Friday, February 27, 2009

The Gospel According to Barack

I thought the quotation: "As ye sow, so shall ye reap" was from the Bible. So much for my Biblical scholarship. Turns out this is not a direct quote from the Bible (I looked it up) but the idea appears in two places: "They that plow iniquity, and sow wickedness, reap the same" (Job 4:8, kjv). and "Be not deceived; God is not mocked: for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap" (Gal. 6:7, kjv). By the way, my smart wife knew that the abbreviation "kjv" referenced above stands for "King James Version"; I had no clue. You get the idea of the quote though... what you do in life comes back to you. Now that I've seen the Obama bailout plan, I think we need to revise the quote as follows: "As they sow, so shall you reap!"

This misguided plan punishes the prudent citizens of the country, who denied themselves luxuries they couldn't afford, who saved for a rainy day, and who used credit wisely, only to have to pay for the mistakes of those citizens who lived extravagant lifestyles they could never afford! This flies in the face of every concept of fairness I ever heard. It's one thing to extend a helping hand to families who were legitimately victimized by the collapse of the economy, those who lived within their means and still got hit with the risk of foreclosure. I am OK with some of my tax dollars going into a fund to help them keep their homes. But this bailout plan is Socialism; wealth redistribution plain and simple.

The wholesale bailout of every person who took out mortgages way beyond what their incomes could reasonably justify makes me furious. Do the banks share in the blame? Yes, but how much pressure was put on banks by liberal politicians to make loans well beyond the bounds of financial responsibility? The federal mortgage backers Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac decided to get into the dream business. Instead of underwriting prudent mortgage loans, they peddled the warm and fuzzy (but wrong-headed) notion that every family is entitled to the American dream. Lovely idea, but pure fiction. You are entitled to what your income can support, period.

The credit card companies are also at fault. Time was when you needed a good credit record to get a credit card, after all, credit is nothing more than deferred debt. Handing out credit cards with limits of five or ten grand to people with no demonstrated ability to pay back what they charge is like leaving a suicidal man in a room with a bottle of Vodka and a loaded gun. Especially reprehensible was the practice of collecting minimum payments while interest piled up at rates worse than those charged by the mob. These financial neophytes were strung along like heroin addicts, thinking all along that they were OK since they were making minimum payments, while in reality they were on the fast track to bankruptcy.

Someone tell me how a thief like Bernie Madoff steals $50 BILLION with no regulators getting wind of his scheme? He never invested a dollar of client monies in any securities, but instead paid off early investors from money paid in eagerly by newer investors; a classic Ponzi scheme. Where the hell were the regulators! Were no audits ever done in all the years he was screwing people out of their life savings? And what about all the smart people who gave good old Bernie their millions? Did their monumental greed keep them from wondering how Bernie was paying such ridiculously high returns while markets everywhere were in free fall?

This debacle has many villains. The rock solid brokerage houses who created investments so complicated and gossamer-like that even the most sophisticated regulators did not understand them. The insurance companies like AIG whose executives attended outrageously expensive "business outings" to party while their companies tanked. The auto industry led by some of the most incompetent, short-sighted executives in the history of American business, aided and abetted by greedy unions whose benefits were obscenely out of touch with reality.

To come full circle in this little rant, the biggest villains of all are the "I want it now" credit junkies, who never let a little thing like having no money stand in the way of buying fancy houses, gas-guzzling SUVs, plasma TVs and lavish vacations. THEY AND THEY ALONE fed the credit frenzy that emboldened the credit card pimps, that overextended the banks, that eventually toppled the crazy house of cards that the American economy has become. But, you say, as bad as all this is, these out-of-control spenders will now have to reap what they sowed, and hopefully learn a hard lesson in the process. Think again bunky. The "Obama Magical Bailout Bandwagon" is coming to town, and now YOU, the poor schmuck who watched his pennies and did all the right things, will be presented with the tab for this fiasco!!! I promised myself when he was elected that I would try to support our new President, but he is off to one hell of a bad start.

"As they sow, so shall you reap." (The Gospel according to Barack.)


LOOKING FOR A WORTHY CHARITY? TRY THESE FOLKS: Children's Craniofacial Association

Friday, February 20, 2009

Danger, Curves Ahead

I walk every day at our local mall with all the other senior citizens. It's nice that they open early so that we can still get our exercise in the cold weather. Anyhow, I have all the store windows memorized by now, and one thing strikes me: who are they kidding with the mannequins they use to represent the human figure? Have they looked around at their prospective customers? Nobody looks like those stick figures in the windows!

Another thing that strikes me is the way they pose these stick figures. The human body is not built to contort into these positions without risking serious injury. They all seem to be having just a hilarious time, no matter what they are doing. I guess there are no real problems in Mannequinworld. The posed male mannequins are especially interesting. If any guy stood on the corner with hands on hips and pelvis thrust forward the way these mannequins do, it would look like he was waiting for the fleet to come in!

Whether we like it or not, people are bigger today than they used to be. A less physical lifestyle, the discretionary income (at least until recently) to eat out in restaurants more, and the proliferation of fast food joints whose menus are not compatible with slimmer profiles are all contributors to the hard fact that there is definitely more of us to love than ever before in our history. Obesity is a national problem that will not go away any time soon. I'm not going to lecture here on being overweight, I only mean to point out that the stores where we buy our clothes need to recognize that their clientele is getting bigger.

Have you ever approached that sale rack looking for a bargain? It's the end of the season and there are some snazzy looking winter jackets for half-price. Sorry, the only sizes left are small and extra small. The fact that these sizes are the only ones always left over should tell the store's dimwit buyer more big sizes for crying out loud. I think manufactures need to understand this as well. Some of the sizes labeled small would be tight on Lara Flynn Boyle. And another thing, how about standardizing sizes so that large means large regardless of who made the item.

There was a time when the ideal figure for a man or woman might be described as pleasingly plump. The Gibson Girl was the personification of the feminine ideal as portrayed in the satirical pen and ink illustrated stories created by illustrator Charles Dana Gibson during a twenty year period spanning the late nineteenth and early twentieth century in the United States. The Gibson Girl was tall, slender yet with ample bosom, hips and bottom in the S-curve torso shape achieved by wearing a corset. In today's thin-obsessed fashion terminology, she would be described as full-figured.

Personally, I like to see some curves on a woman. The starving waifs that strut down the runways these days look like they need a corned beef sandwich. The bombshells from the old Hollywood days are right up my alley. Marilyn Monroe, Sophia Loren, Betty Grable, Rita Hayworth, Raquel Welch...hubba hubba! I put it to you gentlemen, you're on death row, (the real one in Texas where they actually off murderers), and they offer you one conjugal visit from one of the ladies shown at left. Who you gonna pick? I rest my case.


LOOKING FOR A WORTHY CHARITY? TRY THESE FOLKS: Children's Craniofacial Association

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Someone Please Hand Me the Remote

For most of us, as we get older, our comfort zones get smaller, and sadly, the spark of adventure is soon extinguished. We are reminded of this when we read about the exploits of others who are still willing to take risks for whatever reason drives them. For some it is a passion for knowledge, for others the sheer thrill of doing something dangerous, or at least outside their comfort zones. I'm not suggesting that you have to be jumping out of airplanes to prove your courage; many do it in a quiet way by standing up to the challenges life puts before them. I have seen great courage in my own family in people who previously had given no sign that they were possessed of such strength.

Let's look back at how this timidity got hold of us. The founding fathers of our country were bold, hardy souls. Travel was by wagon or horseback over non-existent roads. Peril was everywhere, whether it was from Indian attacks, disease, or starvation. Americans moved from the comfort zone of the original thirteen colonies steadily westward. Knowing little of the country and its hazards, they formed wagon trains and traveled impossible distances, reckoning by compass or the stars. They hunted and gathered their food, built settlements along the way, and eventually made it all the way to the west coast. They had no navigational devices telling them where to turn, no Red Roof Inns to rest their weary bones, and no McDonald's Happy Meals to quiet their cranky kids.

By the turn of the twentieth century, things were much more comfortable for Americans. Electricity powered lights and machinery, railroads crisscrossed the land, agriculture and family farms were booming, the automobile was making its appearance on back roads and in cities alike, and advances in medicine extended the life span of the average citizen. The Captains of Industry (or robber barons depending on your point of view), men like Vanderbilt, Rockefeller, Astor and Ford, were building a national economy the like of which had never been seen before in the world. Waves of immigrants hit our shores, were absorbed into the country, and worked hard to make lives for their families. Despite these amazing changes, Americans were still lovers of adventure. New inventions were overwhelming the U.S. Patent Office, young men hid infirmities to get into World War I and go "over there" to whip the Kaiser, and women were fighting for full equality, including the right to vote.

The stock market crash in 1929 and the Great Depression in the 1930's brought America to its knees. We are in the midst of a deep recession today, but it's nothing compared to then. There was no welfare system, no food stamps, no homeless shelters...some people were lucky to get one meal a day. Men who were willing to work could find none; there were no welfare or Social Security checks to tide them over. And yet the spirit of adventure was alive as people moved west in search of better lives. When Germany marched across Europe and Japan attacked Pearl Harbor, America jumped into World War II with both feet. Men (and this time women too) hurried to enlist before the war was over. The aviation industry was born, and science and technology grew by leaps and bounds.

After WWII and through the Korean War, American life began to grow very comfortable. There were fewer physical frontiers to conquer, technology brought unparalleled convenience into American homes and farms, and women in numbers began to swell the workforce. Leisure boomed as the 40-hour work week became standard. Sports like golf and tennis, previously reserved for the country club set became more available to blue collar workers. Advances in home entertainment including the immensely popular "hi-fi" system and color television kept people indoors more. We began to be a nation of spectators living vicariously through the exploits of those who still sought adventure.

The post Viet Nam era in America saw the transformation from adventurers to side liners continue. Young men no longer rushed to enlist in what they perceived was an unjust war. Rising crime caused parents to drive their kids everywhere, and we no longer saw kids going off on their own to explore. The era of the couch potato had officially arrived. Local gun laws made it hard for people to own weapons for hunting, at least in the New York area. Fear crept into our lives, heightened by terrorist attacks that we seemed defenseless to stop. People now carry cell phones and laptop computers so they can never get enough time away from the job to have an adventure. AAA comes to change our flat tires, the gardener cuts the grass, the weatherman talks to us about two inches of snow like we should be getting our affairs in order, and we go nowhere without our Garmin Navigation Systems on the dashboard.

I just finished a book about two New Jersey deep-sea wreck divers who spent years of their lives performing countless dangerous dives down to an unidentified sunken German U-boat off Brielle, on the Jersey shore. They didn't do it for treasure, but to gain closure for the families of the men who died on this boat. Their meticulous research on both sides of the Atlantic also proved the history books wrong in that existing Navy records showed that this particular U-boat had been sunk off Gibraltar. One of them then contacted all the families of the crewmen that he could locate. He then traveled to Germany to tell them what he had learned about the ship's last days, and to present them with hard-gained artifacts from the boat that would have brought serious money from collectors. They were worth far more to the families as mementos of the final resting place of their loved ones.

I can only marvel at the passion these men feel for their work. When asked by the book's author why they repeatedly risked their lives diving to identify a wreck that history had already written off, one of them quoted a famous German U-boat commander who said: "Life is a matter of luck, and the chances for success are not enhanced by extreme caution." This is the philosophy by which they lead their lives, and in doing so, remind us about the days when adventures were not something we read about, but lived.


LOOKING FOR A WORTHY CHARITY? TRY THESE FOLKS: Children's Craniofacial Association

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Pet Peeves, Chapter 2

Here are a few more of the many things in life that bother me:

Golf, is without a doubt, the hardest, most frustrating sport I ever tried. In other sports you tend to progress steadily the more you play. In golf, you can hit fifty good shots, and then out of the blue, hit ten shots in a row that are so bad, its like you've never played before. That said, the last thing I want to hear after hitting one of these ugly shots is unasked for advice from my playing partner. With the steam still coming out of my ears, I'll hear: "You picked your head up." Now this would be annoying enough coming from a good player, but usually the worse a player is, the more inclined he is to offer advice. If you are someone who does this, here's a tip: shut up!

I know we worship youth in our culture, and it's considered a good thing as we get older to try to look and dress young. Eating right and exercising to keep from gaining weight is not only good for your appearance, but for your health. Dressing in clothes that are stylish and fit well can also help. This is a good thing too, up to a point. In their zeal to recapture lost youth, some seniors unfortunately go ridiculous extremes. Ever go to the beach and see the seventy-somethings in bikinis and Speedos! I think you get my point.

I believe there are about 9 people left in the world without a tattoo. Used to be that only sailors had tattoos, then bikers, and then one day the floodgates opened. In place of a simple "Mom" or "Louise" inscribed in a heart on a bicep, tattooing has become an art form, and peoples' bodies are the palettes. Intricate, multi-colored designs of mythical creatures, cartoon characters, and entire biblical sagas adorn the aficionado. There are no exemptions for age, race, or gender. Here's the bad news my dear: that butterfly decorating your decolletage may look sexy today, but in a few years when you start to sag, it will look like a faded bat hanging from your boob.

I'm a fairly affectionate person. It's nice if people want to hold hands, walk arm-in-arm, or even hug and lightly kiss in public. These displays of affection can be charming, in people of all ages. There is a line though that, once crossed, can quickly turn charming into repulsive. A few years back, some guys and gals walked with their hands in each other's back pockets. I found this slightly tacky. It was nothing though compared to the slobs who grope each other and writhe in the sweaty throes of passion in the back of the crosstown bus. Get get a room.

When I was young, if you walked around a tear in your jeans (we called them dungarees), families on the block would be inviting you in for a meal, thinking you were very poor. Today, we have become so jaded and such blind slaves to fashion that we actually pay people $80 a pair for pre-torn jeans. A store in our local mall was offering a $25 credit for your old jeans against the purchase of a new pair. Now I know what they do with them. We buy them, break them in and then they sell them back to us, laughing all the while at our stupidity. What a country!

The state of New Jersey, without a doubt, has the worst road signs in the country. They must have a hard-working "Department of Mislocated and Misleading Signage" because these road signs could not all be so poorly placed and confusing just by chance! For example, there will be a warning sign that the New Jersey Turnpike is just ahead, but when you get to the actual entrance, there is a fork in the road, but no clue as to which road leads to the turnpike. The best one is the little round signs that say: "Garden State Parkway" with an arrow. You are lost and so relieved to see the sign that you promptly take that road. What the sign doesn't tell you is that the entrance to the Garden State Parkway is 60 miles away.

Why not just put up a sign with an arrow pointing east that says: "France"!


Children's Craniofacial Association

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Great TV Shows: Part III - Late Night

Choosing six late night TV shows to take to my desert island proved much easier than for comedy or drama shows just because there are fewer of them. Ever since the fifties, late night programs have kept all the insomniacs out there entertained. The late night format is unique in that it has ranged from the very silly to the very serious. I'm partial to the silly shows since they typically follow the evening news, and that's serious enough for anyone! I like to end my day with a smile; here are six late night shows that rarely disappointed.

Steve Allen was one of the earliest late night show hosts. The formula for success in this time slot was still not yet known, but Steve was the guy to noodle around until he found it. An amazingly talented guy, he was a gifted musician/songwriter and a zany comedian who could improvise and ad lib with the best of them. Steve was the first to host The Tonight Show on NBC (1954 - 1957) and later hosted his own variety show. His collection of regulars included Louie Nye, Tom Poston, Don Knotts and others whose antics often cracked Steve up as much as the audience, Steve Allen opened the door for late night television through which some very talented successors would pass.

In July of 1957, Jack Paar took over as new host of The Tonight Show. Paar brought the show back to its in-studio interview format. More a conversationalist than comedian, audiences were drawn to Paar's show because of the interesting guests he brought on, from entertainers to politicians, and for the controversy that occasionally erupted there. Paar did not shy away from politics or confrontation, and often became emotionally involved with his subject matter and guests. He had a few stormy run-ins, both on camera and off, and finally left the show following a controversy in 1962. The thing about Jack was that you never knew whether you would be watching a hilarious improvisational sketch with Jonathan Winters or a serious interview with Henry Kissinger. Unpredictable is the one word I would choose to describe his show.

In October, 1962 Johnny Carson took over as host of The Tonight Show. Carson was more emotionally detached and less political than Paar. He, like Allen, was a comic. Named the king of late night, Carson hosted the show for thirty years, from 1962 to 1992. During that time the show moved from New York City to Burbank, California. Carson was known for his glib sense of humor and his middle-American appeal, and quickly recognized his increasing popularity as well as the strain of doing comedy and talk five nights a week. One of Johnny's secrets was the ability to get out of the way and allow his guests to have the spotlight. Johnny Carson owned late night TV, and I think if this was a list of one, Johnny would be it.

Late Night with David Letterman was a nightly hour-long comedy and talk show that came on NBC after Johnny Carson's show went off for the night. When Johnny retired in 1993, NBC gave The Tonight Show to comedian Jay Leno, a frequent fill-in host for Johnny. Letterman, who thought he should be Carson's replacement, was angry and decided to take an offer from CBS for a late night talk show to compete with Leno. Up until this time, all the major television networks tried to create talk shows to compete with the success of The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson, but all failed. Letterman, with his quirky sense of humor, was the first to give The Tonight Show a run for its money.

ABC was one of the networks who was frustrated in its attempts to get a foothold in late night TV. One of its better efforts was The Dick Cavett show (1969-1975). Cavett, funny but more cerebral than other late night hosts took the time slot over from Joey Bishop and used a unique approach to compete. He was more receptive to controversial non-show business guests like authors, politicians, and other personalities outside the entertainment field. He also did in-depth interviews with people like Groucho Marx, who opened up to Cavett to provide interesting insights into their careers. The wider variety of guests, combined with Cavett's literate and intelligent approach to comedy, kept the show running for several years despite the brutal competition.

My last show is probably not on any other list of "best" late night shows. Fernwood Tonight, with host Garth Gimbel (Martin Mull) and his announcer/sidekick Jerry Hubbard (Fred Willard), was the most off-the wall show ever to appear in late night. The show was set in the fictional town of Fernwood, Ohio, and satirized real talk shows as well as airing the sort of odd ball fare one might expect from locally-produced, small-town, television. A piano-playing gentlemen in an iron lung; a consumer advocate who says things like: "See this egg-shell? Bet you thought it was just for painting with fag colors at Easter time"; and a Vietnamese author who comes on to tout his new book, "Yankee Doodle Gook" were all part of the insanity on a show whose objective was to offend everyone, regardless of race, religion or creed. It was an acquired taste to be sure.

I know many would put Jay Leno on this list, and he has done a remarkable job in filling Johnny Carson's large shoes, but just I couldn't turn my back on Fernwood. Sue me.


LOOKING FOR A WORTHY CHARITY? TRY THESE FOLKS: Children's Craniofacial Association