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, June 30, 2008

Houston, We May Have A Problem

Joe Horn is about to become a poster idol, inextricably linked with the Supreme Court and the N.R.A. I'm not sure whether that's good news or bad news...I guess each of us will have to decide personally, but we WILL have to take a stand, I suspect.
Joe Horn was exonerated by the Texas Supreme Court for killing two men who were burglarizing a neighbor's home last November. This comes shortly after the Supreme Court of the United States struck down the law limiting weapon ownership in the country. This is notable in some respects because Joe Horn MEANT to kill two people: he told the 911 operator that he was going to do it when he phoned in and said a burglary was taking place. Despite the fact that police were on the way, Horn shot two "black guys," actually illegal immigrants from Columbia, as they ran AWAY from his yard (not putting him or his property in danger). Let's see...shooting two burglars in the back with a shotgun as they fled...apparently, this is just cause in Texas, and now, perhaps, all across the country.
Gun ownership is fine with me. I do not own one, especially given the statistics on gun deaths in this country. In 2005, the last year statistics have been compiled on such things, homicides featuring guns accounted for only 45% of all gun-related deaths; accidents accounted for 3% and "legal" deaths (such as those involving policemen or, apparently, Joe Horn) accounted for 2% of the gunshot deaths. The other 55% of deaths inflicted by gunshot were suicides: the most effective way to kill yourself. Suicide by gun is effective 90% of the time; jumping from a high place works only 34% of the time (imagine surviving such an attempt! You'd look like one of those cartoon guys who moved up and down like an accordian). Attempts at self-destruction using frugs were successful a measly 2% of the time. Hence, guns obviously top the list. I don't want to take the chance, even though one estimate places the figure at 1 million the number of crimes that were prevented by flashing a gat. Still not enough to convince me to put one under my pillow.
While I might feel differently if someone were burglarizing my house or terrorizing a family member, for now I think it'll be awhile before I start carrying a piece.

Sunday, June 29, 2008

I'll Take Superhero Powers

There are more self-help books at any bookstore than almost any other kind, it seems. No matter who one is or what he or she has, it always seesm that there's something missing in life...necessitating the obligatory plethora of self-help books. I suspect that such tomes are merely cheaper than therapy, but I also suspect most people who buy them don't really read them all the way through. Face it, nobody likes to be reminded of what they have to do to achieve what they don't have since it always sounds like too much work. Of course it is, or they would be doing those things already. Now comes word from researchers that between 40% and 50% of happiness might be genetic in nature! That's great! One more reason for me to reach for the mocha fudge and forget about the endorphin-laced exercise regimen: I'm doomed to be unhappy since my parents were!(Like most research, there's a margin for error here, and I'm counting on that!)
Anyway, the folks at RealAge have a quiz online which will help one decide if he or she is destined to be happy or not. By responding to the questions, one can decide whether his or her subjective health is better than objective health. The former relates to how one views the current health status, and the latter relates to how the medical profession might view the health status. Thus, it would seem that it's not what happens healthwise but how one views it that matters.(half full/half empty drivel)
It's not a surprise to me that researchers have discovered that mood disorders are worse for us than physical disorders; nor is it any suprise that personal hobbies and an active social life can lead to happiness and longevity, but I have to take a bit of umbrage at their description of marriage as a "social life." simply because so many people fail at marriage that the unhappiness quotient must be quite high.
Anyway, in the quiz, there was a list of eleven items, and one needed to select the three most likely to increase personal happiness. After selection, the "submit" button led to a description of how happy the choices would possibly make one.

Choices included the following:
1. A massage 2. A million dollars 3. Becoming fluent in a foreign language 4. Hangin' in a beach house with 5 close friends 5. Losing 10 pounds 6. World peace 7. An organized garage 8. Having superhero powers 9. Getting a glowing dental report 10. Taking a long walk in the park 11. A sharp rise in your investments.

For the record, "world peace" is a crappy answer because it sets unreal expectations which are bound to disappoint, but I figure it's as likely as winning a million bucks. Therefore, I choose having superhero powers, but I get to choose which ones. You'll know if I ever get them.
Should you want to take the "quiz," go to and discover is you have the keys to happiness...if not, it's probably just a genetic flaw.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Your Top 100?

If you've ever sen the movie "High Fidelity," starring my favorite actor John Cusack, you know about lists. His character and those in the movie are always discussing Top Ten lists as though they were the stuff of which life is made. At one point, I think I made a list of my top 50 favorite songs then whittled it down to 25 or so, but I'm not really into counting stuff like that. Dave Bruno, I'm not, and I'm not sure I want to be.
Bruno, a Chicago resident, has decided to pare his entire life down to the 100 things that he will live with for a year. He has until Novemnber to accomplish the task, then he must live with just those things for a year. As a member of the blogosphere, Dave has gotten quite a reaction to his idea with hundreds of comments and many responses, both positive and negative, to his idea of simplification. will give you more information than I am willing to spend time on, but think of it...could YOU live with just 100 things in your life? Of course, Dave does not count perishable items and food, nor does he count underwear and socks (really, would socks be one thing or two? Likewise, is a PAIR of pants one thing or two? Would a bra or panyhose be one thing or two? tough choices, no doubt). He noted that giving up extra shirts, shoes and pants was difficult, so I figured...what would be tough for me to give up?

1. My CD collection of 500 discs to start with. Would it count if I put them all on my computer? It's only one item. That would, however, allow me to rid myself of the foud CD players, three receivers and that reel-to-reel tape deck I'm holding onto for some reason...and I really don't need three iPods, I suppose.

2. My shoes...ok, I'll admit that I'm something of a shoe freak, rivaling many women. Sorry, that's just the way it is. I could lose a couple of pair, I guess, as long as the remainder would count two shoes as one pair!

3. Shirts, especially T-shirts. I regularly gift the Goodwill store with these, but I still have a zillion of them, and I got six more this week from various basketball camps. And who could throw away the Jackson Browne T-shirt from 10 years ago or the Doc Savage "Man of Bronze" shirt which really doesn't even fit anymore. (who would want them?) These are iconic items which will be passed on from generation to generation like Green Bay Packers' season tickets.

4. Sports equipment. I have more balls, bats, skates, bikes and racquets than any person should be allowed to have, but I know I will find an appropriate use for all of them in time. You just never know when a visitor will want to get in a quick croquet game.

5. Winter clothing.Hey, I live in Wisconsin so there's no way I'm ditching any of that stuff. Layers upon layers are required here, and I aim to keep warm.

Janet Riel, 59, of St. Louis agrees with the idea of simplicity, saying she has lived on $10,000/yr for most of her adult life. I could not do that, I'm afraid. My mortgage is more than that (yes, I CAN make those payments, unlike Ed McMahon).
We threw out or donated a lot of stuff the last two times we've moved, but I still have far more than 100 items in my possession, and until I can think of which ones to get rid of, I'm going to stick with them. However, my credo involves giving something away every time I buy something new, so at least I'm not adding to my "stuff."
Feel free to come up with your own list of 100 things you would keep...Dave has until November, so you do, too.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Odysseus and the I.R.S.

Today marked the second notification I've gotten indicating that my economic stimulus plan check is forthcoming. I think the government spent somewhere in the millions to notify us in the first place (as if THAT news wouldn't travel fast enough without a personal note!). By now, I suspect many folks already have gotten their money and have spent it on things like...say...a few loaves of bread (no multiplied fish, however) and gas for a week. Since I have not gotten mine, I presume the powers that be figure that just maybe I'll forget I have it coming so they can donate it to the McCain campaign or something. Anyway, guilt finally overcame them, and the word is that I should get the dough within a few days. If I do not, there's a special number I'm supposed to call. I tried it tonight, and it was simply two minutes worth of canned laughter. Anyway, that's not the issue: the issue is the fine print. The government letter today mentioned in no uncertain terms that I must be SURE to claim this money as income on my next tax return!!!
"Let's just mess with them...we'll give them money in order to make ourselves look good, then we'll take it back when somebody else is in charge!"
No matter what tax bracket you're in, you'll owe the government something for accepting their cash. Let's see...could they have given me, say, 25% less and NOT taxed me? Would that have been a more efficient idea? Sure, but what fun would that be for the IRS? God knows thumb screws are no longer tools of the trade. Ok, I guess I DO come out slightly ahead in money if not in emotional stability...better than having Odysseus after me.
You're thinking (I know you are), what the hell does Odysseus have to do with my stimulus rebate/tax deal? Everything, and that's why I'm not going to complain too loudly. See, two scientists, Marcelo Magnasco of Rockefeeler University in New York and Constantine Baikouzis of the Astronomical Observatory (reputedly a REALLY big building) in La Plata, Argentina, recently announced that they had calculated the return date of Odysseus from the Trojan War: the date on which he slew all the would-be suitors for his wife's obvious charms. Based on calculations of phenomena mentioned by Homer such as an eclipse, the two figured that Odysseus returned and recaptured his wife on April 16, 1178 B.C. The scientists describe meteorological occurrences mentioned by Homer which occurred 33 days before the supposed event, 29 days before the event, six days before the event and the aforementioned eclipse on the day of the event. Looking more closely, I see the real reason Odysseus killed all those guys with arrows and spears, and it will be obvious to all when I tell you that one day before the event was April 15: the last day to file income tax for the year. It is my theory that the men slain were late in filing their taxes, and the government hired Odysseus to collect the taxes or administer the penalty. Makes sense, doesn't it? I'm not messing with the I.R.S. and you shouldn't either. Take your stimulus check, pay the taxes and keep the front gate locked.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

CSI: Green Bay

WANTED: expert sleuth who can uncover the mystery behind the missing sofa (no, NOT the change under the cushions, the actual sofa).
For those of you who think Green Bay is just another Midwestern town where the sidewalks get rolled up at sundown (and the girls are get prettier at closing time)and the worst thing that ever happens is out-of-control kids keeping library books 'WAY past the due date, think again. We have real crime here.
I was alerted to this fact by Troy (a one-time suspect, I suspect) when I went to the local university tonight to assist him in putting the final touches on an essay concerning death themes in popular music videos. Finding all the doors locked to the athletics offices, Troy had to bang on the door to get my attention to come and let him in, and I remarked how unusual it was not to have the main door open. He indicated that this was due to the recent crime wave in which someone had spirited away a couch from the fitness center in the building over the past weekend. This couch was located upstairs near the aerobic fitness area (though why we ever needed a couch there to begin with is another mystery...perhaps for the couch potatoes who wanted to exercise but just couldn't peel themselves off the couch to do it)
Since the basketball guys were in the building on Sunday to shoot around, they were naturally the first suspected, but that led nowhere. Here are the facts as I know them:
1. When the building is open, there is someone who sits at the desk by the door. No chance to sneak a couch out.
2. The couch was up a serious flight of stairs though located next to an elevator which could have taken the perps to a lower level loading area.
3. When the building is closed, one needs a key to get in...swipe cards won't do it.
Hence, the basketball guys had to be let in by a coach on Sunday.
4. Nobody missed the couch until Monday so the time frame is huge for the theft to have taken place.
5. All students must have their ID swiped when they come into the building, but NOT when they leave...thus, hiding somewhere until everyone has gone and pilfering the couch is a distinct possibility.
6. No one person could have perpetrated the theft...Let's see...two people carrying a couch across the parking lot in the that suspicious?

Here's what I would do. First, I would check Craig's List in Green Bay for recent couch offerings (seriously, would YOU keep a couch you had just purloined from the university IN YOUR DORM ROOM?). EBay, of course, is another possibility. Next, I would check all the break rooms on campus...just in case...followed by a surprise inspection of all dorm rooms and professors' offices (hey, it could be anybody!) I also intend to peruse the campus newspaper for headlines such as "University Makes Head Couching Change" just in case it's part of a madcap student prank.
The case is wide open at this point, so feel free to come to Green Bay and gain international fame by ferreting out the weasels who took the couch. (I say it was Mr. Mustard in the library with the hand truck)

Monday, June 16, 2008

Six Saturdays and a Sunday

While it seems as though just last week I was teaching high school students, in reality, a whole year has passed. It occurred to me the other day, and I decided it was time to reflect a bit; while I cannot change the decision, I find taking a calculating look back sometimes helps me plan my next move.
As I spoke to the wife of one of my ex-coworkers today, her stories of his struggles with students reinforced the idea that I changed course at a good time. While my stories of recalcitrant college athletes sometimes makes it seem like I have jumped into the proverbial fire, t'ain't so: my experiences this past year in "restructurement" have been exhilarating...maddening at times, yes, but overall incredibly satisfying. Progress can, indeed, be measured in the tiniest of increments, but those are truly gratifying. Looking ahead, I know that even greater challenges await next year, given the crop of incoming JuCo transfers who struggle academically but are great on the court.
To that end, I took a summer school class concerning the teaching of reading in the content area, and I continue to read and research in that area. I hate to be surprised, but even more than that, I hate to be left feeling inadequate. Expectations are high, and I can rise to meet them.
Playing pickleball with a group of already-retired people tonight, it occurred to me that aging DOES happen, even to those who spend winters in Florida and Arizona, golf and relax in a REAL retirement setting. My buddy (and ex-principal) George, whom I have not seen since last summer, moved more slowly and remarked about a return of some cancer cells that he thought were eradicated. It was he who noticed the gray streaks in my hair...I told him that I had highlights added, to which he replied, "Looks good." At one point in the evening, my partner was an 80-yr. old man who claimed to be slowing down. If that's slow, I can't wait to get slow.
So...restructuring has worked out well. In another 10 days, my second avocation as a tour guide at Lambeau Field begins for the summer, and it will allow me to get away from school issues for a couple of months in order to recharge. Besides, Reebok furnished all the tour guides with shoes this year! Sitting around is definitely not in my plan, but kickin' it every now and then is good for the soul. To those who think retirement is merely six Saturdays and a Sunday, I'm here to tell you: that's a clever way to put it, but nobody I know that's retired sits and whittles. We're rockin'

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Enough Already!

New words and idioms come into the language all the time. Every year we are treated to a new list which has gone from colloquial to worthy of being included in the dictionary. Mostly, I like them since they add a bit of a contemporary to what is already the most complex language on earth, according to Karen Larsen my reading teacher. The media and those always IN the media do the most to spread such things, such as when Paris Hilton began describing everything as "hot." That was all one could hear as a descriptor.
My friend Kathleen decries Rachel Ray's verbiage as simply too confined. When Ms Ray places something in a different location, she "pops" it over there. When she picks something up, she "grabs" it, according to the exasperated Kathleen who is nothing if not a word aficianado befitting her 40-year career as a demanding teacher of English.
I always take it upon myself to update Kathleen on what I think she should know. For example, when the US POstal Service cycling team was beating the world, I let her in on the phrase "The Big Blue Train" so she could use it casually around her children who were immensely impressed. This weekend, I added "snap" to her vocabulary.
While I'll admnit that "snap" is far from a recent addition to usage, being featured for quite a while on "My Name is Earl" and "That 70's Show," its inclusion into a conversation to imply a subtle yet effective criticism was new to her. We practiced a few times, and I think she's ready to once again impress her children when she goes to visit next week.
That leads me to another major point: we have to get rid of a couple of words. "Awesome" and "like" seriously need to be expunged from our usage. Certainly, there are other exclamations which could be used instead of "awesome," and since "like" implies an approximation, and I think we should all be a little more certain about things. And another thing...
My Father's Day meal took place at a Mongolian Barbecue place. Mixing five different sauces and lemon or lime juice as well as a variety of soy and chili sauces is complicated at best, but every now and then I get surprised as I did today. Green is my favorite color, and wasabi paste is also green...I know it's from a Japanese root, and it's related to horseradish and eaten a lot with raw fish in Asia, so I expected it to be hotter than average. However, when I got a larger amount than normal and actually couldn't breathe for a couple of seconds, I seriously considered starting CPR on myself. Watering eyes and running nose are par for the course, but this breath-stealing reaction was almost scary. So this is what I propose:
in the dictionary,"Eutrema wasabi" should not be described as "a pungent greenish root of an Asian plant related to the mustard plant." Quite simply, the definition should read "breathtaking paste which will burn going in and burn coming out."
I'm still waiting for the second will not be pretty.

Friday, June 13, 2008

Dump the T-Shirt...Grab the Purple Suit

I've always considered myself an individual...somebody who would dare to step more than a little bit away from center just for fun, or just to prove a point. I've never wanted to be predictable no matter how many times my wife has said to me, "I knew you'd do (or say) that!" Call it ego, call it rugged individualism without the ruggedness or call it just plain goofy as hell, that was me. It's not that I worked at it so just seemed to be adjusting my thinking to what life meant for me to do...there was something Buddhist, maybe, about that.
Anyway, I've never really liked the Seinfeld situation comedy. And now you'll find out why: somebody once compared me to Kramer. The clever person even went so far as to buy a T-shirt bearing Kramer's likeness. Needless to say, there were no naysayers when the idea was proposed that Cosmo and I were, like, twins. Hackles were raised, and I refused to wear the shirt or watch the program as a result. Was it the hair? The slovenly dress? The complete unpredictability? (OK, that might be me). At any rate, I felt compromised by the comparison. Why is that important? It's happened again.
As part of the post wedding festivities, I sent out some basic photos to everyone who would care and was not in attendance at my son's wedding. I got a note back from my niece thanking me for the photos and then adding, "Do you know who Dan Zanes is? Every time he comes on the TV, my kids scream, "There's Uncle Darrell!"
Of course, I had no idea who this guy was, but the mere fact that this was a television personality of some type made me suspicious. I had to check it out.

To find out about this character, check out the many YouTube videos like the one I've noted for you. As opposed to Cosmo Kramer, though, I think I LIKE the comparison this time. Anybody who plays and sings on such dynamite videos as "All Around the Kitchen" and "Jump Up (and Dance Around)" is OK by me. The hair is perfect, the clothes are definitely something I would love to have (had not they been given to St. Vincent), and the sheer joi de vivre expressed is classic me.
I'm going to sue him for taking my character without permission.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Staycation or Vacation?

It's no secret that the lagging economy has affected every facet of life in America. While I haven't even gotten my economic stimulus check yet, it's no sign that I have excess money lying around. Like most others I know or read about, the summer might be toughest on all of us. The decision concerning vacation destinations is bound to be affected...some are even suggesting what they call a "staycation" in which people actually stay at home for the time off. Part of the rationale involves the fact that many people choose to take their work with them on vacation in the form of email, telecommuting, etc. Giving that idea some thought, I will attempt to compare a stay-at-home-vacation with a trip I recently took. You can be the judge about whther I made the right decision when I chose to get out of town.

1. On my vacation, I spent a lot of time on the beach.
There IS no beach in Green Bay, certainly not one at 95 degrees with clean water.

2. I consumed more than a couple of beers a day since I wasn't driving anywhere.
I could stay home, drink several beers and NOT pay $6.00 apiece for them!

3. A maid came in to clean my room every day, give me fresh towels and new soap.
At home, there is no maid, cleaning happens when I get around to it, and I reuse
towels and soap.

4. On vacation, I got to eat at restaurants and enjoyed a famous comedian at a club
while staying up 'way past my bedtime and drinking more $6 beer every night.
Taco Bell's new menu at home starts at $.79. I had ONE crabcake for $18 while
on vacation.

5. While on vacation, I got to miss several flights, try to get straight answers
from bored counter attendants and sit in an airport for 7 hours.
Had I been home, I could have attended 3-hour summer school classes and spent
7 hours mowing my lawn between deluges.

All in all, there's something good about both types of getaways: the cheaper food and drink here might be offset by the temperature, or the unrelenting sunshine (honest! the sun was out EVERY FREAKIN' DAY!), lying on a "sugar sand" beach as much as I wanted, taking the occasional dip to cool off and generally having no more difficult decision to make than what to eat or drink when and which place to swim: the pool or The Gulf.
Now that I'm back home, though, and it's cold and rainy still, the choice is an easy one for me: I'm leaving again, and I won't eat anything in order to save money for mas cerveza!

Monday, June 02, 2008

"Numnah" Makes for Great TV

I'm not a great watcher of television. Old movies, MASH episodes and a few other things which occasionally catch my eye are standard fare. I'm not beyond "Family Guy" or "South Park," and Keith Olberman on "Countdown" gets more than a once-in-a-while viewing. Mostly, I look to comedic things because real life is generally not funny. As such, I would not ordinarily catch the Scripps National Spelling Bee which, for some reason, is usually telecast on ESPN. This for many reasons, but mostly...
I finished second in the county spelling bee in eighth grade. I could have gone to the state finals and then the national finals had I been able to spell "calisthenics" correctly. Odd that I can do so now without complication. My story at the time was that the contest was held in a public school, and I thought I would be doomed to hell for entering such an I say, my story, and I'm sticking to it.
Having seen "Akeelah and the Bee," I understand what it takes to win such a thing, but I still think I could have done it. It took this year's winner Sameesh Misra four attempts to do it, having finished in 98th, 14th and 16th in previous trips to the bee. However, that's not what made this year's event so was a brief misstatement by Mishra that had me rolling in the aisle.
At one point, Mishra was given the word "numnah" which is another term for a saddle pad used underneath a saddle on a horse to prevent chafing by the saddle (Iknow, I know, why didn't they just say "saddle pad"?)
Anyway, Mishra was obviously confused initially by the word, and instead of asking to have it used in a sentence or whether the root was Greek, he attempted to pronounce the word, and it very clearly came out "numb nuts." I could see the camera shake just a bit as the camera person tried to hold back convulsive laughter. Tears were running out of my eyes, and I waitied for the replay. No doubt it's on YouTube now for your entertainment. As I tried to explain the hilarity to my wife, she indicated that she'd never before heard the term and it sounded sexual. I was stunned...EVERYBODY has heard and/or used that term to describe another person's lack of perspicacity.
Sadly, the laughter level dropped as she continued to look puzzled; however, it WAS funny. Maybe one had to be there. Find it on YouTube and then TELL ME it wasn't a reason to wait in hopes of next year's bee.