Tuesday, March 31, 2009

I, The Jury

For the first time in my life, I got picked for jury duty and actually had to go in. I know a lot of people try to avoid jury duty at all costs, but I’ve always looked forward to doing it. I’m curious to see how the system actually works. So here’s how my day went:

I start by arriving at the courthouse just after 8:00 and entering the “Disney line” snaking back from the metal detector. Moved pretty fast, compared to the airline security checks, even though there was just one detector and 2 security people. Less luggage to check, I suppose.

I found one of the waiting rooms, got myself my morning Diet Coke and found a seat. Soon, they began the announcements and played the introductory video. In what I’m sure was an attempt to make our jury service seem less burdensome, they pointed out via re-enactment that in the olden days, people used to go through what was called, Trial by Ordeal. No, they didn’t make them go to football games in Cleveland; they would bind the accused persons hands and feet and chuck them into the water. If they floated, they were guilty and if they sunk, they were innocent. All I could do was think of the witch scene in Holy Grail and giggle.

Also in the video, they gave a special warning for us not to expect someone to confess to the crime five minutes before the top of the hour, as had occurred in every episode of Perry Mason ever made. To illustrate, they showed a Perry Mason clip of a guy coming out of the court’s audience to confess to the crime to which they were about to convict his girlfriend. Obviously, Perry Mason was not working in the Baltimore jurisdiction. Here, if a guy’s girlfriend is getting sent up for his crime, he’s not confessing, he’s in the parking lot doing back flips.

They also mentioned that we would not be hearing any “ka-chunk” sound, like you hear with every scene change on “Law and Order.” OK, they didn’t say that, but they should have. I was looking forward to that.

They also pointed out, via announcement, that now we jurors could check in, get our jury summons validated and get our $15 pay in one fell swoop, where in the past that would entail 3 separate call ups. I silently thanked them for eventually taking action on something that should have been painfully obvious. I do like the idea of getting paid before doing your job. Maybe that can be a part of the next Stimulus Package. Oh, and before anyone asks, they emphasized the steep penalties if you skip out after checking in… 90 days in jail and/or a $1000 fine. They began calling us up in groups to check in. I had a very low juror number; in fact, it was the lowest in the range of people called to appear. So I was in the first group for just about everything that day.

So now we wait until a judge somewhere needs a jury. Lunch is at 12:30, unless we’re called into court. I dig into my crossword puzzle, expecting to spend at least at hour on it, as I usually do on Fridays. Joke’s on me though… I knock it out in 20 minutes. Looks like it’s going to be a long day. I fiddle around with the Sudoku puzzle for a while, but get tired of that. They begin showing the movie Meet The Parents. I dig out my book, “Monty Python and Philosophy” and keep an eye on both.

Random observation: I was surprised at the racial mix in the room. I was expecting a Baltimore City jury pool to be predominantly black. In fact, it looked to be about 60/40.

I noticed that when I took a bathroom break, they have lots signs on the wall about sanitary practices. They do not, however, have a trashcan for your paper towels. I guess they put all their funding into DVDs.

Just about noon, they make the announcement that they need some jurors. Hot damn, time to spring into action! I’m included in the first group of 50, so off we go the courtroom and all I can think is, “but when’s lunch?”

So we get there and have attendance taken to make sure no one got lost on the walk. (We had to change buildings.) Our courtroom accommodations were fairly Spartan… not at all like the high ceilings you see on your average episode of Perry Mason. They had three rows of benches to sit in, which were like church pews without the kneelers. As we were packed in there cheek to cheek, I began to have serious regrets about having chili for dinner the night before. It had been an uncomfortable morning already, but you never want to let anything escape while sitting on a church pew, especially with armed guards nearby. Wouldn’t want them thinking that someone in the jury pool had smuggled in a machine gun.

The judge explained that the charge in this case was “possession of a gun, in violation of parole.” First order of business was the “voir dire” (meaning to “speak the truth”) or in other words, the jury questioning. That’s when the group is asked a number of questions and anyone for whom the answer is yes is to stand up and give their juror number. The questions:

Do you or does anyone in your immediate family know the defendant?
Do you or does anyone in your immediate family know the judge or attorneys?
Are you or anyone in your immediate family working in law enforcement?

No one stood for any of these.

Are you more or less likely to believe testimony from a police officer based on the fact that they’re a police officer?

Just one guy stood, a middle-aged white guy.

Now, a 2-part question: Have you or has anyone in your family been a victim of a crime, OR have you or anyone in your family ever committed a crime?

Just about everyone in the room stood up. I don’t think there were 12 people left sitting, so they couldn’t get rid of all of us…

Last question: Due to moral or religious grounds, are you unable to make a fair decision regarding this trial?

Sounds like the “get out of jail free” card… 2 or 3 women stand up, one of which I already heard muttering about not wanting to be there.

After the questions, each juror that had stood for any question was brought up to the judge to explain. Guess who was first?

I approached the bench, and tried not to look at the defendant. This was not easy… he was about 5’7, 280 pounds, with a wide Mohawk. Looked like a bouncer at a low-class strip bar… a cross between the actor Anthony Anderson and Mr. T. He didn’t seem very menacing, however; in fact he was doing a lot of smiling and bouncing around. He didn’t seem very worried.

The judge asks me to explain my “yes” answer, and tell her about having my car broken into and ignition busted out while it was parked at the subway station last summer. She and the two attorneys ask about the case… was it ever solved? Was I satisfied with the police response? Would I be able to render a fair decision?

I said that I could, and with that, I was allowed to return to my seat. Now I just had to wait for the rest of my peers to do the same. They let us go for lunch about 1:10, (thank you, Your Honor), so I went to Quiznos and then back to my office to take care of off-loading that chili.

I returned from lunch to more waiting, as the rest of the jury pool approached the bench and tried to get out of serving. It took another hour… luckily I had a fresh Sports Illustrated to read. Since they have the bench and attorney tables miked, whenever people were discussing something at the bench, they turned off the mics and left a static noise, like when the TV is on a non-broadcasting channel. That way, you can’t hear squat, except the white noise. A little bit of that is fine, but after a while, you just want to claw your ears off.

After the attorneys and judge huddled for about 10 minutes, the clerk began calling us up, six at a time, to stand and face the attorney’s table. (Again, guess who’s first?) Each of us has to step forward and then both attorneys are asked if the juror is acceptable. If either says no, the juror is returned to the back seating. If both say yes, the juror takes a seat in the jury box. They took me, and I became Juror #1. Dig it! That’s me, blazing the trail and ready to deal a little justice. At least the seats in the jury box had pads and were fairly comfortable.

After they filled the 12 seats, each attorney was asked if the panel was acceptable. This surprised me… If we were OK a second ago, what’s different now? They ended up pulling two people back off the jury, called up more people from the back of the room, and got us back to 12. For what it’s worth, we were roughly split between men and women, had 8 blacks, 3 whites and an Indian. They also appointed two alternates.
As it was late in the afternoon now, the judge told us to report on Monday afternoon, and the trial was expected to last until Wednesday.

I arrive at the courthouse Monday afternoon at 1:15, anxious to get on with the show. I report to the jury room as instructed and then proceed to WAIT FOR 2 AND A HALF GODDAMN HOURS. Nice people I was in there with, but after a while, we were starting to get punchy. We could hear court stuff going out outside the door, but we were given specific instructions Not To Open the Door. If we had any questions, we had to knock and give the clerk a written question for the judge. Eventually one of the jurors did just that, wanting to know what was going on.

Another 10 minutes went by before the clerk came to get us. Whoo Hoo! Time to do some decidin’ and mete out a little jurisprudence.

Buuuuuut… no. The judge told us that she apologizes for the long wait, but unfortunately, we would not be able to try the case today. We were dismissed as jurors.


What a letdown… for me, anyway. Some of my fellow jurors were just fine with that, but I really wanted to see it through. Instead, after all the legal foreplay, I’m left with nothing but a ringing case of judicial blue-balls.


Thursday, March 26, 2009

Top Villain Countdown Part 2

Last week I began running down my list of favorite villains, starting with Monsters. This installment will be a little lighter, covering two smaller lists of “Comedic” Villains and “Character” Villains.

Comedic Villains
3. Hedley Lamarr, played by Harvey Korman in “Blazing Saddles

Harvey Korman stepped out from the Carol Burnett show to portray a brilliant comedic villain, foil to Sheriff Bart and confidant of the “Gov” (Mel Brooks). No word if Tim Conway was unavailable.

Key quote: “I want you to round up every vicious criminal and gunslinger in the west. Take this down. I want rustlers, cut throats, murderers, bounty hunters, desperados, mugs, pugs, thugs, nitwits, halfwits, dimwits, vipers, snipers, con men, Indian agents, Mexican bandits, muggers, buggerers, bushwhackers, hornswogglers, horse thieves, bull dykes, train robbers, bank robbers, ass-kickers, shit-kickers and Methodists!!” (See below for full effect.)

2. Kim Jong Il, voiced by Trey Parker in “Team America: World Police”
Trey Parker and Matt Stone, the guys that do “South Park” did an action movie that makes fun of the lunkheads that blow up the entire city in pursuit of the bad guys, and the weenie Hollywood establishment that protests their methods. And they did it all with marionettes.

The brains behind this particular bad-guy operation is North Korean dictator Kim Jong Il. He is played with a broad Asian accent and he gets most of the good lines. Then after numerous scenes of depraved brutality, he gets the show’s big number, the somber lament, “I’m So Ronery”.

Key quote: I'm… So… Ronery / So ronery / So ronery and sadry arone / There's no one / Just me onry / Sitting on my rittle throne / I work rearry hard and make up great prans / but, nobody ristens, no one understands / Seems rike no one takes me serirousryyyyy / And so, I'm ronery / A rittle ronery / Poor rittle me.
See below for Kim’s assault on UN Inspector Hans Brix… I mean, Hans Blix.

1. The French Taunter, played by John Cleese from “Monty Python and the Holy Grail
In a movie with so many bizarre characters and memorable scenes, this guy is completely stands out with his over-the-top French-accented insults.

Key quotes: (too many to list just one): “I’m French!” Why do you think I have this outrrrrageous accent, you silly king?”
“You don’t frighten us, English pigdogs! Go and boil your bottoms, sons of a silly person. I blow my nose at you, so-called Arthur King; you and all your silly English kennn-iggits!”
“So, you think you can out-clever us French folk with your silly knees-bent-running-about-advancing behavior. I wave my private parts at your aunties, you cheesy lover second-hand electric donkey bottom biters”
Both scenes in which the French Taunter appears are in the clip below.

Character Villains
3. Catwoman, played by Julie Newmar on the TV show “Batman”
Oh, my. This “villain” had my little 6-year-old world all screwed up. I know she was always setting deadly traps for Batman, but me-yow, even my tiny elementary-school brain could see she was fiiiiine. Even Batman just wanted to get her up to the Bat Cave. (Nope… no jokes about the Bat Pole… must… resist…)
There have been a number of Catwomen… Eartha Kitt? She predated Julie Newmar but I never saw her play the role. Lee Merriweather played Catwoman in the 1966 movie… she was OK, but something just wasn’t quite right. Michelle Pheiffer? OK, you got me there… she was also fiiiine. But also stone cold crazy. Lastly, Halle Berry in the 2004 movie… Fine, but the movie was so bad it doesn’t really count. No, my heart belongs to Julie Newmar and my mixed up 2nd-grade memories.

Key quote: (Batman) “Oh Catwoman… Catwoman, will you never learn?”

Catwoman comes in at about the 1:20 mark, and makes me want to do things to her of which the ASPCA would not approve.

2. The Joker, played by Heath Ledger in “The Dark Knight”
“Why so serious?” Because this was a serious role, that’s why. I saw the Dark Knight in the theater last year and you just couldn’t take your eyes off the guy. The role was richly written and brilliantly acted. I used to think that Jack Nicholson’s Joker was the gold standard… he had it way over the TV version. But the thing is, you always knew it was Jack Nic. He never stopped being Jack. I don’t know where Heath Ledger went during the filming of that movie, but he was gone and only insanity was left, along with that lizard tongue.

Key quote: “Do you want to know why I use a knife? Guns are too quick. You can't savor all the... little emotions. In... you see, in their last moments, people show you who they really are. So in a way, I know your friends better than you ever did. Would you like to know which of them were cowards?”

1. Dolores Umbridge, played by Imelda Staunton in “Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix”
This is what you get when you cross a mean, small-minded bureaucrat with unfettered power. The reason she gets this ranking from me is that I know people like this, sans that magic. The shallow veneer of civility can only hide so much. Putting people like this in charge of children is like putting a necrophiliac in charge of the Coroner’s Office.

Key quote: “As I told you, Mr. Potter, naughty children deserve to be punished.”

Coming soon: the “Regular-People” Villains.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

The Best Laid Plan (B)

In a long overdue ruling, a federal judge ordered the food and drug administration to make the Plan-B morning after birth control pill available without prescription. The major finding was that the Bush administration had placed undue pressure on the FDA to limit the availability to women over 18.

No big surprise there; conservative moralizing finding its way to trump science and dictating the country’s health policies. Here, I find the hypocrisy of the religious conservatives staggering. These are supposed to be the people leading the fight against abortion. Unfortunately, they’re also leading the fight against birth control. (Plus adoptions by gays, but that’s another story.)

You would think that there would be a higher priority placed on preventing the pregnancy in the first place. But the real push was that costly white elephant, the Abstinence Program.
Which doesn’t work. So that brings us to the attempted restriction of Plan-B, which was nothing but a thinly veiled punishment of young people that dare to have sex.

Remember that there were numerous delays and objections before getting Plan-B approved at all, for women of any age. Senator Clinton had to
stonewall a Bush appointee to run the FDA until they agreed to allow the sale of Plan-B without a prescription. If a woman has had unprotected sex on a Friday night and is seeking Plan-B, what are the odds she’s going to get that doctor’s appointment before it’s too late? Can you say “S.O.L.?” The over-the-counter status for Plan-B was key to its effectiveness, and just getting that far with the conservatives took an all-out effort.

I know the prevailing thought is that the “morning after” pill is akin to abortion. That prevailing thought is wrong. Plan-B is not abortion; it’s no different than the effect of an IUD. Once again, the Christian right, under the guise of the Bush Administration, pushed through a policy that’s based on misinformation, hysteria and holier-than-thou righteousness in place of established science.

I sleep so much better at night now, knowing that science and common sense is once again present in our nation’s highest office.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Odd Bits - March Madness Edition

March Madness
Yes, I may make bracket picks, but this is my idea of March Madness:

I always loved that song. And the video looks like it was shot for about $75.

The Ratbirds Embarrass Themselves. Again.
I laughed out loud when I saw this story... Now that the Ravens re-signed Thug In Chief Ray Lewis, you'd think they'd be anxious to promote their chest-pounding awesomeness. Instead, we get to read where they requested that the NFL not schedule them to play the Steelers on national television this year.

"There were rumors that the NFL would begin this season with Ravens-Steelers, a rematch of the AFC championship game, for its Thursday night game. But the Ravens asked not to be considered for a prime-time game at Heinz Field this season when they submitted their scheduling requests to the league, a team official told The Baltimore Sun."

The only thing to say to that is, "AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAAAAAAAAAAAA! What's the matter, is you all tired of getting beat on like you were dating Chris Brown. Poor sensitive babies..."

If they had any self respect, or even half-believed anything they say about how tough they are, they would never let something like this see the light of day. A team with real toughness would be more like, "Any time, any place." Bunch of whining maggots... The Steelers must be in their heads like they were in Ben's back a couple years ago. But I didn't hear the Steelers turning down national games. But then, the NFL secretly props up the Steelers, and everyone knows they hate the Ravens. So sayeth those with the tinfoil hats here in Baltimore. "We don't get intimidated... we're the intimidators." ~ Jack Lambert ~
Jack Lambert > Ray Lewis

Shopping the 70's

You may recall that while grocery shopping 2 weeks ago, I noted that they were playing "Don't Fear The Reaper" in the store. Well, today's surprising moldy chestnut was "Smoke on the Water." Was there any kid that was alive in 1973 that didn't jam to that riff? Or learn it in about 3 minutes on guitar? What a jam

So I looked for the video on YouTube and was not disappointed. It's all there... the chords, the keyboard growl, the gutter bass and Ian "Jesus Christ Superstar" Gillan. Check out the snappy 70's clothes too...

Thursday, March 19, 2009

All-Time Favorite Villains

I saw a poll online the asked people to submit their favorite villains from TV, movies and books. That got me thinking about mine. The best stories have to have the best villains; that’s what makes them worth hating. So I started going through my memory banks to figure out who my favorite villains were. Naturally, I came up with too many for a simple Top Ten (or Twenty) list. Villains can be considered “best” for many reasons and come in many varieties, so I divided them up into categories. I’ll start with:

8. The Terminator T-100 (Arnold Schwartzenegger) from “The Terminator”.

I suppose you could be charitable and say, he wasn’t inherently evil, it was just the programming, but his effect on the main characters was that of a nightmare.

Key quote: “That terminator is out there. It can’t be bargained with, it can’t be reasoned with, it doesn’t feel pity or remorse of fear and it absolutely will not stop… EVER… until you are dead.”

7. The Queen Alien from “Aliens” (The Queen, the drones, the whole damned species.)
Good thing we have Ellen Ripley on our side. I’d hate to see a squad of these things running all over the place. Fast, smart, deadly, dagger-like tail, small jaws inside big jaws, rows of teeth, lots of drool and acid for blood.

Key quote: “Get away from her, you BITCH!” 6. The Big Alien Bugs from “Starship Troopers”
These things are just nasty and there are way too many of them. This was a movie that basically revolved around attractive young male and female soldiers being killed in horrible ways by giant space-bugs. Not that I’m against that… But I’m always unsettled by the scene pictured above, where a small band of soldiers are trying to hold a fort against wave after wave of these killer bugs. Kind of like The Alamo if it were sponsored by “Raid.”

Key quote: “Kill everything with more than two legs!”

(Obviously, the audio isn't from the movie.)

5. Monster from “Cloverfield”

This movie used the original “Jaws” formula of rarely showing you a good look at the monster. (albeit without the sterling acting chops or masterful storytelling) You just don’t know what the hell this thing is, but what you do see is compelling and quite scary.

Key quote: (none, really, but this will have to do) “Beth lives in Midtown. Midtown is that way. You know what else is that way? Some horrific shit! “

4. The Shapeshifter from “The Thing” (1982 John Carpenter version)

Another alien… this one is dug out of the ice by a crew stationed somewhere north of the Arctic Circle. This thing can take the form of anything it kills, so dropping it into this isolated camp in a frozen wasteland made for a very claustrophobic, paranoid thriller. The scene where it busts out of a body and the head separates, then grows big old crab legs and skitters away… that was just something out of an LSD hallucination. No one ever forgets that scene. But just to remind...

Key quote: “I dunno what the hell's in there, but it's weird and pissed off, whatever it is.”

3. The Great White Shark in “Jaws”
This is a “villain” that changed lives. Anyone that was alive in 1975 and went to the beach couldn’t help feel a bit uneasy about venturing into the water, whether it was an ocean, a lake or a puddle. I know this movie scared the living crap out of me back then. The shark was clunky by today’s standards and didn’t always work, so Spielberg compensated by not showing it very often. And the unseen monster, even when you basically know what it is, is often scariest.

Key quote: “We’re gonna need a bigger boat.” (What did you think I was going to use, “Here’s to swimmin’ with bowlegged women.”?)

Special note: The speech Quint gives about surviving the sinking of the USS Indianapolis still gives me chills, and is almost as unnerving as the shark itself.

2. The Toy Clown from “Poltergeist”
OK, now it’s getting personal. It’s a clown thing, and again, Spielberg always seems to know what scares me. I’ve always hated clowns. When I was little, I used to have recurring nightmares about a clown trying to get me. I think it goes back to when I went to the circus and a clown killed my dad. (sorry… that’s a Jack Handey quote.) To tell the truth, I got a shudder just pulling the photo above. And the one below…

Key quote: “Now clear your minds. It knows what scares you. It has from the very beginning. Don't give it any help, it knows too much already.”

1. Pennywise the Clown from “It”
Another shudder… Tim Curry was a brilliant choice to play Pennywise, the evil clown-monster from Stephen King’s “It”. This is a clown that taunts you, mocks you, makes fun of you, then bites your arm off. And this was just a TV movie. I’m actually kind of relieved that it was never a feature film.

Key quote: “I'm every nightmare you've ever had. I'm your worst dream come true. I'm everything you ever were afraid of.”

Coming soon: “Comic” villains and “Character” villains.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Jack Attack

I love Mondays… best TV night of the week:

Chuck at 8:00
24 and Heroes at 9:00 (tape Heroes, watch 24)
Medium at 10:00. (or watch the tape of Heroes.)
There’s also Dancing With The Stars, in case of reruns.

But I remain troubled and wracked with guilt and it’s all Jack Bauer’s fault.

Jack Bauer is the protagonist of the Fox Network’s show, “24”, the most exciting drama series I’ve ever watched. He plays a cool-under-fire and indestructible counter-terrorist agent. Each season is one day in real time… 24 episodes depicting 24 hours, and at the end of every episode, there’s always catastrophe just about to erupt in the next hour.

So why do I feel guilty? (Besides the fact that it’s on Fox?)

Those that know me or have read enough of my ramblings know that I’m pretty much a straight ACLU lefty. Jack Bauer spends 60 minutes each week blowing up the Bill of Rights and our Constitution, right along with all the bad guys. Each season you can count on old Jack torturing vital information out of someone… terrorists, unwitting civilians, corrupt government officials… whoever. Then there is the illegal detention, warrantless search and seizure, wanton destruction of public and private property, car theft or car jacking; all in a day’s work. All stuff that people like me go ballistic over when we see it in the news. But you should hear me curse at the TV over characters that try to get in Jack’s way.

Here’s how I manage to live with myself and still get a good night’s sleep: for starters, it’s FICTION. But, beyond that, and beyond the implausibility of so much of the plot, in the realm of the story, we know who the bad guys are and what they’re going to do. And if the last 7 seasons has taught us anything, it’s that Jack is always right. If everyone would just get out of Jack’s way and do what he says, they would call the show “3”, because that’s how many hours it would take Jack to figure out the plot, stop the bomb and kill the bad guys. Also, we know what’s at stake if some evil stooge doesn’t spill the info to Jack… things go boom and lots of people die. Simple cause and effect… if only real life were that cut and dried.

On the bright side, 24 has made me a more effective football fan.

Yes, really. I’ve noticed that when I go to Steelers games, especially in Pittsburgh, I burn out my voice by halftime. If the game is close late, like they always seem to be in the last few years, I’ve got nothing left by the 4th quarter and sound like I’m careening through puberty. So where does 24 come in?

It comes down to Kiefer Sutherland. His Jack Bauer has two basic modes:

Mode 1: Easy Jack

“We’re running out of time… Tell me where the bomb is.”

He half-whispers this like he’s reading a children’s story or doing voiceover for his Ford commercials.

Mode 2: Hard Jack

(<-- That's Jack's brother!)

This is brought up from the diaphragm, bellowed as if from the hounds of hell and delivered about two inches from some guy’s face.

This is what gave me my ballgame inspiration. Instead of hollering high from the throat, I found the way to bring it up low from the diaphragm. Sounds more like a drill sergeant than Junior High-schooler and is much easier on the old vocal cords. So now it’s not just me yelling for my Steelers, I’m channeling Jack Bauer. The teams know better than to disobey.

Happy St. Paddy's Day

It's St. Patrick's Day, and I have to work. We also didn't see the parade last weekend. So I'm celebrating with a nice traditional Irish folk tune, written by Irish son, Denis Leary. Not exactly a belt of Jamison's, but it will have to do.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Wii The People

They’re having the St. Patrick’s Day parade in Baltimore today, but it’s cold and rainy out, so I guess I’ll just have to get sloppy drunk at home. If you drink enough, you can still see leprechauns.

I’m really enjoying my Wii. The boxing in particular has been most challenging. I did a little research on how to punch effectively and learned that you really shouldn’t be doing full punches yourself. Several sites explained that you can vary the type and location of your punches by flicking and twisting your wrists in different ways.

This may help my ranking as a Wii boxer, but it kind of saps the exercise value. See, I’m competitive enough that even if I’m just playing against the computer, I don’t want to suck, even if it’s for the benefit of more exercise. So I kind of do a hybrid of punching and flicking. The bobbing and weaving to avoid my opponent’s punches definitely helps the old waistline.

I’ve also come to learn how the ranking screen works. Each time you fight an opponent, your rank goes up or down, depending on how you do. The more convincing the win is, the greater the bump in rank. They always have you fight an opponent that’s ranked a little (or a lot) higher than you are. What really ticks me off is when you battle a very tough opponent, maybe get knocked down a couple times, yet come back and win, but you still lose rating points.

This happened to me yesterday… My rank is something like 730, and I was fighting someone ranked around 850. Tough fight, but I won in the third with a knockout. My rank stayed even. My thinking is that if you beat someone that much better, your ranking should rise regardless of how you did it. My overall record is something like 12-0-1. (I can’t believe I don’t have a spreadsheet for this yet.) But there were at least 3 or 4 wins where I lost points.

I also discovered the “Training” mode, where you can warm up by doing a number of drills. I especially like hitting the heavy bag. There, I can punch my heart out without worrying about losing ranking points and just focus on getting my heart rate up.

Best of all, I’ve developed the perfect time and place to do these workouts… during hockey game intermissions. As soon as they leave the ice, the game goes on and I can usually fit in 1 round on the heavy bag, 2 boxing matches, a little more on the bag, and maybe a tennis game or two.

It’s still kind of a kick seeing the little Mii that looks like Me running around and duking it out with all these characters. I totally feel like I let myself down when I’m knocked down in boxing. I’m also not crazy about the fact that sometimes I have to face female boxers. It’s not like I don’t still fight hard, especially after they start biffing mii around; it’s just that I feel guilty after knocking it out. I feel like I have to go and donate to the N.O.W. to make up for it.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Single Celled Brains

Already, some conservative southern states are pushing back against yesterday’s stem cell announcement by firing up legislations declaring that fertilized single-cell embryos are persons.

I say that’s great, just as long as they stipulate that once they find a viable treatment for Parkinson’s and spinal cord injuries by using embryonic stem cells, it may not be given to anyone from Georgia or Louisiana, unless they have a
NARAL or ACLU membership card.


(That's "blog" for Michael J. Fox is greater than an embryonic stem cell.)

Some moron wrote into the paper this morning complaining about using his tax dollars for this stem cell research that hasn’t cured anything yet.

This is stupid on so many levels…

First of all, for every cure for every disease ever invented, all of them had a time when it hadn’t cured anything yet. That’s why they call it research, pinhead. You don’t just look under a floor mat at Princeton and go, “Oh, so there’s the cure…”

Secondly, there’s the idea that we get to choose what our tax dollars pay for. Sorry, it’s all or nothing with this country. You think I want to pay for agribusiness subsidies, the war in Iraq or abstinence programs? We live in a free country, which, of course, costs money.

How can you argue with that?

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Obama 3 Dogma 0

Continuing to deliver on promises made to the American public during his presidential campaign, President Obama announced that he was going to overturn another of President Shrub’s rigidly dogmatic public policies and allow funding for research on new stem cell lines. There is the predictable hue and cry from the right over the “sanctity of human life,” which to them means the sanctity of their right to interfere in your life. Apparently those suffering from Parkinson’s, heart disease or diabetes are much less sanctified. Empathy for actual people has never been this group’s strongpoint. Lest anyone misunderstand this blog’s point of view, Real People > Minute Glob of Cells.

This follows several other progressive decisions from the first month of Obama’s presidency that lifted public policy from the grips of the Self Righteous Right.

There were the two ridiculous abortion policies overturned: the so-called “
Gag Rule” which withheld funding to any international group that provided or even mentioned abortion, and the “Conscience Rule,” which allowed doctors to refuse to perform abortions and pharmacists to refuse to fill contraception or “Morning After” prescriptions. The latter part of this always struck me as asinine, if not criminal. It’s like if a vegan was a cashier and refused to ring up your bologna sandwich.

Both of these violate what I consider to be the values of my primary philosophy, which is where one person or group does not get to insert their morals or values into my life. In other words, it’s the Mind Your Own Goddamn Business philosophy. I have no problem with people believing in or taking comfort from any belief system they want. The problem I have is when they try to make their particular belief system public policy for the entire nation, godless heathens and all. Our nation was set up to ensure that that never happens... namely the separation between church and state.

Name one successful Theocracy out there. I can think of Iran or the Taliban, who have been successful in covering their women with bags, but not successful by any reasonable standard. Funny how these are two of the nations or organizations that we most vilify, yet here these people are, trying to be just like them. I say, you want a Theocracy, go to where the Theocrats are. I’ll even provide the sunscreen.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Quick Thought

You know the fastest way to convene a meeting? Pass a little gas in your cube or office. Guaranteed quorum every time.

On a related note, if you have to take a smash and then only go a little bit, would that be considered a "smush"?

Saturday, March 7, 2009

The Victory Lap

I just finished watching the official NFL highlights DVD for the Super Bowl XLIII Champion Pittsburgh Steelers. List price is 24.99, but to any real Steelers fan, this disc is worth twice that. I watched the last half through very watery eyes. The footage and the narrative are brilliant.

All the stupid things we fans do… the efforts we make to wear our “lucky” apparel… the lengths out of town fans go to in order to watch the game when it’s not on local TV, or the numbing environments we endure to attend a game during bone chilling cold, or soul soaking rain are all worth it when we get to relive a championship like this that validates us as fans and as Pittsburghers.

Random thoughts:

* This collection of highlights points up that Nate Washington made a hell of a lot of plays this year. We are going to miss him more than we expect.

* There was a plethora of tooth-rattling hits this year, both defense and offense. Hines’ hit on that rookie Bengal was both lethal and necessary. Despite all the criers, there was nothing cheap or illegal about it. Hines hit the guy just as the defender was reaching for the runner, hit him straight up on the button. Rookie’s got to learn to keep his head up. Bet he doesn’t make that mistake again.

Ryan Clark was a one-man wrecking crew late in the season. I bet Willis McGahee is still wondering why hears a phone ringing. And Limas Sweed made his bones in a very timely manner, namely 4 plays after dropping what would have been a long touchdown bomb, by blowing up Cory Ivy just as he was reaching for Heath Miller.

* Despite all the sacks by Defensive Player of the Year, James Harrison, he was held so often he could have doubled his sack total if not for said transgressions.

* Mike Tomlin is the coolest coach, if not human being, in the NFL. These guys are going to knock down walls for him for years to come.

*Ben Roethlisberger is a goddamned magician. He made more plays out of nothing than anyone I’ve ever seen. Sure he sometimes holds onto the ball far too long and ends up sacked; but without that devil-may-care attitude, he wouldn’t have made the dozens of plays that made the Black and Gold faithful lose our minds with joy.

* As the credits rolled over footage of the Champions Parade and the tears in my eyes made my vision blurry, there is no greater microcosm of the relationship between the Pittsburgh Steelers and their fans than the footage of Troy Polamalu diving from his ride into the outstretched arms of the crowd… total and complete trust. If you think about it, any number of bad things could happen to a pro athlete in a situation like that. But Troy trusted the throng of celebrants not only to catch him, but to deliver him unscathed back to the car from which he hurled himself. And those people would rather die than to let any harm come to their beloved Samson-haired number 43.

I can’t wait to see what next season brings us. Bill Cowher had a problem getting his team in the right mindset to repeat. I don’t think Coach Tomlin will have such problems.

Regardless I and millions of other Steelers fans across the nation and across the world will be watching, yelling, waving our towels, dying a thousand deaths and giving our hearts, our souls and our Sundays so that our team can compete for lucky number 7.

Here we go Steelers, here we go!

Quick Thought for a Saturday

You know it's a sign of the Apocolypse when you hear Blue Oyster Cult's "Don't Fear the Reaper" playing in the grocery store. I wonder if the manager realizes that his customer's median age is probably about 85... Or maybe he does, and this song is played as a public service.

Friday, March 6, 2009

The Paper Chase

It’s getting harder and harder to justify subscribing to the newspaper any more. It pains me to say that because I’ve been a newspaper guy since I was a kid.

My mom and dad always had a paper delivered, sometimes two, so I was probably in grade school when I picked up the habit. I always made it a point of reading (or at least thumbing through) each section, because Dad always accused me of just reading the comics.

When we lived in Northwest Ohio, it was an evening paper that was delivered to the box out by the road. I can remember sitting on the porch waiting for it to come. I’d bring it back and just be settling into the day’s news when Dad would come home from work.

Dad: Ok, let’s have the paper.

Me: But I went and got it and I just started reading it…

Dad: How many bills have you paid for the paper?

Me: None, but…

Dad: Let’s have that paper…


Anyway, as soon as I went out on my own, no matter how shitty my job was, I always got the local paper. It was a different time… There was no Internet or much in the way of cable news. (Other than a fledgling CNN.) If I wanted to know what was going on in local or national politics, or sports beyond the city limits, the newspaper was it.

And of course there were comics like Doonesbury, Bloom County, Calvin & Hobbs… classics all.

Today, newspapers are practically obsolete. I still get the Baltimore Sun but it’s quickly becoming The Incredible Shrinking Paper. They just cut the size back again… any smaller and they can just mail it out as a pamphlet. Whenever you hold it up to read, the pages curl. They’ve gutted their staff… well, their writing staff. There seems to be no shortage of ads so the salesmen must be OK. But a number of columnists I used to enjoy reading have moved on or bought out.

The sports section is atrocious. I think the theory is, “if it happens outside the beltway, it isn’t newsworthy.” Unfortunately I think this is the one instance of the paper correctly reflecting the view of Baltimore people. But the newspaper is supposed to support the greater good. There IS a world out there and not everyone living here is FROM here. What passes for hockey coverage is… well... there IS no hockey coverage. They have maybe a two-sentence paragraph if the Washington Capitals played. There’s about a square inch where they run the line scores (provided the games are Eastern Time Zone). Every couple of days, they show the standings. There are a couple of pages for lacrosse and high school sports though, which no one cares about unless they have a kid playing. So can you take a couple square inches away from the titty-bar ads and run the standings please?

I enjoy my newspaper routine. I read the front and metro sections each morning with my Diet Coke… oop, wait… they combined those two sections into one. For some reason, they have the “World News” in a different font. That’s what passes for “exotic” in Baltimore. On my subway ride into work, I read the Sports and Entertainment sections. At lunch I do the crossword and sudoku puzzles, and time permitting, the Jumble. If I can see them, that is. The size of the puzzles has shrunk along with the paper. Makes me keep my pencils sharp, I tell ya…

They’ve totally killed the comic section. It used to span two full pages. But through cost cutting and attrition, about a third of them are gone and the rest have been crammed into one page. Even the Sunday comics have been stuck inside the TV Guide section. The panels seem even smaller than in the daily comics. Opus made it out just in time.

The Sun used to have great regular columns on Consumer Protections, Computer Issues, Commuting, Home Life, and a great editorial cartoonist… all gone. All we hear is that no one is getting the paper, so they have to reduce staff and materials to cut costs. Which causes more people like me to stop getting the paper. Which causes more cutbacks… and on we go, down this spiral of self-fulfilling prophesy, until the paper folds.

Right now, I get the meat of my information from news sites on the Internet. There’s really nothing that the newspaper provides me that I can’t get elsewhere for free.* It’s just a matter of time before I “pull the string”, (or is that “cut the cord?”) and give up my paper. I suppose I could find something else to read in the morning (and maybe get to work on time more often). I could get a crossword book for lunch.

I guess I’d just miss the routine. Getting the paper has always seemed like The Adult Thing To Do. Serious people read the paper. Intelligent, inquisitive, involved people read the paper. **

Sigh. They used to, anyway.

* ”Free,” as in “with an internet account.”
** Plus the morons who write in to the editor. (Obviously I call them “morons” because they haven’t run any of my letters yet.)

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

The Real Penalty Box

The Maryland State Senate passed a compromise bill yesterday, to limit, rather than repeal, the State’s death penalty.

The salient details are that the death penalty may not be sought where the only evidence is from eyewitnesses, and may be sought only when there is DNA evidence, video evidence or voluntary videotaped confession. (I wonder who agrees to that?)

I’ve always been ambivalent about the death penalty. On one hand, I think that there are some crimes so heinous that the guy just needs killing. I don’t need to site a bunch of ugly examples… you know the kind of crimes I mean. A person capable of such atrocities is beyond rehabilitation, and just needs to get in a hole in the ground.

On the other hand, there’s the staggering misapplication of the death penalty. Anyone with enough money to afford a good lawyer is not going to be put to death, period. Economics, race, class… all of it plays into a situation that cries out for unflinching evenhandedness. Further, I don’t see a shred of evidence that it deters anyone.

Most important, though, is our nation’s habit of convicting the wrong people! The
Innocence Project has what, over a 130 death row cases overturned with DNA evidence? I can’t think of anything more chilling than the prospect of a truly innocent person being killed by the government. That just can’t happen in a “free” society. Not to a single person, period.

So I don’t have a problem with this compromise bill. It keeps the death penalty around for those slam-dunk cases that truly need it and mitigates the chance of it being misapplied. I think that’s the best we can hope for and it’s the kind of pragmatic compromise that this country could use a lot more of. Now whether the House of Delegates will get on board and pass a similar bill is another story. Somehow, I kind of doubt it.

Aural Arguments

I listen to an MP-3 player on the way to and from work. I set the player on “random”, so it’s always a surprise which of my 2900+ songs (or comedy bits) turns up. Although I try to keep the volume down so to not damage my hearing any more than it already is, every once in a while, in a place like a quiet elevator, someone can hear what I’m listening to. And it always something I’d rather people not know I’m listening to. Like the other day “Dancing Queen” was playing and a lady in the elevator says, “Oh, I love that song.”

I’m like, “Oh, I don’t know why that’s on there… And I can’t really even hear it because my ears are still ringing after the Metallica that was just on.”

Monday, March 2, 2009

Tricking Our Nation's Youth

Vegetables are in the news again… this time, it’s a study that finds that kids eat more vegetables if the have a cool name. It goes on to list X-Ray Vision Carrots, Power Peas and Dinosaur Broccoli Trees as names that got 4-year old kids to eat as much as 50% more of the vegetable.

Sorry, but color me dubious. I can just see what would have happened if my parents tried that crap on me.

Mother: “Here, honey, try some of these nice Dinosaur Broccoli Trees!”

Me: “Only if you want 50% more Super Technicolor Hurl all over your nice lacy tablecloth…”

You just can’t hide “heinous”, no matter what you call it. If cheese sauce can’t fix it, it can’t be fixed.

This reminds me of a story from when I first moved to Baltimore. I had quit my lousy retail job in New York and moved here to try to kick-start a new life and I was staying with my brother and his wife until I could get back on my feet.

One night after I had just started working again, I came home for dinner to the unmistakable smell of the heinous broccoli. No big deal… I could live with it on the table… no one was forcing me to eat it. (It pays not to be four years old sometimes.) So my sister-in-law puts down a big bowl of ravioli in a white sauce. Mmmmmmm, yummy. Funny, I didn’t see any of the dreaded broccoli, but whatever. Time to go to town on this ravioli. I took my first bite and …


My stomach totally seized up. Broccoli… it’s in there somewhere…
I looked inside the ravioli and didn’t see anything… I looked around the table. No broccoli in sight, nor was there anything else to eat. I didn’t want to make a fuss… I figured I’d just try to gut it out and finish my ravioli. I took another bite…

{Serious, almost about to hurl, clench}

No way… it was not going to go down quietly; this was going to get messy.

My brother must have seen my stricken expression and asked what was wrong.

I said, “Is there broccoli in this?

My sister-in-law said, “I made it with Cream of Broccoli soup…”

Bingo. There’s the culprit.

My brother offered me some breaded chicken patties as an alternative. Sold!

So that was that…mystery solved, hurl avoided and lesson learned. Also, I figured it was just about time to get my own apartment.

Picture by Becca Bond

Sunday, March 1, 2009

The Real “Rest of the Story”

Long time radio commentator Paul Harvey died yesterday. That means there will be the inevitable circulation of the essays he allegedly wrote and broadcast on public prayer, a review of The Passion of The Christ, his Prayer for our Nation, or that Mel Gibson was the inspiration for the move The Man Without a Face; and all of which are untrue. All were either written by someone else, or are complete fabrications.

Just trying to get out in front of this one…

No More Illusions

You know you no longer live in a "bachelor pad" when you see this sights like this on a regular basis...Happy Sunday...