Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Odd Bits - The Topless Edition

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

And what Christmas morning is complete without a roaring fire?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Odd Bits - The Hoggified Edition

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“An error.”  Whoopsie!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Odd Bits - The Holiday Edition

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Me and my friend Joan, circa 1988.

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

My Bologna
I’ll finish with this quick story…

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

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

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

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Candid Camera Cops

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And then came the Garner case.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, December 1, 2014

Debunkery - The Working Stiff Edition

While taking a Thanksgiving stroll through Facebook last week, I came upon another wiseass meme that was just begging for a good debunking.  Here it is:

Just to warm up, let me pick a small nit here… No one is losing their mind because retail workers are working on Black Friday, like it says in the bottom section of the graphic.  That’s why it is known as Black Friday… a day for when retailers supposedly go into the black for the year.  Retailers.  That means salespeople and clerks work there on this day.  Always have, always will.  There is no pushback regarding working on Black Friday, nor should there be.  I suspect it was included here merely to give the overall assertion more weight.

Now, Thanksgiving Day is another story.  And here’s where this meme completely falls apart.  It’s really just the fallacy of false equivocation.  It is assuming that both groups of people are worthy of comparison.  In other words, EMTs, nurses, firefighters, cops and soldiers perform similar functions as retail workers.  Which is, of course, completely absurd.

There is no comparison there, for one very simple reason.  The jobs of EMTs, nurses, etc., are in a realm where the need for them does not disappear during a holiday.  There will always be medical emergencies on holidays, just like there will always be fires, dangers to public safety, and military activities.  Hence, those working in these professions are called on to work on holidays like Thanksgiving.

Retail workers, on the other hand, are there to sell you stuff and make money for ownership and management, and performing these duties on holidays is 100% elective, on the part of said ownership and management.  No one NEEDS to go out bargain hunting on Thanksgiving.  No one. 

Up until last year or two, no one ever questioned this, and retailers still made money hand over fist, through Black Friday and subsequent sales, and the (predominantly) minimum wage workers got to celebrate the holiday with their families.

So as you can see, there is insufficient common ground between these two groups of jobs, to substantiate such a snarky and empathy-free statement.  I can pretty much guarantee you that the person who wrote it did not have to go to work on Thanksgiving.

To summarize, EMTs, nurses, firefighters, police and soldiers are an integral part of ensuring the continued function of a free country.  They work holidays because society needs them to.  Retail clerks, while important, work on Thanksgiving so you can buy discounted electronics a day earlier than you used to. 

It is a logical fallacy to use one group as means to criticize a completely dissimilar group.  Therefore, this meme is bullshit.

Ladies and gentlemen, please think before you share such dimwitted commentary.  You may now return to your regularly scheduled cat videos.