Location: Indianapolis, Indiana, United States

I'm just trying to develop an online body of work (even if the work is throwaway nonsense) to advance my writing career.

Monday, May 29, 2006

Aaron Outduels Winfrey

Like many people around the world, I've been through an Oprah-hating phase and an Oprah-tolerating phase. Now I've decided I'm in the What's-the-Big-Deal-About-Oprah phase, which is directed at both her harshest critics and her most adamant sycophants. These efforts to demonize or deify her simply bore me. I don't watch her talk show and I won't; I won't buy her magazine because I'm tired of seeing her grill on it every time. Does she think people will forget what she looks like in a week? I do read some of the books she recommends, but contrary to popular perception, Oprah did not invent literature. Toni Morrison was writing good books long before anyone ever heard of Ms. Winfrey. Of course, Oprah has probably made Ms. Morrison a great deal of money by pimping her work, but some work deserves to be pimped!

I don't care what Jennifer Anniston's favorite pigout food is, where I can buy the world's most expensive cup of hot chocolate or that Oprah browbeat the author of "A Million Little Stories Real and Imagined About My Drug Addiction" on the air. In her defense, some media pundits were attacking Oprah Winfrey for recommending the book, but that would be like punching my English teacher in the face for making me read "Great Expectations." I'm not saying she couldn't have handled it better, nor am I suggesting there isn't a great deal of "embellishment" in many supposedly non-fiction works, but when you're called on the carpet for it like he was, just admit it and take your medicine.

Oprah's world is not terribly relevant to mine. She's made good and more or less done it her way, but I don't see what the fuss is about. She's far from the only celebrity who supports charitable causes and although I think she has good intentions, I find her a bit hubristic at times. So that's it. She's neither Saint nor Satan, pretty much like you and me. I, of course, am not a self-made billionaire like her, but for that I blame you readers. Not one of you has requested my address so you can send me a check for this very adequate work I do every couple of weeks!

Today is Memorial Day and that gives me the opportunity to bore readers by revealing what I think about each time I hear the National Anthem played. I think of my Great-Grandfather, who died in 1993, slogging through the deserts and mountains of North Africa on his way to Italy during World War II. He and I are not of the same blood, as he was my Great-Grandmother's second husband, so I might easily have still been born without his service. But what kind of world would I have been born into? Mind you, I get weary of the self-congratulatory bumper stickers and banners some American veterans choose to display, but my Great-Grandfather never showed those tendencies. He didn't have to tell you he fought in World War II, but he'd recount some of his experiences if you asked. Thank you, Lester, for going to war. And for coming home. We all miss you.

Isn't pizza great?

Now that Barry Bonds has surpassed Babe Ruth on the home run list, I'd just like for someone to talk about how great Henry Aaron was. We've all seen the footage from April 8, 1974 when he passed Ruth, but for some reason his greatness is presumed by many to be the product of longevity and consistency. He is widely respected for enduring death threats and racial epithets during his quest to surpass the Babe, but when the question of who the greatest player ever is, matters generally turn to Ruth, Willie Mays, Mickey Mantle and so on. All of these are worthy candidates for the title, and I won't turn this into a blog filled with baseball statistics, but here's something you may not realize (I didn't either until I looked it up): Henry Aaron finished his career with 755 home runs--a record Barry Bonds seems unlikely to eclipse--and a total of 3771 hits, placing him third all time behind Pete Rose and Ty Cobb. Subtract the former number from the latter and you get 3,016. Three thousand hits is a Hall of Fame career for any player, which means Aaron would be in the Hall of Fame if he'd never even hit one home run. How many players can you say that about? Well, you can say it about Rose and Cobb and even Tony Gwynn, but the difference is, they weren't home run hitters (the three of them combined for over three hundred fewer home runs than Aaron had by himself) and Aaron is number one all time! Think about that.

And then stop thinking. Give your mind the day off.

Sunday, May 14, 2006

How To B Lame

George W. Bush and Exxon-Mobil probably don't deserve much of our sympathy. One is a wealthy fisherman who moonlights as Leader of the Free World and it's difficult to deny he would not have achieved his current status without family connections; the other is a multinational conglomerate that just took in record profits last quarter and is billed as--not quite accurately--the largest oil company in the world. Even in the best of circumstances, most of us struggle to muster much compassion for aristocrats and huge corporations. And that's fine. But a lot of the grumbling about the aforementioned might be a bit overstated. This could be because we love to pile on, to find who's responsible for one thing and then open the floodgates, to simplify a complicated problem so we can solve it in a water cooler conversation. Call it Microwave Resolution.

Mr. Bush has taken a great deal of heat over the past few years, relinquishing nearly every scrap of the seemingly boundless political capital he possessed immediately after September 11, 2001. Now, with his approval rating hovering around 30 percent, it appears he caused everything from Hurricane Katrina to avian flu. Clearly, though, the President is most hampered by the War on Terror and its myriad tangential consequences and concerns, of which the recent immigration controversy is yet another example.

Make no mistake, the decision to invade Iraq, overthrow Saddam Hussein, and attempt to build a fledgling democracy was made by the Bush administration and, by global standards, a scant collection of allies, most notably the United Kingdom (albeit with even less support from its populace than the United States could muster). Ultimately, it is this relatively small group which must answer for the consequences, so count on this: if the situation in Iraq stays about the same or worsens, almost no one will admit to being on board from the beginning and we'll witness enough finger pointing to baffle a three-armed traffic cop; if ,on the other hand, Iraq stabilizes and security improves, there will be a four hour line to get on that rollercoaster and more "I told you sos" than heard during a marital spat.

And don't assume I'm sparing the general public, either. We have a knack for dodging blame ourselves, and because most of us wield almost no power on an individual basis, we often get away with it. Many of the same people blaming Bush for what's happened supported the war at the beginning and are now finding quite glib pretexts to claim their endorsement was earned through deceit. The phrase "scare tactics" crops up quite frequently; the Administration employed "scare tactics" to make us think the Iraq invasion was necessary. I have no interest in defending scare tactics as a strategy to achieve desired results, but since when is this new? This is what politicians do! They do it to get elected, to justify policies, to explain errors.

Another category of war supporter turned critic is WMD Guy (or WMD Woman, but that's not as catchy). WMD Guy insists he would have been against the war if he'd known Iraq did not actually have Weapons of Mass Destruction in their possession. I cannot tell you definitively that everyone who makes this statement is a liar; some are probably being true to their word. But I remember the days shortly after 9/11 and those leading up to the Iraqi invasion in March , 2003. The eagerness to blame Saddam Hussein for something--anything--was palpable. On September 11th itself, several of my co-workers seemed certain Hussein had something to do with the bombings. And Saddam did nothing but exacerbate this sentiment by reacting to the news of the attacks with glee. Let's face it, Saddam Hussein was a butcher and remains a despicable human being. So it's safe to say that a fair number of us wanted Hussein gone whether he was hiding Weapons of Mass Destruction or just a cache of Reese's cups.

On a related note, when you hear someone say "I didn't know he didn't have WMDs; that was why I supported the invasion in the first place", this person might mean instead, "I didn't know it would take more than three years, kill so many people and cost billions of dollars." You see, many of us are very deft when it comes to circumventing blame, but blind to realities of war, occupation and nation-building. Of course it's messy. War is messy! It's not a secret and it shouldn't be a surprise.

Exxon-Mobil has been vilified by politicans, media and the public for reaping record profits during the first quarter of 2006. I shed no tears for them and I, like everyone, would appreciate a magnanimous gesture on gasoline prices, but listen: this is what companies do! They make money. That's why they become companies. And a move toward lower prices would be difficult for Exxon to make unilaterally. For while they are the largest privately-owned oil company in the world, they are not the largest oil congolmerate. Not by a long shot. National governments are big players in the oil industry and state-operated petroleum entities like those in Russia, China and Venezuela have a greater influence on pricing and production than BP, Shell or Exxon. This doesn't mean you have to support Exxon. Do whatever you want; shop elsewhere, buy a hybrid or use ethanol, take the bus, the train, a bicycle, or your feet. But don't think punishing Exxon is the answer to all your problems.

Now that this entry has nearly ended, you may be asking what I'm to blame for. After all, I've taken up several paragraphs explaining why these things are never as simple as a matter of good guys and bad guys and that we often share blame ourselves for things we wish could be attributed solely to others. So what can be blamed on me? Well, I write the blog, don't I?


Monday, May 08, 2006

Where's The Dad-Blaine Magic?

David Blaine needs a new job title. "Magician", "Illusionist" and even "Stunt Performer" seem inaccurate. Maybe something like "Practitioner of Self-Degradation and Punishment" would fit better. Blaine isn't a magician because there's really nothing magical about locking yourself in a box. Similarly, he's no illusionist for the same reason; he doesn't appear to be trapped in water, he is trapped in water. And even stunt performer is a bit misleading because of Blaine's utter failure to recognize the benefit of brevity. When Evel Knievel jumped across the Snake River on a motorcycle, it was a stunt. Blaine takes weeks to perform his alleged stunts. Where's the drama in that?

Blaine's antics bring to mind the sustained and voluntary public humiliation of reality television more than any sort of chicanery or sleight of hand employed by magicians. Not that I find a run-of-the-mill magic act riveting, but it's far better than a man starving himself inside containers for no good reason. Sitting in a box for 44 days without food isn't a magic trick, it's a hunger strike, like Ghandi and Dick Gregory used to do. Except they never claimed it was magic. And their fasting had a point.

Blaine calls his latest desperate attempt to draw attention to himself "Drowned Alive"; after several days underwater, he claims to be in great pain all over his body. Well, imagine that! So being submerged in water indefinitely isn't good for a person? Maybe he expected his fingers and toes to get all pruney, but that'd be the worst of it.

In an old Monty Python routine, a self-styled daredevil named Ron Obvious attempted a series of failed stunts. The first was jumping the English Channel; then he attempted to eat an entire English Church; after that, he planned to split a railway carriage with his nose, tunnel to Java and, finally, run to the planet Mercury. David Blaine is a real-life Ron Obvious, performing acts of profound stupidity and pointlessness; the difference is, Blaine isn't funny. In fact, he's dead serious about this stuff.

At least Evel Knievel and his ilk got the foolishness overwith fast and we could watch "The Six Million Dollar Man" or something. It's enough to make pulling a rabbit from a hat fresh and innovative.