Thursday, January 29, 2009

What a wanker.

The man up there smiling is Rep. Phil Gingrey (R-Pussyville) of Georgia. I don't know much about Rep. Gingrey, in fact I'd never heard of him until this week. But I think it's telling that the only members of his family with any balls are the women.

Gingrey showed some spine earlier this week, uncharacteristic for the GOP, I know, so I was impressed. After Rush Limbaugh criticized the Republican leadership for actually wanting to govern responsibly rather than act like pouting middle schoolers, Gingrey said this:

“I mean, it’s easy if you’re Sean Hannity or Rush Limbaugh or even sometimes Newt Gingrich to stand back and throw bricks. You don’t have to try to do what’s best for your people and your party..."

Wow, he actually sounded like a grownup there. But then the dittoheads started calling in on their Dixie cups and string, because you can't criticize Rush Almighty.

With his grapes stomped flat by the mouthbreathers of America, Gingrey slunk out, made a public apology, and even kissed Rush's enormous ass on the air. Here's what the castrato Gingrey said:

“Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, Newt Gingrich, and other conservative giants are the voices of the conservative movement’s conscience. Everyday, millions and millions of Americans—myself included—turn on their radios and televisions to listen to what they have to say, and we are inspired by their words and by their determination.”

Think of that. The conservative movement has devolved from Barry Goldwater and William F. Buckley to Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity. Jesus, really? The "conservative movement's conscience?" Really?

Dude, WTF?

You're talking about one man with the values of a truck stop hooker and another who spells stupid with two O's. And, lest we forget, Newt Gingrich is the guy who harrumphed his moral outrage over Bill Clinton's BJ until it was revealed that Newt had been playing Hide the Newt with his own young assistant while his second wife waited at home.

So that's the state of today's Republican party. I didn't think it could get any worse than the Schiavo-obsessed GOP of the Frist era, but it looks like we're plumbing new depths here, people.

And leading the charge into irrelevancy are Rush, Sean, Newt and now Phil Gingrey, the biggest pussy in the GOP. And in this company of chickenhawks, that's saying something.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

A modest proposal.

Every day we read about new malefactors who have scammed the system to enrich themselves. Some break the law, like Bernie Madoff and Nicholas Cosmo, purveyors of the Ponzi scheme.

Others, like John Thain, the former head of Merrill Lynch, didn't break any laws that we know of, but could, without challenge, park in a handicapped zone because the guy is without question a moral and ethical cripple.

If you haven't been following the outrages of the economic collapse, John Thain presided over fourth quarter losses of 15 billion. Then he rushed out a few billion in bonuses to reward the incompetent fucks under him who lost the savings of decent people who were actually suckers enoough to play by the rules.

As icing on this big manure cake, Thain spent over a million bucks redecorating his office last year, shelling out 1400 bucks for a now famous trash can, which is where most of the money he was entrusted with landed.

Then there are the staunch free marketeers who hate socialism but don't mind taking a little something from the taxpayer, like $25 billion in federal bailout funds, and then using part of that money to lobby against workers. You know, the people who pay taxes.

Bank of America got together with other free-market absolutists, including one guy from taxpayer-rescued AIG, and urged everyone to fight the Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA), legislation that would make it easier for workers to unionize.

And why would workers want to work together? Could it be because they're catching it in the shorts?

One of the leaders of this effort is Bernie Marcus,* the co-founder of Home Depot. He called this legislation "... the demise of a civilization. This is how a civilization disappears..."

That's right. If we give employees the right to collectively bargain, to hold corporations responsible for how they treat their workers, to demand fair employment practices through strength rather than depending upon the kindness of cold-hearted strangers like Marcus and Thain, that would be the end of civilization.

Just look at Europe. With all their unionized workers, it's just a smoldering, post-apocalyptic hell.

Gentlemen, perhaps, and this is just a suggestion, if you had been more responsible business leaders, if you had not resorted to accounting tricks to look successful, if you had put community over the next quarter, if you had acted less like hogs at the Treasury trough or passed up a million dollar bonus when you knew your company was deep in the red, just maybe workers and taxpayers wouldn't be in this pickle now.

So, my modest proposal is this. We trundle one or two of these rapacious bastards up to Dr. Guillotine's clipper. That's all it would take. One or two. I guarantee the others would start flying coach.

Just a thought.

*A personal note to Bernie Marcus. I was going to drop a few hundred bucks at Home Depot this weekend. But I think I'll take my business elsewhere. That's called the free market, Mr. Marcus and I advise you to suck on it.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

One writer who won't be reading my blog today.

You know how people Google their own names to read what other people are writing about them? It's called a vanity Google, and men do it much more than women, although women are much more inclined to Google men.

This morning I said that my early writing went through a faux-Updike period. I loved Updike. Of all his novels, and there were 50 or so, the Rabbit series will always hold a special place. Rabbit wasn't the brightest man, or the most responsible, or even likeable at times, but he tried like the rest of us, and often came up short.

Updike wrote with such compact beauty - "Sailboats tilted against the glitter" - that when I first read that sentence it nearly took my breath away.

Updike could pack in enough symbolism and metaphor to keep English majors busy for several semesters. But for those of us who read more for story and character, Updike had the goods. When we saw a bit of allusion peek out from behind the suburban landscaping, we were happy, knowing that he hadn't take us for morons. He knew we would get it without making the thing strut about wearing a hat, blowing a horn, calling cheap attention to itself. I like that. I like that a lot.

He had a great run. He's left us richer for his time on the planet. And that ain't a bad epitaph.

To paraphrase one of his own titles: Updike at Rest.


Under the Influence.

Last Tuesday we went to see Hammell on Trial in Chapel Hill. I thought it was a perfect way to celebrate the inauguration. Before Hammell this 3-piece played the first set fronted by a young woman named Mysti Mayhem, which is a great roller derby name.

This young woman has a terrific voice that can wail or whisper with the same balls-out conviction. She commands the stage. Her guitar paying is confident and it looked like she was having a good time, and even though the crowd was small, we were enthusiastic.

I even bought her CD, Diversity, produced by the legendary Chris Stamey, and put it in my player for the commute.

But I'm not here to do a CD review. I mean, who the hell am I? No, I'm here to talk about influences. The next day my daughter said she could hear a lot of Ani Difranco in Ms. Mayhem's music. I don't know. But I do know that when you're young, you always sound like someone else. Bob Dylan sounded like Woody Guthrie. Bruce Springsteen sounded like Bob Dylan. Hell, Fountains of Wayne still sound like the Beatles.

When I was young, there was a short period when everything I wrote sounded like Richard Bautigan. Then I went through an extended Updike phase. Now I sound like this, which is like nobody else I know.

That's the way it works. Young people get so hung up (at least I did) on being original, that they freeze up just when they should be soaking up all the influences they can. You sound like people you admire for a while, and then you sound like yourself, which sounds like no one else.

Go get 'em Ms. Mayhem. I loved the set.

Mysti and her band opened for Hammell on Trial, and if you ever get a chance to see him perform, go. Do not hesitate. He's a one man force of nature, beating a 1937 Gibson that looks as tough and put-upon as Hank Williams' bartender.

Support live music. Go see a band this week. You'll be glad you did.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Mr. Never Right Finally Gets It Right.

If the inauguration wasn't enough to make you celebrate, this news may just light a candle on your melancholy cake.

Bill Kristol, the NYT columnist who made David Brooks look positively pundity, has called it quits. Kristol's columns were so devoid of fact that the casual reader might have thought they were written by Michelle Malkin high on internet Ritalin.

This is good news all around. Because now that Kristol's gone, the Times can use his valuable Op-Ed real estate to sell ShamWow!

Greg Mitchell has a suitably snarky adios for the K-man.

Here's just one fond remembrance of Bill Kristol, a man who, along with the former president, proved that if you have an influential conservative father, and you have no shame or standards, you can do anything half-assed and people will still pay you top dollar for it. Here's an actual quote from Bill's brain:
"The repercussions of globalizing the conflict between Hezbollah and Israel can only bring good things. On to Iran!"

Bill Kristol often wrote drunk, with his ass, in long-hand, but still found someone to publish it a few times a week. That's an accomplishment of sorts. I'd say we'll miss him, but I know that as long as there's a Fox News, he'll never really go away.

My wife wants another baby.

It started last week. Each morning Jenny read aloud descriptions of dogs up for adoption. I did my usual husband grunt, cautious but alert.

Then she sent me this picture with a description of Miss Scout:

Poor Scout had been a starving stray living next to I-40 and another highway for a while when she was rescued by a kind hearted vet tech ... The tech couldn't keep her and tried to find her a home with a family, who turned out to neglect her horribly ... leaving her outside with no shelter in the rain for over a week. The rescuer took her back and a wonderful IAR foster Mom now has Scout and is caring for this exceptional dog until she finds her forever home.
How could I not take this dog in?

So, we prepared to meet Scout yesterday. Jenny filled out the application. No response. Jenny emailed. No response. Jenny called about seeing Scout where the ad said Scout would be. After being put on hold several times, Jenny was informed that they were only showing cats, no dogs, and no one knew anything about Scout.

I have been successfully married for close to 3 decades. One of the reasons for that success is I've learned that when Jenny sets her mind to something, I should stand out of the way and let it happen. To say otherwise is like trying to stop the tide. Nature will out.

But I'd have an easier time buying an orphan baby on Ebay. What is it with animal shelters? Why is adoption so hard? When I was a kid, people used to hand out puppies on the sidewalk.

"Free puppy, Mister?"

In fact, it was hard not to come home with a puppy. People were handing out puppies like business cards at a Kiwanis Club smoker. But now, they practically demand a blood test before they hand over a homeless pooch.

So, I don't know if Scout will become part of the Terrenoire household, but I know that some dog, somewhere, will eventually. I think I'm ready, but in the end, all that will matter is that Jenny is ready.

And Jenny is ready.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

"I hope he fails."

Rush Limbaugh is a champion of the values crowd.

Rush, a man who muscled his maid into getting him hillbilly heroin; a sexual predator who travels with someone else's Viagra; a guy who can't stay married, despite his millions, for longer than it takes his wives to get past their gag reflex.

Recently he's said he hopes Obama fails. In other words, he hopes you're unemployed, your children go hungry and your wife can't see a doctor, rather than be proven wrong.

Now, I don't know about you, but every time I've voted for the losing candidate, and that's been a lot, I've always hoped I'd been wrong. I've been skeptical, and maybe even jaundiced, but I've always hoped the American president, whoever he is, succeeds.

But not Rush. "I hope he fails," he said.

Those four words have stirred up some questions about Rush's sanity, patriotism, empathy and ability to shed his skin. So, he's retreated to the refuge of all dishonest scum - he claims to have been "taken out of context."

So let's, at the risk of our own gag reflex, listen to what Mr. Limbaugh actually said to that brain trust, Sean Hannity:

I would hope he would succeed if he acts like Reagan, but if he's going to do FDR, if he's going to do the new, new deal all over which we will call here the raw deal, why would I want him to succeed?

Look, he's my president. The fact that he is historic is irrelevant to me now. It matters not at all. I — if he is going to implement a far left — look it. I think it's already decided. $2 trillion in stimulus? The growth of government. I think the intent here is to create as many dependant Americans as possible looking to government for their hope and salvation.

If he gets nationalized health care, I mean, it's over, Sean. We're never going to roll that back. That's the end of America as we have known it because that's then going to set the stage for everything being government owned, operated, or provided.

Why would I want that to succeed? I don't believe in that. I know that's not how this country is going to be great in the future, it's not what made this country great.

So I shamelessly say, no, I want him to fail, if his agenda is a far-left collectivism, some people say socialism, as a conservative heartfelt, deeply, why would I want socialism to succeed?

Did you follow that? If Obama uses Keynesian economics to get us out of this mess, rather than the debunked Milton Friedman monetarist school, if he brings US health care in line with every other industrialized nation (our competitors), then Rush hopes Obama fails.

Because Rush can't even contemplate that he might be wrong. Even though Rush has been wrong about more things than David Brooks, and that's a big steaming heap of wrong. Rush would rather see America sink into the status of a third world power and its citizens driven into the streets; cold, sick, hungry and unemployed; than be wrong.

This is a man who hasn't gotten anything right. Yes, he's got a successful radio program, but the rest of his life is as fucked up as a trailer park meth addict's. He has money, and that's the only difference.

So, once again, I am gobstruck that anyone, and I mean anyone, gives this guy head space. Even I feel as cheap as a Domincan hooker just letting him share my little 40-watt spotlight.

What an asshole.

OMG, the president is illegitimate.

The asshat in the hat is Matt Drudge, the web-based love muffin of right wing loons everywhere. He's the one Ann Coulter invoked as a credible source for a fiction of victimhood she tried to float past Matt Lauer, pit bull of the Today Show.

The Dickensian-named Drudge is always on the lookout for some startling news, however fact-free, that his readers will swallow with more enthusiasm than Rush Limbaugh with a fistful of Oxycontin.

According to Salon, Drudge has landed a big one here. Remember when the Chief Justice fumbled the oath on inauguration day? Well, they did a mulligan on that in the Oval Office yesterday, just to make sure it took.

What happened in that ovoid room should make every hardcore Christian extremist's head explode. Ready for it?

Obama didn't use a Bible!

Here's a screen shot from today's Drudge Report.

Some bloggers nearly choked on their Cheetos when they saw this. Could it be? Could Obama's oath not be legit? Could his presidency be as illegitimate as half the first grade in Wasilla Elementary? Could the whole administration be unmoored because the oath wasn't officially taken on an official Bible-like object?

Quel fromage!

Here I was worried that, sans Bush, we would lose the truly nutty flavor of the right wing blogosphere. I should have known that we can always count on Matt Drudge to be on the job, hat tightly on head and head firmly in ass.

Another year older and deeper in debt.

If you're over 35, you've probably had some physical reminder that you are now, officially, old.

I'm not talking about the high school kid at Burger Barn who calls you Sir or Ma'am.

I'm talking about getting stopped by a cop who looks like he's skipping ninth grade biology class.
"No, officer, I didn't see that stop sign and, on an more personal note, do you shave?"

Or getting assigned a doctor who looks like she's playing dress-up. You wonder why she isn't at home doing her algebra homework.

And you wonder, "Why is everyone so young?"

The answer, of course, is they're not young, you're just old. And getting older.

In a little over a year, I'll hit sixty. If I'm lucky. That's the other thing, the older you get the more people you know who have either shuffled off the coil or have stared the reaper dead in the peepers. A friend had a heart attack this week and while he's thankfully doing OK, it gives all of us alta cockers pause. I think the phrase is memento mori, eh? Be mindful of death.

I started thinking about this on Tuesday. During the warm glow of the inaugural celebration, the joy of being rid of the incompetent dauphin, I realized that this was not only our first African-American president, but the first president who is younger than I am.

That's a sobering thought. And as I battle rising cholesterol, joints that feel like sandpaper, a digestive system that is ever more inclined toward bland vanilla versus blazing burrito, I wonder just how the hell I got here so fast. And who is that old fuck staring back at me from the mirror.

That's it for today. No jokes, just a little splash of cold reality to wake us all up on this chilly Thursday morning.

Now I need a nap.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

I'm sorry, Mr. Bush.

I've spent years making fun of you, so please, accept this as an apology. I think this is the perfect thing for you to take into retirement.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

And the darkness lifts.

Today I say to you that the challenges we face are real. They are serious and they are many. They will not be met easily or in a short span of time. But know this, America - they will be met.


This is the journey we continue today. We remain the most prosperous, powerful nation on Earth. Our workers are no less productive than when this crisis began. Our minds are no less inventive, our goods and services no less needed than they were last week or last month or last year. Our capacity remains undiminished. But our time of standing pat, of protecting narrow interests and putting off unpleasant decisions - that time has surely passed. Starting today, we must pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off, and begin again the work of remaking America.


What is required of us now is a new era of responsibility - a recognition, on the part of every American, that we have duties to ourselves, our nation, and the world, duties that we do not grudgingly accept but rather seize gladly, firm in the knowledge that there is nothing so satisfying to the spirit, so defining of our character, than giving our all to a difficult task.

This is the price and the promise of citizenship.

I'm in.

A refrain for the day.

Yes We Can.

28 years later.

On this day in 1981, Ronald Reagan was inaugurated and the Iranians released the hostages. But the really big news was the birth of our daughter, Molly.

I have many memories of that day, but none are so beautiful as the peaceful 20 minutes they let me spend holding her, watching her watch me. It was, without doubt, the most miraculous 20 minutes of my 58 years.

Today, as we celebrate this inspiring inauguration, we will also celebrate Molly's birthday and hope that for all of us, 2009 will be a better year.

Happy birthday kid. As your grandfather advised, keep your chin up.

Monday, January 19, 2009

The First Family's Last Day

George Bush displays his famed stubborn conviction by refusing to leave Camp David.

"My father gave it to me," he tells reporters.

Police escort the soon-to-be-ex-president off the grounds.

In Washington, movers leave the Bush belongings by the curb. One resident offers to help by "... settin' all this here shit on fire."

The crowd, assembled for tomorrow's inauguration, applauds.

A line for micturating upon the Bush possessions soon forms along Pennsylvania Avenue.

Dumb News From Sundance.

Run, people of Park City, run!

It's that time of year again, when your beautiful streets are filled with beautiful people and pale, hunchbacked screenwriters, all of them polluting your environment with their noxious Hollywood gases.

Being fans of film, we turned to the New York Times for indie news and, as so often happens with the Times, we get less than we expected. Like this story by an asshat named Michael Cieply.

Apparently, the entertainment industry should hang its collective, well-coiffed head for polluting the planet. You know, what with people flying in from LA, and driving rental cars, and breaking wind. Damn those entertainers and their gassy, vegan ways.

Yes, Hollywood can be smug about their carbon offsets and geothermal espresso machines, but couldn't Mr. Cieply find something else to write about other than the hypocrisy of making a movie about the environment and then using electricity to screen it? Really, this is the big story?

Please, don't tell Mr. Cieply that Silent Spring was printed on paper. Shame on Rachel Carson for not finding a more eco-friendly venue. Like rocks we could all pass around.

And it would be wrong of me, I guess, to point out that Mr. Cieply is expressing his concern about Park City's environment in the Dead Tree Times.

Wait, I smell a bit of irony. Or was that Al Gore's bean burrito?

Friday, January 16, 2009

Duncan the Camera-Shy Dog

I wanted to end the week with a better picture than the smirking asshat of Crawford, Texas. So here's Duncan. He doesn't like having his picture taken, so I've rarely captured anything but his profile.

We took Duncan in after he and his siblings had been dropped off on a country road. In a way, I have to thank the heartless bastard who did that, because Duncan is a great dog. His face, smiling as I get dressed for our morning walk, makes me happy no matter how cold, dark and rainy it is outside. His happy dance when I come home makes whatever shitfest the day has been just melt away.

And, camera shy or not, he's much nicer to look at than chimp boy.

Why is this man smiling?

All through his farewell speech, I kept asking that same question - why is he smiling? His eight years in office have been one disaster after another. He's changed Iraq from a dictatorship to a democracy of sorts, it's true, but a democracy that is closer to Iran than the US.

He's overseen a criminal enterprise, with men like Bradley Schlozman, Alberto Gonzales, Karl Rove and Scooter Libby breaking the law in service to this regime.

His minions politicized every level of government, from the DOJ to the CIA, even installing a Soviet-style political officer in places like the EPA. The Surgeon General was told to mention Bush's name 3 times per page in every speech he gave. Too bad we didn't hear the good doctor give a speech about genital warts.

He squandered the budget surplus he inherited, presiding over a debt that now totals more than 10 trillion dollars, a large part 0f it owed to China. He squandered the world's good will and sense of shared purpose with his "go it alone" foreign policy. He squandered something no president in my lifetime has ever had - the unified will of the American people.

He's dismissed Congress with the dubious theory of the Unitary Executive which means the president doesn't have to abide by any law he doesn't agree with.

Like the generalissimos of a Banana Republic, he's legalized torture and made people disappear. He tried to create a dubious monarchical power that said he was able to identify anyone, for any reason, an enemy combatant, stripping US citizens of all of rights. Not even the right-leaning Supreme Court could swallow that without gagging.

He's elevated terrorists, who are criminals, to the level of soldiers by calling this a War on Terror. His biggest claim to success, that he's kept us from an attack is true only if you think his term began on September 12, 2001 and we forget about the anthrax that targeted media people and Democratic leaders. Those postal workers who died are just as much victims of a terror attack as the people in the WTC.

Last night he asked us to remember his speech on the rubble on September 14th, probably so we'll forget that on September 11th he ran away, earning him the title of Commander Bunnypants.

And last night, he smirked and grinned and told us what a success the past eight years have been.

I guess we're all just too stupid to see it.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

And the polishing continues.

It should be called the No-Fault Tour of 2009. This time it's Dick "Dick" Cheney telling anyone who will listen that he's not to blame for the litany of fuck-ups, screw-ups, and blown opportunities of the past eight years.

In an interview with Jim Lehrer, Dick tells us that not even the botched years after Iraq fell it wasn't their fault, it was the Iraqis who screwed the pooch.

"...we thought that the Iraqis would be able to bounce back fairly quickly once Saddam was gone or the new government established and step up and take major responsibilities for governing Iraq, building a military and so forth and that took longer than I expected."

So, it wasn't that Bremer told the armed men of the Iraqi army to go home, or that the administration filled vital civil service jobs with unqualified people chosen more for their loyalty to Bush than any knowledge or experience in their field, or the massive corruption and incompetence shown by the contractors who were handed billions in no-bid contracts.

No, none of that was the administration's fault. It was those damn Iraqi people. They just didn't jump up and take control as quickly as Cheney wanted. See, even his mistakes aren't really his fault. It's other people not living up to his expectations.
Tuesday cannot come soon enough.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Got work?

If you're paying attention, you know that the blessings of the Bush economy have fallen hard upon the heads of too many good and talented people, giving them spare time to contemplate the poaching and roasting of Wall Street bankers, Republicans who believe the free market will regulate itself, and anyone who bought a $400,000 house on a McDonald's salary.

I thought about this listening to George Bush's last (YAY!) press conference. His "exit interview" he called it.

One item, out of a whole list of Bush delusions, jumped out at me. That was his insistence that America's moral standing hasn't been harmed by Iraq, Guantanamo, Abu Ghraib, water boarding, the suspension of habeas corpus, the trashing of the Geneva Accords, the Constitution and the DOJ.

He bristled at the mere question. "I strongly disagree with the assessment that our moral standing has been damaged," he said. He conceded that maybe America's image had been tarnished among elites in Europe. People he had met in Africa, India and China did not share that judgment, he said.

Right. This is the guy who is so delicate that Americans who disagreed with him had to be removed from wherever his royal eye might light and corraled into distant "free speech" zones. I'm sure he gets up close and personal with everyday people in Africa, India and China. People who think he's just swell. It's just Americans and those snooty European elites who find fault.

There have been disappointments, he admits, but not because of any failing on his part. No, sir. The economy, 9/11, the war, the criminal cronyism, the deficit, the looting of the treasury, abuse of our military, the obsessive secrecy, the lies, the stonewalling, the astounding ability to make politics stink like a roadkill skunk, all that was someone else's fault.
Elites, probably.

He insists he's done a heckuva job.

Take his response to Katrina. He wasn't slow to act. He just didn't want to land in Louisiana and get in the way. So he went to John McCain's birthday party instead.

"Don't tell me the federal response was slow," he huffed, "when there was 30,000 people pulled off roofs right after the storm passed."

Aside from his typical assault on the language, Bush conveniently sloughs off blame and grandly takes credit for what had been the heroic and independent action of the Coast Guard, not FEMA.

But it was the use of the word "elite" that really got under my skin.

And also, Sarah Palin there, proving my contention that she's George Bush in a dress, and also uses that word there a lot also. Elites.

You know, people who don't believe dinosaur bones were strewn about by Satan to test our faith.

And like George, nothing that went wrong in the campaign was Sarah's fault. It was John McCain's people. It was the media. It was that awful Katie Couric who asked gotcha questions like "what do you read?"

It was the elites who have a "class issue," because we would never vote for someone who came from nothing, worked hard and rose to the top on his or her own merit.

Oh, wait, I think we just did.

To all those elites who face finding a new position in the aftermath of the Bush years, I wish you the best. And if that Australia thing doesn't work out, I hope you find something else even more rewarding.

Friday, January 09, 2009

I am a slug.

Do you exercise? Do you get your dead writer/artist/reader ass off the couch and actually move your body to no purpose except to move your body?

I do. Mainly because I'm getting older, putting on weight, my cholesterol's high and my pants don't fit.

So I get up every morning and do a brisk mile with my dog, Duncan. It's good for both of us. Then I throw these small dumbells around for a bit, do push-ups and feel smug about it all goddam day.

But apparently, I'm more slug-like than smug-like.

Once again, technology has dealt my self-esteem a stunner. A friend gave me a pedometer that was lying around the office and I stupidly thought, "Hey, I wonder how many steps I walk every day."

Yesterday, I clipped it to my belt and off we went, humming a happy song. I was home 2100 steps later, feeling great. By bedtime last night I'd clocked 5000 steps in my day, 1500 just going for coffee.

Sadly, the national guidelines set by someone who has an inordinate amount of free time, say you should put in 10,000 steps. If you figure 2000 steps to a mile, that means 5 miles a day.

That's a lot of coffee.

So, I'm trying to figure out where in my day I can add another 40 minutes of walking time and if I can do that every single day without blowing my brains out.

I'll let you know how I'm doing.

See you on Monday.

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Testing, testing. Is this on?

I've worked in advertising for more than 30 years. I've worked for good agencies, bad agencies and one agency that was pure evil, selling poison to children.

So I've seen my share of focus groups. Believe me, they're not pretty. Focus groups gather average people in a room and ask their opinions of an ad, movie or TV show. Then, based on their average opinions, the ads, movies or TV shows are changed or even killed completely. I've seen some really good work go down the crapper because some out-of-work drywall guy didn't like the shirt a guy was wearing.

I hate focus groups.

(By now you're probably wondering why I put a painting by Monet up there. I'll get to that. Just hang in there, baby.)

Last November, WNYC's RadioLab did a show about choice. You can listen to it here. About 45 minutes into it they talk about a study Tim Wilson of UVA did with students. One group was offered a free poster. Another group was offered a choice from the same selection, but they had to write up a paragraph explaining why they picked what they did.

The choices were either posters of impressionist paintings or these hanging cat posters.

Six months later the researchers called the students and asked if they were still happy with their choices. By a wide margin, those who had taken the free poster without having to explain their decision said they were happy. Those who had to write the paragraph were not.

And here's where it gets interesting. The ones who had to write the paragraph overwhelmingly chose the hanging cat. The ones who did not went with the impressionists.

The researchers concluded that if you ask people to explain their choice, they'll go for the least sophisticated option.

Explains a lot of television, doesn't it.

As the program tells us, TV shows like All in the Family, Mary Tyler Moore and Seinfeld were focus group failures. But someone with balls said, "Fuck the focus group findings. I like it."

And that's the point, really. The reason I think focus group research is still with us is that few corporate suits have any balls. They don't want to take a chance on being held accountable for a decision. So, if a project fails, they can point to the research and say, "See, the focus groups were wrong. I didn't fuck up. It was the focus groups that fucked up."

Think of it as a failure of intelligence.

I'm convinced that if Casablanca had been tested, Ingrid Bergman wouldn't have gotten on that plane.

Arnold Advertising out of Boston put together this bogus focus group for the annual Hatch Awards. In it, they show an animatic of a spot Apple ran in 1984, now considered one of the greatest ads ever produced. None of these people had ever seen "1984." They are not actors, just normal people that would form a focus group.

Take a look at how they did.

And if you haven't seen "1984," here it is. It's damn good, even 25 years later.

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Last night I got a package that turned out to be a late, or if you follow the Julian calendar, an early Christmas present.

The Terrenoire family is not a slave to any calendar.

This came from The Nephew and his wife. I read a few pages and it is, for anyone who has owned an old dog, heartbreakingly beautiful. The writing is good, often funny, always touching and the photography brings out the dignity of grayed muzzles and shaky hips.

In his profile, the writer Gene Weingarten, "... instructed his family that he wishes to be buried in Washington's Congressional Cemetery, because it allows dogs to run free. He wants his tombstone to include only his birth and death dates, and this: 'A funny man who loved dogs.' The stone will be carved in the shape of a fire hydrant."

That's my kind of guy.

The photographer is Michael S. Williamson.

If you love dogs as much as I do, pick up a copy of this book at your local independent. It's terrific.

Thank you, Nephew, this was a great choice.

Once again, here is a picture of our old departed friend, Boomer. We miss you, buddy.

Monday, January 05, 2009

Why I'm the perfect person to ghost this book.

I want you to look at this picture and think of Laura Bush. Can't do it, can you.

Yet, Elizabeth Banks did a great job playing the librarian turned George's keeper in Oliver Stone's "W." So when I think Laura, I close my eyes and picture Elizabeth, and the world is a better place.

And that makes me the perfect writer to pen the First Lady's newly contracted memoir.

Yes, the publishing biz is in such great shape that they're willing to toss a few million Laura's way for a book she doesn't even have to write. And as I've ghosted novels for other people, I think I could certainly crank out a page turner based on what her spokesperson said would be "... a book about the people she met and her life in the White House.”

That's got thriller written all over it. Think of the scene: Laura's mother-in-law, Bar, comes to visit the White house and eats the family dog. Or Jeff Gannon is caught hiding underneath George's desk. Or Karl Rove is caught hiding underneath Cheney's desk.

Throw in a scene with Carla Sarkozy, Dana Perino and Condi Rice and you've got a sure-fire film deal, my friend.

But, sadly, I don't expect the book to be anything close to what I have in mind.

In this week's New Yorker, is this story about the book deal. Here's part of what is going around the publishing circles:

The reception to Mrs. Bush’s pitch has been mixed so far. “She was not forthcoming about anything that I would consider controversial,” the publisher who met with her said. “We questioned her rigorously, but it was one-word answers. I considered it the worst, or the most frustrating, meeting of its sort that I’ve ever had.” He added, “But she really couldn’t have been nicer.”


“I chose not to meet with her,” a publisher at another company said. “I got the impression that everyone was totally underwhelmed by her. That’s why there’s so little buzz.”


Another publishing executive said that some of the editors who met Mrs. Bush were hoping to find “that she’s a closet Democrat" ... When the publisher who went to the White House was asked what impression of Mrs. Bush’s politics he came away with, he sighed and said, “You got the sense she’s just like him.”


Politics aside, I know I could write this book, Mrs. Bush. Trust me. It'll be great. Call my agent and we'll do lunch.

After I'm done, and the world has held its collective breath as we whiz through your adventures, all of America would be looking at Elizabeth Banks and thinking only of you, Laura, only you.

Friday, January 02, 2009

Adios 2008.

This past year is to suck as the Hindenberg is to flaming bags of gas.

Annus horribilis hardly describes this turd of a year, the culmination of arrogance, hubris and idiocy as the chickens of Milton Friedman's school of irresponsible capitalism, the imperial governance of a fatuous dauphin, and the Terry Schiavo obsessed culture warriors come flying home to crap all over the windshield of America.

Consumers, drunk on EZ credit, bought homes they couldn't afford, flat screen TVs to watch Mama's Boys, and SUVs that cost as much as our first house. Their spending, writ large by Congress, fueled a greed binge on Wall Street that inspired the creation of financial "instruments" that make Chuck Ponzi look like a third-rate purse snatcher.

This was the year that our allies, the Iraqi government, welcomed the president of Iran with flowers, songs and a red carpet while our president had to fly in under the cover of secrecy and stealth.

This was the year when a major political party fell in love with a woman who, when asked her opinion of the Bush Doctrine," asked, "In what respect, Charlie?"

That voice will live like a tumor in my brain for years.

But we do have hope. The family is healthy. For now, both Jenny and I are employed. We live in a small house with a small mortgage. We share that house with a wonderful dog named Duncan and a curmudgeonly cat named Zoe.

We helped elect a man who acts like a grownup when faced with a challenge. Whether he can actually clean our windshield and get us back on the road is still to be seen, but it's more likely than if we'd elected the guy who, one morning, echoed our president in insisting the economic fundamentals were strong, and then reversed himself that afternoon.

And I have you, the readers of The Planet. I'm always amazed when I run into one of you in the real world, especially someone I've never met.

For instance, I was in the Principle art gallery in Virgina one day and mentioned that one of their artists, GC Myers, was a reader. When I mentioned the name of this blog, a customer perusing the art overheard me and said, "You write that? I read that blog all the time."

I immediately apologized.

So, on this gray second day of a new year, I wish all of you a happy, healthy, successful 2009. If we stick together, we just might make it through this with just a few bumps and bruises.

That's my hope, anyway.