In short, one might conclude that all knowledge, wisdom, and wit are confined to those who inhabit New York City, Washington DC, or Hollywood.
As I creep inexorably toward nearly 70 years of life experience - which was gained in many cities in the U.S. and in about 30 foreign countries, I decided to put down some ongoing thoughts in a series I call "The View From the Outback." That experience has included the U.S. Marines, law school, the ATF, the CIA, Fortune 500 executive, writer, public speaker, educator, editor, and publisher - for openers. For over 20 years, I have written articles off and on for various magazines and newspapers. I've had an enormous number of letters published in major national publications. The Outback is the rural area in Northeast Texas where I have lived for the past 10 years. Each Saturday I will attempt to post a new set of musings from the Outback.
One of the sure signs that our culture is headed into the toilet is the ad on TV for the "Potty Putter." Men and women are shown with their pants pulled down and sitting on a toilet seat with a miniature golf putter and a small green "putting carpet and cup." Casting aside the simple crassness of the concept and the ad, it is safe to say that no real golfer will ever improve his or her game using the Potty Putter. That is, unless they play miniature golf sitting on a chair.
NBC will no longer carry the XFL football games. Much has been written about the reasons for the lack of popularity of the XFL and its poor ratings on TV. I quit watching after one game because of the idiotic and super-macho commentary of Gov. Jesse Ventura of Minnesota. The man is like Bill Clinton in many ways. He just doesn't get it. He demeans the office of Governor and still talks like he is a Navy Seal. There are a lot of "real" military heros who are now, or have been, in Congress or the White House. All of them grew up and cast aside the bravado and bluster of their earlier military careers. My hope is that Jesse Ventura volunteers for "Survivor III" on CBS - and is eaten by a crocodile. If the crock doesn't spit him back up.
In my column for April 21, 2001, under "Environmentalism For Dummies - Part II," I poked fun at the environmentalists in California who stirred up such a fuss about Arsenic in our drinking water. I suggested that most of them probably drank bottled water. Also, I noted that a lot of bottled water, particularly in gallons, was simply taken from one municipal water supply or another. I had to laugh when later came a report from The World Wide Fund For Nature which says in essence that bottled water is a waste of money. They point out that the cost is often 1000 times the cost of tap water and that some bottled waters use the same standards of purity as for tap water. If you think your water is polluted, take a sample and get it tested. If the results are not good, you may want to buy some bottled water that has the NSF label or the type that is treated and filtered and dispensed at self-service machines in places like Wal-Mart and many grocery stores.
In my column for April 21, 2001, under "The Internet In China," I noted a URL for an Internet Service Provider in China and listed some of the prohibitions the Chinese are under as to what they can post. A Chinese court sentenced a 36-year old man to four years in prison for some posting he made on the Internet. The Chinese government claimed that he tried to subvert the government by posting political essays on the Internet. But there seems to be no prohibition about postings that continue to blame the U.S. for the Chinese jet jock who rammed our surveillance aircraft. And there seems to be no prohibition about them hacking American websites. At least they have some freedom.
Slow Down. Hug Someone And Tell Them You Love Them
My best friend is in the hospital after having a tumor removed from her brain. She is doing very well in her recovery and is making self-deprecating jokes - a very good sign. This past couple of weeks made me acutely aware of what it means to contemplate the loss of someone you love - even though you may not be married nor share the same roof. Since I am a senior citizen, the deaths of my parents has been largely accepted over time as inevitable. But, I now have a more acute empathy for all the widows and widowers and for all the families who lose a loved one.
When my father died, I wrote a tribute to him which was published in the newsletter of a fraternal organization to which he belonged. In it, I noted how depressing funerals were. Yes, the death of a loved one is depressing. But, I noted all the people who would stand around and say, "I was thinking of calling him for lunch a couple of weeks ago." "I wished I had told him I loved him the last time I saw him." And on and on. We are all too busy and so preoccupied with our own lives to think about telling others how much we care for them - how much we love them - and to give them a hug.
When I lived in Dallas, and when I visit there now, I was and am saddened by the way people live their lives on the "race track." They often eat too much, smoke, drink too much, get too little sleep, push themselves too hard to get ahead, ignore their families, and seldom take time to tell a child, parent, or a friend "I love you." They drive 75 mph on the tollway, only to get hung up at the first stop sign when they exit.
All of these habits lead to early disease and often premature death. If some of these 20 to 50 year olds, who think they are immortal, would take stock of what their frantic lifestyles are doing to them - and to their families, they might realize they are on a collision course with an ICU unit. Someday, way too early in life, they may find themselves in ICU on a respirator wondering where they went wrong. And wondering how the spouse and kids will manage if they don't walk out on two feet. There is a lot more to life than having a big house and a Mercedes. But you would never know it as you look around you.
Hug someone you care about today - and tell them you love them. Don't be in that crowd who is standing around saying "I wish I had." "I meant to." "I was thinking about ...."
Exceptionally Talented People Help Us Understand Our Own Limitations
Willie Mays, the Hall-of-Fame baseball player is nearing 70 years of age. Whoa! Where did the time go. When I was playing baseball, as an outfielder and a catcher, Willie was my idol. For those who never saw him play, you missed seeing probably "the greatest living ballplayer." I thought I was pretty good - great fielder and power hitter. And I had a chance to try out in the majors and turned it down. But, no matter how good any of us in those days thought we were, all we had to do was watch Willie Mays. We then knew our place in the scheme of things and were humbled.
In my late 30's, I took up piano and aspired to play classical piano, and bought a Steinway baby grand when I lived in Rome. I went to concerts in the states and overseas and bought LPs to hear some of the great pianists of time. Artur Rubinstein and Vladimir Horowitz were two of the giants. Once in Washington, D.C., my wife and I attended a Rubinstein concert and were seated in the balcony. The crowd was so huge, they actually placed folding chairs on the stage - very near the piano. At intermission, I noticed that it appeared that one or more of the people seated on stage might not be returning. I went downstairs and worked my way into the wings. At the last second, as I saw them motioning Rubinstein back on stage, I walked briskly to an empty seat on the end - within a few feet of the piano keyboard - and sat confidently down. I was a CIA agent in those days. I had more nerve than good sense.
At one point as he was playing, Artur Rubinstein looked me in the eyes. He might have noticed that I was not the person in that seat before intermission. More importantly, we locked eyes for several seconds and he could see how awed I was of his playing and to be in such close proximity. He seemed to say "thanks for loving my music." It was a remarkable moment.
For nearly two years, as time permitted, I dedicated myself to playing the first movement of the "Moonlight Sonata." I would play a few bars from the Rubinstein LP and then try to emulate it. Finally, I had it nearly perfect, and I played it for some friends in our apartment in Rome - on my Steinway. They were very impressed and asked for an encore. It was then that I admitted to them and myself that after nearly two years the only thing I could play well was the first movement of the "Moonlight Sonata." Eventually, I abandoned classical piano, partly because it was too hard for me to read the complex music - let alone memorize it. I gave my collection of classical sheet music to a talented friend. I bought the sheet music for "Ebb Tide" and "Misty" - and never looked back. Even "Misty" sounded great on the Steinway.
Having given it my best shot, and seeing some of the world's greatest in person, I came away with a much greater appreciation for those who play classical piano and for the music itself. I now enjoy it so much more, because I know how hard it is to do. Here in the Outback, I have several classical piano CDs in my pickup, among them the Moscow concert of Vladimir Horowitz, when he returned for the first time after many decades of exile in America. And of course, a copy of the "Moonlight Sonata." I never made it to the second movement. But, I treasure what it taught me.
If you are a golfer, Tiger Woods has shown you how the game is really played. Scratch golfers should be content with accepting their handicap score and trying to enjoy the fresh air and sunshine. Don't loose a lot of sleep over trying to break par. It's a game. It's supposed to be fun.
So, no matter what you do, try your hardest. But, realize that each of us has limitations. Celebrate the things you do well. Don't brood over the things you can't do well. Once I won a competition in The Dallas Morning News for writing the best "Singles ad" on a page then devoted to the single scene. Thus, my ad alone was featured in center page. In it, I said that "I am looking for a woman who has already 'found herself' - or if she has not, does not care. Not everyone can be a brain surgeon or an astronaut." The responses were very numerous and ranged from a female attorney to a Ph.D. historian. So, if you have not already "found yourself," by age 40 or so, it may be that there is nothing left to find. It is great to dream and aspire to higher levels. But be realistic. Work with what you have. It may very well be enough.
Late Night Comedians Struggle To Lampoon Bush
Bill Clinton was quoted recently with several comments favorable to President Bush, including the thought that many underestimate Mr. Bush. Mr. Bush's approval ratings are high, despite the efforts to paint him as an enemy of the environment. Yet, late-night comedians continue to tell jokes and run skits that portray Pres. Bush as quite simply - a Moron. There are at least several reasons for this. The TV comedy folks are nearly universally Liberals and would not have a good thing to say about Abraham Lincoln. TV comedy writers are lazy! And many are probably too strung out to put in several hours of actual creative thinking.
A while back, one of the writers on the Letterman show wrote an article for The Wall Street Journal in which he admitted that during the Clinton administration the writers could knock out jokes for the week in a few minutes and then goof off. Now, they are forced into a corner. They either have to go back to writing jokes about world events, weird news events, the ineptness of government at all levels, and the like. Or, they can take cheap shots at the President, regardless of whether there is a basis in fact.
I do notice an increasing lack of resounding laughter and applause at the sick Bush jokes. And even many groans when Letterman or Leno make fun of the potential for Dick Cheney to have another heart attack. How Letterman, who had bypass surgery (and won't let you forget it!), can make jokes about Dick Cheney having another heart attack is beyond comprehension. I spoke with a well-known Cardiologist about this the other day. He, like me, cannot understand how these people can be so "cruel."
I am so offended and angered by the tasteless, and largely baseless portrayal of Pres. Bush as the village idiot that I have basically quit watching, Letterman, Leno, Killborn, O'Brien, "Mad TV," and "Saturday Night Live." You could never have paid me $10,000 to watch "Politically Incorrect." Who cares what those social misfits think? There is a good reason why California is known to much of the rest of the nation as the "Land of Fruits and Nuts." I tape some of the shows and as soon as I hear the words "Bush" or "President" I most often fast forward to spare my blood pressure. I do think I see a pattern. There seem to be more virulently anti-Bush jokes on the shows emanating from California, such as Leno and Killborn, than those in New York.
You can just about count on skipping the openings for Mad TV and SNL if you are offended by portrayals of President Bush as some kind of retarded "trailer-trash" from Texas. By the way, for about eight years I lived in a mobile home on my 20 acres in the Outback. I loved it. My growing collection of computers, ham radio gear, home theater gear, TVs, treadmill, et al., forced me into larger quarters. From that "trailer" I wrote articles and letters that were published in major publications and corresponded with a variety of people in the Congress and the White House. One night, Ross Perot (when he was running for president) called me at my "trailer" to ask for some help on a program to keep guns out of the hands of violent criminals. So, when I hear all the bad jokes about Paula Jones in Arkansas and "trailer parks" and "trailer trash," and so on - I actually chuckle. Most of the people who make jokes about "trailer parks" and "trailer trash" have done very little of real consequence compared to many who live in the Outback in those "trailers."
The only reason I even attempt to watch "Saturday Night Live" is for Tina Fey and the Weekend Update, although some of it offends me. I want to go on record that I think Jimmy Fallon is another in a series of inept and bumbling male Update Anchors, with no sense of timing or any clue as to how to read a satirical news piece. Rather, Brokaw, and Jennings work alone. Tina, lose the creep. On Saturday, May 5th, Fallon stumbled so badly trying to read the teleprompter that he had to start over. He blamed it on lack of sleep. You bet. Nice try. On her NBC bio, it is noted that Tina Fey was previously a writer on the show, and she was made head writer in 1999. I knew there was some reason I felt an affinity with Tina. Now I know. Not to slight the talents of Will Ferrell, Molly Shannon, and Darrell Hammond, but Tina Fey rules!
Scanning some viewer comments on the Web about late-night hosts, I was struck by a couple of themes I saw. Craig Killborn is in love with himself and Jay Leno should have stuck to standup comedy. Those observations seem to be correct from the perspective here in the Outback.
COPYRIGHT 2001 Richard C. Rhodes
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