Parlor Spider...Step In, Little Fly

Insightful thoughts and/or rants from atop the soapbox from one who wishes to share the "right" opinion with everyone.

Sunday, January 29, 2006

Mental Blocque

I'm stumped. I've worked literally hours on trying to come up with another name for this darned weblog, but I can't generate anything even remotely clever. On a weekend when Coco Crisp gets sent to the Red Sox (Antonio, if you become a Red Sox fan, there will be NO college fund for you!), Dolly Parton hits the country charts for the first time in forever, and the leader of North Korea announces that he had 11 holes-in-one on his very first round of golf, my life force has diminished to zip. So, In lieu of my writing anything even remotely clever, I will provide a couple of sites for you to peruse while I get my literary act together: provides you with half a dozen new things to do each and every month...all exciting things around the country. It may be aimed at business travelers, but I think it would still be cool to see the suggestions. The only drawback is the $24 annual fee. FOR SIX NEW THINGS EVERY MONTH! The site supposedly already contains over 400 things to do. Sweet. is a site that has interesting mental wanderings from a plethora of writers. Check it out.
Lastly, and bestly, in my opinion, is, a zine which looks at pop culture with tongue in cheek and smirk on face.
These people are all far more clever than I could ever be so if you go there and do not return here, I don't blame you...even if I manage to think of a new name!

Thursday, January 26, 2006

I'm Looking for Some Divine Intervention, Here

Pat Robertson claimed to have heard from God that a certain political leader in South America should be assassinated. Mayor Ray Nagin of New Orleans says he knows God is mad at New Orleans and black America...hence, Hurricane Katrina. Of course, Nagin also said that New Orleans would return to be the "Chocolate City" of old. It's uncertain whether this was ordained by God or not, but I think the people in Hershey, PA are riled about it! Oh...not THAT kind of chocolate? Never mind; I will, however, dig out my Parliament LPs and find that one titled "Chocolate City" to ascertain out what the term really means.
Anyway, now I know how Oprah could have been so duped by James Frey, the author who claimed to have beaten addiction without help or 12 steps or anything. His true story was made into a book that turned out to be, uh, a little south of "true." After Oprah hugged him Frey on TV and called Larry King to embrace this fabrication in addition to making it her book club selection (ensuring it would sell over a million copies),she finally opened the refrigerator door and the light went on. It WAS thin truth supported by made up facts. Major oops. Had Divine Powers not been so interested in leftist dictators in South America or smiting mightily the city of New Orleans (the city, not the song by Arlo Guthrie)or checking on Google searches for the government, Oprah would have been spared the public humiliation. It took a web site named The Smoking Gun ( ferret out the truth: the weasel was lying.
I knew it right away when Frey claimed to have had a root canal without benefit of novocaine. Puhleese! NOBODY could do that. I will freely admit to being a wuss: I get nitrous oxide when I make an appointment to go to the dentist. "You'll feel a little pinch" is dentist talk for "This will hurt like hell" as far as I'm concerned, so anybody who claims to have a root canal performed sans painkiller...liar.
So, God was busy elsewhere and couldn't help Oprah. He was busy helping James Frey carry his money to the bank anywhere but in New Orleans.

Sunday, January 22, 2006

Keep Eating, Americans: The Economy Is Depending On Us.

Want some chips? How about a Big Gulp and some Oreos? Don't worry about getting fat because you are stimulating the economy, and that's something to feel great about. It seems as if the obesity industry is one of the few things keeping the economy afloat other than defense spending. According to William Weis, a management professor at Sattle University, Americans spent more than 315 billion dollars on eating comfort foods and restaurant fare last year.
Soda and carbonated beverages led the way to the tune of 37 billion dollars spent. More than 6 billion dollars was spent on chips (I spent, maybe $10 of that...cholesterol and all!). Cookie sales raked in almost 4 billion dollars, of which 244 million of that was spent on Oreos alone! Seriously, who DOES compile these statistics?
All of this has led to a robust segment of the economy: it's good for the manufacturers, obviously, but it is also a boon to doctors, dentists, clothing manufacturers (especially XXXL sizes) and Golden Corral owners everywhere. Think about it: have you visited a fast-food restaurant lately and NOT taken an extra cup of soda with you when you left? It's free, after all, and we all want to get our money's worth. So we end up spending money to join a gym and work it all off before we go to our job which requires NO physical labor whatsoever for most of us. See the trend toward pudginess?
Why do we put on so much weight as a country? It takes a Harvard economist David Cutler to explain it to us. As he wrote in 2003 in an article entitled Why Have Americans Become More Obese? "As an accounting statement, people gain weight if there is an increase in calories taken in or a decrease in calories expended."
Really? I wish I'd gone to Harvard so I would have figured that out, but whatever I can do for the economy is little enough. I wonder if buying a fast car is as helpful as eating fast food...of course, I would have to be able to squeeze into the driver's seat! Pass the french fries.

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Back In the Day

This is so good, I had to pass it on.

The Washington Post had a contest wherein participants were asked to tell the younger generation how much harder they had it "in the old days." Winners, runners-up, and honorable mentions are listed below.

Second Runner-Up:

In my day, we couldn't afford shoes, so we went barefoot. In winter, we had to wrap our feet with barbed wire for traction.

First Runner-Up:

In my day, we didn't have MTV or in-line skates, or any of that stuff. No, it was 45s and regular old metal-wheeled roller skates, and the 45s always skipped, so to get them to play right you'd weigh the needle down with something like quarters, which we never had because our allowances were way too small, so we'd use our skate keys instead and end up forgetting they were taped to the record player arm so that we couldn't adjust our skates, which didn't really
matter because those crummy metal wheels would kill you if you hit a pebble anyway, and in those days roads had real pebbles on them, not like today.

And the winner:

In my day, we didn't have rocks. We had to go down to the creek and wash our clothes by beating them with our heads.

Honorable Mentions:

In my day, we didn't have fancy health-food restaurants. Every day we ate lots of easily recognizable animal parts, along with potatoes.

In my day, we didn't have hand-held calculators. We had to do addition on our fingers. To subtract, we had to have some fingers amputated.

In my day, we didn't get that disembodied, slightly ticked - off voice saying 'Doors closing.' We got on the train, the doors closed, and if your hand was sticking out, it scraped along the tunnel all the way to the next station and it was
a bloody stump at the end. But the base fare was only a dollar.

In my day, we didn't have water. We had to smash together our own hydrogen and oxygen atoms.

Kids today think the world revolves around them. In my day, the sun revolved around the world, and the world was perched on the back of a giant tortoise.

Back in my day, '60 Minutes' wasn't just a bunch of gray - haired, liberal 80 -year - old guys. It was a bunch of gray - haired, liberal 60-year-old guys.

Back in my day, they hadn't invented electricity. We had to watch television by candlelight.


Monday, January 16, 2006

Tips For A Satisfactory Retirement

Retirement could be looming for me...and you, for that matter. All this discussion about green pigs isn't very helpful to us potential retirees. So, at last, here is some practical advice. It's not from me: I got is from Walter Updegrave, a senior editor of Money magazine. We're not pals or anything, but he writes, and I read. It's not exactly a symbiotic relationship, either, since he gets nothing out of it as far as I know. I'm about to be a "fixed-income" guy. I can't be sending him money.
Anyway, he says there are three things for potential retirees to consider (hopefully, BEFORE retiring!)
1. Create a steady income for retirement. Seems logical. Without a steady income, I'd starve. Updegrave indicates the need for a pension-type income (which I will have) and indicates greater satsifaction is exhibited among those with a 401(k) plan or "income annuity" which I also have. So far, so good, at least for me.

2. Keep active, to a point. Updegrave suggests that the most content retirees stay active by working a little and/or volunteering. Thes folks are 13% more satisfied with retirement than others who have nothing to do of consequence. He does caution, however, not to be so involved that these activities become like, well, WORK. Updegrave also indicates that those retirees who work because they need the money are destined to be less satisfied than those who work for other reasons. Gee, I could have kept my radio job...I surely didn't make any money there!

3. Control your exit. People who leave on their terms are 30% more likely to be satisfied with retirement than those who are pushed out the door (even if they get a watch). The reasoning makes sense: those who go when they want to have had the opportunity to plan for the next events in their lives while those who are surprised to find themselves "retired" are left scrambling.
As an addendum, Updegrave indicates that older retireees are more satisfied than the more recently retired. I guess they have an opportunity to accustom themselves to a new lifestyle while someone who is used to a lifelong routine that gets changed might have difficulties. Or, at least possibly, happy hour stretches longer than an hour. Mas cerveza, por favor!

That's a lot of condensed information to digest,readers.
"Money don't get everything it's true, but what it don't get I can't use"
Thank you, Barrett Strong.

Friday, January 13, 2006

Small Boy Inside Green Pig

I think this "green pig" thing is getting out of hand. What next?

Thursday, January 12, 2006

Makin' Bacon

I've never been much of a scientist...oh, I watched "Mr. Wizard" on TV on occasion and thought it was cool when things blew up or started on fire, but tinkering with natural law seemed, well, dangerous to me. Thus it is with some trepidation that I report fluorescent green pigs.
Scientists in Taipei got tired of that Korean guy hogging all the science headlines and decided to create their own stir in the scientific community. They have created a fluorescent green pig by influsing green protein (albeit fluorescent green protein) into little hamlets while said porkers-to-be were still in the developmental stage before birth. ("Alas, poor Pork! I knew him well, Horatio." Was that really Shakespeare or Sir Francis Bacon, as some scholars suggest?) These dabblers in the genetic arts crow about the fact that while others have made pigs which were green on the outside, THEIRS is green "all the way through, including internal organs!" Sow what, you ask? These transgenic pigs are supposed to aid in stem cell research by allowing scientists to trace changes in tissues during physical development. Uh...ok, if you say so.
I say if anybody tries to give me eggs and green ham, I will not eat them off the plate. I will not eat them early or late. I will not eat them with bread and jam; I WILL NOT EAT EGGS AND GREEN HAM! (not even with brown sugar, pepper and hot sauce.) Word is that Pooh is not at all happy, either!

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Miracles Do Happen...and Sometimes They Don't

Maurice Clarett was SOOOO close to a big career and gajillions of dollars. He blew it on a series of misadventures.
Art Schlicter was a can't-miss quarterback from Ohio State until gambling got in his way.
Marcus Vick might be the latest casualty among those who are on the precipice of fame only to see it slipping away. THE BIG CHOKE happens to many of us who don't happen to be on the national stage, too. I just hope the Record-Herald doesn't pick up this story:
It was nine-pin tap day in my bowling class. The class was much smaller due to a school trip so I had a chance to bowl with the students; it was my second foray into rolling a ball this term. Usually, I help students individually and keep things moving smoothly with error correction, lane problems while listening for inappropriate words emanating from the juke box.
The first game was hotly contested, but I ended with a 166, one ahead of Brunswick and a few more up on Phil. The second game was a surreal thing of majesty. After a couple of strikes I began to talk some smack to my playing partners, but after five in a row, the pressure began to mount. By the time I was in the seventh of a would-be perfect game, the other lanes had noticed and the noise began to increase. I would like to say there were shouts of encouragement among the "Don't choke!" comments, but that might be going too far. In the ninth frame, I stood alone: eight perfect frames behind me. Everyone else stopped to watch. The ball left my hand, went Brooklyn side and knocked all ten pins to the deck. I leaped into the air, gave my double chop block to the knees salute, and the crowd erupted.
As soon as I stepped to the lane for the tenth frame, everybody gathered around making choke signs and hollering motivational things like "No pressure!" "How many 300 games have you ever bowled?" and "This is the big one...don't blow it!"
As the ball left my hand, I knew that I'd missed the second arrow, and the ball careened far too much to the Brooklyn side. I turned dejectedly, not wishing to see the sad result. The ensuing ovation made me turn to see that, alas, a miracle had not happened, and two pins were left standing. Nobody paid attention to the sleeper spare I picked up or even the next ball to end with a 273 game. Fame had eluded my grasp.
"I knew he couldn't do it" "What kind of bowling teacher leaves two pins?" "Ha Ha!"
I couldn't be upset with them because I HAD choked...big time.
Chances are, Faces In the Crowd won't care. I'm just another "could-have-been-famous" guy in the dumpster of sports. Miracles DO happen; just not to me.

Sunday, January 08, 2006

Meet Me in St. Looey

Fifteen days in a row...and counting; there's no end forecast for the immediate future, either. SAD? You bet I'm sad, and if you live north of the Arch, you're probably not feeling all that chipper yourself. See, St. Louis is the line of demarcation from the happy people :) and the people affected by Seasonal Affective Disorder :( Fifteen days of cloudy skies in a row sets a new record, though I'm not sure who keeps such inane statistics concerning meteorology: probably the tanning bed folks or Dennis Flack, ace meteorologist. The old record of fourteen was set just as God created the sun or it evolved into a fireball from an amalgam of gaseous matter spinning through the universe, whichever you prefer.
All I know is that school kids are cranky even after almost two weeks of vacation. They are dazed and confused on a level far beyond the usual. Combine the agony of arising five hours earlier than normal in order to get to school with a lack of vitamin D on all these cloudy days, and it's a disaster. The fact that the days are getting longer all the time doesn't mean squat when there is nothing to see but clouds. I'll bet the folks in St. Louis are chuckling at that one. They can probably see all the way OVER the arch today.
There are some positives, however; my back doesn't hurt from shovelling the mountains of snow (on which I have to walk to school touching the telephone wires). Aging has definitely slowed down since I "keep" better in the cold (ever hear of a heated morgue?). In another two weeks, the first semester will be completed, and we'll ALL be on the downhill slope for this school year...though generally, that's like waiting for the other shoe to drop!
Also, the people in the Pacific Northwest get rain 30 days in a row this time of year, and it's probably only light for three hours in Alaska. So, while it could be worse, it could also be better. I'll see you at the Bowling Hall of Fame in St. Louis.

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Speak English and Measure Metric=Goodwill

Word from the Washington Post is that the influence of the U.S. has waned significantly in Latin America. Evidence of this comes from all the protests our president had to endure during his recent Latin American summit as well as some guy getting elected in a South American country who promises to be America's "worst nightmare." I can hardly wait for that one.
Jackson Browne noted part of the problem in Lives In the Balance years ago: we just don't seem to get that any culture different from ours does not exist SOLELY for our benefit. Anyway, I think I have the solution...accept the idea of the metric system wholeheartedly! What better way to show the rest of the world that we're really down with them? This show of unity is bound to impress the world enough that they will stop saying bad things about imperialism and Satan when referring to us.
The United States is only one of three countries that continues to use the Imperial System/Standard System (we call it U.S. Customary Units). The other two are Liberia (founded by former black Americans who returned to Africa as their homeland) and Burma...noted on my giant wall map at home as Myanmar. Truth be told, Myanmari (?) have not officially accepted the metric suystem but use it most of the time. So that leaves us, doggedly refusing to accept 0 degrees as freezing or 100km as a speed limit. Heck, even Britain went fully metric in the 1960's.
What started in France (go figure!) in the 1790s as a way to make measurement uniform has gotten around to every major nation, and yet we refuse to accept it. Track and field events are now measured in metric distances, and some labels have metric equivalences, but who reads those?
OK,'s true that in those days there WERE 37 different measurements for a "foot", 83 different measures for dry capacities, 70 different ways to measure fluids and 63 different notations for dead weight (bodies, perhaps, as one?)The fact that this was French-inspired is enough to make me clamor for Imperial units. But, as an offer of goodwill and oneness with the world, I'm willing to go metric. I think the country would do well to follow my example, and we'd see kilometers of smiles from the rest of the world.

Monday, January 02, 2006

In the Trenches of My Mind

My brother-in-law John finally returned my copy of Christopher Moore's Lamb this year for Christmas. He'd had it for months, thoroughly enjoyed it (as YOU would) and had all his friends read it. It was nice to get back, but books are like friends: I tend to introduce them to as many people as possible in hopes of enlarging my circle of "friends." This happens because, invariably, other peole introduce me to their book "friends" and I learn something. Convenient, isn't it?
Johnny B also included a book titled In the Trenches by Dennis Fermoyle who has been a teacher in Minnesota public schools for 30+ years.
I warily approach education-themed books because most of them are written far from "real" teaching and expound on ideas that are great in theory but lack practicality...No Child Left Behind comes to mind (sorry, Mr. President). Anyway, the more I read this book, the more spooky it began to sound: it was as if someone had jumped inside my brain and wrote down everything I'd thought for the last five years minus the diatribes against Coke. As an interesting aside, the University of Michigan joined the list of colleges cancelling deals with Coke based on ecological and human rights violations committed by the company in its overseas operations.
Fermoyle decries concerned parental involvement, overburdened administrators, teachers' unions enabling ineffective teachers to continue to be employed and a host of other ills we face daily. He also touched on an area that many of the so-called experts refuse to touch: student involvement. He maintains, as do I, that if a student comes prepared to learn, he/she WILL learn, and the opposite is also true. We've all heard how attitude makes us more effective workers...and we've all sat through day-long seminars designed to get us to feel positively about our careers...the same should be said about students. Instead, we derive a whole host of reasons why the teaching profession is keeping students from learning...we excuse lazy habits and poor attitudes and blame the educators.
There's no doubt that the social climate for kids today is a tough one and school is, at times, a tough place to exist socially; the classroom, however, should be one place in which a student can use the enthusiasm of youth to achieve.
In time when we will all be judged by the performance on standardized test scores for ALL of our students, the issue of what a child brings to the classroom is one that cannot be ignored. Do we have ineffective teachers who continue to work because a union makes it too hard to terminate them? yes; do we have poor administrators who are overworked? yes; do school boards know everything that goes on in school when they make decisions? no, how could they? Do we have family units so dysfunctional that kids have no chance to begin with? maybe more than we know.
Do we also have dedicated students, administrators, board members and parents? YES! positive attitudes are hard to maintain sometimes in light of all the difficulties, but it's up to all of us, including the general public, to keep working.
Seeing "my" ideas book without actually writing one (and no royalties, either)was an interesting experience to start the new year.
I just hope Fermoyle didn't take any other random thoughts from my unconscious while he was in there!