Archive for December, 2011

Of Winners (Aniston) & Losers (Putin)

Saturday, December 10th, 2011

Jennifer Aniston ... hottest of them all?

By Bob Gaydos
OK, I know it’s Christmas/Hanukkah/Kwanzaa time, but the world refuses to stop turning and enjoy the moment and I feel compelled to comment on it.

So … maybe it’s none of my business, but I don’t know one male — young, old or in the middle — who would put Jennifer Aniston at the top of his list of the 100 hottest women ever. Ever? As in even when there was no photography or TV or movies to flash images around the globe? That kind of ever?

Beyond the chutzpah of Men’s Health (Did anyone even know about that magazine before this?) putting together such a list, there is the absurdity of declaring it to be a list of the sexiest women of all time. Maybe it’s just me, but Delilah must have been pretty sexy to steal Samson’s locks and Cleopatra toyed with emperors. That’s pretty hot. And while I will give her cute and maybe even sexy, I can’t see Aniston ever playing the role of Helen of Troy. Or Matahari. Now, Angelina Jolie, that’s another story.

All you really need to know about the list is that Britney Spears and Madonna are in the top five (behind Raquel Welch and Marilyn Monroe, either of whom could claim number one) and Sophia Loren is number 47 — behind Paris Hilton! Sacre bleu! Brigitte Bardot is number 75.

The magazine, which I suspect was hoping for recognition of any kind, says it was going for a total package of beauty, brains and talent in making its choice. That’s probably why Kim Kardashian made the list, but Ingrid Bergman didn’t. (Yes, your thoughts on this are welcome.)

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Now that I’ve got your attention, I can move on to other, more legitimate, as it were, news. Like the 45-year-old out-of-work textile worker, upset at receiving no unemployment benefits for a year, who threw his shoes at Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad during a memorial service. Like the reporter who slung his footwear at
President George W. Bush in Baghdad in 2008, the guy missed. Since throwing shoes at someone is a sign of strong disrespect in Arab countries, the shoeing of Bush made sense. But Iran being a Persian nation, the botched assault can only be seen as a poor copycat attempt. The man was beaten and arrested for his efforts and one would assume he will have plenty of time in prison to work on his aim. And while it’s none of my business, it would seem that long-suffering people in the Middle East need a lot more practice in expressing their disappointments.

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Speaking of public protests in unexpected places, what’s with all those angry Russians demonstrating about the results of their last election? Thousands actually gathered in Moscow demanding Prime Minister Vladimir V. Putin step down because, they say, the recent parliamentary elections were rigged. A rigged vote in Russia? Really?

With a former KGB head running the country? Hard to believe, but not as hard to believe as the fact that tens of thousands of Russians objected publicly across the country and no one was arrested.

This would tend to support Time magazine’s pick of The Protestor as the person of the year (see how I wove those stories together), from the Arab spring to Occupy Wall Street and Red Square.

A bit of irony, however, in Russia. It seems that the great democratic hope of the Russian 99 percent is Mikhail D. Prokhorov, a billionaire industrialist and owner of the New Jersey Nets basketball team. Prokhorov says he plans to run against Putin for president next year. It’s none of my business, but as daunting as that may seem, Prokhorov would still seem to have a better shot at winning in Russia than in getting Dwight Howard to agree to leave Orlando and come play for the Nets.

* * *

OK, you knew I couldn’t ignore the Republicans and their ubiquitous campaign forever. In one of my favorites stories of the year, conservative radio host Michael Savage offered Newt Gingrich $1million to drop out of the Republican primary race.

Savage, who hosts the third-highest rated radio talk show in the country (scary, I know) said Mitt Romney was the only candidate capable of beating President Barack Obama. Savage further said Newt, patriot that he is, should drop out “for the sake of the nation.”

Why should Newt, who leads in the polls of those actually driving the GOP train, step down? Savage pointed to Gingrich’s serial marital infidelity, his performance as speaker of the House (including shutting down the government because he got a bad seat on Air Force One) and his lucrative and controversial involvement with Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. Sounding like a Keith Olbermann wannabe, Savage wrote that “compared to Obama” during presidential debates, Gingrich will “look like nothing more than what he is: a fat, old, white man.” None of my business, but that doesn’t leave much for Democrats to say about Newt.

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And finally, what would a week be without a proclamation from Donald Trump? The Donald, who famously and ridiculously announced he would host and moderate his own GOP debate later this month, said Tuesday he was dropping out of his own debate. He said he was doing it so that he didn’t have to give up his right to “run as an independent candidate” if he didn’t like any of the remaining GOP candidates. Trump, who was a sort of quasi-candidate earlier this year, said Republican Party officials said he would have to agree to this if he wanted to moderate the debate. He didn’t mention that the only candidates who had agreed to show up for his show were Gingrich and Rick Santorum or that Jon Huntsman, Mr. One Percent in every GOP poll, in essence told him to pound salt. Maybe it’s none of my business, but tell me again why any self-respecting Republican puts up with this lunacy.

Until next news cycle …

bob@zestoforange.com

Carrie’s Painting of the Week

Friday, December 9th, 2011

December in Virginia

By Carrie Jacobson
Some things I’ve been thinking about:

It’s interesting how much difference snow makes in the feeling of Christmas. You can have all the lights in the world, but without snow, it just doesn’t feel quite like the holiday.

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When did Dec. 5 become a time for “last-minute shopping?” (I heard several ads on that day reaching out to last-minute shoppers).

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When did the day after Halloween become the day it is OK to start decorating and talking about Christmas? I remember being appalled at ads that came out before Thanksgiving.

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I heard someone on TV say that it was a nice idea to bring a gift card as a hostess present. I beg to differ. Why not just hand the hostess a $10 bill?

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On the other hand, the kids all want gift cards. I’m happy to comply, in a way, but I have realized, in my compliance, that for me, part of the whole thing really is the shopping. The looking, the seeking, the thrill of finding something that might be perfect, and then that funny thing you do when you imagine the person receiving the gift, and see his or her expression, and then you know whether to buy it or put it back. At least, I do that.

***

I wanted a guest soap for the bathroom, and went into Bathworks in our downtrodden local mall, and asked the woman in there for soap.

“Oh,” she said, “we have lots of soap,” and she gestured at shelf after shelf after shelf of liquid soap.

“No,” I said. “Bar soap.”

“What’s that?” she said.

I kid you not.

***

P.S. If you have not already finished your last-minute shopping, why not consider buying a piece of art from a local artist? The Wallkill River School Gallery has a lovely show on right now with local art, and of course, you can always reach people like me through the internet. Email me at carrieBjacobson@gmail.com if you want to find out more about the painting at the top of this post. Or check out my website – jacobson-arts.com, or my own blog, The Accidental Artist.

At Last, a New GOP World, Far, Far Away

Wednesday, December 7th, 2011

Kepler-22b, future home of the GOP?

By Bob Gaydos

You say you don’t believe in fate, that there is no grand scheme, that life is not a complex mosaic that connects us all and somehow fits the pieces together when we’re not looking? OK. I get it. I used to be one of you. Life was just a bunch of random occurrences happening to random people at random intervals. When something somehow worked out just the way we would have liked it to, had we even thought of it, it was a happy coincidence.

One thing that always bothered me about that randomness explanation was, for want of a better phrase, our emotional human reactions to stuff that happens. If it’s all a crap shoot, who cares? Why get so worked up over things? Why not just count your coincidences and be happy?

But I don’t even care about that anymore. You live long enough, stuff happens, you stop trying to figure out why and sometimes you’re just grateful that it did.

So … a few days ago I wrote an angry piece in which I asked what I thought was a rhetorical question: “In what civilized universe is the field of presidential candidates put forth by the Republican Party considered anything but an insult to the intelligence?”

Well, lo and behold, a few days later, one of those things you call a “coincidence” and I call a sublime alignment of the stars happened. NASA announced it had discovered an “earth-sized” planet orbiting around a star much like our own sun, located in the sweet spot of its constellation where life as we define it could actually exist. NASA scientists hailed the discovery of the planet as a major a step in finding Earth’s “twin.”

A civilized universe, as it were, waiting to be claimed.

The message was clear. What a perfect answer, I thought, to the perplexing problem of what to do with all those Republican presidential candidates and the people who actually think any of them is capable of being president of the United States. We could build a fleet of space ships big enough to carry them all and blast off for Kepler-22b, as the planet has been named.

Money, always the major obstacle to space flight, would probably not be a big deal. I figure most Democrats, liberals, progressives and, in truth, any American with a modicum of common sense would be willing to scrap every project in the U.S. space program and direct all the resources to developing the spacecrafts as quickly as possible. They’d probably chip in. If more funding was needed, the Koch brothers and other major contributors to the Republican Party would probably be willing to kick in big bucks, especially if the major donors got to put their names on the space ships.

Tell me Donald Trump wouldn’t drop plans to host a Republican debate in Iowa in a heartbeat if he could put his name on the side of a spaceship bound for a new world. A new world, by the way, where he could settle his own country if he wanted and have first dibs on examining everybody’s birth certificate and passport. He could probably even fire the space crew if they didn’t live up to his standards and fly the ship himself.

But it’s not just Trump who would be happy on Earth’s “twin.” Everybody on those ships would be living in heaven, some probably taking the thought literally. Think of it. A planet with no immigration problem, a West Virginia with its own sun. No need for fences. No messy deportations. Minimum-wage jobs for anyone who wants one.

Not that anyone would, what with a population and government dedicated to the proposition that whoever works the hardest makes the most money and gets to keep it. No IRS. No fussy environmental rules to harass developers and investors looking to reap the benefits of the planet’s abundant supply of resources.

No gays. No abortions. No smarty-pants college professors (except for Newt). No socialists. No welfare. No Medicaid. No Medicare. No Social Security. Probably not a lot of old people. Definitely no poor people.

Lots of guns, though. And churches. As many as they want and plenty of praying in schools. Learning history would be optional (a concession to Michele Bachmann) and so would science (Jon Huntsman would not make the trip). And male politicians could have as many wives and mistresses as they want and lie about it with no fear of negative repercussions, an adaptation of the French model on this planet.

The Earth-twin government would consist mostly of a large army to discourage or repel threats from without and a police force trained to detect and suppress threats from within. The new constitution might have fewer amendments. Everyone would own shares of stock in a new inter-stellar exchange and no one would pay capital gains taxes. Mitt Romney could even decide to stay here if he felt more comfortable.

This, in sum, could be the Utopia for which Republicans have been praying, although they would probably want to change the planet’s name. Kepler-22b is dull even for Republicans. Selling the naming rights would probably bring in a tidy sum, though.

Of course, colonizing a new planet and getting it up to speed to interact with societies on other planets obviously can’t be done overnight. But a lot of the work — planning, campaigning, law-writing, voting, mating — could be done on the historic flight. NASA scientists say the new planet is 600 light years away, meaning it would take the only currently operating space vehicle — the space shuttle — about 23 million years to get there.

Sounds about right.

bob@zestoforange.com

Finding Holiday Joy

Tuesday, December 6th, 2011

By Shawn Dell Joyce

Holiday joy can be a fleeting thing this time of year, as many people feel more like Scrooge, than Tiny Tim. Behind the advertising blitz that bombards us with consumerist images of smiling, well-dressed people giving cheerfully-wrapped packages is the dark truth of depression. The United States tops the list in depression out of 14 countries in a recent World Health Organization poll.

Much holiday malaise can be traced to a sagging economy, and holiday expectations. A parent’s group,  the Boston-based Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood, wrote letters to 24 leading toy companies and retailers to express concern about ads aimed at kids. These parents expressed dismay that they can’t afford the pricey toys that toymakers are heavily advertising to our children, and children feel diminished when they don’t get pricey toys.

It is hard to believe that we are descended from settlers’ children, who rejoiced at receiving a penny and a stick of candy as their main holiday gifts. In the 1800’s, our kin earned $1,500 per year, and would have had one nice set of clothes for church, and one shabby set for daily life. We worked twice as hard for a simple diet because we had to grow most of what we ate ourselves. Over the course of 200 years, we have grown an average of 4 inches taller and 20 pounds heavier, our houses have more than doubled in square footage, and we no longer find joy in a penny and a stick of candy.

We need to reclaim our holidays as times of family togetherness and joy, no matter what shape the economy is in. Even if you don’t celebrate the Christian holiday, or the Jewish Hannukah, or African Kwanzaa, you can still celebrate a “Secular Sabbath,” in the words of NY Times food columnist, Mark Bittman. A secular Sabbath is a break from email, cell phones, television, and all the other distractions of modern living that keep us alienated from each other.

“You need not be elderly to remember when we had no choice but to reduce activity on Sundays; stores and offices — even restaurants — were closed, there were certainly no electronics, and we were largely occupied by ourselves or our families,” writes Bittman.

Here are some ways to get more joy from the holiday season:

  • Find joy in the mundane moments. Notice the details of the season, new fallen snow, laughing children, glittering icicles and the sparkle of a lit tree.
  • Avoid comparing your decorated house with your neighbors’ or your co-workers’ holiday plans with your own and so forth. Instead of comparing, which is almost always unfavorable, be genuinely glad for your fellows, delight in their joy, and you in turn will feel greater satisfaction.
  • Be satisfied. Don’t look for satisfaction in material things because you won’t find it there. Satisfaction is a spiritual concept, and cannot be bought or given.
  • Find the true meaning of the holiday. A gift of time to the local soup kitchen or “Toys for Tots” program will  deliver a greater feeling of joy than spending more money at the mall. Look for ways to do generous acts anonymously this season. Rekindle a sense of faith in humanity as a gift to your community.
  • Cherish family time. Spend more time sharing joyful experiences like caroling, baking, Christmas plays or making gifts together instead of shopping.
  • Put gratitude in your attitude. Start your holidays off with a gratitude list noting all the wonderful tangible and intangible blessings you have in your life. Counting your blessings will keep you focused more on what you do have.
  • Say “Thanks” by calling or writing a thank you note right away after a gift or good deed. This prolongs your joy, and shares it with the giver.
  • Keep the spirit of the holidays in your heart all year. Remember to give often and generously. Make volunteerism part of your daily routine. Research indicates that both the giver and the receiver of a good deed get an endorphin boost from the act.

shawn@zestoforange.com.

Gigli’s Photo of the Week

Tuesday, December 6th, 2011

Photography by Rich Gigli

Reflections

“The mirror is thoroughly ego-less and mindless. If a flower comes it reflects a flower, if a bird comes it reflects a bird. It shows a beautiful object as beautiful, an ugly object as ugly. Everything is revealed as it is. There is no decrementing mind or self-consciousness on the part of the mirror.”  By Zenkei Shibayma -1967