Friday, January 30, 2009

... and if I don't see ya, good afternoon, good evening and good night.

So there goes Rod Blagojevich, down in a burst of flames, all the while proclaiming his innocence. Like a movie villain, he vows revenge and vindication. "Lighten up, Francis," you're not that special. You're a politician. We'll shake a tree and ten more will fall out that are just like you. Take your toys and go home. We don't care if you're guilty or not. You've done enough to deface the office, and the hint of guilt is enough to cast you aside. Go gracefully into that good night. Don't let the door hit 'ya.
These people think that they have some special skill and none of them ever admits guilt. What they don't realize is that none of them are all that special. In a country of 300 million people, one politician or celebrity is eminently replaceable, appearances to the contrary.
"I'll prove my innocence and I'll show you." OK, sure. By then, you will have been replaced and we will have moved on. Meanwhile, you are still boiling over some misplaced blowjob or slush fund that you forgot about. We have bigger issues, like finding people who are willing to serve us for ... free, basically.
It isn't that great a job, being Governor or a Senator. They don't make as much as they probably could make in the private sector, which is why they turn to graft and other such monetary compensation to make their lives a lot more profitable.
Ask yourself why someone would spend millions of dollars to get a job that pays $250,000 a year and you will find the answer.
See you later, alligator.

Movie time.

Since most of you are snowed-in or forced to deal with the Super Bowl, I'll offer up a few capsule movie reviews and recommendations. My taste in entertainment is a bit obscure, so maybe some of these films will be new to you:
North Country - Charlize Theron plays Tomboy as Josey Aimes, one of the only women working the iron mines in Minnesota in the 1970s. She leads a group of similarly abused women in standing up against the oppression of their bosses. Frances McDormand and Woody Harrelson put in yeoman's work. Recommended.
The Man Who Wasn't There - A Coen Brothers film noir starring Billy Bob Thornton as the almost comatose co-owner of a barbershop who gets caught up in a ponsey scheme to open up, of all things, a chain of dry cleaners. He tries to blackmail his wife's lover, but the scheme has unwanted consequences for all concerned. Frances McDormand again is stellar. Recommended, but don't watch it if you're sleepy.
Burn After Reading - Another Coen Brothers joint. I liked this one more than some and less than others. If you like George Clooney you might like this. A couple of boobs (McDormand and Brad Pitt) think they have a valuable memoir but instead just have a lot of nothing - which is what some would tell you this film amounts to. Some found Pitt engaging and funny but I was not one of them. Just as in No Country for Old Men, expect another Coen Brothers oddball ending. Get it only if they don't have much else you want to see.
The Bucket List - Neither the Coen Brothers nor McDormand, but a nice time nonetheless. It made me cry a little at the end, but don't hold that against me. it's a nice story without a lot of the junk you saw in the TV commercials. It's much more serious than they let on. Recommended.
Hancock - Charlize Theron again and Wil Smith in what I thought was a great idea but lacked substance. The first 40 minutes were great. Smith is an alcoholic superhero who is at odds with his abilities. When he meets an agent (Jason Bateman) the film turns the wrong corner. I'd have preferred 90 minutes of drunken flying and crashing into junk, but I guess that isn't politically correct. It would have worked better as a straight comedy.
Smart People - I enjoyed this immensely. Ellen Page, Thomas Haden Church, Dennis Quaid and Sarah Jessica Parker star in one of those unique character studies that I always enjoy. Think of a dysfunctional The Big Chill. Find it and watch it.
The Visitor - The dark horse in the group. I suspect you haven't seen it, but it features the Oscar-nominated Richard Jenkins, who gets involved with an immigrant couple and forges a friendship with them before one is thrown into a detention center for illegal aliens. Highly recommended.
Or, if you want to watch what I'm watching this weekend, pick up The Hours. We'll compare notes. We'll be movie buds.
If you're disinterested by the Super Bowl (and who isn't?) or just in need of some fresh entertainment to counteract all the snow-shoveling you've been doing, find one of these and pop it in. I'd guess that at least 5 of them will be better than the game will be.
And get the real popcorn, not that light butter or apple-cinnamon crap.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Busting up a Starbucks.

In the midst of what most people refer to as "this economy," I saw the news today that Eastman-Kodak, Boeing and Starbucks were letting thousands of people go. In Kodak's case, they're the victim of the digital age, and it's been a struggle for them over the past 10 years, but times change and if companies don't change, bad things happen.
In the case of Starbucks, they're closing 600 shops - which should drop them down to about 15,500. According to their web site, "The stores identified for closure are spread across all major U.S. markets with approximately 70 percent of them opened since the beginning of fiscal 2006."
The people running Starbucks are supposed to be a lot smarter than you or I (at least I) and I'd assume that they've heard all the jokes about a Starbucks being across the street from another Starbucks. I'm sure they have because they embrace the policy, saying that their customers prefer "same side of the street" service in cities. The joke is on them, as it were.
As a result of that market saturation, when times are tough, the "under-performing stores" have to be eliminated, and the employees who are probably not under-performing, are let go. That's where the difficult part comes in.
This statement came from CEO Howard Schultz on September 20, 2006:
Speaking at an interview in New York, the Seattle-based coffee giant's chairman, Howard Schultz, said: "The saturation opportunity in the U.S. is not 50% there."
Mr. Shultz said the group has a target of operating 30,000 stores internationally; it currently operates over 12,000 stores across 37 countries, with 70% located in the US.
But enough about Starbucks for now.
At work, I oversee the duties of a contractor that we pay to provide an essential service that benefits the safety of our customers. Last week, one of the contractors' workers made a mistake that potentially could have caused a major disaster. It didn't but it could have. When the mistake was discovered, I was instructed by my supervisor to call the contractor and tell them that the person responsible for the error would have to be removed from the job - essentially fired, because we have no other job for him.
Even though I didn't have to personally fire the guy, I felt badly having to call his supervisor and have him fired. For all I know, the guy has a family to support and it isn't the easiest thing in the world to find a job these days.
If it were up to me, I'd have taken the guy aside and spoken to him like an adult and asked him what the circumstances were surrounding his decision and whether or not he had learned anything - essentially getting an idea of whether or not he had any remorse over his actions and then I would have offered him additional instruction so as to avoid a repeat of a similar incident.
But, he was fired.
I guess I'm not as cold-hearted as I let on sometimes, and even though I had nothing to do with either his hiring or the mistake he made, I'm really happy that I wasn't the one who had to tell him he was being let go.
That said, how do the people running Starbucks feel about closing 600 shops? The very same shops that their expensive educations told them were a good idea no less than 3 years ago. In a sense, their mistake in judgment put over 4,000 people in jeopardy because the idea of flooding the market with expensive coffee shops is (a) risky because coffee isn't something that is hard to find and (b) kind of silly to someone who doesn't drink coffee and finds the whole Starbucks concept kind of ridiculous.
At the bottom of Starbucks' announcement of the store closings, this "forward-looking statement" appears:
Through our unwavering commitment to excellence and our guiding principles, we bring the unique Starbucks Experience to life for every customer through every cup.
I'm guessing that they still don't get it. The guiding principles are what got them where they are, which right now makes a share of Starbucks' stock at about the same price as a cup of their coffee.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

What are we teaching these kids?

As a frame of reference, this is how much snow it takes to close schools in Southern New Jersey.
That's the view from my front porch at precisely 7:01am today. (Breathtaking, ain't it?) You can't tell, but the overnight snow had already changed over to rain and the schools had been closed for a few hours already - much to the glee of parents everywhere, who are now either stuck at home with their rotten kids or forced to find a place to store them so they can go to work.
You're right if you think it's about an inch of snow.
It was enough to send people into a mild panic and cause drivers of 4-wheel drive vehicles to drive slower than people in regular automobiles - like me.
You're right if you're asking yourself why they bothered to buy the damned thing if they're going to drive it 15 miles per hour in an inch of snow.
I yell at them through my windshield.
It rained the rest of the day and it's raining a little even now, at 8:15pm. That means that the roads will be skating rinks tomorrow morning when the temperature goes down to 22 degrees overnight.
The schools will be open.
You figure it out.
I'll be stuck behind a guy in a Hummer doing 12.
Yelling at my windshield.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Another day older and deeper in debt (a little anyway)

So, this is how the blog looks on a keen 20" wide screen Dell LCD monitor? We got a bunch of these at work, and I was so impressed that I had to get one for myself. Mostly, I was impressed because they're kind of inexpensive and partly because I felt so "behind the curve" with my old 17" monitor. It's so 20th Century, but then, so am I.
Meanwhile, a snowstorm of epic proportions is coming to New Jersey tonight. We might get 2 inches before it changes to rain and becomes a regular storm. I'm guessing that the grocery stores are jammed and all those shoppers with the giant SUVs are in a panic-stricken "must buy food" mode because they fear being snowed-in, making their expensive purchase useful.
I've been wondering what I should buy to commemorate that great day last Tuesday, when Barack Obama became the 44th president. There's a lot of junk available, as you'd figure. Tonight, while mailing a package to a loved one, I spied this little deal at the Post Office. It's a commemorative Folio:
Preserve the thrill of a historic event with this souvenir keepsake from the U.S. Postal Service®. Issued to commemorate the inauguration of America’s 44th President, this elegant folio includes:
Collectible stamped envelope with silk portraits of President–Elect Barack Obama and Vice President–Elect Joe Biden and a commemorative color postmark.
Photographs and biographical information.
Brief commentary on inaugural tradition and history.
Presidential oath of office.
I'm not sure it really "preserves the thrill of the event," but I thought it was more dignified than the painted coins and commemorative throw blankets that I've seen bandied about. I think it might actually be "an" historic event, but I quibble. Whatver, I'm so happy I could spit.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Hollywood pats itself on the back.

I found myself watching the Screen Actors Guild Awards on Sunday night. Actually, I fell asleep in front of the TV and when I woke up, the show was on. That’s my story, and I’m sticking to it.
I’m not big on awards shows anymore. I used to enjoy them, then this cynicism kicked in and I find them to be ostentatious. This one especially. It’s actors giving awards to other actors. As though the $5 million they made on the movie wasn’t enough, “Here’s a nice statue, too.” That ought to do it.
Best Actor, Best Supporting Actor, Best Cast … it’s almost endless. Each one standing up and thanking the rest of them for saying they’re great. We already know.
It was only a few years ago that they stopped saying “The winner is” when they give out an award. Now, it’s politically correct to say “the Oscar goes to” or “the Actor goes to,” which is what the SAG presenters say. That’s so the losers aren’t offended because, as we know, it’s an honor just to be nominated. I think it’s mostly because actor’s egos are so fragile that being called a loser is enough to warrant ten more therapy sessions. You could pay me $5 million and call me a loser if you want. My feelings won’t be hurt.
I used to get twisted over one of my favorite actors missing out on an award, but then I realized that being paid to pretend to be someone else is a pretty good job, and losing out on a bronze statue isn’t the worst thing that can happen to someone. The other actors can piss and moan about it if they want, but I still have to go to work tomorrow, and pretending to be me is hard work, too.
Where’s my statue?

Sunday, January 25, 2009

It's all about the cat.

That is obviously an old photo of my furry friend. The trees aren't as green now, the skies are grey and I find myself yearning for baseball season.
It's my favorite of him, since it has those "Thousand words" all over it that photos are supposed to have.
He sits at my feet as I do these posts - almost every time - and I'm never sure whether he sits here because he loves me so much or because eventually I'll open a can of Fancy Feast for him.
Maybe it's a little of both?
It's not like he's my muse or anything, but he does offer that comfort that living alone sometimes lacks. I find myself thinking about the other living creature here besides myself and it's a little odd sometimes. He depends on me more than any human would, for obvious reasons (opposable thumbs being one and lack of a valid drivers' license the other) but it's nice to be able to have a creature here that I know I'll have to feed, clean up after and pay attention to because he pays attention to me.
Cats aren't as aloof as people make them out to be. They are also more friendly than they are given credit for, and I never figured out the whole "cat person/dog person" deal, but it's real. I love dogs too, but condo life makes owning a dog more of a chore and not all that much fun for the dog. I find that if I pay attention to him (or any animal) they return the favor by paying attention to me. Maybe it's the cat's eyes? They aren't round and friendly like ours and a dog's, so maybe the human connection isn't there?
I see my dog-owning neighbors out at all hours and in all weather walking their friend and standing around in the rain and snow cleaning their friend's poop off the common area. Once a week, I bag up the cat's litter and send it to the landfill. He's happy to wander around my 700 square feet and my two, begging for scraps of chicken or waiting for the evening's can of Fancy Feast. When it rains or snows we both stare outside and we're happy we're indoor creatures.
I don't know whether it's a bigger pleasure for me or him, since he doesn't say much. I don't know what he thinks about when he cuddles up and sits with me on the sofa or jumps on the bed at 3:00am. He purrs, and I would too if I could.
I find myself hoping that he knows how happy he makes me, so I'll open a can of his favorite Trout Feast and watch him do his little dance around the bowl. He devours it like people do a Big Mac. It smells, but as we all know, there's no accounting for tastes.
I look at him and tell him, "You're a good boy," and he looks up. I hope he knows.