g., Al Sadir, etc. if Shiite and Ibrahim, etc. if Sunni) or spice up one of these militia demonstrations with a Hellfire missle. Make sure that Al Jazeera understands and publicizes our reason for such retaliations. And use the Iraqi forces to capture any specific perpetrators not already dealt with. Measure the Iraqi forces effectiveness by how often they succeed in these missions (and reward them accordingly).

3) Concentrate all American hegemony against the Jihadist incidents. Use focused air power and Special Forces against these Jihadists and their protectors. Be as brutal as possible, and don’t stop until at least ten Jihadists or their protectors are killed for every American casualty.

Friday, November 10, 2006

SOUR GRAPENUTS

I have a few observations about the recent congressional elections:

- Suddenly, when the Dems win, all the voting machines and election machinations are working perfectly.

- In at least three states (Texas, Florida and Ohio), Republicans, who sank under ethics clouds in the last six months, could not be replaced on their state’s ballots. Two years ago, the New Jersey Supreme Court allowed Robert Torricelli to be replaced on the ballot four weeks before the election, despite this being against state law.

- In both Montana and Virginia, where the Republicans lost by an eyelash, there were third party conservative Senate candidates who garnered many more votes than the margin of victory for the Dems. Hmmm?

- Late-term abortion restrictions passed in seven of eight states.

- Eminent domain restrictions passed in nine states … reversing a recent unpopular U.S. Supreme Court decision.

- The Republicans have not contested any of these election results despite enormous voter registration fraud in Florida, Colorado, Missouri, Nevada, New Mexico, Minnesota, Ohio, Texas, Pennsylvania, Oregon and Michigan mostly instigated by ACORN (Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now), a radical left-wing organization. (Admittedly there is some Republican malfeasance also). Why can’t we throw more of these democracy subverters into jail? See http://www.epionline.org/news_detail.cfm?rid=33

- A very few election plusses – Jimmy Carter’s son lost in Nevada, Harold Ford lost in Tennessee, Kinky Freeman lost in Texas, Lincoln Chaffee, a RINO, lost in Rhode Island, many Democrat victors are Blue Dogs (conservatives), and racial preferences were defeated in Michigan.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

ONE NO TRUMP

How would you like to have Donald Trump and his assembled companies owe you a few hundred million dollars … and then turn on the radio and hear The Donald flacking for The Learning Annex? He is now appearing on local radio on behalf of this “Make Me a Millionaire” seminar series here in Boston. Things must be somewhat desperate for “You’re Fired” Trump to demean himself to such a level. Perhaps he will be next begging us to learn how to drive a semi-trailer truck?

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

SEXISM

The New York Times this morning has an article headlined “New York Moves to Allow Residents to Change Their Gender on Documents”, and subtitled “Permitting a switch on one’s birth certificate, with or without a sex-change operation”. These headlines tell it all. It is a bazaar continuation of the decategorization of our citizenry. Apparently, if one wishes, one can also change one’s race or ethnicity at will. The Mohegan tribe in Connecticut … owners of the Mohegan Sun casino … can make you an Indian (and a millionaire) just by voting you in as a member of their tribe. And many college-bound teens often chose to call themselves Hispanics or African-Americans to improve their chances of admittance to prestigious colleges. Now you can call yourself a member of the opposite sex just by saying so. Gee wilikers! Had I known this earlier I could have called myself a female (and a lesbian to boot)!

What is next? Can we arbitrarily reclassify our family heritage (I opt for being a close Bill Gates relative). Can we even change our species? (He’s a Homo neanderthalenis.) … or genus? (She’s a platypus.) Or even our phylum? (I’m a molluska.) However, I do draw the line at becoming a plant … or a Democrat.

Friday, November 03, 2006

POLITICAL SCIENCE

I saw Donny Deutsch’s interview with Michael J. Fox (MJF) last night. Mr. Fox’s demeanor did change from the beginning of the interview to its end but, to me, MJF seemed to get more (excuse the word) spastic, not less, as the interview progressed. This surprised me because I was expecting the opposite. Does this mean that his meds caused this downward spiral? I find it difficult to believe that any medications make symptoms worse, not better. Perhaps, Donny Deutsch altered the sequencing of the interview segments to make a political point? Who knows?

However, it is clear that, once again, science is being used to try to manipulate the political process. This is smarmy and greatly bothers me. Science is, by its very nature, very complicated … too complicated to be distilled into a one minute commercial or even a one hour interview. To expect the general public to understand the ins and outs of genetics or climatology (and then use this knowledge to make a political decision) is naive if not scheming. It often takes years for such scientific debates to be resolved … witness the centuries-long flap over the construct of our solar system.

My understanding of the debate over government funding of embryonic stem-cell research comes down to this – can we force our citizens, many of whom have serious moral objections to the use of this Frankenstein-like experimentation, to nevertheless fund it with their tax dollars? I realize that “Frankenstein” is a pejorative, but then, I think it describes accurately the opponent’s emotions. Of course, people like MJF also have equally strong emotions when they feel that their “cure” from this science might be delayed without government funding.

Stem cell science will surely progress independent of government funding. However, there still will be hanging moral issues around the use of embryos (particularly cloned embryos) as a source of stem cells. There seems to be no dispute about using adult stem cells or umbilical cord blood stem cells for medical cures. But using embryonic stem cells opens up serious moral issues. I guess I have no problem with using embryos that are to be discarded from in vitro fertilization labs for such research. However, first it must be only with the written permission of the parents, and, second, these embryos cannot have been created for the purpose of such research. This last caveat unfortunately will be almost impossible to enforce and is, I believe, the reason why many refuse to consider embryonic stem cell research under any circumstances.

The most disturbing step in embryonic stem cell research would be the use of stem cells from cloned embryos. These stem cells would have the great advantage of genetic identity from donor to donee. Thus, wealthy individuals with serious health problems might eventually have their twin effectively created (cloned as an embryo) to grow replacement organs so that these plutocrats could live almost forever. This truly is a Frankenstein scenario, but, as history has shown … if science can do it, it will be done. God help us.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

MICHAEL J. FOX


I just heard Donny Deutsch give a promo for his hour long interview with Michael J. Fox this evening (Nov. 2, 10:00 PM on CNBC). In this promo, Donny Deutsch specifically notes that Michael J. Fox’s demeanor changes from the beginning of this interview to its end “because it took a while for his meds to kick in.” I think we all should check out this interview so that we might see for ourselves whether what Rush Limbaugh said early this week makes any sense. Rush said then that Mr. Fox’s commercial (which he had made for the Democrat candidate for the Senate from Missouri … saying that embryonic stem-cell research was essential for developing a cure for his Parkinson's disease) showed him either acting or “off his meds” because the symptoms of his disease seemed overly exaggerated. (Apparently, Mr. Fox had previously indicated in his book that he had used this tactic in the past to exaggerate the symptoms of his disease for effect when he was appearing for public-relations purposes -- like testifying in front of the U.S. Senate).

The result has been another political firestorm where Rush Limbaugh is the ogre and Michael J. Fox is the victim. We now have the rare opportunity to see for ourselves whether Michael J. Fox might have been used as a (willing?) sympathy-producing pawn in the Missouri and other political contests. So watch (at least the first and last five minutes).

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

AGE OF CYNICISM

Professor Alan Wolfe was recently on Mike Barnacle’s radio program here in Boston. He teaches political science at Boston College and has a resume as long as your and my arm (try Googling him). He was drumming up interest for his latest book, Does American Democracy Still Work? New Haven: Yale University Press, 2006, and was spouting many of the predictable liberal talking points. But my ears pricked up when he said that we were living in the age of cynicism … a thought with which I totally agree. He then went on to say that politicians (implying, I think, the Bush crowd because he had just been scouring Karl Rove) want us to be cynical because it freezes the political discourse and consequentially allows them to do whatever they want.

I got to thinking about this pronouncement and quickly realized – what could be more cynical than such an aphorism? He clearly (and, I think, unintentionally) proved his first point.

Friday, October 27, 2006

HALLOWEEN HAIKU

The Halloween moon
Piercing the leaf-dusty sky
Lights our candy quest

Thursday, October 26, 2006

MR. NOVEMBER

Reggie Jackson’s nickname was Mr. October because he almost always came through with a stellar performance in the World Series. (I saw him hit three home runs in one critical Yankee World Series game in the 1970’s.) This was when baseball’s World Series was held in early October. Today is October 26th and only three games have been played in the World Series. Tonight, rain is forecast in St. Louis and so the fourth game probably won’t be played until at least the 27th … and the fifth, maybe on the 28th. Then, there will be a travel day before the series moves back to Detroit. So the sixth game (if necessary) would be played on the 30th at the earliest. Thus, any hiccup in this process would push the seventh game (if necessary) into November! What is going on here?

Expanding the number of baseball teams and the number of scheduled games has pushed out the World Series by at least three weeks until now freezing weather and snow now threaten the “boys of summer” with cold-related injuries. Why? We all know the answer … money. This is also why the National Hockey League now plays the Stanley Cup games in early June. (I remember one such Boston Bruins game played in a dense fog because it was so warm in the arena that the ice was sublimating.) The real problem is that greed persists … and we know that things will continue to get worse. Eventually, all sports will have to be played year-round in order for the television networks to recoup their enormous investments in the TV broadcast rights. Even now the thrill of attending live sporting events has been substantially reduced because of all the players standing around idle while TV advertisers insert more and longer commercials.

I have a solution. Let’s create on omnibus sport. Make baseball a contact sport with football-like pads and have it played on a huge ice rink. Put hoops in left, right and center fields so that home runs hit into them get an extra score. Allow personal grudge fights and encourage bench-clearing melees. And call this sport “politics”.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

CHILDHOOD MEMORIES

Wringer washing machines and wood-frame curtain stretchers

A skateboard made with metal wheels (taken off of an old pair of skates) nailed to a 2x4 scooter.

Bing Crosby singing “The Ole Lamplighter” on a 78-rpm record (with “Bye Bye Blackbird” on the flip side)

Drinking yeasty home-made root beer out of old ketchup bottles

“Helping” the circus roustabouts raise their tents (for a free ducat)

That toy that dropped darts on a corkboard containing silhouettes of enemy ships (from a cardboard box with a mirrored bombsight and “bombs away” levers)

Live chickens in Grandpap’s coal bin

Lowell Thomas reading the nightly news on the old Philco radio

Other newscasters – John Cameron Swayze, Gabriel Heatter, Fulton Lewis Jr.

My mother knitting a kaki sweater for the “boys overseas”

The “Toonerville Trolley” comic strip in the Sunday papers

Other comic strips – “Katzenjammer Kids”, “Notary Sojak”, “Maggie and Jiggs”, “Prince Valiant”

“Just Plain Bill (Barber of Hartville)” on afternoon soap-opera radio (while I was staying home sick)

Other soaps – “One Man’s Family”, “Stella Dallas” (and her daughter, Lolly Baby), “Portia Faces Life”, “Lorenzo Jones”

Hand-woven plastic lanyards and elastic cotton potholders

My sister wearing a crinoline skirt and brown & white saddle shoes

Eating Cracker Jacks … looking for the prizes and avoiding those bitter paper-jacketed peanuts

My father (a die-hard Republican) crying when FDR died

“Curious George” and the “Little House” book (about how it became a city derelict until was moved back to the country and fixed up)

Front-page newspaper maps of the ever-changing battle lines on the Korean peninsula

Fried “city chicken” drumsticks made with ground-up veal formed around lollypop sticks

Winter hay rides with real horses and sledges

Viewing a hoochy koochy girl in the Mutoscope (peep show) movie machine at the penny arcade

Building a toy frontier fort with Lincoln Logs

Fletcher’s Castoria and paregoric (for childhood’s range of stomach distresses)

A tin model of the “Spirit of St. Louis” in my father’s bottom dresser drawer

My grandparent’s telephone number (1903W … a party line)

Mom’s baked ham and home-baked beans (w/ a mixed green salad)

“Pick-up Straws” and jacks

Watching the McCarthy hearings on TV (I even remember “At last, Senator McCarthy have you no shame?”)

“Dad’s Old Fashioned Root Beer”

Don McNeil’s Breakfast Club on weekday radio (“Good morning breakfast clubbers, so nice to meet you …”)

The National Farm and Home hour (on very early Saturday morning radio out of Chicago)

The Saturday Night Fights w/ Bill Stern (sponsored on radio by Gillette, “To look sharp and be on the ball … ”)

Seeing an old civil war veteran (Grand Army of the Republic) in my town’s July 4th parade (in the 1940’s)

Sunday Swiss steak and mashed potatoes “supper” at Grandma’s after church (around 1 PM)

Having the (bleep) scared out of me by the movie, "Spellbound"

Coloring the oleo by squeezing and massaging a yellow pill inside its plastic bag

Monday, October 23, 2006

HIP-HIP-HORRAY

For over four years now our main-stream media have been leading the cheers for our enemy in the war on terrorism … from running a video of an American soldier being killed by an Iraqi sniper … to publishing secrets about U.S. tactics for surveiling enemy communications … to insisting that terrorists from around the world be given U.S. Constitutional guarantees … to judging American soldiers guilty of battlefield “crimes” before they even face military tribunals. Why? For the life of me I can’t explain it.

This is not the country I grew up in. During the Second World War, Ernie Pyle brought home the vicissitudes of the dogface GIs fighting our common enemies. He made them heroes by chronicling their day-to-day struggles and small individual conquests. Has such reporting happened in our war on terror? I don’t recall seeing one story about heroic actions by U.S. troops. Does this mean there haven’t been any? Even, Pat Tillman, who was killed in Afghanistan, after leaving the NFL and volunteering for combat, was only fleetingly a hero – until it was discovered that it was friendly fire that did him in. Then he was universally characterized by the media as being misguided or even stupid for his act of patriotism.

Now that the Republicans are poised to lose some of their political clout in the upcoming elections, I wonder if the mainstream media will keep up their assault on patriotism? Probably … at least until there is a Democrat in the White House. Then, the critical question would become: will our media giants pick up their pompoms and once again cheer for our side?

Friday, October 20, 2006

WRONG WRIGHT

Now that I have been identified as a “Dartmouth Blog,” I feel obliged to weigh in on the proposed new Dartmouth Constitution. It now seems clear to me that the motivation for these Constitution changes was the election of the three “upstarts” to the Board of Trustees. Why is this so bad? The new Constitution supporters’ rational for their unilateral change in the ratification proportion -- 2/3rds vs. 3/4ths -- is a little soft given that the US requires 3/4ths of the states to ratify any amendments to our nation’s constitution. Changing a constitution is, by its nature, a very serious matter. Also, the proposed change of one Trustee nominee versus multiple petition candidate nominees reverses the prior nomination-process complaint. If it was unfair then, why would it be fairer if it were reversed under a new Constitution? There are other disturbing elements to this Constitution situation, but I will let them slide for now.

My perception (and, I believe, that of many other alums) is that the root of the current fracas is President James “Diversity” Wright (and his three predecessors … yes including Kemeny … but maybe not McLaughlin). To me Pres. Wright is a one-trick pony. I have yet to read anything he has written that seriously ranges into any of the other facets of a liberal-arts education. I once asked him at a luncheon in Hanover why Dartmouth didn’t have more Rhodes, Fulbright, and other senior honors scholars. His response was stupefying … he said he didn’t want students, who tried for such honors and failed, to have this failure define their Dartmouth experience. One has to conclude that the Dartmouth Trustees have plotted the route that Wright has been following. Therefore, again to me, I see the Trustees as not acting in the best long-term interest of our college. Thus, I welcomed the election of the upstarts and still do. I never believed that the Board of Trustees would be “taken over” by these upstarts … but that they would start asking the tough questions that I felt needed asking.

Have these upstarts been so inconvenient as to warrant such an extraordinary act as changing our Constitution? After all, “diversity” should also mean a diversity of ideas. We have, unfortunately, seen what self-perpetuating Boards have done to neuter corporate governance over these last few decades.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

THE un

The United Nations can’t seem to resolve the issue of which country will be the next South American representative on the Security Council. The General Assembly has been unable, after multiple votes over these last days, of generating a 2/3rds majority vote for either Venezuela or the U.S.-backed Guatemala. This, despite the fact that the Venezuelan president, Hugo Chavez, in his speech to the General Assembly a few weeks back, called the U.S. president, George Bush, “the devil." He spiced up this insult by saying that the podium (from which he spoke) still smelt from sulfur because Bush had spoken there the day before. The General Assembly’s vote has vacillated from a tie to numerous small advantages to both Guatemala and Venezuela.

This means that at least half of the United Nation’s General Assembly countries (over ninety of them) find nothing wrong with Venezuela’s behavior and its consequential unsuitability for sitting on the august Security Council. What a sad day for this institution! The U.N. was founded with lofty objectives after WW2 by those who believed in world government … as a panacea to the world’s continuing belligerence. Now this body seems to stand for nothing but its own self perpetuation. Its members live the life of Riley … staying in the best four-star hotels, eating at the best restaurants, traveling first-class everywhere, immune from most laws, skimming from the vast flows of cash flowing through its coffers, and accomplishing nothing … if not less. It is un-democratic, un-effective, un-savory, un-representative, un-ethical, un-accountable, un-cultured, un-talented, un-managed, un-important, and un-sustainable.

It’s the un-.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

ACTIVISTS ASTRAY

The Boston Globe recently had a story about a pet shop in Cambridge that was torched, apparently by animal activists, who spray painted "No more exploitation of animals" on the store front. As a result more than two dozen exotic reptiles were barbequed rather than getting their morning ration of feeder mice.

This story imagines that the following groups could also be losing sight of their mandates:

- Save the Whales activists have been trapping these behemoths on their annual migration paths so that they might be encased in large blocks of Lucite.

- People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) members have been sensitivity-training slaughter house workers to say a prayer for each animal they dispatch.

- The Hemlock Society associates have been planting these conifers in most cemeteries.

- The North American Man Boy Love Association (NAMBLA) members have been sending appreciative valentines to accomplished male geography students and teachers throughout the American continent.

Monday, October 16, 2006

NIRVANA

Whenever I'm feeling bad, I just remember that Gerry Studds is being forced, at the point of a pitchfork, to service Eleanor Roosevelt for all eternity. (And the U.S. taxpayers are no longer funding his $114,000 a year pension.) Then I don't feel so sad.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Topple Koopel

Ted Koppel recently wrote an Op Ed in the NY Times, the gist of which was – let’s allow the Iranians to build a nuclear weapon and, “If a dirty bomb explodes in Milwaukee … the return address will be predetermined, and it will be somewhere in Iran.” All one has to do is to substitute “When a megaton nuclear weapon explodes in midtown Manhattan,” to realize how incredibly loopy this advice is. First, proving it was Iran would be next to impossible. Why not North Korea … or the KGB … or China … or even Pakistan? Second, the economic consequence of such a “bit” of terror would cost trillions and set this country back twenty years. We could not possibly deal a quid pro quo to Iran.

I am eternally glad that this doofus no longer has the nightly eyes and ears of our fuzzy-thinking public.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

FOLEY'S FOLLY

I recently listened to Mike Barnacle, on local talk radio, relentlessly bashing those who are pointed to Barney Frank, Gerry Studds, Bill Clinton, etc. as counterpoints to the Mark Foley imbroglio. And, as much as it raises my hackles, I have to admit that, in a way, he is right. That old adage “two wrongs don’t make a right” is pertinent here. The fact that Gerry Studds buggered a 17-year old Congressional page … and then turned his back on the House of Representatives when they censured him … and then was re-elected five times … is not an excuse for … nor does it diminish Mark Foley’s despicable conduct.

What IS pertinent however is how these above individuals (and many others of all stripes) have participated in changing the culture in Congress, in the media, and in our country. By a “changing the culture” I mean that many of our old societal taboos regarding deviant behavior have been kicked to the curb. I am not focusing just on pop-culture promiscuity, but also on child pornography, on sedition, on drug and alcohol abuse, on lying (or, as it is now called, “spinning”), on “dirty tricks”, on bribery, on compulsive gambling, and on immorality of almost every stripe. This change in our culture is, in fact, the responsibility of ALL of us, both Democrat and Republican, both homosexual and heterosexual, both black and white, both male and female. We have not only allowed this to happen, but have been frequent active participants in its relentless progress.

I don’t mean to sound like the Taliban recruit, but I do believe that the coarsening of our culture is real and can be argued to be a vector in the downfall of Mark Foley. Mark Foley’s amazing recklessness in his contacts with Congressional pages, I believe, came about because he believed he was immune to any consequences. And this feeling of immunity had to evolve out of how our culture has reacted to a series of indiscretions and outright crimes by politicians, entertainers, and other “personalities.” Rap artists can brag about being cop killers, a former President can call our current President a liar, another former President can diddle a female intern in the oval office with a cigar, “personalities” can make sex tapes to the benefit of their careers, movie stars can exhibit blatant religious intolerance, and 36% of our society can believe that our government blew up the World Trade Center buildings on 9/11.

Clearly, tastelessness, amorality, anti-social, and deviant behaviors did not begin in our lifetimes, nor are they going to end any time soon. And those who campaign for their elimination are misty-eyed Pollyanna’s. (I’m not doing that here.) However, the pendulum eventually will swing back to a position of less acceptance of such behavior. (Note how Foley now stands accused of having sex with a twenty-one year-old ex-page … conduct that is legal and has been accepted if not celebrated by the media in the past.) As this change progresses, there will be many, many more Mark Foleys who end up in the land-fill of history … wondering how and why it happened to them.

The Aesop lesson here is: Morality no longer drives politics … it is now politics that drives morality.