Friday, January 30, 2009

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Dave's Not Here, Man!

My parents tried to shelter me as a child.

I have made up for it since then, but they tried.

I wasn’t allowed to go to the local bowling alley. There was a pool hall there.

You know, “that game with the 15 colored balls, it’s the devil’s tool!”

They tried to shelter me from Playboy Magazine…

And Cher…

And Cheech and Chong…

Actually, the whole pot culture.

Ironically, the one time Dad called us all together – to ask if we knew what a “roach clip” was – it was his youngest son that knew the answer.

Maybe my older brothers just knew it was time to play dumb.

Anyway, last week, while reading the Memphis Flyer, I stumbled across an ad for the Horseshoe Casino in Tunica, MS, promoting an upcoming appearance by none other than Cheech and Chong!

As I said, over the years I made up for lost time. I’ve listened to their albums. I’ve seen “Up In Smoke” and “Nice Dreams”. Whenever I call a former secretary, I always ask, “Is Dave there, man?”

She knows it’s me.

The duo broke up in the 80’s and I’ve watched Richard “Cheech” Marin try to break into serious acting – co-starring with Don Johnson on “Nash Bridges” and holding bit parts in “From Dusk ‘til Dawn” and “Once Upon a Time in Mexico”. Tommy Chong went on to a regularly occurring role in “That 70’s Show”, plus a brief prison stint for selling his own line of “Chong’s Bongs”.

As my college psych prof used to say, “Must have been a good weekend; lots of brain damage!”

But now the drug-duo is back together. Doing stand-up again. And I wonder: what will they talk about?

Contraband Geritol? Really wicked Mexican Fiber? Their "little blue friend"?

I mean, really! These guys are… what? Freakin’ old, man! Cheech is 62, Tommy is 70!

Holy smokes!

They were great once. But we all need to realize at some point that it’s time to put away the “shtick” that got us through our youth and face the reality of the day.

By the way, should they look out at the audience in Tunica, you will undoubtedly hear Tommy Chong say, “Hey, Dave’s not here, man!”

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Enough Already!

Enough with the “Michelle Obama, Fashion Maven” stories!

Yes, the woman is attractive. And stylish. Some compare her to Jackie Kennedy.

That’s supposed to be a compliment.

But Michelle Obama is so much more than Jackie Kennedy.

Jacqueline Lee Bouvier Kennedy Onassis was born into wealth. She attended private prep schools, and after hopping around among several colleges, finally finished a bachelor degree in French Literature at George Washington University. From there she worked as a society columnist for a Washington newspaper, then married a Kennedy.

(Wikipedia sure makes me seem smart, doesn’t it?)

Michelle LaVaughn Robinson Obama's father was a city water plant employee; her mother was a secretary at Spiegel's catalogue store. Michelle, a product of public education, was salutatorian at Whitney Young High School in Chicago. She earned a Bachelor of Arts, cum laude, from Princeton, and her Juris Doctor degree from Harvard Law School.

She has always been politically active, seeking changes in the conditions of poor and black Americans.

She has worked for Sidley Austin Law Firm in Chicago, on staff for Chicago Mayor Richard Daley, as associate dean of students at University of Chicago, and was vice president for community and external affairs at University of Chicago Hospital when the presidential primaries started. She was earning twice as much as President Obama was when he was just a Senator.

On top of that, she is the proud mother of two.

After all these years, we still don’t know what to do with smart, powerful women. So we comment on their clothing, and dismiss them as if that’s what really made them who they are.

So stop with all the fashion nonsense. You’re just doing it to denigrate her. Michelle Obama is not some bimbo cheerleader… or a brainless fashion model… or some pop-culture boy-toy. She is a true role model -- if the press will let her be. Michelle Obama is a bright woman who has much to contribute as our First Lady.

Much more than a keen fashion sense.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Wine, Wine, Wine

Over the Christmas break I read “The Billionaire’s Vinegar” by Benjamin Wallace. If you are into wine (or history), you’ll enjoy this one… although it is a bit disturbing.

The book is a true account of the purchase of a bottle of wine sold at auction in 1985 for $156,000. It was supposedly a bottle of 1787 Chateau Lafite Bordeaux from a previously unknown cache of wine belonging to Thomas Jefferson. The seller – Hardy Rodenstock – would not produce a certificate of authenticity, but merely claimed it was found sealed behind a brick wall in a cellar in Paris. The sole proof that it once belonged to Jefferson was in the initials “Th. J.” etched on the bottle itself.

Questionable, you might say. Indeed.

During his time in Paris, Thomas Jefferson did explore the wine regions of France, learning all about the grape and the wine. He had hoped to bring this expertise back to Virginia and begin production of fine American wines. Jefferson kept meticulous records of every case of wine he bought and where it went, yet historians at Monticello could find no clear record of this particular bottle – or the bottles that followed at subsequent auctions.

But that didn’t stop Christie’s in London from auctioning it off. And it didn’t stop Malcolm Forbes from wanting it. Forbes was preparing a display on Thomas Jefferson and this bottle would be the crowning jewel. He sent his son, Kip, to the auction with the simple directions, “I want that bottle of wine.”

Ironically, Forbes put the wine on display – standing upright in a glass case beneath a bright spotlight. In short time, the cork dried up and fell into the wine. If, in fact, it had once been drinkable – and we will never know – it was now just a bottle of 200-year-old vinegar.

The book describes in captivating detail the folly of wine collectors and exposes the madness that ensued following the 1985 auction; how, by the mid-90s, the rare wine market was awash in fakes; and how the wealthy wine snobs who prided themselves on their thousands of bottles of rare wines found themselves looking foolish.

Which raises the question: What is a bottle of wine really worth?

A friend asked this question of me a couple years ago. I wanted to gift a nice bottle of wine to a friend but, because we had moved to Memphis, I was unable to make the delivery. So I called a friend and asked to her to make the purchase and delivery and I would reimburse her. She reported back – “mission accomplished” – but then commented on the price of the wine I had selected.

“Does a $50 bottle of wine really taste better than a $10 bottle of wine?”

The preacher in me wants to reference the story of Jesus at the wedding in Cana. But I won’t.

Fred Franzia says even $10 is too much. Franzia is the CEO of Bronco Wine, the 4th largest wine-producer in America. (Yes, that's Fred to the right.) Bronco Wine makes “Two-Buck Chuck”, a collection of wines sold through “Trader Joe’s” markets for – you guessed it – $2 per bottle. He is able to do this because he owns 35,000 acres of vines between Sacramento and Santa Barbara, and buys additional failing vineyards at foreclosure prices each year.

Franzia, a large, plain-spoken man, and the scourge of Napa Valley, insists that wine shouldn’t cost more than $2 per bottle, and that all those folks who are selling the same wines for more are ripping you off.

For those tempted to try it, “Two-Buck Chuck” wines are blended, so regardless of the vintage date on the label, the wine tastes the same from one year to the next. Some take comfort in that knowledge.

Is a $2 bottle of “Chuck” just as good as a $20 bottle of Franciscan, grown just down the road?

That is a matter of taste. Is a $75 Polo button-down actually better than the $14.95 button-down sold at Wal-Mart?

Of course it is!
It is also a matter of purpose.

If one’s goal is simply to have a beverage to wash down your cheeseburger, then most anything will do. Coca-Cola is great for this – which, by the way, owns the original Franzia Winery established by Fred’s grandfather in 1915.

But for a serious dinner – at which one wants to savor the flavor – the right bottle of wine can enhance the meal in ways no other beverage can.

And, unique to wine, a truly great wine can change from one sip to the next, taking on a completely different quality and complexion of flavor.

So I keep a good stock of $10 wines for “everyday” use, but for special occasions – and special friends – I will put out the big bucks for the better wine…

...not for the sake of boasting, but because good wine should be shared with good friends.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Shiny Things

While on vacation in southern California over the Christmas break, I found myself inexplicably drawn into an Apple store on two different occasions.

Bear in mind, my office computer is an HP, and I work on a Toshiba laptop at home. When I go to the gym, I listen to music on a Sony MP3 player, and my cell phone is a Motorola Razr.

So what was I doing in an Apple store?

Like the crowd of other lemmings already milling around within, I was drawn in by the shiny things.

Everywhere I looked, there was a shiny little IPod… or a shiny little IPhone… or a paper-thin Mac laptop.

And the accessories… Bose speakers… alarm clocks… protective covers… all at joyously-inflated prices! And they were selling like hot-cakes!

And there… on a table in the middle of the room – the IPod Touch, the holy grail of I-Fanatics. More than just a phone… more than just an MP3 player… I could watch feature-length movies on a 3-inch screen… I could play Solitaire without touching a card!

The attraction was immediate. If I had one of those things, I could listen to music, or check on my stocks… or learn what the weather forecast is for Beijing… and so much more!

And it’s shiny!!!

But, y’know, I don’t really need one. Truth is, I don’t really WANT to be THAT connected to the world!

Every day I see people driving down the highway with a cell phone clutched to their ear. Who are they talking to?

Did you notice the hawk up in the top of that tree?

Once I followed a driver who was smoking a cigar and drinking a cup of coffee while driving and talking on his phone. Two nights ago, a driver was reading something he was holding on his steering wheel while talking on his phone. This afternoon I saw a woman driving a car that had obviously once rear-ended another car… yet, she was still on her cell phone!

I don’t NEED to be THAT connected to the world!

I like to watch the scenery. Look, there’s a heron fishing in the shallows of the Nonconnah Creek!

As a high school student, I spent a week at summer camp. Often times I was found by myself… away from the crowd. Rev. Stan Farr was the director of the camp that week. He was concerned – was I lonely, or just alone, he wanted to know? I realized then that I rarely get lonely; I just like to be alone.

Maybe I’m old school, but I can think of only a few scenarios in which someone would need immediate access to me 24-7. Nonetheless, I carry a cell phone for just such emergencies – and rack up hundreds of roll-over minutes each month! I have both a secretary and voice-mail at my office, and an answering machine at home; you can also reach me via email. I don’t have stock to check, and, with the exception of when I work out, I don’t need music piped directly into my ears. I have a 36” television on which to watch movies, so why would I strain to see a 3” screen?

And why would I need to know what the weather is in Beijing?

A wise man once taught me: Just because you can doesn’t mean you must.

So I didn’t. And to the shock of all the uber-hip sales associates standing around, I walked out of the Apple store empty-handed.

Monday, January 12, 2009

In The News...

Nothing greatly profound this morning, but several noteworthy news stories of late:


Back when the price of a gallon of gas was soaring toward $4 per gallon, our government told us it was all our fault because we have become too dependent upon foreign oil. They suggested that we drive less, and pressured automakers to step up production of electric and hybrid cars; they even offered financial incentives for us to buy fuel efficient vehicles. So we cut back, and used car lots became glutted with SUVs.

Then the economy tanked and gas prices dropped to now $1.60 per gallon.

So now our federal government is crying because we are not using enough gas, which means they are not receiving enough taxes to keep the road-tax coffers filled. The government’s solution: double the gas tax.

I guess I should have just continued driving my Hummer out to my mailbox all along!

Conservation = Bad! Taxes = Good!


In the January 8-14 issue of the Memphis Flyer, editor Bruce VanWyngarden noted some of the cuts which he and his spouse have started to make as the recession heats up – he waited and bought a shirt marked down from $79 to $19 at Banana Republic; he bought fireplace starter logs for $2.99 at Ike’s instead of the $14 logs at Schnuck’s; he canceled his premium cable channels, etc.

Cutting back on person expenses is wise when money grows scarce.

Unfortunately, he notes, such cuts only make the recession worse. If you decide to put off buying that new car for a year, the car salesman (and others on down the assembly line) takes the hit.

VanWyngarden opposes the government bailout and the proposed stimulus bill. Instead, he calls for a return of the Works Progress Administration – part of FDR’s New Deal. Instead of throwing money down a rat’s hole, why not create jobs and put people back to work?

I have argued this for a long time, but have been surprised at the opposition I have received from liberals and conservatives alike. Apparently, some think we are too good to dig ditches, while others argue we are not smart enough to dig ditches (since we dig ditches with fancy machinery now instead of a shovel). I say give 'em a shovel!

We will never dig ourselves out of this financial mess we are in until we can convince people that the government’s job is not just to give you money.

Don’t they know it’s the government’s job to take our money?!?

Paul & Caragh Brooks recently were married… in a Taco Bell… in Normal, Illinois.

The bride wore a $15 hot-pink dress.

The restaurant was decorated with balloons and streamers.

Employees displayed “hot sauce” packets which read, “Will you marry me?”

The preacher, dressed in a t-shirt, received his license over the internet.

And as the happy couple exchanged their vows – “Would you like nachos with that?” – the regular customers continued to mill around and order their tacos and burritos.


President-Elect Barack Obama has finally realized what a mess President Bush has left him. Yesterday he announced, “Everyone is going to have to make some sacrifices.”

It only took him 3-months to read my blog. [See blog post “Sacrifice”, October 28, 2008.]

Maybe there is hope after all.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

"Preacher Count"

One of the family traditions associated with the turn of the New Year (in addition to staying up until midnight with Dick Clark to watch the Ball descend in Time Square) is to get up early the next morning and watch the Rose Parade. Bob Eubanks and Stephanie Edwards lead us through the long line of floats, bands and equestrian groups with their inane banter and pre-printed trivia.

The floats are amazing to see on television – even more amazing up close. A few years ago, we went out the day before the parade to watch volunteers put on the finishing touches, then again to see all the floats on display after the parade.

I have continually refused offers to attend the parade itself – I don’t like crowds.

Which brings me to the point of this blog. Following this year’s parade, Peter Apanel wrote the following email to the LA Times: “The Times reports that an estimated 700,000 people attending this year’s Rose Parade. That figure is obviously false, so I’m wondering why the Times continues to report false attendance figures year after year.”

To answer that question honestly, one has only to recall the history of the parade. The “Tournament of Roses” was originally designed by real estate investors to show off sunny southern California to the rest of the country, to entice people to move west.

And it worked. California is full. You’d think they would stop it already!

Still a major marketing venture – although the parade is brought to you “without commercial interruption” – it wouldn’t look good if Eubanks/Edwards announced, “We’ve got about 100,000 people out on the street today, give or take a few thousand.” ...especially since, in the early days, spokespersons for the parade used to throw around a crowd number of more than 1 million!

Sounds like a “preacher count”.

Everyone knows preachers can't count. How else could you explain how I was told by the previous pastor that my church had 150 average worship attendance when, in fact, the AWA for the past three years has hovered around 120?

The question of crowd counts has always been a bone of contention. Remember the “Million Man March” in Washington – at which the march organizers boasted of achieving their goal, while the U.S. Parks Service came up with a significantly different number? And some today are estimating 1 million will attend President Obama’s inauguration – a physical impossibility unless you count the people sitting in a coffee shop in Williamsburg as being “in attendance”.

In the 1980s, someone did the math and determined that, at maximum capacity, the Rose Parade route would only hold about 512,000 people. In 1991, a reporter indicated that the parade route would only hold 130,000 people per mile “if they’re all standing up, packed tight as sardines the whole way with no room for coolers, chairs or empty spots at the back”.

Apanel raised the issue about crowd counting apparently because he already knew the answer to his question. By his math: “The route is 5.5 miles long, or 29,040 feet. So, if you allowed two feet per person, for spectators standing shoulder-to-shoulder, it would take 29,040 people to form one row of spectators along both sides of the entire parade route. Therefore, to have 700,000 people in attendance, you’d need to have 24 rows of people, packed together like sardines, on both sides of the parade route. Obviously, that’s a physical impossibility, and, just as obviously, the density of the crowd, with all the chairs, coolers, blankets, and other gaps, comes nowhere near maximum density.”

Which leads me to the following conclusion: Peter Apanel has WAAAAY too much time on his hands!
So, how many people were actually in attendance at this year's Rose Parade, you might still want to know? A lot! Which is a lot more than I care to be a part of. And that's all I need to know!

(Info taken from an LA Times article, 01-07-09)

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Important Notice!

[I'm under the weather today -- brought back a bug from CA -- so I'm passing along a little funny filler until my sinuses stop dripping!]

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Movie Review: Marley & Me

Spoiler alert: If you don’t want to know how it ends, stop reading now!

Over the Christmas break, I took my favorite niece to see the movie “Marley & Me”. She’s twelve, the rating was “PG” and the commercials indicated it was a comedy about a dog. Can’t go wrong, right?

By the way, matinees in California cost $8.75. Ouch!

The first half of the movie was funny – all the scenes you saw in the trailer plus some. Owen Wilson and Jennifer Anniston were immediately likeable as John & Jennifer Grogan, but I had trouble separating the two popular actors from their roles.

OK, I had also recently seen Anniston’s nude magazine shoot.

But I digress…

About halfway through, the movie took a strange turn. With the arrival of a child, John & Jennifer are bickering. The baby is crying, the dog is barking, the house is too small, Jennifer has given up a career to have a family… life is not like they had planned. The arrival of a second and third child only make it worse. Plus, for some inexplicable reason, John is unhappy with his wildly successful career as a newspaper columnist.

Just like real life.

But if I had wanted real life, I would have stayed at home!

Then it got worse. Suddenly I realized that Marley (the dog) is aging. We had seen him as a puppy. We had seen him as a teen dog. We had seen him mature. Then comes the comment: “What’s the matter, boy? Having trouble with your hips?”

Are you serious??? Are we really going to see Marley grow old and die?

I hate to spoil the ending, but you need to hear this if you haven’t seen the movie. Near the end of the movie, John takes Marley to the vet, who declares, “There is nothing more that I can do.” They decide to put him down.

Marley, not John.

Not only do we get to see John’s farewell to his boon companion of 15 years, we get to see a protracted death scene – flashing between Marley laying on the vet’s table with an IV delivering the lethal drug and one of John’s children watching videotapes of Marley as a puppy.

Again, if I had wanted real life, I would have stayed at home. As one who had to watch his own dog put to sleep, the scene conjured up way too many memories.

Fortunately the theater was dark.

No, Pirates never cry!

There is a funeral scene – yes, for Marley – and at the end of the movie, John decides to deal with his grief by writing a book… which was turned into a movie… this movie... which I had just paid $8.75 to see.

I salute David Frankel, the director, for making a film that could so violently wrench my emotions; you had me all the way!

But, John Grogan, next time you need grief therapy, don’t turn it into a movie!

And I will never forgive the ad firm that portrayed this movie as a comedy!

Shame on you!

Thursday, January 1, 2009