Monday, June 25, 2007

A Word of Advice

It's graduation season. Students will swelter in full-length robes made of nonbreathable fabric while their parents bake, doting and dehydraded, in the summertime heat.

The care and feeding of the planet will be passed on to a new generation by commencement speakers, most of whom were entrusted with the same responsibility, only to screw it up big time.

Those hard-earned diplomas will open the door to exciting and rewarding careers. In medicine, for example, you will heal the ill and be paid hansomely for it. In journalism, you will expose ills and get paid like a fork lift operator.
Lord knows, I've been through a bunch of these ceremonies, both as a participant and as a spectator.

One of our daughters "walked" in high school, twice in college, once in law school and once when she was sworn into the bar. Her tuition was exceeded by the amount spent on new clothes for each occasion.

And each and every ceremony that I sat through as a graduate and a parent was accompanied by a speech in which grads were wished well in the real world and reminded that this place was where they learned to think.

Aside from the general tone of the remarks, I remember absolutely nothing. Not one word.

Perhaps that was because I was caught up in the emotion of the moment. Or maybe I was just in the wrong place and the wrong time.

But there have been plenty of pearls of wisdom passed on at these affairs. What follows is a few favorites culled from a seemingly inexhaustable library of graduation speeches found on the Internet:

"Be as bold as the first man or woman to eat an oyster." - Shirley Chisholm, congresswoman.

"A man who has never gone to school may steal from a freight car; but if he has a university education, he may steal the whole railroad." - Theodore Roosevelt.

"When you leave here, don't forget why you came." - Adlai Stevenson.

"If you think education is expensive, try ignorance!" - Andy McIntyre.

" You can't live a perfect day without doing something for someone who will never be able to repay you." - John Wooden.

"It is clear the future holds great opportunities. It also holds pitfalls. The trick will be to avoid the pitfalls, seize the opportunities, and get back home by six o'clock. - Woody Allen.

"During my second year of nursing school our professor gave us a quiz. I breezed through the questions until I read the last one: "What is the first name of the woman who cleans the school?" Surely this was a joke. I had seen the cleaning woman several times, but how would I know her name? I handed in my paper, leaving the last question blank. Before the class ended, one student asked if the last question would count toward our grade. "Absolutely," the professor said. "In your careers, you will meet many people. All are significant. They deserve your attention and care, even if all you do is smile and say hello." I've never forgotten that lesson. I also learned her name was Dorothy." - Joann C. Jones.

"If you aren't fired with enthusiasm, you will be fired with enthusiasm. - Vince Lombardi.
"Graduation day is tough for adults. They go to the ceremony as parents. They come home as contemporaries. After twenty-two years of child-raising, they are unemployed." - Erma Bombeck.

"The true meaning of life is to plant trees, under whose shade you do not expect to sit." - Nelson Henderson.

And perhaps most telling:

"Education is the best provision for old age." - Aristotle.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Jail House Crock

I feel sorry for Paris Hilton.

Sure, she's a spolied, self-centered, morally compromised pseudo celebrity whose very fame has been created by a howling pack of paparazzi peddling their wares to gaudy fan mags and cable TV hacks.

Sure, she was caught driving her Bentley like a bumper car, full of booze but not remorse.

Sure, she was pulled over driving with a suspended license shortly after that. Sure, she then got nailed doing 70 in a 35 MPH zone with her lights out at night.

Sure, Paris blamed her handlers for her being caught behind the wheel twice while her driver's license was suspended. Asked whether she had understood the terms of the drunk-driving plea that she agreed to Hilton, said: "I just sign what people tell me to sign. I'm a very busy person."

Sure, some mean old judge then sentenced her to a jail term for violating her probation.

Sure, kindly Sheriff Lee Baca cut her loose after three days, citing medical problems, forcing her to spend the rest of her sentence under house arrest on the hard-scrabble grounds of her Hollywood mansion.

Sure, she immediately became a political football in a war between the Sheriff's Department and the Superior Court system over who has juristiction in such matters.

But even though her popularity ratings are lower than George Bush, poor Paris last week was subjected to treatment usually reserved for mass murderers.

First, a couple of beefy cops drag her out of her house. Then she's trussed up like Hannibal Lechter to appear before a judge.

Then she's led weeping out of the courtroom and back into jail to the loud applause of much of the free world.

Because she used every resource available to her to avoid jail, which I trust most of us would have done under similar circumstances, she incurred a public wrath so intense I half expected a lynch mop to appear at her front door, armed with torches and pitchforks.

How did this happen?

Pretend for a moment you're Lee Baca. Among your other responsibilities is overseeing an inmate population of 20,000, the largest jail system in the United States.

You know that 90% of the inmates in L.A. County jail are serious felons -- many held on murder charges or attempted murder charges.

Into this mix some judge has dropped Paris Hilton. By your yardstick, she's a low level offender and most female inmates serve 10 per cent of their sentences because of overcrowding.

Since she was sentenced to 45 days, 23 with time off for good behavior, she gets cut lose in 3 days, slightly more than 10 per cent of her sentence.

Besides that, you know that she's not behaving normally. She refuses to eat or drink for fear someone will take a photo of her on the toilet. She hasn't taken her medications and in your opinion, "she has severe problems."

You have two choices: keep her caged up to satisfy the public blood lust. Or discover the heir to the Hilton hotel fortune severely ill or dead of the cold stone floor of her jail cell.

It's a no brainer. Send her home with an ankle bracelet and confine her there for 45 days.

Let's face it. This case is about a lot more than Paris Hilton.

It's about a frustrated judiciary who has seen their sentences slashed by as much as 90 per cent due to overcrowding. And at least one judge is drawing a line in the sand.

"This has the strong potential to set up what will become an untenable precedent because of overcrowding in jail and the lack of adequate housing," Baca told the Los Angels Times.

In the last five years, the Sheriff's Department has released more than 200,000 inmates early, including some who ended up committing murders and other serious crimes when they otherwise would have been behind bars.

The releases were possible because of a nearly 20-year-old federal court order allowing the Los Angeles County sheriff to alleviate overcrowding by letting county offenders go home early.

Two hundred thousand, free to go. And we're in a rage over Paris Hilton?

In the meantime, Paris remains in jail, serving more time that she would have if her name was Jane Doe. Her very celebrity has been her undoing instead of her salvation.

And in a skewed bit of logic, the public is satisfied that justice has been served.

Monday, June 04, 2007

What's In a Name?

I love scientific research. The very phrase conjurs up visions of white-smocked technicians working tirelessly to find a cure for cancer or crack the mystery of time travel.

But not all research is so noble. For example, a gentleman named Robert Matthews of Aston University, England, was once honored for his studies of Murphy's Law ("Whatever Can Go Wrong, Will Go Wrong") and especially for demonstrating that toast often falls on the buttered side.

Then there's Basile Audoly and Sebastien Neukirch of the Universit Pierre et Marie Curie, in Paris, for their insights into why, when dry spaghetti is bent, it often breaks into more than two pieces.

Joining this distinguished company are researchers at Miami University who say they know why you can remember some peoples' names but not others. They can show that certain names are associated with facial features.

To underscore their point, the researchers say that when people hear the name "Bob," they have in mind a larger, rounder face tham when the hear the name "Tim" or "Andy."

This immediately caught by attention since most people know me by Bob. And it just so happens I have a face that might be charitably described as round.

The question is, do I have a round face because my name is Bob, or is it just a coincidence?
Researchers don't have the answer to that one but suggest that because "Bob" is a round sounding name, it croses over into visual representation.

Whatever. My experience with lugging around the name Bob for more than a half-century is that it's not a name folks take particularly seriously.

Bob is the Little League coach. Bob is the guy who works at the hardware store. Bob is the car salesman. Bob is the eternal guy next door.

Bob is never a distinguished man of letters. No one of noble birth was ever a Bob. There is no King Bob as far as I know (although there was a King Robert the Bruce of Scotland in the 14th Century). There has never been a president named Bob.

But we Bobs have had our moments.

We have graced the movie and TV screen, featuring talents as diverse as Robert DeNiro and Bob Denver, Robert Shaw and Robert Redford.

In baseball, we have produced Roberto Clemente and Bob Feller.

We've sparkled as musicians: Bob Dylan, Bob Marley, Bobby Darin.

We have graced literature with Robert Browning, Robert Burns, Robert Frost, Robert Louis Stevenson.

We have produced statesmen such as Bobby Kenneday, Bob Dole and Bob Taft.

Bob Hope is ours. So is Robert E. Lee.

Besides, there are a lot worse names that can get attached to people.

Take the case of Brfxxccxxmnpcccclllmmnprxvclmnckssqlbb11116, for example, an unfortunate Swedish child whose parents chose to protest a naming law which stated that "first names shall not be approved if they can cause offense or can be supposed to cause discomfort for the one using it..."

Then there is Anna Bertha Cecilia Diana Emily Fanny Gertrude Hypatia Inez Jane Kate Louise Maud Nora Ophelia Prudence Quince Rebecca Sarah Teresa Ulysis Venus Winifred Xenophon Yetty Zeno Pepper, a British woman whose names corresponded with the first letters of the alphabet. In fact, her friends called her "Alphabet."

Jaime Lachica Sin was a Philippine clergyman, known as Cardinal Sin because of his status within the Catholic church.

Others of note revealed in a quick trip through the Internet:

Depressed Cupboard Cheesecake, the child of a couple in Kent, England.

Espn (pronounced Espin) is the name of two boys from Michigan and Texas, named for the popular cable sports channel ESPN.

Hubert Blaine Wolfeschlegelsteinhausenbergerdorff, a man with one of the longest names ever recorded.

Loser Lane, a New York Police Department sergeant.

Shanda Lear, daughter of Bill Lear, founder of Lear Jet Corporation Moxie CrimeFighter Jillette, daughter of magician Penn Jillette.

Optimus Prime, a member of the United States National Guard.

Ima Hogg, daughter of Governor of Texas James Stephen Hogg. Urban legend contends that she had a sister named Ura Hogg, but this apparently is false.

The world of sport has produced a rich trove of names:

Running back I.M. Hipp is often mentioned as a favorite.

NFL wide receivers Fair Hooker and Golden Richards were stars on their teams.

Sport combined with literature to give us football players D'Artagnan Martin and Hiyawatha Francisco.

Basketball gave us God Shammgod and World B. Free

Baseball produced Wonderful Terrific Monds III, player in the Atlanta Braves farm system in the early 1990s.

Would my life be different if my name was Optimus? Or Golden? Probably not. Maybe Bob isn't such a bad name for a round-faced guy after all.