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.

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