Friday, May 25, 2007

Some Things Never Change

“Good evening, everyone, I’m Jon Miller, and this is Sunday Night Baseball on ESPN. Tonight we’re ready to watch Barry Bonds of the San Francisco Giants break Hank Aaron’s all-time home run record. Some other players might also participate in the game.

“Joe Morgan is with me in the broadcast booth. Joe, what’s been the secret for Bonds to come back from injury and have such a successful year?”

“Well, Jon, this off season he had an experimental new surgery to remove all his arms and legs and replace them with robotic ones. It has really reduced the wear and tear on his body, and made his swing much more consistent.”

“What a great comeback story, Joe. Good for him. Of course, there has also been this controversy about steroids. For more on that, let’s go downstairs to Peter Gammons. Peter?”

“Thanks, Jon. Well, I just spoke with Barry Bonds and he told me he has never used steroids. Personally, I believe him, because if I didn’t, my life would have no meaning. Jon?”

“Great stuff, Peter, thanks.”

* * *

I probably should not mock our American Pastime. This is serious stuff. Most baseball fans find it sad and disturbing that modern players, with the aid of seedy, illegal substances, can erase the achievements of those who earned their legacies when the game was pure and wholesome.

For example, Babe Ruth did not have steroids. He also did not have fancy chartered jets to help him get to road games in distant cities. He had to walk up hill both ways, which limited the time he could spend at raging parties.

The Babe had fewer games in the schedule. A longer season means more chances to hit home runs. And the mound was higher in Ruth’s day, making it harder to see the ball, especially during a hangover.

In Ruth’s time, keeping yourself in game-shape meant only having two or three cigars in the dugout during the game.

And the pitchers in those days had silly names like “Hippo Vaughn” and “Burleigh Grimes” (both actual names), a clear distraction.

And, of course, Black players were not allowed into the Major Leagues for more than 70 years, meaning The Babe did not get to play against competition he most likely would have viewed as inferior.

Fast-forward to the 1970s. As Hank Aaron smashed is his final homers, it was common for players to rely on amphetamines and other drugs to get through the season, and teams wore horrifying uniforms with colors that can only be seen together in the depths of a municipal landfill.

By the 1990s, every big league ballplayer was on steroids, along with most of the bat boys. Owners and general managers could be seen in luxury boxes celebrating wins by openly injecting each other with Human Growth Hormone.

Make no mistake, the culture of baseball changed. But this is no excuse. Like the lone geezer tooling along at 65 on I-95 while legions of other drivers zoom by, Bonds should have risen above the norms and expectations of his era and played by the letter of a law that was never enforced or taken seriously.

Instead, he has tarnished our cherished national pastime. He deserves society’s eternal scorn.

Although those robotic limbs are pretty cool.

Friday, May 18, 2007

Your Referendumb Guide

On June 12, a handful of Maine voters will journey to the polls. Enraged by the obtuse wording on the ballot, they will march to Augusta and overthrow the government in a bloodthirsty coup that will leave eviscerated bureaucrats decomposing on the State House lawn. UMaine mascot Bananas the Bear will be sworn in as our new governor.

Wouldn’t that be fun? Alas, the more likely scenario is that the voters will scratch their heads, close their eyes, and make random marks on the ballot. This is how democracy has worked for centuries. Last year I made a smiley face.

What a shame. If only voters had a clear understanding of what the referendum questions mean.

That’s why I’m here.

First, the basics. On June 12 we'll be voting on bond issues. A “bond issue” is where the government borrows money from a bank and promises to pay it back with interest.

I have a bias against bonds because if the state would instead put its giant infrastructure projects on its Discover Card™, we would be eligible for Cash Back bonuses and frequent-flyer rewards miles.

Now, about this year’s bond issues:

Question 1 asks if we want to borrow $100 million for road and bridge improvements. You should vote “no” on this question, because all the money will be spent on roads and bridges you do not drive on.

Instead, the money will probably go to improve relatively pristine roads in Southern Maine, or on stretches of Interstate with insignificant little cracks that give wealthy tourists in RVs the heebie-jeebies.

Question 1 also asks for $3.6 million for transit and bus facilities (another Southern Maine thing) and $3.2 million for airport improvements (we can thank the mighty Single-Engine Cessna lobby for that one). Why does every rinky-dink town need an airport? In Central Maine, there are four within an hour’s drive of each other: Waterville, Augusta, Pittsfield, and Dexter. If this makes sense to you, then you are a pilot living in Central Maine. Otherwise, vote against Question 1.

The $1.7 million for harbors and $500,000 for bicycle and walking trails are the only worthwhile components of this bond issue, but of course they are lumped together with the other garbage.

“Excuse me, waiter? Can I get a glass of juice, please?”

“Sure, but you’ll also have to buy the filet mignon, the lobster bisque, and the roast duck on a brick with side cheese torte.”

“Oh, well, then, forget it. I’ll just have water.”

In which case, you’ll want to vote “yes” on Question 2, which asks us for $18.3 million to improve public drinking water systems and wastewater treatment plants.

Anything to do with making sure sewage goes where it’s supposed to and doesn’t end up negatively impacting water I might need someday gets automatic approval from me.

Vote “yes” on Question 2, unless you like sharing your bath with pieces of turd.

There you have it – a simple guide to voting on June 12. All you have to remember is “yes, no.” Or was it “no, yes?”

If in doubt, just make a smiley face on the ballot and your life will continue as before.

Friday, May 11, 2007

Hack and Slash Addiction

Millions of teenagers and adults in America, including dozens I know personally, are addicted to video games. If you have kids, you're going to have to deal with the video game phenomenon at some point, unless you plan to raise them in a bomb shelter somewhere in Piscatiquis County (sorry, mine's taken).

How can I tell if my child is at risk for video game addiction? If you have ever heard him say something like, “if you hold down the shift key while you right-click on a corpse, you can auto-loot,” he is at risk.

How do I talk to my child about video games? As with anything, it's best to learn as much about the topic as possible beforehand.

Here's something that won't help: “Why are you playing that stupid game? You're wasting your life away.... Wait, where's the remote – I want to see if Survivor is on yet.”

Okay, I'm a little defensive. Americans watch billions of hours of TV a week, but marginalize video games, which usually require strategy, imagination, and physical conditioning (stamina of the posterior).

And the games are only getting better. When I was in college, the most popular game was Diablo, which offered three possible exhilarating adventures:

  1. Journey into the underworld and hack demons and skeletons with a sword. Take their money and buy a better sword.

  2. Journey to the underworld and hack demons and skeletons with arrows. Take their money and buy a better bow.

  3. Journey into the underworld and cast magical spells on the demons and skeletons so they burn to death, etc. Take their money and buy better armor.

While others spent their free time experimenting with illegal substances, I was beating Diablo and his minions, which eventually left me with an empty “what now?” feeling, similar to that which follows the average hangover or graduation ceremony.

As good as Diablo was, I can’t imagine what it must feel like to play today’s video games.

The big one out there right now is World of Warcraft, or WoW for short. It's an online role-playing game that requires you to create an alter-ego to compete against or cooperate with your choice of eight million other players across the world. It involves building alliances and managing armies, and those who do it well are probably capable of getting advanced degrees in economics and political science.

To give you an idea of how big this game is, you can now get a World of Warcraft Visa Card from the First National Bank of Omaha.

“In addition to the benefits it offers,” said one corporate suit, “we feel that the World of Warcraft Visa card is another great way for players to represent their gaming passion out in the real world.”

Yeah, nothing says “I'd rather be looting corpses” to that cute girl scanning your groceries like a credit card with some kind of alien goblin thing on it.

Obviously, the credit card bank is really psyched to rake in people who have trouble making payments. The First National Bank of Omaha knows full well that anyone who wants this card is probably too absorbed in WoW to have maintained any employment or family contacts, and will soon have to surrender all assets, including thousands of rare collectible Star Wars action figures.

“Sweet!” yells the bank CEO. “I’ve been trying to get my hands on these for years!”

Argh, what am I doing?! It's just that type of mindless stereotyping that alienates game players, unjustly forcing them to the fringe of society. We should be helping these people!

How can I help a video game addict? If you have a loved one who is trapped in this game, take it from me: there is hope. The best known cure for video game addiction is an elusive yet powerful tonic called “girlfriend.” Even that sometimes doesn't work, unless you can get the extra-strength “girlfriend with her own interests.”

Sometimes, addicts emerge from their caves independently. They squint in the unfamiliar sun and gradually become productive citizens. I have a friend who flunked out of college because of video games, but now he owns his own Internet service provider and makes 44 times as much money as I do.

While you wait around for that to happen, remember that as a general rule, it's a good idea to remind young people that the world has more to offer than just World of Warcraft, and remind them that it's important to diversify your interests. For example, the quests in Halo are also very rewarding. Other popular games include Gears of War, God of War, Dogs of War, Warped War, War for No Reason, War and Peace – No Wait, Just War, and WarWarWarWar.

There are some games that do not involve war or violence, but nobody plays them. Thank goodness – what kind of world would we be living in if they did?

Friday, May 4, 2007

The Mother of All Holidays

Fatherhood brings many responsibilities, not the least of which is to remember, and properly observe, Mother’s Day. So get out your calendars, gentlemen, and make a note that Mother’s Day falls… uh… on a weekend. I think.

Okay, so I’m not that good with dates, unless they are the dates when the Yankees are scheduled to visit Fenway Park. But I’m trying to improve, because now that I’ve watched my wife become the superhuman force of nature that is Mommy, I take this holiday much more seriously.

We should celebrate Mother’s Day at least a couple of times a week. And we should celebrate it hardcore, like college students celebrate Cinco de Mayo.

Let’s build statues of pregnant women all over the place, at least one in every town.

Should these statues portray the stereotypical image of pregnancy, the fit and healthy Amazon lady who graces the cover of most motherhood magazines with a serene smile? Or should they be more realistic, the grim woman whose back, bladder, hormones, and hemorrhoids are in all-out violent revolt with a whole trimester left to go?

My wife survived months of severe nausea with grace and dignity (allowing the dogs to clean up your vomit can be “dignified” if you’ve already thrown up 20 times that day). In contrast, one day of stomach flu turns me into a whimpering baboon.

Completely exhausted and depleted, she went on to give birth and then endure several months with no sleep, as the baby required constant dancing in her baby carrier to sleep and didn’t want anything to do with her father until she turned six months old.

Something about this intense process transforms normal women into omniscient beings.

My mother once convinced me she had eyes in the back of her head, and I’ve yet to observe any hard evidence to contradict her claim.

Furthermore, mothers can provide scads of obscure information. My wife knew the exact right time (age eleven months and 24 days) to turn around the car safety seat so that it faces forward instead of backward.

Don't ask me how she knew, she just knew.

When I tried to turn it around a week early, because I happened to have a few spare moments (I like to use spare moments to find ways to lower my self-esteem), she gave me a tongue-lashing that would have shamed Genghis Kahn.

Another example: when I try to change my daughter's diaper, she squirms and twists and kicks around as if she was the offspring of a circus contortionist and an Olympic synchronized swimmer. But my wife can come in and calm her right down, accomplishing the diaper change in under 30 seconds.


Plus, mothers have all the dirt on us. I don't care who you are, if you're reading this, you were at one time (hopefully not the present time) that squirming diaper change-ee. Barbara Bush could leak rare and humiliating information about our President if she wanted to; she’d just have to call up his nanny to find out about his childhood.

Knowing that my mother made huge sacrifices for me, remembers every minute detail of my childhood, and could embarrass me on a whim, I should probably at least give her a call and wish her a happy Mother’s Day.

But first I have to call her and find out when Mother’s Day is.