Thursday, December 27, 2007

Face the Fiction

I hereby call on our elected officials to do something about Annenberg Political Fact Check, a non-profit organization bent on destroying our cherished system of government.

Their staff of so-called “journalists” cull false or misleading statements from political advertising and debates and expose them at They actually research the issues, which most of us don't know how to do without sacrificing at least a couple of hours of TV time per week.

The Annenberg people, shameless anarchists that they are, have no affiliation with any political party or lobby, so they are free to attack both left and right.

(I don't have to tell you how shockingly un-American that is.)

For example, Hillary Clinton recently released an ad saying members of the National Guard did not have health insurance coverage until she came along.

FactCheck points out that a) this is not true, and b) the ad does not mention that National Guard personnel don't need health insurance, because they are, in fact, invincible.

(Think of the great ferocious warriors throughout history: Beowulf, Napoleon, Washington... did any of them need health insurance? Let's get real, here.)

On the other side, FactCheck got all up in Mitt Romney's grille for citing some newspaper articles that supposedly supported his policies. This doesn't add up, because, as everyone knows, Romney supporters can't read, let alone work for newspapers.

Whatever you choose to believe, these treasonous twerps need to get off their high horse and realize that our country was born and raised on deception. It's the American Way.

Half the people who voted for George Washington thought they were voting for King George III. Andrew Jackson convinced everyone he would look out for the common man, but they didn't know he meant that in a paranoid-schizophrenic kind of way.

William Henry Harrison managed to get elected without revealing to anyone that he was about to die of pneumonia. Franklin Roosevelt knew Americans would never vote for a “cripple” for President, so he took careful pains during public appearances to give the impression that he was actually running for County Clerk.

Political campaigns spew lies like a 1987 Chevy pickup spews thick plumes of toxic black exhaust, clouding our vision and choking off our will to participate.

We can't focus on the issues because we don't know what to believe. So we focus on personality traits instead. Politicians who seem like they can relate to the average guy (see Bill Clinton and George W. Bush) will always win.

Personally, I don't want to be able to relate to the President. That would mean the President is too much of a TV-watching, cardboard box-collecting slob and not enough of a public policy super-genius.

In my mind, our President ought to be the most absurd brainiac geek available.

But most Americans are narcissistic enough to vote for the swarthy, lying scumbag who seems most like them.

This has always been true. And where has it gotten us? We're now the most powerful, respected, and admired nation in the world (Even though I've never traveled abroad, I know this is true because all the politicians keep saying it).

So the system works fine just like it is. Down with FactCheck, before they ruin everything that made this country great.

And especially before they get ahold of anything I've written.

Friday, December 21, 2007

We Regret the Era

A lot of people take a week off around this time of year, but not journalists.

Instead, we just recycle a lot of old material so we can go home early.

That's why you see so many “year in review” specials.

Personally, I've always enjoyed looking back at (what every news anchor in the world is required to refer to as) “the news that was.”

But 2007 brought us saturation coverage of Anna Nicole Smith, the NASA love triangle, Virginia Tech, lead-laced toys, steroids, and scads of other things that were not particularly pleasant or funny.

So instead, I'm going to rely on the second-most popular way people in the news biz manage to not work too hard during the Holidays: use other people's stuff.

I found a website called “Regret The Error” ( that reports and archives newspaper corrections. Recently the site gave out its awards for the media mistakes that stood out most in 2007.

Topping the list: Coverage of the Kirsk disaster.

The Kirsk, you may remember, is the Arctic-bound Russian submarine that exploded and ran aground and sank and lost its tax-exempt status back in August.

(All hands were lost, which one would think would be the least of the crew's problems in that situation. Losing their hands, I mean.)

Anyway, Russian state-owned TV apparently didn't have an actual picture of a submarine, much less the Kirsk. So they filched one from the 1997 blockbuster movie Titanic.

Before long, thanks to the Reuters news wire, the fake submarine was splayed all over American network TV, masquerading as the Kirsk.

Paramount Pictures might have had a beef with this, except – this is true – nobody noticed. Eventually, a 13-year-old boy in Finland, who is apparently an extreme nautical geek, alerted the proper authorities, whoever they may be.

(What scares me is that this probably isn't the only time a news agency used a fake image because it was too lazy to go get the real one. That must be why I could swear I've seen Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in a Star Wars movie one time.)

British tabloids are also a reliable source of misinformation. Often, their corrections are more entertaining than the original story:

“Following the portrait of Tony and Cherie Blair published on 21 April in the Independent Saturday magazine, Ms Blair’s representatives have told us that she was friendly with but never had a relationship with Carole Caplin of the type suggested in the article.

“They want to make it clear, which we are happy to do, that Ms Blair has never shared a shower with Ms Caplin, was not introduced to spirit guides or primal wrestling by Ms Caplin (or anyone else), and did not have her diary masterminded by Ms Caplin.”

Closer to home, The Portland Press Herald tried to contribute to the health and well-being of the public: “A story on Page B4 on Wednesday about foraging for edible mushrooms contained a photo of amanita muscaria, which is a poisonous and hallucinogenic mushroom. It was a copy editor’s error.”

Hey, everyone makes mistakes. It's not like they got taken in by that fake report that Paris Hilton had become an advocate for drunk elephants, like the Associated Press did.

Well, that's it for this year. Here's hoping our 2008 is much less regrettable.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Has The Economy Got You Feeling Tents?

I’m worried about the economy.

Oops! I can’t say that.

If we media types keep having public misgivings about the economy, it might prompt you consumers to stop buying stuff, and then we’d be just a few short months away from martial law and agonized screaming in the streets at all hours.

So let’s just be clear: nothing’s wrong with the economy. Keep making your holiday purchases, and I’ll try to find some black market medication to calm my nerves.

It’s not going to be easy. Why?

For starters, a recent issue of The Economist detailed how the Dollar is quickly losing value compared to other forms of currency, like the Euro, the Yen, and the Parasitic Insects that Monkeys Pick Off Each Other.

We can't have people around the world choosing some other currency (i.e. their own) to measure wealth. That would be a disaster because… well, I sort of zoned out on that part of the article. Just trust me on this.

You see, The Economist is a pretty sophisticated publication. For example: the major “teaser” on another recent cover said, “INSIDE THIS WEEK: SPECIAL REPORT ON AUSTRIA.” I’d like to be the kind of person who cares about a special report on Austria, but I’m just not sophisticated enough. I'd be lucky to find it on a map.

Plus, The Economist doesn’t sully its pages with lowbrow foolishness like photography, bylines, or source attribution.

So the people who run this publication are clearly advanced journalists. But I was still able to glean the symbolic message from the image on the cover, which showed the dollar bill version of George Washington piloting an open-cockpit airplane going down in flames.

(They even gave him cute little pilot goggles -- a considerate, yet sophisticated design touch.)

Part of the problem, apparently, is that the US. “continues to finance its consumption” by amassing debt. This, quite frankly, does not strike me as something we Americans would ever do.

That brings me to the situation with the housing market. Banks have spent the last several years giving out mortgages like candy canes, which means now anyone who ever wanted a house has got one.

This is bad news if you want to sell. A family that bought a $150,000 home just three years ago has seen the value of that home reduced to just a few thousand Parasitic Insects.

Meanwhile, people who were duped into “sub-prime” mortgages with complimentary Invisible Willy Wonka-Style Ballooning Interest can’t afford the jackrabbity payments and are losing their homes. This may be great for the tent industry, but it spells doom for millionaire real estate investors.

I'm tempted to join the chorus of media making a big deal about the cost of energy, but help is on the way on that front.

The Bush Administration will carefully consider our pleas for more low-income heating assistance, then hold a photo-op press conference with Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins where he'll announce that we should “leave the thermostat alone” and “go put on a sweater.”

So things are looking up.

Besides, as I said: nothing’s wrong with our economy, especially if we compare it to the economy of Zimbabwe, where the national statistician has given up calculating the inflation rate, which, according to The Economist, has now grown past 8000%.

That makes our 3.5% look quite spiffy.

And it makes Zimbabwe the place to get a nice deal on a tent, if you're in the market.

Saturday, December 8, 2007

Sumo in America? Fat Chance.

It’s too easy to poke fun of sumo wrestlers. But that has never stopped me before.

The sport of sumo is in serious trouble. Its biggest (ha!) star, Asashoryu, recently forfeited his place in a major tournament, citing various injuries.

But just a few days later, he played in a charity soccer match, during which he performed what the Times of London called, “extraordinary acrobatic leaps.”

Sumo wrestlers define honor, machismo, and toughness in Japan. Playing soccer is harmful enough to that image. But doing a triple lutz during the match? When you’re supposed to be injured?

No wonder Asashoryu had to spend three months in exile.

Then of course there was the teenage sumo wrestler had died after being beaten with a baseball bat and burned with cigarettes as part of his training program. Japanese were shocked to discover this sort of thing was common practice.

And lots of people are becoming more and more irritated at the fact that women are not allowed in the ring – not just for competition, but for any purpose whatsoever. A woman would not even be allowed to sweep up after a match, because her presence would be considered a defilement.

So it should be no surprise that Sumo has been hemorrhaging fans even faster than John McCain.

But one more recent, gut-wrenching revelation has hurt even worse: it turns out sumo wrestlers don’t really “wrestle,” as much as they simply try to push each other out of a circle.

Ouch. And we thought baseball was in trouble.

Fortunately, a national hero (me) has come forward with a comprehensive, three-step plan to save sumo wrestling’s image and broaden its appeal internationally, just like baseball has survived by attracting fans from such foreign lands as Asia, Latin America, Texas, and the planet Roido.

Step 1: Give them some decent clothes. In spite of its powerful train-wreck allure, most Americans can’t bear to watch sumo wrestling because they don’t trust that those thong diapers will stay in place.

Step 2: Incorporate sumo into our political process. Why not renew the public’s interest in democracy while we’re at it?

Picture Hillary and Obama each crouching in four-point stances, staring with intense focus across the ring. Then the whistle blows, and they rush forward and collide, chests first. A flurry of pushing, grunting and slapping ensues before one of them finally starts to think maybe being in Congress wasn’t so bad after all.

Why should low center of gravity not be the most important quality in a presidential candidate?

It’s no worse than how we settled the 2000 election.

Step 3: Market sumo to children. Sports are pushed on kids at younger and younger ages, which stems from government studies that come out every two weeks complaining about the collective flabbiness of our youth.

If it’s true that kids would rather sit around and gain weight, why not introduce them to a sport that requires just that? It’s a win-win.

As you can see, this process doesn’t just rescue an ancient Japanese sport; it improves the lives of everyday Americans, as well – especially those who already think of Hillary Clinton as a defilement.

All right, on second thought, let’s just forget the whole thing.

Saturday, December 1, 2007

Snow Jobs

This week I'd like to devote some space to vehement, angry rhetoric against the most vile, disgusting, reprehensible creatures in the known universe.

No, I'm not talking about the people who made the “Holiday Greetings from Budweiser” commercial from 1983 that gets replayed every year – you know, the one with Clydesdales pulling a sleigh full of cheerful people through lots of blowing snow in some place that's probably supposed to look like Vermont.

I've spent limited time in the Green Mountain State, but I'm pretty sure their blizzards don't come with blue sky in the background any more than ours do.

But I digress. The evil humanoids I actually want to discuss are the folks in the service department at the dealership where my wife and I bought our car.

(I don't want to name this dealership, because I'm not sure if it advertises in this newspaper. So for now I can neither confirm nor deny that the dealership I'm talking about is Darling's Honda-Nissan off the Hogan Road in Bangor.)

I've weathered many attempted rip-offs by this anonymous establishment, which I'll refer to as “DHN” for no particular reason. So I was not surprised to have the following conversation with the nice lady at the service counter after one of their “technicians” had looked over our car:

Lady: “Well, you definitely need new brakes. And you should also replace the timing belt, since that was due at 105,000 miles.”

Me: “When we bought the car from you, we were told the timing belt had already been replaced. That was at 100,000 miles.”

Lady: “Well, we have no record of doing that here. We strongly recommend that you replace it, or else it will snap and cause your engine to explode.”

Me: “Uh-huh...”

Lady: “And your check-engine light is on because you need a valve adjustment. If you don't do this, giant spikes will shoot out of the seats and stab your family to death.”

Me: “I see. How much does that come to?”

Lady: “$7,834,784,309,323.33.”

I declined, but still had to pay them $130 just for checking the brakes and hooking the car up to their diagnostic computer, which apparently takes five hours.

This included a surprise “shop supplies” charge, which the lady explained was for partially-used containers of fluid.

Me: “None of the work on my car required any fluids.”

Lady: “They charge it to everybody, no matter what. They even charge it to their employees.”

While I waited for the valet (of course they have a valet) to get my car, I moped over to the waiting room, where a stack of outdated magazines was watching soap operas.

Somehow they couldn't afford decent TV reception; “The Young and the Restless” had more snow than that Budweiser commercial.

I spent another $13.75 in quarters on handfuls of peanuts while reminiscing about the time DHN told me my exhaust pipe was definitely going to rust off any minute now, and they needed a $300 part to fix it. I declined, and drove the car another three years before anything happened.

Anyway, when the valet finally brought my car back, I drove it to my local service station, which did the same work for about half the price.

Let's hope I don't die.

Words, Mere Words

Chances are you are finding these words in a newspaper, on my blog, or inscribed on a roll of toilet paper in a bookstore restroom (my first draft). In any case, you are a consumer of words.

Look at you go, you word consumer! You just continue to gobble them up, this very instant, zooming from paragraph to paragraph like it's nothing.

Where is your conscience?

America is already the most consumptive society in human history, even without your gluttony. Do you know how many Africans would kill for the same supply of words you digest in two minutes on the commode?

There's no disputing it: we take our words for granted. In fact, some book I saw said that only 1000 words make up 90% of all writing. Worse yet, these are lame, boring words, like “paragraph” and “conscience.”

I will now make it my mission to promote appreciation and understanding of obscure, under-appreciated words.

Many of the rare jewels of our language are fun to utter, and you can drop them into conversations to make yourself sound more interesting and credible.

Take bludgeon, for example:

“Dad, I don't know how to tell you this, but I was driving a little too fast and I bludgeoned the car.”

“Wow, son. That's quite a vocabulary you have there. I'd be impressed, except 'bludgeon' means to beat something with a club. Come closer and I'll demonstrate.”

Another word that will help you win friends, and score a lot of points in Scrabble, is coccyx (which means tail bone, but sounds like something else).

“Sorry, boss, I can't make it to work today. While engaged in a strenuous workout I somehow bruised my coccyx.” Let's hope you still have a job when you get back.

Don't you think all those TV medical dramas would be more interesting if they spiced up their vocabulary? Instead of the word “stat,” for example, how about the word pronto?

“I need 30 cc's of morphine, pronto.”

I became especially fond of the word slaughter when I realized you can't spell it without laughter. This oddball fact just fits my personality somehow.

My personal favorite word of interest is phlegm.

“Hey, how are you today?”

“Not bad, but I have a cold.”

Now try the same conversation, inserting the word phlegm. Notice how the user suddenly becomes less boring:

“Hey, how are you today?”

“Not bad, but I'm drowning in phlegm, which basically means some colony of wretched organisms the size of Don Imus's brain is slaughtering my immune system.”

“Wow, I thought you were going to say, 'Don Imus's coccyx.”

“Yeah, but that would be just wrong, on various levels.”

Then there are words we all use, but we don't really know where they came from, or what they mean. For example, do you know the difference between a couch and a sofa?

A couch, it turns out, has only one end raised and half a back. Most of us have sofas. I have a love seat, ironically named because there isn't room to do anything on it except belch and eat pretzels.

Likewise, a loofah is not a sponge, but a tropical plant used as a sponge (according to the dictionary).

I always knew there was something fruity about that thing my wife hung in the shower.

That's it, I'm out of words for this week. Keep checking back, because at some point I need to discuss important actual words like “mastication,” “kowtow,” and “fartlek.” I'm sure you can't wait.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Cough It Up

Some people can get through a chest cold without much trouble.

My wife, on the other hand, used up all her best genes on brains and looks, mainly at the expense of her lungs.

So in her case, a chest cold quickly becomes bronchitis, which progresses to pneumonia, then double-pneumonia, then emphysema, then toenail fungus, hives, and leprosy.

As if that wasn't bad enough, by the time she gets through all that, the PMS sets in.

So we like to take care of things at the bronchitis stage, if possible, which is why I find myself standing in front of the pharmacist, staring mournfully at the Flovent.

Flovent is a steroid that apparently comes in a titanium-plated inhaler autographed by David Ortiz. The pharmacist yawns, waiting for me to decide if I'm actually going to plop down 180 beans for a few hits of poison mist.

My shoulders have slumped in resignation. After several moments of dejected silence, my left hand suddenly darts out and swipes the precious box from the chemistry geek's unsuspecting grasp, and I sprint out the door, leaving the other customers in open-mouthed shock.

With liberating, oversized strides, I zip across the parking lot, leap over a small embankment, and into an open field, whooping and laughing in a defiant, celebratory moment of triumph against the pharmaceutical industry and its corporate bedfellows.

Ah, who am I kidding. Even if I had the guts to pull such a stunt, those lame automatic doors always open too slowly for anyone to “sprint” out of a drug store. I'd either slam headlong into the glass, or I'd have to stop for a moment, like a fool, and wait for the doors before I could resume sprinting.

I bet Carl Lewis has this problem all the time (except he probably has decent health insurance).

In the end, I leave the Flovent on the counter and settle for some regular asthma treatment. As I write these words, my wife seems to be getting better. Maybe I can fall asleep tonight without worrying that she might drown in mucous.

Of course, it's all my fault for becoming a teacher, which provides all the perks of a student loan payment without those annoying professional-level benefits.

I should have gone into the insurance business, which requires no actual work. All you have to do is:

  1. Convince people they're irresponsible if they don't buy a policy from you.

  2. Collect fat checks.

  3. Figure out ways to not give people what they think they're buying.

In the rare instance that one of your policies has a “loophole” that requires you to actually pay someone, you can penalize that person by jacking up their rates.

What a racket! Imagine applying that price structure elsewhere. Open up a gas station and charge $1.99 a gallon. People would come from miles around to line up at your pumps. But as soon as they start the cars, charge their credit cards another $60.

That'll teach 'em to use your product!

Your health insurance company doesn't wait for a reason to increase rates. They spike them 25% a year, no matter what, just because they can.

Obviously, the government should intervene, but for some reason there seem to be a lot of (wealthy) people who love the insurance industry just the way it is.

I guess as long as the automatic doors at Rite-Aid remain too slow for the rest of us to sprint through, they have no reason not to.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Food of the God(s)

As brown, curled-up leaves decompose in the frosty November dawn, one amazing burst of life and flavor carries my otherwise depressed spirit into the Holiday Season.

Wait... should I say “Holiday Season?” Some people might think I'm anti-Christian because I did not mention Christmas by name.

(I realize this same logic would mean that when I tell people I like gourds, I'm also saying I hate pumpkins. But I must account for the fact that not everyone can enjoy the benefits of logical thinking).

Okay. As I was saying. The one thing that helps me get to Christmastime is... No, that won't work, either. I can see the angry Hebrew emails popping into my inbox now. And if any native Africans lived in Maine, I might hear about Kwanzaa, too.

And rightly so. Why must inclusiveness be a sin? Can't we use language that encourages recognition and celebration of everyone's religious traditions, without undermining any one set of beliefs?

Right. So the one thing that really helps me keep going into the holiday season is...

Uh-oh... Here come the Pagans, who want me to mention the Winter Solstice. Is that a “holiday?” I don't know much about Wicca and such, but the stereotypes make me nervous (stereotypes always have some truth to them, right?).

So how about this: There is one thing that carries me me into December, a month in which many people in the world engage in festive recognition of spirituality through intense gluttonous feasting that gives them the same physical properties as a bowling ball for several weeks.

That one thing is: the arrival of pomegranates at my local grocery store.

(That's right! This column was supposed to be about pomegranates.)

In case you're unfamiliar, a pomegranate looks like a dirty red croquet ball with a giant nipple. You cut it open and eat the seeds, which are unbelievably juicy and sweet. In fact, each seed contains about 40 ounces of juice that will squirt directly onto your clothes, no matter how careful you are.

You can separate the seeds from the fruit much more easily if you hold the thing under water after cutting it up.

Though pomegranates grow in warm climates all over the world, they are native to Iran, and are widely used in a variety of Persian cuisine, which means I've just spent the last three paragraphs subversively trying to convert you to Islam.

Did it work? Happy Eid Al-Adha!

Believe me, after eating a pomegranate, you would willingly convert to anything in order to get more pomegranates. They are profoundly delicious. They also contain anti-oxidants, which supposedly fight cancer. They are truly food of the gods.

I mean that in a strictly colloquial, non-polytheistic sense. Please, no monotheistic hate mail.

You know what? From now on, I'm going to mention atheist holidays only. You might have noticed that atheists have no holidays, only because atheism is impossible to commercialize.

Who would buy gifts to observe the pure nothingness that would follow our meaningless biological exercise?

Try finding that aisle at Wal-Mart.

If Seinfeld could make a TV show out of nothing, I can make a column out of nothing. I'm sure you'll let me know how it works out.

Saturday, November 3, 2007

'Til Debt Do Us Part

Our chances of building a house in the next 10 years are about the same as our chances of starting up a viable snow plowing business using a 1998 Toyota Camry.

For one thing, my wife and I don't have any carpentry skills. The last thing we tried to build was a yard sale sign. It collapsed under the weight of its own plumbing.

But hiring someone to build a house, by the time you account for land, materials, and tips, can result in a mortgage that exceeds the annual budget of most municipalities in Somerset County.

Still, my wife can't stop thinking about it.

She's reading this book called Mortgage Free by Rob Roy, which means that sandwiched around the needs of our two-year-old is a lot of staccato discussion about how to build a house without becoming some bank executive’s personal sado-masochistic plaything.

Unfortunately, I don’t have time to read. Since the World Series ended, all my free time has been tied up with reminiscing about how great the World Series was.

So our literary conversations tend to list to one side like a leaky yacht:

Me: “Maybe we should get a babysitter tomorrow night and go do something fun.”

Wife: “Yeah. We’ll be too far away from town for that kind of thing if we build.”

Me: “We could always stay home and watch a movie.”

Wife: “The book says it may cost too much to run electricity to our site. We might have to get solar panels.”

Me: “I’m thinking of seeing other women.”

Wife: “In that case, we might need to add a third bedroom. What do you think that will cost?

From what I’ve gleaned so far, Mortgage Free is a fascinating book. The author outlines two primary means to financially independent living:

  1. Get your parents to give you some land with a house on it.

  2. Build a 12’x16’ shed and live in it for 17 years while you fumble around trying to build your own house from raw cedar logs and mounds of clay and rock.

Between these two options, the more probable for us is to travel back in time and arrange to have wealthy parents.

We have friends who have chosen option 2, living for years without electricity or running water before finally moving into their “dream house,” which to this day is not totally “finished,” in the sense of having final touches like paint, trim, and windows.

Seems like a lot to go through to avoid a mortgage (even if it’s true that the word “mortgage” derives from the old French for “death pledge”).

If you’re already stuck with one, Roy recommends using those surplus piles of cash you have laying around to make an extra payment or two per year.

I prefer the financial wisdom I heard on the radio while cleaning cat vomit out of my rug early one winter morning. It turns out many financial experts say you'd do better to invest that money instead.

What a relief! I no longer have to stress about having a mortgage that eats up more than half of my paycheck. I can continue to invest in Boston Red Sox commemorative championship DVDs and expect to be able to pay for my retirement on a remote private island in the South Pacific.

That guy from the bank will never find me there...

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Your Referendumb Guide, Part 2

Back in June I delivered important insights and a compelling new perspective on those controversial spring referendum questions… whatever they were.

This Tuesday’s referendum vote will be just as memorable, I suspect, so brace yourselves as I show these tough issues who’s boss.

Question 1: Would you like Canadians to visit Calais and deposit large sums of money into the local economy, with the possible drawback of shady gangster-types suddenly roaming the woods of Washington County looking for new places to dump bodies?

I sense most Mainers are willing to go along with the Passamaquoddy racino plan, provided the corpses involved are not likely to be their own.

No, no. I’m only kidding. There is no reason to suspect the presence of a gambling operation will result in lots and lots of organized crime.

The bigger problem will be all those extra Canadian coins suddenly circulating with the rest of our money.

You know how frustrating it is to try to buy a little baggie of Andy Capp Hot Fries, only to realize one of the quarters you were depending on won’t work because it has a picture of some wild, furry beast on one side of it, and a moose on the other? Imagine that happening to you, like, two-hundred times as often as it does now.

And while I don’t mind the idea of Canadians losing all their life savings and all their possessions in Calais, forcing them to migrate back across the border naked and starving, this will mean fewer of them making it as far as Bangor or points south to spend their vacation dollars.

Hold on a sec… fewer Canadian tourists driving around the rest of Maine? Never mind. Vote yes. Please.

Questions 2-4: These involve borrowing money for colleges to build swanky new buildings, and for setting aside land for preservation and recreation and all that good stuff.

Super. And with all that money coming in from the 410 casinos soon to be spreading around the state like a poison ivy rash, we should be able to afford the payments without a problem.

Question 5: Do you favor increasing legislative term limits in order to reduce the number of mental hospital escapees who end up holding public office?

I’m all in favor of term limits, but not for the citizen legislators who basically volunteer their time to travel to August and are directly accountable to voters.

Since the enactment of legislative term limits in 1993, the executive branch of our state government has thrown its weight around a lot more, pushing through inane, short-sighted regulations while inexperienced legislators are still trying to figure out where the state house bathrooms are.

The result? School consolidation, skewed budget priorities, and just one measly national championship for the UMaine hockey team.

I would rather see term limits for out-of-touch bureaucrats:

- Commissioner of Agriculture: One year term.

- Secretary of State: Two years.

- Anyone who works for the Maine Turnpike Authority: One month.

- D.O.T. Commissioner: One term equal to the amount of time the average driver in Piscataquis County spends between potholes.

- Commissioner of Education: Fifteen minutes and change.

So be sure to cast five “yes” votes on Nov. 6. Then run screaming from the booth and set up camp in the woods somewhere until everything gets back to normal.

Friday, October 19, 2007

Okay, You Two... Out of the Car

I’m probably not the first person to make this point; even so, it bears repeating, with all the recent media hooplah surrounding the situation at that middle school in Portland.

Abstinence-only education works.

Why? Because the only 100% effective way to prevent yourself from getting injured in an auto accident is to avoid cars altogether.

That, my friends, is an indisputable fact.

For far too long the political elite have ignored the public health costs and the lives ruined by automobile accidents.

They claim seat belts and air bags reduce the risk of injury or death dramatically, but in my eyes, these devices only dupe people into thinking driving can be “safe,” thus encouraging them to ride around in cars.

Driver education? The last thing we should do is provide more people with information about cars, traffic laws, and “safe” driving.

As anyone who has worked with young people knows, the best way to make them subversively curious and willing to experiment with something is to drown them with information about it ahead of time.

So I’ll be lobbying our legislature to outlaw seat belts and driver education programs, and to increase funding in school districts that pledge to only use anti-vehicle curricula.

I can hear you liberal namby-pambies huffing and puffing about how there are so many cars hanging around (“the equipment is readily available,” as they say) that people will try to use them, whether you teach “safe” practices or not.

This same misguided argument comes up when hippie beatnik losers want to give our kids contraceptives and educate them about sex. They point to recent studies described in The Economist (Sept. 22) and in USA Today (July 30) proving abstinence-only sex education programs were useless in preventing teen pregnancy.

Meanwhile, other studies have repeatedly shown that condoms are 99% effective in preventing pregnancy when used properly.

Bah... Who cares?

Okay, you forced it out of me. I'll admit it: this is not about getting measurable results.

The point is not to reduce teen pregnancy or car accidents. The point is to promote a certain ideology. (Promoting ideology is what the government does best, by the way.)

Having sex before marriage is ethically wrong. Therefore, regardless of the public health benefits or drawbacks, we must send the message to kids that abstinence is the only way to go.

Obviously, the best way to be sure people will make informed, responsible decisions is to brainwash them into thinking they have only one option.

Driving is also morally wrong. Period. It is morally wrong because... well… because I said so.

That is why I did not personally go to Portland to investigate this story about the school board voting to make expanded contraceptive options available to middle-schoolers.

Instead, I had to rely on media reports, the sensationalism in which seemed to envision grinning principals heaving fistfuls of condoms into crowds of lust-crazed, screaming kids, who then began to fornicate uncontrollably on the spot.

What is our world coming to? How can thoughtful, informed citizens allow this disgrace to continue?

Anyway, tune in next week, when I discuss the need to outlaw other harmful initiatives that give people a false sense of security, like football helmets, life jackets, and the use of ropes during rock-climbing.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

My Acceptance Speech, If I Had Been Asked to Give One

Okay, so I won this award. I don’t want to dwell on it, or blow it up into some big deal. But I can’t help imagining… what if they had asked me to give a speech…

* * *

Thank you, thank you.

Really, you’re too kind.

Okay, enough already.

It is an honor to stand in a room full of established professional journalists and accept this Maine Press Association award for opinion writing. There is really only one thing I can say, and that is:

Nyah, nyah, nyah.

That’s right, I thumb my nose at you! I wish you nothing but foul luck and agonizing health problems.

May a newly-mutated species of bacteria turn your intestines into its own amusement park!

If thousands of crazed muskrats charged into this room immediately and clawed your eyeballs into unrecognizable lumps of bloody pulp, it would not be soon enough!

Oops… wait. That part got mixed in from some other remarks I’m working on for my Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech. Sorry about that.

I admit I haven’t technically won the Nobel Peace Prize just yet, but I figure it won’t take long.

Now that I’ve received this award for opinion writing, international recognition for my efforts toward global disarmament and political harmony must be right around the corner.

In the meantime, there’s no reason I can’t use my Maine Press Association award as a platform to start promoting awareness of an important cause of some kind.

What cause should I choose? Climate change is taken. How about domestic violence, since October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month?

Suits me. Listen, we should all become more aware of domestic violence, because… oh, hang on. It turns out October is also Breast Cancer Awareness Month.

I just made the mistake of doing an Internet search on the month of October, and I found a government website that lists all the health-related observances for this month.

We’re also in the middle of Down Syndrome Awareness Month, Lupus Awareness Month, Healthy Lung Month, Sudden Infant Death Syndrome Awareness Month, Massage Therapy Awareness Month, and (just my luck) Eye Injury Prevention Month.

And that’s just the health-related ones. Never mind Cyber Security Awareness Month, Jazz Awareness Month, and Pants That Are Too Small For You But You Wear Them Anyway Awareness Month.

Whew! Anyway, now that the world is listening to me, take a moment to become aware of all these great causes.

Personally, I plan to divide up my prize money between all of them (there is no prize money, but again, please indulge my imagination).

Of course, there is one cause in particular that you and I should care about most, one that you should probably contact your legislators about immediately:

National Humor Columnist Awareness Month.

This critically important observance seeks to ensure that all underpaid, fly-by-night humor columnists out there get the recognition they deserve, in the form of becoming syndicated in thousands upon thousands of newspapers around the world.

So all you editors and publishers out there take a moment to become aware of the critical need to support individual creativity and the entertainment viability of newspapers by sending people like me hundreds of dollars a week.

Trust me. This is something you want and need to do. Do not make me bring in the muskrats.

Friday, October 5, 2007

Thank You Captain Obvious, King of the Already Known

Every day I visit the website of the Bangor Daily News, where I am constantly treated to insightful, thoroughly-researched news reporting, introduced with heart-stopping headlines like this one:

“Leaf Peeper Alert: There's Color in Those Hills” (Oct. 4).

The lead paragraph sucked me even deeper into this fascinating story: “The Latest Report from Maine's Department of Conservation says the best fall colors are in the Western lakes and mountain region.”

This practical tip saved me a lot of time, because I had been expecting to find breathtaking foliage under the passenger seat of my car during its annual pre-winter cleaning. Thank you, Department of Conservation, for issuing this critically-important report at taxpayer expense!

The practice of covering obvious events has overtaken journalism, even in big-time national news organizations:

“Government Accountability Office Finds $146 Million in Excess Travel Costs” (Boston Globe/Associated Press, Oct. 3).

Okay, this headline actually represents an impressive piece of investigative reporting. The AP had to go through the painstaking process of reading a government-issued report about government waste.

(You know investigative journalism has climbed into the proverbial hand-basket when the government is now doing it for us.)

They went to all that effort to let us know that rich guys in suits like to travel First Class at taxpayer expense, even when they're not supposed to.

Duh. I had already assumed 15% of my tax bill was going to unauthorized senatorial foot massages and the like.

I wouldn't want my selfless public servants to slave away without obnoxiously lavish perks. What do they think I pay taxes for? So impoverished children can get medical care? Pffft.

Sure, I’ll admit, it is compelling to think that extra $146 million could have bought thousands of uninsured Americans a year's worth of health insurance, or, even more importantly, bought us... (let's see, where's my calculator)... approximately five more hours in Iraq.

But we can't forget that without those illegal perks, many politicians would not have the mental or physical strength to continue their arduous public service. And without those politicians, we wouldn't have an Iraq War, so...

What was my point?

Oh, yeah. Journalists are doing a bang-up job of keeping the public on alert about important issues. If you're still not convinced, here's another example:

“Oil Price Volatility is Here to Stay” (CNN Money/PR Newswire, Oct. 5).

Gee, I thought we were right on the doorstep of solving that problem. What a letdown.

This article makes it clear up front that unpredictable oil prices create problems “not only for the global economy but also for several industrial sectors that are heavily reliant on crude and refined [petroleum] products,” such as airlines and freight transport companies.

No ship, Sherlock.

Look, maybe this has something to do with corporate ownership slashing newsroom budgets, expecting to pay less and get more.

For example, it doesn't take very much to run a story about how it snowed nine inches today. Just mention how some cars slid into ditches and road crews have put in long hours, then show pictures of kids building snowmen or sliding on their day off from school, and voila! You've got the same story that appears in every newspaper or newscast in Maine roughly six times a year.

No wonder more and more people adopt hypnotic zombie stares anytime someone mentions the word “news” or “journalism.”

Do you suppose this has any effect on our participatory democracy?

Ah, never mind. Just look at the pretty leaves.

Friday, September 28, 2007

One Thing Lead to Another...

I’d like to blame the belt sander, or maybe the person who decided a belt sander would make a great Christmas gift for me.

I held it for the first time, absorbed its sturdy, yet manageable heft, felt its magic surge into my body. I then applied it firmly to the windowsill in our spare room, which was about the size of your average handicap-accessible portable toilet.

My office, once cluttered with thousands of papers and virtual fjords of dust, was to become the baby’s room.


Thirty minutes later, I had reduced the once ornate painted sill to a clean sheet of wood the thickness of a flattened cereal box. I had burrowed through seven layers of paint: white, mud brown, pus yellow, hippie pink, bird poop white, fluorescent green, and gray.

As I stood amid zillions of microscopic dust particles, admiring what my newfound power had accomplished, my wife appeared. I expected her to comment on my menacing muscular manliness and request an immediate trip to the bedroom. Instead, she said, “Do you think we need to be concerned about lead paint dust?”

My wife has an odd way of showing her appreciation for my hard work.

Within minutes, she was on the Internet, discovering that lead paint dust is one of the top three most evil substances in the world, the others being chemical or nuclear weapons and the imaginary film of goo that covers everything in the average public restroom.

Let me give you an idea how powerful and heinous lead is: sanding lead paint for just a few seconds can create enough dust, once it spreads through the house and settles, to provide enough material for a mediocre 500-word humor column.

Inhaling lead dust can also harm small children. Since my wife and I had ordered a small child from and were awaiting its arrival, we decided to attend a workshop on how to clean up all the lead dust I had maliciously spread through the house.

You’re not going to believe this, but lead-safe clean up requires sealing off rooms with plastic and duct tape, putting on a giant haz-mat suit, wetting all surfaces in your house with a spray bottle, setting up your expensive new vacuum with a HEPA filter, then realizing you have to disassemble everything and do it all over again because you forgot to pee first.

That sounded like too much hassle. I thought it would be easier for me to go around and lick all the surfaces in our home to make sure I got the lead poisoning before our daughter did, but my wife did not approve this plan.

She pointed out that we still had more lead-painted surfaces in high-friction areas, like doorways and windows, which would always cause more vile dust. Besides, if getting lead out of the house was that difficult, imagine how tough it would be to get it out of your body. Exorcism, animal sacrifices, colonoscopy… who knows.

So we sold the house. Which is a shame, because by the time we handed over the keys at closing, we had turned the office into a cuddly, cute space for a baby.

And thanks to my trusty belt sander, I had increased the size of the room by 20%.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Sports Are Dumb

I’ve figured out why I keep following these distant pro sports teams from Boston.

Athletes and fans are dumb. By absorbing myself in that world, I get to feel like a genius.

Take the Red Sox, for example.

Back in June, when we were gloating about a 500-game division lead over the Yankees, I said the teams would be neck-in-neck come September.

Everyone on the Yankee pitching staff seemed ready to enroll in AARP, except those who were about to enroll in their first driver education course. But I knew that wouldn’t stop them.

As I write these words, the Red Sox have just a 1½ game lead over the Yankees for the division title. At the rate of their present decline, the Sox franchise will have folded and moved to Las Vegas to become and exhibition softball team by the time this column appears in print.

What did we expect? These are still the Red Sox.

David Ortiz sounds like the Tin Man from the Wizard of Oz when he walks to the plate; the bat boys are constantly squirting oil onto his knees and elbows.

Our Japanese wonder-hurlers are now having their arms re-attached with duct tape after each game.

Eric Gagne, once the mighty record-setting closer of doom and intimidation, is secretly on the Yankees’ payroll.

Kevin Youkilis keeps getting hit by pitches because his ridiculous batting stance distracts the opposing pitchers.

Then there's Manny. Oi.

That’s the way things are with this team. The one thing you can count on is that they will make things interesting.

I also feel really smart now that the Patriots have been caught illegally filming opposing coaches during games.

Coaches giving signals to their players are always in plain view. Here's a revolutionary new method the Patriots could have used to steal the signals without being penalized:

  1. Grab a pencil and a notebook.

  2. Write down the signals and what they mean.

Instead, they had to get high-tech, which attracted the attention of league officials, who swooped in like Roscoe P. Coltrane to apply the slap on the wrist.

Meanwhile, the NFL continues to enhance is reputation for having pointless rules. The espionage itself is not outlawed, just certain methods of it. It's like having a no-fly zone that you don't enforce against hot air balloons.

Lastly, Celtics fans have become so desperate for a winning season that they’ve fooled themselves into believing the trade for Kevin Garnett is going to bring long last championship number 17.

Ya. Just one problem. Can Paul Pierce share the ball?

If Pierce ever threw a decent pass, a space-time vortex would open and suddenly zap him out of reality.

And let’s not forget what the C’s had to give up in order to get Garnett: half their roster, including promising young stars Al Jefferson and that other guy, seventeen first-round draft picks, two assistant coaches, nine scouts, six secretaries from the front office, 40 million dollars, and that little pipe the leprechaun chews on. Ouch.

See? Next to Danny Ainge, Bill Belichick, and Theo Epstein I look like a Rhodes scholar. And the best part is that if I turn out to be wrong about all of this, it means my favorite teams have won and I still get to be happy.

Aren't sports wonderful?

Friday, September 14, 2007

How to Get Top Dollar for Your Child's Soul

Just when I thought the Internet was making TV obsolete, CBS has made a major contribution to society.

They finally found something useful and productive to do with our children, rather than keep them in school where they cost us money.

I’m referring, of course, to the controversial new reality TV show “Kid Nation,” in which 40 youngsters aged 8-15 were transported to a New Mexico desert to form their own society without adult supervision, electricity, or chocolate milk.

Critics say the program exploits children and encourages unusually vicious wedgies. The kids involved also had to miss a month of school, but the show’s producers argue that the experience of building a primitive society on national TV is just as educational.


But it’s not only educational, it is lucrative. “CBS acknowledges advertising on the program is low going into the season,” observes the famous Washington blog Precious, Precious Caffeination, “but predicts sponsorship dollars will flow readily -- and grow steadily -- once viewers start demonstrating their typical penchant for this kind of demeaning crap.”

Good-bye, property tax increase!

Clearly, we should all write letters to CBS to thank them for finding a more cost-effective way to educate our children.

If you’re not convinced, just look at the numbers: Each child was paid $5000 to participate the show. By acting standards, that’s not much, but we all know children will work for cheap (my allowance when I was 10 years old was $5 a week, which I thought was fantastic. These kids are lucky).

And even though some of the participants in “Kid Nation” got $20,000 “gold stars” based on their performance on certain tasks, you’d have to fill a whole Radio Flyer wagon with gold stars before they compare with the ad revenue, with a typical prime-time spot pulling in as much as $600,000 these days.

So, according to my calculations, each episode could produce a profit of approximately one hillion-jillion dollars.

Think about it: With this discovery, it won’t be long before school systems across the country lay off all their teachers and instead hire camera crews to film kids running the school themselves. If parents ever want to see their kids, they can watch them on local access cable TV, right after these important messages.


And if you aren’t convinced this new method of education will actually benefit the children, listen to the parents who signed away their offspring “Kid Nation.” For example, the mother of a ten-year-old in Miami Beach told the L.A. Times that her son “came home a stronger, more confident and more self-reliant child.”

See? This is not exploitation. Neither was slavery, for that matter, since those who spent 16-hour days picking cotton in the 110-degree Mississippi heat enjoyed such fringe benefits as physical fitness, closeness with the land, and the opportunity for musical self-discovery.

In America, we don’t take advantage of others’ misfortune for our own financial gain. We would never buy cheap clothing made by child laborers in Indonesia, nor would we maintain half-baked border security so foreigners can visit us and work under the table for less than minimum wage.

So I, for one, plan to watch every episode of “Kid Nation.”

Just as soon as I find a way to download pirated copies of it for free.

Friday, September 7, 2007

Smoke and Mirrors

Philip Morris

987 Corrupt Avenue

SomeRedneckCity, NC 47748

Dear Mr. Morris,

I realize you are not a real person. You are a faceless tobacco corporation bent on hording humongous profits, even if it makes people get sick and die, and even if my Moons Over My Hammy end up tasting more like smoke than eggs.

By calling yourselves “Philip-Morris,” you sound like a human being who might actually care. Just like all these developers that call themselves pastoral names like “Plum Creek,” rather than a name that more accurately reflects their mission, such as “Earth-Raping Pirate Pillagers, LLC.”

Well, I’m on to your charade, and now you’ve gone too far. You tried to make yourself look responsible by putting public service ads on TV, encouraging parents to talk to their kids about smoking.

How dare you?

A recent University of California-San Francisco study confirmed what most mammals realized a long time ago: rebellious teenagers want to do the opposite of what their parents want. Seeing those ads will make them more likely to smoke.

It was a clever ploy, Mr. Morris. You thought a gullible public would see your ad and think you were an okay guy after all, while you laughed all the way to the bank, knowing full well the ads would actually prompt more young people to take up the habit that lines your pockets.

The same study also found that anti-tobacco ads funded by the settlement from when 38 states sued your hindquarters (remember the “Truth” campaign?) appealed to rebellious teenagers and actually succeeded in preventing many new smokers from starting up.

Whenever I hear a conservative politician talk about shrinking government and privatizing more services, as if the mighty dollar can make everything better, I think of you, Mr. Morris. You are a fantastic example of how such rhetoric is simplified and short-sighted.

If you need another, check out a new study from the same university, which found that just watching the ads for anti-smoking products like Nicorette can help you quit smoking, even if you never actually use the product.

Naturally, the corporations that make Nicorette and similar products are recognizing the valuable public service contributions made by their ads, and have boosted their advertising budgets.

Ha! You are so naïve, Mr. Morris. Actually, these companies, according to a report on National Public Radio, would rather reduce their advertising, which has led some people to suggest the government ought to subsidize it so the public health benefits can continue.

And then there’s the whole DirigoChoice fiasco. You probably aren’t familiar with our situation up here in Maine, Mr. Morris, but many of our citizens lack health insurance. DirigoChoice was our state’s effort to give these people a hand.

We hired Anthem to take care of the details. Well, the Portland Press Herald says Anthem has dropped our contract because they aren’t making enough money off us.

Did you catch that? They were making money off Maine taxpayers, but not an obscenely huge enough amount of money. So they’re moving on. They have bigger fish to exploit.

Anyway, I just wanted to drop you a note of thanks for providing yet another example against those who champion an unfettered free market economy. I guess you’ve performed at least one genuine public service after all.

Friday, August 31, 2007

“Steamed Crap:” A Chinese Delicacy

I don’t know if it’s good news or bad news, but soon you will no longer be able to order “steamed crap” in Shanghai.

As a result of the approaching 2008 Olympics, the Chinese government has decided to clean up its act, starting with translation problems on restaurant menus.

“Steamed crap” was supposed to read, “steamed carp,” according to the Associated Press, which also reports that dishes such as “virgin chicken” and “temple explodes the chicken cube” are off the menu.

The fact that they didn’t bother to fix these mistranslations before now tells me the evil communist regime at least has a sense of humor.

If you’re wondering why the government has to be involved with restaurant menus to begin with, you’re forgetting that the government controls everything in China.

But that’s starting to change a little, too, with the Olympics on the way. China agreed to relax its normal limitations on journalists, for example, hoping to receive more positive worldwide press coverage during the games.

Normally, writing stories that expose protests or unflattering views of the government can get a journalist in China beaten up or jailed.

Thankfully, the situation in the good ol’ U.S.A. is different. Here, if a foreign journalist writes negative views about our government, he or she instead gets an all-expense-paid extended vacation in sunny Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

Ha! I’m just joshing, obviously. We have it much better here in the West. I can’t imagine any government agency setting up surveillance on journalists or intimidating them (hmmm… Watergate… Patriot Act… NSA surveillance without court approval…).

But I’m getting off track. By all accounts, reporters in China have it much worse, and their government would like to disguise that fact for a couple of weeks or so.

With 30,000 foreign journalists expected to visit during the Olympics next year, Beijing has decided some of them might notice police beating up protesters or forcing pregnant women into late-term abortions. It might be bad PR if more than a few hundred of those journalists noticed these events and ended up behind bars or repeatedly jabbed with cattle prods for telling us about them.

To ensure that you can enjoy liberated coverage of the games (which I’m sure will also remain untainted by the interests of corporate sponsors), China agreed to allow journalists to travel freely throughout the country without first getting government permission.

Also, correspondents are no longer required to include the phrase “China Rules!” in their broadcasts, and they won’t have to dispatch 74 stories a year about captive pandas attempting to mate.

However, it appears China may not be living up to its word, as multiple news sources indicate the police still detain and harass journalists whenever they feel like it, even though the government had agreed to end this practice back at the beginning of the year.

In light of this, how could we summarize the quality of news and sports coverage we should expect to see in the Olympics? Is there some word or phrase that seems fitting?

If there is, you’ll probably find it on some restaurant menu in Beijing.