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Thursday, April 30, 2009

Swine Flu Over the Cuckoo's Nest

If there wasn’t enough to worry about with everything going on in the world, now we’ve got Swine Flu. I’m not going to go into great detail about it because I don’t feel that it deserves the sense of panic that it’s getting in the media. We survived SARS and various other anagrammatic diseases over the past few years, why should this be any different? Because people are tired of talking about the economy. We have this masochistic need to create new drama when we’ve become bored with beating the dead horses of the economy, The War On Terror, and whether or not Susan Boyle will get an extreme makeover and Nadya Suleman will get her Octomom trademark. By the way, Susan, don’t change a thing, and Nadya…get over it. You weren’t clever enough to come up with it, so you don’t deserve it. Go get a job and go away.

But, I digress. The whole Swine Flu got to me thinking, ironically. It almost conjures up apocalyptic visions of flying pigs swarming over the border from Mexico with flight goggles. Ok, maybe just in my head, but still. Beyond that I started thinking musically to Pink Floyd’s and thought, “A Benefit Concert for victims of Swine Flu!” They could get out the flying pigs and go on tour and then Peter Frampton could keep them in a trunk and Homer Simpson could let them out, and I’ve lost you…

Right, we have flying pigs, a concert setting, and of course what better way to celebrate a concert tour than with a T-SHIRT? Now, here’s where this thing gets to be bigger than me. I can never do anything on a small scale. I’ve got to cram so many details into a design that everything is a part of a bigger story. For instance, a benefit concert would probably have a bunch of bands on the bill. That means you have to come up with band names. Really, as much as I would love to include Pink Floyd in my fictional concert tour, I don’t think the Content Police would appreciate it. Well, with Swine Flu we have some places to go. We can think about fictional band names having to do with diseases, medical procedures, and pigs. The words Pandemic and Epidemic sound like good band names. So we come up with our design, get a tour name, and include all of our band names on the front of the shirt. But what about the back?

I’ve recently began doing some two sided shirt designs. Nothing huge, but a lot of the designs I came up with just didn’t work as a frontal design. CafePress charges an additional $3.00 on the base price leaving you with decisions on what to do about mark up. But this is a special design and we can forgo the worries over profit as we try to capture that brief window of relevance before the shirt buying population moves onto the next popular culture horse in which to flog.

Usually, on the back of a concert tour shirt, you see the dates of the tour. Hmmm, well, Swine Flu has been found primarily in Mexico and now spreading to the U.S. in New York, Michigan, Texas, California, and New Jersey. Ok, that gives us cities and concert venues. We can even be silly and say that the Mexican concert dates have been cancelled. And with the disease spreading with new hypochondriacs claiming to be stricken with a case of the oinks, we can say, “more dates to be added.” Now we’re moving beyond a topical t-shirt and becoming a metaphor for social consciousness and the 24 hour media. After all, who actually buys concert shirts? Secondly, you have a subset of those people who go to concerts wearing a shirt of the band they are seeing which is a big social faux pas. To top it all off, just when you think the story has run its course, along comes words like Pandemic and Outbreak and now you’ve got a global crisis of disappearing common sense. You know that professionals are telling the public to do to prevent spreading the disease? It’s the same thing they tell us every year during winter months. Cover your mouth when coughing or sneezing, wash your hands, take care of yourself. Next thing you know, we have a thousand people with Michael Jackson surgical mask starter kits wandering around. Don’t be that guy!

Then, once you have all those elements thrown against the wall, you have to make it vintage and retro looking. After all, the last time the United States went through a case of the Swine Flu, Carter was in office. In 1976, there was a Swine Flu epidemic and could your imagine the bill on that tour? That would be some kick ass, old school bands.

With that in mind, I give you the latest in an attempt to waste precious free time and avoid cutting the grass, Swine Flu Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, World Tour 2009. Now, I must say that I started this idea the on April 27 and there were about 21 designs already addressing Swine Fu. Within three days the idea had been already put into circulation by other shopkeepers and the design count was up to 217. I cannot say that I had the original idea, but I put a lot more time into the creation. I just hope people agree.

Front and back of the
Swine Flu World Tour 2009 Shirt

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Video Game Maker Killed the Keytar Hero

Back when I started the whole CafePress Premium Shop I had some simple ideas. Unique designs and clever parodies and homage. Along the way I have had a few uphill battles to secure my designs as fair use or in the realm of parody which would get me out of a bind with the Content Usage Policy or as I call them, Police. Quite often, they nail certain designs while others which are in more direct violation of copyright infringement just walk on by the censors. I’m usually disgusted with their quality control on content and feel targeted even though tons of other shopkeepers feel my pain. I’ve been doing research on the net to see if others have had similar problems and they have. This is all prologue, though.

My latest defeat came at the hands of the company behind the original design in which I intended to parody. When I first put up the Keytar Hero logo, I intended to parody Guitar Hero. I did intend to identify my design as Guitar Hero but used discovered a way to create the necessary font needed to parody the logo using my 80’s pop synth music roots from my childhood. The design was initially flagged as infringing on copyright but I fought it stating that parody was in the realm of fair use and that the words keytar and hero were not copyrighted. They reinstated my design and I went about my merry way. However, It came as a shock to me as I was showing off my store to a friend and couldn’t bring up my designs. I emailed Caf├ęPress and looked through old emails to find where they had nailed my design a second time. Here was their response.
We apolgize (Dude misspelled "apologize" and these are the folks responsible for judging content?) for any confusion regarding this image.

We have been previously notified by Activision that the use of the likeness of the Guitar Hero trademark, such as Piano Hero, Drum Hero, or Keytar Hero is highly problematic as that use would potentially infringe on the trademark rights of Activision.

We strongly recommend that you avoid creating designs that are based on the works of a third party to best minimize your risk of infringement.

I was a bit depressed over this. I couldn’t fight this. Activision had every right to snuff me out, I guess. Yet, I think that the design does not infringe on the Guitar Hero logo. Now, granted, I keep my feathers numbered for just such an occasion. I created a more 80’s pastel flavored design that does not utilize the same font and I’ve had no problems with it. The only thing that gives me comfort is that I hadn’t sold any shirts or other items with the original logo. No harm, no foul, I guess. After all, I might have found myself in more peril from a legal standpoint if I had profited from the design. So, I guess I can’t complain. But it still stings. Needless to say, I will not be buying any Guitar Hero games from Activision as a form of silent protest.

But I am always one to turn a frown upside down. I do have the ability to make myself one or two so, I might get a hat out of the deal. I probably could not sell them but if you really want one, let me know and I’ll see what I can do.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Monkey Fighting Snakes on a Monday To Friday Plane

This post has been modified from its original version.

I don’t know about you but watching a movie for the first time on its television broadcast seems sacrilegious. First of all, unless you are watching it in HD, it is probably going be cropped into full screen format. I am one of those die hard wide screen enthusiasts that cannot stand to watch movies unless they are presented in their original format. The fact that George Lucas went back and monkeyed around with the Original Star Wars Trilogy in the mid 90’s did not bother me. Some of the additions were pretty cool. However, I did take offense at the whole Han/Greedo showdown. I do not care how immoral it may appear, but Han Shot First. End of story.

Tirades aside, occasionally, I will catch a movie on basic cable which subjects me to cropped vistas and edited language. Now, depending on what channel the movie is playing, the censoring of profanity can be as simple as just muting the offending word leaving you to read a person’s lips to inserting a new word or words to try and keep the integrity of the scene’s sound intact. The results range from laughable to downright hysterical. Of course, the most common replacement for the ‘F’ word is “Forget” as in “Forget You.” However, once you start getting into the variations on the word, you run into trouble.

I have decided to point out a few great examples with clips from YouTube to illustrate the hilarity. The most recent rearing of ridiculous re-edits just happened when Snakes On A Plane was aired on FX. Putting this movie on regular television is like 80’s Teen Sex Comedies on USA Up All Night. The whole purpose of watching those films is the blatant nudity and the editing for content on those is just as bad as language. My personal favorite is an already bad movie, Showgirls. Why would you watch that movie in the first place is beyond me? Why you would watch it with the flesh colored underwear digitally added in is just plain masochistic. However, I digress. Here are some of my favorite bad dubs and edit fails.

1. Snakes on a Plane: "Monkey Fighting Snakes on a Monday to Friday Plane!"  We all know that the whole point of this film was to hear Samuel L. Jackson utter the famous line. When you watch it on television you get a whole different context. Apparently, this airline only has flights during the week and as part of the in flight entertainment you are treated to monkeys fighting snakes.

Monkey Fighting Snakes on a Monday to Friday Plane
(Warning: This design has been modified to comply with CafePress' Content Usage Policy.)

2. The Rock: "Winners date the prom queen!"  When movies attempt to make a passable edit to keep the context of the dialogue, you would think that they would go through every possible word to make sure it matches the tone. Then whoever is doing the dubbing should try and sound like the original actor, that is if you can’t get them to do the dub. Well, who the hell doesn’t do an impression of Sean Connery. His voice is one of the most highly impersonated in pop culture, yet the person dubbing over this line makes it sound like Sean is stroking out when delivering this line.

3. Major League: "Strike this guy out!"  One of my all time favorite movies has one of the all time funniest edit fails. Corbin Bernsen approaches Charlie Sheen on the mound and in what looks to be a showdown over Sheen defiling Bernsen’s wife in retaliation for his on the road infidelities becomes one of the worst dubs ever. They attempted to stretch a single syllable word over the spoken length of two syllable and on top of that, Bernsen suffers from Connery’s stroking out syndrome.

4. Die Hard With a Vengeance and Repo Man: Jackson strikes again with this epithet for someone who beds a mother. Somehow, Die Hard got lucky and it actually sounds pretty funny owing the term to Repo Man’s director Alex Cox, or should that be Alex Game Bird?

5. Die Hard 2: Die Harder: " Yippee Kay Aye, Mr. Falcon!"  They should have dub the title Try Harder. Once again, it’s hard to accept watching the great John McClane be emasculated on television when delivering his catchphrase as Yippee Ki Yay, Mr. Falcon.

Now, some movies just have original tracks that are hysterical. One of the greatest intentional censored words comes from Michael Keaton’s Johnny Dangerously. Roman Moronie’s malapropisms shown in calling people "fargin ice holes" and "bastadges" have become part of the Pop Culture lexicon.

For a list of other bad edits check out Uncylcopedia.
Gawker has a compilation of bad edits but they neglect Major League or The Rock.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Good Cop / Worse Cop

When cops interrogate a suspect they use a tactic where one cop pretends to be a hard ass, sweating the perp out. He threatens a long jail sentence in a cell next to Bubba and generally tries to break the suspect. Meanwhile, the good cop brings in some water, consoles the suspect, and tries to make it seem like they are on their side. Everybody knows this method and most see through it and lawyer up pretty quick.

What most people may not know is that this method of attack works for nearly anything. In fact, I use it on a regular basis which kind of makes me a pathological liar. However, the benefits have been tremendous. Haggling over price or services can be a slippery slope. One wrong move and you may find yourself like a contestant on Deal or No Deal who just opened up the million dollar briefcase. The banker calls and the bottom falls out on the deal.

In 2000 I rented my first apartment. I had just graduated from college in 1998, I spent a year living with a friend in a house we rented from someone on a handshake lease. Unfortunately, my roommate pretty much owned everything in the house outside of my bedroom. So, when I signed my name on my first lease for a one bedroom apartment, the only thing I had was an entertainment center, a bed frame, mattress, box spring, and some sheets. The rest of the place was as bare as Mother Hubbard’s cupboard.

I went to one of the local furniture dealers and negotiated my way into a living room suit which included a couch, a love seat, a coffee table, two end tables, and matching lamps. All to be delivered to my bachelor pad for $100. What I didn’t know was that the lamps weren’t part of the delivery. I guess there was a problem with these lamps being from Italy or something because the contract listed the reason being Fra-gee- lay. I would have to pick them up separately which blew my mind. Delivery is delivery. Why should I pay $100 for partial delivery. So, I cancelled the delivery and went to the store to pick up the furniture. I managed to secure my Father’s truck for the early part of the afternoon and my future Father-in-law’s truck for the whole day.

We went to the store and they gave me some song and dance about the furniture not being there but downtown in the warehouse. So, I asked if I could just go pick them up there. Once we got to the warehouse I told my girlfriend to give me a couple of minutes and then honk the horn. I went into the office and said I was there to pick up my order. The girl said she had no idea about any of this and that anything I was going to pick up would take two hours to get ready. Knowing that I needed to have the truck back ASAP led to my instructing my girlfriend to honk the horn. Not knowing that this has been a communication issue between the store and the warehouse gave me room to improvise. The girl in the office immediately got infuriated because she assumed that the store told me to just go to the warehouse and the order would be ready. With that information and the honking truck out in the parking lot, I explained that my girlfriend was already pissed because she had to take the day off and borrow her Dad’s truck which was an issue. Now, we were going to be late and all because the “store” screwed up. Good customer service and my ability to lie on my feet had my furniture, lamps and all, ready in less than an hour.

Here’s another example. In 2005, my wife and I decided to take a vacation in the Outer Banks. This was highly unusual given our previous trip to the region, but we wanted to rent a house with some friends. Unfortunately, we started looking for a September rental in early August. I began scouring the rental websites and compared houses based on price, location, and amenities. I highly suggest that anyone who goes on vacation does a lot of research into what each line item on a rental property is. There’s loads of haggle room if you know where to look. With the minimal window until our vacation I knew that there wouldn’t be a lot of options but that some properties outside our budget may still be open and willing to deal. I called and spoke to a few rental agencies and acted like I was all in love with their property but my wife and the rest of my party wasn’t happy with the price. I chose some arbitrary amenity that made me like the house and went on about it while my wife maintained it was too much and that she found a similar house for less money at a competing company without that one amenity.

Soon, fees started dropping like prom dresses at 11pm. Here’s a tip. That rental insurance….waive that and take the upfront $50 charge to cover any damages. Yeah, you get the $300 back but if something does go wrong, you lose it. That $50 covers you for a lot more. And the insurance against bad weather is about as smart as getting the insurance in black jack. Chances are that if you have inclement weather and are forced to vacate an area, you aren’t going to be back for the remainder of your stay which could end up being one day. In all, I was able to knock off over $500 from a rental property because my wife played the Bad Cop.

Here’s the best example. In 2005, we bought a new car. This was during the whole “employee pricing” bonanza which made buying a new car more appealing than a used car. I went on and on about how much I liked the Malibu Maxx while my wife maintained that we should get a Cobalt. I even had the dealer trying to work my wife over in my defense. Her and I both knew we would buy this car. Unfortunately, the only ones on the lot were models with more features which meant a higher price tag. My wife went to work on the guy and had him nearly in tears. We managed to get the monthly payment down to $213 just based on down payment and good credit. We still wanted to have a payment less than $200, so my wife stood up and proceeded to leave. It was the end of the month and this salesman was one car away from making his bonus quota. He said to my wife, “Come on, you mean to tell me you are going to walk away over $10 a month?” She firmly said, “Yes, I am.” The best part about it was the guy KNEW I needed to get a new car because the head gasket was blown. That was a mistake on my part. He was willing to deal even though he knew I had to buy. The worst part was that I was actually beginning to believe my wife. She wasn’t pretending anymore.

The salesman went into that back room they all go into when the pretend to work the manager over in your favor and came back out with a final offer, $203. We said fine, although my wife maintained her dismay over $3. We went back into the finance office and I gave the girl my GM credit card and I got an additional $750 off in earnings which brought my payment down to $193 a month. That was an added bonus that even I wasn’t aware of when I opened the card. There was some offer from GM to give additional earnings over certain new car purchases.

Now, I am in the process of replacing our second car and there seems to be a lot of deals going around on new cars but I’m having trouble working out strategy with car dealers. Somehow, I think the sales people caught onto our scheme and bought off my wife. She actually turned on me this weekend at a KIA dealership when the salesman offered an 09’ Spectra Sedan for $12,000. Immediately, my wife said, “That’s the car.” While I maintained that I wanted a 4 door hatchback or a wagon and wasn’t real impressed with the Spectra’s power on a hill with the A/C running, she kept saying that we should buy this car. I felt like I should lawyer up before doing anything else. Perhaps she was drunk on power or just wanted to hear me stop bitching about cars but she went from Bad Cop to Worse Cop in a heartbeat.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

One in Ten Addicted To Video Games, Nine Others Just Suck.

I love video games. Have I said this before? I mean I love playing video games. I love driving a kick ass car through cities towards a finish line. I love blasting away zombies and various residents of Liberty City. I love figuring out little puzzles and sliding down pipes into dark worlds looking for coins. But am I addicted to video games? No. Do I play video games more than I should? What’s the standard?

There was a report done by Forbes magazine on how there is a rampant addiction to video games among teenagers. It’s nice to Forbes is stay on top of things. Actually, the study was done by Iowa State University so they are to blame for this. Forbes just waited around to report on it. since video games have been around since the before the 70’s. The point is, whether they are upright and accept coins or sitting in your living room and have a little controller attached, video games are everywhere. They are accessible by young and old and have been for years. They are as prevalent into today’s society as the multiple television home and the nine year old with a cell phone. Now, if you want to talk about addictions, let’s talk about cell phones. I think people abuse texting far more so than video games.

OK, that statement might be a little unfair. Before the proliferation of cell phones among the adolescents of the world in a time, long, long, ago, known as the 80’s. Kids spent copious amounts of time on the telephone chit chatting away with their friends. They’d tie up phone lines for hours causing parents to install a second line for their hooked in teenagers. There is not much difference between the teen spending hours on a phone with the ratty old curled up 16’ cord and the teen running up huge bills over texting and talking on cell phones.

But back to video games. Is there such a thing as video game addiction? Here’s an excerpt from the Forbes article…

“Experts don't agree on whether such a thing as "video game addiction" really exists. At present, it is not listed as a mental disorder in the American Psychiatric Association's Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. The next update of that manual, which describes criteria for diagnosing various psychiatric disorders, is due out in 2012.”

So, in order to be recognized as a disorder, we have to wait another 3 years? Why don’t they just put a little hourglass at the bottom of the report and have it spin around like the loading screen for a video game? OK, let’s get something straight. While there may not be a disorder called “Video Game Addiction”, there can be an addiction to video games. Just like addictions to other behaviors, video games represent an escapist resource. Bad day at work, run over pedestrians in Grand Theft Auto. What we fail to realize is that it is not the fault of the video game for the addiction. When is the last time we actually blamed alcohol or cigarettes for the addiction? I’m not talking about the companies that manufacture, market, and distribute cigarettes and alcohol. They are partially to blame for enticing people to engage in addictive behaviors However, an inanimate object is not responsible for someone’s inability to show some restraint and enjoy that behavior in moderation. I’m not saying that all behaviors are something you should enjoy, I’m just saying you have free will.

Taking a look at the report done by Iowa State there is a HUGE mistake right in the Abstract.

The current study includes a self-report measure of video game habits completed by 607 8th and 9th graders for hand-held devices, video game consoles, and the computer. A scale of addiction was identified and separated into two groups (Non-Addicted and Addicted). The Addicted group revealed more reports of involvement in physical fights in the last year, more arguments with friends and teachers, higher hostile attribution scores, and lower grades. These results suggest that video game “addiction” is a problem among adolescents, particularly among males, and that addiction is associated with adjustment problems such as school performance and aggressive attitudes and behaviors.

Let’s take video games out of that equation and test those students again, shall we? Let’s test these students based on the behaviors they display and then ask them how much time they spend playing video games. What is going on here is that video games are being blamed for kids with pre-existing behavioral problems. The fact that they play video games is a symptom of the problem, not the cause. If video games were not around, the same results would have been attributed to television, or music, or movies, or comic books. In every generation since the end of World War II, sociologists and psychologists are looking to blame some external factor for bad behavior instead of blaming where the behavior stems from, poor child rearing.

This article comes at an ironic time since April 20, 2009 marks the 10 year anniversary of the Columbine Massacre. Somehow, using the word anniversary to denote one of the top five tragedies to ever occur inside the United States is somewhat morbid. I would not even go near the word commemorate. How about observance? That sounds more appropriate. Anyway, 10 years ago, two students, Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris, walked into Columbine High School dressed in trench coats and carrying semi-automatic weapons and homemade bombs, much like a scene from The Matrix. They unleashed a hellacious amount of violence on the students and faculty before killing themselves. From then on, the aftermath of psychoanalysis over bullying, media, and social subcultures look for some rationale behind the cause for these two students to enact such a tirade played out on the television and the courts.

Psychiatrists and investigators concluded from journals that Harris was a psychopath and Klebold was depressive, easily swayed and manipulated by Harris into joining his delusions of superiority over their oppressors. These reports have been listed as inconclusive. Were they a part of some Trench Coat Mafia? Did prescription drugs for pre-existing disorders cause Harris’ actions? Was their addiction to gaming responsible for the desensitization moral behavior and the importance of the life of individuals?

I am neither a psychologist or an expert in any field needed to analyze this type of behavior. What I can tell you is that video games are not to blame for their behavior. Violent music or movies are not to blame for their behavior. These things are merely ways for them to indulge and explore an already established predilection of violent or anti-social behavior. Fuel for the fire. For anyone else they merely exist as a recreational outlet. A person can engage in playing violent video games, listening to music with violent undertones, and watch ultra violent movies without any repercussions. Just like a person who is not an alcoholic can go on a night of extensive drinking and then function normally without needing or wanting to drink for any amount of time afterwards. How is this possible? I am one of those people. I love playing games like Doom or Grand Theft Auto. I own or have listened to the same music that other people have claimed as the reason for violent behavior. I've seen "The Exorcist" about 167 times, and it keeps getting funnier every single time I see it! You get the point.

Now, to say that this type of stimuli, exposed to the mind of a developing adolescent, can lead to violent behavior is not too far from a true statement. Again, the development of adolescents is something that can be influenced directly based upon the amount of exposure and chemical makeup. The same goes for the ability for some people to burn and some people to tan when exposed to sunlight. Some people just have better skin, just like some people have thicker skin. I was bullied in some ways, growing up? Did I ever want to grab an AK-47 and kill them, metaphorically, perhaps, but it’s nothing I would have ever acted upon in reality. Why? Because my parents gave me a proper upbringing and allowed me to learn what is right and what is wrong based on experiencing both first hand in moderation. By reinforcing that I am totally capable of free will and making bad decisions, those decisions have consequences that directly affect the amount of money I see in an allowance or the tenderness of my ass cheeks at the hands of a wooden spoon.

I’ll give you a better example. My wife is a piano teacher. She has a student that fits into your stereotypical designation of a nerd. He’s lanky, has curly hair, wears glasses, and is a bit awkward, socially. He’s the teenage version of Eddie Deezen. Now, he’s getting no help from his parents. He’s been sheltered and coddled by his parents to an extreme amount. His mother sits just a few feet away from him during his lesson. She asks out loud in front of other people if he needs help with his belt when he’s been in the bathroom for a few seconds more than normal. She walks him hand in hand to their car and has him sit in the back seat while it’s parked in our driveway off the street. The kid is just about ready to start high school and he’s going to be the social equivalent to chum in the shark infested waters of high school bullies. This kid could very well snap out, grab a gun, and climb a clock tower. There’s no moderation in either his exposure to everyday concepts such as success and failure or shielding from harmful stimuli. It’s feast or famine. You either get Karen Carpenter or that guy on Inside Edition being led down the street to his wedding on a parade float that looks like a bed.

Before I go on towards infinity like a game of Tetris, which even that concept has been debated to infinity, I’ll wrap this up. In fact, I’m going to pull a head fake on you. This whole diatribe, while enormously dear to my heart, is in fact a setup for a new design for my CafePress store. So, here you have it.

Video Games Have Destroyed My Life.
Fortunately, I Have Extra Lives!

Monday, April 20, 2009

Pluto Day

With Earth Day fast approaching, I thought I’d take a moment to remind everyone that while the Earth is our home and we should treat it as such…ok, not like my home because it’s a mess, but you get the point. How about this? Let’s treat the Earth like our home, when company is coming over and you’ve spent the better part of the last two days cleaning up everything to make it pretty. After all, your guests don’t want to see your dirty laundry piling up in a heap in the laundry room. Nor do they wish to have the wonderful smell of a used kitty litter box wafting through the air while they enjoy a nice meal on your dining room table/bill and junk mail holder.

See, that’s Earth Day has become, spring cleaning. We spend all year leaving our non-biodegradable dishes lying around and once in a great while we clean up. Earth Day is like Christmas. You clean up the mess that’s been building for the last six months just so the house can look good for about six hours. Next week, we’ll all be back to driving all over the place in our fossil fuel cars and using five paper towels to clean up a mess that only requires one. Earth Day is like a New Year’s Resolution or Lent. You promise to be good for awhile but that good behavior has an expiration date attached.

You know who doesn’t have the luxury of having people care about it for one day? Pluto. That poor bastard of a celestial body got demoted a few years ago. What did Pluto ever do to any of us? For that matter, why should the Earth got all the attention when Pluto is as pristine as the day it cooled. You want to talk about cosmic injustice, not only do we get the chance to wreck our planet, we have the self righteous where withal to decide who gets to be a planet.

Can you imagine, back in 1930, someone made a long distance phone call to the little ball in the sky and said,

“Hello? Yes, this is the Earth. We just wanted to let you know that we have reviewed your application for planetary status and have decided to offer you a place in our text books and astronomy maps. Unfortunately, we already have a Saturn listed so you’ll have to have a different name. No, you can’t just add a one to the end of it. Let’s mark you down as Pluto. Why? Why not?”

Then, 76 years later, we let Pluto go. Sure, there was some performance reviews planned as we made attempts to sit down and talk about our goals. The one time, we even planned to offer Pluto a promotion but ended up going with Saturn’s moon Titan. But, we just decided to let them go instead. So they’ll get their final paycheck in 2015 and a copy of a form letter.

To whom it may concern.

We’re in a period of restructuring and unfortunately, there are some hard decisions to be made. Due to the economy and some unsavory budget cuts, we’ve made the tough decision to terminate your status as planet. Furthermore, while you’ve been loyal to the orbit around the sun and been a good team leader, overseeing Charon, Nix, and Hydra, you haven’t met the goal of securing a dominant gravitational force over our direct competitor, The Kuiper Belt. We recognize this as a direct violation of the contract we agreed upon when granting your planetary status. Also, the constant switching with Neptune is unacceptable. You were given this offer as the ninth planet, not sometimes eighth.

A member from IAU will be by to collect your things and escort you from the Solar System. We appreciate your years of service and will keep your application on file for the next century should anything suitable for your return appear.

Thank you,


That was it, no chance for rebuttal. We didn’t offer any severance package or unemployment. We just made a decision that technically, should have disqualified other planets, including Earth. Then again, we acted like so many other organizations. We reserved the right to get rid of you without recourse. So, as we clean up our carbon footprints and reuse, reduce, and recycle our way to a cleaner conscience. Just remember, we may decide to save the Earth, but we never gave Pluto a choice.

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Friday, April 17, 2009

Earth Day 2009

All you tree loving, granola crunching, left winging, and no bra swinging hippies, guess what? It's your big day! I come from the meat eating, light leaving on, capitalist, carbon Bigfoot brigade and I'm here to help you celebrate the one day of the year where we all do our part to save the world. Then for the other 364 1/4, days we muck all it up, worse.

Actually, I try to do my part to help out. I replace burnt out bulbs with the energy efficient ones among of things. Of course, all for personal gain. Being green not only can help the planet but keep more money out of the economy and into my dead cow hide wallet. With that being said, I give you my offering for Earth Day from my CafePress store. Have fun and happy Earth Day, Week, Month, Year, whatever.

The Design

Organic White T-Shirt Featuring the Design

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Why you'll never see me on Survivor?

It’s not that I am just a little hefty and like the creature comforts of home that I would never be picked for the show. OK, well, that’s partially a reason. I’d be out before Jeff Probst said, “Welcome to Survivor…” In any case, the reason why you’ll never see me on Survivor is that I’m not already famous or rich.

Now, I thought the whole reason for being on Survivor was to Outplay, Outwit, and Outlast the other contestants to win a million dollars. So, why would someone put themselves through all that bug eating, loin cloth wearing, and Probst dimpling crap to win less than they already are worth? Fame? Revived career? Masochistic tendencies?

Here in my own cubic-hell we have an office pool going. $10 for two contestants. That gives us a pot of $80. I have Taj and J.T. Until today I had no idea who these people were. I’ve never even seen the show. I watched one season of Survivor and that was the Australian version 8 years and 16 seasons ago. Go figure that one out. Anyway, Since I don’t pay attention, but like participating in a little competitive office pool, I had no idea if either of my survivors were even still on the show. So, I checked out my trusted source, Wikipedia. Apparently, both are still in it…not for a lack of head scratching with their tables displaying voting patterns, elimination records, and what not. Stranger yet, Taj had her name hyperlinked. I clicked on it and was surprised to find what most of America already knew, she’s famous outside of the show. She’s not only a former member of the musical group SWV, but married to Eddie George. Granted she’s not the first contestant with ties to the NFL. Gary Hogeboom was a contestant in Guatemala and hoped nobody would recognize him from his days as Roger Staubach’s backup.

So, this all begs the question. Why would the wife of a multimillion dollar NFL player compete for a paltry one million before taxes? Ok, how about this. Candace Smith, who got voted out early was a pageant winner, Barker Beauty, and actress, appearing on Entourage, Joey, and a small role in Beerfest where she has sex with a guy who is so drunk he sees her instead of the real woman he picks up from the bar until the next morning. While, Smith may not have the same bank account as Taj, she can’t be doing that bad. After all, she passed the Bar exam before deciding to become an actress. My parents would have killed me. At least, I never took the bar.

A friend and follower of the blog made the comment that this isn’t the first time an actress has been on Reality TV. The Amazing Race just had an actor as a contestant recently, and who can forget Jerri Matheny from Survivor Outback? Their comment was perhaps this is a trend. After chuckling a lot at that, I thought, maybe it’s a symptom. Perhaps wannabe actors are forgoing the traditional route of living out of their car and waiting tables with their head shot and resume tucked into their guest check folder. Maybe they are migrating to Reality Television since scripted shows seem to be on the decline. Although, cable is where it’s at lately. My hope is that this horrible experiment in cheap, repeatable television is almost over. Let’s hope that this was all a symptom of the former administration which made most of America feel less intelligent. Maybe the new sheriff can instill some intellectual pride among us and push us to require better standards from our idiot box. Of course, some will say that his version of Reality Television will have the winners giving some of their winnings to everyone else. To each his own. Me, I'd rather wait until I hit it big, then I'll go audition for a reality show when my 15 minutes are almost up. That's how I aim to survive.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Zombey Road

Since the first day I opened the M.A.M.S shop on CafePress, I’ve been trying to figure out how to capitalize on my region’s affinity for zombies and zombie culture. The most famous films shot in the area are of course, Night of the Living Dead and Dawn of the Dead. While, Land of the Dead was set in Pittsburgh, the film was shot in Canada. Kevin Smith even filmed, Zack & Miri Make a Porno in Pittsburgh, complete with fictional hockey team, The Monroeville Zombies, in the movie. Me, I am a cinemaniac and have an affinity for human brains….kidding. So, of course, I have a section dedicated to Zombie Ware on my Caf├ęPress store. As of right now, there are only four designs. The Zombie Food Pyramid, Moods of the Living Dead, Brains!, and my newest design, Zombey Road. This last design was a labor of love as it took five minutes to conceive and two months to actually design.

The basis for Zombey Road is simple. I mixed Abbey Road with walking zombies. Simple, right? Not on your life. I did everything I could to make it work. Suddenly, it all became clear. Silhouette it! Then the features would be easy to hide among the shadows. Not to mention, there’s a great contrast of the bright crosswalk strips from the famous Abbey Road intersection to the black shuffling shapes moving across the street in search of their prey, which in this case, would be John Lennon. Ironic, as he was the first Beatle to die and here the position in which he held on the album cover, first, is the only human left….or is it?

In any case, since I like to double up my efforts, I need a dark shirt design as well which also presented another problem. How do I break up the lines between the legs of the zombies and those famous crosswalk strips? Again, it was easy. I needed to retain the white lines, so I made them an outline. For the inverted design that would appear on the dark shirts, I decided that I had to, again, keep the white stripes and erased an outline around the legs and feet, giving the zombies, the familiar gait of the Beatles.

After fiddling around with different design styles for two months, I finally nailed it this weekend. I think it came out rather well. In all, it took me two hours of zoomed in erasing to finish up the images. They went up on Easter Sunday and no the irony is not lost on me. After all, Jesus is patient zero in zombie popular culture, right? Of course, my customers, as few as they are, will be the judge, jury, and executioner on this. I’ll either be praised or crucified.

Monday, April 13, 2009

End Of Transmission

I’m sitting here at a McDonald’s located inside a Wal Mart, wrapped around an enigma. Now, you might say, “What moron brings a laptop to Wal Mart to write a blog post?” The kind that has let his oil change go way over due and has to sit and wait forever for them to get stains all over my upholstery and overcharge him for the service. Yeah, it’s like $25 for a basic oil change, now. I remember when the high end service was $18. Also, they don’t overhead page which sends me to the bullpen of expectant car owners waiting for them to call them. Finally, they removed the garbage cans from around the door. I had a lot of empty water bottles to add to the crack pipes and heroin needles usually found in the overflowing garbage can. But that’s not what this post is about. No. No.

I need a new car…another one. You see, the Malibu Maxx, which is getting violated by the grease monkey with long bearded and wool cap with the tassels hanging down like a Hasidic Hippie, is running fine. It’s my other car that has shit the bed. It’s a 99 Sunfire with about 70,000 miles on it. It’s an R-Title that I picked up from my wife’s grandmother. It’s paid for and has already lost air conditioning, the radio knob, and a considerable amount of paint on the passenger’s side front quarter panel. It’s the one that I just dropped $500 on getting new brakes, a brake line, tires, and rotors. It’s also the one that has had a transmission rebuilt on it in 2002. Well, guess what just went?

I was actually having a great day. Work was going well. I was feeling accomplished. I was heading home to play with my daughter, do some shirts for my CafePress store and maybe fit in a little Wii before dinner. I was coming up my hill and something happened. Next thing I know, the RPMs went up and the speedometer went down. That’s never a good sign when you’re in gear on a steep hill. I managed to stick it in neutral and drift back into a driveway. Then after generally cursing everything around me, I called my wife, who was teaching piano at the time and she sent her Father down to retrieve me. I was 50 feet from my driveway. How much does that suck? I couldn’t leave it where it was, so I turned the wheels and let gravity drag me down the hill. In all my cursing, I managed to thank the heavens for Isaac Newton. I maneuvered the car into a parking lot which doesn’t allow overnight parking and explained my case to the owners.

I called the father of one my wife’s students who happens to work at a garage and has done some side work for me in the past. He towed the car to the house and it’s now sitting in my driveway while I figure out my next move. Being a holiday weekend, it’s hard to get anything accomplished. I tried putting some transmission fluid in but that didn’t seem to help. I’ve noticed that the tranny was slipping but thought it was just merely age. Now, I have until Tuesday to figure something out because my wife needs a car for work.

They say that now is the best time to buy a car. There are deals out the wazoo and dealers are looking to move inventory. I still have to pay off the Malibu, which is probably yelping as I write, poor thing. I say the best time to buy a car is when you don’t need one. There’s no pressure to buy. There’s no sense of urgency to make a deal and usually when you need to make a huge purchase, everything else comes crashing down around you forcing you into further debt. The law of averages always dictates that whatever can go wrong, will go wrong, and all at once.

My Mother-in-Law just got over brain surgery and as a reward; we are taking her and my Father-in-Law to the Outer Banks their other daughter’s wedding this June. I’ve sunk a lot of money into that. I also just spent $500 of other people’s money on a Wii. I could have used that back. I can only imagine what the rest of April and May hold in store for me and my family. The last thing we need is for a pet to die….oh wait, that happened to my Sister-in-Law over the weekend. I’m liable to buy a car and my air conditioning or furnace may blow up.

Which brings me back to my point, now is the best time for someone to buy a car that doesn’t need it. I remember the last time I bought a car. The head gasket on my 97 Cavalier went in 05 and we needed to replace that car. We knew we were going to be starting a family and planned for that by purchasing a Malibu Maxx wagon during that whole employee pricing bonanza that happened a few years back. Even with the employee pricing we couldn’t get our payment down under $200 a month. I think we were at $207 or something. I’ll never forget it. It was close to nine in the evening and when the salesman gave us that number; my wife looked at him and said, “Nope.” He was shocked. “You’re going to walk away over $10?” She said, “Yeah.” She’s the bad cop. It’s a good thing. He came back with less than $200 and with our GM card rewards we managed to knock it a few dollars more to $193. The poor guy was twitching when we drove off the lot. Still, I felt sad saying goodbye to my Cavalier. That thing got me through a lot of good times and bad over the seven years. I still miss it in some ways.

With this Sunfire, it’s a different story. I’ve always had a small amount of dislike for Pontiacs. My first car was an 84 Firebird with flip up headlights. I loved that car. For a 17 year old, it was awesome to have this Mullet Mobile to drive around. Then the transmission went out, oddly enough on the hill up to my parents’ house. Then, the electrical system went haywire and I had to constantly switch fuses around to get things to work. I could either have wipers or memory on my radio, interior lights or a horn. I remember being at a Softball game with my high school girlfriend and getting caught in a torrential downpour. There I was, dripping wet, hanging upside down under the dash in the bucket seat flipping fuses around to get wipers. Finally, some guy hit me in a parking lot and put a crease in one of the headlights. Now, all my car could do is wink. I tried to honk the horn and warn him but I didn’t have the correct configuration of fuses for that act. So, the fact that 15 years later, another Pontiac is giving me trouble doesn’t make me want to feel heartbroken when I drive away from it for the last time.

Well, I imagine my car is done and I would have liked to post this from the McDonald’s but I have no Internet access. It’s not Starbucks or Panera, I guess. Maybe, by the time this hits the blog, I will be in a new or used car. But, with my luck, I’m sure I won’t. It’s a holiday weekend and I don’t take chances with the holidays. I’ll wait until next week when the dust has settled.

Friday, April 10, 2009


Vanity plates are the ultimate sign of driver individuality. Yes, bumper stickers can capture an idea and display it for the world to see on a 10x3 piece of paper but vanity plates are registered with the proper authorities. Sometimes, even the most innocent of letter combinations are deemed offensive by the DMV.

Apparently, the Colorado DMV has a thing against vegans. A 38 year old mother wanted to show off her love of TOFU by registering the vanity plate, ILVTOFU. Unfortunately, the DMV considers the letters F and U together to be bad form. In other words, the plate looks like it reads I love to F&$# U or FU as an abbreviation for sex. In her defense, she says her whole family LVTOFO. So, we're either dealing with sick bastards or people who people who like sex. Yes, go ahead and read that sentence again, I'll wait. I'm of course being sarcastic. I understand the idea that people may be against eating meat.

That is, if they aren't being vegan to be trendy. If you don't like meat for the taste, that's fine. If you don't like meat because of the treatment of animals, that's fine, too. But if you don't eat meat because meat is murder or because you won't eat anything with a face, then I say, get over yourself. I don't know how many times I've had someone say to me, "Meat is murder," and then they stomp their leather shoed foot to emphasize their disgust at me with a Whopper hanging out of my mouth. Does not a potato have eyes? Does not a corn have ears? Just because vegetables don't have a mouth doesn't mean a carrot doesn't scream when you yank it by the hair from the ground and peel its skin from its body. Then you drown it in dip and eat it piece by piece. Oh, the horror.

Look, I am a meat eater. My father grew up on a farm and he raises cattle, still. Every so often, he goes out and says...."Mmmmmm that one!" Now, while I love beef, I will not do that, myself. I don't go to the Red Lobster and say, "Take off the rubber bands, I'm going in." I go to the store, where the beef is already processed, or to a fast food restaurant, where the food is possibly devoid of meat, all together. In any case, I don't do the killing, I just do the grilling. I don't get caught up on the politics of chicken rights, I just love me some wings in sauce. Could that chicken have been kept with five other chickens in one cage under horrible conditions? It's possible. But I didn't kill it and I didn't ask anyone to. I just went to the store and picked up the package. If I didn't, someone else will.

Now, I love animals, especially on bread.....kidding. I have four cats and every time I have Chinese food they look at me a little weird. Seriously, though, I could never personally harm an animal. I have rescued countless dogs and cats and got them new homes or returned them to their owners. To know that in some places, animals being raised for food are kept in horrible conditions and suffer greatly for the almighty dollar is despicable. But once it's at the store, the story is over. Just because I boycott a place of business like KFC or wherever, doesn't mean they'll go out of business. It just means I won't eat their chicken. You can't stop evil corporations at the end of the product life cycle. If you want to nail them for bad behavior, nail them at the top before the chicken does the one legged shuffle off to Buffalo.

And me, I will continue my fight against the all oppressive Department of Motor Vehicles by selling out and capitalizing on someone's 15 minutes, by making a shirt and selling it. That's right. This isn't a rant, it's a marketing opportunity. Now you can get the banned plate on a shirt or a bumper sticker. Here's the Colorado version.

And soon, they'll be more, like my home state of Pa.

So, I guess I'm a meat eater, and a blood sucker. Well, that's just fine by me.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

The Curious Case Of Teddy Ruxpin

"It was the best of times, it was the worst of times."

As a child I found myself playing with toys of a more adult nature. Meaning that, as a toddler, I played with LEGOS that were rated at a higher age level that I was. Get your head out of the gutter. My brother had toys that he ultimately had torn down and re-engineered to work faster or do different things. And, in any situation, the packaging for a toy sometimes provided more entertainment than the prize inside.

Most of the time, I played with toys that were previously bought for one of my siblings and did not have a lot of toys bought specifically for me. Probably the first "new" toys I ever received were Kenner Star Wars action figures. Of course, had I been any kind of collecting genius, I would have never opened those cardboard backed, plastic sarcophagi allowing my retirement millions to be sealed in for freshness. When buying a car, they say that it depreciates by about 20% as soon as you drive it off the lot. In the case of Star Wars action figures, it’s similar in that the first thing that happens when you open the packaging is that you lose the little plastic weapons. The next thing that disappears is any removable clothes, such as capes. There’s your 20% right there. Yes, looking back, I think I would have asked for two of every action figure I was bought. One for me and one for the vault.

As I grew older, the toys I had as a young child had sustained my need for escapism from the everyday doldrums of basic cable. However, somewhere just before the middle of the 80's there was a significant change in toy designs starting around the age of eight. Soon, I went from playing with toys rated at a higher age than myself to being jealous of the ones I had missed out on as a kid. By 1983, I had already outgrown my Spider-Man Big Wheel and had moved on to a black Huffy with the bread loaf ribbed seat cushion and a new mode of transportation had arrived for the under seven crowd, the Power Wheel. Think of it, a motorized miniature car that held up to two passengers and required no exertion of energy. I was flabbergasted. How could technology betray me like this? For the last two years I was relying on manual operation of these pedal based devices that in my mind were not built with gender in mind. I mean come on, you give boys, the design that has the metal bar running between their legs while the girl version has none. Have you ever slipped off your pedals and fallen onto that bar? All this time I could have been speeding along at the speed of 2.5 mph down to my best friend’s house. He only lived a quarter mile away. I could have been there in just under ten minutes. Of course, I would have needed a fresh battery for the return trip as it was uphill the whole way. Seeing as how we had to be home before the street lights came on, I’d have to plan on leaving in advance of dusk, but still, why do people take the bus to work? It takes longer to get there but they don’t have to do any of the work.

While most people will tell you they were born too late, sometimes I wonder if I had been born too early. As I got older, the toys became more advanced and kids really were spoiled by the technological wonders as were parents. As a parent, I am not really dreading the time when I will have to read my child a bedtime story in order to get her to sleep. As an actor and general performer, I will probably take great pride in doing different voices and who knows, I may just spice up the story a little. Maybe Goldilocks is addicted to smack and is crashing out during a B&E at the Three Bears house much like Robert Downey Jr. did back in the day. Either way, I would relish in the undertaking. However, growing up, I had to read my own books and how cool would it have been to have been young enough to enjoy Teddy Ruxpin. I was rather jealous of the demographic that he was aimed at and thought it would have been a neat marketing move to have Teddy read other literary works like the ones I was forced to read in school. Just think he collective works of Shakespeare or Tolstoy, read aloud by a talking bear, but only in the voice of James Earl Jones or Patrick Stewart. I don’t think I could stand to hear Hamlet being done by a cartoon bear voice. You can’t capture the angst and melancholy nature of the Great Dane that way. Again, a plethora of batteries would be needed in the case of that idea.

Well into my young adult years kids’ toys continued to advance, making me wish more and more to be a kid again. My friends and I burned late afternoon oil simulating war games behind my house on the grounds of our elementary school. I was nearly old enough to drive and here I was crouched down in a set of bushes with a fake gun looking out for another kid. I’d pop up, unsuspecting, yelling “Bang” or making some other fake gun sound as I shook my hand violently in his direction. After the slow motion carnage subsided I declared in the most whiny of voices, “You’re dead! I got you!” Yes, war is hell, but we relied on the honor system. If you could prove that you shot your friend, usually based on a surprise attack, they had to sit out until the next round. The more physically fit and adventurous kids would climb up onto the roof of the school and hunker down among the discarded tennis balls and kick balls and the few wayward Frisbees and play sniper. They say you never hear the bullet that gets you and in this case, you never felt or saw it, either. Yet, for all our imagination and creativity, there was new toys hitting the market like Lazer Tag and Photon that offered high tech warfare with better accountability. Once I followed around a group of outsiders that staged a battle on our school grounds using Lazer Tag. I kept close to them like a war correspondence reporter watching intently as they stalked their prey. I was so jealous. The next year we decided to upgrade our arsenal to make it more interesting. We didn’t get any new-fangled toys to aid out campaigns. We started using bottle rockets, firecrackers, and roman candles. We still miss poor Jason.

I’m kidding about that last part.

As I graduated from high school and moved onto higher learning, it was time to put away childish things. That was until my dorm roommates came home from the grocery store with a set of suction cup dart guns they found in the bargain bin. We reverted to children and formed our own gang, 8 KROW. We were wannabe gangstas hunting each other down with our plastic gats. The dorm was riddled with saliva stained dart marks along most of the smooth surfaces. We chased one another from our hideout, down the outer hallways, to a neighboring dorm room full of girls. Our blood feud spilled into their bedrooms as innocent coeds were caught in the crossfire. Granted, had this occurred later than 1993, and perhaps not at a location as secluded as the college I was attending at the time, there might have been some campus security involvement and we would have been arrested for carrying guns, albeit a fake green one with orange rubber bullets that stick to walls. Still, we would have seen it as 5-0 trying to get at us and would have probably launched an assault of darts at him in the process. This had to be a sociological phenomenon. Here I was getting older, hurtling headlong into adulthood and I’m chasing around other people like a little kid, giggling all the way.

Now, almost midway into my thirties, I have neither the body nor the free time to endure such frivolous escapades with children’s toys. I spend most of my time lamenting over sticking batteries into my daughter’s ear piercing and annoyingly repetitive gadgets for the three and up crowd. She follows my wife around while she vacuums, Mommy with her Oreck and baby with her little dirt devil toy vac with a detachable hand vac. There is a stockpile on the back porch of unopened toys waiting to get into the rotation. Yet, while I don’t have the time to run off with my dwindling pack of friends to engage in a fake battle or gang initiation, I do find the time to have the occasional tea party and often, you’ll find me doing the lion’s share of the coloring when we are in a restaurant and I’m keeping the little one placated until her noodles arrive. My regression into childhood is now complete. And in a few years I will be reading Green Eggs and Ham to her and doing the role of Sam in some exaggerated and silly voice. Although, I might crash out and falling asleep before she does, I don’t want to keep her in suspense as to how the story ends. If only there was some kind of toy that could do the job for me…..hmmm. I wonder how Anthony Hopkins feels about doing a vocal recording of One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish?

Friday, April 3, 2009

Cult of Wessonality

Politics is a slippery slope. You grease the wheels for months, garnering support for your cause, and when you get a hold of the brass ring people expect results. I’m not even talking about the ones who paid for it. I’m speaking of us, the general public who made the call. Unfortunately, instead of being patient while plans are set in motion, we’re looking for instant gratification and so is the ticker on Wall Street.

The economy is in the outhouse and most of America is in the poorhouse. Well, not everyone. The tenet of “He who dies with the most toys wins” is alive and well in America. In recent weeks, there has been more fingers of shame pointed at bad behavior then ever were, domestically, in the past few years. To equate to an office environment, the Obama administration is calling everyone into the break room and informing us all that we are all required to work more efficiently and cut down on expenditures. Usually, the boss wouldn’t name names in public. He’d address the group as a whole allowing the guilty parties some anonymity in order to change their actions but folks from AIG to GM are still thinking that the Administration is talking about someone else and continue to do business as usual. Finally, Obama had enough and publicly called out AIG for its bonus scandal and also asked Rick Wagoner to step down as CEO of GM. Both of which have had polarizing effects on the public and the economy.

Then the question arises, should Obama have done it? Is this positive movement towards that ‘change’ thing he spoke of for months prior to the election? In a word, yes. There are those who think that it’s not the job of the White House to make these requests. However, who’s job is it? It’s obvious that the reason we are in this mess is because no one bothered to watch the trends. It’s not just the fault of the previous administration, but it’s their fault that is wasn’t stopped sooner. The fact remains that this is a country of the people, for the people, and by the people and we have every right to question what we think is wrong, whether you are for the current administration or against it. Either way, we gave the administration the right to cover our asses.

When we elect an official to put our best interests forward, we give him/her the power to speak and act on our behalf. When that entails our tax money being used to bail out troubled corporations, whether they deserve it or not, the official exercises, by proxy, our wishes. Therefore, we and the elected official acquire the ability to make that call. Now, the President can ask for the resignation of Rick Wagoner, but it was up to the board of GM to approve it. There is the rub. Everybody talks about how this is the first step towards Socialism when all it is calling out someone for farting in the car. As long as you ignore the problem, Stinky McGee will keep letting them rip.

Then there’s the case of Bank of America wanting to spend TARP money on sponsorships for sports deals. Well that’s just great. We just gave Jack our only cow to sell and he came back with magic beans. It’s like giving someone money to pay off their debts and instead of doing just that, they turn around and try to double it at the craps table. I didn’t spend my stimulus check or tax refund on scratch and win tickets. I paid off some debt and bought some items for the home. I stimulated the economy.

Maybe we’re asking for too much here. Maybe bailing out these big companies was a bad idea. We hoped that by shoring up their assets, they’d help grease the frozen wheels on the economy and get it going forward. Instead of doing that, perhaps a better message to them would have been to reap what they sowed. Of course, letting them fail would have been the first domino in a huge That’s Incredible display that would have made things worse. Yet, everyone was so quick to get the TARP money out to stop the bleeding that nobody bothered to make sure that we were stitching up the wounds and not just putting a band aid on it. There should have been some provisions on how the money was spent. Grants given with some language attached that specified the purpose of the money. Instead we gave Joe, the copy room guy, an expense account and sent him to Vegas for a conference. Now, AP is looking over Joe’s expense report and asking, “What the hell is this $500 charge for special services?”

Here in Pittsburgh, we faced a similar situation. The city was given a grant in the neighborhood of $400 million dollars, to construct a tunnel from the main part of the city to the North Side. The purpose was connecting downtown with the main sporting areas and a new casino that is being built near them. In a time when the city was in jeopardy of losing a major hockey franchise, needed a new arena constructed for sporting and other events, and also needed major overhauls to the transportation system and road infrastructure, it seemed silly and irresponsible to spend that kind of money on an underwater tunnel for an underused light rail system. Yet, that is what the money was allocated for by its donors. We didn’t have a choice. We either had to use it or lose it. So, drilling and construction began on what is called the North Shore Connector.

Now, there is talk that it may not be completed because of a ballooning budget due to materials and the poor economy. Still, the money, given to the city, was specified for a certain project. Not like the drink tax or Onorato tax, as we like to call it, which give the city the ability to add a 10% tax to alcoholic beverages in order to pay for the Port Authority’s budgetary expenses. When the final tabulation was made at the end of its first year, there was a huge surplus beyond what was forecast. Instead of using that money for its intended purpose, Onorato wanted to spend the money on other projects like bridges and roadways. This was met with huge amounts of criticism because the opinion of instituting this tax in the first place was a major point of contention with residents who were then threatened with the idea that if they don’t pay the drink tax, property taxes have to go up. Let’s say the shoe was on the other foot and the Bar and Restaurant Owners Association was hurting for money. If the Port Authority had added a tax increase on transit fares to help them out, which they would never do, and the Bar and Restaurant Owners Association decided to use that money for other expenses instead of their budgets and payrolls, there would have been a major uproar over the issue.

Now, in the case of public opinion over the economy, we need to either be a little more patient and make more concessions. This was my biggest fear when Obama was elected. Not ‘what’ he would do, but how we would perceive it. We believed in change, yet we want someone else to do all the work. We need to take a little more responsibility for making things happen. That goes for unions, CEO’s, and everyday Americans. Our short attention span approval ratings need to get a reality check and we better start realizing that we need to be the force behind change. The coach can call the plays. He can design them, inspire us with a rousing “Gipper” speech, and give us all the tools for success, but ultimately, we have to go out on the field and win the game. For once, in a long time, there has been no glossy film put upon a Presidential Administration. We got what we asked for and there’s been no attempts to hide any actions. It’s just time for us to grease the wheels a little bit on our own and make the country go a little smoother. Thing is, we all have to give it a little push.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Where Have You Gone, Sam Malone?

It’s not that often that my wife will engage in a philosophical discussion about television with me. After all, she is on the board of trustees to the “I Married a Pop Cult Dork” corporation. However, we both do have some mutual favorite shows amidst the sea of crap that has proliferated the airwaves. Our top favorite is Supernatural followed by LOST, Chuck,Bones, Family Guy, and the new Captain Tight Pants (aka Nathan Fillion) series, Castle. Older shows that still clutter my DVR like Desperate Housewives and Grey’s Anatomy have slowly degraded in quality or we just don’t have time to watch them. In any case, it was during one of these shows that we truly enjoy that my wife asked the question, “Compared to 20 years ago, does television suck more now?

I actually did a double take. Did she know she was opening up Pandora’s Cable Box? Was she serious? Does she actually want to have this conversation? Then I thought about it. The answer wasn’t as easy as I thought. Did 80’s television shows provide more quality entertainment than today’s lineup? Wow. It was the equivalent to the sound of a one handed, live studio audience member clapping.

I traced my brain for information. I liken my retention of Pop Culture trivia to that of the warehouse from Raiders of the Lost Ark. Somewhere near the recollection of an argument I had about old Charles in Charge with Beans Baxter versus the new Charles in Charge with Josie “I grew up even more smoking hot than Nicole Eggert” Davis and a similar argument between Old Baywatch and New Baywatch, I found it. The lineup of the original shows I used to adore. Let’s see…and remember, for most of these I was under the age of ten and watched them during their initial run…there was St. Elsewhere, Hill Street Blues, Cheers, M*A*S*H, The Cosby Show, Night Court, Growing Pains (Pre Leo DiCaprio), Hart to Hart, The A-Team, Miami Vice, Different World, Knight Rider, MacGyver, and Family Ties (pre Brian Bonsall). I’m sure there are plenty of others but we can only do so much with the time we are given here at M.A.M.S. Anyway, I looked at that list and compared it to today’s shows. After the third CSI and Law & Order, I gave up. My wife may be on to something here. And let it be noted that two of those 80’s shows exist today, Knight Rider and MacGyver….oh wait, I mean MacGruber.

Taking a closer look, I can remember each one of those shows complete with specific moments burned into my hippocampus. There was Uncle Ned’s alcohol addiction on Family Ties that had me wondering what Vanilla Extract really tasted like. Was Crockett ever going to remember who he really was? I drooled over Teri Hatcher before she ever became a Desperate Housewife and was merely Penny Parker, the singing sensation of Cleo Rocks on MacGyver. There was even a brief series called Otherworld that made Battlestar Galactica’s mythology look like Clash of the Titans. Yet, were these shows really quality entertainment or were they merely a Play-Doh fun factory of processed cheese positioned directly above our brains?

I guess it is really a matter of opinion. Today, reality shows and other non scripted shows clutter up the airwaves. For every Survivor (The First Season) there are ten clones like Pirate Master. The odd thing about these shows that they’ve been on television less than 10 years yet boast more than 10 seasons (Survivor is on like 18.) I think there should be some sort of disqualification right then and there. Yet, for all its time travelling, mind screw job mythology, and unanswered questions, LOST is perhaps the best written show on regular television. Compared to 20 years ago, anything is bound to sound cheesy. The music was kitsch, the plotlines were transparent and wrapped up inside a standard episode time frame. Yet, it seemed as if the shows, and more importantly, the decade lasted much longer than it really did. Now, unlike my wife, I never watched shows like Dynasty and Falcon Crest which did run nearly the length of the 80’s, but the difference is that she saw them in syndication. I’m old enough to have seen almost every episode of M*A*S*H* in its first run, including the series finale when it originally aired.

The amount of really good TV vs. on par entertainment was maybe a ratio of 1:3. But there were sitcoms and dark dramas. Not like today where there’s maybe a handful of actual good sitcoms, five cop shows, two medical dramas, and 16 reality competition shows. Now, there was a few non scripted shows. We had Real People and That’s Incredible…I remember getting a Domino Rally set when I was a kid with a contraption that set the dominoes up for you as you pushed it along. The dominoes were so cheap and flimsy that they fell over once they emerged from the chute. My dreams of setting up an intricate and complex arrangement of dominoes like the one done underwater were shattered as every injected molded domino floated off the bottom of the tub.

Today, most shows last two or three seasons before they turn to crap like Grey’s Anatomy has. The Simpsons is a big exception. ER is another exception but I got tired of watching after Dr. Green died and every episode was marketed as “The biggest shocker” or “You won’t believe what happens” each week. But is there any original cast members left? The last episode I remember watching was when Noah Wylie’s character had a drug problem. Now we have crazy, wacked out doctors having sex with imaginary dead boyfriends. So, maybe the quality has dropped. But then again, the 80’s gave us a pre HIMYM NPH as Doogie Howser, MD, which inspired many kids my age to take up writing our deepest thoughts and dreams on a personal computer, while listening to pre-recorded synth pop melodies on a Casio keyboard in the backgrounds of our bedroom. Kids today are probably still trying to figure out what the hell Neil Patrick Harris was doing in that skit from Saturday Night Live playing the keyboard.

Back in the 80's, we had William Katt in spandex flailing around the sky in The Greatest American Hero. Today, we have William Katt being frozen on Heroes. Trying to become relevant again are we Kring? In my opinion, and yes I will write each and every word of that phrase out, the problem with those lightning in a bottle shows like Heroes and LOST is that they get created by some genius who then turns the show over to a group of other people to produce because they’re off trying to create a new franchise on which to reinvent the wheel using parts already found on their previous shows. The exception is LOST which found its footing again when they came up with an exit strategy after the disastrous Nikki and Paulo season. In all honesty, that really saved the show. Now, instead of trying to give the audience little carrots every season while creating new mysteries to keep the show going, they can plot out the ending and work backwards to logically solve all the riddles built up from day one. See George Lucas’ folly with the prequel Star Wars trilogy. He wanted to tell the story of how Darth Vader grew up from innocent and cute slave boy to bad ass cyborg who force choked his way to the top of the Empire Career Ladder. When you spend an entire movie setting up the kid as a lovable scamp and the chess pieces for the Clone Wars, you end up having to cram 20 years of mythology into two movies to advance the story up until the birth of Luke and Leia. There’s just too much story.

Boy have I digressed. In the end everything ends up being about Star Wars. So, wrapping this whole nonsensical diatribe up, my wife was right in a sense. Television shows in the 80’s were better for the entertainment. I think the writing and plot design has come a long way from being able to make an Ultra Light out of a cement mixer, fan blade, and garbage bags but, for the money, you can’t get better than shows about android little girls whose delivery of lines are Emmy worthy compared to that of Patricia Arquette on Medium. Now, if you’ll excuse me I have go into my brain and check on the examination being conducted to find out which show had the more special “very special episode,” Mr. Belvedere’s episode entitled Wesley’s Friend where Wesley’s friend Danny contracts AIDS through blood transfusion like Ryan White or Different Strokes’ episode entitled The Bicycle Man where Arnold ditches Dudley with Gordon Jump the molester complete with Jesus Juice. Who is conducting the research on this? We have top men working on it now. Top. men.

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