Monday, January 26, 2015

Homeless Thoughts - The Educational Edition

Lurning Kerve
OK, I’m just over a week into owning an iPhone and I’m learning more stuff about what it can do every day.  But it’s not just the fancy stuff… Some things I just couldn’t bring myself to ask anyone about.

Like the buttons on the upper left side.  I could see that two of them controlled volume up and volume down, but the top one was supposed to switch the ringer on and off.  But no matter how hard I pushed it, it never moved and the ringer never changed.  I thought it might be one of those touch-sensitive deals that picks up body heat.  No luck.

Until one night I was picked up the phone and saw a quickly fading message that my ringer had just been turned off.  Unfortunately, I had no idea what I did, and not I couldn’t get it back on.  I scoured though all the settings, but couldn’t change my now soundless iPhone.

Cut to a couple days ago, when my phone cover was delivered.  As I jammed it around the edges of the phone, the lip bumped that top button, and switched the sound back on.  Because the button is flipped back and forth, not pushed in!


I expect any day now, Steve Jobs is going to rise from the dead and take his iPhone away from me.

Hasn’t been a total loss though.  My brother told me about how I can download my bank’s mobile app, and then when I need to deposit a check, just scan it with the phone.  When I got that to work, I thought it was the coolest thing ever. 

Now if I can just get it to work the same way with cash…

More Lurnin’
I also discovered an important kitchen lesson.  When you’re making small pasta, like “orzo,” make sure the holes in the colander are smaller than the pasta. 

Doh!  What a waste…

I should totally sue the colander manufacturer, because they should have had a warning on it.  If they can warn you that coffee is hot, they can warn about this.

“The Password is… Kidnapping”
I saw a thing on Facebook this weekend, that explained how parents should give their kids a special password, and that any adults trying to pick them up or give them a ride would have to know the password or the kid shouldn’t go with them.

On the surface, I think it’s a pretty good idea.  We had something like that when I was a kid, but it didn’t quite work out.  I think the problem was that our family password was “Get in the fuckin’ car.

I called my folks over the weekend, just as they were having their preliminary nap… you know, the nap before they go take their “official” nap.  Some married couples have pre-nups. My parents have pre-naps.

Hats Off
Remember how I used to have all my ballcaps pinned up around my dining room, and then eventually stowed them back on the hallway wall?  Hat Wall 2.0 was starting to get overcrowded, so I had a thought.

I have some hats that are mostly decorative, meaning I rarely wear them.  I’m talking about the hats that celebrate championships.  To me, it’s bad mojo to wear them during the year.  It tempts fate.  So the only time I really wear them is during the off season directly following the championship.

I could just “not buy them,” but come on… seriously?  When my team wins it all, I get swag fever bad.  So not only do I have a hat for each championship, I have several.

So, to solve my space problem, I created the Championship Hat Wall, back in the dining room where I used to have them.

I’ve got hats from Ohio State, the Steelers and the Penguins.  Now if only the Pirates or Orioles can bring one home, I can cover all my sports.  Might need more wall though…

Aside from the Giant Killer Death Snowstorm hitting the Northeast, the story of the week continues to be “Deflategate.”   That’s about how the New England Patriot are accused of deflating the footballs they used on offense, to make them easier to grip and throw during the AFC Championship Game against the Colts.

First of all, let me declare here and now that I sick to death of the media adding “gate” to every scandal or controversy.  I mean shit, Watergate was 41 years ago.  Can’t we do any better than this?

I’m just biding my time.  Sooner or later there will come a snafu that will either resist being “gated,” or will become spectacular.

For example, if there was an issue with someone’s gated community, would it become Gategate?  What if it were Bill Gates’ gated community?  Would it be Gates’ Gategate?  And if Bill Gates were to divorce his wife and then marry gorgeous former Star Trek–Next Generation actress Gates McFadden, and she was the instigator of the whole controversy, it would have to be called Gates Gates’ Gategate.

Ooh!  Ooh!  If she is tried in court on the controversy and is acquitted, we could say Gates Gates Skates Gategate. 

“Please come to Sick Bay.  You’re a very disturbed person.”

Director’s DVD Commentary: If you don’t like this kind of silliness, you’ll want to avoid this post at all costs.

Now, about this deflated football thing…

First of all, I find it impossible that any kind of natural conditions are responsible for deflating the Patriots footballs but not those used by the Colts.  Regardless that the physics put forth by the coach are questionable, the fact remains that the same physics would apply to both sides of the field.

I further find it extremely unlikely that Bill Belichick, who has a reputation of being a control freak regarding all aspects of his team’s preparation and execution, was ignorant about how the footballs are prepared for his team every week.

And it would be astounding to think that QB Tom Brady, the heart and soul of the team and the man throwing the passes, did not explicitly approve of the deflation.  I mean, he’s the field general.  Nothing is going to happen to those footballs without his express approval.  What flunky would risk his wrath if he didn’t want the footballs softer?

The NFL is conducting its investigation, which I hope is more robust than their half-hearted attempts to investigate the Ray Rice Elevator Punch.  Assuming they find fault with the team, they need to come down hard on the Patriots.  This issue goes to the very fabric of an even playing field.  One team cannot be given equipment of a different standard than the other team.  It’s like making one team go uphill.

And given that this will the second time the Pats have been caught violating the rules regarding fair play, they need to be smacked down hard.  No, I’m not saying remove them from the Super Bowl, it’s too late for that, but they need to lose big draft picks, and people need to be suspended… Belichick and Brady, at least.

Whether Belichick even had specific knowledge or not doesn’t matter.  It’s the same thing as with the Chris Christie bridge scandal.  The leader sets the culture of the office, or team.  No one would ever dare step out of line like that, if they didn’t think it would please the Boss.

It also doesn’t matter that the deflated footballs didn’t seem to make much difference, as the Pats pushed the Colts all over the field.  Attempts at cheating are not nullified by the cheating not having the desired effect.  It’s still an illegal way to give your team an advantage that the other team doesn’t have.  The integrity of the game has to be preserved, or else the whole thing becomes a joke.  Goodell needs to live up to his own mantra and Protect the Shield.

What will happen?  I think they’ll find some lackey to take the blame… an over-enthusiastic ball boy or something. 

Or maybe (massive Pats nose tackle) Vince Wilfork sat on the box of footballs. 

Apparently Vince was trying to hatch this one.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

The Huckster

I really should thank so many of the people I follow on Twitter; last night I was able to watch the Penguins/Flyers game and still keep up with the State of the Union.  I’m pretty sure every applause line drew a retweet or 20, especially when POTUS trolled the entire right side of Congress, with his, “and I won them, too” burn.

It’s unfortunate that the entire night was pretty much a complete waste of time.  The President went up there and laid out all the things he’d like to do this year, each of which the Republican-led Congress will kill in its sleep before letting anyone even vote on it.

I’m at least looking forward to hearing them explain how things that would benefit so many won’t be passed on account of them costing such a privileged few.  Of course, they won’t come out and say that; they’ll just two-step around it and “SOCIALISM!”  Red-baiting is a lot easier than explaining why you’re screwing people.

This Congress isn’t interested in helping the middle class.  The only time they even think about the middle class is when they try to come with ways to get their votes, without actually having to deliver any benefits.  The only voices they hear are those of their wealthy benefactors.  They’re still trying to convince people that the benefits of dropping tax cuts and subsidies on the biggest industries will spill over to the rest of us.

Of course, they have to completely ignore the fact that it doesn’t work that way.  Didn’t work when Reagan tried it in the 80s.  It didn’t work when GW Bush did the same thing.  Both times, Democrats had to come in and fix the damage done to the economy.

Didn’t work when Kansas tried it a year or so ago, when the Republican governor and Republican State Legislature passed enormous tax cuts to in-state businesses.  Not only did unemployment rise, but they face a huge budget shortfall, which they will naturally solve by cutting essential state services.  It’s a complete clusterfuck.

And it didn’t work in New Jersey, where Governor “What Bridge?” Christie is facing the same problem as Kansas, for the same reason.

This is what actually happens when you slash taxes and provide ample loopholes for big businesses:

Aw man… Now I want some wine.

Anyway, if the last two years featured congressional gridlock, I don’t see any change for the next two.  But at least we’ve been able to do something about providing an equal right to marry.  Thirty-six states now have legal same-sex marriage, and as far as we can tell, The Children are still fine, and no one’s heterosexual marriage has crumbled because those two quiet guys next door have a marriage license now.

But wait, just when you think there’s hope for the country, in comes former governor and current Fox “News” hack Mike Huckabee, to claim that states can legally ignore the Supreme Court’s decisions regarding same-sex marriage.

I’m pretty sure that’s news to anyone who’s ever taken a high school government class.  Huck’s claim is the “courts cannot make a law, they can interpret one and then the legislature has to create enabling legislation and the executive has to sign it and has to enforce it.”

As the rest of us learned in high school, the courts don’t make law, they rule on the validity of laws passed by a legislative body.  And they have every power to invalidate a prejudicial and punitive same-sex marriage ban.  States then needn’t pass any extra law to allow something that’s not banned.  And they’re liable for a lawsuit if they continue to “refuse service” to an otherwise legitimate customer, whether it’s the marriage license clerk or the local cake shop.

We solved this problem back in the 60 and 70s, only it was inter-racial marriage rather than same-sex marriage.  Both cases hinged on refusing a service to a couple based on the way they were born.

My opinion is that Republicans drive this controversy because it’s something they can do that will A) Secure votes from the evangelical members of the middle and lower class, B) without costing money for the upper class.

They won’t tell you that though.  Most fall in with the bullshit Huckabee’s throwing out.

He said, “I'm going to do it because I believe it's the right position, it's the biblical position, it's the historical position.”

I love it when politicians use arguments that are so easy to refute.  Historical position?  Every cultural and scientific breakthrough went against a historical position dating back to the beginning of time.  So what?  That’s the very definition of progress.  It was a historical precedent that blacks and whites couldn’t marry.  Did that make it right?  Same with inter-religious marriages.  There was a first time for those too.

The fact that we did something in the past doesn’t inherently make it right.  I just means we didn’t always know any better.

A biblical position?  I hate to break it to the Huckster, but biblical material has no business being brought into a political policy debate.  There’s this thing called the separation of church and state.  We’re governed by the US Constitution, not the Bible.

I just wonder which parts of the Bible he wants to have us ruled by.  I mean, there’s a lot of things in there that even Huckabee won’t defend.

And this doesn’t even get into the raft of ridiculata put forth in Leviticus.

So once again, it seems we have a politician cherry-picking the Bible to support his existing prejudices, to sell to an equally ignorant party base, for his own gain.

And they say we heathens have no morals…

Thursday, January 15, 2015

The iPhone Pledge

My last Facebook status: “Look out 2010, the last man on earth without one finally got a smart phone.  Commence vast learning curve.”

Yep, on Monday I ordered myself an iPhone 6 and it was delivered Wednesday night. 

I decided to go with the iPhone (rather than an Android or anything else) because I already had an iPad, and figured the two would play nicely together.  It helps to only have to learn one operating system.

The catalyst of this whole thing was the fact that my office is moving to a different part of downtown Baltimore this year.  The move will increase my daily walk from subway to office by half.  It currently takes me 5 minutes each way, and now it will take 10.

It’s not a huge distance by any means, but when it’s 20 degrees out, or pouring down rain, every little bit counts.  But what does that have to do with getting a smart phone?

Well, there’s a free bus system called the Charm City Circulator.  One of the routes runs right along the way that I’ll be walking.  They also have an app, which will tell me how long it will take before the bus hits a particular stop.  I figure that’s something I’ll need.

When I pop up out of the subway, it will be decision time.  If there’s a bus coming shortly, I can wait for it. But if it’s still 10 minutes away, I might as well walk.  So I’ll need to know the difference.

Yeah, saving a 10 minute walk… that’s why I finally bought an iPhone.

Also, watching my brother use the Google Maps app in the car, and various other doohickeys while we were going to Pittsburgh and back two weeks ago; that gave me a prod as well.  Plus, it’s about time I come in out of the darkness and start to use this new technology.

The kicker was finding a cell service with an appropriate deal.  I saw that my current vendor was offering a no-limit talk/text/data plan for $50 a month.  My current cell plan ran about $35 a month as it was, so the difference (once I pay off the phone) will be small.  The high price of data plans was a huge deterrent for me before.

Obviously, I’m not one of those “early adopters.”  I’m more like “the last adopter,” meaning as soon as I adopt the technology, the powers that be will release a brand new item that will surpass and replace the thing I just adopted.  I’m assuming that this is when Google Glass makes the leap to become the dominant media tech.

And the funny thing is, every time I learn some new trick or find a cool gadget, I can’t really tell anyone about it because they’ll be like, “Meh, I had that two years ago…”

So, now what do I do?

Right off the bat, I’m stuffing my iPhone with all the apps I currently have on my iPad.  And I love how my contacts and Google Chrome bookmarks all transferred over instantly.  Also, I’m rolling through Amazon and ordering all the accessories I’ll need… a cover, stylus, extra chargers, a car clip, and whatnot.

While I was working on it last night, I got an instant message from blog sister Cassie, which was nice.  I noted that not only was she the first non-family member to comment on my blog, she’s now the first person to send me a message on the new phone.  Always the trailblazer, she is.

But as Spiderman’s Uncle Ben said, with this new power comes great responsibility.  I refuse to become one of those people who can’t put their phones down.  My phone is going to serve me, not the other way around. 

I still plan on reading my real newspaper on the subway on the way to work, and my paper Sports Illustrated on the way home.  Of course, now I can play my bubble game on the phone when I’m coming home late from an Orioles game, with nothing to read.

Now I can load the Frequent Visitor app from my local sports bar, so I don’t have to schlepp my iPad with me anymore.  And I can bag my old GPS, in favor of Google Maps, which along with the route, will spot and avoid traffic jams for me.

I still probably won’t have my iPhone on when I’m at home, because I’m keeping my land line, and I already have a PC and iPad for web stuff.

It occurred to me that I should come up with some kind of smart phone pledge.  If I make a public declaration, you can help keep me honest if you see me veering into iPhone Co-Dependency territory.

The Darwinfish2 Smart Phone Pledge
As the new owner of a fancy-pantsy smart phone, I do solemnly swear that I will avoid ignorant, rude and anti-social behavior, including but not limited to:

  • Keeping my nose in the phone as I sit at a table having a meal or drinks with friends.
  • Looking at my phone instead of where I’m going while I’m walking down the sidewalk, and eventually into traffic.
  • Paying good money to attend a sports event, concert or movie, and spending all my time looking at my phone rather than the activity playing out in front of me.
  • Interrupting the conversation I’m having just to see who just emailed me, texted me, or liked something on Facebook.
  • Checking the same messages while I’m in a theater with the movie playing.
  • Texting while I’m driving, because no one is as good at it as they think they are.
  • Talking incessantly about the next new thing my phone can do.
  • Having hissy fits if my phone is not within arm’s reach.
In the name of Steve Jobs, I swear to avoid these and any other transgressions of smart phone obliviousness.   Bluz Dude

Now, who’s got some apps that I need?

Monday, January 12, 2015

Odd Bits - The St. Roberto Edition

Yep, I was right… coming back to a 5-day work week sucks.  At least I seem to have kicked my cold.  I’ve been off the cold medicine since, Thursday night, so I’m not seeing vapor trails any more.  But here are some things that I have seen…

I’m French; Why Do You Think We’re Having This Outrrrrageous Parade?
OK, everyone’s seen all the stuff going on in France, with the magazine shootings.  Truly a tragedy, no question.  Over the weekend, they had the big peace march, with featured a number of world leaders.

One world leader who wasn’t there was President Obama, which of course, sent Fox “News” into a lather, claiming in one full-fanged piece of overstatement,President Obama chose the side of the terrorists.”  Another one of their hacks claimed, “Obama’s message to America and its allies is that we don’t care.”

Right.  Naturally, this is despite France’s statement that the President was one of the first callers to the French government, to offer his condolences and offer assistance.

I have no question at all that if the President HAD gone to France to march in the streets, Fox would be hollering that he should be back home, working on passing the GOP Keystone pipe dream project, or some other trumped up emergency.

Obviously, an American President out marching around within a crowd of a million people is a huge risk, and not a scenario in which the Secret Service can easily protect him.  In fact, that’s probably why Fox wanted him to go in the first place… to facilitate assassination.  Then they’d only have to deal with a run-of-the-mill white commie, rather than a foreign-sounding dark one.

And since when does Fox care anything more about France a than how to use them as a punch line?

Personally, I think I could solve the whole French-Muslim problem with one move.  I’d just send this guy to the Middle East and let him do his worst:

“Your mother was a hamster, and your father smelt of hummus!”

Birmingham Bluz
As someone who was once versed in journalism, I have to stand in awe of the degree to which Fox “News” just makes shit up.  They became the laughing stock of British twitterers the other day, after one of their terrorism commentators asserted that Birmingham (England) was a “Muslim-only” city and that “non-Muslims don’t dare go there,” because “Muslim police” beat “anyone who doesn’t dress in… religious Muslim attire.

Naturally, this came as quite a surprise to the 70% of Birminghamites, who are non-Muslim.  As word of this new census interpretation spread, the Brits took to Twitter to excoriate the idiot.  This was my favorite one: 

 Once again, a Fox “News” talking head just throws this information out there that is blatantly untrue, and doesn’t think twice about it until he’s called on it by the masses.

I have a rule of thumb; I don’t believe anything I hear on Fox, ever.  Not even football scores.  You just know they’ve inflated the score of the team on the right.

Ratbird Down
Big football weekend, that was, with four Divisional Playoff games on tap.  I actually went out to my sports bar to watch the Ratbirds/Patriots game.  I didn’t have to take too much grief following the Steelers loss, but I did buy a couple of drinks for one of my regular (and very cute) rivals.

The game itself was a wildly entertaining affair, with the Ratties going up by 14 on two occasions, and subsequently losing the lead both times.  Pretty-boy Tom Brady ultimately outplayed Joe Flacco, carved up the Rats’ secondary and led his team to a huge win.

It’s hard to follow the intricacies of the game when watching in a bar, so it wasn’t until the next day that I knew about some game controversy.  It seems the Ravens’ coach, John Harbaugh, was complaining about some 4-lineman formations the Pats were using, and that they were making certain players eligible or ineligible (to receive a pass.)  This confused the Ratties and led to some clutch completions for the Patties.

Although the NFL review concluded that there was nothing illegal about the formations, Coach Harbaugh non-the-less complained about their tactics. 

"Because what they were doing was they would announce the eligible player and then Tom would take them to the line right away and snap the ball before we had a chance to even figure out who was lined up where. And that was the deception part of it, it was clearly deceptions.”

Wow Coach, so those cheating Patriots are trying to deceive you, huh?  Just like every other offensive movement and formation across the history of the NFL?  I bet the first coach that ever saw a team shift out of the single-wing formation cried to the refs too.

Apparently Harbaugh went to the officials and requested a do-over, on account of “we weren’t ready.”  Unfortunately for him, Coach Belichick effectively countered his request by claiming there were “no take-backs.”

Tom Brady had the best word on it.  He said, “I don't know what's deceiving about that…  Those guys gotta study the rule book and figure it out." We obviously knew what we were doing and made some pretty important plays.”

Too Bad He Didn’t Play for the Angels
I know people take their sports heroes seriously, but this headline made me double-clutch.

“Pastor/Actor/Criminal Seeks Canonization for Roberto Clemente.”

Roberto was an All-Star right fielder for the Pittsburgh Pirates, who died in 1972 in a small plane crash, while taking supplies to earthquake-stricken Nicaragua.  He was my favorite player, as a boy, and my brother’s as well.

Anyway, this huckster pastor in Pittsburgh recently hit up the Vatican to try to elevate “The Great One” to sainthood.  The Vatican directed him to take it up with the archbishop of San Juan, PR.

I just wonder what three miracles he was going to claim.  I could come up with a couple, but I’m not sure they’d hold up under church scrutiny.

* Game 7 of the 1960 World Series

* His rifle-shot throw to third in the 1971 World Series, which also uncovered the 3rd-base ump (who called the runner safe), as a minion of Satan.

* He made an entire airplane (as well as himself) disappear.

While I admire this guy’s efforts, he probably ought to stick to trying to get Clemente’s #21 retired throughout the major leagues.  If there’s anything more convoluted than MLB’s decision-making process, it’s the Vatican’s.

My favorite part of the article came in the comments, where one guy wrote: “I’m Jewish, but would love for my kids to attend St. Roberto of the 5 Tools.”


Tuesday, January 6, 2015

The MeatLoaf Weekend

2015 kicked off for me in amazing fashion, as I got to go to a couple of sporting events and hang out with two of my favorite people, in my favorite town.  As I mentioned in the last post, I had plans to see both the Steelers and Penguins play in Pittsburgh, with my brother Ed and nephew Daniel.

To get an early jump on the festivities, I went to Ed’s house on New Year’s Day, to watch some hot Bowl Game action.  In particular, Ohio State’s upset win over Alabama set a positive tone for the new year.  I spent the night there, so we could leave for Pittsburgh first thing the next morning.

Kudos for claiming this plate down at the DMV.  You win Yinzer of the Year!

We got into town easily, and after checking in at the Doubletree, we took a walk down to Market Square, to take in some monster Primanti’s sandwiches.

Primanti’s “Colossal Fish Sandwich.”

I actually had thoughts about not finishing the second half, which is unbelievably rare for me.  But then I did finish it, so it remains rare.

We limped back to the hotel and vegged for a few, before gearing up and heading down the block to Consol Energy Arena, home of the Pittsburgh Penguins.  Besides the Pens, I’ve only seen 4 other hockey teams… Washington (a bunch of times, in DC), Vancouver, Florida, and Tampa.  Naturally, this game was against Tampa again, so I didn’t get to add to my repertoire.  I had been hoping we could see the Saturday game against Montreal, but they ended up scheduling the Steelers game at the same time, so that was out of the question.

We had excellent seats, in my opinion; 11 rows and to the left of the goal the Pens defended twice.  Sure, the Pens’ scoring action was mostly down at the other end, but on the bright side, they do the pre-game warmups right in front of us.  That way, I can bring the ladies this shot of the Pens’ “unicorn,” Kris Letang.

Does he still do it for you, without the flowing hair?

Our game view obviously wasn’t so zoomed in:

This was our standard view.

I also got a number of good faceoff shots, like this one.

Penguins’ captain, Sidney Crosby.

I like shooting the faceoffs, because the players are standing still, which gives me a good chance to frame up the shot and not get a bunch of blur.

The game went well for us; the Pens went up 3-0 in the first period and never really looked back, winning 6-3.  It went much better for the Pens than it did for one of the refs.  At one point, I heard the whole crowd go “Ewwwwwwwwwww!” 

I looked around and saw a ref in the far corner trying to get off the ice.  I asked Ed what happened.  He said the ref hurled.  Twice.

I guess this ref was named “Ralph.”

After the game, we adjourned back to the room to watch a little TV before bed.  Ed and Daniel had a separate room, and I had a rollout bed in the “main room.”  It was comfy… eventually.

See, as I was folding the bed out, I noticed something rolling between the mattress and the frame:

AHA!  An M&M!

Good thing I found it before I got in bed… otherwise it would have been like an adaptation of a famous fairy tale, this one called “The Prince and the Pea…nut M&M.”

We had to take it slow Saturday morning, due to an ice storm, which shut down all the roads.  So we hit the breakfast buffet and then chilled in the room until around noon, when the precipitation turned to rain and washed the ice away.

We rolled out to the burbs to go see our Aunt and Uncle, who naturally made with the deli spread and wine.  Yes, I mentioned that we just had breakfast.  The food just appears, no matter what I say, I swear!  But we had a great time shooting the breeze and catching up on all the family news.

Then we ran over to see our Grandpa, who will be 99 next month.  He’s still hanging in there, bless his heart.  I am definitely a fortunate man, to have a grandparent with me for so long.

So we hung with Grandpa for about an hour before we had to make a break for it and head back to the room to gear up.  For a change, fortune was on our side.  The weather forecast for days had said it would rain all day and all night.  But just before we left, we checked again and it was updated to 0% chance of rain between 6:00 and 11:00!  I took my rain poncho with me anyway, but we were all able to shed a couple of layers we would have otherwise had on.

There was a subway stop right across the street from the hotel, which took us straight to the stadium.  So even if it had been pouring, we wouldn’t have been out in it for very long. 

The train was jammed, but I was greatly entertained by the Yinzer Nation, who was out in force.  There was one kind of loud woman who was sitting across from a young kid wearing a Ravens shirt.  He said he wasn’t from Baltimore, he was local, but he just liked the Ravens.  The lady said, “Whattsa matter, why din’ you drink the Kool-wade?  Your mawm musta dropped ya on yer head.”

Walking up to Heinz Field.

The rain had stopped by the time we got to Heinz Field, leaving the weather just about perfect for football, at a crisp 40 degrees.  Once inside, my brother and nephew had a nice bonding moment.

[“Thanks for bringing me to the game, Dad.”]
[“Don’t forget to clean your room when we get home.”]

Even if it had been pouring, we would have been OK.  Ed got us tickets under cover in the club section, one row from the top.  We were all the way on the end of the open end zone, on the side.

Early on, we had the whole place to ourselves.

At first, I wasn’t sure if we would be able to see the scoreboard, but we were fine.  The only thing we couldn’t see were the fireworks.

Hey, can yinz move that ramp out of the way?

The vibe in the place was insane, like it was ready to explode.  You should have seen the Terrible Towels waving before the game.  They were so thick, it was like you could walk on them.

We had a decent enough view, for being in the end zone.

It was nice of them to add that video screen in the corner, for us.  That was new since the last time we’d been there.

Unfortunately, this is where the weekend took a downturn, as the Steelers, without their 1st Team All Pro running back, Le’veon Bell, were badly outplayed by the hated Ratbirds.  Between a horrendous running game, taking stupid penalties and Ben throwing off target more than on, they stunk up the joint and lost 30-17.

But I can’t complain.  I had a ball spending a couple of days with my brother and nephew.  We ate good food, had a couple of drinks and visited two of the country’s top sports arenas.  Can’t beat a Guy’s Weekend Out!

Director’s DVD Commentary: By the way, the title refers to this as a MeatLoaf Weekend, because “Two Out Of Three” teams we rooted for won, which, as we all know, “Ain’t Bad.”

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Odd Bits - The Topless Edition

Hope everyone had a nice Christmas.  Mine was just fine.  And I even refrained from torturing my mom by sending her pictures of my Christmas Pop Tart Breakfast this year, by instead switching to crescent rolls.

And what Christmas morning is complete without a roaring fire?

Top This
After opening the presents I had laying under the tree, (no, not from me), and knocking off the daily crossword puzzles, jumble and Sudoku, I went to spend the day with my brother and his family.

On the way there, I saw the strangest thing… something that’s never occurred to me before.  I didn’t have time to snap a picture myself, but I found the same thing online.

Seriously?  They have that?  I’ll be damned.

So I researched a little further and found that this is indeed, a real business.  And not only do they clean, they do private shows and bikini car washes!  I also wanted to be sure they wouldn’t be sending Mama June over.  Some things are better left unseen.

Now, as a single, apartment-dwelling dude, you’d think this would be a perfect perk for me, sure to put a little schwiing in my step.  And I actually considered it for about a tenth of a second before dismissing the idea.  Why?

Well, because I would obviously have to be there while they’re cleaning, to make it worthwhile.  And I’d have to watch them cleaning… cleaning up after me.  I would never be able to enjoy that.  The whole time, I’d be worried that she’s thinking, “What a lazy slob.  Why can’t he do his own dusting and vacuuming?  What else does he have to do, watch more Modern Family reruns?

I would also be concerned about the quality of the housekeeping.  Judging from the pictures on the website, I don’t think these maids were hired based on their prowess with a dust rag.  Would it be rude of me be follow them around going, “You missed a spot.”?

Director's DVD Commentary: This is where the CFO has an embolism about me missing the point of topless cleaning services.  Because one time, after seeing a porno movie (as 18-year old boys were prone to do in 1979), I made a tongue-in-cheek comment about the plot being weak.)

I think a more useful service might be topless plumbing.  Now what single guy doesn’t want his pipes cleaned once in a while?

Check Mate
A while back, I went to my local bank to pick up a couple more check registers.  You know those things where you record all your checks and keep your balance?

I think I may be the only one left who uses them.  They asked me how many I wanted, and I said, “I don’t know… a couple, maybe?”

They said, “Here, take all these.  I don’t think we’ve given out more than two or three all year.

They gave me all they had left, 22 in all.

Now, I write very few actual checks, and pay all my bills via online checking.  So I know how to access my checking information electronically.  But I still record and balance my account on a check register.  Is that weird, or just redundant? 

For me, it’s just the way I learned how to do it.  I record everything going in and out of the account, and balance it against my statement every month.  I like having an alternate accounting system, in case something happens that interrupts online accessibility.

Do you still manually balance your checkbook?  Let me know if you need any check registers.  I think I have enough to last me until I’m 150.

Bluz on his deathbed: But I can’t die yet…  I still have 7 more check registers to go…

Starting off the New Year with a Bang
I haven’t done jack-shit so far this week, mostly because I’ve been sick.  Came down with a cold on Christmas night, and have been hacking and pounding Vitamin C ever since.  So I’ve been taking it easy and just loafing around the place. (Yeah, I’m sick!  That’s why I need Topless Maids!)

Yesterday, for example, my biggest activity was ordering Chinese food and watching 9 episodes of LA Law, Season 1, on DVD.

But I’d better get my act together soon, because I’ve got a big weekend coming up.  When I was at my brother’s, at Christmas, he brought up the idea of going to the Burgh this weekend, and seeing a couple of games.  The Penguins have home games Friday and Saturday nights, and if the Steelers beat the Bengals (which they did), they would have a home playoff game as well.

Right off the bat, we ordered tickets for the Friday night Pens game, and after the playoff picture became clear, he got tickets for the Steelers/Ratbirds game Saturday night.  He already had a hotel room reserved.  (You have to understand, my brother is like a ticket savant.  He always gets what he needs.)

So, my brother, his son Daniel and I are going to have an adventure.  I can’t wait.  Games aside, I’m excited just to hang out with them.  And I’ve seen Steelers/Ratbirds games a number of times, but never in Pittsburgh.  So it will be nice not to be screamed at and threatened by a bunch of mouth-breathing cement heads.

I’ll have a full report next week.  I just hope I feel better by then. By the looks of the weather report, it’s enough to make me catch a cold.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Odd Bits - The Hoggified Edition

Only one more partial day of work and them I’m off until the first week of January.  I’m so excited.  Not that it’s been a particularly exhaustive month.  As I’ve mentioned, I’ve been taking every Friday off.  I’ve been on 4-day weeks since before Thanksgiving.  (Man, January is going to SUCK, when I have to go back to a regular work week!)

I like to save up my time off and use it at the end of the year.  December is like a dessert, after my year-long meal.  (Geez, ya think I’m obsessed with food much?)  Anyway, it’s like, I work hard all year, so a light December is my reward.  Now onto some stuff…

Hittin’ That Jay
I’ve mentioned before that my parents get us a special ornament every year.  They currently subscribe to Danbury Mint’s Ornament of the Month program, which yields a delicate gold ornament every month.

About 10 years back or so, Danbury featured a line of exquisitely detailed and painted ceramic birds.  Somehow I ended up with 5 of them.  Because I liked them too much to only put on the Christmas tree, I hung them from the 5 arms of my dining room chandelier.  They stayed there up until temporary girlfriend moved in last January, and was aggressively unimpressed by my sense of decorating whimsy.

So with her gone, and me burrowing into my Christmas decoration stash a few weeks back, I decided to put them back up on display.  The only problem was I didn’t have any hooks with which to hang them.  I carefully unwrapped each one and put them on the dining room table, making harsh mental notes to myself not to drop anything on them, lest they chip, break or shatter.

The birds managed to survive to the next day, when I came home with new ornament hooks.  But then, when I went to hang up the first one, the blue jay, I missed the bird’s string loop with the hook, and dropped it on the table.


I was horrified and unbelievably angry with myself.  I never drop or break stuff, ever!  And I wasn’t even drunk!

I inspected the bird and found that only part of the tail broke off.  I found the remnants, in two pieces.  It was a big relief!  This, I could fix!  I’d done it before, under much more trying circumstances.

Back when we lived in Ohio, we went away somewhere, to California, I think, and were gone for a couple of weeks.  Even though we had our neighbor coming over every day to look after him, our cat Amos was not at all happy with us.  And whenever he wasn’t happy, he would knock stuff down.

As it was, he picked a porcelain figurine of a mother holding her baby, and knocked it off a high window shelf.  This was one of my mother’s cherished possessions.

Well, it was almost curtains for Amos.  That was a cat in the doghouse, that’s for sure.  But wait… in rushed #1 Son, to try to save the day.

The saving grace was that the statue was in mostly large pieces, I’d say 6-8 of them.  With a little super glue, I thought I could put it back together.

So, I sat at the dinner table, with a bright light overhead and a worried mother hovering ‘round, I was able to put Humpty back together again.  Mom was thrilled, and Amos, well, he never did say thanks.  Cats…

So, with this in my (35-year ago) back pocket, I figured fixing this blue jay would be a breeze.  I just had to go out for some super glue.

Last weekend, I finally had all the components: super glue, time, patience and good light.  I got some newspaper down and a cloth to wipe up any excess glue.  Had to be sure I didn’t end up with my thumb stuck to my head or something. 

The tail pieces actually went back together fairly well, considering I could hardly tell if any glue was coming out.

But it’s funny… the lengths I’ll go to, just for a little piece of tail.*

Fox “News” Stone Cold Busted
As you well know, I’ve always been a harsh critic of Fox “News,” not just because of their obvious partisan hackery, but because they selectively and dishonestly edit and present their video and graphics.

Last weekend, the local Fox affiliate in Baltimore ran a story on one of the police shooting protests, but edited the crowd’s chant from “We won’t stop. We can’t stop ‘til killer cops are in cell blocks,” to make it sound like the chant was “Kill the cops!”

It wasn’t long before people who were involved with the protest confronted Fox with other original, unedited footage, and demanded an apology.

Fox invited the protester onto their show and sort of apologized.  Their statement said “Fox45 is apologizing for an error made on Fox45 News at Ten.

“An error.”  Whoopsie!

I’ll tell you this right now, that was no “error;” that was exactly what they meant to do.  What they were sorry about was that they were caught doing it.  One doesn’t take the trouble to splice footage together and accidentally change the meaning of the audio.  That takes editing skill, want to, and a complete lack of journalistic ethics.

Fox doesn’t care about journalism.  They are not journalists.  They are opinion makers, pure and simple.  They rearrange facts to suit their motives, in this case, to make white men even more afraid of black people, black men in particular.

Remember when all those tea party whack-a-loons were out defending that rancher’s right to steal government property via squatting on it?  Remember how all those white guys were pointing guns at the police and federal agents?  And remember how Fox criticized them and called them lawless thugs and hooligans?

No, of course you don’t, because to Fox, those were great patriots seeking liberty, so they blamed Obama for enforcing a law which was actually enacted by the Reagan Administration.  Think it was just a coincidence that all those guys were white?

My point is; Fox doesn’t care about accurate or honest reporting.  They care about making you think what they want you to think, which is that all your problems are the Democrats’ fault, so you should vote Republican. 

Their job is to give you a reason to vote for a group who will work against your financial interests.  That reason is fear… fear of blacks, fear of foreigners, fear of non-Christians, fear of gays, fear that they’re going to take away your guns, and fear that other people are getting special benefits that you’re not.

This editing “error” is just one more brick in the wall of evidence that Fox “News” cannot be trusted.

Say it Ain’t So, Joe
It was with much sadness that I heard of the passing of singer Joe Cocker.  The guy didn’t have the classic singer’s voice, but he was certainly unique.

When many people think of Joe Cocker, they think of that time on SNL, that he sang a duet with John Belushi, who was doing a stellar Joe Cocker imitation.

For me, I always think of this brilliant clip, which I’ve run before, but makes me laugh out loud, every single time I see it.
Rest in peace, Mr. Cocker.  I hope you finally found some Wonder Loaf.**

*If you think the only reason I told that whole blue jay story is so I could use that “piece of tail” joke, you’re right.

**To understand the reference here, and in the post title, play the clip.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Odd Bits - The Holiday Edition

So how’s everyone handling the annual holiday stress?  Me?  I’m cool.  Actually finished my Christmas shopping last week, and everything has come in.  One more trip to the post office, and my work this season is done.  (Now don’t be hatin’.)

Holiday Chores
Because I’ve had sufficient time off left that I could take every Friday off from Thanksgiving on, I’ve had the opportunity to get shit done, without it conflicting with some kind of sporting event.  The weekend before last was really productive. 

Remember how I had to test drive a new car model for my company’s fleet, a month or so ago?  Well, I also took the chance to test drive the car we currently use, so I could make an apples to apples comparison.  (And this one wasn’t purple!)  I needed someplace to go, so I decided to go shopping.  My pantry was in pretty good shape, so on the spur of the moment, I decided I’d get a new Christmas tree.

My last one, a little 3-footer, got tossed by my January to February girlfriend, so I was without.  This time, I opted for something a little bigger.  (Definitely artificial though. Don’t have the patience to go the “live tree” route.)  I found a nice 6-foot tree, with the lights already attached.

That had an upside and downside.  On one hand, I don’t have to buy new lights (which were also tossed) or string them up.  On the other hand, they were white lights, and I prefer the colored one.  Wait, I mean “lights of color.”  We don’t want to offend.

But because I didn’t see a similar tree with either colored lights or no lights, I pressed the “Easy Button” and got the white lights.

I wasn’t even going to put it up right away.  But then I figured I’d at least get it stood up so I could check it out.  And then I thought I might as well hang my beaded garland on it.  And then I thought I’d stick a few ornaments on, and put up the rest later.

An hour and a half later, it was all done.  I had to go out later and pick up some tinsel and a tree skirt, but it was a real good start.

After that, I still had some energy, so in an unexpected fit of usefulness, I tackled some of the other chores on my list.  I mopped the kitchen and bathroom floors, cleaned the microwave, and unclogged the kitchen faucet. 

The faucet gets grit in the nozzle, so when it starts spitting out water that looks like it’s coming from Jim Carey after his night of “fun” with Renee Zellweger in “Me, Myself, and Irene,” I know it’s time to unscrew the cap and clean it out.

Naturally, since I was technically doing “plumbing,” I pulled my pants halfway down my ass.

Later that night, as I sat in the living room, sipping something cold and strong, I had such a feeling of contentment as I gazed upon my clean apartment and shiny new tree, and smelled the scent of my new cinnamon candle.

I love using the tree for the main illumination in the room.

I felt very peaceful and satisfied, as I wondered if “productiveness” might be something I should continue to explore.  But then I thought better of it and the mood passed.  Sloth is tricky that way.

Canvassing the Place
That same weekend, I also received the last key pieces to my overall redecoration efforts… two more of my photographs, put onto 20” x 30” canvases.  I needed something to go on the blank wall over my bed, so the week before, I ordered two of my favorite shots to be done up on canvas.

But once they arrived, I realized I hadn’t quite thought it through.  While I loved both shots, they didn’t look very good side by side.  One was a fall landscape I just shot in October, and the other was a blue abstract water reflection shot.  So I figured a full rejiggering was in order.

After running through a number of combinations I settled on a new scheme.  I took down the two water shots I had in the dining room and replaced them with the new fall landscape.

I put the two from the dining room over my bed, and I put the new water shot on the wall to the left.

I had a shot of some torrenia flowers on the left, so I moved those over to the right.

The torrenia went in the spot where I had Cassie’s daughter Claire’s painting (from their ARL fundraising drive) so I moved that to a spot in the kitchen, which was the final domino.  It’s taken all year, but I think I finally have my place looking the way I want it, and it just about looks like a grownup lives there.  Almost.

Last thing I gotta do is make a canvas shot of Camden Yards, to go in my hallway, opposite a large panorama canvas of PNC Park.  But that can wait until spring.

When Googlebots Attack
Remember how I wrote about getting hammered with hits from Google Images bots?  It was kind of nice getting all those hits, because Hits = People Like Me = I’m Fabulous.  But deep down, I knew they were really just empty calories.  I waited to see if the bot attack would subside, but it never did.  So after about 2 weeks, I set my hit-counter to ignore bot hits.  And back to reality I went.

It’s not hard to see where the Googlebot period is…

Hellooo – O—O—O?  Anybody here?  Here?  Here?

Debunkery – Holiday Edition
I see this one on Facebook all the time. 

Allow me to rephrase if for you: “Nobody’s religion counts but mine, and if you attempt to accommodate any others, I’ll get really bitchy and play the victim until I get my way.”

To me, it’s simple.  People say “Happy Holidays” when they don’t know your religion.  It’s a basic, considerate thing to do because there is a significant number of people in this country who are Jewish, Buddhist, Muslim, Hindu, Atheist, Wiccan, Pagan or Pastafarian, many of whom celebrate a holiday during the same general time frame.  None of them are any less worthy of holiday wishes.

Now businesses, they have a monetary stake in not offending people, so that’s where you most often hear the HH greeting.  I don’t think anyone is setting out to offend anyone else, but insisting that people (strangers) reference your religion as the default greeting is saying, “I matter and other people don’t.”  Which is just what Jesus would have said, isn’t it?

I’m a simple heathen and I don’t care what anyone says.  If you say Merry Christmas to me, I’ll say it back.  And I’ll do the same with any other greeting.  It’s the thought that counts.  Everyone should just to accept whatever greeting they get, in the spirit in which it’s given.  And stop whining if people don’t automatically assume they’re Christian.

Overcoming a Bad Reputation
It was with great happiness that I read this morning that my Queen, Joan Jett is finally being inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, next year.  She is going in along with Stevie Ray Vaughan, and a number of other luminaries.

As far as I’m concerned, Joan should have been in years ago.  Her influence on female rockers is immense, and she’s still out there, in her mid-to-late 50s, making albums and going out on tour.  She’s been eligible since 2005, so it’s about freakin’ time.

Me and my friend Joan, circa 1988.

I’m also somewhat dumbfounded that Stevie Ray is just going in now.  He was eligible in 2008.  If there’s ever been a better guitarist than SRV, I’d sure like to see him.  I know Joan will show, but I’m not sure who’s going to play Stevie Ray’s stuff at the induction ceremony, but that’s one show I’ll have to see.

My Bologna
I’ll finish with this quick story…

We had our department holiday potluck this afternoon, and as we were sitting around stuffing our faces, a new member of our group mentioned that after her husband goes deer hunting, they usually make a pile of deer bologna.

To which I replied, “Now you just need a jingle… “My baloney had a first name, it B-A-M-B-I…”

I’m amazed they ever let me eat with the grownups.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Candid Camera Cops

Like in many cities, Baltimore is weighing the value of requiring police officers to wear body cameras.  In fact the city council already passed a bill requiring it, but the Mayor vetoed it.  They both want the cameras, they just differ on timing and logistics.

I think body cameras for cops are a terrific idea, because everyone wins.  Assuming the cameras are on when it matters, citizens are protected from unwarranted use of force, and cops are protected from false accusations of brutality.

At least, I used to think that.  Now I don’t know what to think.  The Eric Garner case in New York changed everything.

When I wrote about the Ferguson case, I called bullshit on multiple parties, mostly because no one really knew what happened.  Everyone was talking about it, but no one actually knew anything.  My appeal was for patience, to see what the actual evidence was.

And you know what?  If the evidence that was presented by the prosecutor was true. I don’t see how they could indict.  The evidence did not sync with the “eyewitness” stories that were being blasted on TV.  It DID sync with other evidence and witness statement from people that were not yapping into a camera.

I know there are a lot of factors at play, but it comes down to, “If you don’t want to get shot by a cop, you probably shouldn’t swear at and then physically attack a cop.”  That’s just common sense.

It’s a shame it all played out that way, but the evidence (again, if legitimate) was convincing, at least to me. 

The biggest factor that made the Ferguson case blow up was that there was a combination of a fatal incident, eyewitness talking to the media (social and otherwise), and a lack of real-time documentation.

That’s where I thought a police body cam could have saved a hell of a lot of uncertainty.  Once everyone could see that a huge kid cursed at and then attacked a cop sitting in his squad car, you’d see the shooting was justified.  OR, if you had seen a cop put 6 shots into a kid who has his hands up, you’d see an indictment and trial.

And then came the Garner case.

Here, we have a cop using a banned choke hold on an unarmed guy who was just standing there, for the crime of selling single smokes, which is barely a notch above jaywalking, ignoring his pleas that he couldn’t breathe until the guy dies right there on the sidewalk, and the whole thing is on video.  And they STILL didn’t indict the cop.

Eric Garner, about to not be able to breath.  (Source)

I just don’t see how that’s possible.  What is it that has to happen, before it’s the cop’s fault?  Kill a dog, while he’s at it?

So no, it’s not like putting body cams on cops is going to solve everything.  To even make a dent in the mistrust between the police and minority citizens, it’s going to take far more complicated solutions to address the root of the problem.  It all comes down to poverty.  Here’s why…

We’ll never solve the mutual mistrust problem when with an overwhelmingly white police force policing an overwhelmingly black (or Hispanic) population.  And dropping a few more token minorities onto the force is not going to cut it.  There has to be a significant, visible difference.

But it’s not like even if they wanted to, all the dudes from the neighborhood can just go sign up and be issued a badge.  They have to meet physical requirements, take an entrance exam which may or may not be biased towards white applicants, go through training, and pass another test.

I’m betting a significant percentage of the candidate pool haven’t had the best education, which might have helped in passing a test.  A lot of these city schools aren’t exactly shining jewels of educational excellence.  It’s all teachers can do to keep kids’ butts in their seats, sometimes.

And why is that?  Maybe because the kids haven’t been eating well, or maybe they’ve been out all night on the street, or maybe they’re afraid of enjoying the act of learning and getting labeled as “not keeping it real.”

And where does all that come from?  Poverty.  No money, no food, no toys or books or laptops.  No kid is going to thrive under that kind of stress.  Meanwhile, the older poor kids are pressuring them to come out and hustle, to make a few bucks... just watch out for the Po-Po.  Thus begins the mistrust, if it hasn’t already been handed down from preceding generations.

Now, I’m not trying to generalize, and there are obviously exceptions everywhere, but this is a problem that will not be solved by exceptions.  It requires institutional change, not Band-Aids or body cams. 

How is that going to happen?  A good start would entail the creation of some real jobs, paying a realistic wage.

Like what,” you say?  Well how about construction jobs?  We only have mile after mile of crappy roads and thousands of bridges that are falling apart.  Remember that one that collapsed in Minnesota, a few years back?  There are thousands more in the same rotten shape.  Why wait for the next tragedy before we act?

A jobs bill could set aside funds for all kinds of highway projects, but not only that, how about setting up an apprenticeship program, to learn the applicable skills?  Start at one wage, during a fixed apprenticeship, then add a few more bucks upon completion.

The thing is, these can’t be McJobs; they have to pay off better than dealing or hustling, or else they’re doomed to fail.  There has to be a viable alternative to a life of rotating between crime and jail time.

We do this, and it’s a win/win.  People who need jobs can get them and make a living, and our roads and bridges are brought out of “death trap” status.

That’s one idea, and I’m sure there are more to be had.  So why hasn’t anything like this been done yet?  You might ask the GOP, who has blocked every jobs bill in the last 6 years.  You see, their clientele isn’t interested in jobs bills, they’re interested in tax cuts for businesses.  Construction workers aren’t giving millions of dollars to their re-election campaigns, the Koch Brothers are.

As far as they’re concerned, the solution to police versus citizens issue is to build more prisons.  Now that’s a jobs bill they’ll support.

This is a problem that’s not going to get better just by hoping it goes away.  How many more people have to die?  How many more shops, cars and houses have to get torn apart?  How many more grand juries must we convene, before we recognize that mutual suspicion and antagonism is not a basis for solid law enforcement?