Monday, December 29, 2008

2008: Not So Great

George Bush isn't the only one who's been a lame duck for the last couple of months of 2008. I have, too. I think all Americans have been lame ducks. We've been in limbo. We've been waiting to see how the financial crisis will be resolved, waiting to see what's going to happen with the automakers, and waiting to see how things will be under President Obama. Like a lame duck, we've been treading water. And time doesn't fly when you're treading water.

I can't be the only person who feels that the end of 2008 has dragged on and on. It seems like 2008 will never end. Doesn't it seem like it's been the longest year ever?

One of the reasons, of course, was because we had an interminable Presidential campaign. And the war continued without any hints of a dramatic ending. And we kept hoping that the bad financial times would be over. So it certainly was not a year's end that zipped by.

And to make it even longer, not only was 2008 a leap year, but scientists added a "leap second" to it. Apparently, they do this every once in a while when they notice that the earth's rotation is slowing down slightly. In case you're interested, the leap second will be added onto December 31st. Let's all make the most of that extra second.

Things that didn't really happen that long ago seem like they happened ages ago. For example, can you believe that John McCain picked Sarah Palin as his running mate only four months ago? Doesn't it seem longer? Were we really able to live our entire lives, minus four months, without Sarah Palin?

Were the Olympics really just this past summer? And were the John Edwards and Eliot Spitzer scandals really this year? They seem like something from a distant, more innocent past. Of course, they have been trumped by year-end scandals, but neither Blagojevich nor Madoff made the time pass more quickly.

Think your memory of 2008 is perfect? Who won the 2008 Super Bowl? Not a sports fan? Who won the 2008 Nobel Peace Prize? (Hint: it wasn't any of the football players from the Super Bowl).

Remember when gas prices were ridiculously high? Remember when houses sold ridiculously fast? Remember when I lost my cell phone? (Okay, that's a hard one).

Remember when the polygamists' ranch was raided? That really happened just this year.

This was a year when some things were all turned around. I don't know about you, but I can remember when people went to banks for money instead of the other way around.

And didn't you think pirates were a thing of the past?

One of the most outrageous Congressional earmarks was $50,000 proposed by California Rep. Howard "Buck" McKeon. He felt the money should go to the National Mule and Packers Museum. And they say government doesn't support the arts.

Speaking of four-legged animals, a Norwegian equestrian was stripped of his Olympic bronze medal because his horse had taken a "banned substance." That's right. The horse didn't pass the drug test. With all the publicity about how harmful these drugs are, plus with every newspaper talking about how stringent tests are at the Olympics, how could a horse be so stupid and risk everything by taking drugs? What was he thinking?

The news story that defines 2008 has to do with Burger King. In the beginning of this month, the fast food company came out with a cologne – actually a men's body spray -- that smells like "flame broiled meat." "Who would want to smell like cooked meat?" But isn't this a perfect move for a company to make in 2008? People are worried about not having enough money to buy groceries, and they think that men are going to spend their hard-earned dollars so they'll smell like a hamburger? Maybe they're going for the burger bailout.

If "Flame" – as Burger King's cologne is called -- actually turns out to be a hot product, watch for the banks to follow suit. They could sell "Bucks," a cologne that smells like money. That way, Americans can walk around in 2009 with nothing in their pockets, but at least they'll smell like money.

And if the banks' cologne is successful, I'll bet other fragrances will follow. I just hope those in charge of that mule museum don't get any ideas.

Happy New Year, and have a great 2009.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

What Now? A Tsunami?

Like most people these days, I've been trying to put on a happy face for the holiday season despite the war dragging on, the failing economy, the bailouts, the scandals, the non-bailouts, and my not being invited to the Inauguration. We all know that smiling helps us feel better, and it even helps people who see us smile feel better. Besides, we know that there are so many people who have it far worse than we do. Things aren't really that bad, right? That's what I was telling myself until I recently learned that I live less than a mile from a "Tsunami Hazard Zone." There's always something.

A few weeks ago, my son asked if I had noticed that there are new blue signs up that tell us that we're entering a "Tsunami Hazard Zone" as we drive towards the ocean, and other signs that tell us we're leaving the "Zone" as we drive away from it. I hadn't noticed them, but the next day I saw them, and I've seen them every day since then. I know the signs aren't actually very large, but because of what they say, they seem to be among the biggest signs I've ever seen. It's like they are dripping with danger and flashing with warning. Because of their implications, they would dwarf a Las Vegas billboard advertising Cher.

Some 90 signs have been placed in the area, and there are more signs throughout the state, dotting the 101 and the coast area. It's all part of the recommendations of California's Seismic Safety Commission. The Commission determined in 2005, that earthquakes can cause tsunamis, and they don't give much warning time. I wonder how much it cost the taxpayers to come up with that startling conclusion.

Somehow, these signs are supposed to make us safer. I'm not sure about that. If I'm driving along the ocean, and then a tsunami starts up, how is reading a sign that tells me I'm in a tsunami zone going to make me safer?

I guess they'd reply that one should follow the signs that say, "Leaving Tsunami Hazard Zone" and go to higher ground. No kidding.

I tried to find out what we are supposed to do now that we officially live in a tsunami evacuation area, not far from a tsunami danger zone. However, none of the officials returned my calls. Maybe they were busy getting ready for The Big Wet One.

I moved into this neighborhood about 11 years ago, and I've loved living here. I used to think it was a good thing that we lived only a mile from the beach. So now am I supposed to worry every day, knowing that I'm uncomfortably close to the tsunami zone? And what is this going to do to property values in my neighborhood? Did the value of my house really need another reason to go down? Wouldn't you have second thoughts about buying a house a big wave away from the tsunami danger zone?

Since we're not in the "danger zone," but are around the "evacuation route," are we going to have special responsibilities if there is a tsunami? Are we supposed to open up our home to those who had to evacuate? Does that mean I need to get the house painted and clean up my home office? And what do you serve people who have evacuated a tsunami? I don't think seafood would be appropriate.

I assume that very soon, I'll employ the same psychological tactic I've used for years regarding earthquakes -- denial. Obviously, you can't live in this area and worry about earthquakes every minute. The same goes for tsunamis. So why did they have to put up signs to remind us of the danger?

I just didn't need something else to worry about. What are they going to do next, put up signs that say things like, "You Might Have Left Your House Unlocked," "They Know About That Book You Never Returned," or "You Should Have A Dermatologist Look At That Thing On Your Back?"

But I decided not to express all these feelings to the officials in charge. If I did, the next day they'd probably put up a sign in my neighborhood saying something like, "Entering A Neurotic Writer's Zone."

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Misunderstood Blagojevich

Isn't it possible, that Illinois Governor, Rod Blagojevich, is just misunderstood? I'm not a lawyer, but I've seen lawyers played on TV. And I've been thinking about Blagojevich ever since the FBI arrested him. Like many of you, I've been wondering what his defense can possibly be since the Feds taped so many damaging words of his. By the time you read this, he may have resigned or have been impeached. However, as of this writing, he has not been found guilty of anything. So, isn't it just possible that the man is completely innocent? Okay, I know that's a stretch. Regardless, I decided to put myself in the wing-tipped shoes of a criminal lawyer making hundreds of dollars an hour to try to get this man off the hook. If I were his lawyer, this is probably the kind of thing I'd say:

Citizens of Illinois, ladies and gentlemen of the press (or of the jury, depending), I represent Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich. I maintain that not only is his name often mispronounced, but it has also been cruelly sullied. Rod Blagojevich is not the money-hungry, vulgar, crooked, arrogant, stupid man that you may think he is. Wait, I left out "disgraceful." Anyway, this is a man who has suffered his whole life. As a child, other kids made fun of his name. As an adult, people have made fun of his hair. And yet, he was able to rise to one of the highest offices in this land that he loves so much. That's got to be worth something, doesn't it? Uh, you know what I mean.

Let's talk about the charge that people find the most shocking: the alleged attempt to sell the Senate seat formerly belonging to President-elect Barack Obama. This is perhaps the biggest example of there being a misunderstanding. When Rod Blagojevich said that he was interested in "selling Obama's Senate seat," he literally meant "Obama's Senate seat" -- the chair that Obama sat in while in the Senate. He did not mean that he was selling someone the lofty position of Senator; he was talking about furniture.

Now, this was probably a mistake, a mistake that he is quite sorry for. He shouldn't have been trying to sell a Senator's chair anymore than I should've tried to sell that Supreme Court Justice's couch a few years ago. I wasn't thinking straight then, and neither was Rod.

Mr. Blagojevich has done his best to be a proper Governor for the people of Illinois. He is an old-fashioned guy who believes in tradition, and he was trying to follow that tradition. If he is guilty of anything, it is of trying too hard. Historically, four of the last eight elected Governors of Illinois have been charged with a crime. Since 1971, approximately 1000 Illinois public servants have been convicted of corruption, and in Chicago 30 Aldermen have gone to jail. Should he be demonized for just trying to follow in the footsteps of the public servants who came before him?

The "Corporate Crime Reporter" recently crunched some Department of Justice statistics to see which state was the most corrupt in the nation. Louisiana was Number One, followed by Mississippi, Kentucky, Alabama, Ohio, and finally Illinois. That's right. Illinois was only sixth. To someone who always wanted Illinois to be Number One in everything, can you imagine how the Governor felt when he read these statistics?

He decided he'd do his best to bring Illinois up to being at least in the top three. Who knows? Because of Rod Blagojevich, he may have pushed Illinois past Louisiana!

You decide. Should someone be severely punished for trying to sell an old chair while he was attempting to make Abraham Lincoln's state Number One?

I don't think so. I rest my case."

That's what I would say if I were his lawyer. And who knows? Maybe that's the kind of thing that'll get him off. Crazier things have happened in court.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Smokey The Bear Accidentally Shot

That headline about Smokey could appear in newspapers across the country soon. For the first time in 25 years, a new Bush Administration rule will allow people to carry loaded, concealed weapons in national parks and wildlife refuges. Will the majority of people who visit these parks feel safer because of this new ruling? What do you think?

Which do you think is going to happen first, or more often: A law-abiding citizen with a permit to carry a concealed weapon will use his gun to protect himself or his property? Or, there will be a tragic accident involving a drunk and a gun, an animal and a gun, or a little kid and a gun?

Why do gun owners think it's so important to have a gun with them in a national park? Is this part of their "slippery slope" theory. You know, that if guns are prohibited in the parks, next they'll be saying you can't have a bazooka in your garage.

Here's the ruling: beginning in January, people who are licensed to carry concealed weapons will be allowed to carry those weapons in national parks So, people will be allowed to carry firearms, concealed and loaded, in 388 out of the 391 national parks. Wisconsin and Illinois don't issue concealed carry permits, so the parks in those states are exempt. But I'm sure the National Rifle Association is taking aim at those three parks, too.

You're probably wondering what liberal, left-wing, Constitution-hating regime banned these weapons from parks 25 years ago. Well, the bill that did so was signed by Ronald Reagan. It required firearms to be unloaded and placed somewhere that wasn't too accessible, such as a car trunk, while people visited federal parks. I guess the NRA feels that the Founding Fathers were against keeping things in locked trunks.

This paragraph is specifically for members of the NRA and other gun owners. I'm not saying that you don't have the legal right to carry a gun into a national park. So you don't have to send me that nasty email. (But you can if you want to). I'm just appealing to common sense when I ask the question, "Why do you feel a need to bring a gun into a national park?"

The way the NRA explains it, "We are pleased that the Interior Department recognizes the right of law-abiding citizens to protect themselves and their families while enjoying America's National Parks and wildlife refuges."

But what is it that they feel a need to protect themselves from? Until now, people weren't walking around with guns, so it can't be other campers. Shooting those bears who are sniffing around your garbage isn't allowed. Those Boy Scouts who might be singing too loudly aren't really a threat. So what are you so afraid of that you feel the need to have your gun with you?

Part of the above NRA quote refers to "enjoying" the parks. You mean, until now, there were people who visited the parks, and then afterwards said to their friends or spouses, "I loved the hiking, and the beauty of the park was breathtaking. But I really would have enjoyed the experience more if I had had my concealed weapon with me?"

I believe the NRA folks when they say they will feel safer because of this ruling. But what about the rest of us? Are you going to feel safer, knowing that those guys in the next tent who just drank a case of beer might be carrying concealed weapons? Are you going to be afraid to ask the woman by the campfire who's playing her radio too loud to turn it down now that you know that the thing in her pocket might not be a flashlight? And will that nervous guy with a gun who sees something moving in the middle of the night shoot it before realizing it's you running to the bathroom?

Gun guys, take a break. We all know the law says you can have your gun with you, but it doesn't say you must have it with you. Can't you leave it at home for one little weekend? Just have fun at the park, and if you think you're going to miss your gun too much, you can always bring a picture of it. Just don't reach for that picture too quickly. One of your buddies might think your reaching for something else.

Friday, December 5, 2008

CEOs At The Wheel


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The CEOs of General Motors, Ford, and Chrysler have been trying some public relations moves lately. They're saying that if Congress bails them out with billions, they will only take a dollar a year in salary. It's part of the "we all have to make sacrifices" approach. I guess they think it makes up for the fact that they made millions last year while their companies were going in the toilet and many of their employees lost their jobs. They probably also think this sacrifice says, "We care more about this industry and our country than we do about personal wealth." Yeah, right.

I know that what's happened to the auto business is not just the fault of these three guys. We can't blame them for the fact that fewer and fewer people have the money or can get the credit to buy cars these days. And there are all kinds of reasons why the American car business has a hard time competing with foreign manufacturers. But these are the guys at the helm. This is their watch. They are the ones getting the big bucks to take the credit or blame for their companies.

I rarely begrudge anyone a big salary. If an actor or an athlete makes $20 million a year, it doesn't bother me. For one thing, it's not coming out of my pocket. I also figure that whoever is paying them is making hundreds of millions. But there's something wrong with how the auto CEOs acted. Picture these execs, sitting down at the dinner table at home after work: CEO's WIFE: "How was work today?" CEO: "Pretty rough. I had to lay off 3,000 workers. Pass the caviar."

In another P.R. attempt, the CEOs decided to drive to Washington this time to ask Congress for money instead of taking their private jets. Was that stupidity or arrogance that guided them to get in those planes last time? Anyway, I don't think driving to Washington was enough of a gesture. For one thing, it was three guys going from the same place to the same place. Don't you think they could have carpooled? Of course, they never would have been able to agree on whose car to take.

Now, I've never been the CEO of a company. I didn't even appoint myself CEO when I had my own corporation. But maybe the business needs some fresh ideas today. So, if I were one of the CEOs, I would have challenged the other two guys to race to Washington in the cars their companies make. Winner gets the most money from Congress.

There would have been some rules. Each of them would have to have driven a five-year-old mid-level model. A lot of people would be interested in knowing how those cars drive when they aren't brand new. Another thing: it would make these executives look more human if their wives and kids were in the car for the road trip, too.

If they were really interested in good P.R, they'd have videotaped the whole drive. Besides, if the taxpayers are going to give or lend these companies billions of dollars, don't you think we deserve to see how their cars hold up on a 525-mile road trip? Wouldn't you like to see these guys dealing with things like driving in the snow, maybe having to jump a battery, and finding a roadside restaurant that all members of the family agree on? These men are paid for making big decisions. I would've loved to have seen how they handle a really big decision – like when their kid says he has to go to the bathroom two minutes after they've pulled away from a rest stop.

But I think the best public relations move for these guys would be for them to resign. And it's not too late. Resignation would really say that they care more about the country and their industry than they do about personal wealth. Then they could take their millions and their stock options and go on a vacation. I'll bet that by the time they get home, some other big company will offer them a CEO job.

Why not? This is America where everybody deserves a second chance. And I have a feeling they will have learned from their earlier mistake. Oh, sure, they might run their new companies into the ground, too. But I'll bet when they go to Washington to ask Congress for another bailout for those new companies, they'll be smart enough to leave those private jets at home.

New Bob Newhart Video

Check out Bob Newhart's first internet video by