Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Assorted Schtuff!!

This is the first actual blog posting written from the confines of my Little House in the Ghetto since I got my internet access back on in early April. This time, the local telephone hegemony is not providing my service, as I still owe them a few bob from my last financial meltdown. Now, the local cable hegemony has been pressganged into providing me with service. Yes, Crapcast is now my ISP. Oh joy, oh rapture. I was just moping around the house one day lamenting the fact that I had to surf the Intertubes on my BlackBerry when the 3 lb doorstop that also doubles as my brain finally realized that there was another way that I could get my home surfing jones satisfied without coughing up big bucks to Verizon, and settling for a slow as molasses edge connection on the BB. I could get my pass to the Interweb through Crapcast's gates. What's more, I already had cable running through the house on the second floor where Allegra was located anyway, so I called the lovely boys and girls at Crapcast and asked them about getting service at home. They quoted me a price of $60/month for just the Internet service, but $43/month if I also got basic cable. Now, understand, that I am one of the five people left in the country who at the time did not have cable. Honestly, I don't need cable because I only watch one or two channels. the majority of my TV entertainment comes through Netflix. So all basic cable does for me is insure that the network channels I do not watch come in crystal clear, plus gets me a bunch of other channels that I don't watch, including the Golf Channel, three All-Jesus, All The Time channels including the always entertaining Public Access TV channel, which in the City of Pittsburgh consists of 90% local prophets, sages, satraps and holymen, dispensing all manners of Jesus to anyone who'll sit still long enough to watch, and also TBS, WGN and few other forgettable offerings.

But while I am not the sharpest knife in the drawer, mama raised a lunatic, not a fool. So I went ahead and told them to throw in the basic cable with the internet access for $43/month. We'll see how long that price lasts!! The install went cleanly, and with little hassle and now I have internet access at home once again and also 20 channels that I don't watch. But I'm back on the Internet with a real connection and real computer and life is good. The service isn't bad, although sometimes the connection bogs down a bit and other times, it blows DSL off the map. And also unlike DSL which requires a PPP dialer to launch the connection, cable is always on as long as the modem's powered up so that's one less step that comes between me and Internet goodness. Maybe after the finances clear up a bit, I'll spring for the real cable which will give me a boat load of channels I won't watch and a few that I will, but first things first.

Last week, PBS debuted a 10 hour miniseries called "Carrier." For the first time a TV crew was given unprecedented access to the crew of the aircraft carrier USS Nimitz, while she was on deployment to the Persian Gulf in 2005. The tv crew spoke to sailors of all stripes aboard Nimitz from the college educated pilots to fly the world's fastest planes to the high school graduates who maintain them. From the cooks in the gallies to the corpsmen in medical to the flight deck gang and the snipes in engineering. The commanding officer, executive officer, and command master chief were also extensive followed and interviewed. The series attempts to give the public a glimpse of life aboard a seagoing warship during wartime. Not content to be merely a recruiting video for the Navy, "Carrier" also dealt with the not- so- good parts of life at sea including sailors who were serving restriction as a result of captain's mast (non-judicial punishment), the guys and gals who work in the dirty, non-glamorous, but still no less important jobs on the ship, as well as following what happens to those families that suffer when their loved ones go to sea. Also the series showed some of the tedium and boredom that can occur during those long stretches at sea, and what the crew did to break up the monotony.

For me, the series dredged up a lot of memories of my days aboard the Carl Vinson back from 1981-1984. I was a plankowner on Vinson, which meant that I was a member of the first crew which put her in commission in March of 1982. In 1983, Carl Vinson put to sea for her first deployment, a World Cruise that saw the ship steam over 50,000 miles in 243 days, hit 10 liberty ports and spend two extended at sea periods of 64 days each. I remember a lot of good things on that cruise. Seeing places that most people would only dream of. Going through the "crossing the line" ceremonies to become a shellback, knowing that I was a part of a ship that displayed the best that American seapower had to offer, and knowing that if we had to, we could lay a load of hurt on any country who tried to mess with us.

Conversely, I also remember the 14 to 18 hour work days 6 and 7 days a week for months at a time. The constant waiting in line to do just about everything from getting off the ship in a liberty port to getting toothpaste in the ship's store. The interminable drills and exercises. Like any environment in which a very diverse population are sequestered in an isolated setting for months at a time doing stressful and dangerous work, there were days in which I couldn't stand to work with the guys I served with and I made it a point to get as far away from them as I could once we got into port. I remembered the oppressive heat of the Indian Ocean during the summer, going out onto the flight deck or a weather deck and seeing nothing but water for days and days on end. Trying to use equipment that didn't always work the way it was supposed to and jumping through all sorts of hoops to get it fixed. At sea, you figure out how to get your job done, even if it's not quite up to regulation. You take a certain amount of pride in your unit, and in the ship as a whole. The unwritten rule was that you could bitch that your ship was a garbage scow, the old man was nuts, the XO was an asshole, and a dozen monkeys were smarter than the chain of command, but you didn't allow sailors from another ship to do it, especially if they came of a ship just like yours. Them's fightin' words in sailor bars.

What I liked about the series was that it didn't just limit itself to just being a public relations shill for the Navy. The TV crew reported on the mundane, the boring, the exasperating, and the frustrating, as well as the good things. It showed the sailors of the Nimitz as a microcosm of the country which it and they serve: a dedicated, hard-working, hard-playing, occasionally fractious, group of Americans who gladly, or in some cases, not so gladly, do their job and make the ship work. All hands are needed, and even the most menial job on ship is necessary. America is in debt to the men and women who serve in her armed forces no matter what branch, especially those who go down to the seas in ships. For those who have never been in the Navy, and wonder what life on a carrier is like: the good, the bad and the ugly, I recommend "Carrier" You'll gain a new respect for those who serve their country in times of war.

The battle for the Democratic nomination for President of these here United States still rages on. Since Hillary Clinton's win in Pennsylvania, the candidates split the next two states to hold primaries, with Barack Obama winning in North Carolina, and Clinton squeaking by in Indiana. Obama still holds the lead in delegates and the superdelegates are leaning in his direction, but Hillary still refuses to throw in the towel. Clinton is popular amongst most working-class whites, women, and senior citizens, while Barack is strong amongst black folks, more affluent liberals, younger voters and male voters. Supporters for both candidates are tending to be all or nothing in their support for Obama and Clinton. Lots of supporters aren't willing to vote for the other candidate should their champion lose. This will wreak havoc in the Democratic party if the polarization continues because that will guarantee that Republican senator John McCain would waltz into the White House and given McCain's similarities to embattled President George W. Bush in terms of the support of an increasingly unpopular war in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the maintaining of the tax cuts during the war, this is not something the country really needs right now. Obama has cut ties to his controversial pastor, Jeremiah Wright due to statements he made about the government creating AIDS, and blaming 9-11 on wrongs committed by America against her minorities. Obama has had to court the much needed white working class vote while not alienating the equally important black vote. Hillary is trying to keep her hold on the working and middle class white vote while trying to gain a share of the black vote. If anything, all this tell s us is that we have a very long to go in terms of the races working together and trusting each other. Much has been done, but much still needs to be done.

Maybe the sheeple that constitute the fanbase of the Pittsburgh Pirates are finally getting sick and tired of the front office's schemes to keep the fans fat, dumb, and happy, while averting their eyes from the fact that they have done little to improve the on-field product. Bobbleheads, Fireworks, and all-you- can-eat seating sections only go so far when the team isn't worth watching. Currently the Bucs are 29th out of 30 teams in Major League Baseball averaging a shade over 15,000/game. Last year, the Pirates finished 27th of 30 teams averaging over 22,000/game. Now it's still early in the season and usually the Pirate attendance figures pick up once schools out for the summer, but clearly, fans are getting tired of the hearing how great the ballpark is, when the team is so bad.

On the other hand, The Pittsburgh Penguins are the belles of the ball in the NHL having dispatched the Noo Yawk Rangers 4 games to one to set up the Eastern Conference final against their dreaded archrivals from out East, the Philadelphia Flyers. This series will be nasty. The Pens and the Flyers traditionally have one of the biggest rivalries in the NHL. Look for a chippy, punchy series with lots of hard hits and more than a few fights. I thinking Pens in six, but I wouldn't be surprised if they are pushed to seven.

Just finished the Ah! My Goddess marathon that I've been running through Netflix the past couple months. I'm really on this big time anime kick these days. Shows you how much of a life I have. Almost all of my DVD fare comes in the red envelopes these days. And I don't even do movies much these days, just anime. I admit I've fallen captive to Japanese animation, and watched more than my share of Speed Racer and Kimba the White Lion when I was growing up. Ah! My Goddess! for those who aren't familiar with the long running manga series, is the story of a long suffering college student named Keiichi Morisato who knows his way around fixing a motorcycle, but does not share the same success with the ladies. One night, he dials a wrong number and instead of getting the take out joint he originally wanted, he gets the Goddess Help Line. And before he knows it, a drop dead gorgeous goddess named Belldandy appears out of a mirror and offers to grant him any wish he desires. Keiichi thinks that his fellow Auto Club members are pulling his leg, so he asks the goddess to stay by his side forever. Surprise, surprise, heaven (which is run by a massive computer system) grants his wish and now he has a smoking hot goddess living with him. Belldandy is the perfect girlfriend. Totally devoted to Keiichi, she's beautiful, kind, gentle, a great cook, and totally and utterly clueless as to how the human world works. Belldandy has this innate ability to bring about good luck to Keiichi even through the most taxing circumstances. He gets kicked out his Auto Club dorm when the seniors find him and Belldandy in his room and through a series of serendipitous twists and turns ends up living in a Buddhist temple with his goddess girlfriend. Now living with one goddess is enough of a challenge, when Belldandy's unprecedented contract with Keiichi causes glitches in the system, her goddess sisters come down to earth to see the problem is. Skuld, the younger sister, is a loud bratty kid that is a whiz at creating gadgets even though they don't always work in the way she intends them. Skuld is completely protective of Belldandy and will stop at nothing to insure that Keiichi and Belldandy's budding romance stays strictly platonic. Urd, Bell's older sister, however is a bronzed skin vixen that's half goddess, half demon, with a Machiavellian streak a mile wide. Her specialty is potions and she is committed to getting Keiichi and Belldandy to...let's just say...get more physical, and has no problem in manipulating Kei and Bell's libidos via her potions to help things along, so to speak. Skuld and Urd have a serious love/hate relationship that keeps things in the Morisato household loud and boisterous and most arguments between the two end up with bombs and depth charges being thrown.

Add to the mix, Keiichi's Auto Club buddies Othaki and Tamiya who are constantly tormenting poor Keiichi; Sayako, the self absorbed campus "queen" who puts away sake like nobodies business, and can't stand that Belldandy has become the hottest girl on campus; Kei's perky smart-ass sister Megumi, and you have a nice fun little romantic comedy. The romance between Keiichi and Belldandy does not get much beyond the hand holding stage, and both characters have had issues in confessing their love to each other. The graphics are very good, the English voice cast is spot on. The plot does develop slowly, but considering that the franchise is 20 years old, it's just as well.

Ah! My Goddess was derived from a manga series entitled Oh! My Goddess that appeared in the Japanese comic magazine "Afternoon" going back to 1988. Since then the franchise has spawned a novel, a video release, a movie and the current animated series. I just found myself really getting into the TV series and enjoying it. There's a lot of references to Norse mythology in the series. I won't get into them here, but if you put Ah! My Goddess and Oh! My Goddess into Wikipedia you'll see how much Nordic mythology makes its way into the plot. There's a third season in the works and I'm looking forward to putting it into my queue when it comes out.

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