Know Kidding
December 22, 2005
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New Jersey Searching for a New Handle

It seems the folks in the Garden State have finally disabused themselves of the notion that their particular slice of paradise enjoys that blend of attributes most closely associated with the term "garden".  You know - fresh air, trees, grass, small woodland creatures.  Simple stuff like that.  All absent, at least on that iconic stretch of the NJ Turnpike that passes from New Brunswick clear through to the New York State line.  
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New Jersey:  Can't Live With It, Can't Live Without It – If Tony Soprano was asked his opinion, this is probably what he'd come up with.  It expresses the sort of angst-ridden resignation that would drive an otherwise normal crime boss to the shrink's couch.  Something New Jersey does to those that come from less hardy stock.  And it's an appropriate handle for the final resting place of Jimmy Hoffa.  
The Truth Will Set You Free
New Jersey:  We're Workin' On It – People like honesty, and everybody knows New Jersey has an image problem.  So my advice to the Governor is to just fess up and let folks know that you know?  It makes them feel like you care even if you don't.  And you don't really have to do anything - just saying you're doing something will convince some fools that you're really serious about it.  Supplement the slogan with a liberal dose of yellow "Work In Progress" signs around the state and the sense of a thriving self-improvement program is unmistakable.  People will flock to the state just because they feel sorry for you. 
While it might seem like this obvious conclusion was a long time in coming, as a former Garden Stater myself I suspect that many of my previous neighbors realized they were on shaky ground long ago and just didn't want to rock the boat.  We all knew this day was coming.

Since New Jersey is part of the republic, and their state constitution adheres to many of the democratic traditions of its federal cousin, their first instinct was to ask the people of the state for ideas.  Tough crowd.  And a crowd that knows whereof it speaks.  One resident took ruthless aim at the ludicrous "garden" moniker, suggesting "Come to New Jersey - It's Not as Bad As It Smells."  That stretch of the Turnpike I was telling you about really reeks.  And let's not leave out that NJ reputation for corrupt hacks, which is summed up nicely in this entry:  "New Jersey:  We Can Always Use Another Relative on the Payroll."  

Not satisfied with this clutter from the rabble, the Governor hired a consultant, paying him $260,000 to suggest "New Jersey:  We'll Win You Over."  That's like saying "New Jersey:  Give Us Another Chance!".  Great slogan if your state has an inferiority complex, but somewhat lacking in the confidence and grace normally associated with vacation magnets.  Really, New Jersey's not that bad.  I know.

Somehow the Governor wrung a few promising candidates from his cynical, cranky constituents and these have made it to a list of finalists.  Here they are, along with a few caustic asides from yours truly:

Well, I was thinking, if some consultant can get $260K for coming up with something crappy like "New Jersey:  We'll Win You Over", why can't I take a stab at this?  Here's what I came up with:
It's Worse Than I Thought!
Not Happy In NJ? We Can Fix That
New Jersey:  Give Us A Break For God's Sake – If all else fails a blatant appeal to pity can't hurt.  Most people already sympathize with the poor residents of New Jersey, so they probably won't mind dropping in and spending a few vacation bucks if it means helping out a neighbor in need.  New Jersey residents will have to be given proper welcome training, though.  Wouldn't want to mix the "Give Us A Break" message with the usual "Screw You" message that is common in Jersey.
Pretty Please?
New Jersey:  Get Over It – Well, I guess there is one last option.  Just admit you suck and stiff-arm potential vacationers.  There are people out there that are submissive by nature and will respond to this perceived threat, especially when it comes from a state with Jersey's reputation for dealing with troublemakers.  Care to keep those knees?  That brings us back to Tony (see first idea). 
Got A Problem With That?
December 27, 2005
Next Time Take The Train
Pastor's Wife Loses Cool

Seems like the "smiling Pastor" has something to frown about.  Joel Osteen, whose syrupy, saccharine brand of evangelism is sweeping the nation, has a bitchy wife.  Here, you be the judge.

They're taking their seats in the first class cabin of a holiday flight to Vail for a little family getaway when Victoria (that's her name) noticed some leftover liquid residue on her seat.  Unaccustomed to doing anything quite that messy for herself, she immediately consulted a flight attendant, who 
asked her to wait patiently while she tended to a more pressing matter.  Patience is also something Ms. Osteen rarely comes into contact with, and she really wanted to sit down bad, so she grabbed another flight attendant by the wrist and insisted on immediate service.  Bad move.  Assaulting a flight attendant may be OK in heaven, but down here it's a felony.  F-E-L-O-N-Y.  

Ms. Osteen was whisked off the plane along with her brood (Pastor included), where they moped in the departure lounge until a charter flight could be arranged to take them to their destination.  Their spokesman, Don Iloff, had a much milder spin to put on it:  "In semantics, they might have been asked to be removed.  Really, it was more of a mutual thing."  Who are the parties involved in this "mutuality"?  I suspect it came down to something as direct as "Leave nicely before we have your asses hauled off the plane in handcuffs."  I'd be inclined to follow instructions at that point too.

What's this guy doing going to Vail the day after Christmas?  He's the spiritual leader of the largest church in the nation.   Wouldn't you think he'd stick around awhile and celebrate the anniversary of our savior's arrival with his parishioners?  There are a few more things you need to know about this guy to get the big picture.

I picked up a copy of the Pastor's recent bestseller - "Your Best Life Now" - where he espouses a form of Christianity that encourages believers to have faith that God is watching out for them exclusively.  Wait a minute - wasn't it Jesus that said that only two things really matter - love your God and love your neighbor?  I don't remember anything about loving God because you'll get good stuff for Christmas, or a good parking spot, or special attention when trying to stow extra baggage in the overhead compartments on a crowded flight (the last two are real examples from the book).  This guy is preaching an evangelism of entitlement.

When a book is brimming with inane anecdotes like this it's hard to pick a favorite, so I just pulled out my copy and opened to a random page.  I wasn't disappointed.  Osteen describes one of those boys-will-be-boys stories in which he gets pulled over for speeding in the town that his father was preaching in.  The trooper eyes Osteen warily and asks him if he is related to the preacher.  Never one to question authority, the wimpy Osteen says "It all depends on whether you like him or not."  Evidently he would have sold his father's soul to escape a citation.  Luckily his father's preaching satisfies the local PD, and Joel's wish (er, prayer) was granted.  Then he closes the thing out by saying "The point is, of course, that I received preferential treatment, not because of me, but because of my father."  And he doesn't mean the Holy Father, either.  I think this guy is missing something profound.

Victoria show up in the book a lot too, and it didn't take me long to find a ridiculous anecdote that involves her.  You see, Victoria loves to shop.  One day she was shopping with the Pastor and picked out "a few items" and, when Joel went to the register to pay the cashier discretely informed him that the stuff was going to be on sale in a day or so, so she might as well give him the sale price.  Then she found something wrong with one of the garments and gave him another discount.  Joel thinks this is Gods favor working to make his life easier.  I think God has more important things to worry about, and Joel just happened to run into a nice cashier.  I'll bet Victoria was beside herself when she found out that he bought a damaged item for her. 
December 28, 2005
Got Milk?

Goodbye fiber, hello Vitamin D.  Researchers now say you should chug an extra glass of the white stuff in the morning to fortify your body against those nasty cancer germs (or whatever it is that causes cancer).  Oddly enough, Vitamin D seems to work only on colon, ovarian and breast cancers.  Wouldn't you think it would be good for bone cancer?  That's for next week's news.

This new development was discovered by a couple of scientists pawing over 64 studies that had previously been completed.  These guys did no original work of their own - it's like the Cliff's Notes of science.  And if these studies have been lying around just waiting for a PhD with a flair for investigative science, why are we just now hearing about it?  

And what's the best way to supplement your daily intake?  No, it's not an extra glass or two of milk, which would add to our nation's existing obesity epidemic.  The same theorists that found the Vitamin D link are advising people to spend more time in the sun - the human body becomes a Vitamin D factory when soaking up the rays.  Be careful, though - too much sunlight can cause skin cancer.  Oh, and high doses of Vitamin D are toxic and may cause an excess of calcium in the blood - extreme cases may lead to death.  

Isn't healthy living fun!
January 5, 2006
Step Right Up!

Today's Washington Post contains the surprising finding that average people will actually pay money to enjoy a grim spectacle, particularly if it makes their own dismal situation in life look rosey by comparison.  The Post couldn't have said it better:  
"Mountains of debris, collapsing houses, a weather-ravaged stadium: It's yours for $35 per person ($28 for children)."  

Some people might say this is comparable to honoring the fallen at Ground Zero after 9/11.  Folks would visit the site and come to terms with the loss.  It was a form of therapy.

This is different.  After 9/11, most folks held off for a polite interval - at least until the rubble was removed and families of the dead had a chance to grieve in peace.  I don't remember anybody charging admission to see the smoking ruins.  New Orleans is a place that is still coming to terms with its new reality.  Even as life goes on in the French Quarter, large swaths of the city and surrounding parishes remain uninhabitable.  There is institutional uncertainty about what to tear down, what to rebuild, and what to give up on altogether.  Former residents are cast far and wide.  I was there a few weeks ago and, believe me, this is a place that is not being rebuilt - it's being built.  Big difference.

Charging rubberneckers to take a cruise through the lower ninth ward in an air conditioned coach is like selling pieces of the collapsed World Trade Center.  There is nothing to be learned here.  This is eye candy for the morbid.

At least it's a local company that is reaping the benefit.  Gray Line New Orleans is the carrier, and they'll be happy to take you on a "three-hour bus tour of the devastation."  I recall another "three hour tour" that ended badly - this one with castaways and Ginger (well, I was always a Mary Ann guy myself).  What a wonderful twist if our Katrina cruisers were to get lost in the lower ninth, never to be heard from again!  Serves 'em right.

In a sign that all is not lost, some cruisers are showing signs of remorse:  "I felt guilty about going out and looking, but it's something we had to do," said Toni Stone of Harrisonburg, Va.  Really, Toni - did you have to?

Get The Picture?