Wednesday, March 30, 2011

The Nickname

Lost fans understand this pic.

When I was in college, the big thing was coming up with nicknames for people.  I don’t know what it was, but the idea of defining someone by one of their most surface level characteristics was fun.  Most of the nicknames I originated just popped into my head, and I ran with it from there.  Generally, the nicknames were only shared amongst a small community of friends, rarely actually making it to the ears of the nicknamed.  

We named people for physical characteristics: Horse Face, The Gazelle, Big Bird.  Some were funny and harmless; we shared these.  Some were not.  Big Bird was a reasonable nickname; he was tall and lanky and his hair was blond, as close as a human can get to yellow feathers.  His attitude was even similar to Big Bird’s, light, slightly aloof, and caring.  I never knew the actual names of Horse Face or The Gazelle.  One was just a girl with a long face we saw around the music building, the other an unknown runner on a treadmill who happened to work out at our regular time.  Another nickname gained so many syllables and variations I can’t even remember them all; this was one of the mean ones.

We named people with songs in mind.  One particular singer had a nickname inappropriate for this blog that happened to fit with the horn line from “CC Rider,” the song of Elvis fame.  She is one of the few who knows her nickname and appreciates the humor.  There is another appropriately called “Brick House,” also after the song.  We had a nickname for another girl which paired with the song Good-Night Ladies; there were many versions of that song, one meaner than the next.

Some were named after their style - GQ - some because they happened to sound like a character from a movie - Inigo Montoya.  Others because of how they played their instrument - Three Legged Horse - or how they talked - Three Toed Sloth/Chewbacca.
Is the a Warlock I see hiding behind Patrick Swayze?
The Tiger Blood gives him away!
We got so excited about nicknames at one point that we decided to develop a ceremony for our music fraternity granting nicknames to each of our pledges.  Of course, in true college fraternity spirit, we followed the ceremony with a party.  I remember one guy not appreciating what his nickname implied - Playboy (which he was not) - and asked to be changed; we agreed, dubbing him Colgate instead, which fits him much better (he was a handsome guy with a great smile).  At one point, we gave two disagreeing factions within the fraternity nicknames.  My side was the appropriately named Freedom Fighters, while the other was the Taliban.  Mind you, this was in 2000, before the general US population had really become aware of the struggle in Afghanistan - we were very knowledgeable about the world.
We nicknamed couples through combinations of their names.  Some were good ones - Rollsey (married), Stadria (married), and Samfransisco (me and Samantha, definitely married).  Others not so much (leaving them out to not dredge up uncomfortable memories).
We had The Board, Mr. Fitness, Archie, The Red Rocket/The Cannon, there were the Gruesome Twosome and Two Tons of Fun, Tubby, The Rod, G-Flat (his name was Frank Sharp, or F Sharp, for which the enharmonic name is G-Flat), The Rod, Elvira, Thunderbush, Tharms, Red, and the list goes on.  Sometimes I am amazed we never ran out of names to give people.
While most of these were out of good fun, some of the people, had they ever learned of their nickname, or the origin behind it, would probably have been hurt.  In our youthful ignorance, we never paused to consider the pain we might have caused had our silliness spread beyond our group.  Amazingly enough, it never did, and I am thankful for that.  
As I grow farther and farther from them, gaining perspective along the way, I have fun reflecting on college memories.  It is amazing how naive and carefree we were, unaware of the burdens our lives sometimes eagerly pile onto our shoulders.  The nice thing is I will always have the memories, those of which I am proud, and those that I am not, to keep me oriented in the right direction as I grow older.
(Not FICA the tax - who would love that? - or Fecal-love (which is entirely gross).  This one will remain a mystery, and to those who know . . . shhhhhhhh.)

Sunday, March 27, 2011

You are Your Stuff

A couple of the lines from the musical Rent strike a particularly resonant chord with me this week.  The lines are from the number “What you own.”

And when you’re living in America
At the end of the millennium
You’re what you own
So I own not a notion
escape and ape content
I don’t own emotion, I rent.
There are two angles I will take with these particular lines.  The first I will discuss today, and the second I will talk about during Wednesday’s blog.
The lyrics plainly state the focus of today’s blog - you are what you own.  Many people in this country associate themselves with their material goods.  They show off their purchasing power as frequently as they can in as many ways as they can.  Their belongings function as status symbols; they believe they deserve respect from their peers due to the tangible goods in their possession.
In my experience, I am always amazed at this, and I admit that I am not immune.  First, take the computer I use - a MacBook Pro.  When I purchased this computer, it was not because I needed an Apple; I preferred one.  The same with my iPhone.  I have owned three sports cars, not just because I like to drive fast, but because of what I would look like as I sped by you in my fast car.
I remember growing up, begging my parents to let me purchase the clothes my school friends wore.  In middle school I chased the Z Cavaricci pants (those of MC Hammer fame), and Girbaud jeans.  In college I had to have an expensive surround sound system for my apartment to go with my large TV.
As I have grown older, with the exception of a few items, I have become more practical with my expenditures.  I have come to the realization that our goods are designed to serve us, not the other way around.  We should never be weighed down by our desire to own something, simply because we are told we should or because someone else does - which was my problem.
Now, acting on this in my own life is relatively easy.  I look at the price tag.  If the cost of the item doesn’t accurately reflect the value I have assigned to it, the good remains on the shelf.  No longer does the credit card eagerly slide from my wallet, absent the concern for future debt.  While many of the purchases I made early in my youth are no longer in my possession, I am still paying for them.  It took a lot, but I am fairly hopeful I have learned my lesson.
Passing that lesson on is harder that I ever imagined.  Many of my students frequently come into the band hall sporting their brand new $150 shoes, wearing a clothing ensemble that would rival my monthly car payment.  They get their instrument, sit down in their chair and attempt to play, but can’t.  Their instrument is poor quality, in need of repair, and they tell me they don’t have the money to fix it.  My heart breaks.
A kid doesn’t eat lunch, and when we ask why, we are told he doesn’t have any money.  We give him some.  Later, he is picked up in a gigantic, brand new Escalade.  My heart breaks.
A kid can’t afford new reeds for his instrument, he doesn’t sound good on the ones he has so he doesn’t practice.  He has the innate talent that could earn him a scholarship and pay for college.  Later, when asked if his parents are on their way to pick him up, he calls and checks with his iPhone 4.  My heart breaks.
Conceptually, I understand what these parents are thinking as they make their purchases.  Even though they might live in squalor and they aren’t able to provide for their child’s needs, society looks upon their goods and thinks them wealthy.  You must have high social standing if you drive a new Cadillac or wear the newest Jordans.  You have to be smart and hard working if you have the newest electronics, the best cars, and wear the trendiest clothes.  Society has to appreciate you because of it.
This logic is extremely faulty.  Unfortunately, this is the American Dream.  We are a country who has been fed the disgusting fodder of 5th Avenue advertising houses.  Television, radio, and other media advertising has convinced us that we are what we own.  Instead of us owning our things, they have turned it on our head: they own us now.  Whether we can afford it or not, we have to have the things advertisers say we should.  So we incur debt.
Who else does this?  The United States of America does.  We have learned from the best, the proudest, the most important nation on the planet.  The lesson our politicians have passed on: solve our financial problems by borrowing more with out regard to the consequences for the future.  To each of us, our individual debt will eventually catch up with us.  The debt of the United States, if it does not come under control, will eventually catch up to all of us. 
The same will occur for every individual who honestly believes their stuff represents who and what they are.  Amassing a horde of expensive items only weighs you down.    I am certainly not a shining example of someone who has overcome their attachment to material goods, but hopefully, through my awareness of my problem, I will eventually get to a place where I could be.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Practice makes permanent

I, at least, need more practice.  Or more drinks.

I worked with some orchestra students today, the cellos from the top orchestra.  Their UIL contest is approaching and they were experiencing some extreme tuning issues.  I brought out the bassoon and we went to town, playing chunks of the music first locating large problem areas, then shrinking the scope of our focus into bite size morsels.
I discovered that their practice is inconsistent.  When they do practice, they generally begin at the top of the piece, play to the end, jump back to the beginning and do it all again.  Some of the students mentioned isolating errors and focusing on them, but most of the time, their practice mainly consists of run-throughs.
I asked them if they had ever heard the old adage, “practice makes perfect.”  They all nodded, looking at me as if I was dumb.  I could see their thoughts behind the mask of their faces - “come on man, who hasn’t heard that phrase.”  I smiled; I had them trapped.  I love the teaching moments when I have the opportunity to deliver some little tidbit of information the student thinks they know and proceed to turn it on it’s head.  This was one such opportunity.
“Its a lie,” I stated, quite plainly.
Not the actual students.  No
laws were broken.
They just looked at me, blandly.  They weren’t quite waiting for more, there was no wild hooting and hollering like some of my band kids (orchestra kids are just a little different than band kids), they just sat there looking at me with a look that seemed to imply, “And?”  So I went on.
“Practice doesn’t make perfect,” I told them.  “Practice makes permanent.  Perfect practice makes perfect.”
They nodded, kindly accepting the wisdom of the ages without challenge it.  I could really see some of them working it over in their mind, as if they were chewing on a particularly tough piece of toffee.  We talked about the concept for a few minutes, then continued to get better.
I did not make this up.  It is real.
The point I was stressing was that practice is wasted if it isn’t structured, organized, and focused on solving problems.  If they only practice their music with consistent repetitiveness, they are only cementing their consistent mistakes into their muscle memory.  Their muscles, through repetition, will adopt that particular pattern, right or wrong, and recreate it whenever they choose to access that particular pattern.  
With this particular passage, they were not placing their fingers on exactly the right part of the string, creating tuning problems.  They had each practiced the music, working until they knew the notes and rhythms, but they had never isolated the section and identified what they could do better.  By the time we had our rehearsal, they had programed their fingers to play it the same way every time - they had made it permanent.  Worse, they had programmed their ears and brain to accept what they heard, even though it was not in tune, because it was what they were used to.  When we isolated the passage, exposing the poor tuning, they instantly recognized that something was wrong.  We worked on fixing it, discussing ways to identify and isolate in their home practice.
The same thing happens with my band kids.  Recently, we have been working on sight reading.  I have been writing four passages a day, introducing them to the traps they will find in the sight reading material at contest.  They are allowed a limited time to look through the music before we play it.  One of the traps I program into the music involves establishing a repetitive rhythm, then changing it suddenly, structuring it in a slightly different way.  The band has to identify the trap without letting their muscles take charge.  If they do, they will repeat the pattern they have already established in the music instead of switching to the new rhythm.  
The human body and mind has such an amazing capacity to analyze and recreate patterns.  Our entire life is constructed of a complex matrix of patterns adopted into our behavior.  We are programed to do certain things at certain times based on certain stimulus.  If you were in a room full of people and someone hollered out “The stars at night are big and bright,” how many people in that room will clap four times to finish the phrase?
The same thing happens with every encounter during our day.  If someone comes at you in anger, your response is almost 100% predetermined based on your experiences behavioral patterns.  The same happens if someone smiles, laughs, or cries.  
Does this mean that we are so programmed that we have no chance at altering behaviors we find undesirable?  No.  But it is difficult.  First, you have to be aware.  You have to know the behavior, you have to know the trigger, you have to know what to do to prevent or alter your behavior, moving towards the desired outcome.  Too often, people say they want to change, but they are like the cellos I worked with today.  They have become so used to doing the same thing over and over again, they have no idea when they fall into the same repetitive patterns.
Introspection is terribly difficult.  Standing in front of the metaphorical mirror and looking deep into who you are will definitely reveal elements of yourself preferably left alone.  Rooting out these cancers and extinguishing their behaviors will lead to a happier life.  Keep at it until you have achieved your desired goal.  Remember, practice makes permanent, but perfect practice makes perfect.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

The Parent Trap

We all have heard the stories about how hard it was growing up when our parents, grandparents, or great-grandparents were younger.  We all know the joke about walking to school, barefoot, holding only a hot potato for warmth (also doubling as lunch), up-hill both ways in the snow.  While I certainly do imagine someone somewhere has experienced the physically possible portions of the story, it really only serves to illustrate how “good” this particular generation has it compared to the one before.
Typically, an allusion to the previous difficulty in growing up is followed by some sort of statement implying “kids these days just don’t appreciate what they have,” spurring the conversation about “kids these days just aren’t the same as they used to be.”
I think it was more than five days a week last year.
Well, coming from a man who has been a child within the last two decades and who works with kids five days a week - its true.  Kids are not the same.  Twenty years from now, kids won’t be the same, and current high school students will be making the same statements as my generation.  I wasn’t the same as my parents’ generation just as they were different from theirs.
Why is this?
Every child out there could make the same statement about their parents if they had the same perspective as the older generation.  Parents aren’t the same as they used to be.  This is not a judgement of any particular generation, not a statement claiming that one group of parents is better than any other, rather it is simply an observation that human beings are mutable.  
Where I learned how to
love my wife.
Children get so much from parents; sometimes I think parents forget about that.  Kids watch how they interact with people, inside and outside of the family.  They mimic the behaviors, sampling what feels right, learning from the reactions of the people around them what is appropriate and what is not.  They learn their vocabulary set from their parents, they learn their morals, they learn things like how to behave in public, how to get things they want, how to react to the word “no,” or how “no” actually has little meaning if it isn’t reinforced.  They learn that their are consequences for their actions.  Or they don’t.
Just as water is the great eroding force on the planet, shaping the physical world around us, parents are the force that shapes their children.  Any commentary on a child is a comment on how their parents raised them. 
Recently, the east-Texas town of Cleveland has experienced a crisis of consciousness on immense proportions.  An 11 year old girl was gang-raped by 18 boys and men whose ages range from middle school to late twenties.  The community is divided on the issue, with some placing blame on the males and some placing blame on the girl.  There are some who suggest that because the girl dressed like she was in her twenties (as if it would be ok to gang-rape a 20 year old), wore too much makeup for an eleven year old, and hung out with too many boys, some of whom raped her, that she was culpable for her own rape.  Some have shifted the blame to the girl’s mother.  They ask where was she, why didn’t she protect her daughter, why didn’t she teach her to look and act like an eleven year old.  I will never even consider the thought that a young girl somehow played a part in her own gang-rape because she wore adult clothes, makeup, and hung out with boys - she is the victim in this crime.  
Ultimately, I think the question the community needs to be asking is where were ALL the parents.  The parents of the boys and men who participated in the rape are just as responsible for the actions of their kids no matter their age.  They did not teach their kids about respect for another human, about the danger of negative peer pressure, about the reality of criminal consequences.  They did not teach their young men about the power of the male sexual drive and the pack mentality.  They could have prevented everything that happened had they stepped up and been good parents.
Now, I can imagine the wheels turning in the minds of parents out there, eager to deflect blame of their children’s actions from them.  The tired arguments about the weight of societal pressures, the overly sexualized media, the MTV generation, etc. fall on my deaf ears.  No matter the outside influences, the presence of a strong respectful parent will always take precedence in the mind of a child.  The opposite is true, though.  In the absence of a strong parental force, who becomes the parent?  MTV does.  The movies they watch do.  Late night TV does.  Rappers and rock stars do.  Their peers do.
The argument continues - what about their teachers?  From the perspective of a teacher, I have to question the sanity of any person that actually thinks this argument has weight.  First, most teachers handle a load of 180 or so students a day.  With the exception of extra-curricular teachers or coaches, each teacher will spend about 45 minutes a day with each student.  They will not be alone with them, nor will they be solely focused on the individual’s issues, as their job is to teach them curricular content.  Even if they were able to focus on specific individual students during their class, only addressing the concerns of the student and their growth as an individual, the 45 minutes they spend in the class are shared with 29 other students, allowing them only one and a half minutes dedicated minutes before they would need to move on to the next student.
Teachers are miracle workers, but some miracles are just too big.
What about the counselors?  Counselors generally focus on more specific issues like scheduling, standardized testing, AP enrollment, special needs students, and no longer have the time their job once allowed to “counsel.”  Even when they do have time to speak to students, it is generally only out of a specific request by the student, by a teacher out of concern for a student, or because of a parent conference.  The rest of their time is absorbed in school responsibilities.
Ok, how about their Assistant Principal?  Depending on the level, most APs are responsible for hundreds of students.  They are typically the disciplinarians of the school.  Their role, while edifying for the school community, is generally only fulfilled if a student has received a behavioral referral.  They play a part in doling out consequences for student actions, but unless the student has been taught from an early age by their parents that behavior has consequences, they will only see the actions of the AP as punishment instead of consequence.
If you don't parent them, he will.  Are you ready for that?
Parents are where it is at.  Regardless of the intention at the time, taking the actions that could eventually lead to the birth of a child bear a certain responsibility, one I am not sure enough young people are aware of (because they weren’t taught by their parents).  Parents bear the weight of the world.  Through their actions and inaction, they guide the human condition.  They have the ability to produce a generation that understands it is important to help others or they could produce a generation that is only interested in helping themselves.  They can initiate positive change through their powerful guidance or they can passively allow their children to be guided by such characters as the cast of Jersey Shore or the Real Housewives of Wherever.  They can teach consequences for actions and an important word - “no” - or they can allow them to discover real world application at the hands of another or through the criminal justice system.  Parents have the power to educate on the importance of learning and hard work, on the meaning of friendship and love, on the concepts of respect, humility, and servitude.  Sure, the rest of us will throw in our $.02, but the other $.98 comes from Mom and Dad.
Thanks for giving me good direction
and the skills to be a good person.  Now, maybe
I can help you figure out that phone.
Those of you who have taken the step to be a parent, I honor your good efforts, I honor your sacrifice.  As someone who has not yet had the opportunity to know your experience, I can only conceptualize at how difficult it might be, at how much weight rests on your shoulders.  Thank you for being good parents.  You are the future of this planet and your decisions will shape more than just your own life. 

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Give me a (spring) break!

This week is Spring Break for many of my readers.  For those of you who don’t get a chance to enjoy this blessing tucked away in the middle of March, I feel for you.  For me, Spring Break is something I look forward to on the first day back after the Winter Break.  It is the nine day long spring board that launches me towards the beginning of June when I can finally reclaim my life as my own.
As a student in college, Spring Break was always an occasion to spend lots of money (which I didn’t have and am still kinda paying for) and visit an exotic location with my closest friends.  Some of my best college memories have come from my Spring Breaks.  
There was the time we went camping near Austin and experienced a torrential downpour during the middle of the night.  We ended up sleeping in my van, all six of us.  It was GLORIOUS!
My Sophomore year we went skiing in Crested Butte.  This was my third time skiing, and my reckless, 20 year old mind was convinced I could do black diamonds.  I was wrong.
He is the guy on the left.  Thank God the
mustache met it's demise!
My Junior year  was supposed to be Crested Butte again.  About 100 miles north of Houston I stopped for gas and my car didn’t turn back on.  This was in Centerville, TX.  There is nothing there.  I had my car towed back to Houston ($), parked outside the dealership ($$), and then headed down to Corpus Christi where some other friends were spending their Spring Break.  On the way I got a speeding ticket; YEAH!!! ($$$).  I did get to see one of my best friends shave off his mustache for the first time; I still thank to universe for that one!

My senior year I spent a few days in New Orleans on Bourbon Street with my future wife.  We enjoyed the peace of Jackson Square and the French Quarter during the day and the debauchery and revelry that is Bourbon Street at night.  A good time was had by all!
Now that I am in the teaching field, Spring Break means so much more.  This week of bliss represents recovery, regeneration, and relaxation.  Since coming back to school in January I have prepared and performed the school musical, prepared my students for a concert and a district Assessment, prepped and organized 94 some-odd events for UIL Solo and Ensemble contest, as well as my normal planning, teaching, and office managing stuff.  Between now and the end of the school year, the agenda is even more packed.  Spring Break is the only way I, as well as any other teacher, can survive to the end of the year.
This year, Spring Break has been filled with gardening and landscaping, mild exercise, writing, and family time.  I have had a lot of time to think, reflect, and ponder, which I love to do.
Imagine six of these.
Today’s gardening effort involved six excessively large green bushes that have dominated the front beds for the last two years.  They are neither pretty looking, nor do they smell pleasant (they really have no smell).  The only real purpose the serve is irritating Samantha by their very presence.  I chose today to give her a gift and chop them up.
At first, I worked on shaping them.  I brought out the hedge trimmers and began snipping here and there, paring them down to allow the roses and crepe myrtle to show a little more.  After forming three of them into neat, trim balls I encountered my first obstacle.  The fourth bush was perched precariously between a rose bush and a gardenia - both preferred plants to these monsters.  I trimmed and cut, creating room on the sides, allowing for space between the bush and the house.  When I finished, the bush looked less like a cute bubble and more like a geometry project by a far-sighted fourth grader.
I asked Samantha to come out and make the decision.  She had a look in her eye I rarely see - the desperate hope that something she has wished for so long was about to come true.  After surveying my work, weighing the possibilities and potential outcomes, the decision was made to let it go, putting the green bush out of it’s misshapen misery.
I cut it down.
Samantha’s eagerness at wish fullfillment didn’t stop there.  The bush on the far side, which I had managed to trim quite nicely, now made the scene asymmetrical; the whole thing looked like it was leaning toward the right, about to topple onto the driveway.  It had to go.
Now, we are two bushes less.  I feel better.  My rose bed looks uncluttered, more streamlined and sophisticated.  If I were to look at a before and after picture, I would be able to tell you that “of course it looked cluttered, bunched, and closed off before.”  But had you asked me yesterday, I would have told you it looked fine and only needed a bit of trimming.  Now that it is done, I can see that there was a problem.
I am sure you know where I am going.  For those of you who frequent my blog, by now you have probably learned how I set up my writing: light anecdotal storytelling, specific inquiry into the topic of the week, and then BANG! I whack you over the head with the point.  Well, today I am not going to do that.  I think you are all smart enough to discern my point without a lengthy denouement.  After all, it is Spring Break, and I am on vacation.
Have a good rest of the week.  I certainly will.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

The Charlie Sheen Effect: Winning!

Full of #TigerBlood!

Mr. Sheen has done us all a great service these last few weeks.  In his efforts, whether planned or unintentional, he has drawn our eyes away from all that is negative in this world, providing comedic value he could never have contributed through the tiny medium that is prime time network television.  Instead, he has raced to a Guinness World Record for Twitter followers, eaten up the entertainment segments on news shows, news magazines, talk shows, radio shows, blogs, and local conversation.
We all have some sort of career plan in the works, whether we know it or not.  Let’s imagine Charlie’s.
  1. Be in the movies.
  2. Be on TV
  3. Have porn parties and do LOTS of drugs.
  4. Fake rehab.
  5. Rinse and repeat steps 3 and 4 ad libitum.
  6. Upon the achievement of supposed insanity, move to step 9.
  7. Meltdown in the national media, creating the “Charlie Sheen” brand.  Take the brand on tour.  
  8. (Coming in 2013) Convince the world it was all planned.  Return to step 1.
Well, Chuck, I see that your career plan is definitely on track, although I might suggest that you lingered just a little too long in steps 3 and 4, but it definitely helped convince us of step 6.  Bravo!  Charlie Sheen FTW!  (for the win, all you out of touch with modern text lingo).
Getting a #TigerBlood infusion!
Actually, I was giving blood,
which is probably better.
Pardon the tangent, but my boss threw text lingo into conversation this week during a work conversation.  He told us “he was aware of the sit, BTW.”  He is 51, with a full head of grey hair.  The two of us (both young enough to be his kids), couldn’t help but giggle at his cuteness.  It was a little bit like watching one of those gorillas who known sign language.  I think everyone under the age of 35 who has seen their parents struggle with the new language can associate.
Anyway, back to Mr. Adonis DNA.  His efforts to find the center of crazy town have lead people to choose sides.  Are you pro-Sheen or pro-RealNews?  Facebook and Twitter have become a battleground for these two sides, leaving status updates and tweets littered with malicious commentary.  This week I have been challenged to join the masses and follow @CharlieSheen, helping to cement his place in the record books.  Personally, I think Charlie should follow @fxciv, he might benefit from some of my blogs.
On the other side of the argument, I have been begged to include RealNews status updates so people can actually be aware of current events.  One such touching status update was designed to help honor the sacrifice of four young Marines in Afghanistan.  The fervor over Charlie Sheen had knocked them from the news, shamefully relegating their sacrifice to that of facebook updates.
Amazingly enough, the Warlock himself has fueled his own fire, vomiting tweets with hashtags such as #Winning!, #tigerblood, #fastball.  Either he is the craziest man ever, or he needs to give his manager a raise for such amazing worldwide exposure.  I have a feeling the next thing we will hear from Mr. Sheen at the completion of his stage tour will be that he as accepted a reality TV show deal and will be paid more than anyone on TV has ever been paid! #Winning!
The reality of the situation, regardless of the person, is America’s lust for distraction.  Charlie has taken our minds away from topics that some see as too stressful.  Do we want to hear about the fact that Governors are doing a bigger chop job on state budgets than Mickey Mouse did on the brooms in Fantasia?  Do we want to hear about violence in the Iraq or Afghanistan?  Are we interested in the struggle for freedom in Northern Africa and the brutality with which Mr. Ghadaffi is bringing down the hammer?  
Can we blame Charlie Sheen for the gas prices?  No.  And that is why we pay attention to him.
While many of us are concerned with all of these topics, too much can lead to a meltdown, increasing our own personal stress until we succumb to the same mental breakdowns Mr. Sheen might or might not be experiencing.  While the Torpedo of Truth certainly has his own problems, he has at least allowed us to be distracted from our own for a little while.  For that, we can thank him.  Now, let’s get back on track and focus on what is important.