Saturday, February 26, 2011

Now… That’s Entertainment!

Is it just me, or do you find a lot of today’s popular entertainment rather boring? Movies are lackluster lately. Hollywood is so mentally bankrupt they are reduced to remaking John Wayne movies and an endless stream of duds featuring comic book superheroes. Even at that, movies are better than television. I cannot even pretend to have an interest in shows such as Law And Order: The Jay Walkers.

This weekend the Oscars will be on TV, but I’m not going to watch, in part because I won’t recognize any of those people. The men will be as carefully slovenly as their expensive tuxedo will allow while the women will be emaciated stick figures. I guess it’s a sure sign of middle age when a man looks at blonde starlet and his first thought is to feed her a cheese burger before she dies of starvation.

The Oscars have been boring for years; the worst part is usually the endless speeches where people thank all the little people that no one, including the speaker, gives a hot damn about. I might watch if just once, someone would say, “I’m not going to thank you since I deserve this, I worked my skinny little ass off for it and it’s mine, all mine. If you idiots had the brains God gave bait, you would have given me this damn gilded door stop last year.”

Sell Art OnlineMaybe they could change the awards categories. “Nominated for the Best Cleavage in a Role Requiring No Talent is …” No, that wouldn’t work, Scarlett Johanssen would win every year.

Barring improvements like these, the producers could still liven up the show easily enough. How about wiring the seats so that when they announce the winner, all the losers spontaneously combust? Or perhaps you could determine the winner with a caged mud wrestling match? Hell, I’d watch that. At least until a rerun of Top Gear came on.

I have a similar problem with most sports. It’s no fun to watch a game when you can no longer even remotely identify with any of the players. Take football, for example: I have very little in common, other than our species, with a 300 pound man so altered by steroids that he resembles my pickup. DuPont used to have an advertising slogan, “Better living through chemistry.” Somebody took this slogan a little too seriously.

Naturally, I have a few suggestions designed to improve the game. Now this is important, because I work for a football team with a small university attached. Our team has been losing money faster than Congress, and if this condition continues, the school might have to do away with the students in order to save money.

First, we need to speed up the game visually. I think the wide receivers should be on mini-bikes. This should get them down field a little faster. Next, I think both the offensive and defensive line should be in armor. Give them the type of armor worn during the days of King Arthur. Nothing drastic--no swords, no shields--just bright shiny armor with plumed helmets.

Obviously, this will put the quarterback at something of a disadvantage, since getting sacked by a human refrigerator wearing a galvanized trash can might sting a trifle. I admit this is a little unfair for the quarterback, so we will need to balance the odds out a little by giving him a Colt .45 automatic. We don’t want to overdo it, so we only give him a single clip per half. That’s only 14 shots per game, so he he’ll have to be a little conservative. I doubt most offensive linesmen these days can be dropped by a single shot of any caliber.

For a little fan participation, before the game starts, one lucky fan for each team will be randomly selected and be allowed to hide a single land mine somewhere on the playing field. I thought of adding a few sniper rifles, but we don’t want the game to get out of hand, after all; it will be televised.

Can you imagine the game? With both lines ready and glistening in highly polished armor, the ball is snapped to the quarterback, who fades back while the two lines slam into each other with a crash like two freight trains having sex. The receivers roar down the field on their dirt bikes, the tires throwing up a rooster tail of dirt. A single offensive linesman breaks through the defenders and clanks towards the quarterback, who, while he eyes the field for an open receiver, raises his .45 and drops the linesman just seconds before throwing the ball downfield. The receiver, looking back over his shoulder, is about to catch the ball when, BLAM! He disappears in a cloud of dirt and smoke as his bike hits a land mine. Pass incomplete!

Now, that’s a game. I might even buy season tickets.

Naturally, when the game is over, the losing coach is hanged from a goal post and the winning team has their way with the opposing team’s cheerleaders.

I haven’t yet finished my idea for the half-time show, but I’m working on an idea where both bands march at the same time, but we add flame throwers.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Religion As Microsoft Might Explain It

Several weeks ago, I wrote that I thought that I had figured out why we have so many problems with the Middle East-the men there obviously used violence as a coping mechanism to sublimate the stress of living in a desert, without beer, and with women who dressed like Batman. This kind of deep cultural awareness is a direct benefit of those years I spent getting an extra degree in Anthropology.

While this is obviously a brilliant insight into another culture (judging from the hate mail sent to this blog) it is obvious that I need to expand upon my explanation. Being a Texan by birth and training, I believe I can best accomplish this explanation with a metaphor.

Several thousand years ago, a nomadic people living in a desert became God’s chosen people. This wasn’t exactly an honor, however, since evidently God showers his favor on a people by periodically making their lives seriously miserable. This divine favoritism started with Job and his family, and then got worse over time. We will call this God 1.0®- the original release of a religious operating system. While there were a few earlier versions of God operating on some units, to keep our metaphor concise, we will just refer to these earlier religious operating systems as Beta Releases that did not survive field testing.

While God 1.0® was the dominant system for a thousand years, eventually there was a major upgrade with the release of God 2.0®. Predictably, due to the long period of time between releases, there was a large population who remained comfortable with God 1.0® and refused to upgrade their religious operating system. Most of this resistance to market saturation was regional in nature, so the manufacturing point of God 2.0® was moved to Rome, thus allowing the continued release of God 1.0®, (although in limited numbers) to remain in distribution in the Middle East.

For several hundred years, the market remained static-until the release of God 3.0® in the Middle East. This was a new improved God: cleaner, brighter, and all natural. Some enthusiasts contend that, actually, God 3.0® has existed for thousands of years, and point to its roots in the earlier Beta systems. We will ignore this claim, leaving it to the copyright lawyers. While this system became very popular in a relatively short period of time, it neither replaced God 1.0® nor God 2.0®; and all three systems remained in continual distribution.

Almost a thousand years later, there were major patches issued to God 2.0. Some members of the user group in Germany claimed the original release had become corrupt over time and could no longer be loaded. These user complaints brought about releases of God 2.1®, God 2.2®, God 2.2B3®, and so forth, for several hundred years. While the original God 2.0® is still available, there are almost as many versions of the patched God 2.0® systems as there are units to load them. This trend set off a veritable cottage industry in custom-designed religious operating systems for limited distribution. For example, some people, such as Tom Cruise and John Travolta, are attempting to load a Linux-based operating system, with what can only be called mixed results.

And here is the problem: if you have gone to the trouble to purchase, install, and maintain God 3.0®, you would expect your life to be… well, good. Or at least, not suck. But, no matter how you want to measure it, it seems that the people living over the hill (those infidels still suffering along with an outdated God 1.0®) seem to have a better life. They are more prosperous, healthier, and (outside of the times when they are unsuccessfully attacked by people with God 3.0®) more peaceful. I won’t even bother to include a comparison of all those people with some version of God 2.whatever.

If I were a user of God 3.0®, I would be pissed. Instead of a smooth religious operating system, all the users seem to get are system crashes and unholy viruses. There are documented cases of some users of God 3.0® suffering such severe failures that the hardware literally explodes in public. Personally, I would want an upgrade, a patch, or an unlimited onsite service plan. Hell, God, how about a rebate? If I have to wait until you come up with some type of bug fix for this operating system, can I at least get an advance on the afterlife? But don’t send one of the 72 virgins; I’d rather have a single hot hooker who knows her business.
Note. These opinions are mine, and not actually those of Microsoft. Besides, any organization that could release both Works and Vistas must be more closely associated with the devil.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Making My Point the Hard Way

For a couple of weeks now it seems I have been going around three sides of the barn just to find the horse at the end of reins in my hand. No matter how hard I slug away at the paperwork and minutiae of my job, I never seem to catch up. This is probably pretty good evidence that I’m working stupid.

Years ago, my company kept me working incredible hours; I came in early, stayed late and could be found on the job seven days a week. “I am constantly putting out fires,” I told a friend.

My friend was the director of human resources at a local hospital and he promptly answered, “Show me a good firefighter and I’ll show you a good arsonist.”

I thought about this for a while and realized that my friend was probably right; I was undoubtedly putting out lots of small fires and solving a host of little problems and my style of management was definitely starting about twice that many fires. I changed my attitude, trusted my employees more, worked fewer hours, and somehow got a lot more done. In short, I worked smarter.

I suspect that somehow, at the university I have slipped back into stupid. My work habits have gotten sloppy. I’m reacting instead of preparing. I know better than this, I learned a long time ago from my mother that lazy people work the hardest, even if it is just mental work. Actually, I heard my mother say the words, but it took a while before I understood the concept.

Years ago, I got my private pilot’s license. While I was still learning, my instructor and I took a cross country flight to Fort Worth. On the way back, we landed for fuel, both for the plane and the two of us, at the Odessa Airport. Because we arrived late in the day, the setting sun was almost more than our sunglasses could handle. As we taxied up to the FBO (Fixed Based Operations-essentially a service station for airplanes) my instructor got out and suggested that I shoot a few solo takeoffs and landings while he ordered us some hamburgers.

I dutifully taxied out, took off, flew around the pattern and made my approach for a landing. I have to admit it wasn’t one of my better landings: not exactly bad-just wasn’t as good as my initial landing while the instructor had been in the plane.

“Don’t worry” I thought to myself. “Conditions have changed. The plane is lighter without your instructor, the sun has almost set, the wind has changed a little, and this airport is several thousand feet lower in altitude from the airport where you are used to landing. Here, the air is thick compared to the high deserts of New Mexico.”

So I took off, circled the field, and lined up for another approach. By now, the runway landing lights were on, so I turned on the plane’s landing light and carefully brought the little plane down. This landing was even more difficult than the previous attempt. Not bad, but difficult. I finally made contact with the runway, gave the plane full power and took off for my third and final solo landing.

“Snap out of it!” I thought. “You can do better than this. Conditions here are NOT that much different than home. You’re just tired; straighten up and fly right!”

Evidently, a motivational speaker I’m not. The last landing was tough, the dark runway was difficult to make out at night as I slowly descended, gingerly trying to make contact with the pavement. The people of Odessa really needed to buy some better landing lights for that was the darkest airport I had ever seen. It seemed like I descended forever, slowly lower and after what I thought was the longest approach of my life, I finally felt the wheels make contact with the runway.

I was mentally exhausted as I taxied the plane back to the FBO where I found my instructor smiling. He was leaning against the wall eating a hamburger as I got out of the plane.

“Mark, those were three pretty good landings.” He said. “They would have been even better if you had remembered to take off those sunglasses.”

I’ve just got to remember to work smarter.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

The Blizzard of Oz

It is official: New Mexico is a third world country. Hard hit by about two inches of snow, we promptly shut down.

To be perfectly honest, it was not the snow. It was a lack of electrical power that did us in. Southern New Mexico buys its electrical power from El Paso, chiefly because such an enterprise is beyond our capability. The state once invested in the construction of a nuclear power plant, but managed to sell our share at a loss before it began production. Thankfully, we now own no share of what turned out to be a perfectly good power plant, so we can continue to give our business to our neighbor to the south, who overcharges us and subjects us to rolling blackouts.

It is those rolling blackouts that have forced most activity in the state to brake to a halt. The university has been closed for three days in order to conserve electricity. How exactly does that work? I visited my office during the shutdown and found the lights were still on all over the building, the heat was on, and the computers were still running in the empty labs. As I write this, the street lights and parking lot lights are on for the convenience of those not coming to school.

How much electricity is being conserved by this policy? Do the students in their dorms, houses, and apartments consume less electricity by staying home, microwaving pizza and watching TV rather than sleeping through class? If nothing else, wouldn’t all the snoring bodies help warm the classrooms?

Regardless of where those people are, they will continue to use electrical power. I am at a loss to see how asking everyone to stay home saves power. Our governor asked everyone to lower their thermostat by 10 degrees, but I doubt if anyone in the state followed this advice. I know the university didn’t. My office was warmer than my house.

Still, there was a little snow, so people promptly jumped into their cars and drove like idiots. I watched out my living room window (while I was watching TV and microwaving pizza) as cars went rapidly down the street. A few of them were sliding down the street backwards. I wonder what the hurry was since just about everything in town was closed.

All the schools, all the government offices, the university, and quite a few businesses shut down for the last three days. It has been as cold as bus station chili, but the snow was gone from the roads by noon the first day. Since then, the entire town has had a 5 day weekend while each of us waited for our turn at the rolling blackouts.

At least, we assume it is a 5 day weekend. What happens if they can’t get those generators online? What if this temporary power outage stretches out for weeks? Months? Does it matter? The university can stay closed and the professors can continue to get their paychecks. After all, the state doesn’t really care if we teach or not. It is equally obvious that the majority of the students don’t care if they learn.

Think about it. The state of New Mexico could just take a permanent vacation. The state produces very little since we have almost no factories. How many people can even name a single New Mexican product? As long as the federal checks keep rolling into the state, I’m not sure anyone would notice.

If you need us, don’t call. We are on early retirement. I wonder how big the spike in the birthrate will be nine months from now.