Friday, June 27, 2008

The Moral Minority

Am I the only person in America who hasn't gotten a stimulus check yet?

Apparently not. When I called the IRS hotline, a recorded voice told me that “due to extraordinarily high call volume,” I should not bother to hold.

No “your call is important to us,” or “thanks for your patience.” Nope. Just, “hang up, please. Now.”

I called again a few days later, and after I punched in my numbers, the voice told me, “there is a delay in processing your stimulus payment.” Gee, ya think?

How hard is it, in this age of databases and government surveillance, to send every taxpayer some money by a certain promised date? And then to anticipate that you might get some phone calls, and hire a few extra people at the IRS call center? This process has been bungled about as thoroughly as we could have expected the Bush Administration to bungle it.

More than 9.63 million taxpayers have still not received their refunds. Even though I have no way of knowing if that figure is remotely close to accurate, the mere fact that I would take the time to make up a number so huge shows that this is a very serious problem.

Fortunately, I've written a poem. I plan to read it to a live human being at the IRS, if I ever get through to one (it's possible the IRS now consists entirely of computers).

Would you like to see my poem? Tough. Here it is:

Late last winter, I sold
My armpit hairs, having told
The other ebay nerd
They belonged to Larry Bird.

All for one tank of oil
Did my grimacing barber toil.
Then you wrote to say
Relief is on the way!

Since my child is worth 300 clams,
That makes 900 back from Uncle Sam
By May 24, you did promise, so

Hm... I just realized something: Only in America would somebody bother to rhythmically complain because his free money isn't arriving fast enough. Spoiled much?

Time to shut up and move on to something more substantial.

A few weeks ago I wrote a column skewering the Christian Civic League of Maine for its petition drive to enact a senseless law that would allow discrimination against homosexuals.

First of all, they are hardly a “league,” since there's only one team, and if you don't belong to it, you're going to Hell.

I'll leave it to you to decide if the other words in their name are accurate.

Anyway, I criticized their annoying effort to bring us yet another referendumb on an issue voters have already decided maybe 75 times.

I was forced to acknowledge their persistence; after all, history's great triumphs were won only after years and years of sacrifice and frustration.

Not this one, apparently.

The CCL has now dropped its petition drive after collecting only a third of the signatures they hoped to get during the June 10 election, according to the Bangor Daily News.

They apparently had trouble getting volunteers because people feared being labeled bigots or homophobes.

Not surprisingly, there's not a word about any of this on the CCL's website.

That's the kind of tenacity that made America great. Run away because someone might call you names, then wave the white flag and hope nobody notices.

It might be time to declare the CCL irrelevant and dead, but if they manage to pull themselves together and pursue some positive activism for a change, I'd be glad to send along a donation.

Just as soon as I get that stimulus check.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Feminism, Frogs, and Fungal Evil

A person in favor of equal rights for women used to be called a “feminist.” Now, for many people, the term “feminist” connotes militant, man-hating, spiky-haired butch lesbians who will spit on you if you hold the door for them.

It's a shameful myth, really. In truth, most feminists will spit on you anyway, whether you hold the door or not.

NO! I'm only kidding! Here's hoping you feminists out there have a sense of humor.

(Not likely.)

Ha! Okay, that's enough, really! I'm just having a little fun with this malicious, unfair stereotype.

Honestly, I consider myself a “feminist” because it bothers me that lots and lots of girls and women continue to get abused, exploited, and raped, and it's never discussed as some sort of global crisis.

With that backdrop, the fact that we've marginalized “feminism” into some extremist movement is really sad.

The same thing has happened to environmentalism. If I tell someone I'm an “environmentalist,” they stare at me wide-eyed and disturbed, as if anticipating that my next movement will be to hurl a Molotov cocktail at a logging truck.

But I consider myself an environmentalist primarily out of self interest. I'd like to make sure the things that keep me alive -- air, water, food, and iTunes -- remain (or become) pure and safe.

Seems like a no-brainer, doesn't it?

The most likely reason people are confused is because environmentalists spend a lot of time worrying about other species that apparently have nothing to do with us.

Take frogs, for example. Around the globe, frogs are dying off at alarming rates, and nobody is sure why. Some say it's climate change, others say there's epidemic of skin fungus. There are also those (myself included) who blame Doc Hopper, arch nemesis of Kermit the Frog in The Muppet Movie.

Personally, I have no desire to see frogs thrive. I find them slimy. They give me the willies. I remember dissecting a frog in high school, and feeling a shiver of pleasure as I plunged the scalpel into its vile, green belly.

Even Kermit, whose performance I admired in The Muppet Movie, almost lost all my sympathies after Muppet Treasure Island.

But I have to set my personal feelings aside, because I know that if stuff is going wrong with the frogs, it's a signal that there's stuff going wrong with the ecosystem. We humans like to think we don't need the ecosystem for anything, but I'm not convinced.

So I wasn't particularly impressed to read in Science Daily about a research team at James Madison University that thinks they've discovered a naturally occurring bacteria that can help frogs defend themselves against the above-mentioned fungal evil.

Yay. But it doesn't do anything about whatever ecosystem imbalance caused the problem in the first place.

A typical politician will hire extra cops so he can say he did something about crime. Meanwhile, the root causes of crime (social injustice, addiction, the fact that cable TV shows COPS reruns only 12 hours a day) rampage unchecked.

You can't rid the world of rape with more cops, and you can't save the frogs with more skin bacteria.

The two major political parties don't understand this. That is why I always vote for Kermit.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Itching for Meaning

As much as I enjoy reading, a man has his obligations. I have a family to feed, grass to cut, and a stuffed gorilla to alternately worship or strangle, depending on the cycle of my medication.

So I'm a busy guy.

But there are brief, fleeting, three-hour stretches of each day when I try to hear the Red Sox game over my wife's persistent chatter. A lot of men would find this annoying, but I am a sensitive, understanding guy; I know she's just trying to revive our communication so we don't divorce. Eventually she will realize the way to do this is to talk about sports.

In the meantime, I remain patient. It's already paying off, because lately she's had some interesting things to say (during commercials, at least) about this book called “Last Child in the Woods” by Richard Louv.

The premise of the book that today's children suffer from something called Nature Deficit Disorder.

Now, before you scoff, remember that it was not long ago that such conditions as Attention Deficit Disorder, Oppositional Defiant Disorder, and Way Too Interested in Skateboarding Disorder were a mere twinkle in the eyes of some money-grubbing pharmaceutical executive.

From my perspective, Nature Deficit Disorder is actually much more dangerous. Video games and TV are an obvious culprit, but we tend to overlook the fact that our society urges or forces kids to remain indoors, pretty much from the first day of kindergarten.

Meanwhile, most adults set a poor example. If your idea of spending some quality time outdoors involves a riding lawn mower, you fall into this category.

Louv says there is too much emphasis on youth sports. He advocates “unstructured play,” a phrase that is likely to make any elementary school employee shudder.

Sure, we can put our second graders on a field for an hour or two and watch them struggle to find, pick up, and throw the rare baseball that's batted beyond the pitcher's mound... but is that really experiencing the outdoors?

“Unstructured play” means exploration and flexing the muscles of the imagination. It not only promotes relaxation and creativity, it also fosters self-reliance, breeds confidence, and inspires the use of trendy, meaningless verbs.

For example, I developed a lot of self reliance and creativity when, as a 16-year-old, I had to explain to my parents how I got a poison ivy rash over 95 percent of my body.

I think they pretty much knew what happened, since I had already told them I would be spending the afternoon with my girlfriend. But my 16-year-old self did not observe such obvious points of logic, and felt it necessary to carefully concoct the following story:

“I don't know.”

I always got good grades, but I'm sure they had to wonder about my intelligence there. It takes a special kind of idiot to get poison ivy everywhere except your face and genitals, then not know how it happened.

Do you see how being deprived of nature as a child left me emotionally and intellectually impoverished? I was so desperate for that connection with the outdoors, I couldn't help just going out and rolling around in it the first chance I got.

I suggest you rush out and buy “Last Child in the Woods,” and have your spouse read it. Then, turn your kids loose in the wilderness. That should leave you some alone time, perhaps enough to catch the end of the Red Sox game.

Look! Some Words!

You are now reading a newspaper. (Note to online readers: obviously, you're not reading a newspaper. Just play along)

Specifically, you're taking in an opinion column titled “Tongue-in-Cheek” (a regular feature on this page in spite of its somewhat mundane name).

At some point today, you will probably have to use a bathroom, if you haven't already.

According to conventional journalistic wisdom, the previous three paragraphs should have absolutely enthralled you.

What? They didn't? That's odd. The trend in the news media these days is to focus on the obvious. Apparently, they want readers and viewers to feel smart.

This must be why I keep seeing headlines like:

“Snow Blankets Region,”

“Obama Clinches Nomination,” and

“Gas Hits Four Dollars a Gallon.”

The mainstream media has done a great job telling us things we already knew (and predicted) by just sort of looking around.

What they don't seem to be able to do is tell us WHY gas prices keep going up, or, more importantly, what we can do about it (besides drive less, which could be a workable solution if it weren't for the fact that I keep running out of nachos).

This is where I step in. After days of painstaking research (most of it relating to the Los Angeles Lakers, I must admit), I have come up with some workable suggestions for easing the impact of high gas prices:

1. Refine your own gasoline. Thanks to an article at, I learned that refining crude oil into gas is a relatively simple process. All you have to do is heat the crude oil to about 1100 degrees and catch the vapor at the right temperature.

Okay, there's a little more to it than that. There is an additional process of some sort that gets rid of impurities and stuff. Not a problem – just pour it through an old pair of panty hose or some other mesh, like you would do with maple syrup.

Of course, this plan has its drawbacks. Storing barrels of crude oil is not feasible for everyone, and neighbors might object to the smell or to the occasional cataclysmic explosions. Small price to pay, if you ask me, for energy independence.

2. Sue the bastards. These days you can sue anyone for anything and expect some sort of cash settlement. Did inhaling some fuel vapors give you a headache? Did you inhale enough of them to pass out, causing embarrassment and emotional distress?

If you don't think this could actually work, consider the lawsuit filed last week by Matthew Lincoln of Seymour, TN, against a Knoxville church. Upon being touched on the forehead by the pastor, Mr. Lincoln apparently “received the spirit and fell backwards.” No one was there to catch him.

You might think it was God's will that this man bonk his head on the floor, but Mr. Lincoln thinks the church was at fault (possibly because his brains were scrambled due to a recent head injury).

While this case has not been ruled upon yet, the fact that some lawyer thought it had a shot is hope for those of us who would like our next 75 fill-ups on the house.

3. Run your car on vegetable oil. The Internet is littered with stories about people who are feeding used cooking oil to their diesel engines (inspired by Neil Young's tour bus).

All you need is a restaurant willing to give it to you, an expensive conversion kit, and a personality that doesn't mind smelling like a Wendy's wherever you go.

But it's not all positives. There's also a chance you could turn your engine into something that resembles a stack of undercooked pancakes, only not as edible.

Yeah. I've spread enough optimism for one week.