Friday, January 21, 2011

women cluck like starved pullets (Friday's Sunday's Poem/Hot Actress 71)

Autumn Begins in Martins Ferry, Ohio
by James Wright

In the Shreve High football stadium,
I think of Polacks nursing long beers in Tiltonsville,
And gray faces of Negroes in the blast furnace at Benwood,
And the ruptured night watchman of Wheeling Steel,
Dreaming of heroes.

All the proud fathers are ashamed to go home.
Their women cluck like starved pullets,
Dying for love.

Their sons grow suicidally beautiful
At the beginning of October,
And gallop terribly against each other's bodies.


About the poem: There's only three football games left this year, and one of them is the big Packers-Bears game this Sunday that has Wisconsinites (except me) all up in arms and nervous and getting overexcited. I thought, then, that I'd do a football-related poem, only there aren't any, really, except this one, which is sort of grim and bleak. Not the mood I was going for, but I was too lazy to go find another theme.

About the Hot Actress: My first choice was Alison Brie, because I watched Community last night, but she's only 27. So I went with Elisabeth Shue, because we watched Piranha last week, and in that movie, she tasered a fish. That's hot.

Governor Patsy creates more jobs... in government. (Publicus Proventus)

From here on out, Wisconsin governmental employees would be well-advised to not pocket that set of Post-Its to take home and use -- as Governor Patsy's Star Chamber is going to be looking for them:
Walker pledged on the campaign trail in August that the Governor's Commission on Waste, Fraud and Abuse would find $300 million a year in savings to help close an up to $3.3 billion shortfall projected for the state's 2011-'13 budget.

Walker signed the executive order creating the commission on his first day in office Monday.
"Right-sizing state government starts by identifying the areas where state government has not been a good steward of taxpayer dollars," Walker said in a statement. "This commission is the first step in restoring the people's trust in their government."

(Source.) The actual executive order is available online, and it's fun to look at where The Head Cheerleader thinks we'll find all the fraud-- namely, government workers putting in long hours:

According to a report by the Wisconsin Legislative Audit Bureau, the state paid $66.5 million in overtime wages in 2008, with 25 state employees earning more than $50,000 in overtime.

And the federal government, too:

The Wisconsin voter database required by the federal Help American Vote Act (HAVA) suffered delays and cost overruns, ultimately costing $14.1 million. Once completed, the Government Accountability Board request $1 million annually to maintain it.

Among other suspects. What wasn't discussed in any article I saw was whether this commission will cost anything -- that is, will we be spending money to investigate people spending money? And if so, how much? Should we appoint a commission to oversee the fraud commission?

Also not mentioned in the articles about government waste and fraud was Scott Walker's $6,400 tab for a rental SUV that he billed to the government. From Bill Lueders at The Daily Page:

Scott Walker spent more than $6,400 of the taxpayers' money on his personal vehicle during the two-month period before he took office, Isthmus has learned.

Receipts provided by the state Department of Transportation show that Walker racked up more than 12,500 miles on a brand new 2011 GMC Yukon XL provided by the state for his personal use.

As reported in Isthmus ("Scott Walker's Rockin' New Ride," 12/24/10), the state leased the vehicle for 60 days, from just after the election to just after Walker's inauguration. The state was charged $1,596 per month plus 20 cents for every mile in excess of 3,000.

Lueders notes that Walker's campaign focused on him brown-bagging it and driving his old car to "cut costs" and that Walker said "I think government should do the same."

Strange how that changes once one is the government, right?

My credit score is 1. (I blame old gambling debts. Stupid Buffalo Bills!)

Every day, I deal with people who are suffering from some kind of creditor/debtor problem - -they're in foreclosure or are being sued by a credit card company or need to refinance their house or might have their car taken away -- and many of those people have no idea what their credit score is, what's on their credit report, how things get there, and what they can do about it.

All those things are important because it helps tell me whether a wrongful lawsuit caused you damages, whether you might refinance your house quickly, whether there's any harm to filing a bankruptcy, and more. Knowing what your credit score is, what's on your credit report, and how these things work is critical to being an active participant in today's society.

And you can get that information at the credit report website run by Best Credit Report Site. (Catchy name, right?) They'll give you information on what your FICO score is, how to dispute your credit report, how to read and analyze your report, and more.

Become informed about something that's critically important: know about how your credit score and credit reports are formed and handled. Click that link for more information.

And then I never do that. (Stuff, and Junk.)

Today's XKCD comic is one of the kind of comics I love and hate:

I hate it because it feels like it'll take forever to read -- even though the actual time spent reading is probably only about a minute, a minute on the internet feels like 20 minutes of real time.

Or is that just me? Because when I see a video, for example, that someone wants me to watch and it's longer than 30 seconds, I tend to skip it because of that Internet Time Factor...

... and I love it because it's details and fun to read and makes a reference to Risk, a game which is definitely one of our underused cultural touchpoints, and also because in its detail and expansiveness it reminds me of a poster that was hanging in my fifth grade reading class, Building A Rainbow:

About twice a year, I think "I should really go online and order that poster and hang it in my office," and then I never do that.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

It's not only inspirational, but it's true, too. (Stuff, And Junk.)

Sometimes I think I'm not inspirational enough. Sometimes I think I'm too inspirational. I'm trying to hit the right balance. So, for example, I'll cut out a quote from a Sports Illustrated article about the movie The Fighter which reads as follows:

At bottom, The Fighter is the by-product of a sign posted back in a Lowell gym, Art Ramalho's, where Micky and Dicky began their careers and where much of the movie was shot. In big block letters, it is the sort of thought that sits up in the top drawer of Wahlberg's head: THE PERSON WHO REALLY WANTS TO DO SOMETHING FINDS A WAY; THE OTHER FINDS AN EXCUSE.
And I'll tape that onto our kitchen cabinets, where we have lots of things taped and post-it-ed, ranging from the inspirational (like that) to the more prosaic (a post-it that says water plant, a directive I routinely ignore).

Or, I'll have the exchange I just had with Sweetie about The Boy's effort to get tickets to the NFC championship game this weekend.

Sweetie texted me that The Boy

did not get tix. Sold out!

Which I pondered for a few seconds deciding how to respond, and came up with:

I figured, but at least he tried. Nobody can take that away from him.

I felt that struck the right balance.

Cheesburgers have pickles on them. Deal with it. (My Enemies List.)

10. People who "want it their way" at a restaurant.

The other day, I stopped off at Panera to get the Sweetie special -- a frozen mango drink and a piece of cake.

The "frozen mango" drink has three ingredients: mango slush, some strawberry syrup, and whipped cream.

In the past, whenever I tried to order the "frozen mango," which is what it's called on the menu, the Panera employees would ask me if I really meant the "mango smoothie," which is a totally different item on the menu. They've stopped that now, but they've started annoying me in a new way, as they did this Sunday: asking if I actually want all the ingredients in my food.

That is, when I ordered the "frozen mango," they asked me "Do you want the whipped cream on that?"

This is new to me, but not rare. When I go to McDonald's, they ask "Do you want whipped cream" on my shakes, and more and more when I go anyplace, they ask me Do you want this or that or the other thing on whatever it is I've ordered.


When I go to a chain restaurant -- which is pretty much the only kind of place I go to eat out -- I expect to get the standard item. When I order a Big Mac, I expect twoallbeefpattiesspecialsaucelettucecheesepicklesonionsonasesameseedbun.

That's the way it's made. That's standard issue.

I understand that some people don't want everything that usually comes on the sandwich, but those people are (a) too needy and (b) wrong. If you don't want a burger the way McDonald's wants to make it, don't eat at McDonald's. McDonald's burgers come with ketchup, mustard, pickles, and onions. Deal with it. Don't special order one with extra mustard but no onions. If you want a burger with non onions and extra mustard, either make one yourself, or find a restaurant that serves burgers that way.

Because what you've done, you have it your wayers, is put the burden on me to justify and explain my order. Now everything -- EVERYTHING -- is special ordered. Everywhere I go I've got to give detailed descriptions of what I want. I go to the movies, I've got to tell them whether I want a lot of ice or a little ice, whether I want salt and butter on my popcorn, butter in the middle, salt in the middle. I've got to specify that I want fries, not apples, and milk, not soda, with the Babies!' Happy Meals.

I just want to order my food the way it's supposed to be made. Why can't we just assume, when I say "cheeseburger" that I want the cheeseburger the way it's set out on the menu, and put the burden on the have-it-your-wayers to specify that they don't want it the regular, normal way?

So thanks, people who feel that they have to prove to the world how unique you are by making sure that the chicken sandwich they order at Wendy's has "half-lettuce, half arugula" or whatever. You've made my life harder because you have an inferiority complex.

People Who've Already Made My Enemies List:

1. People who honk their horn.
2. Pepperoni pizza.
3. The 2008 Detroit Lions.
4. The guy who programmed my cell phone camera, etc. etc....
5. The guy whose house I'm stalking.
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Indian Bunnies Wearing Crowns. (Life With Unicorns)

Looking for a post? It's been removed and can now be found in my book "Life With Unicorns." Look for it on Amazon and Kindle. Click here for a list of all my books.

Monday, January 17, 2011

I've hit the big time! (I Get Paid For Doing This)

I'm going to be doing a nationally-available webcast on the amazingly-interesting topic of loan modifications. This is by far the biggest seminar I've done yet, and as part of that I get to stay, free at a hotel in the city where I'm going to film the webcast.

And the hotel I'm staying at is top of the line, too -- as befits a huge media star like me. Just look at the Points Of Interest available in and around the hotel. You'll have to click the picture to read it, probably:
I plan on taking in the scenic walking trail, and then -- if I can arrange it -- having my picture taken in front of the "On-Site Coin Operated Laundry."

Quote of the Day, 54.

I don't think anyone's ever said 'congratulations' to me about having a birthday before.

A secretary at work.

I'd gone to get a cup of coffee and ran into her in the kitchen that we have in our office for some reason. So I had to make small talk, and asked whether she'd had an okay weekend.

"Yes," she said. "It was my birthday."

So I congratulated her, and she said the quote, but what was I supposed to say? What's the proper remark when someone tells you they had a birthday, recently? I mean, I suppose I could've said oh, well, happy birthday, but that doesn't actually fit, because I'm wishing her a happy birthday only the birthday is already in the past -- so nothing I wish for her can change that. It's like telling someone good luck after the race is over.

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It's not supposed to all take place in an 11x11 room. (The Rum Punch Review of "Room" by Emma Donoghue, part 2)

(Read Part One, here.)

As I was saying, it was a tough decision to decide to buy, and read, Room, because I have a hard time not worrying about the Babies!, and consequently I seem to have a hard time separating fictional works about people who've suffered kid-related problems and my own life.

But everytime I would go on my Kindle and look at the wish list to decide what book to buy, there it was: Room, Emma Donoghue, calling to me, until finally, just before Christmas, I decided Oh, heck, just buy it.

I immediately regretted and loved that decision. Room sucked me in, immediately -- making my stomach clench up with tension as I began reading it.

Room is told from the perspective of Jack, a five-year-old who lives in a tiny 11 x 11 room with his mom. Jack's mom has been abducted, and she gave birth to Jack while she's being held captive. Jack was born in, and has lived in, the 11x11 room --which he calls Room -- all his life.

The story begins on Jack's fifth birthday, with Jack introducing us to the characters in his life: his Mom, but the other "people" in his world: Jack's world is made up of the inanimate objects who fill his life, too, from "Egg Snake," which is a collection of eggshells on a thread stored under the bed, to various toys to Wardrobe (where Jack sleeps on the nights when his mom's abductor comes visiting.)

The story itself is both weirdly claustrophobic and brisk moving, the latter despite the fact that nothing much happens. Jack goes through his fifth birthday, getting his present and a cake, and through the routine of his day: he gets to watch two TV shows, showing people from "outer space," as he calls what he believes to be the made-up world outside of room, the world he sees on TV. (He calls the television stations and shows he watches other "planets".) He goes through gym class -- his Mom has him do exercises -- and practices what passes for his schooling, naming things and spelling words and reading one of the five books he has.

The whole thing seems normal but is heartbreaking for that: Jack's world is anything but normal, and it's sad because of that feeling. On his birthday, Jack gets his present from his mom: A hand-drawn picture of himself that, his mom explains, she drew while he was sleeping because she didn't want him to know about it and spoil the surprise. When I read that, I felt sad for Jack not getting more for his birthday -- and then sad for myself for thinking that Jack's birthday required toys and games and books and more, rather than a mother who loves him.

Which is part of the heartbreaking and sad and yet thoughtful quality that comes out of Room, as we learn about Jack's life: We are constantly trying to tell ourselves that this thing doesn't matter or that thing doesn't matter, trying to arrange in categories and ranks what's really important in our life versus what's not important. We say it's the thought that counts or what kids really need is parents who love them and the like, but we never really think about what those mean or what would happen if those platitudes came literally true.

I'm a fan of argument by exaggeration to make a point. Here's an example: a year ago, I was talking with my brother about whether or not it was okay for people to go out shopping on Thanksgiving. We were talking about my belief that the holiday would eventually disappear and how in part that was because people felt free to go out shopping and we had this discussion:

Him: I'd never go out shopping on Thanksgiving. Never.

Me: Sure you would.

Him: Never.

Me: Suppose they had a promotion where the first 20 people at Wal-Mart got 60" plasma TVs. Wouldn't you line up then?

Him: No way. Not worth it.

Me: What if the first 20 people got $1,000,000? Then would you go?

Him: Well, sure, then, I might try to line up.

So I established that there are times he'd think it's okay to leave the house and go to Wal-Mart on Thanksgiving -- it's just a matter of degree. He'll go for a million bucks. Other people will go if they can get Zhu Zhu pets 3 for $10.

Once you establish that it's okay to do something on Thanksgiving, something commercial, the argument-by-exaggeration has proved its point: There's no absolute there, so the I'd never go anywhere on Thanksgiving rule isn't a rule at all. The actual rule is I'd never go anywhere on Thanksgiving, unless I thought it was really worth it.

It's the same way with people who only play the lottery when the award is a hundred million or more (something that a comedian once joked about: oh, I only play when the award's a hundred million. I'm not settling for just fifty million. Or something like that.) They're not against the lottery; they just want a bigger reward for their (nominal) investment.

In a similar vein, Room made me think about all those things we say so often about kids and parents and our lives and our philosophies. I'm one of those parents who says things like What kids really want is time with their parents. But here's a kid who had almost nothing but time with his mom -- and I thought it was horrible.

So why was it horrible? Because the childhood wasn't normal: It was a mockery of childhood -- a kid with nothing but free time, spending it all with his mom, who appeared to be a very level-headed mom, limiting his TV and making him exercise and eat right and reading to him and encouraging his mental development, all those things that kids are supposed to do...

...but it's not supposed to all take place in an 11x11 room, is it? So the ongoing story, as Jack's and his mom's life unfolds, with its domestic details (they take a bath, they wash their clothes in the bathtub, they clean the Room, they draw, they play games) becomes sadder and more horrifying the more I thought about it, the more I read about it. It became too depressing, almost, to read, and a couple times I had to deliberately stop reading because it became too much to take. Jack's life, although he doesn't know it, is a parody of real life in which the only outside he sees is on TV and through a tiny skylight where sometimes he can see God's face - the sun- shining in.

That's all bad enough. It's hard enough to contemplate raising a kid under those circumstances. (It's not hard to contemplate being a kid: Jack doesn't know there's anything wrong with his life, or even anything unusual about it. He hasn't yet gathered that there must be living people outside the Room and doesn't know that their lives are not so circumscribed as his.) I kept, as I was reading, wondering what I'd do, how I wouldn't crumble under the pressure of wondering what will happen when Jack is six, or seven, or thirteen.

I feel bad, as a parent, when I screw up in a minor way. Yesterday, I promised Mr Bunches that we'd go to the library after going to the office. But the library didn't open until 1, and we had other errands to do, so I told him we'd have to go to the library another time. Then I felt awful and stopped to let him get some colors and a set of trucks (with army men and a book for Mr F) to make it up to him.

If not getting to go to the library makes me feel that bad, how would not being able to let my son go to the park feel?

Then, there are the elements of Jack's life that he presents as perfectly normal -- because they're part of his daily life and he doesn't know anything different -- while we know them for what they are: worse parts of his life.

Those parts include the daily scream, when his Mom and he stand up and yell at the top of their lungs as long as they can to try to attract attention. Jack doesn't know why he does this, but he helps out. And those parts include visits from Old Nick, the man who captured Jack's mom and who comes visiting some, but not all, nights. On those nights, Jack must go in the wardrobe to sleep and listens quietly to what's going on outside the little enclosure -- the room within a Room -- to try to figure out this strange element of his world. (Jack's mom makes him go into the wardrobe because she doesn't want Old Nick to ever see Jack, even though Old Nick is Jack's biological father.)

Just detailing Jack's life with his Mom carried the book probably through a third or half the book, with no other tension beyond those I just described: the tension of raising a boy under those circumstances, of the sometimes-visits from a captor, and the discrepancies between Jack's life and what we consider "normal."

Then the book takes a more dramatic twist, even, as Old Nick turns off the power for a few days and Jack's mom decides they have to leave. And that's where Room turns from a disturbing-but-good book into a truly great one.

Go on to part three by clicking here.

Read More Rum Punch Reviews by clicking here.

Page down to see Sweetie's Knee! (Saturday Adventures.)

With the holidays over, and, more importantly, with me having a camera that makes it easier than ever to get photos onto this blog, it's time to revive the Saturday Adventures!

This week's Adventure started small: we planned on going to the downtown library, which is our new hangout ever since our old library turned out to be intolerant and I swore never to ever go there again. But we also planned to check out a new art display at the Madison Museum of Contemporary Art, and run a few errands.

Adventure: Doing Some Stuff, Beginning With The Library.

First stop: Get gas, and make sure I know how to work the camera on my new phone, a feature I tested out by holding it over my head and snapping this photo of my intrepid co-adventurers:

That's Mr F on the left, already featuring some of the Cheeto Fallout from the puffs he was eating.

We headed to Madison's downtown Central Library, mostly because I figured, as a replacement library, it would be the biggest and also would be near my office so that on Sundays, when the Babies! come with me to work, we could stop by the library on our way home. (Sadly, that turned out not to work because yesterday, when we did go to the office, on the way out Mr Bunches wanted to go to the library but it doesn't open until 1 on Sundays.)

Anyway, the kids' room at the main library is pretty big and was also pretty raucous, for a library. I shushed Mr F and Mr Bunches on the way up, but once we were upstairs in Kidville there was no need to shush them.

Mr F began looking at the books right away:

While Mr Bunches located their giant train set and immediately was hooked:

Over to one side was a crafts table -- one of two -- where the kids could make spiders out of paper plates. We collaborated on one: I punched the holes for the legs, and Mr Bunches put them in. He then glued the eyes on, and Mr F finished up with blue glitter:

Mr F looking out the window of the library at the Overture Center across the street:

While he was doing that, Mr Bunches was playing trucks. We also baked a batch of pretend cookies, and even read a book (if you can imagine doing that at a library) before heading over to the Overture Center to check out "Our Tiny Friends and Foes," an art display of crocheted, knitted, and otherwise crafty germs and bacteria and stuff:

From there, it was over to the Museum of Contemporary Art, where I wanted to check out a display called "Rapture." By then, the boys were getting tired. This is them in the elevator up to the main level of the museum:

Rapture was there, featured on the main floor with eerie music and black and white films in a darkened room, but if you're going to check out a piece of giant conceptual art meant to make you contemplative, it's best not to take Mr F, as he's kind of touchy and wanted to go feel the movie screens. The more I said to him "it's not to touch, it's just to look at," the closer the security guard got to us. So we gave up and went to look at the stick horse in the lobby (Mr Bunches wanted to ride it, I said no) and then headed out, walking past the federal courthouse that I always think looks, itself, like a modern art museum:

From there, we headed to the grocery store to get those things we forgot the night before when we went grocery shopping (Dishwashing soap, Life + Style magazine, and Honey Bunches of Oats cereal). Plus, we had to stock up on a new set of colors:

Then it was back home, where the Babies! were left to play on their own while I relaxed with some pizza and my new Entertainment Weekly magazine. Originally, Sweetie was featuerd in this picture:

But she got mad and said I shouldn't post pictures of her, so I took a new one in which you can see her right knee, which I am (I guess) free to post.

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