Saturday, December 31, 2005

Happy Hogmanay!

Image site here.

Just in time for another celebration, I'm back from the dry but delightful wilds of Vegas to root my snout about here for the foreseeables.

Hogmanay is the traditional New Year's Eve celebration of Scotland celebrated since it was a Roman Saturnalia and the fair-haired Vikings pillaged the land. Further evidence that the Scots are the founders of New Year's Eve revelry is that Auld Lang Syne is adapted from a poem by Scotland's National Treasure, Robert Burns.

May the ritual flames light your way to the future, and may a dark stranger cross your threshold at midnight with coal, cake, or coin. Or whatever else seems nicest.

Until 2006...

Sunday, December 25, 2005

Apres Xmas: Vegas, Baby!

Tomorrow morning, I take off for this hotel resort. From the site where I grabbed the image, there are also pictures of gondolas coursing through canals. Those canals passing cafes, plazas, and shoppes with an extra 'pe' are indoors, under the desert roofs of the Venetian. Too much and overwrought, you argue, even gauche? Of course it is. That's why I love Las Vegas. It's approaching five years, and I'm long overdue for a visit. I have no idea if I'll be blogging or not, but I'll be there through the six-geese-a laying day of Christmas. In the meantime, I wish you holiday week fun equal to my delighted anticipations.

Friday, December 23, 2005

Christmas Potpourri in Spirit

Nativity by Marten de Vos.

Today I was engrossed in finishing a book review for a site I hope will send me ARCs (Advance Readers' Copies) and ask me to contribute regularly. Does it get fatiguing, you ask, sending work out into the atmosphere that never receives a response much less the boundless adulation it deserves? A little, I suppose, but I troop onward, and hope you do, too, in the direction of your hearts' desires.

These are not holiday-themed blurbs. I shot the wattage in my cottage on that score yesterday. Nevertheless, they may be of interest in an artistic sense. And art is the yule log that burns eternal in the furnace of my dimly-lit soul.

1) Chimp's paintings fool modern art expert.

2) Via the Scrivener. Why widely-read, beloved crime writers shouldn't sweat literary snobs.

3) Via Straight Dope. Venemous spider bites to humans are rarer than lottery winners.

4) New Jersey wants a new marketing slogan, and rejects We'll Win You Over as starting too deep in the hole. All the entries are here, but my favorite promises the least: Come See For Yourself. You could say that about the Ritz or a toxic slick. It works.

5) Some bastard has stolen Alistair Cooke's cancerous bones rather than letting them be cremated. Give them back, inhuman dungbeetles.

Adore you all and Venite Adoremus, ya'll!

Thursday, December 22, 2005

You've Been So Good...Have a Six-Pack

Photo by Fred Grinberg/UNEP/Topham from this site.

With my unthinking acceptance of a completely uncorroborated estimate that public transit will run again by tomorrow morning, I feel my mood lightened enough to distribute the many holiday tidbits I've been gathering for you.

1) Here's the funny and repulsive review of the Jones Soda Holiday pack for 2005 with a collection of soft drinks in flavors of "Turkey & Gravy," "Cranberry Sauce," "Pumpkin Pie," "Brussels Sprout" and "Wild Herb Stuffing." MMMMmmmmm.

2) Bad Santas rampage in Auckland while a Birmingham Santa pays your parking tickets.

3) Cool conditions in Tasmania have plumped holiday turkeys to gargantuan proportions.

4) During these days of parties and libations, Virgin Mobile offers a blocking service to protect you from your own drunk dialing.

And two gifts from friends of mine that I share with you. Ah, the benevolence of the season:

5) NPR's Annoying Holiday Music Picks with playlinks on the left side. O Holy Night is simply dreadful. So what that the picks are from 2002? What's as timeless as crap?

6) The ultimate manifestation of comprehensive Christmas tampon crafts.

NYC Transit Strike- End In Sight?

Marathon Eyeball courtesy of Davis Eyecare.

Today's the shortest day of the year yet hope has gone and sprung itself anew.

It's lame to have a TV in the elevator, I admit, except when it informs you that the TWU leadership will recommend to its members that they return to work while negotiations with the MTA restart. Okay, so it seems like they could've done that all along, but, the big question is when will everything be up and running again.

Here's an NYT article that has times anywhere from 8 hours to inspect and pull cars and buses out of storage up to two days. As usual with these always updating stories, the last two pages are mostly stuff from yesterday and before. The key milestones are when the union actually votes on the leadership's recommendation and the first shift back on the job. It'll likely take until the next shift for the equipment and routes to be operating at full force. So the news is good, but today is probably still lost. Tomorrow, however, people could be back in the holiday spirit if the sleighs are sliding.

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

NYC Transit Strike- Profiles in Conflict

Conflict #2 by the amusing David Lester.

Well, now the shinola's going airborne.

Madison and Fifth Avenues, closed to traffic yesterday, have been reopened to vehicles save for one lane as an emergency reserve. The train stations running non-MTA services like the LIRR and PATH are more prepared for the crushing increase of humanity streaming in. The Salvation Army and Red Cross are dispensing coffee and cocoa at the ends of the bridges to frosted, wind-blown stragglers. Many people who went through the fun of yesterday, have opted out of the party today. However, 61% of kids showed up to school yesterday, 71% today, but classes are still starting 2 hours late every morning.

Some smaller employers who can't make any money due to the strike are reportedly docking employees who come in late or skip work. Even if there were tourists or day-trippers as customers, many stores haven't been able to open without staff. Restaurants say they're off by more than 40% on diners while the hospitals are fully, even extra-fully staffed due to their employees' dedication to being present to serve their patients.

Toussaint says that trying to make revisions to the pension provisions in this contract cycle is illegal, and that the governor and mayor are sworn to uphold that law. He says if this provision comes off the table, the TWU might return to work. Of course, I believe he could've just opted not to sign until those provisions were removed without striking, itself clearly illegal under the Taylor law.

Neither the firemen, police, or teachers walked out on their contract negotiations, but their leaders today said publicly they supported Toussaint's strike. Fire fighters reportedly bring TWU picketers chicken while all police vacations are cancelled and coverage is stretched thin, costing an extra $10 million a day per Ray Kelly. Perhaps these unioneers believe the TWU's fate is just like their own. I don't think it is. Nor do I put every category of union employee, like police sniper or special ed teacher, in the same category as a token taker. That's what we mean by merit.

Meanwhile, a local judge says the union leaders could be jailed for criminal contempt, and the union lawyers weep how that would impede the process of negotiation that isn't happening. The judge also says that individual employees of the union could be held criminally liable to the tune of $25,000 each day they strike. Toussaint attacks Bloomberg for calling calling the TWU bullying, thuggish, and selfish and implies Bloomie's court challenges are heavy-handed Giuliani era tactics. So what kind of tactic is shutting down the city?

The edges of people's humor are fraying, and the NYC tourism board head announces the union still has time to turn from Scrooge to Santa. We'll see.

NY Transit Strike- Day 2

Fa-La-La-La-La, La-La-Screw-You

Although the MTA has filed a formal declaration of impasse, which means a mediator gets assigned, there is currently no schedule for mediation to begin. What the $#@%!?

While people are suffering, especially poorer workers and small businesses that depend on commuters, nothing new is happening that I can see except letting New Yorkers take another day up the keister. They need to push actions through, not just wait out the holiday. There are days left that people could shop and run around and get things done and enjoy themselves, and I feel like the mayor and governor are just writing off this whole week.

UPDATE: As I'm looking around more, I'm not sure that's right. Commuters are pretty upset and there are a lot of calls for serious, permanent action against this union. Still, I'll believe it when the trains start running.

As I haven't lived here long, I didn't realize the historic trend is to threaten strikes near Christmas and New Year's, because the contracts are on three-year cycles. Though people have said they're surprised how quickly the talk in the big union town has turned to firing these losers and replacing them. Many, many of the TWU jobs are relatively unskilled, and the employees are not celebrated for their especial respect to riders, which makes the whole thing more offensive. As others are saying, the worst consequence has already happened. During the turmoil and trouble, we might as well make meaningful changes to this broken system. Make a side deal with the track and car techies, and fire everyone else.

Except for the 1,000 ish employees who showed up to work yesterday. I saw the NY1 report where Bobby Cuza, the head of New York City Transit says over 1,000 employees decided to come to work Tuesday. While it isn't enough people to re-open the city's bus and train routes, he said the employees who came to work are being kept busy. "Well, we're doing a little cleaning and a little paperwork, and we're making sure that we keep them in a safe, secure location,” said NYC Transit President Lawrence Reuter. “And we're making sure that we're paying them for coming to work and showing their dedication to the customers and the passengers of this city. We really do appreciate that. We think it's a great effort on their part, and we're going to do everything to make sure these people are taken care of."

Thanks for showing up. I'd like to get you the fair-minded, responsible colleagues you deserve.

UPDATE: If you're not here, you probably haven't heard the endless talk about the MTA's record year and "billion-dollar surplus" which is the TWU's main argument for grabbing a bigger piece of mincemeat pie. The NYPost says that $450 million of the surplus already went to fund that already bloated TWU pension kitty and $100 million went for upgraded security (another area the union is complaining is underfunded), and another $100 million went to holiday fare discounts for riders. Why should we, the people who sucked up the fare increases get any relief? Give it all to the underperforming union, really. Word is that Toussaint hasn't been seen around much in the last 24 because he's ducking the various process servers from his parent union and the state and city. Where's Dog the Bounty Hunter when I need him?

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

NYC Transit Strike- Out and About

I was going to post this photo of a German Shepherd and call him Roger Toussaint since I've just learned Shepherds are the gassiest breed. But I couldn't do it. Too disrespectful to the dog.

I was forced outside to accomplish some errands and to witness the spectacle first hand.

Almost every place I went, I saw strange faces behind the counters, older people without the usual uniforms who didn't know exactly how to work the equipment. There were some closed storefronts, a couple with hand lettered explanations taped to their windows. At the pharmacy, a mother was fretting, but mildly I thought, that she couldn't get her son's medicine in time for his next dose because the pharmacist was swamped without assistants. The library closed early. Every branch in the city. Where usual staff I knew were on shift, they were complaining with their customers. "How are we supposed to respect them when they do this to us before Christmas?" Everywhere, people bent and accomodated and helped each other, but without apparently oozing joy and/or solidarity about the necessity.

The fine of two days pay for each day on strike is in effect, including an additional million dollars per day per Judge Theodore Jones to help cover the city's costs for additional overtime pay.

I had not previously noted here that TWU International, the parent union, advised our local #100 not to strike. Since they walked out in spite of being unsanctioned, it's unlikely the parent union will want to chip in for the strike fund. That will cost the local plenty and further urge them toward resolution. Also, there was some rumbling from an "expert" I heard briefly that the International TWU will go to court to gain trusteeship of their rogue local as early as tomorrow morning. In case they prevail, the local leadership- including the intractable dignity-crazed president Roger Toussaint- will be out of luck and office. Then, we'll see whether an agreeable contract can be hammered out.

Our local cable news, NY1, is all over this and has the latest summaries here.

What will happen tomorrow? I haven't heard.

Barely Caught the Mayor's Press Conference

I only saw a tiny sliver, I'm afraid, but he sounded a feistier than this morning when it was about disappointment and coping. I saw him reminding people that the TWU members are unlike many workers who don't get paid if they can't get to work, or if the business can't open, or if the customers don't come. Good point.

The one I've been trying to make all along is that the TWU members aren't like everybody else at all in their working conditions or standards, and to ask for people to support their rights not to adapt with the times the way other workers have done isn't about dignity, it's patently unfair.

NY Transit Strike- Pataki's Press Conference

Apparently, the judge in Brooklyn is still hearing the case against the TWU's strike, so the fines of two days pay lost for each day of the strike have not been levied yet, but NY Gov. Pataki seemed confident. The drumbeats of his conference from remarks and responses:

1) It's up to the TWU and the MTA to work out their contract. He wouldn't discuss specifics.
2) The strike is illegal, wrong, and not only inflicts hardship upon New Yorkers but is a threat to public safety.
3) The MTA hasn't left the negotiating table and is ready to resume anytime. It was the TWU who left and who aren't negotiating in good faith. "Get back to the table." Ad infinitum.
4) Other state unions have worked for extended periods without contracts in order to preserve the public safety.
5) The TWU rejected the offer of mediation and/or arbitration.
6) The TWU needs to stop the illegal strike immediately and return to work.
7) The state will enforce the law. No union can be allowed to act illegally to endanger the city.

He certainly made a stronger law-and-order impression than Bloomberg earlier. However, without a ruling yet, it isn't clear what the state will do. Anything too heavy-handed will be bad, but I'm not too worried about jackbooted oppression of a union happening here.

How Long to Get a Cab?

Image site here.

Note the rare plumage of an empty cab not surrounded by yelling commuters.

Cab drivers can't get below 96th Street without 3 passengers, so they have to scrounge the bridges and Harlem and the Upper West Side to fill up before they can get to lower Manhattan.

If you're waiting in the freezing cab line by Madison Square Garden with the hundreds of other people stamping and snuffling in the cold, you'll wait more than a hour.

We love our tourists!

Economists, Take Note: The Transit Market Evolves

A friend who had to get to his office had begun his two-mile walk down a major avenue was surprisingly picked up by a miscellaneous airline shuttle bus. He says he doesn't know if it's officially sanctioned somehow or ad hoc, but it's working out well for the driver who's getting tipped by grateful riders. Most people are apparently sliding him at least the $2 they would have put into the fare box.

Must Just Be Me

For some reason, on the news reports, they'll say that people are upset- people with lost wages, cab drivers who can't go into Manhattan without 4 passengers before 11am- but the only ones they show speaking are ones saying how everybody's got to fight for their benefits, blah-blah, hard job, blah-blah.

Do the people speaking realize the union rejected an offer based on future employees' contribution of one percent to their own retirements? These people don't think they should be reponsible for planning even one percent of their own futures. Do you think they care what happens to you and yours? Obviously, the answer is no. But I'm not hearing anyone say that on the news or talk about any of the facts about the rejected deals. Maybe because of the various TV and broadcast unions, no one's going to step on toes with "real sound." People in New Jersey, whose transit is running, have still had to get going hours early to make it into the city. Yet everyone speaks as if we ought to just be tra-la-la-ing our way through the days.

Of course, this is the city that put up with its epic garbage strike, too. Perhaps I just haven't been indoctrinated well enough. What I'm supposed to do with a smile is: pay obscenely expensive costs of living along with painful taxes to every place with a seal and letterhead, be physically and legally restricted in where I can go and when, be crowded in every public space and most private ones, live under constant security threats not to mention the threat that some organization or another will pull the rug out from underneath our delicate functioning, be enveloped by heaps of garbage and filth while braggin it's the best city in the world. I might have to become French to manage that level of sophistication.

NY Transit Strike- Not Impressed by Bloomie

Empty cupboards courtesy of Operation Blessing.

People are walking across the Brooklyn Bridge to work, long distances in weather that's 10 degrees below freezing with wind chills that bring it closer to zero. Emergency travel restrictions mean that no cars can enter the city over the bridges with less than four passengers. The backups to the bridges, since police have to check each vehicle, are hours long.

We had one rush hour before 5am, one happening now, and there must be another coming. Schools are delayed and people can't get to work. Delivery trucks can't get through, so all normal operations and mail are interrupted. In a city with no storage space, every bit of inventory operates on a "just in time" basis. This means no groceries are coming, no fresh food for restaurants, no hospital supplies, much less your drycleaning or the normal supplies for businesses. This is, by reports of people who were here to see it, worse congestion and gridlock than the last transit strike in 1980. It's taken people in cars an hour to go five blocks. A friend's company says they'll start running private charter buses for employees if this continues, but just getting them into the city will be the trick. And of course, parking regulations are all emergencied-up, too, to make it hard for people to drive themselves in and block the streets. Where are you going to put fleets of private buses? They'll have to circle the streets all night, stopping only for gas.

Bloomie's early morning outdoorsy interview while he walked had him giving some mealy-mouthed talk about walking or taking bicycles in "crisp weather". Crisp? Near zero. He's trying so hard no to freak out the tourists who should be bailing out (or should have already) that he sounds like a fool who doesn't get how serious it is. He said he wished the union had been more responsible and that the courts (via a statute against strikes for public employees like cops and firemen) would now impose "severe" penalties. "Nobody wins" in a situation like this. It makes him sound like he thinks it just happened to occur. He hasn't made any really tough statements throughout negotiations, and he doesn't sound perturbed now, even if we know he ought to be.

It was about 5 years ago when conEd in Chicago blacked out and literally blew up its electrical service in the heat of summer, again. Daley the younger went apoplectic. His face was purple with rage and he spat out, without cursing, how unacceptable it was to have old people frying in their homes due to infrastructure neglect. The CEO lost his job. The grid got back up. But I remember what a difference it made to people that he understood how bad it was. Granted, I never saw him take such a tone with the unions, because every mayor has to deal, everyone must kowtow, but we didn't have situations like this unfold either. Maybe the back channel's more effective.

For Bloomie to act like tourists shouldn't leave in real fear that they will be absolutely screwed is irresponsible. Oh yes, there's so much to do in New York. Except when the actors can't get to their shows and the food can't get to the tables and the staff can't get to the hotels. Sounds like a ball. And how are tourists supposed to escape to the airports with 500 people competing for every cab?

Interviews with people on the street, especially a carful of teachers from the hugely problematic local teachers union, showed people saying they, the transit workers "have a right to strike" (actually they don't via the Taylor law, thus the court-ordered penalties), and showed a few people who were mad. Meanwhile, the picketing transit workers reply this is about the survival of their kids at home. Really?! One stinking percent into a pension fund accompanied by raises for each of the next three years and gold-plated health care puts the survival of your kids in jeopardy? Well, the carful of teachers haven't made it to class, and parents of other schoolkids who matter less than the transit workers' may not be able to drop them.

If this goes on for any length of time, operations will drain their inventory reserves, working people will be without cash in pocket, and this city will be a disaster zone. Today, you can't get on or off Manhattan freely. You're trapped. Police are on overtime, 12-hour shifts, and all their days off are cancelled. I don't know how they're going to keep the peace when there's no food on the shelves and no schools and supplies. I already had a car reserved, at usurious holiday rates, to get me out of town to Pennsylavania for Christmas. Now, I'm worried about whether it will still be there, or whether I'll be allowed back onto the island without hitchikers and whether I'll be able to get to my plane to Vegas the day after.

Merry freaking Christmas from the isle of Mirth.

Looks Like We Got Us a Transit Strike, Ya'll!

Yeah, it's a bullhorn and Steve McGarrett, which just makes it cooler. Annoying digital music warning, but the image is from the Jack Lord gallery, page six, black and whites

The news comes from a Transit Union whose average employee's salary is $55,000, who can retire at 55 with half pay for life, and who pay NO copayment for their health insurance. Sound better than your benefits? It almost certainly is, and they demand more. And of course, the talk is that this dispute isn't about money, it's about respect and dignity. Huh? Will a handshake and my hearty thanks do?

Most of the changes the MTA proposed in the new contract would apply only to future hirees, not current workers. What horrors were proposed, you ask? Intolerable items such as contributing 3% to their own pensions or even migrating to 401(k)s, co-paying something for their medical like you probably do, having a standard retirement age of 62... and on and on, will the travesties never cease?!

(Update: I've just learned that in the latest offer rejected near midnight, retirement age stays 55, new hires contribute 6% to pension, and MLK 2 day becomes a paid employee holiday- Not good enough either. It's all about the pension, baby, but if I hear one more union shill or reporter regurgitate that it isn't about the money, it's about respect, I'm going to shriek.)

As unfunded and underfunded pension liabilities sink one dinosaur-legacied company after another, and everyone you know is saving through IRAs and 401(k)s, the unions have their death grip on the pension teat and the milk has turned to ash.

But lest I sound Johnny One-note, I should mention this is also about phasing in robotic trains which reduce staff, shifting staffing to increased security functions, forcing a group of private drivers from recently acquired bus lines to join the union. Okay, and retooling a pension plan with a billion dollar future liability that threatens to sink the agency. Dignity, my Aunt Fanny.

The union president says they're protecting the future generations of unborn transit workers. AAAAHHHHHHH! In your version of the future, do we require thousands upon thousands of transit workers, or do you envision things keep getting better automated and engineered, requiring human minds mainly for troubleshooting and judgement questions, not the routine movement of A to B and back to A?

The fares went up, and the union wants to be sure they get their share. Who needs upgraded, overhauled trains, better security and service? I want to pay the guy in the token booth $85 grand a year so he can retire in his fifties to some warmer state where his pensioner's income will exceed the state's per capita average. That's what I want. Why should he have to save or plan? He deserves up to four decades of pay, with cost of living adjustments of course, and full health care for life because he ignores me and sighs with ennui when I ask from behind the filthy bulletproof glass which track I need. That's value add, baby.

If we were to separate employees by criticality of value- mechanics versus token drones for example- the whole union gets stratified and we might be allowed to actually begin to treat people based on what they contribute not based on which group they were born into or paid to join or senioriteeed (meaning outlasted not merited) themselves into.

And the people who will suffer from the strike most? Well, strikers will hurt more than their salaried union leaders who will still be fully paid, while typically strikers draw some percentage of their normal pay from a fund that has a bottom. Who else suffers? Is it the people who can ungarage their cars, afford private livery or rentals or a $50 gypsy cab from the outer boroughs? Is it people with white-collar jobs who can telecommute? Could the truly hosed people be the ones without available sick days or vacation time? The ordinary people with jobs they have to show up for, the ones who don't have gold-plated health and pension, who don't make north of 50k a year, who have NO other option to get to jobs and school?

Ha! Ha! Screw you, little guys! Hope your busboy's wages or assistant's paycheck doesn't mean much to you. Hope you don't mind a chilly, two-hour walk in from the Bronx. And it's not just working stiffs or collegian commuters, the public schools are cutting morning classes by two hours expecting students won't be able to get to class. Great, we need even stupider people than our schools already graduate.

I can only hope this strike breaks the union's backs first. In wintertime when walking is less feasible, before Christmas- traditionally an important money-making time not just for the Monopoly-style tycoons that people imagine run everything but for all the normal people working in holiday-boosted stores and restaurants- the union is breaking faith with the city it claims to serve. It's all about the dignity though. Forget the elderly, the poor, the moms with strollers full of children you see on every train. They don't deserve dignity or even a ride.

I hope the public decides that having a bunch of people paid better, better benefitted, with earlier, cushier retirement than they get holding their lives hostage is the real disrespect. Then, they can in freedom, like Steve, raise their own bullhorns to the sky.

Saturday, December 17, 2005

Hoot if You're Happy

Image from DCWild.

As I'm still ailing, and frankly, still my lame self, I've got gnat's nuts to offer today.

So, I steal. From the apostropher who got it from Monkeyboy which incents me to serve it all up with a healthy dollop of 'cidal ointment, here's the feel-good story of the holidays courtesy of Dr. Feelgood, if you get my whiff.

In Florida, even the owls are stoned to the bejaysus, says Cheech the screech.

Friday, December 16, 2005

Creeping Crud

See item 1.

I've had a low-grade foulness in my throat and sinuses the last few days which has- on a sunny, near 50-degree day when the Transit Union decided not to strike (for now)- turned slightly damp and feverish. Drat.

1) I first heard about these from La Belle Noelle, but the website she directed me to is crashing. So I surfed around, and Lo-and-Behold, it's a hot trend! Now that I've thrown away Carroty Nubblington, how I wish I had a Tampon Angel to cheer me through my ague.

2) I first commented on the rediscovery of the once-thought extinct Ivory-Billed Woodpecker in April and updated in August. Follow-up continues to trickle in. A special modified and dyed Mohawk haircut is now available in Brinkley, Arkansas, as well as woodpecker plates, cups, ornaments, a commemorative burger, and T-shirts asking if you've "Got Pecker?" But they're still waiting for the sharp photo or solid nest location that will "bust this town open."

3) The Straight Dope covers the concept of the diplomatic pouch. Kidnapped people have fit inside, and the Soviets even tried to declare a nine-ton tractor trailer a diplomatic bag.

4) When you need to tell someone you've given them an STD, what's more thoughtful than a nice card?

5) Why I hate price fixing: Subsidizing Big Sugar in America may eventually drive candymakers overseas. If Hershey, Pennsylvania becomes Hershey, Kuala Lumpur, I'll be bummed. I'll never make it to a chocolate spa that far away.

6) Okay, I was wrong. Don't lock your car.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

I Get that the Christ Child is The Real Treasure, but

Isn't there room for some of this, too?

Wrapping some pimping into my holiday posting, and slightly channeling the Manolo-

In recent news, $180,000 of diamonds was stolen from a man in Long Island as he lah-dee-dah'd his way down Crabtree Lane, and a German woman was defrauded of her jewelry in exchange for an exorcism. Especially if cradled in gold, the price of replacing your sparklies is rising through the roof, but if you buy for investment, experts recommend you don't actually wear them.

Then what, you ask, is a gal of splendor to do? You can't afford the cost or the risk of the genuine baublery. Yet, do not the holidays of the partying and twinkly lights demand equal radiance of you, not to mention the increasing bling of the men's?

My suggestion: Belle Noelle.

The Belle Noelle is a friend of mine, but I've seen almost all the merchandise in person, and there are terrific pieces both fun and inspirational. Don't be dissuaded by her low prices (many of which are even on SALE!), these goodies are nicely done and guaranteed to light you up or to be a brilliant gift.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Et tu, Fido?

Image from creepy joke site.

I've been so busy but productive, as I warned, the blogging's nocturnal and sporadic. However, a friend and I may have cooked up the latest wave of foolishness in the blogosphere. (Can you cook a wave?) Anyway, more later as it develops.

As a result, just one story today. If you're the kind of person who takes the dog into the bathroom with you or lets him hang around during intimate moments, the bad news in science is that Your Dog Is Laughing At You.

Monday, December 12, 2005

Media Trash Is In The Eye of The Beholder

For Image info, see item 4 and Daily Kitten.

1) Via GOB, at whose curmudgeonly feet I slaver, Jonathan Yardley of the WaPo dips into genre fiction and finds the water's fine, as the "literary" fiction being written in this country nowadays strikes me as so jejune, self-absorbed and lifeless that I am just about unable to read it, much less pass fair judgment on it.

2) Caveat: I didn't love the most recent South Park episode Bloody Mary combining a statue of the Virgin Mary having a period with Alcoholics Anonymous being portrayed as a cult whose end goal is to leave people irresponsible and helpless for their actions. I think the AA cult comparison is lame, especially since they don't take your money or stuff or disallow you to contact your family or demand unflinching obedience, but whatever- it's really just a funny cartoon show that I watch because sometimes I find the absurd and horrific amusing when fake.

The thing about the Mary plot that surprised me wasn't the content, it was the absolute predictability. I was waiting for something as way out and inventive as I've come to expect. If you went to art school as I did, you've now seen every defamatory form of Mary's privates and their activities imaginable. Yawn.

Still, I disagree with various leagues and organizations getting their knickers in a press-releasing public twist over it. To see SP skewer sacred cows means sometimes it's your Elsie on the spike. Learning to take a joke you don't like at your expense is a sign of security and even maturity. I don't suggest you should expect such content on a cooking show, but it's a comedy/satire show with potty language shown at night for adults. Don't like it? Don't watch. It can't actually hurt you or God if you believe He's as great as advertised.

If you start enforcing that people honor feelings above all, don't ever irritate or humiliate other persons through exercise of free speech and wills, especially in the realms of thought (well, occasional thought) like media and art, you end up at a situation like this: An editor of an Afghan magazine for women (an impossiblity under the Taliban) suggested that women not be stoned for adultery and that their testimony in court should count the same as a man's, and now he faces the potential for execution. He's already been jailed for blashphemy. We have got us a ways to go, but letting religious provocations slide that neither create nor incite direct, tangible damage is a great first step.

3) About ten-ish years ago, Kevin Trudeau was working the Chicago media heavily. He had Mega Memory infomericals starring trainwreck Danny Bonaduce, who repeatedly said on his radio show that he was hiding a Dodge Viper given to him by Trudeau so it couldn't be seized in response to this set of charges by the Federal Trade Commission.

Then, 2004's FTC actions against Trudeau's Coral Calcium and Biotape claims recovered $2 million in cash, real estate, and a "luxury vehicle"as judgment against him. This subsequent ruling effectively barred him from product infomercials. However, since "The order’s ban on future infomercials exempts infomercials for books, newsletters, and other informational publications," you will note the crapulent louse has turned to hawking books of dubious information. You may watch a brief ad to read a Salon article on his publishing empire. Upgrading in the meanwhile from Bonaduce, the Natural Cures website apparently has recent clips of Howard Stern carrying his water.

One product unmentioned was a Trudeau smell-o-pen thing whose foodlike aromas were supposed to control appetite and speed weight loss. In my humble, unscientific opinion, this latest armament in the fight against obesity, SprinkleThin, is more of the same. Use with any diet you like and lose weight? Such a deal.

Update: If you don't believe in the Canadian Invasion, take heed that Trudeau is Canadian. If that weren't enough, Samantha Burns admits the mission.

4) Today in 1863 Edvard Munch was born. His recently stolen Scream is still missing. What might Munch have done with Shivers?

Sunday, December 11, 2005

Sabbath in Syrup

Sneaky, nefarious image source here. Don't fall for the folksy charm.

This is a quickie- I'm day-of-resting, but when I think Sunday, I think pancakes- and yes, Virginia- the weird maple syrup smell is reportedly back in Manhattan.

I can't personally confirm it, because I've only ever smelled the kind of horrors that the ads above the story purport to eradicate.

But I have a theory to share.
Two words: Canadian invasion.

Has no one else marked their calendars?! It's the ten-year anniversary payback for this. When will those crafty Canucks learn? When I least expect it is exactly when I'm expecting it.

Saturday, December 10, 2005

Get me a Real Live Nurse! I'll Wait.

Cause this is only cute until your ostomy needs cleaning.

Newsweek doesn't always, in my view, get it right. However, this article on today's nursing shortage and its dire portents for the future surely does. Overloaded working conditions must be addressed, but it's very tough to ease the pressure on existing staff without enough people to fill the jobs.

I am fiscally stingy when it comes to the money that Big-g Government spends (allegedly) upon my behalf. This means Government generally ignores me or expresses derision through its actions, but either way, what I wish doesn't count much when they get to awarding themselves raises and cornerstoning museums and other local aggrandizements that I think ought to have to raise public funds directly. Oh, well.

What am I willing to see government pay for with my taxes, you ask? Why, education in fields that we as a nation urgently require. More enginerds and nurses to start. I think we ought to fully subsidize the education of any nurse contracting to actively work in the field for some minimum number of years. (May I officially beg now that this program not have a cutesy name or acronym "to appeal to the kids.")

I think we should pay to buck up the capacity and efficiency of nursing schools by working with leaders in the field. Because the military has well-tested methods to remedially educate troops when necessary before tackling advanced technologies, we ought to borrow from those models to create intensive schooling to address educational gaps after high school (sometimes tragically wide depending on the student and school system) that leave desirous nursing candidates unprepared for collegiate-level programs in science and health care. This I'd happily see fully funded, if efficiently targeted and transparently accounted for the purpose of graduating students who will benefit us all while building solid careers to support themselves and their families.

Plenty of people may have given up on the 20-something graduates who haven't educationally achieved yet, but we can't afford a lost generation of fools without practical education or those with meaningless Communication and Media degrees that offer no depth or breadth in anything particular. There must be at least a handful of these who'll be sharing the air for the next 50 years who'd make tremendous use of the chance To Matter.

This Nurse Bill notion may be attractive from warm-and-fuzzy and fearful self-preserving perspectives, but it's sensible, too. National medical costs will go down with more nurses through shorter stays, decreased secondary infections and other costly conditions which occur without attentive personal care. More and better nursing means in-home care becomes possible and effective for the booming number of aging and convalescent patients, freeing beds for more severe cases and thus reducing general health care spending. People who may have been downsized from heavy manufacturing or other industrial careers can be retrained for meaningful vocations with a future. The sick will undoubtedly benefit and return to contributory wellness sooner. This approach is as wise fiscally as it is caring and duh-smack-your-head obvious.

Friday, December 09, 2005

Goodbye, Carroty Nubblington

When I say I like to make my own friends, I mean that I physically create them with my own teeth from items in the crisper drawer. This image is from The Ginger People, related to ginger root's reputed anthropomorphic resemblance. It's the closest image I could find (without a prop comic) to my newest, dear friend made of a gnawed-down carrot top whose four remaining shoots of greenery form his arms and legs. Carroty Nubblington has been faithful and true for at least 24 hours. Now sadly, his limbs are yellowing and his jaunty orange cranium is going soft and brown. I will miss you, staunch pal. Be well in your trip to the white plastic-lined Valhalla.

I have no time or inclination to think anything else through. Splat. You're it.

1) Does the mysterious and alluring inconsistency of the Mona Lisa's smile have to do with the anatomy of our eyes?

2) Via Grumpy Old Bookman, another fabulous article from New York Press about the dangerously dull conformity of "workshopped" fiction. If you want a bonus, read GOB's book review today for his nested comments on fiction in general:

Finally, I want to return to my point that the novel which eschews all attempt at Deeper Significance, and just tells a story, is at least as valuable (actually rather more so) than one which seeks to weave in some message or other...A story, in my opinion, doesn't have to mean anything. But it does have to have an effect; otherwise both writer and reader are lost.

As your cross-referenced bonus, read gaping void's post about marketing being the art of storytelling. At least no one accuses marketeers of pushing Deeper Significance.

3) Wonder no longer about the sad souls who are employed to create the junked-up surfaces of undistinguished, horizontal crap decor for chain restaurants.

4) Today's sickly fat buttocks beg for longer needles.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Sorry, I was out Shilling

See item 3. Image via Kyle's Adventures in Cooking.

Yesterday, I was busy peddling (or planning to peddle) my literary wares and didn't get to blogging. I sent some stuff to an agent I'd met some time ago, and I attended MWA's holiday party and had a swell time. There, I met more writers I didn't know, chatted pleasantly with those I did, and met a couple agents, too.

Now I have the happy problem of executing prompt follow-up with query, synopsis, and bio, an odious trinity of marketing materials which shouldn't matter much if the darned manuscript sample reads well. I've never had to submit a bio before. Should be a laugh. Nearly unqualified for everything, dabbler in all things. I'll try to make myself sound interesting if unaccomplished. As a result of the need to create such shinola, I just don't feel like commenting at length on the links I've collected. I'm throwing them up. You decide what sticks.

1) How awesome is thy nature, Coffee?

2) In a post-Katrina update, Gumbo Pie is going home to New Orleans. The students from Tulane are ending their semesters abroad, too. The justice system still isn't operating and a local judge is applying pressure by releasing criminal suspects.

3) Courtesy of the Scrivener: When life gives you jellyfish, make jelly rolls.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Congratulations and Less Important Stuff

The stargazers are in special celebratory honor of two dear friends who joyfully got hitched this morning. Rock on with your connubial bliss today and always!

In other news, the Simpsons will have a pantheon of famous authors as guest voices.

Putting a stake through at least one vampire of hope: Misanthrope Martha Ivery pled guilty to fraud as a faux agent and publisher, taking $700,000 from 200 aspiring writers over 5 years.

Mo' Money, Mo' Problems: Lottery winnings amplify existing dysfunctions unto death.

The perils of societal success: Young Japanese employees are no longer motivated loyalists but comfortable and ennui-laden individualists who want bigger paychecks.

As if the digital dreck coming out of greeting cards and toys and various objects d'art wasn't jaw-clenching enough, someone thinks we need musical sandwiches? Don't employees have iPods, or at least radios, anymore?

Monday, December 05, 2005

Star Effing and Balling

Midget basketball image here.

It's dark now and I'm home from my roaming.

Yesterday, I was surprised to attend the Celtics-Knicks game at Madison Square Garden. There were extra, unused tickets someone bought to impress, and I ended up in one of them. Almost a year ago, I ended up attending a game there against the Sacramento Kings because of an extra ticket a friend had received from his boss, a serious fan with seats twenty feet from the court. If I'm watching the game itself, high def is fine. But if you're watching the crowd, you've got to be there.

Yesterday's seats were only a few rows up from where I'd sat the first time, and I'm in danger of being spoiled for anything else. We were still close enough that people look around to see if you're Anyone or With Anyone recognizable. I sighted the first celebrity, a coup since one of the guys I was with can spy at a distance acquaintances from high school who are halfway across the country and two decades from where and when he last saw them. First celebrity skin: Anthony Kiedis from the Red Hot Chili Peppers- their site's a little dusty, and he doesn't mention seeing me. Then my pal sighted Philip Seymour Hoffman lately of Oscar buzz for Capote. Next Pat O'Brien, the entertainment reporter who lost his gig by drunk dialing propositions to female staffers. Then, the prolific Matthew Modine who was actually sitting courtside and who is reported to be a huge Knicks fan. Spike Lee was there, but that's not such hot news.

In a more bloggy tie-in, Knick rookie Nate "The Gr8" Robinson is blogging his first pro season at MSNBC.

The game was good, too, if you wanted the Celtics to win like I did.

Saturday, December 03, 2005

Bedbugs Lure Van Patten into Vice and Bad Sex

See item 4. The leftmost picture was used for a Pet Press story. The shocked grimace in a yellow wig is actually from his company website. Reviewing many images, I perceive real indecision over whether to wear the rug. But what can we expect from someone like this astrological trainwreck?

1) I'm all over this bedbug story as DDT leverage. Two Swiss women are suing the Hotel Pennsylvania near Madison Square Garden for the week they endured the resident bedbugs' biting pestilence. The National Pest Management Association has helpful info such as the fact bedbugs "enjoy feeding on human blood" and tips like vacuuming out your luggage before bringing it back inside your home. Thanks.

2) The Literary Review award for Bad Sex in Fiction was launched in 1993 to "draw attention to the crude, tasteless, often perfunctory use of redundant passages of sexual description in the modern novel." This year, the award's recipient is Giles Coren who described his character's coital member as "leaping around like a shower dropped in an empty bath." Of course, he means a handheld shower head, but perhaps only my Yankee brain took a moment to apprehend that. All the excerpts that under consideration are listed here.

3) Robert Clark Young's tale of vice- Brad Vice, PhD- includes rampant plagiarism and reciprocal butt-kissing at prominent, but insular writers' workshops before, during, and since Vice's dissertation. Should his subsequent awards for literary fiction and his degree be withdrawn? How many of these highbrow liars are out there?

4) Dick Van Patten is touting dog food good enough for humans to eat, and gobbled some himself to prove it.

Friday, December 02, 2005

Another Post After Dark

George Grosz, Berlin Dada artist of New Objectivity, did this painting Remember Uncle August the Happy Inventor which has buttons sewn onto it. Here are more.

The days have become so short, I've restructured to take advantage of my greater productivity during daylight. I'm alert until late at night, but occupied with mindless puttering and consuming of entertainment. Until we seriously turn the corner post-solstice, I may be posting after the daily to-dos are done.

Today was largely about buttons. There are multiples to be restored and replaced, so I went to a boutique called Tender Buttons. It's a narrow, Dickensian hall with worn wood acoutrements and all manner and size and color of buyable buttons in little stacked boxes from floor to ceiling. Precious and delicate antique buttons from various eras and lands are displayed behind lit, glass cases. The staff are helpful and skinny, as they must be to maneuver. It's a charming place, if tight quarters for extended browsing. After returning home, I surfed to see if there was a picture of this divine curiosity shoppe online. Instead, I found the Gertrude Stein book for which the stores in NYC and Chicago are named.

Some of Stein's pithier comments have struck me as witty and accurate. But really, I'm only familiar with her in petit-four sized bites, so I went to the book's excerpt to explore a bit. Tender Buttons is reportedly a representative exhibit of Stein's peculiar repetition, wordplay, and roundabout approach to meaning. I share a paragraph:

A cushion has that cover. Supposing you do not like to change, supposing it is very clean that there is no change in appearance, supposing that there is regularity and a costume is that any the worse than an oyster and an exchange. Come to season that is there any extreme use in feather and cotton. Is there not much more joy in a table and more chairs and very likely roundness and a place to put them.
A circle of fine card board and a chance to see a tassel.

The strange wording and punctuation do force me, a quick reader, to slow down to make sure I'm getting the order right. I read it aloud, then played with the emphasis until I felt I'd teased some general sense of the thing from it. I don't particularly enjoy it in a deeper way than deciphering it (yet), but I tired of Ferlinghetti, too. And not Eliot. There's something to be said for being the originator of a new style. Now, you may choose to read more about Gertrude Stein's life and times here, and delve deeply into her groundbreaking work, but I've already become enlightened and improved enough for one day.

What should be the catchy name for that thing I seek most to read and create, that magical amalgam of snappy storytelling with high-quality writing that merits rereading?

Thursday, December 01, 2005

Two Cars: Their True Stories and Sad Ends

Images explained in Geo's italicized excerpt below.

A + B = C
Life imitates Lebowski

As I've been continuing to catch up on my reading, I discovered the sad story of the demise of a silver Ford Taurus, a little ship of dreams, at The Bummer Girls. I did lead her toward its purchase. I, and other friends, had gotten great deals on fleet cars coming off lease from a Mississippian named Clovis who ran a vehicle emporium near the Illinois-Wisconsin border.

When fleets of corporate cars were refreshed every couple of years, Clovis would receive trailers full of the old ones which he'd clean up (or not) and redistribute nationally to auto auctions and used car lots. He also ran his own lot where he'd sell any of the cars to you directly on a cash/as-is basis. No financing. No warranties. No fancy showroom. However, with a handshake and a photocopy of your driver's license, he'd let you take your prospective car for a night or weekend to put it through its paces, get it checked by a mechanic, see if your mother liked the color, whatever. He wasn't stressed about the return date. He sometimes had hundreds of cars flowing through per week. He was all about moving volume. As I recall, he didn't even assign the Bummer Girl a price on hers until she'd been driving it for a few weeks.

Normally, the choice on hand was American fleet cars, but he was also willing to trade around with other vendors for whatever you requested. I knew people who got a minivan that way, and I heard of another who requested a Benz that he was able to cattle trade into happening.

When I was in need, I found a dark green two year-old Taurus with low miles, tan leather interior, and power everything that I got for five-thousand something (see final state of noble chariot above). I could've easily resold it for 2-3k more, but that was the way it went with everyone I knew that bought there. When the Bummer Girl later needed a car, we went to see Clovis. Searching the disordered, muddy lot, we found a silver Taurus, newer than mine and in great condition. She picked it up, took it to a mechanic who gave it a clean bill, and drove it around. She ended up buying, and like me, got a loyal steed for a better-than-fair price.

Now, her logical wish must to be to see it totaled. My Taurus, too, was lost about a month ago. When I left Chicago, I sold it to my friend George who, in turn, passed it on to his brother Peter when he moved out of town. Here's the ugly story of its undeservedly undignified end. Ah, Life in the Big City:

As some of you may or may not know. The Taurus was stolen from outside of my brother's office a week and a half ago. After about ten days Peter was notified by certified mail that the city had the car impounded and it was under investigation for being in an accident. They had it in their impound lot since the day Peter reported it missing, though they got around to telling him a week or so later. Again, because it was being "investigated". After much investigation, no knowledge as to the crime or perpetrator of such deed was found. But the car was still impounded and Peter would be responsible for the $40 a day storage fee to retain the car. It goes on and on, but in short, apathetic police and uninterested public servants have not made this an easy road for someone who just happened to have their sweet ride jacked.

It gets better... Peter finally gained access to the car to see if any belongings were still present. He found that the car was not drivable, but that the things of value (Miro's golf shoes, Multi Disc CD Changer, and such) were still in the car. But wait, what's this? There is also a black backpack in the car. Hmmm.... Peter didn't have a black backpack in the car, though there one sits. And it has some school work in it. I don't believe Peter was still in school, but again, it is there. And it has the name "Darrell" on the home work. Peter's middle name is "Anthony", and that's not even close to a "Darrell". Where could this have come from?

Now I've watched my share of CSI, SVU and even SUV. And though I am not a skilled detective, I think that show has taught me a thing or two. For instance, it seems the Police didn't care to know that an individual with a backpack and baggie pants was standing at the corner holding a newspaper in front of his face that day. Hey... a backpack.... a car.... a stolen car with a backpack in it.... I'm at a loss. I'm sure another 10 days of investigation might shine some light on this. But this would be a good lead on any of these shows that's for sure.
But in the interim, if you meet a kid named Darell that has some bruises or injuries (Ford airbags did not deploy), and his homework is late, please let him know that his backpack has been found, though the car is being crushed into a cube. Perhaps he's already filed a report and it is being "investigated". Where is Walter Jacobson when you need him?

Peter says that this is life imitating art since the movie "The Big Lebowski" has a car stolen, but homework left behind.

Bummer Girl suggested maybe our two autos will share eternity in car heaven. I hope so, BG. I very much hope so.