Christian Laettner, I still hate you!

Laettner cutting out my heart

Laettner cutting out my heart

I never win anything even remotely related to skill or the ability to analyze complex data sets to project a likely outcome.  Gave up on sports wagering years ago after – finally – coming to the realization that I sucked at it.  Could never even begin to understand horse racing and handicapping odds.  Nor could I fake the slightest understanding of a daily racing form …

Recent years I gave up on one of my last remaining weaknesses … the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament brackets (for entertainment purposes only). I have always enjoyed the tournament, especially the early rounds where upsets lie in deadly ambush.  But winning “entertainment purposes” from my finely honed college basketball acumen?

Not gonna happen …

Funny how most people I know rarely ever watch pre-March Madness college basketball, yet they believe they can reasonably predict the end result of the sport’s 66-team, rabidly emotional, magically unpredictable, championship-determining tournament.

I was one of those wackadoodles once; but it hasn’t been the same for me since 1992.

That was the year the East Regional was held in Philadelphia’s Spectrum.  It was the year of Duke, Kansas, UCLA, and Ohio State as the top ranked teams.  It was the year Michigan made the run from a 6-seed to runner-up, losing to Duke in the National Championship game.

It was the Year of Christian Laettner.

I know the feeling.

I know the feeling.

Normally the NCAA Tourney was just a reason to spend several afternoons in a public establishment amply equipped with televisions in the company of friends.  But in the early rounds of the 1992 tournament bracket I was en fuego!  As the Round of 32 ended, I realized I had a pretty good bracket collection going … through no fault of my own.

As luck would have it, I had ridden Michigan as my surprise entry into the Final Four.  I had the potential – with a Kentucky win over Duke – of having three of four Final Four survivors! (Kansas and Ohio State having been ousted earlier by University of Texas – El Paso and Michigan respectively.)

So, like any other stat geek with a finely developed obsession common among baseball fans and fantasy sports addicts (Guilty x2), I spent hours analyzing the various permutations and likely results from the conveniently supplied Excel spreadsheet provided those like-minded “entertainment purposes” fans who had ponied up the $10 donation.

And I quickly realized that if Kentucky won its Regional Final matchup against Duke, I would be in the primo “entertainment purposes” driving seat heading into the Final Four and almost unbeatable due to a significant “entertainment purposes only” point lead!

I was on top of the world!

And then this happened …

For a more rounded, less suicidal (mine) version of this History of Misery event watch Ric Bucher‘s video report of The Carnage that left me with a nervous facial tic for years whenever I glimpsed the basketball floor at the Spectrum.

Of course, I don’t really hate Christian Laettner.  I simply hated what his exceptional skills on the court contributed to my wakening realization that fortune did not await me as the result of my keen sports betting insight.

So yes, I guess I hate Christian Laettner for saving me untold fortunes in the 20 years or so since.

It’s a complicated anti-relationship!

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Bent Tie-Rod Challenge ’14

Tie-rod, oh tie-rod!

Tie-rod, oh tie-rod!

Yes, daily commuters, it’s pothole dodging time once again!

As Winter haltingly relinquishes its grip to warming temps and the inevitable thaw, a challenge is presented to drivers across the America’s Snow Belt.  With Spring sitting teasingly just beyond the calendar’s horizon, snow and ice give way to blacktop that hasn’t been seen for months, trapped this Winter under layers of an  impenetrable permafrost.

The big melt reveals roadways that in spots are in a state of severe deterioration.  Craters the size of Baltic countries, fissures capable of swallowing a Prius whole, and teeth rattling jolts from “puddles” hiding deep water glacier lakes!

Maybe owning this would help

Maybe owning one of these would help
(From the movie “Armageddon”)

Terror, Thy name is Thaw!

This year I dub this the Bent Tie-Rod Challenge in memory of the one destroyed just a week ago when I set out to forage for family sustinence at local pizza establishment.  The jaw-jarring impact was exceeded only by the jaw-dropping cost of repair.

The mechanics of pothole creation are fascinating.

OK … Maybe that’s a stretch.  But it might be useful to keep in mind that it ain’t the snow that’s the enemy in this game of suspension system roulette.  It’s water and the freezing, thawing, freezing, thawing cycle.  Exciting, I know …

Anyways … The purpose of this post is to give you a few coping mechanisms in the form of games you can play as your car does The Dance of a Thousand Pep Boys.  Your fingers clenched white-tight on the steering wheel; one eye searching the roadway frantically for tell-tale signs, the other watching the vehicle ahead for warning swerves and teeth-rattling bounces.

Although these ideas cannot be guaranteed to reduce your stress level, they will give you something really stupid to think about as you sit panting from exertion at the next red light.

Enjoy!

Olympic Pothole Freestyle - This is an timely salute to the daring do of the downhill skier and snowboard half-tubers.  Visualize a treacherous downhill ski slope, full of hazards, danger, and emergency room visits.  Your car is the downhill skier/boarder swooping gracefully between the gates and around the deadly edges of certain disaster.  But instead of being happy to simply arrive at work with all your fillings intact, get graded on Skillfulness, Graceful Lines, and Number of Four-Letter Utterances (excluding those uttered in the Idiot Driver category).  Just remember the Swiss judge can be brutal!

Picture potholes instead of asteroids

Picture potholes instead of asteroids

Pothole Asteroids - Take this favorite arcade game from the 1980s and make it a part of your morning commute.  Establish a point system that recognizes the potential cumulative damage to your undercarraige and commuter sanity relative to the size of the divot, pothole, or moon crater you impact.  Lowering scores are the objective.  Half all points for commutes taken before sunrise and after sunset.  For an added touch of Asteroid realism affix a weapons-grade laser to the front of your vehicle.  It won’t improve the pothole situation, but you can use it on the idiot in front of you. (unless you prefer to let him continue to clear the minefield ahead of you.)

Name that Crevasse!  This is a season-long challenge to name those memorable road bunkers you see every single day for weeks and weeks and weeks.  It requires a slower approach to your commute which also allow you to appreciate the grandeur and majesty of Mother Nature’s work in asphalt.  Look for those holes with iconic features and familiar looking profiles.

Last year's winner "Barringer"

A hole called “Barringer Crater”

Suggested themes: Countries and Islands,  National Parks and Monuments, Famous Profiles in Politics and Entertainment (Streisand, LBJ, Washington, Durocher, Durante, Hitchcock), States of the Union.  Note the location of each road canyon you affectionately name, then swap and collect locales with your friends.  For added fun try Bosses I Have Worked For, just make sure you have enough in the bank account to correct damages from the irresistible temptation to hit those road cavities on purpose!

Are you meat or a space commander?

Are you meat or space commander?

Lunar Lander -  This challenge would be the toughest of all!  Another variation on a beloved arcade game where you landed a Lunar Landing Module on the surface of a planet crowded with towering mountains and tiny plateaus with a very, very limited supply of fuel.  Unfortunately in this challenge, consistent with a space vehicle that was paper-thin in many areas to keep weight to a minimum, any contact with a pothole means “death” and loss of the challenge (Houston, we have a problem!).  Complete said challenge at night, and achieve Lunar Mission Commander status! (Tranquility Base here, the Eagles has landed!).

Now get out there and make that chariot of yours dance!

images-2

Let’s get back to Weather sanity!

Coal-Fired-Power-PlantThat’s it!  I have reached my wits end.  It is time to take action.

Obviously, Global Warming has blown a tire these last two Winters, so I have decided it’s time to reverse this silly climate change process.

But don’t worry, my little snow bunnies, I’m onto the solution!

To wit, I am requesting bids to build a coal-fired electrical plant in my back yard.  Said plant must be designed to raise the temps in my little swath of Snow-ylvania by at least an average of 10 degrees.

607271-cowIn addition, the facility must accommodate a herd of cattle (allegedly REAL co-culprits in Global Warming/cooling/changing due to their … uh … cow pies) as an extra measure of potential temp increase.

Finally, the coal-cow facility must also accommodate a fertilizer plant capable of producing massive amounts of nitrous oxide which can be released untreated into the atmosphere.

In ten years my Pennsylvania neighbors will be happily donning swimsuits and flip flops on New Years Eve!

No need to thank …

Snow humor (such as it is)

Good news: We did get our Philly Inquirer today!
Bad news: I found it with the snow blower.

Was discussing the beautiful light blue hue today’s heavy snow had as you dug into its depth. Asked my neighbor, “What do you call snow when it’s blue like this?” He replied with a grunt, “Heavy (insert your favorite off-color adjective) blue snow!

How do you stop the snow plows from sealing in your driveway?
heavy weapons

Who gets to clear your neighbor’s driveway because they left two days ago for Florida?
Somebody else …

Super HoHum

Pre-snap high-fiving, a common Superbowl party faux pas

Pre-snap high-fiving,
a common Superbowl party faux pas

So another Superbowl Sunday is upon us.

Yippee …

Another opportunity to watch The Big Game with a crowd of one-time-a-year football fans.  The same ones who will make insightful contributions and ask pointless questions throughout The Big Game until a mortuary silence descends in stunning suddenness at every commercial break.

Yep … Fun times …

I have long decided that most seasons the Best Pro Football Games are played in the weekends of the Division and Conference Championship games.  The mania of Superbowl week just stokes a lot of distraction and the interests of the football shoobies.

Peyton, the guy waving his hands

Peyton, the guy waving his hands

A good thing for the NFL corporatists, not so much if you actually like to get inside the game; enjoy Joe Buck’s insights (ducking behind the couch); and hear Peyton (Broncos quarterback, the guy who will be standing behind the players, who are all bending over, waving his hands around like Abbie Lee Miller on “Dance Moms“) playing mind games at the line of scrimmage (that’s the place where they spot the ball before every play).

The Superbowl has evolved into a huge social event, as opposed to a reason to watch a really good football game, over the decades since few people cared about the Green Bay Packers (They are not playing today.) manhandling the Kansas City Chiefs (Andy Reid’s new team, also not playing today) 35-10 in the first Superbowl (1967), back when The Big Game wasn’t even called the Superbowl (AFL-NFL World Championship Game).

200px-Super_Bowl_logo.svgBut that’s OK.  After any event has a successful run as long as this one has, it takes on a life of its own.  I have gone to many Superbowl happenings and have avoided others.

It all depends on the varied moods and interest levels of this cranky man.  And who’s playing …

If New England or New York was in it again, I’d probably welcome the chance to get be hopelessly distracted.

Today, I’ll just hunker down for this Superbowl Sunday and watch it in the comfort and relative quiet of my own home.  Hope it’s a good one!

My Philly wage taxes “at work”

imagesWhenever a big snow storm hits, I receive a rude awakening in what my Philadelphia City Wage Tax dollars accomplish for me as I travel to my Philly-hosted, U.S. Navy employment site.

The Navy installation I work at (Naval Support Activity Philadelphia) is located on Oxford Avenue maybe a mile inside the City from Cheltenham Township, my usual route into work.

This means I use maybe a mile of City streets each day (two miles roundtrip) to reach my work desk, which itself is situated on Federal property.  And for the pleasure of this jaunt along the pristine streets of Philadelphia I pay roughly $3900/year!

So unless I throw an embolism arguing with my boss over some inane minutia, requiring a police response or a stat med-evac, my lone benefit from that $3900 investment are those grand vistas along that mile stretch of Martin’s Mill Road.

Life don’t get any better than that!

So whenever it snows significantly and the region works hard to shake the white stuff from its broad shoulders, I notice – as I travel from my Horsham residence - the snow-cleared and salted streets of Horsham, Hatboro, Upper Moreland, Lower Moreland, Abington, and Cheltenham townships.  And I anticipate the glorious mess the Philadelphia streets still will be two full days after an annoying though thoroughly manageable snow fall.

The clean, salt-laced salted roads of the suburban Townships, those that get to enjoy nothing but my hometown income tax offset for suffering the Philadelphia Wage Tax, transition to the slushy, icy, still full-of-snow streets of a City that struggles to provide its tax-paying citizens bare, essential services.

And they wonder why the schools of Philadelphia are such a monumental mess!

If you cannot manage the simplest of services, how can you possibly do any better with such complex activities as education … regardless of how much money the State might pump in?!?  And how does that make YOU feel about what you might be paying in Philly wage taxes and the prospect of future demands for more of it?

Me?  I feel all slushy and iced over.

Because it’s mine

Was so, so close to having the garage finally cleared out from the renovations.

Plenty of room to move around.  No more playing Sliding Block Puzzle just to find the tool box.  Maybe even fit two cars in there for the snows expected tomorrow!

(Get your milk and bread! NOW!!)

And then it was finally time to get the father-in-law moved in.

Mike's Scratch 'n Dent

Mike’s Scratch ‘n Dent

I hate my life.

But my wife had some comforting words, “Stop whining.”

She doesn’t understand me.

How Snowden turned U.S. intel into a healthcare.gov Tech-Apocalypse

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The Federalist‘s Ben Domenech wrote a great analysis of how Eric Snowden‘s revelations hurt the U.S. when he released information on U.S. international intelligence operations that really had no relation to the protection of American privacy.  It only hurt U.S. intelligence efforts around the world.

And if you really think the U.S. shouldn’t be doing this at all, as if no other countries do whatever they can to figure out what the U.S. is up to or what our interests might be internationally, you are quite the naive one!

The other interesting development from President Obama’s speech yesterday was the decision (See second paragraph.) to allow his subordinates to determine and design a system for allowing access to U.S. phone records when needed for reasons of national security.

The president said he no longer wants the National Security Agency to maintain a database of such records. But he left the creation of a new system to subordinates and lawmakers, many of whom are divided on the need for reform.

Wait a second …

Isn’t this the same creative team with the same management and executive leadership that came up with the healthcare.gov website?!?

So how well will all of you be sleeping NOW with that little nugget of info???

No man is an Island … unless an Island he is

zombie-hands

Now I know what a Zombie Apocalypse
might look like …

I stand alone.  It’s official.

At some point this week, my last hope that good parenting, a quality standard of living, and the example – so often set here – that a grounded political philosophy can hold up to any intellectual challenge was smothered in the simple act of renewing a Pennsylvania driver’s license.

My youngest son changed his voter registration to Democrat.  And he is the smart one!

Was the smart one …

How did he express his change of affiliation when asked?  “I changed my mind.”

He made it sound like he was changing his socks.

Maybe it’s a statement on my Leadership.  Maybe I didn’t politically proselytize enough when the boys were so impressionable the correct politic would have been permanently ingrained, like their Philly accents.  Maybe I made one too many mistakes as a parent.

Oh well …

So now I am surrounded.  But that’s OK.  I can take solace in the following.

    • Neither one of them votes to my knowledge; and unfortunately, getting an Absentee Ballot is about to get a lot harder for one Temple Owl!
    • Mr. Hoot is also going to love taking the Broad St Subway back to school in the company of so many of his Democrat buds!
    • The two lost offspring who still list our home as primary residence do not as yet have to buy their own healthcare on those sterling examples of Government efficacy and Democrat “know how”, those Obamacare exchanges.  (I just want to be in the room when they find out how much they will be paying!)

doctor-obamacare

    • Neither have they had to worry about supporting themselves entirely on their own, and by doing so discover just how hard it is to stay ahead of the curve all the while supporting so many who simply don’t bother trying.
    • Nor do they possess the baseline from which they can gauge all that marvelous Hope and Change to which they are obviously drawn.
    • I still hold very limited influence over my Better Half. Carol votes Republican – I think – but has little interest in changing party affiliation for some reason.

In the end, I will continue to stand as the Lion at the Gate.  Politely accepting the political materials dropped off at the house by my Democrat opposition during elections cycles and quietly sorting the mail.   Not sure why those materials never seem to arrive with their intended receivers.

I guess all’s fair in Love and Poltics!

Of course I told the house’s latest Democrat that he will always be welcomed back into the real Party of Progress … once he regains his senses!

But for now, I am the lone Grand Old Party stalwart beating back the political zombies seeking to weaken the ramparts, while keeping the inmates calm and reassuring them that they can have their political say the second Tuesday of every November!

Christmas tree Wars

crooked treeA Cautionary Tale from Christmas 2012 …

Merry Christmas!

“So, how do you guys make sure … ?”

Those words were a precursor to a Christmas experience I had yet to have the “pleasure” of enjoying.  And as soon as I finished the rest of that sentence, I had one of those little voice-in-the-back-of-the-head premonitions of impending Yuletide Aggravation.

We were Christmas tree shopping two weekends before the holiday.  And we had found a suitable tree …

A suitable tree is a) alive, b) reasonably full and bushy, and c) fixable in places where it’s not reasonably full and bushy.  

After looking at the first 45 trees, I usually remind my spousal unit that the tree doesn’t have to be “perfect”, which always gets me that “Thank you, Captain Obvious!” tilted-head glare. 

As is the customary belief of REAL Christmas tree (i.e. green and alive) aficionados, Artificial Trees are reserved for the soul-less, Just-Add-Water Christmas types, and Communists.

Fidel Castro extolling the virtues of a straight - but artificial - Christmas tree!

Fidel Castro extolling the perfect alignment of artificial Communist Christmas trees.

… and so we arrange for a tree-rustler to grab our prized evergreen and head off to The Prep Area, where the tree trunk gets a fresh cut and – in our case – a hole drilled up the middle of the trunk to accommodate our center-post tree stand.

For years and years we used the traditional four-point screw clamp tree stands and never seemed to have a problem.  Then twice in three years we had trees topple over for no apparent reason; one time as we were walking out the door to attend Christmas Eve Mass.  

And so ever since we have relied upon our Center Post tree stand.

And this is where Christmas 2012 took its unanticipated cruise through uncharted waters.

The Mistake I made was to ignore the visual warning signs, despite the “uh oh” feeling I experienced after the following conversation, which resulted from my evaluation of the tree-drilling set-up.

“Hey, I’m just curious, but I notice you guys don’t have the self-check fixture on the top of the drill rig.”, as had been used at other tree establishments in years past.

“Yeah, the grounds not very level here, so we can’t use the fixture or the trees will come out drilled crookedly.”, the tree rustler offered. 

“So, how do you guys make sure you drill the tree straight?”, I asked.

“Oh well, I’ll hold the tree in place as straight as I can; and The Driller checks the alignment from three directions to make sure we get it straight.”

uh huh …

Actually, there were two mistakes made here.

The first was to turn our annual Christmas tree hunt into an “adventure”, where we tour 4-5 road-side tree lots before we head back to our known – and reliable – Christmas tree merchant because nothing we see – as Carol demands – jumps out and screams, “MERRY CHRISTMAS!!” … accompanied obviously by Schroeder, Lucy and the rest of the Charlie Brown gang singing Christmas Time is Here.

The second mistake was not bailing out as soon as I saw the tree-drilling set up or after hearing the explanation thereof.  It just didn’t occur to me that if the drill rig was not level, even if the tree was visually “straight”, the “crooked” drill rig would …

Well … you can guess what happened next.

Get the tree home, but wait until the next day – December 16 – to pop the tree into the center post tree stand.  At first I didn’t notice the Leaning Tree of Holiday Anguish.  I usually allow the tree to stand in the warm house so it falls out from its tightly wrapped handling and transportation configuration.

The next morning, I come down stairs on my way to work and check to see how the tree is falling out.

Oh no … You have got to be kidding me!  Crooked?!?  The damn thing is CROOKED!?!

At first I thought maybe the tree’s trunk is twisted.  So I turned the tree on its stand looking for both The Good Side of the evergreen and an angle where it didn’t look like a drunk leaning against a lamp post.  But no matter which way it was turned it looked somehow even worse!

2012 Tannenbaum II

2012 Tannenbaum II

So this Christmas season offered me the one holiday experience I had yet to encounter … The Return of a Christmas Tree.  After 50-plus years of Yuletide experience, you tend to believe you have seen it all.

Silly Santa …

Now some might say we were callous to reject an imperfect specimen.  Yes, it wasn’t the tree’s fault.  It was the boobs on the business end of a lopsided drill rig.

The tree vendors were nice enough about it.  They offered me another tree or a refund.  I made a cursory glance around for a replacement.  Although I have to admit, I didn’t WANT to find another one, which would be subject to the same off-kilter drilling process.

The tree purveyors offered a smile with my refund; and I trudged on back to the same old place we usually go, where the trees are on display with trunks pre-drilled so there’s no guesswork involved.  We ended up buying Tannenbaum II at our usual place and enjoyed a visually perfect Christmas!

The moral of the story is … “Familiarity breeds content.”

Also … “If it sounds too stupid to be done correctly, listen to that little voice in the back of your head.”