Blame It On Rio

Once every four years, we watch over-the-top displays of jingoism, flag-waving, and fear. For two weeks, we get beginning-to-end coverage of celebrities, big crowds and boisterous cheering, with accusations of corruption and cheating thrown into the mix. It’s a special time when the average American sits up and takes notice of things he only cares about once every four years.

I intended to use the paragraph above for a piece about the political conventions, but then I got lazy, then I got distracted, and, well, the conventions were over and I never wrote the piece. The cool thing is, I can use the same paragraph for this piece, about the Olympics. Continue reading

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i should read more poetry…

I did a very bad thing recently. It was an impulsive moment, but I’ll be dealing with the consequences for a long time. I’m not even sure why I’m writing about it, because it was so incredibly stupid. I just need to clear my conscience, I guess, so here it is: I bought books at a yard sale. Continue reading

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book learnin’

I found a screw on the floor today. Thing is, I don’t think anything I own that’s held together by screws is missing any of its screws. So what could this mean? Is it a clue—some sort of omen? What kind of ‘Lost’-inspired sign is this? Of course, if my life were being scripted by the people who created ‘Lost,’ the clue wouldn’t be explained for six years and then it would just be  part of a fairly heavy-handed quasi-christian allegory, and it would turn out I’ve actually been dead the entire time.

I like to believe that if there were a rip in the cosmological fabric, Alternate Me would be more successful, and be having more sex. You know, a world in which the most admired and highly-paid profession is ‘comedy writer.’ In that world, cops would come to your door to give you pot, and the Oscars would have a category for Best Barely Started Screenplay Idea. And I would fly into the Kodak Theater with my jet-pack to receive my award.

The idea of an alternate universe has always fascinated me. A place that looks like our world but because of some glitch in the time-space continuum is actually a frightening bizarro world filled with people who sort of look like us but ultimately are discovered to be aliens bent on our destruction. For example, Texas.

If I understand this, the Texas Board of Education approved changes to the social studies and history curriculae (-li? –lums? damn, I hate when I forget my Latin declensions!). Anyhoo, that means changes to textbooks in Texas, which means changes to textbooks everywhere because Texas buys a lot of textbooks.

I suppose the changes are meant to bring about a nostalgic return to an era uncluttered by voting rights, or religious rights, or civil rights. Whatever the motivation, the new curriculum will put a distinctly rightward spin on what used to be called ‘facts.’

Apparently the new guidelines require that students be taught that the Founding Fathers were actually very religious, and that the whole church and state thing was meant to be a just a trial separation. I’m guessing the people who voted for these changes also believe that fossil evidence for evolution was manufactured by the liberal media to lead the country down the path to socialized…archaeology, or something.

Although I’m a card-carrying liberal (it’s actually an NPR membership card, but it counts as ID in Arizona), I’m not all that concerned about what ninth-graders in Texas are studying. It’s not that I don’t care about what they read…it’s that I don’t believe many of them will actually remember what they read.

For example—the new textbooks will now imply that free-market economies are better for society than…whatever other kinds of economies there are. See, my point is, I don’t remember, because I learned that stuff from a textbook—meaning, the information stayed in my brain until the test was over. Then—poof! It was as if I never learned it.

I think for most people, what we learned as kids simply served as a placeholders until we learned important things, like things related to our jobs, and how to get laid. I took calculus in high school, and I don’t even remember what calculus is, let alone how to use it.

So I’m not too worried about the next generation being manipulated by their textbooks. I’ve always said that if you want kids to read Shakespeare, ban everything he wrote. Seriously, if high school kids aren’t allowed to read ‘Hamlet,’ they’ll be quoting Polonius in the hallway.

A school in Tennessee actually banned some textbooks a while back. Called them ‘anti-religious.’ And again, I don’t get the problem. You could put a whole section on Satanic rituals in ‘America: Pathways to the Present’ and if it isn’t mentioned in the chapter summary, most students will never see it!

You know, if school boards are gonna revise the curriculum, they should have the balls to go all the way. Why not make history books entirely fictional? Include chapters explaining how the South didn’t lose the Civil War, it’s just laying low and regrouping. Have kids learn that the Underground Railroad was a just another leftist public transit boondoggle. And for god’s sake, bring back home economics classes. Just for girls, of course. They need to have role models, too.

But if high school kids in Texas are required to learn this more…creative version of our history, one more change needs to be mandated. The federal government should require diplomas issued by Texas to have a big Texas-sized asterisk on them so that the rest of us know who we’re dealing with.

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fill ‘er up

So, after this Chilean earthquake, I’m browsing around the web looking for fodder, and the headline at MSNBC says “Pope To Pray For Chile.” Now, I think it’s great for Benedict to take a break from repressing women and spreading misinformation about AIDS, my problem is that it was a headline. As if it were…news.

Obviously the Pope is going to pray for Chile, given the fact that he is…leader of the Catholic Church and Chile is predominantly…Catholic. It’s his job fer chirssake—literally! News would be a headline saying “Pope Snubs Chile—Opts to Not Include Victims In Prayers.”

Edward R. Murrow would spin in his grave–while smoking a cigarette–if he were to see what passes for journalism today. In any given half-hour tv news broadcast, I would say an average of 86.3% of the stories aren’t really news. News should have two ingredients—it should be new, and it should be sorta…important, and to more people than just someone’s immediate family.

 

The problem of course, is filling the half-hour, or filling up the web page. With three major online news portals and a gazillion ‘aggregators’ (‘we don’t investigate the stories, but we do group ‘em all together for you!”), not enough actual news happens to satisfy them, hence—filler news. We wouldn’t tolerate this in a restaurant—“The chef only has a half portion of the chicken marsala left, so we’re going to fill the rest of your plate some microwave popcorn.”

News filler usually consists of ‘human interest’ stories. Which begs the question—what type of beings are the other stories aimed at? Is there a section of ‘panda interest stories’? In theory, shouldn’t every news story be of interest to…humans?

And for the love of Cronkite, stop interviewing family members of people who have died! It’s not news!

“I know this is a difficult time for you…with your entire family having been killed in the blaze that destroyed your ancestral home, what are you feeling right now?”

“I’m very sad.”

“We’ve got a scoop! Rush this footage to editing!”

They should give anti-journalism awards, like the Razzies they give for worst movies. They could call it the Mister Peabody.

Used to be, tv news was fifteen minutes. Now, there are fifteen minutes of graphics before a breaking news story. Sure, the times were simpler, but the times were also filled with fewer Octomoms. Oh, Octomoms might have existed back then, but we didn’t feel they warranted above-the-fold reporting.

 

I get my headlines online from MSNBC, because yes, one of my goals has always been to destroy the newspaper industry and eliminate the jobs of hardworking print journalists. Now, since MSNBC is a “joint venture of Microsoft and NBC,” you’d think there would be someone at one of those giant companies who would notice this stupid shit.

 

But no, at one point last year the headline on their home page was “Osama Still Not Found.” This just in—nothing! That’s not news! It’s—anti-news! It’s bad enough to print ‘news’ about something trivial that happened, but now you’re putting up a story about something that hasn’t happened!

 

This week in the news we learned that the earthquake in Chile shifted Earth’s axis. Every report about this quoted ‘NASA scientists,’ which I suppose would be more reliable than ‘NASA janitors.’ Anyway, as a result, every day will be shorter by 1.26 milliseconds, which sucks, because I’m really busy at the moment and cannot afford to lose that kind of time.

There was one ‘human interest’ story this week that genuinely touched me. Seems the woman who wrote the first book about crockpot cookery (a bestseller in 1975, in part due to its compelling title, ‘Crockpot Cookery’), died at the age of 88. Mable Hoffman was interred in a late-morning ceremony. Onions, potatoes and chopped bell peppers were added a couple hours later, and she was ready by late afternoon. Thanks—you’ve been a great crowd! Tip your waitresses! Good night!

sad news from the world of music

The Recording Academy, which bestows the Grammy Awards, announced late on Wednesday that the polka category would be eliminated, saying in a statement that it had been cut “to ensure the awards process remains representative of the current musical landscape.”–New York Times

Whether you roll out your barrel Cleveland-style or Chicago-style, the world became a sadder place in the last couple years, as word spread that there will be no more Grammys awarded for Best Polka Recording.

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distraught Polka-Americans reacting to Grammy snub

This is truly a musical genre which has touched us all. Whether you’ve danced with a drunk aunt at a Wisconsin wedding (like I’m the only one) or simply lounged around your apartment in a new pair of lederhosen (again–just me, I suppose?), you can’t deny the power of the oom-pah-pah. And yet the Recording Academy in its wisdom has decided the polka is no longer relevent. Of course, this is the same Academy that gave the first Heavy Metal award to Jethro Tull, and gave a ‘best new artist’ Grammy to Taste of Honey over Elvis Costello. You’re telling me “Boogie Oogie Oogie” is more relevant than “Beer Barrel Polka?” Please.
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In a country which celebrates diversity, this slight is like a slap in the face with a raw bratwurst. No Grammy for polka music? That’s like not having a Nobel Prize for…polka music. And where will this lead, I ask you? Huh? Where, dammit? Ok, you’re not answering, so I’ll tell you. First it’s no polka award, then they stop giving away awards for jazz…then classical…then rock…and pretty soon the Grammy Awards show becomes three and a half hours of the Jonas Brothers.
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what do we tell these people?

Jimmy Sturr has received more Grammys–18–than Bruce Springsteen.  That’s eighteen of the twenty-four awards EVER given for Best Polka Album. Yet when asked about his success, he exemplifies the humility, and, indeed the universality of  polka music:

“I’m not going to say I’m the best band in the whole world, but we’re just as good as any.”

True enough, Jimmy. But what of the children, the dozens of fresh-faced kids who begged their daddies for their first used accordions? To what can they aspire? They won’t be able to break Jimmy’s polka Grammy record, because there won’t be any more polka Grammys to receive.

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To be sure, polka has its critics. Some have said that exposure to its frenetic rhythms has led to an increase in ADD and ADHD in children. Others claim that polka music leads to alcoholism, while still others believe that alcohol leads to polka music. Despite these concerns, one thing is clear–polka music deserves to be celebrated. I mean come on–they give a Grammy for Spoken Word Recording–try dancing to any one of the winners in that category.

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For future generations, June 3rd, 2009 will surely be known as The Day The Accordion Died. When asked about the popularity of polka music as compared to other, more ‘award-worthy’ genres, I think once again Jimmy Sturr said it best:

“Polka isn’t the biggest,” he said, “but it’s not the smallest, either.”

How true, Jimmy. How very true. soundboard.com

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if only obama were really a socialist…

I’m not known for making great choices. When I left high school, with a 4.0 g.p.a. and a combined SAT score of 1450, I entered U.C.L.A. planning to be a doctor. Not, mind you, because of a life-long passion for healing the sick and serving humanity, but because that’s what I thought ‘straight A’ students did—they became doctors (spoiler alert: I didn’t become a doctor).

About the time I started my pre-med training, I discovered theater, and right then I knew I had a choice. I could use my hard-earned scholarship money to get a bachelor’s degree in biology, making my parents proud and justifying an adolescence in which I developed no social skills, go to medical school, and within a few years make hundreds of thousands of dollars providing help to those in need. Or, I could spend the scholarship money on classes like Film Studies 167: The Early Works of Peter Bogdanovich, compete with hundreds of thousands of attractive people who all had connections in order to get into show business, and if I got really lucky, I could one day make enough money to pay rent on a studio apartment.

I’ve consistently made bad choices in my career as a comedian. Although originally from Los Angeles, I spent most of the eighties working at comedy clubs in Minnesota, apparently believing that the entertainment industry would eventually be based there. Every time there was an earthquake in California, I would think “now I’m in the perfect place…the studios will finally move here.” Even after twenty-five years I make poor choices. Comics frequently open for musical acts, and that can lead to bigger venues, celebrity connections and national recognition. Me, I opened for Arsenio Hall. After his show was cancelled.

Last year, I opened for a Blues Brothers cover band. Talk about diluting the gene pool. Process this for a minute. There’s the blues—gritty, real…gut-level artistic integrity. Then there were the Blues Brothers—not actual blues musicians, but an entertaining and affectionate tribute from a couple of famous white guys. And, an act that hasn’t been popular since 1982. But I didn’t open for a blues legend, or even the ‘actual’ Blues Brothers. No, I opened for two unknown white guys in Blues Brothers suits, one of whom couldn’t find his shades, in the town of Nelson, Minnesota, a town which had more pro-life billboards (four) than open businesses (three, all bars).

So looking at the arc of my career, I wasn’t surprised when I received the news today from the Obama administration. Beginning June 1st, the federal government will take over day-to-day operations of My Comedy Career. To prevent My Career from going into bankruptcy, in an agreement I signed yesterday, the government will control seventy-percent of My assets and be responsible for guiding Me through the current economic crisis. I’ve assured my investors that this only a first step toward a new Me, a Me that will be competitive and profitable. The comedy industry has changed, and I need to be willing to change with it. Here is the text of President Obama’s statement:

“It is with great ambivalence that I announce today the government takeover of Michael Dane’s Comedy Career. Understand this—your government does not want to be in the comedy business. But it is vital that Michael Dane succeed, to bring the United States back to a position of prominence in the comedy industry. Too many people depend upon Michael Dane for us to let him fail. The repercussions would extend from comedy club waitresses to Rotary Club event organizers if we do not step in. Now make no mistake—Michael Dane is in some ways responsible. Poor planning, lack of strategy and getting a Capitol One credit card have all contributed to this collapse. But as structured, this Comedy Career was not following a profitable business model, spending too many years trying to sell the American people jokes they simply were not buying. But our economy is interconnected, and we cannot allow Michael Dane’s toxic assets bring down this country’s infrastructure. I’ve instructed the Treasury Department to pay off all of Dane’s past cell phone and cable bills, and I will be proposing a stimulus package of 6.8 hundred dollars to be given to Dane for day-to-day expenses. He will become a publicly traded company, accountable to you the taxpayer as shareholders. In short, our goal is to get Michael Dane back on his feet, take a hands-off approach and get out quickly.”

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