Thursday, December 31, 2009

Dick Cheney in the rear view mirror

Dick Cheney should be arrested. If not treason, for loitering. He is no longer vice mayor of Potemkin Village.

When Vladivostok's businesspeople and bureaucrats show up to work at 9 a.m., their colleagues in Moscow are sound asleep—it's 2 a.m. there. Eleven time zones between the two Russian cities.

Biggest retailer of organic groceries? Move to the head of the class if you said Wal-Mart.

Back in the 1980s, Whole Foods CEO John Mackey said to a reporter,” The union is like having herpes. It doesn’t kill you, but it’s unpleasant and inconvenient, and it stops a lot of people from becoming your lover.”

How lonesome are Minnesotans for good news about the weather? The TV studio erupted in spontaneous applause when the weather dude exclaimed, “We’ve gained two minutes of sunlight since the winter solstice.” Applause. Seriously.

How do you send your mailman a post card?

Rising levels of carbon dioxide are making the oceans louder. It helps sound travel farther, increases background noise underwater. Could make the dolphins go deaf.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Did you ever bubble your boat?

OK. Now I get it. This is winter.

First, it snowed for 43 hours. Then it rained. Then the temp dropped to below zero. The white stuff bonded to the sidewalk and will remain past February when we will celebrate a White Valentine’s Day.

The people are unfazed. But the governments are stressed over the cost of snow removal. Minneapolis has done this drill before. And they are prepared. If you live on a snow emergency route, you get a robo call warning you to not park on the street.

The guy on the corner is in construction. So he whipped out his Bobcat and piled the ice and snow into two dirty, ugly humps in his front yard, each about four feet high. It was self-defense. The city’s snowplows had entombed his corner with frozen by-products when they scraped the intersection from all directions.

This far upriver, the Mississippi is covered bank to bank with ice. And the ice is covered with snow. A white river.

We know a guy who is a year-round live-aboard in his houseboat on the Mississippi. He has a grand view of downtown St. Paul. Before the river freezes, he lays an underwater line around the hull that bubbles all winter long. Keeps ice from forming that otherwise would freeze his boat in place for months.

Ice fishing is big in Minnesota, but not many fools look to the Mississippi for winter fishing. To be safe, you need about 15 inches of ice and that’s difficult to maintain atop moving water. God, I miss Walter Matthau and Jack Lemmon.

I just spent three days trying to chip the ice from our front stoop. Ice-melt crystals were only minimal help. I think I’ll wait until dynamite goes on sale. Around Valentine’s.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Careful what you wish for

I’ll give you a hundred guesses to figure out what we are going to do today...

You would be wrong if you said: the opera, watch a kidney transplant, dice an eggplant or maybe wash some socks. Nope. Not even close.

Ever the traditionalist, the Mystery Woman wanted to get us tickets to something that would make this Christmas memorable. She scored two tickets to see the Harlem Globetrotters play.

It seems I mentioned that I had never seen them play and -- in a Christmas miracle -- their schedule brings the team to Minneapolis in the middle of a blizzard. Full disclosure: the Mystery Woman is more of an academic. She never knew they play basketball. Stand-up comics, perhaps?

She said they are great seats -- on the fifty-yard line.

So, with two feet of snow on the ground in twenty-five degree weather, we will bundle up and drive six blocks to the light rail stop, fumble for three quarters to pay for a ticket downtown where we get off the train, scrunch-walk across the street to Target Center and hoot and holler in memory of the legendary Meadowlark Lemon.

I'm grinning just thinking about it.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Winter Storms From Minnesota to Texas

My first Big Winter – and it’s a doozy.

By now, everyone understands this is a serious storm made more serious by man’s need to move about. How can something so beautiful be so dangerous?

The snow is really coming down. A thousand miles of storms.

On the way down, the snow seems to murmur: Be quiet. Be still. Enjoy. And at first, we obey. The city stops and smiles in awe as we watch the big, fat snowflakes cover all of outdoors.

Tonight, the wind is light. And the aerial ballet is all grace and beauty. Snowflakes fall at random. They swirl, they plunge, they glide. Without pattern the flakes pile up on everything. Good and bad alike.

Gradually, the city mutters back to business. But even the sound of the snow blower seems muffled. And the skree of the shovel, too, as it digs down to separate the snow from the sidewalk. Yet, the scrunch of a boot sounds sharp in the winter air. Tires on passing cars roll the sound even longer. Scruuuuuuuunnnnnncccchhhh. Be warm. Be safe.

Merry Christmas, y’all.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Hey -- this is Minnesota

I gotta go shovel the front walk. Third or fourth time this year already.

“Decorative,” that’s what one weatherman called the light snow that fell overnight. Apt. Very apt. The fresh powder covered all the road grunge and gave the squirrels a new canvass to practice their abstract art. Decorative. Yes.

Winter can look industrialized after just a few days since the last snow. Driving is safe, just ugly.

Another light snow fell while we were sleeping. More snow is predicted for the next five days. A big storm is chugging in from the west coast and will partner up with cold air from Anchorage. One to two feet of snow possible. Winter storm warnings are blasted in orange on local TV. One local station has weather on three channels via cable. They are damned serious about weather in Minnesota.

The Star-Tribune quotes veteran Meteorologist Paul Douglas saying “this could be the snowiest Christmas for Minnesota in 30 years.”

However, he says he wants to see one or two more computer models before he starts screaming, “Run, George, run!”

Monday, December 21, 2009

The problem with pigs...

Last spring the government in Cairo got a bright idea to combat swine flu – they would kill all their pigs. And so they did. In no time at all their streets were over-run with garbage. Amuck in organic waste.

Certain Buddhist sects tear down their temples every 20 years and then rebuild them over the same spot. Was Sisyphus a Buddhist?

Letterman and Leno were once on the same team. Both wrote for the Comedy Store. In the 70’s,

Laredo, Texas, no longer has a bookstore. Safety first? According to the Consumer Product Safety Commission more than 10,000 injuries were caused by books, magazine, albums and scrapbooks. Plus another 9,000 were caused by toothpicks. Hors d’oeuvrs anyone?

Next time you are at a dinner party of ten, just know that “twenty percent of the American dining public are socially maladjusted psychopaths.” So claims Steve Dublanica. He's biased; he’s a waiter.

Poop spelled inside out is oppo.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Pagans and Wiccans and Druids, oh my

When it comes to shooting a pistol at someone, don’t go Hollywood. If you hold the gun sideways like some cool dude in a rap video, it could cause the pistol to jam and then where would you be. Stovepiping is what they call it. The result of tilting a gun 90 degrees counter-clockwise tends to work against gravity and the ejection of the spent casing. Dumb butt.

Paganism is on the up-tick. An eleven-year study in NY counted 134,000 Wiccans, 33,000 Druids, and 140,000 Pagans. Some Pagans, however, prefer to be called by their family name – Heathens.

If you went on-line to get info on how to cook your Thanksgiving turkey, chances are you got codified. The Wednesday before Turkey Day, 410,000 people had looked up turkey recipes at, largest cooking website in the U.S. At Butterball, 11,000 calls came in (they are moving on-line and they now Twitter.) Pie searches drew the most hits at early Wednesday. But by 10 a.m. people were hunting for sweet potato casseroles and stuffing recipes. By noon, the focus switched to mash potatoes. By late afternoon, most of the men were napping.

Researchers say women begin their lives more fulfilled than men but as they age, women gradually become less happy. Men, on the other hand, get happier as they get older. And that’s all I’m going to say about that.

Herewith is the transcript of a phone call from LBJ to Hubert Humphrey: “Don’t ever argue with me (about health). I’ll get a hundred million or a billion on health or education. I don’t argue about that any more than I argue about Lady Bird buying flour. You got to have flour and coffee in your house. Education and health. I’ll spend the goddamn money. I may have to cut back some tanks. But not on health.”

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Toy hamsters, booze and bear meat

Now it can be told. When given a choice, fruit flies will choose booze over abstinence. They choose rotting fruit over the healthy stuff. We study fruit flies too much.

Have you tried the McNuggetini? On YouTube, you can watch two rising e-stars tell you how to make the disgusting drink with vanilla vodka and BBQ sauce. Try the Ham Daiquiri, too.

You can stir-fry it, boil, broil, make, microwave or cook it over an open campfire, but eat some bear meat and you are likely to get trichinosis. Freezing doesn’t work. Nor does well-done. This will be your only warning. (And give me some credit for resisting any Sarah Palin temptation.)

How cold does it get in Minnesota? Well, cold enough that locals wrap their evergreens in burlap. Itchy, but it protects plant from drying winter wind and sun.

The manufacturer says the hot Zhu Zhu battery-powered Christmas hamster is for kids three and up. But the New Yorker writer Patricia Marx thinks the toy is for cats three and under.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Did L.M. Boyd start this way?

An apple a day can make millions. Ask the nerds at the University of Minnesota who just built the world’s 67th largest computer and financed three million of the cost with the sale of Honeycrisp apples. To date, the apples are the U’s marquee intellectual property. But the SweeTango is waiting in the wings. This new Minnesota apple is expected to generate $30 million annually.

Believe me, honey. It’s cheaper for you to rent that fancy dress than it is to buy it. Even if you wear the finery ten times. Rent the Runway will put you in a fancy designer dress for $50 to $200, a tenth of what it ordinarily costs. Trust me.

The top job is vacant in Seborga (pop 2,000, the five-mile square principality snuggled near the beaches of the Rivera and the Alps. Their prince died. Prince Giorgio was also known as His Tremendousness. More amazing, he was not born to the job; he was elected.

It’s back. Starting today, you can buy a square seedless watermelon in NYC. At Agata & Valentine, Graces, Marketplace and Kings Super Markets. You see a lot of these at Goldman Sachs. Cost: $75. Seventy-five bucks? Some old boy is laughing his ass off in the back of the truck.

It’s probably the same guy who is selling New Yorkers bacon-flavored dental floss. Available at E.A.T for six bucks.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Minnesota Nice

Officially, winter begins next week. But in Minnesota, winter is a pre-existing condition. It’s my first Big Winter and I kinda like it.

The biggest difference – these people up here are prepared. In Texas, we count on the sun to melt the snow by the time we finish lunch.

Takes some getting used to.

Picture this. If you see a red mini-van sliding 360 through the intersection and the driver looks like he’s yawning – take cover. That’s me. Driving on ice for the first time in 30 years. And now you know that screaming uses the same facial muscles as yawning.

I blame the puffy coats. Put one of those babies on, sit behind the wheel and just try to fasten your seat belt. You are prematurely entombed. And you’ll need a catheter.

Snow is beautiful – the first couple of days. By now, it is getting dirty but they don’t show you that on the post cards. I’ve never seen parking lots with snow piled higher than cars.

Snowplows were everywhere after last week’s snow event. At the school parking lot, the plows piled the snow up high as they cleared the lots for teachers’ cars. The Mystery Woman, a 31-year-veteran of Minneapolis public schools, says many a kid has gone missing playing king of that kind of hill. Some snow drifts, it is rumored, survive the short summers and escape to threaten shipping lanes in the Great Lakes.

We did the shovel snow thing last week. And here it is again. Snow. Before the last snow had a chance to melt, new snow fell. White on white. Did Bing Crosby start like this?

No chance the snow already on the ground is going to melt any time soon. A White Christmas is guaranteed. My first.

I’m excited.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Slack fill -- new political term?

The Mystery Woman offers this tip to makers of puffy winter coats: design them to zip from the top down.

This just in. Effective today, buildings with freight elevators in NYC must grant employees use of those elevators to get their bicycles upstairs. But don’t plan on working late. Access is limited to elevator operating hours, which usually means quitting time is around 6 p.m. There’s always a catch.

Ever hear of slack fill? The federal government has. The Fair Packaging and Labeling Act is "supposed" to protect consumers from slack fill -- from buying too much empty space filled with air, cotton, cardboard, etc. Non-functional space. Mucinex, for example, was found to contain only 10 percent pills. Have you bought any potato chips lately? For your money, you get half a sack of air.

Republicans go both ways. Here’s proof. Within a 24 hour span, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell’s office issued the following two press releases:

Sunday: "Cutting Medicare is not what Americans want."

Monday: "Expanding Medicare a plan for financial ruin."

Thursday, December 10, 2009

How do you feel today? -- No chain.

Raise your hand if you remember your first time. No, silly. I’m talking about the first time you rode on your very own bicycle. “Down the driveway, over the curb, away from the steady hand of your father, then beyond arm’s reach and, eventually, farther. As far as you want to go.”
From The Noblest Invention.

“A child on a bike is a wish fulfilled and a promise still in the making.” Ibid

With half a million people riding bikes to work each week, bike design is coming full circle. We’re talking fenders. Fenders on the rear tire to protect the backside of your work clothes from puddles and grime. Some are made of durable plastic with a quick release. One model is inflatable. Purists don’t like the added weight but I say screw ‘em. I also advocate kick stands. Screw ‘em, I say.

My coldest ride was a little ten mile jaunt in 32-degree weather around Town Lake in Austin. That’s sissy stuff up here in Minneapolis where the high temps are not expected to climb back up to freezing until sometime in 2010. No thanks. I can wait. Screw macho. Screw it, I say.

But I repeat myself.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Minneapolis weather update

Beautiful but deadly.

Four to six inches of snow overnight.

Snowplows ran all night.

Blowing snow, wind warnings.

Ten degrees and falling. Wind chill minus ten degrees.

And a guy just rode by on his bicycle.

Not me.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Snow angels and training wheels

Snow has begun to dust our block in the neighborhood. Fortunately, the Mystery Woman provides the training wheels for this, my first Big Winter. She’s a veteran of loading children on the Minneapolis public school bus. Thirty-one years without losing a single kid.

This morning, the Mystery Woman took one look out the window, put on her ho-ho-ho big red coat and headed for the grocery. We need some emergency back-up chocolate.

To the south, a serious blizzard is forecast. Up here, cold stiff winds and drifting snow. But nothing as critical as what they are expecting in Nebraska and Iowa. In our neighborhood, people are still walking their dogs and riding bikes through light snow flurries and below freezing temps. Apparently, testosterone doesn't freeze.

But there’s an unspoken sense of urgency.

Thanks to the Mystery Woman, we’re ready. The kitchen is stocked with soup, chili, and chocolate. Firewood is stacked two steps from the door. Furnace checked. Emergency bag in the van. The Christmas tree is up, ditto outdoor decorations, and Friday we mailed all the Christmas presents. Soon, you can smell the turkey in the oven. She even found some hand-made, authentic tamales for stuffing. Hug the children and the grandchildren for us. Time for some holiday music and that roasted chestnut thing.

Best training wheels ever. Clink.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Tiger Woods, Sarah Palin, Tea Baggers

“When you tell a woman you’re really good at algorithms, it doesn’t do much,” said Aaron Patzer who used his skill to create, the online personal finance tool which he recently sold to Quicken for $170 million. No problems now.

Tiger Woods caddy the past ten years refuses to discuss the golfer’s private life. “That’s what friends are for, Steve Williams said. “You support them through good and bad. It’s like a marriage, really.”

You can read in the bathtub with your Kindle, says Jeff Bezos, CEO of Amazon. Here’s how he does it. “I take a one-gallon Ziploc bad, and I put my Kindle in my one-gallon Ziploc bag, and it works beautifully…if you put a physical book in a Ziplock you can’t turn the pages. But with a Kindle, you can just push the buttons.”

“And news reports on Sarah Palin’s ‘Going Rogue’ bus tour. They say she’s been traveling on private planes to various stops and then just hops on the bus at the local town. So, let’s see what you got. You have Sarah Palin, who’s no longer governor, who’s promoting a book she didn’t actually write by going on a bus tour which is not really a bus. Her big complaint? Politicians who aren’t real.” Jay Leno.

If someone asked you where the Declaration of Independence was signed and you said “at the bottom” you could be a Tea Bagger.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Code Blue (a five month condition)

You have to listen to these people up here.

Take this sentence: “We won’t see freezing for at least another week.” A rational grown-up might conclude the weather will be warmer than 32 degrees for the next few days. Nope. Native speakers understand the meaning to be: “The temps will remain below freezing for at least a week.” Possibly longer; they don’t tell first-termers everything they know.

There’s still so much for me to learn. Upon leaving the bank, I stumbled on a plastic bucket with a Day-Glo sign: “Ice Melt .” Now what the hell does that mean? Are more glaciers on the way? How will the buckets help?

Just in case glaciers actually need help, there’s second season use of school playgrounds. They turn on the faucet and flood ‘em. Ice rinks for the children. That's cool.

Talk of weather permeates all communication. Even the sports pages. Writing in the Star-Tribune, Jim Souhan was having fun with Vikings fans and worked in this gem: “Minnesotans are supposed to be hardy and strong, tempered by the DNA of forebears who lived through their first winter here and, strangely, decided to stay.”

Currently, the Vikings play their season in a covered stadium. But they want a venue with no lid. I'm starting to mumble.

The perennial book favorite is "Bring Warm Clothes: Letters and Photos from Minnesota's Past." The tome was written by a former columnist for the Star-Tribune, Peg Meier. Letters from settlers in the 19th Century to relatives back in the homeland. Airmail.

This morning: 14 degrees, overcast and light flurries. But kind of pretty. Certainly fun. Challenging, uh-huh. And just the beginning.

I'm not getting out of these jammies.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

When the Wind Stops

Here's a man who appreciates the seasons -- and writes about the rural life for people who live in the city that hasn't been rural in several hundred years.

New York Times
December 3, 2009

This farm lies on an eastward-facing slope, which rises gradually to a thickly wooded ridge in the west. I can feel the mass of that hill whenever the sun goes down, and yet, where wind is concerned, there’s very little lee to it. Last week, the wind came ripping over the crest, knocking down a couple of fence sections and gnawing at the trees with a suctioning, siphoning sound. All day long, the air boomed and roared.

By evening, even the horses were weary. They had been blown about all day as though they weighed a few ounces instead of a thousand pounds apiece. A tree cracks in the distance and they trot, alarmed, across the pasture. A whirlwind of leaves twists past, and they race away from it. The corner of a tarp gets loose, and off they go. They transmit this anxious energy to me, undiluted. I prefer the way the pigs and chickens react. In a high wind, the pigs snooze together at the back of their house, straw pulled over their heads. The chickens sit on their perches, knitting and doing their accounts.

Sometime during the night, the wind dropped and the next morning was nearly still, smoke rising almost straight up from my chimney and from those down the valley. There was a strange sense of propriety about, a primness in the way every tree had relaxed and, at the same time, come back to attention. In this new silence, the horses seemed enveloped in stillness. They were no longer bracing themselves. Their bones and sinews had relaxed.

And I relaxed, too. I stood in the sun feeling the strength of its rays now that the wind wasn’t scattering them. When the wind blows, the horses always stand with their heads facing away from it. In the quiet of the morning, they were no longer magnetized. Without a wind, they were free to face in any direction they chose. Without a wind, the day could go any way it wanted.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Snowbirds -- for dummies

God, if there be such a creature, has a wicked sense of humor.

Take the weather report: snow is finally in the forecast. Not in Minnesota but in Texas. I got all this winter gear, puffy coat and everything, and where does it snow? Texas. We got zero measurable snowfall this November, the second warmest on record.

They do winter differently up here on the tundra. First, I noticed everybody walking around with a knowing look, like everybody was in on the secret except me. Then, I began to see intriguing items advertised in the newspaper, like heated pet bowls and strap-on spikes for your boots. Apparently spurs have limited utility during Minnesota winters.

We may not be doing this snowbird gig right. I've misplaced the manual.

The days grow dark faster. Around noon you drive with high beams. As winter approaches, outdoor conversations get shorter. There’s a run on firewood and oatmeal and whiskey. I can't find Vienna sausage anywhere. At first I was puzzled to see neighbors putting up Christmas decoration before Thanksgiving but not turning on the lights until the day after. It’s tradition. Decorations go up while you can still move your fingers.

When talking with the Mystery Woman, people lower their voices an octave and ask in knowing tones: “How is George coping with winter?” Hey. I’m standing right here.

I’m coping just fine, thank you. And I can hardly wait until I catch my first ice fish. Ole said he would take me.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Thinkgeek: Stuff for Smart Masses

As pigments go, blue is a killer color. In fact, blue can kill you. Cobalt blue is a possible carcinogen and Prussian blue, another well-known pigment, can leach cyanide. So it was a nice surprise when chemists at Oregon State University created a new blue pigment by accident. Still, nothing much compares with the blue box from Tiffany’s.

Last year, in Abu Dhabi, some guy paid fourteen million dollars at a public auction for a vanity license plate with only one digit: “1.” He said it’s the best number.

Ever hear of these products? Squeeze Bacon, Surgestix Inhalable Caffeine Stix, USB Pregnancy Text Kit? They are for sale at Not. To commemorate April 1, the geeks dedicate their home page to products that don’t exist. But every now and then, something falls through the cracks and a new product line is born. Like the Tauntaun Sleeping Bag (See: “The Empire Strikes Back.”)

To offset the shortage of available women in Yeonggwang, South Kores, marriage brokers have begun to import ladies from China, Vietnam and other parts of Asia. The mail-order bride plan has worked so well that OBGYN nurses have been forced to learn how to say “push” in four languages.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Glen Beck: Sarah Palin yapping in the kitchen

This is going to be so much fun.

First Sarah Palin says it’s a “hoot” to hear people talking about her teaming up with Glenn Beck for a 2012 presidential campaign. She flirted with such a notion but demurred on a definitive answer. “Glenn Beck, I have great respect for,” she said. “He gets his message across in such a clever way.”

Next day, on his radio show, Glen Beck took umbrage at the word “hoot.” He’s a professional. He dismissed a Palin-Beck ticket but said a Beck-Palin ticket might work. But then he belittled her saying, Palin would always be "yapping," like they were "in the kitchen." He knows a woman’s place. Beck admonished Palin not to use “hoot” when mentioning his name. Impossible.

Next day, the Tea Baggers announce their first national convention with featured speakers: Sarah Palin and Minnesota’s highest elected nut U.S. Rep. Michelle Bachmann. Two hoots.

It’s official: “Tea Party Nation is pleased to announce the First National Tea Party Convention.” Hurry February. If initial reports are accurate, and if the plans hold together, the first-ever such meet-and-greet will be held at Opryland. Tickets: $560 per.

Now that’s a hoot. Bona fide.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Men's fashion booty call

Rare is the men’s clothing designer with both a sense of style and a sense of humor. But (and I use the word advisedly) if Andy Dunn has his way, men will soon be as conscious of their own bums as they are of women’s. Using Web technology, Mr. Dunn claims he eliminates the saggy bottoms of ill-fitting pants. Plus free shipping. The brand name displays his sense of humor. He calls his line “Bonobos” after the promiscuous species of primates. The chimps are famous. They substitute sex for aggression. Wouldn’t that be nice…

Time was so short when U.S. troops scrambled for the war in Afghanistan there wasn’t time to requisition supplies through the Army, so Special Forces got their tents from REI, ordered fleece jackets from North Face and bought every Garmin eTrex GPS unit they could find.

Whitney Houston and Brittany Spears play for the University of Colorado women’s basketball team. Neither was named for the singer, they say. For a while, the coaches also recruited a player named Sweets Underwood but she didn’t make it. Hey girl – change your name to Carrie.

In the 1950s, the Guinness brewing company put some 200,000 messages in beer bottles and tossed them out to sea. Even this many years later, a few people still write in to claim their reward. That’s stout.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

The Thanksgiving Story that the Mainstream Media Won't Print

By Mary Lenz

The Season of the Turkey is upon us.

Whether our ancestors hail from Sicily, Nuevo Leon, Ireland, Saxony, Nigeria, Norway or Vietnam, we U.S. citizens are called upon to pause in our busy lives and honor a small band of religious fanatics in pointy little hats with whom we have about as much in common today as Dennis Rodman does with Jerry Falwell.

Yes, of course, I understand the symbolism of Thanksgiving.

We are celebrating the first brave band of Yankee prigs to set up an established community on New England's rocky shores. They are the founders of one of our more domineering and snooty cultural streams. They are the Mayflower voyagers, from whom so many of us wannabe descended and so few of us actually are.

But what about the slightly later period in Colonial history when thousands of denizens of British prisons were landed on the soggy shores of the colony of Georgia? British to the bone, with prices on their heads and chains around their ankles, they probably outnumbered the Pilgrims a thousand to one.

In the interests of equal time and genetic reality, it would seem only fair that we celebrate their arrival to these shores as well.

The idea of a National Criminal Ancestor Day may not have the immediate box office appeal of our annual feast on turkey with all the trimmings. After all, the foods most appropriately consumed in celebration would be water, hard tack and weevils.

Possibly as a result, there is not, so far, any organized movement backing this proposal. I've never seen a notice announcing a meeting of the Daughters of American Crime Bosses or the United Descendants of Prison Inmates.

We have for years withheld even the slightest national nod to those of our elders whose faces gazed down through the years upon us, not from family portraits in the hallways of whitely-pillared mansions, but from placards on the walls of local post offices.

Given the mathematics, this seems to be a matter of collective denial.

Let's think for a moment of the sheer numbers of pirates, highwaymen, pocket-pickers, debtors, card cheats, wild-eyed sons of noblemen sent to the New World to avoid criminal prosecution, train robbers, bank robbers, cattle rustlers, robber barons, Tennessee-to-Texas pioneers dodging bill collectors -- all of whom have contributed to the national gene pool.

Don't forget, escaping from slavery and helping slaves escape were criminal offenses as well. And then there were the revolutionaries from Mexico and Eastern Europe who were branded, like Irish rebels and violators of Jim Crow laws, as criminal by the justice officials back home. To be convicted and serve time in jail, as old time feminists agitating for the right to vote would tell you, is not necessarily a badge of shame.

Honorable or not, it should be fairly obvious that more of us descend from fettered foreparents than can trace our bloodlines back to George Washington or John Adams, or any of the signers of the Declaration of Independence. And that, by the way, was a criminal action at the time.

Subconsciously, we must realize this. Much as we pay lip service to Old Nantucket, it's Butch Cassidy we prefer. As a nation, we plunk down trillions of entertainment bucks to watch movies about Robin Hood, Scarface, Bonnie, Clyde, and other glittering and bullet-riddled characters of Hollywood.

When was the last time you paid $5 to rent a movie about Cotton Mather?

Yet once a year, black-suited New Englanders are honored with turkey legs and a four-day weekend while the poor, little, Liverpool purse-snatcher who may be our great, great grandma lies forgotten in an unmarked Savannah grave. I ask you. Is this justice?

So why not set aside one day a year to eat a bowl of gruel, bang a tin cup on the table, and say a short prayer to St. Dismas as we remember time served by our forebears in the slammers of yesteryear.

Or maybe, just maybe, instead of pretending he isn't part of the family, you could drive over to the county jail, wave up at the barred windows, and direct a few glances of compassion and understanding toward your Cousin Bobby Lee.

Mary Lenz is a free-lance writer in Austin. Copyright 2000.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Con artist at JFK assassination

I was part of the scrum of reporters covering events outside Parkland Hospital while President Kennedy was dying in a trauma room inside.

Even the reporters were numbed by the news that our president had been shot. But a natural-born con man can take advantage of any situation.

A teenage boy walked up to our milling group of reporters, cops and on-lookers. He was casually flipping a roll of Kodak 125 film into the air, catching it, and flipping it again. Over and over.

“What’cha got, kid?” asked one of the reporters.

“I don’t know,” said the kid. “I was up on a pole taking pictures at the Triple Underpass when Kennedy was shot but I don’t know if I got anything on film.”

A reporter, I think he was from AP, pulled out a hundred dollar bill and bought the film on the spot. Nobody thought the transaction was odd. The odd thing was that a reporter had a hundred bucks on him.

I never saw a photo credit that could have come from a kid on a telephone pole. Did you?

Sunday, November 22, 2009

New JFK documentaries

I was a green 24-year-old cub reporter for KRLD-TV and barely knew how to operate a camera when history happened.

Even after 46 years have drifted by, I still have a little difficulty discussing the Kennedy assassination. Part of me wants to pump our book “When the News Went Live” while part of me recalls the numbness of those terrible days back in November of 1963.

I am always surprised at book signings when I choke up while describing the President and Mrs. Kennedy landing in Dallas. It is still emotional to remember. But we must.

Here’s what I wrote for Birds on a Wire, a blog written by a friend in New England:

My news director, Eddie Barker, divided us into teams of reporters to cover the JFK trip to Dallas. I helped George Sanderson film Air Force One landing at Love Field. Bob Huffaker picked up coverage as the procession rolled past welcoming crowds lining the curb along Main Street -- toward the triple underpass at Dealey Plaza. In the motorcade, we had Jim Underwood riding in one of the press cars. Bill Mercer was covering the live desk in the studio.

When the shooting started, I was outside the Trade Mart awaiting the President’s arrival for his noon speech.

Suddenly, sirens wailed from the freeway overpass. Lots of sirens. In the crowd, a woman started crying, “He’s been hit. He’s been hit.” With what? Rock? Bottle? Brick? I never thought rifle fire.

And in that instant, the world changed. The whole damned world.

A handful of new JFK documentaries will air tonight and tomorrow. Three of my buddies and co-authors will be featured. I couldn’t make the trip to Dallas at the time of the productions.

The History Channel will air JFK: Three Shots that Changed America sometime near or on the 22nd.

The National Geographic Channel will air The Lost JFK Tapes: The Assassination Monday the 23rd.

The History Channel's and National Geographic's documentaries use all the reporters’ various voices to tell the story without any voice-over narration, and both are excellent and reliable.

The Discovery Channel will air two JFK specials on Sunday the 22nd: Did the Mob Kill JFK? and JFK: The Ruby Connection. The two are supposed to run back-to-back at 8 PM (ET/PT) and 9 PM (ET/PT).

Huffaker writes: “I know nothing of what Did the Mob Kill JFK? will turn out to be, but I participated in the reenactment of the Oswald shooting in JFK: The Ruby Connection, along with Detective Jim Leavelle, photographer Bob Jackson, and other fellow geezers who were in the midst of it. Since I am skeptical of conspiracists to the point of disgust, I'm hoping that JFK: The Ruby Connection will not be embarrassingly sensational.”

When the News Went Live is available in hardcover and paperback.

Pictured below are Jim Leavelle and Bob. Detective Leavelle, you’ll recall, was handcuffed to Lee Harvey Oswald as Jack Ruby came out of the crowd and fired that fateful shot.

Monday, November 9, 2009

The latest White House buzz

The White House carpenter built some bee hives to help with First Lady Michelle Obama’s organic kitchen garden project. In the first year, the hives produced 134 pounds of honey, or about 11 gallons. What – you expected more with that sweet-talking Obama man around?

Bertrand Russell employed such mathematical logic that he wrote a book of 362 pages just to prove 1 + 1 = 2. I think I was married to his sister.

A guy named Earl Bakken invented the battery-powered pacemaker in his garage. Kinda brings back movie memories: “He’s alive! He’s alive!”
(And so I am. Thanks, Earl.)

The reason we have Post-it Notes is because Art Fry needed a way to mark pages in his hymnal. Ever since, he’s been bringing in the sheaves.
(Too easy, you say?)

Want to jump-start your memories about the fall of the Berlin Wall? Check out elderblogger Paula Behnken’s work at Still hungry? Dial up for more than you can digest in one sitting.
Never forget.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

A little salty talk

Claude Levi-Strauss, French intellectual, died recently. He became a famous anthropologist who studied primitive cultures. Cannibals, he suggested, tend to boil their friends and roast their enemies. Sounds a lot like Lyndon Johnson.

Evolution has a tougher time gaining traction in England and Germany than in Muslim countries. But one Pakistani lecturer nearly set off riots when he started talking about the time when the apes first began to stand up. Lineage. It’s all about lineage.

Personal privilege herewith: this month, I celebrate another birthday. It was 71 years (and nine months) ago that I won my first swim meet.

People who study these things now believe air pressure can create landslides under certain conditions. If you live inside the Beltway, move.

Here’s a mouthful: “Velib, Paris’s bicycle rental system, inspired a new urban ethos for the era of climate change.” The bikes cost $3,500 each and 20,600 were put on the streets. Thieves promptly stole 80 percent of the new bikes. That’s the old urban ethos.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

The autumn leaves

The leaves behave differently up here in Minnesota. They are bigger. And more of them. And, as I learned the hard way, they gang up on you.

Yesterday, we cranked up the lawn mower, set it on mulch and cleared up the yard. Today, we have to do it all over again. I'm not from here. Had I looked up, I would have noticed the trees were still half full. Overnight, they got their silly revenge. Today, the trees are nearly naked and the yard needs mulching. Again.

Actually, it has been fun watching the show from the front porch.

A couple of weeks ago, we took down the awning and screen porch in anticipation of the snows that are in our destiny. But the sunsets still beckoned. So we bought two fire extinguishers and moved the fire pit to the front porch. If you're good at spatial concepts, you build the scene so the fire warms your feet and knees yet the wine stays perfectly chilled just a few inches further away. Hint: buy those mittens that let your fingers out.

The front porch is more exposed with the screens down. And no one else in the neighborhood has their fire pit out front. Sure, we get some looks, but mostly grins. We love it.

The porch is where I’ve been privy to the secret lives of leaves. Just watching them skitter down the street makes you feel good. Leaves can be fickle. Yesterday, they flew north up the street. Today, they were all coming back. And bringing their girlfriends.

They ride the wind in different ways. Most fly stem first as the mode of choice. But some spin and spin all the way down just from the joy of the trip. And most of the next door leaves' flight plans end in our yard. The more clever leaves have learned how to catch a thermal rising from the paved street. They float forever.

The Mystery Woman is happy that we’ve extended the season for porch living. Me, too.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Funny headline goes here

At the Onion, the staff spends the first two days of the week writing the first. Then they write the story to fit the headline. It’s not as easy as it appears. Example: this headline “U.S. Continues Quagmire-Building Effort in Afghanistan” was chosen over “Quick and Painless Overthrow of Taliban Enters Eighth Year.” According to NYTimes writer Eric Konigsberg.

From a pollster for MSNBC on not making too much of today’s election: “As goes Virginia and New Jersey, so goes Virginia and New Jersey.”

According to, the first entry under their definition of rogue is: noun 1. dishonest, knavish person; a scoundrel.

Check out tonight’s production on Nova called “Becoming Human.” It’s not another bone drone says the NYTimes reviewer. After homage to brain size, walking upright and climate change, the program indulges in the most entertaining discussions of public lice as you are likely to encounter.

Seems to me if our design really were intelligent, I wouldn’t have needed all those damned surgeries.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Mondays make me mad

For three decades, Neil Simon has been the comedy king of Broadway and Hollywood. Not this week. His “Brighton Beach Memoirs” just flopped a week after it opened. Reminder: this is one of his most-produced plays the past 25 years. Broadway analysts think comedy is changing. They say America’s taste in humor these days runs more toward reality shows.
We’re doomed.

Of course Fox News is partisan. And so is MSNBC. One benefit: the audience polarization makes it easier to target your voters during a political campaign. But the national fragmentation is also a hot house for lies, rumors and manipulation. Yet another sign the Apocalypse is nigh. (That’s what Glen Beck tells me during the 10 minutes I can bear watching him slobber, whine and cry. Ten minutes, that’s all I can stomach.)

Which came first—the Republican, the conservative, or the tea bagger? Conventional wisdom was that this summer’s angry tea baggers would be a thorn in the side of Democrats. Only lately have political talking heads begun to realize the Republicans could suffer more. Especially if conservative credentials become a lock-step purity purge, a litmus test. Many gun-toting conservative shouters are intolerant of any dissent other than their own. See: Taliban.

The Bernie Madoff ponzi scheme had to involve SEC officials. Had to. Otherwise, how could the investigators have been so lax in examining the crook’s Wall Street clearinghouse account? Speaking of which, surely there were people working at the clearinghouse who knew it was a house of cards. Did everyone park their ethics at the door – or were they bought off?

As long as I’m on a roll, let’s talk about global warming. Check. I’m a true believer. But proponents went a jillion miles too far when they wrote in the NY Times op-ed piece that eating a hamburger could be the global warming equivalent of driving a Hummer. Pass the ketchup.

The question is: are liberals smarter than conservatives? Here's one answer from the American Enterprise Institute. (Shinola alert.)

Friday, October 30, 2009

For men only (just kidding)

Ever shoot a white-tail deer? Chances are, you used a lead bullet. And that gives the deer a shot at you if you ate it. Lead bullets can fragment and tiny pieces travel in the carcass as far as 18 inches from the initial wound. Condors and bald eagles are often poisoned this way from eating your kills. If you think about it, lead in a bullet is redundant. If you must, use copper.

Earlier, we reported that James Naismith was the guy who invented basketball. Now comes this breaking news: he also invented the first football helmet, made by simply cutting the football in half.

Even modern helmets won’t help much this Sunday as millions of us settle back with a six-pack and watch big men get maimed. Dementia and other brain injuries have struck down professional football players in numbers that are way ahead of national averages. Enter the knuckle-head Republican from Texas, Cong. Ted Poe, who sounded horrified when he observed if everybody kept trying to make changes, “We’d all be playing touch football.” That’s cold. The NFL needs to get right with its players.

Too old to play Guitar Hero? Try Farmville, the hottest game on Facebook. At least 22 million hits every day. And the game has only been up since June. All ages are drawn to the game which starts simple enough: you get land and seeds that can be planted, watered, fertilized and harvested for online coins. Compulsive/addictive types even set their alarms for 1:30 a.m. so they can roll over and harvest their blueberries. If you wake me at 1:30 in the morning, it better not be for anything virtual. Or virtuous.

If you squint your eyes, maple leaves look like marijuana leaves on steroids.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Hey Buddy, got a minute?

You probably know James Naismith invented the game of basketball. But did you know he foresaw the need for tall guys – and tried to do something about it? A minister as well as a doctor, Naismith conducted experiments on a machine he invented. He was actually trying to stretch babies. Maybe he got the idea from the Sheriff of Nottingham: “Stretch the rope tighter, Garth!”

Over the past 700 years, Robin Hood has been on the receiving end of image and status upgrades, writes Peter Applebome in the NYTimes. Most experts agree that Robin as woodland Marxist is mostly American spin. Note: when you Google “Obama” and “Robin Hood” you get about 945,000 hits. You’ll be surprised with results from a search for “Dick Cheney” and “Vlad the Impaler.”

Amazing. When Capt. Sully manhandled his plane filled with passengers onto a safe landing in the Hudson River, the first pictures of the event came to us via Twitter. Likewise last week when the first images of the balloon-sans-boy came in, it was via Twitter. In real time. Engineers are ginning up real-time search engines called OneRiot, Collecta and Topsy that are coming soon to a computer near you. To compete with Twitter's search engine.

There was a time (pun alert) when NY City gave watches to homeless people. The city paid suppliers $6.75 per watch in 2006, nearly twice the rate of past years. Nice thought, but some felt pillows would be more useful starter gifts.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Drop coming in gun sales?

In olden days, apple trees grew huge. Then scientist twiddlers grafted tall trees with dwarf trees in Europe, which put the fruit within reach, like grapevines. That’s good because doctors are about as tall as they are going to get. (Too obtuse? Hey, my job is to write this stuff. Your responsibility is to figure it out.)

After 20 years, 85 percent of American adults now prattle via cellphones. Seems like all the children, too. The gadgets caught on faster than cable TV and personal computers. Now, the cell phone is poised to be the portal for all things incoming electrical. And we are the worse for it. Tell that to the jerk on the phone at the table next to you. Or in the car in front of you. Or the numskull in the check-out line. Indeed, we are the worse for it.

“Durability of demand” is fancy talk from financial insiders who think they see a slowdown is sales of weapons. Too late. There are 300 million working firearms already in U.S circulation. Firearm factories are still running full tilt. Ammo is still in short supply and gun shows are usually still sold out. But insiders are seeing slowdown in sales and fret that backlogs are so big that two thirds of gun sales could disappear.
Repeat: too late.

Next month, I’ll turn 71. The Mystery Woman is 69. And her mom, Virginia who lives with us, is 89. Between us, we’ve met thirty new people (count ‘em, thirty) so far in October. All were medical personnel due to a flurry of tests (CT scan, PET scan, blood work, X-rays, colonoscopy, chemo, etc.) That prompted the Mystery Woman to dryly observe: “if it weren’t for doctor’s visits, we would have no social life at all.” But, as Humphrey might say to Ingrid, “We’ll always have Walgreen’s.”

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Geezer? There's an app for that

There was a time when young men juiced up their four-barrel carburetors to make their jalopies cool. Same thing today, except they install computers in the trunk and tweak them to operate the stereo, the cellphone, the backup camera, the online diagnostics, the navigation system, the … you get the idea. Reports are that some young men have put a printer in the back seat. Misplaced priorities, clearly.

Are you a geezer? There’s an app for that. You no longer have to squint when the waiter brings the bill. Just whip out your iPhone and punch up Magnifying Glass from I-Beam. Step Two: fumble for your wallet.

The cookie diet will set you back fifty-six bucks a week. But you get to eat six prepackaged cookies per day and one “real” meal. Get yours at Walgreens and GNC. Some 500,000 people munch through weight-loss on the cleverly disguised 1,200-calorie-per-day plan. Already, competitors have jumped up as far away as Japan.

Ayn Rand is hot again. She’s the author of The Fountainhead, Atlas Shrugged, etc. During times of economic upheaval, The Others always drag her memory out. Conveniently, they never mention the old gal was an atheist with a reputation as “the Evil Knievel of leaping to conclusions.” Two new biographies are in bookstores. Why now? The economy just heaved up.

Monday, October 19, 2009

The porch changes seasons

The leaves are still snug in their trees but we took the screened porch down this weekend. Had to. Already, we’ve had several snowfalls that cast a chill across the prairie. We had to work fast in between cold snaps. Fast, however, is not a natural state when you are our age. So we took two days.

Putting the porch up and taking it down – one of our fun rituals. It is how we mark the changing of seasons. Our own personal metaphor for the beginning of spring or the colors of autumn. Both seasons, beautiful.

When the screens are gone, the porch feels naked at first. We fix that by stoking a fire in the little chimenea, pulling up our hoodies, and sitting around a bottle of wine. It helps the sun go down. The neighbors understand. They are busy putting up storm windows.

And the squirrels don’t seem to give a damn.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Whiskey River and Burned Bridges

It’s 34 degrees this morning in Minneapolis. Were I in Texas, I would be slicing open a javelina and crawling inside to keep warm. Up here, I found myself saying, “It’s only 34 degrees outside, the sun is shining, I think I’ll take a walk.” OMG, I’m ruined.

Get this: two weeks before he died, Charles Darwin wrote a short paper about a tiny clam hitchhiking on the leg of a water beetle. The guy who sent him the beetle was shoemaker and amateur naturalist who had a son who had a son named Francis Crick. In 1953, young Francis and another American made a discovery that would lead to the triumphant vindication of almost everything Darwin said. To wit: every organism carries a chemical code inside its cells. They call it DNA. And there would be no NCIS without it. Nor CSI. Nor ...

Head injury patients are less likely to die if they have drunk alcohol. Ignoring the high probability that alcohol likely contributed to the cause of the head injury in the first place, some geniuses advocate greeting the patients at E.R. with a drink.

Robert Altman, the late movie director, enjoyed creating fake country-music song titles like: “I’m Swimming Through the Ashes of All the Bridges I’ve Burned.”

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Screw Facebook; Screw Twitter

Don’t Facebook me on the Internet tubes. I don’t understand Facebook. Nor do I like it.

First off, as a concept, Facebook makes no sense to me. Just fancy email if you ask me.

Today, I got an email that so-and-so wanted to be my friend. Somehow, I wound up on what appeared to be my Facebook page. There was a box on the right that begged to be clicked. Something about relationship, friend and other. There were lots of “others” so I clicked there.

Bingo. Rows and rows of friends. I even knew some of them. I thought they were asking me to be their friend so, not wanting to hurt their feelings, I clicked on oodles and bunches. How nice.

Within minutes, emails began to land indicating that so-and-so “confirms” me as their friend. Wait a minute, buddy. I was confirming you. Who the hell do you think you are, confirming me.

Don’t get me started on Twitter. That’s what we used to call post cards. Try to get 144 thingys on a post card. I still prefer post cards and mailed eight just yesterday.

Forget it. Screw Facebook. Screw Twitter. Screw you.

Everybody except Willie Nelson.

Winter Wonderland

We just returned from Seattle where Julia Talley and Peter Lacy were married in one of the funnest weddings I’ve ever seen. Peter is the Mystery Woman’s son. Everybody, even the mix of exes, had a great time…and it truly was a time for love and hope.

In a way, the event was a victory lap for my 89-year-old mother-in-law, Virginia, who is wrestling with pancreatic cancer. Damned straight she was going to attend the wedding. Damned straight she was going to dance with her grandson. Make that a light Scotch and soda, bartender.

While we were away, Minnesota canceled the Fall season.

There’s nothing like four inches of fresh snow to jump start winter. Canada came calling this week in Minneapolis. Early. And often. Already, we’ve had two snow events and more are on the way.

The first snowfall of the season. And we were like children.

Leaves had not yet left the safety of the trees so nature gave us bonus views of fall colors mixed with fresh scrubbed snow. A soothing palette.

And the perfect ending to a storybook week.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Invite LM Boyd to lunch

You can call yourself a locavore if you adhere to the hundred-mile diet. You know, it’s when you eat only that food stuff which is grown or raised within 100 miles of your home. Hereabouts it’s mostly squirrels.

Forty thousand early risers belong to

Now you know that there were 12 delis in Newark back in 1945. Today, there are but two. Originally, clientele was 10 percent black and 75 percent Jewish. Today, it’s 50/50. Jewish delis were strong in the 1930s with at least 1,500 kosher and kosher style. Today, only about two dozen kosher places remain. Few make their own matzo balls.

Hebrew National pastrami is now owned by ConAgra Foods.

'Twas cooking that moved us into chewing less and thinking more. That’s according to the author of Catching Fire: How Cooking Made Us Human. We came down from the trees the first time maybe two and a half million years ago. And our brains swelled. Our ancestors were looking for sex. About a million years later, our brain swelled again. That’s when we started cooking. Literally and figuratively.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Four wheel drive AND granny gear

Only in Minnesota does a writer have warm memories of opening day one April at the old stadium “with two kids in their yellow slickers trying to keep their hot dogs dry as rain drops fell off the ends of the icicles that had formed on their hoods.” Historical note: they built a heated, warm, cozy, civilized domed stadium where the mustard runs and noses don’t but now they want an outdoor venue again. I don’t know why.

A snarky writer in the New Yorker says former US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright has been mistaken for ”the television weather lady in Minneapolis.” Obviously he has never laid eyes on Belinda Jensen, the All American Chief Meteorologist for KARE 11.

According to the Minneapolis Star Tribune, the first one-inch snowfall in the Twin Cities falls on Nov. 18. That’s on average. The earliest coverage (their word, not mine) is Sept. 26th. Latest, Jan. 9th. Light snow is predicted this weekend.

When does winter formally arrive? Do my children have time to come get me? Will they need chains?

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Minnesota nice

I’m beginning to understand life up here in Minnesota. Consider these quotes and stuff:

After musing about Republican Gov. Tim Pawlenty attacking the president for telling school children to work hard and get good grades, Garrison Keillor wrote “one starts to wonder if the country wouldn’t be better off without them and if Republicans should be cut out of the health care system entirely and simply provided with aspirin and hand sanitizer.”

Craigslist ad for a VW vanagon restoration went something like this: I was working on it real good. Got it down to basic metal. "Then my attention deficit disorder kicked in and I started making pheasant pens.”

They must have sold out of houseboats up here. Haven’t seen a new classified adv in a couple of weeks now.

Our mailman: “You’re going to need a bigger coat.”

"It's just another game," Brett Favre said this week with a straight face. He certainly earned the cover of the AARP magazine.

MN Star Tribune sportswriter Jim Souhan said it best when he described Favre as the “quarterback who can read a defense like it was a fast-food menu, and deliver quicker than a pizza guy with a new Camaro and heavy debt.”

Monday, October 5, 2009

GOP exit strategy?

There is no longer any doubt – the Republicans are the curators of the right wing extremists.

Republicans just seem to have a knack for collecting nuts. The catalogue begins with Sean Hannity, Rush Limbaugh and Glen Beck. Next -- the birthers, the tea baggers, the town hall disruptions, the Hitler placards, the loaded guns at political rallies, the vile and vicious racist emails, the lies about death panels, the “you lie” outburst during a presidential address, the web poll (now removed) asking to vote whether the president should be assassinated,

This is serious. The Secret Service reports death threats aimed at our president are up 400 percent.

You noticed, didn’t you, the conservatives hate Obama so much they cheered when Chicago lost the bid for the Olympics. They actually cheered against America. Not nice, not smart.

How much longer can Nevada Sen. John Ensign hold on? He’s the scum who got jobs for his mistress’s husband – and her son – while continuing to satisfy his urges. Same question for South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford and his sex romp with the Argentine beauty. Both men are connected with the phony C Street Church in Washington, a bunch of elected GOP hypocrites also known as The Family. Think they got what they prayed for? Heaven on Earth?

But something’s happening.

In the past few days, a couple of conservative thinkers have spoken out against this equity position at the asylum. If you court the extremists now, you’ll own them later, too.

NY Times columnist David Brooks says the GOP must stop rolling over to the mindless rants from Hannity, Limbaugh and Beck because, in the real world, they do not move the dial past the base. They just make noise.

US Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-South.Carolina, has urged the nuts to “cut out this crap about birthers.” He realizes the 2010 mid-term election potential is pretty solid for the Republicans but 2012 is different race. The GOP will need the center and center-right voters, not just the whack jobs, in a presidential race.

Ask yourself -- was Moliere a Republican or Democrat?

Monday, September 28, 2009

Mercy flight from Texas to Minnesota

We will be staying in Minneapolis this winter. The 89-year-old matriarch of our little troupe has been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and, although Virginia loves to travel, there’s no point in putting her through the rigors of the long road trip back to Texas. Plus, she adores the medical personnel working at her clinic up here.

Word is out that this will be my first real winter – ever. The lady who lives next door to us seemed to take too much delight in reading out loud from the Farmer’s Almanac. Bitter cold is forecast this winter in Minneapolis, she chuckled over the fence. Bitter, bitter, bitter. Has anybody seen my L. L. Bean catalog?

Now that my sister ratted me out, I’m nearly famous in Llano County, Texas. She was getting ready to fly up for a visit and offered airlift a sack full of pork chops from Cooper’s BBQ in Llano. Sis emailed wondering if she would have enough suitcase capacity to bring the goodies on-board. My advice: when faced with a decision involving clothes or BBQ, fly naked. There, that will make a nice plaque for the wall.

The winner of the George Phenix look-alike contest is: Brett Favre.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Health care reform needs heroes

As promised, Sen. Harry Reid’s key policy and legislative staffers held a conference call this morning with some elderbloggers who are mighty interested in the Health Reform bill about to come up in the U.S. Senate.

Several thoughts:
  • We’re going to get a health bill. It will not be everything we want.
  • Public option is on life support.
  • Democrats still think it will be a bi-partisan bill.
I was impressed that the Majority Leader’s outreach extended to our gaggle of geezers. Each of us supports health care reform, so it was a little like choir practice.

And I wish I had better news.

While I remain a staunch supporter of President Obama, I fault him and his staff for not getting in front of the nasty politics all summer. Town hall spittle, loaded guns and tea-baggers beat a constant drum with few answers from the Democrats.

And we, the people, just don’t have enough juice to provide an antidote for the campaign money being spent by drug company and health insurance lobbyists.

The Democrats will lose seats in the mid-term elections. Freshmen from marginal districts, mostly. It’s part of the American election tradition. Nothing is going to change that. Now’s the time to demonstrate a little courage like your Democratic ancestors did when they passed Social Security. And Civil Rights. And Medicare.

Show some political backbone. Give us meaningful health care reform. Heroes welcome.

Monday, September 21, 2009

What bugs you about the health care reform bill in the U.S. Senate?

Listen up.

If you have a question about health care reform nagging at you, please let me know today.

Tomorrow, I get to play in the big leagues again (albeit briefly). U.S. Sen. Harry Reid’s office is conducting a telephone round table with a handful of elderbloggers. The ball started rolling when his staff talked with Ronni Bennett, who writes the Time Goes By blog. She included me on the list of friendly cranks who would like to know more about the current bill to share with our readers.

Check out the bill (writ easy) with a click here.

So, tell me what’s bugging you about the health care reform bill in the Senate and I’ll try to get a word in edgewise during the conference call tomorrow morning.

Hurry. This might be the best shot we get.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

There is a connection somewhere

You’re exempt from the Sen. Baucus' health care reform bill if you are a member or a descendant of any of the 560 American Indian tribes recognized by the federal government. Native Americans have their own health care program, the Indian Health System. The U.S. health care system spends about $6,000 per American, IHS spends only $2,100. American Indians are less healthy on the whole than other Americans. And IHS, whose money sometimes dries up midyear, is chronically underfunded. Hence the oft-quoted aphorism, "Don't get sick after June."

The befuddled tramps in Samuel Beckett's Waiting for Godot never get any closer to anywhere. But new research suggests the act of watching them actually does get us somewhere. Absurdist literature, it appears, stimulates our brains. After reading this, do you feel better?

Consider the germ. The single-cell bacterium is more complicated than you might thing. Highly social, the critter speaks two languages, can discern self from nonself and friend from foe, thrives in the company of others, spies on neighbors and commits fratricide. There’s more.

The samara is the winged fruit of certain trees, such as the maple. You've seen them wafting about, looking for sex. I have no idea if this is how the Good Samaritan got his name. So what?

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Overalls, coveralls, or blue jeans?

Other than a boat, what’s the next best thing you need in your home when the river floods to your roof line? If you said “ax” you would be wrong and near death. Think smaller. Think hatchet. In most attics, there’s not enough room to swing an ax. Ask any Cajun who survived Katrina.

The military has a new-and-improved camouflage tape. But don’t call it duct tape (or even duck tape). Grunts call it 100-mile-an-hour tape, presumably because it can stay stuck even when the wind howls in at 100 m.p.h. Surely not because they drive that fast.

One definition of claque is – people paid to applaud at a show. When I worked in politics, one of my jobs was to write the speech and then sit on the front row when the boss spoke so I could lead the standing ovation. Hack rhymes with claque.

Levi Strauss is legendary. But it was his partner, Jacob Davis, who was the first to combine denim and copper rivets to solve a work-wear problem. They called ‘em waist overalls from 1873 up until the 1950s when my generation adopted the name jeans. Tight-fitting bluejeans and ’57 Chevrolets. Ahhh. Today’s Velcro and the four-door Saturn -- not as much challenge.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Showering with friend(s)

After reading this, you’ll never worry about being alone again. With each breath at the office, you inhale 10,000 bacteria. With each glass of water, you drink 10 million bacteria. Subway tunnel air is cleaner than the mist from your morning shower. That shower mist, by the way, is loaded with bacteria. Plastic shower heads incubate more germs than metal. Stop it.

That cute little piece of tail that the gecko can drop when threatened has two purposes: to divert the attacker’s attention and to help the lizard run faster. Works the same way with big people, don’t you think?

Bad news for teenagers, body builders and women who are preggers: Cocoa butter does not reduce stretch marks. It just makes you slide better.

Chicago: home of the first skyscraper (1885); the first comprehensive mail-order business (Montgomery Ward, 1872); the first Shredded Wheat, Cracker Jack, Juicy Fruit gum, zipper and Ferris wheels (all from the 1893 World’s Fair). Now home for the First Family.

Lincoln Logs were invented by Frank Lloyd Wright’s son.

Note to that crazy Glenn Beck on Fox News: stop spreading lies and scare tactics or I just may have to whip your butt.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Monday pick-me-ups

Ullage” is the saddest word in the English language. It’s the unfilled space in a new bottle of wine.

Claim is there’s a new pizza that is probiotic. That’s right, healthy pizza rather than a “donut with tomato sauce” says one of the founders of Naked Pizza, a Louisiana company which is expanding into Texas. The secret is in the crust (isn’t it always?) made of 12 whole grains, low-fat skim mozzarella and a tomato sauce with no weird chemicals. A handful of reviews on Yelp mention “tastes good.”

Six of the top medical journals published a lot of articles that were written by ghostwriters on drug company payrolls. Shocked. I’m shocked.

We need to make cars that run on milkweed. That’s the only fuel the Monarch butterflies use on their 2,000 mile migration from Minnesota to Mexico. Varoom.

In Siberia, mosquitoes are so bad that some native tribes carry their own personal smoke pots everywhere. Some native people retreat into smoke-filled huts and go near-dormant for the summer months.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Three little words about health care reform

President Obama had me at “health care reform.”

To my head and heart, his speech to Congress was pitch perfect. Historic. Good policy, good politics.

Of course, I’m easy. But I can explain in three little words:

Word #1. Pre-existing condition. Under his program, it would be illegal for insurance companies to deny coverage based on a pre-existing condition. How could anyone oppose that?

Word #2. Crossing state lines. It makes no sense, for example, for Texas insurance policies to suddenly lapse when you cross the Red River if Oklahoma and Arkansas don't happen to license your carrier. I want to be able to run hard/play hard in Mena, Broken Bow and Tishamingo.

Word #3. Forty-six million uninsured American men, women and children would now be covered. Texas has the highest percentage of uninsured citizens in the U.S. with 24.9% running scared and bare.

Of course, there are many other reasons why we should support our president in this quest (obscene profits at insurance companies, obscene bonus payments to insurance moguls, obscene insurance industry lobby money spent in D.C.).

The president got an unexpected “gift” from the knuckle-dragging congressman from South Carolina who gave Obama a shout-out during the speech. I appreciate the way Obama is taking the high road regarding this insult but we all were shocked at the lack of respect. The incident underscores my earlier advice: forget the Republicans. They aren’t going to vote for health care reform. Any hint of GOP support is a feint to buy time.

Make no mistake, Mr. President, the majority of white Southerners will always hate your guts as long as you remain half black. That’s the sad truth. And it explains a lot of the rancor: the birthers, tea parties, gun and rifles at political meetings, the manufactured furor over your speech to students and the flood of lies about the health bill like death panels and immigrants. By now, you must know they are going to attack any and everything you do or say.

Your health care address to Congress had steel in it. Thank you. I hope your speech put some backbone in the Democratic majority.

I think it will.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Flora, Fauna and Tomfoolery

Did the first dogs spring from wolves? Did our ancestors domesticate the noble hound as a hunting companion? A night watchman? Or for warmth when the cave got so cold? Well (cue the sinister music) coulda been dogs were first penned up for their meat. That awful thought comes from a new study of dogs worldwide. Full disclosure: we own a wiener dog.

Most birds like to sing while perched. But some can sing while flying. Birders think the flight songs were developed to warn of predators. Some of have learned the hard way that birds can do other things while flying. Don’t look up.

That guy Goethe (who wrote Faust) also studied plants. “From first to last,” he once wrote, “the plant is nothing but a leaf.” Maybe so. But is there no difference between a paw paw tree and a rose bush?

Grave robbers who stole jewels from the dead in the Middle Ages didn’t get sick. Could be because they washed their hands after every job in a concoction of cinnamon bark, lemon oil and eucalyptus. Thieves oil, they called it. Some sawbones swear by it still.

If you want to know more about any of these items, click on Science Times in Tuesday's New York Times. I couldn’t blog without it.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009


Rent movies from a vending machine? C’mon. The first attempt in 1982, called Video Droid, failed. But it’s working now at Redbox, where you can rent movies for a buck. That sound you hear Friday night is 80 transactions every second. Ka-ching.

Take a confederate to lunch. Not that kind – a friend. If your lunch pal is fat, you’ll eat more. If your friend is skinny, you'll eat less. I don’t know how it works if you take a yankee.

Cirque du Soleil. Can’t pronounce it. Can’t spell it. But dearly love to watch its beauty unfold. The “circus of the sun” began outside Quebec in 1984 with 20 street performers. No lions, nor elephants, nor animals of any kind other than human. Twenty-five years later, the group employs 4,000 people and launches nearly 20 productions in 40 countries throughout the world. But this is what you will remember – they throw wild staff parties.

A new study shows that dogs and young human babies both make the same classic error in [Piaget's] famous psychology experiment -- while wolves raised by people do not. The dogs, not as swift as (but perhaps more respectful than) the wolves, are brighter and more discriminating than the babies. Of course, the babies were not respectful either.

There are at least 35 versions of Little Red Riding Hood. The European version tells the story of a little girl who is tricked by a wolf masquerading as her grandmother, but in the Chinese version a tiger replaces the wolf. In Iran, where it would be considered odd for a young girl to roam alone, the story features a little boy. Contrary to the view that the tale originated in France shortly before Charles Perrault produced the first written version in the 17th century, researchers have found that the variants shared a common ancestor dating back more than 2,600 years. Don't get me started about Cinderella. There are 300 versions of her story.

Monday, September 7, 2009

The book on health care reform

We are not alone. This epic struggle about health care reform has been going on for a long time. Seventy-five years -- that's how long. Here’s a book written in fairly plain English that puts the fight into perspective. This review is from the Sunday NY Times Book Review section.

Currently, non-fiction.


Published: September 1, 2009

This timely and insightful book puts Barack Obama’s current quest for universal health insurance in historical context and gives new meaning to the audacity of hope. Universal health care has bedeviled, eluded or defeated every president for the last 75 years. Franklin Roosevelt left it out of Social Security because he was afraid it would be too complicated and attract fierce resistance. Harry Truman fought like hell for it but ultimately lost. Dwight Eisenhower reshaped the public debate over it. John Kennedy was passionate about it. Lyndon Johnson scored the first and last major victory on the road toward achieving it. Richard Nixon devised the essential elements of all future designs for it. Jimmy Carter tried in vain to re-engineer it. The first George Bush toyed with it. Bill Clinton lost it and then never mentioned it again. George W. expanded it significantly, but only for retirees.

David Blumenthal, a professor at Harvard Medical School and an adviser to Barack Obama, and James A. Morone, a professor of political science at Brown University, skillfully show how the ideal of universal care has revolved around two poles. In the 1930s, liberals imagined a universal right to health care tied to compulsory insurance, like Social Security. Johnson based Medicare on this idea, and it survives today as the “single-payer model” of universal health care, or “Medicare for all.”

The alternative proposal, starting with Eisenhower, was to create a market for health care based on private insurers and employers; he locked in the tax break for employee health benefits. Nixon came up with notions of prepaid, competing H.M.O.’s and urged a requirement that employers cover their employees. Everything since has been a variation on one or both of these competing visions. The plan now emerging from the White House and the Democratic Congress combines an aspect of the first (the public health care option) with several of the second (competing plans and an employer requirement to “pay or play”).

Want to know more? Click here.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Straw men can't think

We’re in trouble. Dangerous trouble.

When the President of the United States can’t speak to the school children of America without setting off a firestorm fueled by right wing make-believe, we’re in trouble.

This thing about the school children welled up within hours. Thanks to the Internet and pre-existing organization, the alarm spread through the right wing at warp speed. Near instantaneous.

Our country is very close to being run by the politics of fear. That's dangerous.

How did we get here?

Walt Disney -- firefighter

For years, Walt Disney kept a secret apartment above the Main Street fire station at Disneyland. Every morning before the crowds arrived, he would drive the fire truck around the grounds. That’s every little boy’s dream.

While we’re on the subject, investigators look for “V” patterns of soot on walls as markers of arson. The pattern is created when heat and smoke radiate outward. The use of liquid accelerants is easy to spot, too. Specialists who know how to read and interpret say house fires tend to burn in puddle configurations. More than I want to know.

E-stuff isn’t necessarily green. According to a report by the Climate Group, a London think-tank, computers, printers, mobile phones and the widgets that accompany them account for the emission of 830m tons of carbon dioxide around the world in 2007. That is about the same as the aviation industry’s contribution. According to the report, about a quarter of the emissions in question are generated by the manufacture of computers. The rest come from just using them. Log off tonight.

A blog is a hungry beast. According to a 2008 survey by Technorati, which runs a search engine for blogs, only 7.4 million out of the 133 million blogs the company tracks had been updated in the past 120 days. That translates to 95 percent of blogs being essentially abandoned out there in the ether. Now you know where e-stuff goes to die.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Insurance greed -- a pre-existing condition

Do you really want to know the story behind the insurance industry’s opposition to health care reform? And the way they sabotage the debate? Can you handle the truth?

Then read Wendell Potter’s blog. He writes short pieces. Dink around over several posts. This man spent 20 years in the insurance industry skunk works. He used snark and aww to beat down health care reform in the past. Plus, he understands and writes about Wall Street's self-serving role.

This fight is all about the money. Big money. It's a pre-existing condition. Leave your ethics in the bottom drawer of the chiffarobe.

Red herrings, straw men, scare tactics, lies, packed meetings – he did it all.

And now he’s trying to atone.


Thursday, September 3, 2009

Keillor calls for public pet option

You know, maybe we've been taking the wrong approach to health care reform. Maybe we should be thinking outside the box. This is a direct lift from Salon:

Americans spend upward of $10 billion a year on health care for pets, Garrison Keillor says, and nobody thinks twice about it. Moreover, conversations about pet health bring out the kind of empathy that has been entirely absent from the national discussion about health care. There are 48 million uninsured Americans, Keillor says, but they don't quite pull at the heartstrings the way pets do. So, "perhaps there should be a public pet option." A public pet option would generate the sympathy that's been missing from the debate, and it would be impossible for Republicans to fight. "It's one thing to oppose big government taking over from those little mom-and-pop insurance companies, but do you favor throwing Mr. Mittens out the car window when he gets old and feeble and needs an IV because he can't chew his kibble?" Animals bring out the best in people, Keillor concludes. Uninsured people don't.
Read original story in Salon, Wednesday 2, 2009.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Universal Health Care -- Un-American?

Some people can just say it better than others.

The late Brazilian bishop Dom Hélder Câmara said it well: “When I give food to the poor, they call me a saint. When I ask why the poor have no food, they call me a Communist.”

Here’s more.

Why Is Universal Health Care ‘Un-American’?

by the Rev. Jim Rigby

Last week supporters of health-care reform gathered around the country, including in Austin, TX, where 2,000 people crowded into a downtown church to hear speakers talk about different aspects of the issue. Asked to speak about the ethical dimensions of health care, I tried to go beyond short-term political strategizing and ask more basic questions. This is an edited version of what I said.

Is anyone else here having trouble with the fact that we are even having this conversation? Is anyone else having trouble believing this topic is really controversial? I have been asked to talk about the ethical dimension of health care. Here’s one way to frame such a discussion:

If an infant is born to poor parents, would we be more ethical to give medicine to that child so he or she does not die prematurely of preventable diseases, or would we be more ethical if we let the child die screaming in his or her parent’s arms so we can keep more of our money?

Or, let’s say someone who worked for Enron, and now is penniless, contracted bone cancer. I’ve been asked to discuss whether we are more ethical if we provide such people medicine that lessens their pain. Or would we be more ethical to let them scream through the night in unbearable agony so we can pay lower taxes?”

I can’t believe I am standing today in a Christian church defending the proposition that we should lessen the suffering of those who cannot afford health care in an economic system that often treats the poor as prey for the rich. I cannot believe there are Christians around this nation who are shouting that message down and waving guns in the air because they don’t want to hear it. But I learned along time ago that churches are strange places; charity is fine, but speaking of justice is heresy in many churches. The late Brazilian bishop Dom Hélder Câmara said it well: “When I give food to the poor, they call me a saint. When I ask why the poor have no food, they call me a Communist.” Too often today in the United States, if you talk about helping the poor, they call you Christian, but if you actually try to do something to help the poor, they call you a socialist.

Some of the other speakers today have been asked to address what is possible in the current political climate. I have been asked to speak of our dreams. Let me ask a question. How many of you get really excited about tweaking the insurance system so we just get robbed a little less? (silence) How many of you want universal health care? (sustained applause) I realize that insurance reform is all that’s on the table right now, and it can be important to choose the lesser of evils when that alone is within our power in the moment. But we also need to remember our dream. I believe the American dream is not about material success, not about being having the strongest military. The American dream is that every person might have a right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

It’s amazing to hear Christians who talk about the right to life as though it ends at birth. They believe every egg has a right to hatch, but as soon as you’re born, it’s dog eat dog. We may disagree on when life begins, but if the right to life means anything it means that every person (anyone who has finished the gestation period) has a right to life. And if there is a right to life there must be a right to the necessities of life. Like health care.

I believe the American dream was not about property rights, but human rights. Consider the words of this national hymn:

“O beautiful for patriot’s dream that sees beyond the years. Thine alabaster cities gleam, undimmed by human tears.”

Doesn’t that sound like someone cared about the poor? There are those who consider paying taxes an affront, but listen to these words:

“O Beautiful for heroes proved in liberating strife, who more than self their country loved and mercy more than life.”

“Mercy more than life” -- have you ever noticed those words before? Supporting universal health care does not make you socialist or even a liberal, it makes you a human being. And it makes you an ambassador for the American dream which, in the mind of Thomas Paine, was a dream for every human being, not just Americans. As we struggle to get health care to all people, we may have to settle for the lesser of two evils, but remember your dream -- the true American dream, a human dream. Whatever we win through reform is just first step toward a day when every human being has a right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

The Rev. Jim Rigby is pastor of St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church in Austin. He can be reached at

Friday, August 28, 2009

Larry, Moe, and Curly

The Stoogeum is for knuckleheads and skillet-brains. A half-hour’s drive from Philly, it’s a shrine both to the Three Stooges and their fans. Check it out before you go, the Stoogeum is only open one day a month. That may improve since Sony is releasing DVD sets of their 190 films. Favorite quote: Nyuk, nyuk, nyuk.

Listen to your mother: sleeping later won’t help combat the need for a nap. Soitenly not.

Popcorn is a whole grain.

Researchers have found that both men and women rate their partner’s attractiveness higher than their own. Even Lynne Cheney?

Know what they call the sheath at the end of a shoelace? The aglet. You had it right there on the trip of your tongue.

Up tight Englishmen were lambasting sofas as late as the 1780s, calling them sinful. The French, on the other hand, invented springs for theirs.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Dial one for English

Keeping score on baseball hat sales? Yankees caps outsell all others three to one. Most complex logo – Florida Marlins with 10,966 stitches compared to 2,688 stitches for the interlocking NY. At the factory, they churn out 72,000 caps a week, about seven a minute. I have a collection.

It didn’t work -- translating some of the English lyrics in “West Side Story” into Spanish for greater authenticity. Broadway audiences were getting the general idea but were not getting hammered with emotions because not enough understood Spanish. Hmmm. Maybe we no longer need “press one for English.”

If you are bored with ketchup-and-mustard American hot dogs, buy your next one from hotdogueros who sells Sonoran-style hot dogs. It is wrapped like a candy-cane with bacon and griddled until dog and bacon become one – then garnished with taco-truck condiments and stuffed into split-top rolls that are a cross between Mexican bolillo loaves and regular grocery store buns. The best.

We’re talking about single ingredient peanut butter. You know, just peanuts and salt. Try it with oatmeal. Also stewed lentils an vegetables with curry powder. Stuffed jalapenos? For more, click here.

The dot over an "i" is called a tittle. Two tittles make an umlaut but that doesn't sound like much fun.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Words - new and used

American slang is always changing. There are now 2,500 words for “drunk.” Bartenders estimate the number will grow to 3,500. No, “George” is not on the list.

No joke. Incoming cell phone calls can turn on an oven’s electronic controls. Whoosh. Stand by your oven and dial your number. Cell phones can also interfere with baby monitors, computer speakers, car radios, and – my favorite – Pacemakers. Use my land line.

One measure of how much we need newspapers: during the first 10 years of the “The Tonight Show” Jay Leno relied on the press’s accuracy for more than 18,000 political jokes. Bill Clinton was the butt of nearly 4,000.

From ages 20 to 69, men suffer hearing loss at twice the rate of women. And that’s all I’m going to say about that.

A reader writes: "Divorce -- future tense of marriage."

Monday, August 24, 2009

Nonsense for fun an profit

Uh-oh. In 2005, there was one geriatric specialist for every 5,000 people over 65. By 2030, the ratio is expected to tilt even more to one knowledgeable doctor for every 8,000 patients. Save your liniment; you’ll need it.

There’s a new molecule in town, a germ-fighter. The gunslinger goes by the name of silver dihydrogen citrate. Claims are the all-purpose germ killer tricks hungry germs into thinking citrate is food only to be ambushed by microscopic particles of ionized silver. Are you following all this? There is historical precedent. The hygienic upper crust Greeks always drank from a silver chalice. Clink.

You may know that Mr. Bojangles was a popular black dancer named Bill Robinson. But you might not know he was an avid Yankees fan who often performed gratis at games by tap dancing atop the home team dugout. He could run the bases backwards as fast as many player could run forward. Try that, Ginger Rogers.

In California, they have a car show for the wrong side of the tracks. Owners compete for Worst in Show, get the picture? One 1967 VW Squareback always draws lots of looks driving the freeways – probably because of the coffee cup glued to its roof.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Front porch delights, Part 62

This morning, I almost ruined the front porch.

As per usual, around sunrise I was enjoying the first cup of coffee as the sun began to warm us up. The early light bathed over the treetops first and then washed down to the people on the ground. Thanks.

Delicious stillness. Always. Thanks again.

Gradually, the critters come to life. Birds want attention first. Some singing, some tap-tapping the bark for bugs. A new pair of wrens park sideways on the way up the maple.

Relaxing made easy.

That’s when my genius bulb went dim. What a perfect place, I thought, to pay bills.

Wrong. No sooner had I written a couple of checks than I realized something was really out of synch. It was like smoking grapevine out behind the barn – I was doing something wrong in a very pretty place.

The front porch is our sanctuary. Here, we can escape from the daily duties and sorting pills. So I packed everything – bills, stamps, calculator, etc – back into the house. The Mystery Woman said she would teach me how to pay bills on-line.

Fortunately, the older we get, the fewer bills we have.

Where was I? Oh yes, one more cup of coffee and back to the porch.

The wrens might miss me.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Join the push for health care reform

Fair warning: I’m getting out of sorts.

All this lying and posturing about health care reform is making me cranky. The GOP fear mongering, the insurance industry mis-information, the absurdity of letting 18,000 Americans die every year with no health insurance – it makes my heart heavy.

Yesterday, I joined up with the rabble on our side. A group of elder bloggers locked arms in support of health care reform. Most of us favor the public option. Most of us want the Democrats to go it alone if they have to.

It felt good to push back. Just bare hands and a keyboard.
No guns. No spittle.

Make your voice heard. Go to the Obama site on health care reform and show your support by signing up. Click here.

It’s a small step. But it will make you feel better.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

We the People want health care reform

It’s time for the Democrats and the Obama administration to cowboy up.

Forget the Republicans. They are too much in the pocket of the insurance industry and the drug companies to ever vote for health care reform.

We the People urge you to use your muscle, guys. We the Voters gave you clear majorities in both the House and Senate. Use it. Get a bill that includes the public option. Vote it up or down, but vote!

Every day you wait, you lose more ground to the Republican minority that is fighting a smarter, meaner, nastier battle than you seem capable of.

The organized armed protesters are not going away. The organized shouters are not going away. Insurance companies have too much invested in preserving the status quo.


PS--I'm not the only senior who feels this way. Elderbloggers from across the nation are registering their strong belief that we need health care reform. Check out their work at Ronni Bennet's blog, As Time Goes By.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

No guns at political meetings

There is no reason to bring a pistol to a Town Hall meeting. There is no reason to bring an assault rifle to a Town Hall meeting.

Here are the reasons why not to bring a gun to a political meeting, especially a meeting where the President of the United States is in attendance:

Abraham Lincoln.

James Garfield.

William McKinley.

Theodore Roosevelt.

Franklin Delano Roosevelt.

Harry Truman.

John Fitzgerald Kennedy.

Gerald Ford.

Ronald Reagan.

These American presidents were either shot at or killed while serving in office. One nut. One bullet.

It only takes one.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Neanderthals, Tom DeLay, chirp speed

Test show that Neanderthals had difficulty perceiving bitter tastes. Of course, Brussels sprouts had not been invented. Nor second marriages.

Ahh, the D-list. Disgraced former GOP House Majority Leader Tom DeLay has signed on for this season’s “Dancing With the Stars.” He’s famous for his Texas Two-Step, metaphorically speaking.

Take your pick. Adherents to the John Wayne, Sylvester Stallone archetype of masculinity and the notion that real men don’t get sick – please note, it actually makes men sick. Alan Alda, the wuss, played a doctor in M.A.S.H. This just in: women continue to outlive men by about five years.

This is complicated so pay attention: Cricket metabolism and chirping speed vary with the ambient temperature. The snowy tree cricket is so dependable that Dolbar’s Law provides a temperature gauge: count the number of chirps in 15 seconds and add 40 for the temperature in Fahrenheit. If you're in a hurry, tune in the Weather Channel.

With all the data mining going on in government computers, the old job with new appeal is statistician. Encourage your kid to wonk out on randomization, parameters, regressions and data clusters. The money’s good. Fuzzy-faced college kids can earn $125,000 with that Ph.D.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

The porch perspective

This is where the troubles began.

It's our screened porch in Minneapolis where I hunt and peck this blog most days. Rain or shine. From here, if I am lucky, I can sometimes recognize a good perspective on our world. Usually hiding in plain sight.

Regular visitors will note the fresh paint. The Mystery Woman repainted the old wicker furniture this season. Last summer, she recovered the cushions. Before we ran out of beer, I managed to stain the deck. C'mon, that's not the way I meant it. We are very formal.

Summers are quick in Minnesota. The flowers are playful. Fun and wondrous. How did they ever survive that first winter up here? Tender green shoots. Tiny little seeds.

They must have survived the same way we do -- somebody loved them. And took care of them. Every springtime, they return the gift.

It's nearly always springtime out on our porch. Come see us.

Guns and politics -- dangerous

The signs are growing more ominous.

Militias are on the rise in the U.S. Guns are getting to be commonplace at public meetings to discuss politics. One vacuous guy who was openly carrying a gun said (in response to a question) he thought the meeting would be safer if 1,000 people showed up packing heat.

Protesters carry signs with scarred with swastikas. One man had a sign that spoke directly to his point: “Death to Obama.” His sign also read “Death to Michelle and her two stupid kids.”

Where the hell are the sensible leaders from the right who are brave enough to step up and call for a cease fire!

Stop pandering to these crazies. Stop the fear mongering and paranoia that validates these extremists. This madness has got to stop.

Violent repercussions are one trigger-jerk away.

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