Saturday, May 24, 2008

The only good reason to go to Wilmington

Saturday evening found me in Wilmington, Delaware for a minor league baseball game with the Wilmington Blue Rocks playing the Lynchburg Hillcats. As they say, it was a beautiful night for a ballgame.
I haven't been to the ballpark in a few years, but I used to go about five times a year. The place only holds about 5,000 people, so the game is right on top of me. The sounds of the game are audible and sometimes I can pick up chatter between the players. If you're a baseball fan, it's a great experience. Wilmington is the single-A affiliate of the Kansas City Royals. Some of these players end up in the Major Leagues and some end up selling insurance.
I could bore you with the fifty or so action photos I took, but they all kind of look like this, with different players. I was testing out my new zoom lens, and I must say it passed. That's the ball by the catcher's head.The ballpark is right off Interstate 95, a couple of miles from downtown Wilmington, which is pretty much an office park and some row homes.
One of the ushers noticed I had a camera, and he was nice enough to invite me to sit in the front row so I could get some better photos. I don't think your average Major League usher would do anything like that, which is part of what makes minor league baseball so charming.
Between innings, there is plenty of entertainment. Since the tickets are cheap and the food is reasonably priced, they figure they should keep us entertained too. Saturday was Country Night, with different types of Western performers doing stuff like rope tricks and line dancing. One of the acts was a guy with a whip, who had a kid put a stick in his mouth with a rose on the end. The object (as you can see) was to break the stick with the whip.
An enlargement of the frame shows the stick cracking and two small chards broken from the middle. I can offer no explanation other than serendipity. With a shutter speed of 1/80th of a second and a whip breaking a stick, the odds are astronomical of finding the exact moment, but there it is.
So, that's part two of Holiday Photo Weekend. Good night and have a pleasant tomorrow.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Holiday Photo Weekend - Part 1

We start with my favorite subject, the cat. I'm always curious as to what he is looking at, since he stares intently at something. When I turn my head, I see nothing. It's usually a bug or some noise that he hears. He's way too nervous.
You can click on the photo to see it in all its glory. I used my new Nikon 55-200 vibration reduction zoom lens which, I have to say, is worth every penny of its incredibly low-low price. The only problem is that I've spent a third of my stimulus rebate, which sadly has not yet arrived.
Tomorrow, it's off to a Wilmington Blue Rocks game. They're a (semi) local minor league team. It's been a while since I've been there, and tomorrow seemed like a good day to go. The ticket is 9 bucks and the parking is free, so it's hard to beat, entertainment-wise.
Sunday I may venture back into the city. There's a movie I want to see, and judging from the reviews, I'd better hurry. I'll drag the camera and snap a few photos along the way. Sadly, the movie will cost me more than the baseball ticket.
Monday, I'll head in the opposite direction as the rest of the people around here. They're all at the shore for the annual rite of spring, or as we say, "We're going downashore." I'll be at the Phillies game on Monday night, and the bike group is doing a little 50-mile jaunt in the morning, so my day may be full.
But, it's three days away from work and whatever happens, a bad day at home is better than a good day at work.
Happy Holidays, bitches.

Ask your doctor if Klonopin is right for you.

Oh, you betcha.
Benzodiazepines are more commonly abused than opiate pharmaceuticals which accounted for 32% of visits to the emergency department. No other pharmaceutical is more commonly abused than benzodiazepines. Nice.
Klonopin is an anxiolytic, an anti-anxiety drug and I'm guessing, given the current state of affairs, it should see a big spike in production.
We're an anxious bunch these days, given to bouts of panic and anxiety over the price of things and our ability to pay for them.
Generally, it doesn't take much to make me happy, which is good because I don't have much. A few bucks in my pocket and some place to go to spend them without the anxiety of worrying about whether or not I should spend them for fear of not being able to make that big cable TV bill usually suffices.
Now, more than ever, people are on this paycheck-to-paycheck merry-go-round and it looks like there's no end in sight. We would really like to be able to get through the day without costly medication, but we'll do what we have to do.
After all, modern pharmaceuticals exist for every man-made "disease" and ailment that comes along, including some that affect almost everyone - like getting up at night to pee - so why not a nice pill to take away the anxiety of our stressful bill-laden life? I say, the time has come.
Bravery in the face of obstacles is overrated. Take a pill, numb your mind to your troubles and get it over with.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

My gas on gas.

I'm so desparate for material, I have now resorted to using comments from others' blogs as fodder for my own posts. Mostly because, in moments of glibness I find that I can make sense and partly because I feel as though I should have posted the comment as an essay on my own blog. So, this is what I left on Firestarter5's blog yesterday in response to his question about the rising cost of gasoline and how it affects our relations around the world:
I think (maybe) part of the problem is that we are so fat on our luxurious lifestyles here that the last straw was a big spike in oil prices. It means that we can no longer live our lives of bloated excess, and we now have to cut back on stuff that we either didn't have 20 years ago (cell phones and [big] mortgages) or have become accustomed to.
I think part of the problem is that we feel entitled to stuff, and when we are faced with the grim realization that our lives are full of wretched excess, the one thing that we have come to abuse and rely on - gasoline - is the thing that has now betrayed us and made us face our biggest issue ... that we are wasteful and spoiled.
That in itself would have made a decent post, but since it is a "comment" I felt it was best left to stand on its own. Here, I can be wordy, as you have become accustomed.
I found a price chart kept by a diligent person from Texas that I choose to believe because it proves my point. The most important line is the grey one at the bottom, the line that is "adjusted for inflation"...

What the chart says is that, since 2002, adjusted for inflation, the price of gasoline has steadily gone up, and in some years actually decreased. Now, however, in the face of growing financial difficulties, we are hearing about the price. It also says that during the 1990s we grew to depend on a flat-line price of gas and perhaps (as one would say) became spoiled and grew to abuse the substance because we figured that things would remain so.

The fact (if I can cloud the issue with facts) is that inflation has pushed the price of "stuff" up about 20 percent in the last 7 years. That, combined with growing pressure from property tax increases, personal income tax increases and the added issues of "convenience" items like cell phones, Internet service, cable TV and their related power consumption (i.e. electricity costs) and "little extras" like property taxes have combined to make the recent spike in oil prices intolerable. They are intolerable because (a) we have become spoiled by our wretched excesses and (b) we have become accustomed to those items which we didn't have in 2001 when the price started to rise. The recent spike in the price of gasoline is a relative last straw.
I don't see any big right-wing conspiracy (much as I'd like to) or any huge issue with middle-east conflict (which has existed since Year Zero) or any weather or Global Warming-related issues. What I do see is an overall rise in the cost of living, brought about by a myriad of mod-cons that we didn't have in the late 1990s, but since have become necessities.
Those things, in addition to our growing dependence on the vehicle and its tremendous size, have compounded to the point that any increase in the cost of fueling those vehicles is the financial "last straw" and has brought about the griping and complaining that we see and hear now.
It's simple economics. Allow people to grow accustomed to a lifestyle - take part of it and make it more costly - and watch them gripe about it. Now, we are faced with trying to find ways to justify our excessive lifestyle by trying to find ways to reduce the cost of something (traveling) that was already a bane to our existence. We are just now figuring it out because the other things are irreplaceable, or so we believe.
I don't think there's any more to it than that, conspiracy theories notwithstanding. It is a perfect storm of sorts.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Today's non-sequiturs

I continue to be amazed by the amount of media coverage that Dancing with the Stars and American Idol receive. Maybe I’m being too pragmatic, but in a country with 305 million people living in 110 million households where 109 million of them have at least 1 TV, why are we be bombarded with stories about programs that supposedly have 18.5 million and 25 million viewers respectively? To me, it seems that the much larger number of people are off doing something else. Granted, they’re the highest-rated shows on TV, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that they have to be foist upon us. I'd like to know what the other 280 million people are doing. That's probably far more interesting.
Here’s an interesting fact: 18.5 million people watched the regular Dancing with the Stars episode, but only 17 million watched the “results” show that immediately followed. Am I to believe that 9 percent of their viewers turned the show off before they found out who won?
Perhaps I’m a frustrated sociologist or should have studied psychology, because junk like that fascinates me. I’m also interested in how Americans are going to cope with what looks like $4 a gallon gasoline prices, or roughly twice what it was a couple of years ago and 3 dollars more than in 1999. Our individual driving habits are engrained and habitual now, so I don’t see that changing. Every tip I read about how to “save” gasoline is a nickel and dime method that does little to stem the bigger problem of moving our asses from the suburbs to work every day.
We’ve spread out to the point that it has begun to hurt us financially. We don’t have the public transportation infrastructure to support our population spread, if it is even possible at this point, and we are tied to our vehicles to the point that they are irreplaceable. To go back to $2 a gallon would mean cutting out half of our driving, and that’s asking too much for most people.
I suppose for that and some other reasons we are over the proverbial barrel.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

I.R.S. - I'm Really Stimulated

I.R.S. Haiku:
My payment is late.
I don’t know where it could be.
I need stimulus.
If you’re like me (God forbid) you’re still waiting for your I.R.S. “stimulus payment”. In my case, it's a whopping great $600, which, in the shadow of yesterday's litany of bad ideas, I have been given no end of economic ideas for it, ranging from the ridiculous to the sublime. I wonder what the Money Kings (the high Priests of motoring) would tell me to do? Never mind.
Since my last two Social Security numbers are at the high end of the range, I was originally told that I would receive the payment by direct deposit “no later than May 14.” It is May 20, and I am still waiting.
A call to the I.R.S. Rebate Hotline (866-234-2942) told me that they were “experiencing heavy call volume” regarding the economic stimulus payments. No kidding.
By the way, you know there’s trouble when they have to set up a “hotline”.
Then, the computer enhanced female voice told me that “most direct-deposit payments will be issued within the next few weeks.” I decided to hang on and check the status of my payment by entering my Social Security number and some tax info.
“We cannot provide any specific information about your payment.” Thanks, lady. That’s another three minutes of my life I’ll never get back.
The reason they’re experiencing heavy call volume is because a large number of people have yet to receive their promised payments.
When April 15 rolls around, we are told that failure to file a return will incur interest and penalty. I wonder how it would go over if, when they called me asking for my tax forms, I told them that “I cannot provide any specific information about my tax forms.” Not very well, I’m thinking.
Since the I.R.S. is already a week late with my payment (and likely to be at least two more weeks late), can I count on a little interest and penalty payment?
This is me holding my breath.

Monday, May 19, 2008

There's never a shortage of stupid ideas.

Two "Clash of the Titans" events are happening now. (1) It's May, which means it's "Sweeps" in the TV world and (2) Gasoline prices are higher than ever. All of which means: Stand By For Stupid Ideas Disguised as Good Advice. To wit:
Here's a real sign of desperation over gas prices: When you're going downhill, moving slowly in traffic, or pulling into a parking space, the Money Kings recommend turning your engine completely off. That way, you can take advantage of the car's momentum and avoid wasting gas on unnecessary acceleration.
Not only that, but you can avoid wasting time trying to turn the steering wheel, since your power steering won't work when your engine is off, and your brakes probably won't work either. They may be the Money Kings, but they're clearly not the Driving Kings. Stick to money and leave the driving to those of us who know how to do it. I wonder ... if you turn off your engine on the advice of the Money Kings and you find yourself careening into a guardrail because you can't steer, can you sue them? Try it and let me know.
WASHINGTON - More than two-thirds of young drivers and passengers killed in nighttime car crashes aren't wearing seat belts — deadly proof of what can happen when young people don't heed parents' pleas and authorities' threats to "click it." Safety officials say they are emphasizing seat belt use by young people between 16 and 20 during this year's "Click It or Ticket" publicity campaign through June 1. Police say they will be issuing tickets to motorists who fail to wear their seat belts, a message that will be supported by a $7.5 million advertising campaign.
As far as I'm concerned, that's $7.5 million that is completely wasted. I think scientists call it "Natural Selection", where the dumbasses in society are weeded-out because they fail to recognize what is good for them.
Natural selection acts on the phenotype, or the observable characteristics of an organism, such that individuals with favorable phenotypes are more likely to survive and reproduce than those with less favorable phenotypes.
I say, "Buckle down, dumbass!" whenever I see one on the road. One more parking space for me and one less stupid ass to insure. These are also the people who are teaching their children to drive, so you can see where the nonsense is coming from, first hand.
You'll notice the phrase "publicity campaign" in the news story. That's because it is a publicity campaign, and as such, tends to make lawbreakers out of regular people who are just following their tenant for natural selection.
If they don't wear a seat belt, is my life affected? No. Theirs is the only life that is affected, so why not let them do as they please? It's not as though they're drinking and driving, endangering others; they've made a choice and I say, "Good for you!"
Somebody passed a law and the local law enforcement has taken $7.5 million of your money and made a campaign out of it. If I were you, I'd be pissed at the way they're wasting your money.
That's why I always say that we live in a semi-free country.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Two-wheel world

NEW YORK (Reuters) - The average retail price of a gallon of regular grade gasoline in the U.S. rose to a new record high as the cost of a barrel of crude oil price continued its ascent, an industry analyst said on Sunday. The U.S. average retail regular gasoline price rose to $3.7929 a gallon on May 16, up nearly 17 cents in the past two weeks, according to the nationwide Lundberg survey of about 7,000 gas stations.
I haven't spent much time writing or talking about the price of gasoline. Partly because I think it's pointless and partly because it's like complaining about the weather. There isn't much we can do about it, so we just suck it up and pay.
There aren't too many things in life that we are forced to pay for. They could charge us 8 dollars a gallon and we would pay because we have to get to work - to pay for the gasoline. The government taxes the crap out of it for the same reason, just like they tax cigarettes and alcohol. Get us hooked and screw us over. I think there's a good reason why the gas pump is a big nozzle and it goes in the rear.
As for me, I'm fortunate enough to (a) have little to do on the weekends and (b) live close enough to the necessities that my car can sit for two days and I can walk or ride my bicycle. That's a decent strategy, but it only works if the weather cooperates, which is part of the reason the price of gasoline is so high. Sunday, for instance, the rain was due to start around 2 in the afternoon, so I had to make sure I had all my errands run before then.
On a simple 5 mile ride, I had three cars cut in front of me to make right turns. Besides the fact that these drivers startle me when they suddenly appear from behind and make a quick turn, the 5,000 pound weight difference is enough to make me worry a bit.
I'd ditch the car in a minute if I could get away with it. I live too far from work and there isn't adequate public transportation. I'm wondering if we'll soon see an increase in the amount of bus and train routes through the suburbs? People often need to be forced into changing their lifestyles. It isn't that we have to use our automobiles, it's that we want to. There's a big difference.
Of course, I thought hordes of people would quit smoking when cigarettes were a dollar a pack. They're closer to 6 dollars now, and generally, they only quit when they die. That leaves me wondering what parts of our lives people will cut to make room for their 70-dollar a week gasoline habit.
What doesn't kill us is supposed to make us stronger.