My BFFs: Pat Boone and Yassir’s Widow

January 29, 2010

Pat Boone called today.

I was delighted to hear he was still alive and I had so many questions for him. I couldn’t ask any, though, because he was robocalling me with a taped message about next week’s primary.

And, in spite of his comment about me and other seniors (SENIORS????), I listened to a lot of the spiel. Because, when it comes to good advice about the Tenth Congressional District, nobody knows the issues like Pat Boone.

I’ve received about 50 robocalls in the past two weeks; poorly scripted recordings of various politicians and (mostly) local celebs seeking my vote in the February primaries. I am, of course, the second-most important voter in my home and very popular among the ruling class, so it’s easy to understand all these calls to my office and cell numbers.

Similarly, I get regular e-mails from lonely women who plead with me to meet them and make their lives complete. Former ministers of distant lands beg for my aid in reconnecting them to their fortunes. Bankers offer me millions of dollars in mortgages, home equity lines and subordinated mortgage-backed Obama futures. (Highly discounted since last year!!!) I have already bankrupted several nations by winning all their lotteries.

Did I mention the drugs? Oh, yeah. All kinds of drugs. Drugs for arthritis, heart palpitations, toe cancer and the always popular erectile dysfunction. It’s amazing that CVS is still in business, what with the lower prices and top quality competition on the internet.

And every time I read one of these e-mails, the same question comes to mind. Who ARE these people?

Not the people sending the e-mails or making the robocalls. Clearly, they are running a business and, somehow, they are making money at it. If they weren’t making money, they’d stop. That’s the beauty of capitalism, if you’re not running AIG.

The real question is about the people who actually respond to this stuff. Who are they and why are they allowed to operate motor vehicles, take out mortgages and screen my baggage?

I’m thinking about the guy who just got a message with the headline, Hapy Birtday from a Freind, and opened the email to find an offer for low-cost V*I*A*G*A*R*A* or Lovitera. And this same somebody said to himself,

“Hah, look at that. It’s not a birthday card after all. They tricked me into looking at this ad for medicines they can’t even spell……But, wow, look at those prices. Where’s my Visa????”

Before there was an internet, I received 2-3 international letters each year, handwritten, on onionskin paper, with a return address of…..can you guess?????…..yep, Nigeria. The former minister of mining or a widow whose husband was killed by an evil cabal or…didn’t matter, really. They were all the same.

They were desperate and, of all the millions of people in the United States, I was the one they were counting on to help them reclaim their vast fortunes. If only I would show them I was truly trutwothy, sinsere and finacialy reponsible. It was quite a burden for me to shoulder, but that’s why they knew I was the only one for the job.

I am the widow of the former mining director, president, secretary of the ministry, Yassir Arafat (really) and I must call upon you in a matter of great urgency and discreetion….

Ah, classic literature. Decades go by but the text is eternal, along with the misspellings. Are the misspellings a part of the plan, placed intentionally to seem more sinseare? This might be the case, based on the number of scams that include great typos, like an urgent message from Chase Bank addressed to me as a valuable costumer.

So who is it that thinks Yassir Arafat’s widow is really searching the globe and landing on them? There must be people who think they’ve just won the lottery, but how can they be that dumb and still know how to work a computer?

You probably delete these emails and hang up on the robocalls. You probably think you know all kinds of people who are everyday Americans, just like you, with common sense and a bit of street smarts. You probably think you’re like most other people, even people who disagree with you on some political issue, and that most other Americans are pretty much like you.

You are so kidding yourself.

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Conservatives are Tree Huggers

January 22, 2010

Barry Goldwater was on the Tonight Show—yeah, it was a long time ago—and he was asked about the don’t ask, don’t tell policy of the U.S. armed forces. He told Johnny Carson he thought the policy was a mistake.

He said his disapproval wasn’t based on a belief that the Army should be finding and discharging gays. No, he said, he thought the policy was wrong because “it’s none of their damn business.”

Spoken like a true Conservative, with a capital C.

I was thinking about the labels we assign to different viewpoints, like conservative and liberal or religious and secular. By the time most of us get to be adults, these words have so much baggage attached that we sidetrack our conversations by the mere act of invoking them.

I, for example, think of myself as a conservative. But my idea of conservative values is much different than the platforms presented on talk radio. For example, I believe it’s conservative to leave other people alone, just as we’d prefer to be left alone. A conservative wants minimal governmental intervention in his own life, so he doesn’t seek to harness the power of government to intervene with other people. A conservative demands that others keep their nose out of his business, so he is careful to do the same.

A conservative doesn’t believe in gay marriage, because he doesn’t believe in government sanctioned “marriage” of any kind. Marriage is a religious ritual and, as Goldwater said about don’t ask, don’t tell, it’s none of the government’s damn business. In the interest of insuring domestic tranquility, the government oversees enforcement of contracts. Civil “marriage” is a contract, not a rite, which means it should be the same for any two or three or 200 people who agree to the terms.

Similarly, it’s a very conservative position to be protective of the environment, because conservatives…..conserve.

Conservatives believe people should have freedom over their own property, but have no right to damage the property of others. Individuals or companies that soil the air that others will breathe or poison the water that others will drink are, in a very real sense, stealing something of value.

A person who takes clean water from a river and sends effluent downstream is engaged in redistribution of wealth, more a liberal concept than a conservative one. The person upstream gains the value and use of clean water, while the downstream resident is deprived of clean water and saddled with the cost of clean-up.

So, I’m a conservative, which doesn’t necessarily make me a Republican or a Reaganite or a member of the Hannity nation. Like Humpty Dumpty, I get to decide what a word means, at least when it’s a word I’m applying to myself.

What do you think? When it comes to labels like conservative or liberal or right or left or religious or secular…..what common definitions seem contradictory to you? When we use these terms, how much gets lost in the lack of translation?

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Remember When We Met, Again??

January 15, 2010

Kate likes to talk about the first time we met, which is a great memory for her. And I’ve never brought up the subject before, but it wasn’t the first time.

Actually, we had met a few months before the date she has in mind, and we saw each other two or four or six times after that. It didn’t make much of an impression on Kate, apparently, so what she remembers as the first time is simply the first time she noticed me.

I never correct her about it, as I can’t remember much about the first time or the second or the third, either. Besides, all of us are like Kate, just a bit. We notice the things we notice, when we notice them, and we might miss something a dozen times before it suddenly invades our consciousness as a big NEW revelation.

I’ve never made that mistake before, I’ll say, only to learn that I do it all the time. You didn’t tell me Jane’s uncle died, I’ll observe, reflecting both my poor memory and limited empathy for Jane.

Back when I was a newspaper reporter, people sometimes assumed I was really good at remembering stuff, because I was a trained observer. Except, of course, that I had never actually been trained as an observer or taught any memory skills to make me a better journalist. Like everyone else, I noticed what I noticed and the things I missed were simply nonexistent until, and unless, I noticed them later. Sadly, for my readers, any gaps in my awareness quickly became gaps in their insights, as well.

I had the chance to test out my memory skills once when Jill and I were having a, um, difference of opinion. A somewhat loud difference of opinion. It concerned a discussion with the neighbors on the prior evening and there was no doubt Jill was absolutely mistaken. Even better, I could prove it, because I had been so enamored of the conversation that I set up the tripod and the video camera and decided to save for posterity the witty and friendly debate.

(Yeah, okay, I have this issue about saving things for posterity and it seemed like a good idea to capture our neighborhood interchange. It’s not exactly normal, but it doesn’t make me an axe murderer, either.)

Anyway, as they say in sports, we went to the tape and, AHAH!!!, Jill was absolutely wrong in her recollection.

Unfortunately, so was I.

Each of us was absolutely certain of what had happened and each of us was absolutely off target. I didn’t say what she thought I’d said and I wasn’t nearly as witty and charming as I recalled, either. As a result, I am much less insistent today about the infallible nature of my internal DVR.

So here’s the deal: I won’t confront Kate about her big, huge, insulting, inattentive, rude mistake. Her memory is flawed, after all, and I will forgive her. In return, none of you will be allowed to point out my gaps, either, knowing that your own recollection about me is inaccurate, especially when it’s negative.

Sounds quite fair to me.

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ARFID Attacks 100 Million Men

January 12, 2010

We usually address general life issues on this site, but today I am begging all of you to join me in the battle against a most debilitating disease that cripples more than 100 million men each year. Unfortunately, its victims are often too embarrassed to seek help, wear ribbons or appear on reality shows.

Of course, I am describing ARFID, Age Related Follicle Inversion Disease, the silent scourge of men across the globe. ARFID has no cure, yet. Thankfully, ARFID has been fast-tracked for research funding by the American Medical Association and the federal Centers for Disease Control in October and November 2009, respectively.

ARFID is an auto-immune disease that causes men’s hair to reverse course and grow into their bodies, rather than outward from their scalps. On the surface, this can resemble male pattern baldness, but ARFID is excruciatingly more destructive.

As follicles invert and change direction, perception and analytical skills might improve temporarily, as hair surrounds the brain, making it warmer and more productive. Eventually, however, the hair competes for space within the cranium, leading to reduced blood flow and the onset of CRS—Can’t Remember, um, Stuff.

In an increasingly embarrassing loss of memory and analytical skill, men begin to forget important facts, such as their wife’s birthday, where they went on their first date, which name to call out during sex or whether they already drank nine beers or still need another.

Some effects are relatively minor, such as forgetting to use a coaster or going to the store for diapers and returning with a bottle of bourbon. However, longer term impacts can be debilitating.

Within a few years of initial symptoms, men will often be unable to perform such simple tasks as folding laundry, washing dishes or picking up dirty underwear. In extreme cases, the ARFID sufferer will experience spatial dissonance and might mistake a strange woman in a hotel room for his wife. In the most severe cases, he might forget that he isn’t actually married to twins with handcuffs.

As ARFID progresses, cranial hair continues to grow longer, often emerging from the ears or nose in an embarrassing display of misdirected virility. In some cases, the inverted follicles will grow more abundant in the nasal passages than on the scalp. Sense of smell diminishes, leading many men to conclude, verrrrrrrry inaccurately, that certain, um, emanations, are odorless.

As it invades the neck, ARFID adds pressure to vocal cords, leading to SLAOF complex: Sounding Like an Old Fart. Millions of men raise their heads from their pillows in the morning, tugging on the hair around their vocal cords and generating a mournful groan that sounds remarkably like an old man—often THEIR old man.

Propelled into the body by cranial pressure, inverted follicles will grow down the spine and into the body’s extremities, making joints less flexible and reducing muscle tone. Slam dunks, home runs and 6-minute miles recede into history as the body is held back by its own tresses.

In the final indignity, the hair invades the body’s nether-regions. As with the brain, the follicles provide temporary benefits, helping men to think with the only organ not yet compromised by ARFID. For months or years, this will be the only truly productive organ remaining in the vulnerable male anatomy. Ultimately, however, the treacherous follicles will strangle the final helpless organs, leading to reduced performance in both anterior and posterior regions.

As bad as this incurable disease is, the response of society is worse. So frequently, advanced ARFID is dismissed by the medical profession in favor of a more politically correct diagnosis of Male Pattern Baldness. This bias serves the financial needs of Big Pharma and the medical profession, but condemns millions of ARFID sufferers (Tiger Woods, Eliot Spitzer, David Letterman….) to ridicule and despair.

A $375 million appropriation for ARFID research is included in the House version of the Health Care Reform Act, but not in the Senate version. Please contact your state’s senators immediately to demand that ARFID research receive the priority it deserves.

Do it for all the forgetful, horny, gassy, smelly, hairy-nosed men in your life. You probably know at least one or two.

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Getting to Know You

January 10, 2010

Jill and I have a painting in our dining room that we don’t like as much as we did, once.

That’s because we met the artist.

We were on a trip to Taos when we learned the painter was appearing at a local gallery, so we hurried to meet the person whose painting we loved.

Big mistake.

He remembered the painting, but couldn’t come up with any reason why he painted it, what he was feeling or what he wanted us to feel. He didn’t have any particular insights into the works he was displaying at the Taos gallery, either. He just painted them, with seemingly no emotion or vision or excitement or awareness.

I’ve been thinking lately about that painting, along with Tiger Woods and other fallen idols, and about the risk of getting to know the person behind the art. In the world of celebrities, the public image we experience becomes the whole picture for us. Because it’s all we see, it’s all we think about.

Before his midnight ride, how much time did we spend wondering about Tiger Woods’s fidelity? Before his arrest, how much did we wonder if Mel Gibson loved Jews? Before he started panhandling with a sign that says, “Will Impersonate Elvis for Food,” did you ever wonder if Rod Blagoyevich…never mind.

The funny thing here is that we still don’t have a clue regarding these people. If we focused on only one dimension before, we tend to focus on only two dimensions later. Or perhaps we still focus on only one dimension, but a different one that when we began.

It’s our failing, not theirs, that we assume we know people on the basis of their public image. It’s also a waste of our time to feel somehow affected by their falls from grace.

I still like the painting in the dining room. If I had the time and interest to get to know the artist more intimately, I’m sure I’d find him fascinating. Until then, I’ll have to accept the fact that I’m only seeing part of the picture.

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America’s Got Untapped Talent

January 7, 2010

I see the celebrity journalists tracked down Elin Nordegren, wife of Tiger Woods, vacationing at a chalet in the French Alps. I’d be a terrible star-tracker, as I didn’t even know she had left the country.

It did give me an idea for a great new reality show, however: Top Paparazzi.

Here’s how it would work:

In the Quick Flash, of course, they’d be shooting the legs of starlets from inappropriate angles. Then they’d move on to the Couples Rendezvous to capture the most endearing photos of famous people with spouses other than their own. In the Sideshow Challenge, the goal would be to frame the photo so that the celebrity appears to be talking to, berating or having sex with a previously unknown bystander.

In later rounds, as in the Olympics, form and degree of difficulty will be included in judging. Contestants could get extra points if the photo leads to….
• a visit to rehab
• a divorce
• resignation from political office

If the resigning politician is a cabinet officer or member of Congress—and what are the odds of that???—the photographer will be immune from elimination in the next round.

In the final episode, competitors vie for the biggest get in photodom: Osama bin Laden.

Yeah, I know. The CIA and British Intelligence and the Mossad can’t find him, but that’s because they haven’t hired the right people. Start with a dozen rabid paparazzi and consider the job done.

After Top Paparazzi becomes a hit, there’s no limit to the opportunities for shows like:

So You Think You Can Terrorize
• America’s Next Top Ponzi Scheme
• Extreme Takeover: Home Foreclosure Edition and
• Survivor: Yemen.

Who says reality shows can’t make this a better world?

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There’s No Business Like Security

January 5, 2010

After Richard Reid tried to blow up a jet with explosives hidden in his shoe, leading all of us to submit to shoe inspection at the airport, I joked that we were lucky he didn’t hide a bomb in his underwear. Clearly, al Qaeda has been listening.

With the failed attempt to blow up a jet via bomber briefs, we all now all face the prospect of full body scans at check-in. This is no big deal for an Adonis such as myself, but could be embarrassing for the rest of you. 

The letters pages of newspapers and online chatterboxes are filled with missives that it’s worth the embarrassment if it makes us safer. It’s only an inconvenience to millions of travelers, but it’s worth it to keep us safe.

That’s the problem, though. It won’t make us safer. It will only make us safer from underpants explosives, just as we were made safer from shoe bombs, but not undies, in 2002. After we’re safe from shoes and boxers, a guy with explosive dentures or a woman with C-4 gel implants will stroll past security….

Homeland Security is continually responding to the last threat, focusing on the specific article of clothing or technique applied most recently. It’s a foolish and wasteful approach, because it does more to create a show of activity than to generate real results.

I fly quite a bit and I can think of a number of ways that I could get something past security and onto a plane. On the plane, I can see how someone could take over the flight.

If I wanted to do it.

If I was willing to take the risk of getting caught.

If I was willing to die.

WHICH I’M NOT.

I, however, am not the kind of person TSA is trying to stop. Neither are you, most likely. The real threat comes from people who are willing, even anxious, to die.

Most security is based on the idea that the transgressor does not want to be caught and absolutely does not want to die. Almost everyone responds to this approach, because almost all of us like the idea of breathing for one more day. The guy we want to stop is definitely an outlier, although likely more common than one in a million. (Do the simple math. Scary.)

So how do we deal with this? First, we have to accept that we will not prevent every possible risk. Even if we make the skies 100% safe, which we cannot do, we cannot protect every shopping mall, subway tunnel, public building, sports stadium…. Our goal is to keep the largest number of people safe from real threats by allocating limited resources in the most effective way.

Thus, we must use the tools we have in place already. The United States government gave Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab a multiple entry visa that wasn’t revoked after his father—HIS FATHER—reported him as a risk to the U.S. embassy. The problem wasn’t that he wasn’t known, but that the information led nowhere, in spite of the fact that he boarded a transatlantic flight with a one-way ticket and no luggage.

This wasn’t a systemic failure. It was a human failure. After passage of the Patriot Act, allowing various agencies to share information more readily, human beings continue to miss the opportunity to connect the dots. The lack of full body scans wasn’t even on the Top Ten list in this mess.

As with the security breach that let two people—sorry, now they say it was three people—crash a White House dinner, we’re still waiting to see if anyone is actually held accountable for the mistake.

Meanwhile, if we took the money that would be spent on body imaging technology and invested instead in more effective updating, list management, information sharing and, yes, in some cases, profiling, we would achieve more security than we will ever get from looking under grandma’s bloomers.

There is no magic formula or technology that will secure the skies, or the nation. Demanding a magic machine to do the job is like asking for an end to human flaws. Noble idea, but it’s not going to happen.

Meanwhile, the less insightful among us scream for more show business, at the expense of real security.

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