Saturday, April 25, 2009

The opposite of the Mets

I love the e-mail. Opening it means I'll get anything from an offer from a foreign potentate to help him secure his bank deposit to drugs to make my penis bigger. I don't need either, so it was nice to receive one that I could actually make some use of. This came from the Baltimore Orioles - the opposite of the New York Mets - asking me to start voting online for this year's All-Star game. They weren't asking for much, and were giving so much.
Vote for your favorite Orioles for the 2009 MLB All-Star Game on today. If you select the Orioles as your "favorite" or "other favorite" Club the maximum 25 times between Wed., April 22 and Thursday, July 2, you'll receive an exclusive promo code good for one (1) FREE Upper Reserve seat to one (1) Orioles non-prime home game after the All-Star break of your choice.
I don't know why the 1 has to be in parenthesis - twice. As you may know, the Orioles are my "other favorite team" so telling them so did not violate any moral obligation I may have had to truth, justice or the American way. I'm sure they're going to have trouble selling tickets to their games after the break, so the offer isn't groundbreaking, but it is a nice gesture to lure fans to the games. Free is free.
So of course, being the promotion whore that I am, I voted 25 times. It goes by quickly because the buttons stay pressed so you don't have to select the players every time. All you have to do is re-enter the security code. The whole thing took less than 10 minutes. Free ticket, bitches.
For the record (as if there is one) this was my online All-Star ballot.

Plenty of Phillies. You could argue the Ruiz and Werth choices, but I really don't want to hear it. The American League ballot is a bit more objective. But any system that lets you vote 25 times doesn't deserve a lot of objectivity. It does, however, deserve to give out free stuff.

Thanks Orioles. You rock.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Proving, beyond the shadow of a doubt that I do, indeed give a shit.

100% recycled paper
Whitened without Chlorine bleach
"Your choice of our soft and absorbent bathroom tissue makes an important difference today, and for the next seven generations."

I hope I haven't made a big mistake.

The completion backwards principle.

Philadelphia Eagles cornerback Sheldon Brown is the latest in a long string of players who have demanded a renegotiation of a contract. You don't need to understand sports to appreciate the nonsense that goes on.
Athletes don't live in our world. They occupy the same space, but technically, they are of another place. Whenever they start talking about "outperforming their contract" or similar language and demand to renegotiate a contract they signed 2 years ago, it's as clear as day.
Most of you want the biggest, nicest car; most luxurious home and most beautiful spouse - most of you. Minutes after you acquire one of these, someone else gets something nicer because either the technology has advanced or you make younger friends. Buy a cell phone today and see how it looks next year.
Athletes sign lucrative contracts that look good when they're signed, but they don't age well. Suck it up Sheldon. You're living a life outside the rest of the world and we don't understand your problems. We'd trade a testicle to be you for ten minutes. Complaining makes you sound ungracious, which you probably are.

WASHINGTON – President Barack Obama said Thursday he is determined to get a credit-card law that eliminates the tricky fine print, sudden rate increases and late fees that give millions of consumers headaches.
"I trust that those in the industry who want to act responsibly will engage with us in a constructive fashion, and that we're going to get this done in short order," Obama said, delivering a pointed message to leading executives of credit-card issuing companies after a closed-door White House meeting.

In fact, the credit card companies are quaking in their high-interest rate boots. Here's the deal. Interest rates have seldom been lower - historically low, as they would say. The prime rate is close to zero. I once heard a financial analyst tout bank stocks, proclaiming, "What other industry in the world can pay out 3 percent and charge 15?" That's a sound business model if ever I've heard one.

The president wants to curb at least some of that. It isn't clear whether he's targeting the high interest rates (relatively high based on what they're borrowing the money at) or whether it's just the ridiculous fees and late charges they tack on that make it almost impossible to pay-off the debt. Funny how the government can get involved with steroids in baseball but seems to have difficulty regulating credit card interest rates.

I fear that he isn't getting at the root of the issue which is the interest rate. Even for their best customers, the rate doesn't move much below 9%. I know, because I had two cards at that rate and they're as low as they go. Had. Thankfully, I paid them off, but found that the finance charges live on. After paying an $800 balance (as the result of several acts of prostitution and illegal drug sales) I received a bill for $15.47, which was the finance charge for the previous month. Even though it said, "Balance due," the actual balance included the retroactive finance charge. The resulting phone call to customer service met a stone wall, (hardly service, then) and I was forced to pay it, lest I sound ungracious. After all, they loaned me the money several years ago, and my attempt to pay it off undoubtedly sounded as though I was breaking the terms of my contract, which included their exceedingly high interest rate.


Thursday, April 23, 2009

Two minor points followed by the real one.

The cat looks sad. It's hard to tell with cats. Maybe he's just looking at me and reflecting?
The good news is that I got a check in the mail today. That's always nice. And it wasn't one of those phony $2 rebate checks (remember those?) that cost more to process and send than the check was worth. This one was a check for $198 from my dentist. It seems my insurance paid too much and he returned the excess. I'm way too cynical to have expected that. I think most physicians would have pocketed it and left the patient to wonder what happened to all that extra money my health insurance paid out.
Most of you know the disdain with which I view American Idol. There's another show, the grammatically hideous Britain's Got Talent that exposed dowdy Susan Boyle to the world via YouTube. The idea that no one wants to explore is that her voice, while nice, is made more so by her plain, if not unattractive looks. OK, she's kind of funny looking.
Celebrities (even made-up ones like on Idol) are supposed to look a certain way, and when they do we accept their talent, as though good looks equal talent. When one of them looks different (i.e. funny-looking) and can still voice a tune, our senses flinch and we carry on as though someone who looks funny couldn't be a good singer. Somebody agrees with me:
"American Idol this season has seemed conservative," he said. "They look like pop stars already. Idol has just become a star factory. Susan Boyle wouldn't qualify because of her age. And if she did, they'd play it for laughs for a couple of weeks and cut her out."
Jason Mittell, associate professor of American Studies and Film & Media Culture at Middlebury College, isn't buying the moment as a genuine shock to the judges. But he knows the global public is. Indeed, Simon looks like a Simon transformed, glimpsed in his home country, no longer the cynical outsider, hands-over-cheeks adulation over a true undiscovered talent.
"Do you want my cynical take on the whole thing?" Mittell asks. "The Susan Boyle thing was a setup narrative, 100 percent consistent with how these shows are produced. Everybody has fallen for it. I am unmoved." Mittell points out that to be truly surprised by her singing, you have to first buy into the idea that Boyle's unstyled appearance somehow is a predictor of her singing ability, which is ridiculous.
I don't think you're being cynical at all Jason. I think you're seeing the show for what it is: A manipulative, ridiculous excuse for a talent show that has, for years, adjusted its audience in such a way as to present what they feel are people worthy of recording contracts. Otherwise, how could you possibly explain the idea of whittling down a few hundred thousand contestants to six without knowing the outcome beforehand?
It proves the old adage: Nobody ever lost money underestimating the intelligence of the general public.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Fee me.

I thought I'd take a ride up to Queens on Saturday to see new Citi Field, home of the New York Mets. Bypassing the triple-digit tickets with names like "Delta Club" and "Metropolitan Box," I found "cheap seats" in something called the Promenade Reserved Infield - a fancy word for Upper Deck - for $20. Cheap, until you add in the $6 "fee" (all it says is fee, so I have no idea what it's for) and the $5 "Order Charge" (another word for fee) and the "Print at Home" charge of 2.50, and your cheap seat is suddenly $33.50. Over half the original ticket price is fees.
I'm amused (kind of) by the names they gave the sections. "Caesars Club" (no apostrophe, so I'm guessing it really isn't Caesar's Club) and shiny metal designations like silver and gold. For the prices, I'd guess more like platinum and uranium.
The cheapest cheap seat on the menu is an $11 Promenade Reserved, which would include a $4 fee and $5 order charge - or approximately the price of the ticket in fees. It takes a lot of guts to ask for $9 in fees for an $11 ticket. Promenade Reserved tickets would feature a better view of downtown Flushing than the actual game you are presumably paying to see. Although, it strikes me as though you're really paying for the people to sell you the ticket. The ticket itself is secondary to the fees.
Maybe Citi Financial is using those fees to help with their bailout?
I think I'll skip it.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

There's a lot of stuff - try to keep up.

Today is Free Cone Day, which isn't some sort of veiled reference to an old comedy sketch - it's free ice cream cone day at your local Ben and Jerry's retail outlet. If you can find one nearby, stop in and demand your free ice cream. It's the least you can do.
It's a gamble on my part, but I'm betting that you can't find one close enough to where you are that would make it worth your while to make a special trip for a free ice cream cone. I'm just saying. For me, I'd have to drive to the 60 miles to Atlantic City or cross the $4 bridge to Philadelphia, and as much as I love B&J's, it just ain't worth it somehow. For you gamblers, U of Penn students or Amtrak customers - invite the head freeze.
Regular readers will remember Box Wars, the three-day affair between me and my next-door neighbor. Today marked day two of The Yellow Pages Bag. Around here, the local phone company drops the new phone books at what passes for our doorstep. In the case of upstairs condo residents, that means the bottom of the stairs. On Saturday night, I deposited my neighbor's phone book bag at her door. [Neighborly, right?] Today, it sits. Day three approaches. Stay tuned for updates.
I'm not sure if I am more surprised that (a) people pay attention to what beauty pageant contestants say or (b) that people watch beauty pageants.
LAS VEGAS, Nev. - Miss North Carolina Kristen Dalton may have been crowned Miss USA 2009 on Sunday, but on Monday, it was Miss California Carrie Prejean's answer to a question about same-sex marriage from celebrity blogger and pageant judge Perez Hilton that was the night's biggest story. During the show, Perez asked Carrie, "Vermont recently became the fourth state to legalize same sex marriage. Do you think every state should follow suit? Why or why not?" [Ready for the answer?]
"Well I think it's great that Americans are able to choose one or the other. Um, we live in a land that you can choose same sex marriage or opposite marriage and, you know what, in my country and in, in my family, I think that I believe that a marriage should be between a man and a woman," Carrie said to a mix of boos and applause. "No offense to anybody out there. But that's how I was raised and that's how I think that it should be between a man and a woman."
Once they started booing, I think Carrie should have taken her top off. Let's analyze: First, she refers to straight marriage as "opposite marriage." Then, she says "I think I believe." There's some conviction for ya. That in itself should have elicited boos, but then, they weren't in Philadelphia. The final straw (of a series of straws) came when she said, "No offense to anybody," the official eraser phrase. Right away, you know she figured that she was offending someone. Not me, but somebody out there. And, to be grammatically correct, it's "how I was reared" not "how I was raised." She's not a potted plant - is she? Make your own jokes about being reared.
Monday night was game two of our season ticket plan for the Phillies. Local residents with phone books will no doubt recall the lightning, heavy rain and general miserable weather conditions of Monday. What is astounding to me is that it took the Phillies until 5:35 to postpone the game. Those of us with active brain cells made the decision around noon, but my cynical mind tells me that the Phillies were looking to maximize the parking concession and ballpark food purchase, luring unsuspecting fans to the park to absorb the exciting ambiance of rain and wind. NOTE TO THE PHILLIES: Do us a favor and cancel the games before the fans are forced to make a post-work decision whether to go or stay home.
On the bright side, I got to watch the penultimate season episode of Heroes, so it wasn't a total loss. That's right, I'm the one who watches Heroes.
That's all I have. Resume your daily activities and talk amongst yourselves.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Death and dying

"Death brings unwanted emotions: fear, loneliness and a finality. Death tests our faith. We can't hide from it. Its reality hits hard."
- Mike Schmidt, 4/18/2009

Lately, we're hearing sentiment that has Harry Kalas and his best friend, the late Rich Ashburn somehow reunited in Heaven. Occasionally, people will make up dialogue that the two would be saying as they greeted each other. There was an entire half-page of today's Inquirer sports section devoted to just that. Some would call it a waste of space and others would call it comforting. It might be both.
The premise that Harry and Richie are in Heaven is based on the idea that they led good lives and that we all loved them. What is missing is the religious concept of who goes to Heaven and who goes to Hell. We forget that when someone dies but constantly remind them while they are alive.
We look upward when we talk about Heaven and down when we talk about Hell. Those are the cliché responses and we accept them as truth. When someone dies, they are said to be "looking down on us" or "watching over us," as though they're up there - somewhere - floating in the spirit world. It's a uniquely human trait, and I suppose it's because we don't want to be confronted by the fact that someone has left us or that they've gone to Hell. I'm guilty of often wondering if my father is watching me and if he's proud of me - sometimes - or shaking his head and wondering, "Where did you ever learn to behave like that?"
The realist in me figures that I'm being silly because I'm not sure that anyone looks down on us or judges us from beyond. It doesn't make sense. I think it's religion that puts those thoughts in our heads. A lifetime of bad upbringing or superstition - one of the two, I guess.
Suppose we just die and ... well, nothing? That idea is as difficult to comprehend as infinite space, but it's a real possibility. Nobody wants to think that when we die we're finished as a soul or some sort of living being, but it could happen. Nothing in eternity is as real a possibility as some fabricated after-life. To say that you know is only an act of faith. All of those made-up conversations and fabricated stories of dead people watching our lives are for our benefit. It makes us feel better if we think that there is something waiting for us when we're through here.
The chances are just as good that there isn't, however.
OK, enough of that. Here's a photo to get our feet back on solid ground.

Thanks Jana, I feel better now.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Sunday thoughts.

On Saturday I took-in a Wilmington Blue Rocks game. For those of you unaware, the Blue Rocks are the Class A affiliate of the Kansas City Royals. A minor league baseball team. I used to go more often, then I kind of let it slide, so to speak. Earlier this year, I ordered an 8-game partial season package so I could go on eight Saturday nights.
The games start at 6, the parking is free and the ballpark is less than 45 minutes from home, so why wasn't I going more often? Exactly the question I asked myself.
They have a nice ballclub down there. Lots of good hitters and an exciting brand of baseball. Granted, you have to be a baseball fan to appreciate the minor leagues, which is where I come in.
In addition to a third row seat being 8 dollars, the concession prices are reasonable and the team treats its fans with respect and gives out a lot of SWAG (Stuff We All Get) which is both a good marketing device and a nice treat for those of us who go to the games.
It's a great ballpark, and every seat is good. You can hear infielders calling pop up's, umpire calls and the odd manager argument. Did I mention that the parking is free? The only strange thing is that the fans aren't as hard-core as I'd like. I cheer for the players and get worked up over great plays, but it seems as though the fans are out for the evening regardless of the team. That's fine, but for a Phillies fan, it's a little odd. I'm not going to stop cheering, though. I'm also going to dedicate myself to going more than the eight times for which I have a ticket.
If anyone from the Blue Rocks has stumbled here on some random Google search, let me tell you how much I enjoy the games and tell you what a great organization you're running down there.
On another note, I'm often puzzled by lazy journalists who roll-out the hate talk when someone from Philadelphia does something stupid. They start with the old snowballs at Santa reference which, by the way, is as old as Santa, and proceed to the City of Brotherly Love stuff. We're linked to that saying when things go bad, but we never hear it when we do something right, as the Phillies and their fans did on Saturday with the ceremony honoring the late Harry Kalas.
Nine thousand fans showed up and paraded in front of his casket. Most of them stayed for the speeches and tributes, most notably by Mike Schmidt, who was eloquent in calling Harry's life "bountiful." Another home run for Michael Jack.
I felt no need to go, preferring to have my private thoughts - as I do in most cases. I watched on television. For those who chose to go, they and the Phillies paid tribute to Harry with class and dignity, and I'm guessing that no journalist or TV talking head will roll-out the Brotherly Love reference.
So, a little haiku for the lazy journalists:
How come we don't hear
"City of Brotherly Love"
when we express it?