Sunday, February 25, 2007

Quote of the Week: Like a (Re)Virgin

From "Christian Right Labors to Find ’08 Candidate" by David D. Kirkpatrick on the front page of today's New York Times:
[Grover Norquist] argued that with the right promises, any of the four [Republican presidential candidates] could redeem themselves in the eyes of the conservative movement despite their past records, just as some high school students take abstinence pledges even after having had sex.

“It’s called secondary virginity,” Mr. Norquist said. “It is a big movement in high school and also available for politicians.”

Upon reading the headline in the paper, the Boy Wonder commented, "So the liberal media does report good news!" My thought exactly.

The article describes a recent meeting, held at the Ritz-Carlton on Amelia Island, FL (do ya love it?!), of about 60 members of the Council for National Policy. The council is a "secretive club" founded 25 years ago by the Rev. Tim LaHaye, author (with much assistance) of the "Left Behind" series, "as a forum for conservative Christians to strategize about turning the country to the right."
Its secrecy was intended to insulate the group from what its members considered the liberal bias of the news media....The council’s bylaws forbid members from publicly disclosing its membership or activities...
The club's "few hundred members" include Dr. James C. Dobson of Focus on the Family, the Rev. Jerry Falwell of Liberty University, Grover Norquist of Americans for Tax Reform and Paul Weyrich, chairman of the Free Congress Foundation.
Although little known outside the conservative movement, the council has become a pivotal stop for Republican presidential primary hopefuls, including George W. Bush on the eve of his 1999 primary campaign....For eight years and four elections, President Bush forged a singular alliance with Christian conservatives — including dispatching administration officials and even cabinet members to address council meetings — that put them at the center of the Republican Party.
So let's see: We have a secret...(ahem)...cabal of coreligionists plotting to control the government. It must have a manifesto, perhaps authored (or at least suggested) by Tim LaHaye.

The manifesto's title?

"Protocols of the Elders of Amelia."

Saturday, February 24, 2007


Amazing how a snake biting a dog can prompt a national furor and an editorial in The New York Times. That would be because a middle-grade children's book, The Higher Power of Lucky by Susan Patron, which just won a Newbery Award, has a dog suffering a snakebite on its SCROTUM on page one. And now, months after the book's publication, librarians nationwide are in a tizzy because they don't want to hazard exposing impressionable children to such a dangerous word.

The Times noted in an editorial, One Troublesome Word:
The arguments pro and con are bubbling on librarians’ message boards. The cons seem vastly outnumbered, though they have gotten a lot of attention. One likened the author, Susan Patron, to the shock-radio host Howard Stern. Another suggested that teachers reading the book aloud replace that word with “a clearing-throat noise,” a bleep in the form of an “ahem.”
What's troublesome to me is that I live in a nation that can send a man to the moon but can't name all his body parts...or a dog's. You can bet that any kid aged 9-12 (Lucky's suggested readership) sure as hell knows what "balls" are, and no doubt has used the word, even if not in Mom's and Dad's--or the school librarians'--hearing.

Come to think of it, this is the same nation that had front-page newspaper stories about its last president getting extramarital fellatio. I'd rather my kid had read about a dog getting bitten in the crotch than the sordid details of "presidential kneepads," etc. Which he did, courtesy of the Washington Post. And if memory serves, one of his adult guardians (possibly yours truly) was obliged to explain the sexual terms he was taking in along with his morning cereal. Blech.

But there's a silver--or rather, golden--lining to the cloud over The Higher Power of Lucky. As everyone in the publicity biz knows, controversy sells. And kids' books are no exception. "Debate Fuels Book Sales" is the heading of a graf in today's NYT Arts, Briefly column. The Higher Power of Lucky is #4 on the children's bestseller list on, and in the top 50 of all book titles. Patron, who's a librarian herself, can get the last laugh... all the way to the bank. And I sure hope she does.

By the way, I had to laugh at the pic of Patron "at work" in her home office in a Feb. 18 feature in the NYT. She was sitting ramrod-straight at her computer, primly attired in a long-sleeved top, longish skirt, dark hose and good shoes. And, of course, a demure string of pearls. To make the picture even more perfect, her dog was asleep by her side. Yeah, and I'm sure she always works at home dressed like that, though the dog probably does like to snooze nearby.

Friday, February 23, 2007

Who Knew?

This morning I read The Reliable Source in the Washington Post online for the first time in quite a while. Am I glad I did, otherwise I would have never known that the Washington, DC, elephant polo team, the Capitol Pachyderms, finished second in the Ceylon Elephant Polo Association's Taprobane Trophy Tournament in Sri Lanka last week. (Interesting that the assn. uses the colonial name "Ceylon," rather than Sri Lanka.) The winners were the Australian team, Tickle and the Ivories. As the Reliable Source observed, "Yes, that's right: elephant polo."

Well, I just had to learn more. According to the website of the World Elephant Polo Association:
Elephant polo was first played in India around the turn of the 20th century, by members of the Maharaja’s Harem (Zenena) – to keep them busy [very busy, I'm sure!].... The first games were played with a soccer ball, but after finding that the elephants like to smash the balls [!], the soccer ball was replaced with a standard polo ball. The sticks are made of bamboo and have a standard polo mallet on the end. The length of the stick depends on the size of the elephant - anywhere from 5 to 12 feet.

Most of the rules of the games are based on horse polo, but ...there are some necessary additions - for instance, it is a penalty for an elephant to lie down in front of the goal line [well, duh]. Players are secured in rope harnesses, with a rope across their thighs and rope stirrups. The game will stop if a player's harness becomes too loose and there is a danger of the player falling off. Players have fallen off elephants only a few times in WEPA's 20-year history. [What a relief; it's a looong way down & players could be squashed like a bug.]

The primary difference between horse and elephant polo... is that the elephants are "driven" by their trainers, called "mahouts." ...The player's responsibility is to let the mahout know where to go, how fast, when to stop, etc. Most of the mahouts and all of the elephants only understand Nepali, so the communication is difficult at times. The professional players tend to learn some basics Nepali to help with the communication on the pitch. [Y'know, like when you learn some Spanish so you can tell the gardener what to do.]
So elephant polo is for sahibs only; no more bored ranis. Fittingly, the WEPA was hatched in a bar in St. Moritz, Switzerland, by two members of the exclusive Cresta Club for tobogganers.

Inquiring minds want to know when elephant polo will become an Olympic event. And whether the Capitol Pachyderms are, or will become, the official team of the GOP.
Photo courtesy of Tom Claytor

Monday, February 19, 2007

Start Spreadin' the News

By proclamation of the Boy Wonder, who has a remarkable memory for song lyrics (but forgets many other things, like homework, but we won't go into that), this Wednesday, February 21 is:

National Speak in Song Lyrics Day

I'll be swotting up for the next couple of days with the aid of various websites. If BW gets really lucky, instead of nagging him to do his homework and household chores, I'll be silent for long periods while I'm dredging my memory for song titles and lyrics.


Better yet, I'll research lyrics to nag by, starting with "Yakety Yak" by Leiber and Stoller, recorded by the Coasters:

Take out the papers and the trash
Or you don't get no spendin' cash

Friday, February 16, 2007

I Love When This Happens!

A few months ago I consulted with Pierre Epstein, actor and author of Abraham Epstein: The Forgotten Father of Social Security, just out from University of Missouri Press. I recommended that he (1) work with publicist Gene Taft and (2) write a newspaper opinion piece.

Well, wouldn't you know that 1 and 2 led to 3: publication in today's Los Angeles Times of My Dad, a father of Social Security. Epstein shows how history repeats itself and that what's old is new again.

(And if you think Social Security doesn't matter, read or watch Al Franken's announcement of his Senate candidacy, in which he tells how his wife's family got by thanks to survivor benefits.)

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Anti-Valentine Contest Results

Love is all around today. So is snow. And cold. In fact, in much of the country the snow and cold may outweigh the love.

Here in Denver, we got about 2" of new snow on top of the stuff that's been lying around since late December, and the forecast tonight is for more of the same, with temps near zero.

So I'm in the perfect humor to present further entries in the Anti-Valentine Contest. (See previous entries here and here.) They are all winners. Everyone gets a snowball!

You Know Your Relationship is in Trouble When...

True Story Division:
  • She tells you she finally realized she's a lesbian. [Darling Husband, re wife #1]

  • Your husband of 8 years, with whom you already have two little boys, says that it's not that he doesn't want a third baby, he's just not sure he wants one with you. [Anon.]

  • You find his diary and read that you’re just "so-so." Arrrrgh!!! [Anon.]

  • You find his "pink" book, with all his girlfriends and their "grades." The good news is yours is the last name in the book. The bad news is that your grade isn’t the highest. [Anon.]

  • Your beautiful, beloved, understanding wife writes a letter demanding you apologize for what she imagines is infidelity--and has it published on the front page of a major newspaper. [Silvio Berlusconi, Rome]

  • Your husband tries to "adopt" some blonde gold-digger; then when she turns up dead, he holds a press conference announcing he's the father of her baby. [Zsa Zsa Gabor, Beverly Hills]

  • A gay hustler tells the newsmedia about your special friendship. [Ted Haggard, 100% heterosexual secret location]

  • For her Ninth Step in rehab, your wife tells you she had an affair with the mayor whose re-election campaign you successfully managed. [Alex Tourk, San Francisco]

  • Fiction Division:
  • She tries to explain the email from with “we all need more friends.” [Darling Husband]

  • Your husband asks you to pick up his first Viagra prescription at the pharmacy because he is too embarrassed, and after receiving same, never uses it with you...or so it appears. [Dianne Ochiltree]

  • He starts dating your mother. [Gina Ruiz]

  • He spends all his time with your daughter. [Charlotte Haze Humbert]
  • Monday, February 05, 2007

    Better (or worse) than Reality

    Entries to the Anti-Valentine Contest (see post below) have been streaming in, several of which caused me to laugh and cringe in equal measure. As it turns out, some of the most cringeworthy turn out to have been inventions. Count on writers not to follow directions!

    Consequently, I decided to post a sidebar contest for those whose imagination outstrips their experience:

    You Know Your (Fictitious) Relationship is in Trouble When...

    Best entries so far:
    1. He leaves you the grocery list on the back of his free clinic test results -- and he has 3 STD’s. (Kim Stagliano)
    2. He tells you about the great party he's invited to...and you're not. (Jennifer Macaire)
    3. You find her address book and your name has a red line through it. (Jennifer Macaire)
    4. He takes the dog out for a walk and comes back with his shirt on backwards. (Jennifer Macaire)
    To enter:
    Email your (fictitious) entry to {bystander at bellastander dot com} with the subject: FAKE CONTEST. I'll post the results on Valentine's Day--and maybe give a (fictitious) prize.

    Friday, February 02, 2007

    Never Mind the Hearts and Flowers...

    No sooner was the new year here than Valentine's Day decorations started sprouting up everywhere. To which I say once again, "Bah! Humbug!"

    Don't get me wrong: I'm happily married to my second--and last--husband. But I don't care for an arbitrary, mass-merchandised day for romance, especially when it comes during the most unromantic season of all. Maybe it's my low thyroid, but all I can think of canoodling with right now is a thick, fluffy sweater and a mug filled with a steaming beverage, preferably one fortified with a shot of bourbon.

    Book Promotion 101 alumna Karen Quinn is promoting her new novel, Wife in the Fast Lane, with an online contest, with nifty prizes for one-liners, essays and videos summing up the multi-tasking life. One of my favorites: "I was driving to work when I realized I did not have on my shoes; it dawned on me that I had run over them in the driveway."

    In a similar vein--though with no website or fancy prizes--I'm inaugurating an Anti-Valentine contest. Just finish this line, drawn from your personal experience:

    You Know Your Relationship is in Trouble When…

    Here are some to get you started, all 100% true:
    1. He says he’s been working too much and needs to spend more time with…the dog.

    2. He boasts that the sweet young thing he’s been seeing on the side told him that he’s exceptionally well-endowed…then anxiously asks you whether you think she was telling the truth.

    3. Your kid finds him in bed with the babysitter—and she wasn’t even working at the time.
    To enter:
    Send an email to {bystander at bellastander dot com} with the subject: CONTEST.

    I'll post results on February 14th; maybe by then I'll come up with some prizes.


    It's 12F and sunny (practically a heat wave!), and Darling Husband and Boy Wonder will be going to a Super Bowl party. Which means I can spend Sunday afternoon and evening in blissful silence, rather than hiding to escape the ghastly sounds of huge men smashing their heads and other parts.

    Speaking of smashing heads, there's a second sobering article on concussion and football in today's NY Times: Dark Days Follow Hard-Hitting Career in N.F.L. I've never played any contact sport, but when I was thrown by the horse last May, along with other injuries, I suffered a concussion--my 4th overall (3 from equestrian activities) and the 2nd severe one over the course of 24 years.

    Although I was wearing a very sturdy and heavily padded helmet, I was knocked out and got a whacking bruise on the right side of my skull, along with a smashed-up face and mouth. Now when I scratch my scalp where the bruise was, I get a shower of tingles on the right side of my forehead and above my eye, much of which are now numb. (It sure feels weird to apply eye makeup, especially liner.)

    As the article points out, it takes a long time to recover from concussion. Exactly how long, no one will say; my doctors never did. But I can attest that at the least it takes many months. As with the football players profiled in the articles, I've suffered memory loss and depression, though thankfully nowhere as bad as theirs. No personality change either; nor drug addiction, though I would have gladly become dependent on some drug last summer, when my theme song was "I Wanna Be Sedated." But everything I took had intolerable side effects: Vicodin and Percocet awakened me in the middle of the night with itching so horrendous that I drew blood; Lyrica made me fall down--not what I wanted with a broken arm, ribs and face.

    The Times quotes former Patriots linebacker Ted Johnson: "The thought of violently tackling a player, he said, 'made me physically ill.'"

    I know just what he means: the thought of just watching a violent tackle makes me physically ill. In fact, I can't stomach seeing any violent act, or even its aftermath, which makes viewing TV and movies challenging (driving too, given all the weather-related fender benders lately). I'm scrutinizing reviews and ratings more carefully than I did when Boy Wonder was small. My new credo: "More sex and drugs! Less violence!"

    Newspapers are fraught with peril too: I regularly have to fold over the pages to hide bloody images from Iraq and elsewhere. And no way am I reading today's Denver Post story headlined "Dragging testimony grisly," though as a former copyeditor I think it would have been more grammatical as "Grisly dragging testimony." (It was worded differently online.)

    Joke's Over

    It's s***ing again; current temperature is 1˚F. Forecast is for up to another 2 inches of s*** tonight with a low of -6˚; high tomorrow of 8˚ (eight degrees!). The exciting news is that the temperature is supposed to get above freezing on Monday. All I have to do is get through the next three days...and the Super Bowl. Ugh.

    Oh, how I wish I were going back to Los Angeles, even though my eyes sting the whole time I'm there. (Similasan drops are a girl's best friend.)

    Update 7:45am Fri 2/2:
    It's -11F outside; it got down to a record-breaking -18F at 5am.

    The headlines on today's Denver Post are a marvel of contradiction: "Grim assessment on climate" is the banner above a 4-column photo of snowy traffic with a 2-column header, "A BITTER BLAST OF WINTER." To the right is the subhead "Warming 'very likely' man-made: NO STOPPING IT NOW." (Well, yeah, we have the heat on inside and we're
    sure as hell not turning it off.)