Saturday, July 14, 2007

Weekend filler material

I've spent most of the last two days trying to get Kitty to eat something. He turns his nose up at the Hill's k/d prescription stuff that the vet gave [sold to] me. I went to the web in search of some other companies who make the Renal care stuff. A company called Royal Canin makes it, as does Eukanuba, neither of which are available in your local pet store. Why, I wonder? PetsMart carries almost the whole line of Royal Canin stuff. Baby Cat, Kitten, Coon Cat, Persian, Siamese, Beauty & Fit, Light, Indoor, Intense Hairball, Light, Mature, Active Mature, Adult Fit, Special, Oral Sensitive, Skin Care and Selective (for fussy cats) . No Renal Care. So, I went back to the vet to see if they had anything different.
The vet assistant told me that her cat won't eat the k/d either, so they gave [gave] me packets of the Eukanuba and Royal Canin. Pray that he'll eat one of these.
So, I asked (knowing the answer) why the Renal Care stuff isn't sold in stores? The assistant gave me the company line: Because, if people see it marketed as a urinary tract diet, they'll buy it; but it isn't meant to be used unless the cat has early-stage Renal failure.
I just nodded, since I really wasn't in the mood to discuss it, but I'm thinking that if the bag said Renal Failure Diet that people won't buy it for their four-year old healthy cat. My guess is that the company has a sweetheart deal with the Veterinary association that certain types of food will only be sold by veterinarians. After all, I can feed weight management food to my cat even if he isn't fat, right? What a scam. Automobile tire companies have similar deals with auto makers, so it doesn't surprise me that marketing types and their associated legal department have come up with a way to prey on animal lovers.
I wouldn't mind if they sold me the first case of cans at the Vet's office, then told me, "You can get this at PetsMart", and I'll bet PetsMart wouldn't mind, either.

The guy doing the broadcast of today's Phillies game on Fox started talking about Shane Victorino after he walked in the fifth inning.
"This guy hasn't been caught stealing in like - forever - and that's not an exaggeration." He then went on to tell us all about the last time Shane was caught stealing. So, maybe it was an exaggeration after all? Geez - professional broadcasters are partly responsible for the ruination of the English language over the past 10 years. Do the teach them anything at these fancy broadcasting schools? Or is that what they teach them?
Then, I switch over to ESPN2 for the exciting hour-long broadcast of the Rock-Paper-Scissors Championship [thanks Katie] from Las Vegas. It's the second annual, which lets you in on anything you were wondering about whether people learn through experience.
Anyway, the announcer says that Rock-Paper-Scissors is the "World's Most Popular Hand Sport."
I beg to differ.

Friday, July 13, 2007

Questions to ask yourself ... and others.

What do these two stories have in common?
NEW YORK — Americans are giving bad grades all around. President Bush’s job approval rating now stands at 31 percent, the lowest ever in the FOX News poll, and almost twice as many Americans say they disapprove of the president’s job performance.
And this...
Giants outfielder Barry Bonds overcame a 119,000-vote deficit in the final days of balloting and finished 123,000 votes ahead of Alfonso Soriano on Sunday to claim the third and final starting outfield spot for the National League. In a vote taken to determine how many people want to see Bonds pass Henry Aaron turned up 52 percent against, so one man's poll is another man's poison.
Two men reviled for different reasons, one is the most powerful man in the world and the other is grabbing headlines and money while breaking the most cherished record in sports.
Barry Bonds earned $106 million in the last 6 years, after completing a 5-year $90 million dollar contract. President Bush earns ... makes ... a quarter of a million a year for doing ... what, exactly?
OK, I'll tell you what the stories have in common, since it's the weekend and none of us wants to think too much.
Barry Bonds overcame a 119,000 vote deficit, some would say, because a computer geek in San Francisco figured out a way to have 36,000 votes counted for every one cast.
George W. Bush was elected because someone at Diebold figured out how to rig the machines so that the world's biggest boob could be elected to the world's highest office.
In both cases, people who are reviled and disrespected by those who follow their respective "sports" have risen to the highest level of their industries. Ask yourself, how is it that two people who are universally reviled by the general public could possibly hold such important and influential positions in their professions?
Sometimes, you have to cheat. 'Cause, if you ain't cheating, you ain't trying.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

One of life's pyrrhic victories

The army of King Pyrrhus of Epirus had suffered irreplaceable casualties in defeating the Romans during the Pyrrhic War in 280 BC. Pyrrhus said that one more such victory would utterly undo him.

I got my New Jersey State property tax rebate form in the mail on Monday. With it, I can apply for a 20% rebate on my property taxes. For me, that amounts to about $375. On Tuesday, I got a notice from my mortgage company informing me that my monthly payment was increasing by $50 to cover the cost of my increased property taxes. On Monday I was up $375, and by Tuesday I was down two and a quarter. If I get another rebate I won’t be able to pay my taxes.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

One of us had a bad day

It was February in 1991. The wife and I decided that we needed a cat in our lives, and after a couple of disappointing visits to breeders, we decided that we would visit the Gloucester County Animal Shelter and give a homeless cat a home.

There were plenty, and my attention turned to a grey short-haired 7-year old whose owner had turned him in because of allergies. We looked at each other, and his eyes had the desperate look of an animal who really wanted to get out of that cage and come to a loving home. Meanwhile, the wife was checking on a litter of kittens at the other end of the row, and had picked up a black fur ball with tiny sharp claws and that squeaky little kitten howl. Simultaneously, we turned to each other with our furry choices. Her heart was set on the kitten, who by this time had taken a death-grip on her sweater, and the only way we were going to give him back would be to give back the sweater with him. My grey hair went back into his cage and our sad eyes said goodbye. I always wondered if he found his home.

We called him Kitty, because neither of us could decide on a name, and once he began to respond to Kitty, it seemed pointless to try to change it. My ex and I settled into roles of cat care. Hers was the playful friend and mine was the care-giver and surrogate mother. Luckily, Kitty would eventually wind up with me.

In 1996, when the wife became the “ex”, Kitty perched by the door for a couple of days, awaiting the return of his play-pal. “She isn’t coming back,” I would tell him. It took a little while for the cat to accept his one-parent household, but it was soon after that we began a bond that many people do not have. I always wondered if he bonded to me because I had lost my friend, or if I bonded to him because he lost his. It doesn’t matter. I never had any children, so he became my "boy". It's odd, I know, but I don't care.
He saw me through a lot of bad days, and unlike me, his demeanor never changed. He remained my faithful friend no matter how I felt or what I said. I only wish people were more like that. Unconditional love.

He responds to my voice the way a dog would. “Hey, buddy!”, “Breakfast”, “No”, “Fancy Feast”, “Food” and “Bedtime” are all parts of his vocabulary. He is smarter than some people I know and the two of us have been together so long that we know what we are going to do before we do it. He wakes me up if I oversleep and comes into the living room late at night to remind me that I need to get to bed. The list of things that he and I do together would start to sound more like what two human friends do than a man and a cat. He follows me around like a puppy from room to room, and it still amazes me that after 16 years he is still frightened of the vacuum cleaner.
The problem with bonding with an animal is that their end of the bond will be broken before ours. By their nature, cats and dogs are transient friends. Lately, I have been cherishing every day that Kitty and I spend together, and today I found that those days may indeed be dwindling.

He has been having his regular yearly check-up, and for the past 5 years or so, I have been having blood work done on him. Last year, he started to show signs of kidney failure. It’s rather common in cats as they age. My vet called this morning with the news that he is in the early stage of renal failure. He will have to be on a special diet and she will be monitoring his blood work every four months now to see how it is progressing. The diet may help, but of course, it will only serve to postpone the inevitable.

Being at work when one receives bad news is perhaps the worst possible place to be. I have been into the stall in our men’s room several times to stifle my sobbing over losing my friend. Premature as it is, the thought of not having him around sends me reeling. Of course, I am not foolish enough to think that the little guy would live forever, but whether it was now or when he is 20, the thought of not having him near me is more than I can bear. Perhaps it was that news that sent me over the edge, since I have been dealing with some other personal issues for the past couple of weeks, and I suppose that the combination of issues has caused the house of cards to begin to implode.

Maybe I’m acting silly or maybe I’m overreacting, but my first instinct when I heard that my friend was having a problem was to cry and wish that I could help him and make him better, but I can’t, and he can’t help himself. So, perhaps it is the futility of the situation that is grinding at me. He won’t know why I cry a little when I see him and hold him a little tighter every day.
Or maybe he will.


Spin is a wonderful thing. It seems that we get more of it than we used to. Maybe that's just me getting older and smarter (well, older) or maybe it's the way it is. Either way, there is a lot of spin going on. At work, play, in government and even in that last vestige of respite from our daily lives - sports.
When we combine the spin factor with the endless fascination that people have with even numbers - especially the ones that end in zeroes - we find that the spin can go so fast that it takes on it's own gravity and winds up being a force unto itself. Eventually, as scientists will tell you, things can only spin for so long until they either stop spinning or die.
The spin around here lately has been over the Phillies and their relentless pursuit of 10,000 losses. For a franchise that has been around since 1883, that's a lot of losses, and one more will do it. Unfortunately for them, other sports don't play as many games, so even though the Eagles have a worse winning percentage, the Phillies have the number, and we know there is strength in numbers.
Where the spin comes in is in the fact that for the most part, the Phillies have been losers. One championship in 124 years qualifies one as a loser. That's a .008 winning percentage. Not even one percent. Chances are, if they had managed to make a few playoff appearances or win a few more championships along the way, the 10,000 number would be a sidelight. It would be a measure of longevity rather than a measure of failure, which is how it is being portrayed.
Consider this:
Pete Rose amassed 4,256 hits in his baseball career and batted .303 during that time. He also had more at-bats than any other major leaguer - 14,053 - which means that he is also the all-time leader in outs. Rose made 9,797 outs in his career. Nobody brings that up, because he also had the most hits. He made more outs than Ty Cobb (7,245), Hank Aaron (8,593) and Carl Yazstremski (8,569) who happen to be the three players behind Rose in all-time at bats. Do any of them qualify as losers? No.
Pete Rose and those other players are winners because they did great things. The Phillies, however, are not because mostly they lose or finish second (the first loser). While the gang in the front office will try valiantly to deflect this monumental accomplishment (which will probably come this weekend at home against the Cardinals) if they want to stop the spin, they should try winning.
As we exit the All-Star break, the 10,000 loss mark will come and go. It will be headline news around the country, and part of me wonders why. There were no stories over the 9,510th loss or the 9,755th, and those Phillies teams were not a whole lot different than this one. They were losers and also-ran's. The only thing they lacked that the current team does not is an even number with a lot of zeroes. It's the number, and baseball is all about numbers. It's about hits and wins, and for most of its life, this team has not done either very well. Now, we have a large number to assign to the futility.
The large number has drawn attention to the futility of the franchise, and the word on the street is that the owners will not do what is necessary to win, merely what is necessary to compete. This ownership group won its World Series when Citizens Bank Ballpark was built. Fans pack the place for the ambiance, and baseball is often secondary or tertiary. Those things, like spinning objects, die also. Just ask anyone in Baltimore, whose owners sucked the life out of Camden Yards until the fans finally noticed that the team stunk and regardless of the ambiance, bad baseball is like a bad marriage. Once the newness wears off, it dawns on you.
Sadly for Philies fans, this ownership group isn't going anywhere, and things will likely get worse before they get better - which aligns with their history. There won't be another milestone loss in our lifetime, and once this nonsense is behind us and the ballpark ages, the focus will once again be on the bad marriage.
They are all just numbers, and the fact that this next one will end with five zeroes does nothing to alter the fact that it's another loss. Fans and management would be wise to not take their eyes off the ball.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Made for TV sports

On occasion, television runs out of things to show us. It happens because there are more TV channels than ever - and more all the time - and less and less interesting stuff to show. So much so, that things like America's Funniest Home Videos is a long-running program. It's interesting, since the show's title proclaims what we are supposed to believe it is; funny, when in fact, it really isn't all that funny. What it is is people being hit in the crotch and falling off of things, jumping off of things and having their pants fall down. The word funny is in the title (well, Funniest actually) so it must be funny. Funniest.
This week, in the doldrums of television that is the summer, baseball is holding its annual party that they call the All-Star break. It isn't a break, really, since there is a lot of baseball packed into those three days. The only break comes for the unlucky losers who aren't invited to the party. They get to spend three days at home with their families and ESPN and Fox get a couple of days of programming. Somewhere, the executives are doing the old brow-wipe and thinking, "Wow - we don't have to do anything until Thursday!"
The Home Run Derby is one of those made for TV events that happens to be loosely related to sports. It's sports because it happens on a baseball field, but it's really just Network Time-Filler disguised as sports.
Batting practice pitchers lobbing soft-toss Charlie Brown straight balls to big-league power hitters may be television's version of sport, but to me it's more of a game show. Add to it the insufferable screaming nonsense of Chris Berman (America's most overrated broadcaster) who calls every long fly ball as though it was game 7 of the World Series, and you have the makings of a real made-for-TV sports program. It's perfect. The players are already being paid, the network is already there to broadcast the game and the fans are dying to pay to get in. Free money.
Plus, it takes f - o - r - e - v - e - r. Three rounds of Home Run Derby takes longer than an actual baseball game. How does that happen? Television. Must. Fill. Time. Berman must scream and yell, as though we cannot see what is happening. He figures the louder he yells the more dramatic something is - when the exact opposite is true. Stop yelling Chris, you got the job.
The Derby has the odd distinction of being named after something that it is not. Are they home runs if there is no real game? "Back - back - back - home run!" Chris screams. Really? Who's going back, back, back? Is he talking to the ball?
I see the derby but the home run is lost on me. Home Run Derby is the sports equivalent of the tree falling in the forest when no one is there to hear it. Is it really a home run if there is no game?
It really is a TV show - and that's what matters. ESPN will milk it for a day or so while they run highlights and Berman screams. "Back - back - back - back ..."

Monday, July 9, 2007

Tag. A musical one.

Laura tagged me to do this meme [I'm not really sure what 'meme' means] about influential music in my life. I don't have all the mystical "here's where I was when [that] was playing" stuff that others may have. My list has more to do with songs that I can point to as guiding posts for my later-in-life musical tastes.
The rules are as follows:
1. Name between 5 & 10 songs that have made an impact on your life. I’ll leave it up to you to decide how many you wish to describe.
2. Pass it onto five other people with a link back to your own post and this one as the original.

1. Donimo - Cocteau Twins. This one opened a whole genre of music to me. I can remember precisely where I was when I first heard it. On my way home from work, tuned to WXPN. I waited on the street until the host finally said what it was. That weekend I was in the record store looking for Treasure. Even now, when my soul needs soothing (almost every day) I find myself listening to the Twins.
free music

2. Lucky Man - Emerson, Lake and Palmer. I was in my cousin's garage, rifling through his record collection (with his permission) and I came across several LPs that I hadn't heard. Jethro Tull's Thick as a Brick, Thunderclap Newman's Hollywood Dream and ELP's first album which contained this song. The synthesizer solo at the end is the theme to the progressive era and served as a gateway for me to a lot of great music. In those days, it was all about finding great music through other great music. Genesis was Keith Emerson's favorite band, Greg Lake begat King Crimson, and Carl Palmer led me to Atomic Rooster via The Crazy World of Arthur Brown. You had to be there.
3. Hocus Pocus - Focus. Jan Akkerman is still one of the more highly regarded guitarists in my book. This song came out during my high school days, and it was an anthem for like-minded souls who wanted something more than the gunk they played on the radio.

free music

4. I Saw Her Standing There - The Beatles. A bit obvious, perhaps, but this was the first Beatles record I owned, and you know how it is with The Beatles. They got a six-year old interested in music and lucky for me, my parents never considered them enemies of the state or long-haired hippies. When I think about it - geez - six years old. What are six-year old's doing these days?

free music

5. America - Yes. Having always been a Simon and Garfunkel fan, I was amazed when I heard this long-form take off on their classic tune. Unpopular music wasn't as easy to find in those days as it is today, so finding the long version of this song took some scrounging. We had to call record stores and run around like idiots looking for stuff. Briefly, a single (short version) came out, but it's a lame excuse for the real deal. Listen to it back-to-back with the Paul Simon version, and you'll know what I mean.
free music

6. Aerial Boundaries - Michael Hedges. Steve Vai once said, "Nobody on God's green earth plays the guitar like Michael Hedges." How right he was. Michael died in 1997, and I saw him perform six times, the last of which was at the auditorium at The Seaport Museum. Michael was amazed at the place, and said that he could "just stand up here and write." Two weeks later, his car skidded off California State Route 128 in Mendocino County. I never felt a sense of loss for someone I didn't know like I did when Michael died.

free music

7. Sunday Will Never Be the Same - Spanky & Our Gang. This song came out in the summer of 1967, a few months after my father died, and it was almost as though the song was written for my mother. It's pretty grim stuff, and as a kid, things like this will straighten your ass out in a hurry:

Sunday afternoons that make me feel so warm inside, have turned as cold and grey as ashes as I feel the embers die. Sunday will never be the same. I've lost my Sunday song. He'll not be back again.

As for the other five people, I'll leave that up to you. If you wish to make a list, go ahead - just don't hold me responsible for breaking the "chain".

Sunday, July 8, 2007

Too Hot for Humans

"If the world is so big how's come I run into people I can't stand all the time? It's just not big enough some days ..."
- Kimmyk, on the shrinkage
Most days the world seems small, but it's a fair question, and at least one place I visited today served to remind me that the world is sometimes as small as the people in it.
My first visit was to the local Chinese buffet restaurant. As I sat there, sucking down my General Tso's chicken, it occurred to me that the only Chinese people I see in Chinese restaurants are the people who work there. It's either because (a) Chinese people come to America partly to escape Chinese food. After all, I wouldn't eat at McDonald's in Beijing. Or, (b) Chinese food in America is like McDonald's to Chinese. I wonder, if I was ever lucky enough [that's right] to visit China, what would the food be like? Would I recognize Chinese food in China? I need to ask one of the people working at the buffet about that.
Then, the visit to the liquor store, where there were two cash registers open - one about 4 feet from the other. Both were occupied, so me and the guy behind me formed one line, awaiting the next available cashier. A woman (who I'll call Clueless) decides to breach the single line and make her own, at the register to my left.
SHOPPER: Hey, we have one line here.
CLUELESS: Oh ... I didn't realize. Why do we have only one line?
Which isn't the pertinent question. The pertinent question would have been, "Why do we need 2 lines?" But I kept my questions to myself.
GUY BEHIND ME: I don't know, it was like this when I got here.
Which is a great answer, because it makes him look smart enough to recognize the situation and still be blameless in case Clueless decides to make a Federal case of it. As I glanced over my shoulder, I caught her incredulous look, and I felt as though I should explain the logic of one line versus two, but if I did that, I would feel the need to consume the liquor right there in the store, and I think that's against the law - as well as common sense - so I let her stew and figured it would give her something to talk to her co-workers at the D.M.V. about on Monday. She's probably a gambler, and relishes the ability to pick the "fast" line, and when some clown like me decides to make his own rules, it rankles the little voice in her head (there are probably lots of 'em) that screams, "That one!"
Eventually, one of the cashiers was free, and I moved over, shortly followed by Guy Behind Me, and later, I assume, by Clueless. For a brief time, we had set up our own little Utopian society where the rules benefited everyone. The next person in line would be the next one to be served, without the gamble of picking the right line.
Then, it was on to the supermarket, which, followed by the buffet and the liquor store, seemed to be the perfect end to the Trifecta. The only thing that would have made the day complete would have been a visit to the D.M.V.
No bike today. The outside temperature is a thousand degrees, and for once in their lives, the weather guessers were right about advising people to stay indoors. Tooling around on a bike today would have been silly, especially with a working car and air-conditioning.
I'm no fool.

Two trusted friends - one furry, the other shiny. The shiny one stayed hitched to the rail while the furry one went in pursuit of a nice shady spot.