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.

New Bob Newhart Video

Check out Bob Newhart's first internet video by