Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Odds and Ends

So, for anyone wondering why there was no post last week, I was in Sao Paulo, Brazil visiting my parents for a little over a week. I did have access to a computer with internet, but I was on vacation and decided to extend that vacation to blogging as well (read: L-A-Z-Y). I wasn't really sure what to post today, as I have a few ideas in my head but nothing really compelling. Sorry there won't be a Tales From The Lebowskis entry this week, but next week there should be a new one up. So today's post will just be a few unrelated thoughts and commentaries without any sort of connecting thread. Without further ado...

  • Brazil (or at least Sao Paulo) is a cool place to visit, but I don't think I'd do well living there. For one thing, driving is insanity down there. 4-way intersections don't really NEED stops signs, right Sao Paulo? Why would you want to warn anyone that the left two lanes are about to completely diverge from the road they're on? Why shouldn't streets be named after the ENTIRETY of a person's name, including title (Rua Professor Rolando Angelo Tenuto? Rua Doutor Gentil Liente Martins?)? I mean, you can just pick a random word from the string of names and throw that on the sign, can't you? Good food down there, though.
  • Inglourious Basterds is awesome. It makes you expect, want, or dread things happening, then doubt they would really go that way, then gives you exactly what you initially expected/wanted/dreaded but you're suprised anyway. And does it very skillfully and with great style and panache. And the currents of dark humor that run through the veins of this revenge flick bubble to the surface at perfect moments to break tension and make you laugh in the middle of some very suspenseful events.
  • Ted Kennedy died. That is very sad. Regardless of your opinion of his politics, he was an influential man who worked hard in the Senate to pursue goals he believed were right for the country. I would like to relate an anecdote about Ted Kennedy from my days in college: Teddy came to my college one day when the Prime Minister of Ireland was also visiting and speaking. An acquaintence of mine, who we'll call Ryan Soda was in attendance at this event, as he was a prominent College Democrat. Ryan Soda was a big man. A very big man. Hulka-sized, although maybe not as tall. After the Prime Minister was done speaking, Ryan boldly approached Senator Kennedy and asked him if he would care to retire to somewhere nearby and enjoy some alcoholic libations. "That's the best idea I've heaahd all day!" replied the Senator. And so off they went to the hotel on campus, which featured a hotel bar. And Ryan Soda proceeded to go drink-for-drink with Teddy Kennedy, a man famous for being not only the "Lion of the Senate", but a lion of alcohol consumption as well. I hope wherever Ryan Soda is today, he is raising a glass (or a dozen glasses or so) to his old drinking buddy, Edward Kennedy, Jr.
  • While on vacation, I had a chance to read another Kurt Vonnegut novel, Breakfast of Champions. It was very good. With each passing work I read by Vonnegut, the more I wish he was still alive so I could meet him some day. His writing style seems so simple, straightforward, and honest. It is deceptively skillful to be able to write so well and seem so direct and be so damn funny. Kurt Vonnegut, Jr., to you I raise a glass (or a dozen glasses or so).
  • It was recently confirmed that I can now list all 195 nations currently recognized by the United Nations without the aid of a map or checklist. Thanks, Sporcle!

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Do Your Damn Homework!

There's a lot of contentious issues being tossed around in the world of US politics right now (as always). The biggest one at the moment is health care, and that's certainly what's been getting the most press recently. I have been watching, reading, and listening about the health care debate, and I am getting pretty annoyed and angry. This has nothing to do with my views on the actual issue (I am in favor of a more socialized version of health care, but am undecided as to whether a program styled after the Canadian single-payer system, the British NHS, or, as I learned about earlier today, the Dutch government-mandated bare minimum coverage from private insurers would be best for us to adopt) and everything to do with the nature of the debate taking place.

I think it's great when people get angry and impassioned about politics. This is our country and our lives, we should be impassioned about it. And regardless of your political views, there's been plenty in the past decade or so to be angry about. So if you feel compelled to speak with passion about one of the issues on the table, such as health care, great! However (here comes the title of this post), do your damn homework first. I am sick and tired of hearing people full of passion but lacking any sort of knowledge on the topic. Death panels? The NHS would've killed Stephen Hawking? Are you people shitting me? There's two possible explanations for the ridiculous, juvenile, and counter-productive level of debate going on about health care recently that I can think of.

First, it is possible that a large number of American citizens are idiots, or crazy, or crazy idiots. Certainly there's a lot of cynics or comics playing the cynic out there who have claimed this one for years (probably as long as there's been American citizens, and before that about citizens of any and all nations, states, nation-states, tribes, clans, etc.). So this theory would roughly go that stupid ideas and claims are being spontaneously generated in the vacuum-like minds of stupid people. It's tempting to think this way because it removes all blame from the process. "Oh, people will be people, stupidity is part of the deal, let's accept it." I call bullshit on this explanation.

The second, more probable option, is that a relative few intelligent, powerful, and prickish folks feel that they are entitled to lie, mislead, and misdirect normal people to support ends that are inimical to the average person, but beneficial to the select few. Yes, I'm pointing the finger at some politicians here. And yes, I'm pointing at some heads of industry. But I'm pointing the biggest finger (the middle finger, baby) at the media. The journalists. The so-called "4th branch of government" who needs to learn to do THEIR damn homework, grow a backbone, and start placing a little more emphasis on journalistic integrity.

The most egregious offender that I've seen is Fox News, although they're not the only ones culpable. The people who stand to make money off of Fox News know that sensationalism, anger, and fear mean big money. So they play into the feelings of paranoid alienation that plague angry white men and pander to their need to blame shitty education or job prospects on some shadowy (read: black) other because hey, it puts money in the bank. And we all get taken for a ride. Do you think the pundits who rule the Fox kingdom can truly be as odious as they seem? I doubt it. They just know where their next paycheck is coming from. That kind of cynical "vitriol for cash" mentality keeps journalism at its basest, lowest form.

And they're not alone, they're just the most obvious offender. All of the media has been fanning the flames of this absurd "birther" movement. It's crazy, and all the coverage of it detracts from actual political reporting. We have actual issues to deal with, like the economy, like getting a better health care system, like the fact that we still have our armed forces to look after. We need journalism that reports hard truths, well-researched facts, and does so in a way that is unbiased and not sensationalized. We need information to come not from the source with the best marketing or the most cash, but from the source with the most untainted, empirical approach possible (true impartiality is impossible, but we could still make great strides in this direction).

When journalism does its job for once, and gives people facts instead of puffed up talking heads to listen to, then maybe, just maybe, the public will be able to do their damn homework and participate in civic debates that are productive and that serve the best interests of the citizenry instead of serving the unfounded fears of a hostile, vocal minority that have been whipped into a frenzy by greedy, irresponsible leadership.

(No links this time, but google the Stephen Hawking thing, it's unreal.)

Thursday, August 06, 2009

Tales From The Lebowskis - The Rise and Fall of Huckleberry

A little over five years ago or so, Hulka decided what his home needed was a brand new barn, big enough to house his antique tractors and various other hardware and vehicles. The Lebowskis and their friends are a bit like the Amish: raising a barn is a community affair. So through the entire process of clearing the land, digging the foundation, and actually building the barn, Hulka was aided by his family and friends. Almost everybody got involved on some level, from the oldest family members (Dave "Jaja" Lebowski, Sr. and his brother Uncle Jim) to the youngest (my cousins Chris and Kyle Rudedawg). My father helped, I helped, first, second, and third cousins helped. However, two individuals in particular are important to this story.

At this time, my uncle Dave Lebowski, Jr. (also known as "Uncle Daven" and "Blaze") was recently divorced and spending a lot more time visiting his family even though his residence was in another state, and we were very glad to have him around more. Uncle Daven's interests include music (he's a pretty awesome guitarist) and computers. Construction and similar activities have never really been his forte. But he wanted to spend time with his family, and his family was building a barn, so he was up to give it a try.

Also on the crew, actually a crucial member of the crew, was longtime family friend Jerry Lamaze. Jerry is a man who couldn't be more acquainted with working with his hands. He has worked construction all his life, and is, for his size, immensely strong. This is a man who used to have a party trick where he would grip a metal support column in my grandparents' basement with both hands then hold himself completely perpendicular using the mighty strength of his arms. Jerry, basically, is a tough guy. A man's man.

Over the course of this construction project, David had a few things to learn about building a barn, and Jerry decided to take this man he's known since he (David) was born under his wing and show him the ropes. David got the hang of it fairly quickly, and Jerry was delighted with him. Jerry would offer to buy him celebratory beers, include him in his little pranks, and even gave David a new nickname. David was now Jerry's "Huckleberry."

All was well with Jerry and Huckleberry. This construction project had made them the best of buddies. Such good friends, in fact, that Jerry had a special job for Huckleberry one day. You see, the crew realized that to work on the roof, it was a little bit easier to put a reliable, skilled person in the bucket of the payloader (yes, Jaja owns a payloader. Doesn't everyone's grandfather?) and raise them up. Usually this job would go to somebody like my father, or Jerry himself. But on this day, this special day, Jerry had reserved this special honor for David, his Huckleberry.

David climbed into the bucket, tools in hand. This was a big chance to gain esteem in the eyes of the great and powerful Jerry Lamaze. David stood at the ready in the payloader bucket and prepared himself for the ascent to the roof. But fortune frowned upon him and a single hammer slipped from his grasp. He watched it fall, hit the payloader bucket, bounce, and fall out to the ground. Jerry's face showed the slightest hint of displeasure. David could still recover though, he just had to make the right quip for the situation, which he came up with after a brief pause.


Jerry's face lost any and all joy or compassion. "What did you say?" he asked, as though David had informed him of the death of a child. "... Whoopsie-doodle?" David repeated, almost a whisper. There was another brief pause. "Get out of the bucket," instructed Jerry with absolute gravity, "Steven, get in." And just like that, Huckleberry had fallen from grace, much like Jerry would weeks later fall from that same roof (he survived).

However, the legend of Huckleberry and whoopsie-doodle did not die. Months later, around Christmas time, some of us were sitting around Hulka and Holly's kitchen table, enjoying some holiday cheer. A knock came at the door. In bursts Jerry to debut his new holiday hit song, relatively to the tune of "A Holly Jolly Christmas."

Have a Huckleberry Christmas
And in case you didn't know
Say "whoopsie-doodle" and you'll get a lot of snow!
(repeat until bored)

And all was right with the world.