Thursday, December 28, 2006


I thought about penning a year-in-review column, but anyone can rehash history. Instead I’ve chosen to portend the feature, using the keen insight I’ve developed as a blogger.

Attorney Courtney Cox greets the New Year by filing two new lawsuits against the Springfield Police Department, pending allegations of some sort.

After early polls show him to be a lock for reelection, Mayor Tim “Dear Leader” Davlin issues a proclamation demanding that all campaign contributions be accompanied by panegyrical poems or songs written in his honor. The odes are read by Todd Renfrow in a weekly simulcast that preempts A.M Springfield and the Jim Leach Show.

IKEA releases plans to build a 200,000 sq.-ft. factory outlet store in the middle of the Cobblestone subdivision, displacing dozens of homes. Neighbors, including those forced to relocate, welcome the move, hailing the development as a boon to economic progress that will provide a much-needed boost to neighborhood traffic.

Hundreds of non-smokers “Pick-up the Habit” in the name of freedom and in deviance of the local oxygen Nazis. In related news, residents of Jerome enjoy a sunless summer as the smog emanating from the Barrel Head enshrouds the village.

In a case of art imitating life, a front page story reports on an SHG student who commandeered and disarmed a runaway bus that was rigged to explode if its speed dropped below 50 mph, thus saving the lives of a terrified and ethnically diverse group of commuters. Commenters on the SJ-R’s Web site complain that the story isn’t newsworthy and is just another example of how the private school has a stranglehold on the local media. Others assert that the student was recruited to the school for the sole purpose of performing Hollywood-grade rescues, and that he never had to pay tuition or attend class.

The Illinois Times discontinues Jim Hightower’s column and replaces it with “The View from the Canopy”, a weekly tirade from someone calling himself Monkey Boy.

After further tightening its grip on the underground canasta racket, the Red Hat Society muscles-in on local craft bazaars, demanding protection money and a taste of the action. Knitters of decorative lawn geese clothing are left shaken.

Frightened by an early rush of ticket sales, state fair management cancels a scheduled appearance by John Mellencamp and replaces him on the bill with fair-friendly Montgomery-Gentry, assuring that no crowd control expenses will be incurred.

Ex-aldermen Redpath, McNeil and Yeager form a dissident coalition and attempt to overthrow city government. Their coup is thwarted by Dear Leader’s newly-formed royal guard. The three are exiled to Grandview where they resort to blogging about the city’s inept government. They finish second in the IT’s Best Blogger category, barely losing out to . . .

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Who I'm tipping this holiday season

Because so much of the Christmas tradition involves parting with our hard-earned cash, I thought we set aside the smoking ban issue for a bit and instead discuss what obligations we have to provide gifts ($) to our favorite service providers as a sign of appreciation and good cheer.

Many publications publish helpful tips on tipping during the holiday season so that we can know who has something coming and how much we owe them. Higher class rags will have you gifting everyone from the doorman to the manicurist of the lady who cuts your personal trainer’s hair. Those magazines with a more bucolic sensibility will merely suggest that you leave a little something extra for your favorite waitress down at the diner, say, maybe 15 percent.

My wife and I tend to fall towards the bucolic. If you have served us in some way in the past year, please know that we hold you in the highest esteem, but the chances are good that we won’t be expressing our gratitude monetarily.* Unless, you are one of the following:

The garbage men are always due a gratuity. We pay to have two barrels-full disposed of each week and on those occasions when we go over by an extra bag or so, they can always be counted on to haul away the excess refuse. And even though they knew it was a dirty job when they signed on, I can’t help but feel we contribute excessively to the displeasing nature of their work. We’ve given them seven solid years of damp and soiled diapers to contend with so it’s only good form to acknowledge them on the holidays with something green and crispy.

Anyone carrying on the fine tradition of newspaper carrier deserves a tip as well. I’ve found that trying to eat breakfast without a newspaper to read is quite disorientating, almost to the point of being debilitating. I’m quite certain that if I didn’t have such a reliable carrier who never fails to deliver by the breakfast hour, that I would be wasting away late into the morning, rocking in my chair in a trance-like state while mumbling incoherently into my omelet. That has to be worth a double sawbuck, right?

Our recycling agent received a tip for the first time last year and appeared so grateful that it would be cruel to deny her this year. Her job doesn’t seem as onerous as garbage hauler, but things can get sticky and unpleasant when my wife fails to rinse out the wretchedness from her vile Miller High Life cans.**

Then, of course, there are the gifts to teachers and the babysitter, although they are already the richer, and wiser, for having the good fortune to spend time in the company of my progeny.*** Still, they must be shown our appreciation.

But that’s about it for us. We’ve never tipped the mail carrier; we hardly ever see him or her and so are of the mind that the mail just magically appears in the box six days a week. We don’t have any personal attendants or favorite maitre d's, and although several of my fellow bloggers have provided me a consistent source of entertainment and insight this past year and surely merit my benefaction, most blog anonymously so I don’t know where to send the cash-stuffed Christmas cards. Same goes for the regulars in the comments section. Alas.

And now it is your turn to confess or herald the extent of your largess to those who worked on your behalf this past year. Even though you already paid them at the time of service, did you recently hand over a little something extra in the spirit of the season?

*This somewhat stingy attitude doesn’t apply to charitable giving. I’ve yet to turn down an opportunity this year to add an extra dollar to my grocery bill to benefit the less fortunate.

**If you read the Christmas message I posted here last year, you’ll recall that I wrote about how my wife had just recently kicked the latest in a series of drug addictions. Just to be clear, that was satire. And while she does enjoy an occasional beer, drinking straight from the can most times, I don’t want to imply that our recycling bin is overflowing each week with her empty beer cans. There are, however, always a lot of empty Sudafed boxes in there. She doesn’t have allergies so I’m not sure what she does with it all.

***You might be tempted to read this as satire, but I truly believe it to be true.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

A Dateline exclusive: Thirst Parlor or Gulag?

This week’s winner for best hyperbolic sentiment in a letter-to-the-editor goes to Glenn Stevens for his portrayal of the smoking ban as a dictator inflicting torture on the destitute. It was a chilling performance, almost Ceausescu-esque in its brutality. I, for one, am ashamed of my support of the smoking ban and my complicity in allowing this reign of violence to terrorize innocent Romanians, I mean smokers.

Let’s set aside the sarcasm and get psychoanalytical for a moment.* This letter, which at first glance appears to be nothing more than the effects of extreme nicotine withdrawal, is actually quite revealing. Despite all of the protestations concerning freedom and property-owner rights, the real reason that some smokers are so incensed over the ban is because it forces them to face the fact that they are hopelessly addicted. Freud might add that they are also exhibiting behavior consistent with a maladaptive oral fixation and that they subconsciously long to be nurtured by a mother figure, which means, if you buy into all of this, that Betty Crocker would probably do better at hawking smokes than the Marlboro Man, although I should add that many of Ziggy’s theories have been debunked over the years.

The situation chronic smokers** face in a post-ban society is analogous to a scene in the movie “The Lost Weekend” where the main character, a binge alcoholic, explains why he needs to have alcohol readily available, even during periods of sobriety:

What you don't understand, all of you, is that I've got to know it's around. That I can have it if I need it. I can't be cut off completely. That's the devil. That's what drives you crazy.

And so it is with hardcore puffers. It’s not necessarily that they can’t physically get through a horseshoe and a pint without lighting up, it’s the distress that is caused by knowing that they can’t reflexively slide a butt between their lips should that urge arise. And I believe the alcohol analogy is an apt one.

If I find out that the wedding reception I’ll be attending will be a dry one, it may temper my enthusiasm a bit, but it wouldn’t keep me from going, although the thought of being made to listen to REO Speedwagon ballads without the buffer of a slight buzz is pretty distressing. An alcoholic, however, would be utterly dismayed and would most likely decline the invitation, especially if that skimpy dress she just bought won’t conceal the necessary flask.

Likewise, hardcore smokers are now turning down invitations to eat and drink in public because of the embarrassing incontinence they would suffer. Without their drug, their eyes turn red and their noses run. They begin to twitch and turn surly, as if an Adam Sandler film festival were playing inside their head. Rather than bear the shame of revealing the depths of their jones, they stay home or travel to villages where it is safe for them to fix in public.

It’s sad really, that they’d rather fight than quit. But it’s their choice to inhale and I wouldn’t deny them that, they just can’t exhale all over the public.

*If this sentence doesn’t immediately send you searching for another blog, you are a faithful BFS reader indeed.
**Notice that I qualify so as to not paint all smokers with the same brush. Some do enjoy whatever pleasure can be derived by introducing smoke into the lungs without suffering from the vapors when in a non-smoking environment.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Who wants to be an alderman?

Recently, the SJ-R has been reporting on the candidates who have announced the will seek an aldermanic seat. Reading the background information provided for each, I admit to being a bit underwhelmed in most cases. These people don’t seem any more qualified than I am and I certainly wouldn’t expect anyone to vote for me for anything (except maybe Best Blogger in the Illinois Times 2007 Best of Springfield contest that will be upon us again before you know it.)

When I was younger, I assumed that people elected to public office must be ahead of the curve in terms of intelligence. I figured that they must be highly motivated to serve the public, even those who only saw it as a means to power and prestige. Even as I grew more skeptical about their character of some of these office holders, I still thought that you had to have something pretty positive going for you to get people to vote you into office.

As I’ve become more astute in the ways of politics, I’ve come to realize that there isn’t necessarily anything special about politicians. Sure, some are really intelligent, others may drip with Clinton-like charisma, and the occasional one will provide a combination of both. But for the most part, they’re just average Joes and Janes, especially at the local level.

While being an alderman is an important job, it doesn’t seem all that desirable. It doesn’t pay well and you’ll still have to buy your clothes off the rack. It won’t get you into the Sangamo Club and it offers little in the way of graft. And as Chuck Redpath can attest, the job isn’t necessarily a springboard to higher office.

It seems an ideal job for retirees. They no longer have a full-time job to contend with and if they have kids, they’re probably out on their own. This leaves plenty of time to bone-up on the issues and field complaints from people who feel CWLP is acting out on a personal vendetta by denying them electricity. Then there’s that whole with age comes wisdom thing. Of course we wouldn’t want an entire council of retired people or there’d soon be an Old Country Buffet in every neighborhood and designated Rascal paths along every thoroughfare.

But if a candidate isn’t yet retired, does it matter what she does for a living? Is an insurance agent more likely to do a better job than a waitress? Is the business owner running to look after his own interests? Is the state worker campaigning on state time?

I know people who would be good aldermen, but none of them seem inclined to run. But I don’t know any of the people who are running, so how do I know who’s worthy?

Such quandaries call for a litmus test, a single issue on which a candidate’s response will determine their worthiness. For many, the test would involve party affiliation. For others, it might come down to smoking or non-smoking, or deal or no deal when the Sierra Club is at the negotiating table. Or it might involve something trivial such as their zodiac signs or if they wear white after Labor Day. Personally, I think that I can devine all I need to know about a person by their taste in music (Is there or has there ever been any James Blunt in your iPod?).

But I’ll put it to you. If you had one question to ask the candidates who are running in your ward (or any local election), and you had to base your vote solely on how they answer, what would that question be?

Monday, December 04, 2006

(This post doesn't merit a clever headline)

My first story for the SJ-R’s Heartland Magazine ran on Friday. Given the widespread power outages, I’m assuming that a good number of subscribers used it for kindling. So in that respect, I suppose you could say it was a very enlightening story. (Get it? Because it was used to light fires.)

As far as I can tell, the Heartland stories aren’t available online so I’ll reprint the first couple of paragraphs here.

It's 6 p.m. on a Saturday, and the temperature sits just above freezing on this late autumn evening. On the north side of town, they're kicking off the Class 5A state football semifinals. On the south side, the stage is being set for a more visceral competition. It's trivia night - firefighter style.

In the Springfield area, trivia nights are fast becoming a popular alternative to going to the movies or bars on a Saturday night. They’re also popular fundraisers for the schools and organizations that host the events. From fall through spring, a trivia night can be found almost every weekend. Tonight, the action is at the Firefighters Lake Club.

The rest of the article is a gripping, real-time account of the event. I hope in at least some small way, it helped to keep people warm.

Although it pales in comparison to the smoking ban, the proposed ordinance requiring filling stations to adopt a pay first policy is generating some debate locally.

When analyzing issues such as this, I tend to downplay such aspects as constitutionality, business owner’s rights, and the public good, and instead determine its relative merit based on how it will affect me personally. It won’t, so go ahead and pass the ordinance. What do I care.

I pay exclusively at the pump through the magic of the debit card. I don’t drink coffee or 67oz. Mountain Dews so I seldom venture into the convenience store, save for the occasional emergency gallon of milk or six pack. And I never drive off without paying. Since this ordinance will not hamper my fueling habits in any way, it’s beyond me why anyone would oppose it. I love democracy.

Jeff at the Occasional Potato has a feature called Cool Band Names where he post a list of fictional band names. (I’m pretty sure he thinks them up all by himself.) Anyway, there’s always some good ones and I thought it might be fun to provide brief fictional bios to some of the bands. So I did, and it was. You should try it.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Why must they rain on the victory parade?

Is Springfield a town filled with petty and bickering citizens who never miss an opportunity to spew vitriol or rain on someone else’s parade? I only ask because it recently occurred to me, and others, that there are a lot of petty people who spend a good amount of time bickering. I just don’t know if Springfield is unique in this way.

This observation arose after I spent Sunday evening reading the comments posted to the SJ-R’s online coverage of SHG’s run to the state championship. What I saw as a monumental achievement for the team and a source of pride for the community, was viewed by many others as the triumph of evil over good. Or more to the point, the triumph of the elite over the common man, although in the case of the particular people outraged at this event, the word “common” should be replaced by “simple”, or perhaps “pathetic.”

On the articles previewing the game, there were comments predicting that the Cyclones would go down hard in defeat. It’s doubtful that this prognosis was based on football-related knowledge of the team or their opponent; it was simply the wishful thinking of people who couldn’t stand the thought of them prevailing. After SHG won the championship, there were countless comments filled with disgust, accusations of injustice, and outright hatred. Sort of like what the reaction in the comments section here would be like if I announced that the Illinois Times had just won a Pulitzer Price.

Some of the criticism leveled did have merit, although most of it was just the paranoid ramblings from a group of people who obviously have little to be proud of and so would deny others that pleasure.

Yes SHG does have an advantage in that they aren’t restricted by public school boundaries. But this advantage is offset in a number of ways. There is the high cost of tuition, the higher than average academic eligibility requirements, and the IHSA’s multiplier rule designed to keep private schools competing in a higher class. Of course a delusional mind can easily discount these by stating, with all certainty, that SHG football players aren’t required to pay tuition or to go to class, and that they should be competing professionally because they are being paid. The people saying these things are the same ones who claim that the moon landing took place on a Hollywood sound stage and that the CIA is monitoring their thoughts through the neighbor’s satellite dish.

The reason that I asked the question on whether Springfield is unique in its divisiveness is because there were a couple of comments from non-Springfieldians who were amazed at the discord that erupted online over an amateur football game. Are the people in Addison or Bloomington-Normal up in arms because teams from their towns won championships this year and their own hometown alma mater didn’t? I don’t expect everyone to like SHG or to care that they won another state championship, but I do expect that adults would have enough dignity to not publicly condemn the achievements of a bunch of high school kids.

Full disclosure: I did attend Griffin High School, and I also took my elder son to the game in Champaign last Saturday. Perhaps someday he will play football for the Cyclones. We sure could use the money.

Monday, November 20, 2006

Kid! Be careful - broken glass!

Blogging will again be light this week as other writing assignments are coming due. It shouldn’t make much of a difference as Nancy and Monkey Boy have been carrying the weight around here recently. Their discussion on police and the media is quite interesting.

I will interject one bit of new commentary. This weekend was the first time I was in a bar since the smoking ban went into effect. It occurred to me that there is a flaw in the amend-the-smoking-ban argument that I haven’t seen addressed, so I’ll take a moment to do so now.

The smoking ban wasn’t put into place to revitalize bar business by making taverns more tolerable to the non-smoking majority. It was enacted because it was determined that smoke-filled rooms are a health hazard that the government has a duty to protect the public against (you can argue with that if you like, but that’s why it was done.) Therefore, you can’t say that the smoking ban failed and should be amended because bar owners are losing business. If people are breathing in less secondhand smoke, which I would assume to be the case although I don’t know how you’d prove it, then the ban has been affective.

Some how, this needs to be explained to those who believe that health codes can not be enacted at the expense of turning a healthy profit. Allow me to try, using an analogy courtesy of the Not Ready for Primetime Players.

Mainway Industries - makers of such toys as Bag O’ Glass* (a bag of glass bits that teaches kids about light refraction), along with the Pretty Peggy Ear-Piercing Set, Mr. Skin-Grafter, and a Halloween costume called the Invisible Pedestrian – is a profitable company operating legally under what, at the time, are the applicable laws. A stinging exposé by Joan Face spurs a public outcry against Mainway, which results in the Consumer Product Safety Commission banning most of its products.

Company president Irwin Mainway is outraged, although would probably still like to take Ms. Face out for drinks. His company loses revenue, his distributors go out of business, and his customers can no longer sate their perverse desire to ply their children with dangerous toys. So what should be done?

According to the logic being deployed by the Illinois Licensed Beverage Association, the ban on Johnny Switchblade: Adventure Punk and other products that endanger the public health should be lifted so that Irwin can still afford to buy leisure suits with the money he makes selling said merchandise. It would be nice if he could make a living selling safe toys, but if his customers want to put an element of danger under the Christmas tree, then government has no right to interfere.

Of course this isn’t a perfect analogy because bars aren’t selling secondhand smoke, it’s simply a byproduct. But unlike lrwin, bar owners aren’t being forced to give up their livelihood, they just have to adjust to changing market conditions. It’s unfortunate that those conditions aren’t balanced at the present time (see: the Barrel Head), but just because kids in North Korea can still get a General Tron's Secret Police Confession Kit for their birthday, doesn’t mean that we should put them back on the market here.

*The company did include a warning with this product: "Kid! Be careful - broken glass!"

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Hang Your Head Greg Hullum

When the news first hit that Springfield was under siege from a serial bandit, I, like most of you, had one question foremost in my mind: Was the holdup person wearing a red hat? Even after a physical description was released indicating that the perpetrator was a 6 foot tall black man, I still didn’t completely dismiss the possibility of a red scourge, knowing how several of the “Society’s” made members are masters of disguise. It wasn’t until a drapery shop was hit and there were no reports of taffeta curtains being purloined that I felt comfortable that the Red Hats were not involved.

After rationally dismissing my arch enemies, I did let my imagination wander a bit as to the robber’s identity. I figured that he fancied himself a Robin Hood or Billy the Kid type character. Perhaps he imagined that the downtrodden and the working class were cheering on his brazen crime spree as it played out on the front page. Perhaps he thought some lonely convenience store clerk, a beauty lost in a world of beef jerky and 98oz. soft drinks, would see past his revolver and into his heart, and impulsively run away with him to the getaway car. Perhaps he yearned to be understood and hoped that someday, some dark troubadour would pen a folk song in his honor. Or maybe he just needed money for crack.

The one thing that I did know for sure was that if I entered a Qik-n-EZ and saw someone matching his description brandishing a weapon, I had the option of turning around and heading out the door. I’m relatively certain that I would have just that. But it’s important to remember that not everyone had the option. I speak, of course, of our men and women in blue.

It’s doubtful that many of us who aren’t police officers or who haven’t served in the military, know what it is like to have to confront someone who may try to kill us. The police knew the suspect was armed and that he wasn’t wary of pulling the trigger, yet they pursued and apprehended him, because, that’s their job. And it’s a job that most of us wouldn’t want.

This isn’t to suggest that the police’s bravery puts them above criticism when they run afoul of the law or exhibit objectionable behavior. But it should remind us that the people we’ve grown accustomed to slinging arrows at, are willing to take a bullet for us. That point probably doesn't get made enough.

Friday, November 10, 2006

I Wanted to Incinerate November*

There is something Rockwellian about doing yard work in autumn. Just a man, his rake, and the vestiges of spring laid fallen at his feet. Maybe his children are about as well, jumping into piles of fallow-colored leaves that crumble and stick to their wool jackets. And that's mother there on the porch, a bottle of absinth in one hand and a scythe in the other, standing beside her midget manservant who is vigorously whistling the love theme to Titanic.

Oh, wait . . . I said Rockwellian, not David Lynchian. Scratch the liquor and the midget and give mom some cups of hot cider to hold.

Anyway, my point is that I find raking leaves to be a spiritually satisfying experience. It's a nostalgic endeavor that beckons to a simpler time when man was more in touch with nature. And more likely to set fire to it.

I'm old enough to remember when folks used to rake their leaves onto the street curb and then light a match. Maybe this wasn't the safest means to dispose of leaves, but we didn't lose anybody either, at least not in my family.

The flames brought ritual to the autumn season as the smoke venerated the air in preparation for the cold fronts that would descend from the north. There was also something~ transcendent in seeing a maple's worth of leaves reduced to a small pile of ash.

But that idyllic scene only exists in memories or in unincorporated areas of the city. Raking leaves has lost much of its luster now that the matches have been taken away and we're forced to cram all of the damn things into paper sacks. There has to be better way.

Far be it for me to light a fire and curse another's breathing difficulties, but surely a community can remain in harmony and still allow a couple of fall Saturdays for the burning of the leaves. Perhaps we could arrange a sister city agreement with Decatur for alternate weekend burnings. Springfield could ship its asthmatics to the Soybean City on even weekends and Springfield could return the favor on odd weekends. Anyone averse to the smell of burning foliage could leave town at dawn and return at nightfall, once the smoke had cleared.

It occurs to me that this solution might also appease those upset with the smoking ban. Smokers could dine and imbibe in Springfield on odd days and in Decatur on even days. Of course, if this plan were to be implemented the section of I-72 that connects the two cities would have to be renamed the Gary Busey Expressway in honor of all the impaired drivers who would attempt the commute. Perhaps this is not one of my better ideas.

As of this writing, 10 sacks of leaves line the terrace next to my mailbox. The paper bags are already brittle from the weekend's rain. Should the bottom fall out of the sacks as the disposal agent is hoisting them into his truck, there will be left another pile of leaves for me to deal with. If I'm lucky, a wild at heart Elvis acolyte will drive by in a convertible and, in slow motion as Chris Isaak plays on the car radio, he'll flip his lit cigarette into the pile of leaves that will ignite in a flash, as if doused in gasoline. Sometimes, we need to get a little Lynchian with our yard work.

I wrote this mostly satirical post earlier this week. Coincidently, in the SJ-R's special 175th anniversary edition** today, there is an article on how and why the leaf burning ban went into effect in the 1980s. Apparently it was more of a health hazard than I remember. So in the interest of public health any lifting of the leaf burning ban should be restricted to rakers/bloggers of Lithuanian origin. That should keep the smoke to a minimum.

*This title reads catchier if you're familiar with the Teenage Fanclub song, "December."

**This is quite an impressive piece of work that provides a walk through Springfield's past. In addition to all of the great articles and pictures, there is one ad with beautifully-written copy.

~Thanks to Josh Durham for catching this mistake.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Oy Vey!

I could not be more disappointed in my fellow electorate than I am right now. Although in a world where Titanic can win Best Picture, I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised that Rod Blagojevich was elected to a second term.

After being thoroughly dismayed upon reading this morning’s headline in the SJ-R, a gloom that was lifted momentarily upon reading the editorial staff’s opion piece*, I was left with this thought. If you were to put L. Madigan, D. Hynes, and J. White in a room with Blagojevich, who in their right mind would pick Rod to be the boss? Meritocracy was clearly not in play here. Democrats have a lot to crow about nationally today, but they should stop and think how they allowed the crude to rise to the top when there was plenty of cream in the state’s cup.

I can’t recall ever disliking a politician as much as I do Blagojevich. Although I had a rather low opinion of George Ryan, somehow his grumpy personae made his corruptive activities more tolerable. He was a shady politician who had the decency to look and act the part. Sure he would deny allegations of wrong doing, but he never gave the impression that he cared if you believed him.

Blagojevich, on the other hand, wants you to love him while he’s lying to you. He wants you to belove him as a great leader for providing healthcare to children, but he wants you to be dim enough not to notice that the state can’t afford it. Even though the curtain has been pulled back for some time now, he’s still pretending to be the great and powerful Blag. Dorothy and I aren’t buying it, but apparently there are a lot of munchkins out there whose knowledge of state government is limited to what can be found in 30 second campaign commercials.

One more thing. I don’t like to comment on superficialities, but this opinion surfaced again a couple of times recently and so I’m compelled to ask: among which species is Blagojevich considered handsome? If all it takes to be considered a good looking guy is a full head of hair, then why wasn’t Emo Phillips asked to star opposite Julia Roberts in Pretty Women? It might have made that insipid movie somewhat tolerable.

Okay, that’s it for the election coverage. I’ll stop being bitter now. We survived Pretty Woman 2 and, somehow, we’ll survive the Return of Virility.

*They called the governor a pansy. Actually they were telling him to stop being a pansy. Same thing though.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Should this be allowed?

It seems, at times, that the public participation portion the SJ-R’s editorial page is nothing more than personal squabbles between partisans and severely rehashed arguments concerning the smoking ban. Occasionally, however, a letter will appear that peaks one’s interest because it brings to light an infrequently pondered issue.

Earlier this week, a letter was printed from a local high school soccer player who was voicing his displeasure at what he felt was a slight directed at one of his teammates. Last weekend, the day after his team had been eliminated from state playoff competition, the SJ-R published a story on the game that included a photograph of his side’s vanquished goalie, a picture taken just after their opponents had scored the winning goal.

The letter writer* felt that the combination of the photograph, that showed his friend splayed face first in the turf, along with the chosen wording of the caption, painted an unfair picture of the effort put forth by his fallen comrade.

The caption read: “SHG goalie Zach Lloyd lies on the ground after allowing Quincy’s game-winning goal in overtime.”

I read this caption when it was first published and don’t recall giving it a second thought. Even now that I’ve considered it further, I still don’t think that there was an attempt by the caption writer to be snarky or otherwise inject his or her opinion of the goalie’s performance that evening. Yet I see where the letter writer is coming from.

At issue here is the use of the word “allowing”, and how it has come to have a specialized meaning on the sports page.

We often read such things as the pitcher “allowed seven bases-on-balls over six innings” or the defense “allowed their opponent to get in field goal range in the game’s final minute.”

“Allowed” is a common locution in sports vernacular where it doesn’t really adhere to the usual meanings such as “conceded” or “permitted to happen”. It is more accurately interpreted to mean “failed to prevent.”

However, for someone not familiar with the routine meaning of this word when used on the sports page, it could easily be read to mean that pitcher or defense shamefully and intentionally ceded their duties and allowed their opponent the advantage. Or in the case of the goalie, that he was laying down on the job, the impression that the young letter writer was left with.

Perhaps the first sports writer who used the word “allowed” did suspect that the subject he was writing about had given up or failed to exert the proper effort, and thus he carefully chose this word to subtly pass along his assessment to the reader. Perhaps, on occasion, it is still used today to interject a bit of editorial comment. But mostly it’s just a space-saving way to write “failed to stop.”

That said, I do think that it is a poor choice of words that, however unintentional, demeans the person or team it is directed towards. The courageous and plucky Limeys didn’t “allow” my daughter to score two goals, standing idly by as victory was snatched from their tight grasp, they were simply overwhelmed by a force greater than themselves. To suggest otherwise is to disparage those young sportsmen in a manner most unfair.

Okay, so maybe you didn’t find this letter as thought provoking as I did. It still beats reading the ramblings of yet another letter writer who thinks that it is the height of cleverness to wonder sarcastically if the city will now ban cheeseburgers because they too are a health hazard. Why do they allow that crap in the newspaper?

*Full disclosure: The letter-writing soccer player happens to be the nephew of an old college buddy, a circumstance that played no part in my choosing to blog about this topic.

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Sexist Press Attacks Working Women: Updated

Here’s my question to the journalists working the governor beat: When the governor says something that defies logic and reason for the sole purpose of deflecting legitimate inquiries into allegations of wrongdoing, why do you dignify such assaults on common sense by reporting them?

As you may know, BFS reader, it has come to light that the governor’s wife (a woman) earned a rather significant chunk of change on a real estate transaction with a person (another woman) who in turn conducts business with the state (a unit of a nation). Many people, especially those who are familiar with the state’s ethics test, think that this little arrangement at the very least gives the perception of impropriety and is not becoming a reformer's better half.

What did the governor think about people questioning his wife's dealings? Probably not much until his spin doctors came up with a counter punch that I’m sure they imagined would leave their detractors doubled over in shame.

The governor, again channeling Jackie Childs, said that anyone who would question the legitimacy of his wife's business transactions is a Neandrethal who probably thinks that women should be kept barefoot and pregnant. You see, this story isn’t about selling government favor, it’s about the media’s dogged pursuit to keep women oppressed. Because we know that most reporters, even women reporters, would like nothing more than to see society return to an earlier time, circa Father Knows Best, when the fairer sex didn’t have to concern themselves with anything more serious than not burning the pot roast and getting Kitten off to school on time. So let’s just leave all of this confusing real estate business to the men, shall we.

Anyone even remotely conscious knows that this line of defense, to borrow a couple of his administration’s favorite words, is ridiculous and ludicrous. So why bother reporting it? And if you are going to cover it, make him first identify exactly who he is calling a Neandrethal and then provide evidence to backup his claim. Of course he wouldn’t answer because the team of scientists who prepare him for public appearances didn’t condition him to respond to those questions.

It could be said that by running with his comments, the media is allowing the governor to embarrass himself more publicly. And to the rational segment of the populace, he has. But there are some people, those who fell in love with the heroic man-of-the-people depicted in his political ads, who will think that his poor wife is under attack by the evil forces of the ultra-conservative media.

Let the governor spin yarns as much as he wants when he’s paying for media space, don’t let him do it for free.

To everyone who voted for Blagojevich in the Democratic primary four years ago, please note: His opponent in that election, Paul Vallas, was just named one of America’s best leaders by U.S. News and World Report. Vallas became the superintendent of Philadelphia public schools after you decided that Illinois would be better served by someone pretending to be a leader. Even though he is currently under fire from Philadelphia’s mayor for a school budget shortfall of around $80M, that fact that Vallas isn’t proposing to sell and lease back all of the city’s high schools is a good indication that Illinois would be in better shape today, and tomorrow, if you hadn’t fallen for that whole Elvis shtick. Hope you’re happy.

I do realize that if the press wants to question the governor on this issue, that they have to report his response, however stupid it may be. It's frustrating to me, however, how easily the governor and his people can use the media to distract voters from the real issue.

Here's another
take on this issue that a Monkey recommended.

Saturday, October 28, 2006

Ave Maria

I don't blog about sports very often, but I think that it is safe to say that anyone who witnessed that game will never forget it. Decades from now, when a new era of degraded sporting competition causes us purists to yearn for the day when pride really mattered, contemporaries will look at each other and say: "Where were you when Shoe Carnival beat that team with the fluorescent lime jerseys?"

The Shoes had dominated their YMCA soccer competition, playing with a spunky determination that quickly won the hearts of their parents, grandparents, and the occasional passerby. But on this Saturday, the deck would be stacked against them.

A series of family commitments conspired into a perfect storm of player absences, leaving the depleted Shoes left to compete with the minimum of six players plus goalie. A good deal of the team's fire power would not take the field this day, as the Limeys were surely aware of. But little did they know that their bravado would soon be deflated, punctured by the right foot of a Shoe who was different than all the others.

Fast forward to the second half. With no substitutes to spell them, the Shoes stout seven – who history will remember as Quin, Neil, Felix, Noah, Billy, Patch, and Maria - were beginning to fade. The ferocious attack that so many times had sent the opposing goalie running into the corn fields was but a faint breeze that chilled no one. Trailing two goals to one, victory was escaping from their grasp with every passing second. Hope, it seemed, had left to go watch the SHG game.

That is, dear sports fan, until the daughter of a certain blogger decided that failure did not become the Shoes' proud tradition. Her AWOL teammates would not be made to taste defeat from afar, not if she, the only girl on their team, had anything to say about it.

Midway through the third quarter, Maria took an errant pass at midfield and made her way upfield. With a determination not seen since the allies stormed Normandy, Maria took the ball directly at the defenders. The crowd stood frozen. Despite the Limeys' three to one advantage, they could sense that something was afoot. Something was! The ball, which settled into the right corner of the net for the tying goal.

A renewed vigor raced through the Shoes and their fans. Defeat no longer seemed imminent. But dare they dream of victory? One did.

Just minutes later, in a scene that surely sent chills of deja vu down the spines of the Limeys, Maria again took possession at midfield. As she raced downfield, she eyed not the defenders who awaited her, but the big prize that she aimed to shoot down. The Limeys attacked, determined not to fall behind and miss the chance to avenge an earlier loss. Their resistance proved futile as Maria fired the ball towards the goal, this time coming to rest in the left side of the net. Shoes 3, Limeys 2.

The scoring was done for the day. Maria and Neil Brown had tallied the winning goals. The Limeys would mount several respectable attacks in the fourth quarter, but their fate had already been determined when they failed to account for the girl who was coming off of her second three-goal game of the season just the week before.

There are those who will say that Maria's performance would have been more impressive had it come in the game's waning minutes. But such last-second, depicted in slow-motion moments have become clichéd in the sporting world and she would never sacrifice true heroics for cheap dramatics. This was, in its essence, the spirit of athletic competition personified, and no Hollywood reinterpretation could ever render it more impressive.

Where was I when Shoe Carnival beat that team with the fluorescent lime jerseys? I was there, man, I was right there. And I couldn't have been prouder.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Endorsing the Horse Race

As announced in an editorial on Monday, the SJ-R has started making their endorsements for the November elections. Not surprisingly, that liberal mainstream media outlet kicked things off by casting their lot with two Democratic candidates running for the Illinois House. Or is the real story here that the notoriously conservative newspaper again bowed to their corporate masters by endorsing a Republican in the 18th Congressional District. Either way, their endorsements will surely rankle folks on both sides of the political divide. That’s a good sign for anyone who prefers to vote for a candidate rather than the parenthesized initial that follows their name.

People who nod approvingly to every utterance that escapes Rush’s lips or take as gospel every word posted by the faithful on Daily Kos, for some reason get offended when a newspaper deigns to weigh-in with who they think will best serve the public’s interest. Having gotten used to being preached at from their comfy place in the choir loft, these party zealot’s become confused when presented with divergent points of view and attribute the dissonance to any number of faults or shortcomings harbored by those who don’t sing the same hymns of praise.

While the Web holds the possibility of opening us up to the entire spectrum of political thought, it has better served to reinforce our previously held convictions. No matter how delusional your world view, you can find someone who agrees with you and together you can mock and distrust the rest of us idiots.

That’s why it’s important, for those who don’t view elections as contests between blue and red, to occassionally wade into the media’s mainsteam for a little perspective. And I do think that newspaper endorsements, for the most part, are made with more consideration of more diverse factors than is offered by the Limbaughs and Zunigas of the world.

Not that their endorsements should be written down on the palm of your hand before you enter the voting booth. Their rationale for picking a certain candidate might provide the very thing that sways you to vote for the opponent. If so, then you have still been done a service.

Is there a reason to listen to the people who make up a newspaper’s editorial board any more intently than the five guys who hold court down at the end of the bar? After all, editorial boards are made up of people and all people have biases that slant their objectivity. You can’t assume that the J-schooled bunch is more politically aware than the PBR-fueled bunch, and the guys in the bar may have interests more closely related to your own.

The difference lies in access. Political candidates, especially those running above the local level, aren’t likely to sit down at Pat’s Tap for a little Q&A with the regulars. Those candidates do sit down with the editorial boards. Newspapers also have teams of reporters who attend every press conference and media event. They hear the things being muttered below the din of all the grandly pronounced slogans and promises. It’s almost as if the media in these instances are acting as the eyes and ears of the public - a fourth estate, if you will, to help the public check the powers of the other three branches of government.

That is exactly what a newspaper and other media are supposed to do. Obviously, some fail at this mission. But part of this failure lies not in their inability to report the news, or offer endorsements, with a reasonable degree of objectivity, but in the public’s steadfast refusal to believe anything that challenges their preconceived notions. As any grad student in communications can tell you, sometimes it’s not the message or the messenger that distorts reality, but the receiver.

As stated in Monday’s editorial, the reasons that some newspapers have stopped giving endorsements is because of the perception that it will slant future reporting on the candidates and that the media shouldn’t be in the business of king making. If you do think that all newspapers immediately bow down to the candidates they “coronate”, consider this: while the editorial board at the Chicago Sun-Times was endorsing Rod Blagojevich, the paper’s reporters were busy uncovering more evidence linking the governor to some shady dealings with his recently indicted fundraiser and intimate, Tony Rezko. This does make me question the soundness of their endorsement, but it also affirms that they are still committed to the public’s interest.

It’s amusing that if someone distrusts the SJ-R to the degree that they would respond contrarily to their every endorsement, that that person would be voting across party lines. That’s at least a step in the right direction, even if it is being made blindly.


I have, in the past, shown my preference in certain races by not voting for any candidate. To paraphrase Geddy Lee, something I do sparingly as it tends to hurt my throat, by choosing not to decide, I still have made a choice. Some consider this derelict of my duties as citizen in a democracy. I consider it a silent protest. So is voter apathy, when borne out of disgust rather than laziness, a meaningful expression of political preference?

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Newspaper stuff, a question for bloggers, and how AC/DC let me down

My monthly SJ-R column celebrated International Newspaper Carrier Day by harkening back to my days as a paper boy. Here’s just a sample of what at-home subscribers were asked to stomach while sipping their morning coffee last Sunday.

It was the ability to consistently answer the early-morning call that separated us paperboys from our contemporaries, who chose pampered pursuits such as store clerk or burger flipper to earn a little spending money. While the rest of the town lay snuggly in their beds, we were setting the day into motion by greasing the wheels of civic life through the delivery of the local daily, the lifeblood of the community.

There was a special camaraderie among paperboys in those days. A few of my fellow carriers and I occasionally would gather on the corner after completing our rounds. Here we would swap stories of bravely facing down vicious dogs and espying comely housewives as they attempted to stealthily retrieve their paper while still in their nighties. Old man Fishburn, our district manager, would drive up to say hello while suspiciously eyeing our bags to see that all of our papers had been delivered.

So it turns out that detectives in trouble aren’t a temporary thing, as I so cleverly and erroneously opined last summer. I’ve kept quiet as more and more published reports have questioned their ethics and practices in carrying out their duties. The Bloggers Code of Conduct dictates that I now speak.

Although I never defended the detectives beyond the fact that no charges were ever filed against them, I did suggest that a certain weekly publication was slanting their coverage to disparage the duo. After reading parts of the report that the SJ-R has posted online, it seems that the IT was on to something with their renegade cops angle. They’ve earned the right to gloat a bit in the comment’s section, but I suspect that they won’t.

I had some down time this weekend so I decided to look-up the lyrics to AC/DC’s “Givin’ the Dog a Bone.” I was appalled, nay, sickened at what I discovered. That song’s not about forced child labor in third world Asian countries. It about advocating the teachings of the Crawlin’ Kingsnake John Lee. Just when you think you know a band.

Call it vanity if you will, but I occasionally Google BlogFreeSpringfield to see what blogs and other Web sites are referencing or linking to my work here. Most bloggers will tell you that such searches will occasionally result in a surprise or two. Someone unknown to them will have stumbled across something on their blog and found it compelling or ridiculous enough to mention on their own site.

I was fortunate enough to find something that I wrote here about Barack Obama on the Chicago Tribune Web site. They didn’t credit me personally, but they did mention BFS. What’s more, I must have been making sense at the time I wrote the passage because it wasn’t listed under a category called “Idiot Ramblings of Downstate Bloggers.”

A question then for all of you bloggers: where was the most surprising place you found a link or a reference to your blog?

Friday, October 13, 2006

Where I'm Calling From II

I hadn’t planned on taking requests for this feature, but last week new BFS reader Mick Shrimpton was hollering for one of his favorites. So Mick, this goes out to you.

I admit I’ve never heard AC/DC’s “Givin’ the Dog a Bone.” I am, however, familiar enough with the band that I can probably give you a pretty could analysis of the song’s subtext.

It’s well known that AC/DC is one of the most socially conscious and politically astute bands in the history of rock ‘n’ roll. Long before Bono thought to use his celebrity to lobby heads of state on behalf of the poor, the boys from Australia were fighting against injustice throughout the world. They used the stage as a soapbox and their amplifiers as bullhorns to deliver their call for righteous upheaval against the status quo.

Born on the left and nurtured on Marxist philosophy, AC/DC seized the torch that shed light on the rampant capitalism that was preying upon third world nations. Although he played a secondary role during their musical performances, rhythm guitarist Malcolm Young took the lead from his brother Angus and late frontman Bon Scott in screaming out against forced corporate servitude. Malcolm was particularly sympathetic to the underclass in oppressed Asian nations, where he visited as part of an Amnesty International fact finding tour in the late 70s, right before the band commenced writing songs for the Back in Black album. It’s based on this knowledge that I assume that Malcolm was responsible for the lyrics to “Givin the Dog a Bone.”

As I said, I’ve never heard the song and I can’t be bothered to look up the lyrics, but really, the title says it all. I’ve also been told that the word “union” is in the song, which is in keeping with my assumption and the band’s alliance with the workers’ movement.

The “dog” referred to in the title comes from the phrase “worked like dogs” and is a symbol for Taiwanese sweatshop slaves. Singer Brian Johnson is most likely calling attention to the children who are forced into labor in textile plants, although some would argue that AC/DC would have called the song “Givin’ the Puppy a Bone” if this were the case. I disagree. The dog and bone metaphor is more commonly known, and, despite the fact that the AC/DC fan base is probably one of the more sophisticated you’ll find, Malcolm nevertheless would not have wanted to confuse the message over such a trivial matter.

The “bone” that he demands be delivered to the workers signifies many things. A living wage. Proper healthcare. Better working conditions. A sense of respect. In short, the humanity that these children deserve.

The message of “Givin’ the Dog a Bone” is as simple as it is powerful. I’m sure the ruling class was none too happy to hear it blaring over their FM tuners while they slept walked through the Reagan years. Great pressure surely came down from the band’s corporate record label to tone down the band’s incendiary political views. But one listen to “Put the Finger on You” from the band’s follow-up album, For Those About to Rock, will tell you that their beliefs could not be suppressed and that AC/DC would never fall into the mold of just another stupid, sex-crazed rock band.

Some have suggested that “Givin’ the Dog a Bone” is about a series of promiscuous sexual encounters. This is clearly a lazy interpretation rooted in the retarded sexuality of certain depraved listeners. If such raunchy romps are your cup of tea, however, I would recommend that you listen to “Beds are Burning” by another Aussie favorite, the sugar-coated boy band, Midnight Oil. The title really does say it all in that sleazy song.

Should this anthem for the oppressed ever be made into a movie, I envision Givin’ the Dog a Bone along the lines of Norma Rae or Gung Ho - a stirring epic that speaks to the audience’s sense of justice for the working man.

For the role of the foreign liberator who fights on behalf of the subjugated workers, there is really only one choice: Edward James Olmos. His steely compassion and barely contained rage will instantly attract the peasants while making their corporate overlords quake in their Italian shoes (made in Korea.)

As the de facto leaders of the fractured children’s resistance movement: Haley Joel Osment and Dakota Fanning. It may seem odd in a movie based in Taiwan to pick two actors with decidedly un-Occidental features, but trust me, you need sweet and wholesome if you expect Western audiences to sit still through a three-hour docu-drama on the plight of the underclass in a forcibly industrialized nation.

The only other major characters in the film will be the children’s haggard-but-not-broken mothers. Both are seamstresses who also double as models for Nike’s sweatshop-produced swim wear. We viewers will be appalled at the way Michael Jordon’s corporate masters exploit cheap labor, but impressed with the new line of high-performance bikinis. Regular readers to this blog can probably guess which actresses will take on these critical roles and fill a majority of the 180-minute screen time.*

Well that’s it for this week. Tune in again next time, although I can’t promise when that will be. Unless I get another request, I’ll probably take Laura’s advice and cover the Capra-esque “Mr. Harris” by Aimee Mann, a song about the great Steeler running back and his quest to find love outside the huddle.

Amanda Peet and Angelina Jolie are Taiwanese seamstresses who struggle for their children’s future in Givin' the Dog a Bone.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Burn Down the Mansion

Occasionally, although rarely, a college athletic program will become so rife with such violations as payments to recruits, no-show jobs for players, tutors completing class assignments and professors in bed with the coach, that it is considered recidivist. The level of corruption is so abhorrent and inherent that the university determines that a new coach or stricter restrictions won’t be enough to clean up the mess, so they pull the plug on the entire operation. We may have reached that point with the office of governor for the state of Illinois.

With our previous governor headed for prison and our current governor itching to join him, it could be that corruption is so ingrained in the governorship that even if someone as seemingly honest as Glen Poshard would have been elected, he too would have surrounded himself with money-grubbing backroom dealers and ethically-devoid spin doctors. So let’s burn down the mansion and try to make a go of it the ungubernatorially way.

This may upset the plans of Judy Barr Topinka and Rich Whitney, but probably not.

It appears obvious that Topinka doesn’t really want the job. As I recall, she took over the Republican Party leadership for a couple of years quite reluctantly, driven only by a sense of loyalty. Based on her half-hearted campaign for governor, it appears that duty inspired her to run, but nothing is inspiring her to win.

As for Whitney, he should know that he stands no chance in our restrictive two-party system and if he believes otherwise, he’s unfortunately too delusional to serve. We’ve already seen what delusions can do at the highest ranks of state government.

Abolishing the governorship will not cure the state’s most pressing ailments; we’re still headed for financial ruin and legislators will still be too cowardly to deal with it prudently. But it will save us further embarrassment and Patrick Fitzgerald will have more time to spend with his family.

Now, we’ll just need to decide what native son or daughter’s name will be on the highway signs welcoming travelers to Illinois. Jeff Tweedy? Joan Cusack? Cindy Crawford? Barack Obama? As long as it isn’t Oprah.

Friday, October 06, 2006

Where I'm Calling From

Here’s the new semi-regular feature I warned you about last week. I’ve added pictures to keep you interested should you grow weary from the text.

Also in the interest of making this feature less boring, since most of you probably aren’t familiar with this song, I thought it might be interesting to cast the parts if this song were ever to be made into a short feature. But first, our feature presentation.

This week’s entry is from Tom Waits. Delivered as they are from his skid-row troubadour personae, Waits’ lyrics often run from fiendishly funny to downright disturbing. But on the song “I Hope That I Don’t Fall in Love with You” he delves compassionately into the soul of a lonesome barfly who lives life in his head, while his head is in a bottle.

As the song starts, the lead actor, who we’ll call Tom, is at his usual place. We assume he’s been there for some time, probably years. Tom spots a woman from across the room. With the music playing in the bar supplying the soundtrack, his liquor-fortified imagination sets the reel rolling on a love story, if only it could be.

Without a word spoken or a glance exchanged, Tom picks-up on her heart’s yearning for him. He pretends to resist, telling himself that he doesn’t need the heartache. Another beer, and he can hear her calling to him.

By the second verse he seems less sure of her attraction and he wonders if he should approach. Would she take pity on a lonely fool? Does she understand those “tomcat feelings” that make men start to pine when darkness falls?

Tom searches for an in, a way of introduction. Maybe she is just as lonely as he is and it would simply be a matter of bumming a smoke. As each verse ends, he protects himself from the inevitable heartbreak by repeating to himself that he doesn’t want to fall in love again.

As time passes, the only interaction he is able to muster is with his glass. Rising from his stupor, induced by equal parts reverie and whiskey, Tom realizes that the music has stopped playing. A hazy search across the bar reveals that she has gone. It’s closing time. He fell in love.


The cast of I Hope I Don't Fall in Love with You

The obviously choice to play Tom is Waits himself. He’s demonstrated his acting chops in several films, but his turns usually have a comedic element to them that would distract from the forlornness of our tale.

Paul Giamatti would be a good choice based on his expressive face and ability to communicate emotion without words, but he ultimately lacks the Bohemian-ness the role requires.

So we’ll have to get Sean Penn down off of his soapbox to play the part. Nobody broods and mumbles as artfully as Mr. Spicoli. His ability to seem rugged yet vulnerable makes him the perfect choice to play a hardened character who douses his melting heart with alcohol.

For the role of the anonymous dame who stirs Tom’s imagination, it’s tempting to go with Angelina Jolie or Amanda Peet. Of course, if I were casting the role of Eleanor in an FDR biopic, I’d be tempted to sign-up Angelina or Amanda. The more movies these two are in, the better for all of us.** Although it pains me to say this, perhaps we shouldn’t let infatuation interfere with the artistic integrity of the production.

Faye Dunaway has to be considered based on the strength of her performance as Wanda in Barfly. She was a drunken mess of emotions in that film, but we need someone with an outward appearance of grace that only hints at an inner turmoil.

Ellen Barkin, she of the wide-set eyes and crooked smile, has an offbeat sexiness that would shine through in even the dimmest and smoke-filled of bars. She’s also a bit crazy, a trait that comes through in all of her roles. I could believe that Tom would fall for her. He’d think her approachable if he could just bottled-up enough courage, yet unattainable enough that he would never make it off of his stool.

The only other role that could reasonably be written-in to the film would be that of the bartender.

We could go the comedic cameo route and cast Woody Harrelson, but that would be too jokey and distracting. Steve Buscemi is always great at bringing eccentricity and peculiarity to nondescript roles such as this. But this is Seymour Cassel’s part to lose. If you walked into some seedy tavern tonight and saw him tending bar, even if you did recognize him from Rushmore or the Royal Tenenbaums, you wouldn’t think it odd when he poured you a rye and asked about that shiner under your left eye.

And that’s my little attempt at artistic interpretation for this week. After writing this, it occurred to me that it would be easier to write about songs that I despise. Believe you me; I have quite a few things to say about the lyrics to that inane James Blunt song.

*The title comes from my favorite collection of short stories, written by Raymond Carver.

** See what I mean