Monday, July 3, 2017

Free Advice (And a Business Opportunity) for Our President!

Dear President Trump,

As a caring, feeling American, it pains me to see you twist in the wind as you refuse to acknowledge the protocols of your position and instead pretend the White House is just another boardroom in the Trump business empire.

You are a CEO. And a very wealthy man. You aren't used to having people tell you what to do. Hell, the closest you ever got to a cabinet before reaching 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue was when you asked the maid to fetch you a Twinkie. 

Because you are such a wealthy and powerful man, people attempt to curry favor with you. This happens so often that you have come to expect it. In fact, you're put-off when it doesn't happen. When was the last time you picked-up a check or reached for your wallet, anyway? 

(This is probably a good thing, because I imagine it's quite heavy. And as America's oldest-ever president you aren't as limber—or as strong—as you used to be, are you?)

Like I said, I'm an American who cares. So I'm going to celebrate the Fourth of July by offering my president (that's you) some free advice. Don't even think of reaching for your wallet--not that you would.

In the restless, dark night of your presidency, you Tweet about witch hunts and fake media and how nobody loves you. I don't think it's stretching the truth to say that since becoming president, every day must seem like Halloween. Grotesque and horrible days full of people who don't bow and scrape like employees, unwilling to display the blind obedience you have come to feel is your birthright.

That's rough.

Okay, Mr. President, put the phone down. I know—the ADHD is kicking in. I'll get to the point.

Mr, President, the point is this. If you're tired of witch hunts have you ever considered not being a witch? Have you considered adapting to the office instead of petulantly demanding that it adapt to you?

Have you considered growing up?

Have you considered not sharing every single thought that passes between your ears? Do you realize it was the so-called fake media who informed me last November that you would be my next president?

Is that fake news? And if so, does it mean you're not?

Have you considered that for over two-hundred years this country has survived very well without you?

As hard as it is to imagine Mr. President, some things are bigger than you. Like the office you inhabit. In fact, it's even bigger than your child-like sense of self-importance.

Yes Mr. President, once upon a time your father called you son. But that doesn't mean the planet revolves around you.

Finally, I'd like to get to that business opportunity I spoke of. Don't worry—no contracts or handshakes are expressed or implied.

Have you ever considered starting-up a winery? Because I think you'd be a natural. I mean, five months into your presidency, it couldn't be more clear that you and wine go together like shit and stink.

I even have a name: The Trump Whinery.

Just sayin', Mr. President. Enjoy your Fourth.


Best Regards,

La Piazza Gancio


Sunday, June 11, 2017

Confronting the Unfathomable

I want you to sit down. I want you seated in your favorite chair; a chair simultaneously stable and comfortable. I don't care if it's a Louis XIV antique or the latest offering from IKEA or some beat up old thing you salvaged from your Grandpa's house when he died. 

Sit down.

Ready?

I am pissed-off. Granted, this doesn't exactly qualify as news. But I am.

There are things I just don't understand. Like voting for Donald Trump. Or putting ketchup on french fries. Or why we are okay with some kinds of carnage but not others.

Take the FDA's proposed ban on Opana. One thing twenty-first century Americans can agree on is that we're in the midst of a very serious opioid epidemic. When they're not gobbling them like candy, America's opioid addicts are dropping like flies.

The Center for Disease Control and Prevention figures about 40,000 did in 2016 alone.

So the FDA is taking decisive action, and asking the manufacturer to cease production. And unless you're an Endo Pharmaceuticals shareholder, who can't get behind that?

What I don't understand is why we don't do the same thing to Smith & Wesson.

If anything, gun deaths are an even bigger tragedy. And I'll tell you why. Excuse the reference, but no one is holding a gun to the head of opioid addicts demanding that they swallow Percocet and OxyContin and Opana in quantities not endorsed by their manufacturers.

I think we can agree this a fairly voluntary activity.

In contrast, no one agrees to be shot to death. Not as they walk down a street or drive a cab or walk through a college campus to their next class. It is a highly involuntary occurrence. It is one that is forced upon you against your will. You absolutely, positively do not want this to happen to you.

And yet tens of thousands of people die each and every year in gun-related homicides. Tens of thousands more have their lives irretrievably altered as the result of a shooting. In 2015 alone, 13,286 people died in a gun-releated homicide. Another 26,819 were wounded. 

On a per-capita basis, the U.S. looks like a third world nation insofar as firearms-related deaths are concerned. We're number eleven, right between Uruguay and Montenegro. Of course, with a world-leadng 112.6 guns per one-hundred people, it could be said we have an unfair advantage. 

And exactly what do we do about all these guns and all this death?

Nothing.

Cowed by a moneyed and well-entrenched special interest group known as the National Rifle Association, our elected representation nervously avoids any conversation about gun control lest the Chuck Norris wanna-bes who constitute the NRA's membership threaten to hold their breath until their lips turn blue.

And in this instance, our representation is highly sensitive to being viewed as the source of bodily injury.

Even the most sensible, level-headed suggestions (i.e. banning assault weapons or employing smart gun technology, which confirms the owner's fingerprint before firing) are routinely regarded by the NRA as heresy.

They lean heavily and indelicately upon our Congress until their will prevails. There shall be no restrictions on firearms whatsoever. Period. (God originally issued eleven commandments, but only NRA members are privy to this fact.)

So the carnage continues. The next time you hear of half-a-dozen high school or university students mowed down in the prime of life, consider this twist on a former NRA tagline: Guns don't kill. Special interest groups do.

And sad to say, it is with our consent.

I only wish we had the compassion for once and future murder victims that we do for junkies.


Sunday, June 4, 2017

Sad

At one point in my life, I loved driving. While never behind the wheel of a British, Italian, German or even Japanese sports car, the well-sprung Hondas I owned provided highly satisfactory driving experiences when I acted on my urge to push the envelope.

Accompanied by the sounds of a deep-breathing engine flexing its muscles, I would row through the gears, judiciously applying the throttle and brake, flattening out curves by riding their apex—it was great fun.

So when I first heard of autonomous cars, I blanched. You mean a computer is going to control my car? It reminded me of the kiddie cars I rode at carnivals, which moved safely at litigation-proof speeds on a pre-ordained path underneath a metal canopy with faded and peeling paint.

Even at the tender age of six, I saw this charade as a bloodless imitation of the real thing and never rode them again.

But times change, don't they?

I now drive professionally, and have grown the loathe the act. Surrounded by packs of motorists convinced they have thirty minutes to complete three-hours worth of errands, I suffer tailgaters, the distracted, the impatient and the stupid.

Upon hearing the concerns of those who question the legalization of marijuana as it relates to the operation of a motor vehicle, I respond that we already are driving under the influence. All of us. Every day.

So autonomous cars now seem like a really, really good idea. Even if they put me out of a job. And in the wake of last night's events in London, they now seem like an even better one.

In the escalating tech war that seeks to eliminate terrorism, terrorists now resort to employing everyday objects as weapons. Cars and trucks have become their weapons du jour.

And the sad fact is that an autonomous vehicle—which strips the driver of the ability to drive—would seriously impair the ability of terrorists to do what they have done in Nice, Berlin, Stockholm, New York City and now for a second time in London.

What does it say about us that the only way to keep us safe is by relieving us of our free will?

With so many in America seeking to reduce the numbers of those currently in prison, how ironic is it that terrorism is slowly turning the entire world into one?


Friday, June 2, 2017

Finding the Cloud in the Silver Lining

There aren't many disadvantages to being a celebrity.

Even as your earnings typically skyrocket, you suddenly find yourself besieged with offers. Developers want you in their exclusive properties. Car manufacturers want you in their cars. Designers want you in their clothes.

The list goes on and on and on. An avalanche of free luxury goods spilling into your lap while you earn more money than you ever have before is an experience I—for one—can't even begin to fathom.

It is life in an entirely different language.

But there is a down side, too. Namely that when you're a celebrity, well, you're a celebrity. People notice you. Even when you're not hawking your latest book/concert tour/movie.

Kathy Griffin makes a good case in point.

Acting on her puckish sense of humor, she posed with a likeness of a decapitated head. It just so happened that it belonged to our so-called president, which I think is entirely reasonable. It is merely a physical representation of what many of us have suspected for months—that Donald Trump has lost his.

How else to explain the mystifying decisions, defensive behavior and outright stupidity that have been the hallmark of this administration?

If I had posted that picture, no big deal. Just another libtard spouting his impotent rage over the results of the last election.

But I'm not famous. Well, not yet, anyway.

Kathy Griffin is. She's on TV. She does all sorts of stuff. People know her name. And even if they don't, they recognize her face. That's because she's a celebrity.

So when she poses with a fake head of the sitting president, it gets noticed. It's a big deal. And the torrent of outrage from Republicants has been, if not interesting, certainly amusing.

Conveniently forgetting the abuse they heaped on the Obamas during their eight-years in the White House, they are swollen with righteous indignation. They cry it's a disgrace to the office and shows a shocking lack of respect.

I would counter it's no greater a disgrace to the office than Donald himself, and offers a degree of respect equal to that Trump routinely shows for anyone who isn't white and wealthy.

Rock on, Kathy. And stop apologizing!

Monday, May 22, 2017

Striking Out

It could be argued that in baseball an out is an out is an out. Does it really matter whether the hometown heroes drive a grounder to short, loft a booming fly to center or swing in vain at a two-seam fastball? Either way, the inning's over, right? Who cares what kind of outs they make?

As a guy reared on pre-steroid baseball, I do.

Strike-outs reached an all-time high last season, with 38,983 at bats concluding thusly. That was fifteen-hundred more than the year before, and an increase of 21.3% since 2005. In a game where you can never have enough runs, I wonder at the widespread acceptance of this.

It wasn't always that way.

When Bobby Bonds struck-out 187 times in 1969 and 189 times the following year, he established himself as Mr. Strikeout. Besting the previous record by twelve, Bonds set a new standard for futility. That 1970 total remained a record no one wanted to break for thirty-three years.

When Reggie Jackson threatened Roger Maris' single-season home run record in 1969, the celebration was tarnished by the frequency of his strike-outs. (To no one's surprise, Jackson ended-up as the game's all-time strike-out king.)

If the great Babe Ruth had an on-the-field weakness, it was for whiffing. Ruth's peers derided him for it, equating his lack of self-control at the plate with his behavior in between games. 

You see, striking out was for bush leaguers. It made you look like a feckless rookie fresh off the bus for 'A' ball. Striking-out meant you weren't worthy of the uniform.

And that strike-out shaming was a good thing. By encouraging a hitter to put the ball into play, a player was giving himself a far better chance of getting on base than by blindly trying to knock a pitch into next week.

A fielder could lose track of the ball. Make a bad throw. A first baseman could drop the throw. You just never knew. And that doesn't even take into account the runners you could advance.

Even in a world without Google, players knew they couldn't score from the dugout.

But things change, don't they? The twin forces of our obsession with the big gesture (the dunk, the sack, the home run) and owners willing to offer generational wealth to someone capable of banging 40 home runs removed the stigma of striking-out.

In our twenty-first century parlance, it just means you're going for it. And what's wrong with that?

In a word, everything.

While I generally advocate for it, too many of today's hitters are far too generous to opposing pitchers. By swinging at anything and everything, hitters demand only that a pitcher throw the ball in the general vicinity of the plate, where like the wolf in The Three Little Pigs, they will huff and puff and blow the house down.

This while the ball more often than not resides safely in the catcher's mitt.

Am I the only guy who's figured out that in these days of hard pitch counts, the quickest way to get last year's Cy Young winner off the mound is to make him throw lots of pitches?

Work that at bat. Foul off pitches until you see the one you want. Make that guy earn his thirty-million per.

Home plate doesn't care whether the guy crossing it just smacked a five-hundred foot home run or scored on an infield groundout. Each counts for exactly one run. Just like ICBMs, selfie sticks and those giant foam fingers that say we're number one, runs are manufactured.

There's a methodology to it, a set of instructions. And step number-one says you have to get on base.

By swinging for the lottery's grand prize every time up, hitters are condemning themselves (and their buddies on the basepaths) to an all-or-nothing gamble the house is going to win the vast majority of the time.

It's the equivalent of a basketball player taking a half-court shot every time down the court.

It's stupid.

Yes, home runs are fun. Who doesn't love seeing a hitter pulverize a ball and send it screaming over the wall? But if said hitter hits 40 and strikes out 200 times (a ratio of five strike-outs to every home run), that becomes a very expensive run.

How many teammates did this player leave on base or fail to advance over the course of those five strike-outs?

Again, turning a baseball diamond into a casino is dumb. Strike-outs are toxic. They are absolutely, positively the worst kind of out. Play the odds. The home runs will still happen.

It'll be cool—even with out all the fanning.


Saturday, April 22, 2017

...And I Was Made Grateful

Gratitude comes in many forms. I spent a lifetime assuming that I knew where and how it would arrive. That I knew what it would look like. But clearly, I was wrong.

Long-time readers of this blog are well aware of my struggle to reclaim my pre-Great Recession life, and of my inability to do so. Left to labor in menial, dead end jobs with few—if any—benefits, I ranted and raved about the stupidity and the greed and the utter lack of morality in corporate America.

I shared my personal experiences; the personality profiles and the group interviews and the don't-hire-the-unemployed ethos. The thoughtless and short-sighted cost-cutting and the knee-jerk lip service to the words customer service, which lies at the heart of virtually every one of their two-faced marketing campaigns.

Likewise the egocentric displays of power, mindless conformity and raging hypocrisy.

But none of that exorcised the gnawing, insistent feeling that I was a failure. None of it repaired my broken self-esteem. Not even the knowledge that there were hundreds of thousands of Americans just like me whose lives had been put on permanent pause.

I was conditioned to believe that as a man, I was something less than one if I did not succeed in a system that I understand now considered me an expense. A speed bump on the road to unfettered wealth creation.That I was hired to be fired.

It humiliates me to admit it but yes, I ached.

That is, until I heard U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions speak.

I don't think the former senator from Alabama could recall the thirteen original colonies, much less explain the Theory of Relativity. He doesn't know the difference between Budapest and Bucharest, or the significance of the Magna Carta.

What Jeff Sessions knows how to do is acquire power and please the people who can give it to him—as instinctively as my cat knew the sound of me opening a tin of cat food meant she was going to eat.

This walking mediocrity is a luminous example of the sea-level intelligence which infests the legislative branch of our federal government.

One has only to listen to Session's surprise at a federal judge's decision to hear the abundant witlessness and arrogance and prejudice inborn in this man (supposedly expert in the checks and balances within the government that has so generously supported him for the past two decades) to realize what a shithead he is.

And he is the Attorney General of the United States of America.

Just as the NBA doesn't necessarily possess the world's best basketball players (it possesses the best who remained felony-free while simultaneously gleaning a scholarship to a school with a prominent basketball program), our government doesn't necessarily feature the best and brightest minds of our times.

It features the best and brightest minds of those eager and adept at lapping at the food dish set out by the wealthy and the powerful.

Mr. Sessions, thank you. Thanks to you and your generous display of ignorance, I now understand in a way I never quite did before the complete lack of a relationship between ability and success.

I am, if I haven't made it clear, eternally grateful.

Sunday, April 16, 2017

What to Wear

I don't read the Sunday newspaper—I scour it. I scour it like those guys in hazmat suits who neutralize EPA superfund sites.

That's how I end up reading about condo associations and grilled pork served with mint leaves and fig compote and South American political scandals from the 1940s. It's also how I end up reading a woman's complaints about how men dress at the gym.

The aggrieved party wrote a columnist because she is disturbed by the sight of men in tight-fitting clothing at the gym. Shorts in particular. Even worse, the sommelier who heads this whine cellar goes on to empathize with the complainant.

Sigh. Eye rolls, anyone?

I've heard this argument before. And if I hear another woman complain about guys in Speedos (or clingy gym attire) I'm going to burst. And here's why:

Everyday I see size 18 women waddling around in size 5 clothes. I see cellulite jiggling underneath tissue-thin yoga pants. Guts hanging out from midriff tops. XL rear ends not quite contained by XS string bikinis.

And that's just the beginning.

But that's not indecent exposure. Nope. That's empowerment. Women being strong. Liberated. Casting off the shackles of male expectations of beauty.

If you say so.

I call it U-G-L-Y. And I really, really don't want to see it.

But saying so makes me a seething, hateful misogynist. Which only fuels my argument that there's a raging double-standard at work here.

We live in an age of unfettered ego. “What do you mean I don't look like Kerry Washington? I rock these, baby!” “You can actually tell the difference between Vin Diesel and me? I'm gonna run you over, you punk-ass bitch!”

All of us have the bodies of Greek gods and goddesses. Check.

And speaking of unfettered egos, I should add that I wish more people were just like me.

You see, not so long ago, I stood 6' 3” and weighed 190 pounds. I had a thirty-four inch waist. I played basketball without a shirt, and did my power walking in shorts that did not conform to the prevailing skater/hip hop/just-released-felon aesthetic.

I.E., they did not hang down to my shins.

But then I gained thirty pounds.

As a result, I don't walk around the house, much less public spaces, without a shirt. You feel me? I am embarrassed. I am not proud. I am—as we like to spout on social media—humbled.

Yes, the old self-esteem has taken a hit. But even after cataract surgery, I fail to see how going out in a too-tight t-shirt is going to empower me.

Granted, I am not a woman. But even within the relaxed appearance standards women typically hold men to, I am fat. I am a middle-aged, pear-shaped, dad-bodied cliché. It's not self-loathing. It's not culturally-induced shaming. It's just a realistic look in the mirror.

I don't like it, and I doubt you would, either. So, in a gesture of magnanimity to my fellow man, I cover it up.

And it doesn't make you or me a hater or sexist to wish that all the ball-sack baring, stretch-mark sharing men and women around us would do the same.

Two sexes, one standard.

We can do this.