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.


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: