Saturday, December 25, 2010

Leave Of Absence

I want to let you know that I spoke to my boss (me), and he agreed to give me a leave of absence from writing my column for a while. I need some time off because, among other things, I want to attend to some family stuff. I plan on resuming the column. I just don't know when. I don't know whether I'll be taking a few weeks off or more.

I appreciate all your support. It never ceases to amaze me that there are some people who actually enjoy reading what I write. It's a unique pleasure for me, and that's what makes me feel that I will be writing the column again before too long.

Have a happy new year – Lloyd

Friday, December 24, 2010

Year 'Round Spirit?

Traditionally, right around now, many people ask, "Why can't we have this kind of spirit all year long?" My answer to that is, "We do, and soon we'll have even more of it." I'm not talking about being nice to each other or giving gifts. I'm talking about that one magical, hyphenated word that describes so much of America: over-commercialization.

Ever year, decorations go up earlier and earlier, and there are more and more commercials using the holidays as a backdrop for trying to sell us things that we don't need. If corporate greed can intrude upon our holidays, is nothing, well, sacred? Apparently not. Sports, once a bastion of non-commercial amateurs, sold out long ago. Some of the stadiums that are used during the year include those with names like Bank Of America Stadium, Heinz Field, and Lucas Oil Stadium – not exactly names that you can imagine young people dreaming about playing in someday. What's next in this corporate intrusion into our lives? The answer is both simple and startling. Public schools are starting to have corporate sponsors.

Some financially strapped schools are currently trying to get corporate sponsorships to help raise money. Cities as different as Sheboygan, Wisconsin and Midland, Texas are willing to sell naming rights for their schools' athletic stadiums. Los Angeles is the latest – and the largest – school district to try to get some of this corporate cash. Recently, the Los Angeles school board voted unanimously to try to lure companies and sponsors. Many of those who voted for this did so reluctantly. However, schools need money so desperately that the Board didn't see any other way to rescue them from financial ruin. What were they going to do, lower teachers' salaries to below zero?

The Los Angeles program will have certain rules. They won't make any deals with companies that sell alcohol, tobacco, or firearms. They also pledged to avoid companies that promote foods that aren't good for kids. That doesn't leave too much to choose from.

Despite these rules, it will be okay for companies to visit the schools to pass out samples of "approved food products." Firefighters and astronauts used to honor schools by visiting them. Now these educational institutions are going to have people in the hallways hawking bottled water and pickles.

I assume that the products that will be plugged will be geared to exploit those of school age. So it's not all that difficult to imagine a high school baseball field plastered with billboards advertising things like Nike, Gatorade, or Clearasil. It probably won't be that long before school stadiums will be called things like MTV Field, Listerine Park, or Your Neighborhood Orthodontist Arena.

The team names are likely to change, too. Soon we might hear cheerleaders yelling something like, "Go iPhones! Beat the Tight Jeans! "

One of the frightening things about this is that once the floodgates are open, there'll be nothing to stop the flood. When schools get more and more desperate, watch for them to bend the rules about which companies they'll do business with. As a result, there'll be more and more inappropriate names on schools, playgrounds, and above their auditorium doors.

If you think I'm exaggerating about what could happen, maybe you don't remember that there used to be a big ballpark in Houston named Enron Field. If a stadium could have a name like that, I'm worried that it's just possible that someday soon we'll see the words above a classroom door that read, "Mrs. Murphy's Kindergarten Class – Brought To You By Viagra."

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Noah Way This Should Happen

The Governor of Kentucky, Steven L. Beshear recently proposed that the state build a Noah's Ark Theme Park to boost its economy and provide jobs for Kentuckians who are out of work. Under his plan, a Christian ministry called Answers in Genesis will build the park. Naturally, because of the Constitution's prohibition of establishing just one religion, I assumed that the Governor also has plans to build a Jewish theme park, a Muslim park, an atheist park and, well, I'm not sure about an agnostic park.

But no, he's only offering huge tax incentives for this park, "Ark Encounter." Answers in Genesis is a ministry that believes in the literal interpretation of the Bible. The same group built the Creation Museum in Petersburg, Kentucky. That's where they promoted the Flintstone Theory of history: that humans and dinosaurs lived at the same time.

The Governor has responded to those who point out that this seems to be a violation of the principle of the separation of church and state, by saying, "The people of Kentucky didn't elect me governor to debate religion. They elected me governor to create jobs." I guess on the Eighth Day, the governor created jobs."

Of course, people have a right to believe whatever they want. However, should the state offer $37.5 million dollars to a religious group to build a park that furthers their beliefs? A lot of people don't think so.

This hasn't discouraged the Answers in Genesis folks from making plans. Consistent with their literal interpretation, Mike Zovath, one of their senior vice presidents, says that the Ark will be built just as the one in the Bible was built. They plan on using wooden pegs and timber framing done by Amish builders. Funny, I don't remember any Amish builders in Genesis. Zovath added that the animals kept on board would be small ones, because his group believes "that God would probably have sent healthy juvenile-sized animals... so there would be plenty of room." Hmmm, sounds like a personal interpretation to me.

He wants the theme park to be as accurate as possible, celebrating the literal interpretation of the Bible. So I guess they'll make it clear to all of the schoolchildren and Bible groups that Noah and his family were Jewish.

As part of this desire to be "literal," I guess they will make sure that water rains on all of the visitors to the park for 40 days and 40 nights. The state should be able to make extra money selling Noah's Rain Gear, and of course, CalmArk to ward off seasickness.

Will the Ark "literally" be the same size as the one described in the Bible? As anyone who has that cubit conversion app on his or her iPhone knows, that was a huge ship.

They plan on the park having a fun special effects exhibit showing Moses parting the Red Sea. There will also be a 100-foot tower of Babel, so I recommend earplugs. And for the kiddies, there will be a Bible-themed play area with zip lines and climbing nets. I'm not an expert like the Answers in Genesis people are, but exactly where in the Bible are the zip lines and climbing nets?

The Answers in Genesis people tried to peddle their idea to Ohio and Indiana, but officials in Kentucky were much more interested. They showed their interest by offering those tax incentives to the group. That's how some of the Kentucky officials defend the state's involvement with the park. They claim that it's not like the state building a church or -- dare I say –- a mosque. Because it's a for-profit organization that will pay taxes, they don't feel it's the same as the state advancing a religion.

In other words, Kentucky officials are saying that this proposal might be intrinsically wrong, but the fact that it will make money, makes it right. Now that's a principle that all kinds of political officials have believed in "literally" for centuries.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Education: Just A Click Away

Wouldn't you think that a university classroom would be the last place that kids would be allowed to push buttons on electronic devices that they hold in their hands for the entire length of the class? Think again. Many colleges now give clickers to students to use in class. Unlike the smart phones that professors probably don't like their students to hold in their hands during a lecture, these little remotes are often required.

Each student in the class has a remote with its own frequency. That way, the teacher can take attendance quickly. It has buttons to push so multiple-choice tests can be given easily. It's also used so shy students who don't want to raise their hands and say what's on their minds can just push a button to let their teacher know that they have a concern about a discussion or lesson.

I guess it's just part of the proliferation of remotes. In my house, there are anywhere three to five remotes in front of the television (but I can never find the one I want). The kind of remote I'm sure scientists will develop is the Life-TiVo. With it, you'd be able to go back in time, stop time, and just as you can speed through commercials with a regular TiVo, you could speed through the parts of your life that you'd rather not see.

However, I never thought I'd see a classroom clicker. Many educators decry the fact that young people spend so much time talking, tweeting, and texting on their phones. Yet here are some educators who are putting yet another electronic device in kids' hands. Since they're so good at multi-tasking, are students going to be answering a teacher's question with one hand while using the other hand to watch last night's "Dancing With The Stars?"

Don't you think the college years would be a good time to introduce things like open discussions? With these clickers, the Socratic Method is being replaced by a flash drive. Does that sound like progress to you? That shy kid who doesn't want to raise her hand is never going to get more confident if all she has to do is secretly push a button.

I just don't understand how a clicker is an improvement over heated debates, provocative dialogue and passionate arguments. What does the professor say at the end of the class: "That was a very stimulating exchange of ideas demonstrated by the popularity of button number three?" Does that sound like something that's going to mold minds and create intellectual memories that will last a lifetime?

I'm enough of a realist to know that if these clickers are in hundreds or even thousands of schools right now, they will soon be just as accepted as the notebook and pen that they replace. Many people were shocked when kids were first allowed to use calculators in class and while doing their homework. Now they're completely acceptable. I guess the theory is that when the kid grows up, he or she will have a calculator at work, so what's the harm? The harm, of course, is that many students never learn things like multiplication tables. So, on that day at work when the big report is due and their calculator's battery runs out, they'll panic when faced with a scary question like, "What's three times nine?"

Maybe I should give the classroom clickers a chance. After all, people learn in different ways,there are all kinds of knowledge, and one kind of knowledge isn't necessarily better than another. It's true that if you ask a third-grader to tell you the tables of eight, she might not be able to. But she can fix your computer.

Friday, November 12, 2010

It's A Phone, Too

There is a new word that has entered our vocabulary in the past couple of years. It's "apps." (This should not be confused with the word, "naps," which I find much more useful). In case you've been doing things other than playing with your smart phone – like working or enjoying your family – an app is an application that you can add to your fancy phone. It might be a game or it could be something that's useful like telling you what the traffic is like on the highway that you're already driving on. I guess the creation of these apps has come about because, let's face it, people don't spend enough time on their cell phones.

Some of the apps mentioned in a "New York Times" article include: "Google" which allows you to use your phone to, well, Google. "Angry Birds" is a game that involves birds, a catapult, and green pigs, obviously something that Alexander Graham Bell had in mind. Several of the apps are used to synchronize your home computer with your iPhone in case you can't wait to get home to open that file you created three years ago that you never open. I'm not sure why anyone would want "Glympse," which is an app that allows your friends to track your location -- perfect for stalkers.

Those apps are just the tip of the tip of the tip of the iceberg. There are something like 200,000 apps for the latest iPhone, and new ones are being developed almost every minute. Make that 200,001. Those who use apps have a huge appetite for them. In an earlier time, people bragged about their children, their new car, or maybe an expensive vacation they just took. Now people brag about their phones. Young men often have a phone-app measuring contest.

So I thought of some more apps that people might enjoy while they're wasting time. With "High School Revenge," the phone automatically calls all the people who were mean to you in high school. Then your recorded voice says, "I turned out richer and happier than you did."

With "Dangerous Food?" you point your phone at an item on the menu, it scans it, and then answers the question, "Will this give me gas?"

"Who Are You Kidding?" uses the phone as a lie detector. It picks up the pulse and the sweat rate of the person you suspect might not be telling you the truth. This one works especially well with teenagers and spouses.

"Handshake" is for germophobes. It determines if the person you're meeting has washed his or her hands in the past five minutes so you'll know if it's okay to shake hands.

With "The Shakes," a person in a restaurant can point his or her phone at the coffee pot the waiter's holding and it will do a quick chemical analysis. Then the phone might angrily declare, "This isn't decaf!"

"Hard To Tell" uses the latest 3-D technology to answer the question about the woman you're looking at, "Are those real?"

"Hotel Room" is one that will save you a trip to a room that you might not end up taking. When you're at the front desk checking in, all you do is point your very smart phone at the room number that they're trying to give you. The phone will scan it, and then tell you if the room is okay or if it's too close to the elevator, has that disinfectant smell, or is next door to people who like to sing their college songs all night.

"Too Young?" is an app that is perfect for a recently divorced man. He points the phone at his date and snaps a photo. Then the phone will tell him if he's making a fool of himself with a woman who's far too young for him.

I don't begrudge people having fun with their phones. They spent their hard-earned money on them, so why shouldn't they enjoy them? I might be an apps lover if I weren't too dumb to work a smart phone. I just wish the app users wouldn't talk so much about how great their apps are, especially when you're in an elevator, or at a restaurant, or in bed. Maybe that's the app which is really needed: An app that tells you when you're talking about your apps too much.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Is Shorter Better?

The "New York Times" broke the huge news story recently that deluxe hotels are now offering half hour massages and other spa services that are traditionally an hour or an hour and a half. The significance of this is that the new "quick spa" might appeal to people who just don't have as much extra money lying around as they used to, and at the same time the hotels will get some money instead of just having those spas being expensive, empty rooms that smell like Ben Gay.

So, for the hotels, some money is better than no money at all, and for the customers, a little bit of luxury is better than no luxury at all. I'm not exactly sure how they do the half massage. Perhaps all they do is massage your left side, and the next time you come to the hotel, you can get your right side massaged.

I won't be surprised if other services in fancy hotels follow suit. If golf has become too expensive for some guests, for half the usual fee they'll be able play 4½ holes. You know that room with two queen beds that you get sometimes when you're traveling alone? Now that extra bed could have another guest in it who's also traveling alone. You'd better grab the TV remote right when you walk into the room. If you're staying on the 20th floor of a hotel, for half the usual tip, the bellman will bring your bags up to the 10th floor. If you want to stay in a bed and breakfast, you get a choice: bed or breakfast.

Hotels aren't the only service industry. The airlines have cut back on all kinds of services, but they've never been too proud to make further cuts. I'm a little bit worried that in the spirit of "half-off," if a flight is going from Los Angeles to New York, they might make you parachute out of the plane when you're over Depew, Oklahoma.

Personal grooming is a service that many of us use. I don't think that half of a manicure or pedicure would be that terrible, but I'm not looking forward to seeing people with half of a haircut. And how weird will it be when some women apply the one-half approach to breast implants?

The prime motive behind this "shorter is better" philosophy might have to do with money, but New York's Four Seasons Spa Director, Natalie Matesic pointed to another reason for this development. She feels in this era of limited attention span, of fast forwarding through movies, of speed dating, it's "only natural" that people would want shorter spa sessions. She said, "You don't have to look any further than electronic media to understand that people spend less time on basic activities like communicating and getting the news. The spa industry is no exception."

It's disturbing that this phenomenon of today's culture in which people can't stay still to do things thoroughly has spilled over to the world of relaxation. They want to have shorter massages, because they're afraid of missing out on something. Their attitude is, "I have to hurry up and relax."

Perhaps they would be able to relax more during the massage if they multitasked while someone works on those knots in their necks. It wouldn't surprise me at all if people were texting at the same time that they're supposed to be having a relaxing massage. Of course, I can't be sure that this kind of multitasking goes on. I only read half the article.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Who Won Next Week?

There are so many things in life that we know are inevitable, but we still go through the motions and play things out. You have a blind date and in the first minute, you know it's not going to work out. Do you say, "Thanks, anyway" and walk away? Of course not. You waste three or four hours, and then walk away. Wouldn't it be better if it were acceptable for people to acknowledge things like that ahead of time, instead of waiting for the end?

At least two candidates for the U.S. Senate are apparently proponents of this philosophy and don't believe in waiting for the inevitable. In Nevada, Republican Sharron Angle and Democrat Harry Reid are neck and neck in the pre-election polls. So they are already working on their recount strategies.

Angle has taken the "why wait for the inevitable to happen" way of thinking a step further. She's asked her supporters to donate $80,000 to her campaign to help with legal fees to protest next week's election because of fraud and other illegal activities that haven't happened yet. She said, "Harry Reid intends to steal this election if he can't win it outright." Like with the blind date, Angle evidently knows what's going to happen before it happens.

This attitude is not as crazy as it sounds when it comes to politics. Certain things are completely predictable: Candidates will kiss babies, wrap themselves in the flag, and promise whatever they have to promise to get elected. They will say something stupid in the campaign, and then claim they were misquoted. They will accept campaign contributions from whoever wants to make them while decrying the idea of "buying" an election. And there will definitely be a guy in a beer-stained T-shirt at a campaign rally for them holding a sign that has a misspelled word on it – like "libirty."

Politics isn't the only arena where the inevitable is predictable. Sports is another one. You know that the Monday morning sports section will have more stories about athletes breaking the law than athletes breaking world records. A player fresh out of college who says, "I like the game so much, I'd play it for free" will hold out for millions of dollars. On the first day of the baseball season, we Cub fans know that the Cubs are not going to win the World Series. Why should we have to suffer through 162 games? Can't we just call the season over on Day One?

When you water your plants outside, why not just soak your shoes first, instead of waiting for it to happen? When you take a vacation with the whole family, you know there's going to be at least one moment when everybody screams at each other. Why don't you start the vacation yelling at your family, get it out of the way, and then go down to the pool? When you're in a restaurant, don't bother wasting everyone's time by asking the waiter if the filleted fish really doesn't have any bones. Of course it has bones, and at least one of them is going to get caught in your throat.

So it's quite possible that Harry Reid and Sharron Angle have tapped into something that resonates with all of us: when you know how something's going to end, just cut to the chase. However, if this movement really catches on, all politicians should be warned of a very real possibility. Even before they're elected, a Congressional committee will be formed to investigate the future illegal activities that they are going to engage in after the election. Why wait for the inevitable?

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Remember Clarence Thomas?

Why do we ask someone else to apologize? If they really felt they were sorry, they'd apologize on their own. Apparently Virginia Thomas, the wife of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, doesn't agree. She says she wants an apology from Professor Anita Hill for allegedly lying about her husband twenty years ago, and even left a message to that effect on Hill's answering machine. In case you're too young -- or too old -- to remember, Thomas was nominated by the first President Bush. During Thomas' confirmation hearing, Hill accused him of sexual harassment in the workplace. She referred to all kinds of lurid details, the most memorable involving a Coke can. Why is it so important to Mrs. Thomas to get this apology? And why now, after all these years?

It's human nature that we remember the disgraceful, the outrageous, the sensational, and forget about the mundane. The example that people often use is a Page One headline when somebody is accused of doing something awful, but just a tiny story on page thirty-eight when it turns out that the accused really didn't do it. So why is Mrs. Thomas bringing this up? All it will do is remind people of the charges that Anita Hill made: sexy jokes, names of pornographic movies, and Thomas allegedly referring to his sexual prowess. We're finally enough years away from the hearing that at least some people probably don't automatically think of possible raunchiness when they hear Clarence Thomas' name. He hasn't been accused of doing anything untoward since he became a Justice, so why would she jog America's collective memory and bring back all that eye winking that made her husband the butt of jokes (no pun intended). Mrs. Thomas must have known that by bringing this up, people aren't going to think about Justice Thomas' legal philosophy. They are going to think about that famous Coke can.

After both Thomas and Hill wrote books professing that they told the truth, each of them has been wisely silent about the whole controversial event. Who would want the whole country, maybe the whole world, revisiting their most embarrassing moment? Would you want everyone to find out about that one unfortunate night in college when you thought the door was locked? However, I guess getting this apology is more important to Mrs. Thomas than worrying about the public and her husband reliving the embarrassing and mortifying details of the hearing.

It's been twenty years since the event. Is it possible that Mrs. Thomas just loves big anniversaries? I'm not sure what would be appropriate to buy your spouse who was accused of sexual harassment twenty years ago. Traditionally, the Twentieth Anniversary is the china anniversary, but I can't see her buying him a commemorative plate that reads something like, "She Told An Obvious Lie. 'Sexual Prowess?' Hah!"

One possible reason is that Mrs. Thomas wanted some attention. Let's face it. She didn't really expect an apology, and I don't think she really wanted to talk to Anita Hill. When you want to talk to someone, you don't call her at 7:30 a.m. on her office phone. You know you're going to get a message machine if you do that.

But wait a minute. What if she doesn't want attention? What if it's the opposite? Maybe she wants to deflect interest away from her? Currently, she is the founder of an activist group called Liberty Central. It's an organization dedicated to opposing the "tyranny" of the Obama administration and Congressional Democrats. Some people are upset because it's certainly unusual for a spouse of a sitting Supreme Court Justice to draw a salary from a group financed by anonymous donors. So maybe she is "throwing her husband under the bus," to take attention away from her questionable activities.

Or maybe I'm wrong. Maybe she actually, and naïvely, expected an apology. Maybe she's been dreaming of the day that Anita Hill would finally say she was sorry for allegedly not telling the truth. Finally, Mrs. Thomas would get to quiz her on whether she had lied. But I have the feeling it would go something like this: Virginia Thomas: "You were lying, weren't you? There was no Coke can, was there?" Anita Hill: "You're right. There was no Coke can. It was a Pepsi."

Friday, October 15, 2010

The Columnist Who Once Killed A Fly

I love mystery stories. What do you think of this one? A guy who has never written a book before decides to write a ten-book mystery series. He completes only three of the ten before he dies suddenly at the age of fifty, not living long enough to see any of them published. The three books become enormous bestsellers, earning millions of dollars. You with me so far?

Then there is a fight over money between the writer's family and his long time companion, Eva, who would be considered a common law wife in places that recognize common law wives. However, they don't recognize common law wives where Eva lives, so she isn't legally entitled to any of the money. The family offers her a settlement, but she refuses. In another twist, Eva says that the writer was working on the fourth book, and the unfinished work is on his laptop. She refuses to disclose the whereabouts of it.

The writer's best friend confirms that the writer was working on the book on his laptop. The friend adds, rather curiously, that the writer had finished the beginning and end of the book, but hadn't written the middle before he died.

To top this oddity, the late writer's brother reveals that the fourth book was really meant to be the fifth book in the series, but his brother started it before he started the fourth book, because he thought the fifth book would be "more fun" to write than the fourth.

Too hard to follow? Too far-fetched? Too ridiculous? I agree, but as many of you know, it's also the behind-the-scenes story of Stieg Larsson, the author of "The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo," "The Girl Who Played With Fire," and "The Girl Who Kicked The Hornet's Nest." Walk past any bookstore, get on an airplane, or go into that little store at the car wash, and you're bound to see these books. So what do you think? Did somebody make up the story behind the stories just to sell more books?

After the first two books were released and became enormously popular, cynic that I am, I told a friend that if the third book was also popular, don't be surprised if someone "finds" a fourth book. However, I never would have guessed all the other twists and turns of the story. Maybe that's why I'm not a successful mystery writer -- or someone who's promoted a book -- or someone who's inherited millions of dollars from a book.

I actually think it's one of those stories that is too unbelievable, too convoluted to be made up. It's a "stranger than fiction" story, but that doesn't make it any less dramatic. In fact, I guarantee -- repeat, guarantee -- that at the very least, a TV movie will be written about "The Unauthorized True Story of Stieg Larsson, His Premature Death, and the Books That Lived on after His Demise."

Larsson's story is fascinating, and it proves once again that some writers are often more interesting than what we write. I'm not bragging, but I have many things in common with Larsson. I, too, use a computer to write. I have a brother. Sometimes I have trouble with the English language.

At the moment, I'm not besieged by fans everywhere I go, and neither was Larsson. Now and then I've seen people at Starbucks reading my column, but it's not as if I need a bodyguard. Like many artists before him, Larsson didn't live long enough to enjoy his fame.

I don't see any reason for me to wait until after my death for incredible fame and fortune. I'm a much better writer now than I will be after my death. I'd like to think that the quality of my columns will be what gets millions of people to read my work. However, if that doesn't do the trick, let's just say I have another column on a laptop, and I'm not telling anyone where it is.

If that still doesn't bring me zillions of dollars, I've instructed my best friend to reveal that this column is not the first, but the eighth in a series of seventeen columns. It's just that I thought this one would be "more fun" to write.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Sex Survey

"Kids today. Teenagers aren't like we were when we were their age. They can't be trusted, and they're totally irresponsible." That's how many adults view today's teenagers. In one area, they're wrong: Sex. According to a recent survey, teens are more responsible about sex than adults.

The data comes from the National Survey of Sexual Health and Behavior conducted at Indiana University. It was based on responses from 5,865 people. The results are clear. Depending on gender, somewhere between 80 and 69 per cent of teenagers reported that they used condoms the last time they had sex, while less than 50% of adults said they used condoms when they had "casual" sex. Notice that this survey wasn't talking about couples that are married or are in a "serious, committed" relationship. You'd expect those people to probably have a lower condom use than those noisy kids who hang out at the mall. But no, they're not comparing apples and oranges in the survey. They're comparing motels and motels – adults and kids who have casual sex.

Maybe we've been trying to discourage unsafe sex in the wrong way. It looks like teenagers should do commercials aimed at adults. Maybe those in middle and high school should have "that talk" with their parents. Kids, I know it's not easy to have a discussion like that, but it's up to you to start a dialogue. You want to do it without causing any embarrassment or guilt, because you'd like your parents to feel they can always come to you with any questions they might have.

I'm sure all this is going to bring about some controversy. People will disagree about whether it's okay for there to be sex education for adults. Some on the conservative side will feel that it will only encourage adults to have sex, rather than encourage them to have safe sex. Those on the liberal side will see nothing wrong with bringing up the issue of sex with adults, regardless of the consequences.

And there will be that great debate about whether kids should only teach their parents about safe sex at home or whether it's appropriate to learn about these things in the workplace.

Some people will probably propose outlawing sex for people over 21. I think that's ridiculous. It would be just one more example of the "nanny state." Let's leave government out of the bedroom and keep it where it belongs, in the den on TV. I think we adults can be trusted to act responsibly once we learn all the facts – except, of course, on New Year's Eve.

This has turned traditional perceptions (and stereotypes) upside down. If we've misjudged teenagers in terms of their sex lives, maybe we've misjudged them in other ways. It's possible that when we see them hanging out on a corner late at night in a big group, we shouldn't feel that they're up to no good. Maybe they're talking about how they can save the planet or which charities they should support or what's their favorite book of the Bible. On the other hand, as we drive past a retirement home and see a group of senior citizens socializing, maybe we shouldn't smile and think how nice it is that they're talking to each other. Maybe they're the ones who are up to no good. How do we know that they're not talking about egging some cars or scoring some drugs?

Let's return to sex, as people always seem to do. This study was quite comprehensive. It's the first survey of its kind that questioned people as young as 14 and as old as 94. I sure hope that 94-year-old woman's having protected sex. If she's not married and gets pregnant, just think how upset her parents are going to be.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Ow, My Aching ... Everything

I thought it was a joke when I heard that an airplane seat manufacturer was trying to sell airlines seats that are more uncomfortable than the ones we're used to. But it's not a joke. Avointeriors is the Italian manufacturer that has come up with seats that would put passengers in a half-sitting, half-standing posture. The seat would actually be a saddle, and the posture of the passenger would allow more of these seats to be squeezed onto a plane than the usual coach seats. There would be approximately seven inches less legroom. That's just the kind of thing that air travel needs now. When people get off a plane after a trip, don't they all say, "The flight was okay, but I just wish there had been less room?"

Traveling by air is no longer a fun experience for most people. The airports are crowded, security lines are long and slow, and you're not even allowed to take a container of yogurt on the plane with you. A nice recent feature is that you have to pay extra to take a second suitcase. And you must've noticed that many flight attendants act as if they would rather be someplace else today, and who could blame them? With pay and benefit cuts, flying's no fun for them either. We don't get meals served to us anymore. Flights are often late, and bags are lost sometimes – even that bag that cost you extra. With all of this going on, someone thinks people will want to have a less pleasant flying experience?!

I couldn't even imagine that anything could be done to cut back on more costs to the airline and add to more discomfort for the passengers. When they toss a bag of pretzels at you and call it a "snack," how much lower can they go? The answer seems to be these new seats, and I guess our future complaint after flying will be saddle sores.

The idea is that airlines could jam more of these new seats onto a plane, and then charge people less for sitting/standing. A new class would be formed that would be cheaper than Economy. They haven't come up with a name for this class, but "Inhumane" would be a good possibility. The seat manufacturer feels that there are people who would be willing to use these seats for a short flight if it cost them less than usual.

He may be right. The Irish bargain airline, Ryanair, is trying to get the okay on having "standing room" on flights. They conducted a poll last year, and almost half of its customers said they would be glad to stand for a one-hour flight if it meant they could fly for less.

But don't expect these seats to be the last of cost-cutting measures by the airlines. I wouldn't be surprised if they started charging us for going into that tiny room with a metal toilet that they have the nerve to call a "lavatory."

There's no reason why the overhead bin has to be free. Who wouldn't pay a dollar or two to put their computer up there instead of having it on the floor where it gets stepped on every time the guy next to you gets up?

They could easily start renting those airline magazines to us. That way, we'd actually have to pay to look at ads for an automatic pasta maker or a canine genealogy kit.

Let's say you're not happy sitting next to that guy who snort-laughs at every stupid joke in the movie. For a few bucks more, they'll move you next to someone who just reads quietly for the whole trip. Similarly, if you don't want to sit next to someone who keeps talking about his fascinating hobby of making rubber band balls, you'll have to pay to sit next to someone who can give you stock tips.

Some of these things might sound ridiculous, but whoever would have thought that airlines would be charging extra for a soggy sandwich or earphones for the movie? What's next, are they going to start allowing you to use your bonus miles only at times that you'd never fly? Oh, that's right. They're already doing that.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

It's In Our Court

The headlines about the recently completed U.S. Open tennis championship included that Rafael Nadal won, Roger Federer didn't, and Kim Clijsters -– a wife and mother – won on the women's side. However, if these are the only headlines you've read, you're missing out on the big story: An Indian and a Pakistani were doubles partners. Their countries are almost always at war, but these two men became friends, played tennis and even touched hands after their final match in a very emotional end to the championship.

Neither Aisam-ul-haq Querehi of Pakistan nor Rohan Boprana of India played tennis together to make a political statement. They became partners simply because they each needed a partner, and they didn't care what country he was from, or what religion he belonged to. In fact, in 2002, Querehi's partner, Amir Hadad was an Israeli.

Querehi has said, "Sports is above religion and politics," but this year they couldn't resist making a political statement. On the jackets they wore at Wimbledon, were the words, "Stop War, Start Tennis."

That slogan may sound a bit simplistic and unrealistic. I mean, is it really possible for every soldier in the world to drop his or her rifle and pick up a tennis racket instead? Probably not. What the slogan really means is to pursue peaceful things instead of war. During the U.S. Open, some Vietnam vets asked if they could buy some of those "Stop War, Start Tennis" shirts. However, there weren't any for sale.

As Querehi and Boprana continued to win their matches in the U.S. Open, larger and larger crowds of Indians and Pakistanis came to the tennis center in New York. In fact, towards the end of the tournament, these two players looked up in the stands and saw the Indian Ambassador to the U.N. sitting next to the Pakistani Ambassador to the U.N. There is no confirmation that these two men shared a box of popcorn, but maybe they're taking this one step at a time.

There was a lot of excitement when Querehi and Boprana made it to the doubles championship against Americans Bob and Mike Bryan, the world champions. In a thrilling match, the Bryan brothers beat what is now nicknamed the Indo-Pak Express. However, the final point was not the end of all the on-court emotion.

When Querehi took the microphone on court, after thanking everyone, he said he wanted people to know that the common image of Muslims is not accurate. He added, "We do have terrorist groups. We do have extremists. But I feel like in every religion there are extremists. It doesn't mean that the whole nation is terrorist or extremist. Pakistan is a very peace-loving country.... and we want peace as much as you guys want it. May God love us all."

At the post-match news conference, the Pakistani Ambassador gave the Bryan brothers ceremonial shawls to thank them for donating some of their prize money to Pakistani flood relief. They had done so with no particular fanfare.

To Querehi and Boprana, the most amazing thing was to have seen some Pakistanis cheering an Indian, and some Indians cheering a Pakistani. Some might also think it was amazing that some of the Americans in the crowd cheered a Hindu and a Muslim. And they cheered the Americans, too.

It was an exuberant moment in sports. Here, in the city where the towers fell and where there is so much Muslim-related controversy right now, New Yorkers gave all four men a standing ovation. I'm not so naive as to think that a tennis match changed everyone's opinion of other religions and nationalities. Probably by the time they got home, most of the fans reverted to whatever their old feelings had been. Most of the fans, but maybe not all of them.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

A War We Can't Win

The enemy is out there. They are ready to attack us with no warning. They're almost impossible to find. We are in danger from them 24 hours a day. They may come from foreign lands, or from America. No matter how much we increase our security measures against them, some of them manage to get through. I'm talking, of course, about germs.

Some of the current germaphobia seems silly. On the other hand (the clean one), germs are real, and people are fighting them like never before. We're told to wash our hands for longer than we used to think was necessary. The suggestion is that we sing all of, "Happy Birthday" while we wash. For me, it spoils the connotation of "Happy Birthday."

Public bathrooms are helping us fight germs more and more. The faucets turn on and off automatically and toilets flush without our touching that unbelievably dangerous flusher. In some bathrooms, toilet seat covers magically change themselves when you enter the stall. There is the automatic paper towel dispenser or the hand blower. Either way, I almost always have trouble finding the "electronic eye," so I can't figure out how to turn it on and usually end up waving my arms all over the place trying to start it up. So then I wipe my hands on my dirty pants and when I'm ready to leave, I open the bathroom door using the germy doorknob. It doesn't seem to make sense, does it?

When I was in Chicago's O'Hare Airport recently, there was a repeated announcement telling us the proper way to sneeze. I was disappointed that there was no similar announcement describing the proper way to hiccup. Another thing at the airport is that we often see people wearing masks to protect them from cooties or whatever.

Those little bottles of anti--bacterial stuff are everywhere. Some people even carry them in their purses. I hate to break it to those folks, but unless they vacuum their purses a few times a day while singing "For He's a Jolly Good Fellow," those purses that they reach into for their hand cleaner are filled with germs.

I was watching one of those morning "news" shows the other day, and they were doing a piece about germs. Specifically, they dealt with how to help your child avoid germs. When my kids were little, the pediatrician said it wasn't so bad if children got somebody else's germs. The feeling was that it would help the child build up immunity to germs and diseases. Maybe this approach has changed. I just know that on this particular TV show, parents were warned about the evils of germy lunchboxes, backpacks, and yes, library books. When I was a kid, only those books dealing with human reproduction were considered "dirty library books."

Many of these "advances" in fighting the germ menace started during the swine flu panic. In fact, I think the one positive thing from the swine flu was that people learned how to avoid sneezing on each other. However, germ-evasiveness has gotten a little out of hand. People avoid shaking hands and touching each other. Fewer and fewer people kiss or hug hello. It all seems to be part of the loss of human contact that we are experiencing in this generation.

People e-mail or tweet instead of actually talking to their friend or loved one. We see movies at home instead of venturing out in public where we might actually see other people. Men and women meet each other online, and sometimes even have their few first few dates electronically instead of actually seeing each other in the flesh.

I'm certainly not hopeful that this trend will reverse itself. Ironically, germ-avoidance will continue to spread swiftly and pervasively like a virus. Plastic on grocery basket handles and washing toys until the paint rubs off are only signs of the beginning. Don't be surprised if sometime in the near future, there is an invention that will prevent people from ever getting a germ from someone else. It will protect us from head to toe. It will be hailed as the most important miracle cure since penicillin. And I will call it the "The Full Body Condom" (Patent Pending).

New Bob Newhart Video

Check out Bob Newhart's first internet video by