Friday, May 29, 2015

Bribes, hookers, egos -- why FIFA scandal promises to be so much fun

I like it that American sports fans still care more about a dozen or so under-inflated footballs than a multi-million dollar bribery scandal involving human rights violations, oppression and the unifying passion of the rest of the entire planet.

The Scripps National Spelling Bee?


We’re talking about soccer, that other marathon competition that always seems to end in a confounding tie.

And how does a spelling bee end in a tie? A spelling bee shouldn’t end in tie until every word in the dictionary is exhausted and the last kid correctly spells zythum.

We’re two days into the exploding FIFA scandal and I’ve still yet to get a handle on the facts. 

With scandals like this, I generally don’t begin paying attention until the headlines start including the word, “Kinky.”

So to me the FIFA scandal is like your typical bachelor party: Things don’t start to get really interesting until somebody yells, “Here come the hookers!”

I understand the top FIFA officials are being charged with accepting bribes to award prestigious World Cup host privileges to Russia and Qatar, repressive nations with abysmal human right records.

Me, I become suspicious whenever I see any nation being selected for international honors and realize neither’s ever been a prize destination on “The Price is Right” Showcase Showdown.

Russia? Qatar?

What? Did North Korea miss a bribe deadline?

But I sense I’m about to become riveted by the scandal because stories have alerted me to the existence of a colorful scapegoat, one who coincidentally likes to boast he’s goat-like.

He’s Sepp Blatter.

I generally dislike anyone who calls themselves something like Sepp Blatter because their names seem like typos and alert readers think I’m being sloppy.

Blatter is the 79-year-old FIFA president.

He’s going to be fun to watch because he’s the kind of multi-millionaire who thinks he’s the pope, only if the pope were Hugh Hefner. It’s surprising to American sports fans, but he’s incredibly powerful and treated like a head of state around the world.

And he’s a cad.

He’s a former Swiss wedding singer and past president of the World Society of Friends of Suspenders.

His marriage history sounds like either a Charlie Sheen sitcom or Charlie Sheen’s marriage history. His first wife was a local girl who give him first a daughter and then a divorce.

His second marriage was to the daughter of his boss, then FIFA general secretary Helmut Kaiser. It was said the father-of-the-bride was so distraught he refused to attend the wedding and spent the next week weeping inconsolably.

To make matters worse, a few years after taking Kaiser’s daughter, the scoundrel Blatter took his job.

If there’s to be a Deep Throat emerging in FIFAgate, the smart money says it’s bound to be Kaiser.

His third wife was also 30 years his junior and listed “dolphin therapist” as her occupation. I wish I’d have known there were dolphin therapists before I decided to pursue a writing career. Dolphin therapy seems fun, easy and the “office” hours ensure your tan’ll never fade.

Plus, who the hell’s ever heard of a melancholy dolphin?

They, too, divorced and for the last few years Blatter’s been bragging he’s “married to futbol.”

So now instead of screwing comely dolphin therapists, he’s screwing everyone who cares about soccer.

He says he has no intention of resigning.

“I am a mountain goat that keeps going and going and going,” he says. “I cannot be stopped.”

So it’s going to be fun for even non-soccer fans to watch this scandal unfold.

I suspect we’re going to witness the spectacle of a former friend of suspenders being caught with his pants down.

It’ll be refreshing in a way to see a sports scandal that doesn’t involve balls being deliberately made smaller.

If there’s one thing Blatter and his cronies need not fear, it’s having tiny balls.

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Thursday, May 28, 2015

Why today you should write someone a letter

My daughter loves to get the mail. Getting a letter or postcard is a very special occasion to her. She treasures the correspondence.

She is 8. I wonder when she’ll out grow this childish affinity.

If she’s anything like her old man the answer is never. I still love getting the mail.

Let me rephrase that. I still love getting some mail.

I still love getting paychecks, notes and invitations to parties or places to visit. I love hearing from relatives. I love Christmas cards, birthday greetings and out-of-the-blue howdies from old drinking buddies.

That means I love getting maybe one item of mail out of every 500 pieces delivered to our home.

But like our Lucy, I understand there’s still a prospector’s euphoria in retrieving the daily mail. You never know what treasures it may bestow.

Circumstances have led me to a golden revival of letter writing.

It goes back to when I was deluged with letters from people thanking me for the book.

I kept each and every one of them and for a while they covered every square exterior inch of my office beer fridge. My favorite was from a woman, the mother of a dear friend, who said my book meant the world to her. She hadn’t been feeling well.

“I have very bad arthritis in my knees and for the past few months have endured some health issues,” she wrote — in very elegant cursive, by the way. “Some days I find myself getting depressed. But since reading your book I realize I’ve been living with only dark colored crayons. Your book’s changed my whole life.”

The woman was 98.

When I die and my greedy descendants go pawing through my things in search of stocks, land titles or maybe a tattered old map to buried treasure, they will find none of those things.

But they will find that letter.

I’ll keep it forever. It is to me a true treasure.

That darling woman died a few weeks ago, just shy of her 100th birthday.

Know what I did?

I wrote my friend a heartfelt letter about what her mother’s letter means to me.

She said she was very touched. I was hoping she would be.

When was the last time you sat down and wrote an honest-to-goodness letter to someone who matters?

Take it from me, it’ll make your day as much as it does the recipient’s.

I’m actually binging on the humble act these days.

In fact, I just sent a letter to Nigeria.

It was tucked inside a crayon-signed copy of the book. Tayo Akano read about the book and e-mailed a request that I send him a free copy, as the book on page 1 promises I’ll always do.

Or is my Tayo a she? I haven’t found an artful way to ask. My research reveals Tayo is a unisex name — like Chrissie! — associated with the West African language Yoruba. One site says Tayos are known for their generosity and sexiness.

Hello, Tayo!

It costs $18.89 to send a letter and a $15.95 self-help book roughly 5700 miles from Latrobe to the city of Ilorin in Kwara, Nigeria. Whether it’ll ever get there remains a mystery.

It’s impossible to calculate the descending levels of indifference in the 100 or so postal workers who’ll need to display international competence for my letter to get from me to my sexy new friend.

They said it would take 18 days to arrive. Today will be Day 33 of the book’s odyssey, one I’m sure Homer — the poet, not the Simpson — would appreciate.

What if in two months the book has still yet to arrive?

I’ll try all over again.

I’m lately writing bunches of business letters, too. I’m finding they’re incredibly useful introductory tools.

Think about it: How many nondescript e-mails do busy executives get each day? Fifty? A hundred? More?

What could be more boring than daily sifting through that great, gray electronic muck?

Then my letter lands on their desk. It’s beautiful. He or she can pick it up. The name on the letterhead is catchy, intriguing. Each letter is signed in vivid crayon.

What could be more day-brightening?

I know.

A letter that asks for nothing. When it’s a meeting planner I’m hoping will hire me to speak to their group, I basically say hello, I’m not here to burden you, but I have something that’ll make you smile. If it does, check out my website. If that, too, makes you smile, please get in touch.

“And that’ll make me smile.”

Works like a soft-sell charm.

I think it’s because we’ve all become so defensive about being inundated with communication that is monolithic, impersonal and so artificially chipper.

With each e-mail blast, with each social media birthday greeting, the demolition of our once-charming interpersonal communication harshly proceeds.

I advise you to today set a moment aside and just jot down a little note to an old friend, a teacher or someone with whom you once shared some laughter or maybe an illicit little boink. 

It’ll make their day — yours, too. I promise.

See, when it comes to just how much an old-fashioned letter can mean to our whole lives and the letter’s unique ability to touch special places deep in our souls, I’m just like my 8 year old daughter, the one who looks forward each day to visiting the mailbox.

A really good letter is something we get.

Related . . .

ZIP-ity-doo-duh: A postal money maker

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Will eternity seem like an eternity?

Today’s topic is eternity.

Because I understand our time is short, I promise I’ll try and keep it snappy.

I find myself wondering more and more about eternity and the idea of endless time.

It’s unfathomable.

The closest I come to relating is Mr. Wylie’s Econ 101 back at Ohio University. It was from 6 to 8 p.m. on Tuesdays and Thursdays and it seemed to take forever, especially the last 30 minutes when I was in a panic to get to the bars before anything fun happened without me. I remember staring at the clock, oblivious to old Wylie’s blahbedy-blahbedy-blahhing about Adam Smith’s Invisible Hand.

He didn’t care we had things to do. I remember how his reciprocal obliviousness always made me want to give him the Invisible Finger.

So that’s an example of when 30 slim minutes seemed like an eternity.

What will we do if eternity ever starts to seem like an eternity? 

I’m starting to think even in heaven I’ll get bored.

For our purposes, let’s stipulate in eternity we’ll still need to deal with some common units of time like days and years.

And, yes, let’s assume me, you and everyone else who reads my blog are bound for heaven. To assume otherwise would be depressing and would require the kind of substantive content changes that would ruin all the fun of producing and reading this blog.

I think what sent me down this eternal path was seeing a young adult book called, “Please Bury Me in the Library,” by J. Patrick Lewis. I find the title utterly charming.

I’ve always wished I had more time to read. In eternity, you’ll have all the time in the world to read.

Well, all the time in the afterworld.

But will I one day run out of good books? Remember, eternity is forever. The printed word’s only been around for about 2,500 years. That’s roughly the age of a 6-page book found in a Bulgarian tomb. It’s so ancient, scholars have been unable to translate a single word.

I have a hunch they’ll one day declare it’s a book of old Far Side cartoons.

But in heaven you could read every book ever produced — even all the really crappy ones — in the blink of an eternal eye. 

What would you do after you’ve run out of books?

I’d like to play golf in heaven, but would that ruin golf? The more you golf, the better you’re bound to get. What if, say, I played every single day. Certainly, I’d improve. Would excelling at golf ruin playing golf?

I think it might.

What else would you like to do for eternity?

You’d have to imagine even in heaven there’d be restrictions on some pastimes the Biblical honchos have long deemed sinful. Maybe you could get a pass and go to hell to enjoy those forbidden recreations, sort of like the way people on Earth do in Las Vegas.

But customs on the return trip would be a real bitch, for sure.

You know one thing I’d like to do in heaven that most people never dream of?

In heaven, I’d like to sleep. Really sleep.

For like 250 billion years.

Really, I think sleep is going to be a big part of managing eternity. 

Because all the other things you do — games, conversation, dining — will eventually grow tedious. Same goes for family togetherness.

My family and I will soon embark on a five-day jaunt full of fun activities. We’ll be rafting, hiking, zip lining, kayaking, etc. Coincidentally, we’ll be doing this in West Virginia, the state with the motto: “Almost Heaven.”

Guaranteed, as much fun as we’re bound to have together we’ll all be eager after just five days to get home and find ways to put a little distance between one another.

Sleeping again in our own beds will be, yes, heavenly.

I have to think in heaven hitting the snooze alarm will buy you another 10,000 years of shut-eye.

I’d like to know what you think about the concept of eternity.

You don’t have to come up with an answer right away.

Take your time.

Take it while time still seems something indescribably precious. 

Related . . .

Sunday, May 24, 2015

RRS: Q: War: What is it good for? A: War movies!

I see AMC is running “Saving Private Ryan” four times tomorrow, which I guess makes it to war movies what “SlapShot!” is to hockey flicks: the one best representative of the genre. Either way, I’ll be in full war movie overload by tomorrow at this time. I hate war, but I love war movies. This is from 2013.

Happy Memorial Day! Remember to say a prayer for those who gave all.

Being born with a philosophical bent, I spend a good deal of time wrestling with the great questions of the ages.

“Why are we here?” “What happens to us when we die?” And, “If God created heaven and earth, who created God?”

Those are all topics for another day.

Today, Memorial Day, I think I have an answer to a question that has puzzled great thinkers since it was first posed in 1970. The question?

“War: What is it good for?”

After much soul-searching I’ve come up with an answer. It is as follows:

Without war, there would be no great war movies.

I understand my answer is unlikely to salve the wounds of the veterans and widows for whom today means so much more than a traditional basic cable war movie feast.

I know of very few males, the gender primarily responsible for launching and fighting wars, for whom war movies do not resonate.

I wonder if the two are related.

But I know many men who today will be tuned in to watch, “Patton,” “The Guns of Navarone,” “Saving Private Ryan,” “The Longest Day,” and other epic films based on man’s inhumanity to man.

I think it’s because most men wonder how we’d react under fire. Would we flee or advance?  Would we respond like our fathers did?

In my case, the answer is probably yes.

Like many descendants of The Greatest Generation, I come from military stalk. The declaration seems to be bestow me with reflected glory.

My Dad served. He stood on the bright line that helped save the world from tyranny.

Did he storm the beaches at Normandy? No.

Dad was a U.S. Navy chaplain’s assistant.

The only less hazardous military title I can imagine is Army Pillow Tester.

He had no war stories about heroics. In fact, my favorite war story of his was the one he told about he was waiting to board the U.S Pocono to be shipped off to the Pacific on August 7, 1945, when someone told him we’d dropped the atom bomb on Hiroshima.

Dad’s question: “What’s an atom bomb?”

Military historians will argue the ethics of the point, but the atom bomb forced a swift Japanese surrender and likely saved the lives of my father and millions of others who would have perished invading an entrenched and motivated Japan.

We naturally tend today to memorialize only of the ones who fought on the front lines, the wounded and dead. In fact, the original intent of Memorial Day was the memorialize those killed in action. It has somehow morphed into an omnibus military appreciation day and I’m cool with that.

I tend to believe heroics are often the result of circumstance.

In that regard, I’m like the protagonist of what to me is the greatest war movie ever made, a war movie that shows not a single gun being fired and the only notable death is unseen, but merely mentioned in a letter read aloud.

It’s “Mister Roberts.”

The 1955 John Ford movie stars Henry Fonda as beleaguered Lt. Doug Roberts, the executive officer aboard the cargo supply ship Reluctant.

Roberts itches for action, but so excels at his mundane duties that his tyrannical captain, played by James Cagney, won’t approve his repeated requests for front line transfer.

In the end, his beloved crew secretly rigs the transfer and Roberts is thrust into combat.

The movie concludes with the bored crew getting two letters from Roberts’s new ship: the first is from Roberts who relates how his destroyer is in the thick of the action near Okinawa. 

In hindsight, he has an epiphany about his old shipmates and that the “unseen enemy of this terrible war is the boredom that eventually becomes a faith and, therefore, a terrible sort of suicide. I know now that the ones who refuse to surrender to it are the strongest of all.”

The second letter is from one of Roberts’s shipmates. It conveys Roberts was killed in a below-decks kamikaze strike. He was drinking coffee and never saw it coming.

Just another example of a sad, useless death in war’s grim ledger.

But, geez, it makes for one hell of a movie.

Related . . .

Friday, May 22, 2015

The Boss of the Bee: Me again as Word Master

The nearest exit was blocked by three 8-year-old girls who at the moment were all bawling their eyes out.

Exit no. 2 was crowded with chairs, children and the folding table packed with all the gift baskets.

That meant the least obstructed way out was to leap straight off the stage and dash down the middle aisle of the Greensburg Salem Middle School auditorium and just pray I could dodge the 80 or so parents and supporters who would, I was certain, descend en masse and hold me until the cops showed up.

It was the 9th annual Greensburg Rotary Spelling Bee. I was again word master and the situation was on the verge of unraveling.

We were down to just two students — two darling girls — and neither could spell the two words in a row required to declare a victor.

The first girl would correctly spell mesa, but then flub xylophone. Then the next girl would nail pigeon, but stumble over hieroglyphics.

It went on like that for 20 minutes. It looked like it might never end. The words were only getting more difficult.

Rhombus, ventriloquist, terrestrial, handkerchief  … the girls were taking turns misspelling the clinchers.

Unless you’ve been, you have no idea how nerve-wracking a competitive spelling bee among elementary children is. I’ve been to many less compelling NFL games.

The children are so precious. They’ve studied so hard. They are eager to do well.

And when they misspell aorta, it looks like theirs is going to rupture right there on stage.

This was the second year they’d asked me to be word master and it looks like the gig is mine until I show up drunk and for fun start asking the little 3rd graders to spell words like poopy or fart.

I learned last night my predecessor had been a prominent female broadcaster who fell out of favor when she gave into the temptation show off.

I’m not saying she was Diane Sawyer, but she acted like she was Diane Sawyer.

“It was unbelievable,” a judge told me. “When she told one kid to spell tsunami, she said, ‘The Japanese pronounce the word Ta-SU-ne-MAY.’ Geez, these kids don’t care about Japanese pronunciations.”

I told her that would never happen with me.

I despise psilent letters.

What did worry me was a crying kid could shatter my reserve and I’d be forced to act like a caring human being.

We know how that can lead to trouble.

See, as word master, I’m a perfect cypher. I dress nice and have a pleasant smile the whole time, but show zero emotion. I’m like “Hunger Games” emcee Caesar Flickerman only with a mood-tempering hangover.

Last year, it took me a while to achieve this facade. I remember having to force myself not to silently mouth the correct letters to the boys. Sure, I understand the necessity of being impartial, but I’ll do whatever I can to help a kid from the home team win.

I really started getting nervous when three of the girls started to bawl.

Any misstep or misspeak on my part it could lead to controversy.

But I have a precious 8-year-old girl at home. She cries, too. And when she does, my instinct is drop whatever I’m doing, pick her up in my Daddy arms and squeeze until my shirt’s soaked up all the tears.

Imagine the scandal if I did that with some other Daddy’s daughter?

Can you spell molester?

I’d be dismissed from future word master duties for reasons more felonious than a pretentious pronunciation of Ta-SU-ne-MAY.

Happily, we soon declared a winner. The runner-up failed on the word strategy and the eventual winner brought home the trophy by correctly spelling first encyclopedia then quadrilateral.

It was all very impressive.

Even more impressive, I made it though the whole night without a single mispronunciation or flub. Parents and organizers said my enunciations were flawless and I’ll be welcomed back next year.

I went home without having caused any parental dismay or scandal.

And that to me spells relief.

Related . . .