Sunday, March 22, 2009

Worldview Word of the Week

TOXIC ASSET

We haven't had a word of the week in a long time. So this week our word is actually 2 words! I considered calling this the "term" of the week, but that just sounds lame, and confusing.

AND, because there are boatloads of folks who know tons about Toxic Assets, we are going to engage in a process called "punting." Punting means giving up on doing a job yourself and leave it for others to deal with. And it's going to work great here. So here is intrepid reporter Paddy Hirsch with a pretty good report on what a toxic asset is.
video

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Lost in Wal-Mart

8:00 AM Saturday morning and I'm standing in the cake mix aisle at Wal-Mart, staring at Bisquick. Bisquick is Betty Crocker's recipe for pancakes and what we used to call "drop biscuits." I've been instructed to buy pancake mix that only requires water to be added. Bisquick ain't it. Bisquick needs eggs to make pancakes. I look around the aisle, and not seeing any other pancake mix, begin to feel inner tension gather.

I almost feel dizzy. I wonder what the hell is wrong with me. Did I not drink any water this morning and am dehydrated? No, what I sense is that low level panic that comes from realizing that you are lost. I'm lost. But I know exactly where I am. The problem is that I don't know where I'm supposed to go. I realize that this is also a new kind of lost sensation for me. My usual problem is that I know where I'm supposed to be, but I'm someplace else. Where I want to be right now is back in bed.
Right about now I realize that I'm just confusing myself with these thoughts and so I reach into my pocket to call my wife and ask her what exactly I'm supposed to be looking for. No cell phone. This is what happens when you get up too early on Saturday. You forget your stuff and get lost and don't know where you're supposed to go.

I know that I'll catch hell if I bring home the Bisquick even if I get the eggs, too. That will be a failed assignment. "You idiot," I imagine she'll be thinking as she tells me it's just fine, "You can't find pancake mix in the supermarket?"

So, spinning around one more time, I decide to "walk the aisles." This is how I usually shop in the supermarket. I walk through the entire store and buy whatever I think I might want to eat in the near future. I'm not a shopping list person. Impulse is my game. I'm a supermarketer's dream consumer. I look at everything. Too bad for them I usually have a good idea of what to buy, I'm kind of cheap, and I have this quirk where I hate to waste food. It's like a thing with me. A pet peeve, a turn-off, etc. You know.

Wandering aimlessly through the bountiful aisles of low priced food, I'm nevertheless in an emotionally empty desert, thirsting for relief from the stress of impending failure and embarrassment. Turning a blind corner I am irrationally heartened by the sight of . . . grits. Instant grits. It's not pancake mix, but I sense that I have stumbled into the right neighborhood.
Then, next to the grits, oatmeal. Quaker Oats oatmeal. Next to that I see the instant oatmeal, which should indicate that I'm getting even warmer. But the surge of hope I felt from seeing the grits has soothed my emotional unease, relaxing my mind which now begins to wander. I'm not "staying on task" as my wife would say. I wonder about the actual Quakers and how you never hear about the Quakers complaining about how their image being used on the oatmeal is disrespectful. If there's a more boring food than oatmeal, I can't think of it, and this is what the Quakers get associated with. I wonder if there are even any Quakers around anymore. I once heard that Richard Nixon was a Quaker so he could have gotten out of serving in the military in WW II, but he volunteered anyway. And he never seemed to wear the Quaker hat. I realize that I have never met a live Quaker.
Then suddenly there it is. Pancake mix. Aisles and aisles away from the Betty Crocker's egg-requiring Bisquick sits Aunt Jemima's "just add water" instant pancake mix. Jemima seems to have lost a lot of weight since the last time I saw her. Ditto the head scarf. And while Betty can bake a mean cake, Jemima's my gal today. She's going home with me.
I am found. All I needed was to know what to do and where to go and my mind was at ease.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Sexting, Internet Porn, & Girls

So apparently the teens are out there sending naked pictures of themselves to each other on their cell phones. This is called sexting. Get it? Like texting with sex! Oh, there's nothing like a good pun.

Oh, brother.

I'm reminded of a half-remembered piece of wisdom along the lines of, "Before we invite people to do as they please, we should determine what it pleases them to do." The "sexual revolution" of the 60's and 70's upended some accepted standards of behavior. But what are the standards now? The situation is complex and there are no simple answers.

So, now there are lots (and lots) of stories of teenage regret about naked pictures being sent "privately" to a "boyfriend" that have "somehow" been received by everyone in your local high school. Oops. Those darned teenage boyfriends! Who could have predicted they'd turn out to be indiscreet?

Now, before we all articulate our brain stem's autoresponse, "Duh!", let's reflect on a few things.

First, people do stupid things all the time. If I can keep my stupid decisions down to 1 per day, I feel I'm doing pretty well. As we become adults, we become better at avoiding some, and talking our way out of others, but still nobody's perfect. And teenagers are still kids inside, no matter how big they look. So they make a lot of mistakes.

Second, some good news. When these kids are in their "middle age" they are going to be happy to have these pictures. Believe me kids, your 40 something body will not look like what you have now. And you'll be glad to have some proof that you used to be good looking.

WV as a young man.

Third, a lot of your classmates will end up seeing you naked at some time or other anyway. Do you all still have to shower after PE? So, unless you are doing something really weird in the pictures, no big whoop.

And fourth, there is already so much nudity out on the internet that the current interest in your own personal picture will probably pass fairly quickly. So just lay low for a couple of weeks. You are just today's story in a short news cycle, and soon your classmates will find somebody else to gossip about. Did you hear the latest about Bristol Palin breaking off her engagement?
For Parents, here is link with some good thoughts on this: http://www.singlemommyhood.com/2009/02/sexting-and-the-art-of-parenting/

So, let's stress that sexting is not a good idea. While it might seem "flirty and fun!" most people will view it as kind of trashy behavior. Around here, in the South, girls or women who give themselves up too easily are considered to have low self-esteem. And as Mrs. Lovett taught us in third grade, "No one will respect you if you don't respect yourself." Mrs. Lovett taught in the North, btw, where I grew up. She was one of many great teachers who formed the village that raised me. But the message, whether called self-respect or self-esteem, is the same. Each of us can decide how much we value ourselves, and demand to be treated with respect.

Which brings me to the very uncomfortable subject of internet porn.

(With all of these sex related keywords, this post will probably set a record for hits on this blog. Sorry to disappoint you newcomers with the lack of prurient content.)

You may not have realized this, but the internet is chock full of pornography! It's true. You can look for yourself. This then begs the question, "What's up with that?" (space for obvious joke here.)

A more innocent time.

Having grown up in the "let's steal my Dad's Playboy" days of pornography, I am astounded by the vastness of the growth of the internet based pornography industry. But things have changed. Playboy in the 60's had a theme that "the girl next door" was sexy, and that sex was OK. It seemed like a wholesome recognition of reality, and a welcome counter-balance to the heavy handed Catholic anti-sex lectures I heard while trying to get some action with the girls. But that's not how it is now. Take a look at the Playboy channel on tv today. It's just another skanky hard-core porn site. Yuck.

Frankly, the presence of pornography in various media that is piped right into our houses has gotten way out of hand. My kids are on the internet right now, on a Disney sponsored game site. But how long will it be before they find themselves staring at some stranger's high definition privates?

Well, I for one think that we need to make it a lot more difficult to access pornography than it is. And I'm pretty sure that our Constitution and First Amendment writing Founding Fathers would be fine with some limitations on this. Except maybe Jefferson, who I still have serious doubts about.

Jefferson - known Rascal

I mention this because I remember the debate over requiring V-Chips in our tv sets. They all have them now. I use it all the time to regulate what shows can be watched without an access code. So my kids can watch tv without my having to make sure they haven't changed the channel to something I don't want them watching. But back in the 90's the tv networks and the ACLU fought against them, saying they violated tv producer's first amendment rights. What? Their first amendment rights to get at my kids? Thankfully this bullshit failed to carry the day.

So I'm calling for restrictions on internet porn! Yes, a daring and courageous stand, but someone needs to be the voice in the wilderness. I'm also a big supporter of baseball and hot dogs. So I guess I'm now on the same side as the late Jerry Falwell on something. I've looked for an internet service that would only allow "G" rated stuff that I can sign my kids up for, but haven't found one. This seems like a project Tipper Gore might want to take on.

Tipper, we need you!

But, while I worry about my own two boys, I'm also concerned about the girls in the porn. Where do they come from? Is porn becoming an acceptable job among our young people? How did they end up there? Did they get recruited at the high school job fair? Or did they get started the old fashioned way by running away from home and getting picked up by chickenhawks at the bus station?

We've made a mistake here. We've let our tolerance for vice turn into an full fledged acceptance of vice as just another business. Whether you like to look at nekkid wimmin or not, there is definitely something degrading happening to a woman, or girl, who appears in porn. The men, too, I suppose, but I really don't have any sympathy for them, though I'm hard put to explain the difference. I just don't.

Anyway, allowances for vice should be contained (meaning limited) in a civilized society. And allowances for discrete practices should not be turned into social approval. I fear that this is what is happening here, to the detriment of our children and our country. Porn is a vice. It's naughty. Just because we don't put people into prison for it doesn't mean it's good.

This is a tough subject to discuss, so my apologies for rambling.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Rainy Saturday Random Thoughts

Does anybody really care if Jim Cramer recommended buying Bear Stearns? Has anybody really come forward to claim they bet their life savings on a single stock that was recommended on tv? By Jim Cramer? Cramer should come clean, but I'm having trouble caring too much about this one.

Seriously?

Is PETA pro-life? I'm just wondering.

I'm suddenly craving a steak.

And what is the significance of calling someone a "pumpkin eater?"

I think Michelle Obama's arms look great. Who are these people who complain about these things?

Yowza!

More and more of my age peers are on Facebook. I think it's impinging my blog traffic.

Bob Herbert is right about Chicago needing a third airport. I actually fly into Milwaukee and drive down I-94 just to avoid using O'Hare. Milwaukee's Billy Mitchell Airport is great. Atlanta also needs another airport.

Dick Cheney assassination squads? Holy cow, I can't wait! I assume Mike Meyers is already planning a movie.

Somehow nobody is surprised.

There's something funny about spelling "assassin."

The gay teen, Spencer, got booted off "Survivor" after discussing on camera, ad nauseam, his decision not to let anybody know he's gay. Sssshhhh! Such angst! Well, guess what? Now my nine year old (and the rest of the Survivor world) knows that Spencer's gay, and he wants to know what that means. Thanks a lot, Jeff.

Just some dudes raising a pole.

Thankfully the rest of the gay Survivor contestants, as well as the heteros, have other things to talk about. Like how to win Survivor. Fretting about one's secret gayness hasn't proved to be a winning strategy. Didn't this kid watch the Richard Hatch season one victory? It was Hatch's bold and daring FNF strategy that carried the day. There are no closets on Survivor.

On the news front, all of the Major Dailies seem to be going kaput. (Full disclosure: I don't really know what "kaput" means.) This is a major concern for all of the luddites who still buy paper papers. I never buy a paper paper anymore. I read them online like everybody else. If they're free. Our inkstained friends will need to turn their heads around from telling us what happened yesterday and try to see tomorrow. Paperless news is not only a foregone conclusion, it's already here and well established. Adapt or perish.

Speaking of old news, we also have broadcast tv news on the decline. The tv broadcast news folks will tell you that this is just terrible for our society. Huh? I'm always puzzled when tv people act like Jon Stewart or Colbert or even Cramer are in the minor leagues because they are on cable channels. Well, from this viewer's perspective you are all on cable channels. Am I supposed to think that a tv show on Fox is somehow more prestigious than one on CNBC or MSNBC? Why would I think that? The cable people are just better to watch than Katie or Brian or whoever is anchoring ABC News.

Which brings me to this whole HD broadcast brouhaha. I had no idea that you could still get tv without cable! I don't know a single person who does that. Though, technically, I have satellite tv, not cable. But the point is that to me it makes absolutely no difference. It's just tv. I don't care how it works. The milkman could bring it to the house in a bottle for all I care, as long as The Daily Show comes on when I want to watch it. But if I can get HD tv shows without shelling out $125 a month to Dish Network, then I'm in. This reminds me of my old man up on a ladder strapping a big antenna to our chimney. How retro! Getting broadcast tv is going to become Recession Chic. You'll hear it at parties, "And I don't pay a dime." Look for me on the roof with a wrench and a big old box from RadioShack.

The 70's really are back.

Movie recommendations!

Movies you may have assumed, or heard, would suck, but don't - Family Films Category - you know, for the kids.

City of Ember

    Hero kids.

A Lobster Tale

Dad & son reunion.

Paul Blart, Mall Cop

Funny & sweet.

Hotel For Dogs

Dogs & kids

SPECIAL MESSAGE TO BLOGGER - The formatting problems are a real pain.