Monday, December 31, 2007

Happy New Year's

New Year's sometimes puzzles me. For example, I've never been sure why there is an apostrophe between Year and s.

Furthermore, I've never understood why dropping that ball in Times Square officially starts the next, or new, year. For that matter, why is there no apostrophe between the Time and the s? Huh?

Pay attention. Here comes an awkward segue.

Nor can I understand why the New York Times would ruin this happy season by announcing they have hired that pompous wingnut Bill Kristol of the Weekly Standard for op-ed pieces. Pestilence followed by disease. However, maybe that's a new place to insert unused apostrophes. Between Kristol and his s.

Note to readers: now that I got that out of my craw, we shift back to New Year's.

The NYT shines best when it lets writers editorialize about horses. No, not the horse Bill Kristol rode in on. I'm talking about Verlyn Klinkenborg's thoughtful opinion piece today. She writes a sensitive piece about the rhythms of rural life, of horses and of New Year's. She has a beautiful touch, beautiful contact with that reality. It's only a few paragraphs.

Happy New Year's with or without the apostrophe.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

A new kind of Christmas

For the past four days, the Mystery Woman has been feeding about 20 of us, even though some of us brayed like jackasses. Come to think of it, seven of our crowd are certifiable jackasses.

We spent the holidays tending to my daughter's menagerie while she and her husband played Christmas in Baton Rouge with his relatives. That meant we had to feed and, at times, medicate three horses, seven donkeys, four sheep, seven dogs (five resident, one foster and one visitor) and six real people.

Note: we are all city people. Or were.

The learning curve made Mt. Everest look like a molehill but everybody pitched in with good cheer. High adventure on the edge of the Texas Hill Country.

The uncle from Seattle donned his rubber boots and mucked the horses like a professional shoveler. Well, he was born in Kingsville but moved out of state when he was a mere child.

Speaking of child, our resident child was officially in charge of feeding the sheep, which were almost as tall as she. The kid did a good job except she does have a better understanding of "fight or flight" because the sheep could get too, too close.

Somehow the mother from Miami managed to let Santa know we were at the ranch. But she had to assemble the last of the toys by her lonesome because the Mystery Woman was damned tired of all that fresh air and fell asleep. Me, too.

Our 87-year-old matriarch took it all in without breaking stride. She has seen Christmas before. But she did grin a whole lot. The grin was infectious.

One of mine managed to find his sister's ranch. He got here during a lull in the critter chores. When he left, it was with only some stuff on his shoes. And some laughter in his heart.

I was the official ice-breaker. No, seriously. Since I wake early, my job was to break through the ice in the horse troughs. And to make sure the inside dogs got outside in a hurry.

Throughout it all, the Mystery Woman maintained a serene approach handed down from her ancestors. We ate good.

And I think we have this Manger Thing down pat.

Hope you are having good holidays, too.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Luddites of the world -- UNITE!

My college buddy and long-time business partner Sam Kinch, Jr. is a helluva political writer. But when it comes to any kind of machine, he is a Luddite PhD. And I'm not far above in the technological food chain.

Herewith is today's email exchange between us:

An email arrived from Kinch. The subject matter was "two really good cartoons" but with no attachments

"No attachments," I wrote back.

Some time passed.

Then another email from Kinch saying "You'll just have to take my word for it. They were really good cartoons."

So I wrote him back, "Which one did you like best?"

(We've been doing this for nearly 50 years.)

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

High season for Medicare madness

This is grim, but the story needs to be told. Writing in the Science section of the NY Times this week, Jan Hoffman describes the deadly descent of seniors caught up in the "high season of Medicare madness."

"A few are floundering inside “the doughnut hole,” the coverage gap in the Medicare prescription drug plans, when recipients must pay full cost for medications. As a result, some choose medicine over food; others, food over medicine. Some choose their spouse’s medication over their own. Some split prescriptions with friends or cadge samples from their doctors. Their blood pressure and cholesterol levels are rising; complications from untreated diabetes mount."

This is happening in America. In NY city and throughout the nation.

A fortunate few seniors land at the desk of Frederic Riccardi, described as an attack dog disguised as a health insurance counselor for the Medicare Rights Center.

Read the story.

Makes you wonder what AARP is doing for its 38 million members -- other than selling them insurance.

Monday, December 17, 2007

AARP conflict of interest?

Here we go again. The third year of Medicare prescription drug coverage is kicking off. Note: there have been significant changes.

And once again, we are not in control of our own lives. Already three million older Americans are hitting the gap this year. The what? You know, doughnut hole. The what?

We outnumber the bastards. There are three million of us and only a handful of them. Why don't we organize! Unite! Make T-shirts and wave placards!

We could call ourselves AARP. And when the drug companies offer goofy legislation and self-rewarding regulations in Washington, we can pretend we are the defenders of our 38,000,000 members. That's not a typo. AARP has 38 million members, thereabouts.

So, explain to me again how it is that with 38 million members, AARP let this Part D program get passed? Worse, how is it that the insurance companies this go-round have re-written the rules because the original plan didn't make them enough money!

Oh yes. I forgot. AARP sells insurance.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Baseball steroid scandal

Where have you gone, Joe DiMaggio?

Monday, December 10, 2007

Quirky little tidbits...

The lines are already getting long at Post Office. I went twice last week. The first time, I ran out of patience and left. The pick-a-number system revealed too many people ahead of me. However, being a smart male, I got there early the next trip, 8:15. This time there were eleven folks ahead of me. Ten were male. Seven of those ten were wearing pants with elastic waistbands. My people!

Don't expect much from me for Christmas. Several years back, I figured I was spending way too much time searching for presents that were just right. To hell with that. My eureka moment came when I realized everyone on my list can always use another clock. Besides, at my age, time is the most precious gift I can give. This weekend, I came face to face with the danger in this quaint approach. More than 20 clocks were sitting on the table with new batteries and the price tags removed, just waiting to be wrapped. Twenty. Then one of the clock alarms started ringing...

Among the reasons I cannot vote for Mitt Romney, what with all the domestic spying authorized under the Bush administration, I don't want the Mormon missionaries to know where I live.

Why can't cops shoot to wound rather than kill? Because, that's why. In New York, policemen hit their intended target only 43% of the time when they are within six feet of the bad guy. Outside six feet, the percentage plummets. So, at the academy, they teach shoot to stop the threat.

Say adieu to the American entree. People just don't want 17 bites of all that protein anymore. Enter sushi, tapas and dim sum. Seventeen bites?

Thursday, December 6, 2007

Christmas present touts -- special books

Quickly, while there's still time to shop, here are touts for the men in your life, and the little children. Or do I repeat myself?

If the guy likes baseball, football or wrasslin' (and who doesn't?) give him a copy of "Play by Play" by my old buddy, Bill Mercer. Full disclosure: Mercer is one of the co-authors of our book, "When the News Went Live" which is about being reporters covering the JFK assassination.

Mercer is a member of the Texas Radio Hall of Fame. He's been at broadcasting sports before Marconi was born. Early on, Mercer re-created the ball games using his imagination, ticker tape from Western Union and a beer or two. The book is both a history of sports and of broadcasting. He writes good, too.

Now, for the kids. Remember the pitiful pop-up books of your childhood? Well, forget those. The technology has changed. In dramatic ways. Even adults are captivated today's pop-up books. The pages come alive with intricate movement, great color and a lot of expensive hand work.

Caution: if your kid is too young, the book will be a goner in a hurry. Having said that, here are two books that I highly recommend:

"The Night Before Christmas," a pop-up by Robert Sabuda, is the most amazing book I've ever seen. Open a page, any page, and the characters come to life. Beautiful, intricate, expensive. But I repeat myself.

"The Wonderful Wizard of Oz," a pop-up by L. Frank Baum and Robert Sabuda. You won't believe what the pop-up characters do and I cannot do justice in writing about the magic. Each two-page spread is a miracle of art and motion unfolding together.

We have each of these books. And they aren't leaving the house.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Still missing L.M. Boyd

Can this be true? You've long known that desk job can make you fat. Here's why: researchers have found that the enzyme that fights creation of fat just shuts down when we sit down. Here's the good news: just standing up is almost as good as exercising. Hmmm, I suppose the Hallelujah Chorus, part of Handel's Messiah, works your top and your bottom.

All the health benefits of red wine without staining your dentures. Harvard researchers have packed the good stuff of your favorite Merlot into a pill. No pesky cork to contend with. Goes well with red meat.

Ever wonder how art got started? Natalie Angier weaves a delightful tale (based on a book by Ellen Dissanayake) that credits Early Mom with creating art. Furthermore, she says art is not on an elite stage just for social peacocks. Rather, she says, among traditional cultures and throughout most of human history, art has also been a profoundly communal affair, of harvest dances, religious pageants, quilting bees, the passionate town rivalries that gave us the spires of Chartres, Reims and Amiens.
Ponder that.

Researchers with too much time on their hands have also discovered men with deep voices get more action than squeakers. Imagine James Earl Jones calling his cat.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Santa Claus HQ

Remember I told you the Mystery Woman had a thing for Santas? Here's a sample of her whimsical collection. A ten-year affair.

Getting them to Texas required two trips. And there are a few boxes still in Minneapolis. That's after she gave away half her table tops.

I'm new at posting photos and don't yet know how to splice together text and pictures. The Asian Santas, for example, are the three little guys on the white background, next to last. The rest, I think, explain themselves. However, we couldn't find the Navajo Santa. It's on the tree somewhere.

If this is too much schmaltz, skip it.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Put another log on the fire

At the risk of being stoned by the crowd, here's breaking news: our Christmas tree is up and all the presents are in the house except two. That's one advantage of retirement -- there's time to better mess with holiday stuff.

I snapped what could be a great photo of the Mystery Woman and her seven-year-old granddaughter, Allison, each standing on the sofa and the arm of my favorite reading chair so they could reach the upper branches of the Christmas tree. It was a Kodak moment. And, I hope, a memory that Allison will repeat years from now to her children as they decorate the future trees. Memories are more precious than presents. Last longer, too.

Speaking of memories, the Mystery Woman collects Santas of every kind, shape and origin. We have Norwegian Santas, black Santas, Asian Santas, etc. Did I mention every decoration on the tree is a Santa Claus? More than 200 Santas, maybe 300. And that doesn't count the fifty sixty Santas scattered around the great room. We trucked them down from Minneapolis. Kinda neat.

Thanksgiving was fun, filling and fulfilling. Old family and new friends. Christmas holds the same promise.

Be good to one another. That seems to work best.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Thanksgiving: turkey and duct tape

My sweetie knows how to duct tape a turkey. Does yours?

You think I'm kidding, but no. This is the gospel truth. The Mystery Woman and I have a dozen relatives coming for Thanksgiving dinner. Naturally, we've been busy with the make-ready necessary to feed so many people. She's been the busiest.

But I thought she had popped the final cork when I saw her break out the duct tape. I think I screamed. The Mystery Woman is, after all, unorthodox.

I was certain she was taping up the little wings so the bird would fit in the pan. But I was wrong. In my terror, I had failed to notice the turkey was in a clear plastic brine bag and she was merely taping up the garment so it would not leak overnight in the fridge.

What? You think I over-reacted? If so, you do not know the true depths of her unorthodoxy. This is a woman who suggested Post-it Notes might make good kindling for the fireplace. She made that solemn observation as she was tearing the duct tape with her teeth.

Turkey dinner. Red wine or white?

Happy Thanksgiving.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Mr. Whipple

Mr.Whipple died yesterday. In his memory, squeeze the Charmin.

Moving on. Use smaller serving spoons and plates. That's one way to keep from over-eating this Thanksgiving.

Most true grit is spoken through the spouse's clinched teeth.

Migraines can be life-threatening. To put this in perspective, more people died from Migrainous Stroke last year than were murdered with handguns. Migraine is disease, a headache is only a symptom. Plus, the disease has many symptoms, including nausea, vomiting, auras (light spots), sensitivity to light and sound, numbness, difficulty in speech, and severe semihemispherical head pain. One Migraine attack alone can last for eight hours, several days, or even weeks.

Katrina keeps blowing bad wind. In Saturday elections, only 52,614 people voted in New Orleans. That's down a bunch from 113,000 who voted in the mayor's race last year. The out-migration is mostly black residents. Which explains how whites now have a majority on the city council after losing control in the mid 80's.

Enough, you say? Agreed.

Monday, November 19, 2007

A fitting tribute

A sharp-eyed friend from Palm Springs sent this in. It's an obit for Velma Dawson.

Please note the second to the last sentence.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Norman Rockwell, Walter Mitty and Penelope

Sorry for the hiatus. Every return to Texas also includes time consuming check-ups with half a dozen or more of my dependents, the doctors. So far, I'm looking good.

Here's some unsolicited help for the men on your Christmas shopping list. Buy "Where Dreams Die Hard," by Carlton Stowers. It's a little book, only 205 pages. At first, you'll think the book is about six-man football in small Texas towns, which it is. After all, the author is/was a sports writer. But the book is so much more.

Carlton writes about life as we used to know it.

He writes with truth about the strengths and weaknesses of the high school boys who play this wide open kind of football. Gentle, but with the bark off.

He writes about the humor that helps in small towns. For example, when he asked the postmistress about the economic engines at work in the small town of Penelope, she replied: there's me, the granary and the Dr. Pepper vending machine. When he asked someone who was the richest person in town, the reply was: we don't have one.

But most of all, he writes about the real stuff of small towns throughout America:
"My visit confirmed that there remains in our society the basic good upon which we've historically flourished. Though but a faint star in the multitude, Penelope is the proof I had come to find. Its people are a composite of the clichés too often mocked: hard-working and God-fearing; rising above the two-dollar, rush-to-the-bank on payday woes, to embrace the day and extend a helping hand."

If the man on your Christmas list is a sports fan, he will love this book. If not, no matter. The book combines the best of Norman Rockwell and Walter Mitty.

End of tout.

Footnote: we met Carlton recently at the Books on the Bosque event in Clifton, Tx. Carlton has written dozens of books about sports, true crime, mysteries, etc.

It was a remarkable weekend.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Conference for readers and writers

We rolled into Clifton, Texas, on a magic carpet knitted together by words.

Whoa, Nellie. That's powerful writing. More accurately, that sentence is powerfully over-written. But I kinda like it, nonetheless.

Words did take us to Clifton over the weekend. The occasion: the fourth annual Books on the Bosque, a conference for readers and writers. Our little band of co-authors was billed as the keynote speakers and we sold some books.

Once again, I was reminded how some people love words. The nine other authors presented passionate insights into their lives as writers. Jan Peck stunned me when she said she worked for two years honing a children's book that was only 200 words long. Each word was obviously important.

I've always been a slap-dash kind of writer. During the early days of our little weekly newspaper, I had to double as a speech writer to feed the family. I would pore over the research from the Lt. Gov's office from nine until around eleven p.m. and then sleep, perhaps to gestate. Because at four a.m. I would get up and start writing speeches for the lite guv. By eight a.m., I would often have two speeches written. Then it was back to my day job at the newspaper.

The speeches were not works of art, but I cashed the check.

I've never considered myself a real writer. More of a journeyman. And I do enjoy writing. And writers. Mostly.

Best opening line of a novel: "Goddamn rooster!" (paints a picture real quick.) Sadly, I cannot remember the author or the book. Any help?

Best lines from a children's book: Life was hard on the Indian reservation. "My parents came from poor people who came from poor people who came from poor people all the way back to the very first poor people." From The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie.

Best spoof: (after J. K. Rowling outted Dumbledore): "Author hints at Existance of Two More Mohicans." There are more nuggets at the blog site.

I would like to tell you more about Clifton. It's an amazing little town. Later.

Thursday, November 8, 2007

Salty talk about whiskey and pajamas

First, a bit of housekeeping herewith: after 10 months of fairly regular writing, I can now boast that more than 10,000 people have clicked on my blog. Boast, you say? Aren't many bloggers netting that many a day. Yes. But they are not as cantankerous as I. Many thanks to you and you and you. Awww hell, you know who you are.

Following the writing-in-pajamas theme, more than 4.2 million Americans now work from home full time, or claim they do. That's up nearly 100 percent from a 1990 tally. And nearly 20 million more work at home some of the time. Well, that's one solution to traffic congestion. But if you work at home, how do you know whether Monday is a holiday?

This is the last time I'm going to tell you this: if you are having trouble setting up your home office filing system, name your files with nouns. Don's use adjectives, which are subject to your mood swings.

Gotta love the ingenuity of those Afghani farmers (read: mobsters). When told to stop growing poppies used in the opium and heroin trade, many did. Then they switched to harvesting cannabis, which is the active ingredient in marijuana and hashish.

Not yet a wine drinker? And you long for a return to yesteryear when Jim Beam was every man's best buddy? There's a whiskey model of the California Napa Valley wine tour. It's called the Kentucky Bourbon Trail. Now, if we could just trade Alan Alda for John Wayne.

That's all. You'll hear more from me later. When I am ready.

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

JFK assassination talk still chokes me up

Last week, we had a book signing gig at the Sixth Floor Museum in Dallas. That's our book on the left.

The event was an emotional experience for me. A couple of times during my presentation, I choked up. Dealey Plaza. The Sixth Floor Museum. That's hallowed ground. Plus, I was weary from three days and a thousand miles on the Interstate (our semi-annual migration between Minnesota/Texas).

But I've choked up before when we discuss those terrible days when we were young reporters covering the assassination of President Kennedy and the subsequent killing of Lee Harvey Oswald. At first, my reactions surprised me. But no longer. My tears seem to come when I am describing the Kennedys. They were beautiful people.

It is especially difficult to describe filming of Jackie coming out of the Parkland Hospital emergency exit and standing beside the hearse. His blood dried dark on her pink dress. Her grief on display "so they would know what they have done."

I have no such difficulty talking about Jack Ruby standing right next to me in the moments before he shot Oswald. Murder just a few feet in front of me. Part of a day's work for a young reporter.

This weekend, we have another book gig. This time we make an appearance at Books on the Bosque, November 9 & 10, at Bosque Conservatory in Clifton, Texas. I've learned to bring a handkerchief.

FYI -- our book "When the News Went Live" is now in the fourth printing. Now in paperback, it is affordable enough for J-schools.

Sunday, November 4, 2007

Texas Bound -- best tout ever

Are modern cars still outfitted to play audio cassettes? If so, or if you can play cassettes in the privacy of your own home, then I have a tout for you.

Up front, I'll declare my prejudice -- I love most things Texan. There are notable exceptions. You know who I'm talking about.

But I meander.

Here's the tout: go online to buy "Texas Bound" and settle in for some mighty fine story telling.

This is important -- buy Volume I, recorded in 1993. Be careful you get the tape and not the book. Oh, the book's OK, of course, but the tape will be music to your ears, especially if you've been living out of Texas.

Here's the deal. The tapes and books are part of a fund-raising scheme that was cooked up by the Dallas Museum of Art. And it works. The premise is that the collection of short stories were written by Texans and the tapes were narrated by Texas actors and actresses. I think the rules have been flexed to allow writers and actors to participate if they've just passed through Texas.

Volume I is rich with great stories. Some funny, some sad. Here's the list:

Host: Tess Harper

TOMMY LEE JONES reads LARRY McMURTRY'S "There Will Be Peace in Korea"; DORIS ROBERTS reads WILLIAM GOYEN'S "The Texas Principessa"; TESS HARPER reads ROBERT FLYNN'S "The Midnight Clear"; TYRESS ALLEN reads REGINALD McKNIGHT'S "The Kind of Light That Shines on Texas"; JUDITH IVEY reads LYNNA WILLIAMS'S "Personal Testimony"; NORMA MOORE reads ANNETTE SANFORD'S "Trip in a Summer Dress"; ROGER ALVAREZ reads TOMáS RIVERA'S "Picture of His Father's Face"; RANDY MOORE reads LAWRENCE WRIGHT'S "Escape"

Fifteen bucks plus postage.

My favorites include "Personal Testimony" about a 12-year-old girl who discovers she can make summer money writing personal testimonies for others at her Baptist church camp. And coming in a close second is "The Texas Principessa" which is about a Texas grand dame the goings on at the Italian villa she inherited.

Trust me, this is a great Christmas present. Even if you're foreign born.

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Taking a wide stance in Kansas

Word of advice: Don't stop for gas in Kansas if you can help it. Every word of the following is true.

Growing up in Lubbock, I thought I was acclimated to prairie winds. Not so. In Kansas, the leaves blow at you like darts, straight line. No whirly, girly wind. This stuff means business.

So I was braced against the wind at Pump Number three when the damn thing started stuttering. On/off. On/off. No matter how I set my jaw, on/off. As I looked for the Mystery Woman to help block the wind, I heard a whoosh. Felt it, too, as gasoline gushed out of the gas tank and all over me. On/off had stopped working.

Quickly, I checked to see everything electrical was shut off. No cigarettes. Already the wind was evaporating the spilled gasoline. We slipped the van into neutral and the wind pushed the vehicle about ten feet away from the quickly drying puddle. No kidding. The wind was that strong.

But the damage was done. I smelled like Port Arthur. You could draw air pictures in the gasoline fumes that swirled around me.

We crossed the parking lot and walked into a restaurant and the guy behind the counter exclaimed: what happened? Obviously, my cologne was not working. I had to do something or the Mystery Woman was going to hitchhike the rest of the way.

Although the van was packed to the roof line, I managed to shaq some leisure pants and a change of shoes.

Had to change britches in the van. Kansas is so conservative, I think I broke several laws in the back seat.

I think I may have to run for U.S. Senate.

Monday, October 29, 2007

Should sports ban Indian mascots?

Lyn Ellen Lacy is a retired public school teacher, author of four books, mother of three and a defender of cultural identities for all peoples. Especially the Native Americans. She formed the opinions below after listening, learning and teaching Ojibwe and Dakota students in Minnesota.

Perhaps it is unusual for a woman to enter the debate about sports mascots. Perhaps, but not if you know Lyn Ellen.

Mascots Debate

The University of North Dakota (UND) has three years to win approval from the state’s two Sioux (Dakota) tribes or pick a nickname other than the Fighting Sioux. The Indian logo is emblazoned everywhere on the university campus, an the debate has been “quite disruptive”, with Native American students feeling forced to explain their opinions, whether they feel strongly or not. The issue is likely going to cause disruption on the reservations as well.

“Such imagery has no place in our collegiate athletics,” said NCAA spokesman Bob Williams. However, the same kind of debate ended in Florida State continuing to use the Seminoles name and logo, after approval from a local tribe. Other tribes in the country remain offended and continue to fight against use of such Indian imagery in sports.

The head-dressed and whooping stereotype of Native Americans is a classic example of culture clash. Non-Native people dressed up as team mascots invade our living rooms through televised sports events. The fans brandish tomahawks and war paint. The mascot issue has been publicly divisive for decades. After talking with Native educators over many years, here are some of the pro- and con- attitudes they identify in the dispute about stereotypes.

1. “Telling other people what they can and cannot do, within the law, is not the American way. It’s censorship and it’s wrong.” But isn’t the American way that all people have the right to equal and fair treatment? All groups have the right to an accurate portrayal of their own culture. They have a right to say what offends them, and other groups have a responsibility to listen, learn, and abide by what is asked of them to the best of their abilities.
2. “Mascots are all in good fun, and nobody means any harm.” Having fun become making fun when someone dresses up as someone else and acts foolish. Picture someone doing that to your own heritage. Native Americans also want to have fun but they are not amused by demeaning images, just as African Americans were not amused by black-faced minstrels. We don’t have them anymore. Just because someone is not acting maliciously does not mean that harm in not done. The greatest harm for Native Americans is that their children, generation after generation, are hurt by these negative self-images in the media.
3. “Mascots are intended to honor the bravery and colorful heritage of Native people.” Many Native Americans are not flattered by savage and warlike portrayals. Traditional beliefs and spirituality are insulted by parodies of ceremonial symbols such as the headdress, sacred music, and peace pipe. No one would consider names like the New York Negroes or Chicago Jews as honoring those groups. According to the dictionary, “Redskins” is an ethnic slur as damaging as other slurs most Americans no longer use. We should all be ashamed of the name of the football team from our own nation’s capital.
4. “Indians are squandering their energies over trivial issues when they have much more important ones to worry about.” Falsely portraying another’s way of life is a basic denial of human dignity. It transcends entertainment, because it condones an idea that Native American are somehow less than other humans, and it directly affects contemporary social policies concerning other issues. Nothing is going to change until the stereotype is erased.
5. “Other groups are stereotyped as mascots and nobody complains.” What group would that be? The Giants? The Vikings? Mythical beings and vanished warriors of the past are a bit different than real Native people who live in the present but are portrayed by non-Native people dressed up like them and acting foolish. The Bears? Come on. The Steelers? Being a Native person is not an occupation or role someone else can play. For that matter, non-Native children shouldn’t dress up as "Indians" on Halloween night or for a Thanksgiving play either. We just perpetuate the stereotype for the next generation, on and on and on.
6. “Not all Indians complain and some even participate.” This is at the heart of the UND and Florida State decisions. As in all other cultures, however, Native people are not all the same. They vary in knowledge of traditions and commitment to beliefs. Native Americans very often do not presume to speak for others. Many of them will not speak out at all because to be in the public eye is not part of their culture.
7. “Indians didn’t complain until they got in the national spotlight and this idea became politically correct.” Along with other people of color, Native Americans have protested for decades against institutional stereotypes. The protest has become more visible in the media because the protestors’ numbers are growing, organizations have broader bases, and various groups are banding together, including many non-Indians like myself.
8. “Mascots have been around for years, and we resist the idea of giving up what we have.” Although none of us today is responsible for the acts of others in the past, aren’t we collectively responsible as Americans to correct mistakes that have been made when we can? Isn’t each group supposed to learn and grow in appreciation of others not like themselves?
9. “American culture is a rich mixture of many people’s traditions. And everyone has the right to use cultural symbols even though they have no ancestral connection to them.” Many traditions are spiritual in nature to Native people, and parodying them for one’s own amusement is trivializing and abusive. When one knows what symbols mean and how to use them properly, one does not use them frivolously and looks with disdain on those who do.
10. “We’re all Americans after all and should look at things the same way.” If multiculturalism is to become a reality in this country, Native Americans must assert their right to define themselves and to expect others to abide by their definition. Historically, many Native people have never desired assimilation to the degree of other groups. Today, many of them attempt to mesh traditional values with contemporary settings, living in two worlds. By race they are American Indians, by citizenship Americans, and by nationality they may be not only enrolled members of a tribal nation but also hereditary members of other nations. Many identify themselves in all these ways, with no single label, no single way of looking at things, no one “American Indian” – no stereotype.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Friends! Romans! Lubbock Hubbers!

From time to time (pardon me while I light my pipe), my erudition comes into question as I (puff) attempt to help my readers escape the Dark Ages. And the Texas Panhandle, where the only cultural exchange program happened when the Lubbock Hubbers would play the Amarillo Golden Sandys.

Some are skeptical of everything unless they hear it first from presidential candidate Ron Paul. A few virulent readers (or is it virile, I always get confused) actually doubt whether I really type 70 wpm. (puff). One chum questioned my manhood because I genuinely appreciate the coloratura. Obviously, he knows not why the fat lady sings. (puff).

I can take the heat. A writing buddy perhaps said it best when he wrote:

"To be, or not to be: that is the question:
Whether 'tis nobler in the mind to suffer
The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune,
Or to take arms against a sea of troubles,
And by opposing end them?"

So, to my critics I say (puff): I'm just a man like any other man. I put on my tutu one tu at a time.

(Lordy, that was a long stretch just to get that last line in.) (puff).

Friday, October 26, 2007

Tex-Mex -- real deal recipes

This could start a fight.

You think you've found the perfect Tex-Mex enchilada? So do million of Texans

But, this Holy Grail, the perfect enchilada does not exist. Not in one spot. Fortunately for us, the real deal can be found in family-owned restaurants scattered across Texas. A few reasonable imitations can be found outside Texas, rarely.

You won't believe this, but the best reporting I've ever read about the enchilada tour was written this week by Joe Drape in, of all places, the New York Times. It took him ten years (about par for a non-native) but Drape understands the power and value in the eight dollar plate of cheese, chili, tortilla, onions, beans and rice.

Here's a sample of Drape's understanding of our ambrosia:

Among food snobs, the Mexican vs. Tex-Mex argument has been raging for decades. It is a wrongheaded debate, according to Robb Walsh, who wrote “The Tex-Mex Cookbook: A History in Photos and Recipes” (Broadway, 2004).

“Tex-Mex isn’t Mexican food,” said Mr. Walsh. “It is an American regional cuisine. So why do we have to apologize to Mexico for it?”

Mr. Walsh said the late food writer Waverley Root got it right when he described Tex-Mex as “native foreign food.”

Good stuff, huh?

Drape goes on to describe the best way to size up off-the-path family restaurants. We call them institutions and shrines. He also touts places to eat in San Antonio, Houston and Dallas. Or, as he calls it, the tamale triangle.

Despite this heaping of glory, Drape does have his short-comings. He failed to explore whether enchiladas go better with Texas beer, Dos XX, or iced tea.

After we clean up, we'll discuss BBQ and the relative values of mustard-based sauce versus tomato. Prepare your arteries.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Kiss me, quick

Somehow it's not fair for life to force me to live by the same 60 second minute that you do.

Huh? The planes and trains won't run on time, you say.

Have you tried to fly out of JFK or LAX lately? Long ago, the planes stopped taking off on schedule. And I don't think they even make passenger trains anymore. So hush.

I think it violates my civil rights to be bound by the same metronome that governs your life. For example, when I'm in the dentist's chair, I want time to zip by. Fast. But when I'm at the opera, I want time to slow down and be delicious.

Which brings me to today's point. Turn to page one of the Source section in yesterday's Minneapolis Star Tribune. Or click here, but not if you are in a hurry. It's the slowest damn website I've ever encountered.

The story in tout is "Hurry up and pitch some woo" by Gail Rosenblum. It is a tender, funny, loving look at geriatric speed dating and is fraught with double meanings. (The headline, for example.)

You know fun is coming when a 98 year old woman on her walker gets off the elevator asking if this is the "waiting game." That's dating game, dear. But wait a minute (by my watch), maybe the old dame is pulling our legs. I think so. "Don't lead me into temptation," is her next utterance.

The five-minute smooze is popular among younger generations who still ooze pheromones, but this may be like the first flirt for the older set.

One woman declined to be identified or interviewed. "I don't want my children saying, 'You did what?'"

The deal worked better for some than others. Bill got several phones numbers but Ray announced to the group that he "wasn't interested in anyone."

Curmudgeons unite!

Overall, the event worked. Proof? When one of the men returned to the party to ask for a ride home because it was raining outside, three women's hands flew up.

"Now, that," said one of them, "is dating."

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Not just another actor on the political stage

I am not making this up: Stephen Colbert has moved ahead of Bill Richardson in the national polls and is closing in on Joe Biden. Colbert has only been a "candidate" for a week.

Don't get me wrong, I'm all for it. But what does this say about electoral politics in America? Chris Cillizza explores the public opinion polls in his Washington Post blog. Scroll down a bit on his blog. You won't be disappointed.

You can also learn more about Colbert's chances of winning the "drunken college student demographic" by reading Joshua Green's funny and incisive piece in the Atlantic online.

Is this serious stuff? Yes and no.

"Yes" because Colbert will suck the media air out of weaker, down-ballot candidates in the Democratic Party. But he will have less impact amongst Republicans who were born with their panties in a wad and can't laugh at anything. Among Republicans, Colbert probably hurts Libertarian Ron Paul most.

"No" because Colbert doesn't have a cut dog's chance of winning. Not even in his home state of South Carolina, the only state where he's running.

But it's not really a "yes and no" landscape anymore. Stephen Colbert and his mentor, Jon Stewart, represent a small, but growing fundamental change in the way Americans view politics. Over at MSNBC, Hardball host Chris Matthews thinks these two guys are the new editorial cartoonists.

Well said.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

There will be a pop quiz

Frankly, I don't care whether you like the NY Times or not. I do.

And I read it every day. Not for politics; they are too knee-jerk even for me. Instead, I read the Times for information that I just can't get anywhere else. At least not as good and not as well-written. Plus I think Maureen Dowd is one of the funniest writers since Dorothy Parker.

Which brings me to today's tout: you still have time to get to the bookstore and buy today's edition. If there's a Starbuck's nearby, you're set. They carry the Times.

What's the hubbub? There are two sections in today's Times that offer up timely, interesting info about two of the favorite topics for people on the shady side of 50.

If, however, you are facile enough to read newspapers online, click on the two highlighted topics: retirement and sleep.

Ha. You thought I was going to say sex.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Democrats prefer designated hitters

I've always read esoteric stuff, which explains my hero worship of L. M. Boyd. And now the Internet -- and retirement -- set me free.

Check out these jewels.

This is a good tout. Go to Improbable Research to lean back, relax and enjoy some wacky research projects.

Example: “The Etiology of Public Support for the Designated Hitter Rule,” Christopher Zorn and Jeff Gill,Quarterly Journal of Political Science, vol. 2, 2007, pp. 189-203. The authors explain:
Since its introduction in 1973, major league baseball’s designated hitter (DH) rule has been the subject of continuing controversy. Here, we investigate the political and socio-demographic determinants of public opinion toward the DH rule, using data from a nationwide poll conducted during September 1997. Our findings suggest that it is in fact Democrats, not Republicans, who tend to favor the DH. In addition, we find no effect for respondents’ proximity to American or National League teams, thougholder respondents were consistently more likely to oppose the rule.

Tout Number Two: check out the Utne Reader to learn stuff about international opinions such as: "Less religious countries tend to be more economically developed than religious ones. The two big exceptions? Kuwait and the United States."

While you are there, read the message in munchies. Learn why popcorn makes you more appealing than tortilla chips.

Last tout: can't find a hotel room in NYC? Pitch a tent in Times Square. "Be prepared" is the first rule of camping. But when you're camping in the middle of a city, preparation requires creativity. With the right gear, urban campers have been able to bed down in downtown Baltimore and even in the middle of New York City's Times Square. One specialized piece of technical equipment suggested by Web Urbanist is a car-shaped tent, so campers can mask themselves as a parked car and claim a parking space as a personal camp ground. -- Brendan Mackie

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Iggy/Ellen bottom line

My daughter, Annie, is a licensed dog trainer and a life-long dog rescue person. Here is her take on the Iggy/Ellen saga:

The thing that disturbs me the very most about the whole Iggy/Ellen saga is that we are not pointing a finger at the real problem with the situation: if Iggy (and his 5 million fellow canines destroyed in shelters every year) had never been bred, he would not have been homeless. Had he not been homeless, we would not have a weeping TV host who thought she was doing a good thing by rescuing a dog. As a rescuer who is on the front lines every day trying to stem the tide of homeless dogs in my community, I am deeply saddened that we as a group and we as a nation have been talking about Iggy and Ellen for more than a week. To me, the rescue lost an incredible public spokeswoman for homeless dogs with this episode with Ellen.

Why not check out the home she wanted for Iggy and if it was good for that dog, adopt the dog to them. If the home was not right, find them a dog that was (unless the home just wasn't up to par). Then all go on Ellen's show as happy partners who can effectively talk about the other 5 million dogs who are being killed year in and year out for lack of a good home, or lack of a bad home, for that matter. Turn Ellen and her rich friends into strong, vocal and effective advocates for all of the Iggys in need. They could have even created an Iggy's Fund and named Ellen the honorary chairwoman and used that many to educate, educate, educate the nation about the vast problem.

I have always, always felt that breeders should have to pay a license fee to breed. And they should pay that fee directly to honorable, registered, non-profit rescue organizations who have nothing to do with the wholesale slaughter that is happening in our shelters. Or to a non-profit spay/neuter clinic. Or to a low income vet clinic. Or even to we trainers who train shelter dogs for a song. Or to a spay/neuter education group.

And before I am beaten up to much for my thoughts on rescue, I have had 6 shelter dogs come through our home in the past 3 weeks. All got spayed/neutered, current on all shots, put on HW and flea prevention, taught basic manners and all will be adopted into appropriate homes. These dogs were chosen for their excellent temperament. There are thousands more like them who will die before me and any other legitimate rescuer can come for them.

I can write volumes about the nice dogs our non-profit has saved from shelters. But we feel we are swimming upstream and not even able to make much of dent. We know we can only make a difference to the individual dog, one dog at a time. If people could not breed with no constraints and with no obligation to the dog world, then my group on thousands like ours would not need to be here.

Spay and neuter your dogs. We will have fewer weeping TV hosts as a result.

Annie Phenix
Bertram, Texas
APDT #72945

Fake news is serious business

So. It has come to this. Fake news is gunning down real news. Anybody surprised?

The Onion is the model for success among America's newspapers. Meanwhile, The Daily Show and the Colbert Report are chewing up network news.

How is it these fake news outlets connect with audiences that are being fragmented by the Internet? And why aren't journalism gurus smart enough to take note? The Onion is surprisingly old fashioned in design and production. And The Onion is bigger than the Denver Post, the ninth largest circulation print newspaper in America. Yet the newspaper also thrives in the parallel world of the Internet with over 2 million hits per week. All without pandering via on-line gimmicks designed to seduce the reader into thinking he or she is actually a participant in the process.

Meanwhile, Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert are on their way to becoming national treasures with their nightly zings directly into the heart of phony politicians. The very antidote for pomposity.

Read Greg Beato's treatise on this phenom in reasononline. Fascinating insights.

“Heroic PETA Commandos Kill 49, Save Rabbit.” And that's the way it is.

Friday, October 19, 2007

AARP -- Mission Accomplished?

Breaking news: research shows the average woman buys at least four handbags yearly. If you're due, you'll want to read Paula Marantz Cohen's advice on finding the right bag. No dummy, she is Distinguished Professor of English at Drexel University and has written several bestselling novels.

Weary of killing all those trees via the mail-order catalogs you didn't want in the first place? Help is here. A new online service called Catalog Choice is a good place to start. The site was developed by three nonprofit environmental groups. Your letter carrier will appreciate it, too.

Want to do something creative with your books? You can swap online at Book Mooch. Leave a book, take a book. Free. If you are curious, learn more. Yes, books kill trees. But so do Plymouths. Huh?

Bottom line, here's the difference between Democrats and Republicans. As you know, my main man, Stephen Colbert, is running for President ONLY in South Carolina. And he's running in both parties. The cost to file as a Democrat, $2,500. To file as a Republican, $35,000. Say no more.

UPDATE: it's been nearly 50 years since AARP, the largest lobby organization in the world, was founded. And Medicare is still a mess. Reliable sources report Social Security is, too, still a mess.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Stephen Colbert, truthiness

Thank you Stephen Colbert, from a grateful nation. Now we're going to get some juice in the presidential race. If I could, I would move to South Carolina just so I could vote for him. And enjoy the mountains while there.

Colbert is the first openly gay candidate to run for president. Gay? Yes, as in funny. Already, he has us laughing at the other candidates, who are funny by accident. Sadly.

It took me a while to warm up to Colbert's TV character. I think his performance at the White House Correspondents Dinner won me over. Chutzpah. His humor has the zing of truth. No other candidate is safe now. Joy. Rapture.

Colbert goes both ways. He's going to run in both Democrat and Republican primaries. Funny, but isn't that exactly what we need: someone who can pull us back together?

Monday, October 15, 2007

Pssst. Wanna buy a bridge?

Are you old enough to remember when baseball players wore only metal cleats? Why switch to rubber? To short-circuit lightning strikes to the noggin. The metal cleats were good conductors. That could be one reason. No, you say? They still make metal cleats.

Everybody knows 3M makes Scotch Tape. But do you know they make 4 1/2 million miles of the stuff every year? Seems there's a solution to sealing our borders somewhere in there.

Dick Cavett says there's no use worrying about old age since it won't last too long.

The Shorter Oxford Dictionary eliminated 16,000 hyphens from the most recent edition. Don't mess with the dash. It's the story of life. You know: 1938 -- 2007. RIP.

A six-foot statue of Emiliano Zapata, holding a rifle and draped with ammo belts, sits inside a Minneapolis business establishment because the near-by parks are plagued by gangs. Wrong message? Perhaps. But I'll bet there are parks in Texas that would welcome the statue of the revolutionary leader even though he shot up El Paso once. Or twice.

Next fall comes the People's Car with a sticker price around $2,500. People's Car once meant Volkswagen. Not this one. It will be made in India. A billion people wanting cars. Think of it. Cough, cough.

Next time some wiseacre says he has a bridge he wants to sell you, ask if it's the Ambassador Bridge over the Detroit River connecting the U.S. and Canada. If so, he could be telling the truth. That bridge is owned by one man and his privately held company. He charges $3.75 for cars, truck average $12. Billionaire? Yes.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Baby boomers are in trouble

Everybody talks and writes about how the baby boomers are going to change the United States -- change the world -- as they age. But few people realize that the deck is stacked against them where geriatric medicine is concerned.

Dr. Robert Butler understands. Speaking on Life Part II, Butler said, "All medical schools in Great Britain have a department of geriatrics, and it's now either the second or the third largest specialty in Great Britain. We have 145 medical schools, as you say with academic hospitals, university hospitals, and only eleven of them have required geriatric departments."

That's not enough. Worse, there's not enough incentive for young doctors to go into geriatric medicine. They make more money in other specialties.

But, Dr.Butler says, “When the baby boomers hit golden pond, things are going to have to change.”

However, the needed changes cannot, will not happen overnight. So you young people (in your early 60's) better get busy. Eventually, the U.S. will have enough geriatric specialists. But not in time for the baby boomers.

That will be your gift to future generations.

Friday, October 12, 2007

Wal-Mart boon or boondoggle?

Guess how much Wal-Mart brings in every day? Nearly one billion dollars!

Let that sink in. One billion dollars per day, seven days a week, 365 days a year. It's worth repeating -- one billion dollars per day.

Why would such a rich corporation fight against paying property taxes that help pay to educate our children? But they do. Wal-Mart has tried to reduce taxes at 35 percent of its stores and 40 percent of its distribution centers -- and they win half the time, according to a study done by Good Jobs First, a group critical of the retail giant.

Easy to see why. Wal-Mart comes to court with a van full of lawyers and accountants in full battle dress while the small local governments can barely afford to staff up with civil service attorneys.

Besides, many small towns mistakenly give Wal-Mart tax concessions to lure the company to their community.

The giant corporation saves about $3 million annually. Remember, they bring in a billion a day. So $3 million is chump change for Wal-Mart.

You would think Wal-Mart would want to set the pace for America's business community in supporting struggling local government. Instead, Wal-Mart is fixed on the bottom line.

This is just another reason I won't shop at Wal-Mart.

Oh sure, you can save a buck or two by shopping there but it is false economy. They wreak havoc on small communities by driving Mom and Pop out of business. That goes to the small town quality of life, which is much more important than the bottom line.

Furthermore, Wal-Mart's dictatorial pricing structure has driven many of their suppliers to close shop in America and re-open in China, where labor is cheap and quality control is spotty. (see lead paint, tainted toothpaste, etc.)

Question: when does excess profit become greed?

C'mon, Wal-Mart. Show some leadership. Show some pride in America.

Monday, October 8, 2007

Food for old people has changed

Have you tried the Spicy Guacamole Pringles? Or the Wicked Wings from Friday's? They are hot. And so are many new taste treats coming on the food market. Very hot and very much on purpose.

So the aging Baby Boomers can taste 'em. Seriously.

Read Sascha Pfeiffer's comprehensive article in the Boston Globe. Fascinating.

I began to lose my sense of smell -- and my sense of taste -- 15 years back. I was a bachelor back then and realized I was playing Russian roulette every time I opened my refrigerator. The sniff test just quit working.

Back to the spicy food issue. My view is -- it's a trick. We aren't actually tasting new spices. We are getting hurt by them. Care for another cayenne chocolate bar?

Pfeiffer sorta backs me up. "The tastes that penetrate the fog most clearly come from another group of flavors called sensory irritants. These hit the body not through taste or smell, but through the chemosensory system, which conveys sensations like touch, temperature, pain, and pressure."

More proof: "Eighty percent of the 2 million annual visitors to, a website for aficionados of chili peppers and barbecue sauce, are men 45 and older, according to Dave DeWitt, who runs the site and also publishes Fiery Foods and BBQ magazine."

Interestingly, the food gurus haven't quite figured out how to market these new foods because "food for old folks just doesn't work."

Here's the back story. As Boomers age, the spicy foods will set up predictable consequences. Call your financial planner. Buy stock in Mylanta, Tums and Gas-X.

Trust me.

Sunday, October 7, 2007

Hot tubs, nursing homes and cheap white wine

Today's broadcast is from the high desert in Valencia, California. We are visiting the Mystery Woman's son and his young family. The weather is beautiful.

He picked us up at LAX. Otherwise, I would have never come. Not driving in L. A. traffic. Not me. Not ever. Too late for that kind of heroics.

On the way in, we stopped at a wonderful meat market to pick up marinated skirt steak for the grill. Carne asada (sp?). The market was teeming. The real deal. On Fridays, the line goes out the front door as workers cue up to cash their paychecks. Many illegals, I figure. Lots of $$$ headed for the home country, undoubtedly. A tough neighborhood, but festive today.

I like it here. Always have. The crisp, cool air meshes with the rays of the sun to form a layer of good living. Yes, I've heard all the jokes about "la-la land" but we still like it.

In fact, today we are getting a tour of nursing homes with their own vineyards. And hot tubs. Adjacent to a bicycle trail.

More later ...

Friday, October 5, 2007

Alzheimer's cartoons not really funny

Humor. Throughout my life I have created more trouble trying to be funny than I have generated with blatant, premeditated meanness. Usually by accident.

Humor is subjective. Do you realize how difficult it is to be funny without using body parts, sex, infirmities, nationalities, the U. S. Senate, etc?

Earlier this year, I got into a dust-up with a nationally syndicated cartoonist when I took offense at one of his cartoons. Admittedly, I over-reacted but it was my first response to something that I felt denigrated older people suffering from dementia.

Weeks later, I continue to get random hits on this blog that use searches related to cartoons and Alzheimer's and dementia. Many searches came from universities across America, which puzzles me.

One person used "Alzheimer's cartoon" in their Google search. Out of curiosity, I made the same search. Boom. Imagine my surprise to see over one million possible sites relating to this fatal illness. There are stock cartoons available for purchase from several sites. Some are funny. Some are misdemeanors. But a few rise to felonies.

FOOTNOTE: did you notice that "Desperate Housewives" apologized after joke went awry and offended medical schools in the Philippines? More than 30,000 names came in via an online petition. Hence the quick mea culpa.

If those Alzheimer's jokes were about Jews, blacks, gays there would be a similar outcry. Justifiable, too.

Currently, we have no avenging angel who will truly stand up for slanders and slurs which target the elderly and our infirmities. AARP -- you listening?

But the day is coming ...

Thursday, October 4, 2007

On the road again

You've seen them -- the overweight older people riding bicycles down the road with apparent ease, smiling in the wind, bugs in their teeth.

How do they do it? Gina Kolata wrote about the Bicycle Paradox recently in the NY Times, Fit Doesn't Have to Mean Thin. Check it out.

Riding a bike is a different kind of exercise that you can enjoy later in life. Your center of gravity isn't moving up and down like in running. Interesting. Encouraging.

I used to ride much better than I do now. One year, I logged 2,000 miles and had three fairly serious wipe-outs. Even wore out the chain. Got respect at the bike shop. And discounts on band-aids.

But the recovery time from each of three surgeries this year has slowed me down. I need a month each time just to get back to scratch. This year, I figure the Mystery Woman and I have ridden our bikes about five miles per month. That is not a typo.

Excuse #1: I have another surgery coming up. My pacemaker/defibrillator battery will need replacing soon. The procedure is simple, out-patient stuff. But the recovery just takes time.

Excuse #2: I turn 69 in November. How did that happen?

Here's the deal. Within 30 days of the next surgery, I'm going to be up on the bike again with a regular schedule. Watch for me on the roads around Austin this winter. I'll be the old guy with the buns of steel. The Mystery Woman will be in front.

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Grilled cheese sandwich -- supreme

We're supposed to help you. Indeed, we have. Over the past year, this blog has brought you fearless (some would say feckless) reports covering a wide variety of subjects: screw caps on wine bottles, elastic waisted britches, and media coverage of the day Elvis died.

Today, we tackle the sacred -- the making of the grilled cheese sandwich.

And we will plagiarize shamelessly from Jennifer Steinhauer's article in the New York Times on the front page of the Dining In section.

There have been remarkable improvements in frying cheese-filled bread in butter. Most of the innovations come from Los Angeles eateries, not Wisconsin as you might think.

This year, some 600 people entered the Grilled Cheese Invitational at an unpublicized address in Century City, California. In three categories: missionary (bread, butter, and cheese), kama sutra (with meats and other ingredients and better bread), and honey pot(dessert sandwiches).

Still, as much as grilled cheese means to the American pantheon of comfort foods and no matter how dressed up you make it, the sandwich celebration does not rise to the level of the the Spam-O-Rama in Austin, Texas. Or the granddaddy of food fights, the Chilympiad which originated in Terlingua, a Texas ghost town. Food fight? Yes, there are competing events the first week in November. One is sponsored by Chili Appreciation Society International, the other is the Frank X. Tolbert/Wick Fowler Memorial Championship Chili Cookoff.

Focus. We're talking grilled cheese sandwiches here: sourdough bread grilled in butter, maybe a tomato and an onion, served hot enough that the cheese still runs. Ahhh, that's comfort.

Take it to the next level: taleggio cheese, short ribs, arugula and apricot caper puree on raisin bread.

Burp when you're done.

Monday, October 1, 2007

Cell phones, newspaper spin -- and AARP

Next time you are stuck in traffic, take a look around. The only people who are not on cell phones are older drivers. Buttons are too small, too confusing. Besides, we are dangerous enough without added distractions.

Other than the government, who spends $2.3 trillion yearly on goods and
services? People age 50 and older, that's who.

Myth: when you get old, you're going to grow a hump. Not if you can keep
your bones strong. Spinal humps are caused by vertebrae gone bad,
osteoporosis, brittle bone disease. Eat calcium and walk a lot.

Another reason I'm angry with AARP: more than half the elderly who live in long-term care facilities go through their entire savings and have to go on Medicaid -- welfare. With 38 million members, AARP should have the muscle to fix this injustice. How about it, Big Guy?

Here's the latest spin on falling newspaper circulation: the newspapers are losing subscribers on purpose. Pinch me. Big newspapers have lost about 10 percent of their subs since 2000. Due, in part, to on-line competition and, in part, because of the expense in getting newspapers delivered to the hinterlands. The Dallas Morning News took a 15 percent hit when it stopped distribution outside 200 miles. This year, the newspaper cut the delivery circle to 100 miles and expects another drop. Does anybody care?

Despite its vast media holdings, News Corp. is dwarfed by the enormity of the Internet, says chief Rupert Murdoch. "We don't dominate anywhere," says the media mogul. News Corp. remains "a tiny fraction" of the media universe, with the public well able to find differing opinions elsewhere. (I call BS on this one.)

Example of media migration: 52 percent of adults frequently go to the Web
for health information, according to a Harris poll. That's up from 29 percent in 2001.

Saturday, September 29, 2007

AFV if I only had a camera

Sept. 28, 2007 -- Bemidji, MN.

It's cold already. Early risers have to scrape frost from their windshields before they can hit the road. Frost? No. Make that read ICE. Seriously.

Later in the morning, hoping the permafrost is forgiving, we make our way to Lake Itasca, where the famed headwaters of the mighty Mississippi have such a humble beginning that true believers can walk across the stream. Allegedly.

The Mystery Woman is determined to repeat her derring-do of 35 years ago and hop, skip and jump across the river. You'll recall this is the same woman who showed no fear in asking a group of motorcycle gang members if she could borrow a knife.

She has a mystical connection to the river and will not be denied.

We meander through the state forest where the fall leaves blaze with colors that are so beautiful they challenge description.

About 600 feet down the dirt path, there's a clearing. It's official, Lake Itasca empties into a small stream designated as the start of the Mississippi. For a few miles, the river actually flows north. True statement.

The Mystery Woman, still 35 years old in spirit but not in conditioning, makes it into the Mississippi with a hop, skip, jump -- and plop.
Look closely.

She nearly drowned. From laughing so hard. The scene from top to bottom would have made it to the finals at America's Funniest Videos. And me without a video camera.

But she was getting chilled so we cobbled together some mismatched clothing, put her in the car, turned on the heater and headed south toward the Twin Cities.

When we stopped for lunch, I asked the Mystery Woman if the waitress had anything to say about her attire.

Yes, she sniffed, they all commented on how dry I looked.

I hushed.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Wine: savory Gamay Noir, White Burgundy

When I first started drinking wine, it was not for the bouquet. Rather, it was to get into some college girl's britches.

Nothing else matched the pageantry of pulling the cork from a bottle of wine. Sophistication at its zenith.

Pay-back came when, as young marrieds, we could afford only the boxed wines. When overtime fattened the weekly paycheck (reporters got paid every Friday so they could make it through the weekend), we would splurge with a bottle of cheap wine. You knew it was cheap by the screw top.

Wine has always been a little pretentious. Wine jargon is a little too fruity. Confession: try as hard as I might, I've seldom actually detected the taste of discreet tannins, nor do I fully appreciate voluptuous and velvety tones. Peonies? That's supposed to help me understand? And what the hell is a nose?

Over the years, I've learned to fake it (like everyone else, I suspect). "The lady will have Chardonnay. Me, too."

Sadly, cork taint is prompting the return of the screw top. Expensive wines, cheap wines. If all wines have screw tops, how will you know who has money?

Revenge is on the way. Wine savants fear that some dreaded thing called "screw cap reduction" will become noticeable enough to warrant a return to corks.

Bacchus is smiling.


Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Sen. Larry Craig no laughing matter

Mention U. S. Sen. Larry Craig and "get a rope!" is the knee-jerk reaction.

I am not gay. I am not Republican. I'm positive. But I have voted for both.

And I hope I am not a hypocrite.

For the record, I dislike Sen. Craig. But he deserves his day in court. Lawyer friends (is that an oxymoron?) tell me what he did in that bathroom stall is not illegal.

Had the Senator contacted an attorney at the time, he might have beaten the rap.

Probably too late now. At least in the court of public opinion. But aren't you surprised at how his own Republican party attacked and then abandoned the man?

Hypocrites abound, on the left and the right. I believe Sen. Craig is a hypocrite, too, when it comes to his stance on family values and gay rights.

Damn. It was very difficult to write this without giving in to the temptation to join the line-up of cheap laughs, double meanings, etc.

But equal justice for all means just that.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Marcel Marceau, now silent

I saw Marcel Marceau's real face for the first time today. Sadly, it was in his obituary in the NY Times. Odd, isn't it, that his chalk-face was better known to the world than his real face.

What an amazing little man. His art, his imagination swept us out of our theater seats, across the proscenium and into his vision of the world.

And what vision. Without a sound and using only his hands and his body, the mime would act out universal truths in four minute routines.

Imagine a sketch where "one of his hands played evil, the other good, twisting and struggling until they combined in prayer." Imagine.

Marceau was a man of many talents; an artist, an author of children's books and a movie actor. Largely unappreciated in his native France, he was truly a world treasure.

A 1999 NY Times writer once wrote that Marceau remained a model of classic mime, not a fossil.

"If you love your art, you just do it," said Marceau. "Time will judge me."

Wave good-bye.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

AARP and sex

Stay with me. This first item is about AARP and geriatric sex.

AARP has an annual budget around $878 million in revenue. Of that amount, the federal government chips in $83 million through a wide variety of grants. Since 1989, AARP has raked in over one billion in taxpayer money.

Doesn't that sound like a good screwing to you?


This year, America will spend an estimated $275 billion on prescription drugs. Within a decade, that number is expected to grow to nearly $500 billion.

On average, brand-name drugs cost three times more than generic meds.

Good news: spending on generics is now 63 percent of U.S. prescriptions.That's up 13 percent in 2006, compared with 2005.

Wal-Mart is getting into the act. Currently the Big Chain carries only 350 discounted generics. Next year, 2,400 generics will be available to its employees. Can a similar deal for consumers be far behind?

No matter. I will not shop at Wal-Mart. More about that later.


Speaking of getting old, the 82-year-old boxing ring at Madison Square Gardens has been retired and is going to the International Boxing Hall of Fame. It will be replaced with a slightly larger ring. The only part of the old ring they'll keep is the brass bell.


Fess up. You've always wanted to live in a houseboat on the Mississippi. Now comes a St. Paul developer who wants to build a $90 million ship of condos that would travel the 6,000 miles of inland waterways. On board planned amenities include theaters, beauty salon, grocery, restaurant, deli and fitness center. Next stop: New Orleans.

Mark. Twain.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Internet's impact -- good/bad?

Question: does the Internet move society forward?

Too deep? OK, let's get closer to home. Is this blog necessary? Not only "no" but "hell no." This ditty is just one of 90 million blogs.

But let's have a more knowledgeable guy discuss the Internet. Yesterday on PBS The News Hour, Jeffrey Brown interviewed Andrew Keen about Keen's new book, "The Cult of the Amateur: How Today's Internet is Killing our Culture."

Here's some of their discussion:

JEFFREY BROWN: The subtitle is, "How Today's Internet is Killing Our Culture," very provocative. What's the key argument you're trying to make?

ANDREW KEEN: The key argument is that the so-called "democratization" of the Internet is actually undermining reliable information and high-quality entertainment. By replacing mainstream media content, high-quality radio, television, newspapers, publishing, music, with user-generated content, we're actually doing away with information, high-quality information, high-quality entertainment, and replacing it with user-generated content, which is unreliable, inane, and often rather corrupt.

The value of Internet content

JEFFREY BROWN: And where do you want it to go? I mean, you said that you're not advocating getting rid of all of this; it would be impossible anyway. So you end with a chapter on solutions. What do you want people to -- how do you want to leave people, in terms of thinking about the future, thinking about their own use of the Internet?

ANDREW KEEN: A couple of things I would encourage people to think about. Firstly, if your listeners are using the Internet to express themselves, if they are one of the 70 million bloggers, the hundreds of thousands of people posting their videos on YouTube, the tens of thousands of people doing editing on Wikipedia, for them to ask themselves, "Is this really valuable? Do I need to tell the world what I'm eating for breakfast? Do I need to tell the world what I think of the latest TV show?" Much of the self-expression on the Internet is wasteful.

... I think the most corrosive thing of today's Internet is anonymity. That's what's creating such an uncivil world. It's a pre-social contract place. It's a state of nature. We're not behaving ourselves properly on it, very often because we don't reveal who we are. Much of the most uncivil conversation, much of the unpleasantness of the Internet is carried out by people who won't reveal who they are.

Back to me. This is serious stuff and worth thinking about in more depth. You can read the entire interview here.

Old schoolers will probably like what he has to say. Truants (from the old school) will not.

What do you think?

Sunday, September 16, 2007

With apologies to L. M. Boyd*

Relax. It is only a rumor that Campbell's will recognize Baby Boomers with a large-type alphabet soup.

Name the American subculture that marries 70 percent of the time and votes 82 percent. You wouldn't be wrong if you said moderate Muslims.

Rocks at the bottom of the Grand Canyon are said to be four million years old, which begs the question -- how old are rocks a the top of the canyon? Haven't all rocks been on Earth the same amount of time?

If you are older than 55 and looking for a job, figure the hunt will take you nearly seven weeks longer than your younger, better-looking next-door neighbor.

Every day, 1,000 veterans of World War II die. Salute.

Several airlines offer cloth napkins with button holes to international business class passengers. Picture that.

Traveling with kids? Rent strollers and stuff from Baby's Away or The Traveling Baby Co. Those napkins with button holes would work here, too. Urck.

The U.S. median household income, adjusted for inflation is now $48,451. What? Still not enough, you say?

Don't believe everything you read in the paper. Newspapers have always lied about their own circulation numbers. They never adjust for population growth.

Minnesota hunters have bagged 2,502 black bears this season. Don't go out in the woods alone after Oct. 14. That's when the season ends.


* L. M. Boyd was my hero. Yours too?

Saturday, September 15, 2007

The Haband Generation

Me, a hypocrite? Well, maybe.

A couple of reader-friends have taken me to the woodshed because they think my use of the term "geezer" is not consistent with my defense of the elderly in general.

Guilty as charged. "Geezer" is offensive to some. However, I have the same reaction to the use of "senior." For some reason, I abhor that word.

I jokingly refer to myself as a geezer-hunk in part using "hunk" to mitigate "geezer." The other reason is because I have buns of steel.

Somebody needs to come up with a new way of describing those of us fortunate enough to reach "a certain age." We need a new moniker. How about The Relaxed Fit Generation? I've got it: Haband's Heroes.

Generation Jones is a grabber. The name describes both an age group and a movement. It's very interesting.

But the Generation Jones age group is too narrow to describe the entire aging population. And, I suppose, that is the problem. Can a single term be descriptive to identify a huge population chunk that ranges from young/old, to the active/old, to the old/old.

This search for identity is not just cosmetic. In the near political future, the Congress is going to be forced to come to grips with Social Security and Medicare reforms. AARP The Mighty is even holding regional discussions on SS. It would be nice if we were all wearing the same jersey.

Meanwhile, I guess I'll just have to be content with the Mystery Woman's name for me. She calls me "Honey."

Friday, September 14, 2007

Old age. Nudge, nudge. Wink, wink.

Can jokes about old age be funny without being degrading?

Disclaimer: if you don't have a good sense of humor, aging is going to be a problem. Laughter is the best tonic, along with a little gin.

But we all get a little weary of jokes about memory, body parts, gravity, etc. Ditto with scatological humor which is too easy and too often not funny.

The volume of geezer humor will grow as the Baby Boomers and Generation Jones kids morph from pupae-hood to the adult understanding of Medicare, Part D. We could all use a good laugh.

It's dangerous to dissect humor. Especially about a sensitive subject. However, maybe we can learn by example.

Take this quip which is part of a promo for Life, Part II, a snappy show about old age on Twin Cities Public Television in Minneapolis. The weekly show is hosted by actor (and backgammon champ) Alan Rosenberg.

Here's what 70-year-old Dick Cavett has to say about aging: "I don't feel old," he said. "I feel like a young man with something wrong."

Funny, poignant -- and true for most of us. If we are lucky, the brain (and a sense of humor) could be the last thing to go.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Too old to drive?

This won't win me any friends: Don't coddle older drivers.

You've read that most automobile accidents happen within a few miles of home? Well, most older drivers forsake cross-town freeways in favor of neighborhood streets. Correlation?

So how do you know when you're too old to drive? Oh, you know all right but you just won't admit it. But you know. Here's a quick test: Look in your driveway (or front curb) -- is there a 1990 or older Buick parked there? You get my drift.

Giving up your car often creates hardship, so plan ahead.

You may have to move. Figure out where you go the most often and move near those places or near a bus line. You don't need all that space in the family home anyway. Dust bin.

But it will be so expensive, you say. Listen old friend, that paid-for jalopy still costs you money. Figure out what you spend annually on maintenance, insurance, oil and gasoline. That paid-up car still costs you thousands of dollars. You can ride lots of taxi cabs for the same money or less. In many cities, cab drivers work the same zone every day and they get to know you and your schedule. Fringe benefit.

Driving a car is a huge responsibility. You are making life or death decision all the time you are behind the wheel. Let that sink in -- life or death decisions.

Show the wisdom that allegedly accompanies age and hang up your keys when it's time.

Copy, paste -- send to Gramps.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Web grays as more older people get wired

These geezer sites are like Facebook -- with wrinkles, according to an article in today's New York Times.

The number of graying computer users is growing. There are now just about as many geezer geeks over age 55 as there are in the 18-34 crowd.

Think back to a couple of weeks ago when a study revealed the seniors were interested in the same thing that revved the kids' engines -- sex.

Is it any wonder then that social networking sites for older people are proliferating? But the geezers are interested in more than just hooking up. Indeed, the senior sites discussions range from health care to face lifts to retirement issues. Stuff that would not yet interest the younger set. And never will, so they think.

If the kids aren't watching, you might find one of these worth bookmarking: Eons, Rezoom, Multiply, Maya's Mom, Boomj, and Boomertown.

Interesting "discoveries" about the geezer population:
-- marketers have figured out we have money, and we spend it.
-- Internet researchers learned we find a site we like and stick with it, unlike the youngsters with short attention spans. I check Arts & Letters every morning. Have for years.
-- venture capitalists, themselves, are beginning to enter the grey zone as they get older and take longer to bounce back from keg parties. Some are considering investing in geezer sites. A few have.
-- AARP is an acquired taste for boomers who find membership "labels" them.

Networking could prove to be the biggest boon for seniors. As we age, we lose friends due to death, migration, illness, and, in my case, personality flaws. Many seniors are just not connected. Anywhere.

But with the Net, that problem could be diminished, if not solved.

Stay tuned.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

The Pickle days, B.E. (before ethics)

It was my first trip back to Austin after joining Cong. Pickle's office in Washington, D.C., and I was looking forward to seeing old friends.

Mr. Pickle leaned over and began to give me advice: Now, George, you're going to be 1,500 miles from home and I don't want you staying out all night in bars and coming in to work the next day still half drunk.

Yes, sir.

But while you're out, find reporters and buy them drinks. Here's twelve bucks. (Remember, I told you he was tight with money.) Knowing $12 wouldn't go far even in the 1970's, I went to the bank and got a hundred dollar bill. Big dog.

In those days, the reporters hung out at the Alamo Hotel, which was two blocks from the Austin American Statesman's downtown building.

Seedy is too dressy to describe the Alamo Lounge. It was dark, dank, smoke-filled, in other words, just perfect.

The drinks were cheap and the B.S. was strong.

At Last Call, the waitress delivered the bill, a whopping $32.00. Since I was the ranking political flack at the table, I was expected to pay. So I whipped out the hundred dollar bill.

The bartender couldn't make change. Seriously.

OK, the reporters said as they fished for quarters to help pony up, you buy tomorrow night, Phenix.

Next night, same bar, same reporters, roughly the same bill, same results, the bartender could not make change for my $100 bill. The reporters grumbled, but paid the tab.

Next day, two of the Capital Press showed up at my office in the Federal Building. They personally escorted me to the bank to break the hundred.

That night, I paid.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Don't stereotype old people

The dust-up with Tony Carrillo and his fans was interesting and illuminating. The brouhaha was over his F Minus cartoon that I found degrading to the elderly. It featured an older guy facing the door and a young woman saying, "Uh...I think Grandpa needs to go out."

I had an old friend suffering from Alzheimer's who stood at the front door wanting out. He's dead now. So is his long-suffering wife who cared for him through more than a decade. She died just a few months after her husband.

And I still maintain that if you changed the grandpa character in this cartoon to a black man or a gay man, there would be organized hell to pay. That's the truth test.

Ugly, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder. Ditto stereotypes.

But I don't intend to belabor our disagreement any further. Instead, I would like to focus on some of the things I learned in the exchange.

-- Carrillo has a wicked sense of humor. His rebuttal to my last blog was in writ in "large font type."
-- some of his fans are funny. One wrote me that he was not going to read my blog any more. "I mean it," he said (it was his first visit, obviously.)
-- these days, everyone has a voice. I'm an old newspaper guy accustomed to writing editorials from Olympus and letting the pieces fall where they may. It surprised me to see several hundred people land on my site via click-throughs from the cartoonist's web site.
-- sadly, the responses appeared to run mostly along generational lines in an old versus young theme. Too bad.
-- AARP. Who?

I'll close with this advice to the youngsters: Don't piss off the old people or we'll spend your inheritance.

Friday, September 7, 2007

F Minus cartoon slanders geezers

Goddammit. This proves my point.

I really like the dark humor in Tony Carrillo's new cartoon strip called F Minus. It's sometimes edgy, sometimes oblique and nearly always right on.

But today he's gone too far. Look for yourself. It crosses the line and ridicules older people who might be suffering from Alzheimer's, Parkinson's, or dementia.

Exactly who is going to take him to task? Nobody, that's who. If we are lucky, AARP will give the cartoonist a slap on the wrist in their monthly magazine.

That's too late. We need an advocate who will jump on this right now. Forcefully. Make it hurt. Make him apologize, sure. But more than that, make Americans aware that we will not allow this kind of generational slime go unchallenged.

Why don't the elderly in America get respect? Because of crap like this cartoon.

We're going to have to do it ourselves.

Send the cartoonist an e-mail: and tell him he's funny, but this cartoon is not.

Send the same message to his syndicate, United Feature Syndicate, Debra Graynor, head of Customer Service,

I'm sure the cartoonist did not mean to insult the infirmed. But he did. The larger point is that this abuse will happen every damn day unless we take a stand.

Now I feel just like John Belushi's character "Bluto"in Animal House when he asked: "All right, who's with me?"


Thursday, September 6, 2007

Where were you when JFK was killed?

I wonder if this idea would work as a book...let me explain.

See that book cover to the left of this screen? It touts "When the News Went Live," a book written by four of us who were radio/TV reporters when President Kennedy was killed. The book chronicles our experiences covering the story of the century as the nation pivoted from newspapers to television as the major source of news.

We wrote the book for history, not money.

As we pump the book in panel discussions, the same thing happens after each presentation -- people want to tell us where they were and what they were doing when the president was shot.

That awful day is the Pearl Harbor for our generations. And we are getting older, dying, and soon those stories of how we survived as a nation, as individuals, will be gone forever.

We were so busy as reporters covering the breaking story that we didn't have time to cry until days later. So busy, in fact, that I didn't stop to think about the impact this would have on people throughout America, throughout the world.

I remember one person from Nebraska who was just a school kid at the time told us that the principal gathered all the students outside where they formed a circle around the flagpole, said a prayer, then dismissed the kids to go home to their parents arms.

Another told of the boss, crying, going from office to office to tell workers to go home.

There a millions of poignant stories out there that are worthy of being told. Preserved for history. I would like to try to tell those stories.

Where were you?

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

Potpourri -- AARP, patooie

These things have been on my mind lately. Quick, before I forget them:

-- Texas has passed a new law making it tougher for older people to get on the road. Good. Driving is a huge responsibility. I would suggest even more people would stop driving if we had decent public transportation. And, I could have saved the state time and research. You know it's time to turn in your driver's license if you look in the driveway and there's a 1989 Buick parked out there.

-- We went for a ride down the Mississippi in a houseboat over the holiday weekend. I never knew they made so many two-story boats. What a hoot. Off the subject, sorta. Research shows that most male drowning victims are recovered with their zippers down. No, they were not thinking of a Senate run in Idaho; they stood up in the bow to answer nature's call and fell overboard. Blame booze.

-- Did you notice how fast the gays and lesbians jumped Jerry Lewis for saying "faggot" during his MD Telethon, and how fast he apologized. Lesson learned. We need someone like that who will kick butt every time older people are ridiculed. AARP, are you listening?

-- I finally found the perfect guy to give AARP some much-needed muscle. He's 59-year-old former linebacker Mike Flynt, who just made the football squad at Sul Ross in West Texas. That is not a typo.

In closing, I would like to plaigerize the guy who sent an angry letter to Abe Lincoln: "You will hear more from me when I am ready."

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

Teachers like first day of school, too

Today is the first day of school in Minneapolis. And the neighborhood takes on a renewed vibrancy. We live three houses from an elementary school and the joy of recess period reaches our living room when the windows are open.

Is there a law that says school bus gear boxes have to grind?

Guess who has the most trouble getting to sleep the night before opening day? According to the teachers, it's teachers. They get so excited that several group up and just go to the movies since they're going to be wide awake anyway.

The first day of school, retired teachers sometimes meet at the coffee shop for breakfast out of habit. They like seeing each other and miss the hustle of first day of classes whether they will admit it or not.

Here's a secret: Teachers like Happy Hour on Fridays.

I owe my journalism career to teachers. In the fifth grade, Hampton D. Anderson encouraged me to publish a two-page school newspaper. As I graduated from high school, Ms. Dick Cozby surprised me with a $200 Rotary Club scholarship, which got me into Texas Tech. Funny, we only knew her by her married name. Such was the style back then. Never knew her first name.

When I transferred to the University of Texas (following the Mystery Woman who had escaped a year earlier), my editing lab professor, Mr. Lee, told me I would never make it in journalism because I had a dirty mind. I wrote a column in the Daily Texan for married students called "Old Wives Tail." Mr. Lee was just mad that it took him a year and a half to catch my little snicker.

Anyhow, each of us owes a bunch to teachers. So here's to them. Clink!

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