Monday, May 29, 2006

Practicing the art of digression

So for some reason my mind wandered back last night to a meeting of my Political Economy of Racism class, which I just happened to be taking in September of 2001. The teacher was (is) an American woman of Afghani and Pakistani descent. Members of the class included me, the old(er) white lady, and my groupmates, a young, first-generation American woman whose parents emigrated here from Pakistan – she was doing her semester abroad type of deal only her home school was Clark University in Worcester, about forty-five minutes away - and two young women from Smith College are extremely well-read and typical of the bright, questioning, civically (is that a word? because I was going to say politically but that doesn’t seem to cover anything outside, well, politics) involved students who attend colleges like Smith and Berkeley and yes, even UMass. The rest of the class were students from UMass, Mt. Holyoke, Amherst, and Hampshire Colleges. I must say it was one of the most diverse groups I’ve ever had the pleasure of being involved in. Many of the “kids” were international students representing the Caribbean, Brazil, Niger, Kenya, Poland, and southeast Asia. Some were from red states – like I said, a diverse group.

Anyway, this class was held in the aftermath of 9/11, which made it an interesting time to be learning about, and with, this type of multi-cultural group. Sure, we covered the effects of racism in America, especially the effects of slavery and the civil rights movement, typical standard fare in an American class on racism. But we also discussed religious persecution as a form of racism, and the effects of religion on culture, values, and interactions. While we were delving into the relationships and conflicts between the Israelis and the Palestinians, a question popped into my head that was so basic, so simple, I couldn’t help but ask it. Why can’t these groups find some kind of neutral ground? Both sides lay claim to the same Holy Ground. The instructor’s first reaction was incredulousness at my having asked such a stupid question. Didn’t I get it that ownership of the Holy Ground was what the fuss was all about? Well, sure. I get that part. And yes, I understood that people have been trying to devise a peaceful solution. But if you go beyond the simplicity of the question and take it seriously, it ended up being a good jumping-off point for a discussion. What I really was wondering was much more than “Can’t we all just get along.” What the real question was, and continues to be, at least for me, is why can’t people accept and respect the beliefs held by others? Why can’t the Israelis see that the Palestinians are no more amenable to giving up their hold on the Holy Land than the Israelis? Why can’t the Palestinians see that the Israelis have an equal right to worship and honor their Holy Land?

Part of the problem, I suppose, is that most religions teach that theirs is the one True religion. That theirs is the one True God. All the Jews are taught that the Catholics are wrong in their beliefs. The Sunnis are taught that they are more faithful than the Shiites. The Catholics are so cocksure about their beliefs they barely teach from the Bible. (Disclaimer, I was raised Catholic and did - spent - twelve years in Catholic schools.) The so-called Christian Coalition members are taught that the Scriptures are to be followed to the letter, unless, of course, it creates an inconvenience, and then it’s a matter of interpretation.

Another problem is that religious fanatics can become so overzealous that they can’t allow for different opinions or beliefs. Some are so intent on following the one True path they don’t, can’t, or won’t recognize that the path to religious freedom is actually more like an interstate, with many roads leading to the same “place.” You can get there from here. It just takes a little guidance, kind of like a righteous GPS system.

But that analogy introduces another question. Science and technology versus religion. There’s a lot of dissidence about whether schools should teach creationism or evolution in the classroom. That’s an interesting problem. I’m not sure there’s a solution. Not an easy one, at any rate. Creationism is a theory upon which many religions are based. We all know the basic premise, that there is ONE GOD who created the world and everything, animal-vegetable-mineral, in it. Now we have scientific evidence that the Big Bang Theory and evolution played a greater part in the development of this planet and all the creatures on it. This is where faith comes up against cosmology. Cosmology being the study of the origins of life as we know it. Not that stuff you learn at the local beauty school.

I have very little background in cosmology, but I understand the basics of it and the theory of evolution. It makes sense. I also have faith, despite my wanderings from the Church, that there is a god. Maybe not your God. Maybe not just one God. But some higher Being who gives us something, someone, to believe in. I used to wonder how scientists can reconcile their faith, their belief, their religious truth, with their knowledge and understanding, their evidence, their scientific truth. My best answer to that is, That’s the difference between Belief and Faith. One can believe that there was some cataclysmic event that caused the Big Bang, resulting in matter exploding through an infinite space that eventually developed into planets, at least one of which sustains life as we know it. At the same time, one can have faith in Genesis, that God is responsible for, well, everything. Despite the scientific finality of death, one can believe there is a higher purpose, that there is life after death in some form (and I don’t disregard reincarnation). Faith and Belief can co-exist. At least in my life. Of course I also strongly believe in the separation of church and state, despite the fact that, for the most part, man’s law is based on religious doctrine.

I still have a lot of thinking to do about these issues. I’m not looking for a solution to the world’s problems, just a better understanding of them.

Food for thought. Don’t forget to tip your waitress.

Thursday, May 25, 2006

Who's minding the children?

Whoooaaa! Wait just a doggone minute here. What’s up with this judge? Is she nuts?

Check out the following story as reported on

Judge: Man is too short for prison

SIDNEY, Neb. (AP) — A judge said a 5-foot-1 man convicted of sexually assaulting a child was too small to survive in prison, and gave him 10 years of probation instead.

His crimes deserved a long sentence, District Judge Kristine Cecava said, but she worried that Richard W. Thompson, 50, would be especially imperiled by prison dangers.

"You are a sex offender, and you did it to a child," she said.

But, she said, "That doesn't make you a hunter. You do not fit in that category."

Thompson will be electronically monitored the first four months of his probation, and he was told to never be alone with someone under age 18 or date or live with a woman whose children were under 18. Cecava also ordered Thompson to get rid of his pornography.

He faces 30 days of jail each year of his probation unless he follows its conditions closely.

"I want control of you until I know you have integrated change into your life," the judge told Thompson. "I truly hope that my bet on you being OK out in society is not misplaced."

Copyright 2006 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.”

Why is this judge so concerned for the convicted sex offender’s safety? Don’t prisons have special housing units that separate child molesters -and others who need extra protection- from the general population? Don’t most experts agree that a pedophile is likely to continue to offend when released from prison? But she thinks he can “integrate(d) change into (his) life?” She’s betting on her faith in him not being misplaced. That’ll be small comfort to any children, and their families, he may “offend” in the future. While she’s worried that he may be “especially imperiled by prison dangers,” who is worrying about the children being imperiled by having this guy out on the streets? And she thinks he deserves a long sentence, but only four months of his probation will require electronic monitoring? There’s something wrong here. Maybe a little “prison justice” is what this guy needs to set himself straight. I don’t think making a weekly phone call to a probation officer is going to help him control himself.

And the winner is....

Wow! Talk about a kick in the teeth! I watched the finale tonight of Bravo TV’s Top Chef competition. It’s a kind of foodie reality show where chefs/contestants are assigned challenges to make certain kinds of dishes within given guidelines. It’s actually been pretty interesting seeing how each chef deals with the challenge, and with each other. Each week one chef is named Top Chef of the week and one is asked (well, TOLD) to “pack your knives and go.” Last weeks pre-finale pitted Dave, the highly emotional gay chef who spent the early years of his career in the tech sector, against Tiffani, the lesbian chef with an attitude that does her no good at all, and Harold, the Clark Kent of chefdom. (No, sexual orientation has nothing to do with how well one can prepare a dish, but it seemed important to the chefs to share it with us, and so I share it with you.)

Last week I thought for sure Dave the Underdog was going to pull it off and reach the finals with Harold. But unfortunately Dave’s staccato, helter skelter cooking style caused him to miss one rule of last week’s challenge, to prepare three dishes to serve to the judges. Dave only prepared two dishes and, as good as they were, he lost because of the missing dish.

That left us with Tiffani vs. Harold for tonight’s finale. The Yin and Yang of cooking. The alpha and omega of attitude. And the Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde of personality. Like most reality show/moneymakers, viewers were encouraged to text a vote for their favorite chef, at whatever the going rate for text messaging is, and despite the fact that smellivision has not yet been perfected and no samples of the cooking were delivered to the viewers at home. So viewers were actually voting for their favorite ‘character.’

The kick in the teeth was the viewers vote tally. There were four judges who made the actual choice, but before they did they consulted with the four sous chefs, previous contestants brought back to help on the final challenge. All four of those contestants thought Harold was the hands down winner. (When Tiffani learned this, she told Harold it was "tough to hear" and that her back had fallen onto his knife, like it was Harold's fault nobody liked her.) The judges apparently felt the same, so Harold was announced as the Top Chef. Tiffani was stunned. Despite numerous admonitions about her high falutin’ attitude and the manner in which she treated her fellow contestants, and the diners she cooked for, she thought she had it in the bag. You could see it on her face. She has perfected the “I KNOW I’m better than you” smirk and tossed one Harold’s way before he was named the winner. But wait until Tiffani gets home and sees the show. I hope somebody TiVoed it for her. I have never seen anything like it. Except maybe back in freshman year of high school when everybody voted for the fun guy, the class clown, for student council instead of the serious student who would actually go to the meetings and make a difference.

Are you ready for this? Tiffani, if you’re reading this I hope you’re sitting down. And I hope you’re far away from me. Don’t shoot the messenger.

The final tally:

Harold 97%

Tiffani 03%

Landslide doesn't even begin to describe this outcome. Unless the landslide is caused by a tsunami which was caused by an earthquake. But even that doesn't describe it well.

Talk about public humiliation! Talk about having the wind knocked out of your sails, your balloon burst, and thunderstorms on your parade! What could be worse than total annihilation on national television? If they ever give out an award for this kind of thing, she’s gonna win hands down. Usually at least something good comes out of this kind of competition and exposure, but I can’t imagine anything positive for Tiffani from this experience. I mean, I didn’t like the way she treated the others, her attitude about how the challenges were so beneath her she was going to follow her own crooked path, and her disdain for some of the diners, but even I feel some sympathy for her. Not a lot, but some. Maybe Dr. Phil is a fan of Top Chef and will have a special show just for Tiffani. But I think it would have to be a mini-series. The girl needs a lot of work!

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Where have all the REAL fans gone?

While we’re on the subject of sports, and baseball in particular, here’s another of my gripes. I’m pretty adamant about this one. Not like the DH rule, about which, like I said, I’m kinda on the fence. No, on this issue I KNOW where I stand. I am dead set against it. I don’t know whose bright idea it was. Probably some marketing guru looking for other sources of staggering income for major league teams. I haven’t seen this phenomenon in college sports yet but I’m sure the NCAA isn’t far behind.

Yes, sports fans, I’m talking about fan apparel. Specifically, apparel aimed at the fans among us who think it’s proper to dress like a lady when rooting for your favorite sports team. You’ve seen them, I’m sure. Maybe you didn’t know what to make of them. Those pink hats. Yes, pink. And the shirts and sweats that match. The trophy date taking up, I mean sitting in, the courtside/sideline/baseline seats at the playoffs. The ones who cheer when that big guy hits another thingy over the wall. Or when the cute guy in the tight pants catches the ball after running past those adorable little cones at the end of the football field. The ones who order white zinfandel from the waiter rather than standing in line for beer and brats like the rest of us.

The latest in sports fashion looks like your mother washed your favorite white home jersey in hot water with your official Red Sox socks. It was bad enough when they introduced the green “St. Patty’s Day” Red Sox uniforms. Never mind that the season doesn’t even start until weeks after March 17. Or that few players in American pro baseball are Irish. Then along came the different colored hats. Focusing just on the Red Sox, you can get the traditional (and my personal favorite) red cap with the blue bill and B. Or an all blue cap with a red B. Standard caps. BASEBALL caps. But no, they couldn’t stop there. I’m sure you’ve seen those specialty stores in the mall that sell hats. Mostly hats. Places with names like LIDS and Head Quarters. They market all kinds and colors of hats. There are hundreds of hat color combinations for each team. In fact they encourage the buyer to “Choose hats from the hottest brands and profiles, with the accessories and apparel you need to complete your look.” Complete your look? Remember when the “look” consisted of a team T-shirt and an authentic cap? And the accessory was a Red Sox key chain? Now the fashion conscience fan can wear matching outfits – hey, you wear the away uniform and I’ll wear the home uniform – right down to the Underoos. Or, for “the little lady”, how about a pink hat with a pink Red Sox twinset topping off the pink Red Sox shorts and socks. And of course a pair of pink Nikes with a pink B. Under it all is the ubiquitous Red Sox thong. Yes, that’s right. I said Red Sox thong. You can complete your outfit with a red, white, or blue thong. Yes, you can get a pink thong. Better yet, for those cold, windy Ides of March games, how about a St. Paddy’s Day green thong?

Gawd, Tom Yawkey must be rolling in his grave at the thought of that. Or maybe he’s trying to get a better look.

Sunday, May 21, 2006

The Asterisk

So the “agonizing wait” is over. Barry (The Asterisk) Bonds has finally hit another ball outta the park, matching George Herman (The Babe) Ruth’s years-long record of 714 homers. The Asterisk still has a way to go to reach -and pass- the all-time home run leader Henry (The Hammer) Aaron who holds the record of 755 home runs after surpassing the Babe with no. 715 in 1974.

Is it fair to compare players from such different eras, who played under such varied circumstances as these players?

The Babe spent the first years of his career as a pitcher, and his appearances at the plate were limited by the reduced number of games a pitcher would play. Once he started playing in the outfield, his at-the-plate numbers increased. The Babe had limited access to physical conditioning (unless you count the Budweiser arm curls) and the equipment in use at the time was a little less advanced than today’s gear. Still, Ruth was able to produce some great numbers as a pitcher and even better numbers as a batter.

The Hammer spent the first years of his career in the Negro Leagues and then battled racism when he moved to the majors. That’s quite an obstacle to face, day in, day out. The people who are screaming FOR him inside the ballpark would cross the street (or make him cross the street) to avoid him outside the park. The conditioning, equipment, and pay increased pretty steadily during The Hammer’s hammerin’ years. Hank kept hitting the homers while at the same time earning several Gold Gloves for his fielding skills. Another all-around great member of the Hall of Fame.

The Asterisk may not make it into Cooperstown. Not without a ticket. The Asterisk is the product of advanced equipment, rules changes, monetary rewards (when he signed with his current team, the Giants, he was the highest paid player ever in MLB), and state-of-the-art conditioning of the last few decades. But that wasn’t enough for Bonds. Nope. He had to take it a step or two further. He “allegedly(?)” used steroids to enhance his physique and thus his power at the plate. Hence the asterisk that will, in my opinion rightfully, follow him around as he sets and breaks records for hitting. It’s really unfortunate that Bonds has to live with this. He has had an incredible career, breaking records for stealing bases, walks, winning a number of Gold Gloves, playing on multiple All-Star teams and being named MVP more times than any other player in either league. But doping is cheating. And cheaters never win. Well, they do, but that’s not the American way. Well, it is, kind of. At least in big business and that’s what professional sports has become, big business.

That’s why I like Cape League Baseball. I like to watch players who play for the love of the game. And room and board. Some of them will go on to make the big bucks when they reach The Show, but most will end up with respectable careers as coaches, teachers, salesmen. With stories to tell their sons and grandsons about the summer they played against the next guy to break the home run record.

Oh, yeah. One other thing. I wonder if The Asterisk will slide over to the AL so he can DH after his real career is over. In fact, he was DHing in interleague play when he tied The Babe’s record. With some of the injuries he’s had recently, he may have to resort to the DH spot to break The Hammer’s record of 755. I’m kinda on the fence about the DH rule. I understand the justification of it and I think I accept it more as other sports develop one-position players. Football players rarely play both sides of the ball. Even the kickers specialize in either punting or tee-kicking. There are few good, all-around basketball players who consistently hit the triple double. It’s all about specialization now, about dominating one part of the game. Of course, without the DH we wouldn’t see so much of sluggers like David Ortiz. But we wouldn’t have to put up with players like José Canseco or Jason Giambi, either.

But that’s what big business has done to professional sports. That and the high cost of being a fan. How many regular folks do you know who can pay hundreds of dollars to bring their average family of four to a professional sports game? A couple of hundred for decent tickets, another fifty bucks for parking, then add in food, the $8 beers and $4 sodas, and a souvenir apiece for the little ones…sounds more like a mortgage payment than a night at the park. It used to be the rest of us could catch the game on TV. Then came ESPN and we had to pay to watch. Now it costs hundreds of dollars to get a full season of your favorite sport on a cable network. At least the parking is free and the snacks are cheaper.

Ah, but there I go digressing again. Somebody stop me.

Click here for a timeline of Babe Ruth’s career. Priceless

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

What's wrong with these pictures?

30 year old New York Firefighter yearly salary

30 year old New York Yankee yearly salary (A-Rod)
$70+ THOUSAND per day

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Vote for Pedro

Yesterday was primary day in Ohio. I didn't vote. I wanted to. I tried to. But I couldn't do it.

I've always been adamant about voting. I have worked, locally, on several presidential campaigns. I have organized voter registration drives and MTV Rock the Vote campaigns. I've complained more times than I can count about people who don't vote but then whine about the state of the union-state-county-city. Now I am one of those people.

I'm not sure my excuse for not voting is valid. Heck, it's not even an excuse, just an explanation. I'm sick of politics. I take that back. I'm not sick of politics, I'm sick of dirty politics. I'm sick of negative campaign ads (attacks). I'm sick of trying to figure out how we've come to such a sorry state that we put up with this crap.

I think we need to abolish the party system and just let people run on their platforms rather than against each other. Yeah, I know, that'll never happen. It's not feasible. It's not sordid enough. It's not even American. But wouldn't it be nice to just be able to hear about what someone wants to do to improve their little piece of the world and be able to reasonably expect them to follow through? Wouldn't it be nice if someone would inject a modicum of decency and respect into their campaign? Wouldn't it have been nice to have had the option of voting for a Kerry/McCain team?

The media pundits don't exactly have a positive effect on politics, either. Most media outlets lean towards one party or another, with few offering truly unbiased information. It seems like journalism has gone completely over to the spin doctors, commentators, and speculators rather than honest, intelligent reporting. And I'm not just talking about Jayson Blair or Stephen Glass, both reporters found guilty of injecting not just their own opinions into their pieces but fabricating the "news" they reported. I'm talking about Bill O'Reilly, Sean Hannity, Alan Coombs. I'm talking about Fox News versus CNN versus whichever of your local network channels you get your news from. The traditional town paper versus the tabloid version (which is roughly equivalent to the papers owned by The New York Times conglomerate versus those owned by Rupert Murdoch.) I'm talking about how the news is slanted depending on who is delivering it. That doesn't even begin to touch on the "news" that isn't news but mere speculation. Or projecting. Or polling. That seems to be a whole other genre of infotainment.

Anyway, to get back to voting, I actually researched some of the candidates. I tried to learn about the issues. I tried to separate the wheat from the chaff and I finally gave up. I finally got so disgusted I made a conscious decision (as opposed to an unconscious decision?) to ignore my own sense of duty and skip the polling places. I'm sure I could have conquered the new polling equipment, much of which was reported to have not lived up to expectations of simplicity, at least in my county. And I know from experience that I would have had to wait to get into a vacant booth but that wait would be less than ten minutes. I also know I could see past the familial links between candidates who all seem to be trying to make the point that they are related to JOE Smith but not JOHN Smith, or NOT related to any Smith that has served before. (You think nepotism in politics is bad in Boston, you should check out the incestual local governments in Ohio, including my little berg.)

Instead of just going through the motions I decided to take a stand and refuse to support what I think is a flawed system. Not flawed in its design but flawed in its execution. It probably won't have much of an effect on the outcome of local races, but I kind of feel good about my own little protest. Maybe I'll even write a letter to the editor. It's bound to get published. It seems the whole front section of the paper has been taken over by editorials and essays. I wonder where they put the REAL news.


Monday, May 01, 2006

No Matter How You Slice It

So I was watching Dateline last night and they did a segment on the dangers of eating a bagged salad without first washing it. You know, those bags of salad mixtures you can get at the grocery store. The ones with names like Fresh Express, and variations from American to European to Veggie Lovers. I’m not sure the Veggie Lovers is aptly named, since the only thing that distinguishes that from a regular salad mix is extra carrots. I like carrots, but I wouldn’t consider myself a carrot lover! Maybe they should just call it the American with Extra Carrots. Or the American Mix for Folks Who Like Extra Carrots. Or they could call it what it is…lettuce and carrot salad. That’s probably not good enough for the marketing team. Not too catchy. And heaven forbid they should actually call it what it is. What do we expect, truth in advertising?

Okay, here it comes…drum roll please…Ah But I Digress. Back to the Dateline piece. The “Industry Consultant” (read the guy who’s paid to spin the problem on behalf of the lettuce growers/packers/sellers, everybody but the salad eaters) referred to bagged salads as the greatest food innovation since sliced bread. That really got me thinking. Not about bagged salads but about sliced bread. I mean, really, is it that great that all else pales in comparison to it? I mean, how difficult is it to slice the bread yourself? It’s not like people couldn’t figure out how to slice the bread before the industrial revolution. Knives have been around in some form since the cavemen learned how to make tools out of stone. Granted it’s easier to slice the bread with a serrated bread knife, but the sharp stone was good enough for Neanderthal Man. I’m not exactly sure of this but I imagine slicing bread was popular hundreds of years ago when the Earl of Sandwich decided to stack a hunk of meat between two, well, slices of bread. So I guess people have been slicing bread for a while now.

When you think of it, there have been a few innovations, a few discoveries and inventions, in the past few centuries that are truly better than sliced bread. So why is sliced bread still the gold standard against which all other advances are measured? (And what was the best thing before sliced bread?) How about something being the best thing since the polio vaccine? Or the best thing since moveable type? Did moveable type come before sliced bread, and hence lose its luster and its best ranking? Even other sliced foods are better than sliced bread. Like bacon. Which would you rather slice, a loaf of bread or a big ol’ side of pork fat? I’ll slice the bread and go with the pre-sliced bacon, thank you very much. Oh, and how about cheese? Sliced cheese is good, but I’m not sure it’s better than sliced bread. Although it becomes a tighter race when the cheese is individually wrapped so it doesn’t all stick together. But only if it’s real cheese. I’m not so sure about that cheese food stuff. Who ever thought of calling it cheese food? You don’t feed the cheese. You can cut the cheese. Preferably in another room. You can melt the cheese. You can even slice the cheese yourself. But I have never, in my many years on this planet, seen anybody feed their cheese.

You know what? Since the cheese is individually wrapped, maybe they should individually wrap the pieces of bread. Maybe it would stay fresh longer. That would be the best thing since sliced bread!