Sunday, January 27, 2008

Rap, 'Roids, and Rock & Roll

I find it funny that in addition to all the finger-pointing going on about the alleged use of steroids in baseball, additional fingers are being pointed at, I kid you not, the record industry, most notably rapper 50 Cent, R&B singers Mary J. Blige and Wyclef Jean, and producer Tim “Timbaland” Mosley. Author & actor Tyler Perry has even had fingers pointed at him.

In the past, similar speculations and accusations were made about comic actor-turned bulked-up non-entity Joe Piscopo, aging mumbler and sequel-maker Sylvester Stallone, and nasally-voiced former wrestler-turned-Playboy model Joanie “Chyna” Laurer. Stallone admits he uses HGH and takes testosterone. Piscopo has repeatedly denied the allegations and says he began a campaign to improve himself after battling thyroid cancer from 1981 to 1982. He also appeared in anti-steroid public service announcements. Laurer is a former pro bodybuilder and denies ever using steroids.

Back to the musicians. Look, kids, these people do not lead what you and I lead as a normal life. They don’t have normal 9-5 jobs. After photo shoots and interviews, if they aren’t making a CD or perhaps doing a show, they kinda have the bulk of the day to spend in the gym with a very expensive trainer. They aren’t up at 6AM to fight traffic on an hour-long commute to a crappy office cubicle to file reports all day for under 30K a year. In between albums & tours, wtf else have they got to do but work out? And unlike sports stars, would “juicing” be as big a deal since they don’t exactly need an athletic competitive edge to sell more abums?

I guess the fingers need to be pointed to other likely candidates for steroid use in music:

Rock legend Mick Jagger

Techno guru Moby

REM singer Michael Stipe

Country crooner Dwight Yoakam

The artist formerly known as Prince who changed his name to a symbol and is now known as Prince again after realizing no one could pronounce the symbol

Evil hench-cat Mister Bigglesworth

However, maybe some other fingers need to be pointed at other guys, like maybe noted rage-a-holic and rehab freakshow Danny Bonaduce, and “comedian” Carrot Top, who looks like he was dropped off here by aliens trying like hell to create a lab experiment to blend in with humans to learn our secrets.

What's in a name?

Usually, a lot of thought goes into picking the name of a sports team. I’ve seen some teams hold naming contests to name a newly-formed team. I’ve seen creative names, and ridiculous names. And names that just made me scratch my head and say “WTF?” like the Amherst College Lord Jeffs, or the Lemmings of Bryant & Stratton College-Cleveland Campus. For those unsure, a lemming is a small rodent related to rats & mice.

Some are for colleges; some are for minor league baseball and hockey teams,

Here are some of the ones that really caught my eye:

University of California-Irvine Anteaters
Presbyterian College Blue Hose
University of Arkansas-Monticello Boll Weevils (men’s teams)
University of Arkansas-Monticello Cotton Blossoms (women’s teams)
California State University-Long Beach Dirtbags (baseball only)
Hampshire College Frogs
University of Minnesota Golden Gophers
Pittsburg University Gorillas
South Dakota School of Mines & Technology Hardrockers
University of Alaska-Southeast Humpback Whales
Earlham College Hustlin’ Quakers
Columbia College Koalas
Whittier College Poets
Oglethorpe University Stormy Petrels

Baseball teams from the 1800’s:

Newburyport Clamdiggers
Oswego Starchboxes
Zanesville Kickapoos
Lincoln Tree Planters
Sandusky Fish aters
Davenport Onion Weeders
Burlington Babies
Saginaw-Bay City Hyphens
Des Moines Prohibitionists
New Haven Nutmegs
Lebanon Pretzel Eaters
Kalamazoo Celery Eaters

Modern baseball:

Lansing Lugnuts
Traverse City Beach Bums
Montgomery Biscuits (wtf?)
Winston-Salem Warthogs
Walla Walla Walla Wallas (real creative, no?)
Albuquerque Isotopes
Savannah Sand Gnats
Cedar Rapids Kernels
Lehigh Valley IronPigs
Casper Ghosts
Toledo Mud Hens
Hickory Crawdads
The now-defunct Bangor Blue Ox (for Paul Bunyan’s Babe)

Minor-league hockey has a few goodies too:
Fayetteville FireAntz
The now-defunct Macon Whoopie (the mascot was a whooping crane)
Bloomington Prairie Thunder
Odessa Jackalopes (the legendary antlered rabbit)
The now-defunct Louisiana IceGators
Austin Ice Bats
Shreveport-Bossier Mudbugs (a euphemism for a crawfish)
Rockford IceHogs
The now-defunct Danbury Trashers, owned by a waste disposal company

Let’s not forget the Omaha Beef of the US Indoor Football League.

One soccer team in Thailand is called the Thailand Tobacco Monopoly.

The local high school in Cairo, Georgia (home of Karo Syrup) is called the Syrupmakers, while Teutopolis High School in Illinois is the Wooden Shoes.Yuma, Arizona’s high school is the Criminals (which really must make the PTA happy) and Frankfort High School in Indiana is the Hotdogs, I kid you not. Their mascot is a vicious Dachshund.

However, my personal two favorites are real winners. These take the freakin’ cake.

One needs travel to Scottsdale, Arizona to be intimidated by the Scottsdale Community College Fighting Artichokes, and if you’re in Califiornia, head over to the University of California-Santa Cruz to cheer on the one and only Banana Slugs. Yes, you read that correctly. The Banana Slugs.

I guess not everyone can be an eagle, a lion, a tiger, or a bear.(oh my!) Then again, having an unusual name guarantees your team is going to get press coverage and mentions in obscure blogs scribbled by a bored dude on a Sunday afternoon when his own South Carolina Stingrays are playing out of town.

And another thing about Rambo....

When the Rambo films were all the rage there were a lot of crappy promotional pictures and stuff floating around. These two above are standouts to me.

On the left we see Stallone in his ubersexy Rambo headband and carrying a Soviet-issue RPG-7, or rocket-propelled grenade. This is a shoulder-fired anti-tank weapon, and only a total tool with no knowledge of the weapon would carry it under his arm as if he were ready to fire it that way. The weapon is placed on top of the shoulder for stability and then fired, like a bazooka.

And then there was the video game for Rambo, shown on the right. When Sega commissioned the box art, someone with ABSOLUTELY no clue about weapons whatsoever created some new kind of hybrid. Starting with the M-60 machine gun featured heavily in First Blood, and Part II, the artist replaced the flash suppressor at the end of the M-60's barrel with the anti-tank rocket projectile from the above-mentioned RPG-7. Last I knew, it was a fictional apparatus, but I'm sure that artist thought it looked cool. And then no one at Sega, or in Stallone's camp, caught it. Then again, Sly was counting his paycheck and looking to make his next masterpiece of cinematic achievement, like "Tango & Cash", "Cobra", or "STOP! Or My Mom Will Shoot!". Somehow the Oscars have overlooked these great films....

Saturday, January 26, 2008

And in Rambo 12, he mounts a machine gun on his Rascal Scooter

It started in 1982 with a man. A solitary loner of a man who drifted from place to place, trying to find inner peace and exorcise his personal demons. These demons were left over from his days serving his nation valiantly in a war that no one wanted to remember.

But those petty small-town cops just had to push it. He didn’t start it; they drew First Blood…and thusly the legend of John Rambo was born, and Sylvester Stallone’s bad acting, bad dialogue, and melodramatic proselytizing created a franchise that simply refuses to die. To quote the new film’s trailer: Old heroes never die; they just reload.

First Blood served to usher in all the big 80’s action films about highly-trained former commandos who, deep down, are sensitive guys forced by ne’r-do-wells into utilizing their deadly skills to lay the smack down and put the Bad Guys in the hurt locker, using everything from toothpicks to rocket launchers and guns that never run out of ammo, seldom getting more than a shaving nick in the process.

After John Rambo torched the forests of Washington, defeating the National Guard and the entire local constabulary, he ended up in the clink but gets sprung by his old commander, Colonel Trautman. It seems the good Colonel has an offer that John can’t refuse, which is to go back to Vietnam and find evidence of POW/MIA’s still alive in-country. Of course, Rambo gets captured, resists torture, escapes, liberates to camp’s prisoners, and flies a surplus Huey helicopter full of the aforementioned liberated prisoners to the base camp, and confronts the CIA scumbag who left Rambo in The ‘Nam , all before dinner time. The confrontation with the CIA guy culminates in Rambo firing an M-60 machine gun with one hand, ripping off an entire hundred-round belt of ammo at all the radio equipment in the control center while issuing a guttural grunting yell. Good times…

After receiving a Presidential pardon, Rambo ventured off to find his inner peace in Zenville, Thailand, living in a monastery and making ends meet by participating in prize bouts of Thai stick-fighting. Enter Trautman again, asking his old protégé to accompany him to Afghanistan to drop off some Stinger missiles for the locals to use in killing Soviet occupiers. Rambo declines, and his mentor is captured. Of course, Rambo travels to rescue him, using this amazing compound bow with exploding arrows to destroy most of the Red Army, which of course is entirely plausible in Reagan-era propagandist fiction.

Cue the music. It’s 20 years later, and Rambo is back. Still living in the back woods of Thailand, Rambo comes out of retirement to rescue foreign aid workers caught up in the 60-year old civil war in Burma, a war as old as Rambo himself, since Sylvester Stallone is almost 62. Through the miracle of hair dye and HGH, he doesn’t look a day over 50. And, as usual and in a most predictable fashion, Rambo saves the day while shooting exploding arrows and mowing down the Forces of Evil with belt after belt of machinegun ammo.

Memorable crappy Rambo dialogue clichés:

God didn't make Rambo. I made him.”—Trautman
“I don't think you understand. I didn't come to rescue Rambo from you. I came here to rescue you from him.”—Trautman
“There are no friendly civilians!”—Rambo
“When you're pushed, killing's as easy as breathing.”—Rambo
“God would have mercy. He won't.”—Trautman
“What you choose to call hell, he calls home.”--Trautman

Yawn. Maybe I’ve outgrown the Rambo franchise? I was 14 when I saw First Blood, I believe, and now I’m 38. Maybe if Stallone had set the movie in a timelier Iraq, rescuing Americans held by insurgents, or a trip back to Afghanistan to find Bin Laden, I’d care more. Maybe if he wasn’t so cavalier about his use of Human Growth Hormone in order to defy the aging process and make another trite uninspired movie full of bad cliché dialogue and astoundingly incredible marksmanship, I’d care. Stallone was busted carrying HGH into Australia, where it’s classified as an illegal substance, and was recently quoted as saying there’s nothing wrong with taking it and champions its use.

Of course, HGH also allowed Stallone to make a sixth Rocky movie, since 60-year old boxers who routinely wallop any and all 22 year olds who enter the ring are just so exceedingly commonplace. Dude, hang it up. You’re an aging Baby Boomer approaching Social Security eligibility. I’m not saying that older folks have to roll over & die, but I think you’ve passed the credible believability mark a while back.

Wouldn’t it have made more sense to have Rocky maybe become the coach and trainer for a new up & coming boxer who has to overcome adversity and keep your franchise going for another few flicks? Maybe Rambo should have been more of a mentor to train a new young-buck commando, perhaps even Tranh Phuc Ngyuen Rambo, the long-lost son you thought dead when you left Vietnam? Then again, that kid would be in his early to mid 40’s now and needing HGH himself to be the buff believable action hero too.

By the way, when I was in Military Police school, a couple guys in my platoon tried to emulate the Rambo scene of firing the M-60 with one hand. These weren’t little dudes, either, but big football players over six feet tall. (Stallone is five seven). An M-60 machine gun weighs 23 pounds, without the ammo belt, and fires 550 rounds a minute, or 9.17 rounds a second if my math is right. One-handed, it’s a bit off-balance, and after three to four rounds, the recoil kicked the gun almost vertical. Yet Rambo could do it.

C’mon, Sly. Retire Rambo and let him play golf on Hilton Head in the sun. He’s earned it. He never wanted this, but they drew first blood.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Cold enough for ya'?

Since Jack Frost has been nipping at our noses the past couple days, as well as a couple weeks ago, I thought I’d chime in.

Few words can illicit a knee-jerk response in the way that this one simple phrase will:

“Cold enough for ya’?”

Those four asinine words are enough to incite many people to violence. Even the Dalai Lama would have to clench his teeth and count to five to avoid cuffing the speaker across the brow. Like we’re gonna answer back with “Golly, no, it’s not cold enough. I hope it drops another 40 degrees or so and all the pipes in my house burst.’, or perhaps, “Why, yes, it is cold enough for me. That damned pleasant weather was getting downright tedious.”

I myself detest being cold. I always have. As a kid growing up in the Maryland suburbs, we saw temperatures routinely in the high 20’s/low 30’s throughout the winter. We’d get snow a few times a year and like all kids we’d beg for snow days. A one or two hour delay to classes was no fun; that was just a teaser.

However, I learned what cold really was when I moved to Maine.

There was a whole new level of cold that I experienced during my four years of high school living in Kittery, a small coastal town at the very southern tip of Maine on the border with New Hampshire. Things that would close schools in Maryland might get a 2-hour delay in Maine, and stuff that delayed schools in the DC area would just get laughed at Up North. Walking to school over a 2-inch layer of ice in 8 inches of snow, the temperature hovering at a crisp 10°, was what some people might call a “character builder”. I just called it Frikkin’ Cold.

My character was further developed by my 4 years in the Army, most specifically by my two years at Fort Riley, Kansas, where I learned the true meaning of “wind chill”, but also by one particular earlier field training exercise in Germany. Headquarters thought they were doing us a favor by letting us set up our cots in an empty and gutted former barracks building on an abandoned missile base we were using for our mock prisoner-of-war camp. But with no windows and no electricity, those walls weren’t doing much to stave off the very damp below-freezing December temps as the sun went down. Thankfully there were lots of plywood sheets around, which were duct-taped over windows to block the wind, and after lighting about 7 huge hurricane candles and igniting a few Tri-Oxane heat tabs in some scavenged soda cans, I soon had my little space warm enough to have condensation running down the walls. But that was nothing compared to my Kansas Christmas of 1990…

See, Kansas is just a bit flat. There was nothing between me and Denver, Colorado but about 400 miles of open prairie, and that wind coming out of the Rockies struck full force on the first solid object over 4 feet tall standing in its way. Often, that object was me. I had the honor of working the front gate of our little sub-section of the base that Christmas morning, and with the heater in the gate shack running full blast it was a balmy 35° inside, compared to outside, which was (I kid you not) a soul-crushing -35° with the wind chill factored in. So every time I had to go wave a vehicle in, I endured a temperature drop of SEVENTY DEGREES. At one point I looked outside at an approaching car and, recognizing it, just stuck my gloved hand out the door and waved him through. Character, indeed.

After the Army I eventually ended up living in Bangor, Maine, where additional misery & suffering was liberally dished upon my plate by days where you found yourself praying for the temps to rise up to zero. Yeah, it’s pretty bad when you hope for zero, or maybe even a positive number. That’s the kind of cold where it hurts to breathe, the cold air burning your lungs and freezing your nose hairs. When the ambient air temperature is -35°, without any wind chill, your character is so over-developed that you wish you didn’t have so much of it. When it’s cold enough to freeze salt water in a tidal river thick enough to be able to walk across that river from one town to another, it’s time to move South. And I did…

I’ve never regretted moving away from Old Man Winter to a better climate. And on days when it gets a bit bitter and raw here in South Carolina, I cope and deal with it secure in the knowledge that it will soon pass and I’m in no danger of having to snow-blow my driveway as ice crystals form in my eyelashes. At least until someone says “Hey, you’re from up north. You should like this stuff”, and I have to remind them that if I liked freezing my butt off for 7-8 months of the year, I’d have stayed there instead of leaving it in my rear-view mirror seven years ago. These days, the closest I get to snow and ice is walking through the giant milk cooler at the dairy, and my Stingrays hockey games.

And that suits me just fine…

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

And next week, Congress can investigate Mystery Meat in School Cafeterias

Having graduated high school in June of 1987, it’s been awhile since I took any U.S. history or Civics/Government classes. Ergo, I decided I’d use the ever-popular Wikipedia to refresh my addled memory on just what the actual duties of Congress are. Please bear with me.

The Congress shall have Power To lay and collect Taxes, Duties, Imposts and Excises, to pay the Debts and provide for the common Defense and general Welfare of the United States; but all Duties, Imposts and Excises shall be uniform throughout the United States;

To regulate Commerce with foreign Nations, and among the several States, and with the Indian Tribes;

To establish a uniform Rule of Naturalization, and uniform Laws on the subject of Bankruptcies throughout the United States;

To coin Money, regulate the Value thereof, and of foreign Coin, and fix the Standard of Weights and Measures; and borrow money on the credit of the United States
To provide for the Punishment of counterfeiting the Securities and current Coin of the United States;

To establish Post Offices and Post Roads;

To promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts, by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries;

To constitute Tribunals inferior to the Supreme Court;

To define and punish Piracies and Felonies committed on the high Seas, and Offenses against the Law of Nations;

To declare War, grant Letters of Marque and Reprisal, and make Rules concerning Captures on Land and Water;

To raise and support Armies, but no Appropriation of Money to that Use shall be for a longer Term than two Years; to provide and maintain a Navy; to make Rules for the Government and Regulation of the land and naval Forces; to provide for calling forth the Militia to execute the Laws of the Union, suppress Insurrections and repel Invasions; to provide for organizing, arming, and disciplining the Militia, and for governing such Part of them as may be employed in the Service of the United States, reserving to the States respectively, the Appointment of the Officers, and the Authority of training the Militia according to the discipline prescribed by Congress;

To exercise exclusive Legislation in all Cases whatsoever, over such District (not exceeding ten Miles square) as may, by Cession of particular States, and the acceptance of Congress, become the Seat of the Government of the United States, and to exercise like Authority over all Places purchased by the Consent of the Legislature of the State in which the Same shall be, for the Erection of Forts, Magazines, Arsenals, dock-Yards, and other needful Buildings;

To make all Laws which shall be necessary and proper for carrying into Execution the foregoing Powers, and all other Powers vested by this Constitution in the Government of the United States, or in any Department or Officer thereof.

Okay, that said, I saw nowhere in there where it said Congress shall regulate and investigate steroid use in baseball, or any other sport. But here we are, in the sixth year of a war that has actually gone on longer than our official involvement in World War Two, oil prices are a hundred bucks a barrel, milk is over five bucks a gallon in some places, the economy is stalled, the housing market is circling the drain, illegal immigrants are pouring in across our borders and getting free health care and college tuition on our dime, and the latest Gallup Poll from last week ( shows that Congress has an abysmal 23% approval rating, yet here we are with Congress wasting taxpayer money and time better spent on real Congressional duties, to grill baseball commissioner Bud Selig and various key players about whether or not they were juiced with ‘roids or Human Growth Hormone. And lest we forget, the Justice Department is now involved too, with their own Baseball Inquisition to see who committed perjury when Congress first stuck its nose into baseball and sent former Senator George Mitchell of Maine to dig up all that was transpiring on the Field of Dreams.

Look, we all know that steroids are bad. We know that HGH use is sketchy behavior. One report said that over 25 pro wrestlers’ deaths were steroid-related (and Congress wants to talk to them, too), several deaths among NFL players and former players (namely Lyle Alzado) were steroid-related, and recently the death of 27-year old Jesse Marunde has cast a speculative eye upon the World’s Strongest Man competitions. Young, impressionable student athletes have succumbed to the temptation of steroid use and many have paid with their lives. While this is tragic and a terrible waste, I just don’t se it as the New Scourge of the Millennium worthy of Congressional witch-hunts.

Let the sports police themselves. Let Bud Selig keep his own sandbox clean; the same with Roger Goodell of the NFL. Let Vince McMahon of World Wrestling Entertainment watch over his own employees (though that dude looks just as ‘roided up as his alleged wrestlers). Coaches, watch your players and look for warning signs. If you’re suddenly getting premium performances out of a guy who was lackluster before and he/she isn’t spending any more time in the weight room or on the practice field, dig a bit deeper instead of just cashing your paycheck and smiling in the post-game interviews. Parents, be more proactive in knowing just what the hell your kids are doing. Yeah, they get a bit bigger during puberty but if your kid starts looking like he could lift the family car out of a ditch by himself then maybe you should check into why your previously skinny kid looks like the Missing Link now. And kids, stop looking at overpaid athletes (and rock stars and actors) as role models. You want decent role models, look at teachers, soldiers, cops, and firemen.

Congress ostensibly has more important things to worry about. However, rather than work on the problems facing America, it’s more convenient to be seen on TV “doing the right thing” about steroid use in sports. Those little sound bytes on CNN keep your concerned face in the headlines while supposedly cleaning up sports for America’s young people to have their role models Steroid Free. You get to look like heroes and you look as if you’re Doing Something. You want something to do? Try finishing that Border Fence to keep illegals out. Try turning more responsibility over to Iraq so our troops can complete this grand & glorious mission of Nation Building you’ve set them out upon. Try opening the oil fields for drilling so we can stop relying on foreign oil. Try really doing something instead of furthering your own public images by pretending to clean up sports.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

A Generalized Rant on Election Crap

By and large, I really have to agree with the statement that “Americans get the government they deserve”.

We Americans love to crow about how we have so many freedoms and can vote for our governing official and yadda yadda yadda, but so few Americans who are eligible to vote actually do so (or even register to do so) that it’s no wonder we keep getting stuck with the same old corrupt, self-serving turds in office. More Americans vote during American Idol than have ever voted in any Presidential election, ever. That’s seriously sad. Of course, most Americans also believe that we live in a democracy, which we don’t. We live in a constitutional republic.

I personally vote in all the major elections, and always leave the polling place with a measure of pride for having done my civic duty and for exercising my right and privilege to vote. Admittedly, I’m kind of lax in voting in the smaller local and municipal elections, unless they happen to coincide with the usual November elections. I’m appalled at how few of my friends and coworkers vote. The common reply I get when I ask them why they don’t vote is that they don’t think their vote actually counts for anything, and I also sometimes hear that they have no idea who’s running or what the issues are. That just blows me away. It’s up to the voter to get educated on issues and to believe in the idea that every vote counts.

About five years ago I stopped off late in the afternoon on an election day to snap a few pictures from the boat landing off Dorchester Road by Oakbrook, and as usual there was a group of military retirees gathered under the pavilion socializing as they did almost every day, and one of them recognized me and asked if I’d voted yet. I replied that I had, and he said to me, “Good. That means you also have the right to complain. You can’t bitch if you don’t vote.”

I had to laugh, but I agreed with him wholeheartedly. Folks love to complain about the government, but if you aren’t getting involved and voting, then you really have no right to complain, because you just sat back & allowed things to happen and allowed others to choose your officials for you without taking any part in the process.

However, it’s also easy to get what I call Electoral Burnout. Every presidential election season, they seem to start earlier and earlier with the campaigning and stumping and polling and mud-slinging. This time they started almost a year and a half out. I’m sick of hearing about it and the election is still over ten months away. It’s just going to get worse the closer we get to November. But starting 18 months out is a sure way to burn some people out to where they’ll just tune the whole process out. Voter Apathy can be prevented, Big Media…

I also love how the media declares a new winner every five seconds. The Iowa Caucus last weekend was a glorified town hall meeting. Residents of Iowa meet in precinct caucuses in all of Iowa's 1784 precincts and elect delegates to the corresponding county conventions. There are 99 counties in Iowa and thus 99 conventions. These county conventions then select delegates for both Iowa's Congressional District Convention and the State Convention, which eventually choose the delegates for the national conventions. Only about one percent of the nation's delegates are chosen by the Iowa State Convention, yet you could have sworn that Obama and Huckabee had received the official nominations the way the media went all hullbaloo over it.

That was, of course, until the New Hampshire primary. Based upon the opinions of however many registered voters who bothered to vote among the state’s population of 1,235,786 citizens, all of a sudden John McCain, who had been lagging far behind all the front-runners, and Hillary Clinton, who feels entitled to the Presidency because she used to live in the White House, were the ones acting as if they’d received the nominations.

Look, I love New Hampshire as much as the next guy. I’ve been there hundreds (if not thousands) of times, and my sister and her family lives there. However, I just don’t see the rationale in acting like the elections are in the bag because a few thousand Granite Staters burrowed out of the snowdrifts in order to prove to the universe that They Vote First.

Now the attention is focused here on South Carolina, where we have a primary coming p in a few days. And again, here’s hoopla and hype. Look, folks in Los Angeles don’t give a rat’s as about what we in South Carolina have to say politically; in general ya’ll think we’re rustic hicks plucking banjos and drinking corn squeezin’s, just like those voters in New Hampshire look at most of you Angelinos as lunatic-fringe latté drinkers car-chasing your way around a sprawling suburb of Mexico, ducking the paparazzi.

Look, you have to educate yourself and vote for who YOU want, based on how you feel a given candidate will best represent your interests. You can’t just toss all your support behind whomever CNN or MSNBC or You Tube says is a winner. Don’t stop believing in a candidate just because some Talking Head on the news says he’s not the front-runner. (Crap like that is why no one gives any media attention to guys like Duncan Hunter (R-CA) who in my humble opinion is a damned fine candidate for President, but doesn’t have the huge name-draw or media support that other candidates have.) The actual nominees won’t be decided until the parties hold their national conventions anyways, so DON’T BE A SHEEP!!!!!

And I’m always appalled at people who just vote for any candidate that their preferred party throws out there. One night while he was filling in for radio host Rusty Humphries, I heard Douglas Urbanski say that he’d vote for anyone as long as they had an “R” after their name. Oh really? Almost makes you wanna run a guy like Hitler or some sicko pedophile as a candidate for the Republican Party just to see Urbanski eat his words. That sort of blind allegiance to a party is why things never get done in Washington. The Democrats vote against anything the Republicans do for no better reason than that it was proposed by a Republican, and vice-versa. A die-hard Republican could say the sky is blue, and at least one Democrat in Congress would argue that it was red. I’ve voted split-ticket many times. Although I’d consider myself a pretty moderate conservative with occasional liberal viewpoints, I refuse to label myself as Democrat or Republican. The closest I ever came to joining a party at all was registering in Maine as an Independent, but I do tend to vote more Republican than anything. I will say this much: I will not be voting for a Democrat for President this time around. Period. Regardless, this election is not about left or right; it's about right or wrong.

I am deeply afraid of how many of the Ignorati out there will knee-jerk vote for the Democratic candidate just because they hate President Bush and will blame all of his administration’s colossal failings on Republicans as a whole.

Take some time and Google up the various candidates to see their views and stands on the issues, and then believe maybe 60% of it. (A bit cynical, I know, but not too badly). Use that Internet for something other than surfing porn sites and sending me chain mail on MySpace.

Happy Mock Retirement To Me!!!

Today was indeed a very surreal day for me.

Had I stayed in the Army, today would have been my retirement. Yes, indeed, it was 20 years ago today, Sergeant Pepper taught the band to play….no, wait…it was 20 years ago today that I began my basic combat training for the United States Army. Eighteen weeks later I was a newly-minted Military Policeman. Thusly, had I stayed in for a full career, I would have been eligible to retire today with full pension and benefits at the ripe old age of 38.

After Basic and MP School at Fort McClellan, Alabama, I was shipped to Germany to serve as a Senior Military Customs Inspector with the 285th Military Police Company, part of the 42d Military Police Group. I was in Germany from June 1988 to June of 1990, when I transferred to Fort Riley, Kansas and the US Army Correctional Brigade, where I served as a Patrol Supervisor and Fire Team Leader. Germany was great, but Riley sucked. I disliked it so much that it prompted me to not seek re-enlistment, and I left my brothers in arms behind in January, 1992.

I only served four years on active duty, but I had a great time over all. Most days I think back on my service fondly, and I often wonder what it would have been like had I stayed in. I’d probably be a Sergeant First Class, or maybe even a company First Sergeant. Had I followed the urgings of my unit commander and executive officer in Basic and gone to West Point like they asked me to, I might have been a senior Major by now and pondering staying in longer to try and make Lieutenant Colonel. Or I might not even be here. Right after I got out, three guys from a sister unit of mine were killed by a roadside bomb in Somalia, and casualties among MP’s have been pretty high in Iraq. Who’s to say that I’d even still be here today to retire had I stayed in?

I try not to dwell on those might-have-been situations, since the point is moot; I can’t change history.

However, I do take solace in the fact that I served, and served proudly and with distinction. I also am very happy to still be in touch with some of my Army buddies. Steve and Mike I knew from Kansas, Rick and Ray were with me in Germany, and DJ, well, me and DJ have known each other since Day One. Our bunks were about 20 feet apart from each other’s in Basic, and though we haven’t actually seen each other since May of 1988 when we graduated from MP School, we still touch base weekly.

I feel a little strange saying that I’m now old enough to have retired from my first adult job. I think I’ll treat myself to a Twinkie with a candle in it and have a mock party on my mock retirement. And…no laughing at my boot camp photo!!!

Sunday, January 6, 2008

A local flight of the condor....

Oh man, how I hate it when the Post & Courier scoops me when I’m backlogged on writing blogs.
I’ve been trying to write this blog for over a week in my limited spare time, and then on Saturday they go & scoop me with a front-page article!!! Damn!
Anyways, I’m still going to post my blog.

I understand that everyone and everything has their limits. I also understand that the hectic tempo of flight demands into and out of both Iraq and Afghanistan puts a lot of strain on the Air Force’s fleet of C-17 and C-5 cargo jets. These are complex pieces of equipment that need maintenance after a certain amount of flight time, which takes airframes out of the flight rotations. Occasionally, some routine cargo flights to the war zones may need to be farmed out to civilian cargo companies on a contract basis.

I also understand that in certain cases, the need to expedite and hurry the delivery of certain equipment may mean that Air Force aircraft may not always be available to carry combat vehicles to the front lines and that again, contract aircraft must be used. But just because I understand it doesn’t mean I have to like it. Especially when the contractors and aircraft in question are from a country that as of late hasn’t exactly been buddy-buddy with our country.


One of the big contractors that’s been delivering our supplies to both war zones is a company called Volga-Dneper Cargo, a Russian company that is the world leader in shipping oversized bulky cargo around the globe, such as aircraft parts and engines, satellites, rocket boosters, offshore oil rig gear, and even armored vehicles and helicopters. The company uses Russian crews, including pilots. They are able to accommodate such loads by using a fleet of the massive Antonov-124 Condor, a rough equivalent to our own C-5 Galaxy heavy-lift transport. The other company is Polet Cargo Airlines, another supplier of Condors. Both are subcontracted through American-flag carriers Atlas Air and Lynden Air Cargo as part of the military's Civil Reserve Airlift Fleet.

I see Atlas’ 747’s come in and out of Charleston all the time. As of late, several times a month I’ve looked in the Charleston skies and seen the massive white and blue Condors with the Russian flags on the tails as they fly in to pick up the MRAP vehicles. I know the demand for MRAP’s is high to help protect our troops from IED’s, and that the need dictates that we fly as many over there as fast as possible, and it’s rather expensive to fly them over at 2-4 vehicles per trip. A ship loaded with 240 MRAPs left Charleston for Iraq last month, taking over three weeks to get there, a better bargain but a longer wait for desperately needed vehicles.

What rankles me is that we have foreign crews from a country that’s not exactly been buddy-buddy with us as of late, with nuclear-capable bomber flights and vague saber-rattling by President (read: neo-dictator) Putin, flying our newest piece of military technology around. Say what you want, but you’ll never convince me that unless we have armed guards on these flights to keep the crews under watch, that there isn’t a full-scale bum-rush of intelligence-gathering going on during that 18-hour flight to the Sandbox. The FSB (spelled: KGB) is most likely the supplier of these trusted & valued employees, and I’m sure they’d love to dissect our gear first-hand and get all the intelligence possible to clone the technology for themselves.

It’s not only MRAP’s that get sent overseas on Condors, and Iraq isn’t always the destination. In April of last year, the Air Guard’s 129th Rescue Wing had some of their HH-60G Pave Hawk search & rescue helicopters flown to Afghanistan by Russian Condors. The Pave Hawk is a highly modified version of the Army Black Hawk helicopter which features an upgraded communications and navigation suite that includes integrated inertial navigation/global positioning/Doppler navigation systems, satellite communications, secure voice, and Have Quick frequency-hopping radio gear to defeat jamming. All HH-60Gs have an automatic flight control system, night vision, and forward looking infrared systems that greatly enhance night low-level operations. Additionally, Pave Hawks have color weather radar and an engine/rotor blade anti-ice system that gives the HH-60G an adverse weather capability. Gee, you think that the Russians might want a peek? Maybe so. And sure, there were a couple airmen from the 129th on the aircraft and as a general rule the helicopters get a form of shrink-wrapping, but I’m still uncomfortable with the situation.

Perhaps I’m just being an alarmist. Perhaps I’m just being paranoid. Perhaps the shock of the US Air Force needing to spend 300 million dollars to have other countries fly our sensitive equipment to a war zone has me in Cold War Mode again. According to Army Lieutenant Colonel Frederick Rice, Public Affairs Officer for the US Transportation Command, the contracting of aircraft does not mean that the military lacks the ability to do the job with its own aircraft. He said the Russian aircraft frees C-17s and C-5s to fly other missions. "As we continue on a daily basis to support operations, we still want to move troops, bullets and beans," Rice said. That’s fine, sir. But why can’t we let our planes fly the sensitive gear and let the subcontractors fly the troops and sundries like ammunition, bottled water, toilet paper, and Ramen noodles?

Enquiring minds wanna know.

The Horror.....The Horror....

I have seen the Pit of Doom, and its name is LAUNDROMAT.

Back on October 26, 1858, a patent for a clothes washer was issued to a fellow named Hamilton Smith. And on June 7, 1892 a patent for a clothes dryer was granted to George T. Sampson. Here we are, over a century later, and we honestly take these home appliances for granted. Seldom do we give them a second thought. That is, until one of them craps out on you.

I have a washer & dryer, like most people. In fact, I checked with the Energy Information Administration and they claimed that 95% of American single-family homes have a washer and 90% have a dryer. However in multi-family homes (ie: apartments) it’s only 32% and 27% respectively, and in mobile homes it was 85% and 76% respectively. My dryer is fairly new, only two years old, but the heater element died this week and needs to be replaced. Not a catastrophe but still a pain in the ass. I had planned to just go to Ace Hardware, get a new element, and replace it myself, but the nice folks we bought it from said it was still under warranty and that they’d call their contracted repair guy to come out, warning us that admittedly he was a bit backlogged.

Okay, that was 4 days ago. And with no dryer the only recourse available was to wash the clothes at the house and then head to a laundromat with bags of wet clothes. Not what you really want to do on a Saturday night, but options were limited and the clothes needed to get done. And since nothing is ever as easy or as simple in the Execution Phase as they are in the Planning Phase, you know it couldn’t be an easy operation, right?

We have four ‘mats here in Walterboro, and the best logical choice was the one we knew for sure was open 24/7. Heading off to Option 1, I was a bit surprised to find it empty except for one person, who completely ignored us like we were invisible when we walked in. This place doesn’t use the usual quarters in the machines; instead you purchase a card that works like an ATM card, sliding into a card reader slot in the washers and dryers. This ensures that no one can just walk in and use a change machine to get quarters and just leave. You’re stuck with this card that works nowhere else in the known universe, making you a hostage to this establishment. The reason why this place was deserted? No cards. That’s right, kids. Both of the card dispenser-vending thingies had hand-scribbled signs that said “Out Of Cards”. A Saturday night, a weekend, when people do laundry, and they let this place run dry? Morons. Well, shit oh dear, we’re buggered. Now where to go? Off to Option 2.

Option 2 was looking pretty dark inside. Uh-oh; bad juju. Option 2 was closed and had been for about 2 and half hours. Off to Option 3, which was even darker, as it looked like it went outta business sometime about the mid-1880’s. This left us Option 4, the one Crys said was in a slightly unsavory location and a bit run-down. Great. Of course, this was provided that Option 4 was even open.

Lo and behold, the last place we wanted to go was the only place open. From the outside it looked as if we were pulling up to a bunker in downtown Beirut, a dimly-lit block structure surrounded by dilapidated old houses, none of which were lit up at all. Not even streetlights worked here. Oh, man, this was gonna be fun. We walked in to recon the place & see if anything worked. I felt like I was stepping into early 1970, with old beat up machines, cracked floor tiles, moldy ceiling tiles, rust stains on the walls, and this old guy with no teeth watching boxing on a small TV mounted in a wooden box from the ceiling. A second TV a few feet away was showing Ultimate Fighting Challenge cage matches. The two shows were competing with each other volume-wise, making for a confusing cacophony heard overtop the tumbling dryers.

There were two customers, a young fellow quietly folding his clothes who helped us with operating instructions for the dryers, and his friend, who never spoke except into his phone. Looking around, I half expected Martin Sheen’s Captain Willard from Apocalypse Now to surface from inside a washer. That’s how dark & dank this place was. Where was Colonel Kilgore to tell me the smell of mildew and Tide in the morning smelled like Victory? At one point I looked down and had to grab Crys’ sleeve to tug her out of the way of a massive palmetto bug that looked like it owned the place. Uber-Roach exploded with a mighty pop as my shoe showed him who was higher up the food chain. Cruel? Maybe, but I’ll risk the Karma damage to not share my immediate environment with a pestilence the size of a house cat. For the rest of the time we were there, Crys was so skeeved out by the roach incident that she kept checking her flip-flop-clad feet for visitors.

I had to remind myself that I was not in an inner-city Greyhound station at 3AM. Fewer people and no stench of urine, though for amusement I nudged the bathroom door open at Crys' request and peered into a Third World hell that under NO circumstances would I ever use. Not even amoebic dysentery or the Marburg virus would have put me near that toilet. Sadly, poor Crys needed to go, and nothing short of a rupture of her internal organs was gonna even get her near the door.

An hour later and five bucks in quarters poorer, we took our clothes and went home. I was left hoping that the repair guy comes soon so as to avoid this again, and was also left thinking a new element is no more than 20 bucks and I can install it myself. If I have to make another trip here to this place, that’ll be 10 bucks gone, plus gas, so it’s not saving me any money waiting on the factory guy. Is it worth voiding my 3-year/36,000 load warranty to do it myself? Quite likely.

For those of you who have to use the laundromat every week, I feel your pain. Readers, don’t ever take your laundry appliances for granted. You too may one day witness The Horror….The Horror…

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

Playing ice hockey in the snow & ice? How clever!

It had all the makings of a memorable New Year’s Day sporting event. Yesterday in Buffalo, some 72,217 fans braved sleet, snow, and a wind chill in the low 20’s to fill Ralph Wilson Stadium, home of the Buffalo Bills football team. Some of the players wore toques under their helmets for some extra warmth. The announcers were all bundled in heavy coats and constant meteorological updates were provided by an on-scene weather reporter. All in all it was a great day to play hockey.

Hockey? Outside? In a football stadium? Damn skippy!!!

Yesterday was the game everyone in my social circle has been talking about for the past 4 months. The 2008 Amp Energy NHL Winter Classic (say that 3 times fast) had the Buffalo Sabres hosting the Pittsburgh Penguins in the first-ever regular-season hockey game to be played outdoors in the United States. Back on November 22, 2003 the Edmonton Oilers hosted the Montreal Canadiens at Commonwealth Stadium (home of the Edmonton Eskimos football team) in front of 57, 167 brave souls who endured wind chills of -22 (yeah, MINUS 22) to see the game.

The first ever outdoors NHL game was an exhibition pre-season game between the Los Angeles Kings and the New York Rangers, held in 1991 outside Caesar’s Palace in Las Vegas, not exactly a hardship for the players or the fans.

This year’s game broke the all-time attendance record for an NHL hockey game hands-down, especially considering the league average is about 18,000 per game in the stands at most hockey arenas. It took nine days for crews to build the rink in the middle of the football stadium, and the hardy fans showed up hours in advance to tailgate and party. The game itself had been sold out for weeks, with some tickets going for over a thousand dollars.

But isn’t it crazy to play a hockey game outdoors? No way!

Most of the players grew up playing outside, on frozen lakes and ponds, or on home-made rinks in flooded back yards. This was a nostalgic trip down memory lane for these guys, and many were quoted as saying they felt like a little kid again. The temperatures weren’t that bad for most of the players, as they work up a good sweat skating around. The goalies however were mostly stationary and had to worry about muscles going cold. To their credit and benefit, both starting goalies had prior experience with outdoor games, Ty Conklin of the Pittsburgh Penguins played for the Oilers in the 2003 Heritage Classic game, and Sabres netminder Ryan Miller played for the Michigan State University Spartans against the University of Michigan Wolverines in the game that started the trend, the “Cold War” game on October 6, 2001in front of 74,544 at the Michigan State football stadium. The stadium was filled to 103.4% of capacity.

After being led onto the ice by bagpipes, and a flyover by US Army Blackhawk helicopters (a common sight at baseball & football events but not at hockey games) the action got underway amidst falling snow and slushy ice conditions. The game crew had to constantly clear and repair the ice, which was described by one player as like “playing in mud”, but by all accounts the players and the fans absolutely loved the party-like atmosphere. The teams both wore “throwback” uniforms, vintage jersey designs as a nod to nostalgia, with Buffalo wearing the white, blue and gold jerseys last used regularly during the 1995-96 season with the galloping buffalo logo. The Penguins wore powder blue and black uniforms dating to their teams of the 1970s.At the end of regulation play, the score was tied at 1-1, and when overtime didn’t settle the match, the game went to a sudden death shootout, always a dramatic and exciting conclusion to a game.

In the end it was a perfect Hollywood finish, with the game-winning goal scored by Sidney Crosby, the 20-year old captain of the Penguins. “Sid the Kid” is hailed by most as the new torch-bearer of Wayne Gretzky’s legacy. If anyone can carry on where The Great One left off, The Next One can.

There are tentative plans to have another outdoor game featuring Boston College, Boston University, Michigan and Michigan State held at Fenway Park, but with all the renovations being done at Fenway, chances of that are iffy. Talks are also underway to determine whether a game at Yankee Stadium between the New York Rangers and the New York Islanders would be possible. Michigan and Michigan State have discussed an outdoor rematch at Michigan Stadium and the Detroit Red Wings have looked into hosting a game at Detroit's Ford Field. I personally think that an outdoor game between Boston University and the University of Maine, my alma mater, would be amazing.

Rumors have also circulated of a possible outdoor game between the Pittsburgh Penguins and the Philadelphia Flyers to take place at Penn State's Beaver Stadium in the '08-'09 season and possibly annually thereafter. Beaver Stadium's seating capacity of over 100,000 will likely lead to broken attendance records for all outdoor hockey games.

All of this exposure is great for hockey. It brings awareness and publicity to an awesome sport that has sufferred in recent years from chronic underexposure. I for one look forward to the possibility of annual outdoor games. I recorded the game on my DVR and watched it again this afternoon after work to savor the event again. I’ll trade 32 college football bowl games for one Winter Classic any day!

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

You’d have to watch 32 bowl games to equal the nutrition found in one Total Cereal bowl game…

Tis the season for umpteen million college football bowl games. Blah blah blah blah blah…..

When I was younger, I remember the Rose Bowl, and maybe a couple others, like the Orange Bowl, Cotton Bowl, and Sugar Bowl. Nowadays there are no fewer than 32 bowl games to further pander to the masses who clamor for more and more mediocre teams to make a post-season appearance. In days gone by, only the teams with the best records went to bowl games; now it seems that anyone with at least a 6-6 record who might draw a tv audience is invited to a bowl.

The bowls simply serve now as a means for teams to get TV exposure one last time before the NFL scouts and more importantly serve as 4-hour commercials for the bowl’s sponsors. Oh, yes, there will be sponsors. You have the Bell Helicopter Armed Forces Bowl. There’s the Chik-Fil-A Bowl, which used to be the Peach Bowl. The Humanitarian Bowl started as the Blockbuster Bowl in 1990 to publicize the Blockbuster Video chain. Carquest Auto Parts then took over sponsorship and renamed it, of course, the Carquest Bowl. It's became the Bowl after being the Computers Bowl but has now morphed into the Roady’s Humanitarian Bowl. Nothing says “humanitarian” like corporate sponsorship.

The Gator Bowl is more properly known as the Konica Minolta Gator Bowl, as it is no longer the Toyota Gator Bowl or the Outback Gator Bowl, or even the Mazda Gator Bowl. Outback now sponsors its own bowl game, having usurped the old Hall of Fame Bowl. There’s still a Sugar Bowl, but it’s now the Allstate Sugar Bowl, after having recently been the Nokia Sugar Bowl. The Orange Bowl is now the Fed-Ex Orange Bowl. What would the Fiesta Bowl be without a sponsorship from Tostitos? Add salsa and all our gridiron dreams come true.

And of course, there’s the “grand daddy of them all”, the venerable Rose Bowl. The original bowl game, held since 1902 in conjunction with the Tournament of Roses and the eponymous parade, the traditional New Year’s Day game is now brought to you courtesy of the fine folks at Citi Bank after previous sponsorships by corporate entities like Sony’s Playstation 2 and AT&T, who now brings you what used to simply be the Cotton Bowl.

In the future we’re sure to see the Halliburton Filthy Excess Bowl, the Pepto Bismol Toilet Bowl, Red Bull Tapeworm Bowl, and Ambien Hallucination Bowl. In a rare inter-sport show of camaraderie, Major League Baseball will also sponsor it’s own college football bowl game, to be called the MLB Steroid Scandal Asterisk Bowl.

Then again, I guess I should also in all fairness point out that today’s phenomenal outdoor hockey game played in freezing snow at Buffalo’s Ralph Wilson Stadium in front of 72,217 fans was officially the AMP Energy NHL Winter Classic. No one’s immune from sponsorship it seems, so hey, corporate America…this here blog is a perfect place for your advertising dollars.

All is quiet on New Year's Day

“All is quiet on New Year’s Day.
A world in white gets underway.
Though I want to be with you, be with you night and day,
Nothing changes on New Year’s Day……on New Year’s Day…”

And with that, I have fulfilled my standard New Year’s tradition of listening to the
U2 song “New Year’s Day as one of the first songs I listen to on New Year ’s Day…the other tradition is being taken care of right now as I listen to my favorite song in the known universe, Depeche Mode’s “Enjoy The Silence”, which I heard for the first time on New Year’s Eve, December 31st, 1989 in Joe Clipp’s living room in Eislingen, Germany while watching a TV special on German cable.

Okay, that takes care of my traditions. They aren’t steeped in superstition, as so many other traditions are. Sure, I could say that unless I listen to these two songs that I’ll have bad luck all year or that a family member will die in 3 months, but I’m not an overly superstitious sort. The Depeche Mode song is just my favorite song, and playing it every year commemorates a great time in my life that coincided with New Year's. The U2 track is just me being pretentious about the title, since the song itself doesn’t really have anything to do with the holiday; it’s about the violence in Northern Ireland, where the band grew up.

Other people have their own New Year’s traditions, a bit deeper-rooted in superstition than my own. Some folks believe that by not washing your hair and by wearing red festive clothing you’ll have good luck. Children born on New Year's Day bring great fortune and prosperity to the entire household, except for the parents of the child who now have to buy twice as many presents in a one-week span to cover Christmas and the birthday. It’s pretty common here in South Carolina to believe that eating Hoppin’ John or black-eyed peas brings good luck and that the eating of collard greens brings wealth. Some people believe that you shouldn’t eat poultry or beef on New Year’s, because a chicken or turkey scratches backwards, a cow stands still to eat, and a pig roots forward for food, and thusly pork is lucky because pigs think forward and those who dine on pork will move forward in the new year. Yeah, okay. I guess it wasn’t so lucky for the pig itself, now was it?

The Scots celebrate New Year’s as Hogmany, derived from a Gaelic phrase meaning “new morning”. The ancient Scots were as superstitious in their pagan beliefs as anyone, and as America is heavily populated by those of us of Scots descent, many of the beliefs have survived since they fled the “auld sod” for the New World. According to some Scottish superstitions, the first person to enter your home after the stroke of midnight will influence the year you're about to have. Ideally, he should be dark-haired, tall, and good-looking, and it would be even better if he came bearing certain small gifts such as a lump of coal, a silver coin, a bit of bread, a sprig of evergreen, and some salt. (I myself would prefer that he bring a 12-pack of Samuel Adams or some single-malt Scotch in addition to some coins, and a couple pizzas are always welcomed too.) Blonde and redhead first footers bring bad luck, and female first footers should be shooed away as they are considered bad luck before they bring disaster down on the household. (Damn those pesky wimminz). The squint-eyed, the flat-footed, or men with eyebrows that meet in the middle bring bad luck if they are first-footers. But a man with a high instep, or one who comes on a horse, is considered particularly lucky. The first footer should knock and be let in rather than just using a key. After greeting those in the house and dropping off whatever small tokens of luck he has brought with him, he should make his way through the house and leave by a different door than the one through which he entered. No one should leave the premises before the first footer arrives; the first traffic across the threshold must be headed in rather than striking out.

The major problem I have with this is that I get someone come to my door perhaps once every 8 weeks or so. I may not receive a visitor till mid-February, and I don’t have 6-8 weeks to wait for any portents of luck to come my way. And also, with visitors to my domicile so few & far between, I can’t afford to be too choosy as to who deigns to visit me. Living out in the country comes with occasional disadvantages.

It is also thought weather plays a role in the day. If the wind blows from north, bad weather all year is in store; if it comes from the south, fine weather and prosperous times lie ahead; if it blows from the east, famine or some other calamity is on the way; if it blows from the west, the year will witness plentiful supplies of fish and milk but will also see the death of a very distinguished personage. If there is no wind at all, a joyful and prosperous year may be expected by all. If the wind blows in from the Gulf of Mexico, seek higher ground, call FEMA, and evacuate immediately.

I know folks who refuse to do laundry or even wash dishes on New Year’s, as this will lead to the death of a family member. To this end, an episode of Law & Order soon to be aired on NBC will feature a murder with clean dishes in a dish rack and neatly-folded laundry as evidence of pre-meditated murder. Since I had a couple days’ worth of dishes sitting in the sink due to hockey games the past two nights, I think I’ll risk the death of a loved one in order to save an outbreak of Ebola from growing in my sink today.

Judging from all the yadda-yadda superstitions and traditional beliefs associated with New Year’s Day, it seems to me that the safest course of action would be to clean the house the day after Christmas and drink yourself into an alcohol-induced coma until somewhere around January 3 so as to not befoul your home with evil misdeeds or inadvertently kill a family member. Pass the bottle, chum; I’ll take a cup of kindness yet for auld lang syne.