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Health care, March Madness, Baseball, Mayors and April Fool’s Day

March 30, 2010 Leave a comment

From A to Zowie

Health care, March Madness, Baseball, Mayors and April Fool’s Day

By Richard Zowie

…It was fascinating to hear the different opinions in this week’s “The Herald Speaks” on Congress’s controversial health care bill. That being said, I am extremely leery. There’s nothing wrong with government regulations designed to create a fair playing field, but when the government segues from regulating to controlling a sixth of our economy, I become extremely nervous. One Investor’s Business Daily cartoon gave this compelling argument: name a government program that is not losing money. Most likely, it matters little: I suspect it’ll never see the light of day and will be ruled unconstitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court…

…No, I didn’t do an NCAA Basketball March Madness bracket this year. The last one I did was back in 1994 when I was bored and had nothing else better to do. All I can say this: while I much prefer football to basketball, I’ll watch March Madness before I watch the Bowl Championship Series. Watching a college football championship where at least one of the team has benefitted from an overly easy schedule (the Texas Longhorns come to mind) does not excite me…

…I’m looking forward to covering high school baseball and softball for the Herald since baseball’s probably my favorite spectator sport. It’ll be a little sad since I don’t expect my favorite Major League team, the Houston Astros, will be very good this year. I am reminded of a funny quote years ago when former Astros manager Larry Dierker was then a pitcher for the ’Stros in the 1960s. Asked about the season, Dierker replied: “You know one team I just can’t see this year? The Atlanta Braves. They just don’t have the depth. You know another team I just can’t see? Ours.”…

…Speaking of sports, I see Tiger Woods is planning to golf at the Masters. I’ve yet to get around to playing golf and I don’t watch it, but I wish Tiger the best as he tries to reassemble Humpty Dumpty—otherwise known as his marriage. It still seems odd to me that a man married to a former Swedish model could somehow find a way to cheat. I do wonder this: what on earth was he thinking sending XXX-rated text messages to, um, someone who could still very well become known as “The Other Woman”? Didn’t he learn anything from Kwame Kilpatrick?…

…For those who may have already forgotten, Kilpatrick is the disgraced former mayor of Detroit. He was last seen living lavishly in Texas and insisting he couldn’t make his monthly restitution payments while managing to scrape money together for a publicist. Texas, unlike Michigan, has no state income tax…

…Tomorrow is April 1, and I’m trying to think of a good April Fool’s Day joke. I work part-time at a gas station, so maybe I should change the gas prices to something like $9.79 a gallon. Or maybe I should keep that job and focus on something safer. I remember April Fool’s Day 1999: I called my parents and told them my wife Jennifer was pregnant. They believed me at first.

The joke ultimately backfired: six months later in September 1999, Jennifer became pregnant with our youngest son, Robert. Naturally, my parents were a little reluctant to believe it…

(Published in the March 31, 2010 issue of the Mt. Morris/Clio Birch Run/Bridgeport (Mich.) Herald)

Richard Zowie’s a reporter and columnist for the Herald. Visit his blog at http://www.fromatozowie.wordpress.com or e-mail him at richardzowie@gmail.com.

My ‘review’ of Gerard Butler movie ‘Law Abiding Citizen’

March 30, 2010 3 comments

You know the drill: I don’t “review” movies in the traditional sense of the word since I believe that film critics like Roger Ebert are knuckle-headed snobs.

Law Abiding Citizen focues on an engineer played by Gerard Butler whose home is broken into by two intruders. There to rob the place, one of the sickos decides to rape Butler’s wife and then rape/murder his daughter (the camera doesn’t show what he does to her).

Butler wants justice, but an assistant district attorney played by Jamie Foxx tells him the rapist/murderer has plea bargained to testify against his accomplice in exchange for a light sentence. He’ll do four years or so and be free while the other guy will get the death penalty.

“But I want to testify and put BOTH guys away!” Butler’s character says.

Foxx’s character then tells him that because he blacked out during the assault he’d be an unreliable witness with the two criminals getting acquitted–especially since the DNA evidence gathered has been rendered inadmissible.

So, that’s what happens. Ten years later the accomplice in prison dies an agonizing death by lethal injection, something that’s supposed to be relatively painless. Police later find the main bad guy’s remains in an abandoned warehouse. He’d been tortured to death and dismembered.

Police believe Butler’s character is at fault, but through skillful legal maneuvering he’s able to work out deals for himself. He then starts going after all the judges and lawyers responsible for his wife and daughter’s murders not being brought to justice.

What I liked about this movie: Gerard Butler’s not potentially Mr. Jennifer Aniston, he’s his own man. And a very credible actor. I also liked the story and how it prompts discussion: can we really feel sorry for the deaths of two worthless criminals? How about the deaths of legal folks who failed miserably to bring murderers to justice?

What I didn’t like about this movie: For one, Jamie Foxx. This movie makes me think anybody could’ve won an Oscar for playing Ray Charles. Foxx’s character was smug and condescending and never seems grasp the hurt and anguish Butler’s character feels about the tragic loss of his own family. Zero empathy. Maybe that’s the way the character was written, or maybe Foxx isn’t really that good of an actor.

They also never quite explained how he could rush to make a deal and they never explained how the DNA evidence was thrown out. As for the assertion that Butler’s blacked out character wouldn’t make a credible witness, how would a violent criminal who’s ratting on his partner?

I’m sorry to say, but I kept hoping in vain that Foxx’s character would get killed off in the revenge rage that Butler’s character went on. Alas, it wasn’t meant to be, and we’re stuck with an incredibly cheesy ending where Foxx finally makes the time to attend his daughter’s recital.

I like Gerard Butler and like the vigilante vengeance, but overall, I didn’t like this movie. If only they could re-make it without Foxx.

Richard Zowie loves watching movies. Post comments here or e-mail him at richardzowie@gmail.com.

Complaints about Michigan Meatless Day much ado about nothing

March 23, 2010 Leave a comment

From A to Zowie

Complaints about Michigan Meatless Day much ado about nothing

By Richard Zowie

Many meat eaters in Michigan, no doubt, were incensed that Governor Jennifer Granholm supporter declared March 20 “Michigan Meatout Day.”

I’m no vegetarian, either, but don’t count me among those who wanted Granholm to rescind her proclamation.

Am I a diehard Granholm supporter? Hardly. I didn’t vote for her in 2006, and I haven’t been “blown away” by her policies. I see her administration as one large mess the next governor will have to try to clean up. And don’t get me started on how the “personally pro-life” Granholm sells out and supports abortion.

For those not aware, Granholm issued two proclamations for March 20. Besides a meatout day where the governor encouraged Michiganders to observe the day by not eating meat, she also declared it Michigan Agriculture Day to encourage Michiganders to consume Michigan-grown fruits, vegetables and whole grains.

I wonder how many people know that Granholm’s proclamations were suggestions and not a new law ordering people to skip eating meat on March 20.

Detroit Free Press reporter Dawson Bell reported that Detroit-based Totally Vegetarian director Jerry Schneble wrote to Granholm requesting her to issue a meatout proclamation. This letter, no doubt, angered cattlemen and hunter groups who probably thought the no-meat proclamation would endanger their livelihood. Gary Voogt, who until February served as President of the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, was as upset with the governor as a bull would be when a proverbial red flag is waved in front of it. Voogt and others wanted the governor to retract the meatless day.

Voogt instead proposed this meaty menu for March 20.

For breakfast: Michigan bacon, Michigan eggs fried in Michigan butter and bacon grease, a side of fried Michigan potatoes, Michigan yogurt with Michigan blueberries and Michigan apple juice.

For lunch: hearty Michigan beef stew or chili.

For an afternoon snack: a Michigan apple.

For dinner: a celebratory night out at a great Michigan Steakhouse—order the 18oz. bone-in-ribeye.

I find Voogt’s meat-dominant choices to be very unbalanced. Fruits and vegetables are almost afterthoughts on this menu. One veggie serving—potatoes—are fried. Not to mention the artery-clogging bacon grease, although it depends on if it’s used moderately or in heaping amounts. Granted, exercise helps to burn calories, but shouldn’t items like meat, butter and bacon grease be consumed in moderation rather than on a regular, dominant basis? Even athletic people can get clogged arteries if they go overboard too often with fatty foods.

That being said, this brouhaha over Granholm’s no-meat proclamation was much ado over nothing. While I am neither a vegetarian nor a vegan (whereas a vegetarian doesn’t eat meat, a vegan doesn’t eat any animal products—not even eggs, cheese, milk or even honey), I’m a firm believer that going a day or even a meal without eating meat never hurt anyone. Rice and beans can be great, as can the additional fruit, vegetables or whole-grain products.

Almost all the people I spoke to this week for “The Herald Asks” didn’t plan on going meatless, and, frankly, neither did I. (I actually ate no meat that day until supper, when my wife Jennifer made a very delicious hominy taco chili). But to me, going meatless every so often is an eye-opener to the wonderful world of fruits, vegetables, whole grains and other forms of plant-based protein.

Richard Zowie’s a reporter and columnist for the Genesee County (Michigan) Herald. Though not a vegetarian, he tries to avoid sausage and finds both hot dogs and the Scottish national dish haggis to be gross. Visit his blog at http://www.fromatozowie.wordpress.com or e-mail him at richardzowie@gmail.com.

Maybe my last name should be McZowie

March 16, 2010 Leave a comment

From A to Zowie

Maybe my last name should be McZowie

By Richard Zowie

Asking people in Genesee Township and in Bridgeport their thoughts on St. Patrick’s Day reminded me of my own experiences on March 17. Always the absent-minded young boy, I’d forget to wear green and would spend the day getting pinched. My eyes are hazel (mostly green with some brown sprinkled in), but apparently having eyes of that hue doesn’t count. And, when I was around 10, the daughter of one of my Dad’s good friends married an Irishman on—yep, you guessed it—March 17.

When I joined the Army, wearing green on St. Patrick’s Day wasn’t really an issue since most clothes issued to you had green in them (including even the underwear). Granted, it’s more olive-drab green instead of Ireland’s official color of Kelly green, but in the end it matters little.

And when it comes to family, I learned that among some of my ancestors, Kelly green was a popular color.

That’s because one ancestor on my Dad’s side, James McGinnis, was born in 1750 in County Antrim, Ireland (now Northern Ireland). McGinnis, my paternal grandmother’s ancestor, moved to America, married in 1774 and sired eight children. This ancestor also served in the Continental Army during the Revolutionary War and—according to family tradition—was present in 1781 when the British surrendered at Yorktown.

This news was very much a surprise since I’d always thought my ethnicity consisted primarily of English and German with trace amounts of American Indian, Scottish and French. I wasn’t really aware there was also Irish.

According to one genealogical website, McGinnis later owned property in Stephens City, Virginia that is today the site of Stephens City United Methodist Church. It seems fitting, considering that James’ grandson Edmund was a minister.

What really makes this fascinating to me is that my oldest nephew, Joshua not only wants to become a minister, but he wants to be a missionary. Where does he want to serve? Ireland.

Another ancestor may have also been Irish. Thomas Hilley, from my mother’s side, was born about four years after McGinnis, and served in the Virginia militia during the Revolutionary War. The surname Hilly is thought to have come from the Irish name “O’Fitheallaig” (“chessplayer”) or “O’Helihys” ( “ingenious”). It’s also possible that Hilley came from the Old English word Hyll (“hill”) and simply was used as a surname by a family that lived on a Hill. Some think Hilley could even be Scottish in origin.

As for me, I’d love to go someday to Ireland and visit. Of course, I’d have to travel to the southern Irish city of Cork to kiss the Blarney Stone.

Here’s something else to chuckle about. I saw this joke in Reader’s Digest many years ago and found it on the internet recently:

Pasteurized Irish Sweepstakes Winner

When Megan O’Malley of County Kildare won the Irish Sweepstakes, she decided to treat herself to some of the finer things in life.

“I’ve nivver had a milk bath,” she told her milkman one morning. “Wouldja be bringin’ me 95 quarts o’milk tomorro’?”

“Whativver ye want, mum,” answered the milkman. “Will that be pasteurized?”

“No,” she said. “Up to me chest will do.”

(Published in the March 17, 2010 issue of the Mt. Morris/Clio and Birch Run/Bridgeport Herald)

Richard “McZowie” Zowie’s a reporter and columnist for the Herald. Kelly green is indeed one of his favorite colors. Visit his blog at http://www.fromatozowie.wordpress.com or e-mail him at richardzowie@gmail.com.

This week’s column–A new business I’d love to see: bookstore

From A to Zowie

A new business I’d love to see: bookstore

By Richard Zowie

Last week in the Mt. Morris/Clio Herald, we asked area residents what kind of new business they’d like to see open up in the area. I liked the answers, particularly the dog park and the place for the underprivileged.

Here’s one I’d love to see in the area: a bookstore that focuses on used books.

In San Antonio, where my family and I lived for six years, there were four locations for Half Price Books. Whenever I’d go to look for some literary treasure, my wife knew the drill: take the amount of time I said I’d be gone and multiply it by three. If I planned on being gone an hour, expect me home in three.

As I look around, I can’t help but wonder: are there any used book stores in Genesee, Mt. Morris, Clio, Birch Run or Bridgeport. And if not, why?

The closest one seems to be Jellybean’s, which has three locations. This store sells used books, comics, magazines, CDs, movies and more. One’s in Owosso and two are in Flint (one near Grand Blanc and the other near Burton just above Interstate 69).

On Friday, I spoke on the phone with Ronald Samek, who co-owns Jellybean’s with Teah English.

Samek, who’s been in business for 30 years, told me that while in the past Jellybean’s was in Saginaw, he’s not interested in currently expanding past their three locations. However, he is interested in selling product, equipment and training to anyone who’d like to open a bookstore. Such a prospective store would have to agree to maintain a certain distance from his store. The training they’d receive would help them learn right away what works and what doesn’t.

Recently, Samek had as customers a couple who once ran a book store in Mt. Morris but later went out of business. Here are some tips he offers for those looking to open up a used bookstore:

One, don’t assume that a bad economy means people will flock to buy second-hand books, music and movies. When there’s more money to spend, there’s more money to spend, he explained. When people can’t pay their rent, utilities or for groceries, buying books, movies or music takes a low priority.

Two, you have to do more than just sell fiction and paperback books. You must be flexible and be observant of what people want to buy and what they are looking for.

Besides these, there’s the issue of landlords: what do you do if they suddenly raise your rent from $4,500 a month to $6,000? When opening a place, there’s the first and last month’s rent, the deposit, and paying to have utilities turned on. You also have to purchase cash registers, computers, signs, and adding machines.

Not to mention the advertising in print, television and radio along with the phone book listing.

Samek added that if it costs you $25,000 to acquire the stock, training and the equipment, it could still cost another $25,000 to set up the store.

Finally, the Jellybean’s owner urges people to go into such a business as a partnership. He recommended it for couples where there’s health insurance for both parties. One person should have a full-time day job with regular income and benefits while the other person runs the business full time.

Most of the books sold even at Big Box stores either are a little too expensive, and many of those stores lean too far into the trashy romance genre. Buying from Ebay or Amazon can get expensive: even if you can get a book for a quarter you often pay at least $5 in shipping costs. With a local bookstore, especially if it’s a rarer book the libraries don’t carry, you’re much more likely to get a great read at a great price.

Richard Zowie’s a reporter and columnist for the Herald. He likes reading science fiction, suspense, alternate history and biographies. Visit his blog at http://www.fromatozowie.wordpress.com or e-mail him at richardzowie@gmail.com.

Attention, Beeville Bee-Picayune Readers…

The one or two of you out there (not including me) may have noticed my columns on blogs are longer than what’s in print. That’s because due to space limitations, I’ve been asked to submit shorter columns.

So, here’s what I’ll do: write a really great column and post it online. If it needs to be trimmed, then I’ll cut it to 500 or so words and submit it to the Bee-Picayune. This way, everyone’s happy.

Enjoy, and feel free to send me ideas of what you’d like me to write about. It won’t be the Oscars, for reasons I listed in my prior blog entry. At this stage, I hope to have another Bee-Pic column out soon but am not sure yet what I’ll write about.

Richard Zowie grew up in Beeville and now lives and works in Michigan as a writer. Post comments here or e-mail richardzowie@gmail.com.

Attention, Genesee County Herald readers…

From now on, after receiving permission from my publisher, I will be posting my From A to Zowie columns from the Mt. Morris/Clio Herald and the Birch Run/Bridgeport Herald here on my blog. While I finish the columns by Monday morning, they will most likely be posted on Wednesdays once the paper’s published.

What’s in store for the March 10 issue? I haven’t decided yet, but it may pertain to a certain type of business I’d love to see in Mt. Morris, Genesee, Clio, Birch Run or Bridgeport. I’ll decide by Sunday.

Sorry, but I have no plans to write about the Academy Awards. I consider the Oscars to be a popularity contest. Too often, so-so movies and actors magically receive nominations because they’re in a movie with some politically-correct message. (I’m sure it’s a nice adversity-overcoming story to an extent, but I have absolutely zero desire to see the Oprah-produced Precious). Besides, it’s funny how many Academy Award-nominated or -winning movies somehow find themselves in Walmart’s $5 bin.

Richard Zowie is a Texas expatriate now living in Michigan. While he enjoys Michigan, he still affectionately refers to Beeville, Texas as his “hometown” and misses listening to Tejano music on the radio. Post comments here or e-mail richardzowie@gmail.com.