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Thursday, May 29, 2003

Diane Ravitch, "The Language Police"

Warning -- this interview will make you mad.

Diane Ravitch, a professor of education and author of "The Language Police," explained on my show today how political correctness and censorship by both the left and the right has directly affected what kids are taught in our schools. Some of the things that can no longer even be mentioned in textbooks or on standardized tests: the Founding Fathers, owls, dinosaurs, oceans, yachts, Stuart Little, and Mt. Rushmore!

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Wednesday, May 14, 2003

Speaking With Forked Tongue

I'm not a piercing or tattoo kinda guy. No problem if others have them, just not me. I've never understood the appeal, and I've yet to see anyone on whom any artwork or attachment beyond earrings made them more attractive.

That doesn't mean that I'm opposed to anyone getting a tattoo, a piercing, or anything else they want on or in their body. You want to paint your ears purple, shove a number two pencil up your right nostril, and go about your daily life, that's none of my business. And it's none of the government's business, either.

Yet, the Illinois legislature is in the midst of passing a bill that would prohibit one particular type of body modification: tongue splitting. It seems that the genius polticians in Springfield have fixed every other problem in the state, and now they're getting around to this.

No one knows for sure how many Illinoisans (or Americans, for that matter) have had the procedure performed, but to those opposed to it, if it's any number higher than zero, it's too many.

One of those who had this procedure done was James Keen, a 19-year-old from Scottsville, Kentucky. He couldn't get a surgeon to agree to slit his tongue up the middle, so he went to a local body piercer, who didn't use any anesthetic but did sterilize the scalpel by heating it with a blow torch. In other words, a professional. Now James literally speaks with a forked tongue -- and a lisp.

I probably didn't have to tell you his age. You could have guessed it with a margin of error of 5 years. It takes until you're about 25 to grow those red-light brain cells that say to yourself, "Hold on there, pal, you're not going to do that with our body!" Which is why you don't hear about a lot of retirees lining up to have their tongues split.

Like tattooing, I'd guess that a lot of body piercing is done under the influence of alcohol. You party all night, pass out, wake up the next morning, go splash some water on your face, check yourself in the mirror and, "What the hell? I seem to have a serpent's head printed on my forehead and my tastebuds are occupying separate time zones!" Let's see that in a Smirnoff Ice commercial.

As stupid as this may be, we still don't need a law against it. Interestingly, the same people who push this kind of legislation are the same ones who are always screaming that we need government to be smaller and do less. "There are too many regulations! Wait, there's a kid running with scissors! Let's make a new law! And increase funding to the Department Of Intruding On Individual Rights!"

In James' case, his parents not only sanctioned the split, but coughed up the $500 for him to do it. This will not be the case in my house. I'll admit freely that my "it's no one's business but yours" attitude does not apply to anyone listed as a dependent on my tax forms. If my daughter decides in her teen years to come home with her tongue split -- on purpose -- the next stop will be the emergency room, where the sutures will fly.

Although you never know how a teenage girl will act, especially under peer pressure, I think we've given her the mindset where extreme body modification is unlikely. Several years ago, when she was about 4, we were dining at an outdoor cafe. The waitress happened to have a nostril stud, and my daughter couldn't take her eyes off it. After we had ordered and the waitress had gone to get our drinks, our little girl leaned over and asked, "Mommy, do you think it hurt to get that thing in her nose?" My wife said, "When she comes back, why don't you ask her?" A minute later, the waitress brought over our beverages, and my daughter did ask her if getting the stud was painful. The waitress, without a moment's hesitation, answered, "Yes, it did hurt. A lot!"

I tipped her twenty dollars.

Monday, May 12, 2003

Hot House

It was one of those weekends. Mom flew in to spend several days with us, including some serious grandmother-granddaughter bonding time with our nearly-nine-year-old.

The last time my mother came to stay with us was at Thanksgiving, which happened to coincide perfectly with our furnace breaking down. It was cold over that holiday weekend, and since my brother, sister-in-law, and two young nephews were staying with us, too, we really wanted the heat back on. So we called The Guy.

I remember his response as if I were paraphrasing it today. He said, "Hey, pal, we're celebrating Thanksgiving over here, too, and you'd have a better chance of forcing Ted Nugent to go vegetarian than you do of getting me in my truck to deal with your problem!" Figuring we couldn't afford the quadruple golden time he'd charge us if we pressed the matter, we instead hauled out every blanket and sweater in the house and spent the weekend bundled up.

That was six months ago. This weekend, Mom was back -- and this time the air conditioning decided to fail us.

Naturally, the A/C didn't break down until late Friday afternoon, and with temperatures in the upper 80s, and thunderstorms raising the humidity level to approximately 650%, we were soon sitting in our house stewing in a broth of our own concoction.

So we called The Guy. It was past closing time, but he agreed to come over and take a look.

It's at this point that I should mention that the unit he was coming over to look at was brand new. We had just had it installed -- at a cost of $3,000 -- less than a month ago, because the previous unit was over 20 years old and "could go any day." At the time, I didn't realize that "could go any day" is the industry-wide standard diagnosis for any unit that has been hooked up for more than eight seconds. Thus, the problem with the new one which, entirely on its own and without consulting any other appliances, decided that the hottest day thus far this year was the perfect time to go.

The Guy told us the compressor had shorted out ("short" is a technical term related to the life span of mechanical pieces in my HVAC system), and we'd need a new one. Naturally, he didn't have a new one, and since it was now Friday evening, we'd have to wait until Monday at the earliest. This wasn't good. We were sweating more than a casino host who just learned the Bill Bennett would never gamble again.

By now, my boiling point was roughly at the same level as the stifling ambient room temperature in the house, so in my frustration I could no longer form complete sentences. I was reduced to blurting out mini-phrases along the lines of "unacceptable," "three thousand dollars," and "damn hot fix air cool make."

My wife stepped in to speak in actual English with The Guy, who explained that, while he'd like to alleviate the suffering, there was just nothing he could do. My suggestion of going and getting our old unit back and re-installing it was waved off as the ranting of a lunatic. He said that, when the new compressor was available, they'd replace it at no charge.

He left, and we sat down to dinner, which would now not involve any cooking, since no one wanted to feel any heat from the stove or oven. Thankfully, my salad recipe calls for very little heat, and with some microwaved leftovers, we threw together a meal.

At the same time, we also forged a plan for the weekend. My only real contribution was, "Hotel cool get room cool sleep cool." But my wife and mother started remembering how, not that long ago, in the days before central air, we used to deal with this problem every summer by taking advantage of cooler public places. Any restaurant with a good ventilation system would do. Men would drop their traditional shopping reluctance, just to be in an air conditioned store for an hour or so. You'd go to the local movie theater not because of the title on the marquee, but because of the sign hanging below, which read, "Air Conditioned For Your Comfort." Complete with ice dripping off the lettering.

Fortunately, some massive thunderstorms rolled through the next day, and that broke the heat spell, knocking the temperature down about 20 degrees and making it comfortable again. So we got to enjoy the rest of the weekend.

On Monday, we heard from The Guy that he had to special order The Part, and it would be another day or two. The weather has remained ultra-comfortable, so that's not a problem. But I told him to order some extras, just in case.

After all, Mom will be back in a few months, and we'll probably need them. You see, I think Mom's a carrier. And I'm not just saying that to get in a cheap air conditioning brand name pun.

Thursday, May 08, 2003

Henry Winkler

Henry Winkler was on my show to talk about his children's books based on his own childhood, how he got the part on "Happy Days," the Jump The Shark concept, producing "Hollywood Squares" and "WinTuition," and other TV and movie projects he's involved in.

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