Saturday, March 29, 2008

Now and then

I've been thinking. That's dangerous, I know.
I've been thinking about the way things are now as opposed to the way things were then. However, in order to really understand the difference between now and then, one must be old enough to know the difference between color television and black and white television, and a time when there were programs "presented in living color" and how special it was. This isn't about TV, but it's a good frame of reference.
The reason we need a frame of reference is because most of the people reading this are unaware that there was a time in which, if one didn't have the cash to purchase an item, one could not own that item - unless one could secure a loan from a bank. Cars and houses were the big-ticket items in those days. Anything else would have to be purchased with cash.
I remember my parents saving money to buy a new car. A brand new 1964 Ford Fairlane cost my parents around $2,200, which seems cheap until you realize that my father made about that much in a year, so you can imagine the magnitude of saving that had to go on in order for them to buy it. But, even though we were of meager means, we managed to have a new car every two years or so, in addition to a "junker" that dad would enjoy wrenching on to keep it running. One, I remember, could be started without a key.
The reason we had to save money to buy such things is that there was no Visa or MasterCard on which to charge those things. When dad wanted a color TV in 1964, he spent the $400 that the 24" RCA cost and we put it in the living room and watched Bonanza and The Ed Sullivan Show. It was a big decision, but it provided comfort and represented a quarter of a year of his hard labor. We owned it and the pride of ownership extended itself to the local Pep Boys store where dad would routinely buy tubes to replace in the TV when they went bad - which they did - frequently.
The name Master Charge was licensed from the First National Bank of Louisville, Kentucky in 1967. With the help of New York's Marine Midland Bank, now HSBC Bank USA, these banks joined with the Interbank Card Association (ICA) to create "Master Charge: The Interbank Card".
In 1979, "Master Charge: The Interbank Card" was renamed simply "MasterCard". In the early 1990s MasterCard bought the British Access Card and the Access name was dropped. In 2002, MasterCard International merged with Europay International SA, another large credit-card issuer association, which for many years issued cards under the name Eurocard.
When my 1996 vintage 32" Sony Trinitron (which cost me $990) went blank last year, I didn't give a second thought to turning the dozen or so screws to open the back and maybe have someone come over and fix it. Instead, a friend and I carried it down the stairs and to the dumpster, and off I went to Best Buy for a new 37" LCD that cost me $190 less than the TV I replaced. The difference was, I didn't pay cash for it.
I didn't pay cash because (a) I didn't have the cash and (b) I didn't have to pay cash. I had a credit card that (they tell us) gave me the financial freedom to enhance my life by having all the things I want regardless of my ability to pay for them. After all, I only need to come up with $30 a month for the rest of my life and that TV will be paid for. Chances are, the TV will be blank before I can finish paying for it. It's a race against time.
That's the difference between now and then. We're up to our ears in iPods, PlayStation's, big-screen TVs, giant vehicles and over-priced homes because we're told that we can have them and pay for them over time, more conveniently than our parents did, or so they say. We don't have to have anything but a signature to be able to have things in our home that, if they demanded, we could not pay for now. Dad had a TV. I have a bill.
That's why I chuckle quietly to myself when I fill out a form and it asks me if I "own my home or rent". Technically, I'm renting it from Countrywide, but they tell me I own it. Let's see how my ownership claim sounds when I stop making the mortgage payments. The very people lending us the money are part of the scam.
We're told that we have a great lifestyle and that the modern conveniences we have now are light-years ahead of what my parents had. Sure, my car is nicer. my microwave oven cooks meals in minutes. My digital camera takes great photos. My TV looks great. My fitness center is a beautiful place. I have decent clothes that don't embarrass me in public. I have a computer that allows me to access the Internet and write this junk.
How much of it would I have if I had to pay cash for it?

Friday, March 28, 2008

I buried the lead.

If all the world's a stage, where does the audience sit?
The NCAA tournament continues, and I can't help but wonder what all the fuss is about. From the looks of the TV (which is after all, the final authority) they're playing to half-empty lower-level seating in Detroit. It makes me think that the tournament is the sports equivalent of the lottery. It's popular because people can wager on it, but they don't have to actually watch it to know if they win. All we need to do is check the scores and check our picks to know whether we have a chance to win.
It doesn't help that the games are being played in football stadiums, where the worst seat in the house is barely in the house. How many people who play bracket pools actually watch the games? If you buy a lottery ticket do you watch the drawing?
Speaking of sports (which I was), it's now more expensive to go to baseball games:
CHICAGO (AP) - It will cost a lot more to root, root, root for the home team this year. Major League Baseball’s average ticket price increased 10.9 percent this season to $25.40, the Team Marketing Report said Friday. That’s the steepest increase since a 12.9 rise in 2001. The World Series champion Red Sox, playing in the major leagues’ smallest ballpark, have the highest average at $48.80, up 10.1 percent.
Players are earning more money than ever. The average salary is over a million dollars. Stadiums (sorry - ballparks) have a limited number of seats and there are a limited number of games. Do the math. Soon, it will be impossible for a family to go to a baseball game without "the boss" giving them tickets. It's already happened in football, basketball and hockey. Baseball was the last holdout. I'll cherish my 17-game Phillies ticket plan until I can no longer afford the $27.50 per game plus parking, bridge toll and (egad) beer, which may be sooner than later.
Meanwhile, the McCain campaign is at it already. The rhetoric is hot and heavy, and it's barely April. We're seeing where the campaign is going. They're going to play the veteran war-hero angle. Predictable. His latest ad (I'm John McCain and I approved this message) says: "What must a president believe about us, about America?" Then, he provides the answer: "That she is worth protecting." Once again, as we were told in 2004, the Democrats (specifically Barack Obama) are unable of "protecting" America. It's old, but it worked once.
I will ask this question: How is the War in Iraq protecting America?
It's easy to see where these low-life's are going come the summer. They're going to play on McCain's POW War-hero persona which, while admirable, has nothing to do with whether or not a man (or woman) will make a good president. They'll play on our fears, which is how G.W. Bush got re-elected. God, how did we do that? They went to school on his nonsense and they will repeat the same rhetoric in 2008. It was good enough for the idiot son of our 41st President, and it will be good enough for John McCain.
It's up to Americans to realize what the Republicans will do (and have done) to win. Winning, to them is more important than the country's best interests. They're relentless, which is why I fear the vote in November. John McCain is a weasel of the first degree, and the more he pushes the more I will push back.
His latest ad is a clear indication of the fact that they believe Barack Obama will be the Democrat nominee for president. If that is the case, it says here is that Barack Obama must be elected president in order to save us from another four years of (quote) leadership from people who are neither interested in us or willing to help us make our lives better. Their only interest is in making their lives better. Watch this and don't say I didn't warn you...

Thursday, March 27, 2008

My Mentos are on fire.

Mi Mente Enferma. That's how My Sick Mind is translated into Spanish. I had a reader today from Columbia, South America and the link translated the blog to Spanish, via the smart folks at Google. I had no idea. To see your blog translated, click on your Buddy link on the right of the Spanish page. Click here to see Mi Mente Enferma (Lo que está en mi cabeza, derrama sobre el monitor del ordenador).
The girls are playing golf this weekend at Superstition Mountain, Arizona; outside of Phoenix. Take a minute and wander over to the Golf Channel for the coverage. If only to see the beautiful course and the background. I think I know where next year's vacation is going.

The NCAA tournament is back this weekend, where the cream should rise and Cinderella will find that the shoe doesn't fit. By Sunday, we'll be down to the so-called "Final Four" which, although it does contain four teams, it is by no means final. There will still be two games left.

Speaking of final, we're winding down (I hope) to the end of the Democrat primary process and should soon (I hope) figure out whom is going to represent the party in the November election. It's getting ugly. John McCain has trotted out the "L" word in response to Barack Obama's plan for our economy if (when) he is elected.
He called him a "liberal" and made a generalization about liberal politics and how they always lean on the people, meanwhile Obama's plan included continuing the stimulus plan, so what's McCain talking about? When he finds out, he'll let us all in on it, I'm sure.
What I fear is that the masses of asses will be either (a) lured in by McCain's name-calling and catch-phrase spouting rhetoric and/or (b) afraid of voting for a man of color because they are afraid of the unknown.
It reminds me of a conversation my mother and I had a while ago. The house next door to hers was being sold for the um-teenth time, and each time previous, it was sold to people who were kind of smarmy or had some police action in their background. It needs to be stated that they were all Caucasian (white):
Mom: I hope they don't sell it to any black people.
Me: Why? The only problems you've had have been with white people.
Mom: Yeah.
That's why I didn't have any issues with Obama's comments about his mother and her built-in fears of black people. He was right. People of her (and my mother's) generation have a pre-installed issue with people who are "different". They're good people, but they have a 1930s mentality that is inbred, and as such, a difficult issue to overcome. I should say that mom supports Barack Obama too, so I know her heart is in the right place.
Big media and 24-hour news programs need controversy to build an audience, and Obama's comments were fodder for programming. It didn't help that he made that comment on our own WIP radio here in Philadelphia. Perhaps we got a bigger dose than the rest of the country? I heard it live and didn't think anything of it. Thankfully, they died a quick death and we've moved onto other things, like the problems the country is facing, which is the real issue.
That being said, I hope we (the Americans) don't settle for the same-old-same-old and vote for another name-calling, rhetoric-spouting Republican to run our country for 4 years. Enough, already.
The only problems we've had have come from rhetoric-spouting Republicans.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

The best movie you've never heard of.

"We are bound by the secrets we share."
Every time I went into my Netflix Queue, I saw this title on the page. We'll think you'll like "Notes On a Scandal". As though Netflix could determine that I enjoy deep character studies and stories that had layers that required some thought and exploration of ones deepest feelings. Films where nothing explodes and there is absolutely no CGI. Netflix wore me down. I put it in the queue behind "I Am Legend", mostly because I like the stars and partly because I figured Netflix had a keen idea.
I liked it from the start, which is odd for me. Generally, I have to be drawn into a story and get acquainted with the characters, but this film drew me in from the start and I had no trouble finding the angles of the story and the complexity of the plot as it unfolded.
Kate Blanchett and Judi Dench. Can it get any better? I submit that it cannot. Both were Oscar nominated, Dench for lead actress and Blanchett for supporting. Beautiful acting and a story that is at once transparent and deep as the ocean. A story of love, lust and betrayed feelings disguised as friendship.
Barbara Covett: [voiceover] And then I realized my fury had blinded me. There was a magnificent opportunity here. With stealth, I might secure the prize long-term, forever in my debt. I could gain everything by doing nothing.
Relationships that start as friends sometimes have ulterior motives attached that one of the friends may be unaware. One of the layers of this story is the apparent distance of Dench's character [Barbara Covett] and how she is drawn to the new teacher at school, seemingly in opposition to the disdain to which she holds the others and even the institution in which she works.
Barbara Covett: People like Sheba [Blanchett] think they know what it is to be lonely. But of the drip, drip of the long-haul, no-end-in-sight solitude, they know nothing. What it's like to construct an entire weekend around a visit to the launderette. Or to be so chronically untouched that the accidental brush of a bus conductor's hand sends a jolt of longing straight to your groin. Of this, Sheba and her like have no clue.
I hear ya Barbara.
Dench's character is desperately lonely, with only a cat to tie her into her feelings. One of the layers of the film is the relationship between Barbara and Sheba and how it affects the other relationships in Sheba's life, and ultimately her career.
If I continue to write about it, I'll spill the beans, and nobody wants that. Chances are, you'll see the plot conflicts early on, but it won't distract you from your appreciation of great acting - or at least it shouldn't. There's plenty of pithy dialogue (Patrick Marber's Best Writing Adapted Screenplay Oscar nomination), great directing (Richard Eyre) and a Philip Glass soundtrack (nominated for Best Achievement in Music Written for Motion Pictures) to keep you interested for 90 minutes.
If you find yourself wandering around the local video rental joint and have no idea what to pick up for your Friday movie night, grab this one. If you don't' agree that it was worth the time, I'll cheerfully refund your money.
Maybe not cheerfully, but ... well. Maybe not the money either, but I won't be able to bear your derisive comments.
I'll live, somehow.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

It's now a half-vast ice shelf, but don't let that scare you.

A vast ice shelf hanging on by a thin strip looks to be the next chunk to break off from the Antarctic Peninsula, the latest sign of global warming's impact on Earth's southernmost continent. Scientists are shocked by the rapid change of events.
The Wilkins Ice Shelf was stable for most of the last century until it began retreating in the 1990s. A previous major breakout occurred there in 1998 when 390 square miles (1,000 square kilometers) of ice was lost in just a few months."We believe the Wilkins has been in place for at least a few hundred years, but warm air and exposure to ocean waves are causing it to break up," Scambos said.
A new study of glaciers in a portion of the Antarctic finds 84 percent of them have retreated over the past 50 years in response to a warmer climate.
The work was based on 2,000 aerial photos, some taken in the 1940s, and satellite images. The climate in the region has warmed by more than 4.5 degrees Fahrenheit (2.5 Celsius) in the last 50 years, the scientists said
Lousy stinking scientists. Using junk like satellite images and measurements to try to tell us that the ice caps are melting. Big chunks of stuff break off all the time. I guess that Wilkins guy is pissed. That'll teach him to name an ice shelf after himself. How long did he think that would last? He probably isn't even dead yet. Sucker.

RENO, Nevada - A new study predicts water circulation in Lake Tahoe is being dramatically altered by global warming, threatening the lake's delicate ecosystem and famed clear waters.
The new study showed that, if global greenhouse-gas emissions continue at current levels, mixing could become less frequent and less deep, and possibly stop as early as 2019.
"While we expected that the lake would mix less in the future, learning that we may be only a decade or two from the complete shutdown of deep mixing was very surprising." Schladow said.
"If mixing shuts down, then no new oxygen gets to the bottom of the lake, and creatures that need it, such as lake trout, will have a large part of their range excluded," Schladow said.
When the oxygen is gone, the study said phosphorus contained in lake-floor sediments would be released and spur algae growth, further damaging the lake's clarity and water quality.
In a related study, the scientists determined that global greenhouse-gas emissions will cause a drastic hike in the hourly rates of prostitutes in Reno, prompting the National Governors Association to take swift and immediate action, demanding a 25% reduction in greenhouse-gas emissions by 2010.
Don't mess with the prostitutes.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

When sports emulates life...

The final two minutes of the Marquette-Stanford game Saturday night took about a half hour to complete. Why? Because sports, like life, places an undue burden on the final minutes rather than the first.
The referees forced several time-out's running to the scorer's table asking for extra time to be put back on the clock because the official scorer started the clock too soon. My question (because I love to ask questions) is, who was watching the official scorer with ... say ... 13 minutes left in the half to make sure he was re-starting the clock correctly? My answer (because I love to answer my own questions) is: Nobody.
We don't pay as much attention to things at the beginning as we do at the end, which is why sports emulates life. Last-second field goals are supposedly more important than the one he missed in the first quarter, ninth inning home runs carry more weight than the strike-out with the bases loaded in the first inning and buzzer-beaters beat the 30% three-point field goal percentage. So we're told. For my money (the only money that matters), they're equally important, but we rarely complain about the stuff that happens in the beginning.
We're starting to pay attention to Global Warming now, because it's hot and rainy and the ice caps are melting. It started about a hundred years ago during the Industrial Revolution, but nobody thought of it then because we were having too much fun building stuff out of steel and refining oil.
We're starting to pay attention to gasoline prices now, because they're high and, like a lot of things, we didn't start to notice until it was too late. Auto makers are scrambling to produce hybrid cars and other fuel-efficient vehicles, even though the Federal government (led by the most inept president in our history) has failed to raise CAFE standards sufficiently to benefit consumers. Most people didn't care much when prices reached a dollar a gallon because we were all fat and happy living off those big stock market dividends and those huge salary increases. That gravy train runs on oil too.
The big clock is ticking. Summer is coming and the national average gas price is at $3.26 a gallon. The referee is just now starting to check the "scorer's table" and he doesn't like what he sees. How's that for philosophical? It's why you come here, I know.
Unlike the game, we can't put time back on the clock, and even if we could, we'd need to go back to the beginning of the game and fix that clock too. The whole thing is goofy.
So, here we are, facing elimination in the only game that matters, but we're distracted by bracket pools and all that other stuff that they give us to make us look the other way. We're convinced that life is good because we can still pay for it - or charge it.
We've taken out second mortgages, lines of credit and other such debt to the point that we're stretched to the limit. Meanwhile, the cost of just getting to work is multiplying faster than those rabbits we ate for Easter.
Somebody needs to call "time".