Saturday, June 26, 2010

Saturday in the park.

Tonight saw me at another Wilmington Blue Rocks baseball game. One of the charms of minor league baseball is the proximity to the playing field. A treat for a baseball geek like me is to go down toward the bullpen and watch the starting pitcher warm up before the game. From there, you can see his grip on the ball and watch it head toward the plate. That's Blue Rocks pitcher Chris Dwyer on the right. He pitched 5 innings and gave up 2 runs.
The best thing about being at a baseball game is that it makes me forget about what else is going on in the world.
NEW ORLEANS, Louisiana (AFP) – Tropical Storm Alex veered away from the Gulf of Mexico oil spill Saturday but experts warned that strong waves and winds could still upset efforts to halt the environmental disaster.
With oil continually gushing into the fragile waters after 68 days, President Barack Obama's pointman on the disaster cautioned that volatile weather conditions could set back
oil recovery operations for up to two weeks.
Well, what's another two weeks when it's already been gushing for over two months? Thank God (or whatever) that Kevin Costner is around to help. It seems to be too much for our government, big oil and the country's top scientists and engineers. In times of crisis, we turn to movie stars. The very same movie stars who are told to keep quiet when they spout their political views, the idea being that they are not social activists. Well, now that you need one, you turn to one. It's Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer in real life. Ridicule him, until you realize that he can help. Now he is your friend.
Vice President Joe Biden heads to the region on Tuesday and is due to visit the New Orleans-based National Incident Command Center before traveling to the Florida panhandle.
Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano and Carol Browner, who heads the White House Office of Energy and Climate Change Policy, will also visit.
On Saturday, activists and southeast Louisiana residents gathered at area beaches to hold hands and show their support for clean energy and oppose offshore drilling.
Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal declared Sunday a "Statewide Day of Prayer for perseverance during the oil spill crisis."
It's a big visiting spot, the oil spill. It's probably in the top five regional destinations for travelers - if you happen to be in politics and would like your face shown with a concerned look. As though they can do anything. Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter went a week ago. What's he going to do? Tax the oil spill, from what I can see of his attitude.
And prayer. They've resorted to prayer. Just like Kevin Costner, Rudolph and God; they turn their back on them until it's crunch time. Then, we have to pray. Whatever happened to the separation of church and state? I guess it's only separate when you think you can get along without it. When you're desperate, pray.
The last resort of a dying man.

Friday, June 25, 2010

A public service message

Every once in a while, I like to impart some wisdom on the masses. Something that maybe you didn't know, but would find useful in your everyday life. Such is the case today.
I got a new ATM card from my bank yesterday. You have all gotten new credit cards in the mail, and with them, you have received a sticker on the card that includes a phone number that you are told to call to "activate your new card." My sick mind has always wondered if the activation process was worthwhile.
When I received the new ATM card, I wondered (quietly to myself) if the phone number to activate the card was legitimate, as I do when I receive a new card from any of my creditors. But, like the zombie that I am, I call the number and allow "Suresh" to activate my card, even though I have the feeling that he is typing imaginary numbers on an air-keyboard in India that allegedly activates my card, while attempting to sell me expensive balance insurance or other such credit-induced fees that I would not otherwise accept.
When I received my new ATM card from TD Bank (friend of Regis and Kelly) I immediately thought, "What would happen if I didn't call the 888-number on the card?" So, I went to the ATM on Friday morning, armed with the new card and the old one, and attempted to withdraw "Fast cash $50" from my account using the new "un-activated" card. Guess what? I got the fifty bucks. No kidding.
So, in order to streamline your lives a little, the next time you get a new credit card in the mail (especially one that you didn't ask for, like my new ATM card) don't bother to call the activation number. Just use it like you always would. Ask yourself, "Why would they send me a card with a set of numbers that hasn't already been activated?" Don't fall for the phone-induced questions about whether or not you would like credit protection or if you would like any other service that incurs a fee. It's all bullshit - plain and simple. Or, if you feel like you have to call (lest evil befall you) then, just hang up after you enter the card number. Don't wait around for the "representive" to speak to you. It's all bullshit, including the "activation" process. It's the biggest scam in retail.
They wouldn't send you a credit or debit card that wasn't already active in their system. Think about it.
I did.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Drive in, drive out.

Americans are fascinated by the Drive Thru. Drive Thru - anything. (And not through, mind you. Thru.) I heard a radio ad for a drive-thru pizza place. Drive thru pizza. Or self-delivery, take your pick.
I guess the idea goes back to those old car-hop restaurants, where you eat the food in your car off a tray that sits on your window. I don't get that either. There's nothing like the smell of gasoline and leaking coolant to spice up a night out for the family. I think the parents were using the gas fumes to get the kids to go to bed earlier.
But then, somebody figured that we'd rather sit at home in front of the TV and eat not-quite-as-hot-as-it-would-be-in-the-restaurant food instead of sitting around outside. Genius marketing. Then, they figured that if we like grabbing food out of a window we would enjoy making other transactions through windows, sometimes with the aid of a pneumatic tube, to make it more fun. If you have coins, take them inside.
Since we're kind of married to our vehicles, the drive through concept is ideal for Americans. It's a strange thing, the drive thru. I'd have called it a Drive To, since you're not really driving through anything. You're driving to something. That's the first change I'd make. If they won't go along with that, then I'm changing the spelling to add the ough. One or the other.
The next thing would be to have transaction limits at the drive thru. Specifically in banks and food places. People pull up to the drive thru with a month's worth of banking. Meanwhile, the bank is open inside as well, but God forbid you save some of us the issue of waiting for your out-of-state unemployment checks to post and get out of your car.
That's a big problem for us, getting out of the car. Any time someone says, "Could you step out of the car, please?" it's met with an eye-roll. We don't like getting out. It's our little cocoon from the world, and how dare you! "Please, stay in the car, I'll be right back" makes us very happy. So we don't get out. Not for giant bank transactions or family food orders.
Under no circumstances are you to use the drive thru window to order for anyone who is not in the vehicle.
if your order takes more than one of those cardboard drink and food holders. You're limited to one hand-through food and drink order.
I'm not going to wait 10 minutes for my Value Meal while you order food for a house full of kids and their cousins. Go inside. If I see any fumbling at the order board or any reading from a list, I get out of line and go inside. Most of the time I'm walking out with my food while the Brady Bunch is still waiting for their 8 bags of Whoppers and 16 large Cokes. Get a cart and go inside.
That's the other thing. I'm not sure that there is any time savings. In the time it takes you to sit in the drive thru line, order your stuff, pay for it and pick it up (a 3-step process, just like inside) you will have taken as long as you would have if you parked and went inside. So it isn't always a matter of time. It's just that we're so afflicted by our automobiles that we can't pry our asses out of them for five minutes to pick up some food. Where's the hunter/gatherer gene while this decision process is being made?
But they're everywhere. Drug stores, banks, coffee, donuts (strangely sometimes two separate places) and dry cleaners. ("Hand my delicately-sewn gown through the car window, please.") They contribute to greenhouse gas emissions, keep us from moving our bodies and sometimes inconvenience others. Where is the great social advantage?
We're on the go. Advertisers love to say we're on the go. Our crazy-busy lifestyle and all. And because we're on the go, we need to keep going, and we can't be slowed down by ... walking. It's important for us to stay in our vehicles so that we think we're going somewhere.
We're on the go, damn it.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

This is bad. This is very bad.

This is about as bad as it gets. Those are recent images from the Gulf of Mexico where a breached oil well has been spewing oil into the Gulf for two months non-stop. Non-stop. It is estimated that 125,000,000 gallons have flowed into the water so far, with no end in sight, Kevin Costner notwithstanding.
Imagine being a turtle or a sea bird and waking up in the morning (or whenever turtles and sea birds wake up) and finding your home awash with a substance that is the direct opposite of the water that gives you life. You look around and it is everywhere. The more you swim, the worse it gets, and you find that as you struggle your work is harder and it appears that the very work you do to extricate yourself worsens your dilemma. As an inhabitant, you are rightfully confused. What you call home is now a poison to you and it is killing you.
To accurately place yourself in their position, imagine that from above, millions of gallons of oil were poured into your house while you were sleeping. You awakened to some strange feeling but lacked the knowledge to identify it. You only knew that you were having trouble moving, breathing and it suddenly dawned on you that you could not find food and that your way of life was being threatened far beyond what any financial institution, workplace or governing body could impart on you. This is real life and death stuff.
For those of you who have the Bible as your guide, you will recall a passage where man is given dominance over the animals. It's in Genesis or one of those books near the beginning. Dominance however, does not include dumping toxic chemicals on them or encasing them in substances. There are rules, and those rules have been violated.
It is perhaps the saddest thing I have seen. A bird covered with oil, thinking, "What the f**k?" He has no idea that a world so dominated by one product would allow the production of it to endanger the very land that gave it to us. It's a strange relationship, where we pull toxins out of the bowels of our planet and use them to enhance our lifestyle. I'm not skilled enough to explore that, so I'll allow you to talk amongst yourselves.
Still it continues to flow, and the best answer we have is to drill another well to relieve the one that is leaking. Meanwhile, a part of our planet is dying.
The president was on television last week, and he stopped short of saying what I thought he should have said. He should have told us the truth. The truth isn't that BP is going to pay to clean this up or that we will kick somebody's ass or any of that political talk that sounds good on television. The truth is that this will take decades to clean up, and in the meantime, it will be as bad a disaster as we have seen, September 11 notwithstanding.
With hurricane season coming, my layman's knowledge of such matters wonders what happens if (or when) a hurricane comes through the Gulf and starts blowing wind and water out of the area. When it rains in Alabama, Tennessee and the southeast, will part of the rain contain oil from the Gulf of Mexico? I'm thinking it will and I'm thinking that our government doesn't want us to think about that, so they aren't saying anything.
But I'll say it, because I don't work for the government. Remember this when there are oil-coated cars, houses and animals inland.
Maybe I think too much.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Sudden and unexpected popularity.

It occurred to me that if Nick Drake was half as popular during his life as he is now, some 36 years after his death, he'd still be alive. It started in 1999 with that Volkswagen Cabriolet ad that used "Pink Moon" as the soundtrack and mushroomed from there. It seemed a strange way to sell a car, but I don't get paid to construct an advertising campaign.
Recently, Nick's "From the Morning" was used in an AT&T spot to promote their wireless network. I see the tie-in - don't you?
There are two possibilities for Nick's recent popularity:
1 - Ad agencies and the general public have come to realize how simple and poetic his music is, and have wised up and are using it to advertise things.
2 - The rights are cheap and it fits their purpose.
I'm guessing it's number two.
If you don't know who Nick Drake is, there is a nice write-up on his Wikipedia page that will get you started. It's a sad story and it's made sadder by the fact that he was virtually unknown while he was alive. Great art is seldom appreciated in the artist's lifetime, but there is always someone around to reap the rewards.

In case you'd like to hear the song without the advertising - as it was intended...

Sunday, June 20, 2010

The golfers.

Where have I been? The world spins, the oil still leaks, the Phillies play (just don't ask me the scores) and my postman continues to bring bills. Every so often I lose track of things.
This week was LPGA tournament week around here. The girls were playing the Shop Rite tournament in Galloway, and I was there for a couple of days walking with Paula Creamer. Sadly, I could not go back today. Partly because of time commitments and partly because it was in the mid-90s with high humidity. I reach my warmth levels quickly. Fortunately though, I do own a television.
The men are playing the U.S. Open in Pebble Beach (a far sight better than South Jersey) and once the LPGA tournament ended I switched over to the men. When you see two tournaments side-by-side like that, the differences in the two games hit you pretty quickly. The girls dress in bright colors with various accoutrement and colorful shoes and things like pink golf balls. The men - not so much.
It's still the standard slacks and polo shirt for them. Lots of drab colors and they look more like they're going to a business meeting than playing a game. And the baseball cap. Always the baseball cap. There's something odd about seeing a nicely dressed man in a baseball cap. The women - not so much. I can't imagine the PGA one day allowing men to dress in shorts. I think they would deem it disrespectful to the game. The same game the women play, by the way, and their governing body has no issues with golf's stoic tradition. It probably isn't much different than the way men and women are treated in society, so it isn't that radical.
We assign different standards to the genders, and rejoice when they are met, forgetting that we assigned the standards to begin with. Phrases like "runs well for a girl" or differentiating women athletes from men and assigning priorities to their accomplishments. It's a deeply rooted thought process, and I haven't the skills to determine its cause.
Sometimes I don't know what I'm talking about.
Paula Creamer played the first tournament of her 2010 season after coming back from a complicated thumb surgery. She wore a wrap around the thumb the entire time and engaged in stretching exercises between shots to keep it flexible. Admittedly, she played in pain. Golf is a difficult enough game without having to endure pain in the process. But that's what you do when something means so much that you would do it under great physical duress rather than sit and complain about not being able to play. Add that in to stories like this and she instantly becomes an easy person to like.
She didn't win today. She entered the last round a shot behind the leader and could only manage to shoot par for the day to finish tied for fifth. She saw me in the reception line after Friday's first round and asked "are you coming back tomorrow?" Of course I was. It's so easy to root for someone who cares so much about being the best, and it's a condition absent from a lot of pro athletes in other, more popular sports. Sports that make people crazy enough to blow a horn for the entire game, paint their face in team colors, gamble, purchase expensive souvenirs and clothing and expensive event tickets.
My Shop Rite card got me into the tournament for free. I didn't even have to pay to watch Paula play golf, and since I routinely pay $100 (all expenses) a night to watch big time baseball, you'd see why I think watching Paula is the biggest bargain in sports.
Maybe I was wrong. Maybe Paula did win today?