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.




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