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February 27, 2011

Morto per la libertà

Messina is closer to Tripoli than to Rome. We can almost hear the dying and crying. We can almost hear the yearning for a freer life.

Absolute power corrupts absolutely. And Gheddafi or Gadhafi or Qadhdhafi or Kadhafi was known as a stoned-out crazy man even back in the 70’s when I toured the region. Maybe his goal is to “live in infamy.” He’ll get that. Shooting on his own people praying at funerals, Good God! (i.e., Allah Akbar)

A recent piece by Italy’s funniest man, Roberto Benigni, about the origin of the national anthem (below), got me thinking about how people in the past fought for us and how we look back on them or don’t. We ignore their sacrifice at our own risk.

I mean, the Arab world seems to be experiencing their American Revolution, 235 years later. After their inevitable victory--despots fall by definition--how will the grandchildren of the current generation see their actions? And how do we consider our founding fathers (like my ancestor, John Strahl)? After all, they did put their lives at stake to make a better world for their descendants. Many died for us. 

War is often about money for the bigshots who decide to wage it, and the poor schmucks who volunteer to fight it, but it sometimes has other inspirations too. I recently re-watched Ken Burns series on the Civil War, our worst horror. A killing and dying butchery all for what? For what (right or wrong) the common soldiers believed in. For their families back home and those to come.

That’s us, folks. People have been sacrificing for centuries so that we can twitter and tofu and pilates and Oprah. They lived hard lives of work or died young so we could live this full, easy life and decide how to practice our freedom to make our own ideal world. Global warming, for instance, doesn’t come from outer space. Sex slavery wasn’t invented by Martians. If we live in a sickening, psychotic mess, it’s our decision. Our responsibility.

Would those boys (girls, men, women) whose dying thought was that they wanted us to have better lives than theirs be proud of how we turned out? Do we owe them something? Do we owe them for dying for us? How to repay … how?

Happy trials, Martin

Mutt: Howdy, Sir Jeff. Did you hear about the medical student who got in trouble for performing an operation? He removed the appendix from his medical textbook.
Jeff: How about Hans and Stein?, who were playing in their yard in Zurich when one of the boys accidentally swallowed a coin and started choking. Hans ran inside to get help, yelling "Mom! Dad! Come quick! There's a franc in Stein!"
Mutt: Quite amusing. Okay, two fish are in a tank. One says to the other, “Uhm … how do you drive this thing?”
Jeff: Good one. Two seagulls are sitting on a perch, one says to the other, “Something smells fishy.”
Mutt: Two guys were stranded on a desert island. The only way they could get food was to kill sea birds by throwing rocks at them. By the time they were rescued ... they had left no tern unstoned.
Jeff: Good grief.

February 9, 2011

30 Million Slobs

Here’s a passionate post nobody will like. I’m touching the nerve. Pinching the central nerve of We the People of these United States. No, not the constitution, but booze.

Every year around the holidays (the eggnog/champagne sales season) newspapers print articles with titles like “More research supports moderate drinking” (San Francisco Chronicle, Dec. 25, 2010). It seems to be a pro-alcohol article, drinking is good for your health. We’ve read that before. But the evidence “suggests” that very moderate drinking “a beer after work a few times a week” “may” help people live longer… Yet farther down the page: the research is inconclusive, non-drinkers should not start, the risks associated with drinking alcohol are serious, binge-drinking is always bad (i.e. holiday drinking), tens of thousands of deaths, better ways to reduce stroke or heart attack risk, and pretty soon the article is talking about alcoholism, drunk driving, etc. And the last line: “some people can have one and feel great and that’s it, and for others, there’s no stopping.”

Alcohol is as addicting as heroin, yet not to the same percentage of people. That is, heroin is always addicting, alcohol, among social drinkers in the US, is addictive to about 10%. It seems to be a chemical problem rather than a character flaw. Two social drinkers, even twins let’s say, can drink the same amount for the same amount of time, and one becomes dependent and the other doesn’t. There’s no telling beforehand.

It’s interesting that the percentage changes in different cultures/races. Among Native Americans the percentage of social drinkers who become alcoholics is around 90%, they have no resistance, a couple beers a week is not possible. Among Italians the percentage is one of the lowest anywhere, about 1%, they begin drinking small amounts as children. I know no heavy drinkers here in Sicily, only foreigners. Most Italians that I know, in fact, have never been drunk in their lives. As soon as they get the first buzz, they stop.

In the United States, the number of persons addicted to alcohol, that is who cannot stop drinking at will, is estimated at 25-30 MILLION! An enormous public health crisis, if not the biggest. Do we hear about government intervention? Silence. Is anyone actively fighting this trend? Doesn’t seem like it. Why then is this the best kept secret in our country? Easy. Can you imagine the revenue from 30,000,000 slaves who have no choice but to buy hooch every day for the rest of their lives? It keeps the rich getting richer to pretend that only weak personalities abuse alcohol. Their fault, not ours.

So no one is perturbed by a constant bombardment of mind-controlling messages. On the sports-related ads, the slogan “Grab some Bud,” has become “Grab some Buds.” A subtle difference, but, hey man, I’ve got two hands. The first inning of baseball games is now called the Thirst Inning, implying that real fans down a brewski nine times during a game. Coors Field, Busch Stadium, Miller Park, Milwaukee Brewers—say no more. Then there’s football, the drunken rowdy sport. Parking lots of puke. They will not show mercy until you yell “Uncle Jack Daniels!”

The drug pushers will not be satisfied until they have all 300,000,000 Merry Cans under their control. World population's now at 7 billion, and the distillers are toasting their new captives. Bring 'em on, first beer's free. Do bartenders like out-of-control drinkers? Duh. And most of them, before closing up, everyone’s gone, all that free liquor….

Imagine booze prices doubling. A few social drinkers might slacken off a bit, maybe, but the addicts will pay any price for their fix. Double again. Why is this turning-straw-into-gold dream/nightmare even legal? Government makes the laws, government collects the taxes. Why are they considering legalizing pot in California? Encouraging self-destruction to fund instruction.

Sober up folks! Don’t let the scammers trick you into dependency. Don’t buy a life you don’t want. The fun wears off, the pain never washes away. You empty the bottle, it empties you. Ain't as harmless as they say. Be strong. Say that’s enough. Don't choose the booze ruse.

Not to mention alcohol and: rape, pregnancy, auto accidents, organ damage, crime, divorce, suicide, obesity, mental illness, domestic violence, etc., etc. Shhh, not to mention.

Oh, and, one more thing, please drink responsibly. All 30 million of you. Us.

Happy trials, Martin

Mutt: Mr. Humbug trying to ruin everybody’s fun again.
Jeff: We can get back at him though. Ready?
Mutt: Have at it, brother.
Jeff: A man walks into a bar and says, "Give me a beer before the problems start!" Again, the man orders a beer saying, "Give me a beer before the problems start!" The bartender looks confused. This goes on for a while, and after the fifth beer the bartender is totally confused and asks the man "When are you going to pay for these beers?" The man answers, "Now the problems start!"
Mutt: A baby seal walks into a bar. "What can I get you?" asks the bartender. "Anything but a Canadian Club," replies the seal.
Jeff: A doctor made it his regular habit to stop off at a bar for a hazelnut daiquiri on his way home. The bartender knew of his habit, and would always have the drink waiting at precisely 5:03 p.m. One afternoon, as the end of the work day approached, the bartender was dismayed to find that he was out of hazelnut extract. Thinking quickly, he threw together a daiquiri made with hickory nuts and set it on the bar. The doctor came in at his regular time, took one sip of the drink and exclaimed, "This isn't a hazelnut daiquiri!"
"No, I'm sorry," replied the bartender, "it's a hickory daiquiri, Doc."
Mutt: Well, that’s nothing. They arrested my bartender for taking liquor home. I believe the official charge was "emboozlement."
Jeff: Pedersen is reeling, swooning, down for the count, a few more grog jokes and he’s out cold, a-1, a-2 ...

February 3, 2011

Neal at the Eye-Doctor

Neal went to the eye-doctor, the oculist or optometrist, for an exam so he could get some new reading glasses. No big deal. Except that we’re talking about Neal.

When the receptionist-nurse lets you in, you sit in a square waiting room with too-low, too-soft sofa benches in black vinyl and wait your turn to have the various stages of your exam. She has a nice smile, but the magazines are trashy and the pictures on the wall are flat out ugly. There’s a door on the right into the restroom. The restroom is really a converted broom closet, and the door is flimsy with a sort of screen thing near the bottom.

Neal waited a long time. The nurse invited him in to get his eye pressure checked on a machine. She was cute and Neal had unclean thoughts. In addition, he could not keep his chin on the chinrest and keep his eye open while the machine blew air into it, so the exam had to be repeated twice. He returned to the waiting room with a grin while the nurse shook her head.

Then she put eye drops into his eyes to dilate the pupils. She wasted a drop or two when Neal unintentionally shut his eye. He wasn’t really used to this sort of thing. Then the really long wait started.

Neal couldn’t read and the light sort of hurt, so he tried to find something to think about, like a mental game or a story to keep him occupied. But he found nothing and just fidgeted for half an hour. Often he blew out air like he was exasperated. Like ‘I can’t stand this much longer.’ Nobody in the waiting room would talk to him.

Then Neal needed to take a leak bad. He had a little trouble with the door knob, but got inside okay. Ah, alone at last! At the bottom of the door there is a grate because there is no window in the restroom, just a ventilator fan which was broken. This situation was not entirely clear to Neal. What was clear was that he had to take a leak really bad and he was in a restroom.

The grate in the door and the lack of a noisy ventilator meant that the ten or so people in the waiting room five feet away could hear everything just as plainly as if they had been in the restroom with Neal. He unzipped; they snickered. He groaned as he readied for action; they looked at one another with smirks. He let loose; they chuckled like little kids in church. It wasn’t that funny, but the laughter was contagious and unstoppable.

The men, women, teens and children in the waiting room were all out of control. Neal heard the noise but had no idea that he was putting on a show from behind the door. Then the audience tried to contain itself so that he might be less embarrassed when he came out but the laughter came in ripples. It’s always hard to stop when the crowd’s tittering.

Neal finished his leak by blowing some nice long high-pitched wind, and the waiting room exploded. By this time the nurse and even the eye doctor had come out to see what was so funny. People were drying their eyes and containing themselves while Neal washed his hands, and then he emerged. As soon as they saw him they broke up again. Even the eye doctor laughed in squeaky hysterics.

But the worst was yet to come. Neal smiled at everyone and yearned to join in the fun. “What’s so funny?” he said. Everyone laughed even harder. And then a teenage girl saw that Neal had trailed a foot-long piece of toilet paper stuck to his boot. She pointed and the people started falling off their chairs holding their sides. Neal saw that they were laughing now at his toilet paper train, so he pulled it off and held it up. He laughed too. Nobody could stop. They had to wait an extra hour for everyone’s eyes to normalize in order to continue the examinations. Some had to go home and come back another day. One older woman said she laughed so hard she almost wet herself, but she would not use that sound-amplifying toilet if it was the last one on earth.

Neal, once again, had provided a valuable public service.

Happy trials, Martin

Mutt: Very early one morning, two birds were sitting at the side of a large puddle of oil. They saw a worm on the other side.
Jeff: I’m not feeling too good myself.
Mutt: So one flies over and the other one swims through. The question is: which one gets to the worm first?
Jeff: Oh, that would be … the one who swam, of course, because "da oily boid gets da woim."
Mutt: Okay, but did you hear about the woman driving her car slowly and knitting at the same time?
Jeff: Ugh.
Mutt: A man came up from behind and he wanted to pass her. He opened the window and yelled, "Pull over! Pull over!"
Jeff: Ugh.
Mutt: The lady yelled back, "No, it's a sweater!"
Jeff: My turn. One day a man went to see Mozart's tomb. When he got there, the tomb was open and Mozart was sitting there tearing up pieces of paper. The man asked: "What are you doing with all of your great works of music?"
Mutt: And …?
Jeff: You can’t guess?
Mutt: Um, no.
Jeff: Mozart replied, "I'm decomposing!"
Mutt: Ha ha ha ha … I don’t get it.