Tuesday, March 29

Baseball

I am a baseball fan. Not a George Will "the entire progress of Western civilization can be explained by singles, doubles, and triples" kind of fan, but I like the game and am looking forward to the upcoming season.

Am I the only one who thinks steroids have made recent home run records meaningless? The fact that modern players can break - no, destroy - long-held records makes a mockery of those very records. If a golfer suddenly started driving the ball 500 yards or a quarterback started throwing 95-yard passes someone would be suspicious. Yet when Mark McGwire hit nine more home runs (70) in 1998 than Roger Maris (61) did in 1961, no one said a thing. It took Maris 34 years to hit one more homer than Babe Ruth did in 1927, then it took McGwire 37 years to break Maris' record. You would think such a substantial increase in a record like that would stand for decades. Yet it only took Barry bonds 3 years to break McGuire’s record with 73.

When Maris broke Ruth's record it wasn't allow to stand on it's own because, it was said, Ruth’s season was 154 games and Maris' was 162, even though Maris only had 7 more plate appearances than Ruth did. Not much of a difference, yet Maris' achievement was belittled and added to the record book with an asterisk.

It seems to me that records set under the influence of performance enhancing drugs should also be in the record book with some additional punctuation. Not an asterisk, though. That's been taken.

How about a question mark?

Oh, and by the way, there would definitely be more triples in Major League Baseball if the Youth of America hadn't been corrupted by the welfare state.

Monday, March 28

Retro Pop Quiz II

Can you identify the medium and author of this quote?

"We have met the enemy and he is us."

Friday, March 25

Water

For years Americans have had to suffer through water restrictions because of drought conditions in various parts of the country. But with record rain and snowfall in the last few years I look forward to a summer of gratuitous water use. I think it is only fair that citizens now be required to waste water for a while.

  • Instead of SAVE WATER signs everywhere, how about some USE WATER signs.
  • Every time you flush your toilet you should also have to wash your car and water your lawn.
  • Wash your socks one at a time.
  • Minimum shower time: 30 minutes.
  • Top off the swimming pool often.
  • And let’s see Al Roker floating around some reservoir somewhere saying, “Yep, it’s pretty full.”

Thursday, March 24

Post Office

It was 9:00 AM when I got to the post office and there were only 6 people waiting. I got in line before noticing that of the 12 possible windows only one had a clerk behind it. She was in deep conversation with a woman who, I gather, was trying to send a package overseas and needed some detailed advice.

As we stood there, not moving, eight or nine other people joined the line, each alternating between looking at their watches and looking at the clerk.

“Hey”, shouted the small, thin man at the head of the line, “how about opening up some windows?”

“You”, shouted the clerk. “I know you. You’re always making trouble. If you don’t like it, get out. Go somewhere else.”

“Yeah”, I muttered. “You can always use that other Postal Service. And while you’re at it try the other DMV. You know, the one with good service.”

I myself had once tried to find an alternative to the Post Office after a particularly vexing experience made me vow to NEVER SET FOOT IN THAT PLACE AGAIN. Proudly, independently, I marched to The UPS Store with a Christmas package to be sent across the country. Smugly I strode up to the counter and handed the clerk my parcel. No waiting for me, I thought as he put it on the scale. I had beaten them. I had won.

“That’ll be $18.75”, said the clerk.

“What?”, I cried. That was almost as much as the gift had cost. “It doesn’t have to go air mail…”

“Everything here goes ‘air mail’, mister”, he mocked.

Here was a dilemma. I had already not stood in line. I had already beaten the Post Office. I had already won. Did that mean I owed this guy some allegiance? More importantly, did that mean I owed him $18.75?

Ultimately I took my package back to the Post Office where, after a 45-minute wait, I sent it off for $3.95. It cost me 45 minutes but saved me $14.80. For those 45 minutes I was making the equivalent of almost $20 an hour.

I bet that’s more than they make at the Post Office or The UPS Store.

I had beaten them. I had won.

Wednesday, March 23

Westworld

Whenever I see a move made before the discovery of Microsoft I’m amazed at what passed for futuristic technology in the olden days.

For example I was watching Westworld (made in 1973) on Channel 55 last night. The movie is about an Old West style amusement park populated by realistically human robots. If you’ve ever been to Disney World think Hall of Presidents with six-guns.

Behind the scenes there is a computer center that controls all the robots, robots so realistic you can’t tell them from real humans (“…except the hands. They haven’t perfected the hands”). This control center is equipped with monochrome terminals that look like Etch A Sketch prototypes, magnetic tape drives spinning back and forth, and lots of flashing lights. I’ve spent some time around computers and I’ve never seen one that lit up like a Christmas tree the way movie computers do.

I remember seeing this movie when it came out and thinking how advanced everything looked. Now I realize that my laptop has more advanced technology than Westworld could ever hope for.

In the end the robots start attacking the tourists after some internal glitch gets into the computer. The scientists are incredulous that something “…almost like an infection…” could spread from computer to computer, anonymously and seemingly on it’s own.

Of course something that diabolical could never really happen.

Tuesday, March 22

Fire alarms

They were testing the fire alarms the other day at work. A vaguely Middle-Eastern voice on the PA announced that we should ignore any and all alarms for the afternoon. Osama bin Laden on the fire brigade? I hope not.

The problem with fire drills is the more you have them the less effective they are. Whenever the fire alarm goes off on my floor no one leaps up and heads for the door. We all wait for the “ignore any and all alarms” announcement.

When I was a kid my school held fire drills at least once a month. There was no “ignore any and all alarms” in those days. There were only anxious teachers hustling 7-to-12 year olds out to the playground to stand in neat rows and (hopefully, some of us thought) watch the school burn down.

Of course, no fire drill can hold a candle (no pun, no pun) to the atomic bomb attack drill during which we were told to hide under our desks. Now that’s something that will keep you up at night. I remember lying in my bed and hearing the sound of an airplane flying overhead, wondering if this was the Russian bomber sent to destroy my way of life, and if I would have time to get down to the school to hide under my desk.

The school never burned down, the Russian bomber never came, I grew up, and I remember thanking God my kids wouldn’t have to grow up with that kind of fear.

Then came 9/11.

Friday, March 18

Germans on the train

This morning I somehow got on a subway car full of Germans. First I noticed a young man and young woman holding an animated conversation in German. He was reading from a tabloid and translating to her (“Das Jacksonmichael ist ein kiddentoucher”). Then from across the aisle another young man joined in and from halfway down the car I heard a shouted response, all in German. Soon there we a dozen 20-something men and women Sprechen Sie Deutsches all over the car.

When the train was held between station with an “unavoidable delay” I thought “Schtoppen Trainen” (I may have muttered it out loud – I did get some odd looks).

As we pulled into the next station the doors opened and, I swear, accordion music was playing some Danube-esque air. It was as if I had been transported back to Berlin on that day Greta and I rode the U-Bahn to the Gesellschaft GrĂ¼n…Okay, I’ve never been to Berlin, but it was still an odd experience.

As we got to Grand Central and the Germans boisterously spilled out of the train I was tempted to shout out “Auf Wiedersehen” but resisted (I think I resisted. I may have muttered again.) I hope they enjoy their time in New York. They made my morning interesting.

Thursday, March 17

Recycling

I have to confess that, although I’ve had several girl friends (and a few wives) who were very committed to recycling, I myself have always hated it. Maybe it’s just not a guy thing.

I know in theory it’s a beneficial endeavor, helping the environment and all, but I just can’t believe that putting the used Chinese food container in the blue bag will help improve anyone’s life. And the other day somebody told me that Chinese food containers aren’t even recyclable! All those years of good deeds down the drain.

The city sends out guidelines for recycling telling what does and does not qualify so I took a look in order to avoid any further improper recycling activity. Now I feel like I need to bring my attorney along when I take out the trash. Do they actually expect people to recycling a cereal box? And what about mail? It says to recycle your mail! How much easier can we make identity theft? Hello, criminals, just check out the green bags. They have all the mail. No need to worry about getting your hands dirty, it’s all neatly tucked inside with newspapers, telephone directories, and soft-cover books. No eggshells, coffee grounds, or Chinese food containers. Just nice, clean paper products.

“The only plastics accepted for recycling...are bottles & jugs…that are stamped with 1 or 2 codes.” Now, am I going to check all my bottles and jugs to see if they made the grade? And how do you break it to a ketchup squeeze bottle that it didn’t make the cut. “Sorry, Heinz, you’re a 3. Was up to me, I’d let it slide. But we’re talking about the Department of Sanitation here. You don’t want to mess with them.”

Then it says, “…requiring workers to inspect the bottom of each container…would be inefficient and extremely costly.” I guess requiring me to inspect the bottom of each container is just fine, though.

I have a friend who says, “I recycle everything, just to be safe”. So if I recycle nothing then wouldn’t that even things out? Wouldn't it?

Wednesday, March 16

Social Security

As a 57-year-old man I shouldn’t have to worry about the Social Security debate. As America is becoming an “I’ve got mine, now you get yours” nation, by promising that nothing will change for me the administration is hoping to get me out of the way so they can focus on the next generation of retirees. They assure me that I will get the benefits I was promised and will not have to worry about private accounts or extended retirement ages or increased taxes.

But did anyone stop to think that maybe I want to get into the rock-em, sock-em, exciting world of Stock Market Retirement Planning. How come only the kids get to bet their future on the same club that produced the Sam Waksal, Bernie Ebbers and Ken Lay? Why should I be forced to spend my golden years in governmentally guaranteed comfort when I can risk it all on an Internet startup or legalized Ponzi scheme? Why should I miss out on all the fun?

I think it’s time for crazy, thrill-seeking seniors to stand up and let the administration know that we want the same right to screw up our future that the kids are going to get. Do they think we’re too chicken to risk it all for a shot at a 3% return instead of 1.9%? Hey, administration, we’re talking about 1.1% that you’re denying me because of my age. And that, my friend, is discrimination.

Listen up, administration. We created civil rights. We brought down Nixon. We ended a war. Do you think we’d be afraid to bet our quality of life on some high-tech IPO or C grade municipal bond fund? Think again.

Guaranteed benefits? We don’t need no stinking guaranteed benefits.

Tuesday, March 15

Market Research

The other day I got a phone call from a market research firm. They were conducting a survey of radio listening habits. I agreed to participate. The first question was "What is your age?"

"57", I replied.

"Thank you, that's all we need to know", he said.

"Wait a minute. People my age listen to radio, too, you know. It's not just..." I reached for some youthful sounding jargon "...hip-hops and - and - and gangbangers."

"Well, sir, we have reached our quota for your age group."

"What if I had told you I was 29?"

"I'd have asked you what radio stations you listen to."

Now I was getting somewhere. "And what if I told you I liked NPR?"

"Then I would know you were not 29". He hung up.

This got me thinking about how advertisers treat people my age. The target age of most TV shows is 18-49. Does that mean people over 49 don't watch TV? I personally like the O.C. -- don't tell anybody. What happens in the blog stays in the blog -- but advertisers don't care who watches the show, only if the people who watch the show are susceptible to their advertising. I imaging the first thing they would want to know about me is “When was the last time you changed brands of beer?” Well, it’s been about 30 years so chances are they’re wasting their money trying to convince me that it is vital that I switch to the newest Budweiser offering.

So I guess I see their point, but I can’t help feeling a little lonely out here on planet 57 where we all drink the same beer, drive the same cars, and use the same razor blades we always did.

It makes me sad, but not as sad as if Ryan and Marissa don’t get back together. Or will it be Marissa and Alex?

Stay tuned.