World According to Me
May 25: An Anniversary of a Different Kind of War
(This little digression was inspired by the growing belief among audience members that there is an inherent "interactive" element to every concert or show they attend, that they must somehow insinuate themselves into the entertainment to enjoy it. Personally, I think that's fine...in the privacy of their own homes. They can dance on the table, swing from the drapes, yell at the TV, but not out in public where some of us bought a ticket to see a performer or performance which most assuredly was not meant to include them. I know; I've checked. Their names appear nowhere on the ticket I purchased. If I had known they planned to include themselves prominently in the show, I would have saved my money. And, my fear is, unless something is done by the venues or the performers themselves, I will be forced to assume such audience participation is inevitable and therefore, will keep my money. Thus depriving the venue, the performer, and myself, all because of the rude, self-important behavior of an increasing number of individuals in our culture. Whoa! That was a little heavy! The following, I assure you, is NOT.)
An Evening at the Barrymore With Abraham Lincoln
The houselights dim. The murmur of the crowd, a scurried return to seats. Hanging in the air, barely audible, like wallpaper, an acoustic string version of "Dixie" trickles out of the twin towers of black speakers on either side of the stage.
There is a sharp pop, a crackle and hum as the public address system switches on, "Ladies and Gentlemen, President Abraham Lincoln."
In black tailcoat and top hat, the venerable orator is greeted by warm applause as he makes his way to the microphone. Coming to a stop near the solitary microphone stand, he appears dissected by the oval illumination of a glaring spotlight. Standing half in darkness, half in light, he doffs the stovepipe hat, revealing less hair atop his head than the well-cropped beard adorning his cheeks and chin.
Tall, but with slouching shoulders, he seems much older than expected, and ill at ease with the technology, the microphone, the spotlight. The crowd grows restless. Lincoln reaches inside his coat, extracts and unfolds two sheets of lined paper, not an envelope. Awkwardly, he steps fully into the light, to the microphone.
In a clear, resonate, surprisingly soprano voice, he begins:
"Four score and seven --
"Hey, Abe, welcome to Madison!"
"Ah, thank you. That's quite kind." Lincoln pauses, smiles nervously, glances down at the creased
papers. "Now where was -- oh, yes. I'll start again. Four score and seven years ago our fathers
brought forth, upon this continent, a new nation, conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the
proposition that "all men are created equal. Now--"
"You go, Abe!"
"Go? I just got here..." He looks into the wings, confused. Someone is giving him a "keep going" signal. "...we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived, and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met --
The flustered statesman forges on: "We are met on --
"--met on a --
"What? What do you want?"
"How should I know? Why don't you dig him up and ask him."
The crowd explodes with laughter and applause.
Lincoln smiles, adjusts his coat, throws back his shoulders like a man who has just chopped a cord of wood. "Let's see...we are met -- right, here it is -- on a great battle field of that war. We come to dedicate a portion of it, as a final resting place for those who died here, that the nation might live. This we may, in all propriety do. But --"
"Do the Emancipation Proclamation!"
"What? No. All right, later maybe, I'll get to it. Shucks, now I have to --" He shuffles the two sheets of papers. "...I think I was...okay, I got it -- but, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate ‑‑ we can not consecrate ‑‑ we can not hallow, this ground ‑‑ "
A couple near the front row get up and try to dance to it. They look familiar, like a couple classic rockers: she looks like David Crosby; he like Cher before the face lift.
Lincoln is momentarily distracted but doesn't lose his place. "The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have hallowed it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here; while it can never forget what they did here."
"Ich Bin Ein Berliner!"
"What? Absolutely not. No covers tonight. What are you people, Whigs?"
No one laughs. The dancers return to their seats.
"It is rather for us, the living, we here be dedicated to the great task remaining before us ‑‑ that, from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they here, gave the last full measure of devotion ‑‑ that we here highly resolve these dead shall not have died in vain; that the nation, shall have a new birth of freedom --"
"Lincoln rules! Douglas sucks!"
"-- and that government of the people, by the people for the people, shall not perish from the earth."
The crowd leaps to its collective feet, clapping collective hands together in a thunderous standing ovation. The lanky, gaunt man re-folds the papers, slips them inside his coat and strides off the stage.
"More! More!" the crowd chants.
When Lincoln returns to center stage, he launches into a rendition of "Copland's "Lincoln Portrait" humming each part in a high nasal twang. He receives the same ovation, and returns again with a medley of his inaugural addresses, and when the crowds' chanting and rhythmic clapping draw him out again, he begins to act out the play, "Our American Cousin," doing all the parts, but he trails off and wanders off stage.
Stunned, the crowd applauds, trying to rekindle its earlier fervor, but the applause dissipates, replaced by murmur and rustle of people filing for the exits, and it is a fitting end to another evening at the Barrymore.
My Response to a recent front page commentary:
Excerpted from: “Will You Watch The Video Of Beheading?” Wisconsin State Journal :: FRONT :: A1 Thursday, May 13, 2004, William Wineke
The availability of all those grotesque images means that each of us has to confront an uncomfortable truth about ourselves: Am I the kind of person who would look at those pictures? And, if I do look, what will that do to my soul? Will I become further desensitized to the violence of the world around me? Will I become immune to the horrors of war?
The first public beheading most of us ever learned of was when David killed Goliath with a slingshot and then cut off the giant's head. In the New Testament, we read that John the Baptist lost his head because King Herod wanted to please his daughter-in-law.
But there's a difference. We didn't have to view those. We don't have to watch the video of Nick Berg being beheaded either -- but we can if we want to.
We, individually, have to decide. There's no editor, no filter to shield us from the reality.
My response: (in it's entirety, not the butchered sample which was printed by the paper)
Mr. Wineke contends the visual evidence of Nicholas Berg's beheading must cause each of us to call into question what "kind" of person we are. “Am I the kind of person who would look at those pictures?" The implication is implicit and insulting. There must be something wrong with such a soul-damaged, desensitized individual.
On the contrary, such a person might well feel compelled to look upon such atrocities to keep from becoming immune to the horrors of war.
The horrors of this war have only recently come before us. The removing of embedded reporters, the relegation of body counts to the inner pages of the newspapers, and the rescinding of flag-draped casket parades on tarmacs have kept the horrors of this war safely and comfortably far from the consciousness of the American people.
The longer this quagmire continues the more these images will become unavoidable, and I remember another far-off war some thirty odd years ago which would have remained comfortable and falsely patriotic if it had not been for several powerful visual images which could not be ignored.
The image of a Buddhist monk setting himself on fire cross-legged on the sidewalk of a busy sidewalk in Saigon.
The image of a South Vietnamese general executing a Viet Cong prisoner point blank with a handgun on an open street in Saigon.
The image of a nine-year-old girl, running naked down a road, screaming in agony, her outstretched arms burning from the jellied gasoline dropped on her village.
The exposure afforded these alarming visual images and the shock and revulsion they engendered in the American people is widely credited with turning the tide of public opinion against the war. Each of these images won a Pulitzer Prize for photojournalism, but they were also captured on film and shown countless times then and now.
They could not be ignored because they were visual. They would not have had the same impact if they’d been reported in a newspaper or magazine, and most importantly, they would not have received network news, front-page newspaper, and major magazine coverage.
Personally, I have no intention of seeking
out a video image of this most recent atrocity, but count me among those “kind”
of people who would look. Someone has to. And it would benefit our country
immeasurably if more and more someones looked upon or at least took notice of
these images until we are once again shocked and appalled enough to see past the
flag decals and jingoistic rhetoric to oppose this unnecessary war and all its
atrocities on both sides.
'Roid Rage: Who Has it Worse
The Sportswriters, Sports Talk Radio Hosts or the Clueless Fans and Politicians?
By Dale Jellings
Let me state categorically, before I even begin my own well-thought out, well-informed dialogue on the subject, that I do not use, do not endorse, and do not condone the use of anabolic steroids by athletes. My diatribe here deals primarily with the ignorant, overblown, illogical reaction to this issue by the media, the fans, and most alarming, politicians.
First, let's deal with illogical: What exactly are the arguments against steroids? The most often blathered about is also the most incongruous.
They're performance-enhancing substances.
Can this actually be what people mean when they make this argument? As an athlete, and especially a professional athlete, shouldn't everything I do be designed to enhance my performance? Shouldn't I eat high quality protein, fresh fruit, grains. Drink milk and fruit juices. An athlete's diet chocked full of vitamins, minerals, and nutrients to build and keep a body strong.
Yeah, but steroids aren't natural.
Oops, there goes multi-vitamin tablets. Those are bad? My son's doctor recommended those. What about sports drinks, Gatorade and the like? Those are bad, too? Those have been on the sideline of every major college and pro team in America since 1965. What will we pour on coaches after a big victory? What about protein powders? Glutamine? Creatine? Amino Acids?
Some of those might be okay, but I don't know like that creatine stuff and those other powders.
Yikes, powders? Remember Tang? What happened? This stuff used to be wholesome. Astronauts. American heroes best and the brightest drank Tang. Now, its unseemly. It's a powder. Something about it just doesn't seem right.
Creatine is a natural nutrient. It is produced by the liver and then taken to the muscle cells by the blood where it is converted to creatine phosphate. Our bodies usually produce about 2 grams of creatine per day. Creatine can also be found in certain foods like red meat and fish among others. So, if I ate a dozen steaks, it'd be okay, but if I drink some creatine powder mixed with water, I'm "cheating" by using a performance-enhancing substance.
Okay, then, it's not good for the athlete.
Now, this is a nice thought. Concern for the athlete. But let's be honest, athletics are not that good for athletes, at least not most of the ones where steroids might be a factor. There is scientific data which links prolonged use and megadoses of steroids with a list of potential maladies including heart and liver disease, liver cancer, and testicular atrophy. However, there are no studies of athletes who used steroids prudently and intelligently under a doctor's supervision employing such methods as cycling on and off or rotating different types of anabolics.
The media, fans, and politicians rail on about steroids like the know-it-all at the local tavern who knee-jerks everything. To listen to these folks:
Everyone who takes steroids bulks up with big muscles or buffs down to washboard abs.
Don't strain yourself contemplating the improbability of this one. If it were even remotely true, there would be hundreds of average joes and wannabes lining up to smack a Randy Johnson fastball out of the park or rush for 100 yards against the Ravens' defense.
Steroids are not "muscles from a jar." The truth about what steroids can and cannot do is far more mundane. The most common results of steroid intake are bloating from water retention, an increase in acne, and a tendency to become irritated more easily. Sounds more like PMS, but these are about the only guarantees without many other factors. For steroids to have an impact at all, an athlete must combine steroid use with proper nutrition, hard work in the weight room, consistent rest and recuperation as well as cutting-edge physiological and medical guidance. There is a select minority of athletes who can combine enough of these elements to benefit from the use of steroids. The vast majority who try them are not disciplined enough, patient enough, or informed enough to benefit much.
The record books are tainted because players who hit a lot of home runs must have taken steroids.
This one might be a cause for concern if it were not so patently ridiculous. There are many more logical and verifiable reasons for the increase in home runs in major league baseball. Expansion has deluded talent in the majors, especially at the pitching position. Pitchers with less talent have little aptitude for pitching inside and rarely get close strike calls from umpires when facing "star" power hitters. New ballparks are constructed smaller, and older ballparks are renovated to be more homer friendly. Many studies have shown new baseballs to be wound tighter and travel farther, at least in comparison to those used in past years. If it were all steroids and bulk, how can we explain sleek fellows like Shawn Green, Brady Anderson, Richie Sexton, and Luis Gonzalez hitting 45 or more homers in a season in the last ten years.
Steroids do not hit home runs. That is akin to giving me power tools at a construction site. Sending me in the kitchen with state-of-the-art mixers and appliances will not get you a delicious meal. In fact, I might even do a worse job than if I used the old tools, and that is exactly what is more likely for an athlete who expects steroids to improve whatever game he is playing. Even if the steroid was successful in making the athlete bigger, size does not necessarily translate into strength. There have been quite a few successful bodybuilders who have packed on incredible muscle mass while lifting relatively light weights.
They're illegal, you know.
This is the best, fairest argument against the use of steroids. However, the hysteria surrounding this substance has begun to unfairly impinge upon other non-prescription substances. Makers of androstenedione have been informed by Major League Baseball that they're product will be added to the off-limits list unless they can show the product is not harmful. This is a reverse of the procedure in this country for determining if a product is dangerous or needs a prescription. Although they are under tremendous political pressure to do so, the FDA and medical doctors have not labeled this product as dangerous or harmful.
What substances might be next? Ephedra has already been banned, not by the FDA, but by politicians. What about anabolic enhancers like 6-Oxo, a naturally-occurring aromastatic compound and Myo-blast, a myostatin neutralizer derived from exotic sea plants? These are lab-tested safe alternatives to steroids.
Why are the politicians involved in this at all? Why is George Bush harping about steroids in a nationally televised speech? The answer seems obvious: to distract from the real, difficult problems facing this nation like social security, universal health care, and the debacle in Iraq while appearing to be acting to protect us defenseless citizens from unscrupulous drug dealers.
All I'm asking here is for people to give it some thought, develop an informed opinion, and then apply it rationally to the situation.
Qu: What do a multi-vitamin tablet, a cup of coffee, a freshly-peeled orange, and an analgesic body rub like Flex-all or Ben-Gay all have in common?
A: They are all performance-enhancing substances....and each of them has been proven to be more reliably effective in enhancing performance than steroids.
These are all okay? None are against the law. There's no uproar when an athlete drinks a couple cups of coffee before a game. But if he pops a couple No Doze or Vivarin tablets, he's cheating!
If you think I am over-reacting, check out this quote:
"The ...use of ...performance-enhancing substances is detrimental to the integrity of the game and the long-term health of the athletes who use them. We in Major League Baseball are fully committed to eliminating these dangerous substances and reaching zero tolerance as soon as possible." -- Baseball Commissioner Allan H. (Bud) Selig
May 25: An Anniversary
A Continuation of a Different Kind of War
How Appropriate that on the anniversary of the State of Tennessee's indictment of John T. Snopes for teaching Darwin's Theory, Wisconsin citizens nip that sort of thing in the bud by increasing the chances that damn little, and certainly nothing as unnecessary as a theory, will be taught in their schools as they voted down badly needed school referendums across the state.
Once again, the common man votes against his own interest in America. The average taxpayer would have seen an increase of around $100 to ensure that the schools, already cut to the bone, could continue to offer current programming. That's a bargain of exponential proportions! Consider the astronomical costs of a private school education which can run into the thousands. Instead, Mr. Common Man -- you showed those public schools, you voted with the rich guy, the conservative CEOs and the investment bankers who were staunch opponents of the referendums, but...wait a minute...those guys are RICH. They can afford the thousands of dollars to send their children to schools which do teach theories, and advanced courses, and offer music and the arts, even extracurricular activities.
We watch the religious wars going on in the Middle East, and the Balkans, and the Uzbek and we half-seriously joke about the very same thing brewing here in the United States because of the rise in activity of the Christian Far Right, especially in and around the White House, but the battle for the future of America will be fought as it always has been in this country between the middle class and itself.
Affordable healthcare! But don't tax me to pay for it. YOU ARE ALREADY paying for it. And the money is going into the pockets of corporations rather than back into a government program where it might actually do some good to improve the system.
Retirement! Social Security! Transportation! I WANT these. I DESERVE these. But don't tax me for them. Don't raise my taxes.
Don't worry, common dude, this all comes down in the wake of seven Democratic Senators agreeing to some backroom deal allowing the likely confirmation of three of the most extreme activist judges in United States history:
Janice Rogers Brown
Record of hostility to workers' rights and victims of discrimination.
Said that 1937 (the year courts upheld New Deal) “mark[ed] the triumph of our own socialist revolution.”
Used her position to push a view of the Constitution that would eliminate worker protections like minimum wage laws, give corporations free reign to abuse workers and the environment, and undermine constitutional protections for fundamental rights and liberties.
Looks like you'll get what you want, Common Guy. Tax cuts and judicial decisions for the rich, corporate white folks, but that's okay with you, because it's all okay with you as long as someone doesn't suggest raising your taxes.
I guess I gotta win the lottery so my sons can have a school where they can learn advanced theories, have an opportunity to participate in the arts and extracurricular activities, and strive to reach their potential.