Monday, April 27, 2009

The Things We Take for Granted

At church this morning I was jolted into remembering something. They had a spokesman from the Holy Land around Jerusalem speak a few words about the hand-carved Christian artifacts they were selling outside the church entrance. He mentioned that at one time, about 37% of the population in that area was Christian, but now that number is drastically down to 2%. In years past, I seem to recall that the city of Jerusalem was roughly made up of equal populations of Christians, Jews and Moslems, truly an open and holy place for all religions. He told us that although his home is just 8 miles from Jerusalem, he and other Christians must sneak into the city around a wall built to keep Christians out. Hearing this sad tale reminded me that the Pilgrims came to America seeking a place where they could practice their religion in peace. We take this freedom for granted now, but there are places in the world where it is still only a dream.

I was watching the news a few weeks ago (an exercise usually so depressing because of the local media's obsession with negative stories, that I need to fortify myself with a Jack Daniels Manhattan). Anyhow, they were covering a story in a country so desperately poor that the people had taken to baking cookies out of mud for the children to eat. In America, we have our share of poor people, but the wants of our worst poor cannot be compared to poverty in places like Africa. In America, the poor can always get something nutritious to eat, clothes on their backs, basic health care and shelter. They also have the opportunity, through education and hard work, to better their condition. The American people have tried to do the right thing in caring for those who need help. People will always complain that the government doesn't do enough, yet outsiders pour into America, some at the risk of their lives. In America, the poor take for granted a certain level of welfare, but should remember that it only exists through the compassion of their fellow Americans.

When you're in trouble, you call 9-1-1 and brave men and women put their lives at risk to help you. When we need their help, no amount of praise is too much, like the flood of empathy that poured over NYC firefighters and their families after the September 11, 2001 attack. Sometimes though, when we are secure in our homes because of them, we start thinking that they: a) Make too much money; or b) Don't work hard enough when there is no emergency or crisis to deal with. My son is a Lieutenant in the NYC Fire Department and we couldn't be prouder of him. He loves his job and feels a great responsibility for the safety of the firefighters working under him, and for the people of this city. If you're someone who takes firefighters and police officers for granted, just grab a hose or a baseball bat the next time you need their services instead of calling 9-1-1. If you're not prepared to do this, just be quiet and pay these people a decent wage.

The main reason we Americans can sleep peacefully in our beds, secure in the knowledge that we are safe from invasion by an enemy, is not the President, the Congress or the Generals in the Pentagon, it is our men and women in uniform. These brave souls are sent to far-away and dangerous places where our enemies hatch their violent plots, train their terrorist murderers and turn their children into human bombs. American military do what they can to democratize regions to which they are sent, hoping the people will see that Americans are kind occupiers, and come to like and respect us. Make no mistake though, our enemies do not refrain from attacking us because they respect our kindness and way of life, no, it is because they FEAR us. We should never take this for granted and let down our guard because America's enemies today are ruthless and probe continually for weakness. Only our might keeps them at bay. Say "Thank you for your service" to the next man or woman in uniform you come across.

Finally, and in some ways most sad, is when we take our loved ones for granted. How many times have you heard someone say at a funeral: "If only I could have told (insert loved one) how much they really meant to me." Why do we wait to let people know how much we love them? Maybe some people just can't say the words. There are other ways: be there for them when they are down; anticipate what they want, or perform small acts of kindness that will show them how you feel; and sometimes it's as simple as just letting them be right when you may have a different opinion. (I'm working on the last one.) The people in your life are more important than anything else that may come along. It's OK to forget this once in a while in the face of some life-altering event, but we shouldn't make a habit of it.


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

Friday, April 24, 2009

Does This Smell Bad to You?

There's a very funny comedian named Dom Irrera who talks about his strange aunt who sticks a container of milk under his nose and asks: "Does this smell bad to you?" That's my question to you today readers. (That's right, I have two now.) Every once in a while, I'll hear about something that makes absolutely no sense to me.

The Suicide Watch - The papers are full of stories about this guy with a gambling addiction who paid his casino debts by robbing female "escorts" in hotel rooms. He brutally murdered at least one of these girls and maybe more. Another spoiled rich kid with everything handed to him, but taken down by one fatal character flaw. Anyhow, apparently this jerk tried to off himself in his cell, so now they have posted a "suicide watch" to make sure he doesn't hurt himself. Are you kidding me! Every time I hear about keeping an eye on some serial killer so he doesn't do anything rash, it makes me shake my head. How about this...we slide a .357 Magnum with one bullet under the cell door and go on lunch break.

Calling Homeland Security - There was a story in our paper about a local boy who made good by supplementing his income as a longshoreman with some side cash from a Colombian drug cartel. It seems our customs laws allow cargo handlers access to containers shipped in from all over the world before customs officials get to them. Is Homer Simpson in charge of U.S. Customs?? With all the post-9-11 frenzied security measures put in place like me having to take off my freakin' shoes at the airport, how does this ridiculous loophole survive? Do we just ask these guys to pinky-swear they won't take anything out of the containers like heroin or Uzi sub machine guns? We need better brains legislating for our national security.

Taxpayer-Funded Babysitters - When we misbehaved in school, Miss Wall (named for what she pounded your head against) would apply an immediate attitude adjustment and the problem was solved. Unless you enjoyed punishment, you stopped acting like a jerk and recited your times tables. Today, if one of these "Omen" children decides to "act out" as they call it, he is given a time out. Not as effective as banging his head against the wall, to be sure, because the undesirable behavior is usually repeated, but with a smirk added. At some point the devil child is suspended; that will teach him, you think. (Sorry, but we have some lovely parting gifts for you.) Since no one is at home, the child receives an "in school" suspension, meaning we have to pay a school aide to babysit this kid one-on-one. The parents' failure now becomes society's failure as we coddle this brat instead of giving him what his parents failed to...a loving kick in the ass.

CIA Light - Such a furor over the tactics used by the CIA and other intelligence agencies to interrogate enemy combatants. Water boarding, which sounds like something you'd do at Disneyworld, is especially abhorrent to some people. When I think of the horror of the Trade Center, the suicide bombers blowing up our sons and daughters in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the terror cells plotting to overthrow America and harm its citizens, I can't find it in my heart to press our government to go easy on enemy combatants when we catch them. If a particular technique helps get information that might save the life of one American, I say use it. Our enemies are brutal savages who behead journalists on television and stone adulterers to death. They understand only one thing...the hammer. We should not hesitate to use it.

Your Father's Voting Machines - We have computers that can imitate human speech, do complex mathematical calculations in a blink, some computers are even being programmed to think. With all this technological firepower at our disposal, why the hell are we voting in New York City on machines that were around during Al Capone's heyday? We trust the determination of who will ascend to our nation's highest office to these broken-down antiques that get banged around every election day by bored city workers who load them on trucks and bounce them over pothole-strewn roads to our polling places. Then a brigade of poll watchers takes over, (I call it Dunkin' Donuts Democracy). These good people, mostly senior citizens with not much to do, look up your name in a Bob Cratchit-style ledger for identification purposes. I wonder how many close elections produced the wrong result because of this low-tech fiasco?

I don't know why I let this stuff bug me, but there it is. You know those brave pilots that sit in an underground bunker somewhere waiting to scramble their aircraft in the event the United States is attacked? In my own small way, that's how I feel when I see something that just smells bad. Rest easy America...I am your first line of defense in the war against stupidity.


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

Sunday, April 19, 2009

He's At It Again

My daughter helps keep me grounded when I go off on one of my "what's happening to our country" rants, so she'll probably roll her eyes when she reads this post. I feel like America is being hijacked by a small group of people who are trying to pervert the values that made this country great, things like initiative, hard work, and self-reliance. They want us to rely on the government to meet all our needs through "income redistribution". Translation: take even more of my hard-earned money and give it to able-bodied people who sit at home doing nothing.

I'm not talking about lending a helping hand to people truly in need: America has always been generous in this regard. I'm talking about giving more of my money to people who are too stupid or too lazy to get a job and earn a living. There's nothing wrong with them that can't be fixed, they just choose not to take the trouble. Why should they when all they have to do is sit home and wait for their welfare check courtesy of workers like me. When Rudy Giuliani was mayor of New York, he enacted "workfare"; people receiving welfare checks had to do something like clean up city highways to continue to receive benefits. Oh the hue and cry: "There is no dignity in this work" the freeloaders moaned. Yeah right, but there is dignity in taking someone else's money for doing absolutely nothing. Please.

Here's another joke: my tax dollars go to pay for education and health care for illegal aliens. These folks not only sneak into our country and break our laws, but have the gall to DEMAND rights and protections previously reserved for our own citizens. America always welcomed immigrants who came into the country legally. They kissed the ground when they were allowed in, and demanded nothing except the right to work hard, pay their taxes and become citizens. Many illegals have no interest in this country except to get free education, free health care, and earn money off the books (no taxes) that they then ship back to their home country so that some day they can go back there and live the good life. Are our gutless politicians trying to stop this insanity? No, they're passing laws to make it easier for illegals to stay here and steal our money.

On September 11, 2001 the twin towers of the World Trade Center were destroyed by Islamic terrorists and nearly 3,000 Americans were killed. It seems that our ridiculously lax immigration laws allowed these fanatics from countries who hate us and our way of life to freely enter the United States and go about their deadly business unhindered. This unbelievable atrocity led to the development of the Department of Homeland Security. When scrutiny of people entering the United States was heightened, Arab-American groups complained about being singled out for investigation. We immediately caved. Here's what I would have told them: "Terrorists from your countries, who look and sound like YOU, just killed 5,000 of our innocent citizens. Who am I supposed to look more closely at, Norwegians! I'm sorry if you can't tolerate a few extra questions. If you don't like it, stay home." When did someone's hurt feelings take precedence over the security of our country?

As long as I'm on a roll....there was a time in this country's history that workers were abused by management. Horrible work conditions led (rightly so) to the formation of unions to help protect worker rights. Many unions have outlived their usefulness and are now havens for people who want to do as little as possible and receive the same wage as those who work. Benefits have become an anchor around the necks of American companies, and made it virtually impossible for these companies to compete in the world marketplace. If you don't think this is so, you have only to look at the American auto industry. The price of the inferior cars they make is greatly inflated by bloated health care and pension benefits. MTA union workers in New York City have raised rudeness and laziness to new heights, but when times get tough do they economize? No, they raise the Verrazano Bridge toll to $13.00.

I saved the best for last. Americans used to save up for what they wanted. If you couldn't afford it, you didn't get it, period. To buy a house was not easy; you needed a substantial down-payment and had to pass a real background check to get approved. Banks guarded their investor's money jealously. Last year the world was plunged into what has become arguably the worst economic meltdown in our country's history. What caused it you ask? Wildly unrestrained credit spending, especially in the housing market, coupled with a massive failure of the regulatory system that we felt so sure would protect us. The American values of thrift and living within one's means went out with 8-track tapes.

This is not about Democrat vs. Republican, nor about race, religion or place of origin. I am not some flag waving, gun toting nut screaming: "My country right or wrong." It's just that I will never understand why hard working people are expected to pick up the tab for those who refuse to work, who are here illegally, who max out credit cards like it was a Parker Brothers board game or whose union memberships have become a license to steal. I'm more than willing to pay my fair share of taxes for legitimate purposes, but seeing my income "redistributed" to pay for the lazy, the greedy and the lawbreaker is contrary to the values on which this country was built. I'm also tired of apologizing to people for "profiling" them while trying to protect our borders and our citizens. We need to stand up for what we believe.

Change is inevitable, but the fundamental values that made this country great cannot be tossed aside like last year's reality TV show. (OK dear, I'll take my medication from now on.)


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

Saturday, April 11, 2009

The Myth of the Criminal Mastermind

In fiction novels we read about master criminals like Dr. Moriarity whose exploits are nearly a match for the likes of master detective Sherlock Holmes. In real life though, most criminals are pathologically dumb. Every once in a while you read about one of these pinheads and can't believe anyone could be this stupid. In support of this statement, I have listed some examples below:

Colorado Springs: A guy walked into a little corner store with a shot gun and demanded all the cash from the cash drawer. After the cashier put the cash in a bag, the robber saw a bottle of scotch that he wanted behind the counter on the shelf. He told the cashier to put it in the bag as well, but he refused and said "Because I don't believe you are over 21." The robber said he was, but the clerk still refused to give it to him because he didn't believe him. At this point the robber took his driver's license out of his wallet and gave it to the clerk. The clerk looked it over, and agreed that the man was in fact over 21 and he put the scotch in the bag. The robber then ran from the store with his loot. The cashier promptly called the police and gave the name and address of the robber that he got off the license. They arrested the robber two hours later.

Oklahoma City: Dennis Newton was on trial for the armed robbery of a convenience store in a district court when he fired his lawyer. Assistant district attorney Larry Jones said Newton, 47, was doing a fair job of defending himself until the store manager testified that Newton was the robber. Newton jumped up, accused the woman of lying and then said, "I should of blown your (expletive) head off." The defendant paused, then quickly added, "if I'd been the one that was there." The jury took 20 minutes to convict Newton and recommended a 30-year sentence.

San Francisco: A man, wanting to rob a downtown Bank of America, walked into the branch and wrote "this is a stikkup. Put all your muny in this bag." While standing in line, waiting to give his note to the teller, he began to worry that someone had seen him write the note and might call the police before he reached the teller window. So he left the Bank of America and crossed the street to Wells Fargo. After waiting a few minutes in line, he handed his note to the Wells Fargo teller. She read it and, surmising from his spelling errors that he was not too bright, told him that she could not accept his stickup note because it was written on a Bank of America deposit slip and that he would either have to fill out a Wells Fargo deposit slip or go back to Bank of America. Looking somewhat defeated, the man said "OK" and left. The Wells Fargo teller then called the police who arrested the man a few minutes later, as he was waiting in line back at Bank of America.

Milwaukee: A man and his girlfriend were robbing a convenience store. While waiting for her boyfriend to finish getting the money, the woman noticed a contest entry form featuring all-expenses vacations to exotic places. Thinking it would be cool to win, she filled out the form, complete with her name, address, and phone number. A few hours later the police were at the couple's house to arrest them."

Kentucky: Two men tried to pull the front off a cash machine by running a chain from the machine to the bumper of their pickup truck. Instead of pulling the front panel off the machine, though, they pulled the bumper off their truck. Scared, they left the scene and drove home. With the chain still attached to the machine. With their bumper still attached to the chain. With their vehicle's license plate still attached to the bumper.

Bent Forks, Ill. Kidnappers of ice-cube magnate Worth Bohnke sent a photograph of their captive to Bohnke's family. Bohnke was seen holding up a newspaper, but it was not that day's edition. This was pointed out to the kidnappers in a subsequent phone call. They responded by sending a new photograph showing an up-to-date newspaper. Bohnke, however, did not appear in the picture. When this, too, was refused, the kidnappers became peevish and insisted that a photograph be sent to them showing all the people over at Bohnke's house holding different issues of Success magazine. They provided a mailing address and were immediately apprehended. They later admitted to FBI agents they did not understand the principle involved in the kidnapping/newspaper photograph concept. "We thought it was just some kind of tradition," said one.

This story is probably an urban legend, but it does support the idea that while criminals may not be geniuses, their lawyers might well be:

A lawyer defending a man accused of burglary tried this creative defense: "My client merely inserted his arm into the window and removed a few trifling articles. His arm is not himself, and I fail to see how you can punish the whole individual for an offense committed by his limb." "Well put," the judge replied. "Using your logic, I sentence the defendant's arm to one year's imprisonment. He can accompany it or not, as he chooses." The defendant smiled. With his lawyer's assistance he detached his artificial limb, laid it on the bench, and walked out.


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

Thursday, April 2, 2009

No Business Like Show Business

I can't remember the first play I ever saw; probably "My American Cousin". The evening was ruined though when they shot President Lincoln. In New York we have always referred to plays as "Broadway shows" simply because there is no venue in the world that has seen more exciting musicals, riveting dramas or hilarious comedies than our beloved "Great White Way". By way of useless information (my stock in trade) I offer the following: "The Great White Way" was originally the title of a 1901 book about the South Pole. The term was applied to Broadway by Shep Friedman of the New York Morning Telegraph, after a snowstorm on Broadway in 1902 had turned the street into a "white way." Later, "white way" referred to the lights of Broadway. No, no, don't thank me.

I think one of the earliest shows I remember attending was "Funny Girl" starring a very young Barbra Streisand as Fanny Brice, and Sydney Chaplin as her male lead, gambler Nicky Arnstein, a role later played by Omar Sharif in the movie. The show opened in 1964 at the Winter Garden theater, and Streisand was a smash, singing some of her now signature songs like "People" and "Don't Rain on My Parade. I thought she was wonderful and stood up cheering with everyone else as she was summoned for many curtain calls. Unfortunately, Streisand has become a hypocritical tool of the liberal left, telling the rest of us poor unwashed how we should live our lives while she, with her success and money, comfortably isolates herself from the "downtrodden" people she professes to champion. I take back my applause Babs.

Another memorable show for me was "La Cage Aux Folles", based on a 1973 French play, and adapted for the musical stage in 1983 from a book by Harvey Fierstein with lyrics and music by the talented Jerry Herman. A story about two gay men whose lives become comically complicated by the impending nuptials of the straight son of one of them from a previous marriage to a girl with very strict, morally upright parents. Gene Barry and George Hearn were brilliant in this campy farce, and Herman's score was masterful. To this day if I hear any tune from the show, I'll be humming it for weeks. The show is so well crafted that even some local amateur productions we've seen couldn't be screwed up. Winners of eight Tony awards including best musical, the show ran for 1,761 performances.

We try to attend mostly musicals and comedies since there is more than enough drama in the world. One exception was the great mystery thriller, "Sleuth". From a review: "Sleuth tells the story of two men who share interests for the same woman. Complicating matters is the fact that one of these men is already married to the woman. Andrew Wyke is a detective fiction writer who is confronted by his wife’s lover, Milo, who asks Wyke to surrender his wife to him. Wyke welcomes Milo into his home and gains his trust with his witty, composed manner, only to later reveal his true evil intentions. The razor sharp banter between the two, in addition to some unexpected guests, creates a humorous, psychological thriller that will leave you on the edge of your seat." We saw Patrick MacNee (The Avengers") who was great in the role originated by Sir Laurence Oliver.

"Deathtrap" was another brilliant thriller about New York playwright Sidney Bruhl (Michael Caine), not a happy man. His latest murder-mystery fooled no-one and had more unintentional laughs than shocks. Worse still, he's been teaching a writing class at a local college and one young man (Christopher Reeve) has written a great script, possibly better than Sidney ever wrote in his hey-day. He invites the young man to his house, ostensibly to murder him so he can claim the script as his own. But events, as you would expect, do not transpire as Sidney intends. Both these mysteries are cleverly constructed with wit and enough roller-coaster plot twists to keep your attention riveted to the stage.

There is an excitement in live theater that can never be equalled by movies. The interaction between actors and audience, when the play is is right, is electric. More modern shows like Phantom of the Opera, The Producers, Wicked, and Jersey Boys carry on the time-honored stage tradition of the Great White Way. Neil Simon, Rogers and Hammerstein, Stephen Sondheim, Jerry Herman and so many other talented geniuses have left a body of work unequalled anywhere. Sadly, Broadway ticket prices have skyrocketed, but if you take advantage of the "two-fer" offers, even if you sit in the nosebleed seats, you'll get your money's worth. Or try off-Broadway shows...we have seen some good ones (Nunsense, Perfect Crime, Into the Woods); they are cheaper and just as entertaining.

I was glad when Disney started bringing shows like Beauty and the Beast, The Lion King and The Little Mermaid to Broadway. These wonderful productions bring a whole new generation of young audiences in to experience live theater. Do your children or grandchildren a great favor; drag them out of their electronic world for a little while and take them to a show.


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