Monday, September 28, 2009

"Let's Face It...It's A Fricked Up World..."

TMI, this week, comes from CNN re' SNL.

Saturday night, the "new kid" Jenny Slate, in a sketch where the whole point was NOT using profanity, inadvertantly used a profanity.

The infamous F bomb, to be precise.

With a reverential nod to the more arch-conservative among us, may I offer that the world didnt come flying off it's axis just because somebody said "f" on the broadcast air.

First of all, between cable stations, premium movie channels, etc you'd have to completely eliminate television from your lives NOT to hear the word at least once per day.

And while the young lady's f paux may have been a legitimate, if minor, piece of "news" for a few minutes after it happened late Saturday night, it is, at this writing, Monday night and CNN is STILL reporting it as a headline on their news site, complete with video (furnished above).

I'd like to suggest that it's time to move on to more important issues of the day, the kind of life altering matters that broadcast media excels in shoveling at us on an hourly basis.

Like which Hollywood A lister showed up at that Kardashian chicks wedding this weekend.

As far as Jenny Slate's initiation into the high wire world of live television is concerned, I'd just say thanks to CNN and all the other "news" organizations for keeping us aware of the two syllables that rocked the world Saturday night.

But, it's Monday and now it's time to just shut the fuck up about it.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

"Join The Army? Shuh-yeah..I'm Running For Office, Man..."

Most of the time, I make a conscious effort to resist preaching.

And if, by making my point, preaching seems inevitable, I try to dress it up with some laughs and other distractions, so as not to seem like I'm rubbing anyone's face in my opinion.

Not this time.

(CNN) -- When Iraq war veteran Angela Peacock is in the shower, she sometimes closes her eyes and can't help reliving the day in Baghdad in 2003 that pushed her closer to the edge.

While pulling security detail for an Army convoy stuck in gridlocked traffic, Peacock's vehicle came alongside a van full of Iraqi men who "began shouting that they were going to kill us," she said.

One man in the vehicle was particularly threatening. "I can remember his eyes looking at me," she said. "I put my finger on the trigger and aimed my weapon at the guy, and my driver is screaming at me to stop."

"I was really close to shooting at them, but I didn't."

Now back home in Missouri, Peacock, 30, is unemployed -- squatting without a lease in a tiny house in a North St. Louis County neighborhood.

She points to the Baghdad confrontation as a major contributor to her struggles with drug abuse and post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD. She says she's one step away from living on the street. See details on vets, including homeless »

Shortly after her discharge in 2004, Peacock said, she developed an addiction to pain pills. After her husband left her, she was evicted from her apartment, which she said made it impossible for her to obtain a lease or a mortgage.

She spent the next few years "couch surfing" from friend to friend, relative to relative. Watch how Los Angeles helps its 15,000 homeless vets »

"I could be kicked out of this house at any time," she said.

Experts say that Peacock's profile is similar to that of many female veterans returning from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. In fact, the rate of female homeless vets is increasing in the United States, according to the federal government and groups that advocate for homeless people.

The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs defines PTSD as a type of anxiety that affects people who've experienced a particularly traumatic event that creates intense fear, helplessness or horror.

"You're sitting on your couch and you hear a car go down the street, and you think it's going to come through your house -- so you kind of catastrophize things automatically," Peacock said. "That's stuff normal people don't do, but if you're in a combat zone on convoys all the time, you can't help but do that."

People in Peacock's life "just don't get it," she said, "so you just isolate."

PTSD can trigger depression, experts say, leading to job loss and a rapid downward spiral toward homelessness. Many times, these newly homeless women also have children to care for, advocates say.

Making matters worse, Peacock and other returning vets from Iraq and Afghanistan have been hammered by a struggling economy and skyrocketing unemployment rates.

The jobless rate for post-9/11 veterans is higher than the overall U.S. rate and has nearly doubled in the past year to 11.3 percent, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

In addition, about 1.5 million veterans -- 6.3 percent -- had incomes below the federal poverty line, according to a 2005 congressional analysis of census figures.

With the U.S. Army now at 15 percent female, and more women providing supporting roles in combat zones, female vets are becoming homeless at a faster rate than men, said Department of Veterans Affairs spokesman Pete Dougherty.

Conservative estimates count about 131,000 homeless veterans in the United States, most of them from the Vietnam War era. The VA has pinpointed 3,717 homeless veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan, but the nationwide total could be as many as twice that -- about 7,400, he said.

The VA estimates about 10 percent of all homeless veterans are women, making the estimated number of homeless Iraq-Afghanistan female veterans about 740. Dougherty said that number is rising.

Now, check this out:

The current salary (2009) for rank-and-file members of the House and Senate is $174,000 per year

Congress: Leadership Members' Salary (2009)
Leaders of the House and Senate are paid a higher salary than rank-and-file members.

Senate Leadership
Majority Party Leader - $193,400
Minority Party Leader - $193,400

House Leadership
Speaker of the House - $223,500
Majority Leader - $193,400
Minority Leader - $193,400

A cost-of-living-adjustment (COLA) increase takes effect annually unless Congress votes to not accept it.

Here's the preachy part, short and sweet.

I dont, for a single second, think that throwing money at a problem is the be all and end all solution to that, or any other, problem.


The people who serve this country in the military should NEVER have to worry about money again.


Here endeth the sermon.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

"And Now, Time for A Reality Check..."

Forty five years ago, Newton Minnow called television a "vast wasteland".

Yesterday, Bruce Willis put a slightly finer point on it.

In response to an interview question asking what he thinks of reality shows, he replied...

"I think they're bullshit."

America being the bastion of to each his or her own notwithstanding, I say yea, thee Bruce Willis.

I'm a child of the fifties, grew up watching television, have probably wasted more years than I care to face, in fact, watching television and, yet, couldn't put it more succinctly than Willis the Bruce.

Don't know his issues. Mine are basic.

I watch televison to get away from reality for a bit.

Reality shows, in my view (pun inevitable), are like having an affair with someone by meeting clandestinely in an expensive hotel room, getting undressed and then spending the evening arguing about money, work and the kids.

The point?


"You Know That Preacher Likes The Cold...THE WHOLE STORY!!"

And now, a mercifully few words on the Mackenzie Phillips story.

voyeur (plural voyeurs){n.}

1.A person who derives sexual pleasure from secretly observing other people, especially when such people are engaged in some sexual activity.
2.An obsessive observer of sensational or sordid subjects.

We all like to see ourselves as uninterested in, even offended by, this kind of thing.

The ratings for Oprah, not to mention the reality shows, beg to differ.

"Actually, You Really CAN'T Stop The Beat..."

Someone who knows me pretty well once called it my "hidden nature".

It, in this case, being defined as being able, even inclined from time to time, to push the pause button on the cynical, sardonic presentation that I've pretty well honed to a pencil point over the years and experience, and express, joy and even, yes, optimism.

Stop the presses.

In my defense, I would offer you that each of us has a demon or two to deal with. And we all deal with those demons in our own ways.

Some drink. Or do drugs. Or cheat on their partner. Or yell at people who drive in slo mo in the passing lane.

Or become politicians.

And some flip on a big "positive attitude" presentation with special effects that would make the people at Industrial Light and Magic envious.

Yeah, I know. That sounds a little cynical and sardonic, doesn't it?

Well, shit, we've all got our trademarks, don't we?

Mine is being counted on for the 3 S perspective.

Satirical, sardonic and sarcastic.

And it would actually be 4 S, but cynical starts with a C.

For whatever its worth, I don't revel in, or particularly cherish, this identity.

Truth be told, I treat it a lot like alcoholism.

I know I'll never be cured, but I do make the effort to keep from falling totally out of sight into the snake pit.

At this point, you're possibly wondering, and it's a fair point, why in the the name of all things satirical am I sharing this little "behind the scenes" psycho-documentary with you?

Primarily because it's not polite to sneak up on people.

You deserve fair warning, if at all possible, when something unexpected is about to happen.

Consider yourself warned.

I think every household in the world should own, and watch at least once per week, a copy of the musical version of the movie "Hairspray."

It is a movie without flaw. A presentation so overwhelmingly positive and life affirming, with such an undeniable sparkle and charm that even the most hardened hearts would find it hard not to experience a softening, if only for a moment.

And it succeeds not only as wholesome entertainment (and when was the last time you heard that expression without bracing yourself for a Stuart Little marathon?), but it succeeds as a brilliant piece of positive and life affirming social, political, even theological commentary coated in a flavoring so tasty that by the time you're finished, it's take a minute or two to realize that you've not only been entertained, but inspired, as well.

As part of my graduate work on my advanced degree in doubting Thomasism, I have, on more than one occasion, taken to intellectual task, those who encounter the hurts and heartaches of the world and robotically lip serve the belief that "the Lord moves in mysterious ways..." Probably because I always felt like that was just a glossy, pious version of "shit happens."

While watching this movie, though, I find it impossible to keep from smiling.

And I think I'm smiling for, at least, two reasons.

This movie is a perfect concoction of positivity and entertainment.

And, realizing what a hard sell I am, the Lord has decided to take a different tack with me.

Saying "I dare you not to feel optimism, cynic boy" through the work of a guy named Adam Shankman.

The director of the musical version of "Hairspray."

Sunday, September 20, 2009

"Yo...Adrian...It's Not 1925 Anymore..."

Only two things, it has been written, are certain in life.

Death and taxes.

It occurs to me that there is at least one other thing.

Getting older.

Admittedly, that death business pretty much puts a stop to the process, but, until our particular day of destiny and/or deliverance arrives, we all watch the little taxicab meter of our mortal existence clicking away as it adds up the cost of our individual journeys.

Wow. That really sounded kind of Discovery Channel-ish, didn’t it?

Nothing like a quiet Sunday morning with a big ass cup of half caf to make someone go all Kahlil Gibran on you.

For a lot of people, the awareness of getting older comes in a variety of forms, most of them familiar, some of them even cliché, ranging from gray hair where there wasn’t gray hair before to aches and pains in places where we are surprised to feel aches and pains to realizing that somewhere along the way, despite our best youthful promise to ourselves not to go down that road, we have, without knowing exactly when or where we crossed over, become our parents.

There are, I’ve discovered in my own little taxicab ride, a few more subtle indications that the countdown to cremation clock is in full tick tock mode. (The philosopher on Sunday morning mood thing also apparently has me mixing metaphors with reckless abandon…)

One of those more subtle signs surfaced this Sunday. (Apparently, annoying alliteration also arrives in this arena…)

Let’s call it “really? You mean they still do that?”

Defined as the sudden and somewhat surprised realization that some event or function or even past tradition that you had, without even thinking about it, assumed had long ago faded into the cultural history books and was no longer a part of your life and times.

For example, churning butter.

Say that to anybody under the age of 30 and there’s a good chance that the response will be either a blank stare or a slight nodding of the head as they suddenly hazard the guess that Churning Butter was the band that used to open for Coldplay on tour.

My “really? You mean they still do that?” moment came last night when a friend posted on Facebook that she and her husband were looking forward to the Mayweather-Marquez match on Pay Per View.

My first thought was…hmmm…I’m not really a big tennis fan, but I thought I knew all the big names in the game these days.


They’re boxers.

No, not the comfortable and often preferred alternative to jockey shorts or the classic song by Simon and Garfunkel featuring the whores on Seventh Avenue.



As in, I punch you really hard in the head and you fall down and then some guy counts to ten and I win.

With any kind of luck.

Really? You mean they still do that?

In the interest of full disclosure, I should tell you that I grew up in a time when boxing was a regularly scheduled and widely accepted form of sport and/or entertainment.

Before I was even close to needing Gillette to sell me shaving gear, I knew that Gillette sponsored the Fight of the Week on TV.

I was in grade school when Paul Newman played Rocky Marciano in that movie.

All of my junior high pals and I were sure the fix was in when Sonny Liston took the fall in that fight with Cassius Clay.

My high school running buddies and I got our first real exposure to Islam when Cassius Clay became Muhammed Ali.

And, of course, there was Rocky.

And Rocky II.

And III and IV and V and…

That said, I should also confess that I was never much of a fan.

Of the sport or the movies.

Didn’t ring my bell, so to speak.

Although, I still enjoy seeing that last scene in III when Mr T’s knees start to wobble and you just know he’s goin’ down.

Not so much for the boxing, per se’, but for the great way that the film’s composer matches the soundtrack “dah-duhhh”s with each punch and/or wobble.

And now, as I sit and ponder it on a half caf Sunday morning, it occurs to me that the reason I never really cared for the sport is that I never really understood the point of it.

Which is, of course, not to be confused with the goal of it.

The goal is to not be the guy that falls down when punched in the head that starts that other guy counting to ten.

The goal is to be the guy looking down at that guy while that other guy starts counting to ten.

But even at a very young age, I thought why would anybody in their right mind want to commit their lives to the discipline of getting and staying in pristine physical condition so they can climb into a ring with another guy and punch or be punched in the head until one of them falls down and that other guy starts counting to ten?

I totally get that boxing started thousands of years ago in a much less civilized and sophisticated culture.

And I imagine that punching each other in the head was probably a pretty common way of dealing with each other in general in those days.

And just like your average punch fest in a school playground or on a city street corner, crowds naturally gathered.

So it was inevitable that somebody realized that renting a big room, roping off a playground or street corner sized space and charging people for the privilege of watching the punches fly was likely to knock people out.

Sorry, I saw that pun coming almost two sentences ago, but there was just no way to avoid it.

Boxing, as a sport, was born.

Okay. I get it. They didn’t have Tetris or Ipod or Playstation or The Shopping Channel to amuse themselves.

Low-tech times begat low-tech entertainment.

But just this morning, my watch, computer monitor, cell phone, mouse pad and weekly planner alone, all indicate pretty clearly to me that the year is 2009.

And we have Tetris and Ipod and Playstation and The Shopping Channel to amuse ourselves.

So, I think it not unreasonable to ask “why are grown men still committing their lives to the discipline of getting and staying in pristine physical condition so they can climb into a ring with another guy and punch or be punched in the head until one of them falls down and that other guy starts counting to ten?”

Because, and die hard boxing fans, please correct me if I’m wrong, isn’t this the only legal, let alone sanctioned, activity in our culture in which the sole purpose is to physically damage another human being?

I mean, shit, you might get tennis elbow or carpal tunnel from too much Nintendo, but you’re pretty safe on the brain damage front.

And you’re elbowing and tunneling yourself.

You’re not getting the crap beat out of you with the controller by some guy who wants you to fall down so that other guy can start counting to ten.

At the end of it all, I realize, it comes down to “to each his own”.

And if you’re a boxing fan and are sufficiently liquid to fork over a fair sized chunk of change to Pay Per View to watch two guys punch each other in the head, then I join you in thanking God for the privilege of living in a country where we have that freedom.

But when it comes to the actual “sport” of it, I say it again.

I don’t get it.

In fact, come to think of it, I don’t get the whole “watching grown men drive around in a circle for hours” thing either.

Having already pissed off the boxing crowd though, I’ll pony up my two cents on NASCAR some other time.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

"Heeeeeeeeeeeere's...Oh, Wait, We Can't Do That Anymore..."

Jay Leno arrives tomorrow (Monday) night with his new five nights a week "big tent" show.

That's what he's calling it.

Unasked, I present my prediction. (As if, of course, being unasked has ever stopped me before.)

The reason that Leno succeeded on the Tonight Show, and for that matter the same reason that Dave has succeeded where he is for all these years, is the time slot.


At 11:30 Eastern, 10:30 Central, most folks who still have the TV even turned on are at the end of their day, looking for some mindless celebrity chit chat, goofball skits, et al to make them sleepy and take the pressure off mama who, between working a nine to five AND taking care of the kids AND all the household chores, you lazy bastards, has a well deserved headache.

Years ago, Johnny Carson quipped that he was best recognized when one looked at him between their toes.

Funny. And true.

At 10PM Eastern, 9PM Central, most folks are still involved in their day/evening and it takes more than mindless celebrity chit chat, goofball skits, et al to get them to put everything else aside.

It takes something riveting and culturally relevant.

Like finding out if McDreamy and McSteamy are ever going to find out which of them is more McPopular.

Or if Randy might actually go one whole week without saying "yo...dawg..."

NBC and Jay Leno have been together a long time, so I imagine it's unlikely that the network will dump him harshly, as they would any other show that will start out hot and fade quicker than Sanford's chances of being re-elected in South Carolina.

But I'm guessing that Jay's big budget backyard playhouse won't be the cornerstone of any industry changing phenomenon.

His comedy chops, etc are a matter of opinion. And everybody is entitled to their own.

But I'm confident that the X factor in any nighttime broadcast network talk/comedy show is less about talent than it is about timing.
Or to put the finer point on it, time.

After all, look how well Jimmy Fallon is doing.

Good night, everybody!!

Saturday, September 12, 2009

"Yesterday, Getting Older Seemed So Far Away.."

Hello, I’m Scott Edward Phelps.

Many of you know me from my regular postings on Phelpspeak, the cutting edge blogsite you’re visiting as we speak, some of you may have read my book “Three Hats” (available online at, some of you might have listened to my radio shows (soon to be heard nationwide, with any damn luck) and a few of you might recall being married to me at one time or another.

Today, I’m here to talk to you about something that can affect us all as we enter the “old enough to know better” phase of our lives.

Yes, I’m talking about “old fogey/fartism”

It’s a condition that generally affects people at some point between puberty and death, most often after finding gray hairs where there were never gray hairs before. The condition is characterized by an overall feeling of malaise, a lot of subtle, but discernible shaking of the head, accompanied by an inevitable sound, often confused with a smacking of the lips, that is, in fact, a summary opinion of anything and everything that anyone younger does or might be thinking of doing.

In its written form, the sound looks like this:

Tsk. Tsk.

People who struggle with “old fogey/fartism” often find themselves abruptly dismissing films, music, fashions, celebrities, causes, foods, drinks, TV shows and hairstyles that are popular in current culture while lamenting the fading popularity of films, music, fashions, celebrities, causes, foods, drinks, TV shows and hairstyles that were popular in their own time frame. Symptoms include, but are not limited to, the use of terms such as “back when”, “what ever happened to”, “what the hell?” “are you kidding me?” and “say what?”

In advanced cases, the condition might even cause the afflicted to verbalize the phrase they once heard from a parent, a phrase that evoked wincing and an internal promise never to be that old and/or have a stick up the ass.

“In my day…”

The condition is most often found in personality types that were likely to grow old long before their time and whose career choices reflected that likelihood.

Accountants, math teachers, oil change shop managers and church secretaries, among the most susceptible.

But lately, the spread of O.F.F. has become more profound with even formerly hip, cool and groovy types finding themselves exhibiting symptoms.

Bill Wyman, formerly of the Rolling Stones and Nick Mason, of Pink Floyd, for example, both of whom have come out in public against the sale of Guitar Hero, Rock Band and other virtual video games.

The objection, as they express it, is that the games prevent kids from taking the time and discipline required to learn how to actually play a musical instrument and, as a result, dilute the future of music and/or creativity.

The merits of an electronic versus “real” instrumentation debate notwithstanding, the sad and inescapable fact is that these two “hip dudes” are clearly showing signs of the onset of O.F.F.

I’m taking this opportunity to ask you to lend a helping hand to aid in the research and study that will, hopefully, someday find a cure for this debilitating condition. Countless dedicated researchers are working tirelessly to isolate the exact combination of circumstances that cause the condition and are passionate believers that they will find that combination and, as a result, prevent, rather than have to repair, the damage done by that stick, before it find it’s way to the butt and not after when, so soften, it is regrettably too late.

But it takes a village to stop the stick, so we need you to join in the effort. Smile and nod agreeably when your kids come home with the Hannah Montana tattoo. Give them thumbs up when they tell you that the idea of college sucks and they want to move to L.A. and be in their own reality series. Be generous with your high fives when they forego fresh air and real exercise to master lip synching and miming the animated, electronically enhanced digital update of “Eight Days A Week” and “I Feel Fine”.

And, what the hell, dump your wife for a Japanese girlfriend, comb your hair down onto your forehead, grab a simulated guitar, hit RESET and shake it up, baby.

You’ll not only bring the family closer by sharing the experience, you’ll be doing your part to put an end to this dreaded condition and helping shore up the sputtering economy with the big dollar purchase of the deluxe version of Beatles RockBand.

Old fogey/fartism. When it comes to finding that cure…come together, right now…over me.

Monday, September 7, 2009

"This Winning Team Only Needed One Strike..."


For those of you joining me from the Facebook link, I’ll have you right back to updating everyone on how long the burgers can go before they need flipping again and let you finish that “if you were a hair-do on any famous punk rocker, what hair-do would you be? survey in just a second.

Just wanted to share with you, on this government sanctioned day of not working (or, as its known among Federal workers, Monday through Friday), a little “now you know the rest of the story” story that you can take back to the water cooler tomorrow (or, again, if you’re a government employee, Thursday or so when you’ve used up the vacation/sick and/or personal day most likely attached to the holiday to make it a week long thing…God BLESS America!)

So, without further to do, just in case your kid should come up to you and say “uh…what is the historical origin of Labor Day…and can I have a new Ipod?”, I’ve got you covered.

On the first part there.

The second bounce of that ball is in your court.

Back in the days of the Industrial Revolution, workers were expected to put in 12-hour days, seven days a week (yes, including kids). Already sounds awful, right? It gets worse. In Pullman, Illinois, a company town that employed and housed workers to build posh railway cars, times had gotten tough. In response, George Pullman cut jobs and wages. It was 1893. Thousands of workers walked off their jobs in protest, demanding higher salaries and lower rents. Other unions joined, refusing to work the Pullman cars, turning the small-town fracas into a national fury.

With mail cars backing up, and riots worrying train execs, President Grover Cleveland stepped in. He declared the strike illegal and sent 12,000 troops to break the strike. Cue brutal protests and bloodshed. The strike was broken, but so was the spirit of the workers. To reach out to the labor movement, Congress rushed the national holiday into law. The bad will resulted in Cleveland losing re-election. But the day off for hot dogs endures.

And so now, as the late great Paul Harvey would offer, you know the rest of the story.

This “end of summer” occasion that finds many Americans enjoying a day free of the obligations, pressures and responsibilities of the workplace was a peace offering, a gesture of good will to help lift the morale and/or spirits of the American working class.

And, to this day, it is the only government recognized day set aside solely for the work force, a day in which they aren't required to do anything they don't feel like doing.

There is really nothing else like it.

With two possible exceptions.

The formentioned government job.

And those folks who can only show up to get my damn cable turned back on between six AM and Noon.

Bon Labor’ Day, ya’ll.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

"Tonight On Dave...Dreams...and Dashes..."

Got to fess right up from the start and tell you that this piece is going to come perilously close to Hallmark Card country.

Not that there’s anything wrong with that.

It’s just that part of the paradox of being me is my conflicted pre-dispositions.

I really do enjoy having the cockles of my heart warmed.

I just don’t feel all that comfortable showing anyone my cockles.

Any shrink worth their salt, or, for that matter, any ten year old who got to know me for more than ten minutes would likely suggest that I’m a pretty garden variety mix of self image, self worth, self medicating and, hell, even maybe self storage issues, manifesting in a presentation that wants, even needs, to have it both ways.

On the inside, where I don’t let you look, that puppy is getting me all verklempt, too.

On the outside…”…hey, pass me a brewski and shut that damn dog up, we’re watchin’ the game…”

Accompanied, of course, by all of the requisite high fiving and crotch scratching indigenous to my gender.

Disclaimer duly noted.

Life, I once read, is entirely about what you do with the dash.

As in, look on any tombstone and you will see, along with name and, perhaps, a timeless tagging, like “beloved husband and father”, something that looks like this.


The year of birth.
The year of death.

The dash.

And, as the poets have waxed and waned through the eons, what matters is what we do with the dash.

Here’s the story of guy who grasps the concept.

Several years ago, Steve Mazan, a stand-up comedian, was diagnosed with inoperable liver cancer. Unsure of how much time he had left, Mr. Mazan immediately set out to achieve his life-long dream -- perform comedy on the David Letterman show. Tonight that goal became a reality.

It didn't always seem like this was going to happen. After hearing about his illness, Mazan began petitioning CBS to let him perform at the Ed Sullivan Theater. He even started a website, the darkly comic "" But CBS said, "No dice." Just because Mazan had cancer, CBS wasn't automatically going to book him on "The Late Show With David Letterman." In other words, Mazan would have to earn it.

Mazan was undeterred and respected the network for its decision. After all this is a guy whose motto is: "If you stop chasing your dream, you're already dead." He worked at his craft and eventually, he got to perform on Craig Ferguson's show twice. Of course, while Ferguson is great and all, he's not Letterman.

Mazan kept on pushing. And soon enough, Letterman came calling. But that's not all -- a documentary on Mazan's mission is currently in production. No doubt his Letterman routine on the evils of hotel keycards will be a highlight.

I have a theory I can’t prove for the time being.

I think it safe to say that all of us, at one time or another, wonder about how we’re going to die.

And we wonder about when.

But, I also think we don’t give much thought to how we’re going to account for our time in this life.

Aside, of course, from the sixty-three minutes, give or take, each Sunday when those kind of thoughts wander in and out of our heads, between thoughts of fried chicken and/or football games, as we sit in the pews, listening to the pastor preach about how we’re going to have to account for our time in this life.

Or in the case of many, present company included, during the sixty-three minutes, give or take, during Christmas Eve and/or Easter services.

But I gotta tell ya, I’d love to be a fly on the wall (or pearly gate, as it were) when Steve Mazan shows up.

“And what did you do with your dash, Steve…?”, the angelic tollbooth operator asks with a beatific smile.

“Found out I was going to die young…so, I did what my heart led to me to do..”

Yet another beatific smile, accompanied by a gentle nodding of the head.

“Gathered your family and friends around you and, putting your faith in God, lived each day as if it were your last?”

“Uh….yeah, that, too…”


“I did Letterman…and they put me up in a really nice hotel…with one of those damn keycards...”

If, as I sometimes suspect, there is an APPLAUSE sign in Heaven, it’s already flashing.

Very nice dash, Steve.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

"...Klaatu, Barack Obama Nikto...."

The history of cinema is rich with political films that have given us pause for reflection, cause for alarm, even inspired us to be more than we might have otherwise been.

Mr. Smith Goes To Washington.

The Parallax View.

All The President’s Men.

The Manchurian Candidate.

The Day The Earth Stood Still.

And even if you’re not much for “that kind” of movie, you’ve most likely seen, more than once, one of the most insightful and illuminating political films of the last twenty-five years.

It features Will Smith getting barfed on by an alien baby.

“Men In Black”.

The first one. Not the sequel.

The only barfing going on in the sequel was by those of us who wasted two hours watching it.

Ebert-esque outbursts aside…

One very funny scene, among a lot of funny scenes, in the original has Tommy Lee Jones showing Will Smith around the MIB headquarters. In the course of their tour, they come across the big video board, being monitored by Odsifjsdofgsdmp and Bob (if you haven’t yet seen the movie, that, right there, is a pretty good chuckle). The board is made up of a variety of faces all of whom, Jones explains, are actually aliens living on Earth. Among them, of course, such “everyday” folk as Tony Robbins and Sly Stallone.

The obvious and funny gag being that it turns that there’s a reason that some of the “slightly odd” types here on the blue ball are slightly odd.

Cause they ain’t from around these here parts, if ya catch my meanin’.

Like many of you, I imagine, I totally identified with that scene.

But possibly not for the same reason you did.

It wasn’t so much that I had people in my life whose “eccentricity” suddenly made sense, cause Lord knows, I did and do.

Abe, a co-worker in the grocery store where I bag boyed as a kid, who knew pretty much everything about everything and cut meat for a living (think Cliff Clavin in a butcher’s apron)…

Mr. Formosa, my high school junior year geometry teacher. Trust me. You had to be there.

And, of course, at least two of the ex-wives.

No, the scene in the movie wasn’t so much about the potential aliens in my life that made me nod and smile.

It was about my own life suddenly making a little more sense.

For a long time now, I have suspected that I, myself, am not really of this Earth.

The reasons are many and too complex to go into here in a simple blog.

They will, of course, be available in my soon to be written next novel, which will be on sale at a fine bookstore and/or online. Watch for a release date and tell your friends and family.

And now, back to the blog.

Just this morning, I came across yet another sign that I am merely a visitor to this delightfully diverse part of the galaxy.

It came in the form of a news story.

This news story.

(CNN) -- The White House found itself on the defensive Friday over what would ordinarily be considered the most uncontroversial of events: a back-to-school speech to the nation's children.

The White House said the address, set for Tuesday, and accompanying suggested lesson plans are simply meant to encourage students to study hard and stay in school.
Many conservative parents aren't buying it. They're convinced the president is going to use the opportunity to press a partisan political agenda on impressionable young minds.

"Thinking about my kids in school having to listen to that just really upsets me," suburban Colorado mother Shanneen Barron told CNN Denver affiliate KMGH. "I'm an American. They are Americans, and I don't feel that's OK. I feel very scared to be in this country with our leadership right now."

School administrators are caught in the middle of the controversy. Some have decided to show the president's speech, while others will not. Many, such as Wellesley, Massachusetts, superintendent Bella Wong, are deciding on a class-by-class basis, leaving the decision in the hands of individual teachers.

"The president of the United States has asked us to facilitate his outreach to students. And in that vein, we have decided to honor the request," Wong told CNN. "We'll trust in his judgment."

Republican leaders have not shied away from the debate. Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty, a possible contender for the GOP's 2012 presidential nomination, said Friday the classroom is no place to show a video address from Obama.

"At a minimum it's disruptive. Number two, it's uninvited. And number three, if people would like to hear his message they can, on a voluntary basis, go to YouTube or some other source and get it. I don't think he needs to force it upon the nation's school children," he told reporters at the Minnesota State fair.

Florida GOP Chairman Jim Greer released a statement this week accusing Obama of using taxpayer money to "indoctrinate" children.

"As the father of four children, I am absolutely appalled that taxpayer dollars are being used to spread President Obama's socialist ideology," Greer said.

"The idea that school children across our nation will be forced to watch the president justify his plans ... is not only infuriating, but goes against beliefs of the majority of Americans, while bypassing American parents through an invasive abuse of power."

Nonsense, the White House replied.

"The goal of the speech and the lesson plans is to challenge students to work hard, stay in school and dramatically reduce the dropout rate," an administration spokesman said. "This isn't a policy speech. It's a speech designed to encourage kids to stay in school."

White House officials noted that Obama's speech, which will be available for anyone to view on the Web on Monday, is not unprecedented. President George H.W. Bush delivered a nationally televised speech to students from a Washington D.C., school in the fall of 1991, encouraging them to say no to drugs and work hard.

In November 1988, President Ronald Reagan delivered more politically charged remarks that were made available to students nationwide. Among other things, Reagan called taxes "such a penalty on people that there's no incentive for them to prosper ... because they have to give so much to the government."

Charles Saylors, president of the national Parent Teacher Association, said the uproar over Obama's speech is "sad."

"The president of the United States, regardless of political affiliation, should be able to have a presentation and have a pep talk, if you will, to America's students," he told CNN.

Some of the controversy surrounding Obama's speech stems from a proposed lesson plan created by the Education Department to accompany the address. An initial version of the plan recommended that students draft letters to themselves discussing "what they can do to help the president."

The letters "would be collected and redistributed at an appropriate later date by the teacher to make students accountable to their goals," the plan stated.

After pressure from conservatives, the White House said that the plan was not artfully worded, and distributed a revised version encouraging students to write letters about how they can "achieve their short-term and long-term education goals."
A number of the president's critics, however, were not placated.

"As far as I'm concerned this is not civics education -- it gives the appearance of creating a cult of personality," said Oklahoma state Sen. Steve Russell, a Republican.

White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs dismissed the whole dispute Friday as part of "the silly season."

The administration, while acknowledging it made a mistake with the initial lesson plan, has been frustrated by the controversy, said CNN Senior White House Correspondent Ed Henry.

It was a much different atmosphere when Bush made similar remarks 18 years ago, Henry noted.

"Let's face it. You didn't really have blogs. You didn't have as many cable networks out there as you do now," Henry said. "I think people just sort of take something and blow it out of proportion in this environment right now."

The controversy is the latest example of how sharply polarized political debate has become.

"Ninety percent of Americans who identify with the president's party approve of him, but 85 percent of those who belong to the opposition party disapprove," said CNN Polling Director Keating Holland.

"In that kind of environment, almost nothing Obama does is immune from politics."

Nothing kicks the tires and lights the fires like a good old-fashioned political brouhaha.

And one of the immense charms of this country is the capacity its citizens have for snarling, growling and, metaphorically, beating the living shit out of each other after which they gather on Sunday, give thanks for the good life and then head off to Denny’s together.

One of the guys in Monty Python once said something about religion that I think fits just as well when it comes to political affiliations.

“We all want to get the very same place…we just keep killing each other arguing over the best way to get there.”

This latest tempest in a teabag is proof positive of two things.

There is no point of view in existence that will ever, ever, ever satisfy all of the people all of the time.

And I am, very likely, not an Earthling.

Oh, it’s okay. I’m totally happy and proud to be here with all of you. I have been blessed with more than my fair share of the joys that life on Earth, and America, have to offer. I have seen the family that I started here grow into a loving group of fine people who make, and will continue to make, substantial contributions to the world.

It’s just that when I read stories about how folks “from around these parts” get all bunged up about things that don’t really seem bunge worthy, it’s just one more confirmation for me that I am, by birth, a stranger in a strange land.

In this case, here’s the thing about the thing.

My memories of childhood and the applicable school years are memories of being taught that all points of view were to be considered and every opinion was to be heard. We actually had a saying on my planet…it escapes me at the moment, oh, wait…it was “everyone is entitled to their opinion”…yeah, that’s it.

And in the culture where I was raised, the leader of the people was welcomed as, at best, a role model and, at worst, deserving of the respect of his office.

I even recall a few times when our teachers brought that cathode ray tubed device into the classroom so that we could watch various “political” events, like debates and elections and inaugurations. And if any of our parents had objections or concerns about our witnessing these “events”, lest we be “tainted”or “manipulated” into becoming obedient mind monkeys to any particular manifesto being offered up, the complaints didn’t trickle down to where we were sitting.

More than all of that, though, I remember being taught that hearing something someone had to say was never an automatic endorsement of them or their opinion, but that we would be diminishing the quality of our lives if we didn’t hear them out. And, most importantly, the only way for us to grow into adults with the capacity for making the right decisions about our lives and the lives of our families was to be exposed to all points of view so that we could learn to tell chaff from wheat, shuck from jive, shinola from shit.

You see, the thing is on the planet where I grew up, we would have sat respectfully in the classroom while the leader of the people spoke to us and encouraged us to get better grades, study hard, work diligently and not waste the opportunity that we were being given, the opportunity to receive the gifts that thousands of dedicated teachers in our school system were prepared to give us every day.

And, with the exception of those few kids who came to school on the short bus and sat in the back of the class carving swastikas in the desktop, I’m sure that if that leader of the people tried for even a second to sneak a partisan political agenda into the pep talk, we would have tuned it out.

Because on my home planet, kids seem to always know something that adults seem to forget.

Politics is mostly bullshit.

And bullshit is boring.

Oh. One more thing.

On the planet I came from, kids are given credit from almost the get go for an ingrained ability to tell the difference between right and wrong, chaff and wheat, truth and trash.

And the enlightened adults and teachers in tandem nourish that ability by letting kids see and hear it all, so as to hone their choosing skills.

If the kids of this planet are so lacking that ability that it’s necessary to shield them from any particular point of view or opinion, I would think that to be more cause for alarm than letting them hear one man encourage them to do their homework.

Of course, I’ll grant you that I could be wrong.

After all, apparently, I’m not from around these here parts.