There are some folk who don't see the gem inside my rough exterior who might consider me a hot head. To which I say a hearty "bite me". But let this opinion be a caution that within this blog may lurk items of a venting nature or perhaps those which might be considered a rant. So be it. Proceed with caution. You have been warned.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Half the people you meet.....

are below average intelligence. By definition. Think about it. I thought a lot about it right after the 2004 election. I've even researched the wide variety of stupidity. Take a look at this site and it's obvious that this guy has done a lot of thinking about it too. I like the way he has the domain of the stupid broken down into categories: Fools, Idiots, Stooges, Doofuses, Spazes, Airheads, Twits, Dolts, Morons, Imbeciles, Retards and Cretins. Anyone can make a list of their own - Boneheads, mouth-breathers, fog-dwellers, trance-walkers, slack jawed yokels, dumbasses, etc. etc. I'll bet that there is an astonishing list of words for the mentally challenged in Yiddish.

Anyone who is baffled by how much stupidity they witness on a daily basis should check out the 5 basic laws of stupidity
here. I particularly like the conclusion that "A stupid person is more dangerous than a bandit."

During the everyday struggle for survival I witness what I will call "Standard Stupidities" on a daily basis. Some of these are just mildly curious while others are life threatening.

A few selected examples:

The Malevolent Elevator
Working as I do in a large office building, I get to see this one three or four times a day. A group of people stand in front of a bank of elevators waiting for an elevator to arrive. Once it arrives, people begin boarding, pressing as they board, the button for their desired floor. When doing this, they look at the buttons. Buttons that light up once they have been pressed. I have observed that at least 80% of the people boarding an elevator will press the button for their floor even if it is already lit up. Likewise, when a newcomer arrives at the area where passengers wait for the elevator, at least 50% of the time they will press the "up" or "down" button even if IT is already lit. What do you suppose (if anything) is going on in their minds. "Oh, the elevator can tell how many people are in it (or waiting for it) and if the total button presses don't equal the number of people then the door will never open." A harmless but puzzling stupidity.

Clueless Motorist
Oh, there are so many of these - where to begin. How about the automobile owner on their way to work during rush hour with their cell phone firmly attached to the side of their head and frequently balancing a cup of coffee who cannot figure out which of two lanes they really want so they drive down the middle thus frustrating both lanes behind them. What is the logic here? "I want to finish this phone call and coffee so badly that I am willing to bet my life that no one will either; a) run into me, or (on the West Coast) b) haul out a pistol and relieve me of worry about going over my monthly minutes on a permanent basis."

Without needlessly belaboring the clueless motorist category (I'm sure everyone has a favorite example), what baffles me is that people get into a machine weighing upwards of 1000 pounds, coax it to speeds at which a head on collision is guaranteed to require the use of a putty knife to retrieve their remains and then don't bother to pay attention.

Hey, knucklehead! If you turn left from the right lane, the next drooling neanderthal coming up behind you is likely to embed a hood ornament in your rectum!

Don't bother to signal, we all know that the lever on the steering column is to hang underwear on.

Be sure and come to a complete stop when you are going to turn so that when you have failed to signal you get another chance at rectal embedment of some piece of automobile hardware.

Doofuses Fear Silence
"Hot (cold, wet, etc) enough for ya?" "How's the weather up there?" "How about them Knicks? (substitute name of local sports team as needed)" Translation: "I don't have anything original to say, nor could I formulate a coherent sentence if I did, but here's some noise coming out of my mouth that I hope will provide intellectual camouflage."

What the Hell is this Green Piece of Paper
Setting: Retail establishment of any kind.
Present your items for checkout and after being told the total, present twenty dollar bill (or whatever denomination). Clerk will 9 times out of 10 say "Out of twenty?" giving it a definite questioning inflection. The clerk is definitely not stating a fact or confirming what you just handed them, they are asking a question. Either that or they have forgotten how the English language works. (Maybe they have. English is not really considered an inflected language but questions definitely have a rising inflection.) If I didn't know that it would needlessly prolong the transaction I would love to answer "No, out of fifty." Then I would get to see the checkout monkey stand there looking helplessly from me to the bill in their hand while the hamster wheel spins out of control.

I could go on. And on. But it is remarkably depressing. I'm sure any reasonably intelligent reader has their own favorites. Feel free to leave examples in the comments.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Asshat vs. Asshat

Crowley vs. Gates. What a huge dick waving contest. Neighbor reports someone trying to break into a house. And that is exactly what Gates was trying to do. I hope my neighbors would do the same. Cop shows up to investigate. Instead of showing his identification politely and thanking the cop for trying to keep his house safe from burglary Gates takes offense and starts yelling and making accusations. I understand that blacks get fed up with some of the treatment they still receive, but pick your battles why don't you? Asshattery incident #1. I wonder if Gates' house actually gets burglarized in the future if the cops will bother to show up. So what was Sgt. Crowley's response? Once Gates identified himself Crowley seemed unable to realize that the major stimulus to Gates' agitation was himself. So instead of "Sorry to bother you sir, thanks for your cooperation." followed by a respectful exit, Gates gets arrested. Asshattery incident #2.

Now Obama gets involved and instead of the making the obvious observation that both parties were letting their endocrine systems overrule their brains, says that the police acted stupidly. Right now in the United States this comment is the equivalent of saying that water runs downhill. Nevertheless the statement was made. It might not have occurred to Obama but it doesn't take much reflection to realize that if there is some kind of altercation between a black man and an authority figure and Obama disses the authority figure it's going to be interpreted as racially motivated. So now we have Obama with his size 10s firmly implanted in his mouth.

Solution - all three are going to get together and have a beer. Right, next time you see a white cop and a black man calling each other names, just walk up and ask them to sit down with you for a beer. But since Obama is president the results are likely to be different. Namely, both parties are going to have to choke down their resentment at being treated like this is a disagreement between fans of rival sports teams and fake goodbuddyship for the press frenzy afterward.

And a good time was had by all. Doesn't America have some bigger problems than this? This is almost on the level of a falling out between Lindsay Lohan and Sam. ARGHHHH

Monday, July 20, 2009

Amateur Night

I've been a musician all my life. Currently I'm employed as a programmer but I have a degree in music and have played woodwinds and keyboards most of my life. I'm not going to try and remember how many years - let's just say that I played in the pit for a production of "Hair" when it wasn't a revival. I've been paid to play all my chosen instruments and still have an ongoing paying gig. I've been in and out of the musician's union and performed a wide range of musical genres. Still for most of my life I would probably have been classified as an "amateur". Wikipedia provides this as part of it's definition "Translated from its French origin to the English "lover of", the term "amateur" reflects a voluntary motivation to work as a result of personal passion for a particular activity."

Currently the majority of my musical activity consists of playing in a "community" (translation: volunteer) orchestra and pit orchestra for a community theater (same translation of "community"). Since I have, at one time or another, performed in professional groups of the same type and paid for the upkeep on my instruments as well as a few beers, then why do I do it for free?

Actually some recent experiences (see future blog entry "It's the pits!" for particulars) have led me to ask myself the very same question. Maybe I can use this venue to work out the answer.

One of the things that has always bothered me is the cost of attending live performances be they theater, orchestra concerts, opera, ballet, and the like. Pop music is kind of a different animal so I'm going to to stick to the venues I operate in the most. Right now (2009) in the Midwest it's $50 for cheap seats at any of these. And I'm not talking road troupes of current broadway productions either.

I'm talking Des Moines Symphony - certainly not one of the big 5 or even the big 50, Des Moines Playhouse, or Des Moines Civic Opera (although the latter IS one of the finest summer opera programs in the country). So it costs my wife and I $100.00 to attend a performance of any of these professional organizations. Got a family of four and you want to introduce the kids to live music or theater? Two Benjamins just for tickets not to mention intermission refreshments or a dinner before. I don't know about you, but I still consider a hundred dollars to be a lot of money. I know I'll consider it a lot of money when I retire on the pittance the bankers and Wall Street left me after paying out multi-millions in bad loans and executive salaries. But I digress.

So what do you do if you are living on a fixed income and you love to hear a live symphony orchestra or go to a live performance of a broadway musical? What do you do if you're a young married couple that wants the kids to absorb some live culture before they are completely brainwashed by MTV? Not to mention what you do if you are a single parent struggling just to put food on the table. What you do is to try to find free or very low ticket amateur productions.

The orchestra I play in gives free concerts and supports itself on member dues (that's right - we PAY to play) and donations. It exists on a shoestring and is constantly teetering on the verge of not being able to afford to put on the next concert. The theater group I play in the pit for charges $12 a seat, but considering the royalties charged by the companies that rent the music and parts in addition to costs to build sets, make costumes, etc. this is about as fine as they can cut it and continue to exist. But in spite of the shoestring budget, the home built sets and costumes, the actors and musicians put everything they have into it. The result is that the productions may not look as slick as the ones seen in the Civic Center, but the performances are filled with the passion and expertise that only tender loving care can give them. Audience responses are universally positive and even relatives visiting from the coasts who have been dragged to these performances are amazed at the quality.

Now I could pick up a gig now and then playing for the folks that can afford the best or I can play for the folk who love live performance and can't afford to pay for it. I can play for people who consider a large part of their ticket price to be their visibility as one of those who have arrived or I can help build the future audiences that will keep live performance viable in the future. I've come to a point in my life where I want to give something to the have nots. I've had a lot of things in my life that I regret and will never be able to change and while this doesn't make up for them - it's a way to do something very positive.

Bottom line, you can go out and drop several hundred dollars on an evening's dinner and entertainment and get broadway sets, polished performances long ago set in stone, or the finely tuned emotionless symphonic performances - you'll get what you paid for. Or you can go on the cheap to a performance where everyone is there for the love of it and every performance, though in humble surroundings, will be full of heart and enthusiasm. And as a bonus, you help preserve the group entertaining you so they can provide entertainment to those who otherwise could never see a live performance. For an old utility outfielder of the music biz there's no comparison.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Municipal Self Congratulation vs. Facts

Recently Des Moines, Iowa sent out an “informational” pamphlet to all the households in the city telling us how wonderful Des Moines is to live in, what a great job the city council is doing and how we should all quit bitching and fall down and worship our municipal benefactors. This was done at a cost of 93 cents per household for a total in the neighborhood of eighty thousand dollars. I’m not sure I would have been real happy with this expenditure even if the content were even close to accurate, but since I’m not, let’s take a look at how that 80K could have been better spent.

If I had more time and patience I would take each claim by the city fathers and cite an example to refute each one, but it will probably suffice to make a list.

1.have now lived here for 10 years. During that period of time there has not been a single day when the streets in the financial district, the heart of Des Moines’ tax base, has been free of barricades. Maybe we should fix streets before mailing pamphlets.

2.During the same 10 year period (in subsequent items, just assume that they are the result of 10 years observation) the entire storm drain system has been entirely inadequate. Water stands in the streets after even modest rainstorms. During heavy rains manhole covers are blown out of the streets and small geysers produce impassible conditions. In addition any precipitation at all causes a large segment of the city’s traffic lights to quit working. Is this a problem in an area where hardly a day passes in the spring and summer without a flood warning somewhere in the state? Think 80 grand might be a start toward alleviation?

3.The city loves to tout its river walk. One of the highlights of the river walk is a huge ugly complex of girders, mud and construction equipment that has been in this condition for at least 3 years and resembles nothing so much as an industrial dump site.

4.Downtown is supposed to be vital and thriving. The area is riddled with empty warehouses, department stores and condos.

5.The street department has absolutely no ability to plan ahead. The prime example of this is that in a two year period the street running in front of the State Capitol Building was entirely dug up three times for three separate projects. Could money have been saved by doing all three on a single time table?

6.The street department’s scheduling leaves a great deal to be desired in other areas as well. They certainly know how to start projects. They can put up barricades and tear up the streets – but then the projects are left alone while other streets are torn up and barricaded. Projects are scheduled for completion only after every street projected for work has been torn up and barricaded. Then years pass until the projects grind slowly to completion. In the meantime each spring, new barricades and torn up streets are added to the list whether the previous year’s work is done or not.

7.Streets are a problem in more ways than one. This is the only city of the many I have lived in that allows semis, construction equipment and other heavy machinery to drive on residential streets. Not only does this tear up the streets but trying to get around semis parked on narrow residential streets in order to get to your home is always a challenge.

8.I can remember driving through cities as early as the late 60s that had synchronized stop lights where it was possible to drive at a constant speed and avoid stopping. This is still news to our city fathers. Traffic lights go up with the settings they left the factory with. No synchronization not to mention the lack of different cycles for heavy traffic times and light traffic times. How much gas do you suppose is wasted sitting at red lights watching completely empty cross streets in industrial areas on Sundays and Holidays?

9.In the heart of the city, the financial district, where commuter traffic is heaviest, railroad lines actually run through the streets causing massive jams when trains run through during the rush hour. Progressive city Des Moines? This is strictly a cow town feature.

10.I have not seen a city police patrol car in the neighborhood I live in other than for emergency calls the aforementioned 10 years. Stop lights and stop signs are run, noise ordinances disregarded, residential streets used as drag strips, speed limits ignored and traffic ordinances of any kind pretty much ignored. There is no law in Dodge! Enforcement is nil. I don’t get it – and we really don’t have that many donut shops.

These are the most egregious faults. Like any city we have our urban blight. Empty stores can be found all over the city, some once inhabited by large retailers and now surrounded by weeds and debris. Areas where VIPs live and drive get plenty of attention while middle class neighborhoods get attention much later and low income housing is a black hole.

Things are unlikely to change because the city council is preoccupied with such matters as whether to rename a building that currently bears the name of a previous council member who is now a convicted felon for misappropriation of public funds. The populace has been cowed into an attitude of acceptance by complete disregard of their wishes by city hall. Publish all the pamphlets you want Des Moines Council. Those who live here know better.

Sorry this wasn't funnier. Living here is not funny either.