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

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Location: Southeastern, Pennsylvania, United States

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

The Governor and the Blanket Stereotype

The Keystone State, Pennsylvania, has long been thought to be populated by two very distinct groups of people. Geographically, there are two urban centers on the east side (Philadelphia) and west side (Pittsburgh) of the state. Many people living in these urban centers are by and large members of the working class (blue collar), but they do carry themselves with a more sophisticated air than those who live in between (the rural parts of the state). Some observers have likened the rural areas to Alabama, a southern state that has traditionally been thought of as backward and downtrodden.

This attitudinal geography lesson is important to keep in mind when we consider that the current governor of Pennsylvania, Ed Rendell, created a controversy several weeks ago when he was asked his opinion about the upcoming primary contest between Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton. His response was, “You’ve got conservative whites here, and I think there are some whites who are probably not ready to vote for an African American candidate.” I want to point out that the governor did not throw a stereotype racist blanket over the entire area. He did qualify his statement with the words ‘probably’ and ‘some’, as opposed to saying, “all whites will definitely not vote for an African American candidate.” Yet the criticism he has received makes you believe that that is exactly what he said.

Ironically, the harshest words have come from leaders within the African American community. Rendell’s rival for the governorship in 2006, former football star Lynn Swann, objected to the governor's words because they institutionalize racism. Too late, Mr. Swann; racism has been ingrained into American culture since the first Africans were brought to Jamestown in the 1600s. You should acknowledge, as some African Americans do, that Rendell’s words were correct. Some white voters will not vote for a candidate with a different skin color. Many of these voters could very well be members of a group we call the Ku Klux Klan. I assume that you have heard of this group, Mr. Swann? The Southern Poverty Law Center has identified 4 chapters of the Klan – among the 27 other hate groups - operating in this state.*

I’m baffled by this criticism. We encourage our elected officials to be honest with us and yet when they are – as Rendell was in this instance - they get pounced on. It almost appears that his critics have their heads in the sand when it comes to racism. I know this is not the case, but why are they so eager to come across with such a naïve attitude? Could they be conceding the point that racism is a part of human nature that can never be overcome, so we will instead attack the messenger to make it look like we’re doing something about it? I hope this is not the case.

I also don’t believe that the rural Pennsylvania/Alabama connection is 100% true, although there are some events that do make me wonder. For example, the mayor of Hazleton – Lou Barletta – announced his second attempt to unseat House of Representatives member Paul Kanjorski within the last few weeks. The mayor lept upon the national spotlight within the last year with his controversial (and to date struck down as unconstitutional) anti-immigration statute. As many of us may recall, his proposal would have penalized businesses and landlords who knowingly employed or housed illegal immigrants.

The proposal was a disaster for his city that was just beginning to prosper from bad economic times. The local Hispanic community was driven underground, and several businesses that catered to this community went bankrupt. Oh yeah, that will be a winning platform for Barletta: clamp down on the immigrant population and bring on economic destitution for the rest of us.

That was all in Barletta’s past; what concerns me now is his present. At the same event in which he announced his candidacy, Barletta’s campaign manager (who must be part pit bull) lashed out loudly at a Hispanic member of the audience. The manager questioned whether the man was legal and exclaimed that he was not invited to this announcement. In fact, the targeted man was born in this country and served in Vietnam. If this is the tone for Barletta’s campaign, then maybe he should don his white hood now and campaign for votes in a pickup truck. Or better yet, perhaps he should move down to Alabama – with all due apologies to the people of that state - because he is an embarrassment to the rest of us Pennsylvanians.


Sunday, February 24, 2008

An American Male Is Right!

News flash: an American male was declared correct and right by his spouse at approximately 10:00am on Sunday, February 24, 2008. My dear readers, I know that this actually happened because – modesty be damned – I am that man! I’m still a bit in shock that it did occur, but I must savor this moment as long as I can.

The backstory is simply this: my wife and I have concluded that it is time to retire our old Norge refrigerator. We reached this decision when we noticed some of our frozen food starting to thaw out in the freezer. Also, it is taking ice cubes up to two days to form in their compartment trays. This shouldn’t be happening in a fully functioning, efficient refrigerator/freezer.

Thus, we set out on this nice, cold, sunny day to purchase a refrigerator. We were driving to our nearest hardware/home supplies chain box store (name withheld because they are not paying for advertising space) when we came to an intersection. Anne Marie thought that we should turn left at the intersection, but I knew that we should be turning right. I voiced my concern, but she was so sure that she was right, that I let it pass without further argument. Her attitude was, “So if I’m wrong, we’ll turn around, no harm done.”

“Okay, it’s your gas, dear,” I said. I let it go at this, even though I was feeling the need to use the facilities at the store regardless of which damned direction it was in. Every moment that we spent going in the wrong direction was one more minute of discomfort for my full bladder.

She concluded that she had taken a wrong turn after driving three blocks and noticed we were getting closer to Philadelphia with no box stores in sight. As she turned around in a strip mall I muttered something like, “Yes, Todd. You were right, Todd. Thank you, Todd." I didn't say “I told you so” even though I would’ve been justified in saying it.

Anne Marie was gracious – she didn’t kick me out of the car and demand that I walk home - and she agreed that, “Yes, you were right. I was wrong!” I felt slightly giddy at this news, pride swelling in my chest and my ego, but otherwise still feeling uncomfortable in my bowels.

We finally reached the store, where I was able to use the restroom. Within an hour, we were the proud owners of a new GE refrigerator/top freezer unit. The new debt I incurred is now my concern, but not even that realization could spoil my elation at being declared right. Anne Marie even told an embarrassing story about how I had damaged a shelf in our old refrigerator in a fit of anger. Normally, I would’ve objected to her telling this story to a stranger, but I was still basking in the glow of being correct.

So, men, do not despair, do not give up! You can be right too! Many times the odds are against us, but eventually the law of averages will bring us out on top! Anne Marie may have to answer for her sins to her fellow women, but I’m sure she’ll be able to handle it.

For now, I am still enjoying my moment of correctness. I’ll never know when this will happen again, or how long it will last. After all, I could do something terribly dumb at any time. Then my time of right and triumph will have passed. I will always remember this incident for as long as I will live, or at least until someone catches me doing something stoopid.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Gift Cards at the Cancer Bar

I spent last weekend at my brother’s house, and I discovered that I share a pet peeve with my sister-in-law: purchasing restaurant gift cards at the restaurants themselves. My sister-in-law related a recent experience at an Applebee’s near Bloomsburg. She asked the hostess about buying a gift card and was directed to the restaurant bar. At the bar, she stood between two parties (both smoking) and waited for the bartender to finish text-messaging someone. My sister-in-law waited just long enough for her blood pressure to reach the boiling point. She returned to the hostess station and demanded that the hostess purchase the gift card for her. The hostess bought the card from the bartender who, it seems, was oblivious that my sister-in-law was ever at the bar in the first place.

Then I shared my experiences, first at Red Lobster in Alexandria, VA (circa 1993) and more recently at Charlie Brown’s Steakhouse in Buckhorn, PA. My experience at Red Lobster was my first time purchasing a restaurant gift card and it was nearly my last. At Red Lobster, I stood for thirty minutes before I could get the bartender's attention. I should have learned a lesson then: if I really want to get quick service from a bartender, then I need to stand at that spot at the bar where the waitresses get their table orders. The diners can go thirsty a few moments longer — I was there first.

Unfortunately, I had forgotten this lesson a few years ago when I was directed to Charlie Brown’s Steakhouse bar for a gift card. I stood at the only empty spot left at the bar — behind the beer taps where little ole me at 5’1” could not be seen. Fortunately, I did not have to wait long.

At that moment, one of my female cousins entered the bar with the same mission and used her Philadelphia bred assertiveness to yell “Yo!” at the bartender. We both got served promptly. I should add that the male bartender might have been persuaded to help us based on my cousin's height (she could be seen over the beer taps), and extreme beauty (unlike me, she does not sport a mustache).

There are two aspects about restaurant chain bars that should be noted here. First, the bar is probably one of the busiest places in the restaurant outside the actual kitchen. The bartender not only mixes drinks, draws beers, and collects money from the patrons at the bar, but he/she is also preparing drinks for the wait staff to serve at their tables. Second, the restaurant bar is, for many people, the last public place they can enjoy a smoke while they eat or drink. The days when they could light up at their dining table or their desks/cubicles are long gone. For many smokers, the restaurant bar is their Little Big Horn, their last stand before they cough and hack themselves into oblivion.

Please understand I do not have anything against smokers; some of my best friends engage in this filthy habit. I do feel obligated to remind them that when it comes to cigarettes, there are faster ways of committing suicide. Also, I am a firm believer that secondhand smoke is harmful. Many will dispute this point (as they blow their pollution in my direction), but I am convinced that any long-term exposure to secondhand smoke will aggravate my heart condition. By long-term I mean any unit of time five minutes or longer in length. Since I waited for thirty minutes at the Red Lobster for a gift card, then I believe my experience meets this criterum for adverse health effects.

Fortunately, times have changed and there are now other options for gift cards. Many merchants make their cards available for purchase at the local supermarket or online. My sister-in-law pointed out that the card selection isn’t always the greatest at the food store. This is true, but at least you’re not taking your life into your own hands.

These restaurants are just great! Not only do they make unhealthy, deep fried food look like the greatest thing since sliced bread (when in reality the food could make your cardiologist hurl), but they also send you to the bar for a free case of lung cancer. Of course there are also the effects of the alcohol on your liver, but hey, no one is forcing any of us to patronize these death traps. I’d stay away for good, except they make the food taste so damn good.

Monday, February 18, 2008

When Nice Things Happen To Fallen Celebrities

We must face the fact that we live in a culture that thrives on failure. We, as a consumer of the mass media, like to see people succeed, but somehow we like to see them fall and fail even more. My theory is that such failure reinforces the misery that we all feel in our lives. We think, “Hey, why should they be idolized? They should be miserable like the rest of us.” Then, when the fall happens, we rejoice in that they are no better than we mere mortals are. Perhaps a collective inferiority complex is at play here, but I suspect it is much more complicated than a pat psychological diagnosis.

People have decried that all this negative energy is destructive to our society. I know I’m guilty of doing this as well as the next person, although many times I will shrug my shoulders in apathy at all the latest news that someone believes we should hear about Britney or Paris or Lindsay. With this in mind, we should note some positive news about the celebrities victimized by the media.

First, it was nice to see Amy Winehouse win a Grammy recently for her work. It seems like she has generated more news copy about her addictions than about her talent. There may have been a sympathy factor working in her favor when the votes were counted, but this shouldn’t matter. What does matter is that she gets the help she needs to lead a normal life. This is quite a challenge, given the bohemian attitude that seems to go hand-in-hand with any art form. Personally, I wish her all the luck in the world with her rehab efforts.

We have not heard anything negative about Britney Spears lately, and I think this is a good thing. It could mean that she is out of the public eye and getting help for her personal problems. The turnaround came a few weeks ago when her family fired her manager, Sam Lufti. At that time stories came out that the manager had a Svengali type hold over her life. It was also stated that he controlled the paparazzi, which would be quite a feat if it were true.

I don’t think such a thing as controlling the paparazzi was possible. I mean, isn’t this a bit like draining a swamp while you’re hip deep in alligators? I’ve wondered how he could do it. Did he act like Steve Rubell at Studio 54 years ago, and just granted access to certain photographers? I can see it playing out like this, “You, Daily Mirror, come forward, and you, National Enquirer, over here. You, New York Post, no photos for you! Go to the back of the line!”

Well, even Britney is catching a break this week. Producer Mike Nichols has ordered that all Britney related lyrics in “Diva’s Lament” from the currently running Broadway hit Spamalot be changed, since she is having so many problems right now. Lyricist Eric Idle has complied and shifted the focus of the offending stanza to Posh Spice, who apparently is living a good, clean, non-controversial life at the moment.

Oops, when I mentioned we hadn’t heard anything about Britney, I spoke too soon. Now there is word that she has appealed to Governor Schwartzenegger because her civil rights are being violated. Mr. Nichols, perhaps you had better change the lyrics back. Our favorite paparazzi whipping girl is acting all bizarre again. I swear, you try to give some people a break and this is how they repay you!

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

The Ever-Expanding Grammy Universe

Is it my imagination or do the Grammy awards get bigger year after year? I couldn’t help noticing that each year brings new categories to the ceremony. It’s as if they dream up new awards to include as many artists as possible. There’s nothing wrong with inclusion, but this is isn’t some local Little League situation where someone will get their feelings hurt if they don’t get their turn at bat. This is the big time and those that excel will be honored and those that don’t can drown their self-pity at the awards banquet.

This was very obvious some years ago when a number of new categories were invented to honor Hispanic music. This was a noble move to recognize a growing segment of foreign language music that was gaining popularity and influence in American culture. No problem here, but it seemed like it happened overnight, as if the Academy members were thinking, “Oh, yeah, we should’ve acknowledged this decades ago, but we were too immersed in our own culture to care about yours. We hope this makes up for all that neglect.”

This year, one category caught my attention that seemed to be superfluous: Best Collaboration of Duo or Group. When I saw this, I wondered what’s the difference between this category and an older category, Best Performance by Duo or Group. I’m sure the Academy has a full written statement justifying this category’s existence, but it still seemed redundant to me.

While we’re on the subject, let’s suggest these categories to make sure everyone gets a chance to come up on stage and get an award. How about the “Best Male Rock Vocal by an Artist who Released an Album called Born To Run in 1975?” Or maybe “Best Female Spanish Language Vocal by a 1970s Sexpot?” Let’s not forget rap music in a category called “Best Rock and Roll Riff Ripped-Off for a Rap Music Anthem”. Or what about the polka category, hereafter known as “The Jimmy Sturr Award”, given annually to Jimmy Sturr, who apparently is the only artist left in the free world performing polkas?

I hope you’ll forgive my general crankiness towards the Grammies. I have every right to be cranky! Years ago (approximately twenty) my favorite group lost the “Best New Artist” to a couple of frauds that called themselves Milli Vanilli. Now if there had been a “Best New Group of Artists Who Are Collectively Older Than the United States” category, then I’d bet The Traveling Wilburys would have won! Hell, they were the only group to qualify for this category, if we don’t count The Rolling Stones.

I think I get it now. The Grammy Awards are a melodic equivalent to the universe. Always expanding, ever changing in shape and in form, until one day it all implodes upon itself. When that day comes, you can bet they’ll have a category for that too.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

The Lessons of the Cats

It is the cold time of the year, and Anne Marie and I are more conscious of this fact whenever one of our cats wants to spend time on the sunporch. It is a lovely place to be during warms days of the spring and even hotter days of the summer. However, in the winter the uninsulated porch becomes a walk-in freezer for us humans. Of course the cats don’t mind the temperature difference because they insist on wearing fur 24/7, 365 days of the year.

We don’t mind them using the porch, but it does become an issue whenever they come back into the living room. Being cats, they have mastered the art of pushing the door open to come back in, but pushing the door closed so that it doesn’t dump our heat out is beyond their padded grasp. At this point, one of us lazy humans has to get up, walk over, and close the door. At first we would accompany this action with a snide comment that we hoped would goad them into closing the door themselves. Unfortunately the old line, “What’s the matter? Were you born in a barn?” gets very stale after the 500th or so time. Now that I think about it, that line never worked on us humans either.

It’s even more maddening when these same cats want to go back out onto the porch five minutes later. Once again one of their human staff has to get up and open the door for them, closing it just as the tip of their tail clears the opening. The human will then return to their seat, but why do we bother. The door will only be pushed open again in another few minutes, and the whole business will be repeated. Perhaps this is their way to make sure that their humans get exercise, but I doubt that they are that calculating.

Aside from opening and closing doors, I have noticed a variety of other tasks at which cats are totally useless. For example, they can’t open their own cans of wet food, or refill their water dishes. Cleaning their box is also beyond their brain capacity.

On the other hand, I suppose that if they were able to do these things for themselves then they would have no further use for us. Naturally we are good enough to pay the mortgage that keeps the roof over their heads, but they survived nicely in the wild for thousands of years without this convenience, and they could probably make do nicely in the future if the need arose.

Off the top of my head, I can think of several other activities for which felines are useless. They can’t pick us up at the train station when we return from our annual vacation, but to be fair they’re not the ones that drive us to the station in the first place. Why should they be obligated to bring us home, when we were the ones that left them all alone of our own free will.

Also they have continually demonstrated an inability to negotiate a lasting peace between the Arabs and Israelis. I really hate to harp on this, particularly since human beings have been unable to do this too, but you’d think that, as fellow co-habitants of this planet, they would have a vested interest in mideast peace. Of course, this is way beyond their understanding of the way they fit into the great scheme of things.

I could go on, but the list would be endless. It would be easier to list the one thing at which cats are great: relaxation. In this regard my cat, Steven, is an excellent teacher. He spends his days curled up on our bed, and many times he will relax between my legs while I read the paper in our easy chair.

This is the lesson we should take from their lifestyle. It’s as if they are telling us, “Don’t worry so much about everything. Nature or God or whatever will sort it all out in the end. Just relax in the sunshine, and when you are tired of doing that, get up, stretch, turn over and relax some more.” That is a good lesson, if only they could close the sunporch door.

Thursday, February 07, 2008

935 Things We Hate About You

A government report released recently stated that high-ranking members of the Bush administration made false statements about Iraq in the time period between 9/11/2001 and the invasion of Iraq. This is another example of our federal tax dollars at work. Meanwhile, in other news that everyone knew about already, the HMS Titanic sank in 1912 after striking an iceberg, 2 plus 2 equals 4, and cigarettes are very bad for you.

It does my heart good to see the national outcry rising up at this report. The torchlight marches in the city streets, the protests on Pennsylvania Avenue, the calls for impeachment heard in both chambers of Congress, and, of course, the firestorm which has erupted in the media demonstrates that America does have a politically aware and active population. I am certainly relieved that people are finally waking up to the Constitutional abuses perpetuated by the Bush administration.

I’m sorry, but I just noticed a small mistake in that last paragraph. The paragraph should read: I am appalled to see this country treating this report as if it were no big deal. No marches, no protests, no hearings, usual, nobody gives a damn! It’s a wonder that the report’s publication pushed Britney out of the spotlight for a day.

Where is Bob Dole when we need him? At the height of the Clinton impeachment, he expressed shock that Americans were seemingly apathetic towards Clinton’s crime. We could well ask now like he did then, “Where’s the outrage?”

Well, it could be that people realize that whatever we could do now is too little, too late. They will argue that the government has lied to us before and the republic survived. Besides, what’s a little lie between the ruling class and its constituents? Well, one lie would be nothing, but this report counted 935 “little” lies uttered by the Bush administration to justify our invasion. This is nothing to sneeze at!

Unfortunately, there is not much we can do about this situation. The statements were not made under oath; thus no one will be indicted for perjury. It would also be hard to prove that the government knew they were false statements at the time. This is the incredible part: the Bush administration actually, sincerely believed every rotten thing they ever said about Iraq.

We could nit-pick each and every lie that Bush and his people made, but we won’t because we have a life. However, we can devote a few minutes to one of the administration's falsehoods. As an example, there is statement #324: “Saddam Hussein is a very bad man, his feet stink, and he doesn’t love Jesus.”

Okay, this one is so obvious I don’t how we could’ve fallen for it. There have been many stories from Iraq that would support the assertion that Saddam was bad. Also, since he was a Muslim, I think it’s safe to say that he didn’t have to love Jesus to satisfy his beliefs. However, the “stinky feet” clause may be harder to prove. After all he could’ve worn odor eaters when he was alive. Now that he’s dead, who cares?

I can answer that. It turns out that not many people care at all.

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Super Bowl Karma

Another Super Bowl is now history. May the hype and hoopla die a quick, ugly death. The game itself should be remembered for many years for being close and its highly dramatic finish.

I’m sorry I missed it, but (as I stated in my last posting) I had only a casual interest in the whole affair. Besides, I went to bed at the obscenely early hour of 7:00PM in an effort to recover from my second sinus infection of the season.

I was truly ambivalent about the outcome; I could see a silver lining no matter who won. If the Patriots had won, then it would’ve been a wonderful way to end a perfect season. Unfortunately for them, the Giants pulled a last minute (literally) trick out of their hats and emerged victorious. This was another great example of an American underdog coming out on top.

I’m sure the finger pointing has gone on all day throughout New England. Some will say that the Patriots defense crumbled. Others will blame the offense, or give credit to the New York Giants offense at the end. All these arguments could be true, but we must not overlook the influence of Divine Providence.

Yes, I believe that it was karma at work, or as the old expression goes, “What goes around, comes around.” Of course, I’m referring to the controversy earlier in the season when the Patriots coach, Bill Belichick, was caught taping the signals of the New York Jets during their game with New England. Oh sure, Belichick was caught and fined, the team was fined, and the franchise lost a draft pick. They should have also forfeited any games in which they were caught cheating, but the league stopped short of that action.

Unfortunately, the New England Patriots and their fans were so caught up in the hype that they couldn’t imagine a team going this far and losing the final game. (As a fan of the Philadelphia sports teams, I can empathize; I feel your pain.) To be fair, there were probably no signs that doom was approaching: no locusts descending on the Massachusetts countryside, no inexplicable tidal wave swallowing the Maine coastline, and certainly no sightings of a gigantic apparition of Bea Arthur shaking a finger and shouting, “God will get you for that!”

The lesson here is that no one is totally perfect. This reminds me of a story my father told me when he attended Catholic school. He needed good grades to stay in the school band, and he did well in all subjects, but one priest refused to give him the “A” he earned because there was only one perfect being and that one was crucified at the cross. While we can agree with this doctrine or note that perhaps this priest had taken a few too many trips to the wine cellar, we should use the lesson to, philosophically, get over life’s little disappointments.

So, New England, take heart. The Great Referee in the Sky has decreed that you got what you deserved. Still, your team had a great season and stood up to a formidable enemy. As for my crack about the priest and the wine, I know, I don’t have to rub it in, Bea. I’m sure God will get me for that.

Friday, February 01, 2008

“Super” and “Bowl” and “Britney”

Welcome! Come on in; it’s nice to see you here. I am honored that you have chosen to read my blog! Of all the 23 million or so blogs in the world, you happen to walk into this one. Please keep reading before your finger double clicks your mouse to exit. In fact, take your finger off the mouse and stay awhile.

Now I know you probably came here expecting to see some sort of rumination about the Super Bowl this weekend, since I had the audacity to put those words in my title. Well, I guess I should confess now. I only used the words “super” and “bowl” to lure readers to my blog. I figure these words will be highly googled during the next few days, and I am curious as to how many readers I can trap, I mean snare, I mean invite in for a few moments.

All right, so maybe it is a lame attempt to boost readership, but I wouldn’t be the first one to try a cheap stunt like this. William Randolph Hearst would manipulate public opinion to start a war just to sell more newspapers. I consider that a very despicable, yet clever, practice.

Honestly, I could care less about the Super Bowl. The one team for whom I would root (Philadelphia Phillies) is once again not playing in the championship, so I don’t give a damn. I know it will be a contest between the New England Patriots, who have a perfect 18-0 record for the season, and the New York Giants. A win in the Super Bowl would cap off the Patriots season very nicely. Then again, there was that videotaping incident earlier in the season that blemished an otherwise flawless performance by the team, which makes me wish that the Giants could rip the faces off the Patriots. The Patriots will probably take the game, but the winner should, no I’ve used the ‘Little-Miss-Sunshine-should-win’ punch line too many times already, so I won’t resort to it here.

I doubt that I’ll even tune into the game. If I did watch, it would only be for the commercials and the half-time show. The main feature of the show this year will be classic rockers Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers. We should note here that Petty and his band were not the original choice for half time. Fortunately, cooler heads in the NFL prevailed and nixed the idea of a half-time show comprised of a two act mini operetta entitled “Britney’s Intervention.”

Oops, I did it again! I carelessly dropped another popular Internet subject into my text just to lure unsuspecting Britney fans to my blog. I am very sorry if you feel that I have brought you here under false, yet ingenious, circumstances.

I feel so ashamed that I think I’ll end this entry here. I hope you enjoyed the short time we had together. Please feel free to click off anytime now, and please come back soon.