Saturday, August 25, 2007

The Needle in the haystack

I usually don't believe these Web Quizzes, but once in a while, one gets it right on the nose:

You're Invisible Man!

by Ralph Ellison

Most of your life, people have either ignored you or told you that you were wrong. You've been duped, mistreated, misled, and neglected. Maybe it was because of your race, or some other uniqueness that people were quick to condemn, but now you just want to crawl into a hole and disappear. After all, nobody knows your name. But you just might speak for everyone.

Take the Book Quiz
at the Blue Pyramid.

A list of unrelated questions about me and me

Over at Sparky's Philly Transplant, he ran a little meme [I still don't know what that means] that he got from One Gal's Musings. They're calling it The Grown Up Meme. Confused? Meme to. It's one of those questionnaires that asks a lot of unrelated things about my life, and since I'm neither flush with new ideas or particularly personal here, I decided to crack the door open a bit. So, here's the thing:
1. Do you have a college degree?
Yes, a bachelor of science in Accounting. Ask me to add any two numbers. Nothin’ to it.
2. What was the amount of your last electric bill?
$51. Don’t hate me. I live in a small condo and I’m on the equal-payment plan.
3. Do you have life insurance?
No. They’ll bury me in a potter’s field or sprinkle my ashes in a bunker at Bulle Rock. Life insurance is a waste of money for single people. Once I’m dead, my responsibilities end.
4. How many hours per week do you work?
40. There is occasional overtime, but I can’t count on it. If you're counting the hours that I actually work, then it's closer to 25, but they still pay me for forty.
5. Have you ever attended a Toastmasters event?
No, but I do have a George Foreman grill and a microwave.
6. Favorite place to attend Happy Hour?
The Hollywood CafĂ© nearby, but I’m not a big after-work drinker. I’m either out on the bike, at the gym or running an errand after work. Drinking after work wastes valuable daylight, especially in the summer. I do enjoy the occasional Happy Ending, but it doesn’t take an hour.
7. How many miles is your commute to work each day (one way)?
30 miles. High-speed travel on the Route 42 Freeway and AC Expressway.
8. What time do you get up every morning for work?
The alarm goes off at 5:45. I listen to the radio for about 15 minutes, but if I’m not out of bed by 6:15 I have to hustle.
9. What is your definition of sleeping-in late?
9:00 AM. I can’t lie there any longer without feeling like I should be up and doing something, so I get up and sit on the sofa and watch TV.
10. Do you check your cholesterol on a yearly basis?
No. The last time was about 5 years ago and it was 165, so I have that going for me.
11. How large was your first cell phone bill?
$29. I didn’t call a bunch of people to tell them that I have a phone, so my bills are pretty constant. Plus, I really hate the telephone, but society frowns on people without one, so I’m stuck. I don't have a land line, so the cell is the phone. (Why pay 2 bills?) I like the Yahtzee game.
12. Does your employer provide good health insurance?
Yes, we have Blue Cross/Blue Shield, but we have to pay for part of it. Single people get screwed (as usual) since we pay more per person than married people. They can’t explain that to me to my satisfaction.
13. Did you use the Internet to write a research paper?
Yes. I did my college at night, starting in 1998. I can’t imagine doing all that research by hand. It’s the greatest tool that a student has, if they use it properly.
14. Have you attended a High School reunion?
No. They claimed to not be able to contact me, even though I lived at the same address that’s in the yearbook for 10 years after graduation. People that dopey shouldn’t have diplomas. We had a 15-year on my wedding day (10/13/90) and I missed it. They haven’t had one since, and I always felt bad about missing that one.
15. How many jobs have you held in your professional career?
Two. My first one for 15 years and this one for 16+. I have a high pain threshold.
16. Have you ever been fired or laid off from a job?
Yes, I was laid off before Christmas in 1975, and then re-hired in the spring of ’76. They figured out that they screwed up.
17. What is your favorite drink?
Flavored water during the day. Southern Comfort and cranberry at night. My alcohol tastes change, so six months from now it might be something else.
18. What is the most expensive bottle of wine that you have in your refrigerator?
This is a trick question, since expensive wine (or wine in general) shouldn’t be kept in the refrigerator. I don’t keep wine around the house. I buy a bottle on an as-needed basis, and never anything more than twelve dollars.
19. Have you been divorced?
Yes. Third worst day of my life, behind dad dying and getting married.
20. How old were you when you stopped getting ID’d for alcohol?
I got ID'd at Fenway Park in 1993. There’s a sign behind the counter that says you have to “look 30” to not be carded. I was 36 at the time, so I felt pretty good about that.
21. Favorite casino?
I’m not a casino guy. In Vegas, I liked New York, New York; but I don’t gamble so I just go by look and feel. My favorites are the ones they close down, and I’m not at all looking forward to Philadelphia’s casinos.
22. Are you happier now than you were in high school?
No, and that’s odd because I was miserable in high school.
23. Did you ever have Hypercolor shirts?
I don’t know what that is, so I’m assuming I have never had one.
24. Do you remember when Michael Jackson was black and was attracted to older people?
Of course. That wild ‘fro and those stupid songs. Then he did The Wizard of Oz and hasn’t been the same since.
25. Do you remember when MTV actually played music videos?
Sure. We had the cable in 1980. The V-Jays – Nina Blackwood and Martha Quinn – MTV’s Ginger and Mary Ann. I’m a Mary Ann guy, by the way.
26. Have you had a Will made?
No. That’s on the short list of things to do. After my mother’s gone, I’ll have to figure out what to do with all my junk. Charities, I guess. If you want anything, let me know. I’m probably worth more dead than alive.
27. What music was in your CD/cassette player when you were 16?
1973 - Emerson, Lake and Palmer, Yes, Focus, King Crimson, Manfred Mann’s Earth Band, Uriah Heep and Black Sabbath. The usual kid stuff. Some of it is still in there.
28. Favorite fancy/upscale restaurant?
I only eat food in bar form. Single people in fancy restaurants are a sad sight. Plus, if I have to wear a sport jacket to eat, I figure the place takes itself too seriously. I had a $45 lunch once at The Capital Grille (at the bar) and felt like a jackass afterward. Guideline: Never spend more than $20 for lunch.
29. How long has it been since you attended a kegger?
I don’t get invited out, so it was probably at somebody’s picnic about 15 years ago. I can’t have them at the condo, and as a rule of thumb; if I ain’t invited, I ain’t going.
30. Where were you when you found out about 9/11?
Ironically, I was in a 7/11, and I thought they changed the name. Oh … seriously? I was at work. One of my co-workers told us that a plane flew into the World Trade Center, and we all figured that it was a small aircraft that went off course. I tried to get on the Internet to check, but the damned thing was so jammed that I couldn’t load the pages. By the time the second one hit, they had a TV set up in the cafeteria and we watched, dumbfounded.
I'm not a tagger, so if you want to do it, just copy the questions (I don't think you'd want to copy the answers) and post 'em up. You know the drill.

Friday, August 24, 2007

Tonight on the TV

I admit that I sometimes have an odd slant on things. Not always does my viewpoint align with the common man [or woman]. Tonight, I saw something on the TV that I hope a lot of other people saw, so you can tell me whether or not I'm way off base here. Ready? Then we'll begin.
I realize it's summer, and networks are either starved for programming or they just don't care because they figure people are on vacation or whatever and not watching. Well, include me out of that list. I don't stop enjoying television just because it's summer, and I think that it's a chicken or egg deal where ratings are off because people aren't watching, but people aren't watching because the programming stinks.

In that vein, NBC on Friday night presented the Miss Teen USA pageant, where young girls aged 16 to 19 paraded themselves in front of America wearing bikinis, skin-tight tops and shorts that required them to shave their pubic hair.
While I realize this isn't as bad as the International Total Miss Contest, where children are paraded around dressed up like Miss Teen USA contestants, this one at least has kids that are old enough to make their own life decisions.
I watched it for about ten minutes until I got this creepy feeling. I started to realize that not only was I watching girls in various forms of scanty clothing prance up and down the stage, these girls were 16 and 17 years old. I started to wonder what I was supposed to be thinking here. Am I supposed to see these girls as sex appeal, or am I supposed to view them as bright, attractive young women who happen to prance up and down the stage in various forms of scanty clothing?
In the world of pornography, the word "Teen" automatically implies one aged at least 18 years. At that point, you could make the argument that she is an adult, with voting rights and a driver's license. You could still feel creepy, but you could rest assured that the girl would be able to drive herself home after you had sex with her. In short, I would be arrested if I had sexual pictures of teenagers on my computer, but I can watch them for 2 hours on national television in the freedom of my living room - thinking the same things on both occasions.
To me, a 16-year old is still a child, regardless of one's generational thinking, and unless they are emancipated, they are still under the control of their parents, who may not be thinking along the same lines as me. What I pictured were a lot of deviants sitting alone in their darkened TV room, rubbing themselves to the Hi-Def images of the young women walking around looking pretty. That's when I started to feel really creepy.
Obviously, the parents didn't share my view, since they were in the audience, holding signs and screaming, "Yee-hah! My daughter is a hottie!" (One presumes)
Maybe you had to see the show to know what I'm talking about. I don't know. There are probably video clips on YouTube by now, so you can see for yourself and make a call.
If we are supposed to be helping protect young girls from predators, why then would we air a public display of exactly what the predators are looking for? For that matter, what's the point of a beauty pageant to begin with? What year is this?
That's when I put the baseball game back on.

If you have a viewpoint on this, and you don't normally comment, feel free to tell me that I'm either way off base or squarely on target.

A journey of three thousand miles

I have no idea how it became to be known as Federal Express, since, much like our own Federal Reserve Bank, it is not a branch of the Federal government. Maybe they figured Federal made it sound important, and Express made it sound fast. Maybe.
As you may or may not know, I recently ordered some paste for my cat that is supposed to help with his kidney disease. It was ordered on August 20, and left the warehouse in Henderson, Nevada on the 22nd, arriving in Phoenix, Arizona on the 23rd, completing its 273 mile journey at nearly 12 miles per hour. I could have taken it by bicycle in less time.
Here, on the blog, we will be tracking the exciting journey of the Renal Paste Tubes and following their progress across our great nation. Stay tuned for updates as I'm sure the "Express" part of Federal Express will soon kick in, and the nearly one pound package will arrive here in New Jersey, scorched from its blistering path across our nation.
I'll bet a soccer ball would make it here in less time, but the cat won't eat the soccer ball and I'm not up to painting a face on anything. At least it isn't across the ocean from Phoenix to here.
2,675 miles to go. At its current rate, the package will be here in 9.3 days. Hold on, Kitty.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

One thing leads to another

On my way home tonight, I was greeted by a radio ad for an Aerosmith show that is coming to The Borgata in beautiful Atlantic City. It got me to thinking [it doesn't take much] that Steven Tyler is 59 and Joe Perry is 57, and they abused themselves mightily for several years and yet they are still touring and earning a living as musicians. It got me thinking about the amazing resiliency of the human body and how much abuse it can withstand without either collapsing under its own stress or merely giving up completely. The Aerosmith boys put that idea to the ultimate test and lived to tell about it. Others, like Jim Morrison, Nick Drake and Lenny Bruce tested the body and the body failed, due to its intolerance for abuse. Maybe the ones who are still alive knew when to stop?
Immediately after the Aerosmith ad came the news that Britt Reid, one of a pair of the troubled sons of Eagles coach Andy Reid, was arrested yet again. This time, he drove his car into a few shopping carts at a Dick's Sporting Goods store and later failed a field sobriety test and is now facing a charge of driving while under the influence [of something].
For those of you who may not know, on July 27th Britt pled guilty to gun and drug charges stemming from a road-rage dispute on January 30th. Reid, 22, pled guilty to a string of pending charges - including carrying a firearm without a license, a felony - as his trial was to start. Strike two.
One thing I know about being intoxicated is that the first thing that goes is ones judgment. That's the joke about "Beer goggles" and the reason we do stupid things when drunk that we wouldn't do when sober - like going to a sporting goods store drunk and driving around. People like Steven Tyler and Joe Perry survive somehow, mostly because they restrict their stupid behavior to concert stages or hotel rooms, and are smart enough to be driven around by someone else. Others, like dumbasses Lindsey Lohan, Britney Spears and Britt Reid don't seem to have the brains they were born with, and the influence of alcohol detracts from the already low brain cell count. Which reminds me of a line from Bill Cosby:
He once asked someone "Why do you use cocaine?" The answer came back, "Because it enhances my personality."
Cosby paused for a second, and replied, "Yes, but what if you're an asshole?"
So, we have the general party crowd, headed by people like Tyler and Keith Richards; and the lesser lights who are assholes to start with and are edged along by the influence of alcohol - judgement impairment notwithstanding. The lesser lights should restrict their self-destructive behavior to their home and leave society to fend for itself.
Generally, they are just irresponsible assholes who have alcohol and other such party drugs to blame for their stupid behavior. Society looks at them and reviles in their drunken behavior, when in fact their inner personality has been magnified to the extent that they have broken a law (or two) and as such, have attracted the attention of the media. Drink at home, fall over and pass out and no one knows or cares. Do it in public and it's our business.
The assholes will check into rehab or be convicted and make a lame attempt to change their sodden lifestyles, but the vehicle (drugs or alcohol) is merely the excuse. The asshole lurks within.
There isn't enough rehab for that.

Musical Interlude

Saw it written and I saw it say,
Pink moon is on its way.
And none of you stand so tall,
Pink moon gonna get ye all.
And it’s a pink moon.
Pink, pink, pink, pink, pink,
Pink moon.

Nick Drake - (1948-1974)

free music

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Moe, Larry - the cheese!

Whenever the subject of time travel comes up, I always say that I’d like to go back to America in the early part of the 20th Century. I’d like to watch guys like Walter Johnson and Ty Cobb play baseball, partly for the historical significance, but mostly to see how good they were – really.
In a lot of ways, it was a screwy time in our history, and I’d have to be careful not to come back too close to Prohibition or the Great Depression. I figure anyplace between 1905 and 1925 or the mid 1930s, unless I went back with a lot of money, in which case it wouldn’t matter.
I’m not sure where my fascination for that period of time comes from. Maybe it’s my childhood memories of watching The Three Stooges after school? Some of the early shorts with Curly are little snapshots of life in America in those days, and not all of it is good. What I always found fascinating was that, no matter how poor “the boys” were, they always wore suits. Sometimes they were making soup out of their own shoes or eating half an egg and a ham bone – but they were the best dressed paupers in town.
One of my favorites that I don’t see all that much is Cash and Carry (1937), where they find a coffee can full of change in a pile at a junk yard - where they live. They take it, thinking that they have found money, but in fact, it belongs to a kid and his sister who are saving it for a leg operation. Later, after they mistakenly break into a Federal bank, they meet Franklin Roosevelt who empathizes with the kid’s condition and gets him his operation. It ends with the Stooges saluting and saying, “Thanks Mister President. You’re a swell guy!” If a similar thing happened today, you’d be saluting Bush from the inside of a Federal Penitentiary – with one finger.
In Half Shot Shooters (1936) they think they’re standing in a bread line and instead are in line to be inducted into the military. They wind up with a manic depressive staff sergeant who is continually outwitted by Curly. Their half-assed Manual of Arms results them shooting three geese. War was fun in those days. At least we knew who we were fighting.
In Dizzy Doctors (1937) they roam the streets selling Brighto. They think it’s auto polish, but it is actually medicine (snake oil, really). You could try selling medicine on the streets now, but I’d bet that your career would be shorter than a Stooges film.
In The Sitter-Downers (1937) they go on strike because their prospective father-in-law will not consent to their marriage to Florabell, Corabell and Dorabell. Does anybody even ask the in-laws anymore?
In A Pain in the Pullman (1937) they take a monkey on a train and he wreaks havoc with the passengers and the train itself. Think you could get a monkey on a train today? Do you know what a Pullman is? Who travels by train anyway? You’d have to be a monkey to want to travel by train.
Then, there's False Alarms (1936) where they play firemen in a horse-drawn fire "truck". A lot of houses must have burned down in the 30s. Especially after Curly rolls the hoses out into the street and they are cut in pieces by a passing streetcar. A streetcar?
In No Census, No Feeling (1940) they are door-to-door census takers for the government. “To the census!” is their battle cry, as they peruse the neighborhood for four cents a head. Frustrated, they wind up at a football game, figuring that a stadium full of people is a gold mine. Curly calculates that a hundred thousand times four cents is “a dollar and a half - that's without the tax." Typical government workers.
Speaking of football, in Three Little Pigskins (1934) they play three professionals hired to play for a college by some gangsters who want to make money betting on the game. Of course, they aren’t football players at all, and wind up throwing the game to the opposition. Sports gambling, organized crime and rigging games. Finally, something we can relate to!
I get like this every time I start to think that life is just too complicated. America has changed a lot in 70 years, and not all of it for the better. The 1930s might not have been the most progressive environment - what with the general lack of civil rights or women’s rights, no air conditioning or other modern conveniences - but you’d have a nice suit and life would be a lot simpler, even if you had to sleep under your car and be woken up by the street cleaner.
It soitenly could be worse.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Brew Pubs and Falcons and Cats - oh my.

One of my favorite spots in the city, the Independence Brew Pub has closed its doors. According to the Inquirer, the owners are $800,000 in debt and cannot continue. It was centrally located, across from the Reading Terminal Market, upstairs from The Gallery and next to the Convention Center. I could never figure out why it was never crowded when I went in. I suppose that’s where the 800 grand comes in. Where’s the next best place in Philadelphia for freshly brewed beer?
Cat update: After several failed attempts to get him to eat his expensive prescription food, I have cried “uncle.” He’s been eating regularly and it appears he has gained some weight, so I’m going to try a different tack. I found a Renal paste that I can make him eat by smearing it on his teeth. I’m not giving up without a fight, and since the cat doesn’t understand the severity of his condition, I’ll try this stuff. He won’t like it, but anything is better than nothing. He's been on a steady diet of salmon, trout and ocean whitefish (for the Omega3 oils, which I read are good for his condition) and his regular Purina One Kidney diet.
You can convince people to eat almost anything if you present them with the argument that “if you don’t eat this, you’ll be dead soon,” but an old cat, set in his ways who doesn’t understand English is a tough sell.
Michael Vick is contrite, now that he has been caught. “I’m sorry to anyone who was hurt by my actions,” he said, which I assume includes the dogs that he helped drown, electrocute and hang. Louts and jackasses are never sorry while they are in the middle of their rotten behavior, and one assumes that Vick and his pals would still be organizing dog fights had they not been caught. He wasn’t going to stop on his own after all this time. Now that the Feds are involved and it appears as though Michael will wind up in prison and perhaps never play football again, he is suddenly repentant.
It isn’t as though he did something crazy once and felt really badly about it later. This dog thing is repeated behavior, and the only reason he apologized is because he got caught and he’s frightened. It’s just another death bed confession, and I'll suck a cock on Broad Street before I'll accept it.

Monday, August 20, 2007

When the coal hits the fan

HUNTINGTON, Utah - A mine company attorney said Monday that safety experts believe drilling a bigger hole and sending a rescue capsule into the coal mine where six men have been trapped for two weeks is impossible because the mountain is too unstable.
On Friday, I said the that the families of those trapped miners are going to want closure. Now that they’ve drilled 4 holes in two weeks and there’s still no sign of life, the mine company appears to have given up on the search. Do you smell something? **sniff – sniff – sniff** Lawsuit.
The families demanded that rescuers immediately begin drilling a 30-inch hole into which a rescue capsule could be lowered. Spokesman/lawyer Sonny Olsen said the families believe it is "The safest and most effective method to rescue their loved ones. If rescue is not possible," he added, "the capsule is the only method to recover our loved ones so that they can have a proper burial."
There we go again with the “proper burial” stuff. Our society is fixated on the burial. As far as I’m concerned, those men are already buried, proper or not. Leave them alone. Besides, how are they going to get into a rescue capsule? They already know that there’s something like 11% oxygen down there, so even if they had food and water, they couldn’t breathe. It seems selfish to want a ceremony and the accompanying funeralities [I made up a word], because I guarantee you that it is of no benefit to the miners and may only result in more death. Grieving families are not given to rational thought.
It sounds to me as if the families are playing the “negligence” angle, trying to show that the mine company isn’t doing (or hasn’t done) everything it can to rescue them. There will be a dollar sign attached to that soon.
If tunneling doesn't restart, part of the mine will have been turned into a tomb. Despite that, there is recoverable coal in other parts of the 5,000-acre mine, and the company expected to resume operations at some point. Bob Murray, chief executive of Murray Energy Corporation, said he didn't discuss that prospect with family members.

A Coal Haiku:
coal is a good reason
to drill another hole.

But people are not,
until lawyers get involved.
Then, it’s the right thing.

And drill he will, because there is money in that hole. How about this for a job you don’t want: Hold a meeting with the families of the trapped miners and tell them that not only are you not going to go down and pull out their lifeless bodies, you are going to resume drilling for coal. Should they happen to stumble on one of your loved ones, they’ll try to be careful.
And, it gets worse…
"It's an unsafe activity," Murray Energy Corp. lawyer Chris Van Bever said, commenting a day after relatives of the six miners pleaded for rescue efforts to continue. The mine company’s attorney has begun to speak for the hole. You know there is trouble when attorneys get involved. If you ever needed a spokesman for a hole, an attorney would seem to be the ideal choice.
Let’s recap:
We have (1) trapped miners who are more than likely not alive, (2) Grieving family members who want them pulled out by whatever means possible, (3) A mine company that isn’t willing to go back into the hole unless it is to retrieve more coal, (4) A corporate lawyer and (5) A lawyer/spokesman for the families.
This will drag out so long that there will be more coal made before it is resolved.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Apple Creek

Weather-wise, I got lucky. Mid-August evenings in this part of the world can be balmy, stormy or just plain hot. Saturday was cool and dry, and the only hot stuff was going on at the Mann Music Center with Nickel Creek and Fiona Apple on Saturday night.
Nickel Creek is on some sort of a farewell tour and their friend Fiona is along for a genre-bending experience as she turns her angst-ridden tunes into angst-ridden bluegrass. In some ways, it makes perfect sense. Nickel Creek uses the lighter than air sound to convey serious and sometimes morbid thoughts and Fiona is sometimes just plain morbidly serious. On the surface, you'd think it wouldn't work, but in actuality, it works just fine.
Nickel Creek's Chris Thile said, "I think people get confused about what makes a good collaboration." One would tend to want to put bluegrass bands with bluegrass bands and pop acts with pop acts, when in actuality it's the kind of musician, not the kind of music [that matters]. I feel like Nickel Creek and Fiona Apple are actually fairly ideally suited to one another, so it's been really fun. And her music is very well conceived, and well-conceived music always works in a variety of formats."
Fiona was billed as a "Special Guest", and the show opened with Nickel Creek alone. Fiona emerged later for a few tunes, then again after the intermission to close the show. Cries of "Where's Fiona?" came when she disappeared and the Apple Corps got restless.
I was there for Fiona, and I only know a few Nickel Creek tunes, but I thoroughly enjoyed the show. Quality is also something that works in a variety of formats, and when you put five great musicians on a stage together, something great usually happens. Sometimes shows are better if the music isn't something you've sung in your head a thousand times. Even Fiona's songs, that I knew well, sounded different with the acoustic bass, mandolin, violin and acoustic guitar accompaniment. Songs like "Extraordinary Machine" are built for such backing, but others like "Criminal" take on a new life.
They covered Patsy Cline's "Walking After Midnight" and several tunes from Fiona's Extraordinary Machine. Nickel Creek's "When in Rome", "Sabra Girl", "The Lighthouse's Tale" and "Anthony" (how'd I remember that?) I knew. Otherwise, don't ask which songs they did, because I don't know. A lot of that bluegrass stuff sounds the same to me. It's good music, but I often can't tell one jig from another. They closed with the standard, "You Belong to Me."
Fiona withheld most of her expressionism, (although I understand that in another show, she playfully bit Sara on the arm) merely spinning around and whirling dervish hair spinning that, in this forum, seemed a bit of an over-reaction given the night's airy music. There was a lot of air because, sadly, the show didn't sell very well. The Mann is small to begin with, and at best I think it was half-full. The crowd seemed to be divided between Fiona fans and Nickel Creek fans, so I'm guessing that most Fiona fans were not willing to sit through an evening of bluegrass to see her, which points out the narrow-mindedness of some music fans.
Their loss.