Archive for February, 2009

Saying Goodbye

Posted in Personal on February 27, 2009 by thelasthonestman

I intended to post an update on some odd and end goings on this afternoon, but real life has unfortuantely intervened.  My aunt, who I had talked about a little bit earlier, passed away this afternoon.

We knew she was in bad shape, but even knowing that her time was short, I’m sitting here this evening stunned.  My wife and I were going to visit with her this weekend, but that’s not going to be, obviously.  I feel like I didn’t get a chance to say some sort of proper good-bye before she went, and I’m already angry with myself over it.  I had asked other relatives how long they thought she had, and I’d been reassured that she’d at least have a few weeks;  I don’t blame them for me not going to visit sooner this week, I blame myself — I should have gone as soon as possible, whether my wife was with me or not (she’d been working so much this past week, so Saturday was going to be the only day we could go see her together).  I don’t have any excuse for not doing so.  That, I’ll have to live with — maybe my experience will be a reminder for everyone else to never count on what’s obviously borrowed time for us all.

Thank you again for everyone who kept her in your prayers.  I thought I’d have something more profound to share with people when this happened, but I don’t.  I wish I did.  All I have are regrets and memories and emotions all jumbling around my head and my heart, and I need to sort all of them out first.  So I’m just going to sit here in the silence of my home for the rest of the night and think.

It”s all I can do right now.

It’s all I want to do.

At least for tonight.

Tomorrow, I’ll start to move forward again.  Tuesday, I’ll say good-bye to my aunt for the last time — and I’ll hope for the day we’ll see each other again in a better place.

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Stock My Bar — Otherwise Known As “Audience Participation Time!”

Posted in Personal on February 26, 2009 by thelasthonestman

Well, there’s been enough gloom and doom around here lately, so I thought I’d lighten the mood up somewhat by talking about everyone’s favorite subject (or one of them, at least) — alcohol!

As my friends are well aware, I bartended for nearly seven years back during my college/young adult days.  And as those who know about my home renovation are also aware, one of the additions to my home is — you guessed it — a full service bar.  Cue up the music and the dancing girls — let’s party!

But wait — you can’t have a bar without the alcohol to stock it.  Frankly, I don’t drink but rarely, so it’s not like I already own a large number of bottles waiting to find their place on my brand-new, empty shelves.  And alcohol, particularly the good stuff, doesn’t come cheaply, so it’s not like I can buy anything and everything.  So with so many options available and no way to get them all, what’s it going to be?

This is where you, my faithful (and possibly sober) followers come into play.  I’m going to be trying to stock at least two different brands of each types of liquor (two vodkas, two rums, etc.) — unless I feel the clear need, out of necessity to have the proper elements on hand, to go with more than two.  How best to decide what to go with than to throw things open to a democratic vote?  A reminder that some of you have the opportunity to be sitting at this bar in the future, so vote carefully!

Polls are below (with appropriate “Margaritaville-like backdrops”).  Vote early — before you’ve had too much to drink yourselves!  The highest two vote-getters will get their place of honor behind my bar — the rest will just be put in their place.

Vodka’s up first.

Then add some rum.

I don’t drink gin, but I’ve still got to carry it.

Tequila, anyone?

Scotches, both single malt and blends

And finally, my favorite, whiskeys — bourbons, Tennessee whiskeys, and Canadian whiskeys

Liquers and cordials

And last but not least, a mishmash of other stuff.

I’m going to keep the polls open until my bar is ready to roll — which should be in about a month or so.  Until then, please vote and happy drinking!

Emboldened By The Internet

Posted in Rants on February 26, 2009 by thelasthonestman

One thing that has never ceased to amaze me is the way the Internet has shaped the way people interact with each other – and frankly, sometimes it’s not such a good thing.

Since the advent of the web, people can communicate in a way we never would have thought possible thirty years ago.  When I was a kid?  You discussed things with people in one of three ways:  in person, over the phone, and via mail (by that archaic tool known as the written “letter”).   When communicating in one of the first two fashions, it was — and still is — difficult to be misconstrued in what point you’re trying to make.  You have the benefit of tone in your voice for one (Ever try to convey sarcasm in writing?  It’s a lot harder than you’d think).  Mannerisms when speaking say a lot as well.  Plus, it’s a lot easier to correct yourself — or to clarify your words — when speaking directly.  While letter writing, obviously, doesn’t have those advantages, the lengthier process of compiling something on paper allows the mind to work at a slower pace — and helps the writer to choose his words more carefully and avoid something they’ll regret.

In addition, if you’re communicating by one of the three methods above, you probably already know the person pretty well, or at least you should if you’re steering away from generalities and using the conversation to make personal comments about another — unless of course, you’re trying to analyze the personality traits of the customer service representative from the credit card company you’re talking to, in which case you probably won’t want to read the rest of this entry.  (Oops — scratch that last statement as illogical … we all know there’s no such thing as customer service from your credit card company).

As real as customer service

As real as customer service or civility on a message board

But am I the only one who’s bothered with the overly blunt, dismissive, hostile, and often judgemental way that people handle themselves on the web these days, especially on message boards?  It’s hard to find respect for another’s thoughts practiced much by people on the web; apparently, a great number of people expend the majority of their energy in coming up with a snappy user name and avatar and don’t leave much in reserve for common sense thinking when it comes to how they interact with others.  And the questionable decorum isn’t just being practiced on the odd-and-end isolated message board — it’s everywhere.  I’ve seen it on ESPN message boards, MSN message boards, comic book message boards, the IMDB message boards, rotisserie baseball message boards — heck, I’ve even seen it on my own fantasy baseball league’s message boards.

And the commentary in so many of these posts goes beyond overkill in many instances.  I’ve seen people refer to other people with some of the strongest language imaginable when it comes to describing another person:  racist, sexist, misogynist, anti-American, ignorant, etc, etc.  Criticism is one thing — I’ll admit to certainly having done my share of that towards people so far in this blog — but there’s still a line that I won’t cross in the things I write.  I like to believe that nothing I’ve said here, or will say in the future, isn’t something that I wouldn’t be willing to say to someone if we were face-to-face.  I’ve read a lot of things on the net, however, that I think the people voicing them would have second thoughts about if they could connect a face and a real name to the comments they’re making.

Is this the direction we’re headed? A society made up of a bunch of screen names calling each other out on the net?  I hope not — but if I spend a night surfing around the web, I might have to wonder.

Trusting The Foxes Guarding The Henhouse

Posted in News/Current Events, Rants on February 25, 2009 by thelasthonestman

cartoon_marek_fox_henhouse

A good number of the nation’s nervous eyes were glued to their televisions last night as President Obama made an address to the nation and Congress, outlining his ideas and plans for facing down the worst economic crisis of our generation.

Now the depth and the severity of that crisis is still subject to some debate;  I won’t disagree with the idea that’s it’s the worst I’ve seen in my lifetime — but that only encompasses 1970 to today.  I have family members still with us who lived during the Great Depression.  Spend an afternoon listening to them telling their stories of not having enough food to eat on a day-to-day basis, or sleeping five to six people to a room and you’ll probably think like I do, that the word “crisis” may be a tad bit overstated these days.

But as I said, you’ll get no argument from me that the current situation today is a mess.  But why are we where we are — and how do we get out of there?

I won’t go into a great deal of depth here about the particulars of Obama’s plan — there’s plenty enough opinion about the likelihood of success of it from all sides of the debate available for your viewing around the net.  Obama talked about a nation that had put its own interests — “short-term gains over long-term prosperity”, using his own words — over the interests of the better good of the nation.  Obama told the country that the “day of reckoning has arrived, and the time to take charge of our future is here.”

But who are we trusting to take charge?  Sadly, the same people who helped to get us into this mess in the first place.  It’s certainly true that we, as citizens, bear part of the responsibility for where we stand now;  as Obama stated, we have spent money and run up amounts of debt that have never been seen before in our nation’s history.  Once upon a time, people bought what they could afford, and whatever that happened to be, they were grateful to have it.  Now, we’ve found ourselves in a society that has grown up with the “bigger and better” mantra fully ingrained.  While our parents considered themselves lucky if they were able to afford a new car or a new television for the living room, we as a nation haven’t been satisfied unless we owned all of the latest gadgets, drove the biggest and fanciest cars, and wore the trendiest clothes.  We’ve become a nation that feels entitled to the luxuries and finer living that our parents and grandparents never had and coupled that with a need for immediate gratification.  Such feelings have led many of us to bad consumer habits, and for that, we’re accountable for our roles in the current mess (and make no mistake about it, all of us have been guilty at one time or another of thinking in that fashion).

But enough about our role — what about the passive role that our government has played in leading us to this “day of reckoning”?   While Obama hinted at such culpability, a full indictment of the failings of our government wasn’t found in his speech last night — nor should it have been expected to be, not with his immediate audience being many of the same people who’ve looked the other way as our problems have built over the years.  Make no mistake about this as well — our government has failed us, completely and entirely, and their responsibility for this mess cannot be brushed away. The Democratic and Republican Parties both deserve to be sharing the guilt arm-in-arm, having failed time and time again to address the issues in the mortgage industry, the banking industry, and Wall Street — none of which are newly created, and all of which were looming on the horizon for quite some time.  They both share the blame for a bloated, inefficient government that has been focused more on winning elections and perpetuating their own status in the circles of power in Washington, rather than driving our country to solutions that, while not always popular, are and were necessary.  Again, we can shoulder additional blame for not holding our officials to a higher standard before, as it’s been our complaceny that had led to the words “elected official” becoming synonymous with “criminal”.

The Capitol building loses some of its charm when you see it from the inside.

The Capitol building loses some of its charm when you see it from the inside.

I’m giving our President the leeway he deserves here — after all, he’s barely been in office enough time to figure out what all the rooms in the White House are for, never mind right the ship of a nation listing dangerously off to the side.  But I give no such consideration to the rest of our elected officials.  We’re counting on the same people who’ve shown no inclination to make the tough decisions, to ignore the special interests, and to ignore their own self-interests to be the ones who do the exact opposite now.   Anyone want to bet on the chances of that succeeding?

Facing My Uncertain Future

Posted in Personal on February 24, 2009 by thelasthonestman

So how many of you remember the movie  Mr. Mom starring Michael Keaton?  It was a pretty big hit in the 80’s, and still holds up pretty well today upon viewing.  For those of you who’ve never seen the film (or those who don’t remember it), Keaton plays a husband and parent who finds himself suddenly unemployed, as he loses his engineering job at an automobile manufacturer (talk about staying relevant!).  In order to make ends meet, his wife (played by the subtly hot Teri Garr)  gets her own job at an advertising agency, leaving Keaton’s character Jack as the stay home parent in charge of running the household — which he does with a varying amount of success.

The movie is a comedy that ends with a pretty traditional, old-fashioned happy ending — Jack gets his old job back (with a raise), and his wife returns home to her role as homemaker because, as good as she was at her job, she missed spending time with the children.  Twenty some years later, the ending is the only thing that probably wouldn’t fly in a remake if it were made today; the idea of the strong-minded female character giving up her career as easily as Garr’s character did wouldn’t fly with modern audiences, who would be more likely to want to see a “she does both career and home” solution (even if it wouldn’t be necessarily practical).

The movie has hit home with me recently as my wife and I have undergone a similar situation as the characters did in the film.  It’s not an exact parallel, as my wife has been working non-stop in her own career since we first were together.  That, and we don’t have any children yet — unless you count our four dogs as kids (and frankly, sometimes caring for them seems to be as exasperating as taking care of a child might be).

Sure, she looks cute just sleeping there -- but she's a handful.  Trust me.

Sure, she looks cute just sleeping there -- but she's a handful. Trust me.

But my own career path has hit the proverbial fork in the road as I near my fortieth birthday next year.  While I worked in the retail world for a long time, I moved into the real estate business as an agent a short time ago — just in time to have to duck for cover as the market came crashing down around me.  While I did manage some pretty productive years sales-wise, 2008 was an ice-cold endeavor for me;  frankly, I made as much income moonlighting as a sales associate for my wife in the year’s fourth quarter at her former job at KB Toys than I did selling real estate.

So as 2009 began, and my seasonal work in retail came to an end, I made the difficult decision to try something completely new for me.  While I’m still licensed to practice real estate and while my real estate company still has me employed, I decided to put my practice on hiatus for the time being and join the ranks of the essentially — gulp — unemployed.  Instead of seeking out new clients, I’ll only be referring my former clients to other agents in my office for a percentage fee (which I’ll get only if anything results from the referral).  In essence, while I’m still an agent — I’m just not a practicing one, which means that my income from real estate will be next to nothing for 2009 (or for as long as I go this route).

My office manager encouraged the move — she thinks highly of my skills as an agent, and she didn’t want me to leave the office outright — and I didn’t want to quit real estate either, as I have enjoyed my time in the industry (though there were a lot of things I didn’t like about it or had philosophical issues with, I imagine that can be said about nearly every profession) and I didn’t want to close that door entirely, just in case.  But I wanted to — no, scratch that — I needed to follow up on what I’ve put on the back-burner now for nearly ten years, my writing.

This website is part of what I’m trying to do — put the myriad of ideas and thoughts and concepts that flow in and out of my head on a regular basis down into a permanent form, allowing me to feel like I’m actually creating something that will have some permanence or impact.  This is building towards me finishing once-and-for-all the novel I’ve been working off-and-on for more than a decade (I started it back in college, which feels like eons ago).  For all intents, the novel is finished, but I wasn’t completely happy with it, and I’ve been rewriting certain parts and tweaking other passages to get it as close to my vision as I can (though I’ve come to accept that, no matter how much I work on it, it’ll never be “perfect” in my eyes, so at some point I need to just get the damn thing published).

Seeing the novel in print has been the defining moment in my life I feel like I’ve been building towards, and a lot of what’s happened in my personal life over the last several years (a few serious illnesses, the passing on of several family members, my own advancing age) has made me more determined than ever to do this while I still can, rather than face a mountain of regrets in my future about what I failed to do.

My wife has been very supportive of that goal, encouraging me to take the time off this year to finish the book, work on this website, and work on the house.  Meanwhile, I’m in the unfamiliar role of “homemaker”, for the lack of a better term.  It’s a strange feeling, not being the breadwinner; for almost the entire time we’ve been together, my yearly income has always exceeded my wife’s, yet now she’s not only going to blow my meager earnings away, she’s going to make more in a year than I ever did.  I tell myself this shouldn’t bother me — I’m very proud of my wife’s accomplishments — but deep down, it’s a tough blow to the ego to accept.

The worst part is wondering how the people we know — particularly our immediate families — are going to react to this new reality.  The process of writing is one that’s hard to understand unless you actually do it, and I admit I wonder if my wife’s parents, for example, look at me and see “artist” — or if they’re silently thinking “freeloader” instead, no matter what they say out loud.

NOT an actual depiction of our home

NOT an actual depiction of our home

So how’s this story going to end?  Unlike my novel, I’m first to admit that I have no idea.  While I’m hoping otherwise, the scariest thing to me is the possibility that when the year is over, I’ll be right back where I started at — with no real, discernible progress made on my writing, and me just a year older.  That uncertainty, though, pales to the thought of not doing what my gut is telling me I need to do.  Thankfully, so far I have the support of the people closest to me — and if all else fails, I have Mr. Mom as my guide to how to get things done right with a happy ending to boot.

What Would Brian Boitano Do? He’d Call All The Kids In Town And Tell Them To Unite For Truth — That’s What Brian Boitano’d Do!

Posted in News/Current Events, Rants, Ro-Sham-Bo Award on February 23, 2009 by thelasthonestman

cartman-podium2

The truth — despite what some people would have you believe these days — isn’t relative.  Something either is, or it isn’t.  Unless you’re trying to work your way into a cushy public office job, in which case the truth can be many things, depending on what suits your aims the best.

Expecting our elected officials — or anyone serving in a governmental capacity these days — to actually tell the truth is about as hopeless as expecting the Cubs to win the World Series.  Sure it might actually happen, but you statistically have a better chance at hitting the lottery or being struck by lightning than finding truth-telling people in Washington.  Our political system that’s in place, rotted and corrupt as it’s become, is no place these days for an honest man.  But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t expect better anyway from those who are claiming to “lead” us, and when those in public office violate our trust, we should expect there to be repercussions felt.

Everyone knows already about the recent stench in Illinois, with then Governor Rod Blagojevich being driven from office on the heels of strong allegations that he’d attempted to sell the appointment to the vacant Senate seat (that had belonged to now-President Obama), for all intents attempting to trade the office for cash and other favors.  Reprehensible as his actions were — and as deserving of impeachment as anything could be — an even bigger middle finger Blagojevich gave to his constituents and to the entire electoral process was that of naming Roland Burris to the vacant seat anyway, despite the urging of political leaders from all corners and both sides of the aisle not to — including predominant members of his own party and President Obama himself.

Politician-in-training

Politician-in-training

You can throw out the question of whether any vacancy for an office as important as U.S. Senator should be filled by appointment anyway, rather than be contested in special elections (I would rather see the latter).  The problem with this appointment at the time wasn’t with Burris, who by most accounts was a decent enough public servant and someone who hadn’t had the stain upon him of scandal-after-scandal that seems to be drawn to Illinois politicians like moths to the flame.  The problem properly recognized at the time by anyone looking rationally at the situation was that, due to the weight of the evidence building against Blagojevich, anything that the then-Governor attempted to do was immediately suspect.  The then-Governor was the rotten tree, and anything coming from him had to be assumed to be tainted fruit if only by association.  Unfair to Burris, perhaps?  Maybe, but such a course of action would have been the safest and most prudent way to go, and a special election would have been the only way to be sure that Blagojevich’s corrupt actions wouldn’t be destroying the integrity of the office.

Again, both Democratic and Republican leaders knew this — or at least they seemed to know this — back when Burris was first appointed by Blagojevich.  However, once some of the public furor regarding the issue began to die down, and after a House Committee cleared Burris of any improper activity regarding the former Governor after Burris testified that he’d had no contact with Blagojevich or his people, the Senate backed down and allowed Burris to take possession of the vacant seat.  All’s well that end’s well, right?

Except that — surprise, surprise — Burris apparently lied under oath when he testified in front of that House Committee.  Now, he’s changed his story several times and has given several differing accounts of what actually was taking place between him and Blagojevich.  After initially claiming otherwise, Burris now admits to trying to raise money for Blagojevich and having contact with the former Governor’s advisers.  A preliminary Senate Ethics Committee inquiry has begun into Burris’ actions and statements, and Illinois lawmakers are looking into the possibility of perjury charges against the current Senator.

Enough is enough, already.  What’s most disturbing to me is that, even though he knew full well that every action he’d made regarding Blagojevich and his people as well as every word that came out of his mouth would be incredibly scrutinized, Burris still chose to not be completely forthcoming in his admissions.  It’s irrelevant whether or not Burris was really up to something underhanded or not.  Even if we presume he’s innocent of unethical behavior regarding the appointment, he’s still guilty of being incredibly arrogant in his apparent stance that the entire truth wasn’t necessary in his sworn statements to the House Committee, and in believing that he showed such an ignorance and poor judgement that the question on the minds of Illinois voters has to be:  Why would we want this guy making decisions for us at a national level, if he couldn’t even be trusted to make the right decision here?

Well, the reason he made such a foolish mistake here is obvious — he did it because the tempting lure of a U.S. Senate seat was more than he could apparently resist, as well as the belief that he’d be able to weather any potential storm that brewed and get past his own shifting accounts of his dealings with Blagojevich once he was already seated (as it’s going to be far more difficult to get Burris out of the Senate now, when it would have been far easier to simply not seat him initially).  However, Burris is now faced with a growing assault that’s nailing him from all sides — not only have top Republicans called for his resignation, but so have many Democrats, including the new Illinois Governor Pat Quinn and Illinois Representative Phil Hare, who said on Burris that “Our state and its citizens deserve the whole truth, not bits and pieces only when it is convenient.”  In addition, both major Chicago newspapers, the Tribune and the Sun-Times, have called for his resignation.

The significance of Burris as the Senate’s lone African-American representative in the legislative body can’t be ignored, and it makes his removal a thorny issue for the Senate to have to tackle.  While the Senate has never suffered from a lack of corrupt, lying, self-serving members before — which means, in a sense, that Burris should in theory fit right in — the Illinois Senator isn’t doing himself or his office any justice by continuing to serve.  Chances of him or the Senate realizing it and actually rectifying the situation?  About as good as Burris arriving in person to pick up this week’s Ro-Sham-Bo Award — or in other words, about the same chances that we’ll find honesty, integrity, and ethics making a comeback in Washington.

Opening Thoughts For Monday

Posted in Movies, News/Current Events, The Wrapups on February 23, 2009 by thelasthonestman

I’ll be back later this evening with my Ro-Sham-Bo “honoring”, but first, a few thoughts about the weekend just passed:

— Thrilled to see Heath Ledger win the Oscar.  No surprise here — but it’s still good to see the Academy honor the work of someone who wasn’t in the stereotypical “Oscar-worthy” film.  Comic book movies — like the books they’re derived from — have never been taken seriously before as “real” works of art, but the success of The Dark Knight — as well as the critical acclaim it garnered — is hopefully the first step towards changing that.  However, we really shouldn’t be surprised that …

— Mickey Rourke didn’t win the Best Actor Award for his work in The Wrestler — even if he deserved it.  No offense intended to Sean Penn and his work in Milk, but by all accounts, Rourke’s turn as a washed-up, trying-to-reclaim-the-past-glory pro wrestler Randy “The Ram” Robinson deserved the statue on Sunday.  So why didn’t he win?  It’s actually pretty simple, if you think about it. 

Milk was a film that focused on the life of gay-rights activist Harvey Milk, a topic that certainly resonated with those in California following the passage of Proposition 8 last year.  Contrast that with a movie that used — well — professional wrestling as its backdrop.  The spectacle of pro wrestling has never been taken seriously in mainstream America, even in the heyday of Hulk Hogan and the like.  Or has no one here ever heard the joke about “What has 10 teeth and an I.Q of 80?  The first 5 rows of a wrestling audience.”  Wrestling is an activity that most of Hollywood, I can well imagine, looks down upon, as well as looking down upon the people who count on it as their way to make a living.

Considering that the Oscars, like pretty much every award given out these days — sports, Hollywood, or other — isn’t always about honoring the people who did the best job but often is about advancing an agenda or making a “statement”, then Penn winning over Rourke shouldn’t have surprised anyone at all.  An “important” movie is always going to get more acclaim — that’s nothing revolutionary so far as the Academy goes, and in their own way, that’s their version of  “safe” and “predictable”.  Movies about “unimportant” things — like wrestling, for instance — are going to be relegated to the same Oscar-limbo that outstanding work in comedies usually is (or perhaps, someone can explain why James Franco didn’t get a nod for his role in Pineapple Express — though Robert Downey’s nomination for Tropic Thunder was a rare, pleasant surprise).  Until last night, comic book movies had been in that limbo as well, so TDK’s recognition this year means that maybe that will change — someday.

— And finally, a heartfelt thank you from myself and my family to everyone who has offered their support for my aunt, who was just diagnosed with cancer.  Sadly, the latest prognosis we’ve learned of is very bad.  I ask that you continue to keep her and the rest of the family in your thoughts.