Monday, November 30, 2015

Put a Bork in it

I have to be very careful about how many new shows I start to follow.  Once I like a show, I have to see every episode, which can lead to difficulty once hockey season starts and there are 2-3 Penguins games on each week.  I have to be sure to leave some empty spaces in my schedule, where I can catch up on stuff I’ve DVRed.

But there was one show I felt warranted an instant place in my weekly lineup immediately.  It’s a new version of an old show I used to enjoy, back in The Day.

I think I was a sophomore in high school when the original Muppet Show came out, but I didn’t start to watch until I was a senior, I think.  I probably dismissed it as a kid’s show for the first couple years, before I actually saw an episode and learned that it wasn’t a kid’s show at all.  I’m not saying the humor was sophisticated, but it was definitely for the grown ups. 

One of the first articles I ever wrote for my high school paper was a (very positive) review of the Muppet Show.  I had a Dr. Teeth and the Electric Mayhem poster up in my room for ages.  And I remember I used to sit beside the TV speaker with my portable tape recorder and record the audio for every Swedish Chef segment.  (The Chef is still my favorite Muppet, bar none.)  We never got a VCR until years later, so I had to make do.

You probably remember the show; the premise was that the Muppets were putting on a weekly vaudeville-style variety show, each with a special human guest. 

In the new adaptation, the Muppets are still putting on a show, but now it’s a late night talk show, starring the temperamental Miss Piggy.  She and Kermie are no longer an item; they broke up and he’s seeing a new pig.  (No, that wasn’t an insult. She’s a pig and her name is Denise.) 

In this world, humans still interact with the Muppets, but in an entirely new way.  They’re not just on the show but involved with the Muppets’ lives.  In fact, Fozzie Bear has a new human girlfriend.  In the funniest scene of the premiere episode, as Fozzie is heading out to meet her parents, he explains how they met through a personals ad.  He said, “When your online profile says you're a 'passionate bear looking for love,' you get a lot of wrong responses.”

I almost fell off the couch laughing.  Nope, this isn’t the Muppet Show of my youth, and I love the newer, hipper, more culturally aware vibe. 

Not all agree with me, however.  That same line garnered online petitions and outragist offense-taking on the part of the usual busybodies on the Christian Right, (the group “One Million Moms”) who seemed to think the Muppets were synonymous with Sesame Street.  But as I said, this isn’t a show for kids.  And anything that’s been remotely daring has been addressed in terms that would go over a kid’s head.  (Like that “bear” joke.)

Someone needs to tell the “One Million Moms” that there are a corresponding One Million Channel Changing Buttons, and that they can use them as they see fit.  And to each, her own.

I was relieved to find that the Swedish Chef still has a prominent role in the show.  He may not get his own 2-minute segment anymore, but he’s a regular presence. 

I think it was in the third episode when the cast was tired of Miss Piggy being such a pain in the ass, so they decided to get her a man.  (Yes, really.)  So they got Kermit to book crooner Josh Groban on the show, knowing Miss Piggy would take to him nicely.  At one point, everyone is huddled around her dressing room door, wondering what she and Groban were doing in there.  The door opens, everyone looks shocked, and then the Chef says, (imagine the Swedish Chef voice) “Der piggen da gropin’ da Groben.”

Later Groban is giving Piggy a hot stone treatment on her back.  Chef ambles by, takes a sniff, and asks Kermit, “Soombody cooken der piggen?

I’ve always loved the Chef’s mumbo-jumbo.  It’s completely nonsensical, but never fails to kill me.  And they totally use it, too.  I mean, they had an episode where the cast went to a karaoke bar after the show, and the Chef takes on the 70s classic, “Rapper’s Delight.”

Apparently you can get that as a ringtone now.  I’ll have to look into that.  In the meantime, I found this:

My newest t-shirt.

I must say, considering Jim Henson has been dead for more than 20 years, it’s amazing that all the characters he used to do still have the same voice.

I also like Beaker, who’s still getting tossed around, pummeled and electrocuted, working as the lab assistant for Dr. Bunsen Honeydew.  He still doesn’t have much in the way of language skills, though.  If I didn’t get that Chef t-shirt, I was going to get this one.

In tomorrow night’s episode, I heard that former Nirvana drummer, Dave Grohl, is going to have a drum battle with Animal.  He’s already done a drum battle with legendary jazz drummer, Buddy Rich.  I can’t wait to see how this one turns out. 

I also read that the executives at ABC aren’t happy with the way the show is performing, and are having them overhaul the style and tone of the show.  Perfect, leave it to TV executives to ruin a perfectly good show.  As it stands now, the show is smart, hip, and funny.  If any of that changes, it’s one more nail in the coffin that is network television.

Monday, November 23, 2015

Playground Politics for a Grade School Candidate

In his next misapplication of logic, common sense and decency, Donald Trump suggested that he would bring back waterboarding because ISIS does worse things.  He went on to cite examples of Daniel Foley and other hostages being publicly beheaded.

In straight logical analysis, this is another apples to oranges comparison.  The beheadings were meant to kill and terrorize, period.  They were brutal, lethal, public disservice announcements, meant to cause fear and unrest in their target audience.  And I agree, that’s bad.  (And it was with great pleasure I read about the successful drone bombing of the ringmaster of that particular circus.  For a closeted “Muslim,” Obama sure has a lot of them blown up.)

Waterboarding, on the other hand, is an interrogation method, meant to elicit actionable intel from a captive.  It’s brutal, which conservatives seem to like, but it doesn’t really work, which conservatives don’t really care about as long as they’re kicking some ass.  It’s basically revenge, meant to make a primitive segment of our nation feel better about themselves.

It comes down to grade-school level foreign policy, the I Know You Are But What Am I Doctrine.  There are reasons that America is a great country and one of them is that we don’t stoop down to the level of our enemies.  At least we didn’t use to.  I don’t see how our becoming as reprehensible as these ISIS animals helps us or our allies in any way.  Take away the moral high ground, and we’re same bunch of savages, only with better weapons.

It’s always funny to me when people like Trump want to throw out all this bluster and bravado about torture and killings.  I mean, the most discomfort Trump’s ever felt was getting a splinter from the silver spoon in his mouth.  It’s easy for him to talk tough because he has no inkling of what it means to be tortured.  Maybe John McCain can show him.

When you condemn the enemy for his tactics and then adopt a set that are just as brutal, there ceases to be a difference between sides.

I’ll give Trump credit for this, though… when he’s wrong, he stays wrong.  Did you hear him talking about the Muslims in New Jersey he said he saw, cheering the collapse of the Towers?  Oh yeah, thousands of them, he said, right here in America.  Only problem is that it never happened.

And when it was pointed out to him that it never happened, he doubled down, insisting he saw thousands of despicable Muslims cheering “on the other side of New Jersey, where you have large Arab populations.”

Never happened.  There is not a single frame of that kind of “celebration,” to be verified anywhere.  (Remember, that’s “verified.”  That means when the inevitable xenophobe apologist repurposes demonstration footage from elsewhere and posts it on Facebook, it doesn’t count.) 

Snopes had a good analysis of the whole thing, even going as far as to probe the incidence of “false memories” in studies. 

I don’t know if Trump has a false memory, or he’s just full of shit.  I suspect he heard about something at the time and over the years has convinced himself that he’s seen it.  He probably does believe it was real.  Maybe he saw a couple of people in footage from other countries, then mixed in his usual dose of exaggeration to come up with the “thousands.”

But when confronted with evidence that there were zero news reports (still) to be found and denials from both police and Muslim leaders that any such celebration took place, you’d think he might go, “Well, OK, maybe not.”

But this is a modern conservative we’re talking about.  They don’t apologize and they never back down, regardless of how wrong they’re proven to be.

And isn’t that just the thing we would want in a world leader?

Monday, November 16, 2015

Bumper Sticker Politics

This morning, (Friday 11/13) I heard Donald Trump on the radio with his next Overly Simplistic Big Idea.

After claiming that ISIS oil wells are earning them millions of dollars per week, Trump said that as president,I would bomb the shit out of them.  I would just bomb those suckers. And that's right: I'd blow up the pipes, I'd blow up the refineries. I would blow up every single inch. There would be nothing left.”

He went on to say that our oil companies are very good at rebuilding, so he would send them in to rebuild, and then take the oil.

The article I linked didn’t mention that last part about taking the oil, but I heard a clip of him saying it this morning, and I’m paraphrasing to the best of my recollection.  Plus, none of this is new; he’s been using this idea in his stump speeches all summer. 

In Iowa, like it has on the stump, the idea of blowing up ISIS-held oilfields and taking the oil was met with raucous applause.  Because of course it was.  It’s a “feel-good” idea for the guys at the bar, that makes them feel powerful and in control.  “Yeah, we’ll just blow’em up real gooooood.” 

But as with most bumper sticker ideas, if you give a few minutes’ worth of thought on the matter, the whole thing unravels.

So I heard his quote on the radio this morning as I got up, and by the time I got out of the shower, I had this analysis.

The biggest problem isn’t necessarily the blowing up of the oil fields.  Hell, we’re doing that now.  The problem is rebuilding and taking the oil, and what it would require.  You think ISIS is going to just let some Exxon engineers waltz in and rebuild the facility?  Hell no.  So it would require a constant US military presence to clear the area and ensure the builder’s safety.

It’s the same with operation; once the facilities have been rebuilt.  ISIS would be relentless in trying to retake the area and resume reaping the glut of oil money.  So our military would have to remain there, indefinitely, to maintain operations.

It’s the same with transporting the oil.  The oil has to get to a refinery, or to a tanker ship (not necessarily in that order), and the transport avenues would be vulnerable to attack.  We’d have to provide military escort until the product was out of the region.  Indefinitely.

Now, add in the surrounding players in the oil business, in Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Russia, and the rest.  Do you think they’ll be happy with an American oil-producing outpost smack in their back yard?  (Putin will be pissed he didn’t do it first.)  There will be a lot of international hell to pay over our blatant resource-grab.  I’m thinking UN condemnation, trade sanctions, export tariffs, and whatnot.  Regardless of whether we “care” or not, it will make the job a lot harder and more costly.  

Wrap it all together and we now have a permanent American military presence in the middle east, the equivalent of a 3rd Gulf War.  And for what?  We can’t even kid ourselves that we’re sending our troops over there for national security.  They’ll be there for the oil, plain and simple.  Our soldiers will be fighting and dying so that the oil companies can line their pockets. 

If you believe what you see on Facebook, conservatives lay claim to being the most fervently supportive of the military.  Yet judging from the popularity of Trump’s statement, they show no hesitation to send them into a war-for-profit.

Maybe I’m “un-American,” but in addition to providing education, employment opportunities and health care for veterans, I say we should support the troops by not sending them into wars of choice.  The Department of Defense should be about defending, not the forced acquisitions of foreign resources, for the exclusive benefit of a select few.

If the oil companies want to commandeer mid-east oil fields, let them purchase security directly through the defense contractors like Halliburton, and leave our troops and the taxpayers out of it.

But you can’t put all that on a bumper sticker.

Monday, November 9, 2015

Praying for Deliverance from the Religious Litmus Test

Ted Cruz thinks a president should begin every day with a prayer.  I agree with him.  And that prayer should go, “Please deliver me from the hurtful things the religious right is going to do in God’s name.  Please give me the strength to keep from strangling Ted Cruz where he stands.  And let there be pecan pie for dessert.  Amen.”

While attending the National Religious Liberties Conference in Iowa, the emcee asked Ted Cruz how important it was for presidential candidates submit to Jesus Christ as “the king of the President of the United States.”  (Apparently that’s the kind of softball question Republicans really want teed up from debate moderators.)

Anyway, Cruz responded, “Any president who doesn't begin every day on his knees isn't fit to be commander-in-chief of this country.”

That leaves a lot of room for interpretation, doesn’t it, especially for those of us with our minds in the gutter?  However, this isn’t that kind of post.

But yeah, we get it.  The President must claim to be a religious man.  Judging from the religious Republican politicians, he obviously doesn’t have to govern by any meaningful religious principles… he doesn’t have to provide for the poor, or take up for the sick or weak, or love his neighbors. 

No, according to Ted Cruz and the rest of the political hypocrites, a president needs to pay lip service to religious ideals and then go out and make sure that Defense spending is increased, border walls are put up, tax cuts for the wealthiest citizens are enacted and breaks on health care are removed.  Oh, and also defund the one organization that is doing the most to lower the abortion rate in this country.

I’m uncomfortable with any kind of religious litmus test for presidential candidates.  And apparently so were the Founding Fathers, who wrote “no religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States,” in Article 6 of the Constitution.

So there’s not “technically” a prohibition against the non-religious seeking office, but oh yeah, there certainly is a practical one.  People can vote for whomever they choose, and if they choose not to vote for the Godless heathen, that’s the way it goes.  An atheist has zero chance of being elected president, or to any other higher office.  (Luckily, I’m not inclined to run, although the campaign would be one for the ages.)

I don’t think religion has any place in government, and to tell the truth, I don’t think Republicans do either.  They just use it as a means to procure votes from people they’re about to screw.  And while doing so, they use propaganda services like Fox “News” to convince people that Jesus didn’t really mean it is easier for a rich man to pass through the eye of a needle than it is to get into heaven.  And what He really meant was that the rich are “the meek” and as so, the ones to inherit the earth.  Or at least get the taxes lowered on their chunk of it.

It makes me laugh when I keep seeing in the news and on the Internet, the tales of “religious persecution” claimed by Christians in this country… the Christians who, by the way, make up about 70% of the US population.  Since when does the 30% persecute the 70%?  I’m pretty sure it’s not religious freedom they’re fighting for; it’s the freedom for everyone to abide by Christian dogma.  I don’t see any of the religious rights people fighting for Muslims, Jews, Buddhists, or any other flavor.

They claim injury any time they’re not allowed to buffalo their faith into the public realm and then call it “persecution.”  I call it pushing back when people assume that theirs is the only valid faith; the national default religion, if you will. 

Sometimes I sit back in wonder, amazed at all the strife, the world over, caused by the conflict over which invisible man in the sky we pray to and how and when we do it.

Being a heathen makes things so much simpler, even if I don’t get to be president.

Monday, November 2, 2015

Debate and Switch

I’m not surprised that the Republicans are orchestrating an organized campaign to push back against CNBC’s tough debate questions.

Sure, on one hand, they appear to be a bunch of spoiled children complaining to their parents because their teachers’ tests are too hard, when in fact, they didn’t study up.  What the presidential contestants refuse to understand is that the job of the debate moderators is to ask tough questions; ones that the candidates may not want to answer.  They are not there to lob softball questions designed provide opportunities for the candidates to repeat well-worn segments from their stump speeches.  And if a candidate dodges or tap-dances around a question, the moderators should call him on it, right then and there.

The moderators are supposed to be the stand-ins for We, the skeptical People.

Their complaining is especially galling to me because CNBC asked many of the exact same kind of questions that the Fox moderators did.  But no one (except Donald Trump) complained about them

I’m not saying they ran the most professional debate… I’m not fond of asking a candidate to comment on something an opponent said while he's standing right beside him.  (Which Fox also did.)  It just strikes me a bit too much like a schoolyard bully getting two lesser bullies to fight each other, for his own amusement.  And I think they should have done a better job in citing their sources when the candidates pushed back.

But I don’t buy the whole “unfair” thing.  They were executing the very definition of their job… asking hard questions of people who want to lead the country.  The GOP complaints seem to me like protesting that your job interviewer didn’t just let you read aloud from your resume. 

Now, on the other hand, I see the debate pushback as part of an overall strategy to discredit anyone or anything that dares to contradict the GOP party line.  It’s just like what a lawyer does when the other side’s witness provides damning testimony.  What do you do?  You discredit, you impugn character, you call them biased and untrustworthy.

In other words, you create labels like, “the liberal media.”

While the Republicans have always complained about the alleged “liberal media,” they’ve ramped it up in recent years.  And now they’ve begun to smear fact-checking sites like Snopes and PolitiFact.  It’s just another way of stacking the deck.

When there’s an entity researching their claims and pointing out the falsehoods, exaggerations, half-truths and out-of-context assertions, all they have left to do is claim “bias.”  You know, since they can’t defund them.

Or, of course, they could stop making claims they can’t support.  But that won’t win many elections.  America would rather hear a pretty lie than an ugly truth.  And unless one is versed in critical thinking and analysis, (which the GOP led the charge against being taught in Texas high schools in 2012), it’s difficult to tell the lies from the truth.

The GOP knows that they can make any claim they want, and a large number of people will believe it because it plays to their existing prejudices.  (Like, “I’m going to cut taxes, deport all the illegal aliens, build a wall, cut regulations, win the war in the Middle East and still lower the deficit.”)  So when the press or a fact-checking website run the numbers and say it’s not so, they get smeared as having anti-conservative bias.

In fact, if there’s a bias from these institutions, it’s a bias against bullshit, which I think should be celebrated rather than castigated.  I say let the truth be told on all sides.

That’s another myth, that the fact-checking sites are inherently liberal.  Anyone that looks can plainly see that they hold both parties’ feet to the fire.  Democrats get called on misinformation as well.  I just don’t hear any of them complaining that the sites are biased against them. 

And if there is more debunked material on one political side than another, maybe it’s because that side puts out so much more stuff that’s in need of debunking.

But going back to the original subject of debates, I think the moderators should take an even more aggressive approach to both party debates.  I think they should have a team of researchers looking up every specious claim that’s made, with a line to one moderator’s ear, whose only job is to be the referee.  Then they can “fact check” the debate in real time before the public is left with the permanent stain of misinformation.  In addition, I would put a running total up in the corner, like they do for football games.

If the presidential wannabees don’t want to get rung up, then tell the truth, in context, without exaggeration.  If they can’t tell the truth when campaigning, what makes us think they’ll tell the truth during their presidencies?

Monday, October 26, 2015

Ten Rules of Game Day Mojo

As a duly accredited Doctor of Mojo Arts, from the esteemed Jobu School of Mystic Juju, I put forth the following position paper on the practice of sports mojo.

I define “mojo” as the force that binds a team and its fans together.  It is the collective will of thousands of people, practicing their own rites and rituals, which provide an atmosphere of support and good will.  Good mojo can mean the difference between a successful play and disaster, and even the difference between winning and losing.  Or a field goal attempt hitting the goalpost, and either bouncing in or out from between the uprights.

Even professional athletes can falter when subjected to the best mojo practices.  What is commonly labeled as “the yips” may actually be a reaction to a stadium (or country) full of people engaged in the mojo arts.

The following are some general principles, honed under the most rigorous tracking, trial and error.  (Yes, we use Science and stuff, here at the Jobu School of Mystic Juju.)

1.  When wearing a game jersey, your first choice should be to as closely as possible, match whichever jersey your team is wearing.  If they lose, check for other variables.  Maybe you need a different hat or other accessory.

2.  Wearing the jersey of a current player is stronger mojo than that of a former player.  Jerseys of legendary players can also be powerful under the right circumstances. (Like if that player ever had a particularly good game against that opponent.)

3.  If you only have one jersey option, you’ll have to go by trial and error throughout the season.  Team t-shirts are an alternative strategy.

4.  You may want to consider what you wear earlier in the day, or on the last business day before the game, as a secondary mojo opportunity.  But you should take care not to wear the same gear as you intend to wear during the game.  Game gear should stand alone.

5.  Tchotchkes can be another secondary means of exercising good mojo.  These include team gnomes, ornaments, accessories, jewelry, etc.

6.  If your team has one predominant tchotchke, like a “Terrible Towel,” for example, that can be a powerful item.  For maximum effect, try varying the placement.  Start with it on your right knee, logo facing the action.  If this proves unsatisfactory, try the other knee during the next game.  Or display it nearby, hang it from your belt, wear it on your head...  Whatever works.

Note: Changing mojo strategies during the game almost never works, so don’t bother changing jerseys, sitting arrangements, or towel draping while the game is still on.  Wait until the next game to enact any changes.

7.  Never wear team championship apparel as outerwear, especially during the game.  In fact, never wear any championship gear at all, on game day.  To do so is to directly dare the mojo gods to smite your team.  The mojo gods hate presumption and expectation of a win.  One should remain humble before the mojo gods at all times. 

Don’t mess with Jobu’s rum, either.  Is very bad.

8.  Also, never speak of the anticipation or assumption of a win.  And during the playoffs, never, ever express a desire for one opponent over another.  The mojo gods will often grant your wish of a desired opponent, who will then smite your team’s ass all over the field (or rink, diamond or court).  Similarly, gloating after a win tempts the same fate.

9.  Mojo resets at the end of every season, so if something was bad luck one year, you can try it again the next.  However, if something proves to be bad mojo over multiple years, it’s a good idea to retire it.  Like this item:

My team never won a game, ever, while I was wearing these pants.  Although that might have been more due to the gods of fashion, rather than the gods of mojo.

10.  This is the most important rule of all: good Mojo is whatever you believe it is.  For example, if you believe not washing your game socks is good mojo, then it is.  Personally, believe I shouldn’t be stinky, so I wash all my game gear as needed.  This also means that you may go against every rule listed above and still come out mojologically sound.  Consider these rules as starting points for your own personal mojourney.

Monday, October 19, 2015


While it’s usually pretty cool to have a new-ish car, there’s also a down side… now you have something to lose if it gets damaged.

Last Monday, I got off the subway train, got in my car and headed for home.  About halfway there, I needed to change lanes so I checked my passenger mirror, and noticed that it wasn’t there.

I was like, WTF??  I’m lucky I didn’t rear-end anyone, because of how long I kept looking over there.  Maybe I was hoping it would reappear.  That way I wouldn’t have to worry about replacing it, I’d just have to worry that I’d had a stroke or something.

The weird thing was that only the mirror piece was gone; all the bracketing that holds the mirror was still there.  When I got home, I checked around the frame and there was no sign that someone had ran into it with their car.  It was more like someone stuck a knife in the crack and popped it out.

When I went back to the lot, there was no sign of the mirror on the ground, broken or otherwise.  That made coming up with a motive a lot harder.

That day, I had worn a Steelers shirt and hat to work, so my first thought was that someone saw me get out of the car and decided to screw with the Steelers fan.  But then I would figure they’d smash the mirror, not take it.  Then I wondered if it was more backlash from the Darwin fish plaque I have on the back of the car.  It wouldn’t be the first time.  But again, I’d expect the mirror to be broken or left behind.

The only reason I could think of for taking the mirror was that if someone needed the part himself.  I mean, if you’re a criminal, what is a subway parking lot other than an unlimited cross section of auto parts?

And what happens if I get it fixed and then they just come back and take it again?  At least if someone needed the part for himself, well now he has it and, therefore, should not need another one.  Of course, if he’s selling the parts, I’m back to being screwed.

But, because I’m a conscientious driver, I went to get it replaced.  Unlike so many of my Baltimore neighbors, I still check my mirrors and signal before changing lanes.  (I bet you could steal every turn signal in the state and nobody would notice for months.)

I had the dealership take a look at it on Tuesday, and hoped they’d just be able to replace the mirror part.  They were about to do just that until I discovered that the inner bracketing wouldn’t move when I worked the controls.  Bad news.  That meant I needed to replace the whole thing.  They had to order the part, which cost about $200.  Gah!

The dealership parts guy explained that I still got off light.  Because my car is a 2013 model, the mirror assembly comes pre-painted.  If I had a 2014 or 2015, it would need to be painted too, which would have run another $100.

(To save the $100, I probably would have done it myself… in crayon.  Sure, I’d have to buy some crayons, but I’d still be $196 ahead.)

So I set up an appointment for Saturday afternoon and went back out to get it fixed.  It was an easy fix… labor only ran another $50.  Best of all, there was a Wendy’s nearby, so I got to have a nice lunch.

It’s funny how complicated our cars have become now.  I mean, I was never anything close to a gear-head, but I could perform some basic functions… putting air in the tires, filling the wiper fluid, replacing wiper blades, changing a tire, taking the car to Jiffy Lube… I even replaced a brake light bulb once!  (CFO, stop rolling your eyes…)

But even jump-starting a car has changed up.

On Friday, I was heading out of the subway parking lot, trying to get to my local bar before happy hour was over, when I saw a crazy lady jumping up and down in the road and flapping her arms at me.  Upon closer examination, it was one of my co-workers, the one who sits beside me.

Quickly, I had to do some inner calculations; specifically, the odds of being able to help her out without missing the end of happy hour, versus how much blow-back there would be if I just pretended like I didn’t see her and headed straight to the bar.

OK, I kid… she is a 60-something African-American woman, of whom I am quite fond.  So of course I pulled over to help.  She told me her car wouldn’t start and she needed a jump.

While I haven’t had to jump-start a car in probably 10 years, it was still within my realm of capability.  Or so I thought.

I got my car pulled around, to go nose-to-nose with hers, got my jumper cables out, popped my hood, and… wait a minute.

Where the eff is the battery?

Go ahead, tell me.  Where’s the freakin’ battery?  Did they steal that too?

Now, this was the first time I’d opened the hood with this car, so I expected there to be a learning curve.  But nothing seemed familiar anymore.  Up is down, down is up… it’s chaos under the hood!

I looked at that plastic box on the right, which had a battery charge diagram on it, but when I opened it up, it was the fuse box.  As I recall, the fuse box used to be in the driver’s side foot well.  I mean, is the cigarette lighter in there now too?

After poking around some more, I finally went to consult the owner’s manual.  I may be male, but I’m not too proud to check the instructions.  And it paid off because it showed a diagram of where to hook up the positive and negative cables.  The positive node was under a plastic cap.  The negative node was just a bolt on a piece of metal covering.  Nowhere did I see anything battery-like.

Yes, CFO, I’m aware that the negative connection is probably a grounding site and not a battery terminal.

Anyway, once I figured out where to put the cables, the rest was a breeze.  We got my friend's car going again and we all went off on our way.  And I still made it in time to get a happy hour-priced beer.

But I tell you, as far as driving goes, this area is crazy.  I see things every day that has me yelling in my car.  It’s a shame when the first spoken word out of my mouth every morning is an obscenity directed at some numb-nut driver who doesn’t know what a turn signal is for.  Or that somehow his having a stop sign means “pull out immediately.”

A couple of weeks ago, I was driving home and I spotted this:

The sign taped in the middle of the back window says, “Student Driver.”

Are. You. Freakin. Kidding. Me?

You’re so worried about your student driver that you put up a sign smack dab in the middle of the back window?  So all your new driver can see from his rear-view mirror is a GD sign with backward writing?

Believe me, I had a sign for him, but he obviously couldn’t see it.

Monday, October 12, 2015

Debunkery-The Less Safe Edition

Rolling through Facebook this morning, I saw another meme in dire need of a good debunking. So here we are.

That this nation is tied in a knot over what to do about guns goes without saying.  It’s hard enough getting people to listen to each other without muddying the water with asinine graphics chocked full of logical fallacies.

Consider the following meme:

Har har.  Look how hypocritical that commie president is. He’s saying one thing and doing anotherWhen it’s HIS ass on the line, he wants to be surrounded by guns.”  That’s what you’re supposed to think.

First off, I don’t know that he ever actually said those words, so the premise is iffy right there.  And the meme, by using a word balloon, is purporting it to be a quote.  BUT, that would be an accurate, if emotionally loaded, generalization of the many studies that show a person is way more likely to be killed by a gun if there is a gun in the house.  So we'll go from there.

The high-level conclusion would be that the average person is less safe with a gun in the house. (I’m not going to get into statistical analysis here.  But there’s a reason the Republicans have rammed through prohibitions against federal agencies conducting any more gun violence studies.  They don’t like the conclusions.)

Granted, there is no such thing as an average person… only millions of individual sets of circumstances.  A gun might make one trained marksman or service member considerably safer, but much less so for your basic putz who’s never pointed anything at anybody but his dick.

The real flaw in this meme is the faulty analogy needed to come to the desired conclusion.  To get there, you have to believe that the American President, walking down a public street during what looks like his inauguration, is identical in circumstance to a regular guy*, going about his life.

* For our purposes, “regular guy” means non-criminal/gang member/drug lord.

Obviously, the two scenarios couldn’t be farther apart.

At any given moment, the president has thousands, maybe tens of thousands of people who would like to see him dead.  Especially THIS president.  Our country has a stake in protecting the president, lest allies revolt and the markets crash.  Every precaution is taken to protect the life of our president.

Regular guy?  Maybe a handful of people want to kill him, under worst case scenario.  But for the most part, not so much.  And other than for his family, he’s expendable.  We all are.

The president is being protected by Secret Service agents who are highly trained in the use of firearms, as well as threat detection and keeping calm under pressure.  Their very job, by definition, is to protect the president.  And that’s every president, not just this one.

The regular guy?  Hit and miss, and by that, I mean mostly miss. I’m sure there are people who are highly proficient in the use of their weapon and put in time at the firing range.  But that’s a matter of individual responsibility, and hardly of the caliber of Secret Service training.  I mean, any schmo can walk into a gun shop and buy a weapon, if he can pass a background check. (Unless he’s at a gun show, in which case, he just needs cash and a pulse.) 

There are no proficiency standards required to own a gun.  That’s pretty scary, considering all the hoops we have to jump through just to get a driver’s license.  And the primary function of a car is not to kill people.

And even if the regular guy is good at the firing range, that’s a long way from using a gun in an adrenaline-fueled life-or-death situation.  Not many people out on the street have that kind of training… maybe ex-military or ex-police, but not civilians... not in relation to the number of privately-owned guns.

So comparing a regular guy to the president’s protection detail is the essence of willful ignorance.  The two sides aren’t remotely similar, but why not put’em together anyway, because har har har.

But to take this one step further and play devil’s advocate, who says it’s the guns that are really ensuring the president’s safety?  Have you ever heard of a physical assault on the president being thwarted by an agent’s gun?  I haven’t.

I’ve lived through three such presidential attacks and none of the assailants were shot.  OK, Lee Harvey Oswald was shot, but that was by a vigilante club owner, while in police custody. But the other two, John Hinkley and Squeaky Fromme were both swarmed over and apprehended by the agents. 

What I see ensuring the president stays safe is a lot of agents in close proximity, constantly scanning the crowd for signs of a threat, and knowing what to do if they find one.

And not just when the president is around. There’s an enormous amount of legwork that goes on in preparation for a presidential visit, so that all sightlines, near and far, are removed or accounted for.

In neither of those precautions was the agent’s gun the primary defense or did it even come into play.

Anyway, think what you will about the gun issue, but when you do, please try to make valid comparisons.  Or better yet, just make a case with verifiable facts. 

Apples to apples, and Bushmasters to Bushmasters.

Monday, October 5, 2015

...And Here's the Pitch!

My last post told you about how I won the chance to throw out the first pitch at the Orioles-Blue Jays game, the next night.

Let me tell you, that Tuesday was a real bear to get through... not because of the anticipation as much as the weather forecast.  I had the hour by hour weather report up on my computer screen all day long.  Every time I refreshed it, the forecast changed.  Sometimes it looked like there would be a brief hole in which the game might be played, other times, it looked like rain all evening long.

Late in the afternoon, we got a message that our company event was going to be moved from the bullpen picnic area to the ballroom inside the Warehouse. (aka that big building in right field.)

Everyone sees the outside of the Warehouse; not so many have seen the inside, so that was pretty cool.

I got a ride over to the ballpark with my boss, which was nice because it was still raining.  What wasn't so nice was that I forgot to bring my ticket with me.  It was still in my desk drawer, clipped to a Sharpie, so I wouldn't forget either of them.

I'm lucky I have a cool boss, because I inadvertently used some language that one probably shouldn't use around ones boss.  And I was doubly lucky because she ended up with an extra ticket, due to a last minute cancellation, so we didn't have to go back for mine.  Plus, she had a Sharpie... it was sea green, but it would have to do if I had the chance to score any autographs.

So we carried on at the Warehouse, hoping the forecast would change for the better, but as the minutes went by, it just seemed to grow more bleak.

The saddest sight in baseball is a tarp on the field.  Shot from the 6th floor of the Warehouse.

Just after 6:00, Caitlin, my contact with the Orioles, let me know that they were postponing the game.  By that point, I figured it was inevitable.  I just hoped they didn't reschedule the doubleheader for Thursday, by which time I would be in Florida.  But they came through... the first game would be Wednesday at 4:00.  My First Pitch would still be in play.

Thursday was a little more nerve-wracking, because I knew for sure that this would be the day.  Robin wouldn't be able to be my "second" on the field this time, so I twisted Sitcom Kelly's arm into coming along.  It didn't take much... go down on the field, be close to the players?  Yeah, she was in.  This would open up a whole new set of stalking targets for her.

At least I wouldn't have to worry about making a fool of myself in front of everyone from the office... Everyone who had a ticket for the rainout game had the opportunity to use it for any other game this year, or for the first Blue Jays series next year.  I didn't expect many to come back out to the Yard the very next day.  So if my pitch went badly, I could always deep-six the video and claim it got accidentally deleted.

We met Caitlin at 3:15, as directed, and she took us down to the "Alternate Clubhouse," where people usually wait for their big moments.  This was also the same room where the Orioles' manager, Buck Showalter, does his pre and post game press conferences.

I asked if there would be a problem if I went up to the desk for a couple of pictures.  They obliged, and the camera technician even flipped on the lights for the set.  So that's how I got my "Press Conference" picture.
Bluz Dude explains the intricacies of his sinkerball.

It was funny that our handlers didn't really have anything to say to us.  Remember, I was expecting a liability waiver and a scroll-like list of forbidden actions.  Well, there was a list of waivers on the back of our "backstage pass," so that passed for the liability stuff.

When I mentioned the "Scroll of Forbidden Behavior" to Caitlin, she just laughed.  But then she said, "We're just supposed to tell people not to get on the mound, and not to throw hard, because your catcher won't have any gear on."

I was like, "No problem!  I'll be happy to spare your guy my 45 mph fast ball."

She gave my the baseball I'd be using for my pitch, and a pen with which I might be able to get it signed.  (This rendered moot all my worrying about the Sharpie the previous day.)  She said Sharpies don't work very well on baseballs, because they smear.

Because this was a doubleheader, there were to be two separate First Pitches: mine, and one from the guy who was already scheduled for that day.  Because of the limited time between games, they were going to do both pitches before the first game.  The other guy was to go on at 3:48.  I was up at 3:51.

They took us out to the field around 3:35.  Just like when I was on the tour this summer, it was a thrill just to walk out onto the field from behind the plate.  I gave Sitcom Kelly a rundown on how to shoot video on my iPhone, as well as capture photos while doing it.  I just had to hope she would keep me in frame and avoid zooming in on the players' butts.

Just standing around back there would have been really nerve-wracking if it would have been a full house, but the house was most definitely not full.  I'd be throwing out my pitch before literally dozens of spectators.
I've seen more people in line for the bathrooms.

Sitcom Kelly used the time to cut her phone number into the sand in front of the dugout.  Stupid grounds crew had to come and smooth it over.

Eventually a "Ball Girl" came over to give me the logistics.  Long and short of it... follow her and don't step on the white line.
My Ball Girl was #15 on the left.

They introduced the first guy to pitch, with his title of "Exulted Grand Wizard" of something or another... some benevolent organization.  I was like, "Hey I want a title like that!  I want to be an Exulted Grand Wizard too.  Maybe they can just say I'm Admiral of the Fleet."  But they'd already gotten my particulars and I felt it was too late to renegotiate.

At this point, I still didn't know who was going to come out and catch me.  The first guy had a relief pitcher, Jason Garcia.  He was new to the Orioles, a Rule Five Draft guy.  (That means they signed him from another team and he has to stay in the majors all year, or be offered back to his original team.)

So when the Bat Girl brought me over to stand in front of the bench, I looked inside and saw Manny Machado walking around the bubblegum jar.  I was like, "Holy shit!  I might get Manny!"  I was even wearing a Machado jersey for the occasion.  I would definitely have him sign my jersey.

But then Garcia came bounding up onto the field and I realized Manny was only milling around down there for the bubblegum.

Then, the PA announcer started his thing and it was time for my moment.

Couple of thoughts:
*  You like that little spin-around with the hat?  I was hoping I didn't fall on my face.

*  Obviously, I touched the grass, right there at the beginning.  But it was very wet, so I had to wipe off on my pants.

*  I still did a modified version of my Luis Tiant (backward pivot) windup, but I added a Bugs Bunny element by rotating my wrist a couple of times before I spun forward and delivered.  Unfortunately, given the angle from which Sitcom Kelly was shooting, my body blocked the view of my hand. You'll just have to take my word for it.

*  After the pitch, I heard a big roar ("Big" considering how few people there were in the park), and saw handful of O's fans behind 3rd base.  You can see me turn to acknowledge them.  I assumed they came from my office... I'll have to ask around when I get back.
*  Jason Garcia was a very nice guy.  As he was signing my ball, I asked if he drew the short straw today.  He said this was "(his) thing, because it was a good luck charm.  Whenever (he) caught the first pitch, the Orioles won."  I thanked him and wished him luck as we crossed back over the foul line. (Not touching it, of course.)

*  I'm sorry to have broken his lucky streak, because the Orioles lost 15-2, and he came into the game and gave up 4 runs himself.
So that was it.  They led us back up to the main concourse, then Sitcom Kelly and I went up to our seats.  I had to miss the first couple of innings while I was posting the video to Facebook and notifying friends and family.  Of course I had to edit the video first, because as soon as my part was done, Sitcom Kelly started shooting all the guys warming up in the outfield.  Those guys don't know how close they were to clawing at the dirt walls of her basement pit.

I was so eager to see how the video came out.  Right up until I watched it, of course.  I mean, I got it there, but it was Soooo.  Slooooooow.  I wish they hadn't told me not to throw it hard.  My middle-aged version of "hard" might have been just right.
It was funny watching the responses roll in.  By and large, my female friends congratulated me and said nice things.  My guy friends gave me shit over the velocity.  My brother said I hit "15-mph on the jugs gun."  The CFO said it looked like the ball was filled with helium.
What can I say?  Maybe the Orioles were in the market for an aging pitcher with a weird windup and variety of off-speed stuff.
Still, even with the stops and starts, this was the coolest thing I'll ever do.  I mean, what boy doesn't what to throw a pitch on a major league field?
Once I get back from Florida, I'm supposed to go back to work on Thursday.  I don't know... I don't know if all this has gone to my head, but I think I may hold out for a new contract.
Somebody get my agent on the phone.
Director's DVD Commentary: In all seriousness, I'd like to thank Caitlin and the whole Baltimore Orioles organization.  They put on a great event and were the model of professionalism and courtesy.  And even better, they'll provide me with the video and pictures that THEY shot with their non-iPhone cameras.

Monday, September 28, 2015

Here's the Wind-up...

OK, so I was working off-site last Thursday, numbering and photographing framed art at our old building, when my cell phone went off.  When I looked at it, it said I’d missed a call from Robin, my boss.  Then the Facetime app went off, which was weird.

When I answered, I could see Robin and another co-worker grinning up from the screen.  Robin said she had some good news.  Instantly, I figured it was something job-related, like I’ll get to keep mine once our company’s sale (to a rival) is concluded.

But this was even better.  She told me I’d won a raffle we were having, giving me the honor of throwing out the first pitch at the Orioles game Tuesday night.

On the outside, I smiled and expressed my happiness at this once-in-a-lifetime thrill.  But on the inside, I was more like,

Here’s the fuller story…

As I’ve mentioned before, our company has been sponsoring the Orioles this year.  We made an ad buy so that every so often, our logo shows up on the rolling billboard behind home plate.  We also sponsored a food drive for the Maryland Food Bank.  All season, I’ve been able to get discounted tickets, in specified sections.

With all this going on, Camden Yards was the perfect place for our annual employee event.  So for tomorrow’s game against the Blue Jays, we’re having a pre-game party in the picnic area behind the bullpens in center field.  And as a sidelight, there was a charity raffle to win the opportunity to throw out the first pitch.  Which I won.

I can’t decide whether this is a karmic gift in return for being a generally good dude, or I’m being set up to fail on a large stage, in return for being a godless heathen.

When I came in on Friday, I receive the “official” notification via email, a sign on the digital message screens,

in addition to a number of congratulatory messages from those copied (including my boss’s boss).  I responded to all:

Thank you for this tremendous opportunity.

I’ll try very hard not to trip over the mound or hit anyone in the stands.
And I promise not to wear a Pittsburgh jersey.”

This will be nerve wracking enough.  I don’t need the additional experience of getting booed by 20,000 people.

When I emailed my buddy, the CFO, with the good news, he emailed back, “Holy blown rotator…  And DON’T TOUCH the grass!!!!!!

I responded, “I am totally going to touch the grass.  I may even do snow angels.  Gotta watch the rotator cuff, though… don’t want to have to go on the DL.”

You remember our tour of Camden Yards in July, right?  I got reprimanded by the tour guide for daring to brush the grass with the back of my fingers.  Well, look at me now, buddy… I’m ‘bout to walk all over that grass.  That I’m going to bend down and riffle through it with my hand goes without saying.

The CFO’s other point was more of a concern… Four years ago I had a partially torn rotator cuff.  It took me several months of physical therapy to get it fixed up.  But even still, I haven’t thrown anything more than a wiffleball ever since.  I’d have to test it out a little bit, to see what I’d be capable of.

At work, the women in my department asked how far I’d have to throw it.  I know that the pitching rubber is 60 feet from home plate, and these honorary throw-out-the-first-ballers usually toss from up in front of the mound.  So I measured out 50 feet (it helps to wear a size-12 shoe) along our hallway.  [Gulp]

I’m 50’ from the double doors alllll the way down there.

Yipe.  I was definitely going to need some practice.

So Saturday, I went to visit my brother so that I could throw a bullpen session with my nephew, Daniel, so I could find a suitable arm slot.

We threw for about 10 minutes; I’d guess that was around 20 pitches, 15 of which didn’t go straight into the grass.  Luckily, Daniel was pretty good at scooping them.  Anyway, I think I found my delivery.  I just needed to gain the confidence that one brisk pitch wasn’t going to re-tear anything.

Yes, I could just go out there and lob in a rainbow, but where’s the adventure in that?  Right off I decided I wanted to use a windup I used to toy with back in my Pony League days. 

There used to be a great Cuban pitcher for the 1970s Red Sox, named Luis Tiant, who would swivel around during his leg lift until he was facing the outfield, and then whip around and deliver the ball.  He looked like a knot being untied.

I thought this would come as a surprise, but when I mentioned it to Daniel, he said, “Yeah, that’s what Dad said you’d probably do.” 

Brothers just know these things…

So yeah, this will be a bit of a high-wire act.  If it all works, it will be brilliant.  If I sail one into the stands, or straight into the grass, I risk ending up on a Sports Center blooper reel. Go big or go home, I guess.

Of course, I’m sure my handlers will have a laundry list of things I’m not supposed to do.  (And if they knew me, it would be the size of a scroll.)  And I assume I’ll have to sign some kind of liability waiver in case I hurt myself.  I’ve already been in contact with the person who’s supposed to be my guide.  I haven’t let on about doing anything unusual, lest she feel the need to add to the scroll.  Better to beg forgiveness than ask permission, I always say.

She said I was allowed to take one person with me, to stand down on the track while I do my thing.  I chose to bring Robin.  Can’t hurt to bring your boss, right?  And it gets me out from having to choose from among friends. 

I plan on handing her my iPhone and having her video my performance, for better or worse.  And I presume the company will have camera coverage as well.  Sitcom Kelly was already coming to this game, so she may be able to elbow her way to the front to get an unimpeded view.  As for the rest of my workmates?  All of our seats are in the left field upper deck.  I don’t think they’ll be able to capture the true drama of the moment.

I put in a great deal of thought regarding which jersey to wear.  On weekdays, the Orioles wear white, so the Mojo Handbook dictates that I match that from one of my three white jerseys: Manny Machado, Matt Wieters and Chris Davis.  Rather than worrying about which player to represent, I looked for which shirt looks least like a “knockoff.”  I decided to go with the Manny.  And it doesn’t hurt that he’s the only one of those three who is likely to be around next season.

So I think I have accounted for everything I can control, which leaves me with only one remaining worry, which I can’t:

What makes it worse is that if they have to reschedule, I will only be in town on Wednesday, because Thursday I’m heading to Florida to visit the folks, where I will remain for the rest of the baseball season. 

I wonder if they’d agree to play the makeup game on Wednesday for me, instead of Thursday, so I don’t have to miss out.  Baseball players play 162 games anyway; why quibble over one lousy date?

So, wish me luck… I may need it.

I wonder if anyone’s ever thrown out the first pitch wearing a plastic poncho?