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Sunday, January 29, 2006

THE STATE OF THE UNION 

I have a sister and a sister-in-law who belong to unions. They kind of have to, because of the careers they have chosen. They are sometimes grateful for the benefits that have been negotiated by their unions, sometimes frustrated by the bureaucracy and nonsense that comes with being a member of a union. But all in all, their status as union members seems to get them a little more juice from their oranges/employment situations than they might otherwise enjoy.

Fortunately, neither of them work in the travel industry.

Northwest Airlines' mechanics union went on strike last August. At that time the union represented over 4,000 mechanics. The news articles portrayed union officials and members as being furious at the airline over the large cuts in salary and outsourcing of their jobs they were faced with. Well, OK, I'd be upset too. But the airline was saying they faced a dire economic threat and could go under without the concessions. The union's only response to was to declare that after working at the airline for so long, they deserved better -- and that management were scoundrels. To me, that's like the airline telling the flying public that after carting us to vacations and business meetings for so long, we must all eschew Southwest Airlines and keep ponying up the big bucks to them. Sit down and eat your pretzels you rascals!

The next month, Northwest Airlines filed for bankruptcy. Today the union represents less than 1,000 mechanics.

Before the strike, the assistant national director of AMFA reportedly trumpeted that Northwest management was
"arrogant" and "egotistical" to conclude that the airline could operate without its veteran mechanics.

"It just really proves how disconnected they are from what we do," [the AMFA assistant director] said. "I'm afraid that our passengers and our co-workers are going to feel the brunt of this miscalculation."
The airline, of course, defied these dire predictions and continued to operate despite the strike. The union continued to appear disconnected from what the airline industry did.

I have this weird idea that people make rational economic decisions, on the whole, and so have been waiting for a news story that give me some explanation of why on earth the union went on this obviously suicidal strike. Our local paper finally ran an in-depth story today:
"AMFA probably recognized that the outsourcing thing was a reality," said Atkinson, the former AMFA local president who was laid off a month before the strike. "But emotionally, they would fight it all the way. They couldn't look at it logically and say, 'What can we save and what can't we?' "
So, I'm still waiting. Maybe I'm the one being illogical here, thinking there's a rational explanation. How foolish of me.

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

I PLAN TO SUE WHOEVER PUT THAT DAMN SPIDER SOLITAIRE GAME ON MY COMPUTER 

Two Seattle residents are suing the author of best-seller "A Million Little Pieces" for the value of the time they wasted reading the book. (Via Dr. Frank) The book's publisher issued a statement promising to refund the cost of the book to readers (if they bought it directly from the publisher).

I sense a bonanza here. Quick! Who do you plan to sue now for wasting your precious time? Quick, before Sisyphus beats us to the punch with a top 11 list of potential lawsuits.

Word to the wise: you're not allowed to sue us for the time you spent reading this blog. Too obvious. Plus, our anonymity is foolproof.

UPDATE: Oooooooooo Oprah's pissed at the author now too! Maybe he'll end up in jail for real this time.

UPDATE II: Good thing the Frey lawsuit isn't a class action. Alex Tabarrok of Marginal Revolution would fail the class. And that would be a shame, wouldn't it?

SCIENCE IS EASY 

It's nearly the end of January and my dishwasher water supply line has not yet frozen.

Who cares about Russia anyway. Surely my data should be sufficient to end the debate about global warming for once and for all.

Saturday, January 21, 2006

DRINK CHAMPAGNE AND EAT BIRTHDAY CAKE! 

Michael Von Blowhard gratefully reveals he has just turned five. Five years post-cancer, a transformative event in his life:
In the months following my cancer surgery, I woke up -- very slowly -- to the fact that my tedious drama had come to an end. The credits had rolled and the screen was now dark. I was a newborn bird emerging from its shell, a baby plant uncurling through the dirt towards the sun. Looking back now, I think that the week we spent convinced that my cancer had spread burned the armor off me. The anxiety, the intensity ... The armor had turned to cinders. Once it crumbled away, my entire system finally really was free to arrange itself in the way that it had always craved. My life -- my life as myself -- was finally able to begin.
And now, five years later, there are no signs of its recurrence. Surely a cause for celebration!

He also writes about the surgery he underwent, and his recollection of anaesthesia connected with my own anxiety on the subject:
You go under, and then you surface. What becomes of you in between those two events? Going under isn't like going to sleep, and coming out isn't like waking up. With sleep, you're unconscious but aware of yourself. When you awaken, you know that time has passed; you've been unconscious, but you've never lost track of yourself. Under anaesthesia, it's different. It's like your life skips a track. Something goes missing. A section of time has been removed. What became of you during that absence? What does it mean that time, and that "you," can be chemically erased?
Our own five year old's life (and therefore ours too) may soon skip a track: she's been diagnosed with fluid behind the ears resulting in significant hearing loss. We're doing a course of antibiotics in a last-ditch effort (the success rate is less than 5%) to make ear-tube surgery unnecessary. Even though I know that this type of surgery is very safe, parental anxiety about putting one's child under looms. Having this much distress associated with such a routine medical complaint, I can well believe that a life-threatening crisis has the capacity to burn armor.

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

DIGITAL DREAMS 

We had a pretty techie Christmas here at the Spitbull manse. The kids got little electro creatures that beep at you from time to time. (They're supposed to be cute but they sure can startle when they start carousing without warning as you're tiptoeing through the house turning off lights and such before bed). I got a DVD recorder so I can finally burn the priceless digital videotapes of the kids that have been sitting waiting for disaster ("spilled milk") to happen. And the Warrior Monk got all sorts of swag: a wireless extender so he can use his laptop while seated at the previously dead spot at the bar (although he hasn't really put it to use to post now has he?). A transmitter that lets him play his iPod through his car stereo. And, most thrillingly, a bitchin' ice melter. It seems to work too, though it's been so warm this winter that we haven't had the opportunity to see it really strut its stuff.

In fact, everything seems to work! Utterly amazing.

Coincidentally, I've also been following in Atomizer's footsteps by spending quite a bit of time recently trying to burn some of the Warrior Monk's extensive CD collection to iTunes. (Unlike Atomizer, however, I haven't injured myself in the process). In fact, I'm making such good progress that I'm straining my laptop's piddly hard drive. So, flush with our recent kindly experiences of techland, I just went ahead and ordered an external hardrive to house the excess tuneage.

I'm afeared, but hopeful.

Thursday, January 12, 2006

LIFE IS FULL OF SURPRISES ... AND MYSTERIES 

I am a jigsaw puzzle addict and my two girls are budding addicts. We received a puzzle for Christmas this year and finished it last weekend -- all but one piece which had gone AWOL.

Ah well, I thought, these things happen. We left the nearly-finished puzzle out for awhile hoping the missing piece would turn up but no go. So we finally put the puzzle away last night.

This morning, we poured some cereal in a bowl for the five year old. Cascading out of the box along with the cereal pieces came ... the missing jigsaw puzzle piece.

Fortunately, we adhere to the add-milk-AFTER-the-cereal school of thought.

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

IT'S OFFICIAL 

Sisyphus' crack analysis reveals that thirteen of the fifteen Senators who participated in the questioning of judge Alito in his nomination hearing (2nd day) spoke more than Judge Alito. And surprise surprise, Senator Joseph Biden wins the I-love-the-sound-of-my-voice award.

I gave up trying to listen on the first day after tuning in a couple of times without hearing the actual nominee speak. At all.

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

GOD ONLY KNOWS WHAT SHE'D DO TO THE NIHILIST 

An Australian woman has been accused of stabbing her partner for playing the Elvis Presley song Burning Love too many times. January 8 was the King’s birthday, but apparently that's no excuse.

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

TEXT MESSAGING AND TELEGRAPHY 

Text messaging is a cumbersome process that lends itself to a radically reductive economy of phrasing. Can it have literary merit? I can’t see it so far. But, check out this Washington Post article.

There’s precedent. In the early 20th Century, telegraphy was the new technology. Like 21st century text messaging, it also gave incentive to keep messages as short as possible. (Companies charged by the word I think.) Evelyn Waugh used this aspect of telegraphy in "Scoop" for some really funny scenes, and also as a device to propel the plot. It’s a great book. By the way, you can still send a telegram by Western Union, for $14.99.

But the best ever literary treatment of telegraphy may appear in "Right Ho, Jeeves," by P.G. Wodehouse. Here’s an excerpt, with apologies for its length:

The first of the telegram arrived shortly after noon, and Jeeves brought it in with the before-luncheon snifter. It was from my Aunt Dahlia, operating from Market Snodsbury, a small town of sorts a mile or two along the main road as you leave her country seat.

It ran as follows: "Come at once. Travers."

And when I say it puzzled me like the dickens, I am understating it; if anything. As mysterious a communication, I considered, as was ever flashed over the wires. I studied it in a profound reverie for the best part of two dry Martinis and a dividend. I read it backwards. I read it forwards. As a matter of fact, I have a sort of recollection of even smelling it. But it still baffled me.

Consider the facts, I mean. It was only a few hours since this aunt and I had parted, after being in constant association for nearly two months. And yet here she was--with my farewell kiss still lingering on her cheek, so to speak--pleading for another reunion. Bertram Wooster is not accustomed to this gluttonous appetite for his society. Ask anyone who knows me, and they will tell you that after two months of my company, what the normal person feels is that that will about do for the present. Indeed, I have known people who couldn't stick it out for more than a few days.

Before sitting down to the well-cooked, therefore, I sent this reply:

"Perplexed. Explain. Bertie."

To this I received an answer during the after-luncheon sleep:

"What on earth is there to be perplexed about, ass? Come at once. Travers."

Three cigarettes and a couple of turns about the room, and I had my response ready:

"How do you mean come at once? Regards. Bertie."

I append the comeback:

"I mean come at once, you maddening half-wit. What did you think I meant? Come at once or expect an aunt's curse first post tomorrow. Love. Travers."

I then dispatched the following message, wishing to get everything quite clear:

"When you say ‘Come’ do you mean ‘Come to Brinkley Court’? And when you say ‘At once’ do you mean ‘At once’? Fogged. At a loss. All the best. Bertie."

I sent this one off on my way to the Drones, where I spent a restful afternoon throwing cards into a top-hat with some of the better element. Returning in the evening hush, I found the answer waiting for me:

"Yes, yes, yes, yes, yes, yes, yes. It doesn't matter whether you understand or not. You just come at once, as I tell you, and for heaven's sake stop this back-chat. Do you think I am made of money that I can afford to send you telegrams every ten minutes. Stop being a fathead and come immediately. Love. Travers."

It was at this point that I felt the need of getting a second opinion. I pressed the bell. "Jeeves," I said, "a V-shaped rumminess has manifested itself from the direction of Worcestershire. Read these," I said, handing him the papers in the case. He scanned them.

"What do you make of it, Jeeves?"

"I think Mrs. Travers wishes you to come at once, sir."

Sunday, January 01, 2006

SIDS SAY THE DARNEDEST THINGS 

The Fraters folks have often busted on the Strib's sports columnists, most recently Patrick Reusse. Their criticisms are largely justified, though I confess to a fondness for Reusse, whose plegmatic cantakerousness perhaps comes across more endearingly on the air in his other gig as a KSTP radio personality than it does on the page.

But the local sports columnist who deserves the biggest raspberry is the almost unimaginably decrepit (the Strib's website boasts that "His first bylined column appeared in the Minneapolis Daily Times on Sept. 11, 1945") Sid Hartman. His combination of homerism, butt-kissing insiderism, and faux contrarianism is unique, and really has to be sampled regularly to be truly appreciated. The net effect is usually just amusing--after all, it's just sports we're talking about. But sometimes he crosses over into less amusing territory.

Exhibit A, from his October 23, 2005 column (no longer available online, unfortunately):
For those media critics, radio talk show callers and other fans who are convinced Mike Tice won't be back as coach of the Vikings next year if the team doesn't have a respectable season, you are 100 percent wrong.
Exhibit B, from his December 17, 2005 column:
If Tice returns as expected, look for Vikings owner Zygi Wilf to make it attractive so that Jerry Rhome and Foge Fazio, midseason additions to the coaching staff, return full-time next year.
And Exhibit C, from his January 1, 2006 column:
Unless the owners of the Vikings change their mind, Mike Tice will coach his last game for the team today.
Now, to Sid's credit, his support of Tice has remained constant throughout. But his earlier columns were clearly intended to give the reader the impression that his support was shared by Wilf. Today he reveals (if indeed we should trust him) that Wilf doesn't share that support. Was Sid correct before, and Wilf just changed his mind? Or was Sid wrong from the beginning? Who knows? Sid doesn't even bother to acknowledge that what he's telling us today about Tice's fate is a 180-degree shift from what he's been telling us for the past two months. And he can't acknowledge that because doing so would contradict his carefully cultivated persona as the guy who always has the inside scoop. So he goes blithely on, as if the past never happened.

I don't mind if a columnist calls me an "ungrateful lout," even if he is (arguably) wrong. I do mind if a columnist--even a sports columnist--leads me astray and then pretends that he hasn't.