Tuesday, August 23, 2011


Multi-tasking is computer-speak for the ability of a person to perform more than one task at the same time, but what it’s really about are the interruptions and distractions that plague us in our daily lives. Employers love to talk about multi-tasking because they think it increases production, and therefore profitability. But it’s really only applying Henry Ford’s industrial assembly-line model to human beings. Translation: one employee doing the work of two, or more. Notice I didn’t say multi-tasking improves quality. Its products cannot possibly feature fine craftsmanship. Yet we all do it, don’t we? Rushing around, trying to cram ’way too many jobs into our overly busy days, foreshortening vitally needed leisure time in order to feed the machine, trying to satisfy everyone at the same time. Surely it’s a definition of institutionalized insanity. Think about call-waiting, only one of the abominations foisted upon an unsuspecting public by the various phone companies. It’s considered rude to butt into someone’s private conversation, but somehow okay if that conversation takes place on the phone. And when it comes to getting customer service, what chance does a live human being stand against a ring tone? Consider the larger issue of cell phones themselves. Not only do they continually go off at inappropriate moments, they also make it impossible to escape from conversations we do want to hear, such as in line at the grocery store or restaurant. Thanks to this marriage of multi-tasking and digital technology, we can now be on-call 24/7, tracked anywhere by anyone with access to Radio Shack, and have our private conversations monitored by Big Brother. Is that great, or what? Motorists, already accustomed to multi-tasking behind the wheel (everything from shaving to applying makeup) now can also talk on their cell phones--or text--while in traffic. We all know how much this improves a driver’s concentration and focus. And remember, today’s multi-tasker may well be your brain surgeon tomorrow.

Bring Me Giants

When Blake Edwards died some time ago, it was a sad moment for anyone who loved the Pink Panther movies featuring Peter Sellers as bumbling Inspector Clouseau. Only three of those flicks are worth watching -- The Pink Panther (1963), A Shot in the Dark (1964), and The Return of the Pink Panther (1975) -- each directed and co-written by Edwards, with great theme music by Henry Mancini. I’ve always liked A Shot in the Dark best. It goes without saying, however, that the 2006 Pink Panther remake with Steve Martin as Clouseau was a fiasco and the 2009 sequel even worse. No one could equal Peter Sellers as Clousseau. But can this really be the same Steve Martin who was once so incredibly funny and edgy on Saturday Night Live? Martin has committed an even more egregious crime against art, however. Case in point: his inept 1987 Cyrano De Bergerac modernization, Roxanne. Like Sellers’ Clousseau, Cyrano should never have been played by anyone but Jose Ferrer, who was immortalized by his performance in the 1950 original film. Edmund Rostand’s brilliant drama is laid to waste in Roxanne. Carl Foreman’s 1950 screenplay has few peers; only Casablanca, and that for wit alone, comes to mind. Here are a few of my favorite lines:

CYRANO: Clown! King of Clowns! Leave the stage at once!
MONTFLEURY: Sir, I will not allow you to insult me in this manner.
CYRANO: Really? In what manner would you prefer?

CYRANO: Think of me./ Me whom the plainest woman would despise./ Me with this nose of mine that marches on/ Before me by a quarter of an hour./Whom should I love? Why of course it must be/ The woman in the world most beautiful.

CYRANO: Oh, no, young sir. You are too simple. Why, you might have said a great many things. Why waste your opportunity? For example, thus: AGGRESSIVE: I, sir, if that nose were mine, I'd have it amputated on the spot. PRACTICAL: How do you drink with such a nose? DESCRIPTIVE: 'Tis a rock, a crag, a cape! A cape? Say rather, a peninsula!...ELOQUENT: When it blows, the typhoon howls, and the clouds darken! DRAMATIC: When it bleeds, the Red Sea…These, my dear sir, are things you might have said, had you some tinge of letters or of wit to color your discourse. But wit? Not so, you never had an atom. And of letters, you need but three to write you down: A, S, S. Ass!
VICOMTE DE VALVERT: Insolent puppy, dolt, bunpkin, fool!
CYRANO : How do you do? And I, Cyrano Savinien Hercule de Bergerac.

Bridge Trolls

Count me among those who do not want trolls on our bridges. Isn’t it bad enough that trolls are already under our bridges?
It’s not fair for us to pay federal highway taxes for Boston’s “big dig” when no one outside Louisville, Kentucky, will help pay for our new bridges. But must we have trolls, too? What do trolls know about traffic congestion or funding? They usually live underground or out in the woods.
            Some cite electronic trolls as quicker and less intrusive, but look at the trolls who are already on the net. They post intrusive off-topic messages just to disrupt discussion. Imagine the delays they’d cause outside of cyberspace. No doubt that’s why wiser Louisvillians stamped out trolls on the Clark Bridge generations ago.
No matter what politicians say, putting trolls on bridges will solve nothing. Yes, the sight of fiendish hairy giants with tusks and cyclopic eyes might deter some, but not people determined to reach the Bass Pro Shop. Visualize the collateral damage when some of them start shooting at the trolls.
The troll issue is much more complex than we’ve been led to believe. Not all trolls look alike, for example. Some are human-like, except for the tail hidden in their clothing. We must deport all trolls already here illegally and not bring in any more. I say demand proof of citizenship from anyone with troll-like features.
Even if we reduce the number of bridge lanes, trolls could still cause great harm. They’re vindictive, they're heathens, and they love stealing food. Trolls enter homes invisibly during feasts like the Derby Festival, eat from our plates, and spoil our beer! Now that’s where I draw the line. No trolls on bridges.

Dear Occupant

The meaning of life; that seems like a good place to begin--and don't tell me it's "42," either. Not that I know, but I'm interested. In a world increasingly filled with twaddle, do we really need yet another web log? Well, you know my answer already. I view this in the same way I would slipping a message into a bottle and casting it into the ocean. I have no idea whether anyone will read it or respond, and while it's not exactly true that I don't care, perhaps it's enough for me just to do it. Isn't it ironic that as bookstores go extinct like Mastadons and the printed word itself seems in jeopardy that we have ever-greater numbers of writers offering ever more creative projects? I can't cite statistical evidence (too lazy to do the research), but the need to express our feelings and thoughts appears in inverse proportion to traditional opportunities to do so. Our response seems to be working harder at the craft of writing so that in the welter of public discourse our views may stand out to the discerning reader. I refer to actual people I know here, writers who invest the simple act of keyboarding (or God forbid using a pen) with all their passion and wit and deeply-held feelings to create something original, something new that has the power to move us. I proudly take my place among them and, with this little cyber soapbox, add my notions in the form of brief essays, rants, observations, ruminations, and exhortations. I believe in active verbs and simple declarative sentences, and that all individual talents stand on the shoulders of those who have gone before them (as T.S. Eliot says, more or less, in his famous essay). This blog will be a grab-bag; you'll never know what's coming next, and it will be worth exactly what you paid for it. But I've had fun writing this one and to me that pretty much answers the question I started with.