Friday, October 26, 2007

That's it, you've gone too far

So we live in a consumer society that is driven by advertising. I get it. I participate in it. I sometimes even enjoy the feeling that I just have to go out and buy whatever new thing is being pushed, even though I'm surely old enough to know I will just feel cheap and used in the morning. What if we all suddenly developed resistance to advertising and stopped buying stuff? We would bring a curse upon all our houses - stocks would tumble (that's what stocks always do, unless they're soaring or crashing) liquidity would become a big problem (even bigger that the problem with understanding what liquidity means) and in general, the economy would go down the toilet. Now I've never been down the toilet, but there have been a few occasions when I've been up close and personal with the toilet after a particularly enthusiastic party, and it doesn't look like something you want to go down. So let's just agree we all need to keep buying stuff all the time, forever and ever, amen.

That said, there are moments when the advertising culture just takes it over the line. One of those moments came last night. I'm watching the World Series, and all of a sudden they're talking about how everybody in American gets a free taco next week because some guy just stole a base. They show it on the scoreboard and make this plug for a minute. Free Taco Bell taco. Whoop-dee-frickin-doo.

During the next commercial break, I'm flipping around and we end up watching Jeopardy for awhile. I come back to the game later, and here they are again, going on about the stupid free taco. And they're showing a replay, and the free taco sign, and interviewing the idiot king of Taco Bell, who, of course, just coincidentally happens to sitting in a $1,000 seat close by. Three ridiculously long, drawn out, rhapsodic pieces on the lame ass 39 cent free taco. Let me remind you, your honor, that the defendant perpetrated this heinous act during the World Series! The Fall Classic, ladies and gentlemen! Is this the legacy our forefathers wished to be bestowed on their progeny? One of the great, revered moments in American sports, a World Series game, besmirched by goofballs running off at the mouth about a free taco? (And if they actually eat a few of those, it won't be only at the mouth where there will be running off.) I had to turn the game off after that, before Curt Schilling pulled a bean and cheese burrito out of his bloody sock or something.

So Mr. Taco Bell Inc., I ask you, sir - have you no sense of decency?

May he who came up with this idea, and he who let it happen in a World Series game, be visited by the e coli fairy soon.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Mouser's cramp crimps blogging

I feel I owe an apology to the dozens of readers...well, tens.....OK, any individual who may read here accidentally, for being more than usually spare in my offerings. Taking note that the topic category for this post is "whining and complaining," here's why.

After about six months of work, today we are scheduled to launch the new website I have been working on for the City of Napa. I say scheduled, because we have scheduled to launch several other times and had to abort. Today I think it will happen.

A few months ago when it was in the news that I would be re-making the City's website, some wisenheimer wrote to the Napa Valley Register something to the effect of "any teenager with a MySpace can make a website." True in some sense, but most teenager's MySpaces don't have 300+pages and hundreds of documents, and most importantly, teenagers don't have to coordinate, coerce and cajole several dozen other people to provide, and then approve, the content on the site. (On the other hand, you can get teenagers to work for $12 an hour, so maybe I should have subbed the whole job out.)

So beyond all that messy human interaction, I have been spending hour upon hour in a chair staring at a screen, mousing, mousing, mousing, click-and-drag, right click, copy, paste, correct the spelling, bold it, enter, enter, mousing, mousing, mousing - you get the idea. My mousing hand and arm are bulked up like Bonds, my inactive midsection out-Gores Al Gore, and if it turns out that this computer screen is emitting radiation, I am certain to come down with face cancer.

Wish me luck. We're T-minus a few hours, and either the whole thing soars or blows up on the pad.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Stop the presses! Special Edition!

I bought some newspapers this week. The SF Chronicle called to tell me my subscription had run out, and offered to renew it. $25 for 26 weeks, they said. I told them that sounded like more than I paid last time, and so they looked it up and sure enough, last subscription was $20 for 26 weeks but that was a "promotional" rate. So I asked if they had a promotional rate this week, and so they looked it up and said yes, and so I paid $15 for 26 weeks. A little more than 50 cents a week for the Wednesday through Sunday service, because apparently nothing you'd want to know about ever happens on Monday or Tuesday, or they can't find enough people in the Bay Area willing to work for a living to staff up and deliver all seven days.

Lest you think I am now going to describe how I did my laundry or went grocery shopping, never fear, I have not become the world's most mundane blogger. (I'm still third most mundane.) There is an actual point here.

Granted the Chronicle is not a particularly great newspaper, but what does it say when they are on the verge of paying me to take the thing off their hands? What is happening to our fourth estate when the price of the product is rapidly sliding and still they want to dicker? Reminds me of the joke for which the punchline is "We've determined what you are, now we're just negotiating the price." (If you don't know the setup that goes with that punchline, call 1-800-HARDYHARHAR and ask for Prince Albert. If he's not in, try Seymour Butts.)

Granted also that the radio business has had a reputation for this same kind of loose morals around the value of the product. We used to speculate that some radio ad salesmen (this was before they became "account executives") would respond to their clients resistance to sign contracts by saying "Well, how many ads do you think you should get for $100?"

The problem is, as much as I love my internet (Al Gore, you da man!) and get approximately 93.6% of my news there, for free, I still love newspapers. (OK, I don't love the Chronicle, but I still read it.) Even if all the stories in print are 20 hours old by the time I see it, and even if it's the most un-green thing in the world to use all that paper to print it and gasoline to drive it to my house, and even if there hasn't been a funny comic strip since Bloom County, and even if I can find more good stuff to buy in sixty seconds on Craigslist than an hour in the classifieds, and even if everything else in the paper is as predictable as the outcome of the Patriots-Dolphins game this weekend, I still want newspapers around. Not just news sites, but newspapers.

So come on, traditional print journalism! Believe in yourself! Be all you can be! There are still old fashioned suckers out here who are counting on you as a comfort in our dotage. You are the meatloaf and mashed potatoes of daily news consumption, and the classics never go out of style.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Hard drive ruptures, ones and zeroes all over the floor

I think my computer is failing. It makes these weird noises lately, lots of clicking and a little screeching, which means either the hard drive is going or it has Tourette's. Although the sudden outbursts of foul language usually come from me, so it's probably the hard drive.

I always get a little panic attack when I think the computer's dying. You'd think I'd be used to it by now, since this is maybe PC number five that is suffering from end-stage hard drive error. But the panic comes from the feeling that I'm going to lose something precious - something I can't even specifically identify - that is saved somewhere in this box. Maybe it's a photo, or a song, or a piece of video, or something I started writing and didn't finish, a link to something that was really important at the moment that I have forgotten about, an email I meant to answer but haven't - somehow something's going to get left behind. I have to remind myself that although each of these PCs has been like a trusted friend, I have survived their passage to the trash heap. (Let me clarify that it's only metaphorical trusted friends, like old PCs, go to the trash heap, not actual trusted friends. With some exceptions.)

And the panic is compounded by the fear that, with a dead computer, I will not be able to tap into the ocean of information that I wallow in at the start of each day. God forbid I should have to get my news from a newspaper (who knows when it will show up?) or radio (who knows when they will shut up?) or - gasp! - morning television (there's something so sad about all those people standing around outside the studio for a chance to wave at the camera while Mr. Smarmy does the weather.)

But I will fight the wave of fear and lug in the next magic box, and plug in all my gadgets, and I will keep my connections always on, pedal to the metal on the Information Superhighway (thanks again, Al Gore - why no Nobel for inventing the internet, I ask?) because I have an aching need to know.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Let's all waste our time

My normal mode is enthusiasm on a Monday morning. When Monday rolls around, I have that feeling that if I just get a good early start, today will be the day I tie up all those loose ends and get caught up at work. Usually it takes until about 11:30am for the enthusiasm to wane. Today, the waning has already begun at 7:17am. Not a good sign.

So perhaps today is a good day for some diversion, and I think I have just the ticket. It's a site called Uncyclopedia. I am a regular user of Wikipedia, and I ignore the small minds who criticize it's "wisdom of crowds" comprehensiveness, so this Uncyclopedia site is a hoot since it is a satire on Wikpedia. If you don't use Wikipedia then the whole satire thing is not going to gain much traction with you, so look, you're on your own today.

In just a quick look I got some good smirks from

Ice Cream Flavors Not in the Top 100

HowTo:Use IYDKWTAAMTYSUTOFRAITYTTAAMYYY to Help You Figure out What Other Abbreviations Mean

Wooden branch with slight bend (subtitled Origins of the stick)

And I also found this defintion of "writing":
Writing is the act of removing excess ink from a pen or typewriter ribbon by marking up one or more sheets of paper. In contemporary usage, writing is the primary means of preventing a computer screen from freezing. In either case, literature, or even a remotely coherent string of text, is a coincidental by-product of the process. However, this by-product occurs distressingly often and if unchecked can lead to publication, which in turn may cause widespread entertainment, learned discourse, cultural enhancement, and other forms of pollution.
Like a lot of Web 2.0 collective efforts, the Uncyclopedia is a big unwieldy mishmash of brilliance and stupidity and trying too hard and chips on shoulders and brash youth and inside jokes. Like the last half hour of Saturday Night Live, it has a lot of "the premise was funnier than the bit." But on a Monday morning, with a waning sense of purpose, anything that elicits even a flicker of a smile is golden.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Collective survivor's guilt

In the last week, I've heard about an old friend who's just had a big tumor taken out of his head, and another friend who is paralyzed with Guillen-Barre Syndrome (one of those afflictions you'd just as soon you'd never heard about.) These guys are both in the 40 to 45 years old range. And today there is a funeral for a local police officer who died from cancer at 39.

It puts me in mind of those "storming the beach" scenes. There are always lots of troops making it through, but alongside others are falling, some wounded and some dead. Middle age seems to be that way. You keep trudging forward while the casualties mount up, wondering if there's a blood clot with your name on it out there waiting for you.

With all the awareness we have of these everyday casualties, and knowing that there is inevitably some suffering just around the next corner, it's amazing that so many people can screw up the courage to keep getting out of bed everyday. And not only to get out of bed, but to hold down a job, show up on time, save money for the future, go to the gym, eat flax, and scorn the pleasures of the flesh, all with hopes of making a little further across the beachhead before the mortars cut you down.

I know there are lots of people who are sustained by faith, and believe whatever pain and suffering we find in the life is short term and the reward will come later. Or you can go Calvinist and choose to believe the Big Guy has a plan and you are just a bit player in your life. I'm glad for those who find their comfort, but the utter randomness of it all leaves me in doubt. Why have I made it this far across the beach when so many others are down? Kind of makes me feel obligated to do something worthwhile - at least part of the time.

Monday, October 8, 2007

Hard chargers, parasites, and Christopher Columbus

Today I am observing Columbus Day by not getting dressed. To be more specific, not dressed for work. I could say I am observing Columbus Day by having a day off work, but I worked a few hours so that wouldn't be true. So all I can say for my "day off" is that it was really a half day off.

Seems there aren't many people any more who have any respect for the 40 hour work week. Seeing as how there were lots of union guys and gals who got their heads caved in to earn the right to a 40 hour week, shouldn't we all honor that by not working our asses off 10 or 12 hours a day and half the weekend, too? Everywhere I look there are people putting in huge amounts of hours, week after week. And a lot of these people have kids, too, little ones. I worry they will be looking back very soon and wondering why they put work ahead of their kids - and we're not talking about people who are working two jobs to pay the rent, right? It's a choice, a mindset. Got to work more to get ahead, get promoted, make sure my value is known. Hmmm.

On the other hand, there are the parasites who don't seem to work at all. Did I say parasites? That's harsh, I meant to say leeches. Sorry, that was also harsh. Spongers? Deadbeats? I just can't find the right word. But you know who I mean - people who just plain don't contribute. Not only don't do any work that matters, but don't earn enough to stimulate the economy with their spending or pay much in taxes. If you're going to be poor, why not join the Peace Corps and do something worthwhile? Or go to a monastery and scourge yourself.

Gee, somehow Columbus Day has made me a judgmental a-hole.

OK, more of a judgmental a-hole.

Stupid Columbus. What did he ever really do? Begged for money to go sailing, and then never knew where he was, and when he got there (to the place he didn't know he was in) started right in with the patriarchal bullshit and spreading disease all over the place like he owned it.

There I go again. Must be something I ate. Did I grab a box of "Judgmental Flakes" off the shelf this morning?

On the other hand, Columbus did do enough to get a holiday in his honor, and as a result I got a (half) day off work. I think I'll go try to enjoy what's left of it, because when you have a day off you should have a day off, even if it's only half a day off.

Thursday, October 4, 2007

If we had to, could we do it today?

It's been a few days since I wrote. I've been feeling kind of low since Jimmy and the other boys at the malt shop made fun of my shoes. I don't know why Janice needs to be so mean. After all, she---WAIT a minute. That's my diary entry from October 1955, not my blog post. Sometimes I forget which decade I'm writing in. Hang on there...I know I've got 2007 right here somwhere...OK, all set. Let's go.

I am one of millions who are watching Ken Burns' latest documentary The War. Goes without saying that it is another masterwork, like Baseball and The Civil War. Burns is a special story teller. You've got to love a guy who makes 15 hour film projects that take seven years. (Took him longer to make the film than it took Hitler to conquer, and lose, the free world.)

I'm a believer in regular review of key moments in history. Since we're always trying to make sense of the present-day world, it's worthwhile to touch base with the past and recognize when we made good decisions and when we screwed up. That way maybe we'll recognize the key moment when it comes up next time. In that light, it is astonishing to consider that we (us Americans) let that war go so far and did not get involved. (My dad - that's him in Germany in 1945 - enlisted in September of 1939, shortly after the Nazis took Poland. He could see what was coming. And like a lot of guys, he didn't have a job, so what the hell.) I know we were still smarting from our losses in WW1, a war that a lot of people thought we did not need to join, and there was a strong sentiment to let Europe deal with its own problems. But for crying out loud - we let Hitler run wild for four or five years, and Japan the same, and in the long run our reluctance to get involved just made it that much harder and more costly when we finally did get down to business. Give that some thought the next time the topic of "pre-emption" comes up.

It is a challenge, from the perspective of our cushy American life today, to imagine what life was like for those who fought that war. You can read history to say we could have never lost in the long run, that our industrial capacity would win in the end - or that our indomitable American spirit was destined to prevail. But I think the truth is in a gray area. Take away some specific individuals, change the luck in some specific battles, and who knows what the result might have been.

Above it all, what boggles the mind is the selflessness that was required for millions of men and women to put their lives on the line for the cause. More than that, for so many to willingly go into battle zones where they knew there was a good chance they would not survive. For those who were there, perhaps there really was no choice. You hear the veterans and those who sacrificed on the home front say "it was something that had to be done." (My mom - that's her on the homefront in '44 or '45 with her firstborn and Grandma Sallie - taught us all about "doing what you have to do.") This attitude is so foreign to our American life today. There doesn't seem to be anything that simply "has to be done." We are so spoiled and so accustomed to having everything just the way we want it every day, if there was a true need would we remember how to sacrifice for the common good? I like to think we still have the capacity to do things that "have to be done" but it's been so long since we had a unified sense of purpose, I wonder if our national will has atrophied.

I learned some things watching The War. Like why my mom always kept a coffee can on the stove and put leftover bacon grease in it. It wasn't just a convenience for the next fried egg, I think it was a habit from the war, recycling the fat for the glycerin to make bombs. And I learned that the concept of the "butterfly effect" is very real. It would have only taken one bullet in the Rhineland - or for that matter, a munitions accident or an overturned truck - and my dad would not have survived, and I wouldn't be here, and my kids wouldn't be here, and their kids wouldn't be here. Think of all the families that lost not only their "today," but their "tomorrow," too, in that war...

I'm recording all 15 hours of The War. If I get to feeling sorry for myself and thinking I don't have anything to be thankful for, I've got the antidote.