unPHILtered – Phil Ponce's Blog

Thank You, Sir, May I Have Another!

You may have read the recent story about the professional football rookie who wouldn’t carry the shoulder pads of a veteran player after practice.  The rookie took heat for not doing something that’s part of the hazing process which is a component of a rookie’s initiation.  That hazing can also include being forced to sing your college alma mater’s song and has been reported to include physical punishment like running blindfolded through a gauntlet of veteran players hitting you with bags of coins.  Sounds like fun.

That got me to thinking about the two times in my life I’ve gone through hazing.  

The first time I was hazed was a classic setting:  fraternity pledgeship.  The semester of pledgeship included physical punishment, humiliation, and outright servitude.  Among other things, we’d have to clean the fraternity house and we’d each be assigned to clean the room of an “active.”   We would act as human alarm clocks, waking up actives according to a wake-up board and regularly had to take part in “line-ups.”   During these line-ups, we were berated individually or as a group for real or fabricated transgressions before a mob of hooting actives.  It all culminated in an old-fashioned “hell week” which was beyond gross, stupid, demeaning, and ugly.  I’ll spare you the details.

I got what the whole process was aimed at:  instilling cohesion in the group, forcing you to learn about the fraternity, and making you feel that if you were going through something that awful, the pay-off must somehow be worth it.  Looking back on it, it’s hard to believe I actually put up with it.  Youth is not an absolute defense, but then again I was only 18. 

Was it worth it?  Definitely.  But not for the reasons you might think.  The main benefit was that it prepared me for the next instance of hazing–one which should have made the first look like tea time at the Drake.  More on that next time.

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Oh, Hollow Men!

Like millions of people across the country, I was anxiously awaiting the highly-touted season premiere last night of Mad Men, the hit series on AMC about a group of Madison Avenue advertising executives, their families, and relationships.

As you may know, it’s set in the early ’60s and beautifully captures the styles and culture of the period—at least from the vantage point of a certain segment of society.  The “hero”—if he can be called that — is Don Draper, a handsome, dapper chameleon.  He’s charming, intelligent, and glib, with personal magnetism to spare.  But if his internal moral compass has ever landed on true north, it was probably momentary and inadvertent.

At the end of last season, Don’s wife had filed for divorce after discovering, among other things, that he was not who he appeared to be—literally.  At work, he and a small group of co-conspirators had decided to bolt their agency and start a new one.

The season opener brought the viewer up to date.  Now in addition to martinis, he’s also consuming stress cocktails at work and in his personal life.  He’s divorced, living in a furnished apartment, and paying for sex.  He’s focused on getting more clients at work beyond the huge tobacco account that’s keeping the new firm afloat.

The episode was sumptuous to look at, compelling in its portrayal of characters who’ve come to intrigue the viewer and made one anxious for the rest of the season.  But it also left me feeling hollow.  What’s the point of all that talent if one’s personal life is a mess and if you’re alienated from your children?  What’s the point of promoting cigarettes, two-piece swimsuits, and justifying the destruction of historic landmarks?

Frankly, I can’t wait to find out.  I’m as hooked on the series as Don Draper would have liked for me to have been on Lucky Strikes!

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Some Stress!

It’s hard to imagine being a criminal defendant–whether you’re innocent or guilty.   If you’re innocent, feelings of outrage, anger, and frustration would be compounded by giant doses of stress, anguish, and worry.  If you’re guilty, the stress of lying or trying to somehow mitigate the guilt would probably be equally draining.

Who knows, for example, how the jury will rule in the case of Rod Blagojevich?  But I have to admit that I’m impressed with criminal defendants who consistently come across as brave, defiant, or dismissive of the charges against them.  How do they do it?  Where do they get the stamina?

Innocent or guilty, I would be a mess.  Think about all the things that would go through your head:  how to defend yourself, the potential loss of freedom, the cost of your attorneys, the impact on your family, the impact on you professionally,  the humiliation.  How could you NOT wake up in the middle of night and ruminate for hours?  It’s a stress cocktail that could easily cost you your mental health.

I totally get those white collar criminal defendants who quickly cop a plea and start serving their time.  As stressful as it is to go to prison, at least they are exercising some control over their destinies.  That’s the group I would be in.  To quote a phrase, I would probably fold like a cheap suit!

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Mayor, Can You Spare a Dime?

You may have seen the article recently that  Mayor Daley’s poll numbers are down.  That’s the bad news for Hizzoner.  The good news for the mayor is that, at this point, he has no credible challenger.  And he has a history of pulling off strong performances on Election Day.

According to the poll, one of the things that’s really sticking in people’s craws is the parking meter fiasco–how the city leased the system and all of a sudden people were stuck with a new system that was a lot more expensive than the old one was and a pain in the neck to use.

Yesterday, I saw something that got my attention.  A well-dressed man who appeared to be in his late-20s or early thirties was walking down Lincoln Avenue systematically checking every parking pay station checking for change in the pay box.  He didn’t appear to find any in the brief time I observed him.

This got me thinking.  It may be a sign of the times when someone who is well-dressed is systematically foraging for change in public.  And if he’s a Chicago voter, is he reminded of the bleak economy each time he looks for spare change and does he associate hard times with the mayor?  If so, that’s not a connection any smart politician would want.  And no one has ever accused Hizzoner of not falling into that category.

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Hermostat, Hismostat

This heat wave is opening up old fissures:  the great thermostat divide which can exist between women and men.   If anything can cause open warfare in a household, it’s the setting of the thermostat.  And it’s the extreme temperatures–hot or cold–that seem to set things off.

My conclusion is based on extremely limited anecdotal evidence involving couples of a certain age.  Several said couples I know currently have the women asserting their right to be cool and men asserting their interest in having actual fresh air come in through an open window.  The flipside seems to be true in winter:  many women want the thermostat set much higher than the men in their lives think necessary.

I recall reading articles about the physiological differences between men and women that account for this disparity in what temperature setting is considered comfy — including the fact that men do not get hot flashes.  I imagine if I even got ONE hot flash in my life, I’d insist that the thermostat be kept in the 30s.

As it is, it’s not exactly open warfare in our house, but a series of surreptitious tweaks to the thermostat when one thinks the other is not looking.  The only witnesses to this ongoing sneakiness: the all-seeing-but-say-nothing cats!

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A Dashing Couple

The government has rested its case-in-chief in the Blagojevich trial and the public is about to hear from the defense.  But one thing that has already come through loud and clear from the defense side:  how the defendant and his wife present themselves to the world each day.  And frankly, I think they’ve looked great.

Rod looks dapper in his multi-hundred-thousand dollar wardrobe and his cock-of-the-walk swagger.  And Patti–in spite of her occasional gum-chewing–looks chic and stylish, especially with her smart, new, summer bob.  They may not be JFK and Jackie, but the two of them cut a confident, photogenic picture as they enter and exit the courtroom each day.  And I think that’s been part of the allure of this story.

When George and Lura Lynn Ryan would walk into the federal courthouse during that ex-governor’s criminal trial, they looked like someone’s kindly grandparents ambling into an all-you-can eat buffet on a Sunday afternoon.  But Rod and Patti have a certain snap and dismissive swagger to them…like they’re walking into a party and expect to get a round of applause when they enter the room.

I don’t know if it’s false bravado…or true bravado.  And it’s anyone’s guess if it’s having any impact on the jury.  But I’ll say this:  they make for great theater and the cameras love ’em!

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A Classic Sports Video

After a major international story, I sometimes log on to websites of foreign newspapers to see how the story is being covered.  It’s interesting and fun to get a different perspective.  After Spain’s victory in the World Cup, I logged on to some Spanish newspapers, read the coverage, and watched video links of celebrations–it was like being at the party.

I came across the following video which I have watched about 20 times.  The camera was locked on the commentators for Spanish national television.  It makes me laugh each time I see it and you don’t have to speak Spanish to enjoy it.  And it’s apparently causing a bit of a stir in Spain because of a phrase the color commentator comes up with after the Spanish player, Andres Iniesto, makes the winning goal:  “Iniesto, de mi vida!”  (“Iniesto, of my life!”) When you watch it:

1.  Pay special attention to how the color commentator almost chokes the microphone to pieces.

2.  Know that the play-by-play announcer at one point says that Iniesto “rubbed the lamp and out came the genie!”

3.  Note the expression on the woman in the lower right hand corner.  To me, she represents the viewer at home.

I don’t know that I’ve ever seen such unbridled joy at a sporting event.  Ever!

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