Friday, November 14, 2008

Another pointless opinion.

If I'm good at anything, it's complaining about things that will never change. Some would say it's wasted energy. Others would say it's an emotional outlet.
Whatever it is, most of the stuff on this blog wouldn't exist if it weren't for complaining about things that will never change.
Today's complaint: The structure of professional sports.
Why are there divisions? Every pro sport is broken down into divisions. East, West, South, Midwest - whatever. They're in every sport. Presumably, it's to encourage regional rivalries and promote the idea that we like to divide things into regions.
It goes back to the good old days, in baseball especially, when the winners of each 8 or 10-team league would go on to the World Series. Now, there are two other rounds of playoffs with the division winners meeting a wild card team, presumably the fourth best team, or the team that finished second in one of the divisions.
Why not just lump the National and American Leagues together like they used to, and take the 4 best teams? That way, you'd spare us the calculations of which division second-best is going to be the wild card winner. You'd just take the 4th best team from each league.
Basketball does it. Toward the end of the season, newspapers run standings listing all the conference teams in a big lump, where the 8 best go to the playoffs and the rest go home. Football and hockey could do the same thing.
You could still have your regional rivalries, since they already exist in the directionally segmented divisions. Keep the Mets, Phillies, Nationals, Marlin and Braves on the schedule, they just wouldn't be segmented.
Why cloud the issue with divisions? Two leagues, no waiting. Put the 4, 8 or 16 best teams in the playoffs and be done with it. Problem solved.
What's next? Plastic bags, gasoline-powered vehicles, cell phones or excessive trash? I have tons of issues.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Movies ... old and new.

The new James Bond movie is called "Quantum of Solace." I'd be lying if I told you I knew what that means. Quantum means "a specified quantity" or a "fixed amount of energy." Solace means "an easing of grief" or "something that eases or relieves." So, I guess it means a specified quantity of ease. I'm never going to see it, but it's advertised so much that I'd like to know what I am choosing to ignore.
If you're looking for a nice film to enjoy with your over-17 year-old family, might I suggest one that might have flown under your radar called "Smart People." If you're like me (again, God forbid) and you like films about people instead of things or things flying or exploding, maybe you'd like this.
It stars Dennis Quaid, Sarah Jessica Parker, Thomas Haden Church and a before-"Juno" Ellen Page. It's an interesting character study about people, some of whom are too smart for their own good and one (Church) who sees all of them for what they are and offers some perspective (which comes at the end) as it does for most of us if we're smart enough to appreciate it. There is a great screenplay and some nice character development, which is in short supply if all you see is TV and popular films. It leaves enough for interpretation yet somehow makes for an entertaining 90 minutes. And if you're like me (again) and enjoy the deleted scenes, you'll find a few more nuggets of gold in those.
I'm a big fan of Dennis Quaid and becoming an Ellen Page fan, if she finds a way to play something besides a precocious teenager - maybe as an adult - she'll be a fine actress. You'll enjoy Church as the uncle, and maybe think that he's worthy of one of those film awards. The DVD interviews say that they wanted to downplay the "perverted uncle" part of his role, but if you see the film you'll wonder how they downplayed it. Nevertheless, stop by your local video emporium and take it home.
You'll thank me later.
Vanessa Wetherhold: You should really make your bed. It sets the tone for the day.
Chuck Wetherhold: But, how do you know what tone I was trying to set?

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Here we go again.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said Tuesday she was confident that lawmakers would consider "emergency and limited financial assistance" for the auto industry under the $700 billion bailout measure that passed Congress in October. She urged the outgoing Bush administration to support a compromise.
"In order to prevent the failure of one or more of the major American automobile manufacturers, Congress and the Bush administration must take immediate action," said Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-California.
If you bought a brand new Chevrolet Corvette last year, your $47,000 investment is worth about $30,000 today; just by the virtue of driving it around for a year.
However, if you spent that same $47,000 on General Motors’ stock last year, your investment is worth about $4,500 today. What’s wrong with a company whose products are worth more than the company making them? Everything.
Now, it seems our Federal government is readying a bail-out, based on the idea that we don’t want to lose all of those jobs. This, on the heels of the billions we gave the financial community for making bad loans. Now, we’re going to throw good money after bad and give it to some more companies who couldn’t find their ass with both hands.
"Once we cross the divide from financial institutions to individual corporations, truly, where would you draw the line?" asked Senator Jeff Sessions, R-Alabama.
Michigan Governor Jennifer Granholm said Wednesday that the crisis in the auto industry is urgent, arguing that "the national economy rests on this."
"This industry supports one in 10 jobs in the country," Granholm said Wednesday on CBS' "Early Show." "If this industry is allowed to fail, there would be a ripple effect throughout the nation."
She added: "This government decided that it was going to step in and throw $700 billion at the financial sector. We're just asking for a fraction of that."
Just a fraction? Well, that’s OK as long as it’s just a fraction, right? Anything can be justified by comparing it to government spending. Suddenly, 100 billion dollars is a fraction.
Executives with GM, Ford and Chrysler LLC and the president of the United Auto Workers union pressed Pelosi and Harry Reid to provide an immediate $25 billion loan to keep the companies operating and a separate $25 billion to help cover future health care obligations for retirees and their dependents.
Wait a minute. For all of you who oppose a National health care plan, ask yourself how you feel about the Federal government giving a company money so that they can continue to provide health care for their retirees. Is that really what the government is supposed to be doing?
At some point, don’t you have to examine the policies of the American automakers and ask yourself why Toyota, Nissan, Volkswagen and Honda are doing so well? Perhaps it’s because the foreign companies have chosen to make fuel-efficient cars and hybrid vehicles while the Americans have spent the past 10 years making trucks and Sport Utility Vehicles and selling them to us because we think we need them.
Now, they’re playing us all for suckers because they probably knew that the government would bail them out, just like they did Chrysler back in the 1970s when they made the same stupid mistakes.
Meanwhile, would your life have changed if you hadn't been able to buy a Chrysler product over the past 30 years?
Not at all.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Philadelphia Photo Safari

For those of you who have grown weary of my ranting (of which I am one) I'll give you a break from the nonsense today. I was one of the lucky slobs who had Veterans Day off, so rather than waste it in a gym or on the sofa, I took off for a little Photo Safari in Philadelphia. If you click on the photo it should come up in full screen, but I'm never sure how this Blogger thing works.
The first stop was the 8th and Market SEPTA station at The Gallery. I'll call these "See-through trains." It's that screwy fisheye lens on a long exposure. I could tell you how to do it, but then I'd have to kill you.The trees are nicely colored in the city, when you can find them.

I noticed a strange vehicle driving down Arch Street. It turns out someone was shooting a movie in the city and this 3-vehicle caravan rode up and down the street at least a half dozen times. One of the extras told me it was being shot by Dallywood Films from India.

I must admit, in the entire 51 years of my life in the Philadelphia area, this is as close as I've ever been to the Liberty Bell. I've never taken the Independence Hall tour either. Next time.

I think, if I were going to go into business for myself in America, I could make a list of about a thousand things that would be an easier sell than Afghanistan cuisine or a restaurant named Kabul, but there it is on Chestnut Street, directly between Independence Hall and the Korean War Memorial.

In Society Hill, near Penn's Landing there is a Korean War Memorial and a Vietnam Veterans Memorial. Mayor Nutter was there earlier Tuesday morning laying a wreath in honor of Veterans Day. I made a point of stopping by, just so I wouldn't forget what day it was.

Another day off work. Don't forget why.

We love our holidays. Usually, we love them because we get the day off work or there is some big sale at the local (soon to be bankrupt) store. But you just can't arbitrarily give people the day off or have a sale - can you? You could.
You could just say, "It's the first Monday of the month, take the day off." It would be National First Day or something, and Circuit City would have a sale. Hurry.
But we don't do that, because we like the symbolism of a dead president or some guy who we are told "discovered" America. Don't get me started on that.
We like our religious holidays too, but they're a little different because they usually involve candy, a big rabbit or a fat guy in a suit. Religion.
Almost all of them involve a day off from work, unless you have a shit job in the service industry, in which case you work on all the days - even the first of the month one. Most stores and restaurants are open on Christmas and President's Day, because the people with money to spend have the day off work and we want them out shopping. That's called marketing.
We also have made-up holidays like Valentine's Day where we buy something for our sweetheart because we've set aside a day to buy something for our sweetheart. Never mind that you're supposed to be good to your sweetheart every day, the TV says you're supposed to buy her something, so you'd better Goddamned do it. Stores depend on you.
Today is Veterans Day, and even though we've spent the better part of the last 7 years honoring our men and women in the military every chance we get, we still have this day to celebrate dropping bombs on people, shooting them and generally protecting Democracy in places like France, Italy and Vietnam where they don't celebrate Veterans Day.
It's a little like Memorial Day, but not quite the same:
MEMORIAL DAY: Formerly known as Decoration Day, it commemorates U.S. men and women who died while in military service to their country. First enacted to honor Union soldiers of the American Civil War, it was expanded after World War I to include American casualties of any war or military action.
VETERANS DAY: Veterans Day is an annual American holiday honoring military veterans. Both a federal holiday and a state holiday in all states, it is usually observed on November 11. It is also celebrated as Armistice Day or Remembrance Day in other parts of the world, falling on November 11, the anniversary of the signing of the Armistice that ended World War I.
So there you go. Like a lot of other holidays, Veterans Day should be every day, but we use today to draw attention to it. Go out and buy something.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Two unrelated stories ... or not.

SYDNEY (Reuters) – Two of Australia's largest bookmakers are refusing to pay out on bets that Barack Obama would win the U.S. presidential election, citing fears he could be assassinated before his inauguration, a report said Saturday. The two bookmakers, Sportsbet and Centrebet, told the Sydney Morning Herald they would not pay out on the bets until the first African-American U.S. president takes office in January.
Bullet-proof screens were put up on stage when Obama made his victory speech to jubilant supporters in a Chicago park. Two white supremacist skinheads were arrested in the U.S. state of Tennessee in October over plans shoot Obama, although the plot appeared unsophisticated.
GRAND RAPIDS, Michigan - The scene Saturday was a retailer's dream: Wall-to-wall customers, skyrocketing sales. But the approaching holiday season didn't spark this rush. Barack Obama did. His election triggered concerns by gun enthusiasts that his administration would push restrictions on firearms. Gun stores across the country noted increased business.
Sales of handguns, rifles and ammunition have surged in the last week, according to gun store owners around the nation, who describe a wave of buyers concerned that an Obama administration will curtail their right to bear arms.
"It really picked up Monday, and it's gone crazy since election day," said Doug VanderWoude, co-owner of Silver Bullet Firearms Indoor Range and Training Center in Wyoming.
"Law-abiding citizens don't like it when people are trying to take your guns," VanderWoude said. He's knows it's election-related because customers are buying handguns and sport-utility rifles rather than hunting rifles. Gun sales up are more than 30 percent in the last week.
It seems to me that one wouldn't need bullet-proof screens if there were no ... bullets. The photo above is a customer in Fort Worth, Texas examining a new gun. Tell me, what is he going to do with that? Is he going out deer hunting?
I'm not sure where they're getting this idea about the Obama administration curtailing the right to bear arms, but I'm guessing that in at least a few instances there are other motives.
And all it takes is one.

A better life through chemicals.

NEW ORLEANS – People with low cholesterol and no big risk for heart disease dramatically lowered their chances of dying or having a heart attack if they took the cholesterol pill Crestor, a large study found. The results, reported Sunday at an American Heart Association conference, were hailed as a watershed event in heart disease prevention. Doctors said the study might lead as many as 7 million more Americans to consider taking cholesterol-lowering statin drugs, sold as Crestor, Lipitor, Zocor or in generic form.
If you're like me (egad) you wanted to know who financed the study. After all, "large studies" don't just grow on trees, do they? I had to scan way down the article (past where normal humans would read) and find:
AstraZeneca paid for the study, and Dr. Paul Ridker (leader of the study) and other authors have consulted for the company and other statin makers.
What a coincidence. Crestor costs $3.45 a day versus less than a dollar for generic drugs. That's $1,269.25 a year, likely paid for by your friendly health insurance company, because you sure as Hell can't afford it. By comparison, you can join a gym for about 20 bucks a month and buy a really nice bicycle for $550. But you'd rather take a pill, right?
U.S. Crestor prescriptions totaled $420 million in the third quarter of this year, up 23 percent from a year earlier. In the rest of the world, third quarter sales were $520 million, up 33 percent.