A site of satirical musings, commentary and/or rhetorical criticism of the world at large.

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Location: Southeastern, Pennsylvania, United States

Friday, March 30, 2007

Party Postponement

There has been some noise made in the media this year about how March Madness drains worker productivity. It appears that many tasks come to a standstill as people watch, chart, debate and cheer on the college basketball championships. What if the situation were reversed and it was March Madness that had to work around another event. Thus, my open letter.

To Whom It May Concern on the Executive Committee of the NCAA:

Good afternoon all.

I realize that you must be terribly busy this weekend what with the sweet sixteen paring down to the elite eight or whatever in college basketball, but I was wondering if you could postpone this weekend’s activities. Here’s my dilemma.

A friend of mine was going to have a party while the Final Four of college basketball was playing. There would have been food, beverages (soft and otherwise), two or three televisions on hand to watch the games, and live entertainment between games. A great time was promised for all.

Well, there has been a glitch with the live entertainment portion of the festivities: one of the female wrestlers came down with the flu. The party had to be cancelled, but I was wondering if you could possibly postpone the games that would have been played until we can reschedule the party.

I realize that this is a big request what with players, coaches, college officials, and fans already in their respective cities for the their games. I hope it won’t be too much trouble to call them all back to their homes and reschedule the games for a later date.

I’ll let you know when we reschedule the party. Thanks!

Or, maybe not.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Broadway on Broad Street: "Spamalot"

Watching a play on Broadway is always an unforgettable experience. The train trip to New York is always fun for Anne Marie and I, as is the thrill of seeing a live performance by a famous actor. These are the positives. The negative part of the experience is the narrow 19th century seats are too small for our expansive 21st century butts, and the location of the seats themselves. We’re not rich folk and so the only seats that we can afford are usually above the tree line, where only mountain goats are known to exist.

With all this in mind, we waited until Monty Python’s Spamalot came closer to us. So we give up the luxury of seeing a famous actor by seeing a touring version of the play, in this case at Philadelphia’s Academy of Music. The train ride is shorter, the seats are most likely just as narrow, but the mountain goats in the upper-upper balconies are usually more agreeable in Philly.

This musical is based on the film Monty Python and the Holy Grail, which, depending on how you look at it, could be seen as a farce about historical epics, or a satire about those who make historical epics. The musical version, Spamalot, not only targets history and those that record it, but also the Broadway musical and those that produce them. The Pythons have never abided by the laws of comedy, and why should they start now!

Perhaps a short explanation of self-conscious realism is in order. All dramas --regardless if comedy, tragedy or history -- are bound by the three walls of the set. Then there is the invisible fourth wall through which the audience is invited to look through. Self-conscious realism breaks through the fourth wall, destroying the illusion of the theatre-going experience, but also creating a new dimension of interaction with the audience. On many occasions, Monty Python has not only torn down this fourth wall, but also done away with the first three walls as well.

How else do you explain this story that starts with the King of the Britons gathering brave men for his Round Table at Camelot, embarking on a quest for the Holy Grail, veering left on a quest to stage a Broadway musical, veering again for a quest to find Jews to stage the Broadway musical, then coming back to the original goal which was...okay, now even I’m lost in The Very Expensive Forest. Along the way, there are battles with taunting French people; killer rabbits; the Black Knight who doesn’t know when to say die even after losing all of his limbs; other knights with an obsession for shrubbery, and conquer the most important danger of all: loneliness. King Arthur and his knights are, in the end, triumphant over all of their adversaries.

Yes, Spamalot can be silly, but it is magnificently silly. Python fans have come to expect this over the years, and this latest incarnation doesn’t disappoint them. The only regret I have is spending a short amount of time in this farcical fantasy, just to return to the harsh outside world where the global situation is very silly indeed.

As always, keep looking on the bright side of life, and don’t be afraid of strange knights who say the word Ni! Also, don’t feed the goats in the balcony. It turns out they’re not as agreeable as I first thought.

Saturday, March 24, 2007

Kind Gentle Deutschland

Once again my life is being thrown off kilter because some of my own cherished beliefs are challenged by recent world events. In this case, the land of my ancestry, Germany, is showing signs of softening up. So far it is only an isolated incident and not a trend, but we must be ever vigilant to watch for more stories like this.

Basically, the story is a polar bear abandoned its cub, which has now been adopted by zookeepers at a German zoo. The keepers hand feed the bear, play with it, and entertain the cub by playing guitar music for it. I have seen news footage of the cub and I would describe him as “cute” and “adorable”.

Here is the problem: this nurturing of a wild creature less fortunate then ourselves is not stereotypical German behavior. This is not the Germany I’ve come to know and grown accustomed to in my lifetime. I know Germany as a dark, foreboding place with lots of beer and designs for world conquest. Granted, those damn Nazis probably contributed to my perception of the Fatherland, but it is a feeling with which I’m comfortable.

Don’t get me wrong about the cub; I’m happy that it has found a nice home with the zookeepers. I just hope the keepers know what they are getting into. Will they be able to take him home with them once he’s grown? I doubt it. It may get to the point where they will have to keep him at the zoo when they leave at the end of the day. This could lead to all sorts of mental issues for the cub.

I can just imagine what would happen if I brought this cub home:

Dear Diary,
Cubby came home today and he is so precious. He ran up and down the stairs and played with our cats, Stephen and Meredith! I think they will get along well.

Six months later:

Dear Diary,
Cubby ate Stephen and Meredith today! I can no longer consider him “cute”, “precious”, or even “adorable”.

Ah, but there is hope on the horizon for this story. An animal rights activist, who most likely wants to see the cub released back into the wild, doesn’t believe this coddled lifestyle with guitar serenades is good for the cub. The activist is advocating that the cub be euthanized.

Okay, perhaps “hope” was the wrong word to use in that last paragraph. Putting the cub down would be sad, but it would restore my faith in stereotypical German behavior. Yes, this is more like the Germany I know. A land where if you answered a knock on the door in the middle of the night, you would never be seen again (or so my father told me). This business of a kinder, gentler Deutschland just doesn’t jive with my view of the world. Somebody has to be the bad guy in the world, and in my lifetime that somebody has always been the Germans.

I am hoping for a very happy ending to this story, even though it may mean that it turns out to be anti-German. I hope the cub will be allowed to live to maturity. I also hope the activist is mistaken for a harp seal and clubbed to death by Canadian seal hunters. I don’t normally wish a violent death on anyone, but I can’t help it. It’s the German in me!

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Chopping Out

We had our third snowstorm of the winter last weekend, and I hope it is the last. None of these storms had any huge accumulation, but this last one was a remarkable pain-in-the-butt since most of it fell as sleet and not a nice, powdery snow. It started Friday morning and ended sometime overnight. We woke up Saturday morning to four inches, which was composed of alternate layers of ice, snow, and more ice.

We had been able to push and shovel the previous snows out of our driveway, which I believe is a hundred feet or so long. Those snow jobs were no problem. I stepped outside on Saturday morning and tried to shovel this crap. No go! This hard crust of frozen water would not budge without being chopped and scraped away.

I did as much as I could before I got too cold. The best I could do was to clear two patches in front of each of our garage doors. Each patch measured about three feet by five feet. This job would take awhile if I had to do it by myself. I went inside, warmed myself up and dropped a none too subtle hint that the job would go faster if two of us came out. Anne Marie was more than happy to help.

Once back outside, we decided to prioritize our efforts and concentrate on the very front of our driveway, which had been plowed shut by PennDOT. Here the snow and ice resembled the peaks and--I swear--reached the heights of the Himalayas. This contrasted nicely with the smooth white glassy surface of ice on the rest of our driveway. We alternated between chopping, scraping, pushing and shoveling. I would chop, rest, and catch my breath while she worked the shovel. Then I would start chopping again and repeat the process.

Anne Marie was a real trooper throughout this job. Not only did she risk an asthma attack by staying in the winter cold air for an extended period of time, but she also had to listen to me while I struggled with my part of the task. Here is a short sample of my monologue to which she was subjected:

“Come on, son-of-a...grunt...I have to rest...pant, pant, toes are cold...grunt...let me rest for a minute...pant, pant, pant...I need to get a drink...grunt...I’ll be back...” - and so on. Okay, so I whine a little.

We worked the driveway until our arms and palms ached. We cleared a patch about ten feet wide at the front, enough to give us traction if we needed to pull out on our busy street. As for the rest of the driveway, we decided to let the sun and the predicted warmer temperatures do their work. We figured our driveway would be clear by Wednesday, which coincidentally, would be the first full day of spring. This season change couldn’t come soon enough for us.

Naturally, fate has a way of repaying me for my whining. Since this sleet and snow has covered our property, I have been very successful in walking slowly on the icy crust without falling. Monday night, on a dry kitchen floor, I lost my footing and ended up on my butt. Go figure!

Friday, March 16, 2007

Blood Work

As a heart patient, I am obligated to get blood drawn for an upcoming appointment with my cardiologist. It breaks the usual daily routine of waking up, exercise on the bicycle, showering, dressing and eating breakfast. I have this routine down to where I can accomplish all this in two hours from the time I wake up to the time I actually leave for work.

However, when it comes to blood work, you are placed under certain restrictions. For one, you must fast for 8-12 hours before the blood is drawn. Breakfast must be postponed at least until the lab vampires do their work. It is for that reason that most people needing the work done go first thing in the morning so they can eat and get their day started. This also explains why it is so crowded at the lab at 7:00. I’ll bet that the lab workers get bored out of their minds once the initial rush is over.

I used to get around the fasting dilemma by eating a huge dinner the night before. There were several options open to me in my neighborhood, but suffice it to say that I have never met a Chinese buffet I didn’t like. The problem was this would skew my cholesterol numbers way up.

This would drive my cardiologist crazy! He couldn’t figure out why my numbers were so high since he had me taking at least five different medicines. For some reason, one of my darkest thoughts has always been to see if I could push a cardiologist into cardiac arrest just from him looking at my lab results. There’s no particular reason for this; I just want to see if I could do it. Anyway, my first cardiologist retired a few years ago. The last I heard he was photographing the mountain scenery of New England.

I don’t pig out the night before anymore, preferring to eat dinner as late as possible. This gives me better numbers, but now the problem comes after the test. I don’t mind the prick of the needle, unless the lab technician can’t find a good vein. At times like this I’m tempted to say, “Yo, babe! Try under the skin!” Since the lab opens up at the same time I’m due to be at work, I feel compelled to make up for lost time once the lab is finished with me. Also, since I’m hungry, I feel I must multi-task and eat my breakfast during my now frantic commute.

I’ve had years of experience in this commute. When I lived in Virginia and the job was forty minutes away in Maryland, I would get my blood drawn and race to work. This involved downing an egg Mc-something and/or a Bavarian cream donut and coffee with one hand, while speeding down the Capital Beltway, over the Woodrow Wilson Bridge and up to Landover. I’ve come to the conclusion that this is probably not a very heart-healthy activity and I’m sure four out of five cardiologist would never recommend it.*

Today was another of these days. This is the only time I buy a fast breakfast food, when I’m taking the blood test. This all strikes me as ironic since the whole point of the test is to monitor my cholesterol levels to keep me healthy, then I jam an entire month’s quota of cholesterol into my veins within five minutes of the test. It doesn’t make much sense, but this is the procedure we’re reduced to performing in order to meet all of our daily obligations.

* The fifth cardiologist didn’t answer the survey. He was busy photographing the scenery in New England.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

The Gasoline Holiday

In the not too distant future, perhaps as early as this summer, the following conversation may be heard on countless phone calls to employers all over the country:

“Hello, boss, yeah, I won’t be able to make it in today. I have no gas in my car and no more money to buy any until I get paid again. I can’t afford to come to work today. So, I’ll just take today off.”

With gas prices rising now, the annual seasonal fluctuation in the price of oil/barrel, and stagnating employee wages, this scenario could play out hundreds of thousands of times each day.

How big business will respond to this new phenomenon will depend on each individual company. Many companies may charge this event as an unexcused absence, which would leave the employee even more short-changed for the next paycheck, and aggravating the problem. It would become a wicked cycle of calling in with no means to pay for fuel, taking off, getting penalized, and calling in again week after week. This would keep happening until the employee had nothing in their paycheck, or until the employer gets fed up with the cycle and fires their butt.

Some companies may allow the employee to use such days against their annual vacation allotment, or as a personal day. These would be the lucky employees. Unfortunately, there is only a limited number of such days available to each employee and it would not take long for those days to be used up.

There are, of course, solutions to avoid this cycle. People could budget their paychecks and set aside an astronomical amount of money to pay for their gasoline for the week. Of course they wouldn’t have money for such luxuries as mortgage and food, but damn, there would be a full tank of gas in the guzzling SUV!

Of course, there is still public transportation, but this is not always ideal either. For one thing, it still requires money to board a bus or train, and if our poor hero doesn’t have money for his own gas, then he certainly doesn’t have it for the train. Consider also that the public transit companies have to pay the same fuel prices that drivers do. Couple this with less government support (from the Bush administration on down to the state and local levels) and the transit agencies have no choice but to raise their fares. Higher fares still make driving to work more least for now.

There is also the time factor in taking the bus or train. If I took a bus to work, it would take at least 75 minutes compared to my more direct commuting time of 20 minutes. This is not exactly an efficient use of my time. I’m sure all the employers reading this can appreciate that fact.

If these trends continue – gas prices going up, and wages going south – then it may pay for many folks to consider working from home. I don’t foresee this revolution happening for another 20 or 25 years. In the meantime, we may have to consider the merits of the gasoline holiday.

Oh dear! Is that my fuel gauge pointing at E? I think I feel a day off coming on...

Friday, March 09, 2007

Icebergs and the USS George W. Bush

Another embarrassment for the Bush administration reared its ugly head this week with the disclosure of deplorable conditions at Walter Reed Army Hospital in Washington, DC.

This week, Congress jumped in with several committees holding hearings, and Bush himself appointed a bipartisan committee to investigate the problem. Many members of Congress and the military brass have been appalled at the disclosures, although several members of Congress are baffled by this reaction. The baffled members saw this problem several years ago, but no one wanted to listen to them.

I already know what conclusions will be drawn from the investigations and I can guess what the outcome will be. Congress and the commission will most likely find that the horrible conditions at the military hospitals were caused by budget cuts necessitated by Bush’s tax cuts. The outcome will be a lot of bluster from the White House about responsibility, and how we must see that it doesn’t happen again, and then nothing will be done.

If you don’t believe me, see Hurricane Katrina. There are still people in New Orleans waiting for their homes to be rebuilt, despite the promises.

A few members of Congress have wondered aloud if the conditions at Walter Reed have also cropped up at other veteran’s hospitals around the country. They have compared the Walter Reed problem to the tip of an iceberg. I like this metaphor, and I believe the Democrats in Congress will use it to their advantage every chance that they get.

Many people will cry foul that someone will see some political gain from this scandal, but all is fair in politics. After all this is the nature of the culture inside the Beltway. The Bush regime had plenty of warning about the military hospitals and they chose to ignore the problem.

I can furnish a personal example of how the Bush administration has regarded this country’s veterans. During his last few years, my father would go to the VA hospital in Wilkes-Barre, PA on a regular basis. He was treated for a variety of ailments, and at the end of each visit he would be scheduled for his next appointment automatically. Then, after the budget cuts took effect, the automatic scheduling of the next appointment was replaced with the doctors telling him, “Well, if you have any problems, call us for an appointment.” Granted his experience can’t compare with the horrible conditions veterans are experiencing at Walter Reed, but I can’t help wondering about the difference in Dad’s treatment pre- and post-budget cuts. Would the doctors have found his cancer earlier if they had kept to their regular schedule of appointments?

Now for the political fallout: Dad was a life-long Republican until 2004. I think the budget cuts to the Veterans Administration and the growing body count in Iraq turned him off of the GOP. I would like to believe that he voted Democrat for what would be the last election of his life. To be honest, I don’t know how he voted, but I can imagine that his switching parties was a major decision in his life.

So, yes, President Bush, those are the icebergs of political scandal off the starboard bow, flowing quietly towards the Oval Office, and inflicting political damage beneath your administration’s waterline. Your budget cuts on so many domestic programs have hurt so many people from New Orleans to military hospitals across the country. The disabled veterans sitting in their hospital rooms deserve better, and frankly, so did my Dad.

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Ann and The F Word

Well, Ms. Coulter, you’ve stuck your foot in your mouth again. Do you realize how unladylike putting your foot in your mouth is? It’s also not very safe, particularly if you don’t take your shoes off first and those long stiletto heels pierce your cheeks. It’s also unhealthy because you never know where those shoes have been.

You did it using language that I would never use. In my opinion, the word you used is just as offensive as the “n” word. Obviously you live by a different standard.

I hope my addressing you as Ms. doesn’t offend your traditional conservative keep-em-barefoot-and-pregnant-in-the-kitchen-sensibilities. If it does, too bad! You have offended liberals (not that you care) for so long that it’s about time you felt the sting of political backlash. I find it interesting that the protests are not only coming from liberals, but also from your beloved target conservative audience.

You have in the past called Bill Clinton and Al Gore “faggots”; now you’ve extended this label to John Edwards as well. I have to wonder, as I’m sure many other people are also wondering, how you conclude that these men are what you say they are. We should probably set down a more correct definition of the word that you are throwing around with such careless abandon.

Without consulting a dictionary – that would be a very big book with lots of words telling you what they mean, Ms. Coulter – I will furnish my understanding of the word “faggot.”

It is my understanding that this is a slang term, considered derogatory, for a homosexual male. I’ve never heard it used in reference to gay females, although I realize that there are a few other terms equally derogatory for lesbians.

Let me guess how your dictionary defines this word: slang term referring to any liberal twit who disagrees with my narrow-minded, intolerant conservative point-of-view. Would this be correct, Ms Coulter? My, there certainly must be a lot of “faggots” in this country. If you’re determined to out each and every one of them, then you had better get busy.

Of course, there are drawbacks to your campaign of going around the country and outing people who disagree with you. Your actions do discourage civilized debate on the problems our country faces, but don’t let the fact that this is one of the principles on which this country was founded stop you. Your actions also embarrass your conservative brethren, making them look bad and foolish, and perhaps unelectable for high office...hmmmmm.

No, on second thought, you go girl! Keep on keeping on! Sure, we’ll react with anger, and we may even throw a pie in your face once in awhile. Then you should be grateful if that’s all we do. After all, a pie must taste better than shoe leather.

Thursday, March 01, 2007

Dead Celebrities, or Is Anna Nicole Smith Still Dead?

We’re only two months into 2007, but I can say that we already have a chic trend for this year. Each year brings something big – an object, an action, or some movement —which becomes so popular that that year becomes identified with the trend. For instance, 1974 was the year of the streak. Beanie Babies were the thing to possess in 1995, just as everyone had to have a Cabbage Patch Doll in 1983. I think that 2007 will be remembered as the year “It Took A Long Time to Bury Dead Celebrities”.

Former President Gerald R. Ford started the movement when he passed away just after Christmas. I believe a full ten days elapsed from his passing to when his body lay in state in California, then transported to Washington, where he lay in state again for a few more days, then transported to his home state of Michigan, where he lay in state yet again, and finally burial. It may take you another ten days just to read that last sentence, but take your time and pause at the commas. Catch your breath and I’ll see you in the next paragraph.

Ford is luckier than James Brown. The hardest working man in show business died on Christmas Day, and he still isn’t in the ground yet! Last week I heard that his burial would happen in days, but the family wouldn’t say where or when the event would happen. I’m thinking that it got delayed again.

Ah, but coming up fast on James Brown’s heels is Anna Nicole Smith. Just when everyone thought that the court had ordered her body to be buried in the Bahamas, her mother steped in again with another lawsuit. Personally, if I ruled the world and it were up to me, I would have Anna buried in the Bahamas next to her son, and have grandma buried in Texas, pronto, or as soon as possible if not sooner. I realize it make take a while to bury Anna Nicole’s mom, particularly since her death hasn’t happened yet. Still, this is just a formality. I don’t think the fact that she will continue to jump out of the coffin and run around the church during the service should stop us from burying her as quickly as possible.

Of course if she died, then her burial may not happen at all. She would be the latest dead celebrity kept on ice while some lawyer somewhere in the world files a writ or a suit or whatever to keep her burial from happening. It’s strange that the dead get more respect in the world than the living. Go figure!

This trend would not be complete without exploitation from the media. It just occurred to me that the scene of Anna Nicole's mom trying to elude the mourners at her funeral would make great television! I’m surprised that the Fox Network hasn’t jumped on this yet:

“Yes, coming soon to your living room, the most intense competition of the year, which dead celebrity will get buried first? You vote, America! It’s up to you! With your host, former Spanish dictator, Generalissimo Francisco Franco!”*

*If you don’t understand that line, kids, then may I suggest you view Saturday Night Live, The First Season, available now on DVD!