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 25, 2009

Questions about Race in a Post-Racial Era

I had a dream recently...a very, very weird dream.

In my dream, US Attorney General Eric Holder and I were chatting on my sun porch, when suddenly one of us slapped the other with the word “coward” in the face. I don’t remember which one said it first, and I hardly think that matters in the great scheme of things. Well, one thing led to another and soon our chat had escalated into a fisticuff of ideologies.

I’m not much of a physical fighter given my short stature, but I jabbed him in the psyche with a question about this post-racial area in which we are supposedly living. He deflected my punch with one of his own about collective white guilt. Ow, that hurt!

My cats, who had been dozing on the porch, escaped to the upstairs, which alarmed my wife. She called the police, and by the time they arrived, Holder and I were breaking pieces of wicker furniture over each other’s heads as we jawboned each other about the urban culture that glorifies bling and violence that so many young African,American males worship. The police wanted to haul us both off for disorderly conduct, but I stopped them by telling them, “We’re just having a frank, open and honest discussion about race, officers.”

So the question remains, can Americans have this wonderful honest communication about race without being insulting, violent, or worry about endangering our careers? I’ve considered this question for a few minutes, or at least the time it took me to write the sentences between here and the first paragraph, and I can honestly answer it this way: I don’t know.

First of all, what constitutes an honest discussion about race? Is cursing involved/allowed/encouraged/discouraged? Can participants cite scientific data to support their arguments? Will biblical references be allowed?

Who can participate? Leaders or thinkers, blue collar workers or college graduates, captains of industry or unionized laborers, or members of the Klan and/or the Nation of Islam? More importantly, will the Fox News Network try to make a reality series out of this discussion? If Fox does step in, then count me out.

Will the language have to be restrained, or no holds barred? You know what I mean, racially sensitive words that start with an “n”. Can anyone use this word in the course of debate, in the interest of furthering this national dialogue on race relations without fear of personal or professional reprisal? If so, I want this waiver in writing AND signed by Rev. Al Sharpton. Otherwise, I will suspect a trap. All this will have to be decided before this talk actually takes place.

We may very well be too timid - coward is a very strong word - to approach this subject. On the other hand, it may not have anything at all to do with avoiding a dialogue about race. It could very well be that each one of us Americans is too busy trying to survive this recession to think about the bigger picture. By Americans, I am referring to all the people: white, African, Hispanic, Asian, and any other American citizens.

I remember arguing this point, rather eloquently I thought, with a right upper-cut, in the nocturnal imaginings of my chat with Mr. Holder. Then he sucker punched me with an argument about affirmative action. Ow, that hurt!

This debate about race will continue another day...

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Oscar Picks – 2009

It’s time once again for my annual predictions for the Best Picture Oscar to be awarded this weekend. I base my predictions solely on media buzz, plot synopsis, and my knowledge of Academy Award history, because once again this year life happened and I didn’t see of these films. This year I hope to improve on my perfect record (FYI I’m 0 for 2) and accurately predict the winner. The nominees for Best Picture are:


No, you’re wrong. This is not the exciting, suspenseful story of the “got milk?” ad campaign from a few years ago. Actually, it’s a bio pic about a crusading gay leader in 1970’s San Francisco, who probably became more famous outside the Bay area as a result of how he died: assassination. Sean Penn’s performance is getting a lot of buzz in the lead role, although it will be quite a feat to outshine his previous performances in I Am Sam and Mystic River.


Another film based on historical fact about the television interviews disgraced ex-President Richard Nixon granted to British television journalist David Frost. These interviews made news at the time because they were the first time Nixon spoke publicly about his years in the White House since his resignation. If memory serves me correctly, I believe the interviews coincided with the publication of Nixon’s memoirs. Frank Langella’s performance has also been praised as Oscar-worthy. I can’t help wondering that the title itself is a subliminal message harking back to Nixon’s approval ratings during the Watergate scandal. We weren’t exactly having a warm, fuzzy relationship with our president at that time. Cold and chilly are good metaphors for our feelings toward Nixon then and now.


I’ve heard very little about this film even though its subject matter - an affair between an older woman and a teenage boy - is every man’s fantasy at one time or another. It also helps that Kate Winslet is part of this fantasy. She is favored to win Best Actress, but I don’t know if odds makers are taking her acting ability into account or the fact that she looks great au natural.


This year’s best picture nominee from the sprawling epic genre is based on an F. Scott Fitzgerald short story which, if I recall correctly, was maybe five pages long. Leave it to Hollywood to mine so much out of so little source material. This isn’t the first time this has happened: the story for It’s A Wonderful Life originated on a Christmas card (!). The result is a special effects laden narrative that many people have found similar to Forrest Gump.


This story — a poor boy in India who wins big on a million dollar television quiz show — has universal appeal and has garnered international acclaim and awards recognition. The stars appear to be aligning for this to be the big winner at the 81st Annual Oscars ceremony. Why should I buck the tide with my record? I’ll go with the flow and root for this one to get Best Picture.

Overall, look for the bio pics Milk and Frost/Nixon to divide the acting categories. Historical dramas have not done well in recent years where Oscar is concerned. Case in point: Good Night and Good Luck. Exceptions have been the more exotic histories: Braveheart and The Last Emperor. Button will probably take the majority of the special effects categories. The Reader may be disappointed and come up empty-handed. It may well be the biggest upset in Oscar history if Slumdog does not take Best Picture.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Tied Hands

It would be a gross understatement to say that emotions within the Philadelphia police department are raw now. As I write this, the department is preparing to bury another one of their own, gunned down by a repeat offender last Friday night. Officer John Pawlowski became the fifth Philadelphia police officer to be murdered in the past year. His death is made even more tragic when one considers that he leaves behind a young bride, expecting their first child.

Now the death is generating more controversy because Municipal Court Judge Craig M. Washington has run afoul of the Fraternal Order of Police (FOP). A framed photograph of Pawlowski was placed in his precinct’s squad room in his memory. Ordinarily, this would not be a problem, except that the squad room serves as a makeshift courtroom. The problem arose when the judge ordered that the photo be removed as per court rules. When his order was denied by the District officers, he removed the photo himself.

The FOP now believes that the judge dissed its members by removing the photo. The union has vowed to take action against Craig even though the Municipal Court President backed his actions. They have filed judicial misconduct papers to have the judge removed from this district. I can’t blame the FOP for feeling this way, but at the same time I can’t imagine why any judicial official would knowingly want to show disrespect for any law enforcement official.

Obviously, some well-meaning police officers placed the photo in the room as part of the mourning process. Whether or not the officers had ulterior motives could be debated. The photo could have been placed on the judge’s bench to remind criminals appearing before the judge about the lives they affect when they shoot an officer.

Or it could have also served as a reminder to the judge about the people who dedicate their lives to protect the citizens of Philadelphia. This underscores a mounting tension between the police department, who brings the criminal element to justice, and the court system, which too often appear lenient when they impose punishment along sentencing guidelines.

Unfortunately, a police officer's photo on the bench could be misconstrued as the court system tipping the scales of justice in favor of the police department. Any lawyer for a criminal appearing at this bench will leap at the sight of Lady Justice’s peeking out from behind her blindfold, and move to have their client’s charges dismissed or overturned on an appeal. The prejudicial appearance of the court in this case could backfire on the police department and put even more criminals back on the streets.

The same argument could be made for the FOP’s insistence on removing Judge Craig and suspending all preliminary hearings until an investigation is completed. Will the criminals in Philadelphia likewise suspend their activities until they are sure that the precinct hearing chamber is fully operational again? Doubt it...

Understandably, the police department feels the frustration in such situations because their hands are tied by the law coupled with a sense of fair play and ethics. The court system in turn has its hands tied by guidelines that are a mixture of philosophies: justice for all, let the punishment fit the offense, and a tradition rooted in the Judeo/Christian ethic that everyone is capable of redemption. The guidelines in turn are set up by legislators whose hands are tied by the fact that many of them accepted campaign contributions from concerned organizations like the National Rifle Association.

Okay, this may be a major over simplified explanation of the judicial process, but I did manage to name all of the relevant players. Perhaps it is not so much what the judge did, but how he did it. Maybe he could’ve handled the whole matter with more grace and finesse. In any case, if someone has been offended by his actions, then he should offer an apology. In the meantime, the FOP may find a better use of its energy and time concentrating on the period of mourning, and later, focus on actions that will prevent more police from dying on the streets of Philadelphia.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

S.O.L.B. (Save Our Litter Box)

This week’s crisis at the Gunther household began last Friday night when our house struck an iceberg...

(Okay, technically that first sentence is not totally true, but you’ve got to admit it’s one hell of a hook that got you to read this far!)

All right, it wasn’t an iceberg that hit us, but it had the same effect: an accumulation of water in the lower regions of our living quarters, i.e., a flood. We first discovered the problem after dinner, when I descended the stairs and noticed that one section of our light blue carpet was a darker color than usual. Up to this point, the day had been going smoothly, even when you consider that it was a Friday the 13th. Unfortunately, as I stepped off the bottom stair and felt the soaking sensation of a saturated basement carpet on my stocking feet, I realized that my carefully planned Valentine’s Day/President’s Day Weekend was crashing down faster than the Hindenburg and you can say, “Oh the humanity!”

(Look, this is the most traumatic event to happen to me since my heart surgery four months ago, so you might as well get used to the overwrought dramatic prose now!)

I walked further around the finished part of our basement and towards the laundry area, each step another slog through the indoor swimming pool I always wanted. I opened the door to the laundry area where three inches of water rushed towards me. Okay, so three inches by no means qualifies as a deluge, but damn it, this is still more water than I ever want to see inside a house where I pay the mortgage.

By this point I was yelling upstairs at Anne Marie about the situation, and she yelled back mostly language I can’t repeat here. I quickly found the source of the leak – gushing from the overflow pipe of our water heater — and looked around for a shut off valve. I traced the supply pipe up to the ceiling and a trio of copper valves, which were all corroded and useless. Drat!

Now in a panic, my mind raced around frantically for my next option. Actually, a little voice in my head was running around (coincidentally also wearing wet socks) shouting, “We’re gonna drown! We’re gonna drown! We’re gonna drown!” I ignored this little voice and went back into the carpeted area of our basement. I remembered that the water supply line was at the front of the house. I headed towards that side of the room, when suddenly, it hit me...

(INTERMISSION. Please take a moment, dear reader, to get up, stretch, use your facility, nosh on those scrumptious Girl Scout cookies you recently bought, and, oh yes, change your socks if they got wet.) hit me that the shut off valve should be behind a panel resembling a cabinet door in the front wall of our basement. I opened this panel, turned the valve, and quickly returned to the water heater. Yes, the water had slowed to a steady drip.

I turned to go back upstairs to let Anne Marie know that I shut off the water, when I saw my little grey cat, Meredith, perched on the bottom step. She sniffed the air and stretched her neck as she surveyed the unusual sight before her. Not only was the carpet thoroughly soaked, but it looked like her litter box might start floating towards her at any minute! I can only imagine what was going through her mind!

(Probably something along the lines of “Wow! Am I lucky or what? I don’t have to walk across the basement floor anymore to relieve myself! All I have to do is wait here and my box will magically drift towards me on a thin film of water! What will my humans think of next?)

I felt I should try to salvage something from the basement, but where to start? Meredith answered my question. I sloshed over to the litter box, carried it upstairs, and out of the flood zone. Meredith, no fool as she had seen me walk up the stairs numerous times and knew it was best to get out of my way, set some sort of speed record as she leapt up the basement steps and (presumably) the second floor stairs as well in a matter of seconds. She was long out of my sight when I reached the top of the stairs, where I could hear Anne Marie already on the phone to the plumber...


Saturday, February 14, 2009

Proposition 6 + 8

Everyone in the world, with a few exceptions, has been weighing in with their two cents about the on-going struggle of a California woman to single-handedly repopulate the world. Yes, I’m talking about Nadya Suleman, who recently gave birth to octuplets via in-vitro fertilization. At first, the story was one of those feel-good-about-life human interest bits which normally would make the whole of mankind marvel at the miracle of birth. Then things got weird...

The media probed deeper and found that the woman is unemployed and has no visible means of financial support — not including the taxpayers of California, but more about them later. Further along, we found out that she already has six children at home — three of those with special needs — and that she considers herself a professional student. She does get assistance from the state (food stamps and some money for the special kids), but she denies that this money is welfare.

Father? Non-existent, apparently, and I haven’t heard any reports of any man stepping forward to accept responsibility. The woman lives with her parents, although Grandma has not taken kindly to the new arrivals. I’ve heard that Grandpa, a military man, will be deployed for the relative calm and peacefulness of a faraway land...Iraq!

This week, new mom hired a publicist to handle media requests and started a website to accept donations. Wonderful! She’s getting so many offers that she can’t handle it herself and she’s trolling for dollars with an Internet tin cup. One of the first offers was an interview on the Oprah Winfrey show. I probably wouldn’t watch it, although I would just love to hear Oprah ask her, “Girlfriend, what the hell were you thinking?”

Usually in situations like this, donations will pour in from all quarters. A company will send diapers, another will send formula, and sometimes a new house will be offered. Not this time. The recession is really that bad!

So, who is on her side? Not many of us, apparently. The religious right could praise her for not aborting the extra fetuses, but on the other hand they could use her as an argument against federal funding for higher education. Thanks, lady! You may have just screwed the economic opportunities for thousands of college bound students.

The Vatican? No, I haven’t heard any statements from them, but they have been a bit busy lately. The Pope is probably keeping a low profile since he started letting Nazis back into the church, and his intervention on behalf of Italy’s version of Terri Schiavo ended badly.

California taxpayers? Congratulations, all of you, on the arrival of eight new dependents for your cash-strapped state to support. I know you’re not happy about this, but you now have a chance to turn this into a positive show of democracy. Yes, get those petitions out and start getting signatures for Proposition 6 + 8. (That number is my own original idea. I hope you like it.) I don’t know how you would word it — require Mom to get a job, farm her brood out to the foster care system, or perhaps an outright exile to any other state that will put up with her/them.

The more cynical of us may believe that having all these kids is her way to manipulate the system. I haven’t heard any reports of her telling someone, “I smell money,” (ala Paula Jones), but it is a very real possibility that this all a big con. So be it! Others have done worse (paging Bernard L. Madoff), and hopefully most of us are smart enough not to fall for it.

So, good luck, Momma Suleman. You might be smart to leave California, where you’ve been receiving death threats, and head for an offer to relocate on a farm in Kansas. Yes, the Midwest, where they seem to be comfortable with large families. Do this and the taxpayers of California will be very thankful.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Valentine’s Gas

Valentine's Day approaches and everyone will want to do something very special for that extra special person in their lives. The day will be more hectic than usual this year because it falls squarely on a Saturday. This means very few people will have to work or be in school, and everyone will be together to share their love for each other at home.

Then, of course, there will be the special Valentine’s Day dinner. So many people will want it to be just right for the special someone, and there will also be many marriage proposals. (I don’t mean to ruin the mood, but I may puke if I use the word “special” one more time in this entry.)

However, despite the best laid plans of many people, some things will go wrong. For example, you wait until the last minute to get flowers at your grocery store. Unfortunately, the selection has been picked through and there are no more “Mid-Winter Blues Pick Me Up Collection” for $9.99, and you end up getting the most expensive bouquet (“The Diamond and Pearls Dozen Roses” for market price) because that’s all that’s left.

Ditto for the chocolates – all the cheap Hershey’s and Whitman’s samplers have been snapped up and you tell yourself that the overpriced Godiva bon bons are a good investment. (Right, like you were going to get some action anyway...)

Then the romantic evening begins...badly. The baby sitter will be late, or won’t show up at all, and you end up dragging the kids along on what was going to be a nice, quiet cozy evening alone with your significant someone. Then you get to the restaurant where your reservations was lost, which means there could be an hour’s wait for a table, which means the kids will get bored and rammy. Finally, you order and your food arrives but your salad is wilted, your steak is overcooked, the fries are soggy, and the harried wait staff may snarl as they try to accommodate everyone and their mother who thought it would be a nifty idea to eat out on Valentine’s Day.

Ain’t romance grand? Honestly, you couldn’t even offer me Ryan Howard’s annual salary (FYI, $18 million) to work as a waiter this weekend. It’s not going to be pretty, wherever you go.

Anne Marie and I beat the rush by having our Valentine’s dinner LAST Sunday! We went to Legal Seafood in King of Prussia. The service was excellent and, except for the Maryland cream of crab soup being tepid, we had a memorable Valentine’s meal. Yep, that’s my restaurant review — short and sweet like the tangy calamari appetizer we had.

Well, there was just one slight problem. My dear wife did suffer a number of gaseous events later in the afternoon. I don’t want to intentionally embarrass her publicly, but for the sake of a good belly laugh I hope she’ll forgive me. Let me put it this way: she single-handedly re-enacted the campfire scene from Blazing Saddles. For those of you who are not familiar with that scene, let me just briefly explain that it involved a group of cowboys consuming and enjoying the aromatic after effects of a baked bean supper. Know what I mean? I think you do!

The problem is we didn’t have the musical fruit as part of our dining experience. We suspect that it was the Thai flavored calamari. Oh, the calamari...with its delicious sweet/sour tangyness tossed with peanuts, pineapple wedges and scallions. (Okay, so my restaurant review wasn’t finished!) In many ways it has spoiled us for other preparations of calamari forever. We probably won’t even think about eating calamari with marinara sauce ever again. We’d be hard pressed to get such entertainment with just calamari and marinara sauce. It just made our Valentine’s dinner all the more special...

Okay, I’m suddenly feeling nauseous...

Friday, February 06, 2009

The 2009 Nominee Follies

It happens every four years, or at least every time a new administration enters the White House. The incoming President nominates various people to serve on the Cabinet or other posts within the executive branch. Of course, not every nomination sails through Congress smoothly, and, to be honest, I have yet to see any administration get all of their nominees approved in short order.

We can always attribute the holdups to the peculiarities of partisan politics, but sometimes a previous unknown issue threatens to gum up the process. One past season of nominations — I forget if it was either Bush II or Clinton - was derailed by the question of nannies. Questions like, “Is the nanny you hired a legal immigrant?" "Do they have their green card?" and "Is your nanny's Social Security taxes up to date?” sank the prospects of a few executive and judicial appointees.

This year’s nominees have chosen the theme of “back taxes” as the object of their political downfall. First there was new Secretary of Treasury, Timothy Geithner, and his back tax troubles. Now his isolated incident threatens to become an epidemic for the other nominees.

The latest victim is Obama’s nominee for Health and Human Services Secretary, Tom Daschle. Obama’s team raised a few questions about charitable contributions to Daschle’s attention. The former Senator’s accountant rechecked the tax returns and, sure enough, found that Daschle did indeed owe more to the IRS for the contributions and for the use of a chauffeured car while working as a lobbyist.

I’ll play devil’s advocate for one moment and offer a defense for Daschle. In today’s partisan environment on Capitol Hill, where one side of the aisle has tax cuts on the brain (you know which side, right?), who could find fault that a few politicians took advantage of the tax cuts early by not paying their full share? Oh, I know, I know: every American taxpayer who paid their bills on time, that’s who!

Fortunately, this story ended on a high moral note. Daschle paid his bills, asked that his nomination be withdrawn, and (I hope) is now in the market for a new accountant. More importantly, President Obama admitted he “screwed up” (his words) in nominating Daschle.

What a breath of fresh air! A chief executive actually admitting he made a mistake! We have really elected a stand-up type of guy! I hope you’re taking notes, former members of the Bush administration!

So the nomination process and the attendant follies may continue for some weeks to come. So much fun in store for all of us! I can hardly wait! By the way, while I’m not actively looking for a career change at the moment, I will volunteer this information. Mr. President, I may not be qualified for any position in your administration, but I know my taxes are paid up!

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Short Notes – February 2009


The Washington DC area had a significant snowfall recently, which prompted the usual widespread panic at the local supermarkets and the schools to close for the day. Two students affected by the closure were the First Daughters. The President made a point of expressing his dismay about schools closing over “a little ice”. Well, what can I say, Mr. President, other than, “Welcome to Washington, where a snowflake sighting on the Beltway paralyzes an entire region.”

There is no rhyme, reason, or common sense explanation for this’s just the way things happen. Granted, you were raised in Hawaii, with its warm sunny climate, and you’ve spent a considerable amount of time in Chicago, with its icy winds blowing off the lake. You’ve been exposed to both weather extremes that this country has to offer, and obviously, you are a stronger person for it.

Unfortunately, the folks in this southern provincial city in which you now reside full time aren’t used to such extremes. I know reporters asked you if you thought the people living in the nation’s capitol were “wusses”. Wisely, you backed off from that characterization. You have obviously learned your lesson about the remarks you made about the Bible-clinging, gun-toting residents of North Alabama (aka Pennsylvania).

Perhaps you may want to help out the good folks of DC after you get the economy going again. Maybe if you slip in an appropriation request for all residents of the area to spend a winter weekend in Chicago, then perhaps people can appreciate your point of view. Yes, give the people a taste of REAL winter weather. They’ll be stronger for it and it will give the hospitality industry a significant boost.


Football fans on the western side of Pennsylvania are celebrating the Steelers latest championship. There were the usual crowds spilling out of the bars and making general nuisances of themselves. That’s all right, Phillies fans got to run wild in the streets last October, and I guess it’s nice that Steelers fans have something to celebrate.

As you may recall, I wrote in a recent blog entry that I had a strange feeling that the Eagles would go all the way and win the Super Bowl. That shows you how much I know about football. My strange feeling turned out to be nothing more than a back sprain.


Okay, apparently, Phil was also out late celebrating the Steelers win. What’s wrong, Phil? Too many trips to the raw veggie bar? A bit too much imbibing of the swamp water during the Big Game? Geez, Phil, you only work one day out of the whole year, and you show up with such a massive hangover that you don’t even know what season it is.

Hey, Phil, here’s a clue: all that white stuff on the ground isn’t coke. Remember, we can always get our long range predictions from a licensed meteorologist and a computer. Better yet, Univison will give us a licensed meteorologist in a short dress and a computer. Keep this in mind, Phil and, oh, have a nice summer!