Archive for August, 2009

Fake News: Gun lobby getting new ideas

August 20, 2009

WASHINGTON (Aug. 19) – Representatives of both political parties are becoming increasingly concerned that the National Rifle Association is not getting everything it wants, and have begun an initiative to draw out the deepest desires of the gun lobby and have them enacted into law.

Long-time goals such as wider passage of “concealed carry” laws, permission for gun owners to bring weapons into national parks, and repeal of the ban on assault rifles may not be enough to placate the powerful group. Recent incidents of citizens carrying firearms to healthcare townhall meetings and the release of NRA mascot and would-be Gerald Ford assassin Squeaky Fromme indicate the lobby may be running out of ideas for requests from compliant legislators.

“Are you sure there’s not something else we can do for you?” asked a nervous Sen. Arlen Specter at a meeting of the NRA board earlier this week. “Because if there is, you just have to let us know and we’ll take care of it. Really. It’s no trouble at all. We’re here to make you happy.”

NRA vice president Wayne LaPierre said he would coldly stroke his chin, aim his steely grey eyes into the distance, and carefully consider Specter’s proposal.

“Hmmm,” he said. “Interesting.”

Moments later, aides to LaPierre were ready with a five-point legislative agenda to be presented to Congressmen when they return from their August recess. The items would give unprecedented strength to the Second Amendment and encourage unarmed Americans to run for the lives.

The initiatives were outlined as follows:

  • Instead of casual “hi’s”, head nods or the pursing of lips into a half-smile, people who passed coworkers in the hall would now be required to fire a warning shot
  • Accident victims who lost all or part of the use of their hands would be required to have pistols transplanted onto the end of their stubs
  • Doctors would abandon use of the scalpel to gain access to internal organs during surgical procedures and would instead open patients up with carefully targeted suppressive fire from automatic weapons
  • All animals of the mammalian order or higher would be allowed to purchase and carry firearms
  • Two bandoliers of ammunition crossed into an X-format would replace the commonly used “snugli” for parents who wanted to carry their infants hands-free on their chest
Parents would no longer have to "put up your hands" with easy access to high-powered ammo

Parents would no longer have to "put up your hands" with easy access to high-powered ammo

Fun with flag disposal

August 19, 2009

Let me start by saying that I love America. I love the amber waves of grain, the purple mountains, the Green Mountains and the Orange Bowl. I’m crazy for fruited plains. Skies that are spacious are among my top ten turn-ons.

And I also love and respect the American flag. Its asymmetrical design and color absolutely pop off the surface. Its lines are clean and simple, a graphic design concept that was mocked at the time but which now represents all the best in flag composition. I admire the integrity of the Founders, who felt it was best not to sell the back side to corporate advertisers of the day, despite a great offer from Travelocity. I also think cloth was an excellent choice, as opposed to the buffalo hide that was originally considered.

So when I found a discarded flag in the shed of a rental house I was cleaning out this weekend, I was a little uncertain what to do. I knew there were strict rules regarding proper disposal of Old Glory, and I could tell that my previous tenants knew nothing about these rules, as the banner lay in a crumpled heap next to a one-armed chair and an old can of latex stain. It was as tattered as its much-scarred forbearers over Ft. McHenry and Guadalcanal, except this damage looked like it was inflicted by a lawn edger.

Wanting to do the right thing, I discussed options with my wife. We both knew that burning the flag was both a highly provocative act viewed by some as treason, as well as a proper method of disposal. We couldn’t do it in our yard though, because a recent drought might start a wildfire. I supposed we could do it out in the street at the entrance to our subdivision, but doubted our mostly Republican neighbors would view this as the patriotic act we intended.

I also remembered that burial was an acceptable course. Again, however, our yard was not a good location, since tree roots make it very hard to dig; the only soft spot was just off the back deck but to entomb it there might lead to an unpleasant reunion with some dearly departed cats.

If burial and burning were okay, maybe other verbs starting with “bur” were actions we could take: Is “burnish” something that would get it off our hands? Could we turn it into a burka?

We started brainstorming ideas that would allow us to continue our clean-up without bringing down the wrath of all right-thinking Americans. Since the idea is to show proper respect for all that the star-spangled banner represents, and since that was pretty much a non-issue because of its three years already spent inspiring mostly crickets, I thought we might be able to discard it with the rest of our household refuse. Maybe if we did a little ceremony before hand – I thought I had some sparklers left over from Independence Day – we could lay it respectfully across the top of the bin.

“That’d make it look like a casket,” a tactless friend noted. “The garbage men might think there’s a veteran inside.”

Maybe we could unravel the threads so we were left with only red, white and blue fibers, which wouldn’t be so problematic. We could enlist a local seamstress to create a more-respectful new life for the fabric – perhaps a bikini, or an Uncle Sam hat, or some kind of super-hero costume.

This looks like the time I should turn to the Internet for some advice. A site on American flag etiquette notes that it should be lighted at all times, never be “dipped to a thing,” and not used for advertising. It shouldn’t be used to deliver anything and should never touch the ground. When it’s no longer fit to serve our country, it should be destroyed by “burning in a dignified manner” (i.e., not surrounded by ecstatically dancing foreigners). references the “dignified way” without much further guidance, other than to say it shouldn’t be “dumped into a trash can amidst of bunch of rotting garbage”. Might it be allowable if the garbage is fresh?

Probably the best option I could find is also the most expensive. A firm called American & State Flag Disposal will also accept municipal and local government banners, as well as those from “friendly foreign governments.” (You’d think they’d love to get their hands on an Iranian flag, just for kicks). Fees are on an escalating scale: $5 for a small flag, $10 for a flag larger than six-by-ten, and “contact us for individual quotes” on those super flags you see over car dealerships.

But what about the pole? The flag I found was wrapped around a two-piece aluminum shaft that was capped with an eagle. Doesn’t the pole deserve an equal measure of regard, serving as it did as the supporting base for that most revered of American symbols? Partial burial seemed like a workable choice, and if I did it vertically and spaced them just right, I could string up a badminton net between the two. If I dubbed it the Rock Hill Memorial Net Sports Park, I could be killing two birds with one stone, three if you count the eagle.

While still pondering what to do, I was watching ESPN and caught the highlights of Usain Bolt setting his new world record in the 100-meter dash. While he celebrated his victory, he held the Jamaican flag high over his head, then waved it to the crowd, then wrapped it around his shoulders like a shawl. I know the Jamaican flag is nowhere near as important as its American counterpart, but it did remind me of how U.S. Olympians literally wrapped themselves in the flag, even after some pretty mediocre performances in Beijing. Perhaps I should hold onto this one in case I qualify for the 2012 Games in London (I heard they’re considering adding speed-typing as a new event.)

In the end, I took the easier, least expensive route, and let it lay in the back seat of my car while I remained frozen with indecision. The flag is currently on tour with daily trips between my home and office, and occasional stops at gas stations, convenience stores and Starbucks, where I believe an endorsement deal may be in the works.

Post Script: Reading back over this piece, it occurs to me that I should’ve added my great respect, thanks and admiration to those who have fought in defense of our nation. It’s the sacrifice and bravery of our vets that give us the freedoms we enjoy today. Those who are fallen deserve the ultimate esteem of a grateful nation. And to the vets who walk among us – you’re doing a terrific job of administering health care to our beloved pets, though I’ve got to say you could’ve done a better job with my cats.

Fake News: Getting creative with constituents

August 18, 2009

Both senators and representatives continue to be badgered by mostly older citizens in meetings held around the country to discuss details of the health care package currently under consideration in Washington. Many of the protestors appear to be incited by Republican lobbyists and conservative pundits who have spread apparent misinformation about the plan. Much of the discourse has turned hostile and confrontational.

To counter the attacks, some members of Congress have devised measures to calm the crowds and attempt to clarify the most confused portions of the electorate. Some are turning to innovative measures to win opponents to their side while others are meeting fury with fury.

Sen. Arlen Specter (D-Pa.) faced the wrath of one irate constituent who accused the senator of “trampling on our Constitution,” adding angrily that one day Specter would “stand before God and he’s going to judge you.” Specter said he could find the unemployed steelworker a position with the group being set up to visit the homes of the elderly and offer advice on how they might commit suicide.

“You know, I might like that,” said Craig Miller of rural Berks County. “That Maxine woman down the street from me is always giving me the evil eye, and I’d like it right fine if I could tell her where to get off. And when.”

Meanwhile, Sen. Robert Byrd (D-W.Va.), the nation’s oldest living legislator at age 92, met with several outspoken opponents of healthcare reform in his Huntington office. When one of them challenged Byrd to show how the program could be enacted without a tax increase, the still-feisty senator lunged across a table, grabbing the questioner by the throat.

“Son of a bitch, I’m going to kill you!” Byrd shouted. “I’m going to beat the hell out of your sorry ass and then hang it on a fence post.”

Democratic Senator Bill Nelson of Florida has declined to use the town hall format, saying many of his state’s aged citizens have difficulty leaving their homes. He at first offered to hold meetings online, but numerous retirees criticized the plan, with one telling reporters “I spent years standing online back in the city and now I’m too tired.”

Nelson said his office would revert to more traditional methods of communication to address his state’s residents. For some, he would explain his position in a neatly lettered note slipped under the door, while larger groups might watch a dramatization staged by dinner theatre groups across Florida. He did meet with one collection of members from the Centenary Club, all of whom had surpassed age 100, and presented his position in Morse Code.

“Dot dot dash dot dash,” Nelson told the group at the Daytona Beach Retirement Village. “Dash dot dot dash.”

“DASH DOT DASH DASH DOT DOT DASH!” responded Harry Lieberman, a 103-year-old former banker irately. “DASH DOT DASH SOCIALIST DASH DOT OBAMA DASH DASH BLACK GUY.”

Woodstock: I was there (I think)

August 17, 2009

Well I came upon a child of God

He was walking along the road

And I asked him where are you going?

And this he told me

Said “I’m goin’ down to Yasgur’s farm”

So wrote Joni Mitchell some 40 years ago this weekend when she ran into me during my journey to the epic music festival that would become a touchstone for the entire baby boomer generation. For many my age, Woodstock fills the imagination with what it was like to be free and young and extremely high during the turbulent Sixties. For a fortunate few of us, though, it’s an actual memory of joining a half-million people in peace and love on a farm in upstate New York.

You see, I was at Woodstock.

As you might imagine, my recollections are a little cloudy after all these years. I was 15 years old on that August weekend my family was visiting my cousin in Binghamton. I was getting a little tired of the living room chats about long-lost aunts I had never known when I decided to slip out of the house for what became the adventure of my life.

I wasn’t normally a rebellious teenager, but there was just something in the air that called to me. I caught a ride with my cousin’s neighbor to the next town over, where I was dropped by the side of the road and started hitch-hiking north. I tried for over an hour to catch a ride when I came across three slightly older “hippie” types who “turned me on” to what was “going down.”

We traded only nicknames at the time although I later came to learn that the trio included then-reigning homerun king Roger Maris, a crazy dude named Fred Sullivan (son of TV host Ed Sullivan), and a young cowboy named Bobby McGee. We finally caught a lift as far as Bethel, NY, but the New York State Thruway was, as famously announced by Arlo Guthrie, “closed to man.” We were lucky enough to be spotted by the low-flying helicopter of singer Richie Havens, a remarkable pilot despite his lack of sight. Richie set down in the parking lot of a Dairy Queen, invited us aboard, and soon we were landing behind the stage where he’d be performing just a few hours later.

It quickly became apparent that festival organizers were overwhelmed by the unexpected turnout, so we were pressed into service as stage hands. We’d be getting a front-row seat to rock-and-roll history.

In between the routine roadie chores of hauling amps, separating M&M’s by color and periodically wiping down the members of Canned Head, we found ourselves offering advice to some of the legendary performers in attendance. I still remember telling Pete Townsend to “turn it the hell down – people are trying to sleep here” as The Who ran through their 4 a.m. set from the rock opera “Tommy.” On the final night, I saw Jimi Hendrix pacing nervously before the final set of the concert. He was debating whether he should close with “America the Beautiful” or “Onward Christian Soldiers.” It was I who suggested that instead he play the Star-Spangled Banner.

We were worked pretty hard during those four days and got hardly any rest. We did take a break one afternoon and Roger, Fred and Bobby tried to get me onto that mud-slide you’ve probably seen in film clips from the time. They became totally soaked and dirt-encrusted while I remained neat in the crisply pressed dress pants I had been wearing…

Wait – something doesn’t sound right. I may be a little confused about my presence at Woodstock. Something just doesn’t ring true about these memories, and I bet I’ve gotten the highlight of the Age of Aquarius confused with a 1995 business trip I took to Washington. Both locations start with “W”. I’ve always gotten Woodstock and Washington mixed up.

What I actually attended was billed as the “Woodstock of Statistical Process Control (SPC),” a four-day conference and training session for corporate quality administrators interested in being certified as ISO 9000 auditors. I was joined by three coworkers in a suburban Ramada Inn while we studied day and night to learn the proper ways to document workflow and process variation. It was an event unlike anything I’ve experienced before or since – four days of modes and tolerances.

To this day, it remains the only business trip where I was forced to share lodging with a roommate, but the hardship forged a lasting bond between us that was only slightly frayed by his questionable Spectravision and pajama choices. We’d get up early each morning for a vigorous jog around the hotel grounds, then spend the day with our noses buried in loose-leaf binders. We kept thinking we’d get at least one evening free to see the sites of the capital but the organizers of the event, a couple of Brits from Lloyd’s of London, were real taskmasters. (It was those English accents that probably reminded me of The Who).

On the evening before the last day, we were grilled during a “live-job scenario” wherein we pretended to be inspectors looking over the books of a company seeking ISO certification. The instructors played the parts of defensive company executives, trying to mislead and distract us, and we were supposed to insist on seeing the records. We did badly enough to realize we had to spend the rest of the night studying for the Friday exam.

Again, my recall might be a little off, but I do know the test was not at all what we expected. After the grueling preparations, I thought there’d be serious questions presenting difficult circumstances that required us to prepare, in extensive essay form, what our responses would be. Instead the questions were so simple as to be confusing.

“Give me an F… give me a U… give me a C…” began the examiner standing before a conference room of puzzled participants. He gave us the final letter, then yelled the question: “What’s that spell? What’s that spell? What’s that spell?” The rapid-fire interrogation made it impossible to think straight, and I flunked the spelling portion of the test.

Then, came the multiple-choice questions: “And it’s one, two, three, what are we fighting for?” One, two and three? Is this how they do it in Britain? What about A, B, C or D (all of the above). D is almost always the answer when questions are phrased in this format, but we don’t have that choice. Again, I fail.

Finally, there was the essay question: “What would you do if I sang out of tune, would you stand up and walk out on me?” I had learned that SPC was all about reducing variation, and that any singing out of tune could only be acceptable if it were within a predefined tolerance. I wrote something to this effect on my paper, but this too turned out to be wrong.

I tried commiserating with my coworkers on the flight home, but they actually had performed pretty well on the exam. They understood there were fundamental truths underlying the event, that it was impossible to quantify the heady experience we’d just been through, that “answers” were a fleeting concept and sometimes the questions were more important. In other words, they had been certified while I had failed.

I could’ve gotten by with a little help from my friends.

Advice seekers: You need get a life

August 16, 2009

“You Want My Advice?” is a weekend summer rerun feature of I look at questions of ethics, propriety, faith, technology, geopolitics, health, etc., and offer completely inappropriate, irresponsible and possibly even life-threatening advice. 

In today’s final installment, we hear from the reader who finally drove me over the edge.

Q. Out of the blue, I’ve been contacted by an ex. We had a brief relationship several years ago, which represents part of my past that I’d rather forget. He is emotionally unstable, so I can’t just tell him to leave me alone, even nicely. I’m afraid he might harm me. I’ve been responding to his phone calls and e-mails (which all have a general message of “I think of you often and I miss you”). I’m also a widow and a parent of two children. I lost my husband almost four years ago. I have been trying to date, but it seems harder now than it ever was before. Many men hear of my situation and run the other way. Some are so insecure they can’t handle the fact that I was married before. I think it is a little unreasonable for them to expect me to never mention my late husband in conversation. In high school, I dated this wonderful guy for two years. We came to a halt after we graduated, but kept in touch. I made a series of really bad decisions with him and find myself regretting them constantly. We talk regularly now, about things such as moving in with each other and getting married. I am currently in a relationship where the person has put an expiration date on it. He says “I love you” a lot but he also becomes distant and cold toward me. My ex-boyfriend has cerebral palsy. I have loved him for more than a year, regardless of his condition. He broke up with me because he didn’t think he could love someone if he didn’t love himself. I have an on-again, off-again relationship with this other guy for more than five years. We are “off” now but I can’t stop thinking about him. It was my decision to end the relationship because I felt I was wasting my time. We get along well, but he lies and cheats. But the love I feel for him never changes. I can’t help but wonder if he is really my soul mate.

Can you offer a suggestion for how I might deal with my situation? – Troubled in Love

A. No. In fact, I’m sick and tired of all you whiny, needy social misfits constantly beating a path to my website with your pathetic problems. You need to take control of your own lives and figure out your own solutions, rather than relying on all-knowing super-beings like myself to give you the answers.

I’ve been writing this advice column twice a week for ten weeks now, and I don’t see that the world has become a better place as a result. I’ve answered questions about invasive squirrels, proper shoe color, organ donation etiquette, satellite TV, the creation of God and gender-neutral names. Every answer has been as appropriate as can be, and yet no one ever writes back to offer their thanks. The most feedback I’ve ever received was that one time a guy was looking for a cure for halitosis and I told him to drink pesticide and he died and they wrote about it in the paper.

This marks my final advice column. I’m not going to be dragged down to the level of you lonely losers any longer. If you need suggestions about how to live your lives, you better hope that one of the following works, because it’s the last you’re getting from me:

  • Try rotating the tires on your car. If that doesn’t make the noise go away, remove the tires completely.
  • A shampoo with conditioner may be what you need. Just be sure to use it on your hair.
  • I also read that article about a donated kidney being removed through the vagina, but I still wouldn’t recommend dental work being done through your ear.
  • If you’ll limit your caffeine intake, I bet the vibrations will stop.
  • Tell your wife/husband/boyfriend/girlfriend that you hate them and never want to see them again.
  • Try a non-allergenic carpeting or else stop eating off the floor.
  • You need to lose some weight, get a haircut and give up your dreams of moving to Japan.
  • The sim cards in virtually all cell phones will usually provide your minimum daily requirement of minerals and vitamins.
  • Before you think about remodeling your kitchen, might I suggest you remodel your face.
  • God is not sitting on His Golden Throne in heaven worried about which casserole you bring to the church supper. He thinks congregants would be just as happy with one of those KFC Famous Bowls.

Advice for the lonely atheist

August 15, 2009

“You Want My Advice?” is a weekend summer rerun feature of I look at questions of ethics, propriety, faith, technology, geopolitics, health, etc., and offer completely inappropriate, irresponsible and possibly even life-threatening advice. Today, we hear from a reader who’s looking for some advice on their love life.

Q: I feel like I’ve missed out on life. I grew up in a conservative Christian home where “gosh” and “heck” were bad words. I was homeschooled then went to a Christian university. After years of dealing with the crap, I became an atheist and am still going strong. After spending my whole life in the evangelical world, I have no idea how to function in the real world. I’ve never kissed a girl, had a girlfriend, or had sex. The only women I know are Christians. I’ve read stories about people hooking up in bars, but I have no idea what I’m supposed to do or how to meet people. – Awkward Agnostic

A. I’m sorry to hear how much trouble you’ve had with what is obviously a difficult transition. Changing from one lifestyle to another that’s so completely different can be very troublesome to your psyche. You need to be patient as this important transition proceeds.

Have you thought about asking God for help? Many people trying to survive in today’s hectic world think they can find easy answers to the trouble they’re having. The answers ARE easy, if you look in the right place, and by “right place,” I mean with those who have found the one true religion of Christianity.

Wait. I just reread your question. Sorry for not paying closer attention – I’m trying to balance one girlfriend on Twitter, another on Facebook, and my wife trying to get through to my cell. Pray to Jesus that you should be so lucky some day.

Yes, meeting women in bars is definitely the way to go. Hooking up in these establishments is not necessarily a requirement, but I’m guessing from your background that you’re going to want to have your potential mates as smashed as possible. Once you help them stagger out of the bar, into your car, and into your bedroom, don’t let them become unconscious because this would be considered “taking advantage,” which is something you should do only when you’ve reached a more advanced state. Also, don’t take it the wrong way if they cry out “Oh, God” or “Holy Jesus” during lovemaking.

I hear that meeting women on the Internet is also a very good idea. You can either use the popular social networking sites or a legitimate “matchmaking” service like eHarmony or Just realize that most of the women you meet on line are actually going to be middle-aged men, and ugly ones at that.

One more thing: I don’t like your language when you talk about “dealing with the c**p.” Nobody, be they believers or non-believers, want to hear that kind of filth. Clean up your language, mister, and I think you’ll soon find yourself cleaning up with the ladies as well.

Website Review: My commenters

August 14, 2009

I had to be at work this morning by 2 a.m., which makes it technically impossible to be funny. So instead of the usual Friday Website Review,  I’m going to turn to our readers for help today. The following is a collection of comments they’ve been kind enough to send me in recent weeks. I apologize in advance if some are a little out of context, but even these, I think, contain a kernel of genius.

  • About this death panel, I’ve got some referrals. Who do I send them to?
  • If Dr. Kevorkian is your doctor and you don’t die, can you sue him for malpractice?
  • I think that all the “mombloggers” should all be packed into some sort of rocket, which would then be fired at North Korea. “Read about my fascinating children, who are actually just the same as everybody else’s”
  • I am a big fan of spiders and dragonflies
  • Apparently rats really like water and mangoes
  • We have squirrels. One is named Sammy and he comes when called. He does not live in our house.
  • I recently saw an episode of something or the other on TruTV, about a guy who murdered his wife while sleep-walking. It was like he tried to strangle her and she didn’t die, so then he threw her into the swimming pool, where (finally!) she drowned, and then he went upstairs and cleaned.
  • Face tremors are quite a cool side effect
  • Here’s hoping you make it to Paris and get strung out on smack soon
  • An interesting aspect of numbers is the concept of averages. One hand under the hot water tap and the other under the cold would imply, that on average, you are comfortable. But are you?
  • They should include “armless boxing” too! It could be as popular as those massages where they don’t actually touch you
  • I attended an honor academy for prep-school and one of the upper classes thought it would be fun to all start swinging their arms with their forward moving leg at the same time without the drill instructor’s knowledge. The drill instructor stopped the platoon five times trying to figure out what was wrong. I mean, something seemed terribly off but he just couldn’t figure out what.
  • Do you believe in “sparks” or you just don’t know that much about them?
  • I remember that song Young Girl. We tore it apart.. “Young Girl, get out of my bed.. before my mother comes and hits me in the head…”
  • We’re allowed to have “different” songs in our iPods. I have “Take me out to the Ballgame” by Frankie, Louie and the Ferret
  • Generally, babies don’t disguise themselves
  • I’m glad that guy is being vigilant. Imagine finishing up the cremation process and pouring out the ashes to see little fingers and other items remaining.
  • I want to become fuel.
  • My son, who is 6′4″ tall, wants to be buried in my backyard, vertically, with a tree planted on top of him.
  • One of the popular beaches around my state is a popular site for ash jar ‘dumping’. But of course in the end, these jars are washed up on shore by the tide and innocent kids will play with sand among the mass of broken jars and human ashes.
  • I do the same thing, but it’s with a bunch of buddies … and we buy beer … and I get a free hat!!!!
  • I just sat through an OSHA-10 class combined with a First Aid class right after that.
  • You can always go for a case of the shakes too. “I’m perfectly fine and I’m willing to do work, but my hands just won’t stop shaking!!”
  • Honey could you change the channel for me?
  • How about an good old fashioned case of the vapours?
  • I think Maine tried to join Canada once
  • I am at a loss regarding why people grill
  • Maybe a Coke machine should be mentioned somewhere
  • I like the name “Ward”; a special twist of “Edward”. Most people assume the first two letters “Ed” as the appropriate nick. But I think the last four letters “ward” is a knocker.
  • If it wasn’t for Billy Mays, my husband would have grease-stained pants for the rest of his life.
  • I’m only talking to myself. Of course, that’s not always a bad thing since I tend to agree with me a lot.

Fake News: Death panel named

August 13, 2009

WASHINGTON (Aug. 12) – President Obama hosted a White House ceremony yesterday to announce the appointments to his “death panel,” the group that will be responsible for reviewing all of the nation’s healthcare cases and deciding who will live and who will die.

Heading up the committee will be Dr. Joe Medicine Crow, a 95-year-old Indian who fought in World War II, and former Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor. The two will serve as co-chairmen. Crow brings extensive experience as a representative of a people who have suffered genocide, which it is thought he’ll use to select the most vulnerable demographics. O’Connor has a history of dealing with old ladies, another group thought to be headed for the chopping block.

Indian chief, Sandra Day O'Connor to co-chair Death Panel

Indian chief, Sandra Day O'Connor to co-chair Death Panel

Also joining the team will be actress Chita Rivera, Dr. Janet Rowley, Nobel Prize Winner Muhammad Yunus, actor Sidney Poitier, former president of Ireland Mary Robinson, and Archbishop Desmond Tutu. Serving in advisory capacities will be Dr. Stephen Hawking and Sen. Edward Kennedy, at least as long as they’re alive.

Poitier and Robinson play “Rock, Paper, Scissors” at yesterday’s ceremony, saying it might be one way to determine who receives critical care under President Obama’s new health insurance plan.

Poitier and Robinson play “Rock, Paper, Scissors” at yesterday’s ceremony, saying it might be one way to determine who receives critical care under President Obama’s new health insurance plan.

Catching up at the DMV

August 12, 2009

I accompanied a young friend to the Department of Motor Vehicles office the other day, and was reminded how much I missed the place. The DMV is getting a lot of mention in the current media, primarily as an example of what could become of our healthcare system if it’s run by the government. I don’t see the cause of all the fuss; frankly, I’d love to wait in my doctor’s office for my number to be displayed on a scoreboard screen, surrounded by cute teenage girls and more clipboards that I could hope for in my wildest dreams.

The office in my part of South Carolina is located off a quiet country road, sitting on a small rise above a green field. You’re greeted by a reception person when you walk in, given a ticket based on your particular business (new plates, road test, just want to hang out) and shown to a brightly lit waiting room. There, you’re entertained by the frightening quirkiness of your fellow citizens, protected by a crew of burly highway patrolmen and many sharp pencils. For some reason, the pencils have plastic spoons adhered to the eraser end, in case you want to eat pudding while filling out your forms.

I think the ambience is quite pleasant. If they had wi-fi and a coffee bar, I’d be there much more often. But this was my first visit in a while, so I thought I’d be able to brush up on modern motoring techniques as I waited. It’s been almost 40 years now since I took my first driving test, and I figured there was much I could learn. For one example, they now have these things called “cars.”

I remember studying hard as a youth to memorize the road signs and sticking my arm out the window at various angles to indicate what action I was planning next (the only one I still recall is that pointing downward at a 45-degree angle indicated you were about to drop your transmission). I’d practiced parabolic parking, eight-point turns and jack-rabbit starts for weeks before I felt confident enough to meet the examiner. I passed the test in 1968, the same year Bobby Kennedy and Martin Luther King Jr. died, though I swear I wasn’t driving anywhere near them.

Much has changed since those days of Corvairs, Barracudas, Sting Rays and the ill-conceived Dodge Squid (suckers were not to the Sixties what tailfins were to the Fifties). I browsed through a copy of the S.C. Driver’s Manual while we awaited our turn, hopeful that I could learn more about recent developments on and near the road.

For example, what was the significance, I wondered, of those white outlined cartoon families you see on the back window of so many minivans and SUVs? I’d always assumed it was equivalent to the notches on the shotgun stock of an Old West desperado keeping count of his victims. But it seemed odd that the road kill almost always included a daddy, a mommy, a gaggle of kids and maybe a dog or cat. Perhaps there was something else I was supposed to learn from these stick-people decals – a warning that the driver’s toothpick arms made vehicle operation risky, and I needed to stay back.

And what’s the current thinking on the safety of driving while using your cell phone with a dog in your lap while you consult your GPS screen and apply your eyeliner? Couldn’t the dog take over some of the tasks? Does GPS really help locate your eyelids? If I don’t have any of these accessories myself, is it okay that I do crossword puzzles instead? Write long rambling letters to my congressperson? Lance that troublesome boil on my chest?

The proper use of turn signals is something else that seems to have changed over time. I know they’re no longer necessary when changing lanes or making a right into a parking lot, and have evolved largely into an ornamental function to be used mainly around the holidays. And when you put on your flashers, you’re allowed to do virtually anything, up to and including a hill climb up the steps of the Capitol. But what does it mean if your brakelights are out, you’re missing two hubcaps, and your passenger-side door is painted with primer?  Besides the fact that you’re probably living in your car.

I’m also not sure about some of the new laws pertaining to older motorists. I’ll be in my late 50s before much longer, and I need to figure out how to get lower into my driver’s seat than I am now. I can still see over the steering wheel, and it seems you’re not allowed to do that once you’ve reached a certain age. I also need to get a brimmed hat, and a better understanding of the mathematical formula that dictates how fast you’re allowed to go. I think you take a hundred miles per hour and subtract your age, and that becomes your maximum speed. If you’re over 100 years old, you have to drive everywhere in reverse. And you have to do it in the passing lane.

When you’re driving near trucks and motorcycles, I know that special care needs to be taken. The big tractor trailers have blind spots their drivers can’t see, and that seems to include anything beneath five feet above the ground. Smaller pickup trucks, such as those used by maintenance and other workers, also need extra room, though don’t get too far back or you’ll miss out on the free ladders and lawn equipment they often dispense. Motorcycles are allowed to swerve in and out of traffic, as long as the driver is wearing a rebel-flag head scarf instead of a helmet and his female passenger shows the world a thick layer of midriff fat. Bicycle riders have as much right to the road as do motor vehicle operators, but only in theory, and only when it’s you on the bike, not someone else.

I looked through the 176-page manual pretty thoroughly, and couldn’t find most of these issues adequately addressed. I even checked the index for “cow (waving)” to try to understand the significance of that scene outside the local Chick-fil-A. Nothing about the etiquette of getting out of your car while someone else wants the parking space you’re climbing into, nothing about dangling chains creating a distracting light show of sparks, nothing about the reason why drivers with NASCAR stickers always go ten miles an hour under the speed limit.

Well, at least the DMV visit wasn’t a complete waste of time. I did learn that everyone was required to have insurance, which made things run much more smoothly than they do at my local doctor’s office.

Fake News: Entertainment briefs

August 11, 2009

Weekend sees big box office

“G.I. Julia: Rise of the Cobbler” raced to the top among weekend movie releases with just over $100 million in ticket receipts, while “Julie and Joe” came in second with a respectable $20 million take during its three-day opening.

“G.I. Julia,” an action-packed thrill ride based on a mythical collaboration between the Hasbro military hero and the “French Chef” Julia Child, stars Channing Tatum and Meryl Streep as the duo trying out recipes for the destruction of the Eiffel Tower and most of Paris. The plot follows the square-jawed Duke and the lovable Child through a series of explosions, collisions and really loud noises (some of which may have been dialogue) in their quest to whip up a meringue that will halt the advance of enemy terrorists.

Studio heads at Paramount Pictures, who invested $175 million into the special-effects-filled production, are reportedly already at work on a sequel, in which the G.I. Joe unit will team with Fox TV for a reality series called “So You Think You Can Clear, Hold and Build.” The third installment, tentatively set for 2011, joins the special-ops team with the cast of “Jon and Kate Plus 8” for a fiery assault on a rural Pennsylvania playground.

“Julie and Joe,” dubbed a “chick flick” in Hollywood jargon, exceeded modest expectations going up against heavyweight summer blockbusters. The film chronicles the story of a New York journalist (Amy Adams) who sets out to disassemble, clean and re-assemble every weapon described in the Army Field Manual, while blogging about how she shared the experience with her new husband. The Nora Ephron-penned comedy, which combined two best-selling books into a single screenplay, ends with the sweet-natured Julie joining an al-Qaeda training school in Pakistan’s tribal region.

Celebs continue pregnancy spree

The investigation continued this week into the case of two Ohio police officers charged with offering items stolen from the surrogate mother of actress Sarah Jessica Parker’s twins to several tabloid publications.

Prosecutors were still trying to determine why anybody would be interested in learning details about the recently completed pregnancy. The actress’s husband, Matthew Broderick, is generally regarded as a mid-level Broadway talent while his wife is seen as a fortune-blessed horseface who stumbled into success with the “Sex and the City” TV and movie franchise.

Parker and Broderick had opted to have their latest children through an unnamed Cleveland-area surrogate after the 2002 birth of their son left her unable to compete in that spring’s Triple Crown. She is currently training at New York’s Saratoga racetrack in hopes of qualifying for the November Breeder’s Cup, with her legal team working feverishly to have the surrogacy count as “breeding.”

In a related story, Elisabeth Hasselbeck is reportedly pregnant again only days after the birth of her third child, a son named Isaiah. She has joined model Heidi Klum and TV star Nicole Richie in having experimental surgery that will leave them continuously expecting for the foreseeable future.

All three women have had their husband’s reproductive organs surgically removed and implanted into their own abdomens. In order to become pregnant, the women need only strain themselves for several seconds for fertilization to take place. Some observers believe this could explain Richie’s expression throughout her 2005 film acting debut in the teen dramedy “Kids in America”.

“I believe that being pregnant is the natural state that God intended for married women,” said Hasselbeck, a panelist on TV’s “The View.” “This way, my NFL quarterback husband can continue his career of living on the verge of being cut by the Seattle Seahawks, and I can continue haunting everyone’s nightmares with my shrill voice.”