Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Epidemic Of Stupidity

I just got back from Texas, where I finally got to see our new house. And it is gorgeous! It’s very well laid out, beautifully appointed, nicely decorated, (thanks to Jayne of course!), and has lots of room. Even the cats are wandering around more or less stress free from not feeling crowded. The development is still slow to get filled in; indeed there is only one other house on our block. I’m trying to figure how to slyly move the fences a foot or so out each night until we can claim our entire side of the street as our property.

But unfortunately I had to return to California, and today was an event in wondering if aliens were secretly absorbing people’s intelligence while I was gone, which was all of three days.

Case 1. I got a call from my office manager saying she was trying to process my trip to Hawaii in a couple of weeks. She couldn’t find the airfare or even any evidence of the flights. Since that is a long swim, I logged onto the website of our new contractor for travel to see what was going on. I first glanced at the printout I made when I arranged this trip almost three weeks ago. Yep, there were the flights. Since then, the flights had mysteriously disappeared. After the required cussing, I edited my arrangements to get the flights put back on.

Now I realize my office’s budget would make panhandling profitable, but if it looks like travel now excludes how to actually get to one’s destination, there may be issues.

Case 2. My monthly train pass for September is almost two weeks late in coming. I called a nice lady at Caltrain who said she’d mail a replacement. She then called this morning saying the letter with the original pass had just shown up on her desk with an “Address Not Found” stamped on it. Funny, one of my housemates also gets a monthly pass, and hers showed up on time. Then again, the mail carrier in my neighborhood isn’t the sharpest tack in the box. At least once a week mail arrives for any given house in a two-block radius. I’m starting to dread what will happen when I put in my change of address for Texas. I suppose they’ll insist on international postage before anything gets forwarded.

Case 3. My envirowacko landlady wants to use used water from the washing machine for her landscaping. Never mind the landscaping makes you prefer the bareness of Death Valley . But the point is she wants her tenants to use only generic brand detergents in the belief that they won’t contain any whiteners, or other life threatening chemicals. You know, the chemicals that actually get your clothes clean. Well…. For a start, generic brands mean they are the store’s brand, such as Costco’s Kirkland brand. And for the most part the ingredients are exactly the same as those in name brands, like Tide. But never confuse an enviro with the facts.

Case 4. While on the train, the woman in front of me was getting upset because she couldn’t get any additional airflow from what she swore was the air vent over her seat. One little point, light fixtures don’t usually emit air.

Saturday, August 9, 2008

Words To Never Use Together

One of the classic TV shows of all time was Rocky And Bullwinkle from the early to late 1960’s. With enough slapstick to keep children entertained, it also wove in adult oriented political satire. And with the Cold War at its peak, there was plenty of material to poke fun at. Who can forget Boris and Natasha, the spies convinced the ebullient Rocky and somewhat slow thinking but kind hearted Bullwinkle were bearers of America’s deepest and darkest secrets? Bullwinkle usually unwittingly foiled their plots, but they always returned with even more nefarious plots.

One episode in particular stood out, not so much for the story but for Rocky uttering a terrific line, “Military intelligence, isn’t that a contradiction in terms?”

That line can be expanded to include customer service, or lack thereof. There are many organizations whose name should never be used in the same sentence as service. A very recent example is a certain cable company known as Comcast. Just the other day, Jayne moved to our new house. Despite tropical storm Eduaord paying a wet and windy visit, the movers showed up on time, nothing got wet, and later on AT&T appeared to hook up the phone.

Once the phone was working, Jayne discovered she had several messages from Comcast, who was also scheduled to hook up the cable for the TV and Internet. Since Jayne has a second job that is web based, it is essential she has reliable access.

No luck.

Comcast claimed because of the weather they couldn’t come out. Funny how no one else had that problem. They then said they couldn’t make another appointment until next Monday. This means she’ll have to drive into Houston Sunday and use her work computer to get anything done. Repeated calls to Comcast have resulted in a different story each time. No they never had her scheduled in the first place. Oh yes, she was scheduled but they’d give her priority in case another customer cancelled their appointment. Well, maybe that would happen. Maybe it wouldn’t.

Maybe the problem is the idiocy of local communities granting cable companies monopolies. No competition means they can do whatever they please and charge whatever they please. Until someone with authority to do so wises up and opens up cable systems to competitors, customers are basically screwed.

Yesterday Jayne said she passed a Comcast truck parked on the side of a road with the driver looking like he was fast asleep. We’re betting anything if Comcast actually shows up Monday, (meaning she needs to take an extra day off work), that this individual will be the one they send out.

Saturday, August 2, 2008

Bars In Every Room

A couple weekends ago, I brought my wife to San Francisco for a combination birthday get together with my local family members and to play tourist. As much as I despise living in San Mateo County, I enjoy the rest of the Bay Area, San Francisco especially, the exception being the yuppified financial district. That, unfortunately, has turned into San Mateo North, complete with the rudeness, arrogance and self absorption.

But enough of that. Because of the smoke from the still burning fires, we opted out of spending a day in Monterey. So we did one of those touristy things, the type you keep telling yourself to do but never get around to until you have out of town visitors. We went to Alcatraz.

I vaguely remember a breakout in 1962, followed by the prison closing a year later. Clint Eastwood dramatized the breakout, which I’m sure didn’t involve anyone who looked a bit like him. Plus he had the option of actually leaving when shooting was done for the day, and without the risk of actually being shot in the process. The place’s other claim to fame was an 18 month long occupation by several American Indian groups who actually had some legitimacy behind their claims that Alcatraz belonged to them via a treaty. Such a shock that treaty was conveniently ignored later on by the government.

While the occupation didn’t yield Alcatraz to tribal control, it did raise public awareness of conditions on Indian lands, with a result of substantial improvements and better relations between the tribes and the federal government. The present situation of course is far from perfect, but overall is better.

But it is the notoriety as a federal prison for the serious bad boys that made Alcatraz so infamous. It is a windswept rock, and would be almost completely barren except for the gardens planted by the prisoners. The freezing water and strong currents of San Francisco Bay kept all but the bravest and or most desperate from trying to escape. Seeing the lights and attractions of this vibrant city only a mile and a half away was the cruelest punishment for the inmates, much crueler than the tiny, stark cells, stripping away of your identity and freedom, and the constant threat of violence that wracks all prisons. Criminals were there to be punished.

Another punishment, and while it may not have been quite as pronounced when the prison was in use as opposed to today, is the eau de seagull. There were thousands of them wheeling about, and not being potty trained, their marks were literally everywhere. We ended up trying to stay upwind as much as possible.

Several of the buildings are now in ruins, which adds to the mystique. They gave the impression of sets from a horror movie, and you have to wonder if several ghosts are wandering around.

I did wonder if I was a prisoner just how I would have escaped. I figure it would either be by hopping on the back of a wayward humpback whale, (everyone in the Bay Area remembers Humphrey, who proved that even among such highly evolved and intelligent creatures as whales you’ll get the occasional knucklehead), or lassoing enough seagulls to be airlifted to freedom. We’ll ignore the little fact that seagulls do not fly in flocks and a group are as apt to go in the same direction as a herd of cats.