Saturday, May 30, 2009

Justice and the Fairer Sex

With the nomination of a new Supreme Court justice comes the tired and lame accusation from radical conservatives that she is a woman.

Radio host G. Gordon Liddy said he hopes “key conferences” don’t happen while she’s menstruating.

This isn’t much different than what I said about Clarence Thomas when he was nominated: I hope “key conferences” don’t happen while he is imagining what someone looks like without her clothes on.

If you compare the amount of time a woman spends menstruating with the amount of time the average man spends distracted by sex or sports, you’ll soon realize that women should be making all the important decisions in this country.

Come on, people.

First of all, Sonya Sotomayor is nearly 55 years old, which means, with all due respect, that she doesn’t have a whole lot of periods left in her. Thus, Gordon Liddy, like most Republicans, is not exactly an authority on women.

Secondly, my experience tells me that any woman is perfectly capable of logical thought at any point in her cycle as long as you don’t tick her off.

(And what on Earth does Liddy mean by “key conferences,” anyway? I should think any conference involving at least one Supreme Court justice would be considered “key.”)

When they’re not attacking her biologically, Fox News types are saying Sotomayor tries to make policy from the bench and rewrite the constitution.

I don’t know where these people have been the last 200 years. Judges are supposed to help the constitution keep up with the times and with changing social standards.

When the Bill or Rights was written, corporations did not exist, nor did cars, global warming, semi-automatic assault rifles, civil rights, the Internet, and bands that give themselves absurd, surreal, non-pluralized names like “Third Eye Blind” or “Theory of a Dead Man.”

(Seriously, we must be running out of band names if all we can do is put random words together.)

Let’s say you start a new band called “Plaid Lobster Retardant.” You try to set up a website for your band, but you’re not allowed to register your domain name because it’s cruel to animals.

If you go by the original wording of the constitution, you and someone from would have to settle the dispute with a duel, because there is no language in the constitution related to animal rights or electronic expression.

Ideally, a judge could step in and declare that naming a domain registration site “” is also pretty stupid, and thus rule in your favor.

All this talk is just a way for conservatives to distract people from Sotomayor’s actual record, which is full of remarkably moderate, common-sense decisions. So far, she has ruled that:

- prison guards should not strip-search any adolescent girl unless there is a really strong reason to think she is hiding something,

- no one should be fired from a government job for exercising their right to free speech in their off time, even if that speech is offensive and evil,

- the government doesn’t have to send money to pro-abortion groups if it doesn’t want to, and

- everyone involved in baseball should stop whining about money and just play the game already (her injunction ended the 1994 strike).

It’s hard to argue with any of that, unless you’re a Pirates fan.

So let’s chalk this up as a political no-brainer victory for Obama and move on to something that really matters, like North Korea.

Next week: Is Kim-Jong Il menstruating?

Friday, May 22, 2009

Tee is for Teaching

If you’re going to sit around swatting at black flies anyway, you might as well go take in a tee-ball game.

Think about it. If you watch the Red Sox, the same thing happens every inning. Players shuffle to the batter’s box as if on their way to see an oral surgeon. Ground balls get fielded and thrown to first, almost always without error or emotion.

If you know the situation, you can more or less figure out what each player will do.

Tee ball, on the other hand, is completely unpredictable. After hitting the ball, players run to first base… sometimes. Often they skip first base and scamper directly to second.

Players who remember that they’re supposed to be fielding will scramble madly after every batted ball, pig-piling on top of each other. What fun!

(You’ll occasionally see base-runners lunge after ground balls, as well, which is something you would never see in a Red Sox game now that Manny Ramirez is gone.)

Eventually, someone emerges with the ball, and everyone starts yelling for him to throw it to first base, even though the batter made it safely to first about 45 seconds ago. But the fielder is understandably reluctant to give up the ball so soon. He just picked it up, for crying out loud.

At the end of a recent game, my four-year-old daughter got confused and went into the opposing team’s huddle.

And they let her stay.

On the count of 3, they all shouted, “tee ball!”

Tell me where else you’re going to see that.

The coaches deserve a lot of respect and support for volunteering their time, although they do make me shake my head sometimes.

My daughter’s coach begins each at-bat with a five-minute lecture to the batter about hand positioning, foot positioning, bat positioning, head positioning, spleen positioning, etc.

He will go so far as to grab a player’s foot and move it about an inch in one direction or another, as if the 500-foot home run that will result from this adjustment justifies the delay and the invasion of personal space.

Actually, I do understand the reason for all the fuss. It is much easier for kids to succeed at baseball or softball later on if they’ve developed good habits.

But my daughter routinely smacks the ball with authority when we practice at home, where no one overwhelms her with advice and directions. I stand about 15 feet from the tee, and I can’t get out of the way fast enough to avoid the ball rocketing into my gut. The joy she gets from this is why we signed her up for tee ball.

During the game, however, she hits weak little ground balls, like Julio Lugo.

Granted, part of it may be the clunky, basketball-sized batting helmet she has to wear. It’s only there to make the kids look cute, because it is physically impossible to hit a ball from a tee and have it strike your own head.

Again, it must be about starting the right habits while they’re young.

I just hope she stays interested long enough for them to become habits.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

For the Birds

Spring in Maine would not be the same without waking up at 5:30 in the morning to the sound of hundreds of different species of horny birds.

As comedian Lewis Black said, Mother Earth never gets what she really wants for Earth Day, which is for all of us to die. But at least we humans are a little more discreet when it comes to love.

The average human male will take a female out for quiet conversation over a nice meal. Then he will take her to some sort of recreational activity where she might consume more inhibition-loosening chemicals.

Finally, they will go to a private location to embark upon that tender moment when she finally tells him she thinks of him as a friend, almost a brother, really.

This method has served human quite well for millennia, you must agree.

Male birds, on the other hand, are nature’s obnoxious, desperate players. They get up at the crack of dawn to sing “romantic” overtures at their female counterparts, and the females sing back their annoyed rejections (“not now, I’m trying to sleep”), and eventually get so tired of the noise that they agree to just go ahead and mate with one of them, already, just to shut him up.

They do it, right out in plain view, where anybody can see with a decent set of binoculars, just like some B-list celebrity.

Then they go off together to poop on somebody’s brand new car.

Is it any coincidence so many species birds are threatened or dying off?

I thought perhaps I wasn’t trying hard enough to understand and appreciate my feathered friends, so I bought a bird book, the Peterson Field Guide to Birds of Eastern and Central North America (Fifth Edition).

After just a few minutes of use, this book has become an invaluable source of frustration and wasted time.

For example, I tried to identify a bird in my yard with a giant red patch on its head and a propensity for pounding on trees right outside my window. I wanted to find out if it was endangered, and if not, what steps I could take to endanger it.

After searching through hundreds of sketched images, I found the yellow-bellied sap-sucker, a name you would do well not to utter in a crowded country-western bar. This bird prefers to be called sphyrapicus various, and I don’t blame it.

Peterson tells me the sap-sucker’s call is a “nasal mewing note, or squeal: cheeerrrr, slurring downward.” What the hell does that mean?

Then I realized that the Internet is much better for this sort of thing. I visited, viewed several photos of this creature, and listened to an actual recording of its call, which Peterson had all wrong. It actually sounds like a sneezing mouse stuck inside a dog’s squeeze toy.

I had confused the sap-sucker with the Northern Flicker (inexcusable, I know), whose song Peterson describes as, “wick wick wick wick wick, etc.”

Really? “Etc.”? Are you sure there isn’t one more “wick” before the et cetera?

Then I listened to the recording on the Internet; it turns out the Northern Flicker sounds like a dog’s squeeze toy caught in the fan belt of a 1994 Buick Skylark.

If you’ve ever tried sleeping through that, you’ll understand why I’m going to stop here and go take a nap.

Friday, May 8, 2009

On Cheap Laughs and Cheap Apologies

I’ve been asked to apologize for something I wrote a couple of weeks ago about the gay marriage hearing in Augusta.

Apologies should be delivered sincerely, not just to make someone feel better. So I’m not taking this lightly.

If you missed it, I wrote that those attending the hearing who oppose same-sex marriage were outnumbered three-to-one, and that they didn’t have a lot of teeth, all told, because most of them had poor dental hygiene or were rather old.

It was meant to insinuate in jest that gay marriage opponents at the hearing were not very sophisticated.

Okay, so I used unfair stereotypes attempting to garner a cheap laugh. Obviously, a person’s views should not be discounted because of any of their superficial qualities, be it age, gingivitis, or whatever else.

But the more I reflect upon what I heard and saw at the hearing, the less apologetic I feel.

How many people testified that homosexuals are basically animals?

What will we start allowing next, they ask -- bestiality? Can I marry my dog? What about my 12-year-old niece? Or my lawnmower?

“What is the next domino to fall?” asked a state representative, whose name I regrettably didn’t catch.

I have close friends who happen to be gay. These are people I care for deeply, people who have families and loved ones, people who uphold their responsibilities and make contributions to society.

Homosexuals are human beings, as capable of directing their own destinies under the law as anyone once they reach adulthood. Whether you consider their actions sinful or not, they are not animals, nor are they slightly removed from animals.

And they’re not children, who can’t fend for themselves.

I don’t even want to mention those who said homosexuals abuse and molest children -- a baseless claim as incendiary and irresponsible as any imaginable.

At least my words were meant to be humorous. These people are completely serious.

Where is their apology?

Meanwhile, these same crusaders claim to defend the sanctity of marriage and the well-being of children. While they scour the state looking for people to sign their prejudicial petition, God-knows how many thousands of Maine families are torn apart every year by divorce. Even families that are intact struggle to find the time and energy to support and connect with each other in a society that demands two incomes for a household to get by.

Where is the campaign to provide financial support for marriage counseling or parenting courses?

Can I sign a petition to create more after-school programs? Can I get a bumper sticker encouraging someone to mentor a child?

Probably not, because this fight is not really about protecting marriage and children. It’s about religion.

So if you’re hell-bent on taking down sinners, how about a law that prevents people who’ve committed adultery from getting re-married?

Let’s make it a crime to not honor the Sabbath by spending it with your kids.
Have you taken the Lord’s name in vain? Off to jail with you!

Oh, wait… we don’t live in a society that treats people differently in the eyes of the law just because one faction of a religion thinks they’ve sinned.


All right, fine. Maybe my words insulted some people unnecessarily. Perhaps I have hindered efforts toward productive discourse on this topic.

But in this moment I’m too disgusted to utter a sincere apology.

Saturday, May 2, 2009

How Does Your Garden Blow?

Each year around this time I like to go around dispensing my indispensable gardening advice.

Last year, you may recall, I encouraged you to replenish the nitrogen in your soil by urinating in your garden. I don’t know about you, but this enabled me to grow almost enough corn to cover my legal bills.

This year, since the economy is so bad, I will present some thrifty ideas to save you money while still producing a healthy and robust crop of vegetables that will feed your family for months (assuming, of course, you have a family of slugs and beetles).

First of all, do you really need that roto-tiller? Your snow blower can fill that function. Consider how remarkably similar its hardware is.

Picture yourself steering the snow blower into your garden, angling the handles to achieve adequate digging. Because dirt is heavier than snow, you can expect it to be only thrown a few feet, so you can conveniently rake it back into place.

If you’re not sure your snow blower is burly enough to handle a few inches of topsoil, you probably don’t live in Maine.

Secondly, don’t splurge on any fancy mulching methods to control weeds. I’ve seen people buy wood chips, hay, or even black plastic to control unwanted growth around plants.

A company out of Florida, recently featured on NPR’s fear-mongering program “Marketplace,” is selling “SmartGrow” pads of human hair that hinder weed growth and then decompose into the soil.

Yes, I said human hair.

This is also a great way to keep wildlife out of your garden; even deer and rabbits will be so completely grossed out that they won’t want to come within 100 yards of it.

The downside: these pads are imported (the Chinese save their hair and sell it; there seems to be no market for American hair), and more expensive than you would think.
Despite the fact that the average American can grow more hair on his back in a week than a village of Asians can provide in one clipping, a ten-by-two roll of SmartGrow costs $16 plus shipping.

Screw that stool sample. Last year I used leaves and newspapers to mulch the garden. They’re more or less free and abundant, especially for me, because I get copies of newspapers that print my column. There’s nothing like the feeling of watching a fallen tomato rot on something you’ve written.

The only downside of leaves and newspapers is that they’re too light. The first intemperate fart from a neighbor out walking his Rottweiler could scatter half my mulch across the whole neighborhood, never mind what the average warm summer breeze can do.

Of course, nothing makes your garden economical like growing a cash crop. You could go traditional: cucumbers, pumpkins, and other bland foods that no one wants to eat are typically offered at rural roadside stands for mere pocket change.

But if you take a look at what’s in demand, you’ll quickly realize that what your garden needs is a few maple trees.

Maple syrup is selling for upwards of $50 a gallon in New England, according to the Associated Press. I’ve seen reports of $80 to $100 a gallon in other parts of the country as timber scarcity and disease cuts into supply.

By now, the dollar signs should be showing in your eyeballs.

The only downside, of course, is that maple trees take years to grow.
No big deal. It will take you that long to get your snow blower unstuck from the garden, anyway.