Category Archives: Paula Poundstone

The Pencil Today:

THE QUOTE

“I can’t understand looking forward to seeing a commercial.” — Paula Poundstone

A NATION OF AD PIMPS

A word of explanation about the quote above. Poundstone on this morning’s “Wait Wait… Don’t Tell Me!” was talking about how a grocery checkout clerk was shocked that she had neither watched the Super Bowl nor cared a bit about the telecast. “Not even the commercials?” the clerk gasped.

Poundstone later concluded, “No wonder we’re going downhill.”

Guess what — she’s freakin’ right!

LAND OF THE FREE(-ISH)

Like many Americans, I complain a lot about many things.

Admittedly, there’s much to complain about and I needn’t run down that list here for the three thousandth time. If you’ve been reading these screeds, you know where I stand on everything from “Two and a Half Men” to the corporatization of this holy land.

The Golden Arches-Spangled Banner

We’re a complaining bunch, we Americans. Louis CK does a terrific bit about how impatient and demanding we are. He talks about a guy saying he hates — hates — Verizon because a couple of his calls had been dropped. He refers to a woman saying she was once forced to sit in an airplane on a runway for 40 minutes before it took off, and described it as the worst day of her life.

Louis points out, correctly, that both cell phone technology and human flight are virtual miracles that we should be amazed to partake of. He challenges the person who hates Verizon to create his own cell phone network and see how close he can come to perfection in its operation. Then he riffs on the woman, saying the airplane, of course, did take off and she was sitting in a chair in the sky like the Greek gods did, moving from New York to Los Angeles in a matter of hours, a trip that at one time took years.

High Above Omaha

We do forget what a special time we live in, especially in this very, very privileged nation.

Even in the wake of the Great Recession, we have plenty to eat, we have cars, we have warm homes, we have cable, and, yes, we have cell phones.

The latest estimate by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization holds that in 2010, 925 million people were hungry in the world. That’s a shade below one of every seven human beings alive.

Even in these hard times, we’re doing pretty well here.

So, I figured I’d say something positive today.

I woke up in the middle of the night Wednesday. I couldn’t get back to sleep and yet I was too tired to read, so I clicked on Netflix to watch a movie. I selected something called “Death of a President,” a pseudo-documentary that was made in 2006.

The movie deals with a trip of then-President George W. Bush to Chicago to deliver a speech to a gathering of big shot business leaders. As he walks out of the Sheraton Hotel after the speech, he is shot twice in the chest by an unknown gunman. He is rushed to the hospital where he dies after several hours of surgery.

The FBI and the Chicago police beat the bushes to to find the shooter and after a couple of weeks settle on a Syrian-born, nationalized American citizen.

This fellow, Jamal Abu Zikri, once traveled back to the Middle East to study Islam at an ill-defined camp which turned out to be an al Qaeda training center. He was threatened with death if he attempted to leave the camp but eventually found a way to escape and returned to his home and wife in Chicago.

In the hysteria following the assassination, authorities cobble together some iffy evidence and, depending mainly on Zikri’s supposed connection to al Qaeda, get him convicted of the crime. In the meantime, new President Dick Cheney pushes through a third Patriot Act that allows the government even greater latitude in spying on and detaining suspected terrorists. Cheney also pushes the CIA hard to find connections between the Syrian government and the assassination.

I’m not telegraphing the ending by saying doubt is cast on everybody’s motives.

The movie is more about emotionalism, fear, rage, prejudice, xenophobia, vengeance, jingoism, radical hyperbole, and, essentially, every destructive trait that exists today in these Great United States, Inc. than the actual act of killing the president.

These destructive traits threaten to grow exponentially until they suffocate us.

“Death of a President” is not flattering to us. The US Chamber of Congress did not push it for an Oscar.

Still it ran in theaters here. And it’s a standard offering on such an innocuous service as Netflix.

That says a lot about America — maybe as much as “Two and a Half Men” and the corporatization of this holy land do.

I refer back to Louis CK who cracks that people in certain other nations wake up some mornings and say “Uh oh, today’s the day we get our heads cut off.”

Can you imagine movies depicting the killings of Hu Jintao, Manmohan Singh, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, Dilma Rousseff, Yousaf Gillani, Vladimir Putin, Sheikh Hasina, and Yoshihiko Noda?

“Nyet.”

They are the bosses of the ten most populated nations on Earth, minus the United States. The people they boss constitute fully 53 percent of the people on this planet.

These 3.7 billion people, I suspect, would not be permitted to view a movie of such an uncomplimentary nature, much less one that allows the possibility that any of those nine dear leaders could be offed.

And keep in mind I haven’t included several billion other souls who live under a rogue’s gallery of minor despots, tyrants, and sadists.

I don’t like where we’re headed in these United States. I also know we still have a hell of a lot of freedom and latitude.

It’s worth remembering that now and then.

THE ART OF THE MICROSCOPE

Brain scientist Alex Straiker’s microscopy-based artwork will be on display in March at Finch’s Brasserie here in Bloomington. He’ll share the stage (or, more accurately, the easel) with award-winning botanical microscopist Jessica Lucas.

Straiker studies the effects of cannabinoids on the brain at Indiana University’s Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences. Lucas is a researcher and outreach educator in the Shaw Lab at IU’s Biology Department.

Jessica Lucas’s Image Of A Fast-Growing Seedling

Alex and his lab-mates treat mice to mega-doses of THC and then check their brain structures to determine, among other things, why they crave White Castle sliders for hours afterward.

Straiker’s striking images have appeared on this site several times already in our short history. Watch this space to find out the date of the opening reception for his show.

JAZZ TIMES

Tune in to WFIU Monday afternoon for David Brent Johnson‘s “Just You and Me” daily jazz show.

DBJ And His Special Gal

DBJ tells me he plans to feature the jazz Grammy award winners Monday. The Grammy awards will be presented Sunday night in New York.

“Just You and Me” begins at 3:30 and runs for an hour and a half. It’s a good bet DBJ will be spinning loads of Roseanna Vitro and Kurt Elling.

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