Friday, May 26, 2006

Get Me Out of the Ballgame

Take me out of the crowd ... I don't care if I ever get back. Well, I'm not so sure about that. Not returning from a ballgame sounds more like a Wes Craven horror movie than cheery song, and watching the Phillies these days is not something that makes us want to sing, as they continue to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. For $30, we find entertainment where it lays - and it isn't always on the field.
When I'm out in public with the humans, I search for new sources of entertainment, and they seldom fail me. With the lure of the bobblehead doll summoning them to the ballpark like a Siren's song, there was yet another sell-out crowd who braved the continued threats of rain. The threats came not from the sky, but from the mouths of the forecasters, who continue to use their increasing technology to find new ways to make us believe them, even though they appear clueless. The forecast of a 70% chance of severe storms was belied by the partly cloudy skies overhead. Keep cashing the checks guys, you'll be right tomorrow.
The first thing that intruded on my field of view was the kid seated to my right. In medical terms, he could be called a "leaner", preferring to lean forward in his seat rather than use the conveniently placed back of the seat. With our odd seat angle, I could not see the plate, so I leaned forward. Then the guy next to me, and the guy next to him ... you get the picture. In five minutes we were a linked chain of people who looked like they were trying to force defecation right there in public.
Together, we suffered in silence for almost three innings, and I realized that our suffering must end. So, it was left to me, as the first link in the potty train, to politely ask the kid to sit back. I did and he did. Nice enough young man, although the sitting back perpetuated another interesting personal tick - the placing of both hands in his crotch. Yes, I know ... why did I look? I had to look, I'm a guy. When there are hands and crotch involved, the first impulse is to look. Next, we evaluate the sex of the individual involved and proceed accordingly. That wouldn't have been so bad, except the next move for the hands was toward the mouth, where he proceeded to chew on his fingers for a few batters. Yes, I know ... watch the game!
I keep score, as faithful readers know, so it was a particular challenge to concentrate on the record-keeping with so many interesting activities going on so close to me. Seated directly in front of me was a middle-aged man who was wearing five of those rubber bracelets - including the ubiquitous yellow Livestrong - and four others of various causes we wouldn't know about unless they had a catchy colored bracelet. I assume the reason he was wearing them is because no one has ever told him that they look ridiculous. It wasn't my job. He's not in my row.
Now, the dad of the kid sitting next to me is chiding his son for not standing during the 7th inning stretch. Wow, dad ... take a pill. The kid's been leaning forward all night, he needs to relax. Later on, I noticed that the dad had the same strange tick. The leaning, not the fingers ... so I assumed it was a genetic thing. The kid seemed embarrassed, and reached for his phone, presumably to call the Division of Youth and Family Services. The kid had a phone.
Then the Wave starts. Ya hoo. Right in the middle of a key spot in the game. The lady next to "Bracelet Man" is yelling at us not to participate. Stop yelling, lady ... we have free will and your giant head is blocking third base. When I do not participate, somehow she feels responsible. Just doing my job to make the rest of you feel better about yourselves. You're welcome.
Meanwhile, the Phillies are making the Brewers feel better about themselves, but at $30 a ticket, I really don't appreciate it. The game had meandered into the tenth inning before the Phillies graciously ended the proceedings by allowing Milwaukee to win the game.
As we waddle out with our bobbleheads by our side, and our real heads hanging from another wasted evening, we are faced with another season without a championship. It never did rain, and we all got back, feeling better about doing our part to subsidize the exhorbitant salaries of the players who continue to make us suffer.
You're welcome.

Thursday, May 25, 2006

My Final Answer

A recent editorial in the USA Today about my least-favorite entertainment phenomenon got me rankled enough to piss out a letter to the editor of that fine rag. If you'd like to read the editorial, click here. The editorial was titled Idol Worship, so I think you can guess my response, so be forewarned. Here is my letter, in its entirety. Note that I did not start with the customary "Dear", preferring to get right to the point:
If it takes a television program like American Idol to bring America together, I fear the worst for our country.
While it is true that, since the advent of cable, television "audiences are more fragmented and shows are more targeted, making it hard for the medium to serve as the electronic public square that it once did." However, it is also true that with the advent of over 100 channels on basic cable, there are more bad shows than ever, simply because there is so much more space to fill.
And fill it they do. As has been said before, nobody ever lost money underestimating the intelligence of the American public, and the success of American Idol bears this out. It is little more than a televised karaoke contest, with the winner guaranteed a recording contract, courtesy of a giant media conglomerate. The same conglomerate who will promote and foster his career whether or not the majority of viewers thought he should have won.
If it is supposed to remind us that we still have common bonds, why was the voting two weeks ago split at 33% each? Why also are there so many people like myself who think it is a pox on society? If 32 million households are watching, those of us who do not have them vastly outnumbered.
America does not need a television program to create celebrities - we have plenty. It also does not need to have mediocre performers thrust at us. There are more than enough of them as well.
Fine, I thought, as I hit the SEND button.
Quickly, a robotic response came from the USA Today thanking me for my letter (I don't think they read it yet), and telling me that your opinion is important to us (it should be), and telling me that they get between 800 and 1,000 letters a week (but none as sweet as mine). I am reminded that the letters that are published are selected for their timeliness (check), clarity (check), accuracy (who's more accurate than me?) and length as well as for the insight and perspective they provide (Insight is my middle name), so if mine isn't published (is that possible?) do not despair, and keep trying, they say (Sure, keep pissing me off) , and that letters of 250 words or fewer are the most likely to be published.
I pasted it into Word and ran to the WORD COUNT function. Out came the results:
Word count: 256 words.

I'll Take "The Bleeding Obvious" for a Hundred, Alex

HONOLULU - Fleming Beach Park, a mile-long crescent white sand beach on Maui's western shore featuring spectacular views of the Pacific Ocean and the rugged shores of Molokai Island, was named America's best beach in an annual list that also included two Florida beaches.
International beach expert Stephen Leatherman, also known as "Dr. Beach," lauded Fleming for its year-round sunny weather, scenic views, pristine waters and amenities such as showers, grills for barbecuing, snack bar, picnic facilities and ample parking.
Wow - what a big surprise, Doctor Beach. I hope you didn't get paid to do this research. God knows you can't find things like snack bars and ample parking anywhere like you can in Hawaii. Thanks so much for the valuable insights into the beaches of Hawaii. Without your guidance, I would have been wandering aimlessly along the shorelines of America searching for the best beach. Who knew it would be in Hawaii? Thanks for your invaluable assistance.
Here's a news flash for the good Doctor:

Some Good News for a Change

These stories coincidentially appeared today:
NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - Chocolate lovers rejoice. A new study hints that eating milk chocolate may boost brain function. "Chocolate contains many substances that act as stimulants, such as theobromine, phenethylamine, and caffeine," Dr. Bryan Raudenbush from Wheeling Jesuit University in West Virginia noted in comments to Reuters Health.
"These substances by themselves have previously been found to increase alertness and attention and what we have found is that by consuming chocolate you can get the stimulating effects, which then lead to increased mental performance."
LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Marijuana smoking does not increase a person's risk of developing lung cancer, according to the findings of a new study at the University of California Los Angeles that surprised even the researchers. Dr. Donald Tashkin, senior researcher and professor at the UCLA School of Medicine theorized that tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, a chemical in marijuana smoke that produces its psychotropic effect, may encourage aging, damaged cells to die off before they become cancerous.
OK ... there's the news. You know what to do now.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Odds and Ends

WASHINGTON - Most states aren't doing enough to protect children from the diesel exhaust many of them inhale while riding or waiting for school buses, an environmental advocacy group said in a report Wednesday. "School buses can be a major source of pollution exposure for children," said Patricia Monahan, an analyst for the Union of Concerned Scientists.
So there ya go - if your kids are goofy, blame the school. I smell a lawsuit.
DETROIT - Aiming to capitalize on consumer angst about the high cost of gasoline, General Motors Corp. on Tuesday said it would cap pump prices at $1.99 for customers in California and Florida who buy certain vehicles by July 5. One hitch to the promotion is that customers must also agree to enroll in the OnStar vehicle diagnostic service, which is free for the first year but after that will cost $16.95 a month. The other is that many of the eligible vehicles are serious gas guzzlers. The credits can be used through December 2007. Consumers wouldn't get any credits if gas prices fall below $1.99.
"One hitch"? It sounds like a two hitches. The free OnStar subscription will end just as the gas credit ends. Your savings will be offset by the $16.95 monthly charge. Plus the fact that you'll be stuck driving a Yukon, Hummer or Tahoe - eating gasoline along the way. Figure it out for three years and I'll bet you'll lose money on it. Face it gang, General Motors is smarter than us. They are using our fear and anger over high gas prices to encourage people to drive huge vehicles that use more gasoline. That makes good nonsense.
HARRISBURG - The Pennsylvania Tourism Office is taking votes on its Web site for an official state bumper sticker. Voters can choose one of 16 slogans, such as "I Break for Shoo Fly Pie," "Cars Are Happier on a Pennsylvania Roadtrip," and "Pennsylvania Is for Roadtrippers," by clicking here.
One warning: Almost all the slogans contain the word "roadtrip", but I think "roadhead" would get a lot more votes. Another choice, "I Go Happy" will probably get the learning-impared vote, so in Pennsylvania, that means it may be the winner.
... and if you're tired of Pennsylvania, here's a potential vacation destination for the whole family:
NEW YORK - While debates rage about why more buildings have not gone up at the World Trade Center site, there is one, shrouded in a web of black netting and full of trade center dust, that can't seem to come down. The vacant 41-story former Deutsche Bank AG building looms above ground zero, contaminated with toxic waste and still holding tiny body parts more than four years after the trade center collapsed onto it on Sept. 11, 2001. Removing it from the landscape has become a more challenging task than cleaning up the twin towers. "That's more or less a vertical Superfund site, and we're living right next to it," said neighborhood resident Esther Regelson.
So, if you're going to drive a school bus past ground zero, make sure you turn the engine off and pass out the gas masks. The kids will come back spooked and goofy. Sounds like it might make a good roadtrip for the Union of Concerned Scientists. I smell another lawsuit.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

The Latest Scam

Truly, there is a sucker born every minute. Between those minutes, there is born the person who will take advantage of the sucker. There is no shortage of either.
Today, another e-mail came from my pals at Ticketmaster (born in the in-between minutes), asking me if I would like to participate in an on-line auction for premium seats for the Pop Tarts of American Idol - you remember, I mused on it a few days ago. What followed was a list of tour dates, and prospective suckers were to click on their local venue and place a bid on the auction which will run for 7 agonizing days, where the high bid wins. The bidding starts at $100, even though the fourth row tickets have a "face value" of $90. Already I'm annoyed. Seats in the front row have a face value of $160. You'd have to pay me $160 just to use the rest room in the same building as this concert. Shitting my pants would be a viable option.
I only found out that the minimum bid was $100 after I placed my initial bid of $10, which was rejected, as you could well imagine. But hey ... it was $10 each, so that's pretty good, right? I wanted to scalp the tickets, just like Ticketmaster. But Ticketmaster has decided to get a leg-up on the re-sellers and act as their own re-seller. Schrewd marketing, but I didn't get out of bed early enough to get one over on them. Not for ten bucks, anyway.
There are two issues at work here. ONE - The folks at Ticketmaster are now in the business of ticket scalping and TWO - the Tarts in charge of the event are worried that they may not be charging the suckers of America enough for tickets, so they will allow the market to price the tickets for them. By that I mean, over-price. Front row tickets to this nonsense will probably go for about $1,000, and since the kids are on the road for all of July and August, there is a lot of extra money to be made for the franchise.
I don't like to see big business taking advantage of people. They know how much you love the show, and now they want to see just how much - in dollars. And I suppose that no one is reading this tonight because you're all glued to your TV waiting for the next glorious song in America's biggest Karaoke contest.
Nobody ever lost money underestimating the intelligence of the general public, so go ahead and piss away your money while corporate America laughs in your face. If you're going to place a bid, think of it as a huge test-marketing scheme, and get used to it. Soon, tickets to every major concert event may be placed on the auction block, and you'll be forced to either bid high or stay home. All in the name of corporate entertainment.

Monday, May 22, 2006

What Price Sports?

MINNEAPOLIS, MINNESOTA - The Minnesota Legislature finally approved the Twins-Hennepin County new ballpark plan early Sunday morning. "Today's vote signals the end of a decade-long debate," said Twins owner Carl Pohlad, 90, whose worth is estimated at nearly $3 billion. He is among the wealthiest men in America. "This is a wonderful, historic day for the Minnesota Twins franchise and millions of baseball fans across the upper Midwest." $392 million of the $522 million cost would be paid by taxpayers. Three-fourths of the funding would come from a sales tax in Hennepin County, which would take effect without going to voters for approval.
It's also a wonderful day for Pohlad, who is using only about 4% of his $3,000,000,000 wealth on his team's ballpark. I guess we cannot fault him for it, since the suckers in Minnesota are willing to foot the bill through more taxes. I hope they're happy in the Land of 10,000 Lakes, because they're doing their part to make an old, wealthy man wealthier. Forbes magazine recently ranked him as the 78th wealthiest man in the United States, most of it acquired when he sold Marquette Bank to U.S. Bancorp in the 1980s.
County commissioner Mark Stenglein says the increase is a small burden on taxpayers. "Granted it is a tax, but it's reasonable enough to be of public sector. I mean, this is a public piece of infrastructure. It's almost like a big piece of furniture for the city. To not have it would be a shame," Stenglein said.
"With the substantial contribution we're making, I don't know how they can say `No,"' Pohlad said of lawmakers.
Substantial? $130 million is now considered substantial by a guy worth $3 billion who happens to own the team. Here's something else the people of Minneapolis can look forward to after the stadium is built - higher ticket prices. Add that to the tax you are paying.
This is the latest in a long line of publicly-funded projects that do more to benefit the wealthy than the people who use the facility. The public should not be burdened (whether deemed 'small' or not) with helping build facilities that will contribute to the wealth of the people for whom they are built. Railroads, public transit, hospitals and schools are a few of the publicly-funded facilities that benefit the public, but baseball is baseball, whether it is played in the crappy Metrodome or the new Pohlad Palace - though I imagine the naming rights will be sold to U.S. Bancorp. Pohlad will either sell the team or turn it over to one of his soon-to-be-richer-than-God family members. Either way, the value of the team probably doubles when the thing is finished. Meanwhile, the value of the baseball being played in Minnesota likely will not.
New sports facilities quickly lose their luster. Ask anyone in Baltimore, Pittsburgh, Cleveland or Philly. In the end, it is the quality of the game that matters, and people will go to a sand plant to watch a winner, but will not go to a palace to watch a loser. The only beneficiaries are the owners.
I see no end to the public funding of sports franchises. We are threatened with their leaving, as the people of Minnesota were threatened with the team moving, and it would call for a deeply committed legislature to stand up to an owner while risking the popular vote lest the team actually go through with its plan. But if the ballpark stinks and the team isn't entertaining, what are you really losing? And without a dome, you'll freeze your asses off in April, May, September and October. If you ever host a playoff game, you'll really love the place.
As long as legislatures in this country have people like Mark Stenglein in them, we will be forced to feed the giant pigs of corporate America, while the rest of us keep paying. So, go get 'em Carl, because somewhere in America another wealthy sports owner is busy taking notes, and item number one is "spend other people's money".

Sunday, May 21, 2006

Follow the Money

During the investigations of the Nixon administration and their associates following the break-in at the Watergate hotel, reporters Woodward and Bernstein were told by their informant to "follow the money". That axiom is true in all aspects of life, regardless of politics or function. As we see now, it also applies to the animal kingdom and their tenuious relationship with the humans.
Unless you were in a cave over the weekend, you know that potential Triple Crown winner Barbaro came up lame at the start of the Preakness on Saturday with what turned out to be multiple injuries to his right-rear ankle. It was sad and painful to watch, which didn't prevent the TV news folks from showing it repeatedly. I was almost driven to tears while watching it live, knowing the consequenses that awaited the horse, as well as the pain that the animal must have felt. There is even a painful-to-watch front page photograph of Barbaro's dangling foot, right there on the front page of my favorite newspaper, The Philadelphia Inquirer today.
For a good deal of the day on Sunday, the injured horse was in surgery in attempts to both repair his ankle and save his life. The surgery, it turns out, would not have been performed or even considered had the horse not been the most recent winner of the Kentucky Derby. They took Barbaro to the University of Pennsylvania, where he was attended to by Dr. Dean Richardson. In a moment of honesty, Dr. Richardson said, "You do not see this severe injury frequently because the fact is most horses that suffer this typically are put down on the race track," said Richardson, the chief of surgery for the center. "This is rare."
It is rare because the common horse is not given such attention. Barbaro's racing career ended at Pimlico, but his financial returns were still un-realized. Barbaro is worth millions in stud fees, so even though he will no longer race, he will reap the rewards of that Derby victory for his owners and trainers for years to come. Meanwhile, the eighth-place finisher at Delaware Park is relegated to the glue factory. They are no less God's creatures, yet the one with the larger financial promise is given special treatment while the common equine is not.
It reminds me of how we humans treat each other. Like that head of state in the movie Fantastic Voyage, who gets rushed into emergency surgery, while Raquel Welch and her teammates are shrunken to microscopic size in order to laser-beam a blood clot from his brain. They wouldn't shrink anyone and put them in a submarine to save a "regular" person, just like they wouldn't operate on a horse for 6 hours unless there was some financial return waiting.
The next time you hear someone talk about equal treatment for everyone, think about Barbaro, or the guy from the movie and say a prayer for your life, because, if it isn't worth something to somebody financially, you don't stand a chance in Hell of getting special treatment.
The rich get richer, while the rest of us get put down on the track.

'Dog' the Publicity Hunter

THIS PASSES FOR NEWS: Honolulu - Duane "Dog" Chapman, star of A&E's reality show "Dog the Bounty Hunter," has married his longtime sidekick, Beth Smith. The sunset ceremony on the Big Island took place Saturday, a day after the death of Chapman's daughter. Barbara Katy Chapman, 23, was killed in a car accident near her home of Fairbanks, Alaska. Chapman gathered with his 10 surviving children - two of whom he had with Smith - and discussed whether to proceed with the wedding. "They all decided unanimously they should celebrate the wedding and her life," said Michael Feeney, senior vice president of A&E television network. The wedding will be featured in an Aug. 8 episode of the show.
So, another made-for-TV celebrity gets some free pub, while his life is played out for our entertainment. Meanwhile, his daughter isn't cold in the ground. I suppose postponing the wedding would have put the show behind schedule. God forbid. They've been together for 16 years, for Crissakes, would it have killed them to wait? The article also goes on to say:
The couple had planned to honeymoon in Fiji, but may postpone their plans because of the death of Chapman's daughter, Feeney said.
I suppose they "may" postpone the honeymoon because it wasn't going to be part of the TV show. Rats - that's the part I wanted to see.
This is yet another example of a made-for-TV celebrity whose life we wouldn't give a rats ass about if they were not on television. A hundred channels (and I don't even have premium digital cable) creates a lot of programs that wouldn't have seen the light of day a few years ago. We'll watch just about anything: Poker, car remodeling, animal stalking, makeovers and even bounty hunting. I wouldn't mind going back to the days when there were a few less channels and better choices.