Meanwhile, in our universe …

Posted: 2012/01/27 in Media

We Americans have such tunnel vision when it comes to measuring things only by our standards.

Case in point. When it was announced that uninjured passengers involved in the Italian cruise ship disaster would be getting a payment of $14,460 plus ticket refunds, several TV news talking heads said dismissively that they couldn’t understand how such an “odd” number had been determined.

Well, that’s because they were using U.S. dollars, whereas the cruise line had announced an 11,000 Euro payment, a nice round figure.

See, we’re really not the center of the universe.

As I stood in the checkout line at my local supermarket the other day, mentally complaining about the continually rising prices of food, I noticed a couple ahead of me piling up cigarettes and beer on the conveyor belt. It caught my attention because they had been paying for their groceries with food stamps supported by your tax dollars and mine. That left them plenty of cash for the beer and smokes.

Ah, the cradle-to-grave welfare system. Why use your money for the basics of life when someone else’s money will get them for you? In effect, you are buying their drinks and smokes.

There are, of course, some people who can’t exist without assistance, but I see so many examples of people simply milking the system — put bluntly, stealing money from my pocketbook — I have less and less sympathy all the time.

Just this week, the partial collapse of an old brick residential building locally forced tenants of an apartment to find accommodations elsewhere. I felt bad for them at first. Then it was revealed that the building was Section 8 housing in which a big chunk of the rent is paid by, guess who?, you and me through our taxes.

On the surface that’s alright because some people need such assistance. But, only family members are allowed to reside in each unit and their total income must be below a certain level to qualify. It turns out one of the occupants was the boyfriend of the mother of the family, not a legal family member. Plainly put, this lout and loutess were jobbing the system to get cut-rate rent for her and rent-free housing for him while other members of the community whose taxes are supporting them are worrying about making their own rent or mortgage payments.

These are far from isolated cases. When they keep popping up generation after generation, I root for some tighter oversight of welfare programs so the truly needy are aided and the truly cheating are exposed. Thus, I was thrilled when I recently heard Mayor Michael Bloomberg was petitioning the federal government to allow New York City to prohibit food stamp recipients from using the handouts to purchase soft drinks. A small step, but better than no step, unless you’re among the soft drink makers/distributors/sellers and their cohort (snack food manufacturers, for one) already whining about the proposal.

Why is this a positive step for society at large? Besides the obesity problem, to which sugary drinks contribute mightily, take a look at the numbers.

There are 1,700,000 New Yorkers getting food stamps. That is roughly equal to the combined entire populations of Vermont, Wyoming and Washington, DC. If each food stamp recipient bought just 1½ soft drinks daily, that would come to about $2,500,000 a day, or $76,500,000 a month of your money being spent. That last figure exceeds the annual gross state product of each of 13 states: Alaska, Delaware, Hawaii, Idaho, Maine, Montana, New Hampshire, North Dakota, Rhode Island, South Dakota, Vermont, West Virginia and Wyoming. Perhaps you’re beginning to get an idea of the enormity of the topic.

By the way, if you think my figure of 1½ soft drinks a day to make my case is too high, consider that all available data puts the average American’s soft drink consumption at 3 quarts per week. We’re the largest soft drink consuming nation in the world. And you and I are buying the sodas for a lot of those people.

The current heated debate over befouling Mark Twain’s “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” by replacing the word “nigger” with “slave” isn’t the first such instance of weak-kneed response to real or manufactured sensibilities. Illustrative of how ludicrous the debate itself has become is the fact that the word in question is not uttered on radio or TV shows and not printed in newspapers, although it frequently is heard in rap lyrics.

Back in 2002 the New York State Education Department tried using its “sensitivity review guidelines” as a pretext for sanitizing portions of great literature before they were presented to students taking the Regents English exam. That sort of execrable evolution of the brainwashing of American children was defended on a variety of laughable levels. For example, the department’s assistant commissioner for curriculum defended messing with great writers’ work by insisting, with tortured logic, that “even the most wonderful writers don’t write literature for children to take on a test.”

At the time, as a columnist for the Times Union, I noted that rather than using classic literature as a springboard for thought and discussion — two things the sanitizers apparently feared they have failed to educate students to handle — such blockheads think it is within their purview to distort, deconstruct and otherwise demean literature to suit some moronic “sensitivity” guidelines they’ve dreamed up. Political correctness run further amok. Cathy Popkin, the Lionel Trilling professor of humanities at Columbia University, said it best at the time when she called such editing dishonest and “the practice of fools.”

If the public allows such antics as the word-swap in Twain’s work to continue without a loud and sustained outcry, what next? Stories about Jews by Nobel winner Isaac Bashevis Singer stripped of any reference to Jews because some people use the term as a derogatory one? If we don’t put a stop to these efforts to recreate reality in a version only the fools can stomach, we might wind up with “editing” such as these examples I was able to whip up in just a few minutes:

“The Merchant of Venice,” by William Shakespeare, Act 2, Scene 3:

Original: “Most beautiful pagan, most sweet Jew! If a Christian did not play the knave and get thee, I am much deceived.”

Sanitized: “Most beautiful person of undecided religious persuasion, most sweet person of Semitic extraction, and I mean that in the best possible sense. If a person adhering to Judeo-Christian teachings did not play the knave and get thee, I am much deceived.”

“Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland,” by Lewis Carroll, Chapter V:

Original: “Are you content now?” said the Caterpillar. “Well, I should like to be a little larger, sir, if you wouldn’t mind,” said Alice. “Three inches is such a wretched height to be.” “It is a very good height indeed!” said the Caterpillar angrily, rearing itself upright as it spoke (it was exactly three inches high). “But I’m not used to it!” pleaded poor Alice in a piteous tone. And she thought of herself, “I wish the creatures wouldn’t be so easily offended!” “You’ll get used to it in time,” said the Caterpillar; and it put the hookah into its mouth and began smoking again.

Sanitized: “Are you content now?” said the three-inch high Caterpillar. “Well … there certainly is nothing inherently wrong with being three inches high,” said Alice. And she thought to herself, “I can understand how, in the way life has victimized him, the creature would be so easily offended.” “We all are equal in every way,” said the Caterpillar, slapping on another transdermal nicotine patch.

“War of the Worlds,” by H.G. Wells, Book 2, Chapter 8:

Original: “The streets were horribly quiet. I got food — sour, hard, and mouldy, but quite eatable — in a baker’s shop here. Here I came once more upon the black powder in the streets and upon dead bodies. I saw altogether about a dozen in the length of the Fulham Road. They had been dead many days, so that I hurried quickly past them. The black powder covered them over, and softened their outlines. One or two had been disturbed by dogs.”

Sanitized: “The streets were horribly quiet. I got food … in a baker’s shop here. Here I came once more upon the … powder in the streets … and … I saw … black … dogs.”

Peace in our time

Posted: 2010/12/29 in Humor

So proud of you, hon

Posted: 2010/12/28 in Show Biz, Society

What is it about pro athletes and precocious actresses and singers who love to procreate all over the place?

Have they never heard of (a) birth control, (b) marriage, (c) self-restraint, or, at least (c) respect for the kids they’re going to usher into the world?

The latest breathless announcement lapped up by the paparazzi, TMZ, gossip columnists and other barnacles on society is that actress Natalie Portman, 29, is pregnant and not married, but thrilled about her situation. In a statement to Entertainment Weekly mag, she gushed:

“I have always kept my private life private, but I will say that I am indescribably happy and feel very grateful to have this experience.”

Oh, did I mention that she’s also in the middle of promoting the hell out of “Black Swan,” her latest movie?

A leap of faith

Posted: 2010/12/28 in Media, Sports

Why is it that any supposedly “planned” end zone celebration draws a 15-yard penalty for unsportsmanlike conduct in the National Football League — except the Lambeau Leap?

The self-indulgent end zone dances, contortions and mini-celebrations are excused by the officials, but anything that looks as if it has been rehearsed or otherwise planned draws a flag. However, when any member of the Green Bay Packers scores and then leaps into the stands to be adored by the fans and have his image captured by the ever-present cameras he is given a pass. And, this is true no matter which officiating crew is on duty.

Given the fact this has been a planned, and oft-repeated, celebration for years, it is not even debatable whether it is spontaneous. Perhaps the fact that the activity is such a darling of the TV media that supports the NFL buys it a pass.

Of short-shorts and boots

Posted: 2010/09/09 in Fashion

I give up. I cannot read Vogue, or Marie Claire, or any other fat fashion mags. They are so suffused with ads that  it is impossible to navigate the pages — literally dozens of slick pages before there is anything to read, then finding only chopped-up bits and pieces of copy.

And, when I do miracuously stumble over something besides ads, it’s some dipshit fashion like apparently pre-pubescent mannequins sporting short-shorts and fur-lined, ankle-high boots in August and September, for god’s sake.

Don’t get me wrong. I appreciate a nice set of legs,but stupid outfits are nothing more than stupid outfits.

I know there is a finite number of fashion combinations, and we’re fated to see some revivals and some bad choices. But, short-shorts and fur-lined booths?

Some people are just phoning it in.