Friday, February 29, 2008

"Fame! I'm Gonna Live Forever.....Uh..Give or Take a Few Years...."


Don’t let anybody kid you.

John Lennon and Paul McCartney are two of the most brilliant songwriters to ever grace the art.

But George Harrison was the genius.

…And the time will come / when you see we’re all one…
…And life flows on within you / and without you…

Lennon, McCartney, Dylan and a small host of other prolific songwriting talents, not to mention two thousand years of writers and poets, from Shakespeare to Poe, have, at one time or another expressed poignantly the tenuous and fragile nature of this life.

But nobody has ever summed up, in just one couplet, how precious and expendable we are at the same time, as did Harrison in that song from Pepper.

If you’ve been reading me for a while, you know that I’m doing a lot of personal re-evaluation of the life, as I try to find my way through the ball of confusion that a simultaneous, and uninvited, change of occupation and devotion has brought me.

And in the process, it’s only natural that I would reflect on life, death, happiness, tragedy, fame, obscurity, success, failure, any and many of the threads that are woven into the fabric.

Something happened today that lit up one of those threads like a gray hair on Susan Lucci’s head.

The thread of fame and how fleeting it really is, awareness of the cliché notwithstanding.
Here’s the story as it appeared on CNN.com

LONDON (AP) -- Dave Clark Five lead singer Mike Smith died of pneumonia Thursday, less than two weeks before the band is to be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. He was 64.
Smith died at a hospital outside of London, his agent Margo Lewis said.
He was admitted to the intensive care unit Wednesday morning with a chest infection, a complication from a spinal cord injury that left him paralyzed below the ribcage with limited use of his upper body. Lewis said he was injured when he fell from a fence at his home in Spain in September 2003.
Smith had been in the hospital since the accident, and was just released last December when he moved into a specially prepared home near the hospital with his wife.
Smith wrote songs as well as singing and playing keyboards for the Dave Clark Five, one of many British rock acts whose music swept across the United States in the 1960s during the so-called British Invasion.
The Beatles are the best remembered, of course, but at the time the Dave Clark Five posed the strongest threat, commercially and critically, to their pre-eminence.
The Dave Clark Five claimed a string of U.S. hits, including "Because," "Glad All Over," and "I Like it Like That." By 1966, the band had made 12 appearances on "The Ed Sullivan Show," then a record for any British group.
While the group -- which broke up in 1970 -- was named after him, Dave Clark himself was the drummer.
Smith is survived by his wife, Arlene (nicknamed Charlie).


Beyond the inherantly tragic tone of the story (great fame in his youth, then the accident, the damage to his quality of life and his untimely death), what I noticed about the online story was an unintentional validation of just how little, in the great scheme of things, “fame” matters.

And although I guess I could be accused of old fartism, I cant help but think that I might be doing the Britneys and Linsdays and Paris’ and Olsen Twins and all of their peers and wanna bes in the quest for five minutes on TMZ a favor by emailing them a link to the story as it appeared today on CNN.com.

Maybe it would give them just enough of a reality check that the quality of their lives might take an upturn and what really matters in the life might start to get the same attention as the fame, adulation and attention they all seem to need like Rachael Ray needs garlic.

Cause you see, kids, in 1964 and 1965, there was no group of celebrities, with the single exception of The Beatles, who were more adored and worshipped than the Dave Clark Five. If you were alive then you know what I’m talking about and if you weren’t, you surely can get a hint of their popularity from the CNN obit.

And just how “famous” were they?

Famous enough that the death of their lead singer is considered headline news thirty eight years AFTER the band broke up.

Take that, Paris.

But, if we needed anything to provide the “celebs” of today and/or the rest of us with a perspective about the whole nature of fame, whoever put the story together for CNN provided an illustration of it that couldn’t have been more effective if it had been planned.

Mike Smith, the lead singer of the world famous Dave Clark Five is dead at 64.

And CNN.com felt it sufficiently newsworthy to headline it forty four years after the band’s first hit.
And they not only related the facts of the band’s rise to fame with Mike in front, as well as paying tribute to the contribution he made as the lead singer of the band, they included a clear, sharp picture from the heyday of the group.

The picture that I have included along with this piece.

A picture of Dave Clark.

Andy Warhol once famously said that, in the future, everyone will be famous for fifteen minutes.

He was only off by forty years or so.

It's Leap I Don't Have A Lot Of Faith In...


Does anybody really know what time it is?

Does anybody really care?

Wistful waxings of the great poets aside, I don’t think the question Chicago raises has ever been more eloquently expressed.

Or more timely.

Har har.

After all, today is February 29.
Leap day.
Or Leap Year Day.
Or Day of the Leap.
Or whatever the hell it’s called.

It’s that extra day that shows up every four years bringing with it equal chances of life altering success and spirit crushing defeat.

You know, kind of like an Election Day that you don’t have to stand in line to experience.

And on this “extra” day, I have come to realize something.
I actually don’t really care what time it is.

Because I don’t think that time really means anything.

To put the important finer point on it, though, what I mean is that I don’t think the measurement of time means anything and, in some ways, we would all be happier little clams on the beach if we didn’t have to be bothered with it.

I don’t for a second presume to come off as some bush league Stephen Hawking.
But my experience has been that, for every “pro” thing that can be said about the way the awareness of time affects our lives, there is an equal, if not more powerful, “con” to make it a wash.

And “time” has an extraordinary capacity for being cruel.

How often have you felt the frustration that comes from waiting for the red light to turn green, while the digital readout on your dashboard tells you that you have less than one minute to get to the store for that last minute “must have” holiday gift you didn’t know you needed till “the last minute?”

How many high hopes have been dashed as you watched that big ass timepiece in the stadium tick off those final three seconds and send your favorite “Cinderella” team back to the locker room just inches short of the first down needed to keep the dream alive?

How much stomach lining has been sacrificed while you sat, watching the clock, waiting for the phone to ring with the good news about that job you just interviewed for, only to see the five o’clock hour come…and go without so much as a ringtone to ease your anxiety?

How often have you felt the pain of looking up at the clock to see that it’s only been three minutes since you last remembered that he or she doesn’t love you anymore and isn’t coming back?

Time stands still. Time runs out. Time marches on. Time waits for no one.
Oh, wait. Time heals all wounds.

Actually, we both know that “heal’ is too strong a word.
Because the scars remain.
As time goes by.

And the whole idea of measuring time is largely a waste of time, anyway.
Take, for example, Daylight Savings Time.

Spring forward, fall back.
Well, except in Arizona and a number of other places.

Or time zones.
The ten o’clock news in Rhode Island comes on at nine o’clock in Nashville.

And 60 Minutes follows next on most CBS stations.
With the exception of the West Coast, where it will be seen at its regular time.

I didn’t realize until just this morning as I realized that it’s the Day of the Leap again, that I actually envy pre-historic man.

No clocks. No wrist watches. No digital read outs.

It was either light.
Or it was dark.
And you simply took care of business accordingly.

Living life, not “in the moment” or “one day at a time” or “minute by minute”
Just living it.
I bet Grok the caveman didn’t ever stress out because they weren’t “on time”.
Or spend time in the doghouse because he forgot it was his and Mrs. Grok’s “anniversary”.

Chances are, if they really loved each other, every day was an anniversary.

Chicago really said it all in that song didn’t they?

Only John Lennon might have said it better, had he added a verse.

“Imagine there’s no second hand / It’s easy if you try”

Thursday, February 28, 2008

"..It's An Old Story..."


Mark Twain doesn’t get the credit he deserves.

Oh, he’s obviously respected, even revered, as one of the great writers in American literature.

But my personal admiration for him transcends the predictable praise for Tom and Huck and Becky or for the jumping frog or even for that gol durn Yankee in King Arthur’s court.

I think he’s never gotten proper credit for summing up what getting older is all about.

“When I was 18”, Twain once said, “I thought my father was the dumbest man I had ever met. By the time I turned 21, I was amazed at how much he had learned in just three short years.”

Doesn’t get any more real than that does it, kids?
Mr. Clemens knew his stuff when it came to putting age into perspective.

So did Mr. Einstein.

Because “age” has nothing to do with the chronological number assigned to you based on the process of subtracting your year of birth from the year in which you are currently living.

It is, rather, a simple matter of relativity.

When I turned fifty, I was asked “hey! How does it feel to turn fifty?”
I didn’t know.
I still don’t.

Because age, itself, doesn’t feel like anything.

If you are ache and pain free at one minute before midnight, the day before your 80th birthday, you don’t automatically start feeling aches and pains two minutes later just because you crossed some illusory boundary.

That’s why the number itself is academic.

And also why we hear, lately, that clever catch phrase about fifty being the new forty, and forty being the new thirty, etc. (which always makes me feel really sorry for ten year olds, but that’s another story..)

The well-worn cliché is that age is a state of mind.

I buy that. With one little revision.

Age is a relative state of mind.

For example, as I have shared before, it really doesn’t bother me, one way or the other, on the face of it, that I am in my fifties.

What I can’t get past is that Ringo Starr will be 68 this year.

How the hell did that happen?

Or realizing that your children have never been alive in a time when we didn’t have color television, microwave ovens or when man had not yet walked on the moon.
And then realizing that your children have children.

There is one other insidious thing that can make you feel old in this life, too.

When you stop dreaming about what’s next.

Be it the dream of the next professional accomplishment, the next personal goal or achievement or simply the next pair of eyes and voice that are going to make your heart do the flutter you first felt what seems like such a long time ago.

When you stop taking chances, start playing it safe and spend your days hiding in your work and your nights watching something from your DVD box set collection. When you come face to face with the chance to bungee jump into a life of new devotion and partnership and feel the hand of that person next to you, holding your hand tightly, promising you that they wont let you get hurt in the fall…and you feel yourself pulling your hand away instead of laughing in joy and jumping for all it’s worth.

Just like a little kid, afraid of the dark.

Ironic, isn’t it?
And a little full circle, too.

From the fear we overcame as children back to the fear we feel as grownups.

The fear of the unknown.

But a more poignantly sad fear…because we know, somewhere in our hearts this time around, what we didn’t know when we were little kids.

That all we have to do is jump.
And it will be okay.

I respect Mr. Twain. And Mr. Einstein.

But I especially appreciate Mr. Thoreau.
He called it “lives of quiet desperation”.

I just call it getting old.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Stay Tuned...It's Possible Someone Will Realize That You're Listening...


This piece will be short.

Not that I couldn’t rant on for a couple thousand words on the subject, but I’ve been told by good friends and/or readers that they would enjoy, every now and then, a blog that didn’t require them to block out most of their morning or afternoon to read.

I’ve got some pretty witty friends, wouldn’t you agree?

Okay. So here’s a short one for you.

As you know, either because you know me or because you’ve read my bio, I am a writer/producer/broadcast personality and Grammy nominated songwriter.
And, what the hell, I’ve even had a few “real jobs” in my life.

Today, though, I’m sharing as the “broadcast personality”.

Who is, by the way, currently not on the air anywhere, what with being in the down part of the “boy, radio sure is an up and down business, huh?” thing and all.

And because I’ve been spending a lot of time in the last two or three months “looking for that next opportunity”, I’ve been working a lot in my home office and listening to a lot of morning radio.

Now, I’m going to slap an initial asterisk right on this missive because, given that I’m feeling a little unloved in the broadcast business these days, the case could be made that my opinion is steeped in the fine wine that only be made from vintage sour grapes.

I know it’s not, but I leave it up to you to decide for yourself.

In fact, I’m going to go a little further out on the limb and risk predicting that by the end of this piece, you and I are going to be “in tune” (pun intended)

Here’s the thing.

“Conventional” morning radio, no matter the music format, tends, these days, to consist primarily of a “crew” of folks whose main function, other than segueing into traffic reports on the quarter hour and weather on the eights, is to pander to the sense of humor of the least sophisticated listener who might be tuned in at any given time.

Okay. Crotch humor aint my thing, either as a listener or a broadcaster, but I’m big enough to grant that a lot of people enjoy jokes aimed between the legs as opposed to between the ears.

Different strokes and all that.

What chaps my cheeks, both as a listener and as a broadcaster, is the approach that the lion’s share of these “morning zoo crews” take when offering up their contributions to the history of AM and FM.

I call it “HEY! I’m over HERE!”

If and when you listen to morning radio, does any of this sound familiar? Jokes, one liners, double entendres, cheap shots, goofball gags, etc, etc fired off as if an original thought might cause a choking sensation in the throat of the person on mike, followed by a constant barrage of guffaws, chortles, giggles, chuckles and/or maniacal laughter on the part of the rest of the “crew”?

Yeah. Me, too.

And although I hold fast to my earlier “endorsement” of the different strokes concept, I still find myself almost always more annoyed than entertained.

Why?

Like I said, because “HEY! I’m over HERE!”

These yuksters aren’t talking to me and they’re not talking to you, either. They’re not performing for you or trying to get your day started by circling around you and doing their FCC licensed best to tickle your funny bone.

They are, to put it simply, getting each other off and getting off on each other.
Oh…and how long have you been there, mister or missus listener?

Ever been to one of those music concerts where during a particularly smokin’ few bars of a song, the musicians all turn and face the drummer, playing and gigging and just having a high old time, getting their very talented groove on with each other, only mildly aware of the fact that they have turned their backs on the nice folks who have paid fifty or sixty or a hundred bucks to see the damn band in person?

Ever been tempted to set fire to your hundred-dollar ticket stub, wave it around and yell out…
“HEY! I’m over HERE!”

Or better yet, quickly enlist all your fellow ticket holders to simply turn around and walk out, so that when the band members finally got bored with each other they would spin around to find that the packed house had become an empty house?

Yeah!

I said at the outset that I’m not happy about not being on the air because I love the work, I’m very good at what I do and I really do enjoy talking to you and trying to tickle your funny bone.

But even if I had never set foot in a radio station and had, instead, taken up caulking and grouting as a profession thirty years ago, it would still annoy the bejesus out of me to tune in to a morning radio show and hear three or four or five “personalities” laughing at each other’s fart jokes ten minutes at a time.

By the way, I was reading the other day that the radio industry is in a state of upheaval, with industry analysts searching high and low for some reason to explain why they’re losing listeners faster than Titanic took on water.

We could tell them, couldn’t we?

But, first, they’d have to turn around and see us standing here.

John Walson...The Father of Things We Don't Care About


I couldn’t care less.

We’ll get to the why in just a minute.

For now, let’s talk about one of our most commonly misspoken everyday phrases.

I could care less.
I know, I just told you I couldn’t care less.

That’s exactly what I’m talking about.

And I’m guessing here that you may have already reached the point where you couldn’t care less.

If that’s the case, then good for you.
Because if you could care less, that means that you have not yet reached your limit for caring about it.

Got that “middle of the forehead, eat ice cream too fast” headache yet?

Don’t blame you. But, the point I’m finally getting to is that many of us misspeak that phrase all the time. And I suppose it probably only bothers dedicated English teachers or anal retentives, but I’ve always sort of held true to the idea that if you’re gonna speaks the language, then you oughta speaks it good, you know?

And let’s not even get started on the need to say, “you know?” between every five or six words in our verbal sharings. Even though, you know, it can really, you know, be distracting when, you know, someone starts doing that and you find yourself, you know, missing out on what they’re saying because, you know, now you find yourself not paying, you know, attention and instead you’re just waiting, you know, for the next time they say it,

You know?
You could care less, right?

Wrong!

You couldn’t care less.
I thought we’d already solved that problem.

So, as I said at the beginning (which really does seem like a long time ago right now, you know?), I couldn’t care less and I promised to tell you why.

Hang in there. We’re just minutes away from that revelation.

One thing I have to do first.

Blame John Walson.
What?
Trust me.
Here’s his story.

Cable television, formerly known as Community Antenna Television or CATV, was born in the mountains of Pennsylvania. John Walson and Margaret Walson started it in the spring of 1948. The Walsons formed the Service Electric Company in the mid 1940s to sell, install, and repair General Electric appliances in the Mahanoy City, Pennsylvania area. In 1947, the Walsons also began selling television sets. However, Mahanoy City residents had problems receiving the three nearby Philadelphia network stations with local antennas because of the region's surrounding mountains. John Walson erected an antenna on a utility pole on a local mountaintop that enabled him to demonstrate the televisions with good broadcasts coming from the three Philadelphia stations.
Walson connected the mountain antennae to his appliance store via a cable and modified signal boosters. In June of 1948, John Walson connected the mountain antennae to both his store and several of his customers' homes that were located along the cable path, starting the nation’s first CATV system.
John Walson has been recognized by the U.S. Congress and the National Cable Television Association as the founder of the cable television industry


Now you can dazzle and amaze your friends at the water cooler by telling them that John Walson was the guy who invented cable TV.

And he gets the credit for all of the wonderful programming that we now have available to us twenty four hours a day, seven days a week.

Like The Discovery Channel and The Food Channel and The History Channel and The Family Channel and The Hallmark Channel and…

Well, you get the idea.

But, fair is fair. If he gets the credit for the good stuff, he has to take the rap for the crap.
After all, in for a penny, in for a pound.
You know?

See, the thing is that while John did, in fact, start us on the road that has taken us a long way from the days when we had only those three network channels, a fuzzy PBS channel and watched all four of them fade to snow to the strains of the National Anthem every night, he also, most innocently I’m sure, created a monster. A monster that has to be fed twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week.

No more three channels and PBS from dawn to midnight.
Nope.
Twenty four/seven.

And as we all know, that inevitably means filler.

The price we pay for having A&E all day and night is having The Scotch Tape Channel all day and night.

And at some point, we all find ourselves wondering why we’re watching that same episode of Law and Order that we’ve already seen seventy one times.

Dun-dun!

And we find ourselves wondering why we’re watching an “in depth report” on which designer made the most gowns for the most stars on the red carpet at the Grammys or the Emmys or the Oscars or the People’s Choice Awards or the National Meat Packers Awards.

And, inevitably, even the “legit” shows find themselves faced with having to use “filler”.

Which, finally (and mercifully for you, I imagine) brings me back to why I said I couldn’t care less.

Looking over the news headlines on CNN.com this morning, I noticed that the paragon of timely topics, Larry King, has a real headline making, life altering show planned for tomorrow night.


Prime-time Exclusive!Janet Jackson joins Larry for a rare, live, sit-down interview. The actress and singer gets personal about her love life, weight, and new album! Tomorrow, 9 p.m. ET


Larry deserves credit for all the ground breaking interviews that he has done and will likely continue to do,. And he can hardly be blamed if having to come up with several hours of chat six nights a week, fifty two weeks a year means that not every interview will be with a presidential candidate or a Nobel Prize winning scientist.

But when the monster’s need to be fed has us scraping the bottom of the feed barrel to the point where we’re going to hear all about Janet Jackson’s struggles with love handles, then I think Newton Minnow’s famous early 1960’s description of television as “a vast wasteland” has more than come to pass.

Janet seems like a nice girl. And she sings and dances with style and sparkle.
But when it comes to finding out what a dark turn her life took when she realized she needed to go carb free for a few weeks?

I couldn’t care less.

Thanks, John Walson.
Thanks a lot.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

"...They Were Found...Days Later...Waiting for The Envelope To Be Opened..."


Pop culture pop quiz today.
Do you recognize any of these names?

Marion Cotillard.
Javier Bardem.
Tilda Swinton.
Marketa Iglova.

The channel six eyewitness news team, maybe?

How about the odds on favorite luge team from the forthcoming Olympics?

Nope. Sorry, time’s up.

They are the winners of this year’s Academy Awards for, respectively, Best Actress, Best Supporting Actor, Best Supporting Actress and co-composer of Best Song.
Okay, so considering the category, only Marekta’s mom would be expected to know who she is.

But, I believe the point is made.
As Billy Crystal said in an Oscar telecast a few years ago, “Who are these people?”

Now as a creative guy, I’m the last person in the world who would seriously denigrate the accomplishment of any artist and, in fact, I’m secretly impressed that this year’s major award nominees were obviously actors of ability and not just “big names” who were nominated primarily because they are “big names” (“….and the award goes to…..Mariah Carey and Britney Spears in the wonderful remake of “Whatever Happened To Baby Jane!…”).

Thing is, though, that the reports are in and the ratings for the Oscar telecast indicate that if and when an award is given for most passengers deserting a sinking ship, Titanic is going to get beat out, and then some, by the television audience who used to watch with excitement as the polite phrase “may I have the envelope, please?” was heard.

Personally, I don’t remember exactly when it happened.
But, somewhere, a long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away, I stopped caring who won.
I used to watch. I used to enjoy. I used to even get a little excited about the whole thing.

Admittedly, I was probably, like, twelve at the time.

The “experts” all have an opinion about why people really don’t care about Oscar anymore.
The show is too long.
There are too many other award shows now and it makes Oscar less special than it used to be.
The show is too long.
Movie stars are seen less and less like heroes to be admired and more and more like pampered, overpaid prima donnas who we couldn’t care less about.

Oh. And for years, critics and viewers alike have been complaining that the show is too long.

Admittedly, if your kid won the “Best Use of Duct Tape by a Gaffer’s Assistant”, you and your entire family tree would be parked in front of the flat screen cheering and screaming like a New York Giant fan at the final gun.

But, be honest. If it’s not your kid, then those awards become the designer gown draped equivalent of having to sit through someone else’s home movies.

And while every year the pre-show hype promises a leaner, meaner ceremony while the ceremony actually ends up dragging on to the point where you think you’d prefer to sit through “The English Patient” again, the simple truth is that unless the producers of this thing finally die and get replaced by the cast of the young and the restless, the show will always be longer than common sense or sanity might prefer.

So, if we can’t raise the bridge…how about we lower the river?

And we do that simply by tweaking the format a little here and there; going with what we know attracts, rather than repels, television viewers.

For example…

“Oscar or No Oscar”…Howie and the girls of Silicone Valley are on the stage with big Oscar shaped cases. Each nominee gets to pick one case and open one other. If the award they are up for is in the case they open, voila! They win and get to give their acceptance speech. If not, then they get whatever award is in the case they picked to begin with. Odds are that wont be their award either, so think how much fun it will be when Best Actress nominee Judi Dench goes home with the award for “Best Use Of Duct Tape By A Gaffer’s Assistant”!

Are You Smarter than Last Year’s Winner?…Jeff Foxworthy and a panel of fifth grade kids test the nominees with a simple question….Can you name last year’s winner of the award you’re nominated for? Lots of laughs and hijinks as the bulk of this year’s bunch are put on the spot and forced to admit that, much like the rest of us, they forgot who won last year ten seconds after the award show went to late local news.

The Power of Ten Oscars…Drew Carey hosts and two non-movie star contestants see who can come closer to guessing which Oscars the studio audience really gives a patoot about seeing handed out, up to ten. The hook here is that if it turns out nobody really cares about Best Achievement in Cinematography by a Non Union Director of Photography, then the odds on favorite wont win it….but, then, neither will any of the other nominees, making it no big loss for the fave.

And if all else fails….

American Oscar…all of the nominees have thirty seconds to do a little of what they did to get nominated in the first place and try to impress the terrible trio who gave us Sanjaya and Taylor Hicks. And the problem of show length will be solved once and for all…because Paula will love everybody rendering her opinion useless, Randy will probably get punched out for calling the wrong elderly actress “dawg” and Simon will save the day by hating everyone and everything about the show and easily blowing through all of the nominees in the time it takes to sit through another episode of “According To Jim”.

Once the show is thirty minutes, including commercials, I think it’s possible viewership might actually increase a little.

Then all of us can be sincere when we say…

“I’d like to thank the Academy…”

Saturday, February 23, 2008

I Think We Need To "Change" The Word...


The word, this presidential campaign year, is “change”.

First of all, I don’t remember getting the memo.

I thought “grease” is the word (…is the word…is the word…is the word…)

Turns out they made the change (no pun intended) and didn’t think to let me know ahead of time.

Well, it isn’t the first time I’ve been caught by surprise. Matter of fact that seems to be the story of my life, lately.

But, enough about me.

How about “change”?

I’m not sure where it got started. Most buzz words or catch phrases don’t have an official arrival. They’re less like announced guests at a royal reception and more like the relatives who show up on your doorstep when you’re not paying attention.

And just like those relatives, once the buzzword shows up, it’s usually around for a while.

So 2008 is the year of “change”.

Obama’s campaign has not only used the word ad nauseum, but the campaign posters, bumper stickers, big ass banners, et al proclaim the message “Time for Change” or “Change is Coming “ or “Got Change for A Dollar?” or something like that.

I admit I don’t pay attention to details the way I used to, but I know the word change is in there somewhere.

And Hillary uses it and whoever is left out there in the field uses it and with more than nine months to go before the election, we have already been saturated with the notion that this election is all about change.


First of all, not to pee in the corn flakes, but every election is about change.
Duhh.


And you don’t have to be a Rhodes Scholar with a degree in political science to know that when the candidates say “change”, all they’re really doing is trying to boil down to a single, memorable word the theme they hope will best resonate with you, the voter. In other words, they’re zeroing in on you in an effort to push your buttons, so that come November, you’ll push theirs.

This year, that theme is “change”.

As in, we know that you don’t like things the way they are and we also know that you want things to be different than they are, so we are here to promise you that if you elect us we will make those things that you don’t like go away and, in their place, provide new things that, given the limitations of real life, you may or may not like.

But, what the hell.

At least things will change.

Actually, uh, no, they won’t

Mostly because, in large measure, they can’t.

All kinds of people, good, bad, indifferent, honest, corrupt, immaculate, immoral, sacrificial and opportunistic alike have been running for public office for hundreds, lo thousands, of years promising that they would “change” the way things are.
And they know better than anyone that “change” in the context of government is like efficiency in the context of fuel consumption.

A lofty idea that has an ice cube’s chance.

Because on Election Day, you’re not voting for a different system.
You’re merely voting to either return or replace those who run the system for us.


And while any good American would, as they always have, sacrifice to preserve the American way of life, nobody is going to be able to put up much of an argument that the system, however we revere it, needs a lot of work.

And who’s going to do that work?
Those we elect to office?

Nope.

Not as long as a garden-variety member of the US Senate has to raise ten thousand dollars a day just to stay in office four years from now. Not as long as large corporations and special interest groups remain the wells from which the candidates must inevitably draw the water.

There is an old saying, “candidates campaign in poetry, but they govern in prose”.

That’s a flowery way of telling you that when they make promises to you during the campaign, you shouldn’t really expect many of those promises to be kept.

So, no matter how many times the word “change” is used in the campaign poem, the prose of government will look remarkably like the same old handwriting.
And, because the tail of the system wags the dog of well meaning candidates, here’s what we voters get during the campaign:

Vague answers to specific questions.

Promises of policies that wont necessarily put any more food in your cupboards, or gas in your car, or money in your kids college fund or safety on your streets.

Petty character attacks that wont bring your sons and daughters home from Iraq one damn minute sooner.

Debates about “differences” in approach that you would literally need a magnifying glass to identify.

And as the campaign gets more heated, more and more bickering, posturing, cheap shooting, desperation moves, etc, none of which will improve the quality of your life or the life of your loved ones one single solitary inch.

The word, this year, is supposedly “change”

I’ve got a better idea.

I think the word, this year, is “tired”.

As in we who look to those we support to honestly improve the quality of our lives are tired, beyond description, of seeing millions and millions of dollars spent and literally years of our lives interrupted by the bickering and the posturing and the vague answers and the petty character attacks.

Tired.

That should be the word this election year.

Because, the more things change….

Friday, February 22, 2008

Actually, I DONT Know Why They Call it the Poop Deck...And I Dont Want To Know....


Lately, I have been in what, charitably, could be called a poopy frame of mind.


Not to fear, loyal phelpspeakers.
You have all been very loving and patient as I’ve dealt with the double barrel blast of loss of livelihood and love.
And I’ve reached the place where I realize that it’s time to shut up and deal privately with my problems. (Just in case, though...ct…myvm and waly).


But, sparing any more of the gaudy details, I think it not incorrect or inordinately whiny to say that life has been like a bed of roses lately in one specific way.


There’s been a whole lot of fertilizer in it.


Which brings me back to thinking about crap.


And while researching some other work, I came across one of those great lists that our friends at mental floss dot com offer up each and every surfing day.


So as a public service to those of you who find the admittedly shitty subject of interest, I’m here to share with you five things that you probably didn’t know about poop. (credit to David at Mental Floss.com)



1. Bird poop is white because birds can’t pee. Their kidneys work like ours do, but instead of producing urine, birds excrete a white paste. The paste, along with what comes out of the intestines, unites and is excreted through the bird’s cloaca, a multi-purpose hole which means sewer in Latin. And, yes multi-purpose means they even mate through it

2. Many dogs eat poop. This I know because, sadly, my dog used to eat his own poop on occasion. What I didn’t know was that eating poop has a name: coprophagy, and is, of course, more popular with dung beetles than dogs. If your dog eats his/her own feces, one way to discourage the behavior (other than immediately cleaning up after your dog) is to douse the poop with hot sauce or vinegar.

3. The reason why some poops float is because they have a lot of gas in them. Rather than coming out as flatulence, the gas gets stuck in the poop and forces it to the surface of the water. If there’s a lot of fat in your diet, likewise your poop might float

4. Cavemen were better equipped to chew and digest many plants and vegetables. They had larger molars and longer digestive tracts better at handling foods rich in indigestible cellulose, like, er, corn, for instance. Evolution has worked against our ability to chew and digest corn, which is why when some kernels get swallowed whole they appear in poop

5. The word poop comes from the Middle English word poupen or popen, which used to be the root of the word we now call a fart. Clearly poop has onomatopoeic origins.


I hope that you have benefited from this little burst of knowledge and can now carry on with your life confident that should Alex Trebek ever do a salute to poop, you might well end up the Jeopardy champion.


As for me, I’m pretty much already up to speed, thanks.


First of all, there’s all that crap that I’ve been dealing with for the past few months.


And I live only 85.2 miles from Washington, DC.


Between that and the other, there’s not much about poop I don’t already know.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

The Lennon and McCartney of Junk Journalism


It was only a matter of time.
And, personally, I thought that when it hit, it would hit Obama first.


I realize now that I forgot to take into account the “put on a pedestal” factor.


Obama and Hillary are still battling it out to see who gets to step up on the Democratic side.


John McCain pretty much has a lock on the Republican side.
Which makes him the presumptive GOP nominee for President.
And, obviously, our first contestant, Johnny, as we begin another exciting round of the game that has been a crowd pleaser since the mid seventies….yes, it’s time to play….
“GOTCHA!”

TOLEDO, Ohio (CNN) – Sen. John McCain denies assertions The New York Times published that McCain once had a close relationship with a female lobbyist whose clients had business before his Senate committee.
"I'm disappointed in The New York Times piece. It's not true," he told reporters in Ohio on Thursday.
He added that he has never "done anything that would betray the public trust or make a decision" that would in favor a particular group.
The New York Times told CNN on Thursday it stands by its reporting and that the story speaks for itself.
The newspaper reported in its online edition Wednesday that aides to McCain's 2000 presidential campaign were so worried about the relationship that they confronted McCain and the lobbyist, Vicki Iseman.
Also, some McCain advisers were concerned in 2000 that his relationship with Iseman had become romantic, The New York Times reported.
"A former campaign adviser described being instructed to keep Ms. Iseman away from the senator at public events, while a Senate aide recalled plans to limit Ms. Iseman's access to his offices," the paper reported.
McCain said in a news conference Thursday that he never had discussions with any staffers about an inappropriate relationship with Iseman. He also denied having a romantic relationship with her. If staffers had such concerns, McCain told reporters, they never conveyed them to him.

I don’t know whether any of the “assertions” are true or not.
And I suppose that I should care.


But I really don’t.


And I shouldn’t speak for you, but I cant help but feel like the odds are that, for the most part, you don’t care either.

You care about how you’re going to pay for your kids’ college education. You care about how you’re going to get health care. You worry about how you’re going to sell your house in an economy that is turning to shit. You care about how you’re going to pay for your groceries AND your light bill AND gasoline for your car. You care about how to make it safe for your kids to play outside. You care about how to protect yourself and your family from the wack jobs who proclaim God is great as they fly loaded passenger jets into buildings. You care about how to just get through the day without being scared about what you’re going to have to do to just get through the day.

And you care about me and how much I wish things were different with….

Well, okay, that’s gratuitous sympathy solicitation, but I figure, what the hell, as long as I’m making a list…


I’m going to go out on the limb here and guess that you really do care about 99% of those things I just mentioned (and if my thing is included for you, then thank you for your warmth and reaching out)…


But I’m also guessing that you have less than the slightest interest in this “breaking news” that the New York Times offers.


For the record, I don’t condone infidelity. I don’t endorse deception or corruption or abuse of power or any of the other twenty six hundred or so odd things that we mere mortals are capable of in our darker moments.
But I really think a lot of us can agree that it’s time that “they” understand that we are looking to elect people to office that will DO something about the things that we need done.

And we don’t want to hear what the New York Times has to say about some lady that John McCain maybe knew who maybe was connected to other people that maybe he knew that maybe might have created a situation that maybe was…ENOUGH ALREADY!


We’re human and we have faults.
Trying to choose a leader without faults is like fighting the Borg.


Resistance is futile.


The game of GOTCHA has been around since 1974 when Nixon’s presidency collapsed under the weight of its lies and deceptions, those lies and deceptions brought to light by two young reporters who smelled a hell of a story and made their careers by seeing that story through to the final galleys.
And triggered the changing of an industry of fact finding and reporting into an industry of sensationalism seeking and innuendo proclamation.

I don’t want to knowingly choose someone for high office that I can’t trust.
But trust is, like love, never black and white.


Do you trust Bill Clinton? No? Well, yes and no?
Well, would you vote for him again?
Damn straight. Because you know what our lives were like when he was in the White House.


We want to read about how John McCain or Obama or Hillary are going to make our lives and lives of our families happier, safer, better.


We don’t want to read about who’s possibly, maybe, could be, might not be, zooming who.


New York Times? And every other paper, news show, website that panders to the lowst common denominator and fills up space with gossip and crap?

Don’t kill the messenger.
And Woodward and Bernstein certainly didn't mean to start the ball rolling on all of the aformentioned pandering.
But just like Lennon and McCartney, who cant be rightly blamed for whatever crap pop music turns out today, evolved from the changes to the industry they caused, Bob and Carl have somethng in common with John and Paul.
It's not their fault.
But they started it.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

"I Thought Of Cuba Gooding, Jr...But That Seemed A Little Too Obvious..."


I woke up to another of those “mile markers of life” this morning.

Fidel Castro is stepping down.

If you’re under the age of 40, chances are that the news arrives in your house this morning making no more waves than the latest Hillary/Barrack squabble or the totally, unbelievable reports that Lindsay Lohan is acting like an idiot again. (What? Is it possible? …Sarcasm intended).

But if you’re a baby boomer, hearing that Castro is “leaving” has to bring back some memories for you.

That wacky bearded guy, dressed in the green fatigues, standing shoulder to shoulder with Khrushchev and waving triumphantly at thousands of loyal Cuban locals who didn’t realize that they had been liberated from an incompetent dictator to a competent one.

Headlines and TV news reports about an ill-fated invasion at a place oddly named the Bay of Pigs.

Boxes of canned goods stored in the basements or hall closets of our childhood while Huntley and Brinkley talked in somber tones about missiles and quarantines and Kennedy and nuclear confrontation.

Even a few odd memories of stories told and heard through the years about how the CIA had tried everything from poison to plots to get rid of the guy, only to watch helplessly as he outlasted, literally, everybody who he came up against in one way or another.

So, that at the age of 81, he could have it both ways.

Continue to embrace the fundamental precepts of Communism.
While engaging in one of capitalism’s most cherished perks.
Retirement.
Wonder if they’ll give him a gold watch.

Well, the pundits and politicos and “experts” will drone on for days and weeks about what it all means and how it will affect the balance of world power and all that other very important stuff that somehow doesn’t seem very important to anybody except the pundits and politicos and “experts” (I mean, I’m sure you’re not blind to what goes on in the world, but when compared to how you’re going to pay for fuel oil or find a job that has health benefits, do you really care whether the nameplate on the office door in Havana says “Fidel” or “Raul”?)

So, I have no suggestions about what it will all mean and how it will affect the balance of world power.

What I do offer is some assistance in regards to who might replace him.

Obviously, his brother Raul is the heir apparent.
But, you know, shit happens. And if, God forbid, a meteor should come screaming out of the sky and take Raul to that big sugar cane crop in the sky, then they’d have to go looking for talent.

Hey, Cuba, I’m here for you.

Think of it as hands across the water, Kumbayah, we are the world…( or just my way of writing for a half hour to take my mind off nursing a broken heart while trying to find a job that has health benefits.)

As Fidel steps down, if Raul can’t take over…how about…

Martha Stewart…she’s easily tough enough, has an already accomplished reputation as a harsh and unforgiving taskmaster and, like all the great “martyrs for freedom who become tyrants”, she’s done some time in the slammer…

Mike Huckabee…he’s not exactly the image of a ruthless dictator, I’ll grant you, but lord knows the guy seems to have the same “never give up, hang in there” chops that made Fidel famous…plus John McCain would likely be delighted to have the guy move on to another line of work…

Regis Philbin…totally not the type, to be sure (although anybody who has spent twenty plus years putting up with both Kathi Lee and Kelly should have no problem putting up a few million screaming, starving Cubans)..beside, doesn’t Regis pretty much get picked to do and/or replace just about everybody else doing everything else?

Drew Carey…he’s way too nice, I know….but he’s got the “replace a really, really, really old guy who finally got the hint and quit” chops that would come in handy here.

Frank Costanza…George’s dad from Seinfeld….yes, I know he has absolutely no qualifications whatsoever (well, maybe he could make Festivus a Cuban holiday or something), but if he got the gig, they wouldn’t have to change the monogram on all the towels in the presidential palace.

And last, but not least…..

Monica Lewinsky… and before you roll your eyes and give me that tsk tsk that you think I deserve for being so ridiculous, ask yourself…it’s Cuba…and who knows more about good cigars?

So, there you go, Cuba power players. Feel free to use my advice if and when necessary.

You know, I just realized that I was standing so close to it, I didn’t see it.

I could use the gig myself.

I wonder if they have health benefits.

Monday, February 18, 2008

The Lesson We Still Haven't Learned...


I’m not sure what to make of a world where Randy Newman knows more about the human condition than the so-called experts.

More about that in a minute.

The girlfriend of the Northern Illinois University shooter did an interview with CNN yesterday. Here’s the story from CNN.com.

WONDER LAKE, Illinois (CNN) -- The girlfriend of the gunman who killed five people and then himself at Northern Illinois University last Thursday told CNN there was "no indication he was planning something."
He wasn't erratic. He wasn't delusional. He was Steve; he was normal," Jessica Baty tearfully said in an exclusive interview Sunday.
Baty, 28, said she dated Steven Kazmierczak off and on for two years and had most recently been living with him.
"He was a worrier," she said. He once told her he had "obsessive-compulsive tendencies" and that his parents committed him as a teen to a group home because he was "unruly" and used to cut himself, she said.
"He was worried about everything, he worried about me."
But, she added, that he had never exhibited self-destructive behavior during their time together. "Everybody has a past, and everybody goes through hard times," Baty said.
Kazmierczak had been seeing a psychiatrist on a monthly basis, Baty said. She said he was taking an anti-depressant, but he had stopped taking the medication three weeks ago because "it made him feel like a zombie."
"He wasn't acting erratic," she said. "He was just a little quicker to get annoyed.”
Police say Kazmierczak burst into an NIU geology class on February 14 and opened fire with at least a shotgun and two handguns, killing five students while dozens fled for their lives.
Authorities were on the scene within a few minutes, but by the time they reached the classroom, Kazmierczak, 27, had shot himself to death.
Baty knew her boyfriend had purchased at least two guns. He told her they were for home protection.
The day of the shooting, Baty was in class at the University of Illinois where she and Kazmierczak had transferred from NIU. He was pursuing a master's degree in sociology, and she is going for a master's in social work. He planned to study law and had signed up to take the LSAT test, she said. She is hoping to get her doctorate in social work.
The students in her class began to talk about a mass shooting taking place at NIU in DeKalb, Illinois.
Oblivious that Kazmierczak could have anything to do with it, Baty said she had tried calling him several times Thursday, but her calls went directly into his voice mail.
"I was worried about him because he was supposed to come to class," she said. "He never missed a class."
When Baty learned that Kazmierczak was the shooter, she said, "I couldn't believe it."
"I said, 'No, you have the wrong person. He's not in DeKalb.' He wasn't supposed to be there. He was on his way home to see me. It didn't make any sense at all."
She had last seen him Monday morning, when he told her he was planning to drive north to visit his ill godfather who he had not seen in a long time.
Kazmierczak "told me that he loved me and that he would see me on Thursday and missed me," she said. "That whole week I talked to him; he sounded fine."
"The Steven I know and love was not the man that walked into that building," she said. "He was anything but a monster. He was probably the nicest, most caring person ever."
She said she was talking to the news media about Kazmierczak because, "He cannot be defined by his last actions. There was so much more than that."
Since Thursday, Baty said authorities have intercepted several packages Kazmierczak sent her, including several items such as: the book "The Antichrist" by Friedrich Nietszche; a textbook for her class about serial killers; a package with a gun holster and bullets; a new cell phone that she had told him she wanted and about $100 in cash.
She read the contents of a note he sent to her.
"You are the best Jessica!" it read. "You've done so much for me, and I truly do love you. You will make an excellent psychologist or social worker someday! Don't forget about me! Love, Steven Kazmierczak."
But there was no letter explaining the NIU slayings.
"I'm praying that there's another one somewhere that tells why and what he was thinking and what he was feeling and why he wouldn't want me to help him," she said.
Though the two had chosen to transfer to the University of Illinois, "there was no hard feelings [toward NIU]," she said. "He said all the time how grateful he was that he went there."
She said she had never known her boyfriend to lie: "He was always open and honest. We didn't keep anything from each other."
"I would have helped him, I would have done something for him," Baty said. Even last week, when the two talked every night until the killings, she was not alarmed.
It was during their last conversation, a few minutes past midnight Wednesday, that she got her first inkling that something was amiss, she said. "He told me not to forget about him and he told me that he would see me tomorrow, and when we got off the phone he said 'Goodbye.' He never said goodbye."
Shaking and crying, her family at her side during the interview, Baty said she still loves the man she met in a hallway at NIU when they were both undergraduate students.
Baty said she feels sorry for the victims and their families and friends. "I know what they're going through, and I just can't tell them how sorry I am," she said. But, she added, "He was a victim, too, and I know they probably won't want to hear that, but he was."


Obviously, she’s right. The families and friends of those who were killed or injured don’t even want to begin to hear about what a “victim” the guy who walked into a lecture hall and started shooting was.
And while I don’t profess to having any credentials that would make my thoughts about the whole thing “valid” within the parameters of expertise, I do have a gut feeling about a couple of things.

First, there have always been, and will always be, people who are mentally ill. While we have come a long way historically from the dark age mentality of “crazy”, we still don’t think of mental illness with the same automatic and instant compassion, understanding and inevitability that we do physical illness.

Part of that, I would think, stems from the fact that getting the flu doesn’t often drive someone to buying a gun and killing college students.

So, it’s a little easier to feel sorry for the “victim” of the illness.

And I think we all still live, or at least hang out, in a state of denial, even when we see the signs of disturbance in someone. We don’t want to let our selves think that nice kid could actually shoot someone just because he’s a little more “erratic” lately.


Second, while it’s simplistic and knee jerk to “blame the culture” for the violence that seems, of late, to be the manifestation of the assorted shooter’s illnesses, it’s naïve, at best, and profane, at worst, to not admit to ourselves that the proliferation of violent content in music, music videos, movies, television, et al doesn’t have any impact on the very society that is pemitting their “air” as it were, to be filled with that particular toxin.

And when the air is filled with something, it’s hard to take a sabbatical on breathing,

As a creative man, I don’t require any convincing about the issue of “censorship” or even “stifling” of the creative process, thanks.

The problem with total and unchecked freedom, though, is that it’s like nuclear power.

In the right hands, it can provide illumination and warmth and energy to make life better for millions.
In the wrong hands, it can cause destruction on a global scale.

So, while it may not be any one thing or another that can be selected as the cause of these terrible outbursts of despair and death, it isnt a stretch to connect the dots.


A society that tacitly tolerates violence in its pop culture , if not stepping over the line of endorsing it.


Mental illness, no longer the stigma it once was, but still a long way towards being embraced in the early, critical stages.


And why these illnesses more and more manisfest themselves in the killing of innocent people along with the person suffering the illness instead of simply a sad case of a mentally ill person cutting their wrists or finding some gas to turn on in the small apartment?


Again, I don’t have the PhD that would validate my perspective. And the experts will continue to bounce ideas and opinions around from now until the cows come home…or chickens come home to roost, whichever occurs first.

Personally, I think Randy Newman figured it out years ago.


I ran out on my children / I ran out on my wife
Gonna run out on you too, baby / Done it all my life
Everybody cried the night I left, well, almost everybody did / My little boy just hung his head
I put my arm around his little shoulder / This is what I said, sonny

I just want you to hurt like I do / I just want you to hurt like I do
I just want you to hurt like I do / Honest I do, honest I do, honest I do

If I had one wish, one dream I knew would come true / Want to speak to all people of the world
Get up there on that platform, fiirst I’d sing a song or two / then I tell you what I’d do
I ‘d talk to the people and I’d say
It’s tough, tough world,a rough rough world and you know / Things don’t always go the way we plan
There’s one thing, one thing we all have in common / something everyone can understand

I just want you to hurt like I do / I just want you to hurt like I do
I just want you to hurt like I do / Honest I do, honest I do, honest I do
The irony of it all is that in an age of cell phones and webcams and chat rooms and emails and blogs, emotional isolation contines to flourish, with all of the ways that we have to communicate and reach out to one another, too many still lead "lives of quiet desperation".
Sad, lonely, confused lives.
That's a lot of misery to endure.
And misery loves company.

Until we really learn that lesson and get a better handle on that simple human truth, there will be more victims on both ends of the weapon.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Hope Is A Thing With Feathers..That Perches In The Soul....Just Like Faith....


I honestly don’t know what to think about God.

I don’t mean what to think about the things that He does or doesn’t allow to happen in the world.
Although heaven knows (no pun intended) there’s a whole big long list of things we could get into there.

I mean I honestly don’t what to think about his existence.

This is nothing new for me. And it’s not the result of any sudden change of mind or heart, no knee jerk reaction to my latest trials and tribulations.

I’ve never known what to think.

I was brought up in a household that didn’t worship or participate in any faith-based activities. As I recall, I was eight or nine years old before I even set foot in a church and, then, it was as the “guest” of the parents of the neighbor kids I ran with, invited along for the Sunday ride, as it were, my own parents maintaining a “uh, sure, whatever” response to the neighbors invitation.

It’s occurred to me only in recent years that maybe those neighbors were trying to pick up the family slack by getting that little kid into the good graces for future use.

I was baptized at the age of 19 and, then, only because the girl I was marrying wanted to marry in the church. It was her loving, well intended desire that we be a church going family and I figured, what the hey, one church is as good as the next when it comes to being a “member”.

And I’ve had a pretty in and out relationship with the church through the years, sometimes the regular and religious (pun intended this time) weekly church goer, sometimes the guy who had more recreational priorities every Sunday, back to “committed” church guy (knowing me, if you do, or having read my work for any length of time, would it surprise you to learn that for a period of several years in the 70’s, I was actually a lay priest in the Episcopal Church?), back to feeling no urge on Sundays to be in that number, when the choir comes marching in.

Through it all, I have maintained that while I might not be a religious man, per se, I do think of myself as a spiritual one.

I may not be a God man. But I don’t feel like I’m godless.

I believe in the amazing and healing power of love, the miracle and grace of forgiveness, I know the difference between right and wrong and feel pride at my efforts to do the former while experiencing applicable amounts of shame and regret when I do the latter and I do genuinely keep the mind that pulses away inside this incredibly hard head open to the idea that God is there and loves me and wants me to do His will and that these things, and all the other things that my friends who have “found” it tell me are true…are true.

And I have been on my knees more than just a few times in my life.
And not just lately when everything in my life is in the crapper.

Although I will admit that I’m guilty of banging on the door a whole lot more lately.
What the hell, it hurts. I want it to stop.

And it’s not like I’m not doing my bit here. I still haven’t started thinking about ways to rob a convenience store, haven’t turned my pain and anger and fear into some destructive lashing out at any and all around me (lost my cool a time or two?..,well, duhhh) and I haven’t yet purchased, let alone crack the seal, on a bottle of the whiskey that had me well gripped in both distilled hands for many years and which I put down and walked away from many years ago.

Come on, God, even if I didn’t do it all by myself, even if you were there and helped me kick the damn booze, I should be getting some kind of credit for it that I could cash in right now.

When I vent heart, soul and spleen to friends that I am, and have been for a long time, doing everything I know how to do to let God know that I want in, that I want to be told what it is He wants me to do with my life and that I hope to be given the strength, courage and humility to do all of those things, only to get either no answer I can discern or see things go from bad to worse, they, inevitably, invoke some variation of the “mysterious ways” clause.

Okay. I’m a tough sell, I admit. But I simply don’t know what to do with the logic of the idea that God’s plan to bring me into the loop is to continue keeping me out of the loop.

In times of frustration and hurt, the lyrics of John Lennon pop into my head.
“God is a concept / by which we measure our pain”

Then again, John got shot dead at 40, so I guess the lesson there might be don’t get glib about the boss.

Then, comes the praise part.

As in…love God and praise him for all things…whether good or evil, right or wrong, joyous or painful…open the heart and give thanks and praise, yada, yada…

What?

I’ve been debating this sticky point with friends and peers for years.
Thanks and praise, (i.e., credit) for all that is good and joyous and loving and giving, even miraculous in this world?

Absolutely. Thanks and praise and then some.

But if one of my children had been in their dorm room at Virginia Tech or sitting in a lecture hall at Northern Illinois, I am going to have to take a pass on that thanks and praise part, thanks.

I confess I am human, that I am flawed and weak, that I have learned much and, yet, know nothing compared to that which there is to know, that I have been selfish and greedy and have, in that selfishness, caused hurt and pain and heartache to people who loved me and deserved better. And, after all the witty, sardonic, satiric, cynical shit is seen for what it is and pushed aside, I am a loving, caring, giving man who wants, with all of his heart, mind and soul to believe in a loving, caring, giving God, A God that would not be so vain as to expect to be praised and thanked for that which causes immeasurable pain and suffering in his children. A God who rightly expects his children to tow the line or expect some form of loving, but firm, discipline as a consequence, but who exercises the compassion that insures the punishment always most assuredly fits, but never exceeds, the crime. A God who, when faced with a child who just isn’t getting it, revises the plan as every good mortal teacher does, not by continuing to teach the lesson in a way that isn’t getting through, driving the child to a point of frustration where they no longer want to listen and give up, but by finding a way to get through to that child, encouraging, nurturing, supporting and inspiring them.

In the great scheme of things, the bottom line is the golden rule.
He, who has the gold, makes the rules.

In this life, that would be God.

So, the fact that I’m not seeing those things, that I am that child who just isn’t getting it, is, by default, my bad.

And the only answer I’m getting from friends and family is that mysterious ways thing.
Actually, it’s not much of a mystery to me at all. I’m pretty clear on one thing.

I honestly don’t know what to think about God.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Why "The Mummy Returns" Is The Best Love Story Movie Ever Made...


First, a bit of a left handed disclaimer.

This piece is going to be more of a downer than an upper.

And, yes, I know that Saturday’s piece wasn’t exactly Desiderata, okay?

But, those of you who know me personally know that I’m going through a bit of a time right now. And those of you who don’t know me and grace me with your visits will, hopefully, forgive me the current wave of self-indulgence.

What the hell, it’s my blog. And it’s a collection of those things that I am thinking and feeling.
So, stay and visit for a few minutes and read what I’m thinking and feeling or move on to Google or wherever your next web destination is today.

I understand, either way.

And I promise that I’ll be clever and funny again somewhere down the line.

My, he thinks a lot of himself, doesn’t he?
Lately, not so much, no.

I know just how Imhotep felt.

For those of you have made something of your lives and not spent a lot of hours staring mindlessly at the big or small screen (the tone there, by the way, is not meant to be sarcastic, but rather self-critical), Imhotep is the title character in “The Mummy” movies that were fairly recent remakes of the old Boris Karloff classics of the forties. I think they’re well made and a lot of fun, if you’re a fan of genre, but I’m not doing movie reviews this morning, I’m doing “relate to” stuff.

So, here’s all the back-story you’ll require.

Rick O Connell is the adventurer/hero and his archeologist wife is Evie. They met and fell in love in the first movie and are married with a kid in the second. Imhotep is the bad guy who was high priest to the Pharaoh of Egypt back in the way back before he made the unfortunate career choice of falling in love with the Pharaoh’s girl, Anuksunaman. Having gotten caught with their hands in each other’s respective cookie jars, Anuk does the old hari kiri and Imhotep is mummified.

Fast forward to the time of the film, O Connell and his wife end up unearthing Imhotep who goes on the quest to resume his eternal love affair with Anuk by raising her from the dead and using Evie’s life energy in the process.

Okay. Plot basics in place.

Fast forward one last time to the climax of the second film.

All four players are inside the temple, crashing down around them. Having battled each other royally, Rick and Imhotep are each now a few feet apart, hanging by their fingers, clinging to the edge of a huge chasm in the middle of the room, below them fire and brimstone and thousands of evil spirits waiting to suck them down into the depths.

Across the room, Evie and Anuk are a few yards apart, the ceiling crashing down around them, pillars falling, fires spouting, the whole nine yards. Each emotionally reaching out to their respective mates, trying to find the courage to brave the imminent collapse and rush to their aid.
Rick screams repeatedly at Evie to flee, to escape and save herself, insisting that she not risk losing her life in what seems a surely doomed to fail attempt at saving his.

Evie takes a couple of panicked looks around at all the collapse.

And does a masterful dance, jump, leap, dive to the edge of the chasm where she and Rick lock hands, she pulls him out and they rush, no time to spare, to safety.

Imhotep, seeing the power of salvation and redemption that true love brings, looks expectantly at Anuk.

Who takes a couple of panicked looks around at all the collapse.

Then turns and runs out of the temple.

At that moment, the camera cuts back to a close-up of the expression on Imhotep’s face.
The actor’s name is Arnold Vosloo. Not a household name, but a fairly accomplished South African actor.
I know that this movie is just your basic Saturday afternoon action adventure and is no Citizen Kane.
But, at that moment, for the expression on his face conveying the feeling he felt, they should have given an Oscar to the man on the spot.
For he truly was, at that moment, Imhotep, the former high priest of Egypt who had paid for his forbidden love with his life and dedicated the rest of his existence, however “bad guy/good guy” it might have been to giving life to his true love, only to find that when it was put to the test…

True love…wasn’t.

Because when fear and love came face to face with each other inside Anuk’s heart.

Fear won.

And, with an indescribable gamut of emotions crossing his face, this talented actor, taking his character to the end of the story, finally shows the pain that can only come from discovering that true love isn’t true, after all ,and lets go of the edge of the chasm, preferring to be swallowed into the depths rather than face living in a world where such hurt is possible.

The Mummy Returns is the name of the movie.
It’s billed as action adventure.

And that it is.

But I think it's the best love story movie ever made.

Because in that last five minutes, Rick and Evie and Anuk and Imhotep, show both, and all, sides of what true love really is.

And really isn’t.

Saturday, February 9, 2008

If You've Ever Lost Someone....


........you know the feeling.

It begins at first light, as you awaken, slowly being roused back to consciousness by forces who don’t seem to understand that you simply don’t want to be awakened, that you don’t want to be conscious, for in consciousness lies awareness and, in awareness, another round of having to face that which you would give all you own to not have to face.

That’s, of course, assuming that you were able to sleep in the first place.

Once you are aware, though, the feeling resumes its hold.

And you marvel and resent, at the same time, how much of a grip emptiness can have on you.

It seems a conflict, a paradox, a cruel joke being played on you by the forces of nature or the gods or whomever it is that has inflicted this terrible, aching wound on your soul.

Empty means there’s nothing there.
So how is it that you can feel it so intensely?

And there is no cure, no quick fix, no over the counter medication that will make you stop feeling the emptiness. It becomes a part of you, as if somehow your emotions could get migraines and although you can minimize the suffering with certain atmospheres and efforts, it aches, at some level, every minute of every day.

It never goes away. At best, you simply learn to live with it.
Even if, in that place where you say things only to yourself, you cry out that this is not living.

It is merely, and only, the physical functions of life.

Then there is the space.
Differentiated from the emptiness inside you by being the emptiness all around you, the space newly and unexpectedly created, the crater in your once unscarred world.

The bed that now seems almost obscenely large.

The closet that suddenly has more room than you will ever think about needing.

The empty chair at the dining room table.

Every room in the house, once warm and welcoming, now cold and indifferent and, worse, offering no shelter or haven from the feeling, no sanctuary from the aching, no relief from the despair, for there are no doors that can be shut, no windows that can be closed, no drapes that can be drawn that can blind you to that which exists in the very center of your own heart.

Then, to add insult to injury and heartache to heartbreak, everything sparks a memory and more pain.

Everything.

Every song on the radio, every program on the television, every commercial on every program on the television, every title on every book on the shelves of bookcases in the rooms you shared, every photograph of anything taken during the exquisite days your lives were intertwined, every ring of the telephone, every cup of coffee poured from the coffeemaker you took turns preparing the night before, every cup coming in or out of the dishwasher that you used at one time or another to pour that coffee and take upstairs as a gesture of love and romance, every key on the key ring that you could never seem to find without asking for help, every kicking on and off of the heat pump or air conditioning compressor that made it either too hot or too cold for one of you, sending you rolling apart for relief in the midst of summer, rolling you closer together for warmth in the dead of winter, every bite of Chinese food from the carry out place you called on those Saturday nights that going out was overruled in favor of candlelight, privacy and tender, but urgent, caresses in the night, every creak of the stairs of the guy living next door that made you quiet your lovemaking for just a moment lest you be discovered and, for some silly stupid reason, made to feel self conscious, every piece of clothing, every piece of paper, every sound, every scent, every single part of your existence a monument to the sweet joys of having had someone around you, beside you, inside you so completely and the horrific agony of losing them.

Everything.

Then come the words of comfort.

Friends, family, other loved ones who offer their best, most well intended platitudes.

Time will heal your wound. Be grateful for the time you had. You will pull through. You will have happy times again. Life will go on. Have faith.

All inevitably good advice meant to somehow make you feel better but just as inevitably having the opposite effect.

You don’t want to feel better.

You want this to have not happened.

Friends, family and other loved ones cannot offer that.
It is not within their power to offer it.

So you somehow find the smile and you thank them with your best “I appreciate you” tone of voice.
While inside your head and heart you want them to just shut the hell up.

Because you have still one more assault on your soul to endure.

Trying to somehow live with the loss.
And knowing that no one has died.

That there has been no physical flaw that suddenly killed, no lingering illness ending in blessed release, no midnight phone call bringing dark news of a terrible accident, there has been no sending of flowers, no sympathy cards, no viewing, no wake, no funeral, no burial, no long drive back from the cemetery.

There are only two people, best friends, partners, lovers, totally and irrevocably connected, body, heart and soul.

Who, in the end, after days and nights and days and nights of tears and talk, struggle and searching, hoping and praying, trying and failing, simply could not make it work.

And had to let each other go to spare each other pain.

Pain to forever be replaced with the emptiness.

Without even the mercy of closure that eventually comes with a loved one dying.

For each night of your life remaining ends with the profane truth that somewhere on the earth lives a heart still beating in tandem with yours, still breathing in rhythm with your own breaths, still just a walk or car ride or plane trip away from being in that bed…or empty dining room chair…or rooms.

Each night remaining ends with the profane truth…

As you close your eyes and wait for sleep to mercifully come.

If you can sleep at all.

If you’ve ever lost someone... you know the feeling.

Friday, February 8, 2008

The 546th Person...


I haven’t been on the air for a while now.

Those of you who know me as a broadcaster probably also know that, late last year, I became a casualty of a commercial radio industry that is largely in disarray, jumping from this solution to that fix in order to come up with some magic bullet that will solve the problem of listeners who are abandoning them in droves, either to satellite radio, internet radio or just plain old Ipod enjoyment while trying to console and placate advertisers who are spending their budgets elsewhere.

I was known to suggest, from time to time, that maybe the reason those listeners were jumping ship was they were tired of not getting anything fed to them on the commercial airwaves except the same “expert advised”, crotch and boob humor coated, same ten songs in a row crap that everyone seems to be trying to run with these days.

As for me, I just tried to bring some fresh air to the airwaves by treating my listeners with respect, trying to find humor and irony in the events of the day without having to talk about Britney’s lack of panties or Paris’ little black book , playing the play list as required, but betting that listeners were intelligent and sophisticated enough to hear an occasional song from the “wow…it’s great to hear that after such a long time” folder.

The result was my listeners emailed and phoned often with their appreciation and sent my show to number two in the ratings in my market area.

Well, hell, no wonder I got fired.

And this isn’t my personal persecution pity party…there are a lot of talented people being shown the door every day in much the same “makes no sense but that’s the biz” way.

Now, almost three months later, I am still looking for a home for my broadcasting chops. And getting beyond the weariness of having been out of work for this long and the fears built into the scenario of being a middle aged man trying to find a job in this economy, I miss being on the air because I miss the chance to talk and share with so many quick, smart, bright, intelligent, articulate, loving, caring, patriotic people.

People like you.

And my friend Debbie.

Who, knowing my work and being fairly simpatico philosophically, drops in now and then with an item that she suspects I would be running with on the air.

If I was, you know, running anywhere on the air.

And she’s right.
If I was, I would be.

Debbie emailed me this piece, written, credit where it’s due, by a man named Charley Reese.
Give it a read and then stay tuned for two cents to follow.


THE 545 PEOPLE RESPONSIBLE FOR AMERICA'S WOES
BY CHARLEY REESE

Politicians are the only people in the world who create problems and then campaign against them.
Have you ever wondered why, if both the Democrats and the Republicans are against deficits, we have deficits? Have you ever wondered why, if all the politicians are against inflation and high taxes, we have inflation and high taxes?
You and I don't propose a federal budget. The president does.
You and I don't have the Constitutional authority to vote on appropriations. The House of Representatives does.
You and I don't write the tax code. Congress does.
You and I don't set fiscal policy. Congress does.
You and I don't control monetary policy. The Federal Reserve Bank does.
One hundred senators, 435 congressmen, one president and nine Supreme Court justices - 545 human beings out of the 300 million - are directly, legally, morally and individually responsible for the domestic problems that plague this country.
I excluded the members of the Federal Reserve Board because that problem was created by the Congress. In 1913, Congress delegated its Constitutional duty to provide a sound currency to a federally chartered but private central bank.
I excluded all the special interests and lobbyists for a sound reason. They have no legal authority. They have no ability to coerce a senator, a
congressman or a president to do one cotton- picking thing. I don't care if they offer a politician $1 million dollars in cash. The politician has the
power to accept or reject it.
No matter what the lobbyist promises, it is the legislator's responsibility to determine how he votes.

A CONFIDENCE CONSPIRACY

Those 545 human beings spend much of their energy convincing you that what they did is not their fault. They cooperate in this common con regardless of party.
What separates a politician from a normal human being is an excessive amount of gall. No normal human being would have the gall of a SPEAKER, who stood up and criticized G.W. BUSH for creating deficits.
The president can only propose a budget. He cannot force the Congress to accept it. The Constitution, which is the supreme law of the land, gives
sole responsibility to the House of Representatives for originating and approving appropriations and taxes.
Who is the speaker of the House? She is the leader of the majority party. She and fellow Democrats, not the president, can approve any budget they
want. If the president vetoes it, they can pass it over his veto.

REPLACE THE SCOUNDRELS

It seems inconceivable to me that a nation of 300 million cannot replace 545 people who stand convicted -- by present facts - of incompetence and
irresponsibility.
I can't think of a single domestic problem, from an unfair tax code to defense overruns, that is not traceable directly to those 545 people.
When you fully grasp the plain truth that 545 people exercise power of the federal government, then it must follow that what exists is what they want
to exist.
If the tax code is unfair, it's because they want it unfair. If the budget is in the red, it's because they want it in the red. If the Marines are in
IRAQ, it's because they want them in IRAQ.
There are no insoluble government problems. Do not let these 545 people shift the blame to bureaucrats, whom they hire and whose jobs they can
abolish; to lobbyists, whose gifts and advice they can reject; to regulators, to whom they give the power to regulate and from whom they can take this power.
Above all, do not let them con you into the belief that there exist disembodied mystical forces like "the economy," "inflation" or "politics"
that prevent them from doing what they take an oath to do.
Those 545 people, and they alone, are responsible. They, and they alone, have the power. They, and they alone, should be held accountable by the
people who are their bosses - provided the voters have the gumption to manage their own employees. We should vote all of them out of office and
clean up their mess.


Thanks to Debbie for sending me this and thanks to Charley for his thoughts.
Here are mine.

There’s a 546th person we have to look to for responsibility in all of this.

Each and any one of us who doesn’t take action whenever and wherever possible to help effect change in the way we elect those politicians to office and what standards we insist on holding them accountable to once they are elected.
Because while I appreciate and share in Charley’s frustration, the simple fact is that “voting them all out of office and cleaning up their mess” isn’t going to fix anything.

The system is what needs to be overhauled.
Not those who inhabit it.

Putting fresh oil into a failing engine isn’t going to get us any farther down the road.

We could vote all 545 out of office any day of the week.
There will always be another 545 ready to take their place.
And ready to take us down the same old road.

Thursday, February 7, 2008

Forget The Stairway...How About The Express Lane To Heaven?...


I’ve been thinking about death.
Admit it, you think about it, too.
It’s only natural, the mysterious “they” would say.
Death is just a part of life.
Uh…yeah. The last part.
This morning, I read the news report that said John McWethey, the ABC reporter who used to cover the Pentagon and did an amazing job of covering the attack there on 9/11, had died at the age of 61.
He was skiing, zigged when he should have zagged, and hit a tree chest first.
The official report says he died of “blunt force trauma”
You gotta love official reports.
Years ago, when Dean Paul Martin, the pop singer son of Dean Martin, was killed in a plane crash while serving in the National Guard, the “official report” said, honest to God, that the death was the result of “limited flight into terrain”.
You think?
Anyway, what struck me about McWethy’s death wasn’t so much the tragedy of it.
After all, he was only 61 and he was skiing in Boulder, where he and his wife retired in the not too distant past to enjoy skiing.
And I sort of glossed right past the inevitable, but regrettable, possibilities for comparisons to Sonny Bono.
I got tree, babe.
What struck me was the irony.
Here’s a guy who worked as a national reporter for years, facing whatever hazards were inherent, was on site the day a passenger jet smashed into the Pentagon and not only got away unharmed but was able to stand and deliver on a terrible event. Finishes up a long and brilliant career with accolades, taking his beloved to their dream home in the snowy majesty of Colorado to live out his life enjoying each other and the beauty of God’s creation.
And dies as the result of “limited slalom into arboreal obstacle.”
The expression, as I remember it, is “life is unfair”.
Death seems to be doing it’s best to live up to that platitude, as well.
So, then, for reasons that constitute TMI, my thoughts wandered over to some of the notable folks in life who have decided to cheat death of the thrill of victory by throwing down a little agony of defeat and choosing their own time, place and method of shuffling off the mortal coil.
There’s a fun website called Dead Or Alive that I have used from time to time for on air trivia contests, etc. I logged on and pulled a list of the “famous” who have stepped off the curb before the Reaper could make it up behind them to shove.
It turns out to be quite an interesting list.

Ernest Hemingway…the author of “For Whom The Bell Tolls’…answered his own question, obviously….

Clara Blandick…played “Auntie Em” in The Wizard Of Oz….I don’t think she’s in Kansas anymore, Toto

Sylvia Plath…the writer of “The Bell Jar” who came damn close to making suicide hip…

George Sanders…thirties and forties character actor, once married to Zsa Zsa….well, there you go….

Peter Duel….young star of soaps and a TV series in the seventies, shot himself….no way to win ratings…

Paul Williams…not the short, blond singer…the tall, black singer who was in The Temptations

Phil Ochs…the folk singer…someone’s jumping, Lord…kumbayah

Charles Boyer…romance film star of the thirties and forties…”come wiz me..to zee Casbah….in the sky”

Gig Young…actor, won an Oscar for “They Shoot Horses, Don’t They”?…yeah, and ourselves, too…

Donny Hathaway…pop singing star of the 70’s…dueted with Roberta Flack…soloed off the balcony…

Jon Hall…..fifties kid hero as star of “Ramar of the Jungle”….as in “life….it’s a jungle out there…”

Dave Garroway.. the original host of the Today Show….early to bed, early to rise…it can kill ya…..

Brenda Benet…soap opera actress, ex wife of actor Bill Bixby….real life soap opera stuff…

Walter Slezak…actor, the bad guy in the Hitchcock classic “Lifeboat”….never found one, looks like…

Danny Rapp…of “..and the Juniors” fame….you can rock it, you can roll it, you can buy the farm at the hop, hop,hop…

Richard Manuel…member of the sixties band, The Band….take a load off, Annie….take a load for free…

Pete Ham…leader of “Badfinger”…hung himself after a record deal went bad…not usually an effective bargaining technique

Elizabeth Hartman…young actress, starred in A Patch Of Blue…..way more than a patch, apparently

Abbie Hoffman,,,sixties radical leader….up against the wall…or pearly gates, as it were,…m***f*****…

Jay Stewart….announcer best known as the voice of Let’s Make A Deal…zonked himself….

Rusty Hamer…kid star of Make Room For Daddy….he wasn’t kidding…

Del Shannon….pop pioneer,,,the hits “Runaway” and “Keep Searchin”…decided to stop searchin…

Brad Davis…actor, “Midnight Express”…before AIDS could do him in….”oh….billy…..”

Herve’ Villechaize…”boss!…the pain!…the pain!……

Kurt Cobain…singer, married to Courtney Love….I could make a case for justifiable self homicide…

Ed Flanders…actor, “St Elsewhere”….hmmm…is that the patron saint of suicide, I wonder?

Hugh O Connor…son of Carroll O’Connor….had a drug problem…found a solution to a drug problem…

Ray Combs…one time host of “Family Feud”…..”survey SAYS!….enough!….”

Faron Young…country music star….well, hell, there had to be at least one country music star….

Brian Keith..actor, “Uncle Bill” on “Family Affair”…the little cutie pie grew up to kill herself too…a family affair.

Dana Plato…teen star of “Different Strokes”….took cancellation by inflicting cancellation….

Rick Jason…actor, starred in 60’s TV show, “Combat”…lived to 77 and said “don’t want to fight anymore..”

Hunter S. Thompson…author…inspiration for “Duke” in “Doonesbury”….life lost it’s comic potential…

Charles Rocket..one time co star on Saturday Night Live…fired for saying F*** on the air…showed them, didn’t he?

Mary Kay Bergman…did a lot of voices for “South Park”….until things went south….

Soeur Sourire…known in the 60’s as “The Singing Nun”…well, when a nun who sings wants to buy a ticket to ride, there’s really nothing more to add, is there?

There were a few more here and there names on the list. Sports figures, politicians, etc.
But the common thread, I finally began to notice ,is that all of these people were artists.
Talented, gifted, sensitive, at the least, obviously not just everyday folks.
You might wonder what they knew that we don’t.