Saturday, October 31, 2009

When Dweebs Reproduce

I'm still haunted by memories of high school dances, where I watched others crowd into the middle of the floor, jumping and laughing and writhing around in the luscious elixir of their popularity and their deafening dance beats, while I sulked alone in the corner, waiting for it to be over.

And that's just chaperoning. When I was actually a teenager, it was even worse.

Occasionally I’ll encounter people who claim to recall their high school years fondly, as “the best years of my life,” and I’ll wonder how these people are classified in the same species as me.

For the record, I belong to the Dweeb family, which taxonomically speaking, falls under the Nerd kingdom.  Never confuse your Nerds with your Geeks.  Refer to this chart for assistance:

Geeks are smart people with an obsession, usually related to an alternate reality or some realm of hyper-specialized knowledge. Nerds are smart people who lack social skills. The differences among the sub-categories of “Nerds” are subtle, but perceptible if you spend enough time around them.

Observing high school dances has taught me that nerds are rarely happy, geeks are only happy when actively engaged in what they like, and everyone else is only happy if they have music, friends, and no current love interest.

Now that I’m a parent, I want my child to grow up happy. What can I do to make sure she inherits my wife’s confidence and popularity, and not my dweebness?

I found the answer by reading Neil Swidey’s Nov. 1 article in Boston Globe Magazine, titled “Why an iphone Could Actually Be Good for Your 3-Year-Old.”

The idea of giving my pre-school aged daughter some handheld wireless device seems completely absurd.  But by the time I made it halfway through the article, I was almost ready to do it.

Then I came to my senses again.

Swidey quotes several child development experts citing the benefits of putting the Internet in the hands of your preschooler. The iphone or itouch interfaces are much more friendly to little fingers than a mouse and keyboard, putting them in control of whatever applications you choose to install for them. They become active, confident knowledge seekers, rather than passive learners.

Sounds wonderful, right?

Swidey forgets that, though they are marketed as social lubricants, these gadgets actually forge isolation. The idea that my daughter could become curious about “Kipper the Dog,” look him up online, and be done, without any aid from me, feels icky; not just because I want to feel needed, and not just because Kipper creeps me out, but because interaction with me is more meaningful (in theory, at least) than interaction with a machine alone.

Obviously, we have books around that she’ll paw her own way through once she learns to read. For now, lets watch “Kipper” together.

Because, invariably, the kids who are happiest are actually the ones who have strong relationships with their parents.

Even if one of the parents is a colossal dweeb.       

Friday, October 23, 2009

Referendumb Guide: Deja Vu Edition

     I know I promised not to write about Question 1 again, but I have to meet a word count. So I've come up with a compromise: instead I'll write about less-publicized imaginary Question 1a:

    "Do you think the government should have the right to determine which expressions of love are legitimate and which are not?" 

    Where I come from, the only moral love is love that could yield children. Love is supposed to be for reproduction. Therefore, no one should be able to get married unless they could make a biological family. This includes any man with a vasectomy and any woman over 50.  Sorry!  You are not worthy of the term "marriage." 

    I don't want fat people exchanging vows, either. Yeah, they can technically reproduce, but it's not natural. If you know anything about evolution, you know the obese would not survive long enough in nature to propagate their doughy DNA. Eew.

    Meanwhile, a raging, abusive man addicted to glue can marry a neglectful, alcoholic woman who has already been divorced four times. That's what I call true love, because they can have nine kids and live off the state.

    Um, yeah. So:

    If your beliefs about love are so superior to everyone else's that they should be reflected in our laws, vote "yes." 

    If you're willing to let other people live in accordance with their own morals, even if their beliefs are different from yours, vote "no."

    Moving on: last week I showed questions 2, 3, and 4 who is boss. You won't see them moping around this space again. The rest shouldn't take long, since no one cares about them.

    Question 5: Possession of marijuana for medical purposes has been legal in Maine since 1999, but is still a federal crime. This question asks: "Should we expand the diseases for which people can take pot to include cancer, glaucoma, HIV, AIDS, Crohn's Disease, Lou Gherig's Disease, depression, shingles, rickets, herpes, acne, halitosis, that gunk you sometimes get in your eye overnight, persistent fish odor, and the gout?"

    If you're scared that people might abuse the system and get high, shockingly, for no medically necessary reason, vote "no." If you've noticed that this is already happening anyway, but this law might help reduce suffering, vote "yes."

    Question 6: "Dude, how about we borrow 57 bajillion dollars, so the feds will kick in another 97 quadzillion dollars, so we can upgrade highways, bridges, airports, seaports, railways, medical helicopters, and that little Dumbo ride at the state fair?"

    Vote "yes" if you suddenly have little dollar signs in your eyeballs. If you live in Aroostook or Piscataquis Counties, vote "no," since you'll be lucky to see one red cent.

    Question 7: "Hey, can we have a little more time over here to verify all these goddamn signatures for all these frickin' referenda? Like, maybe two weeks instead of one?"

    I am always skeptical of anything that might slow down our remarkably fast and efficient democratic processes. However, the number of citizen petitions in this state is getting unreal. Why pay overtime or hire extra people just to cross check signatures against cemeteries?

    Vote "yes" if you don't give a rat's rectum. Vote "no" if anyone working in your local town office is fat.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Your Referendumb Guide Resource Manual Handbook

Twice a year I write a semi-annual guide to the Maine referendumb process, which comes out biannually.

I translate the questions into language people can understand, so they can make sense of the wording and comprehend the verbiage.

Why all the repetitive redundancy? Well, it seems in all the rage in politics. This fall we have mostly questions I could swear we've voted on before.

Anyway, this week I'll deal with Questions 2, 3, and 4. Check back next week for 5 through 7. I promise not to write about Question 1 again unless I feel like it.

Question 2:  "Do you want people who can afford to buy fancy new cars to pay less tax on them so that state and local governments will have to turn around and collect the money from somebody else (you)?"

If you own any car less than six years old, your excise tax would get cut by an average of 55%. If you think they won't try to squeeze the difference out of my 1997 Ford Ranger, your last reality check must have bounced.

Whoever wrote this bill probably thought environmentalists would fall all over themselves to get behind it because it also exempts hybrids and other "highly fuel-efficient" vehicles from all taxes for three years. As it turns out, environmentalists aren't thrilled about the idea of more cars on the road, and would rather the government have enough money to keep trying to catch people who dump toxic waste into rivers.

If this were really about CO2 emissions, and not just another tax cut for the wealthy, we'd be voting on whether to cut taxes for people who can prove they drove less than 6,000 miles in the previous year.

Vote "Yes" if you just bought a brand new GMC Yukon hybrid and now can't afford groceries. Otherwise, vote "no."

Question 3: "Would you like to tell Gov. Baldacci that he is a short-sighted little twerp who is pulling us through an eight-year existential quagmire?"

Question 3 is ostensibly pointless. Yes, the governor shoved a school consolidation law down our throats, and I have yet to see any published account indicating that consolidation saved anyone money. But it's not like reversing it is going to save any money either. Districts that did what they were told aren't going to fire their new administrators and un-consolidate. 

But communities that thumbed their noses at the law would presumably be off the hook, and Baldacci would finally find out what we really think of him, after we smiled politely all these years through his dumb little restaurant stories.

Vote "Yes" if you would like to give John Baldacci the middle finger.  Vote "no" if you are related to him.  

Question 4: "Don't you wish you'd voted for Question 2, now that you have to buy a new car because you drove through a pothole the size of Isle Au Haut, and TABOR has starved funding for highway repairs and maintenance?"

Yes, let's set an arbitrary formula to dictate how much government budgets can increase from year to year. Any spending increases in a state or local budget would have earn voter approval.

Vote "yes" if you think we elect people just to go on TV and look pretty. Vote "no" if you think we vote enough already.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Phony Vet: Happy to Take Your Questions, Life Savings

As just one more way to serve the public, I'm offering to answer your questions about your pet's health problems.  

Sure, I have no formal training in veterinary medicine, but I feel qualified to offer animal care advice because I know how to recommend expensive procedures that probably aren't necessary.

Dear Phony Vet: My dog has been coughing up some foamy mucous mixture about 40 times a day. In the middle of the night the continuous hacking is loud enough to make your ears bleed.  What's going on?  Sincerely, Tired of Cleaning my Carpets in Corinna.

Dear Tired: What a coincidence! My dog, Bailey, just had this exact same problem. I took her to a "real" veterinarian, who said the problem might be difficult to nail down, so we might as well try the most expensive solution first.  After we spent $400 over three weeks on tests, pills, and special food, Bailey was no better.  

The vet said x-rays were the next step ($250), possibly followed by surgery (untold thousands).  In the meantime, we decided to try some de-wormer ($30), which fixed her up within 12 hours.  

Initially, I wondered: Couldn't we have tried that three weeks ago? But that was before I realized a vet couldn't stay in business that way.

Dear Phony Vet: How do you prevent fin rot?  Sincerely, Tanked in North Turner.

Dear Tanked: Simple. Do not buy any goldfish.

Dear Phony Vet: My cat is dead. I just buried it in the back yard. What should I do? Sincerely, Sad in Stetson.

Dear Sad: Go back and dig up your cat to make sure it's really yours. I'm not kidding.

Take heed from a recent story out of Winchester, MA , in which a woman buried a cat she thought was hers, only to have her real cat returned to her three weeks later.

The cat, a Maine Coon named Evander "Stinky" Rucki, frequently hung out in the local high school library, and was well-known throughout the community. But its owner somehow confused it for another cat corpse.

This type of thing would never happen with a dog, because dogs: a) answer to their names, and b) are too stupid to wriggle out of their collars and are thus easy to keep tagged.

But I can understand how this would happen with a cat. Cat emotions and behaviors range from expecting to be treated like royalty all the way to expecting to be waited on, hand and paw. 

My wife's cat, Mia, frequently mews and scratches at the door, demanding to be let out at 4 a.m. My wife insists that if I get up to let her out, I'm training her to do it again. But I do it anyway, because then I can be back to sleep in five minutes, instead of waiting an hour for the damn creature to give up and be quiet.

Besides, everyone knows you can't train a cat to do anything.

So, yes, if two cats ended up with the same markings and body type, it would be impossible to tell them apart. If Mia ever dies, all I have to do is find her doppelganger and bring it home, and everyone will be happy.

Dear Phony Vet: My dog has a hot spot. What do you recommend?  Sincerely, Loaded in Lubec.

Dear Loaded: First, let's graft some replacement skin over the wound. That will be $1500. If that doesn't work, try some corn starch on it.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Controlling the O

You're probably getting a little tired of all the politics dominating the media right now, so I'm happy to bring you a column about orgasms instead.

I know what you're thinking: how could anyone possibly separate politics from orgasms?

You have a point. From Clinton to Spitzer, John Edwards to Question 1, future anthropologists will see our American Democracy, the most advanced system of government civilization has yet invented, as one giant reality show, in which people obsess and vote about who gets to have orgasms with whom, when, and for what purpose.

If one of your bizarre fetishes is that you want millions of people trying to control your orgasms, I suggest a career in politics or homosexuality.

At any rate, I will now attempt to beat off the odds and write about orgasms without mentioning politics.

I'll start by expressing gratitude for the fact that we live in such an open society, where a word like "orgasm" can appear in a family-friendly newspaper without the editor taking much flak.

[Note to editor: If you're nervous about taking flak over the word "orgasm," please substitute the word "wealth" for "orgasm" throughout this column as necessary. Where you see the word "sex," delete it and put "capitalism." Your conservative readers will suddenly love me and no one will be the wiser.]

I can even tell you that nothing spices up your capitalism like earth-grinding simultaneous wealth, and you'll just nod in agreement, without so much as a double-take. 

On the contrary, people in many Middle Eastern countries don't even know that orgasms exist. Unlike here, frank discussions of sex are not allowed in the world's strict theocracies. As a result, citizens of such nations are known stereotypically for their ... uh ... different attitudes toward intimacy, as evidenced by female genital mutilation, widespread belief that the a woman's natural shape is an evil, corrupting influence, and a recent article from revealing concern from hard-liners (ha!) that masturbation is a harmful "epidemic" sweeping the region.

The article focuses on Syria, where norms about discussing sex are a little more relaxed, so the debate over humane treatment of "monkeys" and "beavers" has boiled over on the blogosphere.

Yes, you Syrians will still find yourselves behind bars for a few years if you criticize the government, but go ahead and spew juvenile euphemisms for private parts at your leisure. See where that gets you.

Here in the Good Ol' USA, we tell our kids exactly what they need to know about their hormonal desires, without relying on innuendo. Instead, we give them straightforward, unambiguous, scientific information, using terms like "heavy petting," and "second base."

Honestly, who came up with the term "heavy petting?" It was of no help to me when I found it in my 8th grade health textbook. What am I, a Golden Retriever? 

And is there such a thing as "light petting?" If so, who would opt for light petting when you could apply just a little more pressure and get the weightier version? The library offered no answers.

Anyway, the concern in Syria about tuning one's own organ (You like that one? I think it's original) reminds us that masturbation is labeled sinful in many religious texts, including The Bible, which means you can soon expect a referendum question on it at a polling place near you.