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

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Location: Southeastern, Pennsylvania, United States

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Summer Passing(s)

It’s certainly been a tough week for the celebrated and famous. Writer Dominick Dunne and songwriter Ellie Greenwich passed away earlier this week. Greenwich more closely affected my awareness of American pop culture. You can’t swing your arms sideways without hitting a golden oldie that was co-written by her and her husband, Jeff Barry. “Leader of the Pack”, “Doo-Wah-Diddy-Diddy”, “Chapel of Love” were just a few of their compositions. If Greenwich-Barry weren’t listed as the writers on a popular hit, then most likely the writers were another husband and wife team of Gerry Goffin and Carole King.

These two artists were justly famous, but their passings were overshadowed by the not-unexpected death of Senator Edward Kennedy (D–MA). Kennedy championed many issues confronting the underprivileged in America: poverty, health care and education to name just a few. Despite a very privileged upbringing, he spent over 47 years in the Senate fighting for economic justice and equality. The media have called him the “Lion of the Senate”, a fitting tribute to a wise sage who relished a good political battle. He was a liberal’s liberal who was not above engaging in the now-dying concept of bipartisan politics. America will sorely miss this lion.

Another noteworthy death this summer was Harry Patch, 111, a private in the British army. He was believed to be the last surviving soldier of World War I. With his death, another link to our distant past is lost and we must do our best to remember him and all who served with him. The lessons they taught us about the idiocy and futility of war have been learned and re-learned over thousands of years. Somehow we keep forgetting these lessons. Patch’s death also means that next year's reunion of World War I veterans will definitely suck.

Then, there’s Michael Jackson. Remember him? He hasn’t had a good summer either. Michael Jackson’s burial has been scheduled and re-scheduled several times. It was originally suppose to happen today (August 29) on the anniversary of his 51st birthday. Then it was moved to September 1, and then...who knows?

This can mean only one thing: the tour is definitely off! Still it’s been nearly two months since the Gloved One died. What’s the hurry? It’s not like they’re in any danger of surpassing the elapsed time between death and burial of such famous people as entertainer James Brown or former President Gerald Ford.

Was there some notion among the tour promoters that if they kept Jackson’s body out of the ground long enough that the tour might actually happen anyway? Did they believe that they might be able to exploit him just one more time? Come on people, leave Jackson with some sort of dignity and give him the burial befitting the King of Pop.

So, we say goodbye to all of these people as the summer of 2009 itself passes into history. We’ll remember them today, learn from the lessons their lives taught us, and use those lessons to guide us in the future. That is, after all, the primary function of history.

(Thank you for reading. Please don’t be afraid of history – it can be our friend.)

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

The Slow Revolution of Health Care Reform

Events recognized as being historical usually have far-reaching consequences. They can affect people’s lives for years, if not centuries. Yet the event itself that alters the course of mankind can happen in the blink of an eye.

Two recent examples demonstrate my point. On Sunday, August 23, 2009, the Philadelphia Phillies were in danger of losing another close game to their arch rivals, the New York Mets. With no outs and two Mets on base in the bottom of the ninth, the Phillies closer, Brad Lidge, was having another difficult time retiring the side.

The next batter hit the ball, which was caught by the second baseman, Eric Bruntlett. Out number one! The momentum of his catch forced him to step on the bag at second base, which had just been vacated by one of the Mets. Force out number two! Then he reached out to tag the Mets player running from first base. After a short dance, Bruntlett tagged the runner and completed an unassisted triple play to end the ball game.

This event happened within seconds, and in fact it took me longer to describe it than the time it took to execute the play. The play was historic because it was the first time in the National League’s 120+ year history that an unassisted triple play ended a game.

The second event which seemed to happen quickly was the election of Barack Obama. I’m not talking about his campaign for the election, which took months to play out, but rather the climax of the election drama itself passed at seemingly the speed of light. I will always remember the moment when CNN announced that the polls in California were just closing.

A commercial break happened, and suddenly CNN (and all the other news outlets) were announcing that Barack Obama was the next President of the United States. No more mention of California, no more analysis about how this or that state voted, and no more exit polls questioned. It was over, just like that. (Insert snapping finger sound effect here.)

I mention all of this because of the speed which Obama’s health care reform plan has been given in Congress. His administration naturally set a deadline before the House and Senate recessed for the summer. It’s important to them to get it passed, let society feel the benefits of his reform and move on to other pressing issues. Unfortunately this is one historical event which should not be accomplished at the velocity of a swinging baseball bat.

Barack Obama’s health care reform plan(s) are nothing short of revolutionary. If he succeeds in seeing his ideas signed into law, then the effects will be felt by all segments of society for decades to come. We should remember one thing: revolutions are not painless. Historically, they are long drawn-out affairs which can be very bloody. I doubt that blood will be shed in this revolution, although some of the tea baggers attending the town hall meetings debating health care with their grassroots disinformation and shotguns do make me nervous.

Now I do have some definite ideas about health care reform, but for several reasons I do not feel comfortable voicing them at present. The main reason for my silence on the subject is something which can be termed as a conflict of interest. I should remind everyone now that I am employed in the health insurance industry, a sector of the American economy which has been mucho maligned in the public debate about health care reform.

For those not familiar with the conflict of interest concept, let me explain it this way. I am very much interested in long term employment for say another, oh, 20 years or so. In this capacity, I could pay my mortgage, put food on the table, and enjoy a healthier lifestyle because of the health benefits afforded to me by my job. However, if I voice an opinion — good, bad, or indifferent, one way or the other — about the issue, then my company might perceive my comments to be in conflict with my interest in remaining gainfully employed. Do you see where I’m going with this? I think you do!

My whole point here is that we should take our time, let all sides make their views known, and hopefully we’ll hammer out some sort of deal that will make everyone happy. We should all prepare for a long, hard battle, but the fruits of eventual victory for the common good will be sweet in the end.

So, for the time being, I will have nothing more to say on the health care reform subject, even though I could easily fill several blogs with my thoughts on the matter. I will not say anything about pre-existing conditions, health care provider profits, tort reform, or a public option. If pressed on any of these issues, I will just smile and say, “Hey, how about that unassisted triple play? Wasn’t that awesome?”

(Thank you for reading. Please remember to get checked once a year for [insert your favorite ailment here]!)

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Forgiving Vick

The big controversy in southeastern Pennsylvania this week has been the Eagles signing Michael Vick to a one year contract. Vick is the former Atlanta Falcons quarterback who recently finished serving time for financing a dog-fighting ring on a farm he owned in Virginia. This allegation was dwarfed by the fact that Vick put several dogs to death that were not fighting up to their potential.

People here are outraged at the Eagles action, and no one can blame them. Animal lovers and animal rights groups have been protesting near the team's practice sites. Football fans have been putting their season tickets up for sale on Craigslist. They have the right to be angry, but now, one week after this news broke, it may be time to turn our collective frustration into something more positive.

For his part, Vick has expressed remorse at his past actions, and pledged to help discourage animal cruelty in the community. This is fine; so far, so good. This satisfies the first part of the contract in redemption and salvation. Now it’s our turn to fulfill the second part of the contract of forgiveness.

Many people are conceding that, yes, everyone deserves a second chance. Many people, that is, with the exception of dog-lovers; so far they have proven to be a rather unforgiving lot. Now the problem is, “Why us? Why here? Why Philadelphia?”

Please bear in mind, people, the real meaning of the word “Philadelphia” – the City of Brotherly Love. That right there should be enough for us to find it in our hearts to give Michael Vick a second chance. It’s not “City of Brotherly Love, except for low-lifes who destroy defenseless animals.” I’m not sure what the Latin translation for that would be, but I’m sure it won’t fit neatly on a city seal or flag. No, it is “City of Brotherly Love,” no conditions, if, ands, or buts.

Yes, this forgiveness business is not the easiest thing to accomplish, but it is the right thing to do. Eagles quarterback Donovan McNabb has obviously forgiven Vick, as have Coach Andy Reid and Eagles management. I’d be willing to bet that any dogs that would approach Vick on the street would do so with tails wagging in friendship. Okay, so maybe that doesn’t say much about the animals’ intelligence, but it does say a lot about their capacity to express love. Somehow it’s that capacity that has been lost in the human race.

We would all want to have another chance to prove ourselves when we make mistakes, yet we are very unwilling to extend this courtesy to our fellow man. This is very curious given that we have the ability to reason through most situations life throws at us. Human nature can be so treacherous at times.

We should forgive Vick for his past and wish him well for the future. After all, if the public relations nightmare isn’t enough, just think of his material loss: over $100 million in endorsement deals. That is more money than most of us will ever see in our lifetimes! Some will want more like a pound of flesh, but there are times when we have to say “enough is enough” and move on.

If you’re reading this and you still have a problem with Vick’s comeback with the Eagles, then perhaps a writing exercise is in order. Take a pen and paper and write, “This is the City of Brotherly Love. This is the City of Brotherly Love.” Do this 100 times, or until you believe it with all your heart, or until you develop carpal tunnel and your hand falls off.

Now suddenly forgiveness seems less painful, doesn’t it?

(Thank you for reading. Please remember to take the high road in life whenever the opportunity arises.)

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

The Subject is Tomatoes, or Ask Me about My Colon!

I’m having a very good year with my small garden of three tomato plants. Despite a very wet June, and a cool July, it took just one week of hot and humid August days to allow my crop to ripen. So far, I’ve picked 110 tomatoes of various sizes from large ones suitable for slicing into sandwiches, to smaller ones for my salads.

The neighbors have also benefited from my bounty. A dozen or so on this side and a dozen or so on the other side, and 20+ went to Anne Marie’s office...and they’re still coming. My other plants — one green pepper, and one multi-colored pepper — have not fared as well, mainly because something ate all of the leaves from these plants, rendering them unproductive.

I suspect the groundhog, that lives under our sun porch a few feet away from my patch, is the pepper plant leaf eater. I wouldn’t mind getting rid of the critter — particularly since its last two rent checks bounced — but Anne Marie, Steven, and Meredith think he’s cute. So the groundhog stays, I have no peppers, but I still have lots and lots of tomatoes!

I ate tomato sandwiches on a bagel, with bacon and lettuce (the classic American lunch, behind peanut butter and jelly), on rye with cheese, and on 12-grain bread. I was feeling great about eating the fruits of my well-earned labor. I was stretching our grocery bill, improving my health by eating less meat, and adding nutrients like lycopenes to my diet, which would decrease my chances of contracting certain diseases by eating tomatoes! Yes, I was ready to be totally resistant to prostate cancer with my new totally tomato diet.

Unfortunately, my colon had other ideas...

(Now I know what you’re thinking, dear reader. Of all the 29 million plus blogs that exist in the world, you happen to stumble into one where a middle-aged guy is kvetching about his lower intestinal tract. Yeah, well, what can I say other than life isn’t always fair. Deal with it! Now back to my story...)

I developed severe abdominal pains after about five days of my tomato orgy. After two days of the pain, I finally got to see one of the doctors in my primary care practice. The doctor diagnosed diverticulitis, which, if you’ve never had it, is a lot like a urinary tract infection without the fever. And if you’ve never had a urinary tract infection, consider yourself very, very lucky.

It seems that my condition is aggravated by small bits of food that land in small pockets inside the intestine, and stay there undigested until they rot and inflame the intestinal walls. A few foods that qualify for this honor include peanuts and... (drum roll and or Shakespearean clap of thunder, please)...tomato seeds! Believe me, when tomato seeds accumulate in your lower gut, hilarity does not ensue.

The doctor gave me scripts for two antibiotics and suggested a cat scan. I have filled the scripts, which have greatly relieved the pain. I hope that within a few days I can resume my tomato diet, but I will do things differently from now on. I will try to eat them every other day, and I will do my best to remove all seeds before gorging myself again on this fruit.

(Thank you for reading! Please remember to consume tomatoes safely!)

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Sarah Palin and the Death Committee

The three day festival of “music and peace” in Woodstock, NY happened this weekend 40 years ago. For all intents and purposes, it was an event that entertained the young generation by the leading music acts of the day, while at the same time raised awareness of many issues — political, environmental, cultural, etc. It quickly became a legendary cultural landmark of the 1960s and has attained mythical status down through the years. It has become a badge of honor for many of the past two generations to be able to answer “yes” to the question, “Were you at Woodstock?”

I only note this in passing because one of the most infamous statements made from the stage at Woodstock was a warning about the “brown acid” (LSD to those of you too young to know the term acid). Many people heeded this warning, but many others not only disregarded their own safety, but apparently they’re still throwing caution to the wind 40 years later! I am referring to people who are so out of touch with reality that a very bad acid trip is the only logical explanation for their actions. No, I’m not talking about the management at the Philadelphia Eagles; I’m saving them for next week.

No, I’m referring to people like former governor of Alaska and professional fear monger Sarah Palin. She is among a group of, coincidentally, largely conservative right-wing individuals who are deeply critical of President Obama’s health care reform plans. The most interesting argument against the plan came from Ms. Palin, who linked a few proposals under consideration with Nazi Germany.

The target of her ire was a provision which would allow Medicare to pay for counseling family members who have a dying loved one. The voluntary consultations could be used to dispense information on living wills, pain medication, health care proxies, and hospice care. Somehow in the brown-acid-burned brains of the opposition, this idea would have given the federal government the right to pull the plug on the loved one if further medical care was determined to be too costly. Ms. Palin called this a “death committee”.

Oh, Sarah, Sarah, whatever have you been smoking? It’s okay, you can admit it to us liberals. We won’t condemn because many people in our generation have experimented with controlled substances. Some of us have even inhaled, and a few of us have inhaled and admitted that we had inhaled! You can confide in us, because we’ll understand. Oh, sure, we’ll call you names like “hypocrite”, “liar” and/or “bitch”, but otherwise we’re a rather broad-minded lot.

Or could it be something else? Could it be some uncooked moose which you mistakenly ate? Could that be causing your erratic remarks?

Well, whatever the case, I doubt that the right will back off from their attacks. It’s a shame that this provision won’t go through — plans now call for it to be dropped from the House bill. This information could be very handy, given that so many Americans are now living well beyond our natural expiration date. Perhaps I can demonstrate with the following small playlet.

SCENE: the bedroom of a very infirm elderly woman, who is choking and gagging in her bed. A young woman stands by the bed with an empty water glass in her hand, when the woman’s husband rushes in.

HUSBAND: Dear, what’s wrong with mother?

WIFE: I don’t know! I just gave her some of her medication from this glass of cloudy water I found in the kitchen.

HUSBAND: Oh, no! Was this the water glass by the sink?

WIFE: Why, yes! I thought it was her morning dose of Benefiber.

HUSBAND: That wasn’t Benefiber! It was Liquid Plumber! I was going to use it on the clogged sink, but I got distracted by a tweet!

WIFE: (with hand to forehead) Oh no! Whatever have I done?

HUSBAND: If only the government had allowed Medicare to advise us about living wills, health care proxies, hospice care, and...and proper pain medication. Mother wouldn’t be gagging to death right now!

WIFE: (dropping the glass, burying her head in her hands) What have I done! Oh, what have I done!

MOTHER: Arrrrgh!


Well, Sarah Palin, I hope you’re satisfied!

(Thank you for reading. Please remember to avoid the brown acid and always cook your moose thoroughly before eating.)

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

A Summer Reading List for Justice Sonia Sotomayor

Don’t you hate when this happens...?

You look forward to a carefree summer reading John Grisham novels on the beach when an incredible job offer is tossed into your lap. You just can’t pass this up! So you endure the long, tortuous interview process and you are notified that, yes, you got the job. The actual duties don’t start until October, so you figure you have some down time ahead of you for reading Grisham. Right?

Wrong! Your new employer informs you that you are needed for a special project that has to be completed in September, a full month before you are scheduled to start! You could be overwhelmed by this project, which needs to be reviewed and researched before you even so much as see any orientation materials about your new job. What to do? You hunker down with whatever materials you have at your disposal, resolve to spend long hours away from family and friends in a possibly windowless room studying, studying, studying. Oh yes, forget any thoughts about the carefree days on the beach.

This is the situation now facing the newest employee on the Supreme Court, Justice Sonia Sotomayor, who was sworn in an historic ceremony on August 8. It is a daunting task, but clearly the new justice is up to the challenge. With this in mind, we here at arteejee propose a summer reading list which she can use for her special project, a few orientation materials, and some lighter reading when her eyes get too bug-eyed reading court briefs late into the night.

1. Court Brief: Campaign Finance Reform vs. The United States
2. So you want to be a Supreme Court Justice? (self help pamphlet)
3. Court Brief: Angry, Narrow-Minded Townsfolk vs. Barack Obama
4. The Supreme Court for Dummies – with a foreword by Antonin Scalia
5. Court Brief: Sarah Palin vs. The Obama Death Committees
6. The How and Why Wonder Book of the American Judicial System
7. Court Brief: Sarah Palin vs. The Little Voices in Her Head
8. The Pelican Brief (come on, let the justice have some down time!)
9. Court Brief: New Manhattan playboy Jon Gosselin vs. left-down-on-the-Berks- County-farm-with-her-brood-of eight-reality-television-exploited-children-superstar-mom Kate Gosselin.

In all seriousness, congratulations and good luck to our newest Justice!

(Thank you for reading. Please don’t believe everything you hear at town hall meetings.)

Saturday, August 08, 2009

The Barack Obama Brand in the Funny Papers

Recently, Garry Trudeau gave his Doonesbury fans a very brief peek at how he will portray President Barack Obama. In the early years of the strip (1970–1980), Trudeau used the image of the White House to portray not only the activities inside the executive branch, but also the man holding the office at the time. The White House icon – as I referred to it in my master’s thesis - was often accompanied by other details in the drawing which elaborated on the story line. For example, a stone wall piled high in front of the White House was a reference to the besieged Nixon administration during the Watergate Scandal. Trudeau has not relied on the White House icon in more recent years, as he has resorted to using other symbols to denote the particular President.

Trudeau broke with this tradition during the Reagan Administration. He didn’t actually draw Ronald Reagan as a person, but more in the persona of the early computer generated television character Max Headroom. (Boy, there’s a name we haven’t seen in awhile.) In more recent years, Trudeau used an asterisk, then later, added a battered Roman centurion helmet for George W. Bush. The asterisk itself was a comment on Bush winning the electoral vote, but not the popular vote in 2000. The helmet could be interpreted with several meanings from Bush’s war on terror to the wrecked international reputation he brought down on America in fighting his war.

By using a symbol Trudeau can seemingly preserve the dignity of the individual - who regardless of their performance in office is now considered a famous American just by virtue of being elected — while also enabling him to make a satirical comment with a decidedly liberal bent. Now it is time to choose the symbol which will stand in for President Obama in the Doonesbury strip. The symbols being considered - if we are to believe Trudeau’s teasing panel a few weeks ago - include a halo, a basketball, and a stove pipe hat.

The halo has a long tradition as a symbol in religious art. The traditional head gear of angels or any humans with an angelic disposition is an interesting choice for Obama. It could refer to his recognition in the liberal leaning media as a near perfect individual who can do no wrong. The halo is a good choice if we are talking about saints, but we’re not talking about saints here. Obama is a politician, and history has proven over and over that the most successful politicians are not necessarily the most virtuous human beings, try as they might to be good. This is not a reflection on the individual, but it says a lot about the nature of politics itself. It can be nasty and dirty. The halo could work, but Obama’s performance in the next four (or eight) years could heighten the irony on its use as a symbol.

The basketball has several positive merits. It is a direct reference to Obama’s personal sport of choice — before his administration began, it was reported that he started every day with a round of shooting hoops. The ball itself is also emblematic of material success, particularly within the African-American community. Indeed, basketball has long been dominated by African-Americans, many of whom have become the greatest athletes in the sport and positive role models to young African-Americans. The basketball is both an important personal and cultural symbol for Barack Obama’s portrayal in Doonesbury.

There is also a downside to using the basketball. Even though professional sports like basketball are highly competitive - and in this way an apt metaphor for working through conflicts in everyday life - many readers might find the use of a sports object as a too trivial reference for a President of the United States. The ball could also invite unwelcome comparisons to the traditional stereotypes that have dogged African-Americans in American pop culture. Example: Jimmy the Greek’s comments a few years ago explaining why blacks were more successful than whites in sports. Enough said! In this respect, the basketball symbol could be condemned along with other symbols like watermelon and fried chicken in the pre-civil rights era.

The stove pipe hat has long been associated with the 16th President of the United States, Abraham Lincoln. Several comparisons were made between Obama and Lincoln during the course of Obama’s campaign last year. Both men were first elected to Congress from Illinois, and both have built reputations on their oratorical skills. In many ways, Obama’s ascension to the presidency was first paved by actions of the Great Emancipator.

Personally, I don’t care for the stove pipe hat metaphor. My main objection is that Lincoln was denied the opportunity to collect a government pension. I don’t want to see Obama share Lincoln’s fate. I would very much like to see Obama complete one (or two) terms and become a wise political sage who will continue to guide American politics for years to come. We shall see and hope for the best, but history can be a nasty and dirty business.

In any case, Trudeau has an interesting dilemma in the months ahead as he decides how to define Barack Obama in the funny papers.

Tuesday, August 04, 2009

Snort Notes- August 2009


Okay, I can imagine what everyone is thinking. Liberal journalist, Grateful Dead fan...hmm that explains his pronouncement that Vietnam was a lost cause. However, this may not necessarily be so.

The many genres and sub-genres of American music culture appeal to a varied and diverse audience from all walks and stages of life. Country music is not always listened to by stereotypical rural audiences. Another example, urban and hip-hop music could also find admirers beyond the limits of American cities.

Still, this news does invite strange images to creep into our national psyche. For example, our cherished images of Walter Cronkite may include one of him sitting behind his desk gathering the pages of these stories together while puffing away on his pipe filled with 100% American grown tobacco. Or walking casually down a Saigon street in a flak jacket while torpedoing American foreign policy with a pithy summation of a news story. So now we can possibly include this new image: Walter Cronkite in a tie-die shirt and bandanna, playing hacky sack outside a stadium where the Dead are playing, puffing on his pipe filled with 100% Columbian*

Admit it! This image sprang into your head as soon as you read this tribute. Okay, let’s just contemplate this picture for a moment, and then banish it from our minds forever. It would be helpful to imagine an equally implausible scene in our minds. An image like, say, one of Rush Limbaugh doling out bowls of soup at a homeless shelter. There’s a scene that’ll never happen!

*Okay, I’ll admit it. Even I don’t have the balls to imply that one of our most esteemed journalists smoked marijuana.


Several months ago, in the heat of the Obama for President campaign, I made a few commentaries on Catawissa, a town in northeastern Pennsylvania where I spent many years in my youth. In those notes, I discussed the town’s gradual economic decline to the point where there is no industry left. I was wrong; there is one industry left: the Catawissa Bottling Company.

Earlier this year, Anne Marie and I stopped in an ice cream parlor in Coopersburg. While there, I looked in a soda case and saw a product that took me back to those carefree days in Catawissa. It wasn’t that the bottles themselves were as distinctive as say, Coca-Cola. Rather it was the color of the soft drink itself that reminded me of Big Ben’s Birch Beer. The color was blue!

I think the offbeat colors are its main selling point at many county fairs and firefighter’s carnivals in rural Pennsylvania. I believe blue is the most popular color. If memory serves me correctly, it is also be available in red and clear. It has been many years since I’ve had a cup of Big Ben’s Blue Birch Beer, but I do recall that it was delicious. (This is an unpaid endorsement.)

My belated apologies to the Gregorowicz family for forgetting about their business.

(Thank you for reading. Please remember: friends don’t let friends smoke controlled substances, play hacky sack, and denigrate American foreign policy on national television at the same time.)