Thursday, January 28, 2010

High praise and condemnation

Another year has come and gone and as per his constitutional duties, our president gave his State of the Union to congress last night. As I was at work till late I missed most of what was said so on returning home I decided not to watch the last few minutes. What's the point, I thought.

I had missed the most important parts. Not the speech, mind you. What is important is the histrionics that takes place every year; the battle of the absurd between the ruling party and the opposition. That is every bit as telling of the state of our union as the speech itself. I like to watch every year, My Beloved could care less. Each address is filled with pregnant 'no applause moments', roars of cheer from one side while the other coldly sits on their hands. Al Gore always clapped like a monkey with big rubbery hands and Nancy Pelosi, as I stated last year got a thigh master workout from jumping up and down so often.

This goes back through the years and decades as far as I can remember. Some of Mr. Reagan's speeches had wonderful moments from both parties. And now the opposing side gets to give their rebuttal. This I can do without. It used to be someone stood up and gave their speech to the cameras. Last night, he had an entire chamber filled with adoring clappers. If the president must give a speech to half a room that is filled with disdain, then so must the rebuttaler. (Is that a word?) I think it's only fair. It's time the politicians began to take governing seriously instead of playing like high school 'cliques'.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Dribble, dribble, yawn

For the first time in nearly twenty-five years I attended a high school basketball game last night. The epic battle was between two large suburban schools, the Panthers and the Cruisers. My niece is a trainer for the Cruisers and we thought we would pop in for her sake. I was surprised at what I experienced.

We entered first for the JV game that was a well-fought contest ending in a victory for the Cruisers by two points. You could tell both sides wanted the game. The gym was half-empty but I thought that would change as we closed in on the varsity game. To my surprise, that didn't happen. What I witnessed was not what I remembered from my high school days.

I initially felt the anticipation of the event. It was the same feelings I remember 'back in the day'. This would be great, I thought. The game was a mismatch from the start with the Panthers ending the first quarter leading 22 - 5. Neither team was overly athletic or powerful but it was evident the Panthers played a much better team game. The referees were typical high school caliber but at least they let them play not calling every ticky-tack foul. And, also to my surprise it wasn't a 'three-point' fest as many games have become.

But, to an extent I was saddened by the lack of participation in what little crowd attended. These two schools likely have 800 to 1000 students attending each and they couldn't muster enough to fill half an average size gymnasium. There was no football team gathered, no wrestlers, no volleyballers, no significant group of anyone. The crowd seemed disinterested in the game itself with very little cheering. The only loud noises were from the cheerleaders who led no cheers for the crowd. The home band did not even stay in place for the end of the game.

I attended a smaller school from a six team Catholic league. Each school had a grudging respect/hatred for everyone else in the league. The games were hotly contested by both the teams and the crowd. Often you could not hear yourself think because it was so loud. Each game was an event not to be missed with nearly everyone wearing their colors. I saw virtually no one at last nights game wearing their school colors or emblems for either side. I guess from a league that literally has thirty schools there can't be rivalries among them all.

I realize this was only one game on a single Friday night, at a single suburban school and I shouldn't take it as a blanket statement of schools in this day and age, but the excitement that wasn't there was sure a disappointment.


Wednesday, January 20, 2010

An old dog learns a new trick

Surprise, surprise, surprise. You can teach an old dog a new trick. Rarely in the political world does one see such surprises as we did in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. A longstanding near-monarchy has crumbled with the last of the Kennedys. The senate seat held in trust by the royal family of the United States has been ceded to a Republican.

I am neither in awe of the Kennedy legacy nor do I loathe them. They are simply part of my life since some of my earliest memories. I distinctly remember watching JFK's funeral on the television. But, a funny thing happened on the way to the party. The voters rose up and threw off their mantle of compliance. Without Teddy to pull them together I am afraid the relevance of the Kennedy clan will now fall into oblivion. There is simply no one left with the cache and history to lead them.

That absence leaves a distinct void in the Commonwealth. Who do we now turn to? For the first time in forty years the voters must think for themselves. Perhaps they have found a new voice. Not the voice of their newly elected senator, but their own voices. They have spoken anew for the first time and let the elected politicians know it's no longer acceptable for officials to simply do what they want. For the first time in memory they must be accountable for their leadership. If we don't want a system of social entitlement programs, massive government or monster deficits, you can't shove them down our throats.

For the first time in forty years, power to the people. Just as a parent must at some time let his child leave the nest, Teddy shouldn't be sad looking down, he should be glad his flock has found their voice.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

A better way to dry your hands

Recently, the building management where I work sent out a memo to every tenant informing them that, in an effort to reduce energy consumption, cut expenditures, and to "go green", they would be installing a new electronic hand dryer in each of the restrooms. This new dryer would be powerful enough to "actually dry your hands"! as opposed to the rather ineffectual hot air dryers we have grown accustomed to al these years, and the "disease-spreading" paper towels we have had for eons.

This new hand dryer was installed on our floor about 6 weeks ago, in the women's restroom. The sound emanating from behind the closed restroom door was so loud it seemed as if the ladies might suffer from having their petticoats blown off if they stood a mite too close!

After a long wait, we men were granted the privilege of having our very own BluStorm hand dryer installed in the gent's room. What a wonder! This really is the first hand dryer that actually dries your hands, usually in 10-15 seconds. It must be turbo-powered, so strong is the force of air coming from the machine. They even have a nifty soft blue light that comes on when you put your hands underneath the machine to activate it. Sorta like a proximity fuse, I suppose.

I checked a couple of websites to see why there was this nifty soft blue light to help me dry my hands. One site said it made it "more efficient" (but now how) to dry my hands, while another said it was merely to "assist" me in drying my hands.

All these years I never knew that I could not tell where the water was that remained on my hands without that nifty soft blue light! Imagine how much quicker I could have dried my hands in the past if only other hand dryers or maybe even my local paper towel holder had such a nifty soft blue light on it to tell me that my hands were still wet!

Sadly, after little more than a week of action, the nifty soft blue light has died, meaning my hands will be getting dried less efficiently.

R.I.P. nifty soft blue light.

I hear nothing

It is odd what we as a society think is important. What values do we put over others? What should we as parents and grandparents protect our families from? What images? What language? What trends that percolate throughout the world should make us a gatekeeper? Sadly, many are conflicting.

As I watched an episode of 'wildest criminals' (or whatever it was called) with My Beloved, I was struck by what I believe is an absurdity. As a rule I don't think much of these programs however there was nothing else of interest at the time. (Imagine that, three hundred channels and nothing to watch.) There was an instance caught on tape of a thug robbing a convenience store. He sucker-punched an old man who was the clerk knocking him to the ground. He fought back but was unable to completely defend himself finally succumbing to the robbers wishes. After being dragged around and bleeding from his face he handed over the cash. A sad tale.

What surprised me about this episode is not what was shown but what was not. In their infinite wisdom of what is acceptable, sensors chose to show an elderly man beaten in a robbery but chose to 'bleep out' profane language. Multiple f-bombs were bleeped as the thug went about his business. They decided it was acceptable to view an extreme, unprovoked violent act but drew the line at a 'bad' word. I for one would much rather have a child exposed to 'f' than such a violent act.

Is a single word more powerful than multiple images of violence? The old quote of "the pen (words) is mightier than the sword" may ring true as a generality of opinion but it pales in comparison to such a scenario.

"I hear nothing! Nothing!" (Sgt. Schultz)

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Choo choo, wham!

I heard on the radio yesterday a commercial for public safety. All well and good. This particular spot spoke to us about safety and the dangers posed at railroad crossings. A fine thing to espouse. Here's my problem.

For many years now we the public have been hammered with the idea that all railroad crossings are dangerous and the railroads should do something to make them all safer. Put in more lights, more gates, whatever. I have a completely different philosophy on this matter. It's not the railroads fault there are deaths at these crossings, it's the fault of drivers. In all my years I can't think of one crossing that did not have at least lights announcing the coming of a train. Most or all in city limits of medium to large cities also have gates. But does this stop the deaths? No.

When was the last time you saw a train trying to beat a car across the tracks? When was the last time you saw a car trying to beat a train? Happens all the time whether lights are flashing and gates are down or not. I have a crossing within a couple miles of my home and I routinely see cars waiting to turn into the cross street sitting on the tracks. This is one of the few intersections where I would say there is a bad design, however you don't have to be Einstein to know it's a bad idea to sit on railroad tracks in a car.

The problem is not design. The problem is not lights and gates. The problem is impatient drivers who try to beat the train. It's not a race but too many treat it that way. Trains are 100 plus tons of hulking steel barreling down two narrow rails. They're not stopping in fifty feet. Traffic laws give specific guidelines for railroad crossings but many simply choose to ignore them.

You can't blame the railroads for stupid drivers any more than you can blame firefighters because your house caught on fire. The next time you hear of a death at a crossing listen for what actually happened. I'll bet it's the driver's fault for not following the law.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Let it snow! Let it snow! Let it snow!

If the snow would only stay off the roads it would be just fine.

A large portion of the United States is socked in under a major winter storm, and despite multi-day warnings that it would hit today, which the forecasters actually got correct(!), our gallant road warriors, as they like to be called, did not live up to their reputation.

Actually, they probably did, as it seems that no matter how much notice we have, when the snow falls, the roads do not get cleared well at all. The most annoying part of taking a 30-minute commute and making it into a 2-hour commute are all the idiots who believe it is more important that they get where they are going than it is for the rest of us to do so, and these enlightened individuals decide it is better for them to sit in the middle of a downtown intersection blocking traffic than it is to actually have to wait at a light for it to change. It apparently does not occur to them that it takes them (and everyone else) longer to get where they are going because they are not moving!

When the storms hit, I usually anticipate a 2-hour drive home. I did have to suffer through a 3-hour drive home once; I hope once is all I will ever have to put up with.

So, let it snow, let it snow, let it snow: just wish the Good Lord would find a way to make the snow not fall on the roads!

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Just when you think you've seen it all

Recently in the sporting world two highly paid morons pulled guns on each other in the locker room. Two members of the Washington Wizards, on Christmas Eve no doubt, drew guns on each other over a gambling debt. This news was not brought to light for several days.

It will be interesting to see how this plays out in the coming weeks. One said it was a joke but others do not. One report says the guns were unloaded. Unloaded or not, what reasonably intelligent adult believes it is a good idea to keep guns in your locker? Why are these two still walking the streets? They have not been arrested as yet. If I took a gun into my workplace I not only would I be in jail, I wouldn't have a job. My question is, why do these two?

Just because you play professional basketball doesn't put you above the law. I believe it is illegal to possess firearms in public places such as arenas. Does it matter that there wasn't a game in progress? Do the rich get special treatment? Where in the NBA's collective bargaining agreement does it state players are allowed to violate the law? Were they going to fight off terrorist attacks?

In my view, David Stern, the NBA commissioner should step in immediately and suspend both players. Too bad for the team. Don't hire thugs/morons to play for you. After a full investigation is done, if it is determined no laws were broken they can be reinstated. If laws were broken they should be punished accordingly and then suspended for at least a year from the league. That type of conduct can't be condoned for an institution with a public face. Years ago the Washington Wizards changed their franchise name from the Bullets because they thought it sent a bad message. At that time Washington D.C. was considered the murder capitol of America. My how far we've come.

In fact, only one thing about this episode surprises me. Reportedly, the Reverend Al Sharpton has prompted the commissioner to investigate and punish the two players. This is a turn of monumental proportions. Rev. Sharpton has done nothing but defend black athletes and individuals over the years. It has never been 'their' fault. It's always society's fault. He stated it is time black athletes are held to the same standards as white athletes instead of perpetuating a stereotype. (This is not a quote but the intent of his statements).

It's about time the good Reverend started thinking with his brain instead of his skin. I welcome the insight.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Happy New Year

As the title states, happy new year. It is the second decade of the twenty-first century. I remember years ago trying to figure out how old I would be when 2000 arrived (42). That sounded really really old at that time in my life. That seems such a long time ago.

My Beloved and I took a little trip to celebrate the new year. We usually don't go out for New Year's Eve but we wanted something different this year, and I'm glad we did. Our side trip was over to the gambling barges in the great state of Indiana. One of the barges has now been replaced by a full-fledged casino. It's big and bright and just what the doctor ordered. We both needed to get away for some time to ourselves.

We don't have much to lose and we know our limits but it doesn't cost any more for this trip than it would any other once you consider hotel and meal expenses. Often our meals are 'comped' and sometimes the hotel room if we stay on site. My Beloved is the ring-leader as I follow from slot to slot. In Vegas that gets you free bourbon. Not in Indiana. What she likes to do is mostly penny slots. She enjoys the extra bonus games. I am partial to nickel machines that limit the lines to nine and three wheels. A little old school, I guess.

Several things occurred to me as we wandered through the rows of clinking machines. One: Indiana obviously didn't invest any of the 'tobacco settlement fund' in smoking cessation programs. Two: all of the good looking people in that state don't come out until after ten o'clock. Three: If Indiana weren't a northern state it would fit quite nicely between Louisiana and Alabama. Four: little old blue-hairs that can't figure out how to sign their names on a credit card machine in the grocery store know every payline, trick and slot in the place. I guess it's what you really want to know that's important.

Hope everyone has a joyous and prosperous new year.
(Wow, wasn't that a great Rose Bowl?)