Friday, March 31, 2006

Decision 2006

Let us look back on the early days of our young Republic as a group of our forefathers is sitting around the local tavern complaining about the sorry condition of the road outside whenever it rained. (The reason none of the foremothers is at this little get-together is that they’re far too smart to go out to the tavern when it’s raining.) Although this is long before the days of Cole Hahn, Kenneth Cole, and Manolo Blahnik – so the issue of designer shoes being ruined by the elements hasn’t quite become a concern on par with cholera, being eaten by a bear, or witch hunts – human pride burned strong in the bosoms of the people, and frankly they were tired of looking like complete boobs when they slipped and fell face first as the tavern crowd looked on. Someone needed to save them from this embarrassment.

One from the crowd, listening to the debate as it raged on, stood upon the table and said, “Forsooth, be it a most diabolical quandary in which ye . . .”, but before he could launch into his proposal, someone from the back cut him off and said, “Talk like a normal dude or we’ll all take turns kicking you in the teeth.” Not shrinking from his cause, our brave spokesman goes on to explain that they needed someone to go to Washington to represent their local needs and concerns. He further proposed that, in exchange for doing this, they would all pay him a salary and put him up in a stately home in suburban Virginia (so he wouldn’t have to actually live among them). The crowd erupted into laughter; and some even wet themselves for they had never laughed harder in their lives – these were Colonial times, and stand-up comedy hadn’t yet hit its stride.

As the laughter died down, he began buying drinks for everyone. And once he got them sufficiently drunk, he tried his idea with them once more. At this point, they unanimously demanded that he take the job at twice the amount of money he had originally proposed, along with an expense account and the insistence that he go immediately out on a fact-finding mission to the Bahamas. Later that evening, when the tab came due, he told the barkeep that, he “appreciated the tavern’s support in this all-important endeavor of representative government” and spirited himself out the door. Thus the American Politician was born!

A couple of hundred years have passed since then, so it’s time to go in a new direction. In that spirit, I have the perfect candidate: the stay-at-home mom. Allow me to share a brief sampling of her qualifications:

1. Time Management: Congressional sessions would take all of about an hour instead of weeks on end. Say, for instance, there was an item on the agenda concerning road improvements. Rather than a whole storm of blustering and bluffery, she would stand up and say, “Look, is this going to make it easier for me to go and pick up my kids from baseball practice and ballet, or are we just talking about planting a couple of bushes along the roadway? Either way, let’s just take the vote. I’ve got kids to shuttle around!”

2. Selfless Service: She already does her job without complaint despite little spontaneous praise/positive feedback from her constituency (the family) all the while standing by their side in both defeat and triumph, and she doesn’t rest until they’re all home safely. Clearly, she’s not looking for the pat on the back from a civic group or a handout from a lobbyist.

3. Budgeting: She has no problem saying, “No. We don’t have the money for that. You can throw a tantrum all day, and it’s not going to change.” However, she’ll always find a way to provide a good education, keep clothes on your back, and put food in your mouth.

The impressive resume, of course, could go on and on. However, despite her unequaled qualifications, there’s only one problem with this entire scenario: every stay-at-home mom I know is far too smart to ever run for public office!

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Let's Think About This

I wasn’t close to being the valedictorian at my high school graduation, but I pulled down fairly good grades and went on to a reputable university to earn a BA. (I could have said Bachelor of Arts, but it sounds funnier to say BA.) While in high school, my grades and other school-related activities were not a big enough deal to warrant a scholarship from a college, state or federal agency, or civic group. Not that it was by design, but I pretty much flew under the radar with the aforementioned entities. (It might have even come as a bit of a surprise to my college when I graduated: "Who’s Grant Greene? Did he really earn a BA from this institution?")

Scholarships are a funny thing. When I think of the word "scholar" I think of some old cat with shock-white hair and a cheesy mustache wearing a tweed sportcoat with leather patches on the elbows being asked by the PBS series Nova why ladybugs have such dreadful manners. And yet, we give scholarships to individuals who’ve shown they’re really good at playing something. Granted, not everyone can "read" a blitz or fully understand the mechanics behind a home-run swing. But I certainly don’t foresee a group of executives gathered around a conference table when the head of the group turns to the hulking mass of a man to his right and says, "Blutarski, you were a full-ride defensive lineman for Notre Dame, and I’m not even sure if you graduated. But what the heck, why don’t we leave it up to you to decide what percentage of mezzanine debt we want to include in this deal?"

I have no illusions as to the reason colleges offer these incentives to athletes: making money for the school! This may lead you to ask, then, "If making money is the motivation behind the giving of scholarships, then how do you explain their giving them for sports like archery and platform diving?" It’s a fair question, but I don’t have a clue as to the reason. (When’s the last time you saw a packed house at a badminton tournament?) To the extent that I believe calling these incentives "scholarships" is somewhat demeaning to the educational process, I’m all for keeping college sports (read: football and basketball) alive and well because they do make a boatload of cash for the schools.

Quite honestly, it would make more sense to recruit athletes as faculty members rather than as students. In the lion’s share of my college courses, the class was taught by a grad student while the professor was off writing a book in the name of the university. Athletes could "represent" the school in much the same way. Instead of writing books, they could, perhaps, be rewriting the record books with the most touchdowns or three-point shots in a regular season – all in the school’s name. Everybody wins: the school makes the money off of the sport, the athletes don’t have to bother with that pesky Algebra homework, the students get a first-rate team to root for, the boosters can stop skulking around in the dark shadows with the keys to a new SUV, and the IRS knows who’s getting paid what.

On the actual scholastic side of things, the awarding of scholarships to the extremely intelligent also seems to fly in the face of reason. Universities whose yearly tuition, per student, rivals the GNP of most third-world countries are courting the √úbergeniuses to come to their school for free. First of all, the universities are complete morons for turning away a paying customer in favor of a really smart freeloader. Secondly, if these kids are so smart, is sitting in a room designed by the same person who did the local women’s penitentiary and listening to an octogenarian who’s spent his entire life ensconced within the campus confines really going to make them smarter? Heck, most of these kids have already built their own nuclear particle accelerator or they’re destined to invent the next Google – school’s not going to get them any farther.

What’s the colleges’ motivation? Are they looking to be named "School with the Most Brainiacs" by Smart People Magazine? That would look good on the university letterhead, sure, and it might even get a bachelor dean more dates, but what else are they looking to get out of it? Plus, it’s really sort of lazy for the colleges to recruit the really smart kids. Isn’t that a big part of the reason colleges exist? To show that they can help improve the mind? And unlike sports, there’s no television market or spectator draw (read: money) for filling your ranks with the educational Wunderkind. "Hey, Steve, flip it over to PBS. I want to watch the smart kids at Stanford outthink Harvard. They’re the underdogs, but I like the odds."

Friday, March 03, 2006

Signs of the Apocalypse

This may be very hard to believe, but someone is actually going to pay me money (not in beaver pelts or boxes of salted pork) to write a newspaper column about whatever I want. I’m not lying. You can check for yourself in next month’s Hot Spot Journal. I believe the web address is http://www.hotspotjournal.com/ (I'm on page 18 of the current issue). The editor of said monthly newspaper sat down with me at a local Jack in the Box restaurant recently (she even offered to buy me breakfast, so put that in your pipe and smoke it), and she made me an offer I couldn’t refuse: the chance to reach 12,000 subscribers with my maniacal drivel and get paid to do it. This obviously means that the end of the world will quickly be upon us.
This impending finale of the Big Blue Marble on which we live didn’t just pop up on us suddenly. It’s been creeping up for lo these many years. For your review, I have put together a brief smattering of items/events that were designed to take our eyes off the ball:
1. The Schick Quattro: The goal with shaving, obviously, is to get your face and/or other hirsute body parts feeling like the surface of a baby’s bottom (preferably not after the child in question just consumed a lot of leafy green vegetables). But why the furor over four blades? Since the dawn of time, man (at the insistence of woman) has been quite able to remove the stubble from his face with a single-edged tool of some sort. Has the hair on our bodies become “smarter” over time much in the same way a flu strain builds up a resistance to a particular vaccine?
2. American Idol: Do you think it’s mere coincidence that this show is sponsored by Pop Tarts?
3. The Bill Clinton / Monica Lewinsky Debacle: When he finally admitted to lying to the American people, he was figuratively lifted atop the shoulders of the masses as if he just scored the game-winning goal in the 1980 Olympics. This is the same guy who swore to uphold the ethics of our highest office, and people are high-fiving him for scoring in the Oval Office. For some strange reason, I didn’t see those same people hanging around the court house to congratulate Mary Jo Laterno on sweet talking a younger man into her embrace. O Celebrity, Fickle is thy name!
4. Ronco: This is the company that brings you those can’t-live-without items you see featured on Saturday afternoon infomercials either because you’re too lazy to change the channel or you don’t have cable. Ronco has brought us “Great Looking Hair” Formula Number 9 Hair System, which is basically spray paint for bald spots. (I’m not quite sure what happened to the first eight formulas, but they obviously aren’t as effective as old Number 9.) Of note, too, are the Inside-the-Shell Egg Scrambler for the pathologically lazy omelet lover and the Bagel Cutter for the epileptic epicurean.
5. Oprah: Do I need to elaborate?
6. Bobblehead Dolls: Our affinity for these figurines isn’t borne solely out of a quaint adoration for the real person whom the doll represents but our unconscious acceptance that these people’s heads are, in fact, getting bigger by the day. Take Barry Bonds, for example: measure his proportions from news footage ten years ago and compare them to his dimensions today. They’re obviously askew. Our current gravitational field will quickly be knocked off kilter by these gargantuan noggins.
I’m no seer, but I believe these signs are pretty obvious. You’ll see my wisdom when you turn on the Super Bowl and find a 30-second commercial with Oprah Winfrey giving Bill Clinton the shave of a lifetime with a Schick Quattro while he scrambles eggs and cuts bagels. Obviously, you’ll need the wide screen TV so their heads will fit.