SPidge Tales

Friday, February 20, 2009

This Blog Is Retired

I began this blog in August 2005. I had way too much time on my hands. I still do, but I gave up the blog in April 2008. The blog is still here for, I don't know, posterity.

Some of the posts I think are pretty good. Some are amazingly bad. If you wish, you may read through the archives and comment.

These are my current websites:

Links I Bookmark

My Amazon.com Book Reviews

Friday, April 11, 2008

Know your ABC's or People Will Starve

Fifty years ago, bad grammar would get you a slap on the wrists from Sister Mary Catherine’s ruler. Today, bad grammar means poor people will die.

The website www.FreeRice.com teaches American kids and feeds African kids at the same time. Some starving kid is waiting to eat, and his appetite counts on you knowing your podiatrist from your pediatrician. Free Rice gives you a vocabulary word such as "complaisance," followed by four choices such as ’lottery,’ ’icing,’ ’dusk,’ and ’agreeableness.’ If you clicked ’agreeableness,’ congratulations! Twenty grains of rice will be donated to fight world hunger. And if you got it wrong? Well poor little Singh in Calcutta.

What? Is there some guy holding food on a string over the outstretched hands of poor Indian and African children saying, "No food until some American kid clicks on a website and gets a grammar question right"?

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Gov. Eliot "Client 9" Spitzer

I smelled trouble the moment governor Eliot “Client 9” Spitzer approached the podium for a press conference, with his wife by his side. This is the modern politician’s way of announcing to the world he will be sleeping on the couch tonight.

I’m in shock. I don’t know what to think about this. Those $4,300 dollars could have bought countless drivers licenses for illegal immigrants. What happened to the good old days, when philandering politicians sat in bathroom stalls and tapped their feet?

Three-thousand years ago, King David sealed his love affair with Bathsheba by sending her husband, Uriah the Hittite, to death in battle. Today’s politicians seal their infidelities with a different type of deathblow. They butcher our intelligence with the farcical press conference and the euphemistic circumlocutions. “It was a lapse in judgment.” Gee, you think?

Political maneuvering has been around since the dawn of man. Can we be all that surprised when a practitioner of probably the world’s second oldest profession gets caught up in the world’s oldest occupation?

Friday, March 07, 2008

Geography Skillz

Use this map and see how good you are with geography. This game's addicting. If the map doesn't work, go to http://www.travelpod.com/traveler-iq

presented by TravelPod, the World's Original Travel Blog ( Part of the TripAdvisor Media Network )

Monday, February 04, 2008

Eighteen and One! 18 and 1!

Congratulations New England Patriots on your magnificent season . Your 18 wins ties the '84 49ers and the '85 Bears for most victories in a single season. You are the greatest regular season team of all time. And, think about this: How many people can say they are second best on the whole planet at what they do? You are the second best football team in the world.

Also, congratulations to the Super Bowl Champion New York Giants, the best football team in the world.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

We Got Him!

Mets sign winning 'Han'

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Getting Hit on by a Gay Man at a Redneck Bar

Redneck Pub* is the last place a person would expect to meet a flamboyant gay man, let alone get hit on by one. Redneck Pub has NFL pennants, NASCAR decals, a pool table and dartboard, Vietnam POW-MIA drapings, live country bands and a dance floor, and a steady diet of Michelob Ultra, Miller Lite, and Budweiser. Yet on Friday, the unwanted advances of a gay man are exactly what happened.

I went to Redneck’s with my friend Angela. I was the designated driver, but at the start, I still had fun. We even played darts with a couple of locals. Soon, the monotony of middle-aged mustachioed men was delightfully disrupted by the entrance of the most beautiful woman I have seen to date in my year and a half living in the North Country.

If I were a romance novelist, I’d give a metaphor-filled description, starting with, “Her flowing curly blond locks radiated…” But I am terrible at describing, so I will break the unwritten bad writer no-no by comparing her to a celebrity. I will just say, “She was in her early 20’s, and looked kind of like Taylor Swift, and just as beautiful.”

She walked in with her slightly less hot, but still very attractive, female friend (no problem there). But right behind followed their two good looking mid 20’s male companions (darn!). No sooner did I glimpse her, than I got tapped on the shoulder by a man who looked like Al Franken. “Al” (not his real name, but I will call him “Al” for anonymity purposes), was very friendly and very flamboyant. He talked like Stuart Smalley. He introduced me to the man and woman standing with him. They were not with him, just people he’d met, like me. I though, ‘Okay, he’s a friendly gay man introducing himself to everyone since he likes to make conversation. No problem.’

My mind (and my steady shifting glances) was still on the curly blond haired beauty. To my delight, Al called her over. “Come here. I just HAVE to talk to you.”

The conversation was interesting. “You know, you’re gorgeous, right?”…“I LOVE that jacket! I designed it myself!”

She responded to his compliments with head nods, thank you’s, and delighted (‘delight’ and its variations will be my overused word for this essay) blushes that augmented her natural beauty.

Al introduced “Taylor” (what I shall call her for purposes of anonymity) to me and the others in our group. ‘This is great,’ I thought. ‘The gay man is going to help me talk to the pretty girl. Too bad she is with those guys over there, but it’s always good to get practice talking to beautiful women, whether they are available or not.’

Of course, I wasn’t sure what to say. ‘So, you come here often?’ roamed through my head, until I quickly swatted that pathetic cliché out of my mind. ‘Are you from here?’ wouldn’t work either, since she already told Al she lived in Ogdensburg. Like I usually do, I froze up, didn’t know what to say, so I just said, “Hi, I’m Sean,” and smiled.

Then, Al re-grabbed the reins of the conversation and took things in a great direction. He asked Taylor, “So which one of those pieces of man-candy are you with?”

“None of them,” said Taylor. “I’m single. They aren’t my type.”

“We need to talk,” said Al. Al and Taylor went off to chat, and I went to the bathroom. I played some more darts with my friend Angela and the locals. Soon, Al came strolling over. He asked me about my hair, what I did with it, complimented me on it, and even suggested where I should go to get it cut and styled. He even asked me how old he looked, and since he was acting like a middle aged woman, I treated him like one, and gave him friendly compliments, just like I would to placate a middle aged woman. “You can’t be older than 35,” I said, even though it was obvious he was in his 40’s.

“I’m 49!” he said.

I thought to myself, ‘this is fun. He noticed me glancing over at Taylor, and he came over to help me out. He’s going to be my “Queer Eye for the Straight Guy” helper. He’s giving me style tips so I can go talk to Taylor.’ And, I certainly needed all the style tips I could use, seeing as a pack of 20-something-year-old meatheads swarmed around Taylor, all vying for attention. I had one of those jungle kingdom flashbacks, just like Lindsay Lohan in Mean Girls. If I was going to break through the lion pack and assert myself as King of the Jungle, I had better listen to Al and play along.

“Have you ever heard of this restaurant in Potsdam?” asked Al. “It has nice Italian food, a great wine selection, and a full Starbuck’s coffee bar.”

‘Wow, what a nice guy,’ I thought. ‘He’s even giving me dating suggestions.’ ‘Gay guys have so much style, it’s a good thing they aren’t into girls,’ my thoughts continued, ‘or we straight guys would never get any dates with the ladies.’

“So, you wanna go sometime?” asked Al. Wow! That question was a huge sucker punch to my naiveté. I just gave him a blank stare.

It got worse. He put his hand on my arm and said, “Ooh! Do you work out?”

I bluntly said, “No.” My mind started going into hyper-drive. ‘What did I do wrong? How could I have possibly led this man on? Do I exude Gay-Dar? Do I really need to wear a “Do Not Enter” sign on my back just above my pants? Did I make a mistake—is the name of this bar not “Redneck’s” but “Bathhouse”?’

Now, I’ve always thought of myself as tolerant. Yes, my beliefs on dating are similar to the teachings of my Catholic faith. But, I am against gay bashing. I am against employment discrimination. I think “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” should be abolished and gays should be allowed to serve openly in the military. I think gay and lesbians should be able to do anything they want in their personal life, free from state interference. And, just as I would never judge or condemn a straight couple living together outside of marriage, even though I believe it is wrong, I would never dream of judging gays in person, no matter my personal beliefs on the lifestyle. I believe gay couples should receive government benefits, even if I believe that marriage is between a man and a woman.

I had never before thought of myself as homophobic. I had always enjoyed meeting gay men and lesbians. I had always found gay flamboyance (and—yes—I know not all gays are flamboyant. Probably most aren’t. I’m just saying…) entertaining. But, I had never been hit on before. I was uncomfortable and I didn’t know what to do. I didn’t want to just come out and say, ‘I am into women,’ because, maybe he really wasn’t hitting on me (maybe he just wanted to make a new friend. Doubtful, but still…), and that would be interpreted as awkward and rude. Also, I had already told him my age (27). I thought it was creepy that someone 22 years older than me—someone old enough to be my parent!—was hitting on me. I mean, “middle-aged-man” is the exact opposite category from the type of people I am attracted to. I like 20 to 30 year old women.

If I were a woman, it would have been perfectly socially acceptable to flat out say, ‘you’re a creepy old man. Get away from me.’ But if I said that, it could come across as homophobic. So, I couldn’t just tell the truth—I am straight—since it might come across as awkward. I couldn’t point out the creepiness of the age dynamic since that might be interpreted as a homophobic excuse. And, I couldn’t lie and tell him that my friend Angela and I are dating, since I had already told him that Angela and I are just friends.

If Taylor, the beautiful curly haired blond, was not there, I would have lied and said Angela was my girlfriend. But I was hoping for the chance to talk to Taylor, so I had told the truth. Since I was the designated driver, I played that up and said I needed to get going, and after awhile, Angela and I were finally able to escape Al’s conversation and fake pouting at my reticience towards his advances, and we left without me getting the chance to talk to Taylor (who was still surrounded by the herd of every twenty-something male in the bar).

I am not a redneck gay basher. I am also not a 21st century enlightened tolerant man. I am probably smack dab in the middle, the embodiment of Seinfeld’s comment on gays, “…not that there’s anything wrong with that.” I am a typical male who tries to be tolerant and open minded, but is still slightly uncomfortable around gay men. I realize the flaw lies with me. But on the bright side, I used to always get made fun of in high school for wearing mismatching clothes. This proves my fashion sense most certainly has improved since then.

*Name of the bar changed for purposes of anonymity AND to give a better picture of the environment.

Monday, January 07, 2008

Huckabee and Edwards are Catty Mean Girls

“Change over experience,” scream the pundits, newsmen, and Monday Morning Quarterbacks after Thursday night’s Iowa caucuses. Republican Mike Huckabee and democrat Barack Obama, the first round winners in this year’s presidential race, are viewed as agents of change. Frank Rich called it in his Sunday New York Times column, "They Didn't Stop Thinking About Tomorrow". But, it is not Obama who should be lumped in with Huckabee. It is Huckabee’s fellow prophet of doom, democrat John Edwards, who should be linked, says Washington Post columnist George Will, in "Iowa's Histrionic Hucksters".

There are two wings in the modern Republican Party; the social conservative wing, and the economic, Wall Street, conservative wing. One, as Will says, wants to “take back this nation for Christ,” and the other wants to “take back the nation for James Madison.” These two wings tolerate one another, so long as they allow the other to exist. It is an uneasy alliance that mixes rich businessmen who secretly pay for their teenage daughter’s abortions with evangelical Christians who probably think Dow Jones is a local preacher.

But Mike Huckabee, the modern William Jennings Bryan (despite Will’s allusion of John Edwards to the famed lawyer/three-time presidential candidate), is a Christian populist who rejects the Wall Street message, simultaneously opposing the murder of unborn children (sorry for the blunt language; that is what it is) and favoring government spending to help the poor. He is on a messianic mission to save America. This man, outspent twenty to one by republican contender Mitt Romney, was able to beat the former Massachusetts governor, he of the heretical Mormon faith, through the grace of the One True God. Huckabee won, by “the same power that helped a little boy with two fish and five loaves feed a crowd of 5,000 people.” George Will says, “God so loves Huckabee’s politics that He worked a Midwest miracle on his behalf? Should someone so delusional control nuclear weapons?”

John Edwards is no less messianic in his populism. Obama wants the establishment and the pandered-to masses to hold hands and sing kumbaya. Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton is the establishment. Edwards excoriates the establishment, speaking out against the supposed futility of working with the producers of corporate greed.

Could we call Edwards and Huckabee Old Testament-style populist prophets of doom? No. Edwards and Huckabee are not true prophets. They do not follow in the footsteps of Isaiah and Elijah, Micah and Amos, or the one man worthy of a messiah complex, Jesus Christ, the Messiah Himself. Huckabee and Edwards are Cady Heron, Regina George and Gretchen Wieners, Mean Girls who smile to each other’s face, but talk gossip behind the back. Huckabee and Edwards are typical teenage girls who act friendly, but throw the “bitch,” “slut,” and “whore” accusations around to improve their own fragile social standing.

Sure, Huckabee and Edwards speak out against the Man. They condemn corporate greed, and the fat cats who get rich off the poor. But, do they ever do this at fat cat meetings? No, they preach to the choir, to friendly crowds who buy into their message. They are not true prophets, but rather cowards. Those Old Testament prophets directed their message to the bad guys; they didn’t sit around talking about the bad guys to crowds of fawning admirers. Jesus didn’t say, “let’s go tell those Pharisees, I come not to bring peace, but to bring a sword.” He told the bad guys themselves, “I bring a sword.”

Huckabee and Edwards are telling America to repent of its sinful, corporate greedy, ways. But, they aren’t telling “America” that. They are kissing America’s ass, and telling America we need to fight together some ephemeral enemy.

Sorry, Huckabee. Sorry, Edwards. You can’t fight the Man by pandering to the common man. If Huck and Edwards want to be prophets of change, they need to bring that message to those corporate baddies they believe are ruining America. It doesn’t cut it to smile politely at the establishment, then call the populist people on the phone and spread the class warfare gossip. Huckabee and Edwards are no Messiahs. They are just small town Mean Girls.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Giants Face Their Battle of New Orleans against the Patriots

On January 8, 1815, Andrew Jackson led American forces to victory over the British at the Battle of New Orleans. The British sustained 2000 casualties, while the Americans lost as few as 100. This great victory made Andrew Jackson a national hero and household name, propelling him to one of America’s most eventful presidencies.

But the battle was otherwise meaningless. Two weeks earlier, on Christmas Eve 1814, the U.S. and Britain signed a peace treaty in Ghent, modern-day Belgium, officially ending the War of 1812. But since people did not yet have wireless Internet, the news reached American shore too late to stop war’s final battle.

My New York Giants face a similar battle on Saturday. They play the mighty undefeated New England Patriots. In the grand scheme of things, the game is meaningless. The Giants are 10-5, and locked into the 5 seed in the playoffs. They play Tampa Bay in round one whether they finish 11-5 or 10-6. Ninety-nine percent of the time, teams sit their best players to avoid injury. But New England is the first team to ever start a regular season 15-0, and has a chance to be only the second team in the Super Bowl era to complete an unbeaten regular season. The Giants have a chance to ruin history and make a name for themselves. A chance, I believe, that makes the injury risk worth it.

Sure, the Giants need their stars healthy to make a deep playoff run. But I know this Giants team. If they are anything, they are inconsistent. The Giants have not put together three straight consistent games all year, and I don’t see it happening in the playoffs. They will not play three straight solid games. They will not make the Super Bowl. This week is their Super Bowl. The game will be simulcast on NBC and CBS. If the Giants can shock the world, they will be remembered as the one team to beat the NFL’s all-time greatest team (which the 2007 Patriots will go down as when they take home the Lombardi trophy in February). If the Giants pull off the upset, Eli Manning can have his Andrew Jackson moment and make a name for himself. This is his fifth up-and-down season, and if he is going to make what Bill Simmons calls The Leap, it is now or never. If Elishah Manning is ever going to be a great quarterback, if he is going to lead the Giants to glory sometime in the next half decade, if he is going to ride a chariot of fire to Super Bowl heaven, like his Biblical prophet namesake’s friend Elijah, then he needs to make like the Americans at the battle of New Orleans, even if the Giants already signed their playoff ticket Treaty at Ghent in last week’s victory over the Bills.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

PC Christmas Story (A day late, but still...)

And Joseph went up from Galilee to Bethlehem with Mary, his espoused wife, who was great with child. And she brought forth a son and wrapped him in swaddling clothes and laid him in a manger because there was no room for them in the inn. And the angel of the Lord spoke to the shepherds and said, "I bring you tidings of great joy. Unto you is born a Savior, which is Christ the Lord."

"There's a problem with the angel," said a Pharisee who happened to be strolling by. As he explained to Joseph, angels are widely regarded as religious symbols, and the stable was on public property where such symbols were not allowed to land or even hover.

"And I have to tell you, this whole thing looks to me very much like a Nativity scene," he said sadly. "That's a no-no, too." Joseph had a bright idea. "What if I put a couple of reindeer over there near the ox and ass?" he said, eager to avoid sectarian strife.

"That would definitely help," said the Pharisee, who knew as well as anyone that whenever a savior appeared, judges usually liked to be on the safe side and surround it with deer or woodland creatures of some sort. "Just to clinch it, throw in a candy cane and a couple of elves and snowmen, too," he said. "No court can resist that."

Mary asked, "What does my son's birth have to do with snowmen?" "Snowpersons," cried a young woman, changing the subject before it veered dangerously toward religion. Off to the side of the crowd, a Philistine was painting the Nativity scene. Mary complained that she and Joseph looked too tattered and worn in the picture. "Artistic license," he said. "I've got to show the plight of the haggard homeless in a greedy, uncaring society in winter," he quipped. "We're not haggard or homeless. The inn was just full," said Mary. "Whatever," said the painter.

Two women began to argue fiercely. One said she objected to Jesus' birth "because it privileged motherhood." The other scoffed at virgin births, but said that if they encouraged more attention to diversity in family forms and the rights of single mothers, well, then, she was all for them. "I'm not a single mother," Mary started to say, but she was cut off by a third woman who insisted that swaddling clothes are a form of child abuse, since they restrict the natural movement of babies.

With the arrival of 10 child advocates, all trained to spot infant abuse and manger rash, Mary and Joseph were pushed to the edge of the crowd, where arguments were breaking out over how many reindeer (or what mix of reindeer and seasonal sprites) had to be installed to compensate for the infant's unfortunate religious character.

An older man bustled up, bowling over two merchants, who had been busy debating whether an elf is the same as a fairy and whether the elf/fairy should be shaking hands with Jesus in the crib or merely standing to the side, jumping around like a sports mascot.

"I'd hold off on the reindeer," the man said, explaining that the use of asses and oxen as picturesque backdrops for Nativity scenes carries the subliminal message of human dominance. He passed out two leaflets, one denouncing manger births as invasions of animal space, the other arguing that stables are "penned environments" where animals are incarcerated against their will. He had no opinion about elves or candy canes.

Signs declaring "Free the Bethlehem 2" began to appear, referring to the obviously exploited ass and ox. Someone said the halo on Jesus' head was elitist. Mary was exasperated. "And what about you, old mother?" she said sharply to an elderly woman. "Are you here to attack the shepherds as prison guards for excluded species, maybe to complain that singing in Latin identifies us with our Roman oppressors, or just to say that I should have skipped patriarchal religiosity and joined some dumb new-age goddess religion?"

"None of the above," said the woman, "I just wanted to tell you that the Magi are here." Sure enough, the three wise men rode up. The crowd gasped, "They're all male!" And "Not very multicultural!" "Balthasar here is black," said one of the Magi. "Yes, but how many of you are gay or disabled?" someone shouted. A committee was quickly formed to find an impoverished lesbian wise-person among the halt and lame of Bethlehem.

A calm voice said, "Be of good cheer, Mary, you have done well and your son will change the world." At last, a sane person, Mary thought. She turned to see a radiant and confident female face. The woman spoke again: "There is one thing, though. Religious holidays are important, but can't we learn to celebrate them in ways that unite, not divide? For instance, instead of all this business about 'Gloria in excelsis Deo,' why not just 'Season's Greetings'?"

Mary said, "You mean my son has entered human history to deliver the message, 'Hello, it's winter'?" "That's harsh, Mary," said the woman. "Remember, your son could make it big in midwinter festivals, if he doesn't push the religion thing too far. Centuries from now, in nations yet unborn, people will give each other pricey gifts and have big office parties on his birthday. That's not chopped liver."

"Let me get back to you," Mary said.*
*Not sure where I found this. Whoever the author is, s/he deserves credit for a job well done.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Why an Atheist Cannot be President

In less than 11 months, we may have our first woman president-elect; or we may have our first black president-elect; or we may have our first Mormon president-elect (who would double as our first Ken-doll president-elect). But we will not have our first atheist president-elect. No out-of-the-closet atheist is running. No open atheist could run. There are still a handful of Americans who wouldn’t vote for a woman or a black man, and there is a sizable minority who would not vote Latter-Day-Saint. But an atheist in America does not have a prayer.

Is hostility to atheism the last acceptable prejudice? Is it wrong for Americans to dismiss a man for his lack of religious conviction and endorse (at least on the Republican side) Mr. William Jennings Bryan 2000 (Mike Huckabee) and his 10,000-year-old earth?

I don’t believe opposition to atheism is an irrational prejudice. Strident atheism, I really think, is incompatible with our American way of life. No, Americans are not itching for a return to Christendom. We like religious freedom. We are religiously tolerant. Each December, we have a public melting pot of crèche, Santa Claus, menorah, and Kwanzaa displays. But atheism by its very nature is intolerant and incompatible. As much as an atheist may claim tolerance and respect towards other beliefs, in his secret heart he thinks all religious claims are bullshit.

A devout Christian no doubt thinks her religion is superior to, say, Hinduism or Buddhism. An orthodox Jew believes he is one of God’s specially chosen people. A staunch Muslim believes he is closer to Allah than the infidel. Anyone strongly committed to her faith by definition believes followers of other religions are “wrong” when their beliefs go against or contradict the dogma of her creed. For example, Christians believe in resurrection of the dead. Reincarnation is not a part of Christian doctrine. Therefore, a Christian, of course, would believe that the Buddhist belief in reincarnation is wrong. Islam, for example, believes that God would never become human. God is transcendent, and always outside the world. So, of course, Muslims by definition would reject the Christian belief in the Incarnation. A good Muslim must believe that faith in Jesus Christ as God Incarnate, as the Second Person in the Trinity, is wrong.

But, these criticisms between religions differ from atheist critiques of faith in a vital way. Religious criticism of other faiths is secondary, while atheistic criticism of faith is primary. Christianity, by definition, may consider Hinduism in error on the afterlife. Islam and Judaism may consider Christianity in error on the nature of Jesus. But the primary belief of Christianity is not that everyone else is partly (or more than partly) wrong. The primary tenet of Christianity is faith in the Incarnation, redeeming death, and Resurrection of Christ; the rest just follows secondarily. Judaism may consider other faiths to be in error; but its primary belief is not in the error of others but in the covenantal relationship between God and His people. Islam may consider non-Muslims infidels; but its primary point is not the error of others, but that there is one God, Allah, and Muhammad is His prophet.

However, the primary belief of atheism is the fallacy of everyone else. For atheism, “you are wrong” comes first. As a Christian, if I meet a Muslim, I know he thinks I am partly in error. But that is just a side effect of his primary beliefs. When I meet an atheist, he thinks first and foremost that my belief is wrong. In fact, that is all he’s got. The ONLY thing he believes is that I am wrong (as is everyone else who believes in anything more than the natural world).

We Americans are pluralistic. We each believe in God in our own way, and most of us are open to the idea that another faith might be right, or at least right in some ways. We believe differently, but we respect one another for believing in something more than ourselves. But atheists, frankly, make us uncomfortable. They don’t see different faiths as different (if not less valid) ways to God. They condescendingly see all faith as childish. As Boston College philosopher Peter Kreeft says, “To be an atheist is to be a snob. For it is to believe that 9 out of every 10 people who ever lived were wrong in their deepest, most heartfelt beliefs.” And, for some evidence of this snobbery, read the new books by Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens, or read the comments section from any article on the New York Times website dealing with religion or faith.

If you really want to understand these obnoxious atheists, just think back to high school, and think of the nerds who couldn’t understand why the girls always dated the good-looking athletes. They failed to see how condescending they really were to the “average”-intelligence kids. Atheists share this same befuddlement towards the beliefs of religious people. “How can she date that guy instead of me?” “How can she believe in such superstitious fantasy?” The nerd will continue to get bypassed for prom court, and the atheist will continue to get bypassed for higher office.

Monday, December 17, 2007

No One Ever Had An Original Thought

I have never had an original thought. That’s right. Everything I’ve ever said was already formulated by greater minds. I am like that Harvard asshole with the ponytail who tries to impress a girl by embarrassing Ben Affleck at that bar in Good Will Hunting. No worries, I don’t need Matt Damon’s Will Hunting to tell me:

“Were you gonna plagiarize the whole thing for us? Do you have any thoughts of your own on this matter? Or do you…is that your thing? You come into a bar. You read some obscure passage and then pretend…You pawn it off as your own idea just to impress some girls and embarrass my friend? See the sad thing about a guy like you is in 50 years you’re gonna start doin’ some thinkin’ on your own and you’re gonna come up with the fact that there are two certainties in life. One: don’t do that. And, two: you dropped a hundred and fifty grand on a fuckin’ education you coulda’ got for a dollar fifty in late charges at the public library.”

But, again, I’m no genius. I’m no Will Hunting. I’m not even a Zack Morris (1502 SAT score). Sure, I’m semi-smart. My SAT’s were a 650 math, 620 verbal, and my GRE’s were a 710 math, 580 verbal. I can outwit your average meathead, but I’m just a routine deja-vu. It’s all been said and done before.

I believe Marxism is morally bankrupt and intellectually flawed. Marx may have said all history is class conflict, but it just ain’t true. Is this my own conclusion? No way. I can thank Boston College philosopher Peter Kreeft and his book Socrates meets Marx.

The Enlightenment? Its account of morality is flawed and unsustainable. We have two options: embrace Nietzsche and his critiques or, even better, go back to Aristotle. Whose brilliant theory is this? I wish it were mine, but it belongs to Notre Dame philosopher Alasdair MacIntyre, and his book After Virtue.

I believe without God, anything goes. “If there is no God, all is lawful.” Either I made this idea up, or I took it from Dostoyevsky (his novel The Brothers Karamazov) and Nietzsche (his tract Thus Spoke Zarathustra; “God is dead”).

I believe in the small of a woman’s back and opening presents on Christmas Day, not Christmas Eve. Thank you, Kevin Costner and Bull Durham.

I believe teacher certification should not be required, and anyone with a bachelors degree is qualified (not necessarily capable, but definitely qualified) to teach. That’s my brilliant theory or Nicholas Kristof's. Take your pick.

I believe in the the abolition of the designated hitter, but this personal dogma did not emit from the eminence of my vast mind. It grew in the brittle brains of every grumpy old man who thinks baseball was better when there were only 16 teams and no free agency.

I believe the Mets are the new Red Sox, which may be my own idea, but the idea of “this is the new that,” “X is the new Y,” “40 is the new 30,” and all the other new things is not my idea, but a tired cliché that I unfortunately borrowed. And, my use of pop culture comparisons with sports was a new, unique idea…about ten years ago, when Bill Simmons got famous taking the fan angle as a sportswriter. Now, there are a million terrible rip-offs (like me) doing the same thing as Bill Simmons, but only not as well, since Simmons is a sports-fan genius, a pioneer, and knows what he’s doing (and, yes, I’m kissing his ass. If you type in “Bill Simmons Sucks” on Google, there are 78,900 links. I’m counteracting the ever-expanding circle of jealous haters out there).

There are very few Great Ideas. Rare is the Original Thought. And, with the change in the history curriculum, there may be no more. Yes, the history curriculum has changed. History used to be the study of cool things like wars, great men, and the way these leaders shaped the world and affected history. Now, the Great Man theory of history is being de-emphasized, and historians focus on boring things, like social structures from below, and what the common people were doing; running their farms, selling their goods, and all the other bland everyday-life stuff that we all have to do but don’t really care about.

Yet, when you look at historical change, what propels it? Great ideas. Great inventions. Great leaders. Aristotle gave us logic. Alexander the Great conquered the world. Einstein discovered the theory of relativity. Ford made the Model-T. Copernicus gave us modern astronomy. Descartes started modern philosophy. The Founding Fathers (brilliant men all) gave the world its greatest-to-date experiment with representative democracy. Yeah, everyday life happens with the common people. But, history is propelled by Great Men. They give us those Original Thoughts we debate and discuss.

But, I have never met any of these Great Men. One, most of them are dead. And, two, I have yet to meet any of the few great living ones (like Stephen Hawking). Even my college professors—as smart as many of them are—they weren’t giving me their own theories, but the theories of pioneers who went before them. Is greatness even possible? Honestly, I’m afraid not. I’ve met many humans, and humans just aren’t capable of much more than thinking about great inventions and great ideas.

Every real great invention and unique thought, I must conclude, come not from earth, but from aliens, who, time to time, come down to earth, and implant these ideas in the minds of certain men, or, in some cases, inhabit the bodies of men and give off these great ideas (for the record, aliens gave Isaac Newton his great ideas. Albert Einstein, however, really was an alien. What, are you surprised? Aliens may be brilliant, but they have no sense of hair fashion). The aliens, who look after us, come down from time to time and give mankind a new invention when they feel it’s time for us to advance again. If they didn’t, we humans would start worrying about the lack of new technology, and we’d start killing each other. It happened during World War II. In 1945, the aliens realized they needed to stop our imminent self-extinction, so they gave us the atom bomb to end the war. In retrospect, they could have given us a giant fireworks display, but even they didn’t yet know the power of a split atom.

But even this—this great theory of civilization-advancement—is not mine. The Alien Support theory (that’s what I call it) comes from my dad. He made up this theory and used it farcically (I think it’s a farcical theory. He never really lets on whether he really believes it. He also has a theory on how the moon landing was staged. So go figure) in a grad school paper for one of those piece-of-cake education classes. As Will Hunting might say (in a different context; I know, I’m stretching it), “How bout ‘dem apples!”

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Chuck Norris Roundhouse Kicks Huckabee to Frontrunner Status

Unless we are Vegas bookies, we cannot accurately predict Super Bowl, World Series, and Final Four winners. But we can be damned certain, before the confetti has settled and the championship hangovers have been slept off, the ESPN talking heads will start predicting next year's winner. Yes, we are an impatient society. If we had been present at Creation, we'd have said to God, "enough with this day of rest. Make something new." This restlessness extends beyond sports, to the world of politics. Before George W. Bush could be sworn in on Inauguration Day 2005, pundits began anointing Hillary Clinton as frontrunner for 2008.

Many people hate Hillary. I mean, hate Hillary. Some of it has to do with policy differences. But, let's not kid ourselves. Most of it is sexism. Really, do we need to call her a bitch? Must every strong woman be called the b-word, if not the c-word? Frankly, I'm not thrilled about Hillary, but I think she'd make a good president. She is intelligent, she's experienced, she's pragmatically opposed to the Iraq War, but she's not one of those nutty peaceniks who think America is always wrong and we should hold bake sales for bombs. Plus, if she has questions, she has a brilliant former President she can visit in the bedroom for advice (his bedroom; we know they have an FDR-Eleanor relationship). And, look how much trouble Bill got in when he was Commander-in-Chief. Think how much trouble he'll get in running around the White House as a male first lady. The Hollywood writers strike can go on forever; those late-night jokes will write themselves.

I mean, what are the alternatives? Barack Obama and his plithy platitudes about nothing? John Edwards, the $400 haircut and the 10 cent ambulance chaser? Dennis Kucinich has a hot wife and wins the illegal alien vote (I'm talking real, UFO aliens, not border crossing Mexicans. We're gonna need those Mexicans, otherwise we'll have no one to build the border fence). Joe Biden would be a great President to compliment all those clean and articulate black men. But, really, if we want someone other than Hillary Clinton, we must look to the Republican side.

Sadly, it's not much prettier on the Elephant side. Unless we are talking spouses. Fred Thompson has a hot wife. Mitt Romney has a gold-plated policy book that no one can see but him, and if you vote for Mitt, he might just find some young teenage brides to add to your polygamous harem (if that's your cup of tea). I think Fred Thompson just fell asleep. No, we have to look back in the pack, to my new favorite candidate, Mike Huckabee. Yes, I am man-crush smitten. I ♥ Huckabee (even if the movie I ♥ Huckabee sucks).

Huckabee is endorsed by Mr. Walker, Texas Ranger, himself. Chuck Norris teamed with Huckabee to create the ad of the political season, thus far. Enjoy!

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Shoot for the Moon; Face It, the Stars are Too Far

I hope my New York Giants make it to the Super Bowl and get destroyed by the New England Patriots. Oh, sure, I’d be overjoyed if they actually won the big game, but I’m realistic. I know that nobody is beating the Patriots this season. I’d be happy if the Giants put forth a goal-line stand on the inevitable “rub-it-in” touchdown drive by Tom Brady & Co. late in the 4th quarter with a 30 point New England lead.

I’ve learned to temper my expectations. I used to believe in shooting for the stars; if you fail—hey!—you’ve still reached the moon. But, really, if you shoot for the stars, you’re going to run out of jet-fuel, and crash land on earth. Why not aim a little bit lower in the first place, for the moon, and if you have leftover gas after the lunar expedition, then keep going for the stars.

There’s nothing wrong with being second best, and there’s nothing wrong with settling for your backup plan. If only the Teachers Union would learn this. I’ve rambled ad-nauseum in earlier posts (see http://spidgetales.blogspot.com/2007/08/lets-end-pointless-teacher.html, or better yet, read NYTimes Columnist Nicholas Kristof, a far better writer than me: http://select.nytimes.com/2006/04/30/opinion/30kristof.html) about the inane certification requirements to become a public school teacher, but now I’ve stumbled upon the real reason for certification requirements: the Teachers Union doesn’t want people who see teaching as a fall-back option becoming educators.

Let’s imagine that Bill Gates decides one day, “You know, I’ve made enough money; I’d like to give back to society. I’ll go teach high school kids about computers.” The public schools would say, “Sorry Mr. Gates. You’re not qualified to teach computer class. You only invented the personal computer.” Or imagine Stephen Hawking thinking, “I want to share my scientific mind with the innovators of tomorrow.” The schools would politely decline; “Sorry, Dr. Hawking, you’re not qualified to teach physics. You’re only the greatest physicist in the world.”

The public schools would make these accomplished gentlemen go back to college for certification. This process weeds out those people who see teaching as a (God forbid!) fall-back option, or starter job.

Well, fall-back options and 2nd, 3rd, and 4th choices are the vinegar and baking soda of the 5th grade volcano science project we call life. Sure, Michael Jordan lived his dream; he became the greatest basketball player ever. Jesus Christ didn’t need a fall-back option; He is our Lord and Savior. Muhammad didn’t have to settle for a backup career; Allah revealed Himself in the Holy Qur’an, dictated by the angel Gabriel to the Prophet Muhammad, Blessing and Peace Be Upon Him. Ron Jeremy achieved his goal; he…umm…got a college degree to teach special education (I’m not making this up). But most of us do something other than our childhood dreams.

Even most professional athletes and movie stars are living the backup dream. Do you think that Major League second baseman batting 8th wouldn’t rather be the shortstop batting leadoff? Do you think That Guy in movies playing the comic relief wouldn’t rather be the main star?

Look around you. That beat reporter for the local paper wouldn’t rather be a columnist for the New York Times or Washington Post? That IRS lawyer wouldn’t rather be a partner in a major firm? Let’s look beyond the work-world to the fairytale land of relationships. Do you really think that ugly couple would be holding hands if he weren’t turned down by the head cheerleader and she weren’t rejected by the star quarterback? Brad Pitt is dating his top choice and Angelina Jolie is sleeping with hers. Almost every other man and woman is with a fall-back option.

I won’t lie; I’m a baseball fan because I didn’t make it as a pro baseball player. I’m single because I’m not good looking enough for the girls who’ve turned me down. I write blog posts and Facebook notes because I’m not a good enough writer to get published. I’m a schoolteacher because I’m not smart enough to be a college professor.

But does it make me a bad teacher because I would rather be a baseball player or a writer? Does it make me a bad teacher if I would leave the job to be a columnist for a major magazine or journal? A person can still work hard and embrace his career even if he dreamt of something greater as a child (there are people bitterly and resentfully slogging through careers after failing their first dream. I’m not discussing them here. I’m talking about the majority of people who make do with dream number two…or three…or four). Somebody has to be the backup quarterback in life and hold the clipboard of second career choices.

I know the Teachers Union wants teachers who dreamt of chalkboards and grade books from the time they drank their mother’s milk, then spent their college careers studying Education, followed by 30-year careers in the schools. But would it really be awful if teaching were open to the many intelligent people in fields as diverse as history, English, philosophy, theology, business, biology, chemistry, Latin, and journalism? Would it really be awful if energetic young college grads became teachers as a fall-back option or career starter option, leaving in a few years and making way for more energetic young grads? Would it really be awful if professionals could easily slide into teaching as a second career and give something back to America’s youth? Am I really writing one of those essays with an annoying amount of rhetorical questions?

Sometimes, those people who are living their dream life are a little toooooooooooo enthusiastic. Think of those Type-A personality camp counselors or dorm directors or motivational speakers who are a little toooooooooooo excited to speak in group settings. No, we don’t need teachers who hate their jobs, and are only itching for the chance to move up in the world (we don’t need people like that in any job). But, there’s nothing wrong with men and women who happily, joyfully, teach America’s youth, always putting forth their best effort, even if they grew up dreaming of being lawyers, doctors, and, yes, baseball players. They may even find that the backup dream is greater than the first item on their Santa Claus wish list. Think of teenage movies; the protagonist ends up happiest when he dumps the super hot mean girl (choice #1) for the slightly less hot (but still plenty good-looking) girl with the cool personality (choice #2).
To every day people: lower those expectations, and not only will you appreciate the small victories, the big wins will be like extra whipped cream on the strawberry shortcake of life. I mean, who would you rather be, a New York Giants fan that sees every playoff win as extra gravy on the turkey dinner we call the football season, or a Patriots fan that sees anything less than a Super Bowl championship as spilling the gravy on grandma? To the Teachers Union: get rid of those certifications, and embrace the role of teaching as a “backup quarterback” type of career. Those who can, do. Those who can’t, teach. Those who can’t teach, teach gym. And those who can’t teach gym, substitute teach. I’m substitute teaching, and I’m embracing it…at least until I go back to college for my PhD, become a professor and famous writer, and get a hot trophy wife with a mistress on the side.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Doggy Poo: Sometimes Dreams Really Do Come True

“Once upon a time, a little doggy poo lived on the side of a road. He felt all alone in the world. He believed that nobody needed him for anything, and that he had no purpose in life. If only Doggy Poo had a reason for being, then he wouldn’t give up on his dream to be useful to the world.”

Sometimes I feel useless. What good can I do? What is my purpose? People like soup kitchen volunteers, Boy Scout leaders, and Dane Cook are feeding the hungry, shaping tomorrow’s leaders, and making people not laugh. And here I am, 26 years old, a drain on society, with two useless (B.A. Philosophy, M.A. Theology) degrees, barely making ends meet substitute teaching. My career earnings don’t even match my college and grad school debt. Life couldn’t seem any more meaningless if I bought new shoes, only to walk out of the store and step in doggy poo. But thanks to Korean stop motion animation, I learned that everything has purpose; we are all precious and special, even Doggy Poo.

Young little Doggy Poo sits sullenly on a dirt road in the Korean countryside, forlorn since he can’t figure out his purpose. His friend Soil helps potatoes grow, and his friend leaf can blow through the wind, but Doggy Poo’s life seems so meaningless, he isn’t even worthy of being supper for Mother Hen and her baby chicks (they think he smells and tastes bad).

When Flower sprouts, will Doggy Poo cry tears of joy through finding out his purpose? I could not stifle my tears (I’m serious) watching this delightful stop-motion Korean folktale. Nor could I look at the other teacher in the room, for fear of breaking into laughter. But the sunlight of my life is a little bit brighter, the ice cream sundae of my life has added some colorful sprinkles and tasty hot fudge, the ice skating competition of my life has landed a triple-lutz, thanks to the inspiring story of young Doggy Poo.

Click here http://www.doggypooworld.com/ for the official Doggy Poo webpage. Click here http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JFZIqbocM-s for a one minute Doggy Poo trailer. I couldn’t find the full-length version (30ish minutes) in English, but there are short cuts from the film on YouTube and Google Video if you use their search engines. And, you can buy it on Amazon.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Proof of God's Existence: A Critique of Christopher Hitchens' not-so-great book

I saw proof of God’s existence at a public school. My seeds of doubt, planted by the witty verbatim of that scotch swilling, verb shilling, British import Christopher Hitchens, were gloriously uprooted in a high school auditorium. A presentation called Rachel's Challenge, a program in honor of Rachel Scott, victim of the Columbine Massacre, cleansed my heart of Hitchens’ poison; through the glimpse of a tear-stained rose, I was reminded, like Antoine Exupery’s Little Prince, that what is essential is invisible to the eye.

Hitchens rightly prefaces God is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything with a quote from Ivan Karamazov’s The Grand Inquisitor, the famous legend in Dostoyevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov. Hitchens is no emotionless logician, content to politely throw syllogisms at his opponent, waiting patiently for his argument to win out in the friendly match of ideas. He is a combative rhetorician; like Nietzsche, ready to philosophize with a hammer. His battle with God is no trite intellectual exercise; like Ivan Karamazov, creator of that grand indictment of the deity, Hitchens is in rebellion with the Almighty.

“Imagine that you are creating a fabric of human destiny with the object of making men happy in the end, giving them peace and rest at last, but that it was essential and inevitable to torture to death only one tiny creature—that baby beating its breast with its fist for instance—and to found that edifice on its unavenged tears, would you consent to be the architect on those conditions? Tell me, and tell the truth.” So asks Ivan to his brother, the saintly Alyosha. Hitchens uses this quote to open chapter 16. Yet, it serves Hitchens as not much more than an anecdote, to later bring his chapter on religion as child abuse to closure. To serve his purpose, he could have done more. That tiny passage contains the greatest argument against God in all of literature.

In Book V, chapter 4, of The Brothers Karamazov: Rebellion, Ivan outlines his case against God. He understands Christian theodicy. He understands the dilemma (If God is omnipotent and good, how come evil exists? An omnipotent God who allows evil could not be good; a good God who allows evil could not omnipotent, or he would stop evil). He understands the Christian answer (God gives man free will; man freely chose evil). But Ivan gives examples, such as the baby beating its fist, above, and a child torn to pieces by dogs on order of a soldier. Even if that poor child goes to heaven, and even if the evil abusers burn in the fires of hell, even if harmony is restored and all sing hosanna gloriously to God, Ivan still cannot accept a world built on the suffering of children. It is a foolproof argument, and Dostoyevksy, Ivan’s creator, admitted as much. Hitchens follows in Ivan’s grand tradition, and his argument could have been greater advanced if he explored Ivan’s dilemma more. Hitchens is a literary critic, and what better angle to advance his thesis than to grapple with the most famous fictional opponent of what he considers the world’s great poison?

While Richard Dawkins attacks religion from the perspective of Darwinism in The God Delusion, Hitchens has entered into rebellion against God. He writes an invective history of God, chronicling religion’s lacerations into the heart of man. If one wants to write a negative history, pick a broad enough topic, and one can do it. Howard Zinn chose the United States and created a history of America through the paradigm of Western imperialism in A People’s History of the United States. Hitchens’s target is religion, Western, Eastern, and anything in between.

Sins in the name of God are legion, and there is no triangulation around the critiques presented in this book. From Hitchens’s framework, as from Ivan’s framework, the argument against God is logically unassailable. To critique an atheist argument from a Christian perspective is similar to critiquing a theocracy from a democratic perspective. Like Alistair MacIntyre’s explanation of competing moral claims in chapter two of After Virtue, arguments pro and contra just-war, abortion, socialized medicine, and other divisive issues cannot be solved when each side frames the issue from internally logically valid, but non-crossing, perspectives. Dostoyevksy does not attempt a logical response to Ivan through one of his Christian characters, but rather presents a compelling alternative in the Christ-like love of Fr. Zossima, and shows the fruitlessness of Ivan’s lifestyle. That is, Ivan’s beliefs may be logically coherent, but they are unlivable.

I must confess, immediately after completing Hitchens’s book, I was troubled. There is so much wrong with the world, and much is caused by religion. I even pondered a world without God. But, at the school where I teach, students, faculty, and staff were brought to the auditorium for a presentation. At that high school presentation, I was touched by the life story of Rachel Scott, first victim of the Columbine shooting in 1999. A beautiful young woman at the dawn of life, she was a wonderful poet and artist. She preached kindness and tolerance, and encouraged people to ‘pass it on,’ so to speak; she believed we should do good deeds for others when others are kind to us. Soon after the shooting, the speaker told us, a random man from Ohio called the father of Rachel Scott and told him of a vision he had in his sleep. He described it in detail. The father didn’t know what to make of it, but a few weeks later after looking through Rachel’s final diary entry, he noticed a picture she drew the morning of the shootings—a picture that matched perfectly that random man’s heretofore unexplained vision: she drew two eyes, spilling forth thirteen tears onto a rose (thirteen was the number of innocents murdered that day). My faith—in God, in religion, in humanity—was restored.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

The Rockies, Religion, & Baseball: Josh Beckett Outpitches God

The Colorado Rockies are in the World Series and it’s a Miracle! This is no small m miracle, like winning 21 out of 22 games just to make the playoffs, sweep the first two rounds, and get here. This is a capital M Miracle, with God on their side. Yes, the Rockies are blessed by the Almighty.

The Rockies are not just a baseball team. They are a Christian organization. Ben Shpigel writes in his New York Times article, “Rockies Place Their Faith in God, and One Another, (www.nytimes.com/2007/10/23/sports/baseball/23rockies.html?_r=1&oref=slogin)” that the Rockies look to build a roster based on Christian virtue. Lewd magazines like Maxim and Playboy are banned from the clubhouse, and the team seeks to sign players “with integrity and strong moral values.” There is no compulsion or pressure to become Christian, as player Jason Hirsh, of the Jewish faith, “said not once during the season had he felt uncomfortable with the place Christianity occupies within the organization.” But Dave Zirin of leftwing publication The Nation is concerned by the effort to unite religion and faith in the workplace. In response to Hirsh’s comment, “It’s not like they hung a cross in my locker or anything. They’ve accepted me for who I am and what I believe in,” Zirin, in “The Rockies Get off Their Knees (http://www.thenation.com/doc/20071105/zirin),” derisively remarks, “That could be a great pitch for recruiting free agents: ‘They won’t hang a cross in your locker!’”

Is Zirin right? Zirin says “freedom of religion should also mean freedom from religion at the ballpark, it doesn’t matter if you call it Buddha-Jesus-Jewish-Vishnu-Islamic-Wicca Awareness day. We just want to go to the ballpark without feeling like we’re covertly funding Focus on the Family’s gay retraining programs. Religion and sports: it’s a marriage in desperate need of divorce.”

If professional sports were public entities, by law employees—manager, players, coaches—would be asked to keep their religious beliefs to themselves. But baseball is a private business, and private businesses can be set up in support of particular viewpoints and goals. A car dealership exists to sell cars. An environmental group exists to promote conservation. It seems fair to ask, why not allow the Rockies to promote a business goal of proselytizing and playing, bible and baseball. If they wish to alienate fans, it is their financial loss. If players do not wish to play in a Christian organization, there are plenty of secular baseball teams to try out for.

But our society is more than one of religious toleration. Religious toleration allows for one faith to be promoted, while members of other faiths must step back and practice in private. The only way we have found so far to make all people equal is to ask that all faiths step into the background once people enter the public sphere. No one religious belief or philosophy may be seen as normative. It is only considered acceptable to promote a specific faith in a group whose express purpose is faith based. In Catholic schools, it is now common for religion to only be taught in religion class. Catholic Charities in California is required to cover birth control in their health plans, under the notion that their express purpose is not religious. Since the Colorado Rockies primary purpose is baseball, it is considered a faux pas to mix faith with the ball-field, especially if it is a specific faith and not some abstract Unitarian notion of pluralism.

The risk in a society based on a specific faith is the danger of persecution towards non-believers. The danger in a society based on the idea that, “at the heart of liberty is the right to define one’s own concept of existing, of meaning, of the universe and the mystery of life,” as Anthony Kennedy said in his famous ‘sweet mystery of life’ soliloquy in the Supreme Court decision Casey vs. Planned Parenthood, is that people will have nothing binding them together. For all the melancholy meanderings about the joy of deciding our own beliefs, people cannot be inspired by abstract ideas like “it doesn’t matter what you have faith in; as long as you have faith in something.” People need a common cause, something like—no, more than like, more like specifically—God to rally around and believe in.

It may be necessary in today’s pluralistic society to put our religious beliefs away when we go into public. Like smoking, religion maybe needs to be tolerated so long as we leave the room and not come back until we put out those faith filled ashes. Yes, maybe this is the only way. But, we must admit, something is lost when what we value must be put aside in polite society.

Maybe God is not on the Rockies side, after all. Maybe He doesn’t want baseball and Himself mixed. The Rockies got smoked in game one of the World Series 13-1. But, then again, Red Sox ace Josh Beckett is a fireballer from Texas, God’s home state. The Rockies hopes aren’t too promising tonight either; Curt Schilling—the right arm of God Himself—is pitching for the Red Sox.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Transformers: Not More than Meets the Eye

What song should you put on the car radio as you drive by that pretty girl? What tune should play as you drive that fine young lady home? The answer is Before It’s Too Late, by the Goo Goo Dolls (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Zp__g0bahfQ). And Shia Labeouf doesn’t even have to figure it out for himself; his car chooses the song for him as he gives the gorgeous Megan Fox a ride home. The car plays wingman all the way, even stalling at a make-out point. Labeouf doesn’t know it yet, but his car is Bumblebee, a non-biological extra terrestrial life form, sent to earth to fight the evil Decepticons in the live action movie The Transformers.

Megan Fox—I cannot stress this enough—is the hottest actress you have never heard of. She is “makes me lust in my heart” stunning. Even without the amazing special effects of the transformer robots, her physical presence would make this film watchable. She fills the role of the token hot chick that, at first glance, appears to be a self-obsessed drama queen who dates jerks because she can’t help falling for tight abs and strong arms. She even says so. But, fear not, she is the token hot chick who is emotionally deeper than at first glance. Shia Labeouf realizes this, and tells her she is “more than meets the eye.”

Bumblebee, Optimus Prime, and the rest of the Autobots, a race of autonomous robot life forms made famous in the cartoon series The Transformers, need Shia’s help to find the All Spark, a cube that can turn mechanical objects to life, and keep it away from Megatron and the evil Decepticons, or else earth will be destroyed just like Cybertron, the home planet of the Transformers. The stakes could not be higher, as we see in Optimus Prime’s and Megatron’s mano a mano (roboto a roboto?) battle. “Humans don’t deserve to live,” yells Megatron. “They deserve to choose for themselves,” retorts Optimus Prime. The fate of humanity—and bad dialogue—is at stake, as the Autobots and Decepticons continue the war of Cyberton on earth in this cinematic masterpiece.

Friday, October 19, 2007

Thoughts on the Baseball Playoffs

What do your parents, the English language, Christmas, Halloween, Thanksgiving, the awful taste of peas, and bad television sitcoms have in common? They’ve always been there. As far back as you can remember they were a part of your life. You can’t even remember life without them. Kenny Lofton fits right in there. I cannot remember Kenny Lofton not being in the Major Leagues. As long as I’ve known what baseball was, Kenny Lofton patrolled centerfield for the Cleveland Indians.

I didn’t even know Kenny Lofton was still playing, but the real life Willie Mays Hays came from nowhere to add flair to this season’s playoffs. On Monday night, in game three of the ALCS between the Indians and the Boston Red Sox, there stood “Cool Papa” Lofton (a nickname given by ESPN writer Bill Simmons), sending a Dice-K fastball over the leftfield wall for a two-run homerun. Later, Lofton stole second and passed Rickey Henderson for the career postseason stolen bases record. Rickey Henderson still leads Kenny in career regular season steals, but I bet if we combined Lofton’s Major League stats with his totals from the Negro Leagues, he’d be right up there with Rickey. Seriously, what? Jackie Robinson wasn’t available to pinch-hit? You know the Red Sox are in trouble if they’re getting beat by a team that has to role out journeyman Kenny Lofton.

Yeah, the Sox won last night. But, that’s because Josh Beckett has turned into God in the postseason. The Indians tried icing him by bringing in ex-girlfriend (and legitimate hottie) Danielle Peck (http://www.daniellepeck.com/) to sing the national anthem. Heck, I’m even developing a man-crush on Beckett. He stared down our old friend “Cool Papa” Lofton when Kenny dropped his bat, almost starting a bench-clearing brawl. Fists stayed put, though. Beckett saved his punch-outs for the Indians batting order, racking up 11 K’s in eight innings, leading Boston to a 7-1 win, and reducing their deficit to 3-2.

But if I were Boston, I wouldn’t be too confident with Schilling and Dice-K set to pitch this weekend. Like Mom and Dad, the English language, Christmas, Halloween, Thanksgiving, the awful taste of peas, and bad TV sitcoms, Red Sox fans can’t remember a time when they didn’t expect to lose. That Calvinistic pessimism disappeared after 2004, but like Kenny Lofton, it’s back.

Monday, October 15, 2007

There's Only ONE October!...and Dane Cook's a Tool

“There was an old lady who swallowed a fly
I don’t know why she swallowed that fly
Perhaps she’ll die.”

Joba Chamberlain did not allow one runner in scoring position to touch home plate all season. His fastball packs more heat than John Madden’s ass after a Mexican dinner. His curveball hooks left more than a college faculty member. When he comes in for the New York Yankees each 8th inning, opponents ought just take off their cleats and hit the showers. It would take a biblical plague to score off Joba. Alas, that is what happened in game two of the American League Division Series. The Yankees held a 1-0 lead when they brought Joba in to finish of the Cleveland Indians. But thousand of gnats swarmed Jacobs Field from nearby Lake Erie, getting in Joba’s face, Joba’s mouth, leading to an uncharacteristic wild pitch, allowing the tying run to score. The Yankees never recovered, losing that game in extra innings, and losing the series three games to one. The Yankees swallowed some gnats. I don’t know why they swallowed those flies. Their playoff dreams died.

It has been a strange postseason. The New York Mets, the National League’s best team with one week left in the season, missed the playoffs entirely (but enough on that. I think I’ll light myself on fire). The Colorado Rockies, historically known for slugging homer after homer—historically known for serving up homer after homer—have won 19 out of 20 games, mostly with pitching and defense, and are one win away from their first World Series.

You may not have known this, since the playoffs have mostly been on cable this year. TBS has picked up the first round and the National League Championship Series. But, fear not, they have learned from Fox. We could always count on Fox to advertise all those new shows destined for cancellation. TBS has joined in this tradition, presenting us with Frank TV (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SIxFyU0gIpE). Those commercials couldn’t be less funny if I punched myself in the face. We get it; Frank Caliendo does impersonations. Next time, find someone who does them funny. It’s like all those Scary Movie, Not Another Teen Movie, Date Movie, and Epic Movie spoofs; it’s not funny just referencing shit; you need to lampoon and satirize it.

But at least when other commercials come on, I don’t forget whose country it is. Whose country is it, again? Oh yeah, “this is ouuuuuuuuurrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr country! (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=U0HTff63E0I).” Please, just shoot me now and get it over with. But, you better do it soon, or else the calendar will turn to November, and you’ll miss out, because “there is only ONE October! (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AV8GV2LIknY&mode=related&search= , this is the SNL parody, because I really would shoot myself if I linked a real Dane Cook commercial). (Okay, here’s one Dane Cook commercial: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cBy8nhFx7WQ&NR=1 , really please shoot me now).”

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Abolish the Designated Hitter

Once Upon a Time, baseball, boxing, and horseracing ruled as kings, the big three professional sports in America. In the year of Our Lord nineteen hundred and fourteen, dawn of this golden age of sport, the Boston Red Sox signed a young left-handed pitcher from the minor league Baltimore Orioles. This young pitcher won 87 games, losing only 45, between 1915 (his first full season) and 1919, helping the Red Sox win back to back World Series championships in 1915 and 1916, and victory in their final World Series in 1918, the second to last World Series ever played. Sadly, professional baseball collapsed following the 1919 season. The Chicago White Sox threw the 1919 World Series, losing on purpose in an attempt to make money off mafia gamblers. Baseball never recovered, and faded to the dustbin of history, to be followed in the next half century by horseracing and boxing. America never got the chance to see this young left-handed pitcher become one of the all-time greats, although, if you had asked him, he would have claimed capable of being an all-time great slugger. Stories spread and about his legendary hitting prowess in the minors on days he didn’t pitch, but the institution of the designated hitter rule in 1914, right before his major league call-up, prevented any talk of letting some overweight pitcher hit. At any right, with the demise of baseball, no one would be doing any hitting or pitching for a long time.

This young left-handed pitcher is historical. His name, you may recall, is Babe Ruth, and he quickly established himself as an elite pitcher for the Boston Red Sox. His pitching feats described above are no fiction, and neither is, sadly, the story of the Chicago Black Sox and the thrown World Series of 1919. But the demise of baseball, thankfully, is a myth. Baseball, boxing, and horseracing would remain the big three through the 1940’s and ‘50’s. Boxing and horseracing have since faded into niche sports, replaced at the top by football and basketball. But baseball never did fall off the map. The designated hitter rule was not instituted until some sixty years after 1914, Babe Ruth’s slugging feats during his pitching days led the Red Sox to slowly shift him into a full time hitting outfielder, and his record setting 1919 total of 29 homeruns, followed by his record shattering 54 in 1920 saved baseball from the Black Sox scandal. If the designated hitter had been in place at the time, the icon Babe Ruth would never have come into being.

The powers that be ruined baseball forever in the 1970’s with their decision to institute the designated hitter in the American League. In a sport where all nine players must play the field and bat, the American League created the designated “pinch” hitter, a player who would leave his glove at home, bringing the batting gloves and bat to the plate each time the pitcher’s spot in the lineup arose. And, to be fair, I find it kind of interesting and novel to grant the American League a designated hitter while preserving the integrity of baseball in the National League. With the rise of free agency, the distinction between the two leagues began to fade. The DH American League and the no-DH National League: it adds a tangible ingredient to the heretofore mystical differences announcers spoke of when they debated the merits of National League ball versus American League ball.

If only the designated hitter had stayed in the Major Leagues, where it belongs: The problem with the DH is the trickle down effect it has induced upon lower levels of baseball. No longer is the American League a cute little novelty. The American League is the norm, the standard, and the National League is the novelty, the cute little outlier, clinging to the traditional form of baseball, while every other level of baseball above Little League has drank the Kool-Aid and adopted the DH.

Pitchers, let’s be honest, have never been great hitters in the Major Leagues. Babe Ruth, to be fair, is the only elite pitcher who also hit at an elite major league level (Rick Ankiel of the Cardinals is attempting to become a regular outfielder after failing as a pitcher. We shall see how that goes). And, it would be more proper to say of Babe Ruth that he was a great hitter who also could pitch exceptionally at the big league level. But part of the joy of baseball is that every player in the field must hit, every baller with a bat must put on a glove and try his hand at defense. And, just about every major league pitcher was an above average baseball player at other positions, and at bat, while growing up and playing amateur ball. The major league pitcher no longer plays infield or outfield on days he does not pitch, like he did as a Little Leaguer, high school player, and in college, but he has swung a bat at each step up the baseball ladder, so he is not completely helpless standing at the plate against other major league pitchers.

But this DH trickle down effect has left the National League and Little League as just about the only leagues allowing pitchers to hit. Every level of the minor leagues uses the DH. NCAA college baseball plays by American League rules, using a DH for the pitcher. High school baseball even allows the DH (although many high school coaches don’t use it, since often the star pitcher at that level is one of the best hitters on the team and plays shortstop of centerfield when not pitching, or if the DH is used, it is used on the second baseman or rightfielder or another position player who hits weakly). A pitcher brought up to the major leagues will not have swung a bat since high school (not even in practice. Since the DH is allowed, pitchers on college teams and minor league teams don’t even get to take batting practice). If he plays for a National League team, he will be hopeless in his turn in the batters box.

Let’s abolish the DH and return baseball to the way it was meant to be. Do I think we miss out on the chance to find the next Babe Ruth? No. Babe Ruth was a once in a lifetime (once in many lifetimes) player. Do I think pitchers will prove themselves at the plate if given a chance? Again, no. The typical pitcher batting average in the National League will continue to remain firmly below the Mendoza line (that’s below .200, for those unfamiliar with baseball slang). The DH should be eliminated because it separates teams into “hitters” and “pitchers”, with pitchers looked at as if they are these quirky non-athletes who provide a specialty (like the kicker in football), while the hitters do the “real” ball playing. Pitching is as important as hitting, more so for winning championships, and it’s time we stop demarcating pitcher’s and hitters through the tacky 1970’s DH rule. Like hot pants, disco, and That 70’s Show, the DH is a relic from that bad hair decade, and it needs to go.

Friday, October 05, 2007

The Mets are the New Red Sox

The Mets are the new Red Sox. The Boston Red Sox are championship contenders, and New York Mets fans have slid into the vacated role of baseball pessimists. Life is upside down right now; Kevin Federline is the good parent; the Republican frontrunner for President is twice divorced and cross dresses; 40 is the new 30; and the Boston Red Sox have become the New York Yankees. Yes, the Red Sox, those perennial heartbreakers, are just three years removed from breaking the Curse, and they’ve become what Sox fans always hated. The hot girl in blue jeans and a tight Varitek T-shirt is now as ubiquitous as her clone in the tight Jeter T-shirt. Theo Epstein throws money around like George Steinbrenner, matching every Hideki Irabu and Jason Giambi spending spree with a Dice-K and J.D. Drew splurge of his own. Curt Schilling’s mouth matches anything blurting from the lips of the Boss. Rooting for the Sox against the Yankees is no longer like rooting for David versus Goliath. It is no longer secretly hoping Screech gets a girl over Zack and Slater. Rooting for the Sox against the Yankees is like rooting for Exxon versus Mobil, rooting for Microsoft versus Dell, Zack versus A.C. You can’t root against your mirror image.

The Red Sox may have turned to the Dark Side. They may have joined Darth Vader and the Evil Empire. But the Force still lives. The Mets are the new Red Sox and the spirit of Obi Wan, Yoda, and Luke now resides in Flushing, New York. This was not always the case. From 1962 until October 18, 2006, we Mets fans lived with Uncle Owen and Aunt Beru. Mets fans did not suffer heartbreak like the Red Sox. In 1962, the Mets were lovable losers, setting an all-time loss record and residing endearingly in the hearts of fans forever. Most of our history consists of losing seasons, with enough winning campaigns spread throughout to save us the ignominy of Chicago Cubs fans. We had the Miracle Season of 1969, upsetting the heavily favored Baltimore Orioles to win the World Series in only our eighth season of existence. We had the “Ya Gotta Believe” 1973 team, a squad that won its division with a mediocre 82-79, but caught fire in the playoffs, advancing to the World Series before losing to the powerhouse Reggie Jackson led Oakland A’s in 7. We had the 1986 frat-boy Mets, a team so good, anything less than a World Championship would have rendered us underachievers (thankfully the Red Sox prevented that). Until October 19, 2006, the Mets never really broke their fans hearts. They never lost a championship they should have won. The ’73 team was lucky to be there. The 2000 team lost in the World Series to a superior Yankee team. Even in 1988, when we were better than the Los Angeles Dodgers, Dodger pitcher Orel Hershiser turned into God; no one could have beaten him.

As Mets fans, we’d always been playing with house money. Yeah, we had some disappointing losses. But we never blew something we were supposed to win. Until October 19, 2006, Mets playoff races felt like Cinderella at the fancy dress ball. We were not cynical Cinderella, waiting for, expecting, the clock to strike midnight and ruin the party. We were early evening Cinderella; after wearing dirty rags, cleaning the house for our wicked stepmother and ugly stepsisters, and keeping our sanity by listening to talking mice, we were just happy to be dancing. Wearing a beautiful gown and waltzing with Prince Charming was beyond our wildest dreams. Then, October 19, 2006 happened.

October 19, 2006 will forever stand as the day I popped my baseball fan cherry. Considering I started watching the Mets in 1991, this is a long time. But 2006 marked the first time since 1988 the Mets had a real chance of winning a World Series. True, they went to the playoffs in 1999, valiantly battling back from a 3-0 deficit (with Robin Ventura’s grand slam single) to extend the National League Championship Series to six games before falling to the hated Atlanta Braves. And, they had that World Series appearance in 2000. But those teams had just Mike Piazza and smoke and mirrors.

The Mets were far and away the best team in the National League in 2006 (97-65). But come playoff time, veteran pitchers El Duque and Pedro Martinez got hurt. The mediocre (record: 83-78) St. Louis Cardinals pushed the National League Championship Series to a seventh game. The first five tension packed innings of game seven produced a 1-1 tie. But in the sixth, with one out and one runner on base, the Cardinals’ Scott Rolen laid into Mets pitcher Oliver Perez’s fastball, sending it towards the left field bleachers, bringing almost certain death to the Mets season. But like spring and Easter, out of death comes life, and Mets leftfielder Endy Chavez redeemed the season and saved the Mets chances of advancing to the World Series with the Greatest Catch of All Time. When Chavez extended his glove hand an arms length over the fence and robbed a certain homerun, I had absolutely no doubt the Mets would win that game. That catch revitalized the Mets and demoralized the Cardinals. But somehow, someway, with Karma on their side, and probably Destiny, Mystique, Aura, and every other pole dancer rooting them on, too, the Mets lost. My sunny optimism disappeared. This was like a kid finding out the truth about Santa. My baseball innocence died. As a fan, I popped my baseball cherry.

What do you call it when a death redeemed by resurrection is followed by a second death? A tragedy? A farce? It’s like the nerdy pretty girl in a high school movie who suddenly gets popular when she lets down her hair and takes off her glasses. Once she begins enjoying her newfound popularity, she feels that tinge of guilt from alienating her original friends in the geek crowd. Maybe we Mets fans should have shown the proper pity towards lowly Kansas City Royals, Pittsburgh Pirates, and Tampa Bay Devil Rays fans. Maybe we selfishly reveled in our own team’s escape from mediocrity. Maybe I’m overanalyzing. This loss not only ruined the 2006 season, its aftereffects ruined 2007, as well. The September 2007 collapse would not have happened if not for that damned game.

The Mets had a seven game lead with 17 to play, and I just knew they would choke. I knew it. I knew it when the ESPN talking heads had to mention how no team ever blew a lead that big. I knew it when the Philadelphia Phillies swept a three game series, their eighth straight win over the Mets. I knew it when the Mets returned to Shea to close the season with a seven game homestand, 2 ½ games ahead of the Phillies. I knew it on that final Saturday, when John Maine almost threw a no-hitter, the Mets won 13-0 over the Florida Marlins to pull into a tie with the Phillies, and they started dancing as if they already won the division. We Mets fans in pennant races, since that awful Game 7, no longer feel like early evening Cinderella, just happy to be at the fancy dress ball. We Mets fans, since that awful Game 7, treat every playoff-intensity baseball game like we are Cinderella at the end of the night, well aware of midnight approaching, just waiting for the other slipper to drop, the dress to turn back into rags, and the stagecoach and horses to turn back into pumpkins and mice.

The Mets are the new Red Sox. We expect them to turn certain victory into defeat. We expect them to blow a seven game lead with 17 to play, even if that entails the Mets not only going 5-12, but the Phillies catching fire and finishing 13-4. Like Luke Skywalker, we can no longer live comfortably with Uncle Owen and Aunt Beru. Owen and Beru are dead. The Force is upon us, whether we like it or not. Like the Red Sox of old, we must face the Evil Empire. But, like Mark Hamill, the Mets are poor actors, unable to win anything. If we are to turn into the 2004 Red Sox, we need Han Solo (Johan Santana, maybe?) to appear, and fast. Otherwise, we will face a third straight season of midnight striking too early.

Monday, September 24, 2007

I Hate Baseball...No, I Love It...No, Really Hate It

“You’re killing me Smalls!”—Ham Porter, The Sandlot

Would you rather a girl lead you on, enflame your deepest passions, then rip out your heart, lacerate every last flow of passion, and drop it, broken, into the dustbin of your soul? Or would you rather she give a firm “no” to the first date request, saving you that later pain and anguish? This is what it feels like today to be a Mets fan (or a Red Sox fan. Their perennially broken hearts are facing another George Steinbrenner induced laceration). The Mets have stood in first place virtually the whole season. Their virtually (sportswriters overuse adjectives, and right now I’m too lazy to think of another one) indestructible lead of 7 ½ games over the Phillies just a couple weekends ago shrunk to 1 ½ before climbing to a barely breathable 2 ½ yesterday. If the Mets are gonna blow this thing anyway, I kind of wish they had just started sucking in April, so I wouldn’t have spent six months getting my hopes up. The last time they won the World Series, I was still wetting my pants; I don’t enjoy wetting my pants watching nervously as this year’s team seduces me.

October 19, 2006 will forever stand as the day I popped my baseball fan cherry. Considering I started watching the Mets in 1991, this is a long time. But 2006 marked the first time since 1988 the Mets had a real chance of winning a World Series. True, they went to the playoffs in 1999, valiantly battling back from a 3-0 deficit (with Robin Ventura’s Grand Slam single) to extend the NLCS to 6 games before falling to the hated Braves. And, in 2000, they advanced to the World Series before losing to the Yankees. But those teams had Mike Piazza and smoke and mirrors. The outfield consisted of Benny Agbayani, Jay Payton, and Timo Perez. That’s right: who? They did better than they should have because of a great manager, Bobby Valentine.

The 2006 Mets were loaded. Star centerfielder Carlos Beltran, star up-and-comers Jose Reyes and David Wright. Great veteran pitchers like Pedro, Glavine, and El Duque. They finished with far and away the best record in the National League (and by far and away, I mean Far and Away, like Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman leaving 19th century Ireland, sailing to America, and heading to the Western frontier). But Pedro and El Duque got hurt just in time for the playoffs, leaving a staff of Glavine and a bunch of unprovens. They still easily beat the Dodgers in the first round and took the NLCS against the Cardinals to a Game 7, winner-take-all for the right to play in the World Series.


Western civilization is largely the history of Christian culture, and the overarching theme in Christianity is that of the Fall followed by redemption, death redeemed through the Resurrection. All great literature is imbued with this theme. Every English student studies the basic plot elements in a story. The dramatic action opens with the exposition, and then gets things going with a crisis, which crescendos into the climax. The story goes through the falling action, before ending with the conclusion or resolution. It is much more than coincidence that Western literature follows the template of our Salvation story: God creates the world and mankind (exposition), man messes up the perfect creation and brings death into the world through sin (crisis), God becomes Man to redeem a fallen world (climax/turning point), He is crucified and dies (falling action), but through the Ressurrection conquers death and redeems mankind (conclusion/resolution). Some would say Christianity is a man-made myth that follows common dramatic themes. Rather, the reverse is true. Christianity is the truest story possible; all other literature, fiction and non-fiction, cannot help but follow this template. This truest of stories fills our search for meaning in real life events, personal, political, and—yes—sporting.

As a Mets fan, I sat distraught, witnessing the perfect creation (the 2006 regular season) fall victim to injuries before the playoffs began. The first five tension packed innings of Game 7 produced a 1-1 tie. But, in the sixth, the Cardinals’ Scott Rolen laid into the Mets’ Oliver Perez’s fastball, sending it towards the left field bleachers, bringing an almost certain death to the Mets season. But out of death comes life, and Mets leftfielder Endy Chavez redeemed the season and saved the Mets chances of advancing to the World Series with the Greatest Catch Of All Time (see it here on MLB.com: http://newyork.mets.mlb.com/mlb/ps/y2006/archive.jsp?mode=lcs&series=lcs_b&type=video then click on “Endy’s amazing catch” under Oct. 19, 2006). I had absolutely no doubt the Mets were gonna win that game. That catch revitalized the Mets and demoralized the Cardinals. But, alas, it wasn’t meant to be. The Cardinals won the game on a homer in the 9th. My sunny optimism disappeared. This was like a kid finding out the truth about Santa. My baseball innocence died. As a fan, I popped my baseball cherry.

What do you call it when a death redeemed by Resurrection is followed by a second death? A tragedy? A farce? It’s like the boy who finally gets the pretty girl after years of rejection only she breaks his heart. Why did get his hopes up for nothing? That boy will be wary every time a new girl comes along. As a Mets fan, I went into the 2007 season still stunned by that loss, but guardedly optimistic. Every key player returned. The season played out according to form, with the Mets not playing great, but playing good enough to stay in first place. Until now. There are seven games left in the regular season. The Phillies have six to play. Any combination of Mets wins and Phillies losses adding up to five will ensure another division title. But I cannot remain confident. I feel like Ham Porter yelling at Smalls. “You’re killing me, Mets!” Like pursuing a pretty girl, being a baseball fan is too much pressure. You always expect disappointment, but its just too much fun to stay away.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Bill Clinton: The Best Republican President

Dostoevsky wrote of the terrible torture of telling a man the date of his own death. Rickey Ray Rector, a retarded man facing the gallows (actually the needle) in 1992, thankfully did not have to suffer this torment, since he was too mentally handicapped to understand his own fate. On the night of his execution, he did not eat his Last Meal dessert, asking the guards to save it for later. That piece of pie was the only thing spared. Rector’s life—and the dignity of a soon to be President—did not survive; for one William Jefferson Clinton made sure to break from the campaign trail to be witness to the execution of a retarded man in Arkansas whose life he could have spared. After all, four years earlier, Michael Dukakis appeared squeamish defending his anti-death penalty stance, and Bill Clinton could not afford to look like another soft-on-crime Democrat.

Rector was no innocent man. He turned the gun on himself after committing murder. But the suicide attempt fell incomplete; he gave himself the equivalent of a lobotomy, leaving himself with the intelligence of a very young child. Yes, capital punishment is a divisive issue, but no one can argue that executing this man was in any way needed to protect society. I just hope that someone got to eat that piece of pie. And I hope this story is an aberration in the life of former President Clinton. But after reading Christopher Hitchens’s “No One Left to Lie To: The Triangulations of William Jefferson Clinton,” I fear this example is sadly axiomatic of the Clinton political machine.

One must always read Christopher Hitchens with a grain of salt (and, presumably a stogie and a glass of scotch). Hitchens makes political enemies easily and often, and avoids the “on the one hand…but on the other hand” triangulations that he paints of this book’s antagonist. Mother Theresa is the “ghoul of Calcutta.” Henry Kissinger is a “war criminal the likes of Pol Pot.” And God…well, to Hitchens, “God is not great,” and his followers are, to put it mildly, even worse. But, Hitchens can’t be painted into easy strokes. He is a fierce secularist and simultaneously a fierce Iraq War hawk. He is a harsh opponent of the Christian Right, but as we see here, just as harsh a rival of President Clinton. And, if Hitchens’s critique of Clinton is correct, Clinton is one of the best Republican presidents we have ever had.

Leftist defenders of Clinton during the Impeachment, Hitchens says, miss the point by saying “it was only a blow job.” Clinton lied under oath. He committed perjury. And, you just cannot separate the personal and the political in Bill Clinton. He is a president who, conveniently, bombed Sudan, Afghanistan, and Iraq in 1998 during heightened investigations of his personal behavior. Maybe the timing of these bombings were coincidence, maybe they were a case of “Wag the Dog.” This is a man who gave the Republicans a victory they could never have dreamed about with Reagan and Bush I, instituting a welfare reform that eradicated 60 years of New Deal social programs put into place by FDR. It is easy to point out the hypocrisy in Republicans extolling the virtue of stay-at-home middle class moms while screaming for single mother “welfare queens” to put the kids in daycare and go back to work. The hypocrisy is taken to another level when a President who has had more than his share of extramarital dalliances, and more than his share of women broaching accusations of sexual harassment, requires of poor women to name the fathers of their babies to remain on welfare. And Mr. Clinton is appalled when the Independent Counsel asks him to reveal his private illicit sex life?

As a high school student during the height of the Starr Report, all I got out of the case was a constant back and forth of “they are smearing Clinton for his personal life” versus “the President is leader of the free world and should be morally virtuous.” Hitchens's polemic does lead this book reviewer (me :-)) to want to read more about the Clinton presidency from other authors. But it also helps this book reviewer (me :-), again) to appreciate the truth that the personal and the political/professional cannot easily be separated, and do effect one another.