Sunday, November 26, 2006
Just don't call it 'White Chocolate'. There is no such thing as 'white chocolate'. From unsweetened to bittersweet to semi-sweet to milk, and all shadings therein, the central ingredient common to all chocolate is chocolate liquor, the liquid or paste made when cocoa beans are roasted and ground. This carpet-bagging imposter contains no chocolate liquor, just cocoa butter. I have no idea why this is a peeve of mine.
When you say 'Irregardless', it doesn't mean what you think it does. This is a double-negative.
There is no such word as 'Supposably'. I had a supervisor, an adult woman with an advanced degree, who managed the entire Training Department for one of the top five auto insurance companies in the country, that used this word every time she wanted to say supposedly. And no, she has no accent whatsoever, and her family goes halfway back to the Mayflower.
The state in the midwest that Chicago is in is not pronounced the way it is spelled. My teeth grind every time I hear 'Ill-i-noise'.
It's a lot funnier when Homer Simpson talks about 'Nuculer' disasters than when the President does. Don't you think that ONE of the speechwriters the White House employs in the Communications Department would explain to the chief executive how that word is actually pronounced? Especially when the vast majority of the times he uses that word it's in a pretty important context?
His parents named him Colin, but he pronounces it like a part of the body most closely associated with the rectum? The man was General of The Army, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and Secretary of State, would it kill him to be referred to the same way most other people with that name do? Think Colin Ferrell or Colin Firth. Although it was a nice picture caption with the President, Vice President, and Secretary of State (at the time) that could be called: A Bush, A Dick, and a Colin, when pronounced his way.
If it's new, how can it be improved? Self explanatory, except to advertising execs.
It won't hurt you to say please and thank you. Just be polite, dammit. The subset to this one is, if I stop to let you into traffic, a polite wave and/or smile will cost you very little of your roadrage momentum. I promise.
Feel free to give a good home to any of the above.
Thursday, November 23, 2006
So what? Personally, I figured there would have been a twenty-five year reunion, but since five years ago I didn't care any more than I did ten or twenty years ago, it's safe to say I wasn't all that miffed about not being able to miss another high school reunion.
The first one (at ten years), I went out of my way to miss. That one I had gotten the info on and couldn't wait to not go to. Ok, I did wait, but just long enough to tsk and cluck at the outrageous price they were charging, plus a cash bar. Feh (and feel free to insert your own cultural stereotype here). My indignation didn't last long, and it was forgotten.
I didn't realize I missed the twentieth anniversary until somewhere near the twenty-fifth anniversary. No invite. No problem. I figured I was much happier then than I was in high school anyways. I had sculpted asocialism into an art form by the mid-nineties.
At any rate, these first Rumblings of Reunion in '06 didn't do much for me either way. Although, in hindsight, I think I did notice the stirrings of a curiosity I didn't recognize. Then, quite by accident (I don't remember what I was initially searching for), I discovered a blog (as a quick digression, this thing isn't a blog so much as it is part musing, part autobiography, part community happening) that was walking me through life in a Chicago grade school in the mid-to-late 1960s. Not just from my generation, but my actual gradeschool. And my actual class. Yikes.
As I read it (and then read it again), I was astounded to learn that I was flooded with fond memories. Although I knew, in theory, that I was much happier in elementary school than in high school (Yes Virginia, there were no junior highs when and where I went to school. We didn't need no steeekin middle school - you went from vaunted 8th grader directly to taunted freshman after a single summer - but I digress again). Anyways, the author of this excellent blog (Jew Eat Yet), Danny Miller, who was one of the organizers of the reunion, was a sort-of acquaintance, in that what social circles we each had sort-of intersected at times. Much like a Haley's Comet sort of thing. I'd even been at his house for a party or two back in the day. I wrote a comment on the blog, basically thanking him for the trip down memory lane, he dropped me a note afterwards, and we each started comparing reminiscences. The quiet, smart kid with the way long hair and baby face who kept messing up the curve in school had turned into a witty, erudite, successful, semi-retired writer and editor. Overnight. Ok, thirty years of overnights.
Got me to thinking. I was now getting really curious about the whatever-happened-to-baby-jane factor of this reunion thing. My mother thought I was nuts ("You haven't seen or heard from these people in thirty years, why now?"), my girlfriend thought I was nuts ("You've never mentioned these people before, why now?"), my cat thought I was nuts ("Quit looking at 'Classmates.com' and feed me, dammit!").
Then, as if this wasn't weird enough yet, another of the organizers of the impending reunion - we had gone to a relatively small high school, so they were organizing a triple-class reunion with the classes of '75, '76, and '77 - dropped me an email on the very day Danny wrote me back. Barb had seen my comment on Danny's blog and wanted to say hi. Barb (a year younger than me) was a closer friend (closer in the context that we actually hung out periodically - I didn't have a lot of friends back then that I saw with much regularity), and when we caught one another up on our lives the past thirty years, saw a bunch of parallels. Someone else that turned out to be a fascinating adult.
Unfortunately, I couldn't get to the reunion, and to my complete amazement, I agonized over not going. To make the point even more indelibly, Danny sent me a link to another of our classmates' blogs, an expatriate now living in England (as is Barb, by the way). Donna is another of those that I literally spent nine or ten years in classes with, but never ran in the same circles. Her blog is a thoughtful, witty, intimate, and at times heartrending set of writing based mostly about her only son who's a U.S. Marine in Iraq now. And this from a dyed-in-the-wool liberal dove. Regardless of your personal views of American involvement in the middle east, you need to read this one too (Mother Courage). Yet another of the classmates I never got to know in all those years that have wonderful stories to tell. Who knew?
So here I am, eager for more stories, more experiences. I'm suddenly fixating on the next reunion, and I don't do patience very well. This will be an annoying ten years. And I blame you, Danny.
Friday, November 17, 2006
About a year ago, my mother, in a phone call, told me that a childhood friend of mine had died. This isn't someone I've remained close to. In fact, I don't think I've seen Esther in upwards of 35 years. At the time she told me, I remember saying: "Oh, that's too bad.." and that was that.
Lately, I've been thinking about that reaction. First, a bit of background on my 'neighborhood' at the time: The first house I remember living in was on a small, close-knit block on a one-block long cul-de-sac street called Monticello on the north side of Chicago. Actually, cul-de-sac isn't even accurate. It was a single city block that simply stopped at the end, which abutted up against a river (which in reality was probably a creek, but to a 5 year old, it was a raging river, thank you). In front of that river, up on the bank, was a large, sturdy chain link fence, which in turn was set up behind a number of concrete embuckments (I seem to remember something like five of them). These embuckments were large, rounded rocklike things, probably about 5-6 feet high, that were painted industrial green. I have trouble remembering what I had for dinner last night, but I can still recall the exact feel of the cold painted concrete on my hands as I climbed up those rocks to sit, as if it were yesterday. And I was last on this block in 1966.
This block was pretty much a complete world for me. The neighbors were always the people we saw, in every social situation. They were family. This was in the early to mid sixties, and it was a time when neighborhoods in the city were much like what the suburbs were going to become later in the decade: Block parties, doors left open, eveyone looked out for everyone else. The block had something like six families with children, several elderly couples, dogs that everyone knew, petted and fed, and you knew every house by the people who lived there, and they had lived there for years. Our house (which seemed more than big enough for me, mom, dad, and my kid brother) was a tiny two-bedroom postage-stamp of a house that had a front door that was really a side door, and that side door was about 10 feet from the side door of the house next door. Esther's house.
Esther was a grade ahead of me, and something like six months older. My brother wasn't even in preschool yet, and Esther was a combination sister, buddy, co-conspirator, and girlfriend (in a 1st grade kind of way). We'd play GI Joe, baseball, and doctor, all in the course of a sunny afternoon. Sure there were the others on the block, the Goldens with their troop of six kids, Little Jody and Big Jody (the odds of two different families on the same block having girls named Jody never amazed me as much as it probably should have), and the older kids a few doors down, but when push came to shove, it was always Esther and me. There probably wasn't a total of five days in four years when we didn't play together.
Then we moved. Not far the way I measure distance now, about a mile and a half, but to a third grader before the advent of soccer moms (or many moms that even drove at all, much less an SUV), it was another continent. Fortunately, third graders are also remarkably bulletproof when it comes to the trauma of relocation. And the new house was a two-story Georgian of positively gargantuan proportions (at least by third grader standards). By the time I got midway through grade school, the house on Monticello was a quaint memory that I had no time for thinking about.
Esther and I ran into each other probably a total of three times since I moved from there, all when we were both in different high schools. Then I heard, when I was in college, that she was sick. Again, I was too self-absorbed to manage anything more than an "oh, that's too bad..."
I don't know how old she was when she died, but I do know it was way too young. As I get older, the regrets compound, and certain periods of one's life take on the "golden age" tinge that we middle-aged baby boomers harp on over and over (and that we spent years making fun of in our parents).
Mostly though, I regret I never got to tell Esther the place she had in who I was, am, and will be. And all in the space of a few scant years. I have had many, many acquaintances since then, and more than a few friends, but there's only one first real friend in your life, and despite all that goes on around you, there's a little hole in the world that stays there when that friend is gone. Even when you don't notice that space for years at a time. I miss her a whole lot, and the worst part is it's years too late.
If you have the good fortune to have your first friend ever somewhere in your roll-a-dex, or even know what city they live in, do yourself a favor and look them up. There will come a day when you (or they) will regret not doing it, only after it's too late.
Sunday, November 12, 2006
In my little corner of the world, an area on the opposite end of Puget Sound from Seattle, WA, sits the Washington State congressional district 35, a nice mix of blue collar (Puget Sound Naval Shipyard, as well as logging, automotive, and construction businesses) and white collar (the older affluence of Gig Harbor, and the newer money of Port Orchard and Bremerton). You're as apt to see a beat-up '79 Chevy half-ton pickup covered in mud driving past you on the road as you would an '06 Mercedes SL convertible.
The incumbent, a distinguished-looking 69 year old man named William "Ike" Eickmeyer, has been a state representative since 1997, and has had a quietly undistinguished career so far (head of a local canal committee as well as serving on the Natural Resources and Capital Budget committees). No scandal, no heroics.
Enter the challenger. A 40 year old Republican named Randy Neatherlin. I first saw Mr. Neatherlin's name on a campaign poster that said: "Randy Neatherlin... I M 1 of U." For the rest of his qualifications, I quote from his campaign website directly:
"Randy's many ventures included being a cowboy, bodyguard, tree trimmer, logger, roofer, drywall hanger and both sales and management for Colonial Corporation, where he was responsible for about 50+ employees. Randy is currently creating a television advertising and marketing firm which already has three customers under contract. Randy currently is the owner of My Friends Carlot, a used auto sales dealership and repair shop. Randy also still owns one of his first companies, a cedar shake and shingle mill in Belfair.
With such a wide variety of experiences, he has truly earned his tagline, 'I M 1 of U.' "
I'm sorry, but abbreviating am, one, and you is fine for a text message to a high school classmate, but not for a serious adult vocation, like being a State Representative, for example. I have no problem with Mr. Neatherlin personally, and in fact, agree with several of his stances, notably on limited government and taxes. But a shorthand sentence that he is one of us is hardly the qualification I would want my Representative to be leaning on. I don't want 'one of us', I want the 'best of us', I want someone above the crowd, to lead, not be an example of the ones who are lead.
Unfortunately, this is symptomatic of politics, education, athletes and role models in general. No one wants a leader, no one wants an ideal. Everyone looks to find the warts, which in turn makes those who aspire to leadership roles sink to the lowest common denominator in order to 'fit in,' to be 'just one of the guys'. I don't think it necessary to gloss over people's flaws, nor to spin them into acceptability. By the same token, I think it's still acceptable, in fact necessary, to highlight what makes these leaders different. Not all important decisions are good ones, but most of them are controversial, and pandering to the masses will accomplish nothing great, save perhaps a great ability to pander.
Tuesday, November 07, 2006
In five days, my parents will celebrate their 50th wedding anniversary. I find this an exceptionally remarkable milestone, all the moreso because to this day I find it hard to believe they ever even dated. Not because they're "the parents" (well, not solely because of that), but because it's entirely possible that two more dissimilar characters have never dated in all of recorded history.
My mother came from a reasonably well-to-do family on the "nice side" of Des Moines, IA. Her father was a successful doctor, her mother the prototypical doctor's wife, aka the perfect hostess and mate. Mom was an intellectual, the daughter of the single brightest mind I have ever known personally. Mom's careers have ranged from a librarian to executive secretary for firms as large as Leo Burnett and Marsh & McLennon. She's as familiar with Spongebob as she is with Springsteen as she is with Shakespeare (thanks primarily to her grandchildren, my younger brother, and myself, respectively). Oh, and she's completely and utterly cooking-impaired. The reason I included that tidbit will be made apparent later in this blog.
My father, on the other hand, comes from Chicago, raised by a very frugal and hardworking couple (his aunt and uncle). His father died when my father was 18 months old, and his mother couldn't afford to raise my father and his sister, so their aunt and uncle did. Dad struggled to get out of high school, went right into the army, served in Korea as a corporal (radio operator in the Signal Corps), and has war stories...hundreds of war stories.. Dad was (and is, for that matter), a salesman. He's what used to be referred to as a people person. He's also the hardest working person I've ever seen, but he is a product of his environment. If I were to tell him that Leonardo Da Vinci was an artist, a sculptor, an inventor, an advisor to royalty, and a writer, he'd be just as likely to answer "Man couldn't hold down a job."
Mom's version of the perfect vacation day is reading by the pool. Dad's is talking to the hotel engineer about how well the filter in the pool works.
In the old days (read: when my brother and I still lived at home), he'd yell, she'd smile and nod, he'd yell some more, she'd smile and nod, ad infinitum. In the 30ish years since then, they've both sort of moved towards the center. He rarely yells now, and she in fact sometimes does. Neither of them confesses to any idea at all how they've lasted this long, but I have a theory.
I mentioned earlier that my mother can't cook. This, by the way, is not a secret to her. She doesn't like her cooking any more than I do. You know the old joke about what the jewish wife makes for dinner (reservations)? My mother's picture in on the original printing of that joke. My father, on the other hand, actually likes it. Not like a devoted husband tolerating it for his wife's sake, but asking her to cook. My mother and I would BOTH be complaining about what we were having for dinner (while she made it) more times than I can count when I lived there. But dad, bless his heart, loved it.
Which brings me to my theory: The first few years they were married, it was the whole 'opposite attracts' thing.... then it was the kids....not many people they knew divorced who had kids...of course, it could be that both were afraid they'd wind up with custody... and finally, after my brother and I moved out, they reached the key component to marital bliss:...::::::drumroll::::::: they figured out the perfect compromise to food. Now they split going out to eat and cooking in. Going out let's mom eat food she actually likes, and dad gets to talk to the waiter, manager, busboy, and customers... When they stay in, mom has to cook, but at least afterwards she can read a book or watch TV, and dad gets to eat food HE likes.
Happy anniversary mom and dad.
Before I defend not voting in the Presidential election, I've got something to say to those people who get righteously indignant, puff out their collective chests, and huff: "If you don't vote, you don't get to complain". My response: "Huh?" Silly me, I thought that the first amendment guarantees the right to free speech to all citizens, not just the ones who choose to exercise their voting rights. It always seemed to me that that argument was similar to the ones raised by the "America - Love it or Leave it" contingent. Free speech is for speech, not for "good" speech. Note I didn't say ALL speech, because I understand there are things one can say that can affect everything from personal to national security. But I have a hard time with the stretch that if I think a given administration is behaving badly, someone or something might be at risk. Except perhaps, that administration's next term.
But about the Presidential election. There are really only a few things you need to know about the Electoral College, and they're probably things you were taught in school, but perhaps didn't fully understand. The usually accepted version of the form of government we live in is a democracy. It is not. At least not fully. And I'm not talking about conspiracies, lobbies, and 'shadow governments'. Our major form of government is a republic. We elect officials for a given term of years who make laws (the exception here being 'binding referenda', where the public votes on a policy, law, rule, or policy). If those officials don't make the laws we like, we vote them out in the next election that their term comes due in.
For the President, we elect the people who elect the President. Sort of. Those electors are elected in various procedures at the state level. States have differing numbers of electors based on the populations of the states. Can you name a single elector in your state? I know I can't. Some states have rules on how their elector has to vote (popular vote tallies, etc.), but 24 states do NOT have any rules on how their electors vote. Let me repeat that. 24 state electors, representing some 257 electoral votes, have NO rules on the books on how they have to vote. If a candidate gets every single vote in Illinois, for instance (one of those 24 states), those 21 electoral votes could, legally, go to his opponent. Is that likely? Of course not. But it can. Corruption, back-room deals, and conspiracies significant enough to alter an election are a lot more plausible in a pool of 538 votes than one of 120,000,000+.
There have been at least three incidences of the winning Presidential candidate losing the electoral vote since 1824, when the current system was put in place (1876, when Hayes beat Tilden, 1888, when Benjamin Harrison beat Cleveland, and of course, 2000, when Bush beat Gore). Think about that for a moment. More people, in three separate elections, voted for a single LOSER in an election than a winner. How does one reconcile the one-person/one vote, your-vote-counts philosophy with the reality? Are the people really more important in Texas, California, New York and Pennsylvania than they are in South Dakota, Maine, New Mexico, and Nevada? That's why both parties spend the dollars and invest the time in visiting the populous states. They only have to win a handful of states, not the whole country. Instead of disenfranchising one area of the country, they can do it to every region.
So, while I will continue to vote in every election I am eligible to vote in that does not include an electoral college, I certainly won't condemn anyone who doesn't vote and say they don't have a right to complain. Personally, I don't mind at all if my neighbors don't vote. In fact, I'd prefer it. I saw a comedian doing a bit a long time ago about prejudices against gay men. He said, "Hell, I wanna see more gay men. The more men date one another, the more women in the pool." The less voters in my district, the more weight my vote carries.
Saturday, November 04, 2006
Some of them are well-produced enough that you don't even blanch at them until almost the next commercial break. My current favorite is for Match.com. Now, I've never used their product, and it may well be a wonderful and useful service. However, this is their actual guarantee (as seen on TV): If you're not completely satisfied in 6 months (presumably with your dating life through their service), then they will give you 6 months free. Let me see if I fully comprehend this: If, for some strange reason, I don't think your product does what you tell me it'll do, I get to have it not work for me for ANOTHER six months? Talk about delusions of grandeur. Here's a company that figures their product is so good, even if it doesn't work, that I'll want to put my life on hold for a half a year more, their treat, just so I can see that it must not have been their fault I couldn't get a match I liked.
But the ones that are positively Goebbels-worthy, and what this blog is actually about, is a whole series of ads, ones that masquerade as public service spots. The 'Truth.com' folks. Not only can they tell half-truths along with the occasional untruth, there isn't even a venue for rebuttal, since tobacco advertising has long since left the airwaves. Allow me to help. As a semi-public service.
Every tobacco company in the world is a separate company. Certainly they have groups, and they lobby for legislation. Every industry in the world does. If an oil company breaks a law, and/or tries to cover it up with loss of life or ecological damage (think Union Carbide in Bhopal and the Exxon Valdez) the individual company is taken to court, not the oil industry. Were there internal memos circulated years ago to market cigarettes to minors? Undeniably there were. Was every tobacco company indicted? Nope. Yet every single tobacco company was included in the government's lawsuit, and every one of them is paying on the settlement. What do you think Shell Oil Company's reaction would be if the Federal Government sued them to pay an equal portion of the cleanup for the Valdez? Do you think Conoco was sued for negligence on Union Carbide's part?
Take some personal responsibility. The main thrust of the anti-tobacco lobby is that the tobacco industry has perpetrated a hoax on the American people about the dangers of smoking. I've been a smoker for well over 30 years, and before that. as of 1965 in fact, federal law mandated warnings on the every pack of cigarettes sold in America. First they said it was bad for you. Then (still upwards of 35+ years ago), they specifically stated: "...The Surgeon General's Warning: Smoking Causes Lung Cancer, Heart Disease, Emphysema, And May Complicate Pregnancy." AND...."Quitting Smoking Now Greatly Reduces Serious Risks to Your Health." AND... "Smoking By Pregnant Women May Result in Fetal Injury, Premature Birth, And Low Birth Weight." AND..."Cigarette Smoke Contains Carbon Monoxide." Did those warnings sound indecisive?
Incidently, ask any scientist what the definition of cause and effect is, and you'll find that cigarettes do not 'cause' Lung Cancer, Heart Disease, Emphysema. According to the definition of cause and effect, as soon as you have a person who smokes that does not get one of those diseases, you can no longer say it causes it. Almost everyone I know has a friend or relative that has smoked for years that never developed any of those diseases. And since the list of known carcinogens in our environment increases exponentially every year (and those are just the known ones), cause and effect does not apply. Does the empirical evidence suggest that smoking can greatly increase your risk for such diseases? Certainly. That is not to say that one causes the other. Another interesting correlation is how drunk driving is handled. Virtually no one, outside of MADD perhaps, says that alcohol kills. They warn that it impairs your judgement, and to 'drink responsibly'. A drunk gets behind the wheel after a couple of six packs, kills a family of five, gets a DUI, and goes home to watch a football game with three beer commercials every change of possession. But no one seems to see a corollary to alcohol ads and DUI accidents. Only cigarettes.
As I mentioned, I am a smoker. Not much, but I've smoked anywhere from a pack a day in my younger days, to the less than half a pack these days, for over 30 years. I am aware they are, at the least, bad for me, and at the most, contributing significantly to any number of respiratory diseases in me. I do not smoke indoors, including at home, and in fact, I have NEVER smoked indoors when I lived or worked with people who didn't, including well before the laws mandated it. I believe (I hope, anyways) that I would have the balls to take personal responsibility for my own smoking if it contributed to lung cancer, and not sue some evil boogie-man in the suit at Marlboro's parent company, RJ Reynolds, who somehow 'brainwashed' me into buying his product, while all the while he rubbed his hands and cackled maniacally. I am reasonably confident that I wouldn't sue because just a few years ago I had a lung cancer scare (that turned out, thank goodness, to be benign), and during the time between first suspicion and the negative result, I wasn't calling a lawyer, nor did I plan to. And yes, I am aware of the 'No Atheists in a Foxhole' theory, and that were I to get very sick I might change my mind. I simply hope I wouldn't.
When the AMA says that no matter how long you've been smoking, if you quit today, you stand an excellent chance of reversing the damage (before the disease is full-blown), I have even less sympathy for people who smoke for years upon years, and then upon discovering they have lung cancer, probably contributed to heavily by their smoking, blame the tobacco industry because they couldn't quit. When a participant in bungee-jumping is injured or dies in an accident, I don't remember hearing about bungee cord makers being fined universally for the inherent danger in their product. Even gun manufacturers have had all such universal suits against them thrown out in court for the danger of their products.
So, you know what? If you smoke, and you're worried about your health, then stop. There are thousands of support groups and aids to help, and hundreds of thousands of people (if not millions) in the US today that have successfully quit smoking. By the way, just for the record, I have quit for a year once, and for six months another time, in my adult life. I simply enjoy smoking.