Thursday, September 2, 2010


Rhetorical questions, questionable rhetoric and whimsical observations about the absurdities of contemporary life:
  • I think the car dealer lied to me.  "All the bells and whistles"?  I've counted five bells--but no whistle!  I'm taking it back!
  • August is finally over--the only month without a holiday or special commemorative day of any sort.  (Go ahead, check your calendars.)  You won't find anything--no fringe holidays like President's Days, no "Hallmark holidays" like Mother's or Father's Days, no mainstream religious holidays, not even a Secretary's Day.
  • That's why August would be perfect for one of my pet projects--establishing Turnabout's Fair Play Month. What would happen?  Simply this:  Sometime during the month, your doctor would have to get naked in front of you . . . and your accountant and/or broker would have to show you his or her tax return!  Why?  Simply to correct the power imbalance in those relationships: They know things about you that you don't know about them, hence the undeniably universal need for such an observance. 
  • You'll know society has truly hit rock bottom when, in addition to cell phones going off in church (already happening), people start answering them and talking on them!
  • We lost a great one the other day. Edward Kean, head writer for "The Howdy Doody Show," died at the age of 85.  He wrote the show's theme song ("It's Howdy Doody Time"), created such characters as Clarabell the Clown and Prof. Phineas T. Bluster and coined the word "cowabunga."  Talk about your contributions to society!
  • (With all due respect, Mr. Kean had degrees form Columbia and Cornell Universities, became a stockbroker after leaving "Doody" and "on the side, played "beautiful piano and played in hotels and restaurants," his wife said.)
  • Caught myself the other day referencing "an old proverb." Oops.  Aren't all proverbs old?  Are there any new proverbs?  Probably not. How long does a sage truism have to age before we can call it a proverb? (I'm just sayin'.)
  • This baseball statue thing is getting out of hand.  One could well debate whether ANY baseball player deserves one (is there a statue anywhere of Dr. Jonas Salk, inventor of the polio vaccine?), and a recent list published in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel contained a real eyebrow raiser.
  • That would be Frank White of the Kansas City Royals, a career .255 hitter, who is one of two Royals so honored (George Brett, a former batting champion and a Hall of Famer, is the other). (I don't care if White, a fine fellow, was the first graduate of the long-defunct Royals Baseball Academy; he's as deserving of a statue as Tiger Woods is of an audience with the pope!)
  • The St. Louis Cardinals, by the way, lead the statue standings with no fewer than 11 honorees! That's a lot of bronze, brother!  On the other hand, the Angels have only one statue-ee . . . and he's not even a player.  That would be former team owner Gene Autry.  (What? No Bo Belinsky statue?)
  • While on the topic of baseball, what's with this concussion "epidemic"?  It seems each year there are more and more of them, with two players in recent years (Corey Koskie and Mike Matheny) having that injury end their careers.  And this year one of the top players on one of the top teams (Justin Morneau of the Minnesota Twins) has been out for an extended period with that head injury. It could well affect the outcome of the American League Central race.
  • And if this isn't The Year of the Concussion, it must be The Year of the Oblique Muscle Strain.  Good Lord, if you're a big-league ballplayer and can't swing a bat without having to go to the hospital, you're obviously in the wrong line of work. 
  • About the Hawaii team's success in the Little League World Series (they made it to the final game, finally losing to Japan):  Shouldn't teams that can practice in 80-degree weather 12 months a year have some kind of a handicap?  Especially when playing a team from Ohio?  Talk about your proverbial uneven playing field!
  • Book Title of the Week:  "Arrested: What To Do When Your Loved One is in Jail."
  • It's 90 degrees and feels like it.  It's 25 degrees cooler--at least--in the fast-food place. Yet invariably there's some idiot eating in his car--usually with the engine running, burning precious fuel and polluting the air so unnecessarily.  Maybe we need an EPA police force to ticket these people--and get those trucks and cars you see spewing billows of noxious blue smoke off the road.
  • "There's so much comedy on television.  Does that cause comedy in the streets?"--Dick Cavett
  • We didn't have iPads and Blackberries when I was growing up, but we never had a massive egg recall, next to nobody had a peanut allergy and E. coli was unheard of. (Aids? That was an antacid--produced and marketed by the Life Savers company in the 1960s.  "Double-action relief," 15 cents.  Who else would tell you these things?)
  • I'm not a big Michael Moore fan (for one thing, I don't believe everyone in a business suit is the devil incarnate), but he's right about one thing he said on "Larry King Live" recently:  "Nothing works in America anymore.  And you can't even get anyone on the phone to tell them about it."
  • When Brett Favre finally does retire, will ESPN go off the air?
  • Why do people post signs saying "Garage Sale" when they're selling just about everything but the garage?  Ditto "Yard Sale."  The yard is not for sale!  (But I guess "Family Discards Sale" probably wouldn't net much business.)
  • As if energy drinks weren't enough, now I've spotted (at Walgreens) Rush High-Power Lip Balm.  With "caffeine, taurine and B-12."  What, no steroid deodorant?  No atomic nasal spray?  Stay tuned.
  • And now my wife calls my attention to--get this--Skin Renew, "the first 2-in-1 eye roller.  Refreshing eye care with caffeine."
  • There are two types of people in the world:  Those who drive straight in to parking spaces . . . and those strange souls who always have to back in.
  • Sixth entry in the Wisconsin Town I Never Heard Of Until I Saw It Mentioned in a Newspaper Obituary: Sobieski, Wis. (R.I.P. Willam Scott Russell, Green Bay Press-Gazette, August 24, 2010).  Previous entries:  Athelstane, Walhain, Duck Creek, Breed and Anston.
  • Speaking of Wisconsin, Sept. 18 marks the start of Ruffed Grouse hunting season in Zone A (wherever that is).  According to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, the ruffed grouse population appears to be on the downward side of its 10-year cycle.  (I wish I could say I saw that coming, but I'd be lying.)
  •  Today's Latin lesson:  Narro abyssus ut meus parum amicus! ("Say hello to my l'il friend!")


True terror--Afghans behind the wheel!

 Afghan Sgt. Maj. Barakatullah Kolistani, who trains army recruits, is confident that his fledgling soldiers are learning the discipline, strategic skills and marksmanship needed to defeat the Taliban.

But Kolistani, one of the base's senior enlisted soldiers, is worried about their proficiency in another key skill: driving. Particularly when it comes to the 8,000-pound-plus U.S.-supplied Humvee, the vehicle of choice in the nascent Afghan army.

Afghan and American trainers at the NATO-run Kabul Military Training Center, where 10,000 recruits receive instruction at any given time, are shocked to discover just how bad the Afghans drive.

"We're losing them faster from vehicle accidents than combat," said U.S. Army Lt. Gen. William B. Caldwell IV, commander of the 22,000-acre training center, a former Soviet base that still houses a graveyard for Soviet tanks.

More than half of Afghan army injuries result from vehicular accidents. Since 2005, 141 soldiers and recruits have died in rollovers and collisions, many caused by excessive speed, inability to negotiate curves or an unwillingness to yield to other vehicles.

About 80 percent of the recruits are illiterate. Many are from rural villages and have never steered a vehicle more complex than a horse-drawn cart. Those who have driven a car have, in many cases, done so primarily in the clogged, chaotic streets of Kabul, the nation's capital, where traffic resembles a demolition derby.

Even for vehicle-savvy young Americans, the Humvee is a challenge. It is wide and top-heavy and difficult to drive around corners; the braking system is demanding and the ride jarring.

Pickup trucks, also supplied by the Americans, present their own problem: Many Afghan soldiers seem oblivious to their comrades riding in the open bed. A common accident involves a driver hitting a bump at high speed, ejecting the passengers in the back.

 Kolistani, who fought beside the legendary Ahmed Shah Massoud in his unsuccessful effort to keep the Taliban from taking power after Russian troops withdrew from Afghanistan more than two decades ago, knows that mastering the intricacies of the M-16 assault rifle is important.

But he would like even more hours devoted to driver training.

"To fight," he said, "you must drive."
--Tony Perry in The Los Angeles Times, Aug. 29, 2010

A state of masochism (home of The Scenery Tax)

News item:  "Wisconsin dodges top 10 tax list again."  Turns out the Dairy State ranks 13th, with11.8 percent of state and local taxes as a percentage of personal income." 

The "leader"?  Alaska, where residents pay a whopping 34.7 percent--more than a third of personal income--in such taxes.  That's in addition to paying a lot more for consumer goods (18 percent higher in Anchorage, 28 percent higher in Fairbanks and 36 percent higher in state capital Juneau, according to "The Alaska Almanac") and living in fear of The Big One," the mega-quake that top geologists are not just always predicting but are surprised hasn't already happened!

(No wonder alcoholism is rampant in that state.  Do people drink so much there because of the conditions . . . or do they put up with all this because they're too inebriated to notice?)

But there are benefits--or are they bribes?  Residents receive Permanent Fund Dividends annually, ranging from $600 to $1,500, according to Wikipedia.  But in 2008 they each got $3,269 per person when a one-time $1,200 Alaska Resource Rebate was added to the dividend amount.  2009?  It was a mere $1,305, which probably doesn't make much of a dent in the higher living costs. Alaskans probably pay that much more than consumers in the pejoratively labeled Lower 48 in three months' worth of groceries or dining.

How do you say "You don't have to be crazy to live here, but it helps!" in Inuit?