The Things That Shape Us


I made a bologna and mayo sandwich for lunch today.

This isn’t really significant in itself, except for a few things. First, I rarely take my lunch to work. I’m more of a “get out of the office” kind of guy, even though working in Arlington makes that an expensive proposition. Second, even when I do take my lunch to work, I’m usually too lazy to actually prepare a lunch; I’ll just grab some leftovers or a frozen meal. Finally, I greatly prefer a hot meal to a cold one, so whether eating out or dining in having a cold sandwich really isn’t my style.

So why this sandwich, and why today? I didn’t really give it much thought, other than that I was craving bologna and mayo. Then as I was making lunch this morning it hit me all at once: Dad would have been 68 today.

It’s a small thing, nothing really, and yet everything. Dad was a great cook; he could make everything from chili to French onion soup to a complete turkey dinner with all the trimmings. He was a master at the grill or the stove, and yet he never lost his love for something as simple as a bologna and mayo sandwich. It’s the first kind of sandwich I ever learned to love, and I even put it on a hoagie roll, because that’s the kind Dad would have liked.

I don’t think about Dad every day any more, which is as it should be I suppose, although I think about him more days than not. I still miss him, and I always will, but I have to get on with my life. I’m just grateful to realize that he’s always going to be with me in all sorts of little ways, ways I won’t even realize. My love of music, my love for animals, my fierce loyalty to my family, even my temper…

And bologna and mayo sandwiches.


What’s REALLY Going on in Crimea?


There’s a lot of speculation going around lately about what’s the source of all the trouble in the Crimea region of Ukraine. Many are blaming Moscow for stirring up trouble, possibly as a precursor to an invasion. I’m here to reassure you now that the truth is something far, far more sinister:

It’s the people at Rand McNally.

To understand why, you have to go all the way back to the end of the 1980s and the beginning of the 1990s. Things were looking good at first for high school students; we had one less Germany to memorize for Geography class, and only one Berlin to worry about, but we still had it pretty easy as far as Eastern Europe and Asia went. Basically all you had to know was “U.S.S.R.” and “China” and you got at least a C.

Then suddenly the U.S.S.R. broke up without any warning, and overnight we’ve got a Georgia that was never on our minds, more –ia’s than a Cthulhu summoning, and so many Stans you’d think it was a callback for “A Streetcar Named Desire”. In short, we got screwed. Oh sure, you might think the concerns of a few high school students pale in comparison to the desperate need to live free of tyranny, but you are overlooking one key element: these were the future mapmakers of the world. And nobody messes with mapmakers with impunity.

They bided their time, waiting decades to get all the pieces in place. They manipulated elections, staged revolutions, and even plotted assassinations where they needed to. Think I’m being paranoid? Think about this: they know where you live. They know where everybody lives. Nobody dares to cross them, not if they know what’s good for them. Do you really believe the Apple Maps roll-out was such a disaster because Apple can’t design an app? They wouldn’t play ball, and they got punished for it. Google pays their dues every month.

And now those poor high school kids who failed Geography because of a bunch of whiners who yearned to be free of a totalitarian regime are finally getting their ultimate revenge. They’ve manipulated the world and Russia in particular to dance to their merciless tune, all for one purpose: to thin out the number of countries they have to print on a map.

Hey, it’s less crazy than anything Vladimir Putin can come up with.


Top 11 Reasons I’m Tired of Snow


11. Children in the neighborhood are hoping they don’t cancel school.

10. My neighbors have begun to resemble White Walkers.

9. 35 is the new 70.

8. The snowmen are picketing for overtime pay.

7. I’ve been reduced to using margarita salt on my driveway.

6. No TV and no beer make Bob something something.

5. My dog has started writing his name in the snow.

4. I’m running out of room for hoarding toilet paper and bottled water.

3. If I have to star in a Disney movie, I would have chosen The Jungle Book.

2. Global warming has started to look like an attractive option.

1. Because fuck snow, that’s why.


How To Train Your Politician


I’ve been surprised lately by some of the vitriol being directed at Jan Brewer following her veto of SB 1062 (that would be the “anti-gay” bill that got through the Arizona Senate, or “screamingly offensive and blatantly homophobic bill” if you want to aim for accuracy). The reason I’ve been surprised by the vitriol has been from the source: it’s come from people I know who are liberals. That’s right, some liberals are angry that Jan Brewer didn’t sign this prejudicial garbage.

The argument, as best as I understand it, is that the politicians who run Arizona now are evil to the core, and having passed this bill would have simply reaffirmed that fact for all the world to see, and (hopefully) would have created a popular uprising (I’m not sure if this would have been at the polls or in the streets) that would depose those same politicians and bring in some sort of proper, upstanding government that would have respect for human rights, common decency, and all right-minded folk. (Such a government would be a historical anomaly, but I digress.)

“Evil” is a strong word. Disagree with someone all you want, but evil puts them in a camp where there is no compromise, there is no common ground, and there is no understanding. That’s the same sort of language used by the people who would have seen this law succeed, and not just the politicians. I’m not trying to suggest that these are wonderful people, or that I would ever want to join them for tea, but unless a bloody armed rebellion IS the goal, heated rhetoric like this serves no purpose except to ensure determined and continued opposition.

Regarding Ms. Brewer specifically, I have heard is said that she came to the right outcome for the wrong reasons, those being politically rather than ideologically motivated ones.  I for one believe we should applaud her all the more if that is the case; in today’s charged ideological climate, going “against the grain” of your own (or your party’s) convictions because that’s what the people who elected you want seems to be a virtue in short supply. Actions speak so much louder than words, and reasons don’t matter when outcomes are faulty; they should be equally relevant when the outcome is correct. If she got to the right place, regardless of her reasons, she should be praised, so that she will (hopefully) learn that there can be positive outcomes to taking good actions, just as there are negative outcomes for bad actions. We train politicians in the same way we train animals, even if the animals are smarter and less likely to bite the hand that feeds.

The simple fact is I believe all politicians are guilty until proven innocent, and I have yet to see that proof for any of them. If you plan to sit down to eat with them, bring your longest spoon. But when one of them finally manages to do something right, even by accident, at least reward them a little. They might recognize the “why” that goes with the “what”. It’s even possible others will learn by example.


My Favorite Comedy Movies (That You’ve Never Seen)


There are a lot of great comedies out there, well-known and deservedly so. Dr. Strangelove, Blazing Saddles, Airplane!, even Ghostbusters are all famous for making people laugh for decades. In the wake of the passing of comedy legend Harold Ramis, I’d like to take the opportunity to spotlight a few of my favorite comedies that aren’t so widely known, but deserve to be praised just the same.

Dr. Detroit (1983) – It only seems right to start with this 80’s gem that stars Ghostbusters co-star Dan Aykroyd as a college literature professor who gets suckered into “managing” four beautiful prostitutes in Chicago. (Once again, I am not making this up.) This movie is 80’s screwball comedy at its finest, with Dan Aykroyd turning in a stellar Jekyll-and-Hyde-esque performance, only in this case it’s all an act until the final reveal. Fans of 80’s beauties will be pleased to see Donna Dixon at her finest, and a young Fran Drescher takes a turn at the risqué long before her debut on The Nanny.

The Big Hit (1998) – Coming out in the same year as The Big Lewbowski, it seemed among my friends you could only love one of the “Bigs”, and personally I have never understood how anyone  can even sit through The Big Lebowski. But I digress. The Big Hit is a throwback to that 80’s screwball style, with class, gender, and role-reversals abounding throughout the film. In particular the concept of the sympathetic, pushover hitman is innovative and fun, and played with remarkable skill by Mark Wahlberg, while Lou Diamond Phillips turns in a surprisingly funny yet loathsome villain. Fans of One Crazy Summer or Better Off Dead will find a lot to like here (especially the “Trace Buster Buster”).

PCU (1994) – I know I said this was all because of Harold Ramis, and truly it was inspired by Harold Ramis, but the world is not about Harold Ramis. I only say this because I do not now nor have I ever been able to grasp the obsession some people seem to have with Animal House. There are a few good lines, but that’s it. The movie does nothing for me. Sorry, but that’s just how I feel. Maybe it’s a generational thing. As far as I’m concerned, you can keep Animal House. This is my offensive college movie of choice. Jeremy Piven as Droz represents the modern character of the “big man on campus”, slightly rumpled, disheveled, and a few years past the prime of what a college student should be. The exaggeration of the oppressive PC culture on display is (sadly) even closer to the mark today than it was when the film was first released (although nobody is spared the barb, even the protagonists). Unabashedly rude, shamelessly corrupting, and magnificently over the top, I recommend this film to anyone who can laugh at themselves.


My Cassandra Moment


“You are not going to believe this.”

-Cassandra

The other day I had my first “Cassandra moment”. For those of you who aren’t familiar with the myth, Cassandra was a figure from Greek mythology who was cursed to know the future and never be believed by anyone she told (seriously, that’s the shortest version I can manage. They all get weirder from there.) This has been used as the basis for the Cassandra metaphor, which you may know from the film 12 Monkeys (and if you don’t know that film I banish you until you do).

Are we all on the same page now? Good. So anyway, I was listening to the news and I noticed that I was hearing a lot of politicians and reporters talking about two things in very close proximity to each other: the fact that a high school diploma isn’t enough to get a “good job” anymore and the crushing weight of student debt. Setting aside any discussions about what exactly qualifies as a “good job”, it occurred to me this might not be a coincidence. There are a couple different historical trends that seem to be colliding here, and not in a way that I am at all comfortable with.

The first is this question of what level of education a person “needs”. Now I’m a big fan of education, and I will be the first to say that requiring universal basic literacy and numeracy has done wonders for our country. The marginal return on universal education beyond that point is something we can debate, as well as the shape it should take, but considering that debate is already happening all the way through the high school level I find it curious that there has been a not-so-subtle linguistic shift over the past few decades. It used to be that “every child should finish high school”. Then the norm became that “every child that qualifies should be able to go to college.” Next up was “every child that wants to should be able to go to college.” Now we’re moving into the realm of ‘every child should go to college.”

Notice that shift? The norm used to be a high school diploma, full stop. Now we’ve moved the goal post to “go to college”, no qualifiers. When does that become “Bachelor’s degree” or more? That brings me to my second point.

How exactly did we manage to get “every child into college”? Student loans. Not a big deal really, since the job market was always growing, opportunity was always on the rise, and that would never change. Except of course that it did change, and now we have a generation mired in debt. Nobody’s fault, really, at least that’s what the politicians tell themselves and their constituents. Certainly not the fault of programs guaranteed to extend credit to students to pursue programs regardless of their likelihood of graduation or securing gainful employment when they graduate – but I digress.

So here we find ourselves, pushing to send more kids, all the kids really, to college, while insisting there’s no way that anyone can afford to go to college. If only there was a historical example we could look back on, something remarkably similar in terms of a formerly non-compulsory, primarily private form of education that had become dominated by government influence….

And all sarcasm aside, that’s where I found myself this weekend, with a horrifying new theory and nobody to believe it. I explained it to My Not So Humble Wife, how I saw the government (probably led by the federal Department of Education, possibly with the states taking a strong hand as they do in the current public education system) taking over university education in the next 20 years and making it compulsory up through at least an Associate’s degree and far more likely through a Bachelor’s degree. After all, it’s much easier to soak taxpayers across the board directly to support the schools than to expect students to pay their own way, and then we can make sure everyone has the same “fair” chance (if you really believe the current educational system is fair, kudos on your naiveté.)

She doesn’t believe me. Neither do my friends who I mentioned it to. Maybe they all think I’ve been watching too much House of Cards. (Not true, I haven’t had a chance to stream season 2 yet). Maybe they think I’m just a nutjob libertarian. (True but irrelevant.) Maybe they just think I’m jumping at shadows. (Never; too much exertion.)

Whatever the reason, they don’t believe me, and chances are neither will you. But that’s okay. Just like the original Cassandra, I’m going to make my prediction, and the future will reveal itself in time.


Supervisors as Road Trip Companions


I was having lunch with a friend the other day, and we were discussing the best analogy for difficult supervisors. No particular reason, of course… Anyway, we finally hit on the idea of road trip companions. This struck me as a particularly apt analogy, as pretty much anyone can relate to this experience. Even if you have never been on a road trip with one of the following types of people, you almost certainly have been on a road trip with someone, and it is no great stretch of the imagination to discern what these experiences would be like:

Supervisor as Four Year Old: Gives incoherent directions when he bothers to give directions at all. Constantly pesters you with “is it done yet?” Eager for the final result until he gets it, then vaguely disappointed when he has it, but can’t say why.

Supervisor as Three Year Old: Screams a lot. Throws temper tantrums. Makes impossible demands (“I wanna go to the moon!”) Eager for the final result until she gets it, then acutely disappointed when she has it, and loudly lists off all the reasons why.

Supervisor as Passive-Aggressive Roommate: Has a clear picture of where he wants to be, but won’t give you directions of how to get there. Insists you know what you should be doing “if you would just focus”. Sighs a lot.

Supervisor as Hung-over Roommate: Has no good advice to offer. Insists that you take the wheel. Still wants to have a say in every decision. Groans a lot.

Supervisor as Backseat Driver: Insists that you take the wheel but second-guesses every decision you make. Constantly harps on your ability and distracts you at critical moments. Blames your “inattentiveness” for any problems caused by his interference.

Supervisor as Best Friend: Cool to hang out with, but makes it impossible to focus. Constantly distracting you with stories, jokes, and inappropriate comments. Makes you late for everything and miss important deadlines.

Supervisor as Crash Test Dummy: The perfect road trip companion. Stays quiet but still helps you get into the fast lane. Doesn’t mind being thrown under the bus in case of emergency.


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