Wednesday, August 30, 2006

This is an excerpt from my book "My Friend W" published by Arriviste Press and available at Chapters stores and on-line through Chapters and Amazon:

Dear Mom and Dad,

Well, summer vacation is over and I’m back at school in Washington. Everyone said third year would be hard and boy, they weren’t kidding.

I’ve got a really heavy load this semester including courses in Deficit Spending and International Relations. I sure wish now that I’d paid more attention to things like math and geography when I was in high school.

Mom, could you send me a care package? It’s really hard to get good ribs and pork rinds here. And I sure would love some nice homemade chili.

Dad, I’ve got myself in a bit of trouble. It’s not drugs or alcohol like in high school. And it’s not a girl or anything like that.

You remember my friends Dick, Donny and Paul? I think Dick and Donny used to work for you a long time ago.

Anyway, Dick, Donny and Paul kind of tricked me into taking this road trip to the Middle East. I know. I know. You told me a million times to stay out of there.

But they made it sound so fun and exciting. And they said they could show me how to avoid all the mistakes you made when you went there in 1991.

Boy, I sure wish I hadn’t listened to those guys now. They told me there were weapons of mass destruction and terrorist links and all kinds of crazy things. Well, you guessed it; there weren’t.
But worst of all, they told me that everyone would be happy to see us and that it would be easy to get out. So far, it’s anything but.

In fact, that’s why I’m writing. It looks like the costs for that road trip are going to be a little more than I thought. Plus, of course, there are all the expenses for tuition, textbooks and room and board.

Anyway, when you add it all up it comes to $87 billion. Yes, Dad, I know. I already got $65 billion last spring and you’re probably saying to yourself: "Where did that all go?"

To be honest, Dad, I’m not really sure. Some of it went to the road trip and some went for a new home security system for the dorm. And there was a big party here the other night and I think I may have given out a lot of tax cuts. I just don’t remember.

I know you’re probably angry and disappointed. But I promise that if you send me the money this one last time, I won’t ever ask again. And I’ll stop telling everyone you screwed up in 1991. Now I know better.

Your loving son,


Friday, August 25, 2006

Good Times, Bad Times

New to me but apparently familiar to many local readers is a daily newspaper called "The New York Times." Sadly, this busy broadsheet fails to meet even minimal journalistic standards.

First, the front page is, in a word, boring. From its baroque masthead to its six-column overindulgence in the printed word, "The Times" (as it apparently is colloquially known) simply appears not to be trying.

If it were only its front page that was deficient, perhaps I could give this paper a passing grade. Unfortunately, the front page sets the tone for what’s inside.

A quick perusal of the sports section, for example, leaves one wondering why they bothered at all. Where there should be a plethora of exciting color pictures of the games of the day, there is instead an ongoing parade of needlessly lengthy reports interspersed with something called analysis.

I’ve never been sure why newspapers devote space to political columnists, op-eds and editorials. But if a paper insists on foisting such features on its readers, the least it can do is make them interesting.

A grave oversight is the lack of a point-counterpoint opinion feature. Although "The Times" doesn’t stint on the number of columnists (another failing, I submit), how is the reader to know the columnists’ political leanings unless they are arrayed against one another in the traditional pro-con format?

A review of the rest of the paper suggests that its pretentious masthead slogan might better read "All the news that fits we print." Report after endless report about all manner of inconsequential happenings sadly evidences the lack of a practised editorial hand. Far fewer so-called news reports and more snappy lifestyle features and color graphics would greatly enhance this stodgy daily.

Another shortcoming of this colorless journal is its relentless New York-centered coverage of the news. Yes, it’s "The New York Times" but it’s not necessary to hammer the reader over the head with that fact. From a Broadway-dominated Arts section to a Wall Street-centric Business section to a New York-jammed section called "New York/Region", it’s as if the world beyond Manhattan Island doesn’t exist. Such a provincial approach to the news is certain to doom this paper to a regional audience at best.

To ensure a fair and balanced approach to my review, I decided not to base it solely on one daily edition. In the spirit of good journalism, I reserved judgment until I had viewed a sample Sunday edition.

Although Sunday editions tend to be bigger than their weekday counterparts, "The New York Times" far exceeds any reasonable limit. The issue I purchased was over two inches thick and weighed in at a wrist-spraining three pounds. It made most magazines look anorexic by comparison and, in fact, even contained within its endless folds its own magazine.

Not only did the Sunday paper feature all the excesses of its weekday cousin, it also contained entire bloated sections devoted to everything from books to cars to fashion. Each of those sections kept to the paper’s apparent formula of "more is less" in what is surely the world’s most egregious misuse of newsprint. All I can say is that if you need a functional doorstop, your four dollars would be better spent on a decorative brick than this poor excuse for arboricide.

I am sad to report that, as a daily newspaper, "The New York Times" is an outright failure. I suspect its owners will find it difficult to achieve six-figure circulation numbers even in a city as big as New York. Don’t be surprised if they pull the plug on this stillborn gazette sooner rather than later.

Next week, I’ll review what appears to be a more promising newspaper from the Big Apple - a terrific, tightly-edited tabloid called "The New York Post."

Monday, August 21, 2006

Tie One Off

Following the lead of Japanese Prime Minister Koizumi, Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty is asking male government office workers to take off their ties as part of the province’s attempts to conserve energy. Apparently tie-less workers will be better able to tolerate the warmer workplaces created by Mr. McGuinty’s other recent energy-saving prescription: turning up the central air thermostats.

But unlike Prime Minister Koizumi, Dalton McGuinty reportedly has other plans in the works to dampen energy use by Ontario’s hydro-addicted civil servants. If a warmer, tie-less workplace doesn’t do the trick, look for these future McGuintyisms:

Spend the Night at Work Days

Rather than head home after work on really hot days, Ontario’s government workers will be asked to spend the night in their semi-air conditioned offices and to invite their families to come along, too. Apparently the idea is to save on air conditioner use at home. "We’ve already got to cool these darned government buildings anyway," said Mr. McGuinty. "No point in cooling everybody’s homes, too." For those couples without kids, the premier suggests using one’s tie on the outside door knob where appropriate. As the premier says: "If the nameplate’s rockin’, don’t come knockin’."

Surf Days

According to some collective agreements, when the temperature in a government building exceeds a certain limit, the workers are allowed to go home. Apparently this provision may soon be shelved if Premier McGuinty’s next suggestion comes into force: "surf days.". When the temperature hits thirty degrees Celsius or the humidex tops forty, government offices will be officially designated provincial beaches. That means everyone comes to work in the bathing suit of their choice. Don’t forget your flip flops and your flourescent sunscreen and try not to get sand on the photocopier.

Clothing-Optional Days

For those workplaces without air conditioning at all, Mr. McGuinty is looking to implement special clothing-optional days when the mercury rises above thirty-five degrees. Civil servants will be encouraged to go ‘au naturel’ in order to help save the environment. Special cotton sheets will be provided for those with leather, leatherette or naugahyde seating. According to Premier McGuinty, if things get "too hot", specially-designated floor wardens will be authorized to hose down over-exuberant participants.

Frozen Treat Day

If Mr. McGuinty is to be believed, soon every Thursday in August will be "frozen treat day" in government offices throughout the province. "I know as a kid," said the energy-savvy premier. "That nothing cools you off better than a popsicle or an ice cream sandwich." Asked why he didn’t choose Friday as "frozen treat day", McGuinty said that there just wouldn’t be enough workers present to make the program financially feasible on that day, at least in the summer.

If Premier McGuinty’s summertime energy savers are successful, government workers can look forward to a whole new series of wintertime programs to help keep electricity use down. Offices will compete for prizes to see which one can keep their thermostat the lowest for the longest. Every payday will be "park it and parka day" when workers will be required to leave their cars at home and walk to work if they want to get paid. And last, but certainly not least, male workers will be encouraged to start wearing ties again, down-filled ties.

Friday, August 18, 2006

Contract Killers

"A grammatical blunder may force Rogers Communications Inc. to pay an extra $2.13-million to use utility poles in the Maritimes after the placement of a comma in a contract permitted the deal's cancellation."
- The Globe and Mail - August 7, 2006

Hard as it is to believe, telecommunications giant Rogers Communications Inc. left itself wide open with a contractual goof-up based on a misplaced comma. The provision in question provided that the agreement "shall continue in force for a period of five years from the date it is made, and thereafter for successive five years terms, unless and until terminated by one year prior notice in writing by either party."

Rogers thought it had at least a five-year term at the negotiated rate but the CRTC ruled that the agreement could be terminated at any time with one year prior notice. The other side exercised its option and more than doubled the rates payable by Rogers.

Rogers’ retail customers are perhaps the most surprised at this obvious oversight by the phone and cable conglomerate. When they review their contracts with the company, they can’t find any such flaws or openings.

For example, the standard cable contract provides that the customer "shall pay whatever fee Rogers decides to charge on a monthly basis until hell freezes over or a rate hike is approved by the CRTC, whichever comes first." The document goes on to state that "the lessee shall be entitled to customer service in the form of a toll-free number but access to a so-called ‘live person’ is not guaranteed. The company undertakes to provide an automated phone menu for the customer’s assistance and convenience 24 hours a day but otherwise is not responsible for any residential technical problems."

Rogers has a similarly worded agreement covering its residential high speed Internet service. For example, the standard boilerplate includes a provision that "the company cannot be responsible in any manner for a customer’s failure to connect to the Internet, access his or her e-mail messages or even get his or her modem connected. The company will provide a handy on-line help manual but how the customer is able to access that manual without an on-line connection is not the company’s concern."

Rogers also appears to have an airtight contract when it comes to wireless phone service. The standard retail customer agreement provides that "the customer will pay a monthly fee in addition to fees by the minute of phone usage determined by the company on an ‘ad hoc’ basis. If the customer’s monthly charges are at odds with any previously published rates, the charged rates will be deemed to have always been in effect. The customer is not entitled to any explanation as to the meaning of the phrase ‘roaming fees’ nor the random application of such charges. Service may be cancelled if and only if the customer gives notice in the prescribed form and in the prescribed manner which can be found at the company’s web site once the customer achieves on-line access."

Given the impermeability of its standard residential service contracts, Rogers has reportedly fired the law firm responsible for the misplaced comma snafu and delegated all future corporate and commercial contract drafting to its customer service department.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

The Book Of Oprah

In the beginning, God created the earth and the firmament and all manner of entertainment media. And the viewers did verily enjoy the dramas and the quiz shows and the situation comedies with laugh tracks.

When God created television, He created the late night talk show and He made Steve Allen in His own image. And Allen begat Paar and Paar begat Carson and the people rejoiced.

And then He created morning talk shows, both network and syndicated, and made Barbara Walters from the rib of Hugh Downs. And Walters begat Pauley and Pauley begat Couric and again the people rejoiced.

And yet God was not pleased. Although the people were happy with the abundance of programming selections, there was a void in the mid to late afternoon time slot. And so God created Oprah.

She was born of Linkletter and Shore and Donahue but she was not of them. For hers was not just a time slot for idle chatter and light entertainment. She had been placed in the pre-supper hour demographic to lead the viewers to the Promised Land.

At first, Oprah was lost. She did not know the true path intended for her. Instead, she followed the ways of the morning pretenders.

Like the heathens Springer and Raphael and Povich, she invited harlots and Jezebels and all manner of sinners on to her show. She had adulterers and fornicators and even weight loss experts. And the people watched.

But Oprah was not happy. She knew that God had chosen her for greater things. So she prayed and asked Him for guidance. And God told her to abandon the weight loss cures and the theme shows and lead her viewers on the path of righteousness.

And so Oprah led her followers on a new journey. No longer did she entertain them with the stories of the fallen and the misfits or the siren songs of the diet gurus. Now she taught them to follow in the ways of Oprah. And the viewers rejoiced.

She found a personal trainer named Bob to teach the world how to become physically healthy. She found a psychologist from the land of Texas named Phil to show everyone how to achieve mental health. And she gave the world the first letter of her only begotten name to create a magazine to teach the viewers to read.

But it was not enough to be literate and to be mentally and physically healthy. So God created a mate for Oprah called Stedman. And Oprah showed her audience how to achieve emotional health.

And when she saw that she had achieved everything she wanted, Oprah taught the world how to share. She gave of her riches saying verily unto each of the poorest: "You get a car! You get a car! And you get a car!"

But the struggle was not over. Oprah still felt a void. She wanted everyone to be intellectually healthy, too. And so she resurrected her book club.

And authors from far and wide came to worship at her feet. And those who bowed before her were rewarded with royalties and untold riches and fame. Oprah saw that her viewers read the books that she chose and she was pleased.

But one named Franzen would not bow down and was banished to the local daytime talk show circuit for all eternity. And another of her chosen authors, a man named Frey, betrayed her. His story of redemption had touched her and she had bestowed her blessing upon him.

But the man’s memoir was not all true. It contained falsehoods and exaggerations and outright lies.

At first Oprah defended the one called Frey but once she asked the people and checked the ratings, she knew that she must smite him. And so he returned to her show and prostrated himself before her. And, yea though she was angry, Oprah did not smite him but only chastised him and granted him forgiveness.

And so it came to pass that Oprah became the viewers’ spiritual conscience. And where there once had been confusion and darkness, now there was the light of Oprah to show them the way.

Whether it was the devastation of famine or hurricane or war or the mystery of sofa-jumping celebrities, she guided the viewers and showed them how and where to care. The multitudes cried out and demanded that the prize of Nobel be bestowed upon Oprah. And God, the Supreme Ironist, smiled and changed the channel.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006


The use of performance-enhancing drugs has been an ongoing problem in many professional sports. San Francisco Giant slugger Barry Bonds is rumored to be on steroids and now Tour de France winner Floyd Landis has tested positive for excessive testosterone.

But drugs are not just a problem in the sports world. The political denizens of Washington, D. C. have reportedly also been abusing certain performance-enhancing pharmaceutical products to get an artificial advantage. Products like these:

President Bush has been rumored to be taking large doses of the performance-enhancing drug hubrisin. Taken in small doses, hubrisin adds a barely-perceptible extra patina of self-confidence to any political actor. But taken to excess, it can result in profligate spending and irrational unilateral invasions. Signs of abuse include statements like "Wanted dead or alive", "Bring it on" and "Mission accomplished." Unlike anabolic steroids, hubrisin only builds ego, not muscle mass.

Suspected of having moved her political posture to the right, Hillary Clinton recently tested positive for the drug conservatol. Generally easy to detect, conservatol quickly produces non-liberal positions on everything from abortion to immigration. Side effects include repeated denials and a marked increase in sanctimony.

Donald Rumsfeld is believed to be a longtime user of neo-conservatol, a powerful drug that produces great confidence but also results in narrowed international long range sight. The user’s peripheral vision becomes so clouded that such things as historical background and root causes become completely invisible. In Mr. Rumsfeld’s case, the drug appears to have particularly affected his middle eastern vision.

This is a long-acting, time-released medication which is often used to artificially resuscitate a dead political career. As with other hallucinogenics, pheonixon was originally popular in the 60s with such users as Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan. It is enjoying a resurgence of use in recent months with people like Al Gore, John Kerry and Joe Lieberman reputed to be frequent abusers.

Shotguntrinone is a rare anabolic steroid reportedly favored by those such as Vice President Cheney who like to shoot first and ask questions later. Usually injected as a one per cent solution, shotguntrinone typically results in rapid aggressive use of arms both at home and abroad. Friends of users should give them a wide berth particularly when hunting for small game birds.

Inhuman Growth Hormone
Inhuman growth hormone or IGH is a powerful political drug that inhibits the growth of the human conscience. Long favored by political handlers and backroom operatives, it is reputed to be the drug of choice of Karl Rove. Signs of overuse include repeated ethical rationalizations and a marked preference for something called "swift boating."

Diplomamine is an amphetamine-like drug used to stimulate those active in the diplomatic process. Thought to be used by Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice, diplomamine gives a powerful rush of energy allowing the user to participate in ongoing rounds of urgent negotiations for weeks on end. Unfortunately, although the user feels as if she is saying and doing something meaningful, in reality she tends to simply repeat the same words and pattern over and over again.

Monday, August 07, 2006

Mel Baby


TO: Mel Gibson
FROM: Izzie Cohen
Smith, Brown & Miller Public Relations Inc.

Mel baby,

Sorry to hear about the DUI arrest. Tough break, kid, but don’t worry. These things tend to blow over pretty quickly.

Of course, the big problem is your observations about those of the Jewish persuasion. That’s going to take a little more work.

Bob Miller passed your file to me and here’s a preliminary outline of what I have in mind for you.

First, stay away from the old "some of my friends are Jewish" schtick. That’s old hat and just doesn’t play well anymore. Hell, I’m Jewish and I can’t even claim that.

What I suggest instead is to check the family tree. Try to locate someone, anyone, who was Jewish and related to you. If you don’t know any Hebraic descendants, you could always ask your dad.

Failing that, you might want to take on a few Jew-friendly movie projects. How about a biopic about Ariel Sharon? Or maybe even a holocaust-themed musical? You know, a kind of "The Passion of the Christ" meets "Fiddler on the Roof."

If you really want to get on the Jews’ good side, I suggest you open your own restaurant. I’m picturing Mel’s Kosher Deli on Sunset Boulevard. Who can knock a goy who sells blintzes and knishes?

Which brings me to your language. How about spicing it up with a bit of Yiddish? Nothing fancy, mind you. But the occasional reference to toches, goyim and mashugga will help put you in tight with the Tribe.

One sure-fire approach to attaining Judenfreude is to show support for Israel. You don’t have to go too public on this one. Just send out Hanukkah cards this year telling the recipients that you planted a tree in Israel in their name. Trust me; word will get around.

If all else fails, you could always convert. I know it’s been done before (see Sammy Davis, Jr., Madonna, et al.) but it still can be very effective, especially if you go all the way (e.g. - peyos, kipot and a kosher kitchen). If you need the name of a good mohel in Malibu, let me know.

If you like my plan, gimme a call, Mel. I can have things up and running in a couple of days and, guaranteed, you’ll be back making movies before you can say "Oy vey!"

Your friend,


P. S. - One small piece of advice, friend to friend: lay off telling jokes with a fake German accent for the time being.

Friday, August 04, 2006

Arrested Duck

LAPD officials reportedly locked up the deputy’s narrative describing Mel Gibson’s outbursts during his arrest for drunk driving. Nevertheless, the details leaked out. Apparently this is a common occurrence in L. A. as evidenced by this recently leaked narrative from an arrest last year of another well-known Hollywood star:

Suspect’s car was clocked at twice the legal limit before being pulled over. Approached car and asked suspect to get out. Suspect opened driver’s door and began shouting: "What the hell are you doing? Don’t you know who I am?"

Asked suspect to remain calm and produce identification. Had no identification on him. In fact, suspect was covered with feathers and had no clothes at all. When confronted with this observation, suspect became indignant and said: "Of course I’m wearing no clothes. I’m a duck, for crissakes!"

Asked suspect to identify himself and he replied: "I’m Daffy Duck, you jerk! Are you blind?"

Mr. Duck appeared to be inebriated. Directed him to blow into breathalyzer but he was unable to comply. Claimed his beak made it physically impossible to produce sample.

Asked Mr. Duck to perform standard sobriety tests. Could not touch each hand to his nose probably because he has neither hands nor nose as such. Instead got Mr. Duck to try walking in a straight line with one foot in front of the other. Suspect staggered wildly on first attempt and remarked belligerently: "Can’t you see? I’ve got webbed feet, you idiot! You try walking with a pair of flippers on! Swimming in a straight line; now that I can do."

Directed Mr. Duck into the back seat of patrol car. Suspect was uncooperative and physical force had to be employed. He objected vociferously stating: "You’re not a toon. You’re one of those freaking humans, aren’t you? Humans run this town. Those Warner brothers and that bastard Disney never gave a crap about us!"

Drove Mr. Duck to station house and prepared initial arrest report. Chose to forego handcuffs particularly since wings were difficult to restrain. Suspect continued loud diatribe: "Humans started all the wars! You’ve never seen a toon start a war, have you?"

Mr. Duck released on his own recognizance into the custody of one P. Pig who left with the suspect after announcing: "That’s all folks!"

Thursday, August 03, 2006

Incurious George

This fall, PBS is launching its new animated series based on the popular children’s book "Curious George." Plans are reportedly already in the works to create a followup series based on the less well known children’s book "Incurious George" reproduced below:

This is George.
He lived in Texas.
He was a good little part time governor
but always very incurious.

One day George saw a man.
He had on a small red hunter’s hat.
The man saw George, too.
"What a nice political figurehead," the man thought.
"I would like to take him home with me."

The man laid out his grand presidential plan.
George, as usual, was not curious.
He didn’t much care for plans.
But he was fascinated with the shiny new presidency.

The plan had been in the man’s head for years.
George thought it would be nice
if he could have the shiny new presidency.
So he picked up the plan and tried it on.

The plan dazzled George so much that he couldn’t see.
The man talked to him quickly and distracted him with words.
George was caught.

The man with the red hunter’s hat put George into a blue suit
and a handler took them across the country to a big convention.
George was confused but he was still very incurious.

At the big convention, things began to happen.
The man took off his hat.
George stood on the podium and the man said,
"George, I am going to take you to a big white house in Washington.
You will like it there. Now run along and play but don’t get into trouble."
George promised to be compassionate
but it is easy for a little part time governor to forget.

At the white house, he found some tax cuts.
He wondered how he could give them to his friends.
George wasn’t curious about what happened when he cut taxes.
He just wanted to help his friends get richer.

Then George wanted to fight terrorism.
But he didn’t want to learn about history or root causes.
He just wanted to believe what his advisors told him
and fight the bad guys.

"Where are the weapons?" some people said.
"Where are the al Qaeda connections?" other people said.
But George was incurious.
He couldn’t wait to get the answers.
He wanted to invade now.

So George told all the soldiers to invade
and they rushed in hoping to be greeted with flowers.
But there were no flowers and yet George wasn’t curious about that.
He just said "mission accomplished" and moved on.

But the mission wasn’t accomplished.
The country fell into civil war and the people demanded that the soldiers leave.
But George preferred to believe his advisors and promised
that everything would be OK when democracy arrived.

Democracy didn’t arrive but George wasn’t curious about the reasons.
He said he didn’t read the newspapers or talk to experts.
The man with the red hunter’s hat told him all that he needed to know.
After all, the man had brought him all the way from Texas and was very wise.

And when the war dragged on and on, George didn’t ask why.
He just wanted to stay in the white house and play with all his trial balloons.
So the man in the red hunter’s hat arranged for him to stay another four years
and George decided to spend all his political capital.

But since George wasn’t curious,
he didn’t ask any questions before playing with his trial balloons.
When he tried to play with Social Security or Katrina or the Constitution,
he always managed to get in trouble and break something.

But finally the man in the red hunter’s hat came and rescued George.
He told him that he had broken all the balloons and that it was time to leave.
He said he had a new place for George to go.
So George left the white house and moved back to Texas.
What a nice place for George to live
and what a great relief for the country.