Sunday, December 27, 2009

When is it too much?

It hasn't been a good past few days for actor Nicolas Cage. From all accounts, he's in very severe financial difficulties. He's suing his former business manager, while at the same time being sued by a former significant other, Christina Fulton, who is seeking $13 million. And the former business manager has countersued Cage, saying the star ignored advice to curb his excessive spending. Now, he's been hit with a $36.7 million lawsuit by a group called Red Curb Investments, which says Cage, who just this year is facing IRS tax liens approaching $7 million, failed to repay more than $5 million in loans and also failed to give notice of his tax woes. From the sound of all this, it's beginning to look as if Cage, despite earning millions and millions of dollars, is headed either toward bankruptcy or sharing a prison cell with Wesley Snipes. Which finally brings me to my point: While people who make huge sums of money are certainly entitled to spend it as they wish, isn't it a little bit sickening to watch them wallow in excess? This is not jealousy on my part. I'm not a wealthy person, but I enjoy my "regular life." I have no interest in mansions, yachts, private planes and classic sports cars. But everywhere we look, the various media are slobbering over the rich and famous, basically celebrating their lives of excess. I saw an ad last night for a TV show that glorifies lavish weddings. We're talking six-figure, maybe seven-figure, affairs. It would be disturbing to me to even watch something like that. It brings to mind the infamous case of Dennis Kozlowski, who looted Tyco International and was convicted and sent to prison. At his trial, Kozlowski's spending habits were laid out for the world to see. The pinnacle of this, or the low point, perhaps, was Kozlowski's spending of $2.1 million for his wife's 40th birthday party on a Mediterranean island. When people are fortunate enough to become wealthy beyond their wildest dreams, shouldn't it be enough for them to life a very, very comfortable life - even sock away a few million to ensure the financial security of their children and grandchildren - and then do something more altruistic with their riches? Don't get me wrong. There are many people who do just that, but it seems as if there are a growing number who have embraced a culture of unbridled spending. It's not just "me, me, me." It's "look at me." It also has struck me this Christmas season more than any other - perhaps because of the terrible times so many people have gone through this year - that we are throwing money away (much to the delight of corporate America) on gifts that people don't need. I receive gifts that, while very nice, are not necessary for my daily life. And I'm sure I give people gifts that they could very well have done without. Well, I'm finally stepping off the Christmas-Hanukkah-Kwanzaa-whatever merry-go-round. Next year, I'll be telling the people with whom I have typically exchanged gifts that I want nothing from them and that I will be taking money that I usually would have spent on gifts and giving it to worthy charities. Small children will be exempt from my new policy. Is anyone else having the same thoughts?

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Thursday, December 24, 2009

Season’s greetings

I want to wish a happy and blessed Christmas to all of my Christian friends, and to extend the same wishes to those who may be marking other holidays and observances during this time of the year. Underneath all of our beliefs, or lack thereof, we have the same basic hopes and dreams for those we love and care about, and for our world as a whole. May peace be with you, and may all of us have a wonderful 2010.


Who is an athlete? What is a sport?

When the Associated Press recently named NASCAR champion Jimmie Johnson its Male Athlete of the Year, it brought up a couple of interesting questions. What is an athlete? And, what qualifies as a sport? It's hard for me to consider a guy who sits down on the job for the title of top athlete. There is no doubt that Johnson has great skills as a race car driver, including tremendous reflexes and great stamina. But I really don’t think he can be considered alongside people like Roger Federer, Usain Bolt, Peyton Manning, Lance Armstrong or Lebron James. That brings us to the question of what is a sport, and what is not. In my definition – and this is just my opinion – a sport involves defense. In other words, there has to be someone trying to stop you from doing what you want to do for an athletic event to be a "sport." To me, golf is an athletic pursuit, as are track and field events, gymnastics and ice skating. They all require athleticism, but they're not sports, at least under my definition. What are your thoughts?


Friday, December 18, 2009

Say it ain't so, SpaghettiOs

There are some minor events in one's childhood that stand out while other, more important events are forgotten. It's been more than 40 years, but I can still recall my introduction to one of the greatest foods known to man: SpaghettiOs. And I'm still eating them (meatballs version only; don't even talk to me about sliced franks). But life as I know it is about to change, and not for the better. Campbell's Soup Co., the makers of this delectable treat (Even cats like it!), has announced that it will cut the amount of sodium in SpaghettiOs by as much as 35 percent. Said Sean Connolly, president of Campbell's U.S. soups, sauces and beverages division, "Changing the recipe of SpaghettiOs comes on the heels of reducing sodium in our condensed kids soups to healthy levels. It's also consistent with our commitment to advertise only sound food choices to children." Screw that. What about us big kids? Couldn't they make a "classic" version of SpaghettiOs for those of us who don't give a damn about our sodium intake and make a tasteless kids version? This is just another assault on traditional (bad-for-you) foods that we all knew and loved. Oreos and Twinkies are now just poor imitations or their original selves. I don't know what they did to Dinty Moore beef stew, but it isn't good. And don't try to tell me that McDonald's fries are as good now as they were when Ronald was deep-frying his taters in beef tallow. I'm all for giving our kids healthy food, but the occasional can of SpaghettiOs isn't going to ruin them. Heck, I ate a boatload of SpaghettiOs when I was a kid, and I was skinny as a rail back then. It wasn't until I made beer the base of my own personal food pyramid that I climbed aboard the train to Fatville. So, in the name of all that is decent, good and holy, I beg of you Campbell's, leave my O's alone.

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Thursday, December 17, 2009

Tell the whole truth

Alice Roosevelt Longworth once said, "If you haven't got anything nice to say about anybody, come sit next to me." I always liked that. What I don't subscribe to is the old saying that you don't speak ill of the dead. Perhaps what I really mean is, you shouldn't lie about the dead to make them seem better than they really were. There were two deaths in the past couple of days that I'll use to illustrate that point. Yesterday came the news that KDKA radio talk show host Fred Honsberger had died. To hear everyone talking about him, you would have thought a saint had gone to his reward. As an occasional listener to Fred's show, I thought he was a lie-spewing, truth-twisting, rude and nasty jackass. He was a leader in coarsening and debasing public discourse in our region. Some might say that it was a personna Fred displayed on his program and that he didn't really believe in everything he was saying. Well, in that case, he was a fraud. Take your pick: jackass or fraud. Then, today, we learned of the death of Cincinnati Bengals receiver and former West Virginia Mountaineer Chris Henry, who was fatally injured when he fell from a pickup truck driven by his girlfriend. For those who don't follow football closely, Henry was a sad excuse for a human being when he played at WVU, and he assembled a rap sheet as long as your arm while with the Bengals. But because he hadn't been arrested recently, everyone's talking about him as a "young man who really turned his life around." Really? The guy died while chasing his girlfriend during a domestic dispute. Sounds like a regular Ward Cleaver. I'm sorry that both these men died, especially at their ages, and I feel for their families and friends, but let's not whitewash reality. And let me make it clear that I want the same honest treatment when I die. Feel free to say that I was sometimes (most of the time?) a horse's ass. I believe strongly in telling the truth. ;-)

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Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Something worth screaming about

Howard Dean, the former chairman of the Democratic Party and onetime presidential candidate, is a bit of a strange bird, but I think he’s absolutely correct when he says the health-care reform bill emerging from the Senate is a piece of garbage because it doesn’t offer consumers a real alternative and actually gives more clout to private insurance companies. Said Dean today in a “Good Morning America” interview, “You will be forced to buy insurance. If you don’t, you’ll pay a fine. It’s an insurance company bailout. This is an insurance company’s dream. This is the Washington scramble, and it’s a shame.” Dean also claimed that the Senate bill, as currently crafted, would allow the insurance industry to hammer older people with higher premiums while still denying people coverage because of pre-existing conditions. If Dean is correct, it’s hard to see a whole lot that’s positive about the Senate legislation. Without any public option, it’s hard for me to fathom that there will be much in the way of cost control. And covering millions more people only because you're compelling them to buy coverage isn’t much of an achievement. I'm really afraid that this process has devolved into such a purely political mess that it might be better to do nothing than to approve a measure that could end up doing more harm than good. If the Democrats are smart, and the jury is still out on that, they would do well to abandon the issue, because by approving bad legislation, they'd be making a silver-platter delivery of a rallying cry for Republicans in the midterm elections. By dropping reform efforts, Democrats could say – and they would be absolutely correct in saying so – that Republicans were a “party of no” who stood in the way of meaningful improvements in our health-care system.

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Thursday, December 10, 2009

Random thoughts on the boob tube

A few observations after a night spent watching television:

1. There are times when, despite having a couple of hundred channels to choose from, I can't find a thing that I want to watch on television. Conversely, last night I saw a few good shows. I have to admit that I'm hooked on "Glee!" (I realize that's a somewhat shameful admission for a 51-year-old heterosexual, but it is what it is). And there were a couple of pretty good sitcoms on last night: "Modern Family" and "The Middle." I have trouble sticking with too many shows that have linear story lines, so I tend to watch lighter fare. Are there any shows you would recommend that might be flying under the radar?

2. I saw on SportsCenter that Chad Ochocinco (the former Chad Johnson) of the Cincinnati Bengals was fined something in the neighborhood of $30,000 for donning a cape and a sombrero on the sidelines after scoring a touchdown last weekend. Not on the field, mind you. On the sidelines. The NFL is, more and more, becoming a stiff, corporate "No Fun League," and W&J grad Roger Goodell, the league commissioner, is coming off as a humorless bastard who makes baseball commissioner Bud Selig, who has all the charisma of Harry Reid, look like Will Ferrell by comparison.

3. Does anyone else want to throw a brick through the television when those Jared jewelry commercials come on? They put me on the brink of wanting to retch into the nearest receptacle. I swear that if I were in the market for jewelry, I'd strip some off the rotting corpse of a dead hooker before I'd darken the door of one of their stores.

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Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Enough is enough

City officials in Washington are still trying to bail out the Titanic with a teacup, and it would seem that if there's any light at the end of this tunnel of fiscal misery, it's from a big, fast-moving train called reality. The approach of elected officials has been an incremental one, including the current move to bludgeon people who park in the city. Council is now discussing a plan under which the price of parking at a metered space would increase from 25 cents for 30 minutes to 25 cents for 15 minutes. On top of that, the city is contemplating a $10 fine for overtime parking, and they'd give violators just two hours to pay that fine before it doubled to $20. And you couldn't even put the $10 fine in one of the courtesy boxes. The fine would have to be paid at the city parking authority office. To say this is onerous is an understatement. And it continues. After five days, the fine rises to $30; after 15 days, it goes to $50. But wait, there's more. The city also is considering a tax - perhaps as much as $3 per space, per day - on all for-profit parking garages and lots in the city, including the Trust Building garage and the one owned by Washington County. Owners of those lots and garages would have to register with the city treasurer as a tax collector and keep strict records of all the taxes taken in. The city already is dunning people who work in Washington with an earned income tax, and that is expected to increase this year. What all this means is that Washington is financially raping people who work or do business in the city, in order to avoiding raising taxes on those who actually live in Washington (also known as voters). But they can't even accomplish that, because now there's talk of raising property taxes in order to make up for a $400,000 shortfall in revenue from the current year. And who is to blame for that shortfall? That would be council and the mayor. They are the ones who approved a budget that included ridiculous revenue projections. For example, the current year's budget called for $220,000 to be generated through building permits. The city has taken in less than $85,000 so far. The city also has fallen $100,000 short of its projections in business privilege taxes. These are not minor mistakes. They amount to borderline fiscal malfeasance and abuse of the public trust. In other words, the city is being led by incompetents. They can continue bending over the people who work in the city, because they're captive victims. But what this situation calls for is bold moves, ones that most likely would anger the very people who get to vote on whether current council members and the mayor get to stay in office. But true leaders do the right thing, not the politically expedient thing. And don't let it be said that I'm criticizing them without offering my own answers. First, eliminate any non-essential services and cut the work force to the lowest possible level in order to meet essential services such as tax collection and snow removal. Second, eliminate any non-required financial outlays. For example, if the city makes an annual payment to Citizens Library, that should stop. Libraries are a wonderful resource, but they are not essential when a city is going into the toilet. Finally, eliminate the paid fire department. You could retain a couple of paid firefighters and supplement them with volunteers. The time for half-assed, piecemeal fixes is over. Either make bold moves, or let the state come in and take control.

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Thursday, December 3, 2009

The not-good-enough book

I'm an atheist, but I'm fairly well-versed on the Bible, and it just never occurred to me that the most popular versions of the book are nothing but socialist tracts. Boy was I wrong. So says the Conservative Bible Project, which is heading up an online effort by "regular folks" to rewrite the Bible in order to get out all that liberal stuff. The effort is being led by Andy Schlafly, who founded Conservapedia,com, where the butchering, I mean rewriting, of the Bible is taking place. And if his last name rings a bell, yes, he’s the son of the old conservative warhorse Phyllis Schlafly, who is perhaps best known for fighting against equal rights for women. Andy Schlafly, shown above left, tells the AP, “Professors are the most liberal group of people in the world, and it’s professors who are doing the popular modern translations of the Bible." Of course, people who actually know a lot about the Bible and biblical translations think he's full of frankincense and myrrh, among other things. Timothy Paul Jones, a self-described theological conservative who is a professor at Southern Baptist (those damn liberals) Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky., had this to say about Schlafly’s crusade: "This is not making scripture understandable to people today, it’s reworking scripture to support a particular political or social agenda.” But Schlafly isn’t fooled by those theological conservatives. He says that's not the same thing as being "politically conservative." So, by his own words, Schlafly is making it clear that this is all about politics. For one thing, conservatives don't apologize, even if they’re responsible for a really big boner like the Iraq war. And to reflect the might-makes-right-and-we're-never-wrong approach, the Conservative Bible Project is rewriting the Gospel of Luke to excise the part where Jesus says of his killers: "Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do." The lesson here: Forgiveness is for pansies. Here, courtesy of the AP, are a few other passages that are getting a raping, I mean makeover:

LUKE 10:21

King James version: In that hour, Jesus rejoiced in spirit and said, “I thank thee, O Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that thou hast hid these things from the wise and prudent, and hast revealed them unto babes; even so, Father; for so it seemed good in thy sight.

Conservative Bible Project: With that, Jesus rejoiced, "I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, for withholding Truth from the intellectuals while revealing it to common man, as this pleased You."

In other words, don’t give information to smart people who might want to think for themselves. Reveal it only to mindless sheep.


King James: Grace to you, and peace, from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

Conservative Bible Project: God’s grace to you, and peace of mind, from our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

We certainly wouldn’t want to encourage a concept like peace, but peace of mind comes in really handy if you want to sleep well after trying to screw over people who aren’t like you.


King James: Even as Sodom and Gomorrah, and the cities about them in like manner, giving themselves over to fornication, and going after strange flesh, are set forth for an example, suffering the vengeance of eternal fire.

Conservative Bible Project: Furthermore, Sodom and Gomorrah, and the cities around them whose people also gave themselves over to sensuality, and homosexuality and bestiality, were made examples of, and suffered the vengeance of eternal fire.

Yes, let’s make sure that the verse clearly bashes gay people and equates them with folks who hump goats.

ACTS 2:44

King James: And all that believed were together, and had all things common.

Conservative Bible Project: Everyone who believed was together and shared values, faith and the truth.

Because only this particular group of mouth-breathing dimwits could possibly know the truth, and they want to make sure that their Christian soldiers remember to uphold important values such as divisiveness, celebrating stupidity and hatred.

Schlafly's defense of this dumbing down and bastardization of the Bible is that “the best of the public is better than a group of experts.” Really? Really??? Because I'm going to go out on a limb and suggest that Schlafly’s band of merry men (don't know if women are allowed to participate) probably aren't the cream of the crop when it comes to things like rational thought. And I'm also guessing that the Jesus portrayed in the "regular" Bible would be sickened by these jackasses. I'm not sure what this group will turn its attention to next. However, I'm hearing rumors that they’re working on eyeglasses that will be soothing to ultra-conservatives by allowing them to look at President Obama and see a rich white guy.

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Dumb, dumb dumb dumb, DUUUUUUUUMB!

At what point does society have the right to say that we’re not going to bail out stupid people? Public money is being spent, and other people are putting themselves at risk today to look for a couple from Medford, Ore., who went missing while apparently searching in the mountains of Oregon for a Christmas tree. Jennifer and Keith Lee headed out Tuesday morning after telling their four children that they were going to bring back a special tree. They hoped to get a silvertip fir, which is supposedly a really nice tree that grows only at high elevations. They did not, however, bother to tell anyone exactly where they were going, and now a search is being conducted by land and air in the high Cascades between Medford and Klamath Falls. Temperatures in that area last night were in the teens. Such an excursion is risky for anyone, but Keith Lee, 36, is a diabetic, and his wife, according to a relative, is not much of an outdoorswoman. The fact that they have four children at home makes this even more reckless and irresponsible, in my book. Oh, and it's not as if they didn't know they might run into trouble. The Lees got stuck in the woods for four hours last year while searching for a tree in the Siskiyou Mountains south of Medford. I know that the authorities always respond in situations like this and do their best to find the lost or stranded people, but I think they should be able to issue this reply when asked to look for those who disregard their safety and fail to use common sense: "Sorry, we don't search for dumb@SS#S."