Archive for October, 2010

Revisited: Stalin says ‘I’m just an entertainer’

October 31, 2010

MOSCOW (Oct. 26) — Documents uncovered this month in a museum near here reveal that Josef Stalin, the Soviet dictator widely viewed as architect of the Cold War and butcher of millions of his own people, had considered himself “just an entertainer.”

“People take me way too seriously,” the tyrant responsible for the Iron Curtain and purges that destroyed Russian society for decades told an interviewer from Access Stalingrad shortly before his death in 1953. “Especially my opponents, or at least those who are still alive.”

Stalin ruled the Soviet Union with unchecked cruelty from 1924 until he died some 30 years later. Though his nation helped defeat Nazi Germany in World War II, he is more remembered among historians for the ruthless elimination of all political adversaries, and purges that killed as many as 20 million of his own citizens and exiled untold millions more to Siberian work camps.

“What I wish people would remember me for instead is my love of the ‘old soft shoe,’” Stalin said of the dance form closely related to tap, but performed in soft-soled shoes with no metallic heels. “I’ll take an old Gershwin standard over the pogroms and the forced collectivization of farms any day.”

Stalin defended much of his record of terror and at the same time downplayed its significance. Even as far back as the civil war that followed the Russian Revolution of 1917, the hated autocrat said his role in the rise of Communism was frequently misinterpreted. He pointed specifically to his backing of the Red Army of Vladimir Lenin against the White Army.

“I’ve shown over and over again that I have a deep-seated hatred of the White Army, and of White culture,” Stalin said. “I’m not saying I don’t like the White Army. I’m saying they have a problem.”

He dismissed widespread impressions that he was a racist by saying “of course I prefer Caucasians. I am, after all, from the region of the Caucasus mountains.”

Stalin also told the interviewer that other famous despots of the mid-twentieth century were equally misunderstood, and that all of them “just wanted to put a smile on the face and a spring in the step” of their peoples, even though that effort sometimes also included a knife between the shoulder blades.

“Adolf Hitler — I knew him as Glenn — he was a magnificent ventriloquist,” the late General Secretary of the Soviet Union’s Central Committee said. “Even without the moustache, you could barely see his lips move. And Benito Mussolini (his friends called him Sean), he could amuse thousands of his fellow Italian Fascists with a magic act that was, quite simply, marvelous.”

Stalin said that even Imperial Japan’s wartime leader, Prime Minister Hideki Tojo, was a simple performer who liked nothing better than staging his hypnosis act, during which he could make a volunteer from the audience cluck like a chicken while the rest of the crowd left to wage kamikaze warfare against the Allies’ Pacific Fleet in defense of the emperor.

“In private, he was just a regular guy, a real goofball,” Stalin said. “Mao called him a maniac, though he was technically more of a megalomaniac.”

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Revisited: Haven’t I heard this news before?

October 30, 2010

WASHINGTON, D.C. (Oct. 21) — A bomb blast ripped through a crowded street market in Pakistan’s capital today, injuring more than 50 bystanders and damaging storefronts in a three-block area of central Islamabad.

“You don’t mean today, you mean yesterday, right?” said U.S. Ambassador Anne Patterson. “You’re talking about the attack out by the airport. No? There was another explosion today? Damn.”

Patterson said the American government had already regretted the casualties from yesterday’s airport bombing, and already hoped that Pakistan’s anti-insurgency forces would continue to fight the terrorist threat from al-Qaida and its allies. She imagined she’d have roughly the same thing to say about this most recent attack, assuming it really was different from the one she had already heard about, which she was pretty sure was near the airport, not downtown.

Meanwhile, over in the State Department, reports were emerging of a renewed series of missile tests in North Korea, signaling that nation’s continued unwillingness to halt its development of nuclear weapons. Three medium-range missiles capable of carrying a small warhead were fired into the Sea of Japan, according to televised reports in Tokyo.

“Are you sure you’re not thinking of those tests about a week ago?” asked undersecretary of state for East Asia Ron Allen. “They said they were going to stop after that, and we have every reason to believe they are complying with the wishes of the international community. What channel did you see that on again? NTV — that’s channel 435 on the satellite, I think. I’ll be right back after I check the TiVo.”

Allen said that while he was at it, he would also check on a news flash coming out of Jakarta that there had been an earthquake in Indonesia. The temblor, measuring a preliminary 6.7 on the Richter scale, rocked the island of Java shortly before dawn local time. It’s definitely different from the earthquake reported in the same area last week, and also completely different from the one on Oct. 12 that briefly triggered tsunami warnings in the western Pacific.

“You’re sure you’re not thinking of that one that was centered right off the coast?” Allen said. “Because I heard about that one and we’ve already dispatched several cargo planes full of relief supplies. Maybe I should get another batch of blankets and drinking water together. You think?”

In other international news, the prime minister of Italy or France or one of those countries denied reports late yesterday that he had attended a wild sex party at his villa outside Rome or maybe it was Paris. The brewing controversy, documented with photos in the local tabloids, could undermine efforts of the Obama Administration to reach a troop reduction agreement with the European Union, since this guy was scheduled to become the next president of the EU.

“Oh, I’m sure it’s not at all what it looked like,” said Defense Department liaison Daniel Maple. “He already settled that issue with his wife and the electorate seems willing to forgive. Wait, this was yesterday?”

Finally, a report from Hollywood confirmed by both TMZ and Us magazine indicated that Octomom Nadya Suleman definitely has the hots for Jon Gosselin, the father of sextuplets who recently quit his marriage and his TLC show “John and Kate Plus Eight.”

“Finally, some real news,” said one observer familiar with the scene. “At last, someone is telling me something I don’t already know.”

What liberals believe

October 29, 2010

First, our conservative opponents transformed “liberal” into a dirty word. Then, they started attacking “progressives” for a political philosophy that advocated enlightenment and advancement, something you definitely don’t want too much of. Next thing you know, they’ll be turning “pointy-headed elitist ivory-tower-dwelling namby-pamby tax-and-spend bleeding-heart weenie” into something negative.

Blowhards on the right have not only hijacked labels that those of us on the left once wore proudly, they’ve turned what everyone can agree are reasonable positions into something that is their idea alone. I don’t know about other parts of the country, but around here, you’d think conservatives were the only ones who cared about jobs, families, responsibility and an honest living. No one is claiming on their yard signs or in their TV commercials to be an advocate for liberal causes. They’d have about as much chance of winning as if their campaign slogan was “America sucks.”

In fact, liberals are so feared here in the South that I’m thinking of dressing up as Al Gore for Halloween and scaring a pantload of carbon emissions out of my neighbors.

As possibly the only white, middle-class, middle-aged male in my entire state of South Carolina who considers himself a liberal, I feel compelled to explain myself. How is it that, in this day and age, a man can believe that applying intelligence and reason to an issue is preferable to formulating a worldview using your gut, your bile and other areas of your gastrointestinal tract? Thinking is so hard. Feeling is where it’s at in today’s political climate.

Next week is the midterm congressional elections. Everyone is predicting a Republican landslide in which Old Whitey will be taking his country back (to, at the latest, the 19th century). Before that happens, I wanted to explain a little about where we liberals stand on the topics of the day.

We have very rational opinions that simply need to be clearly enunciated. Once you understand what we believe, you’ll see we’re not so frightening after all. You may even be tempted to give Al Gore the good candy when he shows up at your door Sunday night. Not that he needs the candy.

Let’s take this issue by issue:

Jobs — We think Jobs has done an excellent job during his tenure at Apple, and we liberals will continue to buy from his company whatever he thinks we need to buy.

Immigration — We want to give the entire southwestern portion of the country back to Mexico, rectifying the error of the Mexican War. Then, all the illegals will be their problem.

The Wars — We’re pacifist by nature, as we proved by being scared to death of the draft during the Vietnam War. We really do want to help the dispossessed peoples of Iraq and Afghanistan, but we’re just not sure that shooting them is the best way to show it.

Healthcare — Free healthcare for everyone, whether they want it or not. A liberal regime would require you to go to the doctor every week until you get sick.

Financial reform — We want to dismantle the banking system and its usurious credit policies and replace the dollar with beads and dreamcatchers.

Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell — Not only do we want gays in the military to tell, but we want to hear the graphic details.

Education — Like conservatives, we believe that nothing is more important than education because children are our future. We need to acknowledge, however, that children are also a very important part of our present, particularly in their roles as sex slaves and food. We would expand, rather than dismantle, the Department of Education, to include an office of the undersecretary of education for condiments and tenderizers.

Infrastructure improvements — Roads, bridges and airports must be upgraded to handle the demands of the 21st century, or else they must be plowed over and turned into farmland. We’re not quite sure which just yet, but hope to have a definitive answer by the election on Tuesday.

Race — We all belong to the human race so there’s no reason to see color. At least, that’s what my domestic partner says about what I think is a hideous shade of aqua on the new divan he bought.

Guns — We would require that everyone turn in their guns to the government before your fingers turn cold and dead.

Abortion — You’re gonna get one whether you want it or not when we take over.

Gay marriage — Anyone should be allowed to marry anyone else regardless of their sexual orientation or gender. Anyone who can’t be tolerant of alternative lifestyles should be dismembered.

Evolution — Before there was science, we relied on mysticism and myth to explain the structure of the world. Now that we’ve figured out how everything works, we need to acknowledge that science is king, and make sure that Darwin’s theory of evolution is taught as fact in public schools. But don’t require any tests; we wouldn’t want to damage the fragile students’ self-esteem.

Terrorism — We believe that the terrorists are mostly just misunderstood and misguided young people who didn’t get the supportive family environment necessary to make a well-rounded adult. But we still agree with conservatives that they should all be killed.

The national debt — In a time of economic stagnation, government spending is critical in turning the tide toward a more robust recovery. In the interest of promoting this belief, let’s give not only all of our money to China, but also all of our personal possessions.

Trade imbalance and globalization — Instead of concepts like “third world,” “developing world” and “developed world,” let’s work toward a day when there’s just One World. And I will be the King of that World.

Foreclosures — Let the people keep their houses, regardless of whether or not they want to pay for them. Just require that they rent out their bonus room to a homeless person for next to nothing.

Drugs — Liberals agree with libertarians on the right wing that all drugs should be legalized. Where we part company with them, however, is on the question of how stiff a fine can be assessed to citizens who refuse to become junkies.

Energy — Renewable sources of power will lead to a greener world, as any petroleum company advertisement will tell you.

Social Security and an aging population — We need true reform of a system that won’t be sustainable by the middle of this century and this could require things like a higher retirement age, means testing and — oops, wait a minute, I just turned 65. Bring on the government checks!

Net neutrality — Liberals use computers a lot because we’re so much wealthier and better educated than everybody else so, whatever net neutrality is, we think it sounds cool.

Crime — Criminals should be educated and trained for an occupation while they’re incarcerated. Then, when they return to society, they can be like everyone else in explaining how their Microsoft Word skills and familiarity with CompuServe make them an ideal candidate for that Midwest sales position they saw advertised on Monster.com.

Dancing With the Stars — Contrary to what you might expect of us, we actually want Bristol Palin to win, but only because she was a pregnant teen.

Protecting the last stand

October 28, 2010

As you might guess from the name of my neighborhood, Shadebrook has a brook and it has trees. The brook may be more like a babbling drainage ditch, but the trees really are magnificent.

The people who planned this subdivision some 20 years ago had a lot of respect for the woods that their homes were largely supplanting. From the hardwood canopy road at the entrance to the giant cedars that line the main drag, this place is a nature lover’s dream.

However, it could become the city arborist’s worst nightmare. A couple of weeks ago, the municipal authorities surveyed the area’s older-growth trees and decided that some were so sick they needed to be euthanized. No twilight sleep and potassium chloride for the doomed oaks and elms; they would be assaulted with chain saws wielded by government officials. Talk about a Tea Party fantasy.

When I was coming back from my afternoon run earlier this week, I noticed that a particular pine had suddenly sprouted a bright green patch of spray paint. I remembered the newspaper article about the upcoming pogrom said that the dying trees would be marked with green. It said that city planners originally wanted to use a dark brown marking, to better symbolize the sad but necessary task of culling the deadwood, until they realized that work crews would have trouble seeing it. Ultimately, they switched to the green, thinking it might signify the fresh new life the tree was about to experience as someone’s coffee table.

As you can see, the pine isn’t an especially handsome specimen. In fact, you could probably go so far as to say it’s about as dead as it can get.

Still, I have an obligation as an ardent eco-nut to protect this old gal from the lumberjack’s axe. And so, even though I’ve got a ton of stuff to do this week and next week’s going to be even crazier with a filing deadline approaching at work, I guess I have to chain myself to the tree.

It’s going to be really inconvenient. I’ll have to reschedule Friday’s dental appointment, and the weekend’s planned yardwork is definitely out of the question, unless I can find myself a long enough chain.

It’s supposed to turn much colder by Monday, so I guess I’ll have to dress in layers to accommodate the sunny days and chilly nights. Wardrobe selection is shaping up to be quite the challenge. What exactly is proper attire to set just the right tone of civil disobedience while balancing that against the conservative fashion sense of the suburban South?

I’ll need something that’s easy care, because this is a pine and, though I don’t consider myself prejudiced against the common softwoods, some of their kind have been known to ooze sap. This tree probably doesn’t have a whole lot of lifeblood left in it but whatever remains, you can be sure it’ll make its way onto my slacks.

I don’t know how extended a protest this might turn out to be. I’m ready for the long haul if that’s what’s required. I will admit to concerns, however, about how the work crew will respond. Rock Hill is not familiar with the kind of strident and committed stand I’m prepared to take, and I’m a little worried their standard procedures won’t include removing a doughy guy from the base of the tree before chopping it down. I have my own lifeblood to consider, you know.

Maybe it’d be safer if I constructed a tree stand for myself, and conducted my effort to save the Earth from about 30 feet in the air. Nah. For one thing, I’m not that handy with tools, so treehouse construction would not play to my strengths of Excel and middle management. For another thing, I don’t care to plummet to my death.

I think if I switch a few things around, maybe ask my wife to cover for me at Tuesday’s board meeting of the credit union, maybe use a rope instead of a chain so I can duck out for a few minutes if I have an essential errand, I can pull enough strings to make this stand for ecology.

Defend our environment! End the rape of our Mother Earth! Don’t get any sap on me!

Tomorrow: A look at where my diminishing tribe known as the Liberals stands on other issues of the day.

Answering the rhetorical questions

October 27, 2010

Have you noticed how many television commercials these days start with a question?

(And blogs too, for that matter.)

Maybe it’s an attempt to open your subconscious to the possibilities of life, including the possibility you might be interested in buying not one but two new sport utility vehicles during a single commercial break. Maybe it’s a subtle way of drawing you into the unfolding scenario, making you care about the hundreds of characters holding arrow signs over their heads while dodging midtown traffic and riding unicycles. Maybe it reflects marketing experts’ puzzlement at why anybody would buy their product, a roundabout way of asking “you don’t seriously want to buy this stuff, do you?”

Whatever the reason, I think the idea of opening with a question originated with the short teaser ads that local news operations inject into prime-time programming. They want to lure you into staying up late with the promise of some sensational breaking story, when all they really have for a lead is the new garbage pickup schedule.

“Is that someone I hear trying to jimmy the lock to your front door?” asks the inevitably blond anchoress. “Details at 11.”

“Did you know that poisonous fumes could be suffocating your children at this very moment, while you think they’re peacefully sleeping?” counters her competitor’s recently promoted sports reporter. “Don’t miss our eyewitness report later tonight. Unless you’re the type of parent who likes poisonous fumes. You’re not that kind of parent. Are you?”

Then, Fox News recognized that its viewers might wander off into the woods during even the briefest commercial message. So they started tantalizing their audience with an upcoming whiff of scandal to make sure they hang around during the break.

“Is Obama space alien, Hitler and LeBron all in one?” reads the bumper graphic leading into the ads. Then, when the news returns, it’s a story about a gerbil who paints landscapes while drumming out in Morse Code with his tiny gerbil claws that no, Obama is not these things. “At least,” taps the gerbil, “not that we know for sure.”

Now, I know these commercial queries are rhetorical questions, not designed to be answered. Playful copywriters have discovered a new way to grab your attention, and they’re just having fun with it. If you’re not smart enough to figure how to use a digital video recorder to zap through the ads, you’re certainly not smart enough to answer a rhetorical question.

Are you?

This past weekend, I kept track of this latest advertising trend, and present below a sampling of these questions. And, foolishly perhaps, I try to answer them.

The financial headlines can be unsettling, but what if there were a different story, of one financial company who grew stronger?
It would make the fact that I lost my job and that my house is in foreclosure so much more bearable to know that a giant bank is feeling better now.

Can a smart phone be its own guardian angel? Can it keep an eye out for itself? And tell you where it is, when you don’t even know yourself?
I think my mind is officially blown. Are they saying that if you lose your phone you can use your phone to find it?

What if a moment standing still could be just as beautiful when it breathes? What if photography moved us, and we moved photography?
Well, then you’d have that commercial with the little girl with the hair being blown all over the place as she looks at a flower. I don’t know why her father doesn’t roll up that window for her, considering how taken she is with the begonia. Isn’t this a form of child abuse? Admittedly, not as bad as where that insurance guy offers one kid a pony and tells the other kid he can’t have one because he doesn’t have the special “equine rider” in his homeowner’s policy. But it’s certainly right up there with the ad where a skinny boy angers the local bullies, then runs and jumps in the back of his mom’s minivan, and she backs over the bullies.

What makes a Hershey bar pure?
This is only a guess but I’m hoping — fervently — it’s because it’s never had sex.

Smooth skin?
Heh, heh — no. No thanks, but I appreciate the offer. I can smooth it myself.

The best thing about the Arby’s value menu?
That there’s not an Arby’s located in my home town.

Who says all birth control pills have to be the same?
I do. My name is Rick Lawrence, and I’m head of the Food and Drug Administration’s Task Force on Birth Control Sameness.

What’s the difference between Tylenol and Advil?
With Tylenol you take two, while with Advil you take one and wait for a while to see if it works and it usually doesn’t so you take another one. That’s why they have the “1-2” imprinted on the pill. Or does that mean you’re supposed to take only one-half? Oh, God, I think I just OD’d on Advil.

Are you trying to sleep with someone who sounds like a chain saw?
That’s kind of a personal question, don’t you think? I’ll only say that it’s not the sound of a chain saw I like as much as it is the vibration.

Hey Troy — have you been using my shampoo? Because it’s for guys who want thicker-looking hair
Yes, I’ve been using your shampoo, and everybody is noticing. This stringy mullet part that comes out the back of my helmet and obscures my name to make it look like “POL[hair]ALU” would be so unmanageable without it. If I didn’t have that built-in moisturizer and those seven essential botanicals, I’d frizz up so much there’d be no domed stadium that could hold me.

What’s in your wallet?
Well, I used to have a Capital One credit card. Now I leave it at home because, after seeing the newest contract terms you’ve sent me, I’m afraid to use it. I tried for a while carrying around the contract in my shirt pocket but it weighed down my upper body so much that I developed scoliosis. After that, I dragged it in a red wagon behind me in case I needed to consult the fine print while purchasing a bagel. Eventually, I just gave up and decided to pay for everything with cash. That piece of plastic still in my wallet that I use when I want to get screwed? That’s a condom, not a credit card.

Everybody goes to India

October 26, 2010

MUMBAI, India (Oct. 25) — India’s minister of cultural affairs blasted American pop singer Katy Perry and British comedian Russell Brand for taking over a national park in his country this weekend so they could have a fancy, schmancy, oh-so-quirky wedding in a wildlife reserve.

Perry and Brand were married Saturday in Ranthambhore National Park in a traditional Hindu ceremony, probably because they thought it would be cool. Inhabitants of the park, including tigers, leopards and wild boars, were protected from the inevitable racket that is Katy Perry by a four-member committee charged with monitoring noise pollution. Living amongst dozens of hyenas apparently was not enough to inure the beasts to Perry’s song stylings.

Other animals weren’t so lucky. Brand’s wedding procession included 21 camels, elephants and horses, and one very unfortunate, very soiled flower girl.

“We are tired of providing an exotic setting for Westerners who have no interest in us aside from our bejeweled saris, our rare and dangerous animals, and our palak paneer,” said minister Harish Kumar. “If you really love India, as you claim, you should stay the hell away and just send us money.”

A Hindu priest conducted the ceremony, which was the culmination of a six-day celebration among family and close friends. The wedding venue was lit with lamps, colorful lights illuminated the trees and flower garlands festooned luxury tents. Perry, like a traditional Indian bride, had henna designs applied on her palms and hands. Meanwhile, only 35 miles away in India’s largest city, half the 20 million residents lived in slums and would’ve killed for a flower garland to feed to their family.

“It all started with your Beatles, coming here 40 years ago to seek ‘enlightenment’ with a ‘yogi’ and listening to that horrid Ravi Shankar ‘music,'” Kumar said. “‘Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna Hare Hare,’ they sang. And you thought ‘Hello Goodbye’ was reductive.”

Kumar said his subcontinent was able to live in relative peace for the next quarter century, if you don’t count two wars with Pakistan, a 1993 earthquake that killed 10,000 people, and tropical cyclones too numerous to tally. Then, in 1997, came the “Seinfeld” episode entitled “The Betrayal.” Scripted in a backward chronology, it told the story of Jerry, George and Elaine all flying to India to attend another traditional Hindi wedding, that of candy bar heiress Sue Ellen Mischke.

“The whole episode is filled with jokes about how George won’t use the bathroom here. Our nation has a proud history of going to the bathroom,” Kumar said. “Then, they have the nerve to leave Kramer — my favorite character — back in the U.S. It was an affront to all of South Asia, or would’ve been if any of our billion people were aware of the show.”

In 2003 and 2004, Kumar noted, an American financial printing company sent a trainer to Mumbai and Chennai, ostensibly to teach outsourcing teams to proofread proxy statements and annual reports. He smiled and was polite during his stay, even though the nicest comments he could make had to do with Indian food and “what’s with all the cows?”, Kumar said.

“We pretended to like and respect him because we knew that was necessary in order to keep those jobs,” Kumar said. “In reality, we despised him and his patronizing attitude. ‘Good catch,’ he would say every time we found a typo. We don’t need the approval of a pudgy middle-aged American.”

Hey, wait a minute. Are you talking about me? That’s when I went to India.

“Yes,” Kumar said. “We are talking about you.”

Kumar said he would work with the government’s travel bureau to put a halt to campy tourism like that undertaken by Perry and Brand. He said only authentic followers of Hinduism will be allowed to have a Hindi wedding in the future, and that his nation’s 3,000-year-old culture wouldn’t be hijacked by a drug-addled actor and a doe-eyed songstress.

“She admitted it herself — she kissed a girl. We don’t even allow boys to do that over here,” Kumar said. “The next time she wants a genuine Indian experience, might I suggest she be consumed by a tiger.”

NFL still full of injuries, commercials and penalties

October 25, 2010

Week Seven of the NFL season saw some front-runners solidify their position in the standings, other teams starting to look toward next year, and a few even working in a little football amidst the injuries, commercials and penalties.

Highlights include:

A swarming Pittsburgh scheme left the Miami backfield looking more like a battlefield, as Dolphin after Dolphin fell to the turf seriously injured by the onslaught of the league’s best defense.

“The president is Martin Van Buren,” said Miami coach Tony Sparano, who was among those suffering concussions, following the defeat. “The year is 1967. My name is Fernando Lamas.”

The Steelers’ dominance of the line of scrimmage was so overpowering that Miami gave up carting off the wounded by the third quarter, instead leaving players laying about the field where they fell. Some were covered with sheets to allow them to suffer in privacy, while others were simply marked with a spray-painted orange “X” on their uniforms. An effort to enlist the help of cheerleaders to fill vacant positions on the roster did little to stem the attrition, with many of the women suffering broken midriffs and sprained cleavages.

“That’s the kind of effort we’re going to need if we’re going to make the playoffs,” said Steelers coach Mike Tomlin. “Our pass patterns worked much more smoothly when the entire defensive side of the field was empty of upright players. You gotta give the Miami team credit, though; the spastic twitching of those with life-threatening spinal injuries nearly tripped us up a couple of times.”

The league’s announcement last week that it was cracking down on overly aggressive play seemed to have little impact on Pittsburgh. While helmet-on-helmet hits seemed to decrease, and fewer defensive backs were seen “launching” themselves head-first into defenseless receivers, many Steelers did carry heavy oak clubs that they used to bludgeon opponents to the ground.

“There’s nothing in the rules — yet, anyway — that says we can’t carry blunt instruments,” said defensive standout James Henderson.

A Miami assistant coach promised his team would be back in action next week. “They may have broken a lot of limbs, but most of them they didn’t break off,” said Harold Carmichael. “We hope to reunite those arms and legs that did become separated with their rightful owners once we get it sorted out what belongs to who.”

Listed as “probable” for next Sunday’s contest against Cincinnati was Miami quarterback Chad Henne (broken hip, dislocated jaw, missing foot), while running back Ricky Williams was described as “questionable” because the top of his head was ripped off, and linebacker Channing Crowder was listed as “day-to-day” because he had died.

In Chicago, the Bears took on the Washington Redskins in a contest that saw heavy-duty pick-up trucks climbing up rocky inclines and having steel girders dropped into them. Also featured were middle-aged men wondering if their retirement plans would permit them a comfortable lifestyle in their later years.

Concerns about the cost and service level of various car insurance offerings dominated the first half, while the Bears worked to establish a ground game that could counter Washington’s plans to order three Domino’s pizzas for only $15. Following adjustments made at halftime, the Redskins instead got Whoppers and Gatorade sports drinks, which they intend to consume during Wednesday’s night’s Game One of the World Series, shown exclusively on Fox.

Washington staged a stirring fourth-quarter comeback, keyed by Flo from Progressive Insurance’s structuring of a homeowner’s package that allowed the Redskins to name their premiums, something that no other insurer is offering. Washington eventually prevailed with a cell phone data usage plan that caused the Bears to stop in mid-play and check the fine print of their contracts, only to discover that they were often paying for unused minutes. The guy from the “Dirty Jobs” show talked about how much he liked Fords and his new jeans, and a mom manipulated a family photo session to make her kids seem less like jerks and more like Photoshop victims before the whole clan was embarrassed on Facebook.

“That definitely proved to be a distraction to our guys,” said Bears coach Lovie Smith. “We were already thrown off our game by the thought of making stock trades for as little as $7.95 per transaction.”

The Sunday night contest matching the Vikings and the Packers promised to be filled with the drama of Brett Favre’s return to Green Bay. That was overshadowed, however, by an error-plagued game that saw Minnesota penalized 23 times for 1.2 miles, while the Packers were flagged on every play except two.

The Vikings scored an early touchdown but were hit with an “excessive celebration” call when they donned party hats, grabbed fists full of colorful balloons from a nearby clown, and jumped up and down squealing like little girls in an inflatable bouncy house following the eight-yard screen pass. On the ensuing kickoff, Packers’ return specialist Deshaun Wilson was cited for unsportsmanlike conduct as he ran from the field and into the stands while being chased by the Vikings’ kick coverage team.

The Pack recovered with a 57-yard pass play that was nullified by an interference call, a holding call and a clipping call, as well as having too many men on the field (83). Green Bay running back Brandon Jackson eventually made a one-yard plunge for an apparent touchdown, though it too was called back for a “personal fowl” when it was discovered Jackson had stuffed a chicken in his jersey.

Favre had his typically hot-and-cold performance, brilliantly reckless one moment and turnover-prone the next. He appeared to shake off the commotion surrounding allegations that he had “sexted” a female coworker while he was with the New York Jets in 2008, though he was flagged twice for an illegal forwarded pass and once for an intentional johnson.

“We simply made too many mistakes today,” said Vikings coach Brad Childress. “We need to get back to basics and pay more attention to the rulebook. I didn’t even know that kicking someone in the face was illegal.”

Revisited: Death to the fire ants!

October 24, 2010

Now I am become Shiva — destroyer of worlds.

I did what I thought would be the last bit of lawn maintenance for the season this past weekend — a little mowing, a little raking, then free Sundays for the next six months. Instead, I came to find that my back yard was infested with fire ants, and that they have plans that differ significantly from mine.

The fire ant, an invasive pest found primarily in the South, came to the U.S. in the early 1900s. It is one of a variety of stinging ants found worldwide. The queen and her colony form reddish mounds of dirt that can reach heights up to 15 inches. The venom of the sting causes a burning pain, pustules and can even lead to anaphylactic shock in sensitive individuals. They have a pedicel with two nodes and an unarmed propodium, both of which sound really handy. They often attack small animals, and can kill then.

Fortunately, I’m a large animal, so for me they represented more of a nuisance than anything. As I pushed my mower up and down the yard, I had to be on guard for the domed hills that each housed hundreds of thousands of the insects, any one of which could scramble onto my shoe and threaten my life. I could run over the smaller mounds with the mower, though I doubted it would inflict much damage beyond a lacerated thorax or two. The bigger piles would clog the cutting mechanism and had to be avoided.

When I finished the mowing, I was left with a yard dotted with uncut clumps of grass and dirt. I looked closely at one, to learn a little more about the ants and their culture, so I’d be better equipped to return later and obliterate their carefully planned society.

Ants have long been admired for their strength, their work ethic and their intelligence. Americans could learn a lot from their industrious nature (specifically, how to overrun a country, then sting and consume the locals). The pie-sized circle of dirt I examined was quiet at first glance, at least till I jabbed it with a stick, and then it came to life. Teeming thousands of the tiny beasts instantly began looking for the intruder. When they saw it was a human, I noticed a look on their comically small faces that combined both fear and loathing. They were scared of what I might do, but also resented the fact that I resided in a comfortable brick home while they lived in dirt.

I knew I had to remove them from the property, and individually transporting each one to some distant ant farm just didn’t seem practical. I would have to rain death down upon them. But what form should the execution take?

A few years ago, I had a similar problem, and had limited success putting my teenage son and his best friend on the case. They had just helped me finish clearing leaves with the new high-powered blower I had purchased, and came up with what in hindsight was a poorly conceived plan: aiming a jet of compressed air directly at the anthill. True, it excavated a deep, ant-less hole where the colony had previously been. However, in the process, it flung countless drones and workers all over them, which none of the parties involved appreciated. I had heard that toothpaste could be a good makeshift antidote, but the boys were too agitated to consider how they would brush each individual ant mandible, not to mention the difficulties of flossing.

So if mowing them doesn’t work, and blowing them doesn’t work, I figured my next best option was poison. I found an insecticide formulated specifically for fire ants, and set out to wreak my vengeance. The instructions called for sprinkling four tablespoons of the product in a circle around each mound, but that just didn’t make sense, especially the part about the four tablespoons (I’m killing ants, not baking a cake). So I took a styrofoam coffee cup, filled it with the yellow flakes and poured it directly on the ants. I then added some water, either to soothe their pain or soak the poison deeper into the nest, I’m not sure which.

You could tell they weren’t happy about this turn of events, but too bad for them. At least it’s more humane than what they would face from their only natural predator, the phoridae. This is a small, hump-backed fly that doesn’t so much prey on fire ants as it does mock them in a merciless and fatal fashion. These flies lay eggs in the thorax of the ant, then the larvae migrate to the head and eat it from the inside out. After about two weeks, they dissolve the membrane that attaches the head to the ant’s body, causing the head to fall off. (Ouch!) The young fly then lives in the head for another two weeks before emerging. In the NFL, that would be called taunting, and would merit a personal foul penalty.

By the time I made my way all around the yard, I began to feel a twinge of remorse. I’ve never been one to callously destroy inconvenient forms of life. I’m not into karma or anything like that; it’s just that I’d rather trap a stray spider between a piece of mail and a cup and move him outside than risk a nasty stain in the carpet. So when I came to the last colony, instead of poison I decided to give them the core of the apple I had just finished. I’m not sure that fruit is part of their diet, though fiber is good for almost everybody. I did read that they like plants, seeds and sometimes crickets, and an apple seemed better than the only other thing I had, a cough drop.

The poison is supposed to work within 48 hours of application, so I’ll be checking back later this week to see how many millions of God’s beloved creatures I have successfully terminated. I also want to see what happens to the apple.

Eat death, ants. Or have an apple instead
Eat death, ants. Or have an apple instead

Revisited: No more eulogies

October 23, 2010

The last truly decent person who always had a kind word for everyone and would light up any room they entered, died yesterday.

Ernest Hebert was described by friends and family as someone you could always count on in a time of need. He never let hard times get him down, and children always flocked to hear him tell stories about his youth. He’d give you his last dime if you were short of money, and was always available to do whatever favor you needed him to.

“He was truly a very special man,” said long-time friend Ken Cash. “There won’t be another one like him for a long time.”

In fact, experts believe there may never be another one like him. It is likely that Hebert could be the last honest, hard-working, conscientious, caring human being on the planet. Virtually every individual who has died in the previous decade was described by surviving friends and family in glowing, positive eulogies following their passing. If mathematical models for good versus evil are correct, Hebert represented the last upstanding person alive. Everybody left is either a jerk-off or a lame-o.

“We’ve been aware of this trend for quite some time,” said Marie Andrews, chief demographer at the U.S. Census Bureau. “Whether it’s a celebrity or sweet old Mr. Johnson from the post office, people just can’t say an unkind word about the dead.”

Andrews pointed to two recent examples to illustrate her hypothesis. Pop star Michael Jackson, hounded for years as a washed-up singer, plastic surgery addict and probable sex offender, was instead found to be a loving father, loyal friend and brilliant artist during investigations begun immediately after his death last June. Also, Harriet Taylor, Andrews’ 78-year-old neighbor who constantly complained about kids making too much noise and the oak tree that wasn’t planted on her property but still dropped leaves and acorns on her side, turned out in death to be a kindly soul who left $10,000 to the local library.

“It’s pretty certain we’ve now reached the point that all the good people are gone,” said Andrews, who admitted that she herself was a shrewish harpy, a dangerous driver, a bad tipper and a full-on bitch. “You can expect obituaries to start taking an ugly turn as more awful, awful individuals begin passing away.”

An editorial: Who do these people think they are?

October 22, 2010

You would think a person could run a few chores around town on a Thursday afternoon without being inconvenienced at every turn by half-wits, lame-brains and lunk-heads. Unfortunately, such is not the case.

I had several errands I needed to tackle yesterday after work. Nothing too complicated — a quick stop at the grocery store and the bank, maybe get some gas, maybe pick up a cup of coffee. Shouldn’t take more than an hour, tops.

Two and a half hours later, I’m almost incoherent with frustration. Nobody seems to be paying attention to what they’re doing today.

Who do these people think they are?

I pull up to the stop sign at the exit of our subdivision with plans to make a simple right turn. In front of me, trying to turn left, is a large SUV, piloted by a woman talking on her cell phone. She’s positioned her vehicle just enough to the right of where it should be so as to block me from getting out.

As cars whiz by from the right and left, she’s paralyzed by indecision. I can see her occasionally swiveling her head, trying to find an opening, but she seems much more focused on her conversation than she is on her driving. If she would inch forward just a bit, I could get by on the right and go on about my business. No, she wouldn’t want to do that. It would be too considerate. If she shows any awareness at all of motorists around her, next thing you know she’ll have to start using a turn signal.

I hereby call on this lady to move it already. Let’s go, let’s go. If you must turn left, pull into the center turn lane and gradually merge your way into traffic. Or, you could turn right, circumnavigate the globe, and still get to your destination with the next month. I don’t care which option you choose, just please let me pass.

Once out of the neighborhood, I’m able to make my way to the supermarket. All I need is a half-gallon of ice cream and a pack of hamburger buns. I quickly locate the items and make my way to the self-checkout area.

There are four U-Scan stations, two on the left and two on the right, with a sign centered in the entrance area indicating this is the place to line up for the next available opening. Another person is already standing there, and I dutifully take my place behind her. Meanwhile, a guy saunters over from the adjacent produce department, arms loaded with bananas and pineapples, and goes directly behind a shopper finishing up at one of the terminals.

That’s not how it’s supposed to work, mister. We all line up at the entrance, and as a station opens, the first person in line gets to advance to the checkout. We don’t each pick the U-Scan we like best, and stand in front of it. What are we, animals?

I implore Fruit Man to be more considerate and learn more about the etiquette of modern shopping techniques. I think they have a course at the local community college that he might be wise to take. In any case, you need to wait your turn.

My next stop is at the bank. My plan is to pull up to the drive-through ATM and make a “fast cash” withdrawal of $50 for weekend money. There’s only one car in front of me, which is good luck this late in the afternoon.

But wait a minute — what’s this? The driver ahead is climbing out of his car and bending over to look quizzically at the cash machine. I don’t know if he can’t see because of the bright sun, or if his car window is broken, or if he just feels the need to stand erect in order to transact business. He’s an older gentleman, so I’m guessing he’s a little flummoxed by the technology. Now, out of the passenger side of the car, here comes what looks to be his wife. She joins him in pointing at the machine and looking skyward.

I urge you in the strongest language possible to figure this out and move along so somebody else can play with the nice bank buttons. Pick a slot, shove in your card, and randomly start poking at the keys. With any luck at all, the ATM will keep your card and you’ll be forced to go inside. There are people here waiting who have used a computer before.

I don’t want to stop for gas at 5 in the morning on my way to work, so I pull into a station just down the street from the bank. I swipe my card at pump number 12 (my personal favorite), and the inquisition begins.

What is my zip code? Do I want a car wash? If so, standard, deluxe or premium? Do I want a receipt? Which grade of gasoline do I want? Am I sure I don’t want a car wash?

It’s not the meddling I mind so much as it is all the time these questions are taking. It’s just gasoline, for crying out loud. It’s not like I’m trying to check out the Constitution from the National Archives.

I insist that gas companies get back to their core business model of providing fuel to the motoring public. You’re supposed to be involved in the mining of energy resources, not the mining of data. Quit asking me so many questions. You can have my zip code when you pry it from my cold, dead fingers.

Finally, I’m ready to swing by the Starbucks for a quick cup of coffee to settle my nerves. No one waiting in front of me here — the combination of increased competition from fast-food outlets and the caffeine-fueled pace of the baristas keep the lines down inside the shop. I place my order for a small black coffee, no room, and give the cashier my name. Within moments, my order is ready. I think.

“Tall black no room for David,” calls out the barista.

Several issues here: (1) I know “small” in the Starbucksian language translates to “tall,” but using the phrase “tall black” makes me look around for the African-American basketball player whose order is apparently up. (2) “No room for David” sounds very inhospitable. (3) My name is Davis, not David.

I beseech the corporate decision-makers at Starbucks to simplify their ordering process. Have customers tell you in simple terms (small, medium, large, etc.) what they want, take their money and give them their coffee. There’s no need for a separate pedestal halfway across the room where you pick up your order, there’s no need for you to know my name, and there’s no need for the whole concept of “room.” If the cup is too full to put in creamer, I’ll just pour some onto the floor.

In conclusion, the editorial board here at DavisW’s Blog urges the world around me to get its act together and stop throwing so many impediments in my path to happiness and fulfillment. Why does it seem that everyone is out to get me? Does no one have even the smallest shred of decency and common sense?

Who do these people think they are?