Sunday, February 26, 2006

Governor "Smith" Goes to Comedy Central

In Bernie Schoenburg’s column today, he casts light on the dubious number of new Illinois jobs that Governor Blagojevich is claiming will be created by his proposed capital program. The media has become seasoned to his administration’s penchant for passing on their version of the truth as they would like it to be, rather than what the facts support. That’s why I’m surprised that they are taking the governor at his word when he says he didn’t know that “The Daily Show” was a comedy program.

If you’re not up on the story, Blagojevich appeared on the faux news program to discuss his executive order concerning contraceptives. At one point during the segment that was filled with blatantly absurd questions and comical asides, the governor looked to someone off camera and asks “Is he teasing me, or is that legit?” In a later interview with a St. Louis newspaper, Blagojevich “admitted” that he was unaware that it was a comedy program.

The governor is now good-naturedly taking a ribbing for his supposed naivety. While some in the media have questioned how anyone, especially someone with a staff of media-savvy advisors, could unwittingly wander onto the set at Comedy Central and think he was at PBS, most are taking Blagojevich at his word. Please!

Allow me to conjecture a bit on what really happened.

There are two ways that politicians have approached their appearances on “The Daily Show,” and neither one of them had them coming out looking particularly good.

The first approach was to maintain the pose of a serious statesman. Before the show became immensely popular (more on that later), much of the comedy was based on the duping of stuffed-shirt politicos. No matter how ridiculous the line of questioning became, the guests would stick to their prepared talking points and maintain an air of seriousness. They came across as humorless stiffs while the country had a good laugh at their expense.

Eventually everyone in the political arena became wise to the show’s ruse. But it was drawing such great ratings and had developed such significant cachet that politicians were still drawn to its spotlight. So they tried another approach.

Guests would come on and try to be part of the comedy, demonstrating not only that they were down with one of the hippest shows on television, but that they also weren’t above laughing at themselves. Just like the Hollywood types who appear on Letterman and read a Top Ten list that their publicist had prepared, many of the politicians bombed miserably. The correspondents on “The Daily Show” are professionals. They’ve spent years honing their comedic chops and when they sense that an amateur is attempting to match wits with them, they tear them apart. So instead of coming across as stiffs, they came across as dopes.

The Blagojevich people, aware of the damage that could be inflicted upon their boss’ image, staked out a middle ground. Their man would pretend to be oblivious to the show’s format, but in a charmingly innocent way. When things went over the top, he recognized that they were having him on, not wanting to appear dim, while affecting a light air, so as not to appear humorless. All in all not a bad approach, except for one thing.

It is almost inconceivable that Blagojevich didn’t know beforehand that “The Daily Show” is a comedy news program. It is totally inconceivable that no one on his staff briefed him on this fact.

“The Daily Show” has not only been one of the hottest shows on television, it also played a significant and well-publicized role during the last presidential election. Jon Stewart, the show’s host, has appeared on the covers of both Time and Newsweek. Next month, he will host the Academy Awards, a gig that is seldom given to obscure public figures.

I suppose that we are to believe that Blagojevich is too occupied attending to the people's business to watch television. That he and his intimates socialize in Proustian salons, matching intellects and bemoaning the state of popular culture that is so déclassé that they wouldn't deign to expose themselves to it. But if this were true, how do you explain the Elvis crush?

Clearly this little TV charade of his is of minimal importance compared with other sleights of tongue Blagojevich rolls out when citing his record or pushing a bill. This just makes it all the more bewildering that he would perpetrate it. It's a sad day when our governor makes Rob Corddry seem sincere and not at all weird.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Sympathy for the Devil?

An AP story in today’s SJ-R reports on the postponement of the execution of Michael Morales in California due to the state’s inability to comply with a federal order to administer the lethal injection in a manner that would ensure that he would not experience pain. Ben Weston, one of the prisoner’s attorneys, said that the postponement was proof that the state hasn’t yet figured out how to humanely carry out an execution. As someone familiar with the details of the crime that landed Morales on death row, Weston should know well just how difficult it can be to kill someone.

According to reports, Morales tried to strangle his victim, a 17-year-old girl named Terri Winchell, with a belt, but it broke during the struggle. He then beat her with a hammer, leaving 23 identifiable wounds in her skull. After dragging her into a vineyard, Morales raped the girl as she lay dying, and then stabbed her four times in the chest to make sure she was dead. Morales and his cousin Rick Ortega had planned the girl’s murder for weeks as “pay back” for the girl having dated a boy that Ortega was previously involved with. There have been no reports of Mike Farrell attempting to intervene on the girl’s behalf before the execution took place.

Readers of the AP story might be surprised by these grisly facts, because they weren’t included in the story. Neither was the name or age of his victim. The only mention of Morales’ crime was identifying him as a condemned killer, a factual description but one that fails to do justice to the reality of the situation.

I’m not suggesting that by not including the nature of his crime and only reporting on the ethical dilemmas and difficulties associated with state-sponsored executions, that this a liberal media conspiracy to sway public opinion. I do think, however, that it does provide the public with an incomplete picture of a situation involving one of the most contentious domestic issues that our country is faced with.

I’m conflicted over the death penalty. My instinct is that government-sponsored executions aren’t good for society. There is also the possibility that an innocent person could be put to death, although that possibility has become increasingly improbable with the introduction of better crime-solving techniques. But almost invariably, when I read the accounts of the crimes that have landed people in the chair or on the gurney, I can’t manage any sympathy for their plight nor can I imagine how society is better served by imprisoning them for the rest of their natural lives.

Even though I won’t be participating in any candlelight vigils, I wouldn’t be distraught if the death penalty were made illegal, provided that it is replaced with just punishment. This punishment wouldn’t involve lounging around a prison cell, lifting weights, and fending-off the occasional shank. It would involve a sentence that takes a lax view on what constitutes “cruel and unusual” and causes the convicted to long for the sweet release that comes from a lethal dose of barbiturate.

I believe that every person is born with the right to life and liberty, but that those rights aren’t inalienable. The point at which they should be forfeited is unclear. In Morales case, however, by the time he had delivered over 20 deathblows and made the decision to continue on with his homicidal pursuit, it is all too clear that he had crossed over the line that separates man from beast.

Ayn Rand once wrote that "pity for the guilty is treason to the innocent." To some, especially those put-off by Rand’s anti-egalitarian philosophy, her pronouncement may seem to be void of human compassion. But for many, absolute denunciation is an essential element of justice in murder cases and to qualify it in anyway is also to forgive it to some degree.

In the article previously mentioned, a prison official relayed that Morales smiled when told of his reprieve. How anguishing it must be for the family of the victim to learn that he can still experience moments of joy, 25 years after he cruelly, senselessly, and permanently extinguished the joy in her. How betrayed they must feel by all of the people who are working passionately and tirelessly, the same effort that Morales put into committing murder, to see that he lives a full life.

I don’t doubt the good intentions of Farrell, Sr. Helen Prejean, other death penalty opponents. They obviously believe that since it is too late to save the victim, their sympathy should lie with the condemned. I just happen to believe that society is no longer responsible for the well-being of people such as Morales. He sealed his own fate when he planned and brutally murdered Terri Winchell.

Friday, February 17, 2006

From the Treadmill: Best in Show

In honor of this week’s Westminster Kennel Club show, and in memory* of that little whippet who became lost in New York’s JFK airport, this week from the treadmill we review “Best in Show.” This mockumentary, or should I say, “dogumentary”, deftly skewers the world of purebred canines and their fanatical masters.

Directed by Christopher Guest, this is the second of his trilogy of fake documentaries that also includes “Waiting for Guffman” and “A Mighty Wind” (“This is Spinal Tap” which Guest starred in and co-wrote was directed by Rob Reiner.) As with all of these films, the actors are given free reign to improvise and although there is a storyline, it’s the comedic talents of the ensemble that keep things howling.

Fred Willard once again plays a buffoonish but well-intentioned clod who is incognizant of the inappropriateness of many of his comments.** Here he plays Buck Laughlin, TV play-by-play man for the big event. Throughout the show, he torments the broadcast’s color commentator, a sober dog expert, by cracking jokes about taking a Shih Tzu on a plane and suggesting that a pin-up calendar of women bathing their dogs (think "Cool Hand Luke") would be a good way to make some fast dough. When an unruly dog lunges for a judge during competition, Buck remarks, “She went after her like she was made out of ham.”

Also stealing the show is John Michael Higgins as Scott Donlan, a dog handler of a certain ‘persuasion’ who has never met a double entendre that he could resist. Truly in his element at the butcher's shop early in the film, he vamps his way through the entire film, dissecting his surroundings with a wicked wit while displaying a weakness for sexual innuendo. Upon learning that the hotel manager is of German/Irish descent (he’s not from “Norland” as first suspected), Scott swoons over visions of bratwurst and shillelaghs before trying to douse his subconscious by “paging Dr. Freud.”

The other characters who meet in Philadelphia for the Mayflower dog show are a zany mix of canine extremists and the weary dogs that must abide them:

Stefan Vanderhoof is Scott’s “euphemism”, a formerly married man who switched teams for the love of a Shih Tzu.

Christy Cummings is a Type A personality who favors short hair and sharply tailored suits, and nicknames the prized poodle that she handles, “Butch” (hint, hint).

Christie works for Sheri Ann Ward Cabot, the trophy wife of an elderly tycoon. Sheri Ann has found in Christie the young, strapping lover for which she has pined.

Cookie and Gerry Fleck are a happy couple from Florida, free of the pretense that surrounds a celebration of pure ancestry. A delinquent credit card forces them to accept accommodations in the hotel’s utility closet, an indignity that they will overcome by show’s end. Gerry, by the way, has two left feet . . . literally.

Max Berman is Cookie’s lecherous ex-lover, one of the hundreds in her past and one of several who intermittently appear in the film to graphically reminisce over past trysts, much to the chagrin of Gerry.

Harlan Pepper is a simple and honest North Carolina bait shop owner who, with his bloodhound Hubert, has a keen sense of the neurosis that surrounds the blueblood event. In addition to showing Hubert, Harlan enjoys ventriloquism and can recite from memory a long list of various nuts.

The dog who inspired Buck’s ham comment is owned by Hamilton and Meg Swan - two uptight, J. Crew-loving, therapist-dependent Yuppies whose constant bickering causes their prized Weimaraner to act out during competition, leading to her dismissal.

It’s to Guest’s credit as director that even though the characters are all ridiculous, most of them are quite likable (save Meg and Ham.) As is true in all of his films, “Best in Show” satirizes its target without being brutal or hateful.

To crib a line from Marty DiBergi, "Best in Show" captures the sights . . . the sounds . . . the smells of a blue ribbon dog show. But hey, enough of my yakkin'; whadda ya say? Go rent it today.

*Although her fate is still unknown, I would imagine that a dog named Champion Bohem C’est La Vie (aka: Vivi) probably lacks the survival skills necessary to make it in such an environment and assume that she has met her demise as the result of, if nothing else, pampering deprivation.

**On the fake, late night TV talk show, “Fernwood Tonight”, Willard played a low-rent Ed McMahon to Martin Mull’s low-rent Johnny Carson. In one of his greater lines, Willard once complimented a comedian who just came over to the couch after doing a set by saying, with all sincerity, that he “could barely keep from laughing.”

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Ain't No Diamond Like the One I Bought

Jewelers are a cunning bunch, quite astute in associating a pricey diamond with such hard-for-men to express emotions such as love, gratitude, and atonement. They also like to set themselves up as champions of a woman's need and right to be appreciated. But listen closer to their advertisements, and I think that you will agree that they are actually demeaning those they would presume to esteem.

I heard a radio spot today that encouraged helpless saps to purchase a "right hand ring" for their beloved lest this Valentine's Day go down as the worst since Bugs Moran lost seven of his men to a decidedly unsentimental Al Capone.

The "right-hand ring" business, I would guess, is to combat any ill-conceived notions that slipping that ring on her finger at the altar signals the end of a man's diamond buying days. Not a bad pitch, I suppose. Certainly better than trying to hawk birthstone's in August with the slogan: "Peridot for Pointer."*

What turned me off to the ad was the tag: "Show her you really know her."

And just who exactly is she? Well if jewelers are to be believed, she is a materialistic harpy who will accept no less than a diamond ring that costs the equivalent of three paychecks, mortgage and car payments be damned.

Men don't fare any better in the ads. We've bought into the notion that not only are we from Mars, but that we are basically no-good shlubs who can't connect with women on any real level, but are saved from extinction because we can be easily coerced into producing a credit card the day before a holiday.

Women, on the other hand, they are totally unaware that by accepting the gift of a diamond, they are conforming to the stereotype that they are just a bunch of gold diggers.

A television ad that ran recently supports my position that jewelers are playing both sides for fools. In it, a man, inspired by an uncontrollable passion, spontaneously and unabashedly proclaims his love for his woman for all to hear. Seldom has a truer proclamation of adoration been heard in a 30-second television ad. And how does the woman respond to this outpouring of emotion? She's embarrassed, obviously wishing that she were married to George Clooney, someone suave and sophisticated who wouldn't humiliate her with such histrionics. That is, she's embarrassed until her man lays some "ice" on her, then she is moved to tears and reciprocates with a declaration of love to him, an emotion that she couldn't seem to muster without the sparkle of a diamond to move her soul.

Excuse me if I don't share this dim view of womankind. Instead, I agree with the Four Tops in their song "Ain't No Woman (Like the One I Got), which along with expressing such adoring sentiments as,

Every day the sun comes up around her.
She can make the birds sing harmony.

also acknowledges that women aren't the bourgeois princesses that Zales would have us believe,

She don't ask for things, no diamond rings.

Be careful, however. If you use this song to serenade your sweetheart, you must cough loudly when they get to the line that goes, "cause it's my word, my word she'll obey." Otherwise, you'll find yourself at Tobin's quicker than you can say "one diamond right-hand ring, please!"

*Inspired by the children's classic, "Where is Thumbkin?"

Thursday, February 09, 2006

Special Automotive Edition

Not Your Huckleberry Friend

Probably unbeknownst to most of you, when we bloggers sign-up for our free software, we must agree to act as consumer crusaders and use our miniscule influence to alert the public to acts of commercial malfeasance. So it is with a great sense of duty that I blow the whistle on Huck’s Convenience Stores. Those accused gas gougers are at it again, this time perpetrating a scheme that is as sickening as a 64oz. Slurpee.

At their store earlier today, I had just finished swiping my debit card at the pump, denied their presumptuous invitation to have my car washed, and was about to select a blend, when - everything that I had ever learned about gas transactions was turned topsy-turvy.

At Huck’s, as at most gas stations, three grades of non-diesel fuel are offered. Two of them are usually designer or premium blends, while the third can best be characterized as generic. Huck’s has branded their offerings: The "Hot One" (Premium), "Sure Fire" (Super), and "Regular." The first two are displayed amidst red and yellow flames, while the third is generic white. The fiery imagery must play well with their target market, but I find it a tad disconcerting when handling combustible liquids.

It is customary and right that the designer brands occupy the first two positions on the pump, and the generic is on the furthest most right. It is also customary, and equally right, that the generic brand be the cheapest and the one that’s price is featured on their signs.

So traditional is this model that the many of us, more concerned with saving money than the supposed benefits of octane, automatically reach to the right when pump-side. If we do bother to check more closely, it is usually just to look for the handle that is simply labeled: “Regular,” with no resplendent qualifiers or infernal references. You could once feel comfortable that proceeding in such a trusting manner would get you the most fuel for your petrol dollar. But not anymore.

Those hucksters at Huck’s are playing a shell game with their gas, in hopes of deceiving customers into purchasing a more expensive blend. They are hiding the cheapest blend in the center spot and giving it a fancy-schmancy name (Super Fire) to throw-off the thrifty. Meanwhile, their humble-looking unleaded brand is a full dime more expensive.

What explanation could there possibly be for charging less for their "Super" blend than for the "Regular" other than out and out chicanery? I aim to find out.

I will email their corporate headquarters and relay my suspicions that they are up to no good. To ensure that they don't take my inquiry lightly, I will write it in such a way so as to appear slightly unhinged and therefore potentially dangerous – sort of like how I write my blog posts. With any luck, a Lazlo Toth*-like correspondence will develop, which I will share with you the reader.

Fools of the Road

In Paul Povse's column today, he hits on a growing trend among bad drivers, and does so quite eloquently.

It goes like this.

You'll be cruising down a thoroughfare when you notice up ahead, a car approaching from a side street. The car doesn't appear to be slowing down as it approaches the stop sign. You prepare to swerve out of the way. As you get nearer, the car does slow but continues to creep out as it prepares to turn on to the main road. It's almost as if they can't wait to start tailgating you so they try to time their turn so that the front of their bumper touches the rear of yours as you pass. To come to a complete stop, apparently, would cost them a few seconds that they just can't afford to waste.

Patience is a virtue, and it's threatening to become a vestige as well.

*Lazlo Toth was a character created by Don Novello (aka Fr. Guido Saducci.) He authored a book, "The Lazlo Letters," that contained comically bizarre letters that he had sent to various businesses, organizations, politicians, and others. Each letter was followed by the straight-forward responses he received. Often his queries would develop into lengthy a correspondence until the person on the other end caught on to the joke, or finally just dismissed Mr.Toth as a complete loony whose good will they no longer wished to maintain. It's a very funny book. I suppose that Lazlo sort of set the stage for the correspondents on the Daily Show, before people had come to recognize them and would take their satirical questions seriously.

Tuesday, February 07, 2006


Every so often while reading the morning newspaper, a small story tucked somewhere deep inside will make the biggest impression. Such was the case this morning when Item Three in Police Beat recapped the exploits of a serial shoplifter and his unlawful quest for SPAM.

Since I lack the investigative chops to dig deeper into the story, I'm left to speculate what brought this man to such a lowly fate.

What really threw me upon reading the report, and what is surely puzzling you now as well, is the unlikelihood that SPAM would be the target of a heist. Granted convenience stores aren’t exactly a cornucopia of fine foods. But it seems out of character for this potted meat stuff to be acquired in such manner.

What SPAM may lack in taste and Food Network cachet, it more than makes up for in salt-of-the-Earth appeal. It is the meal of necessity for pull-yourself-up-by-the-bootstraps types, those honest folks who will go to any length, including eating SPAM, to provide for their brood. But it is unsuitable to criminals who seek to attain a higher standard of living without exerting the blood, sweat, and tears normally required to rise out of poverty.

Those who turn to crime usually set their sights a little higher up the meat chain. Knowing that incarceration will eventually reduce them to daily servings of gruel, they enjoy their fleeting freedom feasting on pilfered beef jerky or perhaps a nice can of sardines. Even Underwood Deviled Ham is a more likely target for cons on the lam looking to live it up on the outside.

I suppose some might look at this crime as an indictment on our present day society where even the lowliest of meat products are priced out of the reach of the lower class. But I'm not buying it.

Given the time that the incident went down, just before midnight on Super Bowl Sunday, it's clear that the accused wasn't scavenging for a meal to take home to his family who sat huddled and hungry upon a dirt floor, desperately awaiting their provider's return. If this were the case, I would lead the call for amnesty at once.

No, this was obviously a Seahawk fan making good on one of those non-monetary bets where the loser has to perform an absurd and reckless act. The Police Beat report doesn't provide details on his previous shoplifting charge, but I wouldn't be surprised if he were caught trying to stuff microwavable pork rinds down his pants shortly after the White Sox closed out Game Four of the World Series.

Friday, February 03, 2006

From the Treadmill: Slacker*

When in Chicago, are you the type that likes to sit at a sidewalk café and just observe people as they walk by? At work, do you get a bigger chuckle when a co-worker utters a malapropism or exhibits some quirky tendency than if they were to fall face first into the coffee cart? If you answered yes to either of these questions, then do I have a movie for you.

This week From the Treadmill, we take a look at Slacker, a 1991 film directed by Richard Linklater who went on to direct the wonderful retro 70s flick: Dazed and Confused.

Slacker was shot in Austin, Texas on an infinitesimal budget of $36,000. This feat can be attributed in large part to the fact that many of the characters were played by non actors, mostly kids in their twenties who were living on the alternative fringe of the university town.

The movie is loosely structured and there is no apparent central plot. The camera follows a character around for a bit before turning its attention to a passerby and giving us a glimpse of that person’s life. There is one dramatic moment early in the film, but mostly it shows the type of activities that everyone engages in everyday, but that most movies find too banal to devote screen time to.

There are two types of slackers in Slacker. Those who use their self-imposed freedom from societal constraints to indulge fully their eccentricities, and those who are getting the creeping feeling that that freedom is taking a toll on their well-being, yet they cling to it for fear of becoming what they despise. What they despise is gainful employment as testified by one of the movies more memorable lines: “Sure I live bad. But at least I don't have to work to do it.”

Among the extreme eccentrics include a shut-in whose apartment is packed-filled with flickering television sets, a spirited lass trying to hock a specimen jar supposedly containing Madonna’s Pap smear, and my favorite: a JFK conspiracy theorist.

In an independent bookstore, the grassy-knoll buff accosts a woman he recognizes from a past literature class who had the misfortune of browsing through a book on JFK as he was passing by. Mistaking her mild interest in the subject for a fascination that rivals his own, he delivers a dissertation on competing conspiracy theories before plugging the book on the subject that he is writing that will be titled either “Profiles in Cowardice” or “Conspiracy a Go-Go.”

Some of the eccentrics have progressed towards full-blown dementia. A bearded man trails a stranger for several blocks, giving him the low down on the CIA’s extensive activities on the moon since 1962. (Spoiler Alert! It includes kidnapping lackeys here on Earth to do the grunt work in space.)

Among the disillusioned, the characters mainly concern themselves with discussing society’s ills while exhibiting no real motivation for doing anything other than hanging out or going to movies. One languid lad disengages himself from a conversation by saying that he has to mosey along because he has “band practice, in like, five hours.”

“Mosey” is an apt description of the pace in which the characters’ lives transpire. And for them, a single appointment still five hours in the future does make for a hectic day.

Despite the gloomy outlook of many of the characters, each scene contains a comic element in the form of a quirky gesture or an unintentionally funny line. The movie’s energy comes from its structure of following divergent paths as characters briefly catch the camera’s eye before being sent off down the road less filmed.

Although it is a very funny film, its content is ripe for dissection by sociologists and academics. It is also popular in film schools.

At a gathering celebrating the 10th anniversary of the film, footage of which is included as a DVD extra, one of the performers says that on the rare occasions when he gets recognized in public, it is invariably by a film student.

Slacker does require your full attention in order to appreciate its subtle wit and meticulous eye, but it is by no means inaccessible nor is it arty for arty's sake.

In the movie, the shut-in who collects televisions explains how viewing life through video recordings is better than witnessing it in real life because it is easier to pick up on the details and you can rewind things you may have missed the first time. That's the viewpoint that Linklater achieves with this film.

So if you enjoy people-watching, but also suffer from agoraphobia, Slacker is the movie for you.

*Thanks to my nephew Paco who gave me the collector's edition DVD of Slacker for Christmas. Without him, this blog post would not have been possible.

Thursday, February 02, 2006

Circus, Circus

When last we met, I was disparaging the circus industry and their tendency towards connivance. I failed to mention a circus experience I once had that touched me deeply, and no, it didn’t involve a bearded lady.

While in college, an authentic Chinese circus came to town and I was on the student activities committee assigned to the event. The performance was truly astounding, what with the flipping and the balancing and the contorting and the Kung Fu fighting.* But the thing that is etched in my mind about that evening occurred as we were assisting the troupe in loading their equipment back on the bus.

The performers were expressionless as they scurried to and fro, resembling an army of ants hard at work on a hill. They were silent and did not make eye contact with us, the Occidental college students, or each other. Occasionally, instructions were barked out, to no one in particular, but nary a response or affirmation was heard.

Could it be that the ability to balance themselves atop a stack of chairs stretching 50 feet in the air instilled in them an arrogance that one would expect from a Manhattan debutante? They certainly didn’t seem the snooty type.

Once all of the equipment was stowed upon the bus and the troupe began to board, the scene suddenly transformed itself. Several of the performers stopped in their hurried tracks. They turned toward us students, smiles beaming across their faces, and waved and gestured their well wishes across the language barrier. They weren’t stuck-up after all.

It occurred to me, as the departing bus shrouded me in diesel fumes, that one of two things had accounted for what I had just witnessed.

Either the performers had been allowed a brief moment of time, once their work was through, to be themselves and interact in a way that befits their social nature.

Or, the “Fond Farewell” was all part of the act. Those that had stopped and waved perhaps had been selected for that duty because they had exhibited a pleasant demeanor as children, before they had been whisked away to join the circus and serve as representatives of the motherland’s rich culture.

Either way, it was rather sad. Despite the color they exhibited on stage, the performers seemed joyless afterwards, save for that one brief moment. I felt sorry for them, in the way that people do when they project their own percepts of happiness onto others.

That evening had a profound effect on me. Not so much so that I went out and joined Amnesty International. But later that night at a party, I do recall sharing the experience with a young lady who mistook my humanitarian concern for a lame attempt to pick her up. Man, some people are just too . . . perceptive.

*For maximum enjoyment, try to imagine the Simpson’s Professor John Frink File reciting this sentence.