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Archive for November, 2008

A vice is something society usually thinks is depraved, immoral, or degrading. On another level, a vice could be something innocent like a bad habit. In the latter sense, most of us have an overabundance of vices. Through the years, I’ve managed to shed many of mine.

For example, I no longer smoke. But, man, I used to consume cigarettes by the case load, and if I ran out, yours would suffice. I finally gave up this one when I looked in the mirror one morning and saw a gray cloud with bloodshot eyes looking back at me. Nowadays, my doctor tells me my lungs are as clear as a newborn babe’s.

I also used to drink like a fish. You name the time, place, and brand of booze. I’ll be there. And the more I drank the more intelligent and sophisticated I became. You want to know Einstein’s Theory of Relativity, gimme a pencil pal, and I’ll sketch it out on a napkin. Or how about the prose of William Faulkner? Simple stuff, buddy. Here, let me parse a couple of hundred pages for you. One day, I woke with my usual hangover from hell and said, “Intelligence and sophistication aren’t worth the aftereffects.” I faded into the woodwork of intellectual and creative mediocrity.

But one vice has hung on. I’ve tried to shake it a thousand times without success. It’s such a pleasant vice that I wonder if it’s really a vice at all or just the normal routine of pumping life back into an inert mass of REM’s and wacky dreams. I’m talking about the first cup of coffee of the day. It’s the most delicious beverage ever concocted in the twisted minds of humans. Who would have thought that this 9th Century discovery in the highlands of Ethiopia would one day form the basis of a whole slew of establishments for gathering and twittering while sipping a mocha, an iced coffee, or a cup of just plain coffee of the day?

But my favorite cup isn’t a Starbucks creation. It’s that cup my wife hands to me as soon as I throw back the covers and finish my early morning shower. That cup is pure bliss, and I do not plan to give up this vice. Ever. Unless my wife loses her passion for her first cup and orders me to “Fix your own!” Heating water isn’t one of my life’s skills.

Okay, I’ve had that first cup. Now it’s time to head to the mall. Black Friday. Shop for the essentials. Do our part to pump up the American economy. But, first, another cup of coffee. This one is almost as good as the first.

I love coffee, I love tea. I love the Java Jive, and it loves me.

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Tomorrow is Thanksgiving and I’ve decided to take a brief sabbatical. Maybe I will be back on Black Friday. Or maybe not. My wife and I may decide to do our part to pump up the economy. Some of the necessities I absolutely need:

  • A new laptop and a new desktop
  • A Ford F150, loaded
  • A 42-inch digital television set with all of the possible channels in the universe

My wife’s wish list is:

  • A Honda Accord
  • A vacation (Generous her. She wants me to take a trip to Bermuda)

Of course, we fantasize. We’ll probably have a Thanksgiving dinner at a generic cafeteria named Stuckey’s or something like that. We talked about dining high class but decided against a French-style Thanksgiving turkey. Besides, there were no French people with the Pilgrims. At least not in the history books I’ve read.

Plus, after watching a turkey mangling ceremony behind Sarah Palin as she spoke about her compassion for elk and turkey, I sort of lost my appetite.

So, we’ll head out for Generic Stuckey’s where I plan on a bowl of oatmeal with brown sugar, wheat toast on the side, while watching my wife savor steak and lobster.

In the meantime, I want to offer my thanks to the following great Americans:

  • The Big-3 Detroit auto execs for giving all of us the hope that someday we can fly to D.C. on private jets and whine and snivel for a congressional bailout.
  • George Bush for proving that, yes, Virginia, anyone can grow up to be the President.
  • Brook Burke for winning Dancing with the Stars.

Okey, dokey, we’ll talk again after Thanksgiving. Unless, of course, a major catastrophe occurs, like, say, George Bush executing a Signing Statement replacing Obama with Dick Cheney as president-elect.

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In another life, I fancied myself a writer of fiction. But a few things happened along the way and I had to give up my dream.

In the first place, I had and still have the attention span of a gnat. I could never sit down and block out a plot in its entirety. My mind would shift and soon the body would follow. Somewhere in our closet, there’s a box with a slew of unfinished plot notes in it.

I also noticed early on that I had a difficult time composing a simple sentence. And stringing together two simple sentences was absolute agony. The brain just wouldn’t function.

So reluctantly, I gave up my dream of becoming a world-famous author whose every book made the New York Times best-seller list. I turned my lack of talents to the political world where literary and grammatically challenged hacks abound. I fit right in.

And then one day, I had an epiphany. The political world is fiction. It’s a figment of the imagination, yours, mine, everyone’s. We all have our version of politics.

Some versions are cynicism unbounded. Politics is deciding who gets what, when, and how. In this version, the rich and powerful get more of what there is to get, and that’s good. Greed is good.

Other versions are somewhat pragmatic. Politics is how a society decides to govern itself. Should the governing process be decentralized (the U.S.) or centralized (France)? The ultimate process chosen fits the personality of the members of the society.

The most enduring version is based on ringing calls for freedom, free markets, rugged individualism, the invisible hand of the marketplace, when one profits all profit. This is the idealistic version, a guide to the ultimately perfect society, the exceptional nation.

There is probably some validity in all of these. In the U.S. we have a heck of a lot of greedy people who get more of what there is to get. Greed is sometimes balanced by the managerial types who strive for government efficiency and a “what’s best for the country” approach to governing within the bounds of reality and possibility. And, of course, the ideal is valid, too. Without dreams, societies do not long endure.

My point, however, is that each of these standing alone is a fictional account of something that cannot exist by itself. It’s merely smoke and mirrors. A 21st Century Land of Oz, with the Great Oz firing up the clouds of smoke to hide the reality of the pudgy little man of no substance behind the smoke.

For the past eight years, we’ve had a government that has hidden its ineffectiveness behind a smokescreen of Exceptionalism while the world at large moved around us as a stream flows around a rock and as our domestic economy collapsed.

As I listened to Barack Obama speak about his economic plans today, one thought caught my attention. To paraphrase, he said “we will make economic decisions based on real need rather than on friendships.”

At this moment, we can only wait and see. Will his administration accomplish something no administration before has—do what’s right for the country? Or will we learn in the end that it has all been a masterful work of fiction?

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There is a dire shortage of SPAM today caused by the worsening economic downturn. As Main Street America and the middle class experience the worst economic times in fifty years, they are turning increasingly away from their steaks and chops and lobster and toward a gelatinous block of pork butt, pork shoulder, and whatever.

The demand for SPAM has reached such heights that Hormel, the creator of SPAM, has had to hire more employees and increase overtime to keep up with the demand.

SPAM has been around a long time. It has even made its way to foreign countries. Today, the amount of SPAM consumed in the Philippines ranks right up there with consumption in Hawaii, the top-ranked SPAM state in the Union. SPAM is also a big seller in Japan.

Why is SPAM so popular? For one thing, it’s cheap. That may change, however, if the economy continues to sink and the law of supply and demand (greed) kicks in. If we’re lucky, the cost of a filet will fall sharply as demand decreases with a concurrent rise in the cost of a can of SPAM. Then we can return to the filet and consign SPAM to the food banks.

I’ve always hated turkey and baked ham, two Thanksgiving staples. As a signal of conformity, I may sit down at Thanksgiving Dinner and nibble on112408-2355-spammaysave1.png a paper-thin slice of turkey, but that’s as far as I’ll go.

Now, with SPAM achieving respectability, I’m leaning toward baked SPAM garnished with hot chili peppers, stuffing and hamburgers on the side, with a dash of cranberry sauce, which I also hate but will tolerate in a pinch. I bet the Pilgrims would have liked SPAM.

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I have just been informed in no uncertain terms that I’m obsolete. I’d suspected it for a long time, but it still hurts when someone just comes right out and says it.

Here’s how Wired Magazine put it:

Thinking about launching your own blog? Here’s some friendly advice: Don’t. And if you’ve already got one, pull the plug.

Those are strong words. But they make some sense. Blogging has been overtaken by several recent developments.

The output of Sarah Palin’s pajama-clad blogger who labors in his or her basement has been swamped by a plethora of professional sites like Politico, with its stable of paid professional newsmen and women who crank out 30 or more posts a day, continually updating news stories. The lonesome blogger is almost out of the picture compared to these sites.

Technical innovations have also dug into the blogging audience. More and more, people with a message are turning to tools like Twitter, which forces a writer to condense his or her message to 140 words or so. Bloggers seem to wander on forever, losing their audience almost with a lack of white space and a seemingly endless number of words.

Finally, social networks have made instantaneous communication possible using, for example, your Facebook Chat tool with its ability to aim specific messages at Top Friends. Why spend time writing the perfect paragraph when you can dash off a quickie message to the ones you really want to impress without the bother of the ever-present anonymous lurkers who make crappy comments and then disappear into the Etherworld?

Wired may be correct in its assessment of technological progress, but many innovations have come and gone, leaving the world to those who stick it out. I have in mind the music recording industry.

An early mechanism for recording music was little round cylinders with groves in them and a steel needle for playback. Then, someone developed a flat disc about a half an inch thick roughly the size of a small hot cake.

The fat round disc was soon replaced by the larger, 78 rpm disc, which gave way to the smaller 45 and then the 33 1/3 rpm long-play vinyl. From there, we saw tapes take over, and now we down load our music onto a plethora of magnetic recording materials.

But contrary to the naysayers, the old recording media has not totally disappear. There are still large numbers of collectors and purists who prefer their music as it used to be. I happen to be one of them, and through the years, I have kept my library of 33 1/3rd vinyls and play them on a still-serviceable turntable.

We all know that time goes by so slowly and time can mean so much. Things change, and one of the changes was bound to be an evolution in the blogosphere. Maybe the changes will eliminate the pajama-clad brigade and clear the way for those of us who like to be decently dressed as we type our glowing narratives full of fire and emotion before we click the Publish button.

The chances are good that the lonesome blogger will be around when professional sites like Politico are dead and buried. If you are a lonesome blogger, don’t be dissuaded by Wired’s prediction. Hang in and someday we’ll have a reunion on the moon.

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El Gavo appeared on the Dr. Phil Show today as one of a panel of six to debate the issue of gay marriage. The panel was composed of three who support gay marriage and three who opposed it.

Everyone knows the pros and cons of the issue so I won’t go into them here except to say that the overriding theme for the pros was civil rights while the cons objected on religious grounds. In a nutshell the civil rights group favored giving something to someone whereas the religious group favored denying or taking something away.

I’ve heard all of the argument, so my watching wasn’t to hear them repeated. Rather, I wanted to observe El’s performance. His is one of the names floated frequently as a candidate for Governor of California in 2010 and he has developed a reputation for defending gay rights and gay marriage. I wondered if I could gain a sense of how he might perform before a statewide or nationwide audience.

Watchers of politics will often tell you that the issues are largely irrelevant on the state and national stages. That isn’t to say that everyone ignores the issues. But a majority of Americans are concerned with one issue: supporting themselves and their families. The distinction between a civil union and a religious union is relevant only to a small segment of American society. Americans want leaders with strong management skills and an ability to see the whole picture.

In other words, personalities and appearances count. Sarah Palin is a prime example of someone holding extreme views who was popular even with those who may have opposed her positions. Did El evince a similar appeal during the Dr. Phil Show?

If he did, it was difficult to discern. For the entire show, he hardly spoke. Admittedly, the conversation was moderated, but air time certainly seemed the province of those who opposed gay marriage on moral grounds. Their emotion as a group and as individual members was strong and visible.

El seemed subdued, rarely speaking. But when he did, he was clear and concise, and he demonstrated a command of the legal facts. I had the impression that Dr. Phil was more interested in emotion and histrionics rather than facts, hence his preference for the cons.

On balance, El’s appearance on the Dr. Phil Show was a wash. He didn’t gain any ground in his quest for higher office but he didn’t lose any, either. He merely sat there like a spectator. That’s no way to win an election.

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When I grow weary of reading Machiavelli and executive orders and listening to the speeches and comments of politicians and talking pin heads, I find revitalization in lighter materials.

In one of my politically satiated moods, I like to read a good Western romance. I used to like them set in the old West, but now, stories about the modern West are my preference. And no one is better at the latter than my favorite romance author, Jeannie Watt.

Jeannie has a new Modern West novel slated for release in February 2009. It’s titled A Cowboy’s Redemption and already I like it.

Take a quick look at the picture Below. That’s me and the girl of my dreams nuzzling. And we’re leaning on a beat-up old pickup truck (imagination is wonderful, isn’t it?).

This is sheer advertising genius at work. Men like pickups, so they’ll be drawn to this book right away. And women flock to men who drive pickups. How’s cowboy;s redemptionthat for capturing an audience?

But that’s the marketing department at Harlequin Superromance. What about the good stuff, like the plot and the characters?

Secrecy is the name of the game in the publishing business. The plot of this book hasn’t been revealed yet, but if Jeannie writes true to form, it’s going to be filled with twists and turns with a surprise ending. She’s good at keeping her readers’ eyes glued to the page.

However, despite the secrecy, I’ve managed to dig up a hint of what’s to come. The front cover of the book includes a single descriptive sentence: “He won’t let her family ruin him… again.”

Already I’m interested and in my demented imagination, I’m trying to fill-in 256 blank pages. Thinking is tiring, though, so I’ll wait for the book to hit the book stores. Jeannie is very talented at surprising her readers.

The book is available for pre-order from Amazon.com, as well as from a British outlet that I ran across by accident called Fantastic Fiction. The British  have always liked to read about the American West and they’ve been enthralled with the cowboy image of America in general. I’ll bet Jeannie has a nice number of readers over there.

By the way, the main difference between Old West romances and Modern West romances is simple to figure out. If you’ve read some Old West romances, you’ll notice right away that they didn’t have sex in the old days. The cowboy kissed his horse and rode off into the sunset.

Doesn’t work that way in 21st Century America. Men don’t run around kissing pickup trucks and then burning rubber across a rolling prairie.

Note: The picture of above is from the Amazon.com site. I’m sure it’s inclusion falls within the standards of fair use. And as a matter of fair and open disclosure, I am not an agent for Amazon or for any other publisher or for Jeannie Watt.

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