Saturday, July 29, 2006

A Blog Break

I'll be taking a short blog break this weekend (insert stifled cheers here). Tonight, I will be in lovely Camden, NJ at the Fiona Apple show, in the 6th row, enraptured by her music.
Then, Saturday, it's off to Connecticut for The Dave Matthews Band, with Gov't Mule opening. There may not be a better bill in all of music. That's probably a two-day event, since the drive to CT is over 4 hours, and the show will likely not be over until after midnight. So, Sunday would appear to be a washout.
Monday, I have a take-home mid-term for my Auditing class that I will be spending some library time with. So, even though it's classified as a "Vacation day" from work, anyone who knows anything about auditing knows that this test will be no vacation.
As a result of this expected inactivity, I have posted several essays. Don't eat them all at once. Save some for later, or else you'll get indigestion. And, stay out of the pool for at least an hour after you read them.
Thanks for hanging with me, and I'll see you on the other side.

Friday, July 28, 2006

A Cure for the Common Life

We spend a great deal of time, effort and money trying to change things which were given to us by our Creator. There are pills and medical treatments for conditions that did not have pills and treatments ten years ago. Drug companies are happy to supply them to us, since we would rather take a pill than admit that there is a bigger problem that requires more sophisticated treatment, and we believe them when they tell us that we have a "disease".
Advertisements run on TV every day for some pill or other designed to treat something that we may not even know we have. Sometimes it's attention deficit disorder (commonly called "boredom") and other times it's the frequency of our urination (sometimes called "drinking too much coffee"). In each case, we are told to "ask your doctor if [pill name] is right for you." Chances are it isn't, since often the side-effects are more devistating than the ailment. Besides, isn't it my doctor's job to tell me that a pill is right for me? Why should I have to ask? I didn't spend 8 years in medical school.
The amount of money that is spent to cure baldness (cure - as if it were a disease) is greater than the Gross National Product of several small countries. Yet, there continue to be bald people and they continue to seek treatment. In this case and several others, the best remedy is acceptance. Stop fighting so hard and put your energies into things that you can control rather than fight something that has been divined. My personal cure is a razor and a can of Edge gel. Problem solved.
Likewise, several small countries could benefit from the money, time and effort spent to cure loneliness. However, unlike the cures, loneliness delivers on all of its promises. It is one of the rare things in life that lives up to its billing. There continues to be no real remedy, yet single people spend great amounts of time and money trying to find something that may be beyond their reach.
One Thusday night in May, the Phillies had what they called "Singles Night" at the ballpark. For a ticket in the cheap seats, patrons were treated to an entire section of people that were also seeking to find someone to share their lives with. In exchange for that, they were expected to don a free t-shirt on which they were to write their name on the front. On the back, there were several odd questions to answer, including which "base" was your favorite - a thinly veiled reference to what you expected out of your potential mate. This was done because, in the pursuit of happiness, it is expected that single people will do anything - no matter how humiliating - for the possibility of finding a cure for loneliness.
We have invented Internet dating, so-called Singles Bars, something else called Speed Dating and all manner of emotional Ponzi schemes designed to make people believe that their happiness lies directly ahead of them, and no matter how mortifying the process, we can find help. As single folks, we are expected to shell out our money and our self-respect because, unlike our friends and neighbors, we have failed in our attempt to build a life outside our own.
The biggest problem facing the American medical community is that there isn't a pill they can sell us that will cure our ill. But, if there ever is, I'll ask my doctor.

Some of My Best Friends...

Proving that we are without racial prejudice is a bit like proving that you have not done something. There is no tangible evidence, and the idea is so foreign to some people, that it defies belief that someone could be free of racial or sexual bias. As caucasians, we are faced with an especially daunting challenge, since we are believed to be so locked into the "white community" (whatever that is) that we would fail to see any other race or support any person who isn't of like color.
When I read Pam's post today, the thoughts were re-kindled. Can we be so narrow-minded that the thoughts we have would only be expressed in favor of our own race or religion? Perhaps. In these cases, the group is punished for the actions of one. That's racism, folks. I don't know much about what is going on in the Middle East, but I do know baseball.
Earlier this week, the Philadelphia Inquirer ran a story about Phillies first baseman Ryan Howard, who, you may know, recently won the Home Run Derby at the All-Star game. The story opined that his emerging popularity would bring black fans back to the ballpark and get them interested in baseball. The team has not had a real black superstar, and the article pointed that out. Obviously, there have been plenty of black players, but few if any have achieved enough on the field to make them worthy of the term superstar. Somehow, that is a racial issue rather than one of skill.
What I find mildly offensive about the article is twofold. First, that it would take a black player to bring black baseball fans to the ballpark. What was missed in the article is the fact that, recently, the quality of baseball has been mediocre. It could be that people in general don't appreciate mediocre baseball, race notwithstanding, but we are led to believe that it takes a player of ones similar race to bring us out. It is a simple thought in many ways. Simple because it assumes that people are so shallow that they will only root for players of their own ethnicity and simple because it is racist in its theme. I must only go because the team has white superstars. Phooey.
Secondly, I wonder why it was necessary for a black writer, Claire Smith, to write the article? Much as Ed Bradley generally gets the interviews and stories involving blacks on 60 Minutes, and black reporters are sent out on TV news stories involving black people. If we are to be a truly integrated society, wouldn't it be even better if the paper had assigned a white writer to do the Howard story? If it was discussed among the editors, then they get credit for that, but in the end, the story was race biased. After all, white writers write about black athletes, right? What am I missing here?
So, naturally, as Pam states, when we take a side over a religious or racial issue, it is deemed that we are siding with the religion or race, and not making a genuine statement of opinion. As though we are incapable of thinking for ourselves, and only seeing color or religion. The concept is too foreign for some (or most) to grasp, so they lash out at the first thing that comes to their small minds, and that is, that they believe our minds are as small as theirs.
We can't prove it, but we know that we can think for ourselves, whether it be baseball, religion or warfare. So, we are left to our own independent thoughts, and if that means that some people will believe that we are falling in a religious or racial line, then they will have to believe it, because their inherent hatred is too difficult for them to fend off. It is a waste of our time to attempt to convince them otherwise, and impossible to confirm.

What Stern Hath Wrought

Whether you are a fan of Howard Stern or not, there is no denying his influence on American radio. His show began broadcasting in the Philadelphia area in 1985, and slowly, other stations began to be manipulated by the structure of his show. The fact that he killed them in the ratings didn't hurt, and those stations adopted a "kill or be killed" attitude toward their programming.
Witness the ever-present woman news reader, who for some reason, cannot be in the same room as the hosts (almost always male), just as Robin Quivers was always in a separate room. The fact that it is radio didn't seem to matter. Listeners would know, somehow.
Howard did wacky stunts, so the others followed. Howard had girls in the studio, and the others followed. All in the name of ratings. Forget the fact that Stern has a gift, and could entice listeners with women that his audience could not see, other hosts figured that all they had to do was bring women into the studio and the world would flock to them. It ain't necessarily so.
Today, local sports talk station WIP moved their morning show outside to a local restaurant, where they hosted a Miss WIP beauty contest and another contest where listeners volunteered to do outrageous stunts for a new Harley-Davidson motorcycle.
Some would call it "Theater of the Mind", but to me, a beauty contest on the radio is senseless. I heard the last half-hour as I was getting ready to leave the house, and I couldn't help but wonder what the point was of having a beauty contest on the radio. Then I remembered - Howard did it.
Howard has taken his show to Sirius satellite radio, where I assume he will attract a more affluent audience, since most of America has yet to see the point to paying ten bucks a month for radio. We're still pissed about paying for TV, so I don't think the time for pay-radio is here yet. I don't pay for it, and doubt that I ever will, so I can only assume that Howard is still doing what he used to do (with enhanced language) while the rest of free radio is left to wait for the next trailblazer to give them something to do.
I don't know if radio gets overnight ratings the way TV does, but I could only imagine radios tuning out all over the Philadelphia area, as we looked for other stations with guys talking and not playing as much music as they used to, and a woman in another room laughing at their stupid jokes, reading the news and doing traffic reports - just like Howard.

Thursday, July 27, 2006

Another Big Day for Nuts

HOUSTON - In a dramatic turnaround from her first murder trial, Andrea Yates was found not guilty by reason of insanity yesterday in the drowning of her five children in a bathtub.
Yates' chief attorney, George Parnham, called the new verdict:
"a watershed for mental illness and the criminal justice system."
Damn ... a watershed for mental illness is the phrase I was going to use as the sub-heading for the blog. Now I'll probably have to buy it from that attorney.
Aside from being a poor choice of metaphor, I don't know why the mentally ill needed a watershed moment, but apparently the criminal justice system does. In this instance, perhaps criminal justice is the biggest oxymoron of 2006. Unless you consider that justice has been given to the criminal, then it's just stupid.
I just don't get the "not guilty by reason of insanity" defense. Either she is guilty or not. Anyone who commits a crime is mentally ill in some manner, and if someone is so deranged that she drowns her own children, she doesn't deserve to go to a mental health facility. She needs to be incarcerated for life, which would have been her sentence if she were found guilty.
So, the criminal justice system has seen fit to put Yates in a mental hospital until she is "no longer deemed a threat", which is probably soon, since she has run out of children.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

The Little Annoyances

Somebody said, "Don't sweat the small stuff", to which the common reply is "it's all small stuff." That may be true, but in the end, isn't it the small stuff that adds up to big stuff? Here's a short list of 5 "small stuff" things that occur on such a repetitive basis that they add up to big stuff:
THE PARKING LOT STALKER - I'm at the mall, walking toward my car. Usually (as faithful readers know) I grab the first space I see, which is generally nearer the road than the mall. Meanwhile, "fat-ass SUV" is riding my ass at 4mph waiting for me to find my car and vacate the space, so he can load up. Generally, they are disappointed and give up long before I reach my car. SECRET: Sometimes I pretend to forget where I parked, and wander over to the other lane, out of reach of the stalker.
THE LINE JUMPER - I'm standing in line at the inappropriately named convenience store, when a new cashier checks in and shouts, "I can take the next person!" No sooner does this occur, than the person behind me runs over like they're on fire to jump into the newly opened lane. But, they are not the "next person" - I am. And, as usual, I find myself screwed (in a bad way).
THE NO-EXPRESS LANE - Your local supermarket. The sign proclaims EXPRESS: CASH ONLY or TEN ITEMS OR LESS. Meanwhile, Mr. Line Spoiler watches his baby oil, video tape and frozen meal ring up while the rest of us wait while he fumbles for change and invariably buys something for which the coupon he is using expired during the Reagan administration. Move it along, buddy.
SUBSET: The check-writer who waits until the entire order is finalized to begin writing the check. HINT: Fill out everything except the amount before you go in the store. Our lives will be easier, and stay out of the CASH ONLY lane.
THE MAGAZINE READER - A cheapskate, who believes that the local Barnes and Noble is a library. This guy is enabled by the coffee shop adjacent to the bookstore. He generally stands near the rack, paging through the latest issue of Guns & Ammo, wondering if the semi-automatic rifle he just bought has been replaced by a newer model. Stand aside, Chief, I wanna buy a Playboy.
DRIVE THRU MEAL FOR TEN - Giant SUV, one person inside. They pull up to the ORDER HERE sign and spout out a list of items that could be taken on Safari. They change their order a few times in the process, as they realize that the establishment does not serve the meal combination that their anxiously-awaiting 8 year-old is salavating over. When they get to the PAY HERE window, they are handed a bag that could contain a small farm animal and a tray of drinks that is larger than the window opening. HERE'S AN IDEA: Let's limit the drive-thru orders to ten items or less, and let the drunks trying to fend off the Booze Woozies get home faster with their chicken sandwich and bag of fries.
That's five that I rattled off the top of my sick head.
Got any more to add?

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

The Great American Celebrity Famine

There are water shortages, nursing shortages, trucker shortages, doctor shortages and OH MY GOD Veggies, there's a Lentil Shortage! There's even a Toor Dal shortage (as if you didn't know). But the worst kind of shortage is going on right under our noses, and we are so numb to it that we haven't adopted a colored bracelet or a web site devoted to it. So, allow me, in my own sick manner, to alert you to the next crisis at our doorstep.
Celebrity Shortage
That's right, Mr. and Mrs. America, there is a celebrity shortage. You don't think so? How else to explain the current crop of TV programs devoted to nothing other than creating stars?
Tonight alone, there are three programs that are dedicated to helping Hollywood and the entertainment industry solve this growing crisis. Rock Star: Supernova on CBS, The One: Making a Music Star on ABC and Last Comic Standing on NBC, which I credit with being bold enough not to use a colon in its title. How about this? Last Comic: Standing.
Monday night, NBC gifted us with Project Runway, which I initially thought was about building an airplane, but as it turns out, is about skinny women prancing around in their underwear.
Wednesday night (SET YOUR TIVO) NBC returns with America's Got Talent, which besides being atrocious grammar, is patently disproved by most of the contestants. Then, CBS returns with another spine-tingling eposode of the Rock Star deal, and ABC gives us another tension-filled The One [colon] Making a Music Star. This assumes, of course, that music stars can be made.
I'm not sure if I should include Fox's So You Think You Can Dance, since I'm not sure anyone is watching, and thus does not contribute to solving the celebrity shortage problem. But, it's on for 2 hours, so I figure they will get viewers by exhaustion if nothing else.
Thursday is a potpourri. Yet another Dance on Fox (that's 3 hours in two days - can ya stand it?). Then, something on ABC called Master of Champions, which seems to be redundant. By default, a champion should be a master, but what do I know? Then, DAMN YOU ALL TO HELL another episode of America's Got Talent on NBC. Geez, can they really have that much talent?
Friday, we get a break, as ABC gives us another agonizing America's Funniest Home Videos, which isn't so much about creating celebrities as it is watching people's pants fall down at weddings. Now, that's comedy!
According to my listings, Saturday at 10:00, ABC has To Be Announced. Is it a contest of potential game show announcers, or are they not quite sure what they will put on? My suggestion: A hybrid talent show. America's Master Dancers Have Comic Talent. Kill five birds with one stone. Maybe it should be "Got Comic Talent"?
Sunday, the Lord and TV viewers get a rest, but if you want a test, tune in to Big Brother: All-Stars, [colon] and see if any of them wind up in prison or commit fraud. Say "I knew them when..."
I lost count somewhere along the way, and am too exhausted to go back, but I'm guessing ten shows that have as their sole purpose the creation of the next entertainment sensation. And I didn't even include American Idol, the original germ upon which this infestation has grown.
Are we so starved for entertainment that we have to literally go out of our way to create more celebrities? Aren't the antics of Tom Cruise, Madonna and Star Jones Reynolds enough to satisfy us? Maybe we like being spoon-fed our celebrities? That way, we don't have to establish our own preferences by buying CDs, going to movies or watching real TV shows. We'll just let the entertainment industry tell us who is good, and we can get on with our lives, the same way we let big business, big politics and big media wash over us and dictate our wants, needs and desires.
Stop the insanity. I need a sitcom ... NOW!
Thursday's at eight, My Name is Earl. Thank you, Jesus!

Monday, July 24, 2006

Where's My Tarts?

Finally, the schmoes from American Idol visited our fair city. Faithful readers will no doubt remember my rant on the aptly named Pop Tarts Present American Idol. You remember, right? For some reason, the Wachovia Center was sold out for this thing. No accounting for taste. A great review appeared in The Philadelphia Inquirer this morning. A few excerpts:
Throaty, bald Chris (no last names!) led his fellow boy-Idols through a calmly crooned take on Guns N' Roses' "Patience." Bonde's fireplug MC Marina Ribatski barked Portuguese rhymes to DJ Diplo's hyper-baile beats and rapid-fire G-N'-R samples when she wasn't spitting beer. What could the difference be, if not spittle.
And it got even better (worse?) when it came time for the Ford Motor Company's nearly-famous spazzy spokesman:
There wasn't much calm to Taylor. From running through the audience to a hokey "Jailhouse Rock" to his goofball dancing, he was a king of twitchiness. Mighty, no doubt, taking on a bluesy Beatles' "Don't Let Me Down." But odd then, how unfocused the husky singer sounded chattering through his m├ętier, the rolling rock of Bob Seger and the Doobie Brothers. Recount, anyone?
Beautiful. Well worth the sixty bucks, I'm sure. Nothing like "hokey", "goofball" and "spittle" to make an evening complete.
And to my Blog buddy Kate, who suspiciously claims that she has yet to see the spinning and pointing Ford ad, she (and you, if you dare) can view it here. I especially like the twirl at the end. PARENTAL WARNING: Contains pointing, seizures, spinning and screaming. Not suitable for parents of children under the age of 12.
A few reviews from cyberspace:
"Ford's incessant, you-can't-escape-it ad campaign with Taylor Hicks is Chinese water torture - you know it's coming, you just don't know exactly when."
"You may have seen one of these commercials already -- and if you have, we're sorry for you."
"It's being played to death. I bet no matter what channel I am watching during prime time TV, it is on at every commercial break. Anyone else about sick of it?"
Yes.

Sunday, July 23, 2006

Hot Air and Light Gas

I stumbled across CNN today, and saw that they were promoting the "Crisis in the Middle East - Day 12" as their lead story - which, of course it is. The thing I had a problem with was that they are calling it "Day 12". Isn't it more like "Day 12 million"? When haven't they had some crisis over there? Here's a story idea: Day 12 - Nothing going on in Israel. One religious group or another has been fighting another religious group since the dawn of time, and it isn't about to end anytime soon, Condoleezza Rice notwithstanding.
The sad part is, our God has placed the world's most important commodity - oil - smack in the middle of that gang of religious kooks. What a cruel joke on humanity. Usually, I would say that what happens elsewhere is none of our business, and I suppose to some extent it is. But, with the price of gasoline soon to be close to $4 a gallon, it does become our problem. All of which makes me an interested bystander in this new development from the People's Republic of China:
SHANGHAI, China - Shanghai's Horizon Fuel Cell Technologies decided to start small. Really small. This month, it will begin sales of a tiny hydrogen fuel-cell car, complete with its own miniature solar-powered refueling station. The toy is a step toward introducing the technology to the public and making it commercially viable. Horizon envisions neighborhood systems of small shops providing refills for small hydrogen canisters to families, much as they now sell tanks of liquid petroleum gas or propane for stoves and heaters. The canisters could be used to power scooters or small, electric cars suitable for short jaunts. Bigger fuel cell companies like Canada's Ballard Power Systems are working with governments in Europe, the United States and large Chinese cities like Beijing and Shanghai to build fuel-cell demonstration programs for buses and other public transport.
Let's hope that the technology gets a chance, and that somehow, the huge oil companies can get involved, so that people like us have a chance to drive a vehicle that doesn't run on the fuel of choice for religious zealots and hate-mongers - and the Bush administration.