Thursday, June 2, 2011

With Regret

    My best friend in the entire world died last week and I am struggling to cope right now. I'm afraid I don't have it in me to blog at the moment, so I will be suspending my updates for the immediate future. I will return when I can.
--Stephen P.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Doggie Heaven Can Wait

    When I die, I want to go to doggie heaven with my dog. I mean, doggie heaven just seems like it would be better than people heaven. For one thing, there'd be dogs. For another, if there are other people there they'd be dog people (I wonder if doggie heaven is cat people hell?).
    Just think how nice it would be, dogs running in the park all day, perfect spots to bask in the sun or rest in the shade. For dogs who like water there would be ponds and lakes and streams. For dogs who don't like water, there would be no baths. Motion-activated treat dispensers would proliferate. Chew toys would grow on trees and squirrels would be dumb and slow.
    I suppose there would have to be some people around to throw all the sticks and balls and Frisbees. Me? I'd be there because my little dog would be there and I love my little dog. Rose is cute and sweet and funny and she loves me. It's hard to imagine eternity without her.
    On the other hand, she is a bit demanding and bossy. Still, we'd have a wonderful time in doggie heaven. She'd walk me on a leash and let me sleep on the foot of her bed. She'd probably tell me "don't beg--go lie down!" when she was eating and tell me "no barking!"
    That's okay, though. I'd shed on her couch and pee behind her favorite chair. Even heaven couldn't be heaven all the time.
--Stephen P.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

G'Bye Now

    Only a few days left until the rapture. May 21, 2011 is the day. That's this Saturday. While all the best of the best Christians are ascending to heaven this weekend, I'll be hauling compost for my backyard garden. Okay, side yard. See, it's the lying. That's why I won't be going, 'cause occasionally I indulge in fibs and free compost. It's not that I'm not a Christian, I'm just not a good, self-righteous, mega-church-going, right-wing Christian, so I'm doomed to be left behind. It will be interesting to see who else is left behind with me. I'm pretty sure anyone who reads this will be around to read the next one.
    In case you haven't been keeping up, this all stems from some radio evangelist who claims to have done the research and the math and determined that Saturday's the big day. I don't really care enough to look up the name of the preacher or his organization of RV driving doom announcers, but these people are so convinced the end is near that they've quit their jobs, sold their worldly possessions and hit the road to pass out leaflets until they get the call.
    Me, I'm hauling compost.
--Stephen P.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

The Incredible Being of Lightness

    Let's see how long I can go without getting all political. I thought I'd ruminate on how my past week has been. Aside from irrational political entities driving me nuts.
    Television is driving me crazy.
    Hawaii Five-O had its season finale (spoiler alert in case you TiVo'd it). Steve McGarrett, attempting to solve his father's murder, has been thoroughly framed for murdering the governor of the island state (by the guy who killed his father). He's also been framed for the murder of the whistle-blower assistant to the governor and one of the members of his team has been arrested for stealing $400,000 from the police evidence locker (which she actually did, but for a good cause). I don't see any way this situation can ever be resolved and I have to wait until the fall season to find out how the writers work this out.
    Really, Hawaii Five-O is just awful. The show has some really bad acting and plays like a tourism promotion for the fiftieth state, but it is sweet and charming and I love the actors even if they do film the entire show in one take.
    What else? Oh yeah,  I found out today that the series Lie to Me has been cancelled. Why? It was a really great show, very thought provoking with a thoroughly obnoxious lead character. I loved the show, but Fox only ran it as filler during American Idol's off-season. Too bad. I don't know what Tim Roth will do now, but I hope it's as well written as Lie to Me was.
    Since I don't watch NBA basketball (redundant, I know) I've had a hard time finding things to watch. I don't normally watch reality shows (and I really hate to admit to watching), but I've been catching a few episodes of River Monsters and I watched Hillbilly Handfishing one night. Pretty entertaining stuff.
    I'm not clear on the current definition of the term "reality show." Most people these days seem to lump everything not completely fictional into the reality show category. To my way of thinking, Real World and Jersey Shore are reality shows. American Idol and America's Got Talent are talent shows. Greatest Race and Survivor are, believe it or not, game shows (just really awfully extreme game shows). How It's Made and Storm Stories are educational. I don't actually watch any of those (although I did watch a couple of seasons of Idol), but it's almost impossible not to get some exposure to them through their promos.
    So, it remains a vast wasteland. At least I still have a few episodes of Nurse Jackie left and I'm confident the finale won't be a cliffhanger.
--Stephen P.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Born in the USA, Too

    Today I'm very proud of myself! It was only yesterday I demanded that billionaire real estate developer and 2012 Republican presidential candidate-wannabe Donald Trump produce his real birth certificate or admit to being Russian and this morning Trump withdrew from possibly entering the race. I must be really, really awesome! You're fired, Donald Trump! Now to get to work on all those other people who are still in or considering entering the race.
    First of all, I've heard all those rumors going around the internet that Sarah Palin is actually a man in drag. Let me just say I don't think I believe that. I'm pretty sure she's just a really homely woman. However, there's a good chance the rumor that Palin and her family are a highly trained, tightly disciplined, heavily armed strike force, comparable to the Navy Seals, is true, so all you bloggers better lay off the Grizzly Mom.
   Then there's Tim Pawlenty, whose rapper name is T-Paw. What's wrong with Pawlenty? Well, he's got a rapper name for gosh sakes! I mean, come on! Do you want to hear an acceptance speach worthy of the Rappin' Grannies? Besides, had you ever heard of the guy before right now? If you had, you're probably either a real political junkie or from his home state. For the record, Republicans consider him a great candidate because he toes the party line and has no original ideas of his own. What could possibly make him stand out (besides his rapper name)? With Republicans, it's all about the hair.  Republicans love candidates who have great hair and Pawlenty has it going on.
   Hayley Barbour has been compared to Foghorn Leghorn, but I don't think that's fair. Foghorn is an old school Southern gentleman, whereas Barbour comes from a long line of carpetbaggers. Barbour's natural habitat is K Street in Washington, DC. He only plays a southerner when he's fleecing the people of Mississippi. And his hair isn't all that great.
   Fortunately, Mike Huckabee has announced he's not going to run because there is no way a former governor from Arkansas is ever going to be President of the United States. Never happen.
   Mitt Romney is a tough one to figure out. He doesn't even seem to know who Mitt Romney is. Supposedly he was a successful businessman, but in this day and age, when a CEO can bankrupt his company, the entire population of the country, the American government and most of Europe and still keep his job and get a huge bonus, it's hard to know what "successful businessman" means. On the other hand, Romney does have that hair. Big advantage.
   Newt Gingrich, it turns out, is the brain cell behind the Republican Party. They call him an "idea machine." It's little known outside of the Beltway, but Newt is the one who issues the list of buzz words that every Republican must use constantly whenever discussing Democrats. Words like socialist, pandering, weak, irresponsible, stupid, etc. He's even the one who took the "ic" off of Democratic Party. Every time a Republican opens his or her mouth, Newt's voice comes out. One might think that this would make Newt the best candidate for his party, but no. The problem is, he's so busy generating ideas and buzz words that he has no actually substance. He never stops to consider the consequences of putting his ideas into action. On the other hand, if every woman Newt's had an affair with votes for him, he's a shoe-in for the nomination.
   Michele Bachmann is the Sweetheart of the Tea Party Rodeo. Don't ever accept an apple from this woman. The internet rumor about her suggests she stays young by bathing regularly in the blood of adolescent virgins. I personally doubt that. I do, however, think that she's someone to avoid during a full moon. I'd prefer to avoid her no matter what phase of the moon as I get uncomfortable around the criminally insane when they are out of restraints and off their medication. But that's just me.
    Ron Paul isn't really a Republican candidate, he's a Libertarian who wants to actually get on the ballot. Paul isn't dangerous (unless he somehow manages to get elected president), but his ideas are typical wacky Libertarian boilerplate, like returning to the gold standard (which would limit the American economy to about that of Rhode Island), doing away with taxes altogether, doing away with speed limits, doing away with laws, returning to a fur-trading economy, mandating the wearing of foil hats. If Ron drops out of the race his son Rand may step in. Rand is named for Ayn Rand, an atheist who believed that the poor should be allowed to die to make room for more rich people.
   That pretty much covers the corn-based creme which has risen to the top, but there are dozens more I'll have to trash later. Meanwhile, on the other side of the ideology gap: Barack Obama.
   Obama doesn't have great hair, so he's never going to win over the Republicans. So far, the other Democrats are honoring the unspoken rule "you don't run against your own incumbent," but that could change, assuming there are some Democrats out there who really want a Republican president. Obama's biggest liability is that he's tried to make things better for people who don't live in castles with gold-plated everything, and in America we just don't cotton to that sort of thing. We'll see how he does after the Republican hopefuls are through savaging each other.
   So that's it for now. I'll try to provide updates as more internet rumors emerge and more candidates make themselves known. Or maybe I'll choose sanity and just ignore the whole thing.

--Stephen P.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Born in the USA

    So where's the real birth certificate, that's what I want to know. Donald Trump posted his alleged long form on the internet, but I checked it out on my iPhone. The thing is tiny! I haven't actually checked, but I'm pretty sure there aren't any states that issue postage stamp sized birth certificates. And where was he really born? He claims he was born in Queens, New York, but I checked and there is no city of Queens--it's a borough. And when I enlarged certain areas of his posted certificate, I saw that he was actually born in Jamaica hospital. Last time I looked, Jamaica isn't in America.
    When will the Donald come clean? I demand that he release his real birth certificate. The big one. The one that shows he was actually born in Russia, which is also not in America. If he wasn't born in the USSR, why does he keep marrying women with funny accents? Why won't he tell us that? And what about his college transcripts? He claims he has an education, but have you listened to him talk? I'm thinking of sending some investigators out to see what they can dig up. Or I could just make some stuff up--it seems to work for everybody else.
--Stephen P.

See Me in September

    It's that time of year again, when all of my favorite television shows have their season finales. All my favorite "regular season" shows, at least. 
    When I was a kid (back when dinosaurs had studio contracts), many TV programs had 52 new episodes a year. The years passed and 26 new episodes became standard, with the season beginning in September, taking breaks for various holidays, and ending in May. Reruns and summer "replacement" shows took over for June, July and August. These replacement shows were often pilots for new shows the networks were iffy about, but a few exceptions were long-running summer programs we looked forward to year after year.
    These days, through the magic of cable networks, more and more programs run a mere 13 episodes a year and there are three seasons. As if it isn't bad enough waiting all summer for my favorite shows to return, I now have to wait 39 weeks for some of the best.
    One really irritating trend, lately, is the constant season interruptus where three new episodes are followed by weeks of repeats then two or three new episodes and another set of repeats and so on. The reason for this seems to be fear--the networks are afraid to compete with sports events, award shows and special events on other networks. It may seem to make sense to avoid lower ratings by not going up against these other programs, but in the long run, I think, networks are likely to lose viewers with these tactics. If they want me to plan my week around their programs, they have to make them available with some consistency. In college I used to schedule my evening classes so I wouldn't miss Hill Street Blues on Thursday nights (even though I had a VCR). Nowadays, I can't even plan on my favorite show being consistently on the same night of the week, the way they keep moving around. My DVR only let's me record two programs at once and I have to watch one of them while it's recording (or, horror of horrors, do something else for and hour). Recently, six shows I watch moved to the same Friday night time slot, meaning I had to give up several shows (and hope for reruns).
    What I hate most are the cliffhanger season finales. If they just tie the last episode up in a neat little bow, that's fine--I can look forward to opening the package in the fall (or the new year) and finding something new--but waiting months to find out what happened just pisses me off. On CSI Miami, one character has been shot and one is in the trunk of a sinking car. On CSI Crime Scene Investigation, the lead may or may not be going away for murder. On CSI New York, the lead character may be leaving the lab. That's just plain annoying.
    Fortunately, the summer season is about to begin. The Closer will be back on--no cliffhanger there. Rizzoli & Isles will be back--they did leave me hanging. The Glades is coming back--the only cliffhanger there was whether they'd be back at all. Psych should be back soon--the suspense there is "when."
    At least I only have to wait a month between the current season ending and the new season starting up. Next fall I'll have another round of finales and then another new season will begin. Kind of a vicious cycle this TV viewing.
--Stephen P. 

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Take My WiFi, Please!

    Writing a blog is hard. Not that I ever thought it would be easy. Not that I ever really thought about it.
    Although I've been something of a computer nerd since before there were personal computers (PCs for those who never knew what "PC" stood for), I'm a slow adopter of social media. I don't ichat, I don't have a personal web page, I don't do Myspace or Facebook and I don't tweet. I only started texting a couple of months ago.
    I've never really been clear as to what a blog is or isn't supposed to be. The early blogs seemed to be little more than online diaries, places for people to document the details of their daily lives. After a relatively short time they became known as sources of investigative journalism and editorial opinion. Now, every company, product and television show seems to have a blog. What are these blogs and why do they exist? I'm sure I don't know. And I'm pretty sure I don't really care.
    Now we get to the part of writing a blog that's hard.
    "What is the focus of my blog and why does it exist?" I'm pretty sure I care about that...which is why it's hard. Without a plan, a design to work from, I'm just staring at a blank screen.
    I considered writing a strictly political blog or a news commentary but I'd have to do research and cite my sources (mostly Huffington Post and NPR) and besides, there are plenty of really good political blogs and news blogs around already (and an abundance of really awful ones).
    Then I thought about who my likely readers would be--nobody--and decided that I should write about things I care most about like dogs and model airplanes and cinnamon rolls. And amusing people. 
    Most comedy writers set a goal of making people laugh. Me, I'm perfectly happy if I can make someone smile and nod. Groaning is okay once in awhile, but not all the time. I try to strike a balance somewhere between getting a belly laugh and getting punched in the face.
    Back in the early 'Nineties while I was in journalism school, there was a show on TV called 60 Minutes. I'm told it's still on. The show included a guy named Andy Rooney who did observational humor. I'm told he's still on. Rooney did these little bits along the lines of "Have you ever noticed that they never have macaroni and cheese on the menus at expensive restaurants? I like macaroni and cheese. It's nice and orange colored." For a time I aspired to write this kind of observational humor for feature columns in the newspapers. Then one day, once I had mastered my Andy Rooney impression, I realized how quickly this kind of humor gets old.
    While I was taking some time off from college (before getting a degree in something even less lucrative than journalism) I spent a couple of years as a comedy writer with a cabaret troupe. That experience taught me that, given the chance, people will laugh in all the wrong places.
    There is sort of a science to humor. I once developed curriculum for a comedy writing class, but I've forgotten most of it. One principle was the surprise twist, something like "I have a friend, who shall remain nameless--his parents are still procrastinating!" Another principle is shock value, but I figure Betty White dropping the F-bomb is only funny the first few times. Me, I'm more a fan of intellectual humor. The funniest guy I know has some hilarious jokes based on obscure bits of aviation engineering history--perhaps not everyone's cup of tea.
    For me, a joke has to be fresh. I never understood how people could laugh at the same old worn out catch phrase again and again. It's just not funny once you've heard it, which probably explains why TV shows that are filmed in front of a live audience also have a laugh track dubbed in. Which is why I don't watch sitcoms. I don't even understand how a laugh track can laugh at the same old worn out catch phrase again and again.
    You have to know your audience, which I don't,  but I figure it's really bored people between the ages of two and 110. I don't lean toward off-color material anyway. If it's not funny without profanity, it's not funny with. Of course, I curse like a stereotypical caricature when I'm not writing.
   So, the adventure begins, casting verbiage out into the interspace. It reminds me of when I was a kid, growing up on a farm out in the backwoods. I had a telegraph with 40 feet of wire and we were a mile from the nearest neighbor--and they didn't have a kid. And for Christmas I got walkie-talkies with a quarter mile range. My siblings were too much younger or older and didn't hang out with me. Gosh that's kind of sad. Now I'm bummed out. Writing a blog is depressing.
   What was I saying? Oh, yeah. I was just saying how hyped I feel to have this outlet. Kind of a message in a bottle sort of thing. Laying my soul bare. Exposing my tender underbelly, drawing a target upon my breast, revealing my deepest inner thoughts to person or persons unknown.
   Wow. Now I remember why there are editors.
--Stephen P.

The Fix is In

    Among the many people who were elected last year on both national and local levels are a number who would like to fix this country. They say that we're heading for destruction, or at least misery, if we don't start to put things back the way they were in some long-ago-and-far-away once-upon-a time. It's pretty much a time and place that never existed, but hey, it's worth a try.
   In nearly a dozen states, the governors and/or legislatures are trying to reduce or eliminate unions. They say that unions drive away jobs and confiscate money from people's paychecks to pay for political causes their members never approved. But unions work hard to keep corporations honest. They push for a reasonable share of the company's wealth for the workers, for safer working conditions and some level of job security. Many unions provide scholarships for workers' children and emergency relief funds for sick or injured workers. In many cases, unions provide job training for new members, continuing training for experienced workers and apprenticeship and journeyman programs. And yes, unions fund political causes to keep some semblance of balance in the political system. And yes, unions can be contentious at times, they have had corruption problems in the past--as well as mob problems--and nobody likes a strike, but without unions, wages and benefits are lower for everybody, not just union members. The cost of cheaper labor is a smaller paycheck. Before unions, bosses brought in the National Guard to shoot protesting workers at the Pullman plant, they hanged strikers in Haymarket Square and children worked long hours at dirty, dangerous jobs.
   Another fix that's being pushed is the privatization of Medicare and Medicaid. If you love your health insurance, you've never been sick. I won't even go into all the stuff about pre-existing conditions, doctor choice, etc. Employer provided insurance keeps premiums down, but the deductible and co-pays alone can be a major hardship for most people. For individuals paying their own way, premiums can cost more than a house payment and car payment combined. Insurance companies are in business to make a profit whatever it takes--your health is secondary. Privatizing Medicare and Medicaid won't lower the cost of health programs, it'll just shift the cost and add a little extra to please the shareholders. The worst part is, privatizing throws poor children and the elderly, the people of the least means, on the mercy of the free market system.
   Social Security is another target, although not as many politicians are as vocal about what they'd like to do to it. One proposal is to privatize it and shift the funds into Wall Street like a 401k. Instead of a guaranteed fixed income, retirees would at best have a set amount to ration for the rest of their lives, at worst, they'd be putting their money in a slot machine and hoping they didn't lose it all. Another proposal is to simply phase out Social Security and let everyone figure out their own retirement plan. That's how it used to be and young families ended up with the burden of elderly parents and grandparents. Nobody retired early, most people worked 'til they died and those too disabled to work could only hope someone else would provide for them.
   There are many calling to end, or at least limit, the Environmental Protection Agency. They say that too much regulation is a burden on industries and that the private sector is better at policing itself. Some even insist that God created the Earth to be self-healing and that the planet can absorb anything we throw at it, but it's easy to see that isn't true. Problems of air quality are obvious if you live in a large city where the haze reduces visibility even on good days. Lakes and streams are green and slimy with algae but the worst pollution is what we can't see. Mercury from coal-fired electric generation has reached such high levels in our waters that freshwater fish is no longer safe to eat. Lead, pesticides and industrial byproducts wash into streams (or are dumped) and aren't filtered out in the water treatment process. Groundwater is getting worse, polluted by mining, oil and gas drilling and agricultural runoff. The lack of efficacy of industry self-policing is evident everywhere in the invironment.
   Yet another pet fix being promoted among these newly elected crusaders is a massive tax cut for corporations and the wealthy. They insist that these cuts will actually increase tax revenue because, to quote Ronald Reagan, "every tax cut in history has resulted in an increase in revenue." They also claim that tax cuts will create jobs. Higher taxes, we're told, stifle job growth and discourage the rich from making more money because, why bother to earn more if you can't keep it all? The truth is, tax cuts don't increase revenues--never have, never will. And the periods of highest job growth and economic development have been during times when taxes have been much higher than now. In fact, higher taxes and tax revenues have historically led to very innovative partnerships between government and business which improved infrastructure, created jobs and made America the great country it has been.
    Unemployment is also in the cross-hairs of these fixers. The program which helps workers who lose their jobs to make mortgage payments and buy food for their families is being targeted for cutbacks and even elimination by a number of states. They claim that those who are laid off are less willing to take lower paid, less skilled jobs if they can sit home and collect a check every week. The truth is, even without unemployment benefits, those who lose their jobs will tend to spend their time trying to find jobs like the ones they've lost, jobs that fit their skills, education and training. Also overlooked in the criticism of the job-hunting habits of the unemployed is the tendency of employers to turn away those they consider "over-qualified." And, besides helping workers survive during periods of job search, unemployment checks help keep the economy going by keeping money circulating through communities.
   For most rational people, these fixes would seem counterintuitive, even absurd, but these newly elected leaders are determined to make them by hook or crook. America is a cracked vase and these people believe they can fix it with a hammer and chisel.
   On the other hand, Mexico doesn't have unions, Medicare or Medicaid, Social Security, environmental protection, reasonable taxes on the wealthy and corporations or unemployment benefits and they're doing just fine. Right?
--Stephen P.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

American Gothic

    I think America is in trouble. We seem so distant. We don't talk anymore. Things are getting really tense. It seems like we argue all the time and we fight about things that didn't used to matter. The top one percent in this country, the wealthy and the corporations, are acting like an unfaithful husband getting ready for a divorce, moving money out of joint accounts, hiding income, transferring assets and taking way too long driving the babysitter home. 
    The rest of us Americans are all like "but we've tried so hard to make this work" and the one percent are like "well maybe if you'd been a little sexier, hadn't had so many unions and taxes--maybe if you'd been more like Ireland." And we're all like "well maybe if Ireland had been up all night with a sick baby!" Then One Percent says "It doesn't matter. I'm taking the house. You can have the kids, but good luck even trying to collect child support!" And then we're all like "my mother was right about you!"
    So maybe while the top one percent is out buying Ireland a new boob job America needs to go all Cougar Town, hire a good lawyer, get a makeover and a personal trainer and start checking out some emerging markets of our own. Then one night while Old One Percent is in the restroom at the nightclub straightening his toupee and popping a Viagra, Ireland will be out on the dance floor skanking it up with Brazil. By the time One Percent comes out of the bathroom there'll be nothing there but a hefty bar tab and an empty champagne glass with lipstick on the rim. Then One Percent will be stuck sitting around a drafty apartment alone in his underwear eating TV dinners and waiting for NetFlix to download...'cause it's too late for counseling.
--Stephen P.