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.

Monday, July 30, 2007


Honestly, don't people work in this country anymore? And what passes for entertainment these days? (maybe I'm just getting senile) Granted, The Simpson's Movie is probably rather humorous...though I'll wait for it on NetFlix, but this "I Like Turtles" thing is just a perfect example of too many people with too much time on their hands. America is in trouble.
See, this 10-yr.old kid named Jonathan Ware went to the Rose Festival in Portland, Oregon, recently. It's an annual affair, and he and his family went to have some fun. He gets his face painted like something Quentin Tarantino would think up, and a TV reporter stopped to ask him a question as part of the nightly "cute" segment designed to take our minds off weightier matters like war, immigration and the Dow freefall. In response to a rather lengthy query by the reporter, young Ware responded in a deadpan, zombie-like voice, "I like turtles." That was it. This so stunned the reported that she hemmed and hawed her way through he segue back to the news. Fine, as it goes.
However, somebody saw it, recorded it to the internet and over 500,000 people have viewed this 15 seconds of video. It has spawned t-shirts, parodies (such as the one from "The Shining" hinted at in the title and something from "The O'Reilly Factor"); a company in England recently called to ask if they could use it as a cell phone ring tone. Seriously, this is crazy.
Perhaps I'm just jealous because it wasn't me...although turtles really aren't my favorite unless they're the ninja kind.
The criteria for fame has certainly declined in this country as a result of the internet where inanity rules and gets more wierd by the minute. (of course, you understand that I read about this episode and watched the video...why wasn't I working?)

Sunday, July 29, 2007


It may just be me, but I find the latest flap over alcohol at NASA to be a bit amusing. It seems that there are no specific rules about such a thing with astronauts who, after all, don't fly for Northwest Airlines, yet a recent report hinted that some astronauts might have been a bit tipsy before, during or after takeoff. Like a Congressional committee, no names were mentioned, but just the allegation was enough to send NASA into prevention mode... something like the Tour de France's witch hunt for doping. (The next thing you know, they'll disqualify Contador because he obviously gained an advantage in 2004 when he had surgery for a brain aneurysm!)
Anyway, I fail to see the big deal: it's not like the asronauts have to actually FLY the rocket as it takes off and blasts into space where it could hit...what? Given the complexity of a mission to actually hit something like the moon, I would suggest that the chances of an imbibing astronaut crashing into space stuff are somewhat slim. D'oh!
Besides, I know plenty of people whose last act before taking off and first act after becoming airborne is to have a drink...or take another drug of choice. Face it, flying is terrifying; therefore, blasting off in a rocket can be no less so especially when disaster is a real possibility which has nothing to do with who's in the cockpit.
Astronauts are placed in quarantine a week prior to liftoff, and there's probably very little to do to relax. Somehow, a spirited game of ping pong with the co-pilot would not be MY choice if Stoli were available. So now, NASA has to limit the opportunities for its astronauts to imbibe prior to liftoff. Look for breathalyzers on the launch pad in the near future! (and exactly what would the "legal" limit be?) More for NASA to ponder in addition to the styrofoam stuff falling off.
Me? I'd be testing the computer operators on the ground before I worried about the folks in the shuttle.

Saturday, July 21, 2007

Gee, You're Swell!

It's almost as if we've become afraid of the truth. It might seem that we go out of our way to reaffirm the positive in everyone to the degree that many of us are surprised when things don't go exactly as we had planned: we actually lose sometimes. We don't get the position or promotion we wanted; our team doesn't win the requisite number of games; our love life goes south, and we're left scratching our heads and wondering how it could happen to US! This sense of entitlement is running rampant in society, and we propagate it daily, well, except for the goths who treat every day as if it were being lived in a toilet.
Every kid on every team gets a certificate or a trophy or a plaque simply by virtue of being on the team. Most schools promote students without the necessary academic credentials because their psyche would be damaged. Even Harvard University has voiced serious questions about grade inflation. We continually allow stupid politicians to make disastrous decisions and calmly wait for them to simply go away. Nobody seems to have the gumption to relate a message that says, "I'm sorry. You've failed. Keep trying or simply go away." Tom Greaves is out to either make that point dramatically or provide positive feelings for all, depending on ones perspective.
Greaves has erected the Compliment Machine on 14th St. NW in Washington, D.C. At random intervals, the highly-visible red and white box emits compliments like "You look great today," or "People really respect you." He has recorded a hundred such compliments on an iPod Nano and powered the whole thing with a car battery. He occasionally changes the compliments issued and takes the Nano out at night to avoid theft. It's all part of art...or a sociological comment on society.
The Compliment Machine is part of an outdoor exhibit by Washington Project for the Arts, and draws a variety of responses from quizzical looks to smiling faces. Greaves indicated that he got the idea from the Pompidou Center in Paris where a dummy hangs and periodically lurches forward and strikes a bell with its head. The randomness of the act is an integral part of Greaves' machine...but giving compliments? Rather harmless, I suspect, but yet another way for us to avoid what might be the reality that we are NOT the best and, sometimes, life hands us a rotten deal. Of course, there are plenty of real people out there to "help" us remember those facts! Thanks for're incredibly literate and astute today! ;)

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Literary Terrorism and Such

I must admit that I am getting a real charge out of the righteous indignation being spewed by hundreds, if not thousands, of people who feel affronted by the New York Times' early review and capsule summary of the new Harry Potter book prior to its release date. They castigate the Times and everyone associated with the dastardly deed. Rowling has mentioned the term "literary terrorism" in a recent interview, and there are reports of children weeping uncontrollably when they hear about the plot prior to their Friday night/Saturday morning/afternoom/evening date with the folks from Hogwarts. I have this to say, "IF YOU DON'T WANT TO KNOW WHAT HAPPENS, DON'T READ THE DAMN REVIEW!!!" It's capitalized because I'm shouting now, something my wife says I do frequently. It's just that idiocy really angers me. Why would you begin to read a review, find that it gives away treasured information, AND THEN KEEP READING? The "does Harry die" phenomenon is much akin to the controversy created by The Beatles' Abbey Road album. McCartney is still alive as we speak. The problem is that we've become elitist: no one must know what happens before I do. Please, give it a rest. It's not like Harry will ever really go away.
The New York Times is currently asking readers to report on their favorite literary memories from childhood. Thus far, there have been more than 500 responses, including mine, and it makes for fascinating reading. What it really does, though, is show that readers' favorites never really go away...they get passed down to succeeding generations and become timeless. The Boxcar Children is a perfect example. While I had never read (or even heard of) the series as a child, my wife chose to share it with our grandson who now eagerly devours every new volume. Thus, the series retains an immortal quality that is gratifying to readers everywhere.
So, don't rip the Times or any other source for "leaking" such must-know information. It will be a classic soon enough, and I'm not about to fight hundreds of screaming 10-yr. olds and their mothers to get my hands on a copy of the latest (and,ostensibly, the last) tome concerning Harry. Besides, staying up until midnight? I don't think so. Now if it were a new Doc Savage adventure, that would be altogether different!

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Overexposed Without Protection

Some have opined that any exposure in the media is good exposure for one who wishes to be widely acclaimed. Having the photogs flash your every movement across news pages and the internet would not be MY idea of a good time, but I'll never really know. Some celebs can't seem to get enough of the constant posing and smiling...and that leads to overexposure. A recent poll by E-Poll Research (honestly! Is there a poll for EVERYTHING?)questioned respondents on 45 appeal ratings about more than 3,000 celebrities and came up with the top 20 or so overexposed people in this country. In an article appearing in "Forbes" magazine, famous people were rated for the degree of their overexposure, according to those surveyed. I'm sure there are no surprises in this list, but I'll give you the top five in alphabetical order and see if you can arrange them in order of their rating for overexposure.
Tom Cruise...Kevin Federline...Paris Hilton...Nicole Richie...Britney Spears.
If you don't recognize all of these names instantly, you live in a cultural vacuum. Not that these people are important in the world view; it's just that the press has them constantly in front of us. (And remember, not included in the top five were such icons as Michael Jackson #7 and Lindsay Lohan #6!)
Our "winner" was judeged by 72% of those polled to be overexposed, followed in second place by a 68% overexposure number; at this point, the numbers drop a little bit: 54%, 53% and 52% so you can see that the top two are REALLY perceived as being far too much in the news. In our group we have one singer, one wannabe singer, an actor, a TV "star" and one who really doesn't seem to have a talent unless one counts home video...but enough... here is the list from #1 to least exposed in the top 5:

1. Britney 2. Paris 3. K-Fed 4. TomCat 5. Nicole Richie (apparently, I have not heard enough about her to know any nickname.)

These celebrities are so overexposed that I am featuring them in a blog...imagine how many others there are!
Sad. And can Victoria Beckham (Posh Spice) be far behind?

Thursday, July 12, 2007

China Olympics? I'll Pass

Soon to be a dominating force in the world economy, China goes on public display in 2008 when the Summer Olympics arrive amid great fanfare. I've always wanted to see the spectacle, but I'm going to pass on this one. I've already reported about the somewhat hilarious effort to Anglicize the signage in Beijing...with head-scratching results. Then came the bathroom bizarro:
A new word record has been apparently set in China for having the most outdoor bathroom facilities in one place. A recent photo showed endless, rather discrete stall-like enclosures in all directions. I have no idea whether there was any distinction between male and female conveniences, but I know in Thailand there was a decided difference! Grabbing to rails embedded in the wall while trying to "connect" with an open hole in the floor is not my idea of convenient...and that was the women's side! This Chinese loo goes a step further in the men's section. Urinals are placed conveniently, but they have many different, not tall, short or wide. These are shapes like an open-mouthed crocodile or the torso of a woman holding a bucket-like object (all cast in porcelin, I think). Now, imagine this scenario: you're a male who really needs relief so you step into the nearest stall and face an open-jawed crocodile that seems to invite you closer. Hey! I'm not getting near something like that...can I prove it's not alive? And facing a statuary woman? No way could I "go." What were they thinking? They certainly didn't develop that for me! However, the food thing must be the worst!
It seems that in Beijing, and in all of China for all I know, the street vendors' treat is a dumpling-like delectable called a "baozi." The concoction has an outer skin of wheat or rice flour and is filled with sliced pork...OK, I ate something like that in Chicago a while back, and it was good. It actually resembles those dumplings one gets in a dim sum restaurant, just bigger. It's steamed in a bamboo cooker and takes only a couple of bites to get down. In Beijing, it's done a bit differently, using a "6-to-4" ratio. That means that unscrupulous street vendors are making these by grinding up cardboard and mixing it with fatty pork "product" in a proportion of 60% cardboard and 40% pork "stuff." An ivestigative team uncovered just such an operation recently. The cardboard is softened in an industrial chemnical used to make paper and/or soap, mixed with unnamed fatty pork deposits and seasoned before steaming. This particular operation was shut down by the police eventually, but do I believe it was the only one? Nah. In spite of the great amount of fiber one must be getting, I'll pass and wait for the Olympics to come to Wisconsin so we can have the State Fair cream puffs!

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Not Even Colossal...It's Ginormous!

Just for the record, any squid that measures 26 feet long and 3 feet wide can be called anything it wants to...just like the 500-lb. gorilla. Such a critter washed ashore in Hobart, Australia, the other day and conjured up Jules Verne-like recollections. Imagine something as long as a bus in your bathtub! Anyway, this is not the largest colossal inkwell found lately. In February, one was caught which weighed in at a hefty half-ton! Calimari, anyone? (Actually, giant squid taste terrible because of their high amonia content which aids in buoyancy). However, the subject today is not squid (colossal or otherwise); it is about the 100 or so new words being added to the Merriam-Webster New Collegiate Dictionary, of which "ginormous" is the one most favored in an online poll. For the record, it beat out such everyday words as "smackdown," "gray literature" (reading matter which is hard to find), and "telenovella" (that Spanish-speaking soap opera that's always on TV). Ginormous is, obviously, a combination of "giant" and "enormous." It has become accepted parlance so the dictionary folks have added it to the latest edition. Will it be in the Scripp's Spelling Bee on ESPN? Who knows? I love the word "colossal'" and to see it replaced is difficult to accept. What's next? The Ginormous of Rhodes as one of the wonders of the ancient world? The Ginormous Man as a B movie? The New York or San Francisco Ginormals? I, for one, have never been noted as conservative, but adulterating a language that is already among the most difficult to learn seems like some kind of plot. We want immigrants to speak English, and then we coin terms like "ginormous." That's cold...not in a temperature way, but...well, you know.
And as long as we're discussing this word, the current parlance purveyors aren't even credited with coining the term. Webster's folks indicate that the word was included as far back as 1948 when it was discovered as British military slang.
Thus, new words come in everyday as they become common in usage. Webster's feel obliged to include them in order to stay current. That's why I don't talk to people anymore. I can't understand what they're talking about. I just chill with my iPod listening to crunk most of the time.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

The Big Day

July 10 is a notable day. The latest Harry Potter movie opens at midnight tonight, and even in Green Bay (or maybe ONLY in Green Bay), the crowds began assembling early in the morning to get the best seat or the first bag of I'd go for the food. While I liked the Harry Potter books, the movies have been less than expected so I won't see this one. Big, but not the reason for excitement.
Baseball's All-Star game was held today, and I saw most of it after my shift of touring folks at Lambeau Field. The American League wins again, and Griffey gets a couple of RBIs...a perfect game. But that's not really it, either.
On this day 36 years ago, there was a woman who saw enough good things in me to marry me, and she's still able to find good things about THAT'S a remarkable feat. Ichiro hit the first
All-Star game inside-the-park home run tonight, but that feat pales in comparison with the fortitude showed by my sweetie all these years. Bluntly put, I am not the easiest person with whom one can choose to live; she's managed to brush aside all the major flaws and maintain her hold on the glimmer that shows promise. I will say to everyone that she is the absolute nicest person in the world, and I'm lucky to have her. You should all be so lucky.

Sunday, July 08, 2007

De Do Do Do...De Dah Dah Dah

That's all I want to say to you.

Ryun and I hangin' at Wrigley.

Actually, there's more. This has been a big year for concerts, but the latest was the biggest. I recently ventured to Chicago's famed Wrigley Field to take in my first major stadium concert in a long time: The Police. While Sting is not necessarily my favorits singer, it was still a "must see" as far as I was concerned. It's not often iconic groups break up then reunite years later for a world tour. Well, I guess it's happened a LOT lately, but The Police may be the biggest name to return to the concert scene.
Ryun scored the tickets, and we scurried to the at the Addison St. elevated stop with a crush of other people and into the stadium. I had to resist the urge to stop for buck beers hawked by nearby saloons as well as the urge to sell my tickets to those unfortunates who didn't have such a cool son and were unable to get tickets to the sold-out event. We moved warily through the maze of folks and found that our seats were along the first base line, five rows up and on the aisle!(serious finger-breaking foul ball territory) People who paid twice what we did were a mere fifty feet away on the infield, and due to our slightly elevated seats, we could see better than they could.
The warm-up band began about 7 and played for half an hour; then, the interminable wait for the main event began. By 8:15 I felt like shouting, "We want the show," like the folks in the Blues Brothers movie. Even the first third of the concert was merely OK; but the last 90 minutes or so were rockin', and the crowd was really into it. By the time "Roxanne" blared forth from the massive speakers, we were all on our feet singing and clapping.
After a bit more than two hours and two curtain calls, Sting said goodnight, and we headed for the el with about 25,000 other people. We were held up for awile because the platform was full, and when we finally boarded the train, we were jammed in much more closely than I would have liked. (I may have been assaulted, but I couldn't turn around to see the perp so I let it go!)
All in all, a good time and a summer highlight...well worth sacrificing the opportunity to see Bon Jovi at Summerfest that night!

Thursday, July 05, 2007

Philanderers Beware!

It seemed commonplace enough, if not innocent. In fact, nobody thought it was innocent, but it happens all the time, right? No big deal. "Not so fast," said a judge in Illinois, and German Blinov is now $4,803.00 poorer as a result of his philandering ways.
Blinov and Natalie Friedman became "friends" with the acquiescence of her husband, according to Natalie. That the relationship blossomed into something of a romance was a sidelight to the whole thing...but not according to Arthur Friedman. Strangely, he did not dispute his wife's contention that she was allowed to have "friendships" outside the home, but he did seem to take umbrage with the fact that this particular arrangement led to love. He sued for "alienation of affection" and was awarded the previously-mentioned sum as compensation for losing his wife to Blinov by a Cook County, Illinois, judge.
A hasty check through the files of Google showed me that there are eight states in the U.S. in which such a thing can occur. While it does seem less than newsworthy for relationships to break up more and more often these days (50% of all first marriages and 75% of all second marriages, according to statistics), getting sued for such romantic wanderings hardly seems to fit the trends of society. In case you're wondering about those eight states, the list, in alphabetical order, is this: Hawaii, Illinois, Mississippi,New Hampshire, New Mexico, North Carolina, South Dakota and Utah. That's quite a far-flung variety, and maybe not what one might have suspected...ok,ok...I did suspect Utah. I guess I would have also thought about conservative, Bible-belt states as being more represented, but not so. I suppose Texas, for example, allows duelling instead, and with so many states enacting concealed-carry gun laws, perhaps getting sued for stealing someone's gal (or fella) might just be the least painful payback.
I, for one, will continue to be true to my honey and check out any old laws on the books before I move anywhere!

Monday, July 02, 2007

Gettin' By On Gettin' By

Everyone has been asking: "How's retirement?" Well, so far, it's a lot like summer vacation has been for the last 35 years or so. I've finally wound down from the intensity of teaching 167 students every day and dealing with school district politics at the same time. I've gotten some projects done, read a couple of books for fun and watched as much baseball on TV as possible. I have gotten better at making recipes my lovely wife Carol actually likes instead of experimenting in the kitchen, and I can FINALLY make the bed correctly. I did hesitate for a moment yesterday to muse that July was here and school starting is just around the corner. Two things then happened which made the whole deal a bit more real.
I was working with a student last night in preparation for a test. We were discussing media, its history and role in society, when the subject of magazines came up. The text mentioned that AARP's magazine was the most widely-read periodical in this country. Staci didn't know what it was, first of all(she also had not heard of Oliver Twist, the musical version of which I was watching when she called for help), but when I explained what it was and asked her why she thought the circulation numbers were so high, she replied, "Well, all the old people can't DO anything else but read magazines." She's lucky to have survived the evening. Her explanation that she meant REALLY old people not retirees like myself was somewhat lame. Humbling.
Today, I got my first retirement check from the state retirement board. It is, of course, my money, since I earned it during the last 35 years, but it still seemed like "free" money to me. What caught my eye, however, was the disclaimer on the check: "This check is void if the recipient has died before the issue date." Whoa! Now, there's an eye-opener for you! I wonder if they and Staci know something I don't know. At least my wife is guaranteed 179 more payments if I go tomorrow.
Retirement is grand thus far though Lambeau Field calls tomorrow and The Police concert at Wrigley Field on Thursday mark the beginning of the busy part of the summer. The AARP would be proud of me.

Sunday, July 01, 2007

One Less Hero To Help Us

I am not the first, nor am I the most eloquent to deliver final thoughts on a great American Hero at his passing, but I cannot let those facts stop me. It is a dark day for that may continue longer than it takes for the sun to set in Sweden in the middle of the summer.
Captain America will be buried on Thursday at Arlington National Cemetery, and that bodes ill for all of us.
Since March of 1941, Captain America has been taking on all the evil people of history, beginning in the first issue with Adolph Hitler. The Red Skull fell during the Cold War, and it was only a matter of time before Cap took out all those bent on terrorizing innocents with explosives and/or machetes. I'm sure HE could have found Osama Bin Laden if we'd only asked. If the world ever needed a real Captain America, it is now.
Captain America was assassinated on the steps of the Federal Building in New York where he had gone to answer the courts as to why he would not sign the Superhero Registration Act...something which would have released the real identities of ALL superheroes. For 66 years he and other superheroes battled in anonymity, a fact which made them all the more powerful. I mean, really, you'd think James Bond would have been offed long ago since EVERYONE knew who he was (even if he didn't look like Sean Connery anymore). Refusal to sign cost him his life and America one of its greatest protectors. Readers bought over 200 million copies of his exploits in 75 countries around the world, a testament to his popularity.
Now, sadly, he is leaving us. Will he return? Author Jeph Loeb isn't saying; however, he IS saying that we won't wake up on the 5th of July as if the whole thing was an episode of "Dallas." Captain America will still be gone...proof will be on newsstands everywhere on July 5th.