Saturday, February 14, 2009

Show me the money.

I continue to hear about how rough "this economy" is, but I can't find too many examples to support the argument.
Last week, the Philadelphia Eagles raised ticket prices $5 to $10 per seat. The Phillies raised their prices by $2 per seat (but remember there are 81 home games). Eagles season ticket holders squalked like eagles, but sent in their renewal notices. Likewise, Phillies season ticket holders (me) complained but keep going. In fact, season tickets are up from 20,000 last year to 24,000 this year.
A spokesman for the Philadelphia Orchestra said that, in spite of the difficulties they are having in meeting their financial goals, they feel that they cannot further burden their subscribers by raising ticket prices. I'd like to go to a few orchestra concerts, but I can't add the $60 it costs to go to a concert to my already sapped entertainment budget. So, where does that put us in the sports versus culture argument? It merely proves that sports has us by the short hairs and such things as an orchestra playing classical music is hanging on by a thread. Forced to choose, I picked baseball.
Tickets for a few prominent concerts go on sale this weekend. Aging rockers Billy Joel and Elton John are teaming up for a tour. My guess is that Elton is the designated driver. Anyway, the top price is $177, and you can't get in the building for less than $75. Kings of Leon is on tour. Their tickets are $55, and Chris Cornell's show is $60 per. Try being a kid on a date, trying to impress someone with your hip taste in music. Before you leave the house, you're out $125. Who has that kind of money to shell out on a concert? Old people.
That's why you see people my age at shows now instead of kids who spend their days in paper hats and coffee aprons. Who else can afford to see these shows? When I started going to concerts in the mid-70s, tickets were $5.50. I was earning $2.10 an hour (minimum wage in those days), so I had to work roughly two hours to earn enough money for a ticket. Fair enough.
How many people earn $30 an hour? It's the same show - big stage, loud music, lots of popular songs - yet the shows are now well beyond what most people earn in two hours. I think they're testing us to see how much we'll take before we won't go anymore. So far, we're still going.
Am I missing something here? Below are a few samples of my collection of concert tickets from my youth. You'd pay a Hell of a lot more to see these bands now, playing the same music they played 25 years ago on the same stage.
Plus, it was better then.

Dark Was the Night

Dark Was The Night will be released on February 16th, 2009. It’s comprised of 31 exclusive tracks and it will be available as a double cd/triple vinyl/download and will benefit the Red Hot Organization – an international charity dedicated to raising money and awareness for HIV and AIDS through popular culture. They are the people responsible for albums including No Alternative, Red Hot and Blue and many more, and this is their 20th year, and this is the 20th release! To date, these efforts have donated nearly 7 million dollars for AIDS relief around the world.
If you do nothing else, check out "Cello Song," a Nick Drake cover by The Books. Click on the little triangular thingy. Then click here to see more.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Senseless cents.

Remember Bernice Gallego? The lady who found an 1869 Cincinnati Red Stockings card while thinning her antique collection. The actual final price of the card was $75,285.78, and Memory Lane Auctions says the price is a record for its house and that the last 1869 Red Stockings card sold for around $30,000.
Stuff like this serves to remind me that nothing is absolute. Everywhere we go, we are treated to sentences that begin, "In this economy..." and prattle on about how tough it is in this economy. Then, some old lady sells a piece of 140 year old cardboard for more than most people make in 2 years and I am reminded that times are tough, but not for everyone.
Good for Bernice, I guess. Truly, a sucker is born every minute, and there is no shortage of people with more money than brains.
The fact that someone will pay over $75,000 for a baseball card is one thing, but there are still people paying $7 for coffee and that seems a little extreme, too - although not as many as used to.
Recently, Manny Ramirez turned down the Los Angeles Dodgers' offer of $25 million to play the outfield for 6 months. It must suck to be him.
I'm not sure where I'm going with this, except that in the land of stupidity and wasting money on crap, our government leads the way. Today, the U.S. Mint is putting a new penny into circulation - the first of 4 depicting the life of Abraham Lincoln. The real tragedy here is that (a) it costs almost 2 cents to make a penny and (b) who the Hell needs pennies anymore?
Nothing costs a penny. People snarl and complain when they get a fistful of them. Mostly, they wind up in jars at home or in those little ash trays at the store with the sign that says "Take a Penny, Leave a Penny." It took me a while to get a grasp on that concept, by the way. Why would I want to take a penny?
The Mint could save millions of dollars if they'd just stop making the things. It isn't unprecedented. When a coin has such little value that it is useless, they stop making it. Like half-cents and two-cent pieces. So now, instead of phasing it out, they're celebrating it. Think about it. One cent. It's like contemplating infinite space - it makes my head hurt.
So, there we have it. $75,000 for an old baseball card. Manny Ramirez turned down $25 million to play baseball for a year and the government spends 2 cents to make a penny.
Life's rich pageant.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Will there be a mighty wind?

What's it all about?

On the long list of things I do not understand is Valentine’s Day. I didn’t understand it when I was a kid in grammar school, running around from desk to desk handing out cards to all the girls in the class – including the ones I didn’t like – until now, when the childlike innocence of the day has been bought-out by big jewelry store chains and flower stores. The card said “Be My Valentine” or something to that effect. We were kids, so naturally none of us had girlfriends or even understood the concept (something else for the list) so it’s beyond me what was going through my pea brain while I was putting those little cards on their desks and (egad) signing my name. Was I now contractually obligated to have her as my Valentine? Sheesh.
What does “be my Valentine” mean, anyway? If you have a girlfriend, isn’t she automatically your Valentine? And if you don’t, I have yet to see a card or gift that is made for someone to whom you wouldn’t have already asked out if you cared enough to give her a card. So what’s the point?
Try giving a Valentine to a woman you aren’t dating and see the look you get. It will be one of those, “What the fuck is this?” expressions that will be accompanied by some stammering and a quick “thank you.” Then, what are we supposed to do?
Is Valentine’s Day a dating lottery where we scattershot a bunch of cards hoping (in a grammar school-induced haze) that one of the women we hand a card to will magically say, “Gee, I’ve been waiting for this all year!” and be swept away by our random act of thoughtfulness? I don’t think so. I think it will be more along the lines of the “WTF is this?” deal.
Society has morphed the day into a “couples only” affair, and yet another so-called holiday where single people (real single people, not single dating people) are left in the dust. Here’s a hint: Since the day falls on Saturday this year, make plans to eat at home, because your favorite restaurant will be jammed full of celebratory customers whose boyfriend/husband is foist into public by the obligation of the day. That’s the way some men feel about it, by the way – an obligation – thrust upon them by a heartless society [pun].
It’s an odd way to approach it, but I’ve seen it countless times. Men who have spent the better part of their adult lives in pursuit of women, are now put-upon by the day to selflessly show their affection. Some men don’t like that because it forces them to express a feeling.
Maybe Valentine's Day has gotten too serious? Actually, I'm sure it has.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Three talented hotties.

"three talented hotties." Why couldn't you just leave it at talented ladies?
- Kimmyk (comments earlier today)
Take a guess Kimmy! That's Paula, Sandra Gal and Natalie Gulbis. I think even the Canadian would approve!

Tomorrow, the fun begins ... kind of.

My shallow and meaningless life takes on a renewed sense of purpose starting Thursday. The girls are playing golf again. That means that (a) the Daytona 500 is also coming (b) pitchers and catchers are reporting to spring training soon and (c) the air around here is getting warm enough for my pansy-ass to get outside and start moving around in the fresh air. When I mention either the LPGA or NASCAR (in capital letters) I usually get that eye-roll and the "you like NASCAR?" questions, as though it's impossible to like watching cars racing in a circle really fast.
For the record (if you care) my favorite NASCAR driver is Tony Stewart. I admire a lot about him, but mostly I admire the way he speaks his mind and the way he gets assed-up over stuff that happens on the track and isn't afraid to let the other drivers know it. It's also cool that many people who follow NASCAR hate his guts. That makes me a bigger fan, because I can annoy other people. Now that he's not driving for Home Depot any longer, I am now free to shop at Lowe's. However, he's now driving for Office Depot and Old Spice. I have a Staples store nearby and I don't wear pimpy cologne.
Of course, you know who my favorite golfer is - unless you haven't been reading my blog very long. Paula Creamer is everything an athlete should be. Talented, smart, funny and a hottie. The thing I like about the LPGA is that, if you are a fan of a particular player, there's a pretty good chance that you can meet her at a tournament. Just go on a practice round day and they're all out roaming around, socializing. You have to appreciate the game to get any jollies out of it, but the fan interaction is a very cool part of what the LPGA does. I've been fortunate enough to have met her, Sandra Gal and Natalie Gulbis - three talented hotties - and three nicer people you won't meet.
This year, I'll be back at Bulle Rock in June for the final McDonald's tournament and in Bethlehem, PA for the U.S. Open in July. Two weeks off work and girls playing golf. Can life get any better? I submit that it cannot.
For those of you who may be curious, I reneged on going to the viewing last night. In the end, I decided that I am an adult, and that gives me the right to do what I want (within reason) and the fact that I feel uncomfortable in the situation makes me realize that I shouldn't place myself in positions that I do not wish to be placed in. There may be a minor amount of guff I'll have to endure at work today, but this too shall pass.
The deal I'll make is that they won't be obligated to come to my ... oh ... I won't be around for it, so who gives a fuck? Do what you want.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Another drug-free blog post.

By now, you've heard the latest in the ongoing story of baseball and steroids.
Alex Rodriguez admitted to using steroids between 2000 and 2003 - after damning information was leaked to Sports Illustrated over the weekend.
They always confess and say how stupid they were after the evidence is presented. Before that, we must have thought they were innocent and intelligent.
The thing that confounds me about the steroids stories are the so-called purists who claim that the game is forever damaged and irreparably harmed by players who use drugs to enhance their performance. Poppycock.
Let's go back to 1968. Bob Gibson led the majors with a 1.12 ERA, Denny McLain won 31 games and Carl Yazstremski led the American League in hitting with a .301 batting average. Why? Because prior to the 1968 season, they raised the pitchers mound an inch and a half. Was the game irreparably harmed? No. Some numbers changed, and it became more of a pitcher's game, but baseball was still baseball.
In 1998, when Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa battled it out over Roger Maris' single-season home run record, baseball reveled in the glory they brought to the game. Most of us looked at McGwire and couldn't believe how big he was, especially when you compared him to the skinny kid who broke in with the Oakland A's in 1987. Steroids? Probably. Baseball turned its back on them because they were good for the game.
Today, ballparks are built with low walls that are less than 350 feet from home plate. They're bandboxes and the bigger concern is a luxury suite, not the distance to the grandstand. Is the game irreparably harmed? No, because the owners are making money hand over fist.
Purists who argue that the game is sullied by steroids miss the point. Fans want to see balls fly over their heads. How they get there isn't important. Steroids are a victimless crime. You aren't harmed. I am not harmed. Maybe the player is harmed, but he's an adult and he can make his own decisions.
The numbers aren't the point either. Baseball went through a "Lively ball" era in the 1930s, started playing games at night in the 1950s and split up the leagues and added wild card playoff teams. The game was not irreparably damaged.
With so many players using steroids, why hasn't there been a Triple Crown winner since 1968? Why do pitchers pitch fewer games than they used to, and only once in 5 days instead of once in 4? Why has no one hit over .400 since Ted Williams? Where is the next 30-game winner? Why do Nolan Ryan and Sandy Koufax still hold the single-season strikeout records? Why does Hack Wilson's RBI record of 191 still stand? Because steroids only affect one number - home runs.
No one team has become a dynasty because of steroids. The only thing they do is make hitters hit a ball further and pitchers throw a little faster. Hitters adjust to speed and hitters still have to be able to hit the ball to hit a home run.
Get over the steroids thing. If you don't, the nonsense will eat you alive and your enjoyment of the game will suffer. Does anyone complain because Jimi Hendrix wrote music on LSD? Do you think Ernest Hemmingway wrote all that stuff sober? Robin Williams used to say that he got his funny ideas from "little plastic bags." If you think baseball is ruined by steroids, then you'd have to make a similar argument for great art, comedy and music being produced with "performance enhancing drugs."
Let them play. If you think players should be suspended for using drugs, get over your sanctimonious attitude that baseball is somehow above it all. It isn't. it's just baseball, and the game is better when the players are stronger.

Monday, February 9, 2009

I see dead people.

"Golf courses and cemetaries - biggest wastes of prime real estate."
- Al Czervik ("Caddyshack")
We humans have some strange customs. When someone dies, it's customary to dress them up and position their dead body in a box for the living to gaze at. Depending on where you're from, it's called a Viewing or a Wake. Whatever you call it, it's odd. I'm all for gathering with family and friends and recalling the life of the deceased (or even celebrating it, if necessary) but to have the body itself propped up and on display is in itself an idea that I could live quite comfortably without. I suppose that's the "viewing" part, and if it is, include me out.
As we grow older, we go to more funerals than weddings, and even fewer birthday parties. Tomorrow night, I will be dragged by some people at work to a Viewing for a co-worker who passed away last week. I'll go because (a) someone else is driving and (b) I have to work with these people. Left on my own, I'd sooner not bother, but I suppose it's one of those duties that we (the humans) are bound to.
In the best spirit of bringing a horse to water but not forcing him to drink, I'll make an appearance, but I will not walk up to the opened casket and gaze inside. My hope is that the family isn't gathered around it so that I can find someone and say something and leave.
Another odd part is that aside from the co-worker, I don't know anyone in her family, and to my knowledge I have never met anyone in her family. Strangely, the only person who would recognize me besides my living co-workers is the dead one. I think, if we were truly beholden to our own actions, not too many of us would bother with funerals and viewings. But, we succumb to peer pressure and we feel that we owe the dead some measure of respect.
There's a lot of money to be made in the funeral business. Mostly, they're family businesses, with generations of funeral directors passed down from fathers to sons. The services are expensive, but having never paid for one, I can only imagine. People seem to want expensive caskets, which amazes me to no end. You'll spend a fortune for something that you're going to bury. It's a display piece, and some people think that if you skimp on the casket you didn't care enough for the deceased. I think, if you spend a fortune for a box you're burying you have more money than brains.
I see fewer flowers and more "in lieu of flowers" requests on death notices. Finally, people are realizing that expensive flowers are a bad investment.
Do you wonder (as I do) what happens when we run out of places to bury people? We will, you know - it's a simple matter of available space and time. I suppose at some point, cremation will be mandatory, since there won't be any more ground to dig. The things I think about.
Maybe the reason I feel this way is that I went through this as a child with my father, and after that experience, I soured on the process. Maybe it's because, when my time comes, I'll probably be buried in a potter's field or claimed by dental records after being found by corpse-sniffing dogs.
If no one comes to my funeral, I'm not likely to notice.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

How can he tie music into prescription drugs? Simply.

The Grammy awards are being given out tonight. I think I've expressed my opinion on this before, (see Grammys Schmammys) but it bears repeating. The Grammy's are a sham of a fraud. I've managed to distance myself from popular music over the past few years, so I couldn't tell you the relevance of who is nominated this year, but I can tell you that I have no doubt that the nominees don't represent the best music of the past year. That's experience talking.
Just like parking lots are never replaced by parks, so are the Grammy awards never going to be about the best music. One of the many things that bothers me about it is the way music is categorized. Alternative, pop, rap ... I hate categories. Doctors do not, however ...
WASHINGTON – Two drugmakers spent hundreds of millions of dollars last year to raise awareness of a murky illness, helping boost sales of pills recently approved as treatments and drowning out unresolved questions — including whether it's a real disease at all. Key components of the industry-funded buzz over the pain-and-fatigue ailment fibromyalgia are grants - more than $6 million donated by drugmakers Eli Lilly and Pfizer in the first three quarters of 2008 - to nonprofit groups for medical conferences and educational campaigns, an Associated Press analysis found.
Proving (at least for now) what I've always thought and said about drugs that are marketed to treat made-up diseases or conditions that aren't really diseases, like peeing too much or leg pain.
Many doctors and patients say the drugmakers are educating the medical establishment about a misunderstood illness, much as they did with depression in the 1980s. Those with fibromyalgia have often had to fight perceptions that they are hypochondriacs, or even faking their pain.
But critics say the companies are hyping fibromyalgia along with their treatments, and that the grantmaking is a textbook example of how drugmakers unduly influence doctors and patients
Ask your doctor, they tell us. Sure.
But some say the grants' influence goes much further than dollar figures suggest. Such efforts steer attention to diseases, influencing patients and doctors and making diagnosis more frequent, they say. "The underlying purpose here is really marketing, and they do that by sponsoring symposia and hiring physicians to give lectures and prepare materials," said Wolfe, who directs the National Data Bank for Rheumatic Diseases in Wichita, Kansas. Similar criticisms have dogged drugmakers' marketing of medicines for overactive bladder and restless legs syndrome.
Many of the grants go to educational programs for doctors that feature seminars on the latest treatments and discoveries.
I told you! Now, maybe you'll listen when I rant. It's all about marketing, which explains those commercials. Overactive bladder, my ass. They tell us to drink 64 ounces of water a day because it's "good for us" then market a drug that keeps us from peeing. See?
After 30 years of studying the ailment, rheumatologist Dr. Don Goldenberg says fibromyalgia is still a "murky area."
"Doctors need labels and patients need labels," said Goldenberg, a professor of medicine at Tufts University. "In general, it's just more satisfying to tell people, 'You have X,' rather than, 'You have pain.'"
While Goldenberg continues to diagnose patients with fibromyalgia, some of his colleagues have stopped, saying the condition is a catchall covering a range of symptoms. Dr. Nortin Hadler says telling people they have fibromyalgia can actually doom them to a life of suffering by reinforcing the idea that they have an incurable disease.
Doom them to a life of suffering ... and a life of taking prescription drugs. Wake up, people.
Fibromyalgia. It even sounds made up. Because it is. The fact that it doesn't show up in my spell-check should be all you need to know.