Thursday, February 28, 2013

A Lucky Find, A Smart Judge, Some Compassion, an Adoption and a Marriage

An article in today's New York Times is going super viral today. I want to share it, too, it's so good.

An unusually fantastic article in today's New York Times
deserves a good read.
I won't add much of my own commentary here. It's just an incredible story, written by playwright Peter Mercurio  about how a family, his family in New York formed through a series of odd events, some smart people, a great judge and other good factors.

It's one of the most compelling, sweet reads I've had in a long time.

Click on this link right here and enjoy this wonderful and true story. You won't regret it. 

More 80s Video Fun: Godley and Creme's "Cry"

In my continuing series dredging up some 1980s music videos that I at least find intriguing, artistic and cool,  I give you Godley and Creme's "Cry"

A still from Godley and Creme's "Cry"
music video from the 1980s
It's a simple video, but mesmerizing. In it, against a plain black backdrop, you see the faces of various people, one morphing into another, then another, then another, on and on.  All of the people are singing the song.

Kevin Godley and Lol Creme, the two singers, appear repeatedly interspersed with the rest of the people that appear in the video.

The morphing technique in the video was considered incredibly innovative and a major filming breakthrough when the video came out in the mid 1980s.

What I love is the wide variety of people in the video, as if the makers randomly picked people off the street as the rather mournful song plods along.

There's a lot of archeotypes, like a guy who looks like Mr T., another who looks like Freddie Mercury. And I like the progression. For instance, at one point, a glamorous blonde woman fades, replaced by the face of a grumpy, jowly old man.

In the 1970s and early 1980s, Godley and Creme were members of the group 10cc. That group is probably best known for its song "I'm Not in Love," a hypnotically moody song from 1975 that I absolutely love.

Other installments of my recent 80s music video series in this blog are here and here.

Here's Godley and Creme's "Cry" video:


Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Condo Association's Anti-Flag Missive Sure to Garner Worst Publicity Possible

In what seems like a major attempt to get as much bad publicity as possible, an Alabama condominium association has ordered a soldier   to get rid of the American flag he's displaying in the unit where he lives, and do it pronto, according to television station WHNT.
A condo association in Alabama might be in trouble
for not letting a soldier display an American flag in his unit.  

Anytime this type of thing happens, there's an uproar, and this is no exception.

I'm not sure what the Stepping Stones condo association in Huntsville, Alabama was thinking when they gave a note to Staff Sgt. Brandon Weir

It was a pretty blunt, almost nasty note, if you want my opinion

"Resident: It has come to our attention that you have items in plain sight that are not to be visible from the parking lot by rules and guidelines stated in the home owners association bylaws. Please remove the following listed item(s) as son as possible to keep the community as tidy as possible," said the typewritten form letter.

Then in handwriting: "Your flag attached to the stairs has to be removed ASAP!"

Condominium Association President Carol Coffey was quoted as saying the appearance of the condominiums was of utmost importance.

“In order to maintain the integrity of that asset we have certain rules because people could put anything out here if we let them.”

Yes, a pile of wrecked cars on blocks would probably be a bad idea at the condo and there ought to be rules against something like that. But a flag?

Couldn't the association anticipate a storm of criticism for trying to force the removal of a flag? This has happened before and it has outraged people to the point where there's a federal law forcing homeowners association to allow residents to display the American flag.

Coffey is quoted as saying the law applies to detached homes, not condominiums because everybody collectively owns the condo complex.  Since the flag is out on the front stoop, Coffey said it's on communal. Not perosonal property

Really? I thought you only bought one unit at a time in most places, and if you attach a flag to a wall of your unit even an exterior unit, it's on your house.

Besides, the federal law is written to include condo complexes. Sorry, Carol.. Looks like the flag stays put.

Coffey said it's not as if she's got anything against the American flag. According to WHNT:

“I served in Afghanistan, I served in Iraq and I served in Kuwait. I am not anti-veteran and I am not a communist,” Coffey said staunchly.

Well, fine. You love America. But aren't you being a bit anal about displaying the flag in this precious condo complex?

Coffey said Weir also should have approached the condo association with their objection to the flag removal note before posting information on veterans' web sites.

"This person got the letter from our management team and instead of coming to the board and expressing his concern he went and posted something on two or three veteran’s sites without all the information and without us knowing anything about it and now we’re being threatened–that’s not right.”

OK, we'll concede that point. If he didn't do so, Weir maybe should have complained to the board first, then go public if he didnt' get satisfaction.  But he was probably so understandably outraged by the note that he fired off messages on social media.

After the uproar and demonstrations at the condo site, Coffey said they are reconsidering the rules and possibly offering waivers to allow flags in some units.

Given the federal law, that's the least they can do.

Another Explosive Drug Making Exploit

You have to hand it to illicit drug dealers, users and makers: They are incredibly innovative when it come to doing things that are dangerous, not just to them but everyone around them.
A damaged Colorado kitchen after a hash oil explosion  
The latest fad, according to an alert put out last week by  FEMA: People are using butane and other explosive chemicals to extract oil from marijuana, to get a concentrated dose of some kind of high.

It's called hash oil, and it's the production of it has led to numerous injuries and property damage, like one recent case in Lansing, Michigan which led to three men getting critically burned and a house destroyed.

Great. We already have meth labs causing explosions and toxic materials hazards and now we've got enterprising drug dealers with another explosive undertaking.

Another explosion at a hotel near Sea World in San Diego because of some moron making hash oil blowing the butane up when he lit a cigarette badly burned himself, injured at least one other guest and trashed a large portion of the hotel.

So innocent bystanders are under threat, too.

I'm not sure what can be done about all this, other than the standard law enforcement. But if you have sketchy neighbors, it looks like nasty explosions are one more thing you have to worry about.

Best Basketball Game EVER was recent El Paso High School Match

You might have seen this video already, since it's been all over the news, and Facebook, and Twitter, etc.  but I want to share it anyway.

It's a CBS report of perhaps the best basketball game ever. It contained no NBA stars, no incredible plays, no miraculous baskets, no stars, no glitz. It did have sportsmanship. And heroes. Boy, did it have sportsmanship and heroes.

I won't spoil it for you, other than to say the kids are alright. Watch the report below (Warning: a Kleenex alert goes with this video)


Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Tampa Twister Looks Wild

A waterspout came ashore as a fairly weak tornado today in the middle of Tampa, Florida, namely Harbour Island today. Luckily it caused minor damage and no injuries.
A waterspout comes ashore in Tampa Tuesday. Photo by
Robert Siegel.  

A guy named Robert Siegel, a National Weather Service Skywarn spotter was on vacation in Tampa and took this great photo of the waterspout from a high rise he was in.

Not a very strong waterspout/tornado, but still frightening if you were on the walkways near the edge of the harbor as it came ashore.

World's Most Bizarre and Least Effective Hailstorm Damage Control Effort

There was a terrible hailstorm in Mar del Plata, Argentina recently, the worst in at least 30 years, according to media reports.

As the hail poured down in torrents, we have a video of a guy on his car, flailing on the car roof trying to protect it from the chunks of ice banging down.

I can't imagine he protected the car much. He probably did more damage bouncing around on the car roof than the hail did through denting the car's metal. But at least he tried.

And don't hailstones hurt like hell? Some of them in the video look as if they were the size of golf balls, at least. I got clonked on the head by a nickel sized hailstone a couple summers ago and it kind of stung. And that was one hailstone. Imagine a spray of high-speed golfball sized hail pummeling you?

I  like the moment in the video when another guy comes out with a carpet and tries to put it on the car hood to protect it, but Flailing Guy was flailing so much that he was kicking it off. The man with the carpet quickly gave up and gets out of the hail.

On top of all that, this video is going viral and the whole world will see how much of an idiot he looked like in this hailstorm.

Watch for yourself for instruction on how not to protect property the next time it hails.

Romance Can Hurt

Pity Anthony Brasfield, 40 of Florida.

He thought it was a romantic gesture, and it was. He was with his girlfriend recently and released a dozen heart shaped helium balloons into the air as he professed his love to the lucky gal.
A balloon like released by a guy in Florida as a romantic
gesture could land him in jail.  
She appreciated it, but law enforcement watching nearby did not. They busted Basfield for violating Floridan environmental laws with his romance.

It's true maybe Brasfield should have known better than to release the balloons. The remnants of the balloons once they come down to earth can trap, strangle, injure or poison a wide vareity of creatures.

Unnecessary animal deaths are not romantic, after all. But he probably wasn't thinking about animals. He was thinking about his love for his gal. That's forgiveable.

If convicted, Brasfield faces up to five years in jail. Let's hope he doens't get that. I don't know that it's fair to keep a couple away from each other when I'm guessing just some education on how to keep wildlife safe would do.

So, I wish Brasfield luck in court and with his lady.

Monday, February 25, 2013

Another Cruise Ship From Hell

We have another Cruise Ship from Hell on our hands.

We're all familiar with that cruise ship that was out in the Gulf of Mexico earlier this month that turned into a stinking, hellishly hot sewage boat with a few thousand people on board after a fire screwed up the power on the No Love Boat.

This "ghost ship" is out in the Atlantic somewhere
and nobody wants to take responsibility for it.
The latest cruise ship crisis involves no passengers unless you count the unknown number of rats on board.

It's a bizarre case. An abandoned cruise ship floating around the middle of the Atlantic Ocean with nobody wanting to touch it with a ten foot pole, much less wanting to claim ownership, according to Businessinsider.com

The Russian cruise ship Lyubovy Orlova was seized in 2010 in St. John's Newfoundland because a haulage company said the ships owners owed them $250,000 in unpaid fees, according to Businessinsider.com

In January a company began towing the cruise ship out of Canada, bound for the Dominican Republic to be broken down for scrap, according to Business Insider. But lines towing the ship broke, sending the poor Lyubovy Orlava drifting aimlessly and alone out in the North Atlantic.

Canada wants nothing to do with it, since its now in international waters and not Canada's problem. The towing company seems uninterested, as do the owners, or former owners of the vessel.

At last check, it was perhaps 1,300 miles off the coast of Ireland, and heading slowly in that country's direction. If it lands in Ireland, it might become their problem, and that country will want to seize assets from somebody associated with the vessel to settle the cost of dealing with it.

And I'm sure the good people of Ireland would not appreciate a dererlict ship for of rats showing up on their doorstep.

Or, Ireland could do what the United States did when a Japanese fishing vessel set adrift by the massive March, 2011 tsunami ended up in U.S. waters. We bombed it until it sank.

Hmm, I wonder if the passengers who had been aboard that ill fated cruise ship in the Gulf of Mexico want that vessel bombed into oblivion, too, now that they're off that nightmare trip.

Best Volcano Eruption Photograph Ever?

This is a four year old photograph but it's gotten new life on the Internet lately.

It's an amazing shot of a volcano erupting on an island off of eastern Russia, as seen from the International Space Station.

Amazing shot fro the International Space Station
of a volcano erupting between Russian and Japan
four years ago.
Earth Observatory is always a tremendous source of great photography, usually from space. Do read the link above for a great full explanation of what's going on in the picture.

In this shot, the Space Station happened to be going over the volcano when it erupted, and they captured the big plume of ash going way up into the sky, capped with a white cloud that made the whole thing look a bit like a nuclear bomb.

You can see along the slopes of the volcano something called a pyroclastic flow, which is a fast moving, extremely hot rush of hot gases that kills and destroys everything in its way. Almost everybody that has been killed by a volcanic eruption in the earth's history has been killed by a pyroclastic flow.

Luckily, not many people live near this volcano on the island, northwest of Japan, so nobody got hurt in this eruption.

So, we get to enjoy the awesomeness of nature and geology in this photograph, and not feel guilty about enjoying it, since there were no casualties and not much property damage to speak of 

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Slowly, People Come to Terms with Gay Marriage.

I've seen lately too great examples of how the country is coming to terms with gay marriage.

It'll still be controversial for awhile and many people and organizations are clearly still trying to figure out how to place it within the normal fabric of life. They have to, because that's where it seems to be headed.
The front page of the Laurel Call-Leader
in Mississippi that caused such a controversy
The process comes in fits and starts, especially in conservative parts of the country. What happened recently in Mississippi is really interesting.

In the heart of conservative Mississippi, a local paper, the Laurel Leader-Call carried a front page story recently about a same sex couple getting married there.

Yes, I know gay marriage is not legal there, but it was a commitment ceremony, basically a marriage. One of the two women has a brain tumor, the couple worried time was short so they decided to go for it.

The paper did an article on the event because it was the first time such a thing had happened around Laurel.  They used the word "historic" in the headline, because nothing like it had every happened before in Laurel.

This being a particulary conservative part of the country, many Leader-Call readers were up in arms about the article.

The paper's editor, Jim Cegielski, was fed up with some of the reaction, and wrote one of the best editorials, at least in terms of journalistic integrity, that I've seen in awhile.

(In the above link, it's a bit complicated to get to the actual excellent editorial. Go up to where it says "Page 1, scroll down to "Page 4/5" then click on the editorial you see on the upper right. That's what you want to read.)

In it, he attacked the vitriol of some of the critics. The great thing about the editorial is it was an ode to free expression, and he kept his opinion of gay marriage out of it. Read the editorial and you still will have no idea what Cegielski's opinion of gay marriage is.

What he did attack was some strange thinking going on among people who criticized the article.
One line of attack was that the paper called the marriage "Historic."

And as Cegielski pointed out, it was historic, since it was the first time it happened in Laurel, as I've noted.

The most delicious part of Cegielski's editorial was when he slammed people who worried about children who would see the gay marriage article.

"We have stories about child molesters, murders and all kinds of vicious, barbaric acts of evil committed by heinous criminals on our front page and yet we never receive a call from anyone saying 'I don't need my children reading this.' Never. Ever. However, a story about two women exchanging marriage vows and we get swamped with people worried about their children."

According to media blogger Jim Romenesko, the Laurel Leader Call is now in the happy throes of a backlash against the backlash about the gay marriage story.

The paper is winning new subscribers, mostly from outside Mississippi and the Laurel area. So many people are looking at the paper's web site that it crashed late last week. (It appears to be fixed now)

All because an editor was committed to his duty to inform, no matter if his readership liked the news or not. Well played, Mr. Cegielski.


Another Case Ends Well.

There was another gay marriage incident in the media recently that ended both well and fairly for all involved.  It worked out that way because people thought with their brains and heart, and not with mindless hate and bias.

As BuzzFeed explained it, photographer Anne Almasy decided to try advertising in Wedding Unveiled magazine. She didn't want to submit a standard issue groom in tux, plastic smiling blonde bride in white photo for the ad.

Instead, she used a photo of two women marrying each other. The photo is striking, and helps show off Almasy's artistry, which of course is the point of advertising in a publication like Wedding Unveiled. You want to show off your strengths in your advertising.

Said Almasy:

The photographer's advertisement that was rejected,
then accepted by Wedding Unveiled.
"..... I wanted to publish a photo that says something about me as a photographer, about my philosophy, about my heart for photographing these momentous (and often wonderfully ridiculous) celebrations.. I chose this picture because, to me, it says love. It says home. It says joy."

The magazine's editors politely declined the ad, saying they feared peple weren't ready yet for same sex wedding photography.   

Dismayed, Almasy wrote back, in an open letter:

"I don't shoot gay weddings or straight weddings, Christian weddings or Jewish weddings, good weddings or bad weddings. I photograph PEOPLE on their wedding day.
...
Are there people who might have been offended or put off by this ad? I'm sure there are. But this ad wasn't for them. This ad was for people who love black and white photography; this ad was for people who love a portrait taken in a warehouse stacked with bags of coffee beans; this ad was for people who love big puffy dresses; this ad was for people who love love.

My heart breaks because you could not see that this couple's wedding portrait is every bit as beautiful and valuable as any other couple's.
My heart breaks because you could not see beyond your fear, and into the warmer, brighter future that WE are responsible for building.
Someone has to be first.
Someone has to forge ahead.
Someone has to march.
Someone has to refuse to move to the back of the bus."


There was a fair amount of hue and cry over the editorial decision not to run the ad. Then Wedding Unveiled editors Terry Ireland and Brooke Thomas thought about it some more, in light of the criticism and questions they got.

They wrote on the magazine's blog:

We hope that you will allow us the opportunity to address an important issue that has angered and disappointed many people. We are incredibly sad that same sex marriage is still an issue in our society. When we were faced with the decision of whether or not to publish Anne Almasy's advertisement, we acted in a manner that does not reflect our personal beliefs. We truly believe that all love is beautiful and that all people have the right to marry.

You might ask that if we feel that way, then why did we make this decision? Honestly, we knew that everyone would not share our belief that all people have the right to marry. The issue is very sensitive and it is also very divided. We knew that it was possible that people would be offended if we published the ad and we knew that it was possible that people would be offended if we did not. We are so sorry that we acted out of fear and uncertainty. We had never been faced with such a decision and we should have acted with our hearts.

We are two women who operate a small business that we care deeply about. We love all weddings. We love all people and would never want to anger, offend or disappoint anyone. We are deeply moved by the outpouring of love and support for Anne. We are so sorry that we have disappointed you and we ask for your forgiveness. If Anne would still like to run her ad in Weddings Unveiled, then we would be proud to publish it.

Almasy quickly forgave the editors, congratulated them on their change of heart and submitted her advertisement.  She said:

"I cannot tell you how completely stunned, humbled and honored I am that you took teh time to truly read my letter and chose to side with your hearts. I couldn't have imagined a better outcome......I will gladly stand with you in this fight for equality, and would be thrilled to move forward with this ad in Weddings Unveiled.

All's well that ends well, at least in this case.





  




A Turkish Bath on a Bus?

In  Turkey recently, a bus was involved in an accident and hit a water valve.  The effect, as you can see in the video below, was quite stunning.

According to published reports, the bus quickly filled with water after the crash. Passengers might have drowned on board, but some managed to break glass, allowing everyone to escape. Three minor injuries were reported.

But what an odd way to go had there been fatalities. Drowing on a bus on the way to work? Glad things pretty much worked out.

Saturday, February 23, 2013

More 80s Music Videos: Delightfully Bizarre "True Faith" by New Order

Continuing my occasion series of what I consider an art form, music videos from the 1980s, I give you this bit of weirdness.  "True Faith," a 1987 hit by New Order.  (They're still around, by the way)
A still from the video for "True Faith" by New Order
What I love about this video is the fact that I don't get it.

In this precious offering, we have two strange beings repeated slapping each other in the face to the beat of the music.

We have three colorful, inflated looking beings bouncing up and down and jumping for no reason. A woman in a greasy, metallic sort of encasing material wobbles dangerous as she gives what is presumably sign language for the song's lyrics.

Amid all this hysteria, we have a fairly gloomy song, with rather gloomy lyrics about how things were so much better when the singer was a  kid

"I used to think that the day would never come
I'd see delight in the shade of the morning sun
My morning sun is the drug that brings me near
To the childhood I lost, replaced by fear."


The video was directed by French choreographer and theater director Phillipe Decourfle.  


Truly a strange trip, this one but a good one:

U.S. To Bomb Guam With Poison Mice To Combat Snakes

If you needed more proof that the United States is a leader in weaponry innovation, here it is:

We're going to bomb Guam, a U.S. territory, with toxic, poison mice, according to the Associated Press
Dropping poisoned mice on Guam
might solve a snake problem.  
Yes, it sounds like this is one of those snarky "Your tax dollars at work" attack on government waste, but this actually sounds like it might be for a good cause.

The poison mice, raining down from the skys, will seem like manna from heaven to the invasive brown tree snakes that have pretty much wiped out the bird population on Guam. That is until the snakes, having eaten the poison mice as if they were at a giant rodent buffet, get sick and die.

I like this line from the AP story:

"The solution to this headache, fittingly enough, is acetaminophen, the active ingredient in painkillers including Tylenol."

So, I guess Tylenol is good for my headache, but bad for brown snakes. I wonder if the mice have headaches that get cured before they die from acetaminophen poisoning.

The plan is pretty brilliant in that the scientists are taking care not to hurt other animals. The toxic mouse bombs have stuff attached to them so that they get hung up in the trees when they fall, so the tree snakes get them, but the rodents don't make it to the ground, where they could otherwise harm other wildlife.

As for hurting birds on Guam with the toxic mice, that's no problem. The tree snakes have already killed all of the birds,  so poison mice aren't a problem in that regard.

I just wonder what happens to the dead snakes after they've eaten the Tylenol flavored mice. On second thought, maybe I don't want to know.




Friday, February 22, 2013

Cecil Hotel, L.A: A Dead Body in Drinking Water Tank Maybe Almost Par For the Course?

After you read this you'll understand why, for the rest of my life, when I check into a hotel, I will demand to see the inside of their water tank first.

As you might have seen on various news reports, guests at a Los Angeles hotel drank and used the hotel's water for days while a dead body decomposed in the building's water tank.

The ill-fated Cecil Hotel in Los Angeles
 This isn't exactly a public relations coup for the Cecil Hotel.  The place bills itself as a "boutique hotel" after some extensive renovations, but it already had an um, storied past.  It's the site of stays by serial killers, the site of weird deaths, unsolved crimes and all the stuff that is the noirest of the noire genre. It could be a leading candidate for the worst, most star-crossed hotel on the plante.

Just imagine the Yelp reviews for this place. Actually, I found some. Here's one:

"Do not stay here. The water is contaminated by a decomposing corpse in the water tank. This will probably ruin your experience."

Yes, it probably would ruin your experience. Bad weather ruins vacation experiences. Extra, unexpected fees ruin vacations. Decomposing bodies in water tanks really, really ruin vacation experiences.

Here's some other Yelp reviews from the Cecil:

"Any hotel that wouldn't let their staff know a dead body was found in their water tank should be shut down. Nuff said."

Yeah, it would have been nice for the staff to have that piece of information, since they presumably drink the water too.

Here's another Yelp comment:

"There was poop on the walls in the bathroom. Well, that's OK, at least it was dried so I just avoided it. There was a sharp pointy towel rack broken in the bathroom that cut me as I recoiled after discovering the poop. The hallway was pretty creepy like out of a horror movie."  

This reviewer had me at "poop" If your standards are low enought that dried poop on the bathroom wall of your hotel room is "OK" more power to you, but you really could do better.

Once word got out about the dead body in the water tank, the Yelp reviews took on a bit of gallows humor.:

"Whenever I'm feeling dead tired, I like to give my bones a saok in this hotels's famous water tank."

Ouch!

Another:

"I'd rather stay in the Bates motel"

Yeah, in the Bates motel, the water pressure in the shower is fine and the water is clean, at least when it first comes out of the shower head. That's better than the Cecil.


According to BNO News,  here's how guests described their less than idea experience drinking water at the hotel

"It tasted horrible. It had a funny, sweetening, disgusting taste. It's a very strange taste. I can barely describe it," British tourist Sabina Baugh, who had been using the water for eight days, told CNN. "We never thought anything of it. We thought it was just the way it was here."

"Besides low water pressure, guests at the hotel also described the water turning black at times. "The shower was awful. When you turned the tap on, the water was coming black for the first two seconds, then it was going back to normal," added Bough. "It made me feel really sick ysterday until now, known that we've been drinking this water for eight days."

L.A. health officials have been performing tests to see how big a health risk the guests might have faced.
Firefighters carry material out of the Cecil Hotel in Los Angeles
after a body was found in the building's drinking water tank.  
And of course police want to know how the body got into the tank in the first place.

I'm sure the owners of the hotel will be facing lawsuits, especially if this report from CNN is true:

"New guests continued to check into the Cecil after firefightyers removed Lam's body from the water tank. But each guest was asked to sign a waiver releasing the hotel from liability if they become ill. 'You do so at your own risk and peril,' the hotel's release said. Guests who already paid for their rooms would  not get refunds if they move out,  it said.

There's your first clue that you oughta find another hotel. When was the last time you checked into a hotel and a release made it clear they were very, very worried you'd get sick there, and were trying to shield themselves from lawsuits?

As I mentioned, the Cecil has quite a complicated history.  According to Slate, the Hotel Cecil has quite a bit of a past anyway.  Here's part of the Cecil Hotel's highlight or blooper reel, whatever you want to call it.

In 1962, a woman leaped to her death from the hotel, and landed on a woman on the sidewalk below, killing her, too.

In 1964, ther Pershing Square "Pigeon Lady" was raped and killed in her Cecil Hotel room. The case has never been solved.

In 1985, Richard Ramirez, the infamous "Night Stalker" serial killer who murdered 14 people, stayed for a time on the 14th floor of the Cecil Hotel.

In 1991, Austrian serial killer Jack Unterweger stayed at the hotel for a time while spending his days murdering prostitutes.

So, if you're taking a last minute trip to L.A. this weekend to check out the Oscars, you might want to see if something besides the Cecil is available.  Because whether it's the Bates or the Cecil, dead bodies on vacation are not the recipe for golden Kodak moments.








Walmart, Fires, Scooters and Stress Balls: Two Crimes in the News

According to 10TV.com in central Ohio, Kevin Gillman, 26, tried to steal stuff from a Whitehall, Ohio, Walmart.

A petty theft at a Walmart isn't exactly shocking news, but this guy, who weighs nearly 500 pounds, cruised through the store on a motorized scooter, set a rack of clothes on fire as a diversion so he could steal electronics, according to the 10TV report

This big guy is accused of an
arson/scooter/theft crime at a Walmart
Well, hand it to Gillman, if this story is true, he's quite the determined guy. And he did succeed in distracted attention away from his crime, since store employees were busy hustling all the other customers out of the store. 

Trouble is, when Gillman tried to make his getaway, he ended up trying to go through a locked door. He had to drop his loot and flee. Foiled again! He was later caught at another Walmart trying to steal stuff, but this time it didn't involve fire.

I hope Gillman isn't too stressed out by the arrest. Then again, even places not meant to be stressful can by trying, judging by a report out of Britain.

According to the Blackpool Gazette, a man named Darren Baldwin, 44, in is in big trouble after going into a huge rage when he got fired from a job at a manufacturing plant that makes stress balls.

Talk about a guy who should have been sampling the merchandise!

Apparently, he punched a supervisor in the face and threatened others with a knife. A judge probably should have sentenced the guy to more time at the stressball factory, but then again, I'm sure the other employees wouldn't have liked that.

It would have stressed them out. 

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Awesome, Passive Aggressive Windshield Notes

I've always resisted leaving notes on car windshields of people who act like jerks when they're driving or parking. Why bother with the ignorant.

Another one of Buzzfeed's windshield notes
But, the notes are fun sometimes, as noted by BuzzFeed the other day when they ran a series of photos of notes on cars.

Two of my favorites: "My name is Jack. I accidently hit your car & someone saw me, so I'm pretending to right (sic) down my details. Sorry, Jack."

Another: "Fxxk your car alarm and fxxk you. You're ruining peoples's lives. Expect a brick through window."

Click on the BuzzFeed link for more fun.

Delightful Video of Crows in the Snows Having Fun

The video in this post is spreading over the Internet and I think it's a lot of fun, too.

It's simple enough. It shows crows having fun in a snowstorm in what looks like Russia. They roll in the snow, use snow-covered windshields as sliding hills and basically act like human children in a snowstorm.

I think we underestimate the capacity of all kinds of animals to have fun.

The crow video comes from a random, delightful and quirky blog called Nothing To Do with Arborath, which features a variety of lighthearted, odd news items, features and videos, many of them having to do with animals. It's definitely worth clicking on the link and check it out.

I'll probably end up stealing a lot of stuff from that blog (crediting them with the find, of course), then adding my own stupid take on the matters they bring up.

Anyway, here's that great crow in the snow video:

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Monitoring Workers To Death?

Apparently, at an Irish grocery chain called Tesco, workers now have monitoring devices strapped to them that examines their every move, making sure they do their work at a frantically fast pace, or else!

For example, they face potential penalties for taking a bathroom break or a sip of water.
Every company has to monitor employees.
But when does it go too far?  
Well, if machines don't take bathroom breaks, why should humans?

Reports The Independent of Ireland:

"A former staff member has claimed employees are given marks based on how efficiently they work in a bid to improve productivity and can be called in front of management if they take unscheduled toilet breaks."

Tesco said the armband devices eliminate the need for workers to carry around pens and paper when logging deliveries or shipments, according to the Independent article.

But former employees say the devices are more sinister than that. According to the Independent:

One former employee said the device provided an order to collect from the warehouse and a set amount of time to complete it. If workers met that target, they were awarded a 100 per cent score, but that would rise to 200 per cent if they worked twice as quickly. The score would fall if they did not meet the target.

If, however, workers did not log a break when they went to the toilet, the score would be “surprisingly lower”, according to the former staff member, who did not want to be named but worked in an Irish branch of Tesco. He said that some would be called before management if they were not deemed to be working hard enough. “The guys who made the scores were sweating buckets and throwing stuff around the place,” he said." 

 According to Salon, which picked up the Independent article, this micro-monitoring of employees has been building steam for some time now. Keystrokes are monitored in the customer service department. Call center conversations have time limits, and at some places, if employees take too long, watch out!

All this might end up backfiring on companies which are trying to boost productivity.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in a report on job stress, has this to say:

"Some employers assume that stressful working conditions are a necessary evil-that companies must turn up the pressure on workers and set aside health concerns to remain productive and profitable in today's economy. But research findings challenge this belief. Studies show that stressful working conditions are actually associated with increased absenteeism, tardiness, and intentions by workers to quit their jobs-all of which have a negative effect on the bottom line."

It also affects the product or service we the consumer get:

Citing research by John Gillion and Torin Monahan, Salon notes:

"For example, nurses are no longer taking the time to get to know their patients because hospitals make more money when more people are hustled through. In the past, nurses had ways to circumvent hospital pressure. Now, electronic tracking of patient movement means that medical profressionals will spend far less time with you when you are sick."

Obviously, we all want to be productive. There are lazy people out there that need to be prodded, but generally most workers do want to get things done and have a sense of accomplishment.

I also think it's more than OK to encourage and push employees into better productivity where possible. But I worry a few companies just think of employees, especially the low level, poorly paid ones, as little more than draft animals or machines that can be goosed and revved up to beyond maximum capacity.

And then, when these overworked and overheated human employees burn out, toss them in the Dumpster with the rest of the broken machines and get a new one, then repeat the process.

Seems to me this rather inhumane business model is great for short term profits, but not long term viability. Who wants to work for a company that treats you like a slave, and who wants to buy stuff from a company that treats people like that? Not only because of the ethics involved, but can we really trust hyper-exhaustive, resentful employees to make a quality product or service?



Otherworldly Late Winter Moments in Vermont

I love those moments where the world, or parts of it in my line of site, take on the look of something from another planet.

The colors are warm in this sunset Sunday evening
in St. Albans, with Lake Champlain in the foreground,
but it was very cold
The setting sun plays on the clouds in a unique way, or ice forms shapes and patterns that aren't what you see every day.

That's happened near where I live over the past few days, to my delight

Sunday was a blustery, bitter cold day, with a strong, steady north wind keeping us chilled under a gray sky. Toward evening, the sky began to brighten.

As the sun set, it cast rays through a distant snow flurry near the mountains, while higher clouds above all this glowed. Beneath it, frozen Lake Champlain reflected the warm light above the cold air that had me shivering. The lake ice, and snow dunes on that ice, made its own delicate pattern.

Shifting, slushy ice along the shore of LakeChamplain
in Burlington, Vt. gives us this moonscape-like view.  

Next day was very bright and not quite as cold. The wind drove thin sheets of Lake Champlain ice against the shore in Burlington, Vermont. The ice formed into a moonscape of patterns, rolling gently as waves pushed through underneath them.

The ice surface looked like something from another planet, a planet where the ground is not rock solid, like it is here on Earth, or even someplace like Mars. It evoked a semi-liquid planet, one you imagine has exotic life, and plants, suited for something that isn't quite liquid, isn't quite solid.

One's imagination runs wild when you gaze at the ever changing ice patterns on a lake during a cold winter's day.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Excellent Avalanche Video

Out in western North America, avalanches are always a danger in and near ski areas. Every winter, you hear of people getting killed or injured by avalanches.

A lot of resorts intentionally set off avalanches when nobody is around in an effort to prevent future avalanches that might occur when the crowds turn out at the slopes.

Some of these intentional avalanches are a sight to behold, much like this video of such a project in Stewart, British Columbia. Keep with the video to the end, it's all cool.

Odd Conspiracies: The Gays Ruin Everything!! Now Wrestling!

Well, the gays did it again, apparently.

Gay people are blamed for every misfortune that happens in the world it seems,

And now the latest crisis: The Gays are responsible for the International Olympic Committee deciding to drop wrestling from the 2020 Olympics, says a Russian wrestling coach
The International Olympic Committee plans to
kick these guys out of the festivities starting in 2020
"If they expel wrestling now, that means that gays will soon run the whole world,” coach Vladimir Uruimagov said, calling the decision “a blow to masculine origins," according to the web site R Sport.

Um, I have a dirty little secret for Coach Uruimagov. A lot of gay guys LOVE watching wrestling. Think about it: Very buff, muscular men grappling with each other while wearing revealing wrestling singlets.

Enough to make many gay men swoon, right?

One cannot speak for every gay guy, but I'm sure many are terribly disappointed with the preliminary decision to ditch Olympic wrestling.

Still, coach Uruigmagov is maybe excessively overwrought about the whole idea of Olympic wrestling going away:

“It is necessary for millions around the world who understand that this is a man’s sport and who understand the need to continue the human race to go out and explain their position to the Olympic Committee,” he said. “We should prove and explain that in any other case there is no future.”

Really? The human race is doomed if the Olympics no longer has wrestling? How, exactly does wrestling ensure the continuation of the human race?

Scratch that. On second thought, I really don't want to know. This is sort of a family blog, after all.

Of course, The Gays get blamed for everything. Apparently, gay people and their wicked ways prompted the Newtown, Ct. and Aurora shooting massacres, Benghazi and Hurricane Isaac last year

The gays have also caused the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attack, Hurricane Katrina, Superstorm Sandy, and the nation's generally bad, droughty, fiery, stormy, hot weather last year.  Who so many gay people other than me were obsessed with the weather?

Weather drama queens, perhaps.

Anyway, back to the Great Olympic Wrestling Crisis of 2013.  Other prominent people are upset with the potential loss of Olympic Wrestling, too. In  Monday's Washington Post, former Bush Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld of all people weighed in on the wrestling controversy.

Said Rumsfeld: "Wrestling uniquely encapsulates the Olympic spirit, even though it harkens back to older and more martial virtues, rather than the arts festival and Kumbaya session that some may prefer the modern Games to be."

I don't know why they have to get rid of any Olympic sport. True, no venue is big enough to accommodate every sport in the universe, but just adding one sport to the mix, and leaving wrestling as part of the festivities makes sense.

Anything to keep Donald Rumsfeld happy. 

Monday, February 18, 2013

1980s Music Videos As Awesome Art?

I recently heard a long forgotten song from the 1980s called "Don't Answer Me" by the Alan Parsons Project.

A still from the "Don't Answer Me" music video
"Don't Answer Me"  is a pretty good song, but the instant  it began playing on the truck radio, I remembered the music video for it. It's a 1940s-style arty, campy cartoon of a Dick Tracy type guy who loses his girl, named Sugar of course, to a big ugly galoot.

We follow the progress of the song to find out if Dick Tracy gets the girl back.

The art in the comic is great, in my opinion. That got me thinking about many of those music videos from the 1980s that played on MTV all the time, back when MTV played music videos.

Most popular musicians still make videos, of course, and many are quite good. But the 1980s, when the music video concept was new, seemed to be the heydey of the music video art form.

I know music videos are really just pop culture, but I do regard them as a legitimate form of art, too.

I think that every once in awhile in this blog, I'll post an 80s music video, just for the nostalgia and to see if people agree with me that some of them are creative.

In that spirit, here's the music video for The Alan Parsons Project's "Don't Answer Me."



Airline Etiquette Lesson #1: Don't Slap Toddlers and Call Them Racist Names

Yes, we know, sometimes crying toddlers or babies on planes can be annoying.

But what can you do? Parents generally don't bring their squalling offspring onto planes for the express purpose of bothering everybody else on the plane.
Joe Rickey Hundley looking unhappy in
his mug shot after allegedly slapping a
two year old on a plane.
Hell, air travel has gotten so bad and irritating lately that I want to cry on planes, too. But I try to restrain myself.

Too bad Joe Rickey Hundley, 60,  didn't restrain himself. It's been all over the news the past couple of days. A two year old kid started crying as their plane started descending toward an Atlanta airport. Altitude changes really bother some youngsters, and this kid started crying.

His mother tried to quiet him down, but had little success. There's not much you can do about changes in altitude when the pilot is trying to land the plane.

But Hundley was undeterred. According to prosecutors and media reports, he called the kid a terrible racial epithet and slapped the kid across the face.

Yeah, sure. That'll make a kid stop crying. Frighten the bejeezus out of him and hurt him. Needless to say, the kid cried even louder after the alleged assault.

At least one other passenger  intervened so that Hundley was blocked from causing any more harm. According to police documents, that passenger colloborated what the kid's mother said.

Hundley said he asked that the mother quiet the kid but did not hit him. Other passengers disagree.

In his defense, Hundley said he was traveling to Atlanta to visit a hospitalized relative and was upset about the situation, but I don't know if that's quite enough of a defense for hitting a kid who had nothing to do with the relative's hospitalization.

Hundley's lawyer also says that we should let the case develop. So, if there's updates or mitigating factors, we'll pass them along.

Hundley hasn't been found guilty or innocent yet, but there's already fallout. He lost his job, apparently. His now former employer, AGC Aerospace Defense, put a note on the front page of their Web site, noting Huntley is now a former employee and that they don't condone such behavior.

The etiquette lesson here is: If you're irritated by a crying kid on your next flight, suck it up. Because it's even more irritating to face criminal charges, lose your job, and be deemed by the whole world as the biggest jerk on the planet.

So, now that Hundley's alleged misdeeds are all over the Internet, and he apparently needs to look for a new job, are you hiring?

Didn't think so.

Tennessee Cops Thought Couple in Their 60s Were Druggies Because of Ohio State Buckeye Decal

Guido Boggioni, 66, and Bonnie Jonas Boggioni, 65, were driving through Tennessee recently, returning to their Plano, Texas home from a trip to Ohio.
Just for review, to avoid confusion.
This is a buckeye leaf......
Suddenly, the cops pulled them over, and with body armor on and guns drawn, pretty much asked them what the hell they were doing.

What they were doing was driving close to the speed limit along the highway. But, those coppers weren't going to take that as an excuse. They were drug runners! You could tell, they had a sticker depicting a pot plant on their car. Or so they thought.

The sticker was of an Ohio State Buckeye, which looks nothing like a pot plant, and the couple are big Ohio State fans, so they were understandably confused by the drug questioning, reports the Columbus (Ohio) Dispatch.

Apparently, there was a drug sweep of some sort going on in that part of Tennessee and the couple drove into the area.

The police let the couple go, but told them to remove the sticker because it promoted pot, or at least looked like pot, Bonnie Jonas Boggioni told the paper. At last report, the sticker was still on the couple's car, and she's not taking it off.

She points out that a Buckeye doesn't really even resemble pot that much, and drug law enforcement should at least know what it looks like.
.....and this is a pot leaf. Any questions?  
And why was the couple stopped in the first place? Even a spokeswoman for the West Tennessee Drug Task Force was quoted as saying a sticker, whether it depicted pot or not, isn't sufficient reason on its own to stop a vehicle on the highway.

There is this little thing called the First Amendment, so if somebody wants to extol the virtues of pot, or Ohio State Buckeyes via a bumper sticker, that's A-OK.

Let's hope the traffic stop was just prompted by an officer having a bad or inattentive day. It happens to the best of us. Because since when is a bumper sticker a criminal offense? Or a buckeye leaf.

Because if this suspicion continues, will I be arrested because some of the perennials in my garden look vaguely like pot, if you really, really, really use your imagination?

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Meteor Flashes on Russian Dash Cam Craziness

A lot of people are talking about how many dash cams caught the drama of that meteor roaring over, and exploding over Russia last week.

 What seems to be a typical view from a Russian dash cam.
As noted in many media outlets, many Russians have dash cams in their cars because police are corrupt, insurance scams are rampant, so people need proof of what really happened during car crashes.

The dash cams have created a cottage industry of YouTube compilation videos of Russian crashes, road rage, road weirdness and general chaos on the country's highways.

You can see an excellent sample of one of these compilations at the bottom of this post.

Although it seems like Vermont, where I live, is full of people who don't know how to drive or are too busy yammering and texting on their cell phones behind the wheel to actually drive, it's much, much worse in Russia.

Here are some of the conclusions I've drawn from watching some of these dash cam videos from Russia:

1. People in Russia drive really, really fast. They especially put the pedal to the metal when it's snowing out and the roads are particularly icy.

2. Russian truck drivers are especially incompetent. If you see a truck in Russia, you know it will soon tip over, plow into a row of cars, take down the power lines at the edge of the highway, run over people or otherwise cause far more chaos than that meteor did last week.

Another typical view from a  Russian dash cam.
3. If you want to start a successful tire mounting and sales business, pack your bags and move to Russia. Tires are continuously coming off vehicles on the highways. Maybe Russians need to know what lug nuts are and what their function is.

4. Russians do not let little problems get in their way. The tire fell off? Keep driving. The tractor rolled over? Tip the smashed rig right side up and keep driving, blocking traffic on the freeway all the while. The guy in front of you cut you off? Just open fire on him with your trusty Glock 9mm.

5. Speaking of Glocks, Russian drivers are amazingly short tempered. The slightest provocation leads to major fist fights or armed conflict. You have been warned.

6. Russian highways are cluttered with an amazing array of hazards, including but not limited to goats, horses, helicopters, jets, falling trees, sparking power lines, helicopters, military surplus parts, crashing planes, dead bodies, live bodies and the aformentioned armed conflicts.

7. Traffic signals in Russia are just pretty red and green lights, they don't actually signal anything, at least in the minds of Russian motorists.

8. Russia surely has incredibly talented stage, screen and television actors, but the swindlers who pretend to get hit by cars are hacks, though melodramatic ones. Many dash cams show the cars coming to a complete stop, followed by a person slumping dramatically on the hood of the car, then bouncing off, and then writhing in "agony"  No Oscars for this bunch.

Here's a 13-minute compilation of Russian dash cam footage. It's worth watching every second of it, and thanking your lucky stars you don't have to drive there.




No Zombies in Montana, but Why Was There an Emergency Alert For Them?

People are still chortling over the Emergency Alert System broadcast on a Montana television station last week warning that zombies had risen from the dead and were menacing the good citizens of Big Sky country.
Zombies like these did not attack the good citizens
of Montana last week, despite an errant warning.
Somebody hacked into television station KRTV in Great Falls and activated the alert system. So viewers heard that familiar emergerncy tone, GRARRNK! GARRNNK!, followed by the mechanical sounding voice describing the emergency and the crawl across the bottom the screen putting the crisis into words.

Apparently, a few stations in Michigan were hacked by what was reportedly some overseas prankster who wanted to alert us if the faux zombie attack.

Zombies? Really? Aren't zombies becoming something of a cliche? Zombie attacks have become as tired a trope as the stereotype of the obnoxious drunk at a party dancing around with a lampshade on his head.

Time for something original, pranksters!

On a more serious note, why was it so easy to hack into the Emergency Alert System? It's meant for true emergencies. Say a tornado is heading straight for your town or a train derailed nearby and is threatening to overwhelm you with toxic fumes. The EAS is supposed to tell you about these things so you can either protect yourself or kiss your sorry ass goodbye.

Here's my paranoia again, but what if somebody with more ill intent than the Zombie jerks hack into the EAS and prompt a legitimate sounding, but fake alert? Maybe just to instill panic, or as a diversion for some other nasty crime?

And what if people stop trusting the EAS, and when there's a legitimate warning, people just shrug and ignore the oncoming danger, because the EAS just says things for fun, right?

I'm sure the Powers That Be are trying to figure out how the hackers got in, but even if they plug that hole, those wily hackers will surely find some other way to exploit the system, or any computerized system for fun or profit.

I guess we all have to fine tune our bullcrap meters so we can tell truth from fiction.

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Winter Beauty in Vermont

As always, I have my trusty Canon Rebel camera with me in case something pretty unfolds in front of my face.
Skaters on a ice track carved into the snow on Lake Champlain
in North Hero, Vermont. That's Mount Mansfield in the distance
For some reason, winter isn't as great in my mind for photography as other seasons, but there's still a lot of beauty.

Last Sunday. a perfect Vermont February day, I stopped by a speedskating race on the frozen surface of Lake Champlain in North Hero, Vermont.

This evening, on the hill behind my house in St. Albans, Vermont, a lovely sunset help highlight the frozen Lake Champlain. If you click on the photos to make them bigger, you can just make out a pattern of little snow dunes on the ice covering the distant lake.

The little snow dunes make it look like the wind is stirring up waves, but the waves are completely still, that is until the spring thaw arrives.
Sunset as viewed from a hill in St. Albans, Vermont this evening.
That's Lake Champlain in front of the mountains.   

Another view of this evening's sunset
from a hill in St. Albans, Vermont.

Skin Care Product Advertising Totally Freaks Out Innocent People in Airport

So you're sitting in the departure lounge at the airport, waiting for your flight, minding your own business and somebody sits down near you with a newspaper. On the front page of the paper is news of a criminal on the lam. The picture on the accompanying story shows you.

You look up at the TV. CNN or something like that is on. It's showing breaking news of a wanted criminal the police are looking for. The criminal is described as dangerous and unpredictable.

Then the public address system comes on in the airport. Same news. They're looking for a dangerous person and they describe you. Everybody in the terminal turns to nervously look at you. Should they apprehend you? Call the police? What should you do?

All this happened recently in Germany, when nice normal people suddenly found themselves at the center of a manhunt.

This perfectly normal woman, with no criminal
record, suddenly finds herself the subject of a
massive criminal manhunt
Turns out it was a prank from the German skin care company Nivea, to demonstrate how their deodorant protects you in even the most stressful situation.

I don't know. Isn't this taking things too far? Nivea said the people they targeted signed all the necessary releases for the ads and things worked out well and amicable.

But what if there were somebody in the airport that didn't get the joke?  You get some yahoo who thinks he's a hero and whips out his gun and kills the "wanted criminal" that's all over the airport TVs and newspapers.

Or people, and there are some stupid ones out there,  later don't understand that you were the victim of a prank, and not a criminal. Will a few strange people forever think of you as someone who did something very, very wrong?

Or am I just being too paranoid, with no sense of humor. Here's the Nivea ad with the "wanted criminals" in the video below. It's in German, but you can fully understand what's going on.