Category Archives: entertainment

National Anthem is About the Nation, Not the Singer

They sing the wrong words. They sing the wrong notes. Sometimes, it is as if they are singing the wrong anthem.

I am tired of listening to singers butcher the national anthem. The “Star-Spangled Banner” is a gorgeous, moving, challenging song. Lately, the mashed, twisted, rearranged versions I am hearing make my ears ring; not from the bombs bursting in air, but the notes twinging, twanging and trilling without ever finding a home.

Listening to Christina Aguilera’s version of the national anthem during the Superbowl on Sunday was so horrific to me that I did not even notice she had messed up the words. Her notes were so wrong, so off, that I completely missed the fact that there were no ramparts anymore. Honestly, all the trilling really is just a sign that she cannot hit and/or sustain a note.

When I was a younger man, people sang the national anthem the way it was written. And, you know what happened, everyone sang along.

That is what I want. I would die and go to heaven if I could perform the national anthem at Arrowhead with all 73,000 people belting it out with me.

Now, that would be powerful. That would be awe-inspiring. That is the way it used to be.

Sadly, singers think it is all about them now. That is the problem; our selfish, hey-look-at-me culture. They want to be applauded for how great they sang the anthem and how they “made it their own.”

It does not belong to them. It belongs to the nation. It is not about them. It is about our nation.

That is what we have forgotten. It is time for us to take it back. Let’s put the “nation” back in our national anthem.

Need to be Cured of Drug Commercials

Leg won’t stop shaking? Here, swallow this pill. Eyelashes not long or thick enough? Here, take a swig of this. Scared to meet new people? No problem, we can fix that. Sex life not quite what it used to be? Believe me, we’ve got you covered.

It seems there is a drug for every possible malady nowadays. There are so many things called “sicknesses,” “disorders,” or “diseases” now that I never even knew existed, and somewhere on the market, there is a drug to cure each and every one of them.

Until I found out what RLS meant, I was wondering why they were drugging the Mormons. Now, thanks to Requip of course, we all know that RLS is an acronym for “Restless Leg Syndrome.” Who knew there was such a thing? I always thought if someone’s leg was shaking, they had to go to the bathroom (of course, there are plenty of drugs to help dampen those urges, too).

I was so shocked the other day to see an advertisement on television for a drug called “Latisse” that actually claims to make eyelashes thicker. I guess this is for the women who do not have the time for mascara. Of course, it comes with a warning about how it might irritate your eyes. It does not seem like it would be worth it to me. Big eyelashes, but red, irritated, watery eyes. What a strange trade.

The social anxiety commercial always makes me laugh. I believe it is for a drug called “Clarocet.” The actor in the advertisement is so happy to be out at a party, finally able to mingle with people again. The funny part is when the side effects are listed. It is totally hilarious.

“May cause diarrhea, incontinence, bladder-control problems, sudden mood swings and/or impotence.” Wow, that is totally amazing. Whoever takes that drug is going to be the life of the party.

They will want to mix and mingle. All their fear of social interaction will be gone. The only problem is going to arise when they wet themselves while going bipolar on the other party guests. Yeah, they will be going out again real soon after that. Seems like they should have just embraced their anxiety.

The whole impotence thing leads us up to my last complaint. What is it with all these Viagra and Cialis commercials? I was watching the American League Championship Series the other night and it seemed like every other commercial was for these two pills. What in the heck is going on? Can’t this go back to being a private matter?

I am so tired of seeing those people in the tub. I wish they would just be clean already. Does Cialis really just make you want to take a really long bath outside while the sun sets? Perhaps these men do not need the drug at all. It is the inordinate amount of time they spend in the bathtub that is causing the problem.

It is time to return to the better days of the past, when I could turn on the T.V. and not be confronted with all these advertisements for drugs. We all need medicine some time. We know where to get it, and our doctor or pharmacist can help us figure out what to get. We do not need the T.V. to tell us.

Taxes, Death and . . . Easter Grass?

Everyone knows the phrase, “The only things that are certain are death and taxes,” is used when discussing events that will go on forever.  To those two, I would like to add Easter grass, for it also is eternal.

It is already the middle of September, nearly five full months since Easter passed, yet that does not seem to matter to the Easter grass. It is still hanging around. I cannot believe it.

It has become a joke in our house. Some how, some way, it seems about once a month or so, a piece of Easter grass adheres to the bottom of my foot as I am walking around the house. I run to find my wife now to show her (for some reason, this does not happen to her). I exclaim, “Mary, you won’t believe it. There is a piece of …” She interrupts and shouts back, “Easter grass!” I respond, “Yes, Mary, yes and it is stuck to my foot!” We laugh about it and I swear to her that I will never use Easter grass again, even though I know I probably will.

Easter grass is just simply amazing. It has reached the point where I am just totally astounded and in awe of its absolute resilience.

How does it stick around for so long? Where does it hide? Why does it only come out every once in a while? Why does only one piece come out at a time?

To most everyone, Easter grass is just fake cut plastic that you fill a basket with for your children once a year. Yet, there are three important lessons we can learn from the Easter grass.

One, don’t give too much of yourself at once, people will just be overwhelmed by that. Parcel yourself out and give a little bit each time, spread over the course of lifetime (I think the lifespan of Easter grass has to be at least 400 years).

Two, hang in there despite the odds. We have vacuumed the house dozens of times since Easter and we have one of those fancy Dyson “It-doesn’t-lose-suction” vacuums; yet, the Easter grass has the sheer tenacity to still be around. One cannot help but be impressed.

Lastly, it might be a small thing and it might even annoy you, but if you find the humor in it, that’s all that matters in the end. For a month after Easter, it drove me nuts. Now, I just can’t help but laugh (while still being totally astonished by it).

For most of my life, when someone asked me to list three things that we could count on forever, I could only think of the two — death and taxes. Now I know what my third thing is — it is Easter grass.

I can step on it from one Easter to the next. I could probably step on it for the next 400 years if death wasn’t one of the three things on the list. That truly is miraculous.

Sticky Gum on Shoe is Pet Peeve

sticky situation copy

People who chew gum and then proceed to spit it out on the ground should be forced to step on, pick off shoe and chew said gum some more. I am so tired of stepping in other people’s gum. It is truly disgusting.

Who are these people who spit their gum in parking lots and on classroom floors? Have they never stepped in gum before? Hasn’t everyone? Did they like it or something?

In my flip-flops today in the grocery store parking lot, I was about to step into the car when I suddenly adhered to the asphalt. Something warm and gooey had a hold of me. I lifted my foot up and the horrid adhesive rose with me.

It was so gross. I proceeded to drive with my foot sticking to the pedals because I could not get all of the gum off. It was inside the tiny treads of my flip-flops.

This is definitely a pet peeve of mine. I just do not understand how this can happen. You must know your gum just fell out of your mouth. Pick it up and throw it in a proper receptacle! Don’t leave it for my shoe!

I could go on about this for much longer, but it is time for me to get on the road. Take care everyone. Feel free to leave your own comments (maybe even some of your own pet peeves!) below. Thanks.


Discovery Channel Spreads Shark Fear

"Chaplin" Swims By, Showing Off. Shark Diving was One of the Greatest Experiences of My Life. Photo by VP

"Chaplin" Swims By, Showing Off. Shark Diving was One of the Greatest Experiences of My Life. Photo by VP

I was shocked and dismayed the other day when I saw the new commercials promoting Shark Week on the Discovery Channel. Once again, the television network is misrepresenting this magnificent creature in the name of ratings.

The first short spot did not grab my attention or bother me too much. It showed a guy floating on his back in the ocean with his big belly protruding into the sky. After about nine seconds, he was taken under and the picture switched to a frame that said Shark Week premieres Aug. 2.
It is the second clip that infuriated me. You see the hands of a guy removing a lens cap from a camera, as many amateurs do while the film is running. He then says something like “Hey Biv,” to this girl who is in the water, hanging on to the edge of the boat. In a cheerful voice, she says, “Hi. Hello Mom, hello Dad, hello kids at home.” As soon as she gets out that final word, she is violently yanked back into the water and taken under. The screen switches to an underwater view with the words Shark Week oozing blood.
Promoting the special Shark Week programming this way shows a complete disregard for the facts by the Discovery Channel. They say the series is meant to help with conservation efforts of sharks, and yet, all the commercials and promotional materials spread illogical and unfounded fear. Who exactly is going to want to save a shark after watching them attack people all week? If people claim to know about sharks based on the misinformation presented by the Discovery Channel, they know nothing.
When people seek out the facts for themselves, instead of relying on a network desperate for viewers, the problem of shark attacks proves not so chilling. In a review of the International Shark Attack File (ISAF) as presented on the Ichthyology site of the Florida Museum of Natural History, it is discovered that there were 118 alleged incidents of “shark-human interaction” in all of 2008 worldwide.
“Upon review, 59 of these incidents represented confirmed cases of unprovoked shark attacks on humans,” the ISAF said (1). “Overall, the 1990’s had the highest attack total of any decade and the first decade of the 21st century will exceed that total. The growth in shark attack numbers does not necessarily mean that there is an increase in the rate of shark attack, rather it most likely is reflective of the ever-increasing amount of time spent in the sea by humans, which increases the odds of interaction between the two affected parties.”
Out of the millions of people participating in recreational activities in the ocean, the number of unprovoked attack is very low — 59 in 2008 and 71 in 2007. While there is great trauma involved if one is attacked, the odds of being attacked are astronomical.
According to a quiz on the MSN Encarta encyclopedia site, the odds of being attacked by a shark are roughly one in 8 million (2). You have a better chance of dying from the following: Falling down the stairs — 1 in 200,000; adverse reaction to the sting of a bee, wasp or hornet — 1 in 5.9 million; or drowning in your bathtub — 1 in 800,000. Where are the shows about these dangers? Where are the dramatic promotional spots of people being chased by bees, dropping their towels to step into the tub or carrying laundry down the steps? We don’t sell fear of these things, so why sell fear when it comes to sharks?
In 2000 (actually the highest year on record for shark attacks with 79, according to the ISAF), my best friend Clay Morgan and I went scuba diving with sharks off Walker’s Cay in the Bahamas. It was hands-down one of the greatest experiences of my life. I will never forget it.
Yes, it was scary. When Clay first told me he was going to do it, I thought he was completely insane. Then, he told me he was going to do it by himself. Overcoming my natural fear, I said, “No, you’re not. I’m going with you. That is, if you want me to.”
Before we went, I purposely watched the movie, “Deep Blue Sea,” figuring that would be about the worst it could get. Surprisingly, it did serve to calm my nerves, somehow inoculating me to the fear.
Once we there, cruising out to the dive spot, I asked the boat’s captain if he had ever had a customer bitten by a shark. He said no, but he had heard some stories from other captains. In the stories he heard, however, the humans had always done something stupid and provoked the shark, such as the guy who grabbed the shark’s tail so it would turn around for a picture.
Well, of course the shark bit that fool. A dog bites you, too, when you suddenly grab its tail. Most people I know would attack you if you unexpectedly grabbed their derriere. This is not an uncommon reaction by most animals to such an act.
As we stood at the aft of the boat, preparing to jump into the crystal clear water, fear and adrenaline surged in my body. I could see the cold, dark shadows of dozens of sharks swimming below me. I began to have second thoughts. Just then, Clay jumped. I shrugged my shoulders, thought what the heck and jumped in after him (the captain told me later that he was about to push me in because I was taking too long!).
Once we were down with the sharks — grey reefs and blacktips — my fear disappeared as I was mesmerized by the sight of these awesome creatures gliding through the water around me. There is just no way for me to completely explain my emotions as the sharks surrounded me. My only suggestion is for all of you to do it someday for yourselves.
I nicknamed the one in the photograph above “Chaplin,” because he was a ham, coasting slowly towards me and rotating his body as he cruised by me, showing me what a great swimmer he was, even upside down. It was just a completely surreal and ethereal experience for me.
That is what I remember about my experience with sharks — I remember how dreamlike the experience was, how heavenly. I do not remember the fear.
Don’t buy into the garbage the Discovery Channel throws at you to get you to watch. Just go shark diving for yourself to discover the truth about these incredible animals.
My only suggestions are that you stay on the first floor (thus avoiding those deadly steps) and you go unwashed (no need for those scary baths!). If you follow those two simple suggestions when you take your shark-diving trip, I can almost guarantee you will be all right.
Thanks for reading! I hope you enjoyed it. Feel free to share your comments below! 

Water Park is Nothing but a Big Bellyflop!

Which will it be? Image created by VP

Which will it be? Image created by VP

Kansas City’s newest water park just opened for its first full day of business Thursday (July 16). It was not an auspicious start.

In quite the breathless puff piece, The Kansas City Star reported Wednesday that the Schlitterbahn Vacation Village finally opened for a half-day of business. Mark Wiebe and Dawn Bormann might as well be on the Schlitterbahn payroll with the positive spin they tried to put on this mid-week fiasco.

“About 3:30 p.m. today, at least 10 anxious guests had already turned out to take a ride on the slides,” the two report in their public relations blurb (1). (Woah, stop the press, 10 guests showed up. That is how many people show up at a BAD party!)

“Water park officials unveiled a twist when it announced the opening through its blog today,” they continued, spouting the company line. “Anyone who heads to the park by 6 p.m. today for what company officials call a ‘dress rehearsal’ will pay $19.99 to enter and receive a free voucher that can be used any day this season at the park at 9400 State Ave. in western Wyandotte County.”

What is it, exactly, that has them so excited? Were they thrilled to be 20 percent of the people in that line? Were they amazed at the mounds of dirt and construction equipment laying all about?

The park is a sham. You might as well just eat money and eliminate it later in your toilet. Pay 20 bucks to ride two waterslides? That is ridiculous.

Mike Hendricks came out with a much more balanced approach in his Thursday, July 16, commentary in the Star (2). Of the Black Knight waterslide, he said, “Black Knight, you rock,” and he claimed to be a “fan of the Torrent River.” But, all in all, he said Oceans of Fun has nothing to worry about from this outmatched competitor.

How much money are people willing to pay to patronize this silly excuse for a water park? Hendricks and the other reporters do not have to pay out of their own pockets. The rest of us do. Are we really willing to accept this? Are people actually going to hand over their hard-earned Jacksons for this? If so, I have attached a slippy slide to the roof of my shed. I’ll only charge you $10!

Then, when and if they finally complete their lame place, they expect people ages 12 to 54 to pay $33. The cost for children ages 3-11 and seniors 55 and older will be $25 (3). Are you for real? Is this serious? For my wife and I to go, we would have to pay $66 just to get in? When both my boys are three, that cost will skyrocket to $116 for a day at a water park?

That is absolute insanity — it is a rip off and a scam. Heck, you all stop by the water park in my backyard, pay your $10 to go down the slide and my boys will be at the bottom, ready to dump pitchers of water on your head for free. Close your eyes and you are at Schlitterbomb. I guarantee you will have more fun in my backyard.

I remember going to Oceans of Fun once or twice a summer when I was growing up. I really loved that place — the great slides and the fantastic wave pool. Oceans of Fun is still the premier water park in Kansas City and it only costs $29 each for my wife and I, and $16 for the boys (when they turn three). The cost for all four of us next summer for a day of fun is only $90 (4). That is still a lot, but it keeps it under three figures!

Exactly how many water parks can Kansas City support, anyway? Based on my limited knowledge, we already have two major indoor water parks now (at the Great Wolf Lodge and CoCo Key Water Resort), plus Oceans of Fun and now Schlitterbum. With all the community pools sprouting throughout the metropolitan area, how is it possible that Schlitterbust expects to compete? Were are all these wrinkly people who spend every waking moment in water?

As a child, I was content to make it across the gravel parking lot on my barefeet once a week just for a chance to jump into a plain old pool with two diving boards. Nowadays, everything is bigger, better, more wet and more wild. Whatever happened to a simple day at the pool? Now, a trip to the pool is a trip to a sensory-overloading wet extravaganza.

My wife and I do love our membership out here at Summit Waves in Lee’s Summit, Mo (5). The “family aquatic center” opened last summer and it is a fun place. We used to just have “pools,” but that’s okay I guess.

We purchased passes for the entire summer season for only $150. We can come and go as we please. While it is somewhat of a watery extravaganza, it is not too overwhelming to the senses. It has a wonderful play area for the little ones and we love the lazy river. Those are actually the only two places I have been. I have yet to ride one of the two waterslides or take a dip in the adult pool. Oh, and by the way, you can plunge down those two slides all day for as little as $7! Take that Schlitterflop.

When I first heard that Schlitterbahn was building a park in the metro area, I was thrilled, believing a little competition cannot hurt and that the park would help the Kansas City, Kan., area. Now, I just think they need to pack up their park and leave. They should be able to fit it in a duffel bag.

Share your opinions on this “water park” by posting your comments below! Thanks for reading and have a great day getting wet somewhere!






Too Social for a Social Network?

facebook morphs into faceblock for many

facebook morphs into faceblock for many -- Graphic by VP

In June, I was a neophyte to the popular site, facebook. Within a week, I was a facebook junkie. By the next week — as an eight-day block on posting replies began — I rapidly became jaded as I discovered I was too social for this social network.

I was not going to write about my facebook experience on here. I have stated my case time and again at facebook itself, and have contacted local media outlets (the Kansas City NBC affiliate is working on the story). Then Donna Harley, a fellow castaway on Blocked Island (1), sent me a link to an article and it got my blood boiling again.

In the July 6 article, “Andreessen: Facebook revenue to top $500 million in ’09,” Caroline McCarthy quotes the site’s founder as saying that while revenue will be above $500 million this year, he believes it could have been over $1 billion by now through more aggressive advertising sales (2). Within five years, Andreessen thinks the company will be a behemoth, earning well into the billions annually.

These are big numbers being tossed about. What is being lost amid all those dollar signs are the customers. What is being drowned out by the ring of the register is regular people just asking for help. What is being forgotten in the insatiable quest for more money is the reason for facebook’s existence in the first place — to serve as a forum for people to interact socially.

I comment frequently on the posts of my friends. If I think of something witty to say or to start a dialogue as I read through status updates, I type it. Because of that, I was blocked for allegedly “abusing” the system, without a warning of any kind. Just last week, I typed four replies and posted one birthday wish on a wall, and was given a warning for moving too fast and potentially being an “annoyance” to people.

I am not alone. I have found many users in the troubleshooting and help sections of facebook who are experiencing a similar problem. If you Google the query, “Facebook blocks and disables accounts,” you will receive more than 661,000 results. This is a large problem that has been hidden from, or avoided by, the mainstream media for too long.

I really believe my First Amendment rights are being violated. I know this is a private company, but it is meant to be a public forum. They have taken away my voice. They say they don’t want me to be an “annoyance” to people. Who are they to say that? If I am annoying people, they can remove me as their friend. That seems pretty simple to me.

As you can probably tell, I remain fired up about this. But, I am not just continuing the fight because of what has happened to me. I am truly upset that it still continues to be a problem for others.

I am upset for “Madi,” a former student of mine who just recently lost her mother. Naturally, she has had a great deal to say about this. Facebook thought otherwise and blocked her.

I am upset for “Jeanie,” my new British friend who lost a child last year after a heart transplant and now runs a support group using facebook. Facebook’s arbitrary system blocked her.

I am upset for Miles, my new Texas friend who is a youth pastor and utilizes facebook to keep in touch with the teenagers in his group. He was blocked.

I am upset for Donna, who just wants to share her love of Christ with friends from throughout the world. She was blocked.

I am upset for Nancy, who was “blocked for most of June for posting ‘too much,’ ‘too often,’ innocuous comments to friends and family” and “missed commenting on cousin’s birth of baby.” She “felt all alone, isolated, singled out for being social on a social network!”

I am upset for Debbie who was blocked for 15 days from May into June. In July, she also received warnings, which like me, she did not receive the first time.

“It seems almost impossible that one of the world’s largest social media networks can’t be bothered to tweak their system, their site and their rules,” Debbie said. “Would it really hurt to have a CUSTOMER SERVICE department?”

It seems facebook purposely makes it difficult to contact them. You can only do so in roundabout ways. They seldom respond.

Many people still do not get it when I tell them about what has happened to me and so many others. For them, I offer this closing analogy:

Imagine you are trying to make a phone call using AT&T and instead you get a message saying you have been using too many words to talk, and therefore, you are being blocked from speaking anymore. You will, however, be able to hear others and can leave voice-mail messages. The only thing you cannot do is actually communicate directly with others.

That is not a big deal, is it?  That would in no way upset you, would it? You would not feel like your rights were being violated, would you? You would in no way be offended if the message also said you may be an “annoyance” to people, right?

If you have stories to share about problems with facebook, feel free to share them here or at Blocked Island (1 — below). Thank you and have a wonderful day.