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Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Just Answer My Question...

A National Culture of Lies

You know, it seems to me our politicians have been getting progressively worse the past decade or so. There's a pervasive belief that if I, as a politician, loudly declare something to be "truth," then it IS the "truth," no matter what reality happens to be at the time. Sort of an "Emperor's New Clothing" theory run amok.

I know, I know, this isn't a new problem. It probably dates back to the caveman days. But it seems to be getting worse...

In modern times, I suppose you could say this trend started with former United States President Richard M. Nixon, who loudly declared "I am not a crook." Turns out he was.

Things quieted down for a decade or two. Then former U.S. President Bill Clinton loudly declared that he "did not have sex with that woman." Turns out he did (though it depends on what your definition of "is" is).

But in the George W. Bush administration, this particular brand of inane braggadocio has gone to new levels. It seems a day can't go by without some top-level official making some fairly absurd claim in public, then digging his heels in and refusing to budge.

When I was a wee lad back on the farm in Iowa I was completely entranced when I saw my first speed bump in town. I was five years old. The school bus took all us farm kids to the local high school in town, where we transferred to buses that went to whatever grade school we attended (there were four in town). In the high school parking lot, right there by the bus line, were two speed bumps.

I couldn't imagine what they were for. Why were there two asphalt lumps right there in the middle of the parking lot where everyone had to drive over them? It made no sense to me whatsoever. The entire morning at kindergarten I wondered and worried over those two big bumps in the road. Maybe some trees fell there when they made the parking lot and they just left them there? Or maybe they were really tunnels under the parking lot... No, that didn't make sense.

Finally it came to me in a flash when we went past them on the way home that afternoon - they were RAMPS! They were bicycle ramps - they had to be! Boy, I could picture myself, pedaling as fast as my little five-year-old legs could take me on my little blue bicycle, then WHOOSH I'd hit that bump in the parking lot and WHEEE I'd go flying!

I dreamt about it all the way home on the bus (a good hour, almost). I bet they put those bumps there because they're gonna have some special class, probably tomorrow even, when we get to bring our bikes to school and they're gonna teach us how to do wheelies like the big kids do! I bet they even have some loop-de-loop tracks like my Hot Wheels set! We'll all learn how to do tricks just like Evel Knievel! I bet that's what the teacher was talking about today when I was staring out the window. Tomorrow we're gonna have all sorts of fun! I wonder if Mom and Dad will let me ride my bike to school (it's only 10 miles or so) or if they'll put it in the back of the station wagon and drop it off at the school...?

I thought about it all through chore-time. I dreamt about it through supper. After we ate, I went outside and practiced on my bike so I would be prepared for the big day tomorrow. This is gonna be fun! I rode around and around the house, pretending there were speed bumps there that would make me fly. Do you think it would help if I wore a Superman cape? Maybe that would give me more lift...

That night when Mom was happily tucking me into bed, she went through the traditional "what did you do at school today" question and answer period. I told her all about the upcoming event. In great detail I outlined exactly what was planned - that the school was putting on a special program for us in the high school parking lot and we all had to take our bikes and we were going to learn how to do jumps and wheelies and there wasn't going to be any dumb old regular kindergarten that day and we maybe we would even do loop-de-loops and maybe there'd be a parade... Then, halfway through describing how Mom was probably going to have to pick me up after school with the station wagon 'cause I'd be WAY too tired by then to ride the ten miles home, I realized that none of this was true. Not one stitch.

I'd made it all up. I made it up simply because it sounded fun. It was so logical to me that it just HAD to be true. But you know, maybe if I keep talking... Maybe if I make it sound SO good... Maybe Mom will believe me, and maybe it will all come true after all... So I kept on going. I kept talking. I said how the teacher was going to give us special awards if we were real good. I told how I was going to go faster than the other kids because I had a blue bike and blue bikes are faster than red bikes. But with every sentence I said, I knew to the bottom of my heart, that Mom knew I was lying. But I just couldn't stop.

When do we tell the Bush administration that sometimes a speed bump is really a speed bump?

Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, being the highest law enforcement officer in the United States, is ultimately responsible for what goes on in the ranks under him, but is steadfastly, willfully denying any responsibility. Mr. Gonzales attended meetings where it was decided to fire eight U.S. District Attorneys for not being "Bushy" enough for the administration's taste. Yet, Mr. Gonzales stood in front of Congress last week and said over a hundred times that he could not remember anything about the incident or the meeting. Democrat and Republican lawmakers alike are calling for Mr. Gonzales to step down due to incompetence, yet Mr. Gonzales refuses to budge, and Mr. Bush praises his "honesty."

You see, Mr. Bush and Mr. Gonzales, with the backing of advisor Karl Rove, have decided that it would be inconvenient for the unpopular president to have go through the confirmation hearings needed if Mr. Gonzales were to step aside. Mr. Bush is pretty happy with the way his old friend Mr. Gonzales interpreted the Geneva Conventions, and knows that a Democratically controlled congress wouldn't easily approve another of Mr. Bush's "old friends" to the post - they'd demand a qualified individual who doesn't have an ideological axe to grind. So, Mr. Bush, Mr. Gonzales and Mr. Rove are spinning yarns. "I don't recall," was Mr. Gonzales' answer to over a hundred questions asked him by Congress. He's hoping that if he says it often enough, loud enough, it will start to become "truth" and he won't have to answer deeper questions.

It's wheelie time in the delusion.

I heard on the radio today that Social Security will run out in 2041. They cited several experts (actual trustees of the Social Security account) who all agreed. Yup, 2041 the money's all gone, and we should probably do something about it. Then they quoted President Bush, who said Social Security is doing fine and there's no problem at all, and he's not going to do anything about it. This is sheer wishful thinking on the administration's part. Mr. Bush wants to believe that there's no problem, so he states loudly that there is no problem and hopes that the lie will eventually be believed. (This worries me. I'll be 73 years old in 2041, enjoying my first year of retirement. I'm a-gonna need a bit of that cash, I'm afraid.)

Wheelie time.

Mr. Bush and his administration are currently asking Congress to give them more money to run the war in Iraq. They intimate if Congress doesn't give them the money, the Democratic members of Congress will be responsible for "losing" the war. They say this loudly and often, and they want you to believe this for good reason. They don't want you to know they're paying at least 40,000 Blackwater mercenary soldiers $30,000 per month to fight in Iraq, while simultaneously cutting back on our soldiers' military benefits. The average private in the Army makes between $1,300 and $1,500 a month. That means the Bush administration values Blackwater troops 20 times more than it values American troops. (Why doesn't your son have body armor? It may be because the Bush administration is paying mercenaries so well they can't afford to take care of our own troops.) Who is Blackwater USA? A private company owned by a man who reportedly donated a substantial chunk of change to the Bush campaign.

So, the Bush administration is paying mercenaries ("private contractors" in the administration's parlance) 15 to 20 times what it pays our soldiers, but is loudly blaming the Democrats for not supporting our troops?

It's wheelie time again. The administration simply cannot give Blackwater and Halliburton outlandish contracts and expect us not to notice. But they seem to think they can, if they brazen their way through.

Why do Bush and Company feel they can simply shout random statements at us and have us believe them? Well, because they've done it before, and it worked.

In the fall of 2000 presidential candidate Al Gore won the popular vote, but the Electoral College vote came down to a very few counties in Florida. The Bush campaign simply stood on a hill and hollered that they'd won, and eventually people came to believe them.

President Bush wanted to invade Iraq following the terrorist bombings of 9-11, ostensibly to bring democracy to the Middle East, so he and his administration loudly and often proclaimed that Iraq was supporting al-Queada (there turned out to be no connection), there were weapons of mass destruction aimed at Israel (there weren't), that the Iraqi people would forever praise us for liberating them from the oppressive regime that was in power (they didn't), and that the war would pay for itself in oil revenue (it didn't). The Bush administration hammered these thing into the American psyche for months and months, until they came to be believed, and we went to war.

Following the elections of 2000 and the run-up to the war in Iraq, who can blame the Bush administration for believing they can get away with lying to us?

But when I told my whopper of a lie I was promptly informed that lying is NOT tolerated. When do we hold our politicians up to the same standards I learned at the tender age of five?

(I'm gonna cross-post this on the Woodbury Democrat's blog.)

Sunday, April 22, 2007

For Sale

Finances Suck

I've decided to sell one of my basses - our flood insurance is coming due soon and we're not real sure how to pay the bill... (I had hopes that I'd get a few freelance jobs through HippieBoy Design, but it doesn't look like that little enterprise is taking off quite as well as I'd hoped.) We certainly feel blessed to have a house, a nice car and a motorcycle; now the trick is to hold onto all that stuff if we can. Since I'm not playing music much these days it seems kind of odd to keep a spare bass around the house.

As you can see in the photos below, the bass is a red Korean DeArmond - case, strap and straplocks included. The bass is in great shape - I used it in two or three rehearsals a few times about four years ago when I bought the bass, and played it for maybe three songs onstage. The case has a few nicks, but nothing major.

As I remember, the tone is great, but the neck felt awkward to me (I've played my Ibanez bass for so many years any other bass feels strange and clunky in my hands). I really wanted to use this bass more, as I really liked the way it sounded, but I just couldn't get my fat little fingers to move quickly enough on the fretboard, and was too lazy to spend the time needed to get used to the neck.

If anyone's interested, just lemme know! These basses go for $350 or so new without the case or straplocks, plus $45 shipping. I believe I ended up paying around $500 for it when I bought it (the case, strap and straplocks, and tax adds up). Shoot me an offer - cradloff at gmail.com (put the @ in place of the "at"). I'll probably list the bass on e-Bay in a few weeks if need be.

Friday, April 20, 2007

Friday, finally

The McPresidential Candidate's McMistake of the Week

Oh, Senator McCain...

You used to be so rational. Yours was the voice of wisdom. You had the experience. But that was then, and this is now.

Years ago, you called for moderation. You said that politicians should neither pander to the far right nor the far left, and said that Jerry Fallwell was an "agent of intolerance." I applauded. Then you went, hat in hand, to Fallwell a few years later to beg favors, claiming you have common opinions. I was disappointed.

Years ago your voice was strong, your message clear. Now you whine a bit, and your message is muddied by the many retractions and reversals you've made. You seem to grasp and fumble. I'm disappointed.

Mumbling "Bomb, bomb, bomb... Bomb bomb Iran" to the tune of the Regents' hit "Barbara Ann" kinda makes me wonder if you're not just a bit past your prime; seems to be a rather odd lapse of judgment for someone who's running for President to show such bad taste. (I know, dear reader. Right now you're scratching your head, thinking, "but wait, wasn't it the Beach Boys who sang that song?" Well, the Regents did it first in 1961, then Jan and Dean re-recorded the song a few years later, then the Beach Boys recorded it in 1965 with guests Jan and Dean merrily singing along.)

Senator McCain has a strong background, politically and personally. He sacrificed a great deal in Vietnam, more than any of us are capable of realizing, I think. I think he would have made a good president in 2000 if the cards had worked out that way, though it would have been tremendously uncomfortable for "the party of values" to have a man in the white house who admitted having ongoing extramarital affairs, eventually leaving his crippled wife to marry one of his mistresses source -- especially following former U.S. President Bill Clinton's troubles with a chubby intern.

But it's my opinion that maybe Senator McCain may be, unfortunately, past his prime, politically speaking.

Postscript: Before I could publish this post, I received an e-mail asking if I'd like to participate in a motorcycle escort bringing Senator McCain to a rally in Sioux City. The timing of the e-mail is eerie. I wouldn't mind riding in an escort to honor his extraordinary service in Vietnam, but I really rather disagree with his ideology as a presidential candidate... A conundrum indeed.

Musically Speaking...

A couple weeks ago I came to the realization that people around Sioux City no longer view me as a musician. Fine 'n dandy, I sipped on a tasty beer-like beverage (called "ale" by the way) and readjusted my world-view and my sense of self, preparing myself to be one of those crusty old guys who "used to be in a band" and get misty-eyed recalling the glory days of playing with a band no one's ever heard of. I can do that. No problem. I even called the Chesterfield and told them I couldn't take photos at jam night any more. (I told him I was too busy to do it, but if I'd care to confront the truth I'd probably find that going to the jam night week after week and not getting to play much whilst watching all my friends play really and truly makes me sad.)

Yesterday I got a call from Johnny Bolin, drummer for several bands (including Black Oak Arkansas). Turned out he has a gig this weekend just north of here with a three-piece band and his bassist is stuck in Phoenix. "Can you do it?" he asked. "We'll be playing blues and classic rock, and probably some Tommy songs." (The late Tommy Bolin is Johnny's brother. Tommy did a lot of influential guitar work in the 70s, and ended up playing with The James Gang and Deep Purple as well as putting out a couple good solo albums. He's the guy who wrote "Teaser" and "Post Toastee." Look him up - there's some stunning musicianship to be found!) I was more than a little surprised to get the call - I grew up watching these guys play, wishing and dreaming I could be on the same stage with them. I love the style of music, the energy, the tradition... Five years ago I would gladly have pulled a tooth out of my skull to jam with these guys.

"No," I said. "I'm afraid I can't help. Thanks for thinking of me, though."

Ten minutes later I get an e-mail from a different drummer I used to jam with in a couple bands years ago. "Whaddaya think of calling so-and-so and getting together a few times over the summer?" I reminded him that at one of the last gigs we had I was the only one from the band to show up. (Well, the guitarist was there, but he left before the opening band was done, leaving me standing there looking kinda stupid.)

"I just don't want to go through that again," I wrote to him. "I liked playing well enough, but I intensely disliked not knowing if enough band members were going to show up to any given gig for us to honor our contract to play." Unfortunately, when you're a three-piece band, you pretty much gotta have everyone show up or you look kinda silly. It's a bit rough to try to stagger through "Funky Music" with just bass and drums. Sounds kinda like... well, nothing particularly good.

How odd that after more than a year of hanging around, waiting for the phone to ring, haunting the jam session every week, NOW I start to see some activity on the music scene, now that I've decided to move on with life. It's going to be hard for me to say no again. But no matter what I do, I have to remember that I'm a different person than I was five years ago. Music simply isn't such a driving force in my life as it used to be. Can I be like other people and have music be a hobby rather than a way of life? I dunno.

While I'm trying to make up my mind, here's some Tommy Bolin for you...

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Things that Skitter Across My Mind

It's not the pain that bothers me...

...it's the hurtiness. Pain I can handle. Hurtiness sucks. Pain is when you kick the bathtub and break your toe. Hurtiness is when you trim your toenail too short (thus causing hurtiness). Pain is when you need stitches. Hurtiness happens when you rip the band-aid off your hairy leg.

Pain is 33 people dead in Virginia. Hurtiness is three days of 24-hour news coverage. We all know what happened. Let these folks grieve in peace.

Pain is going to war and seeing widows and fatherless children and veterans missing limbs, screaming in their sleep. Hurtiness is finding out later that the government lied. There were no weapons of mass destruction, and Iraq wasn't involved with al-Queda after all, and our leaders knew it.

Pain is Attorney General Alberto Gonzales using his high office as a political battering ram, firing people for not being "true Bushies." Hurtiness is Gonzales lying about it later, and Bush politico Carl Rove ordering possible evidence destroyed. There's more illegality here than meets the eye. The Hatch Act is involved, too.

Pain is a shrinking paycheck compounded by increasing bills. Hurtiness is finding out that the rich are getting richer. Did you know Halliburton gave Vice President Richard Bruce "Dick" Cheney $24 million, then moved to Dubai? Why did they move their headquarters out of the United States? How patriotic is that? On the same thought, why is the Bush family buying land in Paraguay, a South American nation that recently voted to ignore the International Criminal Court? Why would he want to move to a nation that won't extradite anyone to the United States?

Pain is Don Imus saying racist things on the radio. Hurtiness is the network firing him only after sponsors started pulling their money out. (If the network cared about morals they would have dealt with Mr. Imus promptly and not waited a week to see what "public reaction" was going to be. Did Mr. Imus deserve to be fired? Not if this was his first offense. It wasn't.)

Pain is what is happening around us. Hurtiness is the lies and misinformation we're being fed. Former U.S. President Bill Clinton lied and was held accountable and was made to squirm for his misdeed. When do we hold the current administration accountable? If President George Walker Bush and his advisor Carl Rove won't put their hand on a Bible and tell us what's going on, they must be hiding something, and I don't like that.

Monday, April 16, 2007

Watching this makes me happy...

Stolen from Pixie's Blog

Friday, April 13, 2007

Photos on Phriday

The Computer Desk...

Huh... Looks easy enough...

Okay, I guess there are a lot of parts. Hmmm...

The energetic assistant takes a nap.

Thankfully I wasn't using my head at the time.
Notice I have pants on now.

Six hours later, a nice pudding break.

Does this certify me as a carpenter?


Things We've Done Recently...

It was warm a few weeks ago... We found a gas station outside town a ways
where they still come out and pump your gas for you!
He let me fill my own bike, though...

Kinda looks like my wife has her nose
in my really big beer, doesn't it?

The Cartwright Brothers out of Sioux Falls - good all-round band!

Easters Past...

Me in 1972...

The Nephew in 2005

The Beloved Goddaughter in 2006

Dagmar and the Beloved Goddaughter in 2007.

Me with the Beloved Goddaughter in 2007...

Monday, April 09, 2007

Monday Blues

Can you hear me now?

I just want to be able to talk to my wife. That's all. Is that so much to ask...? It all started about a month ago, this odd odyssey.

"I'm starting to get concerned," said my little Austrian snowflake, Dagmar, in that nifty accent of hers. "I'm lookink at our bank account, und Verizon hasn't taken our phone bill out yet." From my vantage point, prone on the couch, I could hear her tap-tap-tapping away on the computer in the other room.

"That's not like Verizon to forget to take anyone's money," I called to her, eyes glued to the book in my hand. The cat dozing on my belly gave me a dirty look for waking him up, stretched (sticking one paw into the popcorn bowl in the process) and went back to sleep. "Verizon always takes their money out of our account the very second the bill comes due..."

"Dat's vhat vorries me. I'm going to call them. I don't vant them to cut off our cell phones like they did the LAST time they forgot to bill us..." Verizon's billing system has bitten us before. About a year ago their computer crashed and didn't automatically debit our bank account. Even though it was their fault, they cut off our phones and threatened to put gloom and despair onto our credit history... It took days to figure out, and they never did apologize. So we get a bit nervous whenever we have to deal with Verizon. Dagmar walked past the couch. "You go ahead und lay there mit de cat und vatch TV und read your book. I'll handle everything."

"Okay," I mumbled around a mouthful of popcorn. "Good."

She disappeared into the other room again, phone in hand. I lay on the couch, ignoring the muffled one-sided conversation drifting through the wall. Ten minutes later...

"Vell, DAT sucks!" she said, hands on hips. "The lousy Verizon people tell me my debit card doesn't work any more. So I gave them yours to use, but they say it vill take two months before it gets into their system, so for the next two months I have to call them und pay the bill over the phone."

"That sucks," I agreed. "A genuine pain in the tuckus indeed." I licked my finger, turned a page, and promptly forgot the whole affair.

A few days later Dagmar and I were about 230 miles away from home, visiting family the day before my uncle's funeral. "You know," my wife said to me, "ve have a little time. I think I'll take a valk und see some of the town. It looks like a nice little town..." With that she wandered off down the street. I went back to visiting with family, until I realized Dagmar had been gone for about forty-five minutes and I hadn't heard a peep. Slightly concerned that she may have gotten lost in the unfamiliar town, I dialled her cell number.

Rings and rings and rings, but no answer, no happy "Hello, Hunny!" from the other end. Just a prompt to leave a voice mail message. Hmmm... That's not like Dagmar, to not answer her phone. I called again, with the same result. Just about the time panic was setting in, I could see her coming around the corner...

"My stupid phone!" she exclaimed as soon as she was within talking distance. "It rang, und I tried to answer it, but the top half of it fell off! It just broke in half!" A quick examination revealed that yes indeed, the phone had broken in half.

"Well," I said, "there's not much we can do about it here. We'll have to call Verizon when we get back home and see what we can do... We'll probably just have to buy you another phone is all." And that's where the matter lay for a few days.

As soon as we got back home, off trotted Dagmar to call the Verizon people. "I broke my phone," she wailed. "Vhat can I do?" Seeing as how listening to one-sided conversations just confuses and irritates me, I wandered off to go make some nice popcorn. By the time the last muffled "pop-popff" issued from the stove top whirlygig popcorn popper I use, my beloved wife was standing behind me. "Guess vhat?" she said. "We're both eligible to upgrade our phones for free! We just have to go to the Verizon store and pick them out."

"Great!" I said. "There's a Verizon store just three blocks away from here. We can go in the morning before work..."

"No," she said. "Ve have to go to the store in Morningside, remember? The store here can't help us."

"Oh, that's right," I said. "The people in this store sell Verizon stuff and have a Verizon sign out front, but for some reason they're not actually Verizon people..." (I've never figured that one out. We went there once, only to have them tell us we had to go to a Verizon store. "Isn't this a Verizon store?" I asked the guy, looking around at all the Verizon logos hanging on the wall and the life-size cardboard cutout of the Verizon guy asking "can you hear me now?" The clerk looked at me. "Well, all we sell is Verizon stuff, but we're not actually affiliated with Verizon.")

So, the next afternoon found us all the way across town in Morningside in the Verizon parking lot. "This is exciting," I said. "Free phones! We get to get new phones! Maybe I can get one with an MP3 player..." We grinned at each other like two little kids looking at presents on Christmas morning. "This is going to be fun!"

Into the store we walked, hand-in-hand.

"Can I help you?" asked the girl stationed at the door.

"We're here for upgrades," I said. "We'd like new phones."

"Okay, wait right here and I'll find a sales associate to help you," she said. Twenty seconds later she was back. "This is Judy (not her real name). She can help you." We smiled at Judy. Judy smiled back.

"How can I help you?" We explained to Judy that we wanted to upgrade.

"Okay," she said, wandering over to the phone displays. "This one is good for text messaging, it's $249 after rebate, and this one is the music player, it's $195 after mail-in rebate, and this one..."

"Wait," I said. "We're here to upgrade, not to buy phones."

"Oh," she said. "Well, this one is a good camera-phone, it's only $129 after rebate, and this one is a buy one get one free for only $95 after rebate..."

"Vait," Dagmar interrupted. "Vy can't ve just upgrade our phones?"

Judy blinked at us solemnly for a second or two. "Maybe I'll look up your account," she said, leading us to the little sales counter they have there. "Now let me get your information..." We proceeded to give her our names, phone numbers, address, social security number, birthdates, pet's name, great aunt's maiden name and our blood type, all of which she quietly verified with their database.

"Well, according to this, Kriemhild, you're not eligible for upgrade for another two weeks," said Judy looking at me.

"I'm not Kriemhild," I said. "Where did you get that?"

"That's the name they have listed as the main contact of your account. Who are you, then?

"I'm Chris. How did my mother-in-law get listed as the main contact on our account?"

"I don't know. I can change it if you want, but it'll cost you ten dollars extra a month."

"Vait," interjected my little Austrian Honey-Bee. "Did you just say we're not eligible for an upgrade now at all?"

"Not for another two weeks," answered Judy

"Can I talk to your supervisor?" asked Dagmar. "All you seem to vant to do is take all our money away."

With that Judy scampered off to get her supervisor, a guy two appeared to be in his mid-twenties with a shaven head. "Can I help you?" asked Mr. Supervisor.

"Yes," said Dagmar. "Ve vant to get phones."

"Well, I sell phones," said the man. He looked at the computer. "So tell me, ah, Kriemhild," he said, looking up at me, "why do you need new phones right now?"

"I'm not Kriemhild," I said. "What does my mother-in-law have to do with this?"

"Who are you, then?" he said.

"I'm Chris."

"Who's Kriemhild, then?"

"Never mind... Just tell us why we can't have phones."

"You can have phones," he said, "I can get you this one for $249 after mail-in-rebate..."

"Dis is stoopid!" hissed my wife. "Ve called your main office yesterday, und they told us we could have new phones for free TODAY. We vant our phones is all."

"But you're not eligible for an upgrade for two more weeks," the man said, peering at his computer, "and we don't give phones away for free."

"You used to," I said. "We've never had to pay for a phone before, and your corporate headquarters people said we were eligible for new free phones right now."

"I'm sorry," said the man. "They were wrong. I can't do anything about it."

"So what do we have to do?" I asked.

"Come back in two weeks, and we'll find a plan that works for you and your lifestyle," he said tiredly.

Dagmar and I left.

Sitting glumly in the car, we quietly looked at each other. "Vhat just happened?" Dagmar asked, breaking the silence. "Vhy don't I have a cell phone that works? Vhy don't I have my free phone?"

"I don't really know," I said. "I guess we do as the man said and wait."

So, we waited. Two weeks went by, slowly. Dagmar, sans cell phone, borrowed her mother's several times in that time period so we could keep in touch whilst traveling. You never really realize how much you use your phone until you don't have one, I guess. Anyway, the appointed day finally arrived. Off we went on the 25-minute journey to the Verizon store across town (never mind there's one just three blocks away). Dagmar sat quietly, reading and re-reading the newspaper advertisement she'd cut out of what passes for our local newspaper. "It says here ve can buy one of these phones for $49 and get the udder one free," she said. "But there's so much small print I can't understand it all."

"You know," I said, "that fifty-dollar phone will cost us two-hundred bucks before they're done with us."

We pulled into the parking lot. Both of us were edgy, making snarly little comments to each other. We usually don't do that. We stomped into the store. "Hello, may I help you?" said the girl at the front door.

"Yes," I said. "We're here for our upgrades."

The lady looked at her clipboard. She looked at us, then back down at her clipboard again. "I'm sorry," she said, "but there's going to be a wait before a sales associate can help you."

"How long?" asked Dagmar, peering over the lady's shoulder at all the people wandering morosely about the store, looking like extras from the latest zombie movie, poking vaguely at display phones and making grunting noises at each other.

"At least half an hour," the girl said. "I can write your name on the list if you want - then you can leave and come back and not lose your place in line...?" We gave her our name and joined the zombie throng, shuffling from display to display, occasionally poking at a phone and grunting. After about five minutes of this, Dagmar announced that we were going to leave. So we went for a short drive, sitting in silence for the most part.

"Watch out for dat car!" Dagmar spat at me.

"Don't tell me how to drive!" I spat back.

"Vhy are you so angry?"

"I just want to get our stupid new phones and go home," I said. "Trying to deal with 'plans' and 'rebates' and 'deals' makes me angry. I just want to go give the people fifty bucks, pick out a phone, and go home. Why are YOU so angry?"

"Because I don't understand vhy these people can't make thing simple, and I feel like they're going to take advantage of us," she said. I turned the car back to the Verizon store so we could resume our place in line. "Isn't it sad that shopping for a cell phone can make us so angry?"

In a matter of minutes we were back at the store. Dagmar found a bench to sit on while I joined the other shopper-zombies in shuffling about the store. In about twenty minutes the girl at the front door came and told us there was a salesman available to talk to us, and led us to the counter.

"Hello," said the man at the counter. "May I help you?"

"I doubt it," I said. "We want to upgrade our phones."

We proceeded to go through the checklist - name, phone number, address, social security number, yadda yadda yadda... Finally the man finished taking our info and stared at his computer for twenty or thirty seconds, occasionally clicking his mouse. He looked up at me. "So how can I help you..." he looked back at his computer screen again, "...Kriemhild?"

"I'm not Kriemhild. Please leave my mother-in-law out of this. I'm Chris."

"Oh," said the man. "Well, someone named Kriemhild is listed as the main account holder. I can change that for you if you want...?"

"Yes, please," answered Dagmar. "Ve don't vant my mudder listed."

"Okay," said the man. "I can change that for you, but I'll have to change your family plan. It will cost you ten dollars a month more than you're paying now."

"Call me Kriemhild," I said. "We just want to get our phones upgraded. That's all we want."

"Oh, okay! Well, I have this phone here I can let you have for $249 after the mail-in rebate..."

"NO," I said, rather loudly. "That's NOT what we want. I do NOT want to pay that much. We just want to be able to call each other every now and then. No plans, no schemes, no rebates... We just want phones." Dagmar reached into her purse and retrieved the battered newspaper ad. She smoothed it out and presented it to the man. "Ve want to have this," she said, "unless you have anything cheaper."

The man perused the ad for about a tenth of a second. "We don't have those any more," he said.

"But it was in yesterday's paper," Dagmar replied.

"I'm sorry, it's an old ad. We do have something equivalent," he answered. "Here are a couple phones we can let you have for $49 after mail in rebate, buy one get one free."

"So the phones are twenty-five bucks each?" I asked.

"No," the man said slowly. "This phone is $99 dollars." He held a phone up in one hand to make sure I knew exactly which phone he was talking about. "But you get a fifty-dollar rebate from the phone manufacturer. If you buy this phone," he again waved the indicated phone at me for emphasis, "you get THIS one free." He then held up an identical phone in his other hand.

"So the phones are twenty-five bucks each?" I asked.

The man sighed. "Yes."

"Okay, then. We'll take this twenty-five dollar phone," I held a phone up in my hand so he knew exactly which one I was talking about, "and this twenty-five dollar phone." I held the other phone up so he could see it. "And we'll pay you fifty dollars."

"No," the man said. "That's not how it works..."

Before he could start in on the rebate explanation again, I interjected, "But why not?"

"It's complicated," he said, a tinge of resignation creeping into his voice.

"I know. And that annoys me," I said. "Tell me what I have to do to get those two phones."

The man turned back to his computer. "Okay, all I have to do is..." His voice trailed off as he pushed buttons, clicked mice, ran boxes over scanners, peered at the computer...

I turned around. There were at least twenty-five people in line behind me. Dagmar had wandered off to find the comfy bench to sit on again, and was in conversation with an elderly lady who wanted to talk about her daughter's in-law who had been killed in Iraq. The couple next to me at the other cash register seemed to be having a difficult time as well. "All I want is a goddam phone that works," I heard the man say. "Give me a goddam phone that works." The sales guy working on my stuff kept tapping away at his computer. My attention drifted.

"Do you want cases for your phones?" the man asked me after about four or five minutes. I looked up, startled, wondering if I'd snored. It's embarrassing to do that in public, but it happens to me from time to time.

"Um," I replied. "I guess I'll need something to hold it on my belt." Dagmar saw that there was action happening for the first time in quite a while and rejoined me. "De last time ve were here, they told us we could buy a case for ten dollars with a lifetime warranty," she said to the man.

"We don't do that any more," he said. "I can sell you these two leather cases for $19.95 each...?"

"I really and truly don't care any more," I said. "Just get our new phones hooked up so we can leave. We'll take the cases if it makes you happy."

The man turned back to his computer. "Huh," he said. "Stupid thing. I'll have to activate your new phones by hand..." He started pushing more buttons. Eventually, he woke me up again to tell me he was finished. "All I need is for you to swipe your card here," he said, indicating the little credit card swiper machine. Obediently, I swiped. Just under two hundred bucks for two twenty-five dollar phones. Go figger.

"So how do ve get our money back from the rebate people?" asked my wife.

The man handed us a piece of paper. "Simple. You just mail this in, with the receipt and the bar code off the box the phone comes in. The address is here," he indicated an address on the piece of paper. "Okay, we're done," he said. "Have a good day!" He handed us our phones, the boxes and the receipt.

I looked at my watch. Just under two hours. Two hours it took to do this. But now my wife has a phone again, and I have a matching new phone as well. All is good with the world.

Until later that night...

Tap-tap-tappity-tap went my wife in the computer room. Then, "Vhat? Was ist das? Warum...? Oh, those schmucks!"

"Auf English, bitte," I hollered from my vantage point (that being flat on my back on the couch with a bowl of popcorn balanced on my chest and a cat on my tummy). "My German's not that good."

"You understand 'schmuck,' don't you? Vell, those lousy Verizon people... They added $191 to our bill. Didn't you swipe your card und pay already?"

"Yep," I answered. "I paid. Swiped my card. Got a receipt."

She padded off into the other room to call the Verizon people again, muttering under her breath. "Charge us twice for this, lousy schmucky people, boy, I tell you..." I could hear her pick up the phone, and bits and pieces of the conversation. "I know you're busy... Look, I just vant to talk to the man at the back counter..." then "you charged us twice... Can't you take care of it? You're the people we bought it from..." then "You mean I have to call THEM? Ach, mein Gott! Okay..." click.

So, she called Verizon's corporate headquarters people. She eventually got it straightened out, but it took a good twenty minutes of jabbering on the phone... They did indeed charge us twice. The man charged our card AND put the charge on our bill. Silly people.

Last night Dagmar asked me to make copies of the receipt and rebate form and box-top from the phone so she could send the rebate in. "Okay," I said. And I meant it, too. Twenty minutes later, I heard a great guffaw from the other room. "Our phones have warranties on them," Dagmar told me between giggles. "But to get the warranty you have to have the original boxes the phones came in. But guess what you have to do to get the rebate? Tear the boxes apart and send them in... I can't believe these people!"

Today Dagmar's at the Verizon store yet again. The man at the counter only gave us the front of the rebate form - he didn't bother to give us a copy of the back side, which is the side where you fill in your name and address. In other words, if we hadn't noticed that he didn't give us the entire form, we would have sent our stuff in only to have the rebate rejected, thus losing our rebate money.

So, to sum everything up: They screwed up our billing. They misinformed us over the phone as to when we could upgrade, AND they told us it would be free when it turned out to be expensive. When we went to the store the first time it was a hassle and they kept trying to sell us expensive things. When we went back, it took two hours to get two phones, the store was crowded, the staff was flustered, and they kept trying to sell us expensive things. Then they double-billed us and messed up our rebate forms.

It seems to me that it shouldn't be that difficult. They have a product and a service that I want. I go to them and say, "I want this and that." Why can't they just take my money and give me what I want? Why is it so hard? Why? Why?

If Verizon didn't have the best coverage (which is important in this rather rural area of ours) we'd go elsewhere.

Sunday, April 08, 2007

A Sunday Morning in April

A Readjustment of Perception
(Warning - this section of the post is rather whiny and self-indulgent. Read at your own risk.)

Ever have one of those moments when reality just sort of whaps you upside the head? I had one of those the other day. I was whapped upside the head kinda hard, too. Reality hurts - it's kinda sharp and pointy...

Many of you know I have an inordinate fondness for the Chesterfield here in Sioux City (a club owned by a buddy of mine). Not only do I enjoy going down there to see the nifty bands play on weekends, but I kinda like hanging out there on Wednesday nights for the weekly Jam Sessions. In fact, my buddy (a former band-mate of mine from the Smokin' Clams) who owns the place hired me to take photos of the Jam (you can see 'em here if you want).

The problem is that I still see myself as a musician - not an audience member or a photographer. Unfortunately, that is NOT the perception other people have of me...

You see, I haven't played in an organized band in well over a year now. Many of the people who come to the Jam have never seen me play. In fact, I'm getting to the age and crustiness now that hardly anyone even remembers half the bands I've been in... ("Oh really," says the disinterested youth to the aging hippie, "who did you play for?" The hippie swells in pride and answers, "Well, lemmesee... I played for Backroads, then I played with Stinger for a while, and Big Lizard, and Hippie Go Lucky... Why are your eyes glazing over like that?")

Anyway, I'd usually show up at about eight-thirty or so every Wednesday so I could catch the tail end of the Smokin' Clams' gig (they host the show, so they get up and play until other musicians show up). I always figgered they'd invite me up to jam with them, seeing as how I played bass with 'em for years, but they never did. That's okay - I'll be here next week. They must not have seen me standing there in the back.

Eventually another group of musicians will get up and start jamming. I'll start taking photos and mingling with the musicians in the crowd. "Are you guys gonna get up and play?" I'd ask. "Yep," they replied, "as soon as we can find a bass player..." I guess they never saw me play before.

About midway through the night, each and every Wednesday, there will be a lull in the action for some reason (probably when the musicians with jobs head home for the night, and those without jobs are just showing up). Smokin' Clam Tim will at that point invariable point to the Clams' guitar player, me, and a random drummer and say, "why don't you guys go do something?" So we'll trot obediently up to the stage and commence to standing around saying "so, whaddaya wanna play?" to each other. I realized this last week that the guitarist has picked the same songs to jam with me every single time we've jammed together - "Stranglehold" by Ted Nugent and Led Zeppelin's version of "You Shook Me." I guess I always thought he chose those songs because he knew I play them particularly well. But I was a little sad this week when I overhead him say to the drummer "...'cause he can't remember anything else," whilst looking my direction.

That's when I realized that I've turned into an audience member. I've lost my touch. Not only am I not playing in a band, but I really haven't practiced much, and it shows.

So, each and every Wednesday I'd walk into the Chesterfield, feeling proud of my past accomplishments, thinking people saw me as a bass player on hiatus, only to realize last week that they really only see me as the creepy old guy who keeps taking pictures all the time. They humor me and let me play once in a while, but it's out of a sense of societal duty, not because they actually want me to play.

The question I'm facing (and think I've answered) is simply... Does that bother me?

For the last twenty years I've seen myself as a bass player, a musician. When people would ask me what I do, I'd invariably say, "I'm a bass player. Oh, and I'm the Art Director at Record Printing, too." Am I ready to change my perceptions of self? Am I ready to give that part of me up?

I think so.

While one corner of society has slowly gone a different path, I've been fortunate enough to get involved in several organizations that give me a very deep sense of fulfillment and fellowship - notably the American Legion Riders (ALR). (I was talking to Dagmar the other day. "Would you quit the ALR to join a band?" she asked. I thought of standing in the spotlight again... Then I thought of bickering with soundmen, constantly hauling equipment, endless repetitive rehearsals, the inevitable painful breakup bands always suffer. "No," I answered. "No. If I'm ever in a band again they'll have to work around the ALR's schedule." The spotlight isn't as large with the ALR, but it's much more intense as we gather to honor a veteran at his funeral or meet a returning soldier at the airport. What we do isn't seen by many people, but it means something to those who do see us. And the main reason I value the ALR so much is that every man and woman in the group would gladly ride a hundred miles to do what we do even if no one's looking.

So if my priority is with the ALR instead of music, why should it bother me that people in the community no longer associate me with music? I don't know, but now that I've thought it all through, I don't think it will bother me. At least not quite as much. My identity is MY identity. It's intact, and I know what it is. Doesn't really matter what other people think I am...

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

More oddness

Multi-Tasking Sucks

Most of my blogging (and writing in general) either happens in little two-minute chunks between emergencies at work or in the middle of the night when insomnia sets in. In either case, concentration is difficult. I wrote a post earlier today, while I was at work, about the EPA and coal plants and such. I hope it makes sense, but it probably doesn't. (Fear not, faithful reader, I do NOT blog at work when there's actual work to be done. Every now and then I find myself with three minutes of time between jobs, though, so I type just as fast as my pudgy little fingers will go while I have the opportunity.)

All I was trying to say in my EPA-Coal post was that Iowa has a lot of opportunities to create energy out of the wind; why build stinky ol' coal plants? But anyway...

Because we have no children...

We take the cat to the vet every year. It seems kinda silly - I mean, he's an indoor cat and hardly ever has an opportunity to catch any kitty diseases or break any kitty bones, but we still take the little fella in every year for his annual oil change.

He doesn't like it.

My Trip to Des Moines...

Hey, if you look close, the State Capitol is behind that construction somewhere...

A pretty sunset...

Untitled Rambling #12

We're still doing this? Really?

I heard on the radio a day or two ago that the United States Supreme Court told the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) that by law they must actually do something. I guess the EPA has been dragging its heels since George Walker Bush was declared president in 2000, reluctant to take a stand on limiting greenhouse gases for some reason. This morning I read in Century of the Common Iowan that Alliant Energy is planning to build a coal plant in Marshalltown, Iowa.

The EPA hasn't been regulating us for six years? We're still building coal plants? Whaa...? In this day and age of shrinking ice caps, drowning polar bears, impending drought, increased storm activity and threat of rising sea levels we're STILL building coal plants? Aren't they, like, bad for our health?

(Position statement: I do believe the 99% of scientists who say global warming is real and is caused by human activity are right. But even if they're wrong, it's clear that the climate IS changing nonetheless, and we have the capacity to do something about it. What are the costs of rebuilding New Orleans? I dunno... But multiply that by thirteen zillion -- if sea levels rise even a small amount we'll be rebuilding Miami, New York, Boston, San Francisco... Just about every coastal city, town and village will be in trouble. There's a community in Alaska that's already relocating due to the changing climate eroding the foundations of their town into the sea. Even if humans aren't the cause of the climate change, we do have the capacity to do something about it. Is that playing God, this mucking about with nature? No. If you're going to use that argument to keep on polluting, you're barking up the wrong tree. God gave us dominion over the animals - that means even if we choose to shoot ourselves in the collective foot, we're supposed to protect the animals by saving their habitat, and He gave us the intellect to do so. To follow that argument through to it's conclusion, it's therefore a sin to pollute the environment.)

It's time to do some research on this... I need to know more. And I just read that Rolling Stone guitarist Keith Richards denied today that he snorted his father's ashes. That just HAS to tie into all this somehow, doesn't it...?

What's up with the EPA?

According to National Public Radio, the Bush administration's argument was that the EPA did not have the authority to regulate greenhouse gases, and therefore could not require automobiles to reduce emissions. Several states and environmental groups sued the EPA, saying the EPA did indeed have that power. The Supreme Court ruled against the Bush administration.
It was kind of like when Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz learned she always had the power to go home. The Supreme Court ruled Monday that the Environmental Protection Agency does, in fact, have the authority to regulate the greenhouse gases that contribute to climate change.
The ruling paves the way for individual states to regulate greenhouse emissions from automobiles on their own.

I guess the anonymous person who wrote this article for the Clovis News Journal in New Mexico doesn't like the ruling much, though:
Unfortunately, in Massachusetts et. al. v. Environmental Protection Agency et. al. a Supreme Court divided 5-4 engaged in precisely the kind of judicial activism that people on all sides of the ideological spectrum correctly deplore. In short, the popular passions around global warming carried the day, rather than calm legal precedent and thought.
The author then continues, pointing out that the Clean Air Act of 1970... "says the EPA administrator 'shall by regulation prescribe (and from time to time revise) ... standards applicable to the emission of any air pollutant ... which in his judgment cause, or contribute to air pollution' coming from new cars." The author's argument being that the EPA administrator is not required by law to set standards for C02 emissions, and the Supreme Court is trying to push the administrator into making a judgment he doesn't want to make.

I disagree. I think the Supreme Court did right. The EPA now has control over it's mission once more (with congressional oversight, I'm sure), and individual states are therefore free to legislate the issue as the voters in those states see fit. It's American democracy at its finest. As was said by New Jersey State Environmental Protection Commissioner Lisa Jackson, this is "good news for New Jersey and other states trying to be proactive on climate change and greenhouse-gas emission reduction." source

But what about the coal plant?

Oddly enough, the Supreme Court handed down two separate rulings on coal plants earlier this week as well as the EPA ruling. According to National Public Radio, the Supreme Court said that old coal fire power plants must install new pollution controls if they make big repairs and increase the pollution they release. The other ruling "blocked a Bush administration policy to permit coal mining companies to remove the top of mountains in Appalachia and deposit leftover rock in valley streams."

Neither of these rulings directly affects the proposed new coal power plant here in Iowa, but the indirect ramifications are apparent -- it's going to be more expensive to run a coal plant in the future because the American people are calling a stop to the ruination of our environment.

Here's a question for you. Does it make sense to build a new coal plant in a state that has no coal, but rather has an abundance of wind power available? Personally, I like clean air. And why pay another state for coal when we can hire Iowans to build wind turbines?

So what's your point?

Simple. As I alluded to earlier, it seems that the nation is finally starting to realize that we've only been given one earth and we'd better take care of it. The Bush administration has been running roughshod over environmental restrictions for the last six years in the name of big business, but the people are speaking through both the legislative and judicial branches of government, saying that it's time to stop with the pollution and time to start planning a viable future for our children. In the past few weeks, the Supreme Court has given the EPA it's teeth (and dignity) back, and put a dent in using dirty old coal as energy.

The times, they are a-changing. And so, unfortunately, is the climate.

But what about Keith Richards?

I'm still not sure what to think about that. But I do know that Keith Richards is one of only a handful of people who would actually have to deny snorting his father's ashes... There just has to be a tie-in there somewhere, I just can't find it.


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