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» 2011 » November

Monthly ArchiveNovember 2011

Commentary 23 Nov 2011 09:01 am

Who says everybody loves a parade?

Today’s column, fresh from the pages of The Alliance Review:

Watching the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade is a tradition in our house.

I don’t know why. In the old days, when reception was determined by how much tin foil you could wrap around the rabbit ears and when choices were limited to the big three networks, one or two snowy independent stations showing “It’s a Wonderful Life” nonstop and a Bible-thumping station with the clearest picture of the lot (thank you, Jee-zus), Macy’s was a no-brainer. It was live, it was festive, and you could slip away and baste the turkey without missing anything.

The truism that everybody loves a parade isn’t always true. I don’t love a parade. I don’t hate one either, but I just don’t get the attraction of dragging lawn chairs and umbrellas out to the road, usually four hours before the parade steps off, just to get a prime spot and wave each time a fire truck passes. But at least it’s a You Are There moment, when you commune with friends and neighbors and everybody else who isn’t important enough to be in the parade.

The Macy’s parade is especially problematic because, for the vast majority of us, it’s a You Aren’t There moment, an hours-long advertisement for Christmas sales, whatever movies Hollywood is peddling and a few boy bands on their way up or down in popularity. (If they lip-synch their own songs, they’re going up; if a Christmas song, especially “Frosty” or “Rudolph,” down.)

Between gigantic floats of SpongeBob and Snoopy and obligatory appearances by Julio Iglesias and the Rockettes, announcers who aren’t big enough names to avoid working on a holiday read poorly written advertising copy filled with Homer Simpson, head-slapping “D’oh!” information that nobody cares about anyway.

Stuff like, “Did you know that the Popeye float weighs more than 3,296 cans of spinach?”

Or “Did you know that the corporation behind the Ronald McDonald float is largely considered responsible for the epidemic of childhood obesity in this country?”

Or, “If the Clifford the Big Red dog balloon were to relieve itself at the fire hydrant on the corner of 34th Street and Seventh Avenue, he would flood Herald Square.”

This pap is designed to soothe our worried brows and make us think of nothing beyond the tryptophan-induced comas we will soon enter courtesy of Tom Turkey in the oven and the orgy of shopping that occupies every waking moment of our lives from Black Friday through midnight on Dec. 24.

The only thing that could end Macy’s choke-hold on Thanksgiving morning is the very same shopping Bacchanalia that the Pilgrims and the Native Americans commemorated in the first place. You know, when they sat down to eat turkey and pass the cranberries and peace pipe before heading to Walmart for Door Buster Bargains on buckskin Levi’s and “Call of Duty: Musket Ball” video games.

This Thanksgiving, some stores will open for Black Friday at 9 p.m. Thanksgiving Day, in effect condensing the holiday for millions of employees and shoppers. Add an uptick in mobile-phone Christmas shopping (one estimate is that 15 to 16 percent of all online holiday purchases this year will be made via cellphone) and you can see how there’s hardly time for Thanksgiving anymore, let alone the Macy’s parade.

That’s why I propose that next year, the Powers That Be move Thanksgiving to the Sunday before and show the Macy’s Parade on Saturday morning, when everybody can watch it on their cellphones while perusing “Six Days Before Black Friday” sales at area big-box retailers.

Then Thanksgiving can be what Thanksgiving once was and always should be: a day for family, friends, and gratitude.

Oh, and football.

Commentary 17 Nov 2011 06:57 pm

Paterno isn’t a victim

This week’s column:

Until last week, I had never heard of Jerry Sandusky or Joe Paterno or thought very much — if at all — about the football dynasty at Penn State.

It’s not that I don’t like football, but rather that I’ve always been leery of the good old boy mentality that surrounds it, one that often protects athletes and coaches from negative consequences surrounding inappropriate behavior. We’ve all heard the stories of football players who can barely read or write, who cheat their way through college by taking watered-down classes, and who find charges against them magically disappear when somebody in the organization makes a call to authorities to explain how it (”it” being drunken driving or assault) is a simple misunderstanding.

In the wake of the child-rape debacle swirling around Penn State’s storied gridiron program, surely I’m not the only person to educate himself about  its principal players — Sandusky, the defensive line coach and alleged rapist who founded a program for needy children from which he could cherry-pick his victims; Mike McQueary, a graduate assistant who testified under oath that he saw Sandusky raping a 10-year-old boy in a campus shower stall in 2002; Paterno, the long-time head coach who knew about McQueary’s allegations against Sandusky and thought he had discharged his duty by telling his superiors; Tim Curley, the university’s athletic director who apparently decided that banning Sandusky from bringing children to the Penn State campus was sufficient punishment; and Gary Schultz, the senior vice president for finance and business, who concurred with Curley.

There are others, of course, including university President Graham Spanier, fired last week along with Paterno, and a custodian who saw Sandusky violating a child in the campus showers in 2000 and who chose to tell a fellow employee and a supervisor, but not the police. By this point, Sandusky was no longer part of the Penn State coaching staff, but was still accorded “emeritus” status, which included his own office, keys to the athletic facilities and the wherewithal to come and go as he pleased.

In each and every case, one can paraphrase the Watergate catchphrase — “What did x know and when did he know it? — with devastating results. In 1998, four years before the incident McQueary witnessed, campus police detectives eavesdropped as a distraught mother got Sandusky to admit that he had showered with her underage son. The result of that investigation? Detective Gerald Schreffler advised Sandusky not to shower with children again, a “solution” that apparently satisfied child welfare services and district attorney Ray Gricar, who declined to press charges.

As early as 1998, Sandusky could have been stopped by university police, who should have taken away his keys even in light of the district attorney’s failure to act. In 2000, Sandusky could have been stopped if the janitor had made a call to the police instead of fearing for his job. In 2002, Sandusky could have been stopped if McQueary Paterno, Curley or Schultz had done the right thing and called off-campus authorities instead of participating in a cover-up.

It’s the good old boy network writ large, with everybody involved happy to hand off culpability to somebody higher up the food chain to protect the good name of Penn State’s football program.

And yet on Saturday, a groundswell of applause accompanied an image of Paterno shown at the Penn State game, and protesters continue to voice their disapproval of his ouster, saying it isn’t fair for his legendary reputation to be forever tarnished by this scandal.

Hogwash. The real tragedy here has nothing to do with a coach’s legacy. Surely, Paterno has lectured, inspired and inveigled his players about the importance of character. “Character,” in this case, would have everything to do with taking all necessary and proper steps to stop a predator within your ranks.

Jesuit priest James Martin, comparing the Penn State scandal to the much larger problem of pedophile priests in the Catholic Church, wrote in Sunday’s Washington Post that we must be careful not to fall under the thrall of “grandiose narcissists,” those who would have us believe that their punishments are much too harsh and severe, even when their failings are heinous.

The real victims in the Penn State tragedy, we must remember, are not the grandiose narcissists who have stepped down or lost their jobs, but the children who continued to be victimized because people in positions of authority put their love of an institution and its football program ahead of their morality, a failing that continues with the sympathetic bleating for poor, innocent Joe Paterno.

If Paterno’s name is forever accompanied by a mental asterisk in people’s minds tying him to this scandal, it’s only what he deserves. As for Sandusky, his actions add a sick, ironic new twist to the title of his 2002 autobiography, “Touched: The Jerry Sandusky Story.”

Commentary & technology 11 Nov 2011 06:28 am

We control the vertical

This week’s column:

Dear Harried Business Executive,

By monitoring employees’ social media postings, we, the Executive Veneration Institute of Logistics, have noticed that your workers have a tendency to share opinions on sensitive issues related to your business.

These posts exhibit a startling tendency on the part of your underlings to think for themselves, a trait that should be stamped out like a wildfire whenever it ignites. Only last week, one of your wage slaves had the temerity to post a disparaging Facebook comment about a restaurant owned by a man whose second cousin twice removed was the college roommate of your business manager. The wording of said message was most inflammatory, consisting of “Broccoli undercooked, sux 2 B U,” which would surely cause a disruption in the normal flow of commerce if the connection between the hourly desk jockey and your august business were discovered by parties unfavorable to your delicate position in the community.

Two months ago, another minion of your company sent a Twitter message (”tweet” is the term in common usage among the proletariat) that indicated a preference for one political party over another. You would correctly surmise that he was on the side of the jackasses, and that the message was not flattering to the GOP, to which you sold your own soul many decades ago in exchange for continued tax breaks and a senator on speed dial.

These two communiques would not, in and of themselves, constitute a dire threat to your corporate power position. Both wage workers could easily be implicated in a lipstick-smudged love nest and fired in accordance with “The Modern Machiavelli’s Rules of Gaining and Maintaining Power in the Corporate Boardroom,” after all.

However, we fear that the two miscreants and their unauthorized use of social media are merely the seeds of a trend that, if left unchecked, could sprout riotous weeds to choke the life from your financial rose garden.

We advise a swift and immediate revision of your employee handbook to signal the gravity of the situation to the glassy-eyed servants in your employ. With so many of the unwashed masses out of work, these fortunate few who are benefactors of near-living wages as a result of your corporate largesse should not be allowed delusions of freedom of speech, and your handbook revisions should reflect this.

Let your employees know, in no uncertain terms, that their lives both on and off the clock belong to you. Part and parcel of this ownership is complete control of their off-duty musings on Facebook, Twitter, Google Plus, and any other shallow social media watering holes to which their thirsty fingers may take them.

Next, have your hired hands sign a document indicating their complete submission to the divine right of corporations, which is no less than that enjoyed by monarchs in earlier, happier times before the advent of modern impediments to productivity, such as the 40-hour work week, child labor laws and retirement benefits.

To aid you in this endeavor, the Executive Veneration Institute of Logistics will — for a modest annual fee — monitor the online lives of all your employees and report to you instantly, and in triplicate, when a breach of policy is uncovered. (And, believe us, such breaches will be uncovered. American workers have the most ridiculously endearing sense of entitlement when it comes to their pathetic little opinions.)

Between the shoring up of your policies and our policing of your workers’ off-the-clock lives, we can ensure that the only messages sent to your adoring public are ones that correspond precisely with your mission and position statements.

For an additional fee, we can also offer surveillance of your employees’ activities unrelated to the Internet. If you want to know where they go, with whom they interact, and even how they vote, give us a call.

I remain, as always, your faithful servant (although one who, like you, is not bound by the same standards of decorum that you expect from your employees),

Dewey Catchall

Director of Retention

Executive Veneration Institute of Logistics (EVIL)

Commentary 06 Nov 2011 11:21 am

Strange visitors in our minds

Alien abductions might not be that alien.

New research making the rounds on the Internet claims that people can be “trained” to meet extraterrestrials while in a lucid dreaming state. How much credence you give such information depends on how long you’re able to suppress a giggle when you learn this study comes from the OOBE Research Center in Los Angeles.

OOBE, which sounds like a term a kid might use for something he fished out his nose or the chorus of a really bad ’80s rap song (Oo, Bebe Bebe), really means “out-of-body experience.” As in, “I drank a bottle of tequila and had an OOBE.”

You know your crackpot scientific theory has really arrived when it has its own research center in L.A. I can only hope it’s not federally funded, like all those studies where researchers spend years watching kids sit on couches and stuff their mouths with potato chips before announcing that, wonder of wonders, inactivity and junk food make children fat.

Out-of-body experiences, according to the OOBEs at the OOBE Research Center, are just one part of a larger phenomenon called “the phase,” which includes lucid dreaming and astral projection. The OOBE prefers “phase” because the term has not been corrupted by, in the words of its website, “strange people with strange views on life.”

This might also explain why trash collectors prefer to be known as “sanitation engineers.”

Anyway, the OOBEs put volunteers into “lucid dream” training to show them how they can control the contents of their dreams. After only three days, volunteers were able to insert themselves into vivid situations where they met and traveled with aliens.

The bottom line, then, is that those stories of humans cruising along the Milky Way (not to mention the Snickers) with aliens in their late-model flying saucers are products of human imagination. I, for one, am glad they cleared that up.

Just for kicks, I decided to try a lucid dreaming/out-of-body/phase experiment for myself. So before bed one night, I drank some warm milk, watched “Close Encounters of the Third Kind,” listened to Holst’s “The Planets,” and re-read my well-thumbed copy of “Alien Visitors and the Humans Who Love Them” until my eyes grew heavy.

Before I knew it, I was looking down at my slumbering body, passed out there on the couch. (Memo to self: Cut toenails.) I floated through the wall and checked out the kitchen, where I harassed the cats for a few minutes — they can’t see astral projections, but they can smell them (evidence suggests APs smell like a mix of dead rats and KFC original recipe) — and then drifted into the backyard. I thought it was safest there, as I was shielded from the prying eyes of any psychic neighbors who might wonder why my astral projection was naked. (Second memo to self: Be sure to wear clothes when traveling between states of consciousness.)

Despite the fact that it was nighttime, no aliens made themselves known, even when I drifted over to the new Chipotle, where half the city’s been hanging out. Depressed, I returned home to my body.

The next morning, I noticed a handful of political ads stuck to the front door that hadn’t been there the day before. Apparently, my subconscious mind doesn’t know the difference between “politician” and “alien.”

Or maybe they’re more alike than we think. Nobody believes what most people say about aliens, and nobody believes what most politicians say. One is a wild figment of the imagination, and the other says things that are. Furthermore, they both tend to disappear at approximately the same time: aliens right after Halloween, and politicians one week later.

Maybe they travel in the same mother ship, after all.

Commentary & Movies 01 Nov 2011 08:30 pm

Frank and Drac talk back

A little late for Halloween, but here is last week’s column. When it ran in the newspaper, it looked more like a Twitter page, including avatars of Boris Karloff and Bela Lugosi, but I haven’t gone to that trouble here. Sorry.

A Twitter conversation between two famous monsters:

franken_shock self-made man
No work for unemployed monster, even at Halloween. Economy bad, fire good.

dracSUX elitist vampire
@franken_shock You imbecilic arsonist. Don’t blame the economy. It’s your lack of initiative that’s killing you.

franken_shock self-made man
Me try get work as laborer. No can do. All jobs go south, overseas. Me not trained for other work. #help #desperation

franken_shock self-made man
@dracSUX Me may join Occupy Wall Street. At least hang with others feel like me do.

dracSUX elitist vampire
Wonderful. While we 1 percent continue to drive economic growth, you 99 percenters can wallow in self-pity.

franken_shock self-made man
Super-rich like vampires. Suck life/hope from middle class. Soon no middle class left. Only haves and have-nots. #injustice

dracSUX elitist vampire
It’s not so easy on this side of the fence, you neck-bolted buffoon. We super-rich drive the economy through industry, innovation …

dracSUX elitist vampire
… and all your kind want is for us to pay more taxes. Haven’t you read “Atlas Shrugged,” for heaven’s sake? #AynRandRules

franken_shock self-made man
Me am protesting “disproportionate power of U.S. corporate elite,” like Time Magazine says.

dracSUX elitist vampire
*scoff* Time Magazine? You’d be better off with Popular Mechanics. Learn to rebuild yourself for the 21st century.

franken_shock self-made man
Why make fun, Drac? Middle-class values important. Big banks rob Americans blind, get bailout. Where bailout for little guy, Drac?

franken_shock self-made man
Me want what every American wants. Job, bank account, security, enough food for table. Super-rich have 10000x that, still want more.

dracSUX elitist vampire
It’s called capitalism, you stiff-legged letch. What are you, some kind of socialist?  #PutUpOrShutUp

franken_shock self-made man
Soon, middle-class rise up like villagers with torches & pitchforks & storm castle of Wall Street. Not ask for, but demand #justice

dracSUX elitist vampire
Is that a threat?

franken_shock self-made man
More like promise. Me been on wrong side of angry mob. Trust me, U no want 2B there.

dracSUX elitist vampire
And take it from someone who’s been a pain in the neck: You’re fast becoming one. Disperse before we break out the riot hoses.

franken_shock self-made man
Not enough riot hoses in world to stop us. Could be 2nd American Revolution. Better to make it a conversation, yes?

dracSUX elitist vampire
Threaten my bottom line and we’ll have no conversation. We’d rather drive a stake through your heart.

franken_shock self-made man
Two sides no come together, no middle ground. That am scariest thing me hear this #halloween.

dracSUX elitist vampire
Finally, you ignorant prole, something we can agree on.