Friday, December 25, 2009

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Reflection on Love

Karen's parents are celebrating 50 years of marriage this coming Sunday. I am honored to have been asked to preside over the renewal of their marriage vows.

No pressure... it's just the in-laws, right?!?

Anyway, I've been thinking a lot about love and marriage. My own 20+ years in no way qualifies me as an expert.

I recently ran across a quote from the movie "Captain Corelli's Violin". The movie was panned by critics and the viewing public didn't turn out for it either, but when I rented the movie a couple years ago, I cried.

I know, I'm a big softie on the inside!


The quote is a monologue spoken by Dr. Lannis (played by John Hurt), as he explains to his lovely daughter, Pelagia (played by Penelope Cruz) the facts of life:

“When you fall in love it is a temporary madness. It erupts like an earthquake and then it subsides and when it subsides you have to make a decision, you have to work out whether your roots have become so entwined together that it is inconceivable that you should ever part, because this is what love is.

“Love is not breathlessness, it is not excitement, it is not the desire to mate every second of the day, it is not lying awake at night imagining he is kissing every part of your body. No, don’t blush, I am telling you some truths. This is just ‘being in love,’ which any of us can convince ourselves we are in. Love itself is what is left over when being in love has burned away. It doesn’t sound very exciting does it? But it is.”

I doubt that I will use the quote at the vow renewal service on Sunday, but it's certainly something to think about.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

The Physics of Santa Claus and His Reindeer

[Editor’s note: If you still believe in Santa Claus and the magic of Christmas, you will want to skip this blog. Why not pick out some body art over at “Geeky Tattoos” instead?]

Here’s a little something to bring you Christmas cheer! Like Santa and his reindeer, this little jewel has been circling the internet for many years. Some say it started with an article in Spy magazine back in 1990.

For some equally interesting rebuttals, follow the link at the bottom.

The Physics of Santa Claus and His Reindeer

1) Flying Reindeer
No known species of reindeer can fly. But there are 300,000 species of living organisms yet to be classified, and while most of these are insects and germs, this does not completely rule out flying reindeer which only Santa has ever seen.

2) Children
There are approximately two billion children (persons under 18) in the world. However, since Santa does not visit children of Muslim, Hindu, Jewish or Buddhist religions, this reduces the workload for Christmas night to 15% of the total, or 378 million (according to the Population Reference Bureau). At an average (census) rate of 3.5 children per household, that comes to 108 million homes, presuming that there is at least one good child in each.

3) Timing
Santa has 31 hours of Christmas to work with, thanks to the different time zones and the rotation of the earth, assuming he logically travels east to west. This works out to 822.6 visits per second, so for each Christian household with good children, Santa has 1/1000th of a second to park, hop out of the sleigh, jump down the chimney, fill the stockings, distribute the remaining presents under the tree, eat whatever snacks have been left, get back up the chimney, get back into the sleigh and move on to the next house. Assuming that each of these 91.8 million stops are evenly distributed around the earth (which, we know to be false, but for our calculations we will accept), we are now talking about .78 miles per household, a total trip of 75-1/2 million miles, not counting assorted pit stops for relief, feeding, etc. This means Santa's sleigh is moving at 650 miles per second, 3,000 times the speed of sound. In comparison, the fastest man-made vehicle on earth, the Ulysses space probe, moves at a poky 27.4 miles per second. A conventional reindeer can run, tops, 15 miles per hour.

4) Weight
The payload of the sleigh adds another interesting element. Assuming that each child gets nothing more than a medium sized Lego set (two pounds), the sleigh is carrying over 500 thousand tons, not counting Santa himself. On land, a conventional reindeer can pull no more than 300 pounds. Even granting that the "flying" reindeer could pull ten times the normal amount, the job can't be done with eight or even nine of them -- Santa would need 360,000 of them. This increases the payload, not counting the weight of the sleigh, another 54,000 tons, or roughly seven times the weight of the Queen Elizabeth (the ship, not the monarch).

5) Speed
600,000 tons traveling at 650 miles per second creates enormous air resistance -- this would heat up the reindeer in the same fashion as a spacecraft re-entering the earth's atmosphere. The lead pair of reindeer would absorb 14.3 quintillion joules of energy. Per second. Each. In short, they would burst into flames almost instantaneously, exposing the reindeer behind them and creating deafening sonic booms in their wake. The entire reindeer team would be vaporized within 4.26 thousandths of a second, or right about the time Santa reached the fifth house on his trip.

Not that it matters, however, since Santa, as a result of accelerating from a dead stop to 650 m.p.s. in .001 seconds, would be subjected to centrifugal forces of 17,500 g's. A 250 pound Santa (which seems ludicrously slim) would be pinned to the back of the sleigh by 4,315,015 pounds of force, instantly crushing his bones and organs and reducing him to a quivering blob of pink goo.

If Santa ever DID deliver presents on Christmas Eve, he's dead now.

For rebuttals to this article (Fine! Believe what you want!), check out

Monday, December 14, 2009

Whine and Cheese

A few months back, I found a display at my favorite wine store of a provocatively-named wine, “Bitch”. I did not buy a bottle – afraid that it was designed as a gift for the woman who dumped you, some putrid concoction of what remains in the bottom of the vat after fermentation.

Or maybe it was designed for a blog just like this one, as the back of the bottle reads:

Yes, I’m in a mood today, so I’m going to bitch vent. If you don’t want to hear it, click on the “Cake Wrecks” link… it’s always funny!

Karen and I went Christmas shopping on Saturday.

And yes, I finished! Nothing left to do but wrap and mail… and enjoy ten mall-free days of egg nog waiting for Santa to arrive!

But I digress.

Near the end of our excursion, Karen needed some beads from a local arts & crafts store. It was cold and rainy and my feet hurt, so I dropped her off at the door and waited in the car.

A few minutes later, a middle-aged woman exited the store pushing a shopping cart. In her shopping cart she had three small sacks. Keep in mind, this was an arts & crafts store. She had purchased nothing large or heavy – in fact, the bags looked almost empty.

Yet, she was pushing her purchase out to her SUV in a shopping cart!

So I watched. The cart-return corral (made necessary because we are too f***ing lazy to return our carts to the store) was directly across the aisle from her vehicle.

You have probably guessed what came next: Instead of pushing her cart 20 feet to the corral, she left it in the empty parking space next to her and pulled away.

I couldn’t believe my eyes! I thought little old ladies who did arts & crafts were kind, considerate people. Apparently this one didn’t get the memo!

Now someone's going to have to park farther away from the store, and some poor minimum-wage schmuck is going to have to schlep out into the cold and rain to gather up the stray shopping carts!

I see this inconsiderate behavior all the time at the gym I go to. Despite signs that say, “Please returns weights to the racks”, the gym rats carry free weights and dumbbells over to the exercise machine area (I don’t know why), then leave them in the middle of the floor.

I wanna say, “Hey, Bubba, your Momma doesn’t work here! Pick up after yourself, you inconsiderate lump of meat!”

But they outweigh me by 100 lbs. of steroid-rage, so I stay quiet.

This morning I noticed that someone had carried one of those large inflated exercise balls into the studio where they hold aerobics classes. Again, I don’t know why that person couldn’t use it in the area designated for such exercises. And again, I don’t know why that person couldn’t return it to the rack from which it came. Seriously, there is not another one like it in that room. What makes you think it’s okay to leave it there?

And don’t get me started about those people who sweat like pigs, but don’t wipe down the machines they are using!!! Last week there was literally a puddle of sweat on one of the benches! Ewwwwww!

Didn't you ever read, "The Hitch-Hiker's Guide to the Galaxy"? "Always carry a towel!"

"A towel is about the most massively useful thing an interstellar hitchhiker can have. Partly it has great practical value. You can wrap it around you for warmth as you bound across the cold moons of Jaglan Beta; you can lie on it on the brilliant marble-sanded beaches of Santraginus V, inhaling the heady sea vapors; you can sleep under it beneath the starts which shine so redly on the desert world of Kakrafoon; use it to sail a minicraft down the slow heavy River Moth; wet it for use in hand-to-hand combat; wrap it round your head to ward off noxious fumes or avoid the gaze of the Ravenous Bugblatter Beast of Traal (such a mind-bogglingly stupid animal, it assumes that if you can't see it, it can't see you); you can wave your towel in emergencies as a distress signal, and of course dry yourself off with it if it still seems to be clean enough." 

Thanks, Douglas Adams.

By the way, "Towel Day" is officially celebrated each year on May 25th. (See for more info.)

But again, I digress.

And while I’m bitchin’, a few months ago I was following a car down Poplar when a hand stretches out from the passenger window. In the hand was the lid and straw from a fast-food drink. The hand opened, and the lid and straw was added to the scenic view of Memphis. Just a block or two later, the hand reappeared… this time with the cardboard cup. Again, the wind took the empty cup and it, too, became trash along the highway.

“Hey, dumb*ss, this is not the 70’s! Aren’t you old enough to remember the television commercial with the Indian Native American crying?!?”

God, I'm old!

Where is all this headed? Remember that I mentioned we were Christmas shopping? Well, since it's the season for giving, here’s my Christmas wish list for 2009, with only one item that I really, really want:

“Please be considerate of others.”

In the March 1982 edition of “The Atlantic Monthly”, James Q. Wilson and George L. Kelling put forth the “broken window” theory:

“Consider a building with a few broken windows. If the windows are not repaired, the tendency is for vandals to break a few more windows. Eventually, they may even break into the building, and if it's unoccupied, perhaps become squatters or light fires inside.

“Or consider a sidewalk. Some litter accumulates. Soon, more litter accumulates. Eventually, people even start leaving bags of trash from take-out restaurants there or breaking into cars.”

Remember the famous line from "Alice's Restaurant", when they are trying to get rid of all the garbage that had accumulated at Alice's house? The dump was closed, so when they see a pile of garbage off the side of a cliff, Arlo explains, "So instead of bringing that one up, we threw ours down."  

The recommendation of Wilson and Kelling to urban leaders was to fix the first broken window, pick up the smallest pieces of litter, to prevent conditions from getting worse.

The same theory applies to shopping carts in parking lots and exercise equipment at the gym.

And to all our human relationships.

So be considerate of others, and they will more likely be considerate of you.

This concludes my rant for the day. Thank you for your attention.

And, now, since I promised cheese with the whine…

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

You're Not a Good Man, Charlie Weis!

Okay, here’s the deal.

You know how I feel about Charlie Weis. All season long I have been calling for his removal as head coach of Notre Dame football. You can read my last blog on the subject from 11-09-09, written after the embarrassing loss to Navy, in which I resigned my long-held position of Notre Dame fan.

Because of that resignation, I chose not to write a celebratory blog about the too-little, too-late firing of the Fat Man.

He is dead to me.

But he has gone too far this time, and I feel I must once again expose him for what he is.

On Saturday, while hanging around with the small group of reporters who are still willing to be seen with him, Weis was whining. He was giving them his best Rodney Dangerfield impression: “Nobody gives me any respect.”

Background note to my readers: I don’t care for Rodney Dangerfield either!

Unfortunately, Weis wasn’t joking when he said (and I quote):

“Let me ask you this question: You guys know about things that go on in different places. Was I living with a grad student in Malibu, or was I living with my wife in my house? You could bet that if I were living with a grad student here in South Bend, it would be national news. [Pete Carroll]'s doing it in Malibu and it's not national news. What's the difference? I don't understand. Why is it okay for one guy to do things like that, but for me, I'm scrutinized when I swear. I'm sorry for swearing; absolve my sins."

When Weis’ “people” discovered the reporters were going to quote him, phone calls immediately went out advising the reporters that his comment was “off the record”; apparently he has a history of bouncing between “on the record” and “off the record” in the same interview. Most of the reporters obliged; but one made it to press before receiving the call.

Uh-oh. Cat's out of the bag.

Pete Carroll, coach of USC (who has had his own troubles this year), has not responded. USC’s Sports Information Director, Tim Tessalone, insists Weis’ allegations are not true. Carroll does not own property in Malibu, and that “rumor” has been circulating for years.

True or not, who cares?

I feel the same way about the Tiger Woods affair. I just don't care.

It is just not becoming of one coach to make such allegations against another while reporters are standing around – especially when it is obviously coming forth as “sour grapes”.

Pete Carroll still has a job.

Charlie Weis, I know your backside is still stinging from the “spanking” you just received, but with this you have sunk to a new low. You should be ashamed of yourself.

You say you know people that can get you a job back in the pros. I doubt it, but hopefully it will be one where you can do your thing without having to face the press. You may know offense, but you sure don’t know public relations!

And once again – and forever – you are dead to me.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

'Tis the Season...

The following was sent to me via email.

It was intended to be an anti-political correctness diatribe.

I just think it is hillarious!

*   *   *   *   *

Company Memo

FROM: Patty Lewis, Human Resources Director
TO: All Employees
DATE: October 1, 2009

RE: Gala Christmas Party

I'm happy to inform you that the company Christmas Party will take place on December 23rd, starting at noon in the private function room at the Grill House. There will be a cash bar and plenty of drinks! We'll have a small band playing traditional carols... feel free to sing along. And don't be surprised if our CEO shows up dressed as Santa Claus! A Christmas tree will be lit at 1:00 PM. Exchanges of gifts among employees can be done at that time; however, no gift should be over $10.00 to make the giving of gifts easy for everyone's pockets. This gathering is only for employees!

Our CEO will make a special announcement at that time!

Merry Christmas to you and your family,



Company Memo

FROM: Patty Lewis, Human Resources Director
TO: All Employees
DATE: October 2, 2009

RE: Gala Holiday Party

In no way was yesterday's memo intended to exclude our Jewish employees. We recognize that Hanukkah is an important holiday, which often coincides with Christmas, though unfortunately not this year. However, from now on, we're calling it our "Holiday Party." The same policy applies to any other employees who are not Christians and to those still celebrating Reconciliation Day. There will be no Christmas tree, and no Christmas carols will be sung. We will have other types of music for your enjoyment.

Happy now?

Happy Holidays to you and your family,



Company Memo

FROM: Patty Lewis, Human Resources Director
TO: All Employees
DATE: October 3, 2009

RE: Holiday Party

Regarding the note I received from a member of Alcoholics Anonymous requesting a non-drinking table, you didn't sign your name. I'm happy to accommodate this request, but if I put a sign on a table that reads, "AA Only," you wouldn't be anonymous anymore. How am I supposed to handle this?


And sorry, but forget about the gift exchange, no gifts are allowed since the union members feel that $10.00 is too much money and the executives believe $10.00 is a little chintzy.



Company Memo

FROM: Patty Lewis, Human Resources Director
To: All Employees
DATE: October 4, 2009

RE: Generic Holiday Party

What a diverse group we are! I had no idea that December 20th begins the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, which forbids eating and drinking during daylight hours. There goes the party! Seriously, we can appreciate how a luncheon at this time of year does not accommodate our Muslim employees' beliefs. Perhaps the Grill House can hold off on serving your meal until the end of the party or else package everything for you to take it home in little foil doggy baggy. Will that work?

Meanwhile, I've arranged for members of Weight Watchers to sit farthest from the dessert buffet, and pregnant women will get the table closest to the restrooms. Gays are allowed to sit with each other. Lesbians do not have to sit with Gay men, each group will have their own table.

Yes, there will be flower arrangement for the Gay men's table.

To the person asking permission to cross dress, the Grill House asks that no cross-dressing be allowed, apparently because of concerns about confusion in the restrooms. Sorry.

We will have booster seats for short people.

Low-fat food will be available for those on a diet.

I am sorry to report that we cannot control the amount of salt used in the food. The Grill House suggests that people with high blood pressure taste a bite first.

There will be fresh "low sugar" fruits as dessert for diabetics, but the restaurant cannot supply "no sugar" desserts. Sorry!

Did I miss anything?!?!?



Company Memo

FROM: Patty Lewis, Human Resources Director
TO: All F*%^ing Employees
DATE: October 5, 2009

RE: The F*%^ing Holiday Party

I've had it with you vegetarian pricks!!! We're going to keep this party at the Grill House whether you like it or not, so you can sit quietly at the table furthest from the "grill of death," as you so quaintly put it, and you'll get your f*%^ing salad bar, including organic tomatoes. But you know, tomatoes have feelings, too. They scream when you slice them. I've heard them scream. I'm hearing them scream right NOW!

The rest of you f*%^ing weirdoes can kiss my *ss. I hope you all have a rotten holiday!

Drive drunk and die,

The B*tch from H*ll!!!


Company Memo

FROM: Joan Bishop, Acting Human Resources Director
DATE: October 6, 2009

RE: Patty Lewis and Holiday Party

I'm sure I speak for all of us in wishing Patty Lewis a speedy recovery and I'll continue to forward your cards to her.

In the meantime, management has decided to cancel our Holiday Party and give everyone the afternoon of the 23rd off with full pay.

Happy Holidays!


Tuesday, December 1, 2009


The LA Times reports today that a woman in Methuen, Massachusetts, has seen the image of Jesus in the scorch mark on the bottom of her iron. Down on her luck right now, she takes it as a sign that God is watching over her and that “life is going to be good”.

Recently in Calexico, California, workers discovered the image of Our Lady of Guadalupe on a restaurant griddle. Hundreds of people are flocking to that small town to see the “holy relic”; even masked wrestler, “Mr. Tempest”, stopped by before an exhibition for a blessing.

The image of Jesus has been popping up everywhere lately – on a burnt slice of toast, in a cat’s fur, on an ultrasound image, in a meteorite, in an oyster, and even in the fabric seat of a clergyman’s chair. The Blessed Virgin Mary has also made the occasional appearance in a tapestry, in a watermelon, in the water stain on a concrete wall, and on a grilled cheese sandwich.

What does one make of all these divine appearances? Is God trying to communicate with us? Is there a new revelation? Is the world coming to an end? Is Armageddon at hand?

Or have we completely lost our minds?

I mean, let’s be serious for a moment – that burn-mark on the toast could be any bearded man. Does anyone else see Che Guevara? Or Charles Manson?

But perhaps God IS trying to communicate with us… again. Perhaps God has decided the Bible’s testimony is not complete enough and, having used up all his good tricks (incarnation, resurrection, inspiration of the Holy Spirit), God is reduced to speaking to us through Rorschach tests.


It certainly seems that way. A lot more people seem to be looking for God… and in more mundane places. A lot more people seem to be searching for answers. A lot of people seem to be asking more and more, “What Would Jesus Do?”

Well I’m pretty sure he wouldn’t eat anything off that griddle!

But that’s a discussion for another day!

Last week I got involved in an online discussion about a news article in the Memphis Commercial Appeal. The article was about panhandlers and the homeless problem in Memphis. The consensus of those submitting comments was that most of these people were mentally ill. (Another discussion for another day.)

Then one “compassionate” soul wrote, “If Jesus were here, what would he do?” Apparently the “correct” answer, which the writer provided, was, “He would treat them with compassion and dignity without judging them.”

I couldn’t resist the bait. I responded that if Jesus were here, he would exorcise the demons causing the mental illness and send them gratefully on their way. But, I added, since I don’t know anyone alive today with that kind of healing power (with the exception of maybe Benny Hinn), we are left to do the best we can to alleviate the symptoms of an ongoing need.

A similar comment followed a fellow blogger’s report of a woman ejected recently from a Southwest Airlines flight because she couldn’t quiet her screaming child. Some thought the airline’s action was appropriate, which drew the usual comments, “You obviously don’t have children.” Others thought the woman was treated unfairly, which made me think, “You obviously have never traveled for four hours seated next to a screaming child!”

Again, a compassionate soul wrote, “What would Jesus do?” And again, the “correct” answer was, “Treat the mother and child with compassion and understanding.”

As before, I wanted to respond that Jesus would lay hands on the child and calm his troubled spirit – again, I’m guessing demon-possession. But since no one on the plane seemed to be possessed with the power to quiet the child (Oh, where is Benny Hinn when you need him?), it was appropriate that the mother and child be removed from the flight.

In both cases, the problem for me is in how the question was asked. “What would Jesus do?”


If you read your Bible (now there’s an idea!), you can pretty much figure out what JESUS would do, based on what he DID.

But I am not Jesus. So knowing what Jesus would do in a particular situation is not necessarily helpful. For example, Jesus could heal the sick – I can’t. He could calm the storms – I can’t. He could walk on water – I can’t. He could feed thousands with just a few loaves of bread – I can’t. He could change water into wine – I can’t.


So rather than “WWJD?”, the question that needs to be asked in these situations is, “What would Jesus want US to do?” The difference is subtle, but real.

And there again, the answers can be found in the Bible.

--“Love the Lord your God with all our heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength…. Love your neighbor as yourself. There is no commandment greater than these.” (Mark 12:30-31)

--“Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you.” (Luke 6:27-28)

--“I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me… I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.” (Matthew 25:35-36, 40)

--“Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.” (Mark 28:18-20)

So maybe, just maybe, the face of Jesus on the bottom of the iron is a reminder to clothe the naked. Perhaps the face on the restaurant griddle or the toast is simply a reminder to feed the hungry. And the image on the seat of a chair might be there to remind us to give rest to the weary.

I believe that’s what Jesus would want us to do. But that's not a new revelation.

So instead of always looking for a new revelation of God, let’s look back to the old one and see what we might have forgotten.

Monday, November 30, 2009

More Thanksgiving!

After the annual thanksgiving engorgement, Karen and I drove up to Carmel, Indiana (just north of Indianapolis) to celebrate the wedding of a cousin of hers. It was a long drive, but a beautiful wedding, and we got to see many family members that we don't often get to see.

The weather was cooperative, as far as Indiana weather goes. It was chilly, but on the big day the sun came out and the thermometer soared to a high of 57!

Never one to miss an opportunity, I searched for -- and found -- my new home-away-from-home, even in an Indiana cornfield:

Actually, it was sandwiched in between two hotels out on the highway!

this was my first visit to a "Cheeseburger in Paradise", Jimmy Buffett's northern alternative to Margaritaville. And it was a delight...

The food was good... the margaritas were just right... and Landshark was on tap!

Leaving this blogger a little heavier, but happy!

Thanks to all the family members who surrendered to my quest and joined me for lunch!

What did I order??? A Cheeseburger, of course...

"I like mine with lettuce and tomato,
Heinz 57 and french-fried potatoes;
A big kosher pickle and a cold draft beer,
Good God almighty, which way do I steer for my...
Cheeseburger in Paradise!"  

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Le Beaujolais Nouveau Est Arrive'

Yes, tomorrow (Thursday), the 2009 Beaujolais Nouveau arrives in your local wine store!

What’s the big deal? you might ask.

Gather around, children, and let me tell you a story about an amazing event that happened long ago in a land far, far away…

Nah. I’ll just tell you about the wine.

Beaujolais is a wine-growing region in France, north of Lyon. In a space about the size of Rhode Island are some 40,000 vineyards with 50,000 acres of Gamay grape vines.

Interesting factoid: The land was first cultivated for grapes by the early Romans. Throughout the middle ages, the Benedictines controlled the region.

Fast-forward to modern times. In 1933, Georges Duboeuf was born on a small farm in that region. His father tended a few acres of vines. But the senior Duboeuf died when Georges was young, and the vineyard was taken over by Georges’ uncle and brother.

At 18, Georges began marketing the family wine to local restaurants, delivering bottles of the wine by bicycle. Now 76, Georges oversees the cultivation of thousands of acres of grapes and the bottling of 2.5 million cases per year.

Duboeuf has made many contributions to the wine world, one of which was the mass-marketing of Beaujolais Nouveau. Beaujolais Nouveau, or “new wine”, was a familiar drink in the Beaujolais region, used to celebrate another successful harvest. Due to a different processing and pasteurization, Beaujolais Nouveau is ready to drink just 6-8 weeks after the harvest.

Unlike other wines that get better with age, it is highly recommended that one drink the Nouveau within a year. And slightly chilled. It is light and fruity... some say it is the only "red" white wine!

In the late ‘60s, Duboeuf decided to market it to the world. Since French law did not allow new wine to reach market until a particular date (now the third Thursday in November), Duboeuf made a game of it – organizing races to see who could get the first bottle of Beaujolais Nouveau to Paris fastest. The Nouveau craze caught on, and today some 49 million liters of the wine are produced each year.

Of course, Beaujolais Nouveau is not without its critics. In 2001, 1.1 million cases were destroyed due to poor sales. One wine critic that year described it as “vin de merde”... literally translated “Shit Wine”. Beaujolais growers sued the magazine that published the critique and won based on a French law that forbids the disparaging of French products. The magazine folded.

So tomorrow (Thursday), as you drive past your favorite wine shoppe, look for the sign announcing,

Grab a couple bottles – if for no other reason than that this year’s Georges Duboeuf label is awesome!

[Update: I bought several bottles of Beaujolais Nouveau today, but was sad to discover that the above is NOT the label. Sigh. I hope the wine is good!]

Then fix yourself a bologna sandwich, and celebrate an historic tradition. It may taste like “vin de merde” (but hopefully not), but, hey, it only happens once a year!

For interesting reading about wine, consider the following:
  • "I’ll Drink to That" by Rudolph Chelminski, about Duboeuf and the history of the Beaujolais region.
  • The Billionaire’s Vinegar by Benjamin Wallace, about the mysterious discovery of some bottles of wine attributed to Thomas Jefferson’s wine cellar.
I also recommend the movies “Bottle Shock”, a 2008 film based on the true events of the first California wine to win a French wine-tasting competition, and “Sideways”, the highly-acclaimed 2004 “road-trip” movie through the Santa Barbara wine-growing region, which caused a 2% drop in the sale of Merlot and a 16% increase in the sale of Pinot Noir.

Ah, the power of film!

“Sideways” has probably my favorite movie monologue, where, during a romantic, reflective moment, Maya (Virginia Madsen) muses:
“I like to think about the life of wine. How it's a living thing. I like to think about what was going on the year the grapes were growing. How the sun was shinning. If it rained. I like to think about all the people who tended and picked the grapes, and if it's an old wine, how many of them must be dead by now. I like how wine continues to evolve. Like, if I opened a bottle of wine today, it would taste different than if I would open it on any other day. Because a bottle of wine is actually alive. It's constantly evolving and gaining complexity. That is, until it peaks. And then it begins it's steady, inevitable decline. And it tastes so f***ing good.”

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

On Death and Dying

When I was young, we often attended family reunions. I don’t remember most of them – they were that memorable to a small child. For my father’s family, we drove up into the hills of Union Co., KY, where the family gathered at a great-uncle’s farm. The men sat outside and smoked big nasty-smelling cigars and tossed horseshoes, while the women sat in the kitchen “catching up”.

Activities for children pretty much centered around chasing the chickens across the yard.

(FYI: That is not my family pictured above!)

The last reunion of my mother’s family that I remember, I was a teenager and it was held at my aunt’s house. Her house was small, so most of the time, the men sat out in the backyard drinking beer while the women sat inside “catching up”.

Again, no formal activities were planned (other than eating); someone might have brought a badminton set.

In short, my memories of family reunions are less than thrilling. These events were not designed for kids, and yet, there we were. So is it any wonder that when we grew up, we quickly found other things to do when reunion weekends came around?

And the elders in the family shake their heads and mutter, “Kids these days…”

I was reminded of that when I read in last week’s USAToday that membership in the American Legion and VFWs across American is on the decline. The article reported that some 400 VFW posts have closed since 2007, and more are on the brink. The American Legion has closed 100 posts during the same period.

In other news, BINGO revenues are down nationwide.

There is a lot of hand-wringing over this predicament. As expected, the faithful supporters of VFW/AL have seen this decline coming and have tried to turn it around.

One of the problems is obviously the terms of membership: one has to have served in the U.S. armed forces in a combat assignment in order to qualify. So, a career soldier who gave 30 years serving her/his country during peace-time does not qualify; but the “grunt” who fought in the two-week-long invasion of Grenada in 1983 gets an automatic invite.

Another problem is that when some 7.8 million vets returned from Vietnam, they were rejected by many in the VFW. WWII had been the last “good war”, and this new crop of vets was reportedly a bunch of ‘pot-smoking baby-killers’. Sure, the VFWs regret that decision now, but it’s too late; the damage has been done. They’re not interested anymore.

Nor are the current crop of vets coming out of the Gulf wars. Life has changed. Young people today are more family-focused. Few are interested in sitting around in a dingy, smoke-filled hall drinking cheap beer and listening to the older generations tell unconfirmed stories of valor in “the real war”.

Some VFW post commanders are scratching their heads. One says they hold “50-cent pool tournaments and tune the satellite TV to football games to lure young members”. Another held a “craft show and Oktoberfest and plans a New Year’s raffle of a 1999 Cadillac”.

As with the family reunions of my childhood, they just don’t get it. A modern soldier has served his country fighting in Iraq, and the old vets think he will be enticed to join the VFW because they hold a craft show?

Has anyone ever asked: What does a young vet who has seen the horrors of modern warfare and lived through the ever-present fear of road-side bombings and suicide attacks want when s/he returns to civilian life? What does s/he need from a veteran’s organization?

I’m guessing it’s not the chance to win a 10-year-old Cadillac!

But be careful: the trap here is, if you ask, you will be expected to meet those needs, which may mean significant changes in the way you do things.

So it may be time for the VFW/AL to close its doors. Let the old generation die off gracefully. And if young vets need such an organization, empower them to start something new, an organization that meets their needs.

I suppose the fears of the older generation might be, ‘Who will fire the 21-gun salute at my funeral? Who will put flags on our graves on Veterans’ Day? Who will remember us when we are gone?’

All pretty self-serving reasons for wanting to keep a dying organization alive.

And as I say that, I can’t help but wonder about my church, my denomination. We, too, are declining in number. We are rapidly graying. We hold meetings in aging buildings equipped with the latest technology of the 1970s. We are still singing “perfectly good” hymns, written before most of us were born. And we are trying to entice new members with the lure of pot luck dinners and “fish fry”s.

But, why?

More than one church member has been honest with me: “I just want my church to be around long enough to hold my funeral here.”

And so we want new members… younger members. We provide the teenagers with a part-time paid youth director, feed them pizza and hot dogs, and give them a basement room in the church filled with discarded furniture, where they can ‘hang out’.

That’s a ‘60s term for “doing nothing productive”.

But, “You can’t have a computer in there”, because, you know, teenagers only use computers to search for on-line porn; and “No cell phones allowed during UMY meetings.” And the b/w television someone donated doesn’t have cable; “You can watch TV at home.”

And so they do.

Yes, the Church is on the same journey the VFW is walking. The older generation became settled – entrenched; they created an organization they way they wanted it. And they lost touch with the younger generations. They’ve also lost touch with their purpose for being.

No one is asking young people today, “What do YOU want/need?”

Don't get me wrong. You will still be welcome at most churches... if you like “Church” the way it was done in the ‘50s – pews, pipe organs, half-hour sermons, etc. But don’t ask us to change anything to accommodate you, because we like it just the way it is/was.

And so I concede after 20+ years of ministry, perhaps it is time to stop fighting the inevitable and let these churches die. Gracefully. We pastors should stop banging our heads on the desk trying to figure out how to “turn around” these churches that don't want to turn around. We should stop the travesty of the “blended services”. We should stop the worship wars. Let them be what they are. They served their purpose in their day. We should salute them for that, then…

Last one out, turn off the lights and lock the door.

Then, instead of spending so many resources propping up dying churches, let’s empower the younger folks to start new churches that will meet their needs – just like previous generations have done. I guarantee you, these new Churches will neither look nor act like the churches we have known – and rightly so.

It may be that only in dying will we live.

I think Jesus said something like that.


Monday, November 9, 2009

That's it; I quit!

To: Jack Swarbrick, Athletic Director
University of Notre Dame

Dear Mr. Swarbrick,

Please accept this letter as my resignation from my long-standing position of fan of Notre Dame football. I have been a fan since the early 80s. My own college did not have a football team, so I started rooting for a team with a storied history and a winning tradition. For many years, my Saturdays were dedicated to ND football. I dreamed of traveling to South Bend one weekend for a game, but was assured that all home games are sold out. So one year I bought season tickets to Vanderbilt football just so I could see ND play in Nashville!

It is with a heavy heart that I submit my resignation, but I see no other choice. As athletic director, you have failed to give proper oversight to Coach Charlie Weis and his football program, and you have not heard the cries of fans across this nation as we have watched the once-mighty Fighting Irish descend into the abyss. Saturday’s embarrassing loss to Navy was the final straw.

I tried to give Coach Weis the benefit of the doubt this year as he once again made pre-season promises of a winning season. Quarterback Jimmy Clausen is a junior and has much more experience; some talk about his Heisman prospects. But while Clausen is ranked #3 in passing efficiency (a commendable 68% completion rate), he has -62 yards in rushing. And he seems to be unable to get the ball across the goal line. I don’t see a trophy in his future.

As for ND’s defense, it ranks a dismal 79th, giving up an average of 6.1 yards per play. In fact, while ND has scored 271 points so far this season (thanks to blow-outs at Nevada and Washington State), it has given up 207, an average of 27 points per game.

I also tried to overlook the fact that the schedule was full of light-weight teams. Look at this schedule:
Beat Nevada 35-0 (now 6-3)
Lost to Michigan by 4 (now 5-5)
Beat Michigan State by 3 (now 5-5)
Beat Purdue by 3 (now 4-6)
Beat Washington by 7 (now 3-6)
Lost to USC by 7 (now 7-2)
Beat Boston College by 4 (now 6-3)
Beat Washington State 40-14 (now 1-8)
Lost to Navy by 2 (now 7-3)

Coming up, ND will have to face Pitt, which is having a remarkable year with an 8-1 record and is ranked #12 in the BCS polls; I predict another loss. Then comes UConn, a light-weight team with a 4-5 record; it should be an easy win, but will it be? And finally, Stanford, which although unranked at 6-3, beat #13 Oregon on Saturday, which beat #9 USC the week before, which beat ND in game #6, 34-27. I predict yet another loss.

Because of Saturday’s game, Navy is guaranteed to play in the Texas Bowl. Notre Dame’s chances of getting a bowl invitation this year are slim – they are now ranked 76th in BCS polls -- and if my predictions of a 7-5 finish come true, Charlie and Jimmy might be reduced to merely watching bowl games on television come December.

But apparently you don’t care. There seems to be no pressure on Charlie Weis to do better, if he is even capable of such. What, does he have blackmail photos of you? Surely there's got to be a good reason you haven't fired him by now! 

You might argue that his contract will be too expensive to buy out – a contract which was extended to 10 years before Weis even proved himself! But you know the alumni will pony up as they have done several times in recent years. I'm even willing to kick in a few bucks to the cause!

You might argue that there is no one better to lead the Fighting Irish; who’s to say the next coach will do any better? I say we won’t know until we try. And it is your job is to find that person. But apparently you are not even looking.

So, since Charlie Weis is your man, I have decided I can no longer be a fan of ND football. I wish you well and hope some day Notre Dame will once again rise to prominence.

Regrettably submitted,
Bro. Dave, creative director
Banana Winds

P.S. – If you are looking for a team to beat next year, try calling Tommy West over at the University of Memphis.

UPDATE - MONDAY NIGHT: University of Memphis fired Tommy West today, after 9 years as head coach. Perhaps, Mr. Swarbrick, you could call R.C. Johnson, athletic director at U of M, and ask how it's done.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Passings: World's Greatest Magician

Carl Ballantine, "The World's Greatest Magician", passed away on Tuesday at the age of 92.

A true entertainer, he gave up on performing real magic when he realized there were many more who could do it better. So he combine the stereotypical stage magic into a vaudeville-style routine. He bacame the first magician to headline in Las Vegas.

Ballantine was part of the ensemble cast of TV's "McHale's Navy" (with Ernest Borgnine and Tim Conway), and as "Ballantine the Magician" he appeared on a variety of TV shows, from "The Ed Sullivan Show" to "The Cosby Show".

In 2007, Steve Martin presented Ballantine with the Lifetime Achievement Fellowship from the Magic Castle in Hollywood.

"Carl Ballantine influenced not only myself but a generation of magicians and comedians," Martin said Wednesday in a statement to The Times. "His was also the most copied act by a host of amateurs and professionals."

According to the LA Times, his daughter reported that in the early hours of Tuesday morning, Carl began roaming the house saying, "I gotta get home." He asked her where his shoes were, if he could take a robe...

He died in his sleep, with a smile on his face, wearing the bathrobe and his shoes.

The link below is a YouTube clip from his appearance on "The Cosby Show".

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Oh No, Not Again!

Okay, so I was walking through the local shopping mall yesterday...

"...When what to my wondering eyes should appear..."

Seriously, it looked like Santa Claus had vomited all over the mall!

Merchants were boxing up Halloween leftovers -- candy is 30% off at Target! -- and restocking the "seasonal" shelves with Christmas merchandise.

Even Hollister & Co. was playing Christmas muzak -- with a much more contemporary sound, I'll admit, for which I give them credit. As I entered the store, the little sprite with the employee's name badge greeted me with, "What's up?"

"What's up with the Christmas muzak?" I replied.

She knew right then I was just a cranky old fart who wasn't going to buy anything in her wonderfully hip store which sells clothes that only fit 16-year-old boys and pre-pubescent girls.

I mean, really, what is a "Size 0" anyway? 

Truth is, I go into Hollister & Co. to look at live scenes of Huntingdon Beach, CA, broadcast on large screens on opposite walls of the store. It's designed to make you feel like you're actually standing on the pier.

I torture myself.

I also come out smelling of their cologne, gallons of which they apparently pump throughout the store and into the mall all day long, an effort to improve the city by making it smell better.

Now I'm ready for a night out on the town!

But I am definitely not ready to face Christmas yet!!!

So it seems the "12 Days of Christmas" has become the "7 1/2 Weeks of Christmas"!

Lord, help us!

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Happy Halloween!

"Surrender the booty!"

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Trick or Treat!

Okay, this has to be the most adorable Halloween costume ever!

(Photo swiped from the Los Angeles Times)

Yes, it is almost time for all the little goblins to dress up and pillage the neighborhood. At the “Banana Winds” home office, we are ready for the onslaught – we have bought enough candy to feed 200+, “glow bracelets” (very popular last year!), and bonus coupons from Wendy’s & McDonald’s, left over from our church’s Fall Carnival.

Speaking of our Fall Carnival, we had another successful year! The crowd seemed to be a bit smaller, but there were no major crises and no trouble from the kids.

Your humble blogger dressed up as a pirate – a pretty good costume, if you ask me – but once again lost the costume contest, this time to a guy dressed up like his “grandmaw”. Nobody had a camera, so I don’t have a photo to share, but here’s a pirate pic I thought you would enjoy more!

Anyway, a few days after the Fall Carnival, I received the following note from a woman who lives in St. Louis:

“I was in Memphis recently and drove by your church and noticed that you are having a ‘Halloween Carnival.’ As a Christian, I was very surprised and disappointed to see such a worldly holiday being endorsed by an establishment that is supposed to represent our Heavenly Father. I don’t want to judge – but want to offer you some food for thought so in the future if your congregation continues to celebrate ‘Halloween’ at least you’ll know the meaning behind it.

“’My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge.’ – Hosea 4:6”

She enclosed a leaflet that was undoubtedly copied and distributed in her church’s worship guide, “The History of Halloween”.

I won’t write here what I wanted to say to her, but here is what I did write back:

“Grace and peace to you in the name of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ!

“Thank you for your recent letter, and for including your mailing address so I am able to respond to your misunderstanding of what we do at Asbury United Methodist Church.

“The event that you mis-identified as a ‘Halloween Carnival’ is our annual Fall Carnival, which we have provided for the community for many years. The date is two weeks prior to Halloween. We do not celebrate evil in any manner. There is no ‘Haunted House’ and we discourage ‘scary’ costumes. In fact, because the income level of the neighborhood is low, most of the children do not even wear costumes.

“It is not for a ‘lack of knowledge’ that we hold this annual event, as you suggest. The congregation has dealt with this question for many years. I have dealt with this question myself since high school. I am familiar with the Pagan roots of All Hallow’s Eve, as I am with the Pagan roots of Christmas and Easter. However, just because something was once Pagan does not mean we can’t re-tool it for Christian purposes.

“At Asbury UMC, we are proud to provide a safe setting in a dangerous neighborhood, a place where the children of our neighborhood can come and have an evening of fun. In fact, the Carnival is our most successful outreach event, bringing in more than 200 people from our diverse community, whereby we can meet them, show them Christian love and hospitality, and invite them to return to participate in our other ministries as well. The carnival also yields several thousand dollars for mission outreach.

While I appreciate your concern, I find very few people in America who still believe that the souls of the damned are called from their graves on All Hallow’s Eve. I find even fewer who believe one can appease the spirits with food offerings, or scare them off with a carved-out pumpkin. I don’t think even you would admit to the idea that black cats are really evil persons turned into cats. These are all superstitions from a pre-scientific period of history.

“In America today, Halloween is far-removed from its Pagan roots. It is nothing more than a harmless exercise in creativity, giving children a chance to be a princess or a cowboy or a police officer – if just for an evening. And, when not subverted by well-meaning people like yourself, it gives us adults the opportunity to affirm that creativity with gifts of candy and prizes.

“Again, thank you for your letter. If you are in Memphis again next year when we hold our Fall Carnival, I invite you to come see for yourself what I write to you now.