Monday, June 30, 2008

I gotta get outta this place...

...if it's the last thing I ever do.

The job. As if it were not already the most mind numbing thing I can think of, along comes two things that just add to my own sense of impatience of getting out sooner rather than later.

Late last week, I get an e-mail from the supervisor that handles all of our training regarding some more responsibilities that will be foisted upon us, not that we had a say in the matter, mind you. The pain has been spread out amongst everyone on this program, not just us telecommuters. So yesterday I had to take two hours out of my day to learn a new two new skill sets that, truth be told, could just as easily have been handled with handouts. (Even the trainer admitted this.)

Is there more money to be added to our regular bi-weekly pittance for having these new skills? Yeah, right, I should know better.

So, off I go, log onto MS Web Meeting, and sit through two useless hours of following a PowerPoint presentation that really was not necessary. For those of us that have been on this program for some time, myself included, there was really no need to undergo this. All they had to do was give us the handouts, (in our case, via e-mail) and some very brief, concise instructions on parameters for using them, and all would be good.

Actually, we got lucky; the client wanted a 7 hour training on this!!! Insane? You bet. Thankfully our trainer talked them out of it. The only saving grace was two hours of overtime in the coffer.

However, what has finally got my goat is the fact that our new schedules have come out, and I was not given the times and days off I have requested. It was not all that different from what I have now, but it was the fact that this was the umpteenth time that I have not gotten the schedule I have asked for. Mind you, I was:

A. One of two people that were the prototypes for this telecommuting program and proved that it could work.

B. Have been given an award for work that I have done regarding assisting people in the IM chat room we have for us that telecommute.

C. Was one of two people that field tested a prototypes virtual work environment that is planning on being implemented.

I didn't think that after all of this it would be too much to ask for a schedule that suits my needs. As a result, I may not be able to audition for a show I have had my heart set on going for, as I may not be able to fit in the rehearsals if I do make it in.

I am tired of having my working life dictated to. When I started my freelance writing business, I made a plan to at least be able to drop to part-time at my job within a year. (In other words, at least 50% of my income would be generated from the freelance writing to make that a reality.) I have decided to move that timetable to six months. One way or another, I am going to drop this god-forsaken job by early next year, if it is the last thing I ever do. I am going to also start delving hot and heavy into learning editing and proofreading, as this is really where there are a ton of opportunities.

Yes, I know, I should feel lucky I have a job. It's just not enough anymore.

Saturday, June 28, 2008

A *&%# by any other name.

This story makes one wonder; if he had been able to change his name to his desired one, imagine the possible nicknames that would have accompanied it?

Your suggestions are welcome.

Monday, June 23, 2008

She ought to get her ass in rehab, I said yeah, yeah, yeah.

So here we have this talented woman, whose music I do dig some, (she has a very tight band, even if her voice is not the best in the world) and what does she do? Piss it all away and become nothing more than a crackhead. Robin Williams has said numerous times in the past that cocaine is God's way of telling you you're making too much money.

Now it seems as if her lungs have started showing the beginning signs of some sort of COPD (Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease) condition. There is a debate as to whether or not it is emphysema, but smoking crack aside, she also smokes cigarettes like a chimney. Either way, unless she stops now, the only thing she will be facing next is either a lung transplant, or permanently tied to an oxygen tank.

If absolute power corrupts absolutely, what does absolute egoism do? I don't begrudge anyone making it as a singer, actor, etc. To be able to make a good living at an artistic endeavor is something that only a very few get to achieve, especially at the worldwide level that Amy Winehouse has been able to achieve. She is throwing it all into the shitter though, and at the end of the day, is no better than any of the crack addicts that I would pick up day in and day out in Brooklyn. She just has easier access to it.

The only person that can help her is herself. Maybe she hasn't hit bottom yet, but I suspect she doesn't have that much farther to fall.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

I should, I wish, I love.

Well, I am no longer a virgin; oh, not in the Biblical sense mind you, as that event passed into history a long time ago.

No, I received my first tagging from gemmak. I guess this means I am a real blogger now. If I were still a smoker, I'd light one up.

So, below is this meme, as it is known, and I therefore tag (and not to worry, as I practice safe blogging) Anne-droid, Julia, Andy, Anna, and Guyana-Gal, and Bendy Girl. I don't want to tag too many people this first time around, as I might get the reputation as a blogslut. ;-)

So, here goes:

My ex... bosses, two of them, taught me the proper way to treat employees. I learned so much about what it means to be a leader, as opposed to just a "boss" from them, and though I am no longer a boss myself, I try to use those principles they taught me in everyday life.

Maybe I should... really try to exercise. I became a diabetic last year because of the long-term use of my transplant meds, and I really need to find something I can get into. I love bike riding, and I have a bike that has been sitting in my basement for some time. The problem is, biking here in winter is just not something that is really feasible.

I love... my wife, my family, acting, theatre, writing, laughing long and hard.

People would say... I am opinionated, (which I can be, though I have tried hard to moderate it.) and that I am passionate about things that interest me.

I don't people can use religion as a shield for morality. Some of the most immoral people on the planet claim to be the most pious. Morality derives itself from more than just a belief in a deity, whether it be a personal or impersonal one. It comes out of the human experience, from day-to-day living. Pete Townshend wrote about Keith Moon: "Morality ain't measured in a room he wrecked."

When I wake up in the morning... hand me a cup of coffee and don't expect any useful conversation until after I am done drinking it.

I lost...any naiveté I may have had when I stepped into that Brooklyn neighborhood to work in 1987. I lost a lot of faith in people as well, though much of it was gained back after getting my transplant, though I still retain a degree of cynicism, as it keeps me on my toes.

Life is full of...contradictions.

My past is something...that I have worked to come to terms with.

I get annoyed when...I feel I am being condescended to, or I can't get a straight answer from people.

Parties are...something I enjoy, but so few are worthwhile. Closing night parties are usually the best!

I wish...I could could achieve my goal of being a full-time writer.

Dogs...are the most loyal things on the planet. I wish I could have one, but with our schedules, it would not be fair to the dog to leave it home alone all day. A yellow lab would be my dog of choice though.

Cats...are good too. I like their independence. If the wife was not allergic to them, I would get two of them and name them Smith and Jones. (I did have a cat growing up.) tomorrow. I can only worry about today.

I have a low tolerance for...stupidity, and no tolerance for people who abuse kids. I saw too much of the latter in my time.

If I had a million dollars...I wouldn't write a song with that in the title. I would give a hunk towards transplant research for liver disease, a hunk to my theatre, a hunk for AIDS research, and invest the rest while enjoying myself with some if it as well.

I'm totally terrified of...bees, wasps, and any other stinging insects.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Creature Features, Part Deux!

While glancing out my patio door yesterday, I spied this once fearsome beast (to me anyway) partaking of the generous bounty of our backyard compost pile.

Their smaller cousins, the squirrels, also dine al fresco here from time-to-time. I'll only start worrying if they come up to me and start asking what the lunch specials are for today.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

"...but to the death I will defend your right to say it."

"Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances."
(First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States of America.)

Last week there was an interesting article in the International Herald Tribune that dealt with the concept of free speech, and how it differs in most of the Western world as compared with the U.S. (The article was actually a reprint from the NY Times.) It begins by describing the case of a Canadian magazine that, "published an article arguing that the rise of Islam threatened Western values." The IHT piece points out that in the U.S., this type of an article is an everyday occurrence, and that such opinion pieces can be made in the U.S. without fear of legal reprisal.

In Canada however, there is a statute on the books that labels this type of piece as "hate speech," and the magazine that published it is on trial for violating the law. This type of law is also prevalent in many countries in Western Europe. The article points out that:

"Canada, Britain, France, Germany, the Netherlands, South Africa, Australia and India all have laws or have signed international conventions banning hate speech. Israel and France forbid the sale of Nazi items like swastikas and flags. It is a crime to deny the Holocaust in Canada, Germany and France."

Hate speech. It is a term that on the surface appears quite reasonable. However, in my estimation it is a dangerous term that can lead to the slippery slope of censorship. I find it incredible that in countries such as Germany and France, two nations that experienced the full force of fascism head on, such laws could even be considered. What was the lesson they took away from the Nazis? Did they not learn that having their most basic freedoms stripped from them, especially the ability to voice an unpopular opinion, was the thing that led to the horrors they experienced? If someone wants to deny the Holocaust, what is the better course of action; to prosecute them, throw them in jail, or to let them rave on and the let the entire population of the country see them for the buffoons that they are? Here in the U.S., a denial of the Holocaust, while distasteful and painful for those who lived through it, is a constitutionally protected right, as it should be.

The only time that free speech is not protected, and rightfully so, is when it is used to incite and promote violence or other criminality on an immediate basis. This is the test that the Supreme Court has used time and time again. The article quotes
Harvey Silverglate, a Boston civil liberties lawyer, who says, ""Free speech matters because it works," and that scrutiny and debate are far more effective ways of combating hate speech than censorship. again, from the article:

"The world didn't suffer because too many people read 'Mein Kampf,"' Silverglate said. "Sending Hitler on a speaking tour of the United States would have been quite a good idea."

Hate speech however, is not the only example of how freedom of speech can be limited, or downright outlawed. When we look to China, which censors internet users on a regular basis, or to places like Saudi Arabia, that arrested bloggers such as for
Fouad al-Farhan last December for expressing unpopular opinions regarding Saudi government, religious, and business leaders, we see examples that should makes us all the more vigilant in making sure that the First Amendment maintains its effectiveness. Although I have been blogging for only a short while, I have been reading blogs for the better part of four years. I feel very fortunate to live in a place where my ability to speak my mind remains unencumbered.

Even here we have seen things that can be viewed as violations of this most effective right. When people can be arrested or banned from political rallies because they may be wearing t-shirts that express views opposite those of the politicians that are speaking at the time, then this is a violation that cannot be tolerated, and both Democrats and Republicans are guilty of this action. Let me be clear on this; I am not referring to disruptive behavior at a rally. I am not talking about throwing pies or other objects into politicians faces. Assault has no place in any instance, nor am I referring to the shouting down of an official or politician. If you want your position to be heard, than you had best allow the other side to be heard as well, otherwise you have nothing more than a mob on your hands. (Watch the first episode of the excellent HBO series "John Adams" to see an example of this, or read The David McCullough biography on which the series was based.)

The author of the Canadian article in the magazine that is being prosecuted stated that, "Western governments are becoming increasingly comfortable with the regulation of opinion. The First Amendment really does distinguish the U.S., not just from Canada but from the rest of the Western world."

Let us hope it remains so, for as the famous maxim goes, "I disapprove of what you say, but to the death I will defend your right to say it."

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

But officer, I only had one beer......

.........but it was the 14 others in the cooler that got this guy in trouble. I wonder if this falls under the "You might be a redneck if" category. Here is the offending vehicle:

Monday, June 9, 2008

Catching my breath.....

I finally had time to do a little breathing after being very busy last week, taking care of the wife, cooking, cleaning, entertaining.....My niece and her boyfriend came in from Buffalo for a visit, and we had a good time. A little extra medication for the wife, and she actually enjoyed herself as well.

I am preparing some thoughts on Obama, the elections, and what is going to happen to this country in the coming years. While history may be replete with turning points and crossroads, I think it is fair to say there is a big one on the horizon come this November........

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Mr. Nightime is back in paramedic mode......

The wife is down for the count with a bad back, and is in a lot of pain, so I am in paramedic mode. Took her to physical therapy, and the pain killers are helping her sleep, but she is not used to being in this type of pain. This is going to be a long few days to be sure.....

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Elixir of life.

Anne-droid, as I am, is a coffee fiend. We both have a love for the most beautiful brown liquid in the world. PG Tips and Typhoo tea are a close second, for me anyway. I can't speak for Anne on that one.

I always like to joke that I was weaned from the bottle to the coffee cup, but there is a large amount of truth to that. I was born in Brooklyn, and lived there until I was about 2 or 3, in the same building as my grandparents. (We lived one floor below them.) Coffee was a staple food in our household from as long as I can remember. As this was the late 50's, early 60's, there were very different ideas on what was safe for kids to eat and drink. Most parents today would perish at the thought of their 3 year-old guzzling down a Starbucks triple shot latte, but so many parents give no thought to allowing their kids to guzzle down huge amounts of caffeinated soda, so where's the difference?

On 98th street, which was the block I lived on in Brooklyn, there was a lunchonette called "Benny's." It was the local hangout, soda shop, basically a miniature diner. Going to Benny's for breakfast or lunch was something of a ritual, and I would accompany my parents and grandparents on many an occasion. Here is where I would get my first taste of java, and where the path of my caffeine addiction started. To this day my mother swears that my first complete sentence was "Let's go to Benny's for coffee!" Whether this is true or apocryphal is unknown. I would like to think it is true.

Going to relatives was always a coffee fest. Often it was brewed Chock Full 'O Nuts, or Maxwell House; brewed in the percolator that would go "plop, plop" that I would watch from the counter in my Aunt R's kitchen. If I was lucky, I would get to fill the basket that would go inside the percolator, and put my nose into the coffee can to inhale it like a coke junkie. Whether it is a coffee spoon or a coke spoon, the craving for that fine powder for irresistible. At least with coffee though, you wouldn't end up in jail for possession.

I can remember when we got our first automatic drip brew, a Mr. Coffee, of course. They were all the rage, and they were much easier to use than the percolators, and took much less time as well. They didn't always make the greatest cup of coffee, of course, but over time they have gotten much better. I think the popularity of espresso machines might have helped that along.

Working as a paramedic all those years, coffee was my daily drug of choice. It was an absolute necessity for survival, as important as any medication I carried in my drug bag. God forbid I got a call before my first morning cup. There would be serious doubt as to whether or not the patient would live, as I would be irritable, and possibly annoyed that they had the poor grace to call me because they were in heart failure. You want to have a heart attack, fine. Do it after my first cup of the day. (Yes, I am only kidding - maybe.) 5- 6 cups during an 8-hour tour was the norm. We won't discuss how many I had if I was pulling a double shift.

My most horrific moment came while on a hostage incident. We were called to the scene of a shooting, the cops had this guy cornered in a home, he started firing at the cops, (uh, while we were there, and had to dive under the ambulance for cover) then after some tense moments, he came out, and put a gun to his head threatening to kill himself. The emergency services unit arrived, were trying to talk the guy down, and in the meantime, my partner and I were stationed about a block away, waiting it out. I went into the bodega (Spanish grocery) on the block, got two cups of strong Spanish coffee (Cafe' Bustello) for me and my partner. I had maybe 3 or 4 sips, when we heard 'BANG!!!," and the screams of the officers for medics. The guy unloaded one into his head. We had to rush to him, stretcher and equipment and all.

I had to ditch the fresh cup of coffee. That was the real horror..........(The guy made it, much to our surprise, with a .22 slug rattling around his brain.)

Now, I am sure my Euro and Brit friends who have been here to the States have differing opinions on American coffee. "Weak," is usually the operative word I have heard them use. There is a large amount of truth to that. (Don't EVER have coffee at Shoney's, a restaurant chain in the south. It is vile. I would rather drink tepid dishwater than ever have another cup of their coffee again.) I think though that, for better or worse, Starbucks has forced American coffee to become far better in say the past 10-15 years. You can find far better places to consume your favorite cups of joe, and varieties such as Sumatra, Ethiopian, and Jamaica Blue Mountain are now commonplace.

Rochester has some nice coffee houses here. Two of my favs are:

Spin Coffee on Park Ave. (no, not THAT Park Ave.) Lovely little place, great coffee, good lunches and desserts as well.

Boulder Coffee, on the corner of Alexander St. and Clinton Ave. A recent discovery of mine, though they have been here for some time. Lovely, funky interior. Reminds me of certain places in Greenwich Village in NYC. Have not really tried their food, but will soon.

Both these places are also great as they have free wi-fi, and I get a lot of writing done there.......
Now, all I need to do is to replace the carafe to my coffee maker that I smashed this past Saturday morning.......Oh, the horror, the horror........

Sunday, June 1, 2008

Banality killed the radio star.

American Idol. Eurovision Song Contest. What is happening to music these days? While this has been a process that has been going on for about the past decade and a half, if not longer, it is sad to hear what passes for musical craftsmanship. Has all originality gone out the window?

Perhaps I am a bit of a dinosaur, but I feel very lucky growing up as part of the last generation to experience rock/pop/ punk, and whatever other tag you want to apply, as original and creative music. I remember all my friends and I would be glued to the radio to WNEW-FM in NYC to hear what new groups were out there, and what DJ's like Scott "The Professor" Muni would let us be privy to. This is when radio DJ's had a tremendous amount of freedom to play what they wanted to, and this allowed a huge array of talent to be brought to the forefront of America.

Originality. It is something that seems to be so sadly lacking today. Sampling has taken the place of any original ideas. Stealing others work passes for the lack of any real talent. There are very few artists that have caught my attention over the last 10 years or so. Have I not been paying close enough attention? I don't know. I will admit to liking Fatboy Slim, for reasons I cannot articulate. (Yes, he tends to sample, but he seems to have an original style as well.) If anyone has other suggestions to things that might catch my ear, I am open to them.

I got to thinking about this while watching one of my favorite concert films, "The Last Waltz." The Band was one of the most influential American (Canadian-American, if we want to be precise.) bands that ever existed. For those not in the know, they started off as a back-up band to Ronnie Hawkins, an American rockabilly singer living in Canada. They were known then as "The Hawks," and through a series of events, wound up in Woodstock, NY backing up Bob Dylan. (They were Dylan's back-up band when he went electric.) Simply known then as The Band, they were so influential, that Eric Clapton tried for quite sometime to join them. They took so many musical influences and came up with music so original and so their own.

I would highly recommend getting this DVD, if you are not familiar with it. Here is a little taste:

I have to wonder why it is that as I have gotten older, I have less embraced new music as much as gotten more into jazz and blues. They seem to speak to me more. While I am not a musician, I appreciate good musicianship. I appreciate craftsmanship. I have no doubt that stems from my own work as a theatre and film actor. Creation of a character is akin to creating a piece of music; it comes from somewhere deep inside of a person. It is an expression of themselves.

Somehow, too much of today's music is less about personal expression, and more about style over substance.

P.S. - If you want to know more about The Band, look here: