It is a Blind Goose that Cometh to the Fox’s Sermon (Revisited)

There is no avoiding the simple fact that we are facing increasingly polarized sociopolitical, economic and religious times with the forces of darkness making some bold inroads into the minds and hearts of Americans from coast to coast.  I firmly believe that the population that makes up those most easily led to the slaughter is comprised of those most severely affected by diseases like narrow-mindedness, ignorance, greed, fear and hatred. It can be argued that they are blinded by their afflictions as surely as there are those who rely on their condition to make the cogs of progress stop moving and in some instances move in the opposite direction.

I am cursed with the need to express my views using an overabundance of analogies and imagery, so please bear with my rambling musing as I attempt to paint a picture of a landscape outside our windows and just beyond our doorsteps.

It is easy to understand that fear is a greater motivator than faith.  The media outlets are far more interested in grasping at viewers and corralling their respective target demographics than providing fair and balanced coverage or attempting to provide enlightenment to the masses beyond reporting political opinions, shooting statistics, sports scores and the dubious predictions made by meteorologists using tea leaves, oracular pigs and the latest front movements via the Doppler.

So how do the unscrupulous foxes sow the seeds of blindness within our midst?  It is through fear, or at least the manufactured fear popular with tea enthusiasts from Alaska to Florida (and rooted in the homes of those Americans who pride themselves on slogans like “America – Love It or Leave It,” and “My Kid Can Kick Your Honor Student’s Ass”) that sight begins to fade.  How does one manufacture fear?  It is very simple if you have the money, power, impetus and media outlets to make your dreams come true.  An extremely capitalist approach to life and the desire to exploit your nation’s ills for monetary or political gain helps quite a bit.  When it comes to creating a threat that will in turn fertilize the seeds of fear, there are plenty of ideas in the handbook.

Fear of losing one’s job is a big one these days.  By breaking the unions a couple decades ago, big business has pulled the teeth of the working class.  Without union power protecting jobs, many companies were able to shift production to countries where labor is cheap and plentiful and at the same time make a huge cross section of US workers worry about their job security as well as the future they were planning for their kids.  So fear for one’s livelihood was created to control and it has been quite useful when it comes to extending workers’ hours and decreasing employee standards using the philosophy that “They should be happy they have a job.”

Terrorism has been a popular source of fear since the 9/11 tragedy, though it has been abused to the tune of imaginary weapons of mass destruction and a game of political connect the dots where the dots are made by the same people who would profit the most from conflict.  While the Muslims have gotten far more negative media coverage for the September 11th attacks than the sect of Seventh Day Adventists responsible for the Oklahoma City bombing, it has given some of the movers and shakers a seemingly limitless supply of people to whisper about and create a media stir over.  “Watch out for them… they are out to destroy America and Democracy,” they say.  Once someone hears that they need to be constantly vigilant when someone with a turban or a Middle Eastern appearance is sighted within a mile of their work, home or kid’s school it is easy to gloss over things like invasion of privacy and bloated budgets allocated for special contractors overseeing the safety of our borders, and airports.

Actually, it is pretty easy to make someone less concerned about their job security if you can provide a tangible target for fear like a race, religious beliefs or sexual orientation. Even better, if you make it “anti-American” to not want to jump on the hate train you can tie the two together and make the sources of fear both dangerous and against the USA.  We had communism at one point in time, and a time may come again soon when the Commies are back on the radar, but for now it is the Muslims, Mexicans, President Obama, gays and maybe the French who seem to be the main source of aggravation for conservative America.

So how does all this fear talk fit in with the sermon “It is a Blind Goose that Cometh to the Fox’s Sermon” you ask?  The masses of people quivering with rage and quaking in fear are blind to the real message of love, forgiveness and respect.  They are blind to the teachings of Jesus in favor of a single verse from Leviticus.  They are blind to the fact that they blame who they are told to blame.  They refuse to see that the people leading them are the same people responsible for their plights.  They are so blind; the conservative party does not even need a real platform in the midterm elections.  “If you want more government spending and higher taxes, vote for the incumbents” is the only battle cry I’ve heard.  The blind and fearful can’t understand that if you don’t tax and spend, you borrow and spend.  Then you have to repay what you borrowed by killing pensions and reducing health benefits.  The truth is right there for everyone to see unless you are blinded to reality.  These people are blind, not by choice, but rather by nature.

It is in the nature of many humans to care for themselves and look to tomorrow and no further.  Did you ever think of the Good Samaritan as the norm for human behavior as opposed to the target behavior for the human race? My point exactly.  Do the foxes gladly open their doors for the blind geese honking and waddling to their places amongst the sheep?  You betcha.  Is it our job to ridicule the blind geese and point out their ignorance and blindness?  That would make us no better than the foxes they worship.

Our task is simple.  We must pray for them to one day open their eyes and end their days in darkness and see the light.


The Car Went “Beep! – Beep! – Beep!”

There once was a boy.  There once was a car.  There came a day in the not too distant past when the boy and the car met and became partners in life’s journey over the assorted highways and byways of the tri-state area.  Wherever the boy drove in his car he attracted the gaze of many a passer-by due to either the boy’s devilishly good looks or the car’s appearance, though the boy had his own suspicions…

The car, you see, was a 1979 Plymouth Volaré.  Before I shush your exclamations of envy and jealousy I should mention that the car was not your average roadworthy slant-six beauty.  The colour of the vehicle was “blonde”, according to the documentation, though I have heard it described as “lemon chiffon” or “pale yellow” as well.  In addition to the understated colour palette used for the exterior, the car had an odd ten-foot-long dent on the passenger side that was the result of a close encounter with a telephone pole.

Shocking though it may seem to you, there once was a time when I was lacking in both patience and common sense and I attempted to squeeze between another car and a telephone pole.  At the first hint of resistance I gunned the motor and scraped a healthy bit of paint off the passenger side of the car while at the same time flattening the contoured shape of the doors and quarter panels.  I don’t believe I even cursed at my own stupidity as the car was made for beating up the environment and taking a beating in return.  It added to the car’s character.

The blonde Volaré was also noteworthy for it’s obvious lack of any front suspension.  The entire front of the car seemed to be held together with rubber bands so that each tiny discrepancy in the road resulted in a stomach churning bounce somewhat akin to a mechanical bull set to “Let’s Move ’em Out!”.  I often joked that you could feel it if you drove over a nickel in the road, though I never tested the theory.

The front bumper was also damaged from an incident involving a hit and run perpetrated by one of the illegal immigrants who lived down the street from my parents.  It seems that the driver lost control of his car and hit my car, which was parked in front of my parents’  house.  The driver then floored his vehicle in an attempt to disengage his front bumper from mine and succeeded in breaking the tie rod and smashing into the rear bumper of Cheryl’s car (parked in front of mine).  There is an entertaining story there, but suffice it to say the front bumper of my car had a little extra character.

I’m sure I could go on and on about the cornucopia of idiosyncrasies and deficiencies related to the car, but there is a tale to tell behind all of the dramatic build up.  To sum up the rest of the car’s description, there were few working dashboard instruments including the dash light, speedometer (above 33 mph), the gas gauge and the temperature needle.  I was handicapped at night in that I couldn’t tell with any degree of accuracy how fast I was going or how close to empty I was, though the worry was academic for the most part considering the state of the instrumentation.  Many a night was spent fingering mental rosary beads in an effort to get a little extra going for me in the way of a possible miraculous recovery or law enforcement avoidance attempt.  It was always an adventure driving in that car, though it had a great engine that seemed unwilling to quit regardless of the thin patina of oil in the tank or the numerous close calls with the uglier side of fate.

I should note that the only station I could get on the AM radio was a country and western station that played the dubious classics from a genre nearly as appealing to me as the sound of a dentist’s drill hard at work on a decaying bicuspid.  Why didn’t I invest in a new radio you ask?  I neglected to mention that the front driver’s side door would not lock.  Many a time I wondered if a truly desperate individual might happen upon my car and attempt to steal it only to return it after driving around the block.

The car was overdue for inspection and as I felt I was pushing my luck every time I even thought about driving, I reluctantly drove to the shady service station I used for the auto repairs I needed to keep the car in it’s questionably roadworthy state.  I knew it would be a gamble whether or not they’d even let me drive away after listing the many maladies afflicting my car, but I figured I might be forced to finally make some repairs I’d avoided for years.  I parked in the lot and handed over the keys to the gentleman behind the counter before taking a seat and beginning a silent litany of prayers.

As the clock ticked away the minutes I imagined I could hear the mechanics laughing at each discovery made at my car’s expense.  I was roused from a doze some time later by the manager who asked me to follow him to the bay where my car rested following it’s examination.

“Slant-six… a beautiful engine man.” he complimented as he got behind the wheel.

“Thanks,” I replied with some trepidation.  He seemed to be on the verge of some sort of punchline, and considering the state of my car I had a pretty good idea what the joke was.

“Did you know that your horn doesn’t work?” he queried as he pressed the once sensitive area on the steering wheel that was (in an earlier era) depressed in order to issue an auditory warning to other motorists.  I shook my head and prepared for a long list of additional problems I knew plagued my car.

“Let me hear you say ‘BEEP!’ as loud as you can.” he said with a straight face, though the other mechanics snickered behind him.  I was stunned for a second or two before I comprehended the amazing opportunity before me.  I took a deep breath and produced a credible ‘BEEP!’ using only my vocal chords and a decided lack of self-consciousness or pride.  “Once more.” he ordered.  I complied with another ‘BEEP!’, this time using my diaphragm to get an additional fraction of a decibel for my effort.

“Good enough.” he said as he scraped the outdated inspection sticker off in order to replace it with a valid one.  I payed maybe $35 for the whole process, though the experience was a priceless one for all involved.  The following year the entire crew of the service station was fired for some reason and the new management was a little more stringent in their inspections.  I did get another two years out of the Volaré, though I can only speculate as to how many additional years I might have gotten out of her had the service station not gone through it’s purge.

Sometimes when I am driving along I vividly recall the feeling of invulnerability I felt behind the wheel of a Volaré.  Did I ever tell you about the time I attempted to outrun a pair of NJ State Troopers in the Volaré?  No?

It was late one night, or early in the morning depending on one’s perspective…

The Twenty-Sided Die of Doom

It is often as bizarre to my friends and acquaintances to learn of my experiences in the world of Advanced Dungeons and Dragons as it is for them to hear stories from my fraternity days.  Before you pass judgment on me, understand that I did not really fit in in either endeavor.  Think of me as a renaissance man instead of a socially confused misfit and I’ll feel a little better about the whole sordid situation.

It was a beautiful Saturday afternoon during a particularly lovely weekend when the events I am about to describe took place.  The few clouds drifting lazily by in the otherwise azure expanse above only added to the idyllic conditions that day, though a storm was brewing in the unlikeliest of places.  The birds of unknown genus tweeted merrily outside the window of the small house in Ocean Gate, though the brilliant sunlight failed to pierce the gloom of the front porch where our story unfolds.

I won’t embarrass myself by giving you a run down of the typical AD&D adventure rules and game play as it is still uncomfortably fresh in my mind.  I will instead describe the company for you…

Tommy O. – The Dungeon Master:  He was a true AD&D gamer who could quote stats from a Gary Gygax compendium of monsters as readily as reciting his shoe size.  His was the hand of God when it came to meting out the dangers inherent in an adventure to acquire famed magic relics and experience points.

Chris D. – Longtime friend of Tommy O. and even longer-time older brother to me.

Scott G. – Friend-ish, acquaintance-ish individual who navigated the same strange social waters as Tommy O. and my brother.

Paul S. – The host to our motley assortment of would-be adventurers, though he was closer socially to Scott or Tommy than my brother.  He was often the host as his mother tolerated our noisy adventures much as George Harrison’s mother tolerated the Beatles practices.

Thomas D. – Myself.

I think my own parents would have quickly become tired of our seemingly nonsensical behavior, and Paul’s house was conveniently and centrally located to all of us.  We were all around middle school age, though I was the youngest of the bunch.  The era was the early eighties and it was not yet hip to curse constantly, drink to the point of inebriation, do methamphetamine or get girls pregnant at thirteen so our antics were pretty tame by comparison to youngsters of the twenty-first century.  I know that teen pregnancy and alcohol abuse were around, but as the internet was not available to us and I rarely read sociological statistics for kicks in those days I was blessedly ignorant to such behavior.

So there we were, frittering away a lovely Saturday afternoon in the dark confines of a bungalow when the typical bonhomie that embodied our gatherings took a serious blow from an unlikely source.  We were preparing to start an adventure and had only been at our respective pre-game activities and chit chat for less than an hour when the first signs of trouble began to appear.  The dungeon master was in an uncharacteristically bad mood, and for some reason his ire was seeking a target early in the proceedings.  As I was the youngest in the group, I suppose I was the logical choice though I had already developed a reputation for unpredictable and violent displays of temper (if you can believe that) making it a less than optimal approach to fight picking.

We had just begun the adventure when the need arose for me to roll my twenty-sided die to determine one outcome or another.  For the uninitiated, there is indeed a die with twenty-sides that resembles a geometrically altered meteorite with sharp, clean edges and lines above the nine and below the six.  My own twenty-sided die was extraordinary in that it was opaque powder-blue in color and not one of the colored , semi-transparent kinds that were popular in some circles.  The die that I shook in my fist had long ago lost the hard corners and had since become much more spherical than polygonal.  The dungeon master gave the order to roll, and I released my die with the practiced hand of the initiated.

For the first few seconds it seemed like everything was going fine, but as the die continued to tumble awkwardly around the table’s surface it looked like it was possessed by the spirit of a hamster trapped on its wheel.  Eventually it made it’s way to the edge of the table and rolled onto the floor.  I scooped it up and made as if to roll it again when the dungeon master asserted his rank.

“You’re not using THAT die again.” he stated with authority.

“It’s my twenty-sided die, and I AM using it.” I retorted, rolling it onto the table decisively to begin another circumnavigation of the littered surface.  The dungeon master scooped it up and took it out of play, sparking a violent reaction from me.

“What is your problem?” I demanded, reaching out to wrest my property from the grip of the increasingly annoyed dungeon master.  For those purists out there, I know I should refer to Tommy O. as the DM, but as the experiences of the AD&D adventurer are probably lost on most readers I fear it would just be confusing.

“The stupid thing just rolls around forever and I’m tired of waiting for it to stop.”

“Just use mine.” offered Paul in an attempt to dispel the negative vibes emanating from the air between myself and Tommy.

Now keep in mind that this could have worked and we might have continued the game without things getting any more out of hand, but it had become a matter of principle to me and I was not about to back down.  I proceeded to decline Paul’s offer and demanded the die back immediately.  At this point my brother got involved as the die in question was shared by the two of us.

“Just give him back the die and lets get on with the game.” said Chris wearily as the argument raged on around him.  The words became more and more heated and eventually the die was returned to me.  Tommy refused to continue the game as long as we used that die, and I was in no mood to continue anyway after the shabby treatment I had received at the hands of the dungeon master.  Chris and I gathered up our assorted manuals, dice and folders of characters and walked home in the glare of the afternoon sun, the breeze at our backs and the few errant clouds casting fleeting shadows at our feet.

Games with the old AD&D group were never the same after that day and it was shortly after that fateful day that we disbanded our little group.  I suppose I feel somehow responsible for the events that transpired so long ago as I could have just as easily backed down and been the bigger person for the sake of a peaceful return to the carefree roll of the four or eight-sided dice, but alas it was not meant to be.  Though I was only 13 years old at the time, I already knew that I was incapable of behaving rationally and compassionately.  It took me another couple decades (give or take) to realize that being good at being a creep is not necessarily something to aspire to.

Still, I sometimes look back on that day and wonder how I managed to leave that house without punching the dungeon master in the face…

A Moment of Clarity…

Sitting here on a Saturday morning while the family slumbers I was poking around the Web while drinking my coffee and knitting my scarf and I realized a few things that have probably been wandering through the recesses of my mind, but have managed to cling to faceless anonymity amidst all that transpires on a daily basis.  Without all the typical political and critical trappings that often prompt me to post, here is my brief list of revelations and observations with a miscellaneous statement or two thrown in:

  1. I am a true jack of all trades and master of none.  I sometimes see myself as a type of Antonio Salieri, who after creating something good and special looks to the skies and thanks the powers that be for my gifts.  Then I witness true greatness and see the amateurishness of my output for the hack work that it is and cast my gaze once more to the heavens to repeat my thanks with an oily coating of sarcasm and sardonic amusement.
  2. Beyond the handful of people I love and respect, I find the majority of the human race to be a tiresome lot.
  3. I have the strange ability to recall huge sections of dialogs from movies, books and past conversations, though these superpowers fail me when I really need to remember something of great import.
  4. As I was knitting, my nearly depleted skein does not release it’s yarn as easily as it did when it was still big and full of loops.  As a result of this, I noticed my skein creeping toward me as I did each stitch until it resembled a strange caterpillar inching it’s way across the couch cushion as if attempting to get a better look at what I was doing.  For some reason it was a little unnerving…
  5. I am hypocritical and caustic and critical… I try to be a carefully considerate person who always says “please” and “thank you” and I hold doors for people and say good morning to strangers and known persons on a regular basis.  I like to think that I am a good person, but in reality I switch gears constantly from thoughtful and nice to nasty and hateful at the drop of a hat.  If I say an optimistic and cheery good morning to someone and they glance up and say nothing in return (meaning they heard me and chose not to respond in kind) I henceforth refer to them as a mute.  Or a f@*%ing mute.  “Good morning…” scowl or blank look from the recipient “…you f@*%ing mute”.  Having said all of that, I still think I am nicer and more considerate than most others I come into contact with.
  6. The fact that some people love certain things that I find absolutely stupid compels me to wonder about the nature of free-thinking individuals.  There are certain elements of existence that baffle me when it comes to aesthetics and the tastes of the common man/woman.  Here are a few things that just seem so pointless to me:  
  • Professional Sports – Don’t get me wrong, I was fairly athletic growing up and am still a pretty capable individual on a number of playing fields.  This comment is not coming from a skinny or obese poster child for inactivity and sloth.
  • Rap Music – Again, I can appreciate musicianship where it is evident, but the genres are just so unappealing in general that I don’t understand the draw.
  • Peer Pressure – At any age, to do something just because people want you to (not related to doing work for your boss or company) just makes me shake my head.

I’m sure I could go on, but I am making a conscious effort to keep my future blog entries a little shorter.  I recall the final scenes from the debatably good movie Clue…

Tim Curry – “To make a long story short…”

The assembled guests in unison – “Too late.”

Well, I tried.

Corporate sponsored stupidity, or a well reasoned slap in the face to education?

I recently had the misfortune of seeing another hack awards ceremony (the first being the Oscars) in the form of the Kid’s Choice Awards.  Nickelodeon hired Jack Black to host the ceremony, with a variety of other stars making appearances throughout the duration of the event and about ten minutes into it I realized something…  These kids don’t get 80% of what Jack Black is saying, just as they understood 70% of what Justin Timberlake said last year.  All of the slime in Hollywood couldn’t have saved the evening which consisted of a few actors and actresses making their speeches and trying to grab a piece of the next generation of consumers.  The night eventually ended anticlimactically with more slime to accompany a halfhearted collection of debatably humorous lines issuing from the primary orifice of  Jack Black.  

The standout moment of absolute stupidity was the appearance of The Naked Brothers Band doing their anthem to celebrate the mindset responsible for the mediocre educational output our nation is famous for:  “I Don’t Want To Go To School”.  Now, remember that I come from a punk background where school was the haven for conformist tools, brainless jocks, cheerleaders and the downtrodden mass of everybody else.  So why am I so offended by this seemingly harmless and cheesy kid-pop?  Where shall I begin?

  1. Most importantly, the song itself is so hack and poorly composed that you can’t even hide behind the fact that these are kids writing this slop.  I’ve heard child composers create beautiful melodies as complex as many written in the age of classical music.  Jeeze, I was never a fan of Hanson, but I gave them credit for being passable songwriters, musicians and singers for their genre.  In the case of the Naked Brothers Band, the musicianship is just so poor as to make the fans seem that much more simple-minded and lacking in any ability to appreciate anything related to auditory aesthetics.
  2. The message delivered is so bad, yet so simple to grasp it can’t help but find traction in our society where smart kids are seldom rewarded and the stupid and mediocre are given the majority of the attention.  As a young lad, hearing the Ramones sing “Rock and Roll High School” and listening to the cornball lyrics was a fun experience.  The same rhymes were there with the school/fool play on words easy enough to pick out.  It was the delivery vehicle that made the difference.  The Ramones (a collection of misanthropic and admittedly screwed up individuals who came from backgrounds steeped in drugs, mental illness, right-wing values and sociopathic tendencies) singing such elementary and trite lyrics as “I don’t care about history…  ’cause that’s not where I wanna be.” may not seem like musical genius to you, but they really didn’t look like school types mainly because they were in their 20’s when they wrote it.  The Nickelodeon supported band, on the other hand, just sounds like a bunch of corporate-backed kids hand-picked by the network to represent the voice of the Nick generation.  I just find it too much like the global media engine duping yet another generation of stupid kids.  The Dead Kennedy’s wrote some great anti-school lyrics, but they were speaking to high school and college students and not a bunch of 10 year olds raised on Krabby Patties and Capri Sun:

“Sixteen, on the honor roll
I wish that I was dead
Parents hate me, I got zits
And bruises ’round my head 

Pressure’s on to get good grades
So I can be like them
Do my homework all the time
I can’t go out just then 

People they ain’t friends at all
They tease and suck me dry
Yell at me when I fuck up
And party while I cry
I look so big on paper
I feel so fucking small
Wanna die and you don’t care
Just stride on down the hall”


Upon reflection, I have changed my view somewhat…  My original stance was indignation that Nickelodeon would promote a bunch of talentless little buggers and push their message of stupidity on the gullible masses of sheep many call sons and daughters.

After careful consideration, I have altered my way of thinking…  My own son (8 years old) might not want to go to school and will make sure you know how boring and pointless he thinks it is, but the real message here is that The Naked Brothers Band is pointing out what many forward thinking educational philosophers already believe:  Our educational system is third rate and Nickelodeon knows it apparently.  Nepotism and low scholastic standards tied to anti-education governmental priorities and a “sports-over-smarts” mentality make the “I Don’t Want to Go To School” message that much more biting and poignant.

What the hell was I thinking when I started this topic?  Maybe those minimally talented corporate kids were onto something after all…

The 2008 Academy Awards or “Oh yeah… I wanted to see that.”

The 2008 Academy Awards are on… 

While I see more movies than I do professional sporting events on TV, this past year I think I may have seen three movies (in a theater) and don’t remember what they were.  If one of the Harry Potter movies was out, that was one of them (because I love the books and enjoy the movies well enough even when the director needs to butcher them because of the increasing length of the books).  I suppose that the industry is alive and well, or at least breathing…  maybe on a respirator.

It isn’t that there weren’t some interesting looking movies in 2007, it is just that there were very few that looked interesting enough to galvanize me into action.  Jon Stewart is his usual witty self and fairly entertaining, and I caught myself saying, “Oh yeah…  I wanted to see that.”  I guess I didn’t want to see it that badly.

As far as the way the guests look in their Oscar finery, I can only say that they are an uninspiring lot in general.  With very few exceptions, the women seemed to have done their own hair on the way to the theater.  I won’t comment on the gowns, as it seems that certain designers can drape their adoring stars in crap and some critic will weep at the vision they created for the event.  Some of them (the gowns) are lovely, but most are not.  The men are also a mixed lot with a few tuxedos and more of those suit looking things without the bow ties.  You don’t have to be old-fashioned to despise the look of a black jacket with a black shirt and a black tie at the Oscars.  With black pants and presumably black shoes and a black belt, Johnny Cash would be proud were he not dead.

The songs have so far been forgettable to such a point that they…

Anyway, I just asked my wife if Cate Blanchette was supposed to be a drag queen playing Bob Dylan in “I’m Not There” (an odd choice for a drag queen in my opinion), but apparently she was supposed to be Bob Dylan.  I think they almost nailed the hair, but I only saw it for a moment on the screen and can’t be sure.  She was a much better Elizabeth…

I don’t even know why I am blogging about the Oscars as my interest is minimal at best.  Perhaps I am just writing to express my minimal interest.  Who said you have to blog about something you are passionate about, or even particularly interested in? Admittedly, I know dozens (not most) of the people in the audience from past performances, but don’t know what they have done recently.  The Oscars are like the Grammy Awards in a way in that they are both crap for the most part.  They do not represent the best films in the respective categories (Forrest Gump beating Shawshank Redemption in 1994 made that abundantly clear), but rather represent some of the better films of the previous year.

There is about an hour or so left, and so far Jon Stewart could have talked for an hour and mailed the awards to the recipients and it would have been shorter and more consistently entertaining.  The Oscar winner from last year’s movie “Dreamgirls” read from her cue card as if she were deciphering it as her lips formed the words.  It was yet another nail in the coffin as far as the Oscars representing the best of the best.  If some unlettered  ignoramus says “I may not know art, but I know what I like” and then you clone him (or her) and let them all vote for their favorite movies and actors and makeup artists and then give out Oscars based on the outcome, I don’t think there would be a great difference in the final tallies.

It is a testament to the caliber of last year’s films that I don’t care who wins.  I think that this is the first year that I am basing my few picks on a philosophy I developed the two times I went to the race track and bet on horses with cool names or interesting colors.  I hope George Clooney wins something because I like him as an actor.  I like Morgan Freeman as well, so if he is up for anything, I’d like him to win as well. Otherwise, there are a couple others who have impressed me in the past who I’d pick on past achievements (prior to 2007) and thus defeat the purpose of annual awards.

I must dash as they will soon be showing the actors and actresses who have departed for their respective religious afterlife alternatives and I don’t remember who died this past year.

On a final side note, I was hoping that Tom Cruise was going to run on stage and continue his downward spiral into the realm of the comically bizarre, but I don’t think that he is going to oblige me.

WALMART – Child Labor, Gender Inequality, Unfair Labor Practices, Human Rights Violations and Sanctioned Communism = BIG Savings for YOU! (part 1)

Unless you have a weak grasp of the concept of sarcasm, you can identify my stance as definitely anti-Walmart.  I am not saying that I am anti-China when it comes to the manufacturing and exporting of goods as they have as much a right to make and distribute as the next country.  My problem lies with the American people who shop at Walmart, not because it is necessarily geographically more convenient, but because it sells cheap goods at low prices.  The age-old addage “You get what you pay for.” comes to mind when you consider what you are getting when you shell out your hard-earned money.  Let us examine some unseen benefits:

 1. Your reduced cost is in part a result of buying goods manufactured in a country where there are fewer safety, environmental and health regulations in place.  The result is that the workers making the goods have a much higher instance of industrial/chemical illnesses, the goods themselves have a higher probability of being tainted or requiring recalls when pets get sick or children get injured.

“I’m scared to death. We are dependent on our government inspecting things,” said Joyce Simple, a church secretary, interviewed on a recent shopping trip to a Wal-Mart in Houston. “I would be careful of anything that came from China.”

“Here we’re buying all of these products from China and they’re not adhering to our standards. It’s very disturbing,” said Joanne Metler, a community college teacher in Chicago.

 The good news is that the savings generated from the lax or severely reduced industrial standards are passed on to you.

2. The labor used to manufacture the goods you buy so cheaply at Walmart is often comprised of a combination made up of your standard working class mixed with children as young as eight or twelve years old.  They work sometimes up to 15 hour days in plants where there is little regard for safety or human rights and with no appreciable health benefits aside from the lowest government standards.  Granted, labor laws and child welfare mean different things depending on where you are or what country you are in.  I suppose that the Walmart shoppers who reap the benefits of low costs partly derived from underage workers and deplorable conditions can compare a twelve year old laborer in China to the typical twelve year old in Darfur who (depending on gender) deal daily with rape, murder, maiming and even worse working or living conditions.

Perhaps the US could back a communist regime in the Sudan or the Ivory Coast, and then when the government has the populace under control we can import even cheaper goods from areas where there are no human rights at all and the workers lose a foot if they don’t meet their quota during a 15 or 18 hour shift.  The possibilities are endless, but for now we will have to make do with cheap goods that travel from China, (through very lax customs agents) to Walmart, to you.

“Ultimately, the U.S. consumer is attracted to cheap Chinese goods. As long as they keep the price low, U.S. consumers will keep buying,” said Mark Zandi, chief economist at Moody’s

I’ll continue this at a later date, when this nauseous feeling has subsided a bit and I no longer taste the bile resulting from such a disgusting topic.  In the meantime, save money by shutting off lights when not using a room or during daylight hours.  Maybe you can make your own coffee instead of getting your coffee at Wawa or 7-11 and save a few bucks instead of shopping at Walmart because the prices are so low. 

I Detest T-Mobile.

Detestation is justifiable if you’ve been driven to apoplectic rage by a company’s totally uncaring customer service responses. I’ll try to be as brief as possible. Many years ago, our family started using T-Mobile as they had the best deal for mobile-to-mobile calls and loads of minutes. Sure, cell reception was a bit spotty, and customer service was nothing to write home about, but I was anti-Verizon because they had acted a bit domineering in their role as a local land-line provider. Lots of odd charges and service that (while ok) did not warrant such a high cost. So, T-mobile was the brand of choice and all was fine.

Fast forward… I took a job in Princeton and found that my cell service was so bad I could not get a signal of worth at work or on my lengthy commute home. I would occasionally get two bars, but would lose them fairly quickly. I complained and blogged and eventually switched phones and ultimately improved my situation. The phone I had been using was one of those first gen PDA types, and when I switched to a cheaper no-frills Nokia, I was mollified to a great extent as the signal strength seemed a bit more robust.

Fast forward even further… Time to trade in the crappy old phone for a newer one and ended up getting a RAZR. Sure, the consumer groups thought they were shite, but I still liked the look and feel and with a rebate to boot, it seemed like a good deal. The rebate, which played an integral part in getting the phone, was only mentioned at the point of purchase and on their website but was never actually sent. After realizing that the rebate was somewhere in limbo, we contacted the customer service department to find out what the deal was. They said “Talk to the rebate center.”

The rebate center said, “No, no… call T-Mobile back.”

The T-Mobile customer service department said “I don’t know what they are talking about. Call the rebate center back.”

After numerous back-and-forth calls, I asked T-Mobile to either take care of the situation (since the never-received rebate had by this time expired) or I would leave their ranks at the conclusion of my contract. They did not seem to care one way or another and did not sound in any way interested in keeping our patronage stating that “When you are going to get a rebate for merchandise that you purchase, it is up to the customer to apply for the rebate.” WTF? I’ve sent in rebates before, but I’ve never had to “apply” for one.

Nowadays, I count down the months until our contract is up and in the mean time tell anyone who asks “What cell service do you use?” that I am disgusted with T-Mobile and can’t wait until they are no longer my carrier. I’ll use two tin cans and string before I recommend T-Mobile to anyone.

This is the last thing they sent me in a follow-up email following my extremely unsatifying experience:

“It has been my pleasure providing you, Thomas a loyal, valued customer since December, 2002, with T-Mobile’s World Class service. Thank you for being a valued T-Mobile customer, we appreciate your business.”

The clock is ticking T-Mobile.

Roger Joseph Manning Jr. – Solid State Warrior or Land of Pure Imagination

In a musical landscape that is currently as bleak as the surface of the moon, it is a great pleasure to find something as thoroughly enjoyable and entertaining as Roger Joseph Manning Jr.’s “Solid State Warrior” or “Land of Pure Imagination”.  To say that it is the best artist release of 2006 is an understatement, though the field lacked any real competitors.  Still, I purchased the original “Solid State…” Weed files when they were first released and then recently bought “Land of Pure…” off the Not Lame site and have enjoyed every masterfully crafted song in the catalog.

Not too long ago I worked a bit with the folks in Eric Dover’s Sextus camp after I had heard a few MP3s of his on  I loved the songs “Need a Push” and “Crazy For You” and contacted the webmaster/webmistress to see if I could help contribute to their efforts.  Long story short, I created a logo which was used for some t-shirts and other merchandise and enjoyed creating some image treatments and the like.  Sextus, like RJM Jr. released initially via Weed and it was at this point that I first felt the tingle of unease.  This is where some of the luster left the relationship with Sextus.  Firstly, “Need a Push” was cut from the release which bothered me to a great extent.  Then I heard the new version of “Crazy…” which was softened considerably from the much better demo version.  These issues were followed by mishaps in CD production as well as a seriously botched website that to this day still has an “under construction” GIF gracing it’s real estate.

With Eric Dover’s efforts languishing and Andy Sturmer still off in La La Land with Puffi Ami Yumi, it fell to arguably the most talented of the bunch to craft a collection of songs to eclipse anything since Imperial Drag (with the exception of anything from Supergrass) in 1996.

“Solid State Warrior” has elements to satisfy any Jellyfish/Imperial Drag fan.  From the epic Land of Pure Imagination, with it’s sweeping chorus to the closing Till We Meet Again, everything in between is superbly arranged and implemented.  My personal favorites are Creeple People (great Drag-like groove), The Loser (upbeat and clever), Sandman (the harmonies are freaking AMAZING!!!) and Too Late For Us Now (magnificent both musically and lyrically).  The new release (retitled “Land of Pure Imagination”) replaces three SSW songs with three newer efforts that, while not as appealing to me as the removed songs, are lovely in their own right.

Suffice it to say, Roger Joseph Manning Jr. has released a spectacular collection of original songs that I cannot recommend to a higher degree.  In 2005 the CD of the year was Road to Rouen from Supergrass, and with RJM Jr.’s releases we are averaging one (maybe two) worthwhile CDs a year.  Considering the hundreds/thousands of artist CDs released per year, the record/music industry is in worse shape now than it was during the few years preceding the Beatles. 

Thank you Roger, for making 2006 a musically noteworthy year. 

National teacher shortage? I wonder why…

I recently heard/saw a story on NBC that exposed a serious threat to America’s future:  A shortage of classroom teachers.  I was once an aspiring teacher, but have long since abandoned the public school teaching profession for a number of reasons, many of which have thinned the teaching community to dangerously low numbers.

Nepotism – Several districts in the area will hire from a small pool of under-qualified would-be teachers who are either related to or friends with a school board member or administrator.  I actually overheard a conversation in a school in southern Ocean County where the office workers commented on the two hundred applicants trying for a teaching position who were “wasting their time” because the niece of the superintendent was getting the job.  Toms River, Berkely Township, Lacey Township, and many other districts have common knowledge (though not advertised) policies where it is isn’t what you know as much as who you know.

De-clawed/Neutered/Powerless Teachers – Between the “Winter Recess” vs. “Holiday Vacation” stupidity and students getting away with murder because they are “Clinically Over Agressive” or suffering from “Chronic Social Regression Syndrome”, teachers have had their ability to discipline stripped from them by overzealous parents and weak, cowardly school administrators.

Low Pay  – No big shock there…  Our country pays teachers fairly poorly overall (except in incredibly wealthy districts) and as a result they set the bar for incoming teachers firmly in the “Mediocre” range.  If they used merit pay increases with reachable objectives, things might be different, but as it stands even the worst teacher (often a school board member’s unqualified son or daughter) will get steady pay increases and even get tenure in three years.

Incentives aside, it is going to take a major shift in our nation’s thinking to get our country back on track.  Keep the parents out of the schools (unless it is absolutely justified) and keep potential teachers from teaching in districts where they have relatives or friends on school boards since it is a blatant conflict of interest.  If you give good teachers more power, the low pay will seem less of an issue than it is now.

Example:  I was actually threatened by a parent in front of a superintendent who did nothing to support me.  I disciplined his daughter, and another girl for calling another student a “dirtbag” and he requested a meeting with myself and the ranking administrator where he told me he would take care of me personally if I ever did something like that again.  He said that his daughter was right and that the other student WAS a dirtbag and I’d better not try to discipline her again.  Yes, Superintendent Fogg was a poor administrator indeed.

I could continue discussing my opinions regarding the sorry state of our nation’s school system, but it is just making me more and more disgusted.

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