Saturday, March 22, 2008

It's Tournament time!

I don't watch NCAA basketball much during the regular season, but for some reason I watch almost non-stop during the tournament. It has nothing to do with wagering big bucks on pools. I'm only in two. One is with 3 other people over bragging rights (and lunch) at work and the other is over on Sparky's blog for some beer. I like to win, but neither of them detracts from my enjoyment of a good game, even if my pick loses.
The action is on the TV on CBS, who has brought out their farm of announcers to broadcast the games. I'm guessing that the only reason most of these guys have a job is because there are 32 first-round games to show. Otherwise, they'd be at home watching on TV like I. Yesterday, a player named Young made a key basket, and the color man screamed, "Only the Young survive!" What? That doesn't make sense. They're so anxious to come up with the next big Al Michaels 'do you believe in miracles' quote that they reach (over-reach) for any stupid analogy and mostly, they're shooting air balls.
I've learned to distinguish several popular songs in marching-band form. Recently, I was able to distinguish the White Stripes' Seven Nation Army, but I had to wait for the band to stop playing it and hum it to myself. If I hadn't come up with it, I would have lost some sleep.
There are more sponsors and product tie-in's than a NASCAR race. Sometimes, it's tough to work in a game with all the promos and between-foul-shots advertisements. Upon his retirement a couple years ago, Keith Jackson said that a big reason he left was that he had to interrupt his game call 56 times for different network promos or product ads. It's disruptive, but like so many other things, it's been weaved into the fabric so that now, it's barely noticeable. Only old-heads like Keith and I notice.
Over on ESPN2 the women are playing their tournament. First, it's on ESPN2, which should tell you something. NASCAR was on ESPN, but not even real NASCAR - the Nationwide series, like NASCAR junior. Second, from the looks of the stands, they could have drawn more fans for a nose-picking contest, which is a shame. Women's basketball has seen better days, and I'm hearing that the NBA is ready to pull the plug on the WNBA, so those girls had better be hitting the books.
Speaking of which, there is a series of ads running on the Men's tournament that spotlight so-called Student Athletes. One features a couple of kids drooling over trading cards of scientists and architects. The NCAA figures that they can con us into thinking that the players are taking real classes and studying like real students. Let's face it, the NCAA basketball program is a minor league for the NBA. The sad part is that the NBA rosters are limited, so those kids had better be studying just as hard as their women counterparts.
I suppose I'm a frustrated network TV executive, but I always look to see which counter-programming the other networks offer when a big national event is running. Over on ABC they're showing "The Ten Commandments", a 52-year old film that doesn't cost them a nickel to show, so if no one watches, it doesn't matter. And if they do, they would see that the cheap bastards didn't have the respect to show it in wide-screen. On NBC, they're going for the basketball widow crowd, with Celebrity Apprentice and Law and Order. The husbands/boyfriends will be in the basement or at the bar watching basketball. Or maybe the girls will be in the basement? Some of them may even be at the bar. Watch your back, fellas.
As for me, I'm bucking the trend by posting a tournament analysis during the tournament. I'll get a page hit from Germany (I hope) and one from Sri Lanka, but the Indian will be searching for giving yourself a blow job, which I admittedly cannot help him with.

Friday, March 21, 2008

Words of inspiration.

That's the advice I would offer to young people, which is probably why I'll never be asked to deliver a commencement address.
The point is that you should never give up. Good things take time, and if you quit you'll never know the satisfaction of achievement.
It took 8 years of evening classes at Widener for me to earn my Bachelor's Degree. Steadily, 3 or sometimes 6 credits at a time I kept at it, and eventually I had the 123 that I needed to get the degree. It wasn't going to happen as quickly as I wanted it to happen, but it surely did.
So, don't give up. The prize is within your reach and your slow steady progression will lead to the result you seek. It may seem like it will take forever, but once you've realized your accomplishment, the time will have seemed short and the achivement will last a lifetime.
Once you get it, they can't take it away from you.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

My NCAA bracket looks like the 12 Apostles.

Check your food products (including, but not limited to potato chips and pancakes), bath towels, steamed-up bathroom windows and worn out (but still useful) shoe soles for images of religious leaders, states or something loosely resembling a well-known public figure. You won't have to worry about attaining that pesky college education or fighting for that big promotion at work. Put your knowledge of abstract shapes to work and earn some big bucks that you can use to pay your big tax bill or fight off those bill collectors. Remember: Somewhere in the world there is a person who has money to spend on junk, and it's up to you to find them and exploit them.
I got an envelope in the mail today that said "Inside: A one-time money-saving opportunity for you." That's a lot of hyphens. I'd like to save money, so why wouldn't I open the envelope? I felt so special. Inside was an offer to extend my Consumer Reports subscription for another year for $18 "at a savings of 30%". I wondered (a) how this was helping me save money and (b) how I was saving anything if I was spending $18. This is why I drink so much.
The NCAA Basketball tournament is on the TV now, and people everywhere who aren't the least bit interested in basketball (like me) but filled out a bracket pool (like me) are at once watching the games and cursing the way they're broadcast. The early round games are a great program for people with attention deficit disorder. Every fifteen minutes we're being switched to another game for a live update that lasts just long enough for us to get interested in the game before we're switched back to one of the Gumbel brothers for some more score updates. It's another reason to drink.
News item: NEW YORK - The X Prize Foundation, best known for its competitions promoting space flights, is offering $10 million to the teams that can produce the most production-ready vehicles that get 100 miles per gallon or more.
$10 million pissed away. Why? Because whatever vehicle is designed will never see the light of day or be accepted by either (a) the consumers who like to cart their fat asses around in mini-houses on wheels and (b) the oil conglomerates who control our transportation options. Sorry to be so cynical, but I have to believe I'm right about this. Otherwise we'd all be riding around in 100mpg vehicles waving the middle finger at the oil fields in the Middle East, but instead we're waving our middle fingers at the people in charge of our lives. Why am I so cynical?
The Santa Monica, Calif.-based X Prize Foundation, which was founded in 1995, gained fame in 2004 when it awarded $10 million to the first private vehicle to fly into space. The foundation since has launched a $10 million prize for rapid human genome sequencing and a $30 million prize for sending a robot to the moon.
When is the last time you rode into space or benefited from human genome sequencing? Right. $40 million pissed away.
I admit to not following the politics very closely lately. I'm hearing that Michigan and Florida were looking at having "Do-over" primary elections. I'm not sure why, but I figure that if something doesn't go the way we want it - even if we made it happen that way - that we are somehow entitled to a Mulligan, or do-over because we didn't get the result we wanted or the result we got isn't satisfying. The last I heard, Michigan wasn't going to get their do-over. That's good, because if they did, it would give the rest of us who have made colossal mistakes some reason to hope that somehow we would get a do-over for our lives. Ain't happening.
Luckily for me, I have the day off tomorrow. The Christians call it Good Friday, so I'll try to make it a good day so I don't disappoint anyone. The cat has every day off.

He's a beautiful boy. That's one of my favorite photos of him because it shows how he yearns to be outdoors, yet is bound by both the screen door and the wood deck fencing that separates him from a one-story drop to the ground. He's conflicted, but happy somehow to just be looking out the window, and I'm happy to be able to watch him doing it.

It's a win-win.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

This doesn't look like it's about the corn flake, but I'll get to it.

Aside from the odd abdominal machine or "miracle" weight-loss device, the greatest money-making scam in the history of modern marketing is anything designed to improve ones golf game.
There are too many devices to list here, and all of them claim to remove your slice, fix your putting stoke or lengthen your drives. Anything you can sell to men that lengthens anything is a sure-fire money maker.
Mostly, what they do is improve the bank account of the people selling them. It says here that you can either play golf or you can't, and those who invest money on those devices are ignoring the fact that they should either take up another game or come to grips with the fact that they aren't very good at golf.
Which brings to mind something else ... that quote I used on Thursday from "Broadcast News" ...
Paul Moore: It must be nice to always believe you know better, to always think you're the smartest person in the room.
Jane Craig: No. It's awful.
The reason it's awful is that Jane was a purist and a woman who believed that once we begin to lower our standards the ensuing effect is that the lower standards will become the standard. When we care too much about the degradation of society it eats at us to the point that it makes us angry - angry enough to put up a blog and rant about things to which people don't give a second thought, like using to which in the middle of a sentence.
The degradation of the language is but one thing with which we get annoyed. Others are slipping standards of the television programs, the cost of everyday items and the slow, steady ruination of the general quality of life. The older one gets the more it shows, which is generally why younger people are the ones encouraging the lower standards.
Such things as the Internet, cell phones and cable TV have spawned a rash of such behavior. Those are things that we grew up without - and one could say we grew up quite nicely without - and although in most cases they are conveniences, their ease of use and placement in society allows us to both use and abuse them to the point that new laws have to be made restricting their use.
This issue is deeper than can be addressed in this forum, but it isn't much different than the troubles that our parents and grandparents addressed with those fancy horseless carriages and that "Idiot Box" in the living room.
Visit an adult-oriented Internet site and there's an opening page that is supposed to verify that the user is over the age of 18. Click "enter" to verify that you wish to view this material. That's some security measure. Make a law prohibiting the use of your cell phone while you're driving and we sneak around with the phone in our hand and our eyes on the median because "It was good enough 5 years ago, so I'm not stopping now." We have 400 cable channels and pay 75 dollars a month for the privilege because - well, I don't know why, but we do. Four of them are shopping channels, three of them don't speak English and some of them play music - on the TV. Some of them show repeats of programs that we paid for ten years ago. We're paying for them twice now.
Those of us who care about the degradation of society have issues with the ease at which society allows odd behavior. That's what makes it "awful". It's awful because we care too much. We care, and the people participating in the behavior do not, which makes it doubly irritating.
Drivers are slow to merge onto highways and make us brake at 65mph. Then, they flip a cigarette butt out the window because they can't put it out, drive and talk on the cell phone at the same time. Manners are a thing of the past, to the extent that a polite server at a restaurant gets a bigger tip because they had the courtesy to do their job. The same politicians who make the laws that tell us how to live cannot control their own actions. CEOs of companies who fire and lay-off workers because there is a lack of demand for their product give themselves huge bonuses and extravagant salaries. Athletes making millions of dollars complain because they aren't appreciated, while the fans (making thousands of dollars) cannot afford the tickets to the games in which they play.
When we complain, we're told to "lighten up" or "go with the flow". The trouble is that "the flow" is the problem. They tell us that things change and we need to adapt. Adapt to what? Decrease the quality of things just enough so that it's barely noticeable and before long you're being charged more for either the same product or a product that isn't of as high a quality as the one your parents bought - for inflation-adjusted less money.
Gasoline prices increase and (slowly) decrease based on seasons and perceived shortages, and the people in charge of making the vehicles that use the gasoline cannot seem to develop one that doesn't use this most volatile and precious commodity. We're such an odd society that the chief method of meeting people is on the Internet. The same Internet that barely existed 15 years ago but is now the primary conduit for personal contact and finding "that special someone".
It's the same Internet that allows people to post for sale a corn flake (supposedly) shaped like the state of Illinois. When the post is taken down because the web site does not allow the sale of consumables, the sellers protest and put their collective brainpower together and post another ad for a "coupon good for an Illinois-shaped corn flake (not intended for consumption)". They can skirt the rules because they have found a loophole. Those of us who believe we know better are angry because, while we may not be the smartest person in the room, we are quickly becoming so because the room is shrinking.
It's awful to care so much.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Surprise! It was a big fucking scam.

Well, go figure. The original giant Illinois-shaped corn flake has been removed from Ebola. When I clicked on the link, this message appeared ...

This listing (110233337338) has been removed or is no longer available. Please make sure you entered the right item number. If the listing was removed by eBay, consider it canceled. Note: Listings that have ended more than 90 days ago will no longer appear on eBay.

Oh, I entered the correct item number. You betcha.
I checked it earlier today, and the bids were up to $200,000 and the "seller" had added some caveats that the "winner" must have at least 10 ratings as buyers or sellers.
Now, another listing has been added with the same phony photograph of the flake and a dime. Only this time, the seller has a different eBay ID and the bidding starts at a dollar with 9 days remaining. Click here to see it, if you dare. One problem ... the caveats remained from the original ad, specifying Thursday as the end date.
Thank you for all the encouraging responses from the press and fans of the Illinois Corn Flake all over the world and we look forward to congratulating the winner Thursday. Good Luck!
Ooops. Read the fine print ...
Replica may slightly different than pictured.
No kidding. It looks like the quality control people at Ebola had the week off. It also looks more like Madagascar than Illinois.
Supposedly big news media suckers like USA Today, The Washington Post, Yahoo News and ABC News bought into this nonsense and reported it as though it were real news. One would think that they did absolutely no homework (or actual reporting) and merely clicked on an eBay listing and typed up a story. Shameful.
Meanwhile, I have to cancel that Home Equity loan and post up that ad for the Rice Krispie that looks like Rosie O'Donnell.
I need to eat more cereal.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Just when you think people cannot get any dumber ...

CHICAGO - The latest eBay bidding war has broken out over a piece of breakfast cereal that is touted as looking like the state of Illinois. Bids are being taken for the item listed by two sisters as “The Great Illinois Corn Flake”. They promise that the piece of cereal, from a box of Kellogg's Frosted Flakes, has undergone no alteration.
Emily McIntire, 15, from Chesapeake, Virginia, said that she almost ate the 2-inch flake because she was rushing to get to school. “It was almost to my mouth, it didn't look like Illinois at first because it was held the wrong way,” she told reporters. She then noticed the resemblance and said: “Oh my goodness, it's Illinois.” Her 23-year-old sister, Melissa, said that their parents suggested selling it for fun. They are offering free shipping to Illinois.
It's here, so you can post your bid. It's a shame if you don't live in Illinois, because you'll have to pay postage. What's it weigh - a tenth of an ounce?
Bidding ends on the 20th and it's up to (really) and after 76 of them, it's at $180,300 now. I'm thinking that there's some irony in the fact that the photo of the flake positions it next to a dime, which is about nine cents more than I think it's worth.
One funny thing - if you do a search for "Illinois Corn Flake" you get 26 results. There are copy-cat corn flakes out there gang, so make sure you're getting your money's worth. Um ... yeah.
Another funny thing is that eBay allows such nonsense. Occasionally there will be the [everyday object] that resembles the Virgin Mary or a Jesus Pancake or some other religiously inspired breakfast food. Supposedly, those items fetch large sums of money, but I've yet to hear of anyone actually collecting.
I'm not sure what the contractual obligation is for a $180,000 bid on anything, let alone a corn flake, but I would hazard a guess that the bidders are either personal friends or complete wackos who are running this thing up in order to (a) make their penis erect or (b) drum up business for eBay - or both.
I'm anxious to see the cancelled check or Paypal payment and until I do, I'd figure that people really cannot be this shit-all stupid to pay six-figures for food.
Can they?

Tá leabhar aige.

Happy St. Patrick's Day. I don't know what that means, but I felt compelled to say it. Today, everybody is Irish, which makes me think that something is about to explode.
St. Patrick's Day is another one of those useless American "holidays" that is celebrated but not officially recognized by the Federal government. I noticed, when I was out on Saturday, that several revelers were already in full Patty's Day mode - with the green hats, green shamrocks and green beads. Most of them looked like bo-hunk's, but I digress.
I'm confused. Half our time is spent telling people that we're supposed to be a melting pot, and that our differences are trivial. We're supposed to be worldly and accept people for what they are and who they are.
The other half is spent telling us how different we are, as we celebrate Irish-Americans, Italian-Americans, Polish-Americans and every other [slash]American whose country of origin comes before the country to which they pay their taxes. I'm thinking that at least half our time is wasted. Are we supposed to be the same or are we different? I was born in America and I don't feel any ties to my [whatever] heritage. I suppose that makes me different?
Co-workers, retail clerks and (God forbid) bartenders are going to tell us "Happy Saint Patrick's Day" today, and we'll smile and do something. Then, they'll ask us why we aren't wearing anything green.
I don't own anything green, except my liver, which at this point is probably straining under the pressure.
I picked a bad day to quit drinking.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

And it begins

Brackets. Did you fill out your bracket? How's you bracket? Did you do a bracket? Do you want to get in our braket pool? Bracket ... bracket ... bracket ... bracket.
The bracket pool. America's big springtime time-killing obscession between Valentine's Day and Memorial Day. Millions of hours wasted on filling in names of teams that none of us know anything about, except when it comes to the semi-finals, and Gonzaga is in the "Sweet 16" and we feel compelled to tell everyone, "I had them in my bracket." Good for you, buddy.
Anything worth paying attention to is worth gambling on. Otherwise, we're only into drinking holidays like St. Patrick's Day and the day before Thanksgiving. The Philadelphia Inquirer, our local newspaper, had the audacity to print a blank bracket in Sunday's paper, expecting us to fill in the names of the teams as they were announced. Seconds after "The Selection Show" the names and filled-in brackets were available online in printable versions. That's why 11% of Americans read newspapers. In case you were wondering, I sent an e-mail to the newspaper's sports editor:
You printed a blank bracket in Sunday's sports section. Did you really think that readers were going to follow along with the selections and fill-in the names of the teams as they were announced? Or did you just have space to fill?
I opened the sports section this morning and had that "I don't believe this" feeling when I saw a half-page of ... nothing.
It's a big reason why there's such a disconnect between newspapers and the Internet. Seconds after the last team was announced, there was a printable version of the field available online.
But, you knew that, right?
I'm such a pain in the ass sometimes.
Most of the time.