Monday, December 23, 2013

Duck Dimwit

Can a man take fire in his bosom, and his clothes not be burned? ~Proverbs 6:27

So, there's this show called Duck Dynasty, which is about some guy who has made a successful business from making duck calls and then hired his whole family to provide him with endless amusement while he makes money. Or something like that. At any rate, it is one more program in the long list of shows that Discovery/History (this one's on A&E) have come up with to convince its mostly urban/suburban viewers that anyone who lives in the South (or in Alaska, for some reason) is a hick and just a bundle of laughs.

We've had swamp people, logging people, swamp logging people, fishing people, gold hunting people, and Alaskans by the bunch all of whom seem to exist to show that there are, in fact, people dumber than the average sophisticated viewer of The History Channel, Discovery Channel, or whatever. Of course, if those viewers were so sophisticated, they might realize that these hicks are getting wealthy acting dumb while the viewer pays the cable or satellite bill to keep them on the air.

Well, now we have one of these hicks, someone from Duck Dynasty, doing a little good ol' fashioned Biblical gay bashing in a GQ interview which he followed up with an “apology” defending everything he said previously while allowing how he had committed some “sexual sins” himself.

Obviously his reading of the Bible never extended to John 8:7.

So A&E “suspended” him, whatever that means, while basking in all the free publicity for the show. Of course, conservatives tried to make this into a free speech issue, forgetting that, while you can say what you damn well please, you have to own up to the consequences of saying it.

There's also a bit of stuff in the interview where he's “for the blacks” because his family is “white trash.” Well, Mr. White Trash, while you and your ancestral white trash were working in the fields with the po' ol' black folk, you could easily vote, get a drivers' license, and have a hope of working up to a foreman's job, which, for a very long time, those black folk couldn't do. One reason they couldn't do those things were because of the people the poor old white trash kept voting into the legislature.

What this is called down here in the South is “pious racism”, appreciating the lot of blacks as long as they kept in their place. In other words, what we have hear is a good old fashioned bigot that much of the country can feel superior to because he's a hick Southern racist – or someone they can relate to because said viewers may be racist bigots, too.

This is your basic lose-lose situation.

But back to the gay bashing. Call me naive, which is kinda hard to do to a 65 year-old, but I have never understood the big concern over someone's sexuality. I've known gay people, and I've known straight people, and I have yet to detect significant differences between them when it comes to job performance, interests, and general humanity. All I care about is whether the person is a decent sort or a jerk. The rest takes care of itself.

I have noticed a tendency in the media to highlight homosexuality in a person accused of sex crimes, particularly those involving children. If the person is straight, then he/she is a pervert. If the person is homosexual, then he/she is a GAY pervert, as if that somehow makes it worse. Such reporting just adds to the whole “gays are disgusting deviants” mentality that refuses to go away.

However, just when it seems like the whole world is a stinking morass of hate, one gets a story like this. Seems a fellow with the wondrous name of Jamison Manwaring decided to come out not just to his family but his church. That's brave enough, but imagine this. Mr. Manwaring lives in Salt Lake City and is a Mormon. Not only did they not burn him at the stake, but church members, as well as his family members, are actually supportive of him.

Perhaps the Duck Dunce needs to take a pilgrimage to Utah.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Humbug

I do like Christmas on the whole.... In its clumsy way, it does approach Peace and Goodwill. But it is clumsier every year. ~E.M. Forster

In today's edition of “My god! Did someone actually say that?”, we have a teacher in New Mexico who, finding a black student dressed as Santa Claus said, “Don't you know Santa Claus is white? Why are you wearing that?” Needless to say, there were repercussions, suspensions and apologies all around and a veritable Internet feeding frenzy, which aside from scanning the one article, I have avoided reading. So I can't say who, if anyone, defended the teacher, who made it into another “war on Christmas” issue, or who wanted the teacher's head on a platter.

Frankly, I was going to ignore the whole thing. But it just wouldn't go away. See, this teacher was wrong on so many levels that I couldn't stop thinking just how typical of our society this was.

First, the statement was ridiculously racist. Second, it was totally insensitive. Third, and most important, it was a demonstration of how the spirit of Christmas has eluded the majority of people in this country (and probably most of the world that celebrates the holiday).

I think it was during the late Jurassic period, when I was around seven years old when I began wondering about this whole Santa Claus thing. After I began asking some probing questions, my mother decided it was time to break the news. I don't recall the word-for-word of it all, but the gist of it was that Santa Claus was a representation of what Christmas was about, the spirit, if you will, of Christmas. So all these representations of him we saw were just a way to remind us that it was a season of good will and giving. Of course, there was also the spirit of getting, but she played that down.

But her thinking was great. The whole thing, from St Nicholas down to the jolly old image foisted on us by Coca Cola was about a season where we put aside the petty and thought of others. Charles Dickens, of course, put it all into words we could understand in A Christmas Carol, a story that doesn't involve Santa at all, but does involve keeping Christmas in the heart the year round.

There's no telling whether the New Mexico teacher has ever seen A Christmas Carol, but, if he did, he didn't get it. The Spirit of Christmas does not come in a specific color or religion. It isn't about what Santa looks like or sounds like. It's about a feeling, a feeling that is drifting away from us. Ebeneezer Scrooge, before his awakening, would have found nothing wrong with working retail store employees on Thanksgiving to rake in early sales. He would have applauded the store that asked people for food donations for their employees rather than paying them enough to survive. Well, maybe not: “Are there no prisons?...And the union workhouses, are they in operation?Not enough to eat? Get another job, you slacker!

One thing that took me a while to understand was why Scrooge was so upset at seeing his own grave. Did he think he would live forever? No, that wasn't it. What terrified him was that he would die alone and unloved. He wouldn't even be hated; those he had wronged would simply steal his bed clothes and valuables and sell them then forget him. Alone, unloved, forgotten, a most pitiful way to die.

That's what it takes to shock Scrooge, to turn him into a man who kept Christmas in his heart year round. And that Scrooge, I think, would not care that a black kid might dress up as Father Christmas.

It would be nice if the teacher got that point.  I doubt he did, but, hey, it's Christmas.  One can always hope.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

BCS Logic: Imperfect is better than perfect

Football combines the two worst things about America: it is violence punctuated by committee meetings. ~George F. Will

I really didn't want to get into this BCS garbage, because that's what the BCS is – garbage. Oh, and by the way, it ain't gonna get any better next year with athletic directors and a few wannabe experts (Condaleeza Rice – really???) picking the four finalist teams for the “playoffs”. So what we'll get is a bunch of quid-pro-quo picks by the AD's (vote for us now, we'll vote for you next year) and a group of people who don't even know the team nicknames going along with them.

But, I couldn't avoid it when, after Ohio State beat Michigan in a great game and Auburn pulled off their second pure-luck victory in a row, the ESPN SEC bandwagon started up pulling for Auburn in the championship. And I got even more aggravated when Jay Jacobs, Auburn AD, came up with this line:

"An SEC team can't get left out of the (championship game) with one loss. We just beat the No. 1 team in the nation, and a team ahead of us struggled today, I understand," (referring to Ohio State's 42-41 victory at Michigan).

Sure, Jay, like your boys won it going away. For those who don't know, the score was tied with seconds left when Nick Saban, for reasons even he can't rationally explain, tried a 56-yard field goal. Not only was it short, but Auburn ran it back for the game winning score. Yup, Auburn sure dominated them. Oh, and the week before they beat a three-loss Georgia team with a last second prayer that bounced off two Georgia defenders into the hands of an Auburn receiver.

Yup, you guys were really kicking butt there.

Then he came up with this one:

"It's already happened in 2004, and it would be a disservice to the nation if we got left out."

Yes, I remember 2004. Auburn, with a perfect record was ranked third behind a one-loss Oklahoma.

So, having a one-loss team make the championship while a team with a perfect record gets the cold shoulder is bad, right, Jay? You wanna make up your mind?

There is a continuing myth that the SEC is the only good conference in the country, despite having fairly ordinary records against non-conference opponents who aren't cupcakes. Frankly, the SEC resembles the Big 10 over the years: One or two power teams followed by a lot of so-so. Yes, the SEC has dominated the national championship game. No one is saying Alabama, Florida, and the rest are crummy teams. But get past that and neither of the conference exactly dominates the other bowl games.

For me the BCS lost what little credibility it had in 2012 when Saban did everything he could to lose to LSU in the regular season then ended up facing them again in the national championship. After the loss, Alabama fell to third, then moved up to number 2 by not playing the following week.  Oh, and the same talking heads that thought that was wonderful had moaned and groaned that Ohio State-Michigan rematch would be bad for the championship game (they were 1 and 2 when they met at the end of the season: OSU won).

It doesn't hurt that SEC Commissioner Mike Slive is one of the main movers of the current BCS system, by the way.

The BCS has frozen out plenty of teams with perfect records, who went on to beat some impressive opponents in bowl games:
  • 2010-11 -- No. 12 TCU beats No. 5 Wisconsin
  • 2009-10 – No. 6 Boise State beats No. 4 TCU (who also had a perfect record)
  • 2008-9 – No. 7 Utah beats No.4 Alabama (oh, really?)
Apparently, the plan this year is to have a rematch between Auburn and Alabama for the championship game unless Florida State and Ohio State win by about 50 points each in their league championship games. That was pretty much the spin ESPN's crew put on things. Personally, I don't know what's going to happen for sure, but I can promise this.

It ain't gonna get better next year.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Flying cars, hell—Where's the 24 hour workweek?

If it keeps up, man will atrophy all his limbs but the push-button finger. ~Frank Lloyd Wright

Over at the other blog, I offered some opinions of visions of the future. But I left one out that has been predicted again and again without having come to fruition: The shortened workweek.

The theory always was propounded the same way:
  1. Improved production methods would increase productivity, thereby getting more stuff made in a shorter time.
  2. As the computer became a hot item, it was obvious that this “labor-saving” device would allow the crunching of data in a concise form that would make management jobs more efficient.
  3. Having a shorter workweek (with pay held the same) you could still hire more people (to fill in the gaps in the shorter week) and come out ahead thanks to 1 and 2 above.
Yeah, right.

So what's really happened? Well, managers are working as long or longer than ever, partly because they have so much data, they can't keep up with it. The increased productivity of production workers has simply resulted in less production workers. Of course, the idea here was that production workers could get retrained to work in white collar positions. Except that I don't think anyone is really investing in retraining on a major scale.

The computer, meanwhile, has increased rather than decreased the workload, thanks partly to lousy software and partly to the amount of time wasted by all levels of employees on the Internet.

Oh, there are employers who hold some of their workers to 30-hour workweeks, but that's so they can get around giving them benefits by calling them “part-time” workers.

This is absurd.

Not only are we working as much or more than we were in, say, the 1950's, but now both partners in the household are holding jobs (sometimes multiple jobs) just to keep their heads above water.

I've worked, at various times over the last 40 plus years worked 50 hours a week regularly, often working weekends. In my current, soon-to-be-officially-retired-from capacity, I worked a number of stretches of two or more months working every weekend. Fortunately, I could do most of this remotely, so I could do server maintenance or major file re-locations while sneaking a peek at a football game.

Which brings us to the whole business of working at home.

Evidently, for the few businesses that actually allowed this, it hasn't worked out very well. For some reason, workers, not knowing a good thing when they have it, were goofing off too much—or so goes the story. Personally, I think management doesn't like not being able to micromanage employees. Also, one suspects that people attending meetings by teleconferencing were doing a little non-work multitasking instead of hanging on every repetitive word coming from the wheels.

Okay, some telecommuters goof off if given the chance, but, if the data provided by network proxy devices is any indication, they're goofing off on the company premises pretty well, too. They may even be working less in the office than when they're at home. But, at home, the boss can't walk into the employee's cubicle and interrupt his/her train of thought to discuss something trivial or do something trivial for a hgher-up.

For the record, I actually have an office (real walls and a door), and my current boss and his boss tried to avoid this sort of nonsense. Most people aren't that lucky, as I was not in some earlier jobs.

So, it's a two-way street. Managers live in a world of the trivial (abetted by all that computer data they don't understand), and workers are forwarding cute pictures of kittens when they could be getting their jobs done. Ultimately, then, it's the overemphasis on the computer that is keeping people tied to their desks when they could be working 32 hours a week.

Peter Drucker once said that the main impact of the computer was to create unlimited jobs for clerks. I once opined that, in fact, the main impact was to turn managers into clerks. Now, I think its main impact has been to turn everyone into web-browsing zombies, watching movies, downloading pictures, sneaking peeks at porn, doing everything, in fact, but working.

You want a shorter workweek? Start by working. The rest may just take care of itself.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Extra! Extra! Not everything you read on the Internet is true.

The Internet is a shallow and unreliable electronic repository of dirty pictures, inaccurate rumors, bad spelling and worse grammar, inhabited largely by people with no demonstrable social skills. ~Author Unknown

I don't know why writers continue to be amazed that there are actually false stories on the Internet, but they are. Case in point: Chris Gayomali over at The Week brings to light a couple of hot stories that are actually hot air. The first involves “the knockout game” wherein wayward youths affected by Grand Theft Auto or something come zipping up on unsuspecting people and whack them in the back of the head. Right after this was “exposed” as a hot new trend, a story came out that some sweet little old lady, after being smacked on the noggin, pulled a pistol out of her bag and wasted one or more of the miscreants.

It turns out that the murderous granny was a fiction, as pointed out by Snopes.com, an invaluable source of info on Internet hokum. The Snopes article does add, though, that there has been a wounding incident. But that incident involved a bunch of thugs with a taser, hardly the “knockout game” as described by most sources.

Gayomali's main point is that the knockout game is, in fact, a phony trend, a myth based on three – count 'em – three reported incidents since October, 2012. Well, you know the mainstream media; they're always a little late to pick up on this stuff.

His other example involves a waitress getting stiffed at a restaurant because she is gay. The proof was a copy of the chargecard receipt showing no tip with an insulting homophobic message written on it. The falsity of this was demonstrated by the Facebook page of the diners showing their copy of the receipt, which shows a normal tip being given, along with a copy of their chargecard bill showing the total charge for the restaurant meal adding up to the same amount as the price of the meal with tip.

Their copy of the receipt proves little to me since they could have written on that after the fact, but the bill would seem to confirm their side of the story. So why would someone perpetrate such a hoax? Well, I worked in the restaurant biz as a busboy in my father's restaurants, and I know people do some rotten things to servers. Most memorable was a family of ten coming in and ordering full meals for everyone, then leaving a $1 tip for a waitress who had done a perfectly good job. In those days, all a server could do was grumble to herself and to her coworkers. Now, they have the Internet.

I don't know how many of these insults-to-servers I've seen over the last few months, but I don't expect them to go away anytime soon because customers can be jerks. Perhaps these people did leave a perfectly good tip but they were jerks during the meal. If one member of the dining group is an ass, the peron picking up the tab will often tip nicely to make up for it. Perhaps in this case, the tipe wasn't enough to make up for it. Or maybe, as suggested in the article, maybe someone else got hold of the receipt and decided to have their Internet moment of fame.

Simple good reporting would have avoided either of these stories getting out of hand. It used to be called “journalism”, this business of writing for news media. The trouble is that, evidently, just about anyone can call themselves a journalist these days.

Take, for example, this screed penned for Gawker by some guy who got canned from Buzzfeed. First and foremost, the writer admits that he's something of ass to work with. He even goes so far as to list as the number one reason they fired him is that they shouldn't have hired him in the first place. The only question here should be, “What the deuce are you complaining about?” At any rate, at one point he mentions that one reason he got the boot is because he regularly challenged the editors. His defense for being an argumentative so and so is, “[T[hat's journalism.”

Say what? This is Buzzfeed, for crying out loud. Who would consider the content of what is almost entirely a humor site made up of goofy lists of things a journalisitic enterprise? That would make Cracked, Mad, and the Onion examples of jouranalism.

Of course, considering the number of articles from the Onion that have been picked up by the news media as real stories, perhaps they are.

At any rate, it appeared that majority of commentors had little sympathy for him. Several took issue with calling Buzzfeed a journalistic entirprise, thank goodness.
The initial definition of jouranalism according to Merriam-Webster is so general as to almost include something like Buzzfeed, but there's one below it that covers my thinking: Writing characterized by a direct presentation of facts or description of events without an attempt at interpretation. What the guy formerly at Buzzfeed was doing was commentary or satire or humor or something, but it wasn't jouranalism. Most blogs aren't journalism either.

There's nothing wrong with just being a writer. We're all entitled to present our opinons in the mob scene that is the Internet. But let's not go putting on airs about being journalists. There are people paid to do that job, who are supposed to accurately report what's going on in the real world. Trouble is, the Internet is allowing them to be bloody lazy about it.

And that may just be the real crux of the problem.

Friday, November 22, 2013

How to Keep Your Job

I want to read the employment section of the Bible. I think it’s simply called Job. ~ Jarod Kintz

For all practical purposes, I retired yesterday.  My last day is December 27, but between vacation and sick time, I'm done.  I've judiciously avoided talking much about my job and still won't until the actual final day.  After that, I might pass on a few tales of my 10+ years with the City of Birmingham.

What motivates me to write today, though, is an article by Monster.com offering advice on how to get fired. Well, their point is to avoid doing this stuff so you don't get fired.  Now, I can speak with some authority on the subject of holding a job because:
  • I've worked for 50 years; 
  • I've worked for 9 different companies (and about 15 if you count summer jobs); 
  • I was fired only once (because I wouldn't spy on my boss to keep the owner's son happy);
  • I've  had to fire a couple of people myself (which pretty much put me off management positions forever).
Some of them make great sense, but on some of them, Monster may be a little off base.  Here are the ones I think will definitely get you fired.

Lying on your resume - Oh, yeah.  There's a good reason this is number one on their list.  There have been some seriously high profile people who got caught seriously padding the old CV, usually claiming degrees that were never earned.

Drinking at work - Of course. In fact, f you're working with machinery, this may well take care of itself.

Having an affair with the boss - Generally, yes, although there are a few people who have turned this into a major advancement opportunity.

Ok, little doubt about those, but the others I can take some issue with.  In fact, most of them are only used as termination excuses to gloss over something worse (like having an affair with the boss).

Gossiping - Unless this gets to the "getting sued for slander" stage, gossiping is not going to get someone fired.  In fact, gossips are usually among the most popular people in the office.

Spending too much time on personal calls - Back when people would use company phones to call Aunt Alice who lived two time zones away, this could get you into serious trouble.  Now, everyone spends half the day on their cell phones either talking or texting. If this was enforced, there wouldn't be an executive who could hold a job for a week.

Spending too much time surfing the web - As a system administrator with responsibility for managing the web proxies, I can tell you that everyone spends too much time browsing the web.  The clever ones use their phones (when they're not texting) so we can't monitor their activity.  The one caveat here is surfing porn sites.  Get caught doing this and you will be escorted out the door by the nice security guard.

Screwing up the numbers - Oh, please.  If everyone I knew who screwed up important calculations was canned, I'd have worked for a couple of ghost companies.  Worst case seems to be that if you do this often enough, they'll give you an assistant who can add.

Alienating your coworkers - Interestingly, the biggest jerks tend to be the people who do perform their job functions the best.  When people complain that the jerk is a jerk, the boss will just tell them to live with it.  I can speak with some authority on this.

Blaming everyone but yourself - What will get you canned is owning up to screw-ups.  Once will be well-regarded as a mark of honesty; twice will be looked at somewhat askance but tolerated; three times and they'll decide you're gossiping or spending too much time surfing the web.

Incredibly, Monster doesn't mention some of the most common reasons for termination.  For example, absenteeism will do the trick.  It can take a while, but it will get you out the door.  In fact, one of the people I fired managed to miss four days in the first two weeks.    Her illness cover got blown when her mother called to complain that we were making her work so much overtime.  What ever work she was doing, it wasn't for us.

Sex or racial harassment can get you off the payroll very rapidly.  Companies do not like being sued because they almost always lose on these.  Oh sure, there are places where people can get away with this stuff for a while, but most of the ones I've been with will show you the door very quickly.

But there is one reason which is never given explicitly, and that is the "somebody's got to take the fall" firing.  Oh sure, we hear about CEO's leaving for performance reasons, but they leave with fat bonuses and platinum parachutes.

No, what I'm talking about is the guys who got canned before the CEO took the money and ran.  These are the foot soldiers who did what they were told and got booted for their trouble so the higher-ups could try to dodge responsibility for bad decisions.  I was ordered to fire someone because of an executive's bad decisions one time.  Basically, a pain-in-the-butt customer was angling for a price cut, so they complained about everything they could, which including some testing being done by guy to be terminated.  The more they complained, the more the executive promised and the farther behind we fell in meeting commitments.

Now, this guy was not the best employee I ever had and had his flaws.  But he was improving..  He most certainly didn't deserve to be canned for the reasons given by the executive because he did the best he could in a situation where promises were being made that we couldn't keep.

And that's why I never got into management again, boys and girls.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Eerily Familiar

I'm not going to be the Alabama coach. ~ Alabama Head Football Coach Nick Saban, 76 wins and 3 BCS championships ago

Stop me if you've heard this one before.  Well, no, don't stop me because you have heard this one before.  Not long ago, speculation began making the sports news circles that Texas was interested in Nick Saban, current Alabama savior-in-residence, as head coach.

Back in 2006, the University of Alabama was suffering.  The late Mal Moore, then athletic director, was in desperate need of finding a decent coach.  As an aside, Mr. Moore is remembered with great fondness by Alabama fans.  From all reports he was a good human being, but history would indicate he wasn't the best judge of coaches.  He hired Dennis Franchione who skipped out to Texas A&M after a couple of seasons.  He followed this up with Mike Price, who never actually signed a contract, because he was fired for some extracurricular partying.  In desperation he chose Mike Shula.  Mr. Shula, in his second year, had the worst 10-win season in the history of football.  Everyone but Mr. Moore recognized what a fluke it was, but Mr. Moore decided it was worth a significant contract extension.  Mr. Shula didn't finish the next season, as I recall.

Then, Mr. Moore set his sights on Nick Saban.  Coach Saban was attempting to coach the Miami Dolphins.  Like many successful college coaches, the coach was not well-suited to the vagaries of dealing with pro players, and the Dolphins mediocre record reflected it.  Nevertheless, Coach Saban was insistent that he was not, no way, absolutely uh-uh, coming to Alabama.

The fun really started then.  With Saban's agent still working Mr. Moore hard, Mr. Moore decided to take Coach Saban at his word and tried to sign Rich Rodriguez, then at West Virginia.  Rodriguez, I believe, never had any intention of coming to Tuscaloosa (his wife reportedly was dead set against coming to Alabama) and simply used the offer as a bargaining chip.  So while Alabama was announcing that Rodriguez was flying to Alabama to accept the job, the coach was sitting in his office with the WVU AD and the governor swapping dirty stories or something.

Of course, we know what finally happened, Saban's agent Jimmy Sexton finally got Mr. Moore's attention and told him to just be patient.  The rest as they say is history.

So, what's going on now?

Well, here's Coach Saban going on about how he's too old, how he's planning to finish his career with the Crimson Tide, and on and on.  "I'm totally committed to the University of Alabama," the coach said.  Heck, the only thing he hasn't said is that he is not going to be the coach at Texas.

Mr. Sexton, however, has told people at Texas that Texas is the only school Coach Saban would leave Alabama for and that his success has put him under "special pressure," whatever that is.

Based on the history above, I'm more inclined to believe Mr. Sexton's actions than Coach Saban words.

Now, should the coach decided that deep in the heart of Texas there is more opportunity (and money) than in Tuscaloosa, he certainly wouldn't be the first coach to jump ship.  In fact, obviously, it wouldn't even be HIS first time at jumping ship.  At least he's never done it before the end of a season (like Lou Holtz, Bobby Petrino, and Pete Carroll, among others). 

Of course, should he leave, Alabama fans will be crushed, but they'll get over it.  This time, at least, the late Mal Moore won't be making the hiring decision.

You take your silver linings wherever you can find them.

Friday, November 1, 2013

Pre-concussion Syndrome?

Pro football is like nuclear warfare.  There are no winners, only survivors.  ~Frank Gifford

Concussions have become a big topic in sports, particularly in football, but also in soccer, auto racing, and others I'm sure.  Years ago, it was nothing to hear that a player had suffered "a mild concussion" and find him back in the game a little later.  Then all those players got older and dementia began setting in right, left, and sideways.  Then the attorneys got into it.  THEN, the NFL and others began to think seriously about what was going on.

Of course, it doesn't help that coaches, when they weren't teaching holding techniques to the offensive line, were teaching defensive players to clothesline receivers and make tackles leading with their helmets.  All of this led to more players being carried off the field, while the coaches (and the fans) cheered a "great hit."

Finally, the NFL and the NCAA (because college players can hire lawyers, too) realized this had to stop, so "anti-targeting" rules went into force this year.  Basically, this is the business, if I understand it correctly, of lining up a defenseless player in the crosshairs and deliberately whacking him, possibly with intent to injure. 

These sorts of rules are difficult to judge.  It's straightforward to call a hit to the head or a horse-collar tackle.  It's something else to determine in some cases what the intent was.  But you've got to start somewhere.  Targeting in the pros will buy you a fine, which can get heftier on repeat offenses.  In college, it buys you an ejection and/or a suspension.  Which brings us to Danny Kannell. 

Mr. Kannell used to be a quarterback at Florida State before bouncing around the NFL and Arena Football League.  He is now a color announcer for ESPN.  During a recent game, he was lamenting that one team had a player suspended for the first half because of a targeting penalty assessed in his last game.  Now, Mr. Kannell took issue with the penalty, saying it was way too severe.  Keep in mind, we're talking about being sat down for one half of a game, not for six games or the like.  Of course, one can argue whether the officiating call was right or whether the suspension, which was issued after a post-game review by the conference (I think).  However, Mr. Kannell's gripe was that they had the penalty at all.  His reasoning? 

"Concussions are part of the game."

Apparently, Mr. Kannell got hit in the head a few times during his career. 

Concussions are a part of the game that the powers that be are trying to remove.  It's certainly not necessary to have a player knocked silly and seeing two of everything to have a great game.

I wonder if Mr. Kannell saw this article about Bret Favre that came out after Kannell's brilliant observation.  Perhaps, Mr. Favre's message will get him thinking about concussions being "part of the game."

As if Mr. Kannell's stupidity wasn't enough, along comes Brad Keselowski, a NASCAR driver.  Seems the Sprint Cup series wants to have baseline concussion testing to try to stem the number of drivers circling the track with blurry vision -- and on their way to having trouble remembering how many gears they have.

"This is not the field for doctors, " Mr. Keselowski opined.  "Let them play in their arena, and I'll play in mine."  He goes on that vein ("Doctors don't understand our sport" and such) displaying an incredible ignorance of the effects of concussions and what it is that doctors do.  Perhaps Mr. Keselowski longs for the good old days when a few fatalities a year was no big deal.  It was just "part of racing."  He should ask Ricky Craven, Steve Park, and Dale Earnhardt Jr. about driving or trying to come back to drive after suffering a concussion.

Heck, making statements like these, Mr. Keselowski may not have a brain to concuss.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

The Night of the Living Dip

Be afwaid. Be vewy, vewy afwaid. ~ The Fwy

Note:  Another repeat, but an absolutely true story appropriate for the season.

In honor of Halloween, I am moved to tell the story how my hair turned gray in an instant. Well, that would be a good story, but it didn't happen, so I'll talk about the most stunned I have ever been, or ever wish to be, in my life.

I don't do funerals as a rule. I've had to go to four. In number one, I was roped in as a pall-bearer, so it was hard to back out. Number three and four were for my mother and father; it's considered poor form to not attend those, so I did. Number two was for my aunt. It is this funeral, or more properly, the visiting hours that I want to call to your attention.

My family doesn't have many relatives in this country; almost all my surviving relations live in Hungary, from whence my parents came. The lady I called my “aunt” was actually my mother's grandmother's sister's daughter's son's second wife. I don't know what that makes her exactly, it may be one of those situations where water is thicker than blood. For simplicity's sake, my mother's grandmother's sister's daughter's son was “Uncle” George, so his wife was “Aunt” Helen, and their daughter became my “cousin” Pat.

So, because our relatives here were so few, even a once or twice removed in-law deserved our presence at the visiting hours and the funeral. Beyond George and his immediate family, my folks and I knew practically no one in their clan. My dad put in a perfunctory visit then asked me if I could stay on to “represent” the family. Translation: I'm as bored as you are with all these people we barely know, but “tuition-paying Dad” outranks “destitute-college-student son, so I'll see you tomorrow at the funeral.

If there is one thing I simply cannot stand, it's ritual and ceremony. Weddings, funerals, graduations, and similarly gruesome events are the sort of thing I have assiduously avoided over the years. But there I was, keeping my Uncle company, since most of the people there were his deceased wife's relations and almost none of them cared for him.

Pat was attending Our Lady of Eternal Flagellation or something like that, so there was a mandatory appearance by the Nun Squad. Trooping down the aisle to the casket, in strict formation, they paid their respects than came over to comfort my Uncle. I whispered to him, “I ought to get out of here. They can spot a pagan from a mile away.” “Then we're both in trouble,” George said, “so you might as well stay.”

I stifled a chuckle as the lead nun came over and laid a few standard funeral cliches on us. I would pay for that.

After a while, Pat and I went downstairs where the coffee was. I had just poured a cup and was handing it to her, when I saw my Aunt Helen standing in front of me.

I was shocked, paralyzed, flummoxed, rendered speechless, and general put out. It is not proper for corpses to be coming downstairs for coffee. Suddenly Pat said, 'Have you ever met Ma's sister Marie?”

That would be her identical twin sister Marie. And I mean identical: Same hair color, same hairdo, same makeup, same voice, the whole enchilada. So I stood there saying something erudite like, “Hamanahamanahamana...”, thereby convincing Marie that a college education was not all it was cracked up to be if I was the end product.

After I regained the power of speech, I explained to Pat why my brain appeared to short out, which she found to be utterly hilarious. I was glad to know I had lifted her spirits, at the small cost of a momentary cardiac arrest on my part.

What I didn't tell her at the time was what the one thought was that was crawling through my fried brain as I looked at Marie. She probably would have laughed loud enough to bring the whole crowd downstairs, and I was already embarrassed enough.

All I could think as I stared at what looked like the walking corpse of my aunt was, “How did she change clothes so fast?”

Monday, October 14, 2013

Without Shakespeare, We Wouldn't Know What to Say

Now we sit through Shakespeare in order to recognize the quotations. ~Orson Welles


I realized the truth of what Welles said when, the other night, I watched an evening of Shakespearean plays that had been put to film. It seemed that, yea verily, every other line contained some familiar phrase that people use daily without connecting it to the bard: “Something's rotten in Denmark”, “to the manor born”, “Alas, poor Yorick; I knew him, Horatio”, the last being useful only when you have a skull handy, a dead friend named Yorick, and a live one called Horatio (although it's amazing how many people do, based on how often it's used).
So I perused the quote lists the other day and gathered a plethora of Will's bon mots from a gaggle of his plays and thought about where they might have application. Whether you agree with my applications or not, you will, after completing this article, be able to amaze your friends by rattling off some pithy phrase from Troilus and Cresseda.
To respond to that guy in the office who keeps saying how rich he would be if he only got some breaks:
“Men at some time are masters of their fates: The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars, but in ourselves ...” - Julius Caesar
What you think about your team's coach when that stupid play he called actually works:
“Though this be madness, yet there is method in it.” - Hamlet
Expressed, but not as eloquently, by a boss of mine years ago after a significant layoff occurred:
We few, we happy few, we band of brothers.” - King Henry
What Chicago Cubs fans think as they wonder if management will ever assemble a winning team again:
"Now is the winter of our discontent.” - Richard III  


The truth about humanity boiled to its essentials:
“The common curse of mankind - folly and ignorance." – Troilus and Cressida
And to think, this was written before reality television. (I told you you'd get a quote from this play.)
The result of a referee's call being overturned by instant replay:
"Fair is foul, and foul is fair". - Macbeth
To the Bible-quoting fundamentalists and politicians, who can always find a verse to justify their actions:
"The devil can cite scripture for his purpose". – Merchant of Venice
Congressional excuses for doing nothing about everything:
“It is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.” - Macbeth
I don't know how many of them are named Horatio, but this is directed to Intelligent Design advocates and Creationists who can't stomach the teaching of the theory of evolution:
“There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy.” - Hamlet
What Sonny Liston's corner man tried to tell him before his title fight with the guy who would change his name to Ali:
“Yond Cassius has a lean and hungry look; he thinks too much; such men are dangerous.” - Julius Caesar
To planners of meeting agendas, speakers at public gatherings, and bloggers everywhere:
"Brevity is the soul of wit." - Hamlet
Exit stage left.

Note:  A slightly edited rerun from long, long ago.






Monday, October 7, 2013

Slightly under repair

Seems the Google folks broke the news feed on the old blog, so I created a new one and am moving the better of the old postings over here.  The Atom feed may still be goofy for a while, but hopefully it will get fixed up soon.

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Rheta to the Rescue

I think one of the terrible things today is that people have this deathly fear of food: fear of eggs, say, or fear of butter. Most doctors feel that you can have a little bit of everything. ~ Julia Child

Rheta Grimsley Johnson is one of my favorite columnists, but recently, I do believe she went a bit off the rails in her defense of Paula Deen.

For those of who haven't been paying attention lately, Ms. Deen, who has a little cooking empire between her restaurant, her programs on the Cooking and Food Channels, her sons' programs on the same channels, and her endorsement deals for diabetic drugs, got sued by an employee for racial and workplace and/or sex harassment.  A few days ago, the racial part got thrown out in large part because the employee and Ms. Deen (and her brother who runs the place) are all white. Then the other suits got "dropped", usually a code for a settlement being reached, but there's been no word at this writing about one. 

But, during the deposition phase of the case, it was leaked that Ms. Deen had admitted to using the word "nigger."  Well, before you knew it, everyone was doing op-ed pieces portraying Paula Deen as a cross-burning, hood-wearing racist fanatic smeared in grits and butter.

I can't help but agree with Ms. Johnson that this was ridiculous.  I'll even go a little farther.  "Nigger" is not a southernism.  I grew up in northeastern Ohio, where nary a drawl could be heard, and the word was common parlance, as were words like polack, spic, wop, and the ever popular hunky (for Hungarians; not to be confused with "honky", popularized in the '60's by racist blacks to describe whites).  It never was clear to me when the last time was that Paula used the nasty word, but it was hardly a reason for a journalistic lynching.

However, what all this did bring out is that there are a lot of people who just don't like Paula Deen.  In fact, a lot of Southerners don't care for her.  Amongst my fellow Alabamians, the general consensus is that Ms. Deen is a four-alarm phony who is a Yankee's image of what the South is like.  It's the "y'alls" that do it.  I have explained "y'all" before at some length, so I won't again except to reiterate that real Southerners do not use "y'all" after ever other word.

Ms. Deen y'all's endlessly.  "Did y'all see my yawl, y'all?  Does y'all's yawl yaw when y'all try to jib? Y'all let me know, y'all."  A slight exaggeration, but not by much.  The main difference is she doesn't talk about boats much.

She's so chittlin's and corn pone that your cholesterol numbers can go up just listening to her.  Which brings us to problem number two.

Ms. Deen's recipes showcase the worst of high-fat cooking.  Yes, that's always been an issue with Southern cooking, but her concoctions just seemed to be completely over the top.  Moreover, she is (or was) really proud of it.  So Ms. Johnson states: "I don’t remember Julia Child being pilloried for pushing butter, and more butter, but then she was from California and a Smith graduate."

Whoa, Rheta, your claws are showing.  Julia Child was most definitely "pilloried" for her use of dairy and fats.  She also tried to make people understand that, if there was half a stick of butter in a sauce, they weren't to put the entire saucepanfull on one person's serving.  She often talked of moderation in portion size to increase the enjoyment of the different courses.  Since you have been to France a number of times (as you've entertainingly told us in your columns), you should be aware of this approach.  Ms. Deen has never demonstrated moderation in any form of cooking, right up to the point she learned she had diabetes.

Now different people handle things in different ways.  When Graham Kerr learned that his cuisine, rich in butter, cream, and booze, was going to kill his wife (high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and about every other risk factor off the charts), he switched to a healthy cooking regimen.  After a false start with a been sprouts and tofu type of diet (his wife said basically that it'd be better to die of butter than of boredom), he came up with a marvelous series of cookbooks that came up with healthy ways to cook recipes that tasted sinfully delicious.

Ms. Deen promptly hooked up with a drug company to plug their diabetic product.  Oh, and she has her son do a show supposedly cleaning up her recipes so that people could eat them without going into insulin shock.  Now if SHE had started doing a show where she showed ways to make her recipes more available to the high-risk groups, that would be impressive, but no, she has her son do it (while making her own token appearance on the show to approve of what he's done).

In other words, after eating herself sick (and sending the message to her fans that it was okay to do so), she then profits from the result with a drug endorsement and a new show.  She is a Class A hypocrite. 

She's the A-Rod of the cooking world.  And, that, my dear Ms. Johnson, is why so many people don't like her.

Friday, June 14, 2013

Graham Crackers

Be careful out there, and keep your trousers on, chaps. ~  Graham Cluley

I first came across Graham Cluley on the Usenet.

For those of you who haven't been mucking around the Internet for 20 years, Usenet was a huge collection of groups posting articles on everything from Linux to Physics to Cars to ... anything else you can think of.

Well, there was this group called comp.virus, which was moderated by a guy named Nick Fitzgerald (whose day job, evidently, was directing stage plays).  Viruses were still sort of a new thing back then, so a lot of us were wondering how these things worked, how they got onto machines, and how best to combat them.

To give you an idea of how new they were, antivirus companies like Mcafee and Norton used to do monthly or even longer update cycles.  Now they're done hourly.  Sometimes more frequently.

Anyway, one of the expert voices in the group belonged to a guy who worked for an antivirus company called Dr. Solomon, a fellow named Graham Cluley.  Mr. Cluley knew his cheese and didn't suffer fools gladly.  Not that he was nasty; he simply was quite willing to tell the poster that the poster didn't know what he was talking about.

As time went on, Dr. Solomon was bought by McAfee Antivirus.  For one reason or another, Graham and McAfee didn't mesh and he departed.  Viruses still were sort of a side issue, and the responsibilities I had didn't require spending a lot of time on antivirus forums, so I lost track of Graham.

When I took my current job, I got real serious about antivirus stuff because we had a lot of problems.  After a bunch of testing and evaluating, we went with Sophos.  Ordinarily, I don't talk about work-type stuff, but since we actually have our case study on the Sophos web site, this isn't exactly proprietary information.

Well, since we were using their stuff, I figured I'd better start following news from the site.  I was pleasantly surprised to find that none other than the redoubtable Mr. Cluley was now gainfully employed, primarily as a spokesman, by Sophos.  I'm sure the average BBC watcher in the UK has seen ol' Graham offering advice, information, and hints about what to do about malware of all sorts on the news programming there.  He is a well-spoken chap, that Graham.  He has also been an important poster on the Sophos security blog, Naked Security.  You can read his farewell address here.

Fortunately, for those of us who enjoy reading his bon mots (that's French; look it up), Graham will continue posting to his own site, the very modestly named www.grahamcluley.com.  Well, it's a better name than Naked Security.  You cannot believe how much I scared a very mature female employee of the City when I inadvertently sent her a link from the site.  The link itself was informative and useful information.  However, the URL --nakedsecurity.sophos.com-- completely freaked her out.  She was quite sure that the City's IT administrators were sending naughty links to one another.

Thankfully, I was able to set her mind at ease.  See what grief you put me through, Mr. Cluley?

I do, however, look forward to following his postings, so in the words of a current (and much despised in the UK, I'm told) meme:

KEEP CALM
AND
KEEP YOUR TROUSERS ON, OLD CHAP


Thursday, June 13, 2013

A Curious Potpourri

It's not that people don't like classical music.  It's that they don't have the chance to understand and experience it. ~ Gustavo Dudamel

I lived near and in Cleveland, Ohio for about 30 years Frankly, aside from the occasional burning river, it wasn't the most exciting place to hang out.  But it had one immense saving grace:  WCLV-FM.

WCLV was. and still is, a full time "classical" music station.  I put "classical" in quotes because, as I've explained before, classical refers to a specific period of music.  The correct term is "serious" music to distinguish it from pop music.  To keep life simple, though, I'll stick with classical.

At any rate, WCLV played nothing but classical music, except for Saturday nights (I'll come back to that), 24 hours a day.  They played concerts from the Cleveland Orchestra and other great orchestras as well as recorded music.  They played opera, which is a form I have never taken to, but I'd give it a whirl now and then.

Thing is, classical music stations are hard to find these days.  NPR used to fill the void, but they apparently found that endlessly repeating news programs was a cheaper way to go than actually have someone spinning platters or spending some of the Corporation of Public Broadcasting money for live concert broadcasts.  PBS slips in an occasional concert, but they are a once-in-while sort of thing.  For a little while, a network called Ovation was showing concerts, but they figured out showing the same movies over and over was cheaper.

So people miss the joy of hearing a Bach partita, a Beethoven sonata, or a Prokofiev symphony.  Which is truly sad.

However, I wanted to talk about Saturday nights.  Back in the 20th century, WCLV had a program on Saturday nights called WCLV Saturday Night.  Okay, that's not blindingly original, but the show's content certainly was.  The show was hosted by Robert Conrad (not the Wild, Wild West guy) and feature an eclectic mix of show tunes, folk music and comedy.  Lots and lots of comedy.  For example, it was on a Saturday night, I first heard the insanity of the Goon Show.  The show featured Peter Sellers, Spike Milligan, and Harry Secombe in 30 minutes of inspired lunacy.  There were many others, including a group called Beyond the Fringe, which featured a young Dudley Moore.

It was on WCLV Saturday Night that I first heard music from the original cast of Hair (besides the title song and "Good Morning Starshine").

However, the thing that will always stick in my mind was the night they did a "name that tune" sort of contest.  Mr. Conrad announced that they would give a prize to whoever could name the song with the following ending, which they then played.  Except, I didn't hear anything.  I figured it was just a joke.  But they kept repeating it.

Finally, Mr. Conrad came on and said that people needed to quit calling in with a certain title because that was completely wrong.  To prove it, he said, he would play the ending of the incorrect song, followed by the one that we were supposed to guess.

Ok, now I had to know, so I cranked the volume on my portable radio up to full.  What I heard was two notes, played by plucked bass strings:  thum thump!  This was followed by the mystery song:  thum thummmmm.

I may have those reversed.

At any rate, unbelievably, someone with really good hearing and an incredible knowledge of music finally got it right.

They also had a little piece written by someone at WCLV which made fun of the penchant at the time for edited versions of classical music.  To get people interested in buying classical music records, a couple of the big recording houses put out these anthologies which would include about two minutes of each piece.  Aside from being a waste of vinyl, it was sort of like throwing a starving man some bread crumbs.

WCLV's response to this was the "Great Square Inches of Art."  The premise was that people had such busy schedules (where have we heard that one before) they didn't have time to spend looking at entire paintings or sculptures.  Besides, everyone knows than any great work has some key element that is the focus of the work.  So, for a nominal monthly fee, you could receive that little bit of a painting or sculpture and save yourself the time of looking at the whole thing.  Imagine having your own copy of Mona Lisa's smile or a Reubens' buttock.

I do believe they actually got requests from people wanting to join up.  Never underestimate the power of a generous posterior.

Friday, May 24, 2013

Just a Question of Time

I love how people are posting, in dismay: "It'S FAKE?!?!" - From a post in the "Spook Archive" of Snopes.com

Let's see.  Where was I?  Oh, well, whatever it was couldn't have been all that important.

At any rate, I was most amused the other day to see an article concerning the "mystery" of John Titor, the famous time traveler.

Some memes never die.

The first time I heard of the mysterious time traveler was back in 2002 or 2003, right after beginning work at my current employment abode.  A co-worker I shall call Bud (because that's his name; I have no imagination) asked if I had ever heard of John Titor.  I confessed I hadn't.  He allowed that he was surprised since I was so interested in science.  After all, John Titor was a time traveler from 2036 who had returned to pick up an old IBM computer.  The model varied, but in the linked article it's a 5100. It was needed because there was some critical software needed to save society that would only run on this ancient hunk of junk.

Or if you prefer the version in the article, it was because all the computers in his time were eaten up with viruses.

Whatever.

At any rate, back then, I did some digging.  Turns out someone had started posting as this Titor fellow in some Usenet groups in 2000, perhaps a year or two earlier, making dire predictions about the near future.  His initial trip was into the late seventies to pick up the computer, but he stopped off in 2000 for various reasons ranging from problems with the time machine to just a rest stop to visit his little boy self.  His time machine was loaded in a car.  The article says it was a Suburban.  I recall it as a sedan of 1970 or 80's vintage.  At any rate it was just a vehicle to carry his time machine, not the machine itself.  Posted pictures of the device showed it bore an uncanny resemblance to a WW II era military or HAM radio.

A little more digging showed that Titor had, in fact, been ID'd as a guy working at a graphics design outfit, although I don't think he ever owned up.  There was probably more than one person posing as Titor anyway.

What's amazing is not that anyone thought up John Titor.  What's remarkable is that he won't go away.  This Snopes Spook Archive Forum thread has links to three other occasions when people brought up the old Time Traveler canard.  He even has a web site now.  What makes it even more remarkable is that his picture of the future is so gawd-awful dismal.  This isn't the hopeful future of Star Trek, for crying out loud.  This is World War III, which occurs after the American Civil War in 2004 or 2005.

What?  You missed it?  That's what you get if you don't pay attention.

Somehow, Titor managed to make those statements about our time without mentioning 9/11, the space shuttle disasters (he refers to a "space plane"; sorry, doesn't count), the first African-American president (that would have been a bombshell in 2000), or anything else of real significance.  Most of Titor's predictions were of the vague sort that would make the average psychic proud.  One story I saw said Titor predicted the Iraq way, by saying "...the war in the middle East is part of what's to come, not the cause."  The Middle East, of course, has been a source of troubles since, oh say, the Crusades, but particularly since 1948.  In fact, Alas, Babylon blamed the start of the nuclear war on "trouble in the Middle East" or words to that effect. 

So despite failed predictions and a dismal outlook on the future, John Titor refuses to join the junkyard of Internet silliness that includes such gems as The Good Times virus, Mars being as big as the moon, and National Don't Buy Gas Day.  What keeps him going?

I dunno.  Maybe it says something about a society where films like The Terminator and RoboCop among many others with their apocalyptic visions of the future are immensely popular.  In fact, after being around for 13 years or so there's even supposedly a movie in production about ol' John.  We have come to live in society seemingly obsessed with zombies, aliens (the space kind, not the illegal kind, although we're pretty obsessed with those, too), and other doomsday scenarios.  There were really people who sold all their belongings preparing for the rapture or building a bunker waiting for the Mayan Apocalypse.  So what's American society's solution to all of this?  Arm everyone to the teeth.

Herman Melville was right:  "...and Heaven have mercy on us all – Presbyterians and Pagans alike – for we are all somehow dreadfully cracked about the head, and sadly need mending."