Name:M.G. Binker
Location:North Carolina, United States

The Fine Print

All original material is copyright 2004 by M.G. Binker. E-mail beyonddeadline@earthlink.net with your comments, questions or whatever else is on your mind.

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Sunday, November 28, 2004

Physics for drivers

One of the few lessons I took away from freshman year physics is that two objects cannot occupy the same point in space and time.

I observed repeated scientific exploration of this rule (and some near misses) on the way home from D.C. today. As a result, the drive from Alexandria to Richmond which should take about 98 minutes took more than three hours.

The rest of the trip was better but there were still some people testing the laws of physics, especially those having to do with coefficients of friction, momentum and acceleration. Although, I will say there were more want-to-be scientists in the D.C.–area, reminding me of why I’m not too eager to return anytime soon.
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At play

This story in the NY Times’ Week In Review Section actually held my attention as I rifled through the two-feet of newspapers that arrived while I was out.

The central question of the piece asks whether all the beeping, blipping, flashing gizmos we give our kids to play with are warping their little minds. This paragraph in particular gives me pause:

The trend has squeezed both makers and sellers of traditional toys, from the electric train company Lionel to retailers like Toys "R" Us and F. A. O. Schwarz. "I have seen 1-year-olds wanting to play with their parents' cellphones," said Irma Zandl of the Zandl Group, a youth-marketing research company. And they know the difference, she said, between a real and a fake one.

I have no affinity for toy trains (No hostility either. I just didn’t grow up with ‘em) or for big toy stores. But when I’m hanging out with my kid, one of his favorite games is to steal my cell phone and run away so he can mash the random buttons in piece. When I try to trade him his Elmo cell phone for mine, he glares at me.

Does he know the difference? I don’t think so. I think he just knows that the one he unlatches from my belt is the thing that I carry around and he wants to play with my stuff. It’s the same reason he wants to type on my key board or make off with one of my notebooks.

The Times story goes on to posit that “the space of childhood” is eroding and that all this plugged-in play is diminishing children’s ability to “live in their own fantasy world.” I think their trying to tell us we’re at risk of raising a bunch of unimaginative geeks.

Of course, the story points out (sort of) that kids have always mimicked adults in their play. And I think the story misses the point that as adults have become more wired in their own lives, it follows that children will become more wired in their play.

Still, my little man isn’t getting anything that goes beep for Christmas this year. And I’m pretty sure he’ll be happy to make do with the tricycle his grandparents got him and whatever Santa can come up with.

Of course, I’m pretty sure I’m still going to have to try and keep my cell phone out of his reach.
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Saturday, November 27, 2004

Burp…

The relatives: still hanging about my parents house.

The turkey: being processed into casserole as we speak.

The beer supply: replenished this morning.

The pies: gone, sadly.

Little man: deliriously happy at all the attention he’s getting.

The wife and I: headed to our second movie/date in as many days.

Thanksgiving is good.

See you next week sometime. Tomorrow there will be a six hour drive back to High Point.
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Sunday, November 21, 2004

Ground rules

It’s Thanksgiving again. That means inexperienced cooks will be heading into kitchens across America to try to prepare a turkey with one thought in mind: “God, I hope I don’t make everyone sick.”

Yup, Thanksgiving is that most American of holidays that we celebrate by spinning the wheel of botulism, getting liquored-up and gather with family members we’ve done a pretty good job of avoiding for the rest of the year.

Don’t get me wrong, I like my family. Really. Much better than the population at large. Now what that says about my attitude toward the population at large, I’ll let you be the judge.

Anyway, I know Thanksgiving can be stressful holiday, but it could be a lot less so with the applications of a few simple rules. These are my suggestions, which would be enforced with an iron fist should Thanksgiving ever be at my house:

Food related

  • If the apex of your culinary knowledge is making a grilled cheese sandwich, get the hell out of the kitchen. Cooking a 15-to-25 pound bird that won’t kill you, much less one that’ll taste good, is a task for experienced cooks and/or people who have put a little thought into the matter.

  • If you are in the kitchen but did not buy, prep, or put the bird in the oven, do not open the oven door or touch the stove’s thermostat. Retribution will be swift, violent and painful.

  • Have you ever grilled a turkey before? No. Then trust me, Thanksgiving is not the time for your first experiment with the process. Ditto for deep-frying.

  • The kitchen is no place for civilians. Go watch football if you’re not responsible for cooking some part of the meal. Really. You’re in the way. Shoo.

  • If it has marshmallows, it is not salad.

  • If it comes from a jar, it is not gravy. It’s sauce, and it tastes awful.

  • I couldn’t care less that you’re on the south beech diet. Here’s a carrot, go sit in the corner and sulk. The rest of us are going to eat like real Americans, that is to say: pigs.

  • Just in case that last one was unclear, the words “light,” “low carb,” “diet,” “low sodium,” “low fat,” and “fat free” are nowhere to be found on any of the recipes or food products in use.

  • Yes, those are sweet potatoes. No, there aren’t any marshmallows in them. Because marshmallows are gross, that’s why. We use bourbon in them if you must know. And no, the alcohol doesn’t burn all the way off. Yes, you may have seconds.

  • Yes, sweet potatoes and regular mashed potatoes can be part of the same meal. Stuffing is on the menu as well.

  • Green been casserole shall be served. You cannot make it gourmet. The canned onion straws and goopy Campbell soup that is prescribed shall be used. So it is written, so let it be cooked.

    Decorum and Discussion

  • If you show up early, prepare to be ignored. We’re cooking here.

  • We eat at 6 p.m. If you or your child needs to eat earlier, get a snack. The turkey can’t be rushed.

  • Alcohol shall run free from the time that the bird enters the oven until the last guest leaves the house. If it’s 10:30 in the morning, so be it. If it’s 10:30 p.m. the night before, even better.

  • Only three types of programs may be watched at any point in time on Thanksgiving day: Parades; Football (and football-related analysis and previews); the late show (Dave of Jay, whoever has the remote can choose.) Specifically banned are any shows with the terms “all-star” or “very special” in their titles.

  • It’s not the tryptophan making you sleepy, no matter how smart you feel for remembering the word. You ate too much...way too much. It's okay, have some more pie to wake you up.

  • If you sit all the children at the same table, they’re going to act like children. We call it the kids’ table for a reason. Put plastic on the floor if you’re worried they’re making a mess.

  • If you start telling embarrassing stories about others at the table, don’t be surprised when it comes back on you. Chances are, the rest of our memories working collectively to see how many shades of red we can get you to turn will be a lot more effective than your malicious but feeble mind working on its own.

  • If you didn’t cook, go do some dishes after dinner. No I’m not kidding.

    Specials notes to in-laws, friends visiting for the first time, and others who may not be familiar with the particular family traditions of the host household:

  • We don’t care how things are/were done at your house. Really, we don’t. My family has been doing things this way for generations and there’s no way we’re changing course now. Strap in and enjoy the ride.

  • Think we’re drinking too much? Again, we don’t care. Piss off and leave if you don’t like it, then there’ll be more beer for me.

  • The fact that no one ate the side dish you brought is not a personal affront. We don’t know what it is, don’t like the looks of it and aren’t eating it. Don’t take it badly. Next time bring wine.

  • Ask before calling the cops. Behaviors that may be alarming to you are likely par for the course around these parts.

    Special note particular to folks showing up at my mom’s house:

  • Aunt Ruthie’s pumpkin chiffon pie is the best pie ever conceived of or made by human hands. If you dispute this fact, there will be trouble. If I don’t get some, we will need to call the cops.

  • You do not want to discuss politics or the news business with me. Ever. This is particularly the case on Thanksgiving, when by 4 p.m. I’ve had enough beer in me not to care that I may make you cry.

  • No, I am not getting up at 5 a.m. to go shopping on Friday.

  • Yes, I am eating pie for breakfast on Friday morning.
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    Saturday, November 20, 2004

    Stupid

    I’m not a big basketball fan – I watch only the occasional regular season game and a few playoff series – but the reports we all woke up to Saturday morning definitely got my attention.

    For those who missed, the NBA added to the annals of stupid sports moments Friday night with a headline writers dream: a brawl between fans and players toward the end of a game between the Pistons and the Pacers. Yes folks, the term “Basket-Brawl” appeared in 42-point type in papers all over this land this morning.

    There have been some consequences for the players involved already. But after watching the clips on ESPN this morning, I would say that the fans are equally culpable, as is management.

    Now, there is a school of thought that says there can be no excuse for a player going into the stands. Ever. That’s Post Columnist Michael Wilbon’s take. I tend to agree. The same principle that says a prize fighter can’t get into a street brawl because its just too dangerous for all involved should extend to professional players of all sorts.

    If a couple of hockey players (you know, when there’s actually a hockey season) want to beat the tar out of each other fine. If the two benches for the Pistons and Pacers had done an off-Broadway rendition of the Sharks and Jets going after one another, who cares. That’s racing. It shouldn’t be, but we’ve come to expect occasional outbursts of poorly executed pugilism by our professional sports players time and again.

    But when big, dangerous guys who are paid to work out seven days a week turn their furry on mere mortals, it’s a miracle that we didn’t see a lot more serious injuries than the bumps and scrapes most folks ended up with. (Mainly, and I’m not throwing beer here, it’s because all the Pacers players throw very poor girly-looking punches. If those guys had learned any form in the school-yard brawls of their youths, there’d be some knuckle-heads in the hospital right now.)

    However, this quote from NBA commissioner David Stern seems to be a bit off the mark:

    "The events at last night's game were shocking, repulsive and inexcusable -- a humiliation for everyone associated with the NBA," Stern said in the statement. "This demonstrates why our players must not enter the stands whatever the provocation or poisonous behavior of people attending the games."

    Agreed. If you get paid millions of dollars to play a game then you should know better than to attack the folks who pay the tickets, buy the memorabilia and otherwise pour money into the cash flow that pays your salary.

    But you should also be able to expect both a modicum of decency from those fans and a certain amount of protection from them when they get out of hand. The players on the court got neither.

    And that’s why I take issue with the Stern and the Free Press’s Michael Rosenberg. I can’t bring myself to lay all the blame at the feet of the players.

    If you’re going to throw beer (or other things) at a guy twice your size who spends a good part of every day honing his athletic potential, it would be foolish not to expect some consequences to come back on you as well.

    My proposal is this: Take the doofi (plural of doofus?) who can be identified as starting this thing and give ‘em what they asked for. Yup, lock ‘em in a cage with a bunch of pissed off NBA players and let them get the crap kicked out of them. It’s better than what they deserve.

    Then take the NBA corporate types out and spank them for putting profits above safety and common sense. Make Stern and the suits personally do the drilling, lugging and other heavy labor necessary to take out a row or two of seats to create a buffer zone in each arena in the league.

    Why?

    Because what happened Friday night was as much a failure of management as anything else. Management took a bunch of over-strong, over-paid, over-hyped juvenile delinquents who haven’t been given anything resembling behavior boundaries since their were 11-years-old and then subjected them to beer-fueled morons. Management sold the morons the beer. Management had inadequate foresight and security to deal with the situation.

    And yet, not one manager is going to loose a paycheck or wind up in the clink because of this. Not one. And that’s a shame.

    Because if a few suits lost their jobs over this, the remaining suits would have more than enough incentive to make sure things like this particular incident didn’t happen. In fact, they’d have so much incentive left over they might even apply themselves and figure out the root-causes (alcohol, immaturity by players, lack of civility by fans, etc…) and take a stab at fixing those too.
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    Sunday, November 14, 2004

    Important

    This is a shameless workplace plug I don’t feel the least bit bad about posting:

    Yeah, I know the News & Record’s delivery was late today because our presses had some issues, but go out and find yourself a copy of the paper if it isn’t on your driveway by now.

    Why?

    Because Stan Swofford is shedding light on Guilford County’s crack epidemic. Don’t think we have one? Then you need to double-time it to the Quicky Mart and get yourself a copy of today’s paper. Then stay tuned for the rest of the series on Monday and Tuesday.

    I had absolutely nothing to do with writing or reporting any of it, so I was reading it this morning for the first time like most readers. The writing is powerful, the statistics convincing and the voices in the story heart-wrenching.

    Fair warning: this is not something you’ll have fun reading. But do it anyway. Some things are just important.
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    Saturday, November 13, 2004

    A littered mind

    So a few days ago I open up a new bucket of cat litter. This is not a momentous occasion, as when I do such as thing it usually involves shoveling other creatures’ poop. In fact, between litter and diapers, much of my life revolves around poop, but I digress.

    In the big yellow bucket of litter I find not just litter, but a small plastic bag. Again, this is not shocking. Those of you with pets will know that manufacturers of fine quality pet products like to include opportunities for you to sample other items in their fine lines. For example, in a bag of cat food there might be a small bag of treats with an accompanying coupon.

    But this was not cat food. No, this was litter, the stuff that cats poop in. And in the litter was a sample size bag of Cat Chow. At first, as I am enthralled with the task of making sure the box in which my cats crap is as clean as possible, I think nothing of it.

    Now that I am given time to dwell, however, there is a small matter. Were I a cat, would I necessarily want to eat the food that came with my litter?

    This is roughly analogous to the good folks at Charmin including, say, a granola bar or a banana or a can of tuna fish in the 24-roll ultra super duper mega double ply pack that you intend to store under your bathroom sink until you need toilet paper for those things you need toilet paper for.

    Now, I grant you that cats have an overblown reputation for being clean. A cat is a creature who will lick his own hind parts and then glare at you like you should have paid him for the opportunity to watch him stick his tongue between his hind legs. I cat will nibble at food that a 14-month-old spits out of his mouth and onto the floor.

    But I hope that any creature living under my roof would have a delicate enough sensibility to realize that there’s just something a little creepy about the owners of a – how to put this gently – waste disposal product encouraging one to eat something, which of course will ultimately lead to the use of said product.

    At any rate, I have had the heart to feed either of my cats the food in question.

    Yet.
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    Thursday, November 11, 2004

    Self-mocking for your convenience

    Comedian Jeff Foxworthy once said that people in the American South aren’t really stupid, we just can’t keep the most ignorant among us from getting on television.

    Looks like the same principle might apply to newspapers.

    Submitted for your disapproval, by way of “Ignorance is Bliss:”




    Head over to Di's
    for a larger version.

    We’ll ignore, for the moment, that this image comes from a paper owned by the same company that owns mine and that publishing in this manner may, or may not, be a violation of copyright.

    Perhaps one of those jackhammers might be used to knock some sense into this lady?

    Just a thought.
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    Sigh indeed

    Getting rid of John Ashcroft as the U.S. Attorney General (previous post of the topic here) could be a tremendous step toward opening up government to the press and the public.

    So I’m conflicted over President Bush’s decision to nominate White House counsel Alberto R. Gonzales to the post.

    My boss weighs in at his blog. He points to an Editor and Publisher story that indicates Gonzales might be just as hostile to open government as Ashcroft.

    Damn.

    Other outlets, however, including the Washington Post story linked above, call Gonzales a “moderate,” so that may hold out some hope?

    “Viet D. Dinh, a former senior Justice official under Ashcroft who now teaches law at Georgetown University, said he expects Gonzales to ‘differ in tone but not in substance’ from his predecessor,” reads the Post story.

    Damn.

    Ladies and gents, I hate to judge before the guy is even confirmed, but I very much get the vibe that the flow of information will remain staunched. We might just have a brighter and nicer guy doing the staunching.

    But maybe he’ll surprise us. Maybe? Okay, so a quick Google search may be in order. Let’s see, we’ll put in “Freedom of Information” and “Alberto Gonzales” and…

    …damn.

    Not promising.
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