Friday, May 7, 2010

Repeat after me: "Hi. Welcome to Wal-Mart."

I don't know about your part of the world, but around here, after the events of Monday, Tasered is now an adjective that is part of our everyday speech. Sadly, it isn't yet part of Blogger's spell check dictionary.
Yesterday, the stock market was Tasered a little before 3:00pm when it fell a whopping 600 points only to recover to a loss of around 350.
Earlier, sources told Reuters that the plunge in the Dow Jones Industrial average may have been caused by an erroneous trade entered by a person at a big Wall Street bank.
Market sources said the erroneous trade may have involved E-Mini contracts -- stock market index futures contracts that trade on the Chicago Mercantile Exchange's Globex trading platform. The composition of the E-Mini is similar to the stocks in the S&P 500.
So there you go. Your financial future hinges on something that sounds like a convenience store chain - the E-Mini. I'd like to have something a little more stable to put my savings into, but we're stuck with this flawed system. The stock market is like a newborn baby. Everything that happens is potentially dangerous and you have to be very careful when you're around it because you don't want to do anything that will stunt its growth. I'd prefer an adult with a job and a stable lifestyle.
During the sell-off, Procter & Gamble shares dropped nearly 34%. As far as I know, nobody slipped on a bar of Ivory soap, choked on Scope or failed to wipe up a spill with a Bounty paper towel. It was the same company it was at lunch time, only some goofy trade on a network nobody understands turned the stock into a tailspin. The upside, if there is one, is that there are a lot of solid values on the stock market to be had if you have any cash that hasn't been spent on gasoline, property taxes or cable TV.
If you have a 401(k) or some other retirement investment, you might want to wait a few weeks to check the balance, or hope that your plan buys on Monday or have bond investments or start putting applications in at McDonald's or the local Wal-Mart store so you can earn some extra cash in your "golden years."
That's what I'm thinking.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Up to our ass in grass.

It's lawn mowing season, which means that the air is full of dust and pollen and the noise from mowers, string trimmers, edgers and leaf blowers wakes those of us who like to sleep late on weekends.
Sadly, it seems that rakes have been outlawed and the only way we can move grass clippings is by blowing them around until they disappear into some vague space that exists in a Ray Bradbury novel.
I wonder why some big grass seed company like Scott's hasn't come up with a hybrid strain of grass that grows two inches and stops. I think it's like the electric car. The big mower companies and the powerful lawn care lobby in Washington (there is one, you know) have killed it in an effort to boost the sales of equipment.
It's a good thing (for my neighbors) that I live in a condominium, because my front lawn would look like my house was abandoned. I couldn't be bothered mowing a lawn, edging or doing any of those other things that occupy their time. I suppose I could hire a landscaper, but if I'm going to throw money away, I'd just as soon buy lottery tickets. At least then I'd have a chance of winning something.
Paying to have someone mow the lawn is a similarly ridiculous notion to paying someone to cut your hair. It grows back.
Come to think of it, why hasn't some big pharmaceutical company come up with a pill to get our hair to stop growing? We have pills for every ailment and made-up physical disability (like peeing too much) known to man, including one to make your penis grow. So, why couldn't they use a similar technology to stop your hair from growing? There should be a huge market. When you get that precious haircut that you can't stop crowing about, start taking the pill and your hair will stay like that until you stop. However, if your hair stands on end for longer than 4 hours, consult your physician.
I think it's like the electric car. The big hair care companies and the influential hair care lobby in Washington (there is one, you know) have killed it in an effort to boost sales of expensive haircuts.
That's it for today. Discuss

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Why do these things have to happen in Philadelphia?

One of the topics of conversation around here has been the Tasering of an unruly fan at Monday night's Phillies game at Citizen's Bank Ballpark.
Oddly, the topic wasn't the unruly fan as much as it was the Tasering. It seemed to be a bit extreme to some folks to use a weapon on a kid running around the field. Tackling him and rubbing his face in the grass is apparently the accepted form of apprehension. As for me, I'm all for the Tasering.
It's a nice electric shock that causes neuromuscular incapacitation, which to me, seems to be the point. They probably could have tackled him, but this did the job in half the time and didn't endanger any law enforcement personnel.
The ballpark has become something of a social gathering point as much as it is a ballpark. The Phillies have had 51-straight regular season sell-outs. Even the blessed Yankees don't routinely sell out their palace in the Bronx. Some of the fans however, don't come strictly for baseball reasons. Monday was dollar dog night, where normally $4 hot dogs were priced at the unbelievable bargain of a dollar. The logic that has fans buying a 30 dollar ticket to get a hot dog for a dollar escapes me, but I digress.
Advertising dollar dogs brings in a certain social element, and among them are kids who are using the above logic to get what they believe is a cheap night out. Along with that, they feel the need to attract attention to themselves, because the baseball game isn't enough entertainment for us, apparently.
So a kid decides (after calling his father for encouragement) to jump the fence and run like a mental patient around the outfield. With a 60-foot head start and 15 pounds of gear, the policeman found the best way to subdue him was to shoot him with a Taser. Bravo.
Strangely, the Philadelphia Police Department is under some media criticism. There is a reason the Tasers were issued to the cops. Keeping a kid from roaming the outfield during a professional baseball game is probably on the list. Baseball fields are for baseball players. If you don't want to be Tasered, stay in your damned seat. The soft-hearted among you would say that it was a kid being a goofball. The rest of us don't want him in the ballpark, much less on the field.
Those who see Taser use as extreme, I'd tell you that your perception is blurred by the weapon and not the act itself. Bringing him down by physical force is acceptable to you because it only involves chasing him and wrestling him to the ground. It's a Taser. People volunteer to be shot by them for TV shows. It brought a quick and quiet end to a bit of nonsense. He was stilled for about 30 seconds and walked off under his own power. Problem solved.
Philadelphia sports fans have a bad reputation, and things like this don't help us much. I used to defend them, but I've given up on that. They seem to revel in it and bring it on themselves. Self-inflicted social pain. Still, I ask myself whenever a kid is vomited on, a fight in the stands spills into a nearby bar or a kid is Tasered: "Why does it have to be Philadelphia?"
Fans in other cities are obnoxious and destructive, but when it happens here the journalistic red flag goes up and it's filed away in a cabinet of things we'll never live down. I suppose that's our cross to bear.
I'm just not going to carry it for you anymore.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

When good ideas go bad - or bad ideas get worse OR California's enormous disaster.

"You turn on the television and see this enormous disaster, you say to yourself, 'Why would we want to take on that kind of risk?'"
California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger at a news conference near Sacramento.

No, the "enormous disaster" he was talking about wasn't his administration, it's the big oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.
But it wasn't a risk in 2008 when the governor signed a $100 million deal between some environmental groups and Plains Exploration & Production Co., known as PXP, that was estimated to bring the state some $100 million a year. Interesting. A hundred million made it a good idea - then. Imagine how he'd feel if he had never turned on the TV.
But like a lot of things, risky endeavors were good ideas when the state needed money. Now that there has been an accident - and it's been on the TV - drilling for oil under the water is suddenly a bad idea, which it probably was all along. Now that we have seen (on TV) that the oil sometimes doesn't go directly from the ground to our automobiles, we figure there might be a few problems with the process.
The governor is going to have to figure out where to come up with the $100 million the state will be missing now that they aren't going to drill for oil. Maybe they can pass that marijuana legislation that's on the ballot in November? That was a bad idea once too. How long will it be before more states are desperate enough to legalize prostitution or marijuana in an effort to raise money? They can only tax us so much and cut services so much - can't they?

Monday, May 3, 2010

Drill baby, drill.

It has to be a real pisser to be sitting around your office, doing whatever, when the phone rings and you're told that millions of gallons of oil are spilling into the Gulf of Mexico with no end in sight.
The plan: to lower 74-ton, concrete-and-metal boxes into the gulf to capture the oil and siphon it to a barge waiting at the surface. Whether that will work for a leak 5,000 feet below the surface is anyone's guess; the method has previously worked only in shallower waters.
If it doesn't, and efforts to activate a shutoff mechanism called a blowout preventer continue to prove fruitless, the oil probably will keep gushing for months until a second well can be dug to cut off the first. Oil giant BP PLC's latest plan will take six to eight days because welders have to assemble the boxes.
I realize that the world runs on oil, but I wonder if the risk of drilling for it so close to land is worth what we get out. Even President Obama has given his official "okey-dokey" to more offshore drilling. It just seems to me to be so short-sighted. Especially when you consider the upheaval that occurs when someone wants to put a wind farm offshore. Local residents complain that they will be able to see the wind turbines from their homes. Pity. At least, when a wind turbine stops working, all it does is stop spinning. It doesn't spew toxic waste into the water. That's a plus, as far as I'm concerned.
Meanwhile, the well cannot be capped and the oil keeps spewing. It isn't like your car, where a rattle can be hidden by turning the radio up. There isn't a radio that can go that loud.
When John Kerry ran for president in 2000, the reason I voted for him was that he wanted to initiate an "Apollo Project" to try to get us off the oil standard. Like the moon landing, he figured (correctly, I assumed) that if we threw money at it and assigned our best brainpower to the problem, we could escape the grip of oil and figure out how to run things on stuff like solar, wind and other things that we don't have to dig out of the ground or worry that if they escape they could kill animals.
It wasn't a bad idea, and if I was asked to contribute, I'd rather spend the money on that than on our failed War on Drugs, the War on Poverty or any other war that government tells us we are supposed to be fighting. When the objective is to stop drilling holes in our planet and work at something more progressive, I'm all in.
It's a shame that something like this has to happen to focus our attention on it. It's like those roadside memorials with flowers and a cross where some kid is hit by a drunk driver or some other roadway catastrophe. A few months later a traffic light goes up.
There should have been one there all along. Why does it take a tragedy to make us think?