Thursday, December 31, 2009

2010

One year ago, as 2008 morphed into 2009, I thought things were pretty stable. Only the date on the calendar would differentiate it from the year before.

How wrong I was.

I now face unemployment at the end of January and uncertainty beyond that. My wife, in an uncharacteristically optimistic mood, speculated that since we thought 2009 would be fine and it was otherwise that perhaps our apprehensions about 2010 will also be wrong and that some unforeseen change of fortune will turn things to the better.

I wonder how many people on New Year’s Eve 1929 awaited the arrival of 1930 thinking “things can only get better”?

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Keep Christ in Commercialism!


On my way into work this Christmas Eve, I drove past a modest suburban dwelling with a sign in the yard. The sign carried the plea “Keep Christ in Christmas”. While this is certainly not an unusual sentiment from Christians, it was the picture accompanying the slogan that caught my eye. It was not, as the slogan might suggest, a manger scene or a cross or a Star of Bethlehem. Nope. It was a snowman. A bescarved, carrot-nosed, top-hatted - and very, very secular – snowman.

While I suspect this choice of illustration likely had to do more with a shortage of clip art at the sign printer, I think it unintentionally spoke volumes.

If indeed there has ever been, as some social conservatives are quick to argue, a “War on Christmas”, the recent “counterattacks” by the religious right are, in my opinion, a de facto admission of defeat.

The reason I have reached this conclusion is that, in past decades, many Christians voiced their discontent with the fact that Christmas had become “too commercial”, which is to say the holiday had shifted focus from a celebration of Christ’s birth to a secular holiday focused on consumerism and glitzy holiday displays designed to promote sales. These purists wanted to discard or at least downplay the commercial aspects of the season and focus on what they felt was the “true meaning” (i.e., the religious aspect) of the holiday. (As a Peanuts fan, might I suggest the 1965 production "A Charlie Brown Christmas" as a prime example of this meme. Ironically, the original version of the cartoon contained some very commercial product placement for sponsor Coca-Cola, but I digress.)

Today, however, those obsessed with the supposed “War on Christmas” have given up any hope of separating the religious from the secular/commercial aspects of the holiday and are, in fact, now reduced to pathetic pleas to have Christmas ride along on the coattails of what is now a completely commercialized and secularized holiday. They seem now to have moved from “Keep Christ in Christmas” to “Keep ‘Merry Christmas’ in your commercials”.

And what do they intend to do to the businesses who fail to heed their demands? Pray for them to become enlightened? Ask them to reflect on the message of “Peace on Earth”? No, they threaten the very secular strategy of boycotts against those businesses which refuse to stick “Merry Christmas” - like a Post-It Note hastily slapped onto a more important document - onto their sales pitches. In short, they have gone from decrying the entanglement of religion and commerce to threats of harming the commerce of those businesses which now have the gall to REFUSE to entangle religion and commerce!

How the “War on Christmas” types fail to see how hopeless and undignified this makes them look is beyond me.

But then again, I guess these folks are content to use a snowman to illustrate their message of "bringing Christ back to Christmas", so what do I know?

As for me? Despite being an atheist, I will light up my tree, have fun with family, eat until just before the point of a catastrophic digestive tract explosion and give and receive cool gifts. After all, celebrations around the solstice season predate Christianity and are a fun break from the drudgery of everyday life.

And Baby Jesus? He can tag along if he likes.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

At Least the Announcer LOOKED Good...

More nitpicking about network newscasts...

A network newscaster actually said the following: "According to a posting on Tiger Woods' website, he will be taking an indefinite break from professional golf. There is no word on how long this break will last."

Uh... isn't that the DEFINITION of "indefinite"?

*sigh*

Friday, December 11, 2009

So THAT'S What Red Blood Cells Are For...

Two music historians are working at a University. One notices the other making notations on a very old sheet of music.
"What are you doing?" inquired one historian.
"Oh, I'm just making some notations on this old sheet music", replied the other.
"What era is that manuscript from?"
"It's a pre-classical piece from the late 18th century."
"Don't you know you shouldn't make revisions to a pre-classical work?"
"Why not?"
"Why, doesn't everybody know? If it ain't Baroque, don't fix it!"

[I had just donated two pints of red blood cells when I thought of that. That probably explains a lot.]

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Aristotle Was Right


Anyone who has sat through a course on introductory philosophy or has read books on that subject should be familiar with Aristotle’s theory of the Golden Mean, which that sagacious philosopher elucidated in his work “Nicomachean Ethics”. The Golden Mean, to sum up in its most basic form, states that ethical/reasonable behavior is usually the “happy medium” between two extremes.
For example, a healthy diet would be viewed as one in which one eats a reasonable amount of food from a variety of sources. Eating too much can lead to obesity; eating too little can lead to malnutrition.
Same thing with, let’s say, alcohol. In moderation, it can bring feelings of felicity and, according to some studies, can actually help with circulatory health. Too much alcohol, of course, can lead to a wide range of problems for one’s mental and physical health.
Perhaps this is an oversimplification, but I sincerely think our recent economic meltdown was caused by capitalism forgetting the Golden Mean and getting too extreme in its quest for maximizing profits. Working hard for a reasonable profit wasn’t enough. And it wasn’t enough to pay American workers well. In their quest for ever-increasing profits, capitalists went overseas to find ever cheaper labor. This appeared good to them in the short term, but while their profit margin increased, the overall result of those jobs leaving this country was that domestic unemployment increased and the tax base decreased while the drain on social services went up. In addition, those workers who were once able to afford the products produced by the companies they once worked for could no longer afford to purchase those products without going into debt.
Investors, meanwhile, not content with merely investing wisely, started playing games more akin to gambling than investing. Derivatives trading, short-selling stocks and Ponzi schemes replaced the wise investment of resources to the detriment of the entire economy.
Capitalism could work if only the capitalists would learn to take their profits in moderation. Unfortunately, they were more like those who eat or drink too much. They just HAD to have more, even if they knew overindulging would be bad for them and others in the long run.
While it’s true that over-taxing profits would be a disincentive to invest, allowing companies free reign to go hog-wild regardless of the consequences of their actions is just as bad. A lack of reasonable, sound regulations allowed this nation to become a “legumocracy”, i.e., one ruled by the “bean counters”. Their only concern was maximizing profits no matter how it may adversely affect others. Perhaps business schools should take a few hours out of teaching Adam Smith and substitute a bit of Aristotle. The businesspeople of tomorrow may learn something valuable

Friday, December 4, 2009

Why Bother?

News reports indicate that all Slim Fast canned products are being recalled due to possible contamination.
Apparently, the product may contain bacteria that could cause vomiting and diarrhea.
I wonder why the recall is even necessary? After all, Slim Fast is a weight loss product and, as any anorexic or bulimic knows, inducing vomiting and diarrhea are quite effective means of losing weight.
Just one o'those imponderable questions in life, I guess...

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

An Observation

Perhaps it's just me, but I seem to have noticed something interesting. I occasionally have to pick up my son from High School after some extracurricular activity. I make sure to park in the proper area for pick up. I have noticed, though, that a number of people have a habit of parking in spots reserved for handicapped people while waiting to pick up their offspring. These people have neither a license or tag authorizing them to park in a spot reserved for handicapped persons.

Okay, that in itself is nothing extraordinary. There will always be jerks who flaunt the rules which are intended to help others. The observation I have made, however, is that nearly without exception the vehicles that plop themselves in the handicapped parking spots are either large SUVs or newer model luxury automobiles. I have seldom if ever seen a decade-old Chevy using these parking spaces without the proper authorization.

Am I just the victim of a biased viewpoint based on an insufficient sample size, or has anyone else out there noticed this? Just wondering...

Monday, November 23, 2009

It Isn't Always About You...

A Facebook friend recently posted a link to an article from Esquire which I found interesting. It’s an article by Shane Claiborne, who is described as a radical Christian missionary who does outreach to the poor.
What made the article interesting to me was that it was addressed to unbelievers. The gist of the article was that he was apologizing for the crappy behavior of some of his fellow Christians: “I am sorry that so often the biggest obstacle to God has been Christians.”

While I admire Mr. Claiborne’s work with the poor and underprivileged, and while I think if I met him I would probably get along well with him, his comments show a profound misunderstanding of those of us who are atheists.

It is, indeed, true that I have had unfortunate encounters throughout my life with self-professed Christians - some of whom have been the biggest assholes I have ever met. It is also true, however, that I have had the pleasure of knowing Christians who were kind, generous and willing to help others. For that matter, I can say the same thing about atheists I have known. Like any other group of people, some are cool and some are boneheads.
But to imply that “the biggest obstacle” to my finding god has been the poor behavior of certain Christians is simply not true in my case. And among the atheists whom I have known personally, this also has not been their experience.

I became an atheist after years of thinking about issues such as philosophy, logic, cosmology, science and history. Simple as that. It had nothing to do with “Christians Behaving Badly”. In my mind what one thinks of the adherents of any particular religion is a separate issue from the question of whether a deity exists.

Even if every Christian, Muslim, Buddhist, Shintoist, Jew, (insert names of other religions here) suddenly became as cool as Shane Claiborne seems to be, I would still remain an atheist. And I suspect my life would be just as fulfilling as any of theirs. The reason I became an atheist is – as expressed so well by a host on the Non-Prophets podcast (whose name escapes me… sorry) – I realized it was important to me that what I believed was true, insofar as truth can be determined.

And, as I said, that’s a completely different matter than the behavior of individual members of various religions.

Shane Claiborne has done me no harm and as far as I’m concerned, he owes me no apology. I have a different view than he does on the existence of a god, but I can still respect his work with those who need it most. But it's his human compassion I admire, not his religious viewpoint.

The existence of a deity is a matter open to theological debate. The existence of humanity isn’t. I think if we can all work together – regardless of our belief or lack thereof - to help each other out in this world, things could be a lot better for us all.

Friday, November 20, 2009

E Pluribus Unum?

Back when I was a young child (which, contrary to the belief of my children, was during the 1960’s rather than the early Paleolithic Era) around this time of year you would generally hear the phrase “Merry Christmas” in stores, among friends, or generally wherever you would go. As the years went by, people became more sensitive to diversity and recognized that an ever increasing number of Americans celebrated other holidays at this time of year. As a result, it became more common to hear the phrase “Happy Holidays”. To me, that wasn’t in any way “anti-Christmas”, but was merely a way to include and recognize our fellow Americans who celebrated other traditions and beliefs.

A few years ago, however, some conservative commentators such as Bill O’Reilley twisted this into an imagined “war on Christmas”. Even leaving aside the historical fact that many of the trappings of “Christmas” were actually stolen… uh… “borrowed” from pagan celebrations such as Saturnalia, Solstice and Yule, the claim that saying “Happy Holidays” is somehow a reflection of anti-Christian bias would be laughable if so many gullible boneheads (see my previous post on the subject) didn’t take it seriously.

And so, under this pressure from the Christian right, many retailers backed off from “Happy Holidays” and reverted to “Merry Christmas” in order to avoid threatened boycotts of those that failed to buckle under the demands of the conservatives.

Throughout this, I had always suspected the outcry over the supposed “war on Christmas” was less a matter of the Christians wanting “Christmas” restored to what they felt was its rightful place, but that they actually wanted Christmas to be the ONLY year-end holiday to be given any recognition, and those who celebrated anything else be damned.

And now there is evidence to back up this contention. The clothing store The Gap has produced a commercial for the holiday season which mentions Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa and… by golly… even Solstice! When my wife and I saw it, we were surprised and happy it was so inclusive. And since it mentions Christmas specifically, there’s nothing for the religious right to be offended by, right?

Wrong.

The American Family Association is ticked-off by this inclusive marketing campaign and has called for a boycott of The Gap. Apparently, it wasn’t enough for the AFA that The Gap commercial mentioned Christmas. They seem to be peeved by the fact that Christmas had to share the stage with those other yucky… non-Christian holidays!

In short, the whole “war on Christmas” hubbub has never really been about the mere recognition of Christmas, it was about squelching the mention of any other holidays, regardless of the fact that increasing numbers of Americans either celebrate other traditions or that many of those who DO celebrate some form of “Christmas” do so in an entirely secular fashion. (A friend of mine, in fact, has suggested we recognize the obvious and just call it “Giftmas”.)
I think what is happening here is reflected in the story of our national motto. The Founding Fathers, whom the Christian Conservatives are always so quick to invoke when it suits them, gave us a wonderful national slogan: “E Pluribus Unum”. “Out of many, one.” What a wonderful motto! It says we’re a grouping of individuals, all with different backgrounds and beliefs coming together for a common purpose. Our diversity is our strength. It proclaims we don’t have to be the same to be good Americans.

But what happened? In 1956, during the depths of McCarthy’s war on “atheistic Communism”, the national motto was changed. “E Pluribus Unum” was tossed into the dustbin and replaced by “In God We Trust”. Instead of the all-inclusive message of the original motto, the new motto implied that “we” trusted in God and that, by logical extension, those who DIDN’T trust in God weren’t one of “us”… and thus weren’t real Americans.

In much the same way the Christians hijacked Solstice and Saturnalia and turned them into Christmas while falsely claiming it was ALWAYS a celebration of Christ’s birth, they hijacked our nation’s motto and transformed it from a wonderfully inclusive phrase into a narrow statement of faith that excludes all those who don’t believe in a deity. And now they have the nerve to question the patriotism of American non-believers when, in fact, it was the Christians who rejected and altered the nation’s original motto!

As for my own views on the subject, I think Thomas Jefferson said it best:

“It does me no injury for my neighbor to say there are twenty gods, or no god. It neither picks my pocket nor breaks my leg."

In other words, my neighbor doesn’t need to agree with me to be a good American. He or she simply has to... you know… BE a good American.

America is at its best when many cultures and ideas come together and people are free to explore them all and choose the ones they believe work best.

And when these many traditions come together, the result is a stronger America.

Or, as that sentiment would be expressed in Latin: E Pluribus Unum.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Generic Haiku

This should pretty much cover everything:

Rain...or snow...or sun.
Stuff about cherry blossoms.
Snails and trees and stuff.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

There's Something Fishy About That Pronunciation...


I have long been an advocate of good science journalism since, as Carl Sagan pointed out, the benefits (and risks) of science affect us all. If we as a society are to make wise choices about the use of science, we would be well advised to learn at least its basics.

That, of course, suggests there should be a role in society for journalists who are knowledgeable about science. Or, like Sagan, scientists who are adept at communicating the wonders and ideas emodied in scientific research.

For that reason, I was dismayed by a reporter on MSNBC who reported on a rare video of a juvenile Coelacanth taken by Japanese researchers.

Nothing wrong with that. They showed snippets of pretty Coelacanth video and spoke briefly about its rarity.

What got me, though, was way the reporter pronounced the word "Coelacanth". As any schoolkid who has ever sat through a unit on evolution can tell you, this classic example of a "living fossil" is pronounced "SEE-la-kanth". But our intrepid MSNBC anchor repeatedly pronounced it as "ko-ELLA-kanth".

On the one hand, I could be accused (with some justification) of being a pedantic butthead making a big deal about the simple mistaken pronunciation of an admittedly unusual word.

But the story of the Coelacanth is incredibly important in the history of science. It should be part of an intelligent person's lexicon, I would think. If the regular MSNBC anchor was THAT unfamiliar with the fish, why didn't they get a correspondent dedicated to science journalism to report the story?

I know... I just ask for too damned much, don't I?

Friday, November 13, 2009

Critical Inability

Recently, my wife received an e-mail from someone we know claiming that if she forwarded the e-mail to eight people she would get a free T18 laptop computer from Sony/Ericsson. If, furthermore, she forwarded it to twenty people, the laptop would be upgraded to a fancier model. My wife, having a functioning brain and being familiar with such e-mail scams, deleted the message and from this point on will probably assume the sender is, if not dumber than a bucket of gravel, at least gullible as hell. Had the sender simply done some basic research, they would have found not only that this is an obvious scam that has been going on for years, but that there are inconsistencies in the e-mail itself - such as the fact that the “Ericsson T18” isn’t even a laptop… it’s a cellphone. But REALLY… who could spend even a few seconds thought on the premise of the e-mail without realizing that A. If Sony Ericsson gave away laptops to each person who sent out eight e-mails, they would go bankrupt faster than a Wall Street executive on a derivatives trading bender and B. if the benefits of sending out the e-mails WERE in fact so great, wouldn’t a large corporation like Sony/Ericsson be able to… you know… send out the e-mails THEMSELVES for much less expense than would be incurred by a one-laptop-per-eight-e-mail ratio?

Scam artists rely on gullible people for their schemes to work. They need people who believe what they’re told without thinking and without researching the facts for themselves. What they rely on, in short, is a large population of comfortable brain-addled suckers just arrogant enough to think they know more than their neighbors but without the critical thinking skills to back up that contention.

Before continuing, I should pause to point out what critical thinking is. It has been defined as the careful, deliberate determination of whether one should accept, reject, or suspend judgment about a claim and the degree of confidence with which one accepts or rejects it.

Or, to put it more bluntly, one needs a healthy dose of skepticism when examining claims. Sadly, in our society, the term “skeptic” has been viewed in a derogatory light. It was synonymous with “unbeliever” or “doubter” (or “cynic” although that term is itself woefully misunderstood by most people). Our society has been conditioned to accept that belief is a virtue and that skeptics are the killjoys who piss on the fantasy world of Heaven and unicorns and angels (and free laptops).

But critical thinking can not only save you from the embarrassment of getting suckered into an e-mail forwarding scam, it can also prevent you from looking like a bonehead for believing things that are easily proved false. On the same day my wife received the aforementioned e-mail, for example, I received a phone message at work from a woman upset that the news media wasn’t reporting that President Obama refuses to recite the Pledge of Allegiance and she challenged any news organization to find footage of Obama reciting the pledge. I performed a simple Google search and in less than thirty seconds I was watching video of then-Senator Obama not only reciting, but leading the pledge on the Senate floor. (It followed an annoying and - I feel - inappropriate prayer to Jesus from the Senate guest chaplain, but that’s another rant entirely.) What I wondered was why the woman who called didn’t do the same damned thing I did before making a fool of herself by parroting a falsehood she heard from right-wing rumor-mongers?

And speaking of right-wingers, I am amazed at the number of claims made by the right that simply fall apart when examined critically.

One recent example: the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs, a conservative think tank concerned with educational matters, commissioned a survey of Oklahoma high school students on questions about citizenship and government. The survey was carried out by a conservative polling outfit called Strategic Vision. The results they obtained were shocking. They claimed, for example, that only 23% of Oklahoma high schoolers knew who the first President of the United States was, and that only 14% knew who wrote the Declaration of Independence. The results were distributed via press release and the lazy media reported them uncritically. People familiar with survey techniques, however, began to suspect there was something wrong with the results. (For example, according to Strategic Vision’s supposed data, not a single Oklahoma high school student out of the 1,000 students supposedly surveyed got more than seven of ten questions correct. NONE! Do they really think that out of 1,000 high schoolers there wasn’t a single brainiac-outlier-know-it-all who knew the answers to all ten questions - let alone eight or nine? From a mere statistical point of view, that’s close to impossible.) To make a long story short, the survey was replicated by others and this time the results were very different. In this instance, it turned out that 98% knew George Washington was the first President and 81% knew Thomas Jefferson wrote the Declaration of Independence. (And that was with a sample set that included special-education students!) When asked for their interpretation of the discrepancy between their results and the replicated survey, Strategic Vision had no comment.
A skeptical view of this incident would seem to show that a right-wing organization paid a right-wing polling company to “obtain” results showing the public schools were failing. They would report this to the media in an attempt to show public schools are in sorry shape and should be defunded and that private voucher systems and home schooling are the answer. And hey, if the facts inconveniently show that public schools DO work, well, just make shit up and the gullible folks out there will eat it up while waiting for the UPS van to roll up the driveway with their free laptop.

Luckily, in the case of the Oklahoma survey, there were some knowledgeable people with enough skepticism and critical ability to expose what appears to be a fraud.

Same as with a recent clip on the Daily Show, which recently caught and exposed Fox News faking video footage to make a conservative rally appear more heavily attended than it actually was. Skepticism appears to be on the rise. It seems more common nowadays that when people or organizations try to pass off bullshit as truth, they’re more likely to be called out on it.

And I hope this trend continues. People who have selfish agendas rely on an uneducated and gullible populace to push these agendas on their behalf. Thus the private insurance industry can spread rumors of “death panels” if a government-sponsored health care bill is passed. And they hope enough people will uncritically fall for these lies to derail any hope for the passage of such health care reform. The reality, of course, is that the private health insurers are more likely to “stand between you and your doctor” than a government-run health plan ever will. In fact, I know a medical biller personally who has informed me that private health insurers routinely demand doctors change diagnoses of their patients if they want to be reimbursed for their services. Don’t believe me? Good. You’re learning. I don’t want you to take my word for it. Ask a medical biller and find out for yourself. They'll tell you.

If the gullibility and lack of critical thinking only affected the people directly involved, it would be a mere annoyance that could be accepted. But that isn’t the case. It affects us all. If a sizable portion of our population can be swayed by the truthless blustering of a television commentator or stump speaker or religious leader, we may all suffer.

If people would stop being gullible and do a bit of skeptically-minded research and fact checking, they would realize it’s highly unlikely you will receive a free laptop for forwarding a few e-mails, it is provably false that President Obama refuses to recite the Pledge of Allegiance, it is statistically unlikely only 23% of Oklahoma high school students can name the first President of the United States, it is a scientifically-verified fact that vaccines do FAR more good than any potential harm, there's overwhelming evidence we really DID land on the moon, numerous scientific disciplines demonstrate evolution via natural selection is a fact, it is provably false that the ACLU is trying to ban crosses from Arlington Cemetery, it is – at minimum - not a politically expedient move for the government to appoint a “death panel” to kill your granny if they want your vote in the following election and it is exceedingly unlikely a divine being will reward you with 72 beautiful virgins in exchange for crashing a hijacked plane into a skyscraper. And our lives would be better for that realization.

In summary, skepticism, contrary to its bad PR, is a very good thing. Belief without evidence, meanwhile, far from being virtuous, is foolhardy at best and dangerous to yourself (and others) at worst. There’s nothing more anathema to a warm fuzzy ideology than a cold hard fact.

And for those who refuse to accept it, be assured reality has a nasty habit of kicking ones ass.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

November Haiku

The silent sunset...
Leaving behind a sky of
Infinite azure.

Friday, November 6, 2009

CD Review: Jerry Morris - Snap Your Fingers


Among the detritus of WFUM’s once-flourishing existence is a cardboard box containing dozens of demo CDs by musicians once hoping for a spot on the station’s long-cancelled musical showcase: AfterHours.
These poor bastards actually labored under the impression that a demonstrated musical talent would land them a spot on the show.
In response to that, may I merely point out that Yours Truly was featured on that program not once but twice. I will leave it to those readers familiar with the dulcet tones of the Guilty Bystanders to determine whether that was due to our musical talent or to the fact that my desk happened to be located next to the desk of the AfterHours producer.

But alas, that’s all in the past now and that CD box now has to be moved to make way for the tenants who will be taking over the WFUM offices. While going through the CDs to see what – if anything – would be worth salvaging, my co-workers came across a CD they KNEW had to come into my possession. It’s a demo CD recorded in 2001 by some Nashville musician named Jerry Morris. My co-workers, you see, are familiar with my passion for all things bizarre and horrible. And this, my dear blog readers, certainly qualifies. A cursory glance at the CD cover proves the listener will be in for a treat. It’s a poorly-printed low-resolution mishmash combining two photos of the musician - apparently the product of Sears Portrait Studio on a bad day. One is a standard headshot though the poor printing quality makes Mr. Morris appear to be a blurry cousin of Howdy Doody. The second picture is more disturbing. It shows the musician peering over a pair of sunglasses with a leather jacket flung over his shoulder. It’s the classic “I’m trying-so-hard-to-get-chicks-to-dig-me-that-I-actually-scare-chicks-away” pose.

Although I must confess I know nothing about Jerry Morris save for the evidence available via this CD, strangely I feel that’s enough to “get” this guy. Based on this evidence, he seems to be the kind of guy who drags his ailing grandmother to Karaoke Night at the local burger & brew joint to hear him sing. Between wheezed inhalations from her portable oxygen tank, the grandmother proudly announces to anyone within earshot: “That’s my grandson up there! Isn’t he great?” The irritated patrons, between bites of greasy cheeseburgers and not wanting to be responsible for the death of the fragile granny, pause to give her a forced smile and a “thumbs up”. After an interminable number of horrible Karaoke Elvis ballads, Mr. Morris asks granny how he did. “They loved you!” she replies with a toothless grin. And sadly, he believes it. He believes it, in fact, enough to record a demo CD in Nashville on his way to the big time!

Which bring us to the actual CD. These vocals are… well… how DOES one adequately describe them? They seem to meander randomly between what sounds like a drunken Elvis and a severely brain-damaged Roy Orbison. It’s obvious there’s an Elvis influence in there somewhere- but not in a good way. Then I get it! This guy isn’t an Elvis impersonator… he’s an Elvis impersonator IMPERSONATOR! He’s not attempting to copy The King so much as he’s mimicking the myriad wretched Elvis clones who infest Holiday Inn lounges throughout the Southland.

And then there are the hopeless lyrics, penned by Mr. Morris himself. They’re the verbal equivalent of the creepy cover photo. He’s trying SO hard to be sexy that this stuff would just HAVE to backfire in real life. At least I sincerely want to believe that. If this stuff actually works on women, please don’t tell me. I don’t want to know.

And to that must be added the wonderfully bizarre disconnect between the na├»ve exuberance of Jerry’s vocals and the soulless zombielike playing of the Nashville session musicians. Granted, these guys are technically competent, but their playing has all the passion and sincerity of a used car salesman abusing Quaaludes. I can just picture these broken and desperate Nashville note-grinders whose only viable life options are laying down play-by-numbers demo tracks for the likes of Jerry Morris or the blissful release of suicide. If it is possible for technology to capture chronic despair in audio form the sound of the backing musicians on this CD has accomplished it.

So I suppose by now you have reached the conclusion that I hate this CD.

If so, that conclusion would be woefully wrong. I LOVE it! It is now among my prized audio possessions… along with my 45 rpm vinyl copy of “The Ballad of Evel Knievel” by John Cullington Mahoney and my White Wolf promo “with the triple-guitar attack!” flexi-disc.

“Snap Your Fingers” by Jerry Morris is a true gem. Certainly it’s for reasons unintended by the artist, but dammit, it’s great in its own twisted way. Its sincere attempt at mainstream appeal was SO far off the mark it became an unintentional masterpiece of “outsider art”.

So if there’s a silver lining to the immanent demise of my workplace, the rediscovery of this disc was it. Five stars and two thumbs WAAAAAAAY up!!!

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Nearing the End

I'm confronted with ever more signs the end of WFUM is near. We are no longer ordering new office supplies so I'm now printing out the station's record schedules on the back of old letterhead.
And this morning the people who will be moving into my office showed up, taking measurements and discussing amongst themselves where their furniture would go.
Somehow, that really got to me. I knew this day would arrive, but that knowledge made it no easier to bear when it finally happened.
It's somewhat like attending a funeral. On one level, you already know the person is dead, but for some reason actually seeing the coffin or urn really pounds the finality of it all into one's psyche.

When stepping out into the hallway, I even found it strange the sun was shining. I had an almost metaphysical feeling it "should" be gloomy and overcast...

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

The More Things Change...


So last week we received the word that WCMU in Mt. Pleasant will be buying the WFUM transmitter and will be running their signal through it as soon as technically possible.

WCMU has announced their hope this will take place in mid-November. A discussion with one of their engineers, however, leads me to believe it may be closer to early December before this can take place. I have made arrangements to have a schedule ready to air from our end through December 15 just in case.

Currently, my last day of employment is scheduled to be the last day of November, subject to extension. And once the WCMU signal gets to the WFUM transmitter, I’ll be about as useful as air-conditioning in an igloo. Regardless of whether that takes place in November or December, my remaining time here is measured in weeks.

After months of uncertainty and extensions, I'm now at a point where I can finally start preparing myself mentally for unemployment.


But enough about that. The real reason I’m scribbling today is I came across some remarks made by Harry S Truman in a speech delivered on March 29, 1952. Despite having been delivered nearly 60 years ago, they still sound surprisingly relevant:

"The real Republican campaign is not going to be fought on the issues. The Republicans are going to wage a campaign of phony propaganda. They are going to try what we might call the "white is black" and the "black is white" strategy.
The Republicans are all set to try this "white is black" technique. And this is the way it will work. First of all, they will try to make people believe that everything the Government has done for the country is socialism. They will go to the people and say: "Did you see that social security check you received the other day—you thought that was good for you, didn't you? That's just too bad! That's nothing in the world but socialism. Did you see that new flood control dam the Government is building over there for the protection of your property? Sorry—that's awful socialism! That new hospital that they are building is socialism. Price supports, more socialism for the farmers! Minimum wage laws? Socialism for labor! Socialism is bad for you, my friend. Everybody knows that. And here you are, with your new car, and your home, and better opportunities for the kids, and a television set—you are just surrounded by socialism!"

Yep. Nearly 60 years have gone by and the Republicans are still using the same tactics! I suppose when an organization has no new ideas, rehashing the old ones is the default. They’re using the same tired arguments hoping nobody remembers they’re the same scare tacticts they’ve used before.

And I may as well just go ahead and say it: as far as I’m concerned, a democratic socialism, such as is practiced in the Scandinavian countries, would be just fine with me!


Give 'em hell, Harry!

Friday, October 30, 2009

Show Mom You Care!


I’ve been informed that Wal-Mart now does truly sell everything.

Their online service now sells coffins.

One model, touchingly called “Mom Remembered” features floral patterns and the word “Mother” scrolled on the inside of the lid.

Yep. What a way to show mom you care… with a Wal-Mart coffin!

I was pleased, though, to see it is available via FedEx overnight. I imagine waiting three to six weeks for a slower freight delivery method could get rather… uh… unpleasant.

In their quest for ever higher levels of customer satisfaction, Wal-Mart even allows online customer reviews. I can just imagine:

“Loved the soft lining and delicate floral design, although the seal is perhaps not as watertight as I’d hoped, which is accelerating my decomposition more than anticipated. Still, it’s pretty good considering the price. I give it 3 ½ stars.”

Hmmm… maybe those nomads in the Himalayas who let the bodies of their loved ones get munched on by carrion-eating birds have the right idea.

Perhaps the only real difference between them and us is the vultures who feed off THEIR dead actually have feathers.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

The REAL American Outdoorsman!


You might not realize it, but I'm now famous in the world of local outdoor activities.

A few weekends ago, I took my daughter and her friend to Lake Nepessing for a fishing outing sponsored by a group at her school, the Hahn Outdoors Club. For a laugh, I hooked some lures into a well-worn hat I had lying around for that "total fisherman look".

After doing some unsuccessful fishing from the dock, some club members kindly offered to take a group of kids - my daughter and her friend included - out onto the lake in a motorboat. After the kids had piled in, there would be no room left for me (unless I kicked-out one of the kids, and even I'M not THAT much of a jerk)!

So the kids went out on the lake and caught numerous Bluegills while I sat on the dock with my MP3 player doing absolutely nothing.

Lest you feel sorry for me sitting alone on the dock for a couple hours, all I can say is that after the rough week I'd had up until then, 120 minutes of brain-neutral vegetating on the shore of a scenic lake on a sunny autumn day was pure bliss!

Anyhoo, while I was sitting there oblivious on the dock just being a solar sponge, one of the organizers of the event snapped my picture.

And today, I found myself - fishing-lure hat and all - featured on the cover of the Hahn Outdoors Club Newsletter!

So all you guys with dead fish and antlers on your walls, bow down before me! I now have OUTDOORSMAN CRED!!!
P.S. - You will notice I'm wearing my denim jacket with embroidered Apollo mission patches. Your denim jacket will NEVER be as cool!

Sunday, October 25, 2009

October Haiku

Skeletal trees stand
Black and gnarled against a
Humorless gray sky.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Irony Returns from the Dead

Okay. I admit when I’m wrong. I recently commented that irony is dead. It not only is alive, but has returned with a vengeance.

Here’s the deal: as many of us are painfully aware, many financial "geniuses" on Wall Street squandered their portfolios on risky ventures… gambling instead of investing; blindly following instead of boldly leading. The economic roulette wheel landed on the wrong number and these firms were about to go bust. We the taxpayers bailed their sorry asses out. Now, the same brilliant folks who drove their companies into the ground are giving themselves huge bonuses and pay increases. Some people - like me f’rinstance - think this sucks. If you do such a crappy job the taxpayers have to save you from your own stupid decisions you probably don’t deserve a huge pay raise.

And before anyone starts griping about “interference” in the “free market”… uh, sorry. Once they accepted our tax dollars to prop up their decaying corporate edifice we became part-owners and we get to call some of the shots.

But that’s not the ironic part. The REAL irony is that some folks defending these massive pay increases are warning of a “brain drain” on Wall Street if these huge salaries are not maintained.

In other words, they’re saying if you don’t pay big bucks for top talent you run the risk of having lower-paid and less competent people at the tops of these companies.

In short, they’re saying if you want quality employees, you have to pay for them.

Oh, REALLY?

Leaving aside the (likely valid) argument that these Wall Street types aren't all that smart in the first place, I find it interesting that when upper management is concerned the “you need high wages to attract good people” formula seems to apply, but for the past several decades these same upper management people have done everything they can to make their labor costs as low as possible. Downsizing, outsourcing, union-busting, benefit-cutting, off-shoring and other dubious tactics have been the means by which they made sure to pay their employees as little as possible.

Heck, in April 2007, Circuit City stores even went so far as to lay-off their MOST experienced workers because they “made too much” and replaced them with inexperienced new hires who worked for much less. Where was the corporate concern for “brain drain” in THAT case? Do they think it doesn’t apply to blue-collar workers? Do they somehow think they can get good experienced blue-collar employees for cheap (or from Asia) but when top white-collar jobs are involved suddenly high wages are crucial to finding quality employees?

I have an idea… why don’t we hire American blue-collar workers at decent wages and outsource the upper management positions? I’m sure we could find some smart, enthusiastic and hard-working Asian CEOs who would be willing to work for much less than 7-figures. Or, barring that, would at least be willing to base the amount of his or her bonus check on the success of the company.
‘Tis admittedly a modest proposal, but given the current massive top corporate salaries it may save money in the long run and perhaps it would be worth considering!

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Dreamland Was So Nice

Last night I had a strange dream.
I was at work. The new owners of the station were here and had no idea what to do. They were holding frantic meetings trying to figure out how to run the station but could only decide to hold more meetings. I, meanwhile, knew exactly what had to be done. I was in a working frenzy with complete focus on keeping the station going. I was totally swamped with work, but I found it extremely invigorating. I was completely "in the zone" as the sports folks say. I was busy as hell but was getting the job done and absolutely loving it.
Eventually, the new owners noticed I knew what the hell I was doing and gratefully stayed out of my way while I did my thing.
And then I awoke... and went to this dying station not knowing for certain what the November schedule will be - even though it's less than two weeks away.
And I've been informed the station's Operations Office will soon need to be vacated.
I still remember the first time I saw that office. Was it really just a few short years ago? The smell of new paint permeated the air. Jim Gaver pointed to a room with a nice view of the campus.
"Like this office? It's yours!" And it was. I miss that office. I miss the view.
And I miss the future. It seemed so bright and promising. It now seems as fictional as that dream I had last night...

Beyond Incomprehensible



I have long felt that in our youth-oriented society the contributions of older artists and performers have often been unfairly overlooked.

In the world of music, for example, Gordon Lightfoot was pigeonholed as “The guy who wrote that Edmund Fitzgerald song” and his albums post-1976 were often ignored despite some real songwriting gems.

Another singer-songwriter I have long defended has been Bob Dylan. Sure… his early work is great beyond any reasonable dispute. But his newer work is often terrific as well. I will defend his 1997 song “Not Dark Yet” as one of his finest performances ever.

Yeah, his voice is rougher, but let’s face it… Bob was never really known as a great vocalist. And I think in certain contexts the fact his larynx is so ravaged actually suits the songs well.

But Mr. Dylan’s latest endeavor is shockingly strange to say the least. Even for Bob.

It’s a Christmas album.

Fifteen tracks of neuron-melting insanity. You can stream it online. Listen… if you dare.

Dylan croaks dryly on Christmas songs produced with a slickness that would send even the Osmonds into insulin shock.

Is it an elaborate inside joke? A cynical money-making ploy? Some sort of subversive statement on the commercial aspects of the holiday season? Does some holiday album producer have blackmail-worthy material on Bob? Has Dylan simply gone senile? That this album even exists on this planet is totally inconceivable.

I guess if there’s a bright side to any of this, it’s that the proceeds from the album will be going to an anti-hunger organization.

On the other hand, though, perhaps some things are worse than starvation.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

A Few Brief Thoughts on Health Care

I just had a few quick observations about the recent advertising campaign by the health insurance industry. It seems that industry is spending millions of dollars in an attempt to stop the public option in health care. I find this interesting given the fact that some people think a government-run healthcare system would be inefficient and poorly run. (The fact that Medicare is FAR more efficient than ANY for-profit insurance company seems lost on these individuals, but that’s another topic.)
First of all, the fact that the insurance industry even HAS millions of dollars lying around to shell out for a massive advertising campaign (to say nothing of additional millions to lobby congress and to contribute to political campaigns) should tell you something in and of itself. Second, it seems to me the fact the insurance industry even feels the need to squash a public option is a de facto admission of defeat. In other words, the for-profit insurance industry is, in effect, admitting beforehand they would be unable to compete against a public option. Otherwise, why would they be fighting so hard to eliminate it before it even comes to fruition?
And one of the truly laughable things about the anti-public-option ads is that they’re raising the specter of government interference in one's medical care! As if the private insurance companies haven’t been doing that for years! For all the talk about mythical “death panels”, how many times have you heard about doctor-ordered tests and therapies being denied by insurance companies?
In fact, I know personally of a surgeon who was about to amputate the leg of a patient. When the surgery was about to begin, the surgeon realized there was a chance he could save the patient’s leg. So that’s what he did. The surgery was successful and the patient was able to make a full recovery, leg intact. So what was the surgeon’s reward? He caught hell from the patient’s insurance company because the insurance was willing to cover an amputation but didn’t want to pay for the surgery that saved the patient’s leg.
The surgeon was so disgusted by this he retired from the field of medicine.
I think the public option should be a central part of any health reform plan. If the for-profit insurance companies can do a better job, then people will choose them. If not, let them go out of business. In a nation as wealthy as ours, health care should be a right. And if a government-run health care plan is the best way to secure that right, we should demand it.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Forget All You Know About Downtown Flint

On Friday night, Ice Halo played a live set at the reception for an art exhibit of Flint rock flyers from the past quarter century. I am unable to give an objective account of how well or poorly we played, but we had fun and it was nice to see lots of familiar faces there.

We were paid for the performance, which was a nice surprise. The subject of payment had never come up so I had assumed we were making noise on a strictly volunteer basis. Apparently, though, someone somewhere harbors quaint 19th-century notions about paying musicians – or people like us who impersonate same.

So when the performance was over and the instruments packed away, I knew two things. First, I was hungry. VERY hungry. I hadn’t eaten since noon and it was now dark out. Second, I had money I wasn’t expecting. Conclusion: exchange said money for food.

I could feed you a long altruistic-sounding story about how I felt a burning desire to keep the local money flowing by patronizing local eateries and helping the Flint economy and blahblahblah… but it would be highly refined bullshit. The truth was more like: I’m really freakin’ hungry and downtown Flint is close by. Let’s go!

The first stop was the old standby for Flintoids: the Torch. But the Torch was more crowded than a Tokyo subway at rush-hour, so that was out.

My brother Paul suggested we try one of the newer local eateries nearby. We wound up at the Club 501 Bar & Grill, famed for serving Tapas. This, however, frightened me. I am definitely not a “foodie”. My idea of ideal cuisine is a greasy Torchburger and my only previous experience with this strange new (to me) cuisine was from a chance encounter with a Tapas cookbook by a chef obviously not squeamish about exotic ingredients. I found the picture on the cover horrifying. It looked as though someone had dredged the seafloor and shoved the resultant dregs through a wood-chipper; culminating in a nightmarish congealate of clamshells, squid ink and tentacles.

Fortunately, it appeared that the 501 Bar & Grill was less… uh… “adventurous” with their food and it appeared not only fit for human consumption, but seemed downright appetizing. Some of the specialty pizzas coming out of the oven looked and smelled fantastic. Unfortunately for me, many others were thinking the same thing and the wait was longer than my famished stomach could bear. But I hope to be back at some point in the future.

We wound up at Wiseguy’s Pizza, conveniently located next door to the 501. I ordered the combo. I don’t recall going to a pizza place before where you could order a combo of pizza and soup, but there it was. The pizza was very good and the clam chowder was a perfect and delicious denouement to a cold, drizzly, busy day.

On a warmer, dryer and more relaxed day earlier this month, I finally had a chance to eat at Hoffman’s Deli, also in Flint. I got a very tasty sandwich at a very reasonable price and got to eat it while enjoying Hoffman’s very nice atmosphere.

I should state at this point that if there’s one thing that nauseates me it’s mindless chirping boosterism. We had more than our share of that during the 1980’s with AutoWorld and Water Street Pavilion. It smelled more of slick public relations than of genuine civic pride. I do think, on the other hand, that if there are actual positive developments in one’s community one should make them known. Consider this my contribution. There are a number of cool new eateries in downtown Flint and I highly recommend that those who are able should check them out.

As much as I think the government can play a very positive role in – as the preamble to the Constitution says – promoting the general welfare, I think the return of Flint will have to take place from the ground up. One sandwich and one pizza at a time, so to speak. There will be setbacks and there will be failures. But I am shameless in my optimism that the windblown candle that is downtown Flint will not only somehow survive this bitter economic storm but will one day bloom into a warm, glowing and steady flame.

I remember downtown Flint from the days of Montgomery Ward, Hat’s Pub and the Rusty Nail. But I can say with complete honesty that I have at no time been as optimistic about the long-term prospects for downtown Flint as I am now. And unlike the empty sloganeering of the 1980’s, this mini-renaissance just might become the REAL spark that surprises us.

So go downtown. Eat. The money you spend will help our economy. Heck, if you’re so inclined, bring a friend and buy TWO meals. I noticed the 501 serves scallops. I LOVE scallops.

Just thought I’d mention that…

Friday, October 9, 2009

Revenge Served Ice Cold


Back when I was in 8th grade, many more years ago than I care to think about, I had to take an art class. The teacher of that class was a miserable misanthropic child-hating bitch the likes of whom would turn children off to art for the rest of their lives.

Why do I have such less-than-complimentary things to say about her? Well, here’s an example: back then, I was a fanatical Tiger baseball fan. Wanting desperately to hear one of the first games of the season, I snuck in a tiny transistor radio and a small plastic earphone so I could surreptitiously listen to the game in class. This admittedly was against the school rules back then. (I know… in today’s world of ubiquitous cell phones and iPods it may be difficult to believe that a simple AM radio was once verboten, but such were the times.)

Luckily for me, I thought, the teacher was showing a film that day about some pretentious art crap that nobody would ever care about. A perfect chance to listen to the game. For those of you younger folks accustomed to the silent running of a DVD player, I should point out that back then schools showed films on 16mm projectors. These projectors, especially the industrial-grade ones used in the public school system, were notoriously loud. So loud, in fact, that the audio usually had to be turned up even louder in order to be heard above the cacophony of the gears, fans and sprockets of the projector. Unfortunately, these projectors were equipped with cheap speakers which were not up to the task of processing that much amplification. So one was quite likely, as was the case on that long-ago spring afternoon, to end up listening to horribly distorted audio over the mechanical clatter of the projector.

So I stealthily (or so I thought) put the earphone in my ear and turned the radio on ever so softly in order to hear the game. The audio in the earphone was at the absolute minimum level necessary for me to hear it.

Well, the teacher saw the earphone and sent me to the office. That was fine. I broke the rules and she was well within her rights to do so. That wasn’t the problem. The problem was what happened next. Back then, the procedure at Fenton Junior High was that when a student was sent to the office they had to fill out a form imaginatively called a “green slip”, so named after the color of the form. The student would state the reason he or she was sent to the office on one side (“I was listening to a radio in class.”) and the teacher would write their version on the other side. The form would then be sent to the parents.

Well, when the green slip arrived in the mail, the art teacher’s version of events was... well, I’ll let you be the judge: she claimed she was made aware of my earphone when students at the other end of the classroom complained to her that they were unable to hear the film because the sound of the movie was drowned out by the sound emanating from the radio earphone!
Yep! She actually claimed that the earphone, which I could barely hear when it was stuffed in my ear canal, was – from across the room - drowning out the grinding of a beat-up 16mm projector and the distorted movie audio which in turn was blasting out over that!

I could never understand why she did that. She had caught me red-handed listening to the radio and I admitted it. But why did she then flat-out lie in order to make the offense appear much more grievous than it actually was? There’s no POSSIBLE way that little earphone could have drowned out the noise of the projector… even if it had been my intention to do so!

She wasn’t my favorite teacher before the incident and her dishonesty while in a position of authority did nothing to improve things.

Which brings us to today.

Today. In a literal sense. For on the day I write this, October 9th, 2009, there will be an opening of a display of rock posters from the past 25 years in the Flint scene at the University of Michigan-Flint Fine Arts Gallery. The acoustic group I sing for, Ice Halo, will be providing live music for the opening. But that’s not the cool thing. The cool thing is that one of the flyers on display was created by yours truly. Just to be clear: I have no illusions about my artistic abilities. The flyer, I freely admit, is poorly lettered and even more abysmally drawn. But there it will be nonetheless: on display in a Fine Art Gallery.

And I have to admit I feel a bit of much-delayed glee at the thought! If only that obnoxious art instructor could have known that one day one of my creations would grace the wall of a Fine Art Gallery, she would have probably suffered a massive coronary on the spot. Perhaps I’m an extremely flawed individual, but the fact that that flyer is now in an art gallery gives me a strange feeling of vindication. And the fact that it’s an admittedly crappy flyer somehow makes it even more satisfying.

If, as Kahn from Star Trek was fond of saying, revenge is a dish best served cold, I suppose this would qualify as a “Revenge-sicle”.

And it’s mighty tasty indeed!

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Fireball, Part Deux

Turns out the September 25th fireball was captured on video by a research facility in Ontario.

Here's a link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6oYSEW0pWG8

Cool!

Sunday, September 27, 2009

FIREBALL!


As a bit of an astronomy buff, I've always wanted to see a really nice fireball roar through the sky. Sure, I've seen dozens if not hundreds of little "shooting star" type meteors, but nothing REALLY big & spectacular.
Well, on Friday night, my luck changed. Leanne & I were driving home from a WFUM staff reunion/farewell party at the White Horse Tavern in Flint. While at a stop light in Burton, we saw a massive bright white fireball falling from ENE toward the east for a duration of about 3-4 seconds.
Being a nerd, I sent a report into the AMS website, which tracks this sort of thing. I found out they got about 30 other reports of the same fireball and that it was seen in Ontario, New York and Pennsylvania. Judging from the reports, and its location in the sky reported from different locations, it looks like the fireball most likely fell over southern Ontario.
So after years of waiting, I finally got to see a fireball. Groovy!

Saturday, September 26, 2009

The End of Irony

I went to the bookstore to spend part of what may be one of my final paychecks on "The Greatest Show on Earth" by Richard Dawkins, a book I've long awaited. (I'll probably post a review at some point in the distant future, available reading time being less plentiful than I'd like.)

Anyway, while there, I saw a book entitled "Arguing With Idiots". The author? Glenn Beck.

That's it. Irony is officially dead.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

NERDY CHICKS RULE!

Years ago, I used to love reading the book “Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs” to my daughter. And now, with the release of the animated movie version of that book, it was the perfect opportunity for some daddy-daughter bonding time.

At least I thought so. When I mentioned this to Maddie, her comment was
“That wasn’t daddy-daughter bonding. We were just sitting next to each other watching a movie and eating Skittles!”
“But we were eating the Skittles out of the same bag, right?”
“Whatever, dad.”

Anyway, the movie was funny and the animation was cool. The 3-D didn’t impress me all that much but that’s because I have depth-perception problems and REALITY doesn’t look very 3-D to me, either… so I’m not the best one to ask about that.

The thing I liked most about this movie, though, and something that affected me more since I WAS watching it with my daughter, was the little sub-plot involving weather reporter Sam Sparks. (That’s “Sam” as in “Samantha.” You know… the girl kind of “Sam”. This is relevant. Keep reading.) Without, hopefully, giving away too much of the movie, the gist of this storyline is that Sam is a closet nerd who was teased as a child about her science-loving tendencies. She decided to change her looks and act ditzy in order to fit-in better.

While this may seem a bit contrived, I once knew someone personally – a very attractive young woman – who did the same thing. She would occasionally let things slip out that hinted of a much higher degree of intelligence than she usually displayed. I finally asked her about this and she eventually confided to me that she actually felt she had to “dumb it down” in order to get guys to like her more.

Where did she ever get that idea and what kind of guys did she hang around with?

I’m a guy and I’m here to state loud and clear: NERDY CHICKS RULE!!!! Looks are nice and all that, but as far as I’m concerned it’s brainy nerdy women who are totally awesome!

And I’m glad “Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs” echoes that theme as well. Sam Sparks does, in fact, embrace her inner nerd and is liberated by the experience.

(Here’s a relevant clip: http://www.comingsoon.net/news/movienews.php?id=57140)

This seems to be a welcome (and much overdue, in my opinion) trend in our current culture. It’s becoming cool for women to openly embrace a love of science, technology, critical thinking and learning. Things such as the Skepchick movement are demonstrating that not only can women be attractive and cool in spite of being nerdy; they can actually be attractive and cool BECAUSE they’re nerds!

And I hope in between the Skittles my sarcastic smart-ass daughter picked up on that. I certainly don’t want to force her into science if that’s not what she likes, but I want her to feel free to embrace that option if that IS what she enjoys.

(And speaking of her being a sarcastic smart-ass, I wonder from where she picked up THAT trait?)

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Pawn Stars: MY Version...

Introduction: my son and I have recently become addicted to the series “Pawn Stars” on the History Channel. It’s quite an entertaining series, but if I ran the world, it would go something more like this:.


An elderly woman walks into the pawn shop carrying an old wooden box.

“So, whatcha got in the box?”
“Perhaps it’s best I show you.”

The box opens, accompanied by a glowing light of purest white and the sounds of a host of Heavenly Cherubim.

“That’s pretty impressive. What is it?”

The old lady removes an ancient cup and holds it up.

“This is the Holy Grail.”
“The Holy Grail, huh? Where did you get it?”
“Well, you see, that’s a bit of a story. I have an ill granddaughter, little Angelica. She needs an operation to save her life, but it will cost $5,000 and we don’t have that kind of money. So I prayed to the Lord and asked for his help. Later that night, a shaft of light entered my room. An Angel of the Lord appeared before me and said that as a reward for the purity and sincerity of my faith, he would present me with the Holy Grail. The angel told me it is valuable beyond human imagining. But I’m not interested in worldly wealth. I only want my precious Angelica to get better. If you could give me $5,000 in exchange for the Grail, I will be able to pay for her surgery and would consider myself blessed beyond words.”
“What kind of angel was it?”
“What KIND? I don’t know. He just looked like an angel. Wings, halo, unbelievable heavenly beauty. All that.”
“But it was just a regular angel, though. Not an Archangel.”
“I guess not. I don’t really know.”
“Well, you see, that’s going to hurt the value. If you could tie this thing to, say, an Archangel, maybe Gabriel or Michael, that would really help in the collector’s market. A certificate of authenticity would be nice as well.”
“Uh-huh.”
“Of course there are specialty collectors who might pay a premium for items related to specific well-known angels. If, say, Moroni would have given it to you, and you could demonstrate its provenance, a collector of Mormon memorabilia might pay more for it. But just a regular angel with no name… it’s just not worth as much. And not only that, until I know this Holy Grail is genuine, I can’t really make an offer. Tell you what, I know a guy who’s an expert on Biblical antiquities. I’ll have him take a look at it. Would that work for you?”
“Well, I suppose so. Can he get here quickly? I really don’t know how much time Angelica has left.”

Suddenly, the interior of the Pawn Shop darkens. A crash of thunder shakes the building.

“THERE WILL BE NO NEED FOR THAT!.” says a huge, ominous disembodied voice.

“Who said that?”
“I AM THAT I AM! THE LORD GOD OF HOSTS! I AM THE GOD OF ABRAHAM, THE GOD OF ISAAC! THE GOD OF JOSEPH! I LED THE ISRAELITES OUT OF THEIR BONDAGE IN EGYPT AND DROWNED THE PHARAOH’S ARMIES IN THE RED SEA! I TESTIFY BY MY HOLY NAME THAT THE OBJECT THIS WOMAN BRINGS YOU IS INDEED THE MOST SACRED AND HOLY GRAIL, USED BY MY BELOVED SON AT THE LAST SUPPER BEFORE HE WILLINGLY GAVE HIS LIFE FOR THE SALVATION OF ALL MANKIND! IT IS PRECIOUS BEYOND ALL MEASURE!!! I HAVE SPOKEN!”

Another terrible crash of thunder shakes the building; knocking a framed Liberace autographed gold record off the wall. The darkness lifts.

“Hey, Mr. I-Am-Sam or whatever your name is, you owe me for that gold record!”
“Not to be impatient, Mr. Pawn Shop Owner, sir. But would you consider that proof enough?”
“Okay, supposing it IS the genuine Holy Grail. I’m not sure I could find a buyer for it in today’s market. Christian holy relics don’t sell like they used to. Back in King Arthur’s time, they’d have given all they had for this Grail thing. Heck, if this was the 13th century, I could probably get half a feudal kingdom for it, but now? The market just isn’t what it once was.”
“What can you give me for it?”
“Ummm… I’ll give you a hundred bucks.”
“A hundred bucks??? But this is the Holy Grail! You just heard God say so personally!”
“How ‘bout one-fifty?”
“Look, even if you don’t care about it being the Holy Grail just look at the cup itself! It’s made of gold and silver and is encrusted with precious jewels! Look at the fine craftsmanship! Certainly that alone should be worth at least $5,000!”
“Naw, in today’s economy there’s not really a market for gold, silver and precious jewels. Besides, it’s pretty beat to hell.”
“Of COURSE it’s beat to hell, it’s 2,000 years old!
“One-seventy-five. Final offer.”.
”Poor Angelica. One seventy five won’t be enough to help her.”
“Well, sorry I couldn’t do business with you.”
“So am I.”

The old lady sighs as she takes the Holy Grail and places it into the box she had brought it in.

“Hey, that’s an interesting box. Where’d you get it?”
“Oh, this? It was just an old box I had in the garage. After the angel gave me the Grail I figured I should box it up to protect it a bit. My great grandfather used to work for Coca-Cola in the early 1900’s. This is one of their old shipping boxes.”
“Really? Those are highly collectible! In fact, this appears to be a rare Coca-Cola shipping carton that was used only in Vermont for a few months during 1907. It’s a collector’s dream! And you usually don’t see them in this fine a condition!”
“Really? It’s been just sitting around the house for ages. I never really thought anything about it.”
“I’ll tell you what; I’ll buy the Grail for $3,500 if you include the box.”
“But the surgery costs $5,000. Think of poor Angelica!”
“Think of the fact that I have to make a profit! Okay, $4,000.”
“Well, I suppose I could sell my car for the other $1,000. Okay, for Angelica, I’ll do it!”

The pawn shop guy pays the old lady $4,000 in crisp one hundred dollar bills. She leaves.

“Hey, Chumley! Put this Coke box on the display shelf!”
“Sure. Say, there’s an old cup inside it, What do you want me to do with it?”
“Uh… just put it on my desk. I can use it to hold paper clips.”

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

The Theology of Scribblenauts

Today, my darling kidlets got "Scribblenauts", the latest game out there for the Nintendo DS. Even after having it explained to me, I'm still not entirely certain what the object of the game is. What I do know, however, and what I think is actually quite cool, is you can type in the name of just about any object you can think of and it will show up on the DS screen.
And I do mean just about anything. Type in "horse" and a horse appears in the game. Type in "flamethrower" and, sure enough, your character will be holding a flamethrower. There are apparently tens of thousands of things you can type into existence.
In fact, if you type in "God", a robed figure with a long white beard appears.
The rumor was that someone using a preview copy of Scribblenauts invoked the deity, and then typed "polar bear". The result? The polar bear ate God. (Hmmm... THERE'S a sentence you don't see everyday!)
Anyway, my son tried the same thing upon getting his copy of Scribblenauts, but in his case, God simply smote the polar bear without even breaking a divine sweat.
I left my son to his amusements when, a few minutes later, he ran to the patio where I was sitting and exclaimed excitedly, "Dad! I killed God!" (Again, another sentence you don't hear on a daily basis.)

"How? TWO polar bears?"
"No. That didn't work. God kept killing them. So I typed 'cannon' and fired it at point blank range!"

Ah! There's nothing to make a father more proud than to have his son committing Virtual Deicide!

I can hardly wait to hear what kind of Holy Shit is going to hit the proverbial fan when the religious right loonies hear about THIS sort of thing! If they thought Harry Potter was bad, in THIS game you can try to drench God in Sulfuric Acid if you're so inclined.

It's obvious that Nintendo, the company that licensed this game, is Japanese, and reflects that culture's more laid-back approach to things divine. If Scribblenauts were made by God-fearin' gun totin' American Judeo-Christians, you either wouldn't be able to invoke God at all, or - if you could - he would simply smite everything in sight. Game over. And while that might more accurately reflect the prevailing Western notion of God, the game would certainly get boring rather quickly.

And let's face it... the thought of an epic battle between God and a T-Rex IS pretty awesome!!!

Today's Math Lesson...

Q: What's 3.14159 x 8?

A: Octopi

[Insert rimshot here.]

Friday, September 11, 2009

I Couldn't Resist!


30 minutes of free time and an available computer are a dangerous combination. The above creation is how I spent my lunch hour. Now THIS is the kind of motivational poster that would be in a COOL workplace!

Saturday, September 5, 2009

They Didn't Understand Andy Kaufman, Either


Today was fun.


It was my sister-in-law's birthday. Per the typical social convention, we got her a card.


And per my usual modus operandi (that's Latin for "the way I roll") I proceeded to put something on the outside of the envelope that would reflect my - uh - to put in charitably - "unconventional" sense of humor.


This time, my darling yet similarly warped daughter was nearby willing to help. Between the two of us, we produced what we knew instinctively was a masterpiece!


You can imagine my pride when, looking at the finished product, she proclaimed "This is the best envelope EVER!!!" That's my girl!


Sadly, though, it seems we were the only ones tuned into the appropriate mental wavelength to get the cosmic, transcendant overtones of this work of comic greatness. Nobody else shared our enthusiasm.


Oh well, for what it's worth, the envelope in all its greatness is posted above. (Click to embiggen.) Maybe some enlightened soul out there will understand...



Thursday, August 27, 2009

An Inconvenient Me

Reluctantly, I must admit to having been recently sucked into the Facebook milieu. Depending on my mood, it can sometimes be an amusing distraction from… whatever it is I need to be distracted from.

Last week, however, I was troubled by a Facebook posting from someone who described himself as an “economic conservative”. In the midst of a discussion on the healthcare debate, said poster started whining about how he sure as hell didn’t want to pay for some other person’s healthcare. After all, HE went to college, worked hard, got a job with benefits and doesn’t need to rely on the government for HIS healthcare.

I replied that I, too, went to college, worked hard and got a job with benefits. Tomorrow, in fact, is my 20th anniversary as a full-time employee at WFUM. But at the end of October, I am scheduled to lose my job through no fault of my own. I and my family will, at that time, lose all healthcare benefits. I pointed out that from my perspective a government-run healthcare option seemed like a pretty damned good idea.

The poster replied that while he was sorry about my job loss, I should have been saving 20% to 40% of my paycheck over the past 20 years and should therefore have plenty of spare cash just lying around on which I should be able to comfortably live.

I didn’t bother responding to that. Apparently, unlike the poster, I live in a world where transmissions go bad, well-pumps go kablooie, roofs need replacing and kids need braces. 20% to 40%? I wish!

The attitude expressed by the poster exemplifies the near-religious belief in the mystical power of the free market economy held by some. In his mind, if you do all the right things, the free market will, in its oh-so-rational way, reward you. If you do stupid things and/or are lazy, you deserve all the bad luck and hard times you get. Conversely, if you’re having a hard time financially, it HAS to be YOUR fault since the all-knowing free market would simply not allow a worthy individual to be bereft of its benefits.

Which is why to people like him people like me must be – to borrow a phrase – an inconvenient truth.

I did, in theory, all the right things. I went to school, was a loyal employee, worked hard, (never having been without a job since age 12) saved what I could, maintained a stellar credit rating and the reward for all my efforts is pending unemployment and the loss of health benefits for me and my family.

But to people like the poster, this still somehow MUST be my fault. To say otherwise would be to admit that unregulated free market capitalism is somehow flawed. And an economic conservative simply COULDN’T allow such blasphemy to enter his mind!

So I suppose this means at the end of October I’ll suddenly be transformed from a longtime hard working taxpayer and educated member of society to a lazy and stupid slacker sponging off the labor of others.

Otherwise, it would mean unregulated free market Capitalism has problems.

And we simply can’t admit that!

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

I've Got Those Vaughn Meader Blues


I haven’t written too much about my impending job loss lately. Partly because it’s too damned depressing and partly because there’s so little information to write about. That’s one of the most frustrating things about this situation: there’s no real reliable information being disseminated. There’s nothing to go on but anonymous rumors and attempts to look for subtle clues in an attempt to guess what’s going on.

Some of the latest developments: more of my longtime co-workers have been let go. The once-bustling station is slowly becoming a much quieter and lonelier place. It’s a strange feeling when people you’ve worked with for years and years are no longer around.

Another development is the radical change in the WFUM broadcast schedule. Since we’re currently operating without a budget, we can no longer afford full PBS membership and had to go to what’s called “PDP” status. What that means, essentially, is we can no longer air the full PBS schedule and we are forced to air only a few PBS programs and those must be on a delayed basis. The biggest casualty is we were forced to stop airing the Newshour with Jim Lehrer. And the phones lit up! I joked with my wife that I’d sure hate to be the guy who had to answer THOSE phone calls! (Of course I WAS that guy!) The viewers, mostly older folks, it seemed, were quite upset that the Newshour was no longer on our station. When I explained the situation, most of the callers, though still upset with the change, at least were understanding of our situation and didn’t take it out on me personally. Most. A few callers, though, were very upset and proceeded to take it out on me personally, calling me every name in the book. (I once believed the stereotype that “little old ladies” tended to avoid foul language. Not any more! It’s a strange feeling being berated by an elderly-sounding woman in terms that would make a drill sergeant blush!) Of course, what really sucked was essentially being blamed by these folks for something I would have given anything to prevent. I sure as hell didn’t want to shut down WFUM! Not only do I like being employed, but I actually believe all that idealistic stuff about serving the public and providing information and quality programming.
At least a few of the calls I got were sympathetic, though, which made the overall experience at least somewhat less painful. Like the gentleman who thanked us for our years of service to the community and who said he would miss us. Although I wish the circumstances were different, it’s still good to know that some people noticed what we were trying to do and that it made a positive impact on them.

As for me personally, my last day currently is scheduled to be September 30th “subject to possible extension”. In other words, more uncertainty. I know I’ll be losing my job, but I don’t even know for sure when my last day will be. At least I’ll last past my 20th anniversary as a full-time employee on August 28th, which will be some small consolation.

The rumor mill, meanwhile, is working overtime. I don’t know what to make of these rumors since they are often anonymous and of uncertain veracity. Thing is, officially, we’re hearing nothing, so the rumors are all we have.

One rumor is another Michigan PBS station will be taking us over and will simply pass their signal through the WFUM transmitter. Another rumor is that other Michigan PBS station will partner with Mott and Kettering to continue a local public broadcasting presence in Flint. But these are simply rumors floating about and there’s no certainty at all about any of it.

And given this uncertainty, I’m still busily trying to find a job elsewhere. I’ve been searching diligently since April. I have a Bachelor’s degree in Communication and excellent references. I’ve sent out I-dunno-how-many applications to various places, but I haven’t even gotten as far as an interview yet. This sucks.

Which brings me back to the title of this screed. I do indeed feel like Vaughn Meader… at least how he felt after November 22, 1963.

If you don’t know who Vaughn Meader was, (and I suspect that may be most of you) that’s kind of the point. Vaughn Meader was a comedian who produced a record album called “The First Family” back in 1962, the year I was born. The album, which poked fun at the Kennedy family, soon became the fastest selling album in history, selling 7.5 million copies in just a few months. Meader was suddenly in demand and was making decent money. The album won a Grammy and he was doing quite well.

Then came November 22, 1963.

What happened next was best summed up by comedian Lenny Bruce, who, at the beginning of a live performance shortly after the assassination, simply shook his head and exclaimed “Vaughn Meader is SCREWED!”

And career-wise, he WAS screwed. A planned Christmas sequel to the First Family album was scrapped. Existing albums were pulled from the shelves. Pre-taped television appearances were not only cancelled, but the videotapes containing them were actually destroyed to prevent them from ever being aired. A nation in mourning over President Kennedy was in no mood to laugh. Meader’s career was over just as suddenly as JFK’s life.

And that’s why I’m beginning to think I know how he felt. Meader had found something he enjoyed...something he was good at. Once that was gone, he never really knew what to do. In my months of job searching, I’m beginning to wonder if maybe working at a PBS station is the only damned thing I know how to do. Maybe I’m one of those idiot savants who excels at one thing but is clueless when it comes to anything else.

I keep trying to tell myself it’s just the soft job market and that I’ll eventually find something out there I can do. I think if I could at least get an interview, I’d have a shot at a job. But I’m not even getting that far! I guess I’m fortunate that I’ll at least have a job for a few more weeks, but it kinda sucks not being able to find anything else at all!

As for Vaughn Meader, he eventually descended into drug use and worked various odd jobs before finally achieving modest local success as a bluegrass singer in his native Maine. He died in 2004.

As for me, I can’t afford a drug habit, can’t play the mandolin and have never been to Maine. I suspect, therefore, my future will be different. But what that future will be, who knows. If you hear any anonymous rumors about what I may be doing in the future, feel free to let me know.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Clueless Patriotism

Today, as I drove into work in my Toyota Corolla (the best and most reliable car I've ever owned, by the way) I found myself behind a Pontiac Vibe. The Vibe had a red white & blue bumper sticker with something about "Buy American" on it and an arrow pointing to the Pontiac logo saying "I did my part!"

Yep. in their mind, the Vibe owner was a real patriot 'cause they bought an all-American car... a Pontiac! Me? I'm an anti-American liberal Commie scum 'cause I bought a goddamned Jap car.

But, oh! The delicious irony! What the Vibe owner apparently didn't realize is that underneath the body, the Pontiac Vibe is... a Toyota Corolla! Yep, the "all-American" Pontiac Vibe is nothing more than a Toyota Corolla E-platform chassis with a different body and a Pontiac logo slapped on the side! But I guess they're still more patriotic than I am, though. THEY had a red, white & blue bumper sticker that said so!

Saturday, August 1, 2009

My Sheltered Life


Last month, I celebrated my 47th birthday. During those 47 years, I have had the opprtunity to do and experience a great many wonderful things. But until today, there was one thing I had never done which very many Americans have taken for granted. Until today, I had never in my life had a Slurpee.

It's not that I had for any reason been intentionally avoiding them or boycotting them for any bizarre socio-political reason. And it's not that I haven't had the opportunity to get one. In fact, there's a 7-11 within a mile of where I live. And with the occasional free Slurpee promotions here & there it's not as if I can claim a financial reason for not having had one. It's just that, well - for whatever reason - I had just never gotten around to having a Slurpee. Ever.

Well, today, we drove to the local 7-11 and for the first time I went to the Slurpee machine. I was especially intrigued by a handwritten sign taped thereon with selected words capitalized and highlighted in red (and I am NOT making this up!):


"CAUTION - air pressure in the lines may cause the Slurpee machine to EXPLODE during use! Sorry for any inconvenience. 7-11"


Holy crap! Are ALL Slurpee machines this dangerous? I could only assume that what this meant was either 1.) air bubbles in the feed line may cause some dramatic spattering when pouring the Slurpee but the person writing the sign wasn't too nuanced in writing the warning, 2.) someone at the 7-11 has a brilliantly warped sense of humor or 3.) the Slurpee machine was in imminent danger of exploding.


But even if it was option 3, I had waited the better part of half a century for this moment and I wasn't going to let the threat of a catastrphic Slurpee inferno stop me!


And so, I poured my first-ever Slurpee. Two-thirds Coke and one-third some Pineapple stuff.


And y'know what? I really liked it! Good stuff. Hopefully, I won't wait another 47 years for another one. By that time, I'll either be 94 years old or, more likely given my family history, dead.


Monday, July 27, 2009

Traverse City


I recently took one of those online surveys where you answer a bunch of questions and it tells you which Michigan location would be the best match for you. For me, if the result is to be believed, that match was Traverse City.
Thus I suppose it was a good thing that that's where I just spent a long weekend. As with the vacation in Washington DC, it was good to get away from my troubles for awhile and just relax and have a bit of fun. Among the highlights of the trip: reading on a beachside bench while my kids swam and hunted for fossils (they found some nice ones, too... quite the junior paleontologists).
We also rented some bikes and rode around the TART bike trail along the bayshore and around scenic Boardman Lake. (Being an eco-nerd, I was happy to see a small wind turbine along its banks.)
The highlight for me, though, was a public observing session at the Rogers Observatory south of town on Saturday night. The clouds were pretty thick around sunset, but we decided to check it out just in case. Good thing, too. The clouds drifted away as if by magic and we were soon treated to awesome views of Saturn, the moon, some multiple stars and some really cool star clusters.
There's a saying among amateur astronomers: never look though a telescope you can't afford. Well, I violated that one when I enjoyed the view from the nearly half-meter-aperture scope located in the observatory's main dome, but I have no regrets. The view of M11 was a fantastic sight through that scope and was worth the trip for that alone.
Almost as beautiful as the astronomical objects we were treated to was the view of the Traverse City area from the hilltop on which the Rogers Observatory is located. From that vantage point one could see both bays and the lights of the city. Very nice indeed!
But now it's back to Flint, fruitless attempts at job hunting and putting the finishing touches on the final schedules of WFUM.
But those few days in Traverse City made it more bearable.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

You Taped Over WHAT???

Well, it turns out the rumored and much-hoped-for recovery of the original Apollo 11 EVA video is not to be. After much searching and investigating, those involved have reached the inescapable conclusion that the tapes were likely over-recorded with material from later Apollo missions.

While instances of wedding videos being wiped-out by careless husbands recording football games have been sitcom fodder ever since the rise of Betamax, this is in a class by itself. Damn! Erasing the original video data from Apollo 11? Waaaaaah!

As someone who has been responsible for a rather large videotape inventory for the past couple dacades, though, I can actually understand how it could happen. Whenever an organization has conflicting pressures of needing to constantly make new recordings while at the same time not being able for budgetary reasons to purchase new recording media, there are strong pressures to re-use recording media one would rather preserve. It kinda sucks, but in the day to day world archiving things sometimes is a secondary concern... if it's even a concern at all.

And - to be perfectly honest - I don't think the REAL importance of the Apollo 11 landing will be realized within the lifetimes of those of us who experienced it. I mean, sure, we all knew it was "important", but I don't think we fully realize that 1,000 years from now Apollo 11 will probably be the only thing people will remember and/or care about from our era in history. Had we known, we would have taken better care to preserve the original tapes.

At least the search has been made to find the best surviving tapes so they can be cleaned up and preserved for the future. They do look much improved, and I appreciate the hard work of those doing the preservation, but "if only"...

And that makes me wonder about the future preservation of digital media. Back in my day, taking pictures, for example, required an investment in film and processing and the number of exposures you could take was, relatively speaking, highly limited. When you got your stack of 24 exposures, you had a physical artifact you were more likely to hold onto and store in a safe place. Now, you can store a gazillion images on a single memory card with great ease. But will they just get deleted and forgotten? Will it be a matter of "Oh. well, taking pictures is so effortless now..." it seems more a matter of instant gratification rather than a question of preserving things for the future. But we'll see. Just a word of advice for those of you young 'uns with digital pictures/video/recordings... make sure to back up your stuff and save it for the future. You never know what will be important to someone someday.

In other news, this 40th anniversary of Apollo 11 is a groove-fest for space nerds like me. I'm totally digging the streaming audio from NASA in which they're playing the Apollo 11 mission audio in real time (plus 40 years). AWESOME!!!