Wednesday, May 30, 2007

A Lesser-Known Baseball Curse (updated 6/3)


You can’t help but feel bad for Armando Benitez. The Mets just spell poison for him. When he was in their bullpen, fans groaned when he was called in, because…well, because he just sucked, to be plain and simple. He blew more saves than a Kryptonite-addled Superman. Then he was sent to the Yankees. And much more quickly than the Mets’ front office had, the Yanks wised up and traded him to Seattle. He was bounced back to the Mets for the remainder of the 2003 season (only God and Brian Cashman knows why), but we’d had enough and he was packed off to Florida. Then something happened to him. We call it the “reverse curse.” Seems that when a mediocre-to-bad player is traded by the Mets, often he has the season of his career. It took getting out of New York for this to happen to him, And away from the fishbowl of the New York sports media, he shone, and came up with the lowest ERA of his career.

But every time he faced the Mets, something happened.

They knew how to get to him.

Unfortunately the reverse curse only seems good for a season, maybe two. And when Benitez wound up at San Francisco, every time he blew a save or walked in the winning run or just plain self-destructed, New York area reporters would say, “And Mets fans would have said, ‘we told you so.’”

Then the Giants came to Shea.

The pre-game coverage seemed to be dominated by one name – Bonds, Barry Bonds – and why he was sitting on the bench when nearly every Met fan with the transportation and the wherewithal had come to Shea to see the mega-man wield his bat, even if nearly every pitcher tries to pitch around him.

But it seemed like a pitchers’ duel broke out instead.

The two teams took a 3-3 tie into extra innings. When the Giants went ahead one run in the top of the twelfth, it looked like all was lost. While the Mets (I think) hold the record for extra-inning games, they don’t often win them. But this is a different Mets team this year. There seems to be something – and I hate to use this word – almost inevitable about them. From the camaraderie to the depth of their bench to the way they’re consistently winning, and that even when one of their big guns slumps, someone else picks up the slack.

But when the Giants called Benitez in to finish the game, hope in Shea sprang eternal once more. You have to thank Jose Reyes’ deadly speed on the bases - and the Mets’ knowledge of what rattles Benitez’s cage - for the tying run. He drew a walk, danced around threatening to steal, which unnerved Benitez enough so that he balked Jose to second. Endy Chavez sacrificed to move Reyes to third, and in a repeat performance, Armando balked in the tying run.

Then red-hot Carlos Delgado unloaded a walk-off homer – his second four-bagger of the night - to win the game.

And Armando, now 0-3 on the season, could do nothing but watch the ball sail over the fence, and his Mets’ curse continue.

Editor's note: Benitez was traded back to the Marlins last week. Let's hope he can get his groove back there.

Sunday, May 27, 2007

Memorial Race Day

I don’t know about you, but I can’t think of a more fitting way to show support for the men and women who gave their lives for their country than for 43 guys to climb into fireproof suits, don helmets, get installed into souped-up cars and race around an oval track for a few hundred miles.

Or, a few hundred miles north-northwest in Indianapolis, for 33 guys and gals (go, Danica!) to suit up and do the same.

Oh, but they do sing the “National Anthem” first (and Jim Nabors sings at Indy), so I guess that makes it all right. And they’ll probably all take a moment of silence to remember our fallen heroes while a squadron of F-18s flies overhead.

Yeah, OK, Husband is a big fan and I, while not quite that excited about NASCAR and Indy, have been known to sit down and watch for a few dozen laps, and have learned enough of the terms to impress the neighborhood guys.

But we always seem to let the actual meaning of holidays get lost in the shuffle. Yes, there’s the small town parade, the ceremonies, the laying of wreaths. Then we rush home to start the barbecue, watch the race, vegetate in front of the war movie marathon on TV, or just enjoy a day off from work.

Or, like all good Americans, we go to the mall.

I’m not saying we should sit shiva for the troops who made the ultimate sacrifice, but just take a moment to think about why you have the day off before you head to the beach or start warming up your credit card.

Because you know the media won’t. You’ll see coverage of war protests. And in the presidential race, you’ll see every single candidate get into a fireproof suit and…no, wait, that was the other race. But you’ll see every candidate who can get his or her face in front of a camera lay a wreath and make a speech pontificating their views on the best way to support the troops.

But come on, wouldn’t you like to see Mitt Romney and Hillary and Obama get into Nomex suits and really race each other? The Repubs could bump-draft each other to try to get the lead and you know Guiliani and Clinton will be trading paint until the checkered flag.

Damn straight it would be more fun to watch than the debates.

Friday, May 25, 2007

On Being An “01”

A couple months back, Husband and I were forced, due to the termination of my COBRA benefits, to search for alternative health insurance that one, wouldn’t bankrupt us; and two, would cover most of our needs.

We found one, a stripped-down version of our “current” HMO, offered through the state of New York at about half the price of a “standard” HMO for individuals. It didn’t offer mental health coverage, but if we wanted health insurance, we had no other choices.

After much research and many phone calls to this company, I decided that it would be in our best interest to buy the insurance under the aegis of our being sole proprietors. Doing this would give us, supposedly, more benefits for the same price as if we bought it as individuals. And as I was just starting up as a freelancer and Husband was a well-established sole proprietor, we applied for the insurance under his name.

At the time, I had no problems with this. For a variety of reasons, and for some, who the hell knows why, some household bills and investments are primarily in his name and some are primarily in mine. It just worked out that way.

But the insurance, as I’d been the one with the steady jobs, was always in my name.

We even had our first problem with the HMO, which had to do with which prescription drugs were covered and which weren’t (it will require another blog to vent about this). And all during those phone calls, when every time another person picked up the line I was required to supply my account number, it didn’t bother me that the insurance was in Husband’s name.

Until this morning.

The prescription drug coverage argument eventually came down to my doctor being required to submit a preauthorization letter to the HMO so that the certain drug they wouldn’t cover would be covered.

I’d talked to my doctor’s assistant about it yesterday afternoon and she agreed to do it, except that this morning she called back and needed my new ID number. After I read it off to her, she said, “Are you the 00 or the 01?” Meaning was I the primary carrier on the insurance or the “domestic partner,” as they so politically correctly called it.

I felt my shoulders sag. “I’m the 01,” I said.

I’m the 01. I know, it really means nothing. Just like it means nothing that his name appears over mine on our mortgage and I’m the “junior owner” on our investments.

But at the time, assigned a number that put my name below my husband’s, I became “the wife.” Subordinate. Dependent. In the kitchen with my pearls and apron.
And for about ten seconds, I hated it. I hated the position I know felt myself boxed into by that one little digit.

I’ve struggled with “the dependency thing” since I lost my source of steady income. And I thought I was, if not completely OK with it, at least arriving at some sort of peace within myself.

I guess I’m not quite done yet.

But, just like Patrick McGoohan always says in the intro to “The Prisoner,” I am not a number. I am a human being. One that might have to have my name below my husband’s for a while, but still, a human being.

But, for the sake of computer records, you can just call me “01.”

Just don’t ever expect to see me in the kitchen wearing pearls and an apron.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

False Idols

Call me a cheap entertainment junkie (just don't call me "cheap"), but I couldn’t help myself last night from watching most of the “Idol” finale (or final “reject” show, or whatever the heck they call it), while flipping back and forth between the Mets/Braves and Yankees/Boston games, of course.

And every time I saw Melinda singing, I couldn’t help but think, “Honey, it should have been you.” I imagine that’s what one of the Wynans (BeBe or CeCe, I don’t know which is which) might have been whispering in her ear as they were hugging her after their number.

Yes, Jordin isn’t that bad and Blake, although he doesn’t have the best voice, kicks ass with that beat-boxing thing, but neither of these kids deserved to be in the final two.

Husband says I need to get over this, and Melinda will get lots of work, and she’ll be fine.

And I know it’s just a dumb reality show designed for maximum eyeballs, hang the actual purpose of the thing, but still. I guess it’s just this stupid overdeveloped sense of justice that I can’t seem to shake. And, after all, haven’t the judges been (attempting to) get across all season that this is a SINGING competition?

Problem is, as I’ve mentioned before, the power of this show is in the hands of twelve-year-old girls, all with their own cell phones.

And I wouldn’t blame Simon if he didn’t return next season.

Now back to the actual show. Was it my imagination, or should this have actually been called The Carrie Underwood Show? She had, what, three numbers and an award presented to her?

But it was a kick to see Gladys Knight and Smokey Robinson out strutting their stuff.

I could have done without Sanjaya screeching with Joe Perry, though. Poor Joe. I guess he didn’t mind the publicity (and they probably paid him pretty well), but I can imagine he was cringing as that overblown Fauxhawk butchered every note of Aerosmith’s music.

But I suppose I shouldn’t cry too hard for Melinda. Besides Carrie, how many other “Idol” winners have been more than the flavor of the month?

OK, Fantasia’s on Broadway, but beside that?

Out of all the Idol finalists, Clive Davis announced last night, it’s breakout (and rejected) Idol finalist Chris Doughtry who got the last laugh: his album made more money this year than any other artist (not just Idol artists but ALL artists), and it’s been in the Top Ten for the last six months.

Take that, you Idol voters.

So I guess no matter who gets elected (or selected, according to your political view), good old capitalism will out.

And wasn’t that the original intent of Idol? To find talent that will make the producers a lot of money?

I suppose I shouldn’t be too upset.

After all, I don’t make any money off of it. And I might even have to part with some, when Melinda Doolittle puts out her first album.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Popeye Was Wrong

Have you noticed that whenever the Food Police looks at a new study, however faulty, and pronounces a particular food “good” or “bad” (Chocolate cures cancer! Coffee prevents diabetes!), that the media runs with it faster than you can say antioxidant?

Then a massive public relations campaign ensues – the Avocado Board or the National Associated of Dairy Farmers or the American Cabal of Salty Snack Food Pushers – educating the previously ignorant public that if they only had five or six servings of their particular food each day, then they’d live to be a hundred and get a better job and have to fight sexy young things off their doorsteps with broom handles?

Worse is if the study (Ten eighteen year old male college freshmen were studied over a two month period and it was found that a steady diet of pizza and video games not only cured depression but improved their hand-eye coordination and prevented unwanted pregnancies!) pinpoints a particular vitamin, mineral or nutrient.

Then, after the Food Police blankets the media with press releases, food processors start adding that vitamin, mineral or nutrient to their product. No matter how inappropriate, effective or just plain ridiculous that addition might be.

After fluoridation of drinking water, probably the earliest incident of dietary
“enhancement” would be enriched flours, then adding vitamins to processed dry cereals. Which on the surface seems appropriate, and even a good thing (hey, at least those finicky-eater kids are getting something nutritious with their Cap’n Crunch). But think about it: we process the living daylights out of perfectly good, healthy, whole foods, then supplement them with vitamins and minerals, then pat ourselves on the back for giving our families a “vitamin-enriched” diet. Problem is that some vitamins and minerals don’t like each other, and the proportions of nutrients added back into foods isn’t necessarily the proportion that works best as found in foods in their natural habitat.

Then they started messing with the orange juice. Folic acid was found to be good for pregnant women so it was added to the orange juice, but what nobody seemed to tell the women was that folic acid is a B vitamin that is meant to work in correct proportions with the other B vitamins, so who knows how much folate they would actually be absorbing.

Then calcium was the shiny new kid in town and that got added to the orange juice. Which seemed odd, but not totally ridiculous. For a time, I even drank it, as I’m sensitive to dairy products. But milk with added calcium? What, we had a boatload of calcium sitting in a warehouse that the Red Cross couldn’t give to some starving children? Kids are growing up in Africa with malformed bones and we’re adding CALCIUM to our MILK?

Somebody needs to be slapped for that decision.

Then antioxidants were our new savior. They were added to everything. Until it was determined that antioxidants on their own were shown not to prevent cancer.

Then it was soy.

And it went on like this for a while, and now, with the dietary news item that naturopaths and nutritionists have known for years, that Omega-3 fats (fish oils, canola oil, walnuts, flax seed, etc.) are better for you than trans-fats, the rage for Frankenfoods seems to know no boundaries.

You can now buy eggs with added Omega-3. Butter substitutes with fish oil. And on, and on, and on. I started to wonder, “Why bother eating food at all? Why not just wait until all of our daily dietary requirements are compressed into easily dispensed tablets, like in science fiction books and movies?”

But, for now, people still like to eat and feel much better knowing that their junk food of choice has some redeeming qualities.

OK, I can sort of live with that. For now, we still have free will and, except in Manhattan, can choose what we put in our bodies.

But something I saw recently really got my feathers ruffled. It was an ad in a women’s magazine, announcing “Diet Coke Plus…now with vitamins and minerals!”

Oh. My. God. Let’s take a product that can dissolve tooth enamel and remove rust from your bicycle chain and fortify it with vitamins and minerals that probably, once added to the can, don’t stand a chance of outliving Kevin Federline’s career.

Who thought this one up, the same people who brought us “Manimal?” (Google it, kids)

And anyway, where are the people who used to tell us that buying vitamin and mineral supplements was overkill because if we eat well, we’ll get all the nutrients our bodies need?

Either they’ve finally realized that our soils are depleted and our foods don’t have the RDA of vitamins and minerals that they once did in our great-grandparent’s day, or they’ve copped to the daily diet of the average American adult, which is composed of sugar, white flour and caffeine?

At least we can breathe a sigh of relief that the white flour is fortified with twelve vitamins and iron to make us strong.

And speaking of iron, Popeye had it all wrong. The oxalic acid in spinach counteracts the iron, making it just another green, leafy vegetable containing other nutrients, but don’t count on it when Bluto’s on the rampage.

For that, you’re just going to have to drink your folic acid and calcium-enriched orange juice.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

The Oldest Profession Should Have A Union

(Warning: this entry contains adult content)

Once again I’m behind on the news. But I’m remembering a little item that blipped into the headlines and then was wiped away by some disaster, some prominent death, some poorly chosen phrase uttered publicly by a public figure.

And that’s the case of the infamous DC Madame, who got caught doing business as such, and was forced to divulge her little book of names. I can only imagine who might have been on the list. One was, reportedly, a lower-ranking official in the Bush Administration. And there were probably other patrons of all political stripes. But as mentioned above, no further hoopla was whipped up in the media.

While pure animal (and writerly) curiosity at first made me wonder who had been frequenting one of Washington’s more prominent escort services – especially if said frequenter had been thumping his chest in the name of “family values” or whatever the politically correct police is calling it this week – I gave it another thought.

And my thought was this: why the uproar? Do I really care who patronized a prostitute inide the DC beltway? As long as it wasn’t paid for by my tax dollars, or rubbed in my face on national media during a months-long prosecutorial stand-off whereupon said patronizer covered up his little escapades, why do I give a flying fig (or fig leaf, as the case and penchant might be) who paid how much for whom?

And while we’re on the subject, why is it that the oldest profession, one that, unlike nearly all the others, has managed to escape the robotic arm of technology, is still illegal in 49 states of this country?

Why not simply legalize it throughout the land and let freedom ring? (and ring again, if you care to pay for a double session?)

Because aren’t those of us who support the right to abortion under the aegis of women having free reign over their bodies hypocritical if we don’t also support the right of women, who are of legal age and do so of their own free will, to legally charge for sexual services, should that be their chosen profession?

There are caveats to participation, of course. These “sex workers” should be licensed professionals (requirements for the licensing exam to be finalized by Bill Clinton, Hugh Grant and Heidi Fleiss among other distinguished members of a carefully selected panel of experts). They are to be of legal age and regularly screened for STDs and other health issues. They are to negotiate their services and fees in advance of each transaction. They are to be citizens of the US or immigrants with legal papers, pay taxes and have entered the profession of their own free will.

So who is getting hurt here?

Some might say that the sex workers are at risk being physically hurt by their customers, because the nature of the transaction puts them in a vulnerable position. But think about situations many people face every day where they could potentially be vulnerable to attack:

• Getting a massage
• A visit to the gynecologist or other health care professional
• Going into a dressing room of any store that features “free webcam coverage of your visit with each purchase”
• Trying to take Alec Baldwin’s picture

And consider at the advantages these “sex workers” could have, should their line of work be legally protected:

• No “pimps” to take their money and beat them up
• Health insurance, which would cover breast augmentation and other plastic surgery services as required
• A professional union that would protect their interests, offer training courses and set guidelines for fees. This union (National Personhood of Professional Sex Workers, Local #69) would also go to bat for its members should their jobs be threatened with outsourcing or faced with rate undercuts by other countries who don’t treat their workers fairly.
• Legal backing should a customer be physically harmed or die in the act
• A little respect, damn it

One might also posit that legalized prostitution could lead to the encouragement of adultery and the instability of the institute of marriage in general. But a married guy could slip off his ring and pick up an amateur, if he were so inclined. If a marriage is healthy, then the partners are most likely satisfied and wouldn’t seek outside recreation. If one party chooses to engage the services of a sex worker, then that should be between the married couple and the purchaser’s moral compass. And as far as divorce law goes, patronizing a sex worker would have the same punitive value as adultery. More so, if he’d spent Junior’s college fund getting his jollies with the freelancer down the street.

Professional sex workers could also become a profit center for the US government (after all, if what has been reported in the DC Madame’s book is true, members of Congress seem to be the highest patronizers of such services). Each transaction would be taxed, and the sex worker would fill out a Schedule C and other paperwork as required by any freelance professional.

So legalizing prostitution could be a win-win situation all around. Customers, especially prominent ones, win by not having their names plastered all over the media. The workers get professional training, status and protection. No more cargo-loads of pre-teen Chinese girls forced to work off their transport. No more girls trading their bodies for crack or getting beaten up after not providing enough of a cut to their “managers.” If a guy still needs that touch of the forbidden, he can just close his eyes and pretend he’s in Bangkok. Hey, these girls are professionals, after all.

And finally, it’s a legal way for women who are so inclined to pay for college, so they don’t have to suffer the humiliation of earning it by slinging overpriced burgers while wearing a Hooters uniform.

Or being a White House page.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Gilmores Swan Song

Yes, a few million eyeballs will be glued to Idol tonight, but for the last few weeks, quietly tip-toeing behind that monolith have been the last handful of Gilmore Girls’ episodes.

And tonight, we will see the last of Stars Hollow and its denizens. Unlike other shows that are splashed all over TV land just for ending their seasons, tonight’s “Gilmores” series finale is going down without an iota of fanfare. Just a few promos, a web site that might linger on until the Next Big Thing wipes it clean, and a sniffle or two from me.

Well, we’ll always have Paris Geller. On DVD, of course.

It’s weird. Some of you have chimed in before that either Gilmores isn’t worth the video it’s filmed on, or its seven seasons have passed by overrated, or just for too damned long.

But I’ve been a fan since the day, several years ago, when Husband called me over to the TV, flithered around finding something on a the VCR, then played a show that he promised I would love.

And I did. Compared to so much of the trash that passed for television, this was brilliant. The main characters and set-up were well drawn, the dialogue quick-paced and clever, and even the minor players (if you’d call talented veterans like Sally Struthers, Edward Hermann and Kelly Bishop minor) held up the rest of the fabric of the show flawlessly. It was…as if Dorothy Parker and Jane Austen had returned to life and collaborated on a TV series. And I was hooked ever since. Watching what I’d missed in syndication. Sneaking looks at the current seasons. And one by one, getting each season on DVD.

Yes, some seasons were better than others. And husband and wife creators/writers Amy and Daniel Palladino “jumped the shark” not after they left the series but the last season it was under their watch, in a plot line that still leaves me scratching my head. Why, why why why would diner owner Luke Danes, who’d adored Lorelai from the moment he met her, who was engaged to marry her for Pete’s sake, why, when he found out he had a pre-teen daughter from a long-buried relationship, why would he choose taking time to get to know his kid over marrying his beloved?

Stupid, stupid, stupid.

Anyway. Even the best of shows have their stupid moments.

So tonight, when you’re watching Idol (or whatever else it is that occupies your Tuesday evenings) think of me indulging in a little sniffle or two. And even if you didn’t like it, think also of the ground this show broke, and the faith a network took in an hour-long family comedy/drama that didn’t depend on clich├ęs, laugh tracks or cheap jokes to get an audience.

Let’s hope that after reality shows lose their luster (Will they ever, ever end? Except Survivor and Amazing Race, of course), some network will have the courage to return to entertainment like Gilmores.

Or, please, at least to more shows that require writers.

We need the work.

Monday, May 14, 2007

Like This Is Going To Help?

In a misguided attempt to curb a growing graffiti problem, my local city council just passed a law that would fine vendors $250 for the sale of spray pain to minors.

Get real, guys.

While an optimistic gesture, what have similar restrictions done to reduce underage drinking, smoking, attendance at R-rated movies or purchase of inappropriate video games?

And any law that punishes the enabler only serves to…well, punish the enabler. It does little if anything to stop those who commit the crimes from committing them over and over and over, and empowering them to, eventually, commit worse crimes.

Now, I’m not saying that Doom is a gateway drug. But if a kid gets away with tagging the wall behind the hardware store, then hunkers down with his buddies and a few beers some older kid or a fake ID bought for them, that only sends a signal that laws don’t apply to him and he can go ahead and do anything his moral compass allows.

Which will end up costing a hell of a lot more than $250.

How about trying to catch them instead? Here’s a clue: they smell like Krylon. They come out at night, and really, really seem to like broad, empty vertical spaces like sides of buildings and parked panel trucks. And they have to carry their spray cans in something. And often these containers are stained with overspray.

Which also smell like Krylon.

There’s something the police could train their K9 squad to sniff out. I know that the cops can’t be everywhere at once and I’ll raise many hackles if I even mention security cameras, but there are some more obvious graffiti magnets than others.

And instead of putting the blame on those who sell the stuff (who’s to say that all taggers are under 18, anyway?), put some effort into catching these kids in the act. Make them pay for the cleanup or sentence them to clean it up themselves.

Or, instead of condemning them as criminals, how’s this:

Give graffiti artists their due. Many of them are extremely talented, and many rap albums, etc. use graffiti in their designs. And who hasn’t seen or heard about the brilliant designs painted on New York’s #7 train? One episode of a past season of “The Apprentice” had as one task to direct the design of a graffiti mural that would sell kids on a particular video game. We celebrate other arts, why not recognize tagging for what it is? An attempt to make one’s mark. Have a festival for it. Hell, if there can be a festival in Woodstock, New York celebrating piercing and body art, why not a graffiti fest? Take a park, build some sturdy partitions, pass out the paint (in CFC free containers, of course), and let the kids at it. Give out awards. If the government is still funding arts in any way, create a program and start writing grants. Give out canvases. Let those who are so inclined express themselves. You never know where the next Picasso or Pollock will come from.

Maybe he’s lurking in front of the hardware store, waiting for a buddy to buy him some spray cans.

Saturday, May 12, 2007

Back In A Flash...

I'm on a brief hiatus while I prepare a few of my "greatest hits" for a writing contest.

Wish me luck, and perhaps you would like to peruse the work of some very talented and articulate bloggers by clicking the links on the right side of this page.

Type at you soon...

Op

Friday, May 11, 2007

Payback's A Bitch

I heard Vicky Burnett, a reporter for the International Herald Tribune being interviewed on NPR this morning, and she was talking about a recent trend in cocaine trafficking. Seems there’s a reduction in demand in the US (See, Nancy, those “Just Say No!” buttons are finally paying off…or we’ve discovered other, more fashionable ways to get high) so the goods (because it’s not exactly true that if demand dries up, supplies dry up….supplies are just marketed elsewhere) are now getting smuggled from South America to Europe. Another factor influencing the change in market patterns is the strength of the Euro against the American dollar.

But how, the NPR reporter asked, are cocaine traffickers getting through European restrictions?

Simple, Burnett said. They’re going through Africa. Certain countries with, say, a looser interpretation of the law and greedier warlords, such as Ivory Coast, Nigeria and others, have formed sophisticated syndicates that filter Bolivian marching powder from Latin and South America to the youth of Africa’s former colonial slavemasters. And Africa is rapidly becoming the hub for the American supply, as well.

Like I always say, karma is going to get you sometime. If not right away, in your next life. Or your next. Take that, White Man. It took a while, but I knew they’d find a way.

Meanwhile, in the US, we are funneling millions and millions of dollars to Africa, to help combat AIDS and feed the starving children. Bush promises new initiatives (read, “large sums of money that make him look good but could have helped people here”) for Africa. Even “American Idol” got into the act, showing starving African children crying into the cameras because their lives are so hard, while American kids sit on their ever-spreading rumps IM’ing each other and playing video games.

The warlords were probably watching that show and laughing their asses off.

I wonder how much of that money is actually going to the people who need it. If the children are getting fed, if they’re getting new schools and books, if the ones with HIV are getting medicine. Or if the warlords are just feathering their nests or buying Russian-made rocket launchers and automatic weapons and other armaments to protect their new drug interests.

And how would we ever know if any of the help is getting through? A camera, and the proper spin, can show anything. If the American right-leaning media can take an anti-war protest of, say, a thousand people or so and make it look like a hundred, what’s to say the warlords can’t make their own propaganda, and show a bunch of happy, shod children in a brand new school, show clinics where the HIV-positive are getting medication. Or coerce or pay them, like Sadaam Hussein used to do, to crowd into the streets with signs and raised fists, protesting European interference, when really, if they knew they could get away with it, any one of these men would strangle Hussein with their bare hands.

So how will we ever know the real story?

Perhaps this administration, and succeeding ones, should look more carefully at the goings-on in the countries to which they promise aid. And Sting, Bono, American Idol and the like should do the same.

And why aren’t our pop idols, with their power to draw money, doing their thing where it really counts – like giving the people of Iraq money to rebuild their lives, or helping draw more attention to the genocide in Darfur?

Or better yet, make them honorary Red Cross workers, and send them there. But we’d better be careful whom we send, because we might find some unintended cargo in their private jets.

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Welcome to Wal-Mart

I’ve always hated Wal-Mart. It’s no one thing, it’s all things making war on my senses at the same time: the lights, the noise of babies crying and registers blipping, the cavernous space, the long, glary aisles, the majority of the people who shop there.

If one were to write a nervous breakdown scene into a TV program or movie, it would have to be set in Wal-Mart. In that section where they have all the stuff to organize your closets, of course.

A woman once yelled at me there, called me the most horrible names, because all I did was try to protect her toddler son from a collision between two carts coming together at a perpendicular angle. Her husband later apologized, blamed her pregnancy hormones, but still.

Every time I go there it’s under duress.

And now I find out that I’m not alone.

A judge, according to the New York Post (and brought to my attention by fark.com), sentenced a woman who had shoplifted from Wal-Mart to stand outside the store (with her partner in crime) wearing this sign.

I don’t know what’s worse – having to wear the sign or being so desperate that you have to shoplift from Wal-Mart.

Well, at least she could have had a more severe punishment. She could have been made to wear a blue apron and be one of those people who greets shoppers.

Or she could be one of those people who are always been called upon to fix the self-checkouts.

Now THAT would suck.

Saturday, May 05, 2007

More Words….

Have you noticed lately that “global warming” has become “climate change crisis?”

This has got to be the fastest politically-correct switcheroo in history. We barely got the t-shirts and bumper stickers printed up before they went and changed the name on us.

I suppose it was to foil those people who saw hellish winters and cold springs and said, “I don’t see any global warming here!” You know, those “global deniers.” Which will probably make it into the dictionary pretty soon on its own.

And speaking of which, here are the most commonly used words on the web and in the media in 2006, from the Global Language Monitor: (descriptions are theirs)

1. Sustainable – Originally a ‘green’ term has moved into the mainstream meaning ‘self-generating’ as in ‘wind power is a sustainable power supply’. Can apply to populations, marriages, agriculture, economies, and the like. The opposite of ‘disposable’.

2. Infonaut – Those who blithely travel along the ‘infobahn’.

3. Hiki Komori – One million young Japanese men who avoid intense societal pressures by withdrawing into their own rooms (and worlds) rarely venturing outside.

4. Planemo -- Planets that didn’t make the cut in 2006 as sustainable planets. Pluto was demoted to a planemo.

5. Netroots -- The activists who have transformed the practice of fundraising and getting out the vote – through cyberspace.

6. Londonistan – Nickname for London as its Asian population swells.

7. Brokeback (Mountain)– A cultural phenomenon (Brokeback, Brokedown, etc.) with almost a million references to Brokeback jokes alone on Google.

8. Ethanol – Proxy for all things ‘green’ and energy independence.

9. Corruption – As in ‘Culture of’; analysis of mid-term elections suggests this was the key for the turnover of the House.

10. Chinese (adj.) – All things Chinese currently in ascendance.

Now taking your nominations for top words of 2007. My favorite so far is “carbon credit.” I’m waiting for the day when I’ll get a junk mail pitch for a carbon credit card.

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

This Idol Moment Brought To You By...

Idol Moment

Two things I was very happy NOT to see on American Idol Tuesday night were the prospect of Sanjaya screeching and hamming his way through a Bon Jovi tune, and any more of Simon Cowell’s chest hair.

One thing I was psyched about was that finally, finally, it was head-banger night on Idol. Not that I’m a big Bon Jovi fan (although I have been known to play air drums against my steering wheel and howl a bit when a Van Halen tune comes on the radio – pre-Sammy Haggar, of course) but I’d hoped something would come up that would give these kids a REAL challenge.

Some of them missed the mark (Jordin and her Gina/Sanjaya hair screaming through Living On A Prayer) and some of them kicked ass (A newly brunet Blake’s way-cool, way-out-there rendition of You Give Love A Bad Name, beat-boxing and all). And I was pleasantly surprised by Melinda and Lakisha, because I was thinking all through the show, how are they going to pull this off? As we’ve seen so many times before, it’s all in the song selection. Bon Jovi has done some softer ballads that the ladies could do justice to. And Melinda and Lakisha did it right (Melinda went with a newer tune, “Have A Nice Day” like a young Tina Turner, and Lakisha did This Ain’t A Love Song so proud after a string of poor choices that she got a kiss from Simon), while Jordin tried to muscle her way through something she loved but wasn’t up to singing…well, that’s the flip side of being seventeen.

My guess is that Chris (alias Timberfake) and Phil (good but not strong enough to keep up with this crew) might be packing their bags tonight. But I’ve been wrong before.

Now back to our regularly scheduled blog.

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This Call To The Bullpen Brought To You By…

It had to happen sometime. Already, at least in Met-land, whenever manager Willie Randolph decides he’s had enough of the pitcher on the mound (and always a batter or two too late), he picks up the dugout batphone that presumably connects him to the bullpen, and he tells the coach who to get up and throwing. And the announcers take the opportunity to plug a sponsor, by saying, “This call to the bullpen brought to you by Verizon.” (Or whoever happened to give the network more money in that particular season.)

And last night, in Yankee-ville, one of the boys in pinstripes stole second, and that steal was brought to you by…you might have guessed it by now…Lo/Jack.

I’m not kidding.

I can’t wait to see what parts of the game will go to the highest bidder next.

• Wild pitches or updates of scores around the league may be bought by Axe cologne…it’ll drive the ladies wild. Or Scott’s lawn products, so your lawn won’t grow wild.

• Double-headers, pitchers who make it through a whole game and inside-the-park homers could be sponsored by Viagra…they also go the distance.

• Pop flies will be sponsored by Pepsi, or Topp’s, even though they no longer put bubble gum in the packs of baseball cards.

• Triples brought to you by whichever fast food concern is selling the triple-burger-aorta-buster.

• This sacrifice comes to you courtesy of the IRS.

• Two-baggers by Victoria’s Secret.

• If a batter steps out of the box to readjust his cup…well, whatever formula relieves that particular itch could buy a game or two.

• Guy reaches first on a well-placed line drive to the outfield? Why be single when you could find your perfect mate on Match.com?

• If Viagra didn’t get its bid in time for the homer, then the Fox network could pony up a few bucks and have a little cartoon Homer Simpson trotting around the basepaths.

• Runs, of course, will be owned by Nike.

• A great catch? Any company that makes fishing gear. Or, again, Match.com.
• The pitcher gets the other team’s slugger to strike out in a key situation? Any number of male enhancement or grooming products could buy that moment.

• A fan is concussed by a stinging foul ball or a broken bat flying into the stands? This call to the hospital brought to you by Blue Cross.

• Rain delay? Plug the station’s weather report. Or Turtle Wax.

• Player needs a new bat? Plug whatever sequel to Batman is coming out that summer.

• Team won the big one? You can, too, if you buy a lottery ticket. This week’s jackpot is…probably not as much as the starting lineup makes in one game.