Wednesday, May 25, 2011

HELLO MUZAK AND PUMBLECHEEKS, GOODBYE YOUTH


May 25, 2011

There I am in my pajamas thinking is this it? Is this what old age is all about? Passing the entire day wandering aimlessly about the house in a dressing gown. How about spending the entire rest of your life in that bathrobe. Just before you wind up in a wicker bath chair with ten-inch droolsicles dangling from the corner of your mouth.
Ageing stinks. But, as Maurice Chevalier famously noted, it isn’t so bad when you consider the alternative.
Besse Cooper, right here in Monroe will be 115 this summer, God willing. She was the oldest person on earth until just this spring, when Maria Gomez Valentim popped up in Brazil and pipped her by 48 days...
Old. Young. Whatever. As seminal bluesman Lightnin’ Slim sang: “We all bound for the graveyard sure as I was born.”
But it’s not just about adding years; how about those changing looks. My daughter alluded to baggy eyes and a vacant stare. I told her despite all that she still looked acceptable for her age. Very funny, she said: she meant me. Well yes it’s called Morning Face isn’t it and thank you so very much for pointing it out and at my age Morning Face is a condition that lasts all day doesn’t it and you’ll find out for yourself soon enough you cheeky monkey.
But what the Dickens is going on with this here puss? It’s altered again, this time even more drastically than before. Who is that ridiculous old duffer with the flabby cheeks and the puffy eyes and the puffy... everything.
My features seem to have widened, pushing the sides out, giving me this hamster-esque look that I never had in my life. The beginnings of awful sagging 19th Century jowls as seen on those old Charles Dickens characters where they’d sprout and cultivate great fuzzy mutton chop sideburns. Mr Pumblechook springs to mind.
My dad didn’t even look like this and he was 86. So where did these pumblecheeks come from?
It’s not just the jowly look, it’s the countenance in general. Some people say your body changes every seven years: this late in life the change seems like every time I turn around, and it’s getting worse. The sticking-out spiky eyebrows, punk-style. Those hoary “old man” flapjack ears, twice as thick now and covering more of the head. Teeth so gappy they look like a mouthful of Stonehenge...
All that is on its way. The face already morphing into a cartoon version of its former self: pretty soon they’ll be accusing me of gurning when that’s the way I look normally.
Never did I dream I’d be Dorian Gray in reverse, but it’s happened. I’m getting old while my picture in the attic stays the same. Oscar Wilde must’ve had it all wrong.
No more the feisty, fiery whippersnapper who challenged the world and caused so much trouble Old age now is sex, drugs and muzak. Mostly muzak... OK, I confess, there’s no sex. She bought a see-through nightie but my eyesight wasn’t up to it. She whispered something in my ear and I just swatted it away. The drugs are for actual ailments and basically it’s all elevator music. Nothing too excitable and not a good finale for an old rock ‘n’ roll rebel whom time overtook.
So what to do? In order to appear younger I could try hanging out with the Rolling Stones, maybe Keith Richards, who’s my junior by a year but looks like my grandfather. Without the pumblecheeks.
I could go tooling around town in an outrageously garish yellow convertible, expecting the swooning ladyfolk to drop their posies in admiration... Nah. My ancient neighbor did that and it was pathetic. I remember those same sad, geriatric geezers from my youth when the only wheels I could afford was a clapped-out Lambretta scooter on which girls refused to ride because it was too oily.
But it’s not going to be a cap and nightgown now, carrying a candlestick like old Scrooge. Maybe play out my last lazy days at the country club, sit around and wait there until it’s time to take the big dirt nap. But why? Is that what a guy’s life cycle is: birth, work, golf, death.
Acquiring a bit of age does have its compensations, though. For one, you can leer lasciviously at the pretty young fillies with impunity because with your curiously contorted old features they think you’re probably just having a heart attack.
And I do believe that by law you’re actually required to be grumpy. I am very law-abiding.
OK, I’ve overstated the case; I’m not quite as bad as all that. I do look younger than my years. Always Have. Babyface Wehner. Well into my twenties, I’d continue to be asked by landlords of the local pubs for proof that I was over 18, the drinking age in Britain. This caused my school friends great amusement, but I would counter with: You wait till we’re in our sixties!
Now we all are and they all look like Rolling Stones.
Bob Dylan is 70. He said recently that he felt he was halfway through his life. That resonates with a lot of seniors these days. Somehow, despite the creaky bones, croaky voices, the trick backs and forgetfulness, we’re all too young to be this old. The Germans have a saying: You’re as old as you feel yourself. I feel I could be in my 40s, but every time I say my real age I think I’m lying.
And I so wish I were.

ENDIT

© 2011 Fred Wehner is a journalist formerly with the Daily Mail in London, who then founded and ran the New York News Agency before settling in Monroe 21 years ago.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

COOL: A TEA PARTY IN YOUR OWN HOME


May 22, 2011

Shortly before Christmas in 1763 this country began a process that gained it independence but lost a most precious commodity that I’d like to re-introduce to the folks of Walton County.
Tea.
I know we all know all about tea, but we don’t.
Those colonists in Mohawk war bonnets who tipped all the good stuff into Boston Harbor that Sunday were Yankees, of course. Southerners would have dumped tons of sugar in with it, perhaps a squirt of lemon, too.
Folks down here in Dixie put tea in their sugar. Swee-ee-eet. One taste will put a smile on your face that’ll take a month to shake off. Rictus-like.
And why ice it? Tea really should be drunk hot, even in summer where a steaming cup on a sweltering day will actually cool you down. The man who discovered this interesting paradox was Earl Grey, a British prime minister whose name is now on one of the aromatic types. One that – sorry to disappoint – real tea drinkers never touch.
You can buy the earl’s redolent elixir over here. Oh yes, along with Lipton, Red Rose, Bigelow’s and other brands of that anemic stained water Americans have come to know as tea. But none of it really is. Being almost tasteless it actually should be termed “a hint of tea”.
There’s a simple reason for this which I’ll explain in a minute.
What happened at the Boston Tea Party is that the Brits saw through those flimsy Red Indian disguises immediately: maybe the warpaint looked a tad too Sherwin-Williamsy. They decided then that because Americans were such naughty boys, tossing tea in the sea and all, they wouldn’t be sending the good stuff over here any more. Forcing us now to buy supermarket brands or those snobby ones, variety packs, and “classic collections” of perfumed sipping juices.
Meanwhile around the world they’re quaffing great, strong, tasty tea served up by the grace of God and the British Empire. Those who consume the most per capita are the Irish, but it’s also a national drink in Australia, New Zealand, South Africa...
While the rest of America must settle for one brand or another of what the Brits would call “gnat’s pee”, local folks who’ve been to our house know different. And I’m now going to let the rest of my fellow Waltonians in on that little secret, you lucky, lucky people.
The real stuff can be had. For the technically-minded it’s orange pekoe, a medium black blended from plants in Assam, Kenya and Ceylon (now Sri Lanka) but beware! Its regular name, English Breakfast Tea, is also used by companies turning out feeble domestic imitations. The equivalent of paperback editions.
Some bird-doggin’ in a grocery store’s hidden crannies may turn up a small pack of Lyons, Tetley or Ty-Phoo – or even the one in the red-and-green box bearing the name PG Tips. Made by Brooke Bond, this is the runaway favorite worldwide, and the one Americans who’ve visited England rave about. Some even say they’ve switched to it from coffee.
One lady tried and loved it after seeing a photo of this brand in Prince Charles’ office. But PG Tips and its peers are actually what’s called working class teas, “char”, unpretentious, unadulterated by oils and fancy spices. Never bitter, just a straightforward drink that’s a staple at the truck stops, known in Britain as transport caffs or snack – some say “snake” - bars. You step inside, lose your footing on the greasy floor, stumble and if you’re lucky you land in a chair. Then you order a “cuppa”.
When I left school I worked on construction sites in London and at one time they made me the cook. Duties included chasing rats out of the frying pan and brewing the tea - which was made in a ten-gallon steel pail. A little different from the widespread notion in this country that that tea drinkers outside the “icy” South take dainty little sips of aromatic brews from delicate little demitasse cups.
Why is this tea so much better than the American type? It’s to do with the tips. Brooke Bond uses only the buds and the top two rows of leaves from the plant. Period. The other regular British Isles brands similarly. Everyone else gets the lower leaves, medium grade, which real tea drinkers deem only one step above sawdust. And by real tea drinkers I mean everyone from royals like Charles to common laborers like me.
Read the reams of American praise on Amazon.com, which is where you can also get PG, Lyons, Tetley and Ty-Phoo I buy 480 for $34 which computes to 7c a tea bag but there’s also 40 for six bucks.
For the fullest flavor use a porcelain or bone china cup but a mug will do: warm it first, put the bag in. It’s imperative to then pour fiercely boiling water onto it and prod it a dozen times or so: watch the color darken. Then place a saucer over the top to keep in the heat and let it steep for a minute.
The above is vital to avoid getting the tasteless fluid called Hospital Tea.
Add whole milk until the color has shed its “metallic” appearance. Sugar also, most folks using two spoonfuls. I take one.
A tea party with real tea has nothing to do with politics; there are no Mad Hatters and March Hares waving anti-government slogans. So c’mon you tea drinkin’ Southerners. Summer’s here. It’s tea time. Time for a nice hot cuppa.

ENDIT

© 2011 Fred Wehner is a journalist formerly with the Daily Mail in London, who then founded and ran the New York News Agency before settling in Monroe 21 years ago.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

WE’LL NEED YOUR FALSE INFORMATION


May 18, 2011

At Walgreens the other day to get a couple of passport pictures made. Ten bucks plus tax. Over to the Happy Snaps department.
We’ll need your details, sir. Telephone?
Why do you need that?
Because I have to enter it in.
No, come on, young lady. I’m paying cash so that’s really all you need, right?
No, I can’t continue without the number.
Ridiculous. Of course you can. You’re offering to sell me something. Here’s the money. In my hand. What’s the holdup?
Just give me your phone number and we’ll take it from there.
I really don’t want to. I could get calls...
No, sir. We don’t do that.
I’ll get on some list. Hey! I see your computer’s asking for all kinds of information. My physical address. My e-mail address...
It won’t be used. They just want the information but they’re not going to do anything with it.
Are you serious? Who’s ‘they’?
The company.
Do you realize what you just told me? If they won’t use it then why do they want it?
Because if you come back later for the photographs we’ll know who to give them to.
You give them to me, of course, just as soon as they’re ready. And I’m not coming back. I’m staying right here. It says ‘While You Wait’. So I’m waiting.
I’ll need the phone number.
No.
Just give me any number then. Any one. Not yours.
What? Are you kidding? What’s the point of asking me for details if I can provide you with false ones?
[Exit store clerk stage left. Enter the manager, Mr John West]
What’s the problem?
No problem. I was simply trying to buy a couple of passport pictures from you.
OK. Name?
No, come on. I’m paying cash. I don’t need to disclose things about myself as well.
I understand
But I don’t understand. Why do you insist on knowing who I am and all the rest? I’m giving you dollar bills. Here.
Well, we are going to need a name. You can be Peter Rabbit if you like.
Yes please.
Do you want to give a phone number or shall I enter just anything?
Please enter Peter Rabbit’s number if you know it.
Do you want to put in an address?
I think Peter lives next door to Mrs Tittlemouse. Does that help?
I’ll put Loganville. These other fields are optional so we’ll ignore them. See how easy it is?
Easy for you. You’ve done this before, haven’t you?
Yes, although we don’t get many rabbits in the store.
That’s odd, because we breed like crazy. We...
Stop! I think you’re about to reveal intimate details that I have no wish to hear.
Very good. But listen, I’m not trying to be difficult here. It’s just that there’s far too much of this information-gathering going on and I do my best to keep personal data to myself.
They won’t use it, I guarantee.
How do you know that?
Well, you see all these people in here? We have lots of information on them. Medical stuff. Their entire lives are in these files. And we don’t keep it. It’s destroyed.
Destroyed? Are you sure? How?
Absolutely. It’s taken away by a separate company and destroyed.
So an entirely different company gets hold of all this private information?
That’s right.
What’s to stop them selling it?
They don’t. They destroy it.
That’s what they tell you but can you be sure?. There’s big money to be made from large batches of personal data. Is nothing private any more?
[Silence. Were customers’ personal data ever to be compromised Walgreens would be in the clear and the sub-contractor to blame. Very cunning.
The Walgreens passport-picture-making machine, however, is indeed impressive. It sizes the face to the precise dimensions required not only by the United States but also by other nations. So far it’s limited to countries on this planet.]
Here are your prints.
Thanks.
Goodbye Peter! [Offers hand in friendship]
It’s ‘Goodbye Mr Rabbit’ to you, Mr West. But it’s been fun.
[A warm handshake and all in all a very entertaining half hour, courtesy of Walgreens, Monroe]
My wife at Pizza Hut last week:
Two medium pizzas to go please. Pepperoni. Extra cheese.
Yes ma’am. What’s the name?
Why do you need to know that?
We’ve got to have it on the order
But I’m standing here. I’m not going anywhere. You don’t need it.
What’s your phone number?
Why do you need my phone number now? I didn’t call this order in. I’m here ready to pay. Cash money.
Ma’am, we need the name and number.
You don’t.. When I buy groceries I don’t have to tell them this stuff. And there are people sitting down eating your pizzas. Did you get their names and numbers?
No.
No? Why not? I want you to treat them the same way you’re treating me. I’ll watch.
It’s just our policy on take-out orders.
It’s my policy not to give out personal details to strangers. So if you insist on this I must take my custom to one of your competitors.
Your pizza will be ready in15 minutes, ma’am.

.ENDIT

© 2011 Fred Wehner is a journalist formerly with the Daily Mail in London, who then founded and ran the New York News Agency before settling in Monroe 21 years ago.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

A COLORFUL CLOWN IN THE WHITE HOUSE


May 15, 2011

President Palin. Hahahahahaha
Phew! Step back off that ledge, folks. And we can all take the loaded pistol out of our mouths, too, because for once a little gust of sanity has blown over this nation and that nightmare has faded.
While largely disliked these days, Sarah Louise Palin may still confound us all by joining the race to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. But she has thrown her - partial - support behind Donald Trump in his equally bizarre bid for the ultimate job. Palin’s isn’t exactly the kind of endorsement you should welcome, I venture, so Donald... duck!
President Trump? No, I’ll stifle the laughter this time. He just died a thousand embarrassing deaths at the hands of the man he’d been haranguing for months. Trump the Grump scowled his way through the White House Correspondents’ Dinner at which he was the unwitting main course. Roasted.
Trump’s presidential platform had been Obama Isn’t American (But I Sure Am). This was neatly dismantled when Hawaii decided to stifle the nonsense and released the president’s complete ‘long form’ live birth certificate. That’s when he became Donald Chump.
You don’t see female clowns at the circus, only in politics. For so long it seemed America had gone Palin crazy. Every word of this brainless bimbo’s prattling was echoed in the media, taken seriously by so many.
A small section of boisterous, and sometimes violent, people with varying agendas of their own sought to jump on her rickety bandwagon while it still had wheels. But the more she said the more it was claptrap. And gradually – oh so painfully slowly – the nation came to realize what kind of bubblehead was hollering those hokey slogans.
The rest of the world identified her instantly as the joke she was, but it took a display of insensitivity over an assassination attempt on a Democrat to sink her here in America. The Alaskan windbag believed her own publicity. She’s now a mere Arctic blast that’s blown itself out.
For hot air we turn to Trump. In his book The Art Of The Deal he impugned President Reagan as a smooth con man. Today he abandons that criticism and joins mainline Republicans in fawning adulation, saying: “I really liked him. He represented something really special for this country.” The Donald wants to be The Ronald, but is missing is the likeability factor.
And not only is he totally humorless, he has also shown himself to be altogether too combative, too belligerent. Always looking for a scrap, he’s targeted, among others, Jerry Seinfeld and Robert DeNiro. And there was that most entertaining conflict with Rosie ‘Foghorn’ O’Donnell: the Battle of the Bigmouths.
“I love to have enemies,” he has said. “I fight my enemies. I like beating my enemies into the ground. Nobody pushes me around, you understand?”
As president would he pick a fight with Putin? Mud wrestle with China’s Wen Jiabao or maybe insult Britain’s Cameron and French premier Sarkozy. Tennessee Republican Lamar Alexander knew immediately: The Donald has no chance of becoming prez. Trump: you’re fired. So who’s left?
Not the wimpy Alexander, who had two stabs at landing the top job, dropping out early both times. Georgia’s own Pennsylvania-born Newt Gingrich has also proved to be totally dishonest in both his political and private lives. Disgraced in Congress, this hypocrite led the charge against the adulterer Clinton while committing the same sin himself. Is this who we want as the face of our country?
Of the first Mrs Gingrich he once said: “She isn’t young enough or pretty enough to be the president’s wife.” Then he served up divorce papers on her while she was in hospital with deadly uterine cancer. Yecchh!
Michele Bachmann! I’ve got to stop coming up with these joke names. Batty Bachmann wants “a penetrating expose” of our congressmen “to find out if they are pro-America or anti-America.” A witch-hunt? I’d call that beyond the palin. An un-American activity.
She kept questioning Obama’s citizenship and also offered to give him a kiss. Woo-hoo!
Anyone else?
Mitt Romney. Is he human? He definitely looks realistic enough. Mechanical, but he can perform tasks on his own or with guidance. He’s been programmed to repeat his party’s buzzwords, albeit out of sequence. Romney the robot needs some rewiring, which may be the reason he just dropped out of the race.
The Reverend Mike Huckabee is too busy making money. Bobby Jindal is too, well, boyish, and another in the parade of boring lightweights is Tedious Tim. When I say the word Pawlenty I just wanna yawn.
As heavies go, Hayley Barbour fits the bill, at least in one way, but his wife yanked him off his soap box and told him: ”You’re not running.”
Among the other clowns in this kooky Republican parade is Rudolph Giuliani, still trading on his “presence” in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks. And disgraced Rick Santorum, the homophobe who keeps claiming he’s some kind of Winston Churchill incarnation. Not even close, Rick, and definitely no cigar.
I’d welcome a moderate, intelligent Republican standing against Obama, to give me a real choice between one serious agenda or another. But I will not vote for any of these crackpots who’ve seized the limelight

ENDIT

© 2011 Fred Wehner is a journalist formerly with the Daily Mail in London, who then founded and ran the New York News Agency before settling in Monroe 21 years ago.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

A VENOMOUS MIX OF MONEY AND MEDICINE


May 11, 2011

After I threw a snake at the wife I chanced once more upon what I believe is some of the most egregious plundering of the health system in this country.
They’ll tell you – and they will keep on telling you until you believe it – that it’s the malingerers, the hypochondriacs, the bottom-of-the-rung cheats who’re siphoning the money out. That these are the ones driving up health insurance costs and bankrupting the government’s Medicare and Medicaid.
Like all the best lies, there’s a bit of truth in that. It’s the devil’s way. There are indeed many petty knaves out there filching small amounts. However, the Big Truth is that the major culprits are ruthless, greedy people on the other side of the medical fence who routinely sack the system by performing unnecessary procedures and filing false claims. Meantime, they push their guilt onto the little guy – an easy patsy.
There are horrendous stories of avaricious surgeons carrying out needless hystorectomies, heart bypasses, the lot. They’ll cut you just for the money, these despicable slimeballs. Here’s how to tell them apart from street thugs: they wear white coats and don’t swear.
A 2010 report estimates the number of unnecessary operations at 7.5 million a year and an earlier bulletin said that made up 60 percent of all US surgeries. Frightening. And also profoundly unsettling; some might be simply inept, but there are so many healers who actually choose to heal the un-sick. So:
Put down that scalpel, you loathsome quack. I want a second opinion. These firm words might save you so long as your next doctor is ethical. But let’s talk local. Starting today Wifey and I have established a rule: Go West. And here’s why:
Everyone we’ve talked to locally has a story of – I’ll be generous – “lapses” in the medical treatment this far out from Atlanta. Surgeries that were not needed, surgeries that didn’t work...
A longtime buddy was in Athens Regional Hospital to have a parathyroid gland removed. Six months later he was admitted to Emory to have a parathyroid gland removed. Yes, the same operation all over again. “There’s a faint chance they took out the wrong one,” he says. “But I’m convinced they simply cut me open and sewed me back up without removing anything.”
Our neighbor’s teenaged son was about to have his leg cut open by Athens surgeons when a family friend rushed out of retirement to set it in a cast: a last-minute reprieve from the knife. Another acquaintance broke her pelvis in three places. Our hospital in Monroe said surgery was the only answer - until her husband uttered the two magic words “second opinion” and there emerged another answer: Hey ho! No surgery.
My wife’s broken wrist had a small crack. At Athens Orthopedic Clinic a physician’s assistant – in other words just “some guy” – was adamant she needed an incision and a titanium plate. “Second opinion” got the fellow all miffed and huffy, but we’re smiling.
Because next day at Eastside in Snellville a real doctor diagnosed the clean break correctly. After three weeks the fiberglass cast is off, and we’re left wondering whether Athens Orthopedic would have cut her open just for the money. It happens a lot.
Multi-millionaire Dr Vishal Makker in Oregon settled four of his many malpractice suits. Several patients complained of unnecessary spinal surgeries: one of his patients received seven procedures in two years.
Operations on the spine have generated lawsuits galore, and I suppose if you’re that keen on money you could go get yourself crippled and sue. It’s a darn sight more lucrative than selling your blood.
But it’s all to do with money, isn’t it. So when doctors turn theirs into a business the number of surgeries nearly doubles. They’ll operate when there’s no need. They’ll create an illness where there isn’t one.
A case in point might be lasik eye surgery, a “miraculous” procedure that carries risks and long-term consequences anyway, yet is immensely popular. Here’s how it goes:
We can work something out, suggests this charlatan in a most amiable, doctory sort of way. A nudge, a wink and you get lasik at no cost even though it’s not covered by insurance. He’ll class it as something like removal of excess fatty tissue over the eyelids that was causing severe discomfort and vision impairment - and bill accordingly. Thousands more in his pocket.
Easy.
But it’s a crime. A straightforward one to which the patient is not always a knowing party; they sometimes develop a nasty case of jaw-sag at the amount Dr Greedy B. Liar has billed the insurance.
The snake? Not those I’ve been describing but the one that got Wifey injured.
Why does everyone ask what happened to it? I don’t know. It scuttled off. It was a black racer and it was in the henhouse, so I took a stick and tossed it out. It landed between her feet, she staggered back, slipped on the gravel and broke her wrist.
Stacey Malloy at the Post Office “just knew” this was spousal abuse and advised my missus to check in to a shelter. When I selected the North Shore Animal League because it’s ‘no-kill' they both threatened to throw a snake at me – on purpose this time.

ENDIT

© 2011 Fred Wehner is a journalist formerly with the Daily Mail in London, who then founded and ran the New York News Agency before settling in Monroe 21 years ago.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

MUCH TATTOO ABOUT NOTHING


May 8, 2011

Yo, let’s go to the Tatoo Parler and be marked for life as brainless lower-level people so that everyone we encounter between here and the graveyard gives us strange looks and avoids us.
Who cares if the tattooist can’t spell, which is the vast majority of them. Or if the fearsome tiger I wanted turns out like Pikachu the Pokemon. Ah so, that oh-so-perspicacious ancient mystical symbol is really just some nonsensical doodle – or worse. It’s a tattoo, ain’t it – what’s the problem?
What used to be the exclusive domain of sailors and criminals has now gone mainstream. There’s even the Tattoo Museum in Baltimore.
Lots of folks like it. The oxen who stampede into these parlors and shell out hundreds, even thousands, to some equally clueless, yet money-hungry, individual who stamps bodies with something that’ll never come off. Never, unless you can pay ten times the cost of the tattoo itself, $10,000 not being uncommon.
I’m not overstating this. The young and naive think they’re being different while all the time they’re being the same. Followers. Marked by the social equivalent of a branding iron as cattle, herd animals. The Ponderosa people.
Mankind’s little dogies think it cool, so, without even a nanothought, these ninnies go under the needle. It isn’t just Love, Hate and Mom on your knuckles any more, so let’s see, what to choose, um...
Well, for a $15,000 fee we could be like Karolyne Smith, who’ll go to her grave with “goldenpalace.com” in bold black lettering across her forehead. Or fall for a no-money practical joke, as David Winkelman did; he now wears a radio station’s logo across his frontal lobe.
Branded for life. But, astoundingly, other simpletons have made themselves unpaid walking ads for Nintendo, Lubriderm, Hooters as well as assorted sodas and beers.
Food? Okay, let’s have a hamburger, a corn dog, maybe tea-and-toast on my arm, pizza, pancakes or simply two rashers of bacon. By jove, let’s go for the $600 full English breakfast like the one scratched on the bald pate of 19-year-old Dayne Gilbey, a prize numbskull who now has, yes, egg on his face. Or the 1993 original, and far better defined, breakfast head by Oregonian Dave Lum. It’s a buffoon’s buffet.
Forget the banquet, then. A giant portrait of Bob Marley, perhaps? The ornate wording says it’s him but the image is of Jimi Hendrix. The work of a too-young tattoist?
How about Peace And Love. Of course, you have to take the pricker’s word as to what his hieroglyphics really mean: could be an insult. Does anyone understand that thing on the side of Mike Tyson’s face?
For the whole world to recognize you as a Grade A jackass, though, nothing beats a slogan. Here we select from: misquotes, atrocious spelling and gibberish.
Tattoos have been around since God was a boy. The ancients used them to denote status and to ward off evil spirits. But just over a century ago you had to go to the circus.
In 1882 La Belle Irene Woodward, the original Tattooed Lady at PT Barnum’s, was profiled in the New York Times. She claimed she’d been decorated by her father who was killed during an Indian attack. Fearful her tattoos meant bad medicine, her captors had then released her.
The man who inked her for real, however, was Martin Hildebrandt, the sailors’ friend-in-needle, who also had designs on an English girl, Nora, whom he married. She told a fantastic fable of capture by the Lakota Sioux and of the holy man Sitting Bull forcing her father at tomahawk-point, so to speak, to create the artistic patterns on her skin.
Absolute Sitting Bullpoo, of course. But all you needed in those days was a tall tale; that it was almost identical to Ol’ Martin’s previous painted lady’s clearly wasn’t a problem
Impressionable youngsters and older dimwits rush to drop an inky curtain across their future. Like fighter Melvin Costa with the swastika that looks like ending his career. That tattoo brings nothing good: at Worthwhile Profession Street it’s a No Entry sign. No managerial jobs for the Marked Men: tattoos are simply not executive livery.
Okay Wanda, so you hid it. Just had a tramp stamp, that little trollop dollop at the base of the spine for your lover’s eyes alone. The butterfly was indeed popular when you were slim - now it looks like a pterodactyl. And for the rest of his life your husband’s arm carries your cherished name: “Wander”.
This trashtoo craze has been fueled by the likes of Angelina Jolie and Pamela Anderson, two Hollywood floozies to whom no-one could apply the word “classy”, and both now removing theirs. And then there’s Sandra Bullock’s much-painted love rivals Bombshell McGee and Kat von D. Must I go on? The madness makes me want to go shoot myself. Where’s that tattoo of a revolver? I’ll get one applied to my temple, as some other nitwit did.
Probably the most sensible is the arm that reads: "Yes I’m Drunk. I need your help to go home. Please could you call this number for me 06 66 66 69 99. Don’t trust me if I say everything is okay." If his wife kicked this drunken bum out, that number is no longer valid.
And against that there’s the bold announcement over Jerome Smith’s eyes that describes precisely what he isn’t: “Jenius”.

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© 2011 Fred Wehner is a journalist formerly with the Daily Mail in London, who then founded and ran the New York News Agency before settling in Monroe 21 years ago.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

LOVE AND HATE FROM GEORGE TO WILLIAM


May 4, 2011

Oh all right then, I did watch part of the William and Kate royal weddingthon despite myself: only bits, mind, and it made me proud to be an American. There’s something about seeing red-white-and-blue banners all over the place that stirs the soul.
Whether it’s the Union Flag or Old Glory, I’m impassioned. Having been born over there I have dual nationality - a British American - and if ever the two countries I love go to war against each other I’ll just dig hole and bury myself in sorrow.
But of course that will never happen. And the proof is in evidence once more in the planeloads of our countrymen flying back to the States after jollying it up with the locals in London. There was an enormous contingent of Americans over there, waving Union Jacks.
Once again we are reminded of the special relationship that exists between these former colonies and the country that gave birth to them.
What is it that binds the two together? Spain isn’t treasured the same way by Mexico and her other erstwhile American colonies. In spite of the common language there’s somewhat of a standoff between Old Spain and the Hispanic New World.
Surely that relationship should be as close as ours with Shakespeare’s Scept’r’d Isle, but no. And maybe it’s to do with the Conquistadores and their treatment of the indigenous folk and vice versa. Not that the Anglos and our Native Americans conducted themselves a whole lot better. Perhaps it was more a matter of degree. Here the native peoples were pushed out of the picture almost entirely; in Latin America the indios outnumbered the Europeans and absorbed them.
The two English-speaking nations work in tandem, and have been close at least since as far back as Churchill’s day, not just because his mother was American.
A secret think tank at a place called Bletchley Park broke Germany’s complicated military Enigma code and helped win the war. The brains were both British and American, working together, as they did again on the atom bomb.
Excluding Vietnam, my two countries have fought each major war together. We don’t count Grenada and in that Falklands fracas the US support had to be hush-hush because of America’s relationship with the Latin countries.
I do remember a pundit named Frank Gaffney deriding the British effort in the recent desert conflicts and I wrote him hey, those soldiers get themselves maimed and killed just the same as Americans do. And fighting for the same cause, as we do today, against the terrorists..
TV personality Linda Dano came back from London in tears after 9/11 – weeping for the US but her eyes also moist with beatitude at the true compassion she’d seen demonstrated in Britain. And she told viewers how a cab driver had pressed money in her hand to donate towards victims’ relief.
Canada, too, is part of the union, a half-way step between the two. And who can forget the gracious folk of Nova Scotia, Newfoundland and Labrador in the wake of 9/11 who took those thousands of stranded American air passengers into their homes and hearts.
William and Kate, now officially the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, canceled their honeymoon abruptly just after she’d been seen buying swimwear and other leisure accoutrements. Why? Did security get wind of another impending Al Qaeda attack? Killing a future king would certainly be a feather in some terrorist’s turban.
It wasn’t just the Beatles who brought Britain back to America, but they certainly helped. Yeah, yeah yeah, the Rolling Stones too. It was others, as well from James Bond to Alastair Cooke to Stephen Hawking to Diana, the rebel princess.
A mistake many make is to assume that all Brits love the royal family. They didn’t in 1776 and they don’t today. It’s recognized that all the pomp and pageantry earns that country money, but once more there’s a growing movement to get rid of the monarchy.
Here’s my blood brother Tim Miles, the day of the betrothal: “I'm hiding under the covers this morning hoping the Royal Dreading will come and go without impinging upon my consciousness. Fat chance. The trestle tables are already being set up in our street for a communal party where we're expected to wear silly hats and bring our own pork pies and cocktail sausages. The highlight of the day: a visit by a fire engine decked out in bunting. Excitement reaches fever pitch. I'd run for the hills except so many streets are blocked off. So I'm going to remain doggedly anti-communal and stay in my back garden.”
Over here Nielsen reported that US coverage of the William and Kate affair eclipsed that in Britain itself. American media served up a smorgasbord of factoids and tittletattle and our citizens lapped it all up.
To be born into a title and be supported both financially and emotionally by a country’s fawning subjects is so un-American. Strange that the folks of this country seem to go against everything America stands for
Back in the 18th century the colonists spat out the name King George. Now, in a remarkable reversal, Americans embrace the British royals while the British themselves are increasingly fed up with them. The wheel has come full circle.

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© 2011 Fred Wehner is a journalist formerly with the Daily Mail in London, who then founded and ran the New York News Agency before settling in Monroe 21 years ago.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

THE STRONG BUT WRONG ARM OF THE LAW


May 1, 2011

The woman had stolen two strawberries and when the judge asked me what her sentence should be I told him: “Give her the chair!”
Her name was Datcher. I forget her first name. It was in Washington DC and, as a newspaper reporter, I had called His Honor during the two-week adjournment. I thought the suggestion of a death sentence would register my astonishment that a case as piffling as this should ever go to trial. I was wrong.
The judge wasn’t amused and said that the lady’s offense was “very serious”. He ended up giving her 18 months’ probation.
For two strawberries.
That same week the head of Columbia Pictures was convicted of embezzlement. David Begelman had stolen tens of thousands from his studio’s stars, Judy Garland among them, and Cliff Robertson had blown the whistle on him for converting his latest $10,000 check.
That big time crook got a year’s community service which he spent making an anti-drug documentary, at end the of which he crossed the street to become president and CEO of the rival MGM Studios.
Anything wrong with that picture? How about this one:
A young man hands the pharmacist a note demanding narcotics and gets 120 years in the slammer – even though he had no weapon and this was his very first offence. Ricky Kiser, 23, was desperate after his doctor abruptly cut off the highly addictive drugs he’d been prescribing
Virginia judge Joseph Spruill said he’d decided to make an example of the guy. Addicts? That’ll larn ‘em!
But by so doing he created clear grounds for an appeal because you can’t make examples. And maybe some who applaud this judge’s ruling overlook one other factor: the public foots the bill for all court proceedings and also the convict’s incarceration. The more trials, the more prison, the more jobs for the boys of the law. And the more we all pay.
Some 2½ million of us are behind bars, that’s about eight Americans in every thousand. In other western countries the number is less than one.
Spruill’s isn’t the most bizarre of the over-the-top sentences. Not just draconian punishments for non-violent crimes but ridiculous multiple life terms for serious offences like rape and murder. I sentence you to seven life terms plus 100 years. Wha-at? How do they carry out this penalty? When the miscreant croaks in prison at age 85 do they resurrect him with a jolt of voltage so he can begin the next of his life sentences and so on?
I know you’re dead, Butch, but the judge said you had to serve another six life terms, so... Bzzzzt!
The penalty scale is crazy. Mandatory mayhem has judges stuffing marijuana smokers into our prisons, causing overcrowding that forces the release of really dangerous bastards far too early. The child molesters .The killers. The sociopaths are out here with us again but rest easy, folks, we do have those vicious pot puffers away in the dungeons. The streets are safe from weedheads.
A Utah judge casts Weldon Angelos, 24, into the clink for 55 years for selling a pound and a half of grass and immediately calls on President George W Bush to commute the “cruel, unjust and irrational” sentence he’s just been forced to apply. Bush ignored him.
The drugs issue is a major one nationwide. I’m no big proponent of “substances” but let’s be real. Why, for instance, would five grams of crack cocaine get you five years’ bird, yet you’d have to be caught with 100 times as much of the powdered snortin’ kind to be given that same stretch?
It’s not just the sentencing; the whole system stinks.
How about condemned murderer Andre Thomas who plucked out his only remaining eyeball, ate it and was pronounced by a unanimous nine-member Texas appeals court crazy and also sane. Yep, both. At the same time. Apparently it’s possible to be crackers yet legally not: and you don’t even have to be a member of the tea party. Plus they never even asked him how it tasted.
But hey, we hear all the time how our legal system is the best in the world when it most certainly is not. We convict ‘em and then we try ‘em.
Take the Latin phrase sub judice, which means a case is under the auspices of the court. The moment a suspect is charged with a crime, the matter may no longer be discussed, especially in the media, until there’s a verdict. The purpose is to avoid prejudicing a defendant’s rights, most commonly by pre-judging him guilty.
Butch murdered those folks sure enough, and he’ll be tried on Friday. Then why even bother to have a trial. Butch is toast. Buttered. And jelly on top.
In countries that also adhere to Common English Law sub judice is enforced and those who contravene it are guilty of contempt of court. In the US it isn’t, which is why we often have a carnival followed by an overturned conviction and a retrial. Expensive repeat proceedings and guess who gets all the well-paid work and who foots the bill?
We all know the difference between right and wrong. No question. But wait – in this country there’s also something in between those two absolutes, some wiggle room and it’s all perfectly legal. It’s called nolo contendere, no contest. What on earth is that? Guilty? You bet I am, but I’m sure not telling you!
There is, I know, some ultrafine legal definition for nolo but basically it’s nonsense. In my book nolo contendere is nolo excusere. You’re culpable, pal, whether you mince words or not. That non-admission admission is good enough for me. Off with his head!

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© 2011 Fred Wehner is a journalist formerly with the Daily Mail in London, who then founded and ran the New York News Agency before settling in Monroe 21 years ago.