Thursday, August 31, 2006

Stuck In A Rut

The Most Metal Lawyer in Minnesota says:

A dreary ennui seems to have befallen most of the local bloggers worth reading this week. And also ones not worth reading, like KAR. There's nothing out there to mock, ridicule, laugh at, impugn, throw feces at, fisk, or poop on.

It's not just local Twin Cities bloggers who feel that way. My posting has fallen to about 1-2 entries per week. I still check out both Pittsburgh papers' web sites every day, but nothing really moves me to comment, excerpt, fisk, or anything else Foot mentions above. It's not that I haven't thought of anything to say. It's just that I've said it all before. Why bother?

I can take down a couple of recent Moist-Towelette columns without excerpting or going past a few sentences. Look:
  • On Tuesday, we were told by one writer that President Bush is no good because he reads books, and he farts. Ah well. I wasn't planning to enter public service anyway.
  • You can hammer a point for days, weeks, months and years, making yourself sound like the world's most intellectual curmudgeon, but when someone publishes a book that agrees with everything you've written in the last three years, you turn into a giddy little boy playing with his new toys on Christmas morning. "See! I was right, because somebody put it in a book!" That's called validation, folks. It is the reason that I generally refrain from reading political books. Sure, Ann Coulter might be a fun read, and I might get a thrill in knowing that ownership of her works makes morons burst blood vessels, but it simply is not worth the time and money to read that someone knows things that I already know, and believes things that I am largely in agreement with. I prefer informed entertainment to informed opinion. Give me a P.J. O'Rourke travelogue anyday.

Or, better yet, go read some blogs. It's real people, in real time, talking about real events, expressing their own thoughts. What do you prefer -- being spoon-fed what to think, or forming your own beliefs through the free exchange of thoughts and ideas?

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Time To Put The Old Horse To Sleep

There are quite a few long-in-the-tooth folks where I work about whom I can't help thinking, "if he/she were a horse, he'd/she'd have been glue twenty years ago". I feel the same way about a certain country & western musician whose name, roughly translated into English, means "Dick Stranglehold".

He's a "legend", as they say, because he's been around for just about forever. He's not one of my favorites, but I won't deny that he has talent, either. His style just doesn't float my boat. But that's okay -- I have a lot of favorite bands and artists who are rapidly aging and won't appeal to most of my contemporaries. My beef is not with his music.

No, my problem is with Mr. Stranglehold's apparent belief that he is such a major influence in American politics that he involves himself in races that he is not even eligible to vote in.

Two years ago, he endorsed Dennis Kucinich for President in the Democrat primary. That's fine. He was an American citizen expressing his beliefs. He could, and presumably did, vote for Kucinich.

He recently endorsed author Kinky Friedman for Governor of Texas. Again: it's his state, and his candidate. Friedman, in turn, promises to put Dick Stranglehold in charge of Texas energy policy if elected. It's all fair.

So what the heck was Mr. Stranglehold doing up in Missouri endorsing a gubernatorial candidate? How influential is this guy, anyway? I'll tell you what -- if he ever comes to Pennsylvania to endorse some crackpot Democrat, I'll go out and buy some cheap used Dick Stranglehold CDs just so I can melt them into plastic sludge. Maybe.

In the interest of equal time, let's find out what Mr. Stranglehold says about his history of political endorsements:

But just about everybody I've campaigned for has lost. I don't know why they
keep calling me.
They called him??? It makes you wonder if these politicians share his fondness for what he calls his "Maui-Wowie".

Say good night, Dick.

Let's All Get Gas

The news is good.

Like I said the other day, the price of gas at the pump is dropping locally. I don't know if it will go any lower, or whether it will rise again, given that the market for oil internationally is so volatile. But it does feel good to see the per gallon price fall below 2.90.

As if 2.89 for gas is cheap!

Still, it beats the heck out of California. Pittsburgh would stop dead in its tracks if it had to pay 3.30 per gallon. I wouldn't blame someone from Cali if they wanted to move here to pay for (relatively) inexpensive gasoline.

A year ago, I very nearly decided to stay in Minnesota at the end of vacation just because of the lower prices at the pump. But I'm not so desperate that I'm going to call off work Friday and wait two hours for gasoline at a station that's just a three minute drive from home.

Clever ploy, though. The gas pump is the gas pimp!

Sunday, August 20, 2006

Intelligent Correspondence

The majority of letters to the Moist-Towelette usually consist of the same kind of scribbles, dribbles, and drool that characterizes the rag's editorials. Occasionally, however, a well-written, truthful, and intelligent piece of correspondence sees publication on the page of the paper that is normally a senseless waste of the life of some trees.

For instance, see this morning's Issue One: The BP pipeline.

Two guys who obviously know what the hell they are talking about refute the PG's allegation from an earlier editorial. The paper stated that the consequences of the BP pipeline leak will cause us to pay more for gas all over the country, and are attributable to the incumbent President of the United States. (Or, to summarize 80% of all PG editorials, "Everything is Bush's fault!") The letter writers basically pointed out what a great asshole the PG editorialists comprise, and explained why the basic premise of the piece was in error.

Of course Pittsburgh and vicinity will not be greatly affected by the pipeline problem. As soon as the news broke, broadcast and print media told us that gas prices would soon go up. Of course I was worried.

Gas prices in my neighborhood were $2.99 then. I thought they would go up to $3.20 in a big hurry.

As of this weekend, gas is $2.86 a gallon at the local pump.

The only reason I can think of for this area's continued support of a worthless piece of crap like the PG is that the many old houses in the area are plumbed with antique, brain-damaging lead pipes.

Parental Abandonment

According to a Washington Post article republished in this morning's Moist-Towelette, a demographic group called "security moms" are abandoning the Republican party in droves this year.

To learn this, the reporter had to go to a place in Ohio called CLINTONville.

That's cute. Let me know when you visit a place called Reagansburg, and maybe I will start taking you seriously.

(More psycho PG campaigning for Democrats here and here. Shorter version: Ed Rendell has a big ass and the New Hampshire primary is racist!)

Friday, August 18, 2006

Deep Purple Can Teach Us A Lot About The 2006 Pennsylvania U.S. Senate Race

Get up--keep in line
It's gettin' tighter all the time
You say you're feelin' fine
It's gettin' tighter all the time

In this morning's edition of the direct descendant of the Oldest Newspaper West of the Alleghenies, we find an article entitled "Casey-Santorum race getting tighter, says another survey".

The latest poll shows Democrat challenger Bob Casey still ahead with 47 percent, Republican incumbent Rick Santorum at 41 percent, 4 percent for the Green candidate and 8 percent undecided.

Do I really care about this? Not really. As I like to say, there is only one poll that counts in this kind of race, and that one isn't taken until November. It's the only "survey" that I am allowed to participate in, at any rate.

I must admit, though, to feeling a tinge of amusement whenever these polls come out three months before an election and a bunch of twits are overcome with giddiness because they think that they have actually won something.

In this year's other big statewide race, Governor Ed Rendell is polling at 51 percent while Lynn Swann is down around 41.

According to an article in the same paper two days ago, a pollster claimed to find that "38 percent don't know enough (about Mr. Swann) to form an opinion, and about a quarter of Republicans are voting for the Democratic governor".

What is wrong with you people, you one-quarter of Pennsylvania Republicans? I would like to see the "meat" on these bare-bones statistics. What reasons do you have for supporting Rendell, other than "I don't know much about Lynn Swann"? Ed Rendell is all about saving people's school districts, public transportation, etc., using questionable sources of funding. Does anyone remember how Rendell averted a transit strike in Pittsburgh, as well as fare increases and service cuts, last year, by stealing federal taxpayer money earmarked for infrastructure maintenance and giving it to the Pork Authority? I certainly do. It looks like Rendell may have purchased himself some bus riding Republicans with his sleazy handling of federal funds.

On the other hand, you have to wonder how many Democrats like my wife are turning their backs on Rendell. She works at the local library. Fast Eddie took money from libraries to fund schools a couple of years ago. My wife hasn't forgotten about that, and she wrote in Lynn Swann for Governor in the Democratic primary this year.

I don't expect to hear much about crossover Dems in these polls. A few more of them, and this race could be gettin' tighter like the Senate race.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Congressman Mike Doyle Must Be Some Kind Of Dipshit

Yesterday, I arrived home from a mini-vacation to find, sitting in my mailbox, a piece of mail from U.S. Representative Mike Doyle, who represents the Pennsylvania 14th Congressional District. It is a slick, colorful, four-page flyer outlining Mike Doyle's position on the top issues of the day. The cover page, when the flyer is unfolded, displays the text of a personal letter from Mike Doyle that begins, "Dear Friend,". The mailing itself is addressed to "POSTAL PATRON -- LOCAL 14TH CONGRESSIONAL DISTRICT PENNSYLVANIA".

There are two big problems here:

  1. Mike Doyle is not my friend. He is a Democrat. I am a Republican, and he devotes a great deal of space in this flyer to trash-talking my party.
  2. My neighborhood is not in the 14th district.

Mike Doyle was my Congressman from 1995 until around 2002, when decennial redistricting forced him to run (and win) in a completely different district within Allegheny County. His district includes the City of Pittsburgh, which remains such a Democrat stronghold that he doesn't even face token opposition in this year's election. It is no wonder, then, that this position paper consists primarily of criticism of "the Republican Majority in Congress". He is disguising what would otherwise be a campaign advertisement as a "how we are doing in Washington" type of mailer, sent at taxpayer expense instead of using campaign money.

So why did this thing show up in my mailbox? Did Mike Doyle forget that he no longer represents my borough? Does he not care how much taxpayer money he wastes to send mail to people who are not his constituents? He is all about federal funding for everything in sight, including, apparently, junk mail.

There is a segment of the flyer that says, "My Staff And I Are Here To Serve You". Mike Doyle encourages us to "feel free to visit one of my offices". I just might do that. It would be a good opportunity to ask what the Congressman's position is on mail fraud.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

The Lousiest Video For The Best Song

In 1983, Black Sabbath proved that not only was there life after Ozzy, but also life after Dio.

You know what cracks me up about this song? It's got drinking, driving, and bitches. Someone could have invented a whole new musical genre based on that kind of lyrical content...but a couple of years later, along comes rap and steals it away from them!

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Adult Beverages

One full month has passed since I whiled away a week beneath the clear sunny skies of southern California. Until this trip, I had never been farther west than Granite Falls, Minnesota. You may well imagine that visiting California would allow me to see and experience things that I had never had the pleasure of enjoying before.

And you would be right. Streets lined with palm trees, parking lots with pumping oil rigs, an offshore drilling site disguised as a man-made island -- it was like another world. I enjoyed being there. However -- the most interesting thing that I did on vacation, nay, the most fun that I had that entire week, was something that was at the same time both strange and familiar.

I drank beer.

This is not exactly what one would call a major life change. I drank plenty of beer (and other things) when I was a young man in my early twenties; my friends and I went out for drinks at least once a week after we had attained the legal age for drinking alcohol. We enjoyed going out so much that I never got into the habit of keeping beer or liquor at home. This was a good thing, as it meant that I was in no danger of getting sloshed every night, and possibly every day.

I never went into a bar with the intention of picking up women. Bars were places where I socialized with people I already knew, and that was that. This may well explain how I managed to hook up with a girl who had never touched alcohol in her life. In fact, she still hasn't. She even abstains from the wine while taking communion at church. That has had an impact on me, needless to say.

Like many men before me, when I got married, I basically stopped seeing my friends. Our common bond seemed to be that we really had no life outside of our respective jobs. So we hung around together. And drank. But, by the time we were in our mid-20s, we each began cultivating relationships with women, and drifted apart. Without my drinking buddies, there was little reason for me to drink.

More than ten years of marriage to a teetotaler has cut the frequency of my drinking back from once or twice a week to less than monthly. If I want to go out with one of my friends, I have to make an appointment at least two weeks in advance. (This happens about once every 2-3 years.) If we visit a relative at Christmas or Easter, and there's beer or wine, I will have a drink. If my wife and I have a chance to go out without the kids (VERY rare), I might have a drink. Most of the time, though, my beverage choices are limited to fruit juice, soda pop, and water.

(Milk, by the way, is not a beverage. It is something for cereal to float in, and for cookies to get dunked in. Coffee is bubonic plague in liquid form. Tea and cocoa are okay, but I'm not really into hot beverages.)

In August 2005 I traveled to the great state of Minnesota with the intention of visiting Keegan's Irish Pub on a Thursday night and meeting the nation's greatest bloggers, along with Learned Foot. I also wanted to have my semi-annual taste of alcohol, which I did...but not for the first time that week. Being a cheapskate, I stayed at a cousin's house instead of taking the family to a hotel. It was perfect timing. Cousin was leaving on a vacation of his own our second day there. He told us two things: We could have the house all to ourselves; and we could help ourselves to anything in the refrigerator. All that hippie chow in there didn't interest me, but one thing did: Summit Grand. His offer did not exclude beer, so I was enjoying malt & hops for breakfast. Wonderful! Vacation is the perfect time to indulge. When we went back home, I was alcohol free once more.

This year, in Long Beach, we slept in a guest house on a property that normally houses six people. Three of those people drink beer. There is beer in the guest house all of the time, and hard liquor in the main house. I didn't go for the stronger stuff, but when one of our hosts told me that I could help myself to the beer, I couldn't be stopped. Beer helps you get to sleep. It keeps you from getting bored when you've got nothing else to do late at night. When it's cold, it refreshes like nothing else.

My last day in California, I did a little grocery shopping. The first thing that I saw when I stepped into the supermarket was stacks of cases of beer. It was like an epiphany, something along the lines of: "Pennsylvania sucks! Move somewhere else! You can't get beer in the grocery store back there!" Or maybe it was just: "Dude, you need to get beer at home."

Whatever it was, I complimented a later trip to my local grocery store with a visit to a beer distributor. I'm starting out small by getting Coors Light. It's cheap, and it's not bad as light beers go. It's nice to have at home. Pretty soon, I'm going to advance to some serious beer. Wheat beer. Hefe Weizenbier. And I may swear off beer for good after that.

American beer, anyway.

Monday, August 07, 2006

Greetings, Earthlings!

The delightfully named blogger Poohchucker at Infinite Monkeys recently recalled a youthful fascination with something he had never actually experienced himself -- shortwave radio:

At various times of the day, on many different frequencies, a mysterious voice appears from nowhere. It may be a live voice or a synthesized one. It may be female or male. It might be speaking English, or Spanish, or German, or some Slavic variant. Whatever form the voice takes, the content of its broadcast is always the same: numbers, and lots of 'em. Nobody knows what the numbers mean, or where the voice is coming from. The station is not registered and the voice never identifies itself. It just chants its senseless litany of digits for a few minutes, then disappears back into the ether from whence it came.
Poohchucker goes on to provide a sample transcript of just such a transmission, and explains what kind of effect this knowledge had on him:

I never had a shortwave receiver in my youth, but just the thought of these robotic voices out of nowhere would give me a major case of the creeps. Nobody knows why they're out there, or where they're coming from, or what they're trying to get across; if somebody does know, they ain't talking.

So why the hell has somebody -- or something -- been reading numbers and making vaguely farty noises on the shortwave band for the better part of four decades?

The fertile mind can come up with all sorts of implausible explanations. Perhaps space aliens snapped up the Voyager probes and have been trying to make contact with us using whatever limited vocabulary they were able to glean from those gold discs. Or maybe the stations are paranormal in nature. It's said that ghosts are simply electromagnetic imprints left behind when we shuffle off this mortal coil. Is it possible that shortwave listeners have inadvertently tuned into the poor, lost soul of some long-dead German mathematician, doomed to recite the digits of pi for all eternity, or until he gets to the end, whichever comes first?

Unlike Poochucker, I actually did have a shortwave radio. It was really a present to my father from his employer to honor him on the occasion of his 40th year working for the same company. He had a list of gifts from which to select his preference, and chose the shortwave radio with me in mind, as I had recently started learning German in school. Twenty-five years ago, there was nothing like a shortwave radio for a teenaged American kid to experience news and entertainment programs from other countries. (It all seems rather quaint today in light of our familiarity with the internet.)

The General Electric "Monitor 10" 10-band radio.

I think I must have appreciated my father's gift more than most things that I received as my own presents during my adolescence. During the summer, I spent many a late night staying up to tune in to distant broadcasts from far and abroad. Sometimes I settled for nationwide major league baseball games on the AM band, which received better reception at night, and other times, I scanner the shortwave bands listening for anything intelligible. Deutsche Welle was always easy to find, if not to lock on to, and there was never any trouble finding a Spanish language station in this hemisphere. There were many stations broadcasting in languages that were far beyond my comprehension. I even picked up some channels in Morse Code. And, as Poohchucker noted, there were stations that just broadcast mumbo jumbo.

But it had to be mumbo-jumbo for a reason, right? As a teen, I was perfectly willing to accept that my radio was intercepting secret messages from Mars to covert operatives here on Terra Firma. Either that, or it was the speed metal version of dots and dashes. Whatever is was, I loved hearing it. Nothing stirs the imagination like the Great unknown.

Poohchucker has more info on the mysterious "Numbers Channels", along with a link to samples thereof. And it seems that I was on the right track when I assumed "secret messages" were being sent to/from "covert operatives":

It's commonly believed that the broadcasts are actually coded messages from espionage agencies to covert field agents operating in enemy territory. The unique attributes of shortwave make it well-suited for such uses. Because shortwave frequencies are refracted by the ionosphere, such transmissions are capable of traveling from their source to the other side of the globe. And because radio is inherently a broadcast medium, interested parties might eventually be able to triangulate the source of a transmission, but they can never identify its ultimate destination.

I may not have understood a single buzz or bleep, but I did find those broadcasts addictive. Poohchucker's post made me realize how much I missed my old shortwave radio. So I looked...and found it in my kitchen, hidden behind a box of Rice Krispies in the cereal cabinet. (This saves me from having to shell out a couple of hundred dollars for a new one.) The last time I used this radio set, the volume control knob was misbehaving something fierce. Somehow, after years in storage, it now works wonderfully. I listened to Deutsche Welle. And some eastern European things that I couldn't understand. And a couple of Spanish language stations. There were some Morse Code feeds, and two or three very LOUD Christian religious broadcasts from right here in the good old US of A. I also heard, very loud and clear, news from NPR and...

Whoa. NPR? National(socialist) Public Radio, broadcasting to all parts of the globe?

No wonder people in other countries hate us.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Roadside America, Eastern Ohio Style

On the radio this morning, Jim Quinn took a call from a man who said that he was calling from Carrollton, Ohio. Quinn waxed nostalgic as he recalled the one thing that Carrollton was famous for about twenty-five years ago: Mr. Cost-Plus.

A car dealer called Huebner Chevrolet had a large fiberglass-style statue of a masked Superman type character mounted on the roof of the building. A spokesman for the dealership -- possibly Mr. Huebner himself, I don't know -- appeared on TV commercials as Mr. Cost-Plus, who assisted customers in the car lot by giving them great deals on automobiles. This was really cute because the man in the commercials was a gray-haired, middle-aged man with a mustache who obviously did not have a Superman physique like the statue on the roof. It was some of the most self-conscious self-parody I have ever seen. And of course, I loved seeing those commercials.

Quinn, who has been in broadcasting as least as long as I have been alive, said that there are two kinds of commercials that people remember: The best commercials ever, and the worst commercials ever. Mr. Cost-Plus definitely fell into the latter category.

The caller from Carrollton informed us that Huebner is still in business, but removed the statue several years ago. That's too bad; I would have loved to go there and see it in person some time.

Thirty seconds and a Google search after hearing this exchange on the radio, I learned that Mr. Cost-Plus is not gone; he just moved south to Calhoun, Georgia, where he has been described as the "gayest superhero anywhere". That's funny -- by Ohio standards, he's actually one tough dude.

I never considered taking a trip to Georgia until now. Would it be worth the ride just to live out a childhood dream and see Mr. Cost-Plus in person?

Reading Comprehension

Just when I think no one ever reads this blog, just when I think that I might be getting bored with blogging, just when I wonder whether I ought to scrap the blog altogether, some crazy comes along and makes it all worthwhile.

When I am in one of those moods where I am convinced that nobody pays attention to what I write, I will randomly pick out a newspaper article and make fun of it for no real reason. Though this is not, strictly speaking, a humor blog, I do try to exercise my wit whenever possible. Sometimes I go beyond snarky and post something just for the hell of it.

One such post was this one from last November in which I made fun of a news story concerning illegal dumping in the Pittsburgh area. I typed the thing in a hurry, hit the post button, got one comment from a regular reader, and quickly forgot about it. I was blogging for the sake of blogging. I just wanted to blog about something, anything, just to keep in practice.

More than six months passed, and I noticed that, according to my Site Meter stats, that particular post was being passed around in Yahoo! Mail, mostly in Great Britain. I'm not sure why there would be a sudden U.K. interest in illegal dumping in Pittsburgh. Eventually a locally based individual decided to leave a comment.

Ordinarily I just ignore comments that appear on old posts, but this one just begged for a rebuttal. For one thing, the first half of the comment was written in a completely different style than the second half. It didn't take long to discover that the first half was an unattributed copy-and-paste of a Wikipedia definition. The rest of the comment was angry and apparently typed out in a hurry -- not unlike the original post. (The commenter also seems to be a young woman. Something about the style.) Site Meter was able to tell me where the commenter was posting from. The internet makes low-level detective work a snap.

I could have fired back with an equally angry response, but I decided to step back and think it out before responding. I tried very hard to stay serious and not get snarky -- unlike the original post, which I admit was not one of my better efforts. I teased just a little, but made my points and moved on. Someone else -- or possibly the anonymous commenter using a new name -- followed up with an even more level-headed comment, which satisfies me. I'm going to let it go now.

This episode has shown me that my blogging is more than just a virtual chanting into the wind. People really do pay attention. I'm still not sure that I want to keep doing things the way that I have been, however. For instance: Last Wednesday, I typed out a couple of posts critiquing commentaries from the local newspaper. I haven't posted anything else since. In the past, I would have felt satisfied with those posts. Now I feel like I'm in a rut. The paper's editors will always say something that I disagree with, and the columnist is always going to say something stupid. I've done it so many times in the past that it feels useless to continue.

This is not to say that I am going to quit blogging. Those who quit usually come back. Douglas Bass came back. Bogus Gold's Doug promises to come back, eventually. Even Honnistaibe came back, and he's dead! I could go on and on about bloggers who enjoyed temporary "retirements". Time off helps. I had almost three weeks away from blogging when I was on vacation last month, and I still haven't "recovered" from my absence. Chalk it up to the weather.

So I am not going anywhere -- for now. I just won't be posting as often as I have done in the past. I have thought about scrapping the archives and starting anew, but why? I can't change my past, no matter how embarrassing some things may have been. And if you don't like it, well...I can't change that, either.

Have a nice day!