Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Rancid Rhymes

Here's something I snagged off a departmental newsletter recently. It's supposedly the winners in a Washington Post competition, asking readers to write a two-line rhyme with the most romantic first line, followed by the least romantic second line.

1. My darling, my lover, my beautiful wife:

Marrying you has screwed up my life.


2. I see your face when I am dreaming.

That's why I always wake up screaming.


3. I thought that I could love no other

-- that is until I met your brother.


4. Roses are red, violets are blue, sugar is sweet, and so are you.

But the roses are wilting, the violets are dead, the sugar bowl's
empty and so is your head.


5. I want to feel your sweet embrace;

But don't take that paper bag off your face.


6. I love your smile, your face, and your eyes

Darn, I'm good at telling lies!


7. My love, you take my breath away.

What have you stepped in to smell this way?

Friday, March 20, 2009

Great Teleprompter Moments in U.S. History

A fair number of people -- even liberal Democrats who support him heartily, it seems -- are commenting these days on how absolutely addicted President Barack Obama is to his teleprompter. All recent Presidents have used the handy device to deliver speeches at big events or for moments when every single word must be correct. But Obama apparently uses the teleprompter almost every single time he speaks in public, even at informal events made for off-the-cuff candor. This addiction has caused him at least one embarrassing moment, when a mix-up in the scripts resulted in Obama reading remarks that the Irish Prime Minister was supposed to deliver. As a result, Obama ended up publicly thanking himself for throwing such a great St. Patrick's Day bash before he snapped to it and realized something was wrong.

If I were a comedy television producer, or someone with the technology and crew to put together comedy skits on YouTube, I would create a video called something like "Great Teleprompter Moments in U.S. History," purporting to show that, far from being an aberration, Obama's teleprompter use merely follows a long tradition of U.S. history-makers relying on the wordy little screens at important moments. The video would feature reenactments of scenes such as these:

Oct, 12, 1492
The Bahamas

Christopher Columbus and a small crew emerge from a rowboat and walk the sands of a small island. As soon as the boat is emptied, it is sent back with two sailors to the Santa Maria and returns 30 minutes later, laden with a crude new device called el telepromptero. It is unloaded and set up, and as a crewman cranks the wooden handle that makes the scroll of parchment move upwards, Columbus reads the words claiming the land for Spain.

Sept. 22, 1776
New York City

Captured by the British after the Battle of Long Island, Nathan Hale, America’s first spy, is on the gallows preparing to be hanged. As the noose is placed around Hale's neck, a British soldier gives the order for his death. Before the sentence is carried out, however, a captured American teleprompter is lifted onto the platform and placed in front of Hale. As the crowd listens in respectful silence, Hale reads his stirring final speech, including the famous words, “I only regret that I have but one life to give my country.” Hale is then hanged, and the teleprompter is shot by firing squad.

Nov. 19, 1863
Gettysburg, Pa.

After composing the teleprompter text for the first speech of the day dedicating the Union cemetery at Gettysburg -- a two-hour oration of 13,607 words by Edward Everett -- the writing hand of the government transcriptionist cramps violently, rendering the limb unusable. As he waits for Everett to finish, President Abraham Lincoln orders the pained young man to rest, then proceeds to write out the words of his speech himself. Gazing into the teleprompter under a brilliant Pennsylvania sky, Lincoln delivers the address, which takes the audience by surprise because it is so brief, lasting only two minutes or so. Asked about this later, Lincoln confessed that he had about 30 minutes worth of material he wanted to use, but was only able to write about two minutes worth of text onto the teleprompter before it was his time to speak.

Aug. 5, 1864
Mobile Bay, Ala.

When Admiral David Farragut sees that Union ships ahead of him in the battle in Mobile Bay are turning around after hitting Confederate underwater mines (called torpedoes at the time), he calls for a cabin boy to bring the teleprompter up top. He tells the boy, who has an associate's degree in mass communication, to write him something to say relaying the idea "I wanna go forward, even though we may all get blowed up real good." The boy scribbles two short sentences onto the roll of paper, then as Farragut mounts the command deck, he looks into screen of the sputtering coal-powered teleprompter and shouts to his men, "Damn the torpedoes! Full speed ahead!"

July 20, 1969
The surface of the Moon

As millions watch on television back on Earth, Apollo 11 commander Neil Armstrong becomes the first man to set foot on the Moon. As soon as his first step is completed, he turns around and looks back at the hatch of the lunar lander, where crewman Buzz Aldrin is doing his best to position a bulky, battery-powered teleprompter (LV-TELEPROMPTSAT, in NASA language) in the opening. As the world waits, Aldrin pushes the power button, the screen lights up, and Armstrong is free to read out loud the now famous words, "That's one small step for [a] man; one giant leap for mankind." It's later revealed that Armstrong neglected to say the word "a" between "for" and "man" because Aldrin had his finger over part of the teleprompter screen.

March 30, 1981
Washington, D.C.

After delivering a speech at the Washington Hilton Hotel, President Ronald Reagan is shot outside the hotel by gunman John Hinckley, Jr. Coughing up blood from a punctured lung, Reagan is rushed to George Washington University Hospital and is prepared for emergency surgery. Nancy Reagan quickly arrives and is escorted into the ER, where aides are frantically setting up a mobile teleprompter unit carried by the Secret Service. As a speechwriter ordered to the scene nervously taps on the keyboard, a visibly pale Reagan summons a smile, looks into the screen and says to his worried wife, "Honey, I forgot to duck." Aides then wheel the teleprompter into Reagan's hospital room, where it stands ready to give the President something to say when he wakes up after the surgery. Speechwriters busily compose a slew of message possibilities ready for use: "I am thirsty. Can I have some water?;" "Boy, am I sore;" "Did George Bush screw anything up while I was under?," and others.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Be a Hero

I just visited this website, where you can make your own superhero. You choose the gender and lots of different characteristics, and then they assign a superhero name based on what you chose.

Here's my first creation -- a guy who does some serious grocery shopping:

I next tried creating a female of steel:

Give it a try, if you're in one of those "I'm so bored I need some mindless fun" moods.

Friday, March 06, 2009

Something Else

That last post was okay -- needed, I guess -- but if I access this blog and see it once again at the top, I think I'll go crazy.

The problem is I don't have anything truly profound or even entertaining to offer you right now. I mean, the most exciting thing going now, I guess, is that we're headed to Dallas this weekend for a mini-spring break trip with the kids. As part of that, we're going to see the King Tut exhibit, unfortunately without Steve Martin playing the title role.

In lieu of a bracing personal entry (but I hope one will come soon), here's some quotations I've found lately that have struck my fancy, and might strike yours as well.
Talent hits a target no one else can hit; Genius hits a target no one else can see.

Arthur Schopenhauer
Our democracy will cease to exist when you take away from those who are willing to work and give to those who are not.

Thomas Jefferson
Only the mediocre are always at their best.

Jean Giraudoux
I began to understand that there were certain talkers — certain girls — whom people liked to listen to, not because of what they, the girls, had to say but because of the delight they took in saying it. A delight in themselves, a shine on their faces a conviction that whatever they were telling was remarkable and that they themselves could not help but give pleasure. There might be other people — people like me — who didn’t concede this, but this was their loss. And people like me would never be the audience these girls were after anyway.

Alice Munro, in “Some Women”
Bureaucrats write memoranda both because they appear to be busy when they are writing and because the memos, once written, immediately become proof that they were busy.

Charles Peters
Last time i saw Count Basie, he was in a wheelchair. They wheeled him up onto the stage, he sits down at the piano, and he gives the downbeat, and that band played like they were in heaven. And right in the middle, the band cuts. He had to take one hand and put the other down on it, and he comes down with one note. And it was the greatest note I ever heard in my life.

Les Paul, father of the electric guitar
When we did "School’s Out," I knew we had just done the national anthem. I’ve become the Francis Scott Key of the last day of school.

Alice Cooper
Staying recently in a South Yorkshire town called Rotherham — described in one guidebook as “murky,” an inadequate word for the place — I was interested to read in the local newspaper how the proprietors of some stores are preventing hooligans from gathering outside to intimidate and rob customers. They play Bach over loudspeakers, and this disperses the youths in short order; they flee the way Count Dracula fled before holy water, garlic flowers, and crucifixes. The proprietors had previously tried a high-pitched noise generator whose mosquito-like whine only those younger than 20 could detect. This method, too, proved effective, but the owners abandoned it out of fear that it might damage the youths’ hearing and infringe upon their human rights, leading to claims for compensation.

Theodore Dalrymple, in the Jan. 29, 2009 issue of City Journal