Red Is The New Blue

Several months ago, our new plant manager instituted a policy where local-originating first-class mail (which has to be processed and delivered the following day) would be placed in trays that had been spray-painted blue, and would not be sent into the UTS system. Instead, those trays would be kept on the ground and spread manually into containers in a "bullpen" setup, where each zone would have its own container.

Now, our new interim plant manager (a different person) has decided that the blue trays must be repainted red, so that they will match the color that all of the other plants in the district are using. I read about this and just rolled my eyes. They have been cutting back some of the part-time employees' hours in order to save money, they apparently haven't ordered any more rubber bands in order to save money, and yet they have money to waste on repainting plastic trays that don't even leave the building?! Because they want them to match?! How anal-retentive is that? (Answer: VERY!)

I want to know who is writing their material, because it sounds like something from a bad Monty Python routine:

"What is your favorite color?"
"Blue! No, red! AIIIIEEEEE!!"



I timed my last break this morning so that I could go outside around 5:45 and see the lunar eclipse reach totality. When I went outside, there was still a thin sliver of the Moon still visible, but slowly the Earth's shadow moved across it. I've seen lunar eclipses before, of course; they're far more common than solar eclipses. A few other people had gone outside to see the spectacle. I think that most people at work either didn't know about the eclipse or, more likely, didn't care. The former I can understand; the latter, I can't.

Earlier, I had wondered whether I'd be able to see it at all, because it was raining heavily while I drove to work. I went outside at lunch time (around 3:30 a.m. -- not your lunch time, of course) and the sky had cleared up. The Moon was high overhead and almost blindingly bright. It was quite a contrast with the shadowed Moon that I saw later. Overall, it was worth the effort to go outside and see it.


Man Bites Dog... Er, Snake

There are times when you read the first paragraph of a news story and have a pretty good idea that copious amounts of alcohol must have been involved. This is one of those stories:
BELFAST, Northern Ireland - A Northern Ireland man bit his girlfriend's pet snake in half during a fight and remarked that it "tasted lovely," lawyers testified Friday.
Seems pretty likely to me! The story goes on to note that the man had been charged with assault for head-butting his girlfriend twice, as well as for "fatally torturing her royal python."

The nut graf at the end?
Cooke's lawyer, Adrian Higgins, said his client admitted both offenses and had attacked the snake because he knew his girlfriend loved it. He said Cooke, from the border village of Keady, had been consuming alcoholic drinks for several hours before the attack.
I'm shocked, shocked!


Odd News

Sometimes I read the Odd News headlines and one just grabs me and says, "Read this!" The compulsion is irresistible. Here are a couple of recent ones for you:

Van was rocking, police were knocking

[Or "Drop the Chalupa!" - ed.]
VAN BUREN, Ark. - Amorous behavior in a Taco Bell parking lot led to an arrest on Sunday night. Van Buren police received a number of calls about the activities of a couple inside a van in the restaurant's parking lot.

Police said officers found the couple "in a manner that was offensive to the public." Officers reported finding bags of marijuana in the van during a search.

James McCormick, 32, was cited for possession of marijuana.

Um, was that all he was cited for? I can almost hear the conversation at the drive-through window: "Do you want hot sauce with that?" "No, we'll make our own!"

But this one is one of the best I've ever seen, featuring sex, violence, alcohol and stupidity in one neat package:

Naked woman with hammer charged with assault

Police Sunday night arrested a Des Moines woman armed with a hammer, who was naked, following a domestic dispute where several individuals, including an officer, were assaulted.

According to a Des Moines police report, officers were called to 817 Buchanan Street on a domestic dispute with a hammer. They arrived and met with Sheree Sanford, 51, who said Satin Delfrano, 32, had been assaulting her and two other women.

Police found a blue van in the driveway with it's windows shattered and glass strewn on the driveway. Sanford said Delfrano was upstairs and had just smashed out the van's two large rear windows with a bed frame.

Officers went upstairs into a bedroom and found Delfrano naked with a hammer.

After being allowed to get dressed, police handcuffed her and escorted her outside where she tried to walk away on her knees and then kicked an officer in his right leg causing injury.

Another woman at the residence, Joyce Beaman, 46, said Delfrano had stayed the night and began drinking that morning, becoming severely intoxicated. Lisa Miller, 39, who was also present at the time, said Delfrano later became enraged for unknown reasons and began hitting her.

Miller said Delfrano scratched and gouged her eyes; police took photos of abrasions under her eyes.

Another woman then arrived who is in an intimate relationship with Delfrano. Delfrano grabbed her hair and began slamming her head against a wall before tearing her clothes off, grabbing a hammer and walking up and down the street.
So we have a drunk, naked angry lesbian with a hammer and a penchant for shattering glass and rough play. If you click the link, you'll see her booking picture. There's nothing soft about Satin! She definitely won't be in the running for Iowahawk's Hoosegow Honey of the Month.


Dog Days

I haven't really had much to say the last few days. It's the dog days of summer, breezy and hot, and I've been feeling indolent.

Someone else suffering from the heat of the dog days of August: Michael Vick. All of his co-defendants rolled over on him, and yesterday, his lawyer admitted what most realized was almost inevitable: Vick had agreed to plead guilty to the charges against him. They must have had him dead to rights.

I heard about another case from New York yesterday where some evil people were arrested for running a dog-fighting operation. They had dogs on the site, as well as kittens that they had been using to bait the dogs. I saw the cage filled with innocent kittens on the news, and that really infuriated me. Anyone who would harm helpless animals like that deserves to be stuck in a prison cell for the rest of his natural life. And then his body should be ground up for dog food.


Punkin Thomas Has Left the Building

It's a blue day today at my house. One of my cats, Punkin Thomas, passed away yesterday. I'm not sure how old he was, but my ex-wife brought him home in '94 or '95 and he was already an adult cat at that time. His former owner was a little old German lady who was the mother of one of Bekki's co-workers, and when she died and her daughter couldn't take her cat because she was allergic to cats, Punkin came to live with us. "Just until we find a good home for him," she told me, as usual. I always was a soft touch.

You'd expect a cat named Punkin to be orange. You'd be wrong. He was gray with a white belly and paws, and bright green eyes. Bekki thought that it was kind of silly to have a gray-and-white cat named Punkin, so she said, "He looks kind of like a Thomas to me. We'll call him Punkin Thomas." And so we did.

He had been declawed (which I would never do to a cat), so if he wanted to get your attention, he would nip lightly with his teeth. Not hard enough to hurt, just to say "Hey, I want to be petted!" He was always very friendly and affectionate, and he liked to snuggle on the bed or climb into the computer chair when I was sitting in it. His favorite thing: Cheese. If I got out a Sargento cheese stick, he'd be meowing and begging until I broke off a few little pieces for him.

He had been getting old and frail in recent months, and had lost a lot of weight. Yesterday, it became pretty clear that the end was coming. I laid him on an old pillow and made him as comfortable as possible. He was still alive when I went to bed around 4 p.m., but he was gone when I woke up around 8:30. It was thirty years to the day of Elvis' death. Take that for what it's worth. And so, in the fading twilight, I had to do quick undertaker duties. He's resting in peace now.

I think I'll have a cheese stick in his memory.


An Observation

The other day, I was sitting at the computer and happened to look around, and I spotted a magazine sitting nearby. In one corner, there was the familiar pattern of thin and thick black lines on a white background: The Universal Product Code, or UPC. They are something that is just part of the background, to the point where we normally don't even notice them. There was another one on my can of Coke Zero. There was yet another one on the hint book for one of my computer games. I started to look around more carefully and found that they were everywhere, like grains of sand on a beach: On videotapes and DVDs, on CDs and computer game boxes, on bags of chips and candy bars. Indeed, it was almost impossible to find something that didn't have a UPC on it when purchased. Only some of my very oldest books didn't have a UPC on them.

These days, you'll find one somewhere on the packaging of just about anything you buy. Wikipedia has an article which will tell you everything you ever wanted to know about the UPC barcode system, and maybe more than that. How long have they been in use? Since 1974. Which means that if you want to find something that doesn't have one of those ubiquitous barcodes on it, you'll have to look for something more than a third of a century old.


Carding the Chinese

I read a story in yesterday's New York Times about how China is working with an American-financed company to install 20,000 surveillance cameras in southern China, and that the same company is also working with the Chinese government to issue new identity cards to people living in Shenzhen, which have powerful computer chips that will tell the government anything and everything about the person: Not just name and address, but also religion, ethnicity, education and work history, police record, and even personal reproductive history (in order to facilitate the government's "one child" policy). There are plans to add even more, including credit histories and other financial information.

The article notes that some human rights groups claim that all of this (and the surveillance cameras in wide use in Great Britain) is a violation of the right to privacy put forth in the "International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights." I laughed when I read that part. Such "International Covenants" are only useful for lining birdcages or as emergency toilet paper. The civil rights that we enjoy in America come not from any international covenant, but from the U.S. Constitution. The next time you see the blue-helmeted United Nations forces parachuting into a country to force its government to adhere to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights will be the first time.

I was a bit nonplussed to see that an American-financed company is creating the tools that can potentially be used by the Chinese government to suppress dissent. Is it immoral to create computer software and high-tech identity cards for tracking people, when you know that the software will be sold to a totalitarian government to oppress its people? Vladimir Lenin famously said that the capitalists would sell the communists the rope that would be used to hang the capitalists. Some things never change.



About a year from now, a movie titled Valkyrie is slated for American release. Right now, the film is being filmed on location in Berlin, Germany. It's a docudrama about the failed attempt by German army officers to assassinate Adolf Hitler on July 20, 1944. It's controversial, but not for the reason you might think.

You see, the star of the film is Tom Cruise, in the role of Col. Claus Schenk von Stauffenberg, the man who planted the bomb. And Cruise is well-known as a spokesman for the Church of Scientology. When the film's producers asked to film at certain historic locations, the German government denied the request, and there have been multiple stories given about whether the denial was due to Cruise's Scientology beliefs or not. If you go to a movie site like IMDb.com that has message boards, you'll find that's just one nexus of controversy. Others are whether it's appropriate for Americans to be delving into German history, and whether Cruise is the right actor for the part of von Stauffenberg.

From a cinematic viewpoint, the movie would appear to be a hard sell to audiences that like to see happy endings where the good guys win. In this case, the "good" Germans who want to get rid of Hitler fail. The bad guys win in this movie, although they do get theirs in the end, of course. Good doesn't always triumph over Evil, but that's what Americans like to see in the theater. Victorious Evil is a buzz-kill.

It's not that Americans have no interest in "lost causes," or there would be no market for books and films about the American Civil War and the Confederacy. However, the von Stauffenberg plot was not our lost cause. From a box office perspective, that may be important. Von Stauffenberg was a hero, but he wasn't our hero.

Letters From Iwo Jima
showed that many Americans are at least willing to see movies that portray our former enemies in a more sympathetic light than they have been shown in the past. That may be due to the fact that most of the combatants from the World War II generation have died off. But are American audiences ready for a World War II movie in which both the heroes and the villains are Germans?

Finally, regarding Scientology: I've heard it said that the difference between a religion and a cult is that the former has universities with football teams. I don't think that Scientology has any universities...


Bonds Ties Aaron

It was almost inevitable that Barry Bonds would eventually hit his 755th career home run and thus tie Hall of Famer Hank Aaron's record. Yesterday, it finally happened in San Diego, and sometime in the next week or two, Bonds will almost inevitably hit his 756th and have the record all to himself. The response from the road crowd to Bonds' accomplishment was mixed. Many in the crowd applauded the history being made in front of them, while some others booed or held up signs with asterisks on them, signifying the possible boost that Bonds' homer total may have gotten from performance-enhancing drugs.

The most interesting response was that of Commissioner Bud Selig, who stood up as Bonds rounded the bases, but kept his hands in his pockets. No applause or cheering from the Commish. His expression remained unchanged. He didn't go down to the field during or after the game to congratulate Bonds for his achievement, but he did note that either he or someone from his office would be present at the next several games to attempt to see Bonds break the record. Clearly this record-tying performance was felt to be no reason for celebration, and it's unlikely that Selig will be glad-handing Bonds when #756 leaves the ballpark.

I found my own response to be similarly listless. And it's not because I've heard so many negative things about the man's personality. Neither does race have anything to do with it; Hank Aaron, the man whose record Bonds is about to break, is also black, so that's neither here nor there. It comes down to the feeling that Bonds did something that gave him an unfair advantage, that using performance-enhancing drugs is tantamount to cheating. He's never been convicted of doing so, but the evidence is right there in front of us.

And no, I can't condone anyone else doing so either, like Mark McGwire or Rafael Palmeiro or any of the others whose achievements during the 1990s are now viewed as tainted. There were also a number of pitchers who were caught using them, so it's not just the big home run hitters who are suspect.

Bonds will, of course, go into the Hall of Fame. It's as inevitable as 756. When it happens, the San Francisco fans in the crowd at Cooperstown will cheer, while the fans of any other player being inducted in the same class will likely give only perfunctory but polite applause. However unpleasant a person Bonds may be, he'll have nothing on someone like Ty Cobb, already enshrined. Cobb's numbers, however, will never be questioned. Bonds' numbers will be, for the rest of his career and beyond. He would have been a great player even without using whatever he did, but now, he looks like Babe Ruth on, well, steroids.


Product Reviews

Today, we have a couple of tasty snack treats.

First, if you're into healthy food, you might like Back to Nature's Chewy Trail Mix Bars. They're made from organic fruits and grains, and the little green spot on the ingredients panel says that they are "70% organic." I bought the Cherry Pecan flavor, but there's also an Almond Cranberry variety. The verdict: Tasty! And they have 8% of your daily dietary fiber. No high fructose corn syrup, no hydrogenated oils, no artificial preservatives or flavors, and only 120 calories.

Now, let's say that you don't give a darn about health food or dieting. In that case, have I got something for you: Oreo Cakesters. They're little snack cakes in twin-pack packaging that look just like puffy Oreo cookies. Soft and chewy, but they taste just like Oreos. There's also a chocolate creme variety, but I bought the classic ones with the white filling. Mmmmmm! Delicious! Just don't read the package. You don't really want to know about the calories and fat anyway, right? What you don't know won't hurt you.

Not Good

You know something bad is going on when you turn on the television at 8:30 p.m. expecting to see Bill O'Reilly and instead Shepherd Smith is talking to eyewitnesses. Uh-oh. That was how I found out about the rush hour bridge collapse in Minneapolis last night that sent many cars into the Mississippi River.

Like most other people, my first question was whether Muslim terrorism might have been involved. After all, Minneapolis was where the "Flying Imams" were based and also where Muslim cab drivers have caused trouble by not taking fares who had alcohol with them. Homeland Security says that there's no indication that terrorism is involved. We'll have to wait to see what the National Transportation Safety Board learns from their investigation.

Still, it's an awful thing for the victims and their families. Who knows how many people are still in cars trapped in the river? Might any of them still be alive? It's just a matter of them being in the wrong place at the wrong time, the same sort of thing that could potentially happen to any of us.

Yesterday, I was thinking about blogging about an article I read online about "the world's worst poet," a 19th Century Scotsman named William McGonagall. The article notes that his poetry was so bad that "he carried an umbrella with him at all times as protection from the barrage of rotten tomatoes he faced wherever he recited." Despite this fact, McGonagall himself remained firmly convinced of his own poetic genius, placing himself second only to Shakespeare. The most interesting thing about the article, in retrospect, is that it mentions that his most famous poem was about a railway bridge over the Tay River that collapsed in 1879. Yes, I read an article that mentioned a bridge collapse yesterday afternoon. And that's not the sort of thing that happens every day!

Anyway, the article about McGonagall notes that his fans (yes, there are bad poetry fans!) are trying to get him honored in Scotland, but the Scottish literary mavens are having none of it. He died in 1902, but more than a century later, he is still remembered and revered (by some). So here's the question of the day: Would you rather be completely forgotten a century after your death or be remembered as being potentially the worst person ever in your field?