Friday, November 20, 2009

Bait and switch.

So, last week (when I was still employed) I was in The Exchange store on McKnight road when I saw that they had reduced the prices of all of their HD DVDs to around $5 each.  Being one of the few people in existence to actually own an HD DVD player, but not quite having the money to buy a huge variety of media for it, I decided to get just one to add to my admittedly small collection while the discs were still available.  The movie I decided on was Payback starring Mel Gibson.

For those not in the know, Payback is a 1999 crime drama/black comedy starring Gibson as the antihero who is only ever referred to as "Porter."  It's basically about the character's betrayal by those closest to him, and his survival and revenge as he seeks to get back the money that he views as rightfully his.  It's dark, but still manages to be funny and intense.  All around it was a pretty good movie, a complete package.  I was looking forward to sharing it with my friends, and it wasn't until I got it home until I noticed the words "Straight Up: the Director's Cut" on the box.

I thought, "What could they possibly change?  This probably adds additional footage, ala The Lord of the Rings, and that was awesome!"  Now, It had been years since I last saw the theatrical version, so I didn't really even notice any changes until about halfway through the movie, but upon reflection they had changed the beginning too.  There is no explanation as to how Porter survived being shot in the back in this version, and there is no voice-over to walk the audience through the setup.  It's pretty straightforward anyway, but the Mel Gibson narration in the original saved the characters from having to explain the obvious to each other during the film, which was curiously put back in; it just seems forced.  The Porter in this version of the film is a much less likable guy too, as director Brian Helgeland filmed a rather wincing scene of spousal abuse (though admittedly, Porter's wife had it coming) that was thankfully absent in the theatrical version.  I didn't mind its inclusion so much, I expected extra scenes.  What I didn't expect though was the completely different ending to the film.  Fans of the original might be surprised to discover that the original "Director's Cut" of the film didn't score well with audiences, but Helgeland, in trying to remain true to the inspiration for the movie (the book The Hunter by Donal Westlake) refused to make any changes, and then left the production (as shown in the "special features" of this disk), and John Myhre and Mel Gibson took over the film and made it watchable.

Now, I'm not some film elitist (I personally think that 2001: A Space Odyssey was the one of the dullest and at the same time most confusing films I've ever seen, and I encourage people not to watch it), but neither do I like when a movie is just the equivalent of Hollywood masturbating (Lethal Weapons 3 and 4 fall into that category, for you Gibson fans).  Payback was a romp in film noir in the style of 30s gangster action at a time when everyone else was trying to emulate Quentin Tarentino (don't get me wrong, I like Tarentino too, but only Tarentino is Tarentino).  The point here is that it was really kind of an homage, but kind of original in its own right.  The original director's version though, is the kind of snobbish artistic crime drama that equates to "If you don't like it, it's because you don't understand it" crap that's found in too many independent films nowadays, and has very little business being in a studio production.

It's not that the film's original ending is bad, mind you, it's just that the changes to the end will leave the viewer extremely unsatisfied in that "crime does not pay" sort of way.  You want Porter to succeed, but even the studio realized that he needed something worth fighting for.  In the original film the driving point was the principal of the situation: at one point in the movie he needed closure not just to the money that was owed to him by Val Resnick and the Outfit, but also to protect Rosie, the (cliche even by Hollywood standards) "prostitute with a heart of gold."  In this director's cut of the film, I found myself questioning why Rosie was even with Porter at the end.  The theatrical release's "boss" villain, Bronson, was played by Kris Kristofferson, but was originally supposed to be a faceless woman's voice on the phone.  You are never explicitly shown her, though porter is undone by a woman in the end, which most audiences will naturally assume to be Bronson.  The while omission of Kristofferson is obvious given the change in tone of the film, there is a criminal misuse of James Coburn - he's still in the movie, but his role is reduced to simply calling the Bronson character.

The theatrical version of Payback had a very satisfying ending, with the "bad" criminals of the film getting their comeuppance through their own machinations; Porter gets his money, gets the girl, and only gets maimed for his trouble.  The director's cut version is far less so; Porter's scheme ends in a far more realistic way, but the ending still manages to be ambiguous.  It leaves you feeling empty as the tone of the second act of the film regresses into an action-less, humorless, shell of a third act.  I'm sure that film students all over will praise it for it's thoughtful foreshadowing and metaphor, while the rest of us just scratch our heads and wonder how a movie studio that produces regularly produces films like Transformers Revenge of the Fallen and Hotel For Dogs can make a movie more enjoyable than the guy who wrote Man on Fire and directed A Knight's Tale (all right, so I like that movie, but I'm not alone!).

Payback Straight Up: The Director's Cut is simply the most disappointing director's cut I've ever seen, right after Blade Runner.  Please, please, if you have fond memories of the original, skip this watered down and ill-conceived version.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Just a test.

I'm blogging from my phone! In a bathroom no less! But not on company time!

Seriously though - I'm just testing it to see if it works.

Later, y'all!

Monday, October 12, 2009

An inconvenient truth

Let us petition the United States Government to rename Columbus Day as National Inconvenience Day. The reasons for doing so are numerous:

1.) It is a well-known scientific and historical fact that Christopher Columbus did NOT discover the American continent. The Vikings discovered it and attempted to colonize it almost 400 years earlier. Columbus himself died thinking that he had found India, and he never even set foot on the mainland. From the evidence we have, it seems Columbus was lucky his ships didn't sink and his entire crew drowned the moment they left the dock. The man was an idiot; brave, but stupid.

2.) Who gets Columbus Day off? Postal workers and bank employees (i.e., no one that you or I know). Like every other stupid fly-by-night holiday, the only ones who benefit from time off are the ones who handle your money and deliver your post. The only thing this accomplishes is that I can't mail letters or get coins to do laundry. Granted, this is becoming less of a problem in the electronic age, but it still annoys the piss out of me.

3.) Who benefits from Columbus Day? The only people I can think of are people who are thinking about buying furniture and people who are re-flooring their kitchen. I haven't even seen ads this year for a J.C. Penny Columbus Day sale, which makes me think that they've given up (I mean, who has time to shop there when we're all at work?).

So to sum up, we're celebrating the non-discovery of a continent via Caribbean islands by a jackass who didn't even know where he was, and we do this by closing our financial and money-handling businesses while we still shuffle ourselves to work thereby handicapping our ability to get things done and making it harder to get money to buy the furniture that we don't need that's on sale.

What was the point of this holiday again?  If you're going to declare a holiday just for the sake of having one, at least give everyone else the day off (firemen and policemen not withstanding) instead of giving it to a few services that the rest of us rely upon to get through our day (if everyone had it off, there'd be no need for those services anyway).  All it does otherwise is to seed unrest, like the mockery Labor Day has become (you know what I'm talking about: how managers and executives get Labor Day off but the peons that it was created to celebrate still have to work so that these high-paid a-holes can still go shopping and eating out on their day off).

Sack up, America!

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Darwin's Darkest Hour

I just watched this "very special movie presentation" on PBS which was produced by Nova and National Geographic and called Darwin's Darkest Hour.  It dealt with Charles Darwin and his struggle to get his ideas published as original while being austricised by the still very church-centric public.  Darwin never claimed that there was no God, he just believed Christianity to be the wrong path, and this gave the media at the time enough fodder to demonize him.

Despite the drama involved, I only came away with one thought...

This is Charles Darwin when the film takes place:

This is the actor they hired to play Darwin, Henry Ian Cusick :


Notice a difference?

Being a bald, ugly (though admittedly not as smart) man like Charles Darwin, I take exception to this representation.  You can't tell me they couldn't have hired a bald actor or (heaven forbid) shaved Cusick's head for some semblance of historical accuracy.

I know that bald isn't sexy, but WE'RE TALKING ABOUT CHARLES FREAKIN' DARWIN HERE!  Sexy shouldn't factor into it!

Sunday, September 27, 2009

The Cleveland Show

I'm not the biggest fan of Family Guy or American Dad, Seth McFarlane's popular animated shows on Fox.  My favorite animated Fox shows were the Simpsons (for the nostalgic remembrance of when the show was really good) and King of the Hill, which is the most consistently good show on the network.  Now that King of the Hill has been canceled, Fox has decided to replace it with The Cleveland Show, and the premiere was tonight.

Half an hour of the least interesting, most boring television I have ever seen.  Not one chuckle.  Besides Cleveland being one of the least interesting characters on Family Guy I don't see how the brass at Fox figured he could hold his own show, especially with such a derivative supporting cast.

I won't be watching it again.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Did I mention that I hate it when I'm right?

Good thing it doesn't happen very often.  Too bad tonight is one of those nights.

More riots in Oakland (follow link)

Blogfest 09?


I've never added so many posts in so little amount of time, but things are just really happening around here.

First, the news vans showed up:

Then the news helicopters:

Then the police:

Then city maintenance trucks carrying newspaper vending machines:

Then the protesters showed up:

In their hippie-mobiles:

Now, it's not that I entirely disagree with the protesters - I don't.  There is a truth to the belief that the leaders of the world's economy are just backstabbing money-grubbing greed-mongers who relish in hobnobbing with the world's rich by keeping the poor in their perceived place.  I do feel that holding protests (violent or otherwise) only seeks to stroke the ego of the protesters.  You see, the people in charge only take notice when you beat them at their own game.  If all you're doing to change the world is chanting and waving a sign because you spent the last twenty years too strung out on hemp and a vegan diet to be able to fight and think about anything more constructive to do in the name of world equality, then you kind of deserve it when the communist leaders you elected forcibly take your land and send you to the slave mines.

And for you right-wing young republican types, even hippies need to use the bathroom:

You're more alike than you think!

I hate it when I'm right.

Yesterday I said that any protester that attacks a local business is a mouth-breathing idiotic hypocrite.   Given last night's monkeyshines in Oakland, I stand by this statement.  Although most of the businesses attacked were the bastions of corporate America, there is simply no excuse for this type of protest.  The average age of those arrested leads me to believe that at least some of them are College students, probably in Oakland.  Because of the physicality of the crimes this almost certainly means that these anarchists are attending the University of Pittsburgh (lets face it, I could kick the collective pasty asses of 99% of Carnegie Mellon's student body *cough*NERDS*cough*).  I don't know for sure, of course, but you can find a partial list of the morons here.

Why do Pittsburgh riots almost always happen in (or at least start at) Oakland?  Obama gets elected? Let's riot!  Steelers win the Super Bowl?  Let's riot!  It could just be the combination of the college crowd and readily available alcohol, but most of these people are pre-med.  That means that many of the same people breaking windows and throwing bikes at police officers are the people giving you an operation in the future: 

"Dude, capitalism sucks!  I'm gonna sell your organs in protest!"

"To who?!"

"Um, communists!"

Seriously, protesters - the world leaders aren't going to listen to you anyway.  Most of them are either smart, aware of your plight, and unconscionable or they're just unconscionable.  They don't care.  Whatever problems you're trying to bring to their attention, it doesn't benefit them in the slightest to give a damn.  All that you're doing by getting aggressive is giving the angry white guys with uniforms, tear gas, batons and shaved heads a much-yearned-for reason to bash your heads in using said implements.  Just chill out, dance for the cameras, and whine about it in your blog tomorrow.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Outhouses on the Highway

I was originally going to title this entry "Pittsburgh under Siege," but as that is a headline most locals are likely apt to use to describe the current state of the city thanks to the G-20 summit, I thought that I'd use one more sanguine.  As I have neither the inside track, reasonable press information, or more than a passing interest on the summit, I have instead opted to give my own observations on the situation from the point of an everyman. 

Tip #1:  If you are considering driving to Pittsburgh during the summit, do yourself a favor and don't.  There doesn't seem to be anywhere into the city for non-bus transportation, the "T" is closed for obvious reasons, and even if you managed to get into the city, there is absolutely no parking anywhere (even the parking garages are closed).  Plan for extra time for circumventing the city as well - there are so many police, state troopers, and military personnel stationed at every bridge and tunnel that drivers who are normally stupefied by driving our streets are even more stupid and slow today.  All access to the David L. Lawrence convention center is blocked by iron fences and cement highway dividers.  The police have even erected porta-potties on the closed off on-ramps (hence the title of the article).


Tip #2: If you have to go, I mean absolutely have to go downtown during the summit, be prepared to deal with the whole town smelling like horse manure.  For some odd reason, the city has horsed Police officers marching around in formation.  I fail to see what the point of these officers is; all of the parks and recreation centers downtown are pretty accessible without the horses, and the cleanup will likely take days after the G-20 is over.  Perhaps it's to make the third-world delegates feel more at home?


Tip #3:  Seriously, why are you trying to go downtown anyway?  Market square is torn to hell, most of the businesses are boarded up and/or closed for the summit, there aren't any protestors to speak of, nothing but roadblocks, Subway sandwich shops, and paramilitary personnel who are just looking for an excuse to use those cool-looking gas masks as they put their shiny riot gear to some use.  If you want to see what an abandoned and desolate Pittsburgh looks like, just go there on a Sunday afternoon.


I also noticed that several businesses in Southside were closed and boarded up.  Now, I may seem a bit stupid at times, but even I can't figure out how Pittsburgh's bohemian art center feels threatened by anti-capitalist nut-jobs.  The shops are mostly small-town affairs with very little profit margins and a definite feeling of community (hey, the freaks gotta live somewhere, right?).  Anyone threatening these struggling establishments in protest isn't just a mouth-drooling idiot, they're also hypocrites.

Tales From the 'Burgh

In my few years in Pittsburgh, I have had some rather unfortunate experiences with deliveries to my house.  Though I have yet to have anything directly stolen from my postbox, getting things delivered to my front door has proven in the past to be an arduous task.  I've waited for a whole fruitless day for the bell to ring, only to find out later that the driver says that they attempted delivery (DHL).  I've taken time off of work to be at my door when they said expected delivery was around noon, only to have them drop it off around six (UPS), and I've had others wait until I take twenty minutes out of the day to get some lunch from around the corner before they decide to deliver it (Federal Express).  I know where every service depot is around the area, because I've had to go there to collect items the inept delivery men have failed to get into my hands.

The setting is Wednesday, September 23rd, 2009.  The cell phone that my sister and brother-in-law were helping me to update is due to arrive, and I have to be home to sign for it.  Now, to most people this isn't that big of a deal, but those that know me well know that I don't often update my cell phone.  In truth this will be the third and most likely last time this decade, and only now because my last cell phone is dying and I can't find a replacement lithium ion battery for it.

Don't read too much into this.  It's not that I was extremely excited about getting the new phone, it's just that I don't have anything else going on in my life at the moment.

This is the story of that saga:

(From the journal of Michael Adams)

Wednesday, 9/23/09

Today is the day that I finally replace my old and worn-out cell phone.  I am determined to not let the FedEx delivery man cheat me today.  I set my alarm for 8:00 AM, but it didn't go off, so I have been up since 9:00, on the balcony waiting for the delivery.

9:00 - 10:00= Random people walking by, the USPS carrier came around 9:30, leaving my post to collect.  Went downstairs to get it.  Just stuff for Isaac.

10:02= A man that I am fairly certain does not live in the neighborhood parked in front of the building.  As he is driving a Cadillac, I think that he'll be able to pay the parking fine if he is there for more than two hours.  I'm counting it off.

10:19= I just saw a FedEx truck pull into the buildings over by the church.  I hope this is their next stop (yeah, right).

10:20= It's pulling out now.  It's coming this way... and it just passed me.  What the f***?

10:22= Went inside to check tracking to make sure the driver didn't mark the package as "attempted to deliver," but maybe the system hasn't updated yet.  Logged the time when I came back outside.

10:25= OBSERVATION: There are a lot of helicopters flying around today... for G20 summit?  I'm curious to see downtown, but I'm not leaving my post here.

10:27= HOLY SH**, the FedEx guy just passed the house going the opposite way.

10:28= Something smells like barbecue.

10:32= I'm going back in to check delivery status.

10:34= Still "on truck for delivery."

10:35= Starting to look like rain.

10:41= Here he comes again... and he just turned down East Ohio Street.

10:43= Military choppers over the Allegheny.

10:51= The guy with the Cadillac works at (or owns) Rita's, so I'll let it slide.

10:57= Status is still "on truck for delivery."

10:59= Weird looking guy in hoodie just tried to open building's doors.

11:02= Ambulance on E. Ohio moving toward Allegheny Center.

11:12= Weird-looking guy in hoodie apparently has keys to the building.

11:15= Still "on truck for delivery."

11:23= Fred (on a bike) and Nick came to the door.

11:24= People walking around with neon green stickers on their lapels.

11:30= Went inside (briefly) to check status and bank account.  Status was still "on truck for delivery."

11:34= Saw the UPS van for the third time today. Can FedEx be far behind?

11:37= Saw a truck towing a city bus.  It's starting to rain.  Man, I wish I could leave to go get some food.  It's raining pretty hard.

11:38= Had to abandon my post for fear of getting the journal wet.

11:41= I moved operations to the steps of the building's lobby, at least until it stops raining.  It feels good to sit down.  Not much of a view, but I can see if someone comes to the door.

11:44= Wish I was out hiking in this.

11:48= The rain has all but ceased.  What a ripoff!

11:56= The sun is out.

12:00= Hour four begins.

12:01= Another USPS truck goes by.

12:09= Went back to the balcony.  Chico seems peturbed.  He probably wonders what the hell is going on.

12:11= Brought a chair out onto the balcony.  My view is more obstructed, but I'm getting tired of standing in one spot.

12:13= There goes DHL's truck.  S.O.B.s!

12:17= Rita's Cadillac man is tying more balloons on the rail outside of the building.

12:24= There goes yet another USPS truck.

12:25= Lots of cop cars heading toward Allegheny Center.

12:30= Nick just left the building.

12:35= Kind of early for kids to get out of school, but there's a bus dropping them off.

12:38= Here comes another FedEx truck... is he stopping? No... Yes!

12:41= Success!

Saturday, September 19, 2009

The old watch is dead.

A moment of mourning...

I finally got the back panel off of my old watch.  I tested that battery with my multimeter, and it seemed fine (2.9 volts), so I continued taking it apart.  There didn't seem to be any corrosion on the inside of the watch (as I had feared), but when I tried unscrewing the analog adjustment arm it broke right off.  To make matters worse, I think I found out why it hadn't been working - the hands fell of when I loosened the case, so I think the reason it wasn't keeping time was because the hands were off of the spindle.  I tried putting them back on, but my less-than-ample jewelery tools bent the hands, ensuring that they would catch on each other even if it was fixed.  The only thing to come out of this was the CR2016 battery, which I put back into my Casio Data Bank watch.  The SRAM still had the phone numbers of all the people from the last time it had a working battery (a little over a year ago).  I updated the phone numbers and I think that I'll put it back into my rotation, making this my longest lived watch (I gave my original Data Bank to my friend Brian who replaced the guts).


I recently read this article on MSN about the decline of cursive writing in our schools, and I have to say, I don't see what the big deal is.  If you're too young to remember when cursive writing was synonymous with penmanship, then consider yourself lucky.

I understand that there is a certain romanticism associated with cursive writing, but it's not like learning to write cursive is like learning a whole new language, just a different font.  If done correctly, one's result is a thing of beauty that brings to mind poetry, love letters, and an eighteenth century aesthetic.  If done incorrectly, as by 99.999% of the English speaking world, you get a completely unreadable mess of scribbles that brings to mind memories of forged truancy notes and accidentally amputated limbs (because surgeons couldn't read the doctor's writing, see?  Forget it.).

Cursive writing's sweeping design is meant to be swifter and more flowing than standard printed text, but one also needs to realize that this was developed in a time when people of all creeds used quills and inkwells instead of pencils and pens - let alone computers and cell phones - to write their notes because it was easier to drag an ink-sodden feather or nib across a page than letting the ink splatter and drip all over it.  I am more amazed that this romantic fallacy has endured beyond the age of the typewriter let alone into the computer age.

Parents concerned about their child not being forced to use cursive writing for everything need to realize that they are being stupid; the only reason you want your kids to learn it is because you were forced to learn it all those years ago.  I'm sure that there's more than a few of us out there that remember the pointless drills, the countless hours of criticism about the shape and form of our cursive letters simply because we don't possess the natural coordination to do it properly.  Also, try getting the proper instruction when you're left-handed in a class where everyone but you and maybe one other student is right-handed.  That's enough to give me nightmares.  Just because you were made to suffer an outdated practice does not entitle you to force it upon your child.  Grow a brain and come to your senses.

I'm not even sure that cursive works as a time saver as opposed to print anyway.  A few of my friends and I are every bit as capable of writing standard as fast and messy as cursive.  It really makes no difference which one we use, though I know a few younger people who didn't waste their youth on this pointless exercise and who are now far more capable typists than my high-school educated butt (guess who is more marketable in today's dwindling job bank).

In conclusion, if you want to expose children to this pointless "skill," then do so only briefly at an early age, and maybe set up calligraphy clubs for the kids that want to continue with it, but don't force it on the rest of them just because you're bitter that you had to learn it.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

New watch

Here I go, spending money needlessly again.  Well, sort of needlessly.

Over the past two weeks I have had no less than three strangers comment on how nice my watch is.  Those individuals really have no idea just how wrong they are.

It's not that it's a bad watch; this has been the best non-calculator watch I've ever had.  I didn't pay much money for it, as I recall it was only about $17 when I purchased it from Sears a few years ago, and it was more than worth it at the time, with both analog and digital functions, a stop watch, timer, back-light and movable bezel.  In fact, this watch might still be in use this very moment if I hadn't insisted on wearing it to my job at Home Depot and subsequent sh** jobs of the past few years.  This unreasonable wear and tear has caused some functional and visible blemishes.

The first real problem I had with the device was when the back-light button fell off.  Oddly enough, this was only a marginal annoyance, as the glow-in-the-dark hands made reading it in intermittently lighted conditions easy.

Ever since the mid-nineties, I prefer my watches to have metal bands, as the rubber plastic of every watch I've ever owned cracks and falls apart after a few months of wear, and replacing the things wasn't always easy.  With a metal band, usually the case will crack before the band wears out... unless you start losing the pins that hold the band together.  Most pricier watches have removable links in a metal band, but as I established early on I didn't pay much for this one, so it might come as little surprise that I lost a critical pin for the band's clasp earlier this year.  Being the resourceful chap I am, I simply substituted a small paper clip for the wayward pin.

While the paper clip does a fine job of holding the band together, it does a pretty bad job of not chafing my wrist with its rusty painfulness.

So late last week, my watch's analog hands began slowing down disproportionately to the time on the digital face.  I had to wonder whether it was because that the battery was dying or if the case's extreme corrosion had finally crept into the watch's innards.

I decided to open up the watch and see about replacing the battery.  I got my jeweler's screwdrivers out only to find that the case had no screws - this isn't unusual, as this isn't a diver's watch and therefore it is just a friction back.  Unfortunately, the corrosion has gotten so bad that I can't get the back panel off.  I've been trying for days to no avail.  My only option then was to take it to one of the battery replacement places at the mall.  My last experience with these establishments was when my friend Seth took the watch that I gave him there and they charged him a king's ransom for a simple battery replacement ($11+).  So my options were to take it there to see if they could replace the battery (if that was the problem) and if not I would still have to pay them and learn to live without a functioning watch, and/or just use my cell phone to tell time (it's more accurate anyway).

I opted instead to invest $17 in a new watch at Sears (they were on sale).  Even though they had the same model as the one I was replacing, I decided to go with a different one... and the buyer's remorse has kicked in.  I didn't really need the watch (as mentioned before, I could just use my cell phone), but I'm so used to having that metal band on my wrist I was actually getting anxious without it being there.  Maybe I have a touch of OCD, but I needed to replace it and all of my old watches are either childish or broken.

The replacement is slightly larger, a much darker chrome finish, a black movable bezel (with better numeration around) and a fully LCD panel behind the analog hands.  The back light button is much sturdier than my old watch's and the luminous display is much cooler looking.  It isn't without its flaws, though.  There is no countdown timer, which was an often-used feature on the old one, and if I had realized that it was missing it in the store it would probably still be there, though the bezel makes it superfluous.  It also doesn't have the luminescent hands (though oddly enough it does have luminescent hour marks), which makes it difficult to read in low light, but if the back light continues to function it isn't that big of a deal.  It's certainly a better looking watch than the old one, and if I can stay away from exposing it to the kind of abuse that a decent watch shouldn't be exposed to (grout, girders, et al) it will probably last longer.

I'll still try to get the other one open.  Anyone know of any good corrosion cures that don't involve spraying liquid on or submerging the very-not-waterproof watch?

Tuesday, September 15, 2009


What the hell is wrong with people that are against health-care reform?

For a moment, let's ignore the fact that like me, millions of Americans don't have health insurance because they are either unemployed or cannot afford it.  Let's ignore the fact that when these people are struck with a condition that would have been cheap to treat in early stages they are forced to clog our emergency rooms because their condition's gotten so bad they can't ignore it any longer.

I am talking about the people who are saying that people should still have a choice in their health-care and that the government should stay out of it.

First: nobody's saying that you need to give up your HMO.  That is not what the plan is for.  The plan is to ease the burden on the lower and middle class that health-care has become to the millions of people who can't afford it.  If you want to keep your current plan, go ahead.

Second: You don't have a choice in your coverage - your insurance company does! They tell you who they're willing to reimburse, how much they're willing to pay, and if they feel it's better to take your money for years and then drop you when you finally need that coverage, they will.

Third: In caps, for emphasis, THE GOVERNMENT ALREADY RUNS MEDICARE!  Quit trying to scare old people into thinking that the government (who already gives them insurance) that they're going to take it away when the reality is that it isn't going to change their coverage outside of making it available to more people.

What the hell is with this country's priorities?  I didn't see protests of this scale when former president George Dumbass Bush invaded a sovereign country under the flimsy (at best) premise that the dictator that our government helped to install was working with fundamentally different philosophical religious fanatics who there had been no prior relational evidence to hurt our country and not because Dick Cheney had blue-balls from Operation Desert Storm.

If you're going to protest, at least do some research beforehand.  Don't just do it because you live in a red state.

Okay, okay, okay.

Yes, my sister had a baby last week.

Yes, he's really cute.

Yes, I'm really happy for Dan and Rita.

His name is Drake Liam Benson.

I didn't feel it was my place to tell everyone, so if you want to see pictures you'll have to seek out Rita for them.

Ignorance, mine.

As I was walking back to my apartment from downtown with the roll of quarters that I needed to start my ever-mounting pile of laundry, I noticed that there was a lot of police blockage throughout the city.  Intersections in the vicinity of the David L. Lawrence Convention Center were closed off for no apparent reason, and there were National Guard and Pittsburgh Police boats in the Allegheny River.  I had to wonder what was going on, as the G20 summit doesn't start until September 24th, and the city's current "Spit-shine Pittsburgh" campaign (wherein downtown areas that homeless and low-income people usually gather are closed and torn up supposedly for improvements but more probably so that the G20 chairs don't see the seedier side of our economically depressed town) seems focused on our already recently renovated parks and historic districts. 

It turns out that the police were there because the president of these United States was speaking at the convention center for the AFL-CIO convention.  I watch the news when I can and was understandably quite surprised that this missed my notice.  I think that it is noteworthy though, that during the MLB All-Stars game the Coast Guard boats had rather large chain-fed machine guns on their decks, but a visit from the POTUS didn't seem to warrant as much intimidation.

Watching parts of Obama's speech on the news later, I do agree with him to some degree:  the middle class is better off with unions in place.  Let us not forget though, that the reasons that unions worked originally is because they took a bat and fists approach to abuses of the workers (they actually physically threatened management).  As soon as unions became "legitimate" businesses, the people at the top refocused their legally questionable methods from management to the workers they claimed to protect, often taking much and giving back very little.  Unions don't work when the purpose of their existence switches from protecting workers rights to keeping the union going.  These should not be mutually exclusive ideals.

I think that one point everyone can agree with the president is in saying that Kanye West is indeed a jackass.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Photos from home

I apologize for the graininess of these pictures. Blogger seems intent on shrinking my seven mega-pixel images too small, then not re-sampling them when I try to enlarge them.

I went back to my hometown of Warren, Pennsylvania today for a medical reasons (not mine). While there I decided to snap some photos using various settings on my camera. It's not an expensive piece of equipment, but it is by far the best camera that I've ever owned. I decided to document not a day in my life, but just random views of a town that you would miss if you were flying over, or driving really fast through.

The city of Warren is located in Warren county on the shores of the Allegheny River. Oddly enough this is the same river that I now live near in Pittsburgh, but that's not important now. It is a Victorian-era town that had its boom in oil, lumber, and industry, though much of that wealth has fled.

I began my day at Warren General Hospital, and then made my way over the river and across town to Liberty Street. In my lifetime this was once the unquestioned retail center of the county, with department stores for every taste and income. Now I see it being slowly eaten away by the nerve center of Northwest Savings Banks. While it is nice to see that someone is making use of the various neglected buildings and abandoned riverfront parking lots, it is a private setting, and only those who have business there are welcome. Gone are the sidewalk teller windows, Levinson Brothers department store... Kresge's store with its bargain lunch counter. The Viking ship that adorned the H.K. Wendelboe's building an ever-present reminder of the people and wealth the city once had, the dragon's eyes constantly searching for new customers that will never come.

Having time to think about it made me remember days of my youth perhaps more fondly than they were. Twenty or so years ago a boy of twelve could walk down the streets of this town and have adventures, go window shopping, browse the book stores and never feel anything but that this city was alive and that the future was bright.

From here I collected my thoughts and headed to the top of the hill to Washington Park. It wasn't too difficult, although the road is one of those oily country roads that rural Appalachians know all too well. Narrow, curvy, and steep as it is, pedestrian traffic is not welcome but allowed all the same. The trees were green and full of precious life, thankful for both the previous day's rain and the present day's delicious sun. Unfortunately, the trees aren't the road's only inhabitants, and the goldenrod plants were as invasive and aggressive as ever. As I have always lived in Pennsylvania the goldenrod is both a familiar and frequent sight, which makes it my misfortune to be allergic to it. I could smell the stink of its pollen while making my trek, but I had prepared for this with come allergy medication, and the plant's metaphoric teeth had been pulled. The only thing that I didn't prepare for this day was the insects, which were legion in the shade of the trees.

I finally made it to Washington Park, and enjoyed the view for awhile, snapping some quick pictures of the overlook. There was a bit more haze than I would have liked, and because my camera can't use filters or interchangeable lenses the backgrounds look a bit more washed out than I had expected.

Still, as photos lacking retouches, the greens are quite vibrant.

From that point the insects began to outweigh my desire to film without a telephoto lens and I began the crawl back to town. Once back to my car I traveled to the Warren Mall -- not to shop, but for more pictures.

I wish that I could say that the panorama photos that I took came out even half-decently, but as you can see in the above picture that anything with lines will show seams when you capture it. Unfortunately moving the camera rather than rotating it doesn't offer a much better effect because the foreground will still look inconsistent.

Entering the mall, from the main entrance, you are greeted with artwork depicting derricks pumping the oil that made Warren great.

Anyone visiting Warren for the first time will notice that our shopping mall is in the winter years of its life. While the city does have a Wal-mart now, the superstore actually has very little to do with the mall's decline. In 1980 the mall opened its doors to shoppers. There was a time when New York state (a scant ten miles away from the mall) had sales tax on all goods and services, while Pennsylvania didn't require sales tax on food or clothing, and had a lower sales tax overall. This changed at the end of the eighties, and New Yorkers who had once flocked to Warren for duty-free goods suddenly had little reason to come here. The mall still had a selection of stores and was very profitable even then, but the "boom" was over. Later still the stores began dropping off and staying unoccupied, for a number of reasons.

My postulation on why the Warren Mall, and in fact most shopping malls across the country are failing is a bit more complicated: technology. Shopping malls are strange beasts. While being one of the biggest temples of consumerism know to man they are also very communal. Heated against the cold, cooled in defiance of the heat they are meant to be gathering places. In the early days, shopping malls had a plethora stores, each specialized to a different market. There were toy stores, smoke shops, booksellers, pretzel vendors, orange-flavored drink dealers, video game arcades, movie stores, record stores, and novelty stores. When you lived in the middle of nowhere in the winter, it was a small trifle to ask your parents to drop you off at the mall with your friends. In its warmth, you could spend hours buying trading cards, trying to beat a video game, enjoying a movie at the theater, or having a warm cookie or pretzel while you looked at the latest Nintendo games and wondered aloud if it was as good as it sounded. Once, even the back of the mall would have cars parked in it.

One day though, came a thing called the internet. Suddenly you could look up reviews of products online, no more need to window shop... PROGRESS!

Now comes a 3D accelerator for your computer, followed by a shiny new disc-based video game system -- it's better than the arcade... PROGRESS!

They sell the big pretzels in the supermarket now, and you're sick of them... PROGRESS!

Hey, you have chat programs and cell phones that keep you in constant contact with your friends day and night, no need to meet at the mall with its aging video arcade, closing toy stores, and more expensive pretzels, we'll just chat right now... PROGRESS!

As tech evolved, the need for these "social shopping" places waned, and focus instead shifted to spaces where everything was packed haphazardly under one roof. Business here has dried up like one of the building's many fountains.

I cannot remember the last time when I saw any water in these.

One of the Warren Mall's last casualties was the Waldenbooks.

I spent many hours here in the entirety of my life; my mother bought me Star Wars picture books in my youth, this was one of my regular stops for comic books in middle school, and from high school and beyond the only place I could go to purchase my very own copies of classics and nonfiction, as from that point on it was the city's sole purveyor of books (but only if you don't count the romance novel exchange downtown). It's gone now in the wake of and heartland America's declining readership, but it will not be forgotten.

To the critics who might see the last half of my essay as nostalgia and glorification of rampant consumerism, I humbly admit that at least on the surface it would seem so. Though I can be materialistic and shallow, this place is dear to me not for what I purchased from within its walls, but for those scant hours that those who I called my friends would celebrate the end of a long week of school with pizza, pretzels, and laughter.