Sunday, January 31, 2010

The day the dog stood still

Author's Note: The following was published in the Collin County Opinions section of the Jan. 31, 2010 edition of the Dallas Morning News.
In the classic movie comedy, “Ghostbusters,” the main characters explain, in terms of Biblical apocalyptic terms, the dangers of unleashing all their captured “material” upon New York City.
Mayor: What do you mean, “Biblical”?
Dr. Raymond Stantz: What he means is Old Testament, Mr. Mayor, real wrath-of-God type stuff. Fire and brimstone coming down from the sky! Rivers and seas boiling!
Dr. Egon Spengler: Forty years of darkness! Earthquakes, volcanoes ...
Winston Zeddmore: The dead rising from the grave!
Dr. Peter Venkman: Human sacrifice. Dogs and cats living together. Mass hysteria!

For the past 10 months, the mass hysteria has finally played itself out at my Plano household. The human sacrifice has been various body parts (used as scratching polls) because our dog and cat have finally managed to live together. So to speak.
The dog, Seamus, was a rescue animal, liberated during the annual North Texas Irish Festival, but the cat, BeeGee, entered our home through the alley and then the garage, inching her way from stray to “stay.” And for a period of about 10 months, it was her castle to rule; we just lived in it at her whim. Then entered this four-legged creature which she treated like a mother-in-law or dead fish; after three days, he had outlived his welcome. It’s almost been a year and she remained perturbed that her kingdom had been invaded.
The dog is never hard to find; we just have to follow the trail of torn pillows, with stuffing strewn everywhere, chewed-up rawhide bones, and mangled slippers. It always leads to a prone animal snoozing on my wife’s bed … which is also half-eaten. Sad-eyed Seamus will glance up from the chewed wreckage of a former Cole Hahn moccasin; while my wife and I just stand there, shaking our heads. As once mentioned here before, the dog tries to eat everything (the latest example being a new plastic yo-yo when he failed to get it to “walk the cat”).
At first, the cat v. dog situation was not good; it more resembled Wrestlemania or NHRA drag racing. The dog would try to play and fetch the cat (in his mouth); the cat would reverse field and smack him against the snout with a solid Muhammed Ali-like left cross (who knew the cat was left-pawed like the rest of us in the household?). It’s better entertainment than any mixed martial arts pay-for-view showdown you can buy on cable TV.
Emergency air or ambulance sirens make no impression upon Seamus, but if just one of us is caught by him, rubbing or petting his affection competition, he launches into his best Lassie “Help, Timmy is in trouble again” barking at the top of his considerable lungs. I swear his black and white coat turns Celtic Kelly green in a pique of envy and jealousy. I thought that was reserved for jilted ex-girlfriends.
We didn’t know if this battle would become “Alien v. Predator” or “The Simpsons,” but like good animal Marines, we (and they) adapted. They’ve learned to “respect” one another’s food and territory, although the cat is still flashing her best M-G-M growl at times, the dust – and pillow stuffing – has settled for the time being.
I don’t know what the scene was like at your household on Christmas Day… but it might have been mine.
The spouse and I were in our living room, wishing we had cleaned the chimney to use our fireplace. We sat respectively in our easy chairs, watching “Law and Order” reruns, and marveling at the snow that covered our Texas-based lawn.
We simultaneously looked over to the dog and cat – just mere inches from each other, oblivious to one another, sleeping the night away. Their harmonious snoring mixed well with the smell of one of my sugar-free apple pies, baking in the oven.
My wife and I turned to each other and smile, satisfied that species d├ętente had been reached; that all shoes would remain safe.
For at least one more night.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

More on McGwire

Regardless of what people "think" or "believe," amking comparisons between Pete Rose, banned for life from baseball, and Mark McGwire,who some think should also be banned, are two completely different cases.

First, Rose broke THE unbreakable rule in baseball - no betting on games, especially your own team. It is the idelible stain upon baseball dating back to 1919. Steroids don't go back that far. H also went to prison for it.
Second, McGwire was never convicted of a crime nor charged by anyone - police OR baseball. In fact, MUCH of what McGwire took THEN was never banned by MLB because it needed players, like McGwire, to maintain popularity in the sport. Hell, you can STILL buy Andro on the self of any GNC. You cannot preach to youth about abstinence from PEDs and not advocate for its abolition to the general public.
Third, cheating has been part of the game for ages. Weren't greenies or bennies or whatever they took in the 50s, 60s and 70s ALSO performance enhancing drugs ... by the very definition of PED?
And records were set in eras where ballparks were SO small that mere pop-ups flew for home runs. Bobby Thompson's legendary "The Giants win the pennat" HR was hit over the LF fence at the Polo Grounds just 285 feet from home plate.
Everything, from equipment to medicine to the stadiums, have played into records from all eras. If you scrub one decade worth of records, you've got to go back and examine ... everything! And it can't be done.
Forget the asterisks, etc. And if you do it with baseball, shouldn't it be done for all sports? Think baseball is the lone olf here? Football has been nothing but steroid-aided, including the decade of the Cowboys' Super Bowls (and forget about the home town factor; players on ALL teams were juicing and there was NO excuse for it).
Everything has changed and nothing in this world has stayed the same. So live with it!

Monday, January 11, 2010

Fair and balanced? Yeah, right (wing)!

Second most stunning headline, and LEAST shocking, of the day:
Palin signs on with Fox News
By Howard Kurtz

The Washington Post

Sarah Palin, who regularly rips the media, is becoming a television pundit at a place where she's likely to feel at home.
A Fox News executive says the network will shortly announce that the former vice-presidential nominee is signing on as a contributor.
Palin, who resigned as governor of Alaska last summer, will appear as a commentator on various Fox shows. She will also host an occasional program that will examine inspirational tales involving ordinary Americans.
Palin will join Mike Huckabee as a Fox contributor who was also involved in the 2008 campaign. The exposure can only help Palin if she decides to pursue a 2012 presidential bid.
At the moment, Palin makes pronouncements mainly through her Facebook page. The Fox connection would give her a platform on the nation's top-rated cable news channel.
Palin is extremely popular with her conservative base, which has fueled the sales of her best-selling memoir. But she is a divisive political figure who not only draws the ire of liberals but some Republicans, including staffers who deal with her during her run as John McCain's running mate. Steve Schmidt, a top McCain strategist, said on "60 Minutes" last night that "there were numerous instances that she said things that were -- that were not accurate that ultimately, the campaign had to deal with."
Hiring Palin could further boost the popularity of Rupert Murdoch's network among conservative viewers. The network already employs former Bush White House aide Karl Rove and former House speaker Newt Gingrich as highly visible commentators.

Perhaps she can interview Mark McGwire about things like ... honesty and values. :-)

I, Mark McGwire, confess

The most anticipated, and LEAST shocking, confession in recent times:

Text of the statement Mark McGwire issued Monday to the Associated Press, admitting he used steroids during his career:
"Now that I have become the hitting coach for the St. Louis Cardinals, I have the chance to do something that I wish I was able to do five years ago.
I never knew when, but I always knew this day would come. It's time for me to talk about the past and to confirm what people have suspected. I used steroids during my playing career and I apologize. I remember trying steroids very briefly in the 1989/1990 off season and then after I was injured in 1993, I used steroids again. I used them on occasion throughout the '90s, including during the 1998 season.
I wish I had never touched steroids. It was foolish and it was a mistake. I truly apologize. Looking back, I wish I had never played during the steroid era.
During the mid-'90s, I went on the DL seven times and missed 228 games over five years. I experienced a lot of injuries, including a ribcage strain, a torn left heel muscle, a stress fracture of the left heel, and a torn right heel muscle. It was definitely a miserable bunch of years and I told myself that steroids could help me recover faster. I thought they would help me heal and prevent injuries, too.
I'm sure people will wonder if I could have hit all those home runs had I never taken steroids. I had good years when I didn't take any and I had bad years when I didn't take any. I had good years when I took steroids and I had bad years when I took steroids. But no matter what, I shouldn't have done it and for that I'm truly sorry.
Baseball is really different now - it's been cleaned up. The commissioner and the players' association implemented testing and they cracked down, and I'm glad they did.
I'm grateful to the Cardinals for bringing me back to baseball. I want to say thank you to Cardinals owner Mr. DeWitt, to my GM, John Mozeliak, and to my manager, Tony LaRussa. I can't wait to put the uniform on again and to be back on the field in front of the great fans in Saint Louis. I've always appreciated their support and I intend to earn it again, this time as hitting coach. I'm going to pour myself into this job and do everything I can to help the Cardinals hitters become the best players for years to come.
After all this time, I want to come clean. I was not in a position to do that five years ago in my congressional testimony, but now I feel an obligation to discuss this and to answer questions about it. I'll do that, and then I just want to help my team."

Thursday, January 07, 2010

Goodbye, friend

Blogger's Note: Upon the passing of a friend, Jerry Fleming of Plano, Texas, I sent a communication to the wife of the obituary writer seen here. She also works for the Morning News as I had established a relationship via the email. The result is here - a fitting tribute to a good man.

By JOE SIMNACHER / The Dallas Morning News
Jerry M. Fleming continued helping people long after his 1989 retirement as an Army social worker and lieutenant colonel.
He settled in Dallas, where he assisted both civilians and veterans. He was especially known for helping fellow Vietnam veterans receive benefits related to cancers linked to military exposure to Agent Orange.
Mr. Fleming, 69, died Saturday (Jan. 9, 2010) at Medical Center of Plano of complications of a non-Hodgkin's lymphoma, the fourth cancer he had battled.
Graveside services with military honors for Mr. Fleming will be at noon Friday at Dallas-Fort Worth National Cemetery. A celebration of life will be at 2 p.m. Saturday at the Community Unitarian Universalist Church, 2875 E. Parker Road in Plano.
Mr. Fleming's social work in Dallas covered everything from counseling employees after robberies and other tragedies to working with veterans, said his wife, Beverly Fleming of Plano.
"He was very caring, very much into our church; he was head of the ushers," Mrs. Fleming said. At Community Unitarian Universalist Church, Mr. Fleming and his wife worked to help AIDS patients.
For 20 years in Dallas, Mr. Fleming provided outsourced marriage and substance abuse counseling.
He was a social worker with several companies that subcontracted counseling services. He also volunteered his social-working expertise to veterans.
In 2002, doctors diagnosed Waldenstrom's macroglobulinemia, a rare type of non-Hodgkin's lymphoma.
"If anybody told Jerry he had something, he started researching it," Mrs. Fleming said.
"The military acknowledged that Agent Orange had caused several things, one of them is non-Hodgkin's lymphoma, which WM is one."
Mr. Fleming created a Web site and soon received calls from veterans across the nation wanting to know how to get compensation.
"If they got it – wonderful – if they didn't, he told them how to contest it," his wife said. "He helped a lot of vets get money that was due to them."
Mr. Fleming's research led him to the Waldenstrom's Macroglobulinemia Foundation. He attended the group's annual meeting and later agreed to start a support chapter in Dallas.
Mr. Fleming was born and raised in Dayton, Ohio, where he attended the University of Dayton, before receiving his bachelor's degree from Ohio University.
"We were married a week later." Mrs. Fleming said.
A college ROTC cadet, Mr. Fleming was commissioned a second lieutenant in the Army. He served in Germany and Vietnam, where he was company commander for an ambulance unit.
He later served at Fort Leavenworth, Kan., where he was selected to go to graduate school at Ohio State to earn a master's degree in social work. He finished his 26-year Army career as a social worker. In his career, he was stationed at Fort Sam Houston near San Antonio and Fort Sill, Okla. He was chief of social work at Fort Knox, Ky., when he retired.
"He loved the military, we both did; moving and meeting new people," Mrs. Fleming said.
In addition to his wife, Mr. Fleming is survived by a son, Steven Fleming of Gilmore, Texas; a daughter, Suzanne Fleming of McKinney; and three grandchildren.
Memorials may be made to the research fund at the International Waldenstrom's Macroglobulinemia Foundation,

Wednesday, January 06, 2010

Finding my inner curmudgeon

I was recently surfing through several news websites and discovered just how out of touch I must be with the rest of the world. While I keep searching for meaningful analysis and news, the rest of YOU are dwelling upon stuff of which I have NO clue.
Headlines, from local sites to international press, told of the absolute shocking death of Stephen Gately, a member of the band, Boyzone, in Majorca.
Sorry, but who?
And then several sites proclaimed the good news that Kourtney Kardashian is having a baby – and it’s gonna be a boy!!!!
Sorry again, but who?
Surely, the results of the People’s Choice Awards is the most discussed matter at every water cooler.
Uh, pardon me, but … what’s that? I didn’t choose a thing.
And here is the death of Tia Tequila's "wifey," as if I give a shit...except she was a very hot lipstick lesbian.
I don’t know a fucking thing about these people and the social circles in which they travel. And frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn (a line NOT borrowed from a Tina Fey skit on “Saturday Night Live”). It’s not that I’m sympathetic; I just don’t give a shit. Lately, the number of items being compiled on my “what not to do” list is increasing by the nanosecond.
So if that makes me a curmudgeon ... whatever.
I couldn’t tell anyone a thing ever sung by Lady Gaga or Taylor Swift or Hannah Montana or Billings, Montana. I don’t watch reality shows other than the news and baseball. I don’t want to see who is the lesser loser on “The Biggest Loser,” or why I should ever care about dysfunctional families like “Jon and Kate Plus 8” (my former in-laws provided enough of that for 10 lifetimes). I don’t want to ever watch anything about a guy who unleashed a flying mushroom across Colorado and got his kid (named after a bird) to help scam the nation.
I don’t care who’s on “Oprah” or “The View” and I don’t watch shows like “Gossip Girl” or “The Hills.” Of course, I never saw “Friends,” “Seinfeld” or even a single chapter of “Roots.” I still have the original episodes from “Lonesome Dove” I taped (as in VCR) from 1989 and just haven’t gotten around to watching THAT in 20 years’ time.
I don’t watch anything (and anyone embarrassing themselves or others) on YouTube because it rhymes with “boob tube” and demonstrates how that phrase has become a self-fulfilling prophecy.
I don’t eat seaweed because … well, just because sewage. I don’t eat sushi since I like my meal, more or less, dead. And Pad Thai sounds like a bundle of paper encircled by twine.
I liked reading newspapers until the Internet made it unfashionable to get your fingers stained with printer’s ink (which I always took a sign of actual, nor artificial, intelligence). If I would read a book, I like the kind with paper and hard covers instead of coming on a palm-size device.
And I prefer to have had this written on a manual typewriter rather than a computer keyboard because I actually enjoy prying apart jammed keys against a carbon ribbon. It, too, was a sign (and unmistaken sound) of man’s brain cells participating in the lost art of clever reasoning and engagement.
If all this makes me a curmudgeon, then I wear it proudly like my favorite baseball team’s cap on my bald-ass head. There’s no law that mandates automatic acceptance of modern culture, technology, morals or standards. As far as I cal tell, the answer of “…well, just because” is sufficient to almost anyone’s contrarian point of view.
The dictionary describes a curmudgeon as “a crusty, ill-tempered, and usually old man,” which is actually sexist because why can’t a female be just as curmudgeony? Why can’t men act differently during certain times of the month (like payday, or tee-time, or kickoff)?
I’d rather be a curmudgeon than the modern version of hip. After looking closely in the mirror, believe me, I AM hip! Nice and wide hips … and stomach, too. I am who I am, and I’m not changing to reflect, or keep up with, the times. All that matters is being accepted by the people who matters – the ones who love me … for me.
Now excuse me, but I’ve got to go catch up on missing episodes of “I Love Lucy.” Is she still married to Ricky?

Tuesday, January 05, 2010

When the c-c-chips are down …

As a former small business owner, I admit I know very little about business principles. I never attended Princeton, Harvard or the Wharton School at Carnegie-Mellon. I was a graduate of the seat-of-your-pants system taught at the Keep-The Doors-Open University.

I foolishly believed that you could make as much money by selling your product for a lower price, moving more units – newspapers, in my case – than you could at a higher price but selling fewer of them. I remained true to that principle, even as the ship was sinking; I played the captain’s role to the hilt and went down with the company. Heck, I didn’t know any goddamn better.

So you can understand how I was stunned one recent day when my wife brought home a bag of potato chips from a company whose headquartered are down the Legacy road here in Plano (who is nameless but initials are Frito-Lay). It was a well-known brand, including its r-r-ridges and rolled “Rs” to properly pronounce but my jaw dropped at the price on the 10-ounce bag … $3.99. I got downright …. R-r-Ruffled.

How r-r-revolting! Four bucks for some shit that was half-empty to start. It seemed like only yesterday that the same crappy item cost under $2.50 or even two dollars. At that cost, the chips seemed like a reasonable purchase but four dollars?!?!

Hey, hasn’t anyone at that company heard that there’s a recession happening taking place?

I’m sure the company spokesperson would counter by noting the quality of the product, the change in oil used to manufacture those chips and the increased cost of the air used to inflate that 10-ounce bag.

And economic experts would tell you that when you increase your price for service or items just 10 percent, you reap 33 percent more income, or when you lower your price just 10 percent, it takes twice as many sales to recoup the difference. I just know that the local major metro daily has lost beaucoup of sales because MANY people (moi included) have cancelled subscriptions because it is priced OUT of our budgets.

Four bucks for a bag of chips is fine and dandy, but times are tough, pennies are being pinched, nerves are being r-r-ruffled and households everywhere are discovering the true words penned by the Kinks two decades ago (1979), entitled “Low Budget.”

“Circumstance has forced my hand

To be a cut-price person in a low budget land.

Times are hard, but we’ll all survive;

I just got to learn to economize.

At least my hair is all mine, my teeth are my own,

But everything else is on permanent loan.”

There’s no doubt that Americans will flock to anything cheap. There is no other explanation for the sight of people standing in long lines in the dark of Thanksgiving night, often in near-freezing temperatures, simply to buy a second-rate flat screen TV because … it’s priced ridiculously cheap. Consumers have tossed aside quality American-made products in favor of low-priced junk made in foreign lands by the lowest salaried labor corporations can find. Damn, we’ve made Wal-Mart, king of cheap shit, the largest retail business around FOR THE VERY REASON – shit is cheap.

But … you Do get what you pay for. Cheap shit is … cheap-ass SHIT!

Such an attitude has all but eliminated the American manufacturing sector and turned our society into robotic shoppers, jumping like lemurs at the newest gadget or electronic toy, usually made with our dollars but not by our neighbors. We borrow up to our eyeballs to pay the credit cards used for these purchases and it’s all a vicious treadmill and we’ve become the trapped hamsters.

It reminds me of the 1983 movie, “Mr. Mom,” written by the late John Hughes and starring a much funnier Michael Keaton. Its “story” centered around the difficult recession of the early 1980s and an unemployed auto engineer who reverses household roles with his wife.

As the contrived finale came to a head, in the background plays the finished commercial that the wife had spent her time creating. It showed the president of a canned tuna maker explaining that his product, normally the most expensive on the market, would roll back its price until economic conditions improved.

It was because his all-American product – Schooner Tuna – was the “tuna with a heart.” He subscribed to the theory that if you sell more units at a cheaper price, you might just make as much money.

The chip company CEO needs to stand before the public and say the same thing. Lower the prices on those bags until our economy recovers enough to justify charging the higher prices.

I hope the folks on Legacy Drive are listening above the din of all that chip munching. Someone needs to find some goddamn “heart.”

Monday, January 04, 2010

Cream is at the BCS top

All you bashers of the current BCS national championship system: bite it!
After this round of action (a less-than-stellar TCU loss, in the worst uniforms ever seen, to the worst undefeated college team in the USA - Boise State AND a total embarassment by Cincinnati against Florida), it should be clear that THE two best teams are playing Thursday for the national title, In fact, the top 4 teams REALLY are Texas, Alabama, Florida and Ohio State.
And there ain't no argument 'bout that.

Saturday, January 02, 2010

How to earn my vote: ‘Tis the season (sadly) for politics

Author's Note: This is the original (pre-edited) version of the column that appears in the Jan. 2, 2010 edition of the Dallas Morning News.
By a quirk of fate, known only to God and the Texas political parties, the holiday season always intersects with the campaign season as filings begins for a horde of offices (county, state and federal). And in between commercials for overbearing perfumes or colognes represented by fading stars or the next “perfect holiday treat” are the initial forays into that minefield that IS the Texas electorate.
While the primary season should not be held so darn early, and it ought to be against the laws of decency to air political ads before Jan. 1, (So, in the spirit of the season, I propose) a few grounds rules should be put into play for any candidate earning the peoples’ votes … at least from this potential supporter.
Be “for” something; not against everything – At some point, the weight of total negativity crushes the voters’ spirit. Do a mental lap-band procedure and speak to the positives you wish to achieve. Stop being such a downer!
Cut the labels – People come in all sizes and shapes, as do their political viewpoints. Simplistic labels do grave injustices to how (and what) people believe. Please stash them deep in the sock drawer and stop using them!
No demagogue with the egg nog – Too many politicians seem more interested in being part of a perpetual rugby scrum than getting things done for the betterment of all (not just a particular political party). If more offices changed to non-partisan status (all county offices and judicial positions for example), the better we’d all be served. Stop being so partisan!
If you’re against it, why run for it? – It’s hard to take someone seriously if he/she (merely) rants against the very governmental institution of which they seek to become part. If you hate government, why in the world should anyone elect you? Stop trying to fool people! To quote Marx (Groucho), “I’d never join a club that would have me as a member.”
Add some crumpets with that “tea” – This past summer’s phenomenon (the tea party movement) introduced genuine, substantive issues to the debate … when a select few “members” weren’t parading around making less-than-gracious comments about a certain person’s heritage, ethnicity, religion or birthright. Missing in some of the undue paranoia was substance. Loud debate without concrete suggestions is simply yelling. Please no more yelling!
Only directors yell “cut!” – One person cannot reduce the size of government or spending; both parties have been, and still are, guilty to bloating the budget, including so-called staunch budget-cutters. Anyone who promises drastic turnabout of this runaway train is … lying. Please stop the lying!
Be specifically specific – For once, I’d like to hear actual proposals. Not “I’m still studying the issue.” Study time should have happened before (you filed for the election) the filing; the campaign is the exam and the results are posted on Election Day. And if you tell me, “I’ll get back to you on that one,” don’t bother. You flunk! Stop flunking this simple test!
Kill the robo-calls – One surefire way to destroy any chance of garnering my vote is to bombard my house with those annoying automated, auto-generated pre-recorded solicitations … because that’s exactly what they are! Thousands of Texans have placed their homes on the “No Call” list to avoid such pandering. And no one quite panders like a politician. So stop calling!
If you follow these simple steps, you might, I repeat MIGHT, get my vote. Or not…depends on what arrives for Christmas … hopefully not any of that cologne.