Saturday, April 19, 2008

Some amusement while I'm away.

I have to go to a wedding today. That's what people say about weddings - "I have to go..." Nobody says, "I want to go." It's an obligation, and I can think of a hundred different things I'd rather do ... no, wait ... a hundred and fifty different things I'd rather do than this. First, it's going to be 81 degrees and society says that men have to wear a jacket. I don't know about you (men) but I don't think, if you were out on an 80-degree day, you'd be wearing a jacket. So, we'll see how that goes.
So, entertain yourself with a little clip of a favorite comedian of mine, Mike Birbiglia. Mike has Google alerts, so lets see if he stops by.
I'll be back tomorrow.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

The politics of human behavior.

I’m starting to pay attention to the presidential race. Good idea, right? Since I’ve already voted in the primary, and there’s a big button on the sidebar, it’s pretty clear whom I support.
However, much like the 2004 election, my first choice Democrat is already out of the race, and I guess I’m fortunate that choices 2 and 3 are still fighting it out, and it’s looking like the eventual winner will be the guy with … well, the guy.
However, I’m still not above being critical of the situation and I’ll always look at things with one eye slightly closed and the other eyebrow up. It’s the best way to view politics, because I’m never quite sure exactly what their motivation is or why they say the things they say.
For instance, Barack Obama is basing his campaign on changing the country. While that’s a noble ideal, it’s a little far-fetched. One ad is telling parents to “turn off the TV, open a book and get involved in your kids' education.” Sure. First, he’s trying to change behavior that has been in place since the invention of the video game and DVD. Second, he’s talking to parents who are just as entrenched in this behavior as the children they’re rearing.
Open a book? The last time I checked, only 11% of Americans read newspapers, so asking them to pick up a book would qualify as a miracle. I don’t think a president, no matter how admirable or influential, can get a kid to start reading – or doing anything they don’t want to do. Didn’t Nancy Reagan try that with abstinence? How did that work out? I think it’s energy that could be better used elsewhere.
Then, he tells us that the days of big oil lobbying are going to end. That’s about as ambitious as getting a kid to read a book. Oil, prescription drugs and big media control this country. Hillary wants to reform health care, which is about as ambitious as controlling the oil industry. Good luck to her, too.
I think that there’s a separation (and there should be a separation) between government and private wants and needs. If people wanted to read or stop driving giant vehicles or stop taking pills they would have already done it without the aid of the federal government. So, I’m left wondering why a candidate would be so interested in trying to change our behavior.
I figure it’s either one of two things. 1 – Since only about 40% of Americans vote, they probably have numbers and research to support their viewpoint. Maybe the people who vote are the ones who feel most guilty about using oil and not reading? If that’s their angle, then it might succeed. 2 – They’re preying on the masses of Americans who want to hear these reform topics and even though in their hearts they know it will be an almost impossible achievement, they’ll tell us that they can change the world because we want them to.
At least we want them to try. As cynical as I am about any one person’s ability to control mass behavior, I’ll defend their right to say it, at least. That I don’t believe they can accomplish it is another matter.
The trouble is, we have to first elect the person, and then wait at least four years until we find out that they can’t change anything. By then, the behavior they’re trying to reform is even more entrenched than it was when they started.
The bigger fear, however, is that if we elect the other guy, that behavior will be encouraged, and that's worse than not trying.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

The Pope has left the building.

WASHINGTON - Pope Benedict XVI told America's Roman Catholic leaders Wednesday evening that the clergy sex abuse scandal has sometimes been "very badly handled," his harshest criticism yet regarding the crisis that has badly damaged the U.S. church. On his flight from Rome, the pope said he was deeply ashamed of the scandal and would fight to keep pedophiles out of the priesthood.
Good luck, Pope. You can't keep pedophiles out of the fast food industry, professional sports or politics. Why? Because they're everywhere, and if you think that you can magically (sorry, it's not magic, it's the power of God) eliminate an entire demented segment of the population from one particular profession, you've got another think coming.
So, the Pope took off the gloves and used "very badly handled" as the way he chose to communicate a most fouled-up segment of his little Papedom called the Catholic Church. That's harsh language coming from a guy who wears a pointed hat and a big ring.
They kiss the ring, which is odd, given the fact that he's just a man. Religions are funny things. They sometimes worship Earthly beings as much as they worship the beings that may or may not have been made up by Earthly beings thousands of years ago. Those un-Earthly beings are perfectly suited for religion because none of us alive today can prove that they never existed, so the entire franchise relies on our belief of the unknown.
It's called faith, and it's a funny thing, too. Faith tells us that if we're good there's a better life waiting for us "on the other side". Some people live their whole lives doing the right thing (so they're told) because they believe that if they don't, a damnation awaits them worse than any here on Earth. That would amount to a lot of regret if they found out that the whole thing was bullshit. It's the biggest gamble on Earth. Bigger than the Power Ball.
So the Pope comes and some of us kiss his ring and listen to his proclamations. He's the leader of the Catholic Church. Who is the leader of the atheists? Who leads the agnostics? Who leads the Baptists? The fact that a religion needs a leader tells me that the religion itself is weak because it needs an Earthly presence to keep the flock in line. Otherwise, they might be able to convince themselves that their faith is misplaced. The Pope is the religious cop on the corner. Without him, there is anarchy and we don't want anarchy.
God bless him and his pointed little hat. Did he grow up wanting to be the Pope like some kids want to be baseball players or astronauts or the president? No, he's a priest who has political connections, which makes his job like a lot of other patronage jobs.
He's the state senator, Congressman or CEO. His politics is religion. He rose through the church the same way people rise through industry. People kiss his ring. I wouldn't kiss his ring any more than I would kiss Bill Gates' ring or Barack Obama's ring - not that they'd want me to. It's just odd behavior, and makes him appear as though he isn't human, which I suppose is the idea, but I can't buy into it.
His minions are sexual deviates, pedophiles, alcoholics and drug addicts because religion is partly about abstinence - sexual and otherwise. Humans, being what we are, abhor being told we cannot do something, especially if that thing is at the base of our belief system - religious or otherwise.
They're just people, and the sooner we realize it the sooner we'll get over this medieval system of superstition and people-worship that makes us think that some people are above being ... people.
Happy birthday, Pope.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Find the short fat guys and tell them we have pants!

I had to do something today that I haven't done in a while - buy a pair of dress pants.
I have a wedding to attend on Saturday. It's the wedding for the guy we took to New York and Philly two weeks ago.
I went to a lot of weddings when I was younger. As we age, we find ourselves attending more funerals than weddings. And since I've had the same job for the past 15 years, and don't get out much, I haven't had an opportunity to trot out the sport coat in quite some time. Like most of my clothes, it still fits. I'm kind of proud of that.
Whenever I shop for pants, I'm surprised at the availability of the 40W 30L pants on the rack. There was literally one pair of Calvin Klein black dress pants in my size, which is significantly different than 40 x 30. Lucky for me they fit and they were less than fifty bucks.
No outfit is complete without a nice necktie. Most of mine have cartoon characters on them, so I felt it might be necessary to find one that wouldn't attract a lot of kids. Polish the outfit off with a nice new shirt and it's a deal. Now all I need to do is figure out what I'm giving as a gift. I figure I can't go wrong with cash. I know I liked counting the checks when I got married, and I can't imagine it's changed much in 17 years.
The local mall was a near ghost town at 5pm tonight. I suppose it's the result of that recession I keep hearing about. Meanwhile, there's a Target and Lowe's store going up a couple of miles from the Kohl's and Home Depot that have been there for 3 years. There's another vacant lot nearby with a sign telling us that "Coming Soon" are new retail stores. Somebody with an entrepreneurial spirit is opening two new water parks in Mt. Laurel, about ten miles from my home.
I'm imagining a lot of sleepless nights for the people putting up the money for these projects. I'm guessing they were planned and approved before the economy totally went in the shithouse, but still, I've never figured out why people are so anxious to open another store selling the same stuff I can get two miles away for virtually the same price.
I remember reading a Walgreen's annual report that said their surveys said people wanted a drug store within 2 miles from their home. I have four. If I took that many drugs, I'd forget where the stores were.
Which makes it particularly comforting to come home and let the cat wander in the garden. He's a beautiful boy.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Death and Dishonor

Hank Deerfield: Do you know what it means when a flag flies upside down?
Hank Deerfield: It's an international distress signal.
School Janitor: No shit?
Hank Deerfield: No Shit! It means we're in a whole lot of trouble so come save our asses 'cause we ain't got a prayer in Hell of saving it ourselves.
School Janitor: It says alot.
Hank Deerfield: Yes, it does.
We might be in a whole lot of trouble, and if you see this film you might think we're in a whole Hell of a lot more.
Writer/Director Paul Haggis (who wrote the screenplays for "Flags of Our Fathers" and "Letters from Iwo Jima") takes us on a twisting journey of conflict between the police and the military and the conflict of a father who may find out more about his son than he wanted to know.
There are no political statements, no lectures about our role in Iraq and no glorified ads for life in the military. What there is a lot of is hard truth. I suppose the reason this film wasn't more popular is because truth isn't always popular. We like things with sugar on them, happy endings and such. This film provides no sugar.
It provides Tommy Lee Jones in his Oscar nominated performance as Hank Deerfield, a former military man who leaves Tennessee for New Mexico in search of his son, who is AWOL after returning from Iraq. Charlize Theron plays the detective who reluctantly helps him after finding sympathy for Deerfield through her relationship with her own son. I haven't seen Theron since 1999's "Cider House Rules" and "The Astronaut's Wife", but I wondered if she wasn't a tad bit miscast. She's the put-upon police detective who is maligned by her co-workers for presumably sleeping her way into the job (with Josh Brolin), but we all know that she's smarter than the rest of them. But the film really isn't about her.
It's about our soldiers and their lives before, during and after serving in Iraq. I can't delve deeply into the issue without spoiling the ending, but suffice it to say that the film tells a sad and dramatic tale and minces no words or actions in the process. It's also about Jones' relationship with his son and the burden that a military family places on its sons and mother. Susan Sarandon plays Deerfield's wife Joan, and there is enough angst in her life to fill two hours by herself.
If you're ready for a frank espose' of life in the military, you won't be disappointed. Expect it to leave you slightly dumbfounded, which might be a good thing.

The richest 1-percent don't read blogs, either.

Jerry: The New York Yankees?
George: The New York Yankees!
Jerry: Ruth, Gehrig, DiMaggio, Mantle ... Costanza?
George: I'm the assistant to the traveling secretary. I'm going on the road trips with them! I'll be on the plane ... I'm working in Yankee Stadium! This is a dream. I'm busting, Jerry, I'm busting!
Jerry: I can't believe it.
Bobby Jones, Nicklaus, Snead, Woods … Immelman? I can't believe it either.
Trevor Immelman placed his name alongside the greats of the game and donned that hideous green jacket after winning The Masters on Sunday. I like watching golf, but I can’t help but feel like it’s an elitist sport. Scan the leaderboard and you’ll see names like Brandt Sneddiker, Padraig Harrington, Arron Oberholser, Heath Slocum, Aaron Baddeley, Charles Howell III, Trip Kuehne and Davis Love III. Who names a kid Trip, Brandt or Padraig? You know who, and they don’t know you.
I know it isn’t everybody, and it isn’t as bad as it was, but I’m still not seeing too many Doug Heffernan’s or people who look like they don’t know how a Trust Fund works. It’s an expensive hobby and there’s a small percentage of kids who get to play that don’t already have parents in the Country Club. I try not to think about it, because I like watching them play, but it's that "old money" deal that gets to me, and the game does place itself on a pedestal.
I think it got to Chris Berman, too. The organizers wanted no parts of him on the ESPN coverage during the early rounds, so smart-ass Berman wore a green jacket during his hosting of ESPN's Baseball Tonight on Sunday. Clever. As much as I dislike the guy, I probably would have done the same thing. Of course, the frogmouth called attention to it, as though we wouldn't notice the giant oaf looking like a billiard table with hair.
Meanwhile, your kids and Padraig's kids won’t be hooking up at McDonald’s anytime soon:
As many of you scramble to get your taxes done before tomorrow's deadline, Citizens for Tax Justice, a Washington-based advocacy group, has released a new report showing just how much love the Bush administration has shown to the richest one percent of Americans... literally at the expense of the rest of us.
According to the report, in 2010, when all of the Bush tax cuts will finally have taken effect, the richest one percent of American families - those earning $1.6 million annually - will receive, on average, a $92,000 tax cut. As a share of the population, these families will account for an estimated 53 percent of all tax relief, while the poorest 60 percent will be on the receiving end of just 12-15 percent of tax cuts.
The $79.5 billion cost of the Bush tax cuts going to just the richest one percent in 2008 is more than the entire budget for the Department of Education this year ($68 billion), almost twice as much as the entire budget for the Department of Homeland Security this year ($42.3 billion) and over ten times as much as the budget for the Environmental Protection Agency ($7.5 billion).
I don’t have much to say about that. I think the numbers speak for themselves. The future golfers of America will be able to afford nicer clubs now.
Hurry up and get that check in the mail. There are people counting on you. Those yachts don't just dock themselves, you know.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Our taxing problem.

OK, so the pressure is off. I've filed my income taxes. I guess I'm supposed to be relieved, but I find myself feeling like I've been put through undue stress. Mostly because I feel like the federal income tax system is a burden on people - regular people, not people - and needs to be abolished.
Why is it that the most feared day on the calendar is April 15? It's feared because we are told that if we don't have our taxes filed by then, our lives are in danger and the giant Internal Revenue Service will come crashing down on our lives like that big Monty Python foot.
Get your taxes done. It's such a big deal that the local news stations will have people lurking at the big post offices on Tuesday night letting us in on the big rush to the mail box so that we get our returns in before the federal government fines us for being late.
It's a billion-dollar a year business. I use Turbo Tax, but many people use the strip-mall tax preparers and pay for the instant rebate that pays the strip-mall preparers more than the people who might just as well have waited a few extra days for their "refund".
They call it a refund, but what it really is is an over-payment. I have relatives that get five thousand dollars in over-payments every year. Would they be better off getting an extra hundred dollars in their paycheck every week and a $200 overpayment at the end of the year? You bet your ass. But it's hard to convince them that they're giving the federal government (hated far and wide) an interest-free loan every year. They like the big check. It's what keeps the world spinning from March to May.
As for me (if you were wondering) I paid the feds $42 and got $68 back from the state, so I'm happy that it's over with for another year.

Saturday at the Ballpark.

I took in a Phillies game on Saturday night. Me and my trusty camera with that goofy lens. When I go by myself, I tend to wander. Our ballpark is built in such a way that you can see the game from virtually anyplace in the building. Sometimes the seat you get isn't as good as a standing spot you can find. That wasn't necessarily the case last night, but I still like to wander.
Generally, the most interesting things can be found in an area called Ashburn Alley. That's where all the good food concessions are and it's where people with really bad seats go to mingle and be close to where the beer is.
Upstairs is a place called the Rooftop.

There really isn't a roof. It's just a place that they put up some bleachers and tried to emulate Chicago's Wrigley Field, who, by the way, hates the rooftop seats and charges the local homeowners a fee to allow people to sit on their roof and watch the game.

One of the odd little fan groups we have is called Howard's Homers. They wear Homer Simpson masks and cheer loudly when their hero, Ryan Howard comes to bat. I knew you wouldn't believe me, so I took a photo. Last night he hit a moon shot to right field, so they had a reason to cheer.