The SamuraiMarine

Thoughts, Philosophy, Life and Love

Category: Commentary and Critique

Head On… Apply directly to your head

Alright… So I will have to agree that these are, quite possibly, the worst commercials on TV. I cannot even tell you how the nerves grate when I see the Head On, and similar products, ads come on, and you would be amazed at how quit I am to hit the mute button, or throw a blunt object in the general direction of the television.

All that being said, I found myself, one day, with a bad headache, and walking aimlessly through Target. This is one of the many times that my wife dragged me there in an effort to buy household goods. It was in the process of this shopping that I stumbled upon it…

There… in the pharmacy, behind the counter, was a small green box, titled “Head On – Migraine formula.” So I asked the lady to hand it to me. I walked away with a sense of skepticism about my find. Being that my headache was so bad at this point that I was trying to figure out who had the nine inch nails, and why they were pounding them into my head, I broke open the box and “applied it directly to my head.”

Let me take a moment and explain me, to you. I am the type of person that, if you hand me a bag of money, my first question is: “What’s the catch?” If you tell me how great something is, I will probably ignore you, and if you rave about it, chances are I will not try it on principal. The odd thing about this philosophy is that I think I picked some of it up from one of my former bosses at a company called ADSS.

Now… after I put this stuff on my head, I felt a little tingle, but nothing major. It was not until about ten minutes later that my wife asked how my head was. It was then that I realized that the headache was actually gone. I was speechless. I went back to the Pharmacy to get another one, but they had only had the one tube, and I had bought it. So I went home with sadness in my heart.

Later that same week, I was in Vons, a grocery chain, and noticed that they had Active On… this is the arthritis version of the Head On. So I picked up the box and set out for the rest of my purchases.

That night, as it usually does, my knee started acting up on me. This is usually a dull, deep pain and I try to just ignore it. But that night I decided to try my new weapon. I put the Active On on in just the way they suggested, and within twenty minutes, the pain was almost unnoticeable. I also had the same success when my ankle acted up on me a few days later. The pain was gone within minutes.

So… I am a Head On/Active On advocate… in spite of their commercials.

If you find a bottle in the store you like to shop at, please pick one up… I think you will be pleased.

Car shopping for the recently insane

I have recently purchased a car… Not a new car, mind you, but new to me. I can tell you one thing, though. This has been more nerve wracking that anything I have gone through in some time. My word of advice to everyone is this: If you are suicidal, have a tendency towards violent emotional outbursts, have been known to start speaking in tongues when in the presents of used car sales people or have uncontrollable fits and spasms when someone says, “Let me go talk to my manager.” If any of these describe your state of mind, then please do yourself and the legal system a favor and go pick yourself out a good ten-speed. As for the rest of you, please read on.

As any of you who might know me will understand, my last vehicle sucked. I drove a 1997 GMC Jimmy that had been nothing short of a money pit since I bought it. Luckily I also bought a warranty package, so much of the money that it has sucked, in the beginning, was from the dealer. This was my vehicle for eight years… and yes, I was surprised with I realized that I had had it that long as well.

Going into this process, I laid out three vehicles I was interested in, and kept it to that. In order of importance, here is that list: 1. Honda Ridgeline, 2. Chrysler Pacifica, and 3. Hyundai Sante Fe. Now I can already hear some of you out there groaning about the Hyundai, but let me tell you something. I was actually surprised to learn that they have come a long way and turned out to be a pretty good car maker these days. I was not, in the least, hesitant to look at a Sante Fe or a Tucson by them.

My final decision was based on the current market and the fact that I was made a very good deal on the car. It was the 2006 Chrysler Pacifica, touring edition. I wanted the Honda Ridgeline, but with the current credit crunch, Honda (and a few other dealers) are extremely tight on their policies and restrictions for whom they finance. I can accept this, as I will be the first to say that I have not been a saint with respect to my credit. I have had issues and events that have broken down my rating.

I can say, though, that my experience was not completely unpleasant. The only down side to the shopping experience was giving my cell phone and home address to Barber Honda. Even after I advised them that I was going with another dealer and not interested in them, I continued to get calls and letters from them. The place that really helped us with locating a car and the purchase process was a company called Autoland. Since my wife works with a credit union here locally, she got us in touch with a gentleman by the name of Lenny Garifo, who went out of his way to get us into what we wanted, and at the price point we were looking for. If you are a member of a credit union that uses Autoland, and get to the point where you are looking for a vehicle, then I suggest you look into them.

In the end, I think I ended up with a pretty good car that is very comfortable. Best of all… it is nice to enjoy driving again.

What people go through for a cigarette.

I have never really understood smoking.

I mean, I understand it from a physiological point of view in how it affects the body and the addiction it creates, that part is pretty easy to figure out. What I am talking about is the extremes that people will go through just so that they CAN smoke.

Before I go any further, this is not an article that condemns smoking. It is your body, do with it what you like. I think that you should be able to smoke, if you like, without having to worry about other people harassing you or otherwise giving you remorse. The only thing I will insert to that is to be respectful of those around you when you do smoke, that you are not violating THEIR airspace with your smoke.

That being said… let us proceed.

As I write this, I think about the time my mother came down to visit from Alaska. My mother started smoking when she was about 14, I think, but she was young when she first picked up her first smoke. Over the course of her life, there were only two times she stopped smoking. The first time was when she was pregnant with me, then the second was when she was pregnant with my brother. Both times, as she explains it, she suddenly could not stand the taste or smell of cigarettes, and even went so far as to scrub the house from stem to stern to get the smell out.

She was never what I would call a chain smoker, like my father could be occasionally. No… She would smoke her smoke, and then there would be a couple hours or so before she would light up again.

When She came down from Alaska, though, we let her know that she could not smoke in the house. We did not smoke, and we did not like the smell of smoke. So she agreed and would take her cigarettes outside and smoke. She would do this in the rain, in the freezing cold, in the fog… you name it.

It always struck me as funny that people would brave the elements to go out and have a smoke.

As time went on, this caused me to really pay attention to other people smoking. Once I noticed a cluster of people, maybe five or six, huddled under an awning smoking while it was pouring rain. there did not look to be enough room for them all, but they were managing it. I would be surprised if someone did not end up with a burn in their shirt or sweater, though.

Here are people, braving the weather and the chance of a cold, or worse, to smoke a cigarette. Like I said earlier, I do not know, first hand, the feeling of needing a cigarette, so I have to wonder if the need overrides common sense. Do people working in places like the south pole (McMurdo and the like) do when they get the urge, or do they just learn to not smoke while they are down there.

I sometime wonder if smoking is a sort of social sport, of sorts. Many times people go smoking together and talk while they are at it. At the place I work, I usually see the smokers all migrate to the smoking area at the same time, and you can tell when they are out there, because there is this odd gray cloud over the back of the building. What makes this even more amusing is that when non-smokers walk past, they all seem to get quiet. Like there is a plot afoot or something.

Like I said, I have nothing against smokers… it is their life and body to do with as they please.

Laid Off, Laid up and thrown out.

There was a time, and it was not really all that long ago, when a career meant something.  If you went to work for a company, and you showed the dedication and commitment to your employer, then you could count on keeping your job for just about as long as you wanted to work.  OK, Trust me, I am not completely naive, I know that there was a lot of the same problems that we see today, the biggest problem is that there is also not nearly the same level of dedication to the employer or BY the employer that there once was.
The problem is that as we have moved towards what I like to call a disposable society, so too have our jobs.  People are not encouraged to take their jobs as seriously today as they were in times past and with all the mergers, acquisitions, break-ups and bankruptcies… they ask; who knows where my job will be in a year or two or three.

I do speak from some experience here.  I was once a member of the Telecommunications industry working for a little known company called Brooks Fiber Communications.  I should not say they were little known, we were actually pretty well known, but only if you were familiar with the industry, which I was not when I went to work for them.  I would like to take a moment to thank a great woman named Holly Clark, should she ever stumble upon this site, for being a great mentor to me and giving me a chance that not many were willing to at the time, but I digress…

The Brooks Fiber Communications location in Bakersfield was a great place to work, and the job was really fun and I liked everyone I worked with, with the definite exception of the General Manager for that location… no… no names.  Over time I guess the company was doing too well, and someone showed interest in us.  We were bought out by MCI, then later by WorldCom, becoming MCI WorldCom.  The problem with these mergers is that the people that are organizing them and putting the details together are not thinking of the people that it will affect, they are only thinking of the money that THEY, the owners, executives and shareholders are making in the deal.  Many of these mergers are deals made of greed, nothing else.

Not taking into account the effect that Bernard Ebbers and his personal greed may or may not have caused to the company, shortly after the mergers took place, we started to hear rumors of cutbacks, lay-offs and reorganizations within the company.  It took a while, but after my newly appointed manager took over and advised several of us that our jobs were safe, the axe fell.  In fact it was not more than a week after that little speech of his, when I was taken into his office and advised that I was part of the “Reduction of redundant positions within the company.”

This type of thing seems to be happening a lot these days.  In fact so much so that you often hear people say things like, “I will stick around until the next merger.”  People are now affraid to be too secure in their jobs, and I really cannot blame them.  I do consider myself lucky, in that the company that I work for is privately held, and there does not appear to be anyone vying for our attention or looking to buy us out.  As I am writing this, I am using my feet to knock on the wood of my desk.  But I also understand that like the wind, your and my fortunes can change with little or no warning at all.

The fact is that you see things like this happening all the time now.  In my present job I used to be the primary person that would order land line (Telephone) service for my remote employees.  A little more than a year ago, when SBC “became” AT&T, I watched as several people that had become good friends were “Packaged Out” of their jobs.  One of them told me that while she was lucky and that the package was nice, and she would get to spend more time with her grand kids, she would still like to keep working, and that AT&T had made her feel a little like an old suitcase that someone found in the closet.  They had gotten a lot of use out of it, but they just could not justify keeping it anymore.

Now I open the news… ok… so I read it online, but I still like the “old school” way of saying that I open the paper.  And I read that Sprint/Nextel is laying off 4,000 people from their ranks, (also see this link) using words like “streamline” and other pleasantries that are supposed to give us the big warm and fuzzy feeling and make it sound OH SO GOOD for all those involved.  While I have friends in Sprint/Nextel, I will not press them for any details, other than to make sure that they are alright and that they are not leaving.

What is interesting in this is that they need to close all these locations, and lay off all these employees, right?  But they were still able to pay their new CEO a signing bonus and a very nice compensation package.

As I learned myself, I was not aware I was leaving MCI WorldCom, so you never know.  If my experience with WorldCom was any example, and I am sorry if this worries my friends within Sprint/Nextel, this is not the end.  There will probably be others.

This is the biggest problem that these mergers and downsizing events create.  It puts all the employees into a perpetual state of what I can only call “Anal Spasms”.  You get to the point where every time you hear anything about the company you work for on the news, you immediately start trying to remember where you left your hemorrhoid creme.  You could almost take this as far as to be similar to a Jeff Foxworthy joke… “If you jump and clinch your butt-cheeks every time your company it mentioned on the news… You might be a TeleCom employee.”

All humor aside…  If you are one of the hundreds of thousands of ex-telecom employees out there… I feel for you and I hope that you got out with some dignity.  If you are still a Telecom employee, I also feel for you.  It is a GREAT business to be in.  But with all the shifting, merging, acquiring and stuff going on, I have to think many of you are living a little like a soldier in a foxhole.  You are never quite sure on when the next shell is going to land close or on top of you.

If you are reading this, and have had an experience with something like this, please tell me your stories.  I make it a practice to not edit or omit someone’s comments.  Even if you say something that I do not like, I will still put it up… as long as it has something to do with the topic and is not spam.

Prisoners of their own success

Have you ever thought about what it would be like to be famous?  To have the public wanting to know about you and what you are doing, or to command the respect of many simply by being… you?

Sure… we all have, at some point, considered the idea.  I had alway thought about becoming a a world famous scientist when I was young.  There was also the whole moon and space thing happening while I was growing up, so I also thought I was going to be an astronaut.  Today I am simply working, slowly, on a story that I hope will make it to becoming a book at some point.

The reason I bring up this line of thought, though, is because of what I see and hear about actors and actresses these days.  The lives they lead and the people that they are.  The Paris Hilton’s and Brittany Spears’ of the world along with the Brad Pitts and the George Clooney’s.  They are rich, well known, in some cases admired and they are all prisoners of their own fame and success.

Myself and most of you reading this, are able to live a life free of the gazes of others.  To the best of my knowledge, there are no photographers camped in the Magnolia tree outside my office window.  There is no one following me on my exciting five minute drive to work every morning, and certainly no one rifling through my trash looking for some memento from my life.  If there is, then I am happy to know that someone out there has less of a life than do I.

When you look at your favorite actor or actress, any of them, you choose.  Do you think that they can do half the things that you and I can do?  I can walk through my front door, and down the street, and no one will give me a second look.  In fact, you would be hard pressed to find anyone that would even remember seeing me.  Now, take the same situation, but this time lets make it someone like Matt Damon.  How far down the street do you think he would get before people started stopping to look, or walking up to him.  Worst case, and there are always nuts out there that might try this, how long before someone tried to hurt him?

There was a time, and there may be a few of my readers that remember it, when an actor could walk down the street and people would leave them alone.  They might talk to them, or maybe ask for an autograph, but nothing like today.  Today people are so desperate to have some contact with the stars they like that they will do almost anything.  A good example, and one that has been held up for display more times than I can count, would be John Hinckley and HIS attempt to win the attention of Jody Foster.

While there are some, OK, quite a few exceptions… actors do not all bring it on themselves.  The majority of the problem with the press and the people stalking those that are famous are those of you who feed the wolf, so to say.  The ones that go out and buy the tabloids, watch the “expose'” TV shows and log on to the web sites to see the latest stills of this actor or that actress doing something that will get them news time.  People that watch or read this stuff are the reason it is there.  You are the ones that killed Princess Diana, albeit indirectly, by feeding the industry that chased her down, as they chase all of those in high places.  Face it… if there were no money in the close up of a famous person, then there would be no paparazzi.

Don’t get me wrong… the actors have learned to play to the audience as well.  They know how to provoke the masses and how to get themselves advertising.  A friend of mine once told me, and I am pretty sure he got it from someone else, that “There is no such thing as bad publicity.”  and that is more true that any of us would care to think about.  Look at how many times people like Brittany Spears makes the news for something that she has done regarding her kids, or her exploits revolving around her driving skills.  When the news hits the stands, do her record sales drop?  Do people boycott her concerts?  How about the whole thing involving Paris Hilton? Does anyone really think that she is going to change?

And again… they are all playing to the audience.  They know that for every person out there like me, that see them for what they really are, there are 10 to 20 more that will continue to watch shows like “E!” and any of the many other Celebrity Stalker shows that are out there.  People that have nothing better to do with their lives than to watch their favorite celebrity doing their latest stupid act, getting arrested, pretending to give to their favorite charity, pretending that they have a single clue about politics, etc… all for the sake of the voyeuristic orgasm that they might get out of it.

Me?  Yeah… I have the people that I keep track of.  Here is a short list of the people that I used to and still do monitor, tell me how many you have heard of?

  • Carl Sagan – Physicist – Deceased
  • Robert Heinlein – Writer – Deceased
  • Michio Kaku – Physicist
  • Kip Thorne – Physicist
  • Stephen Hawking – Physicist – All around great guy.
  • Greg Bear – Writer
  • Greg Benford – Writer
  • LarryNiven – Writer.

This list could go on forever.  But I will leave it with those names.  That will give you an idea of whom I think are worth the time to study and follow.  These are people that change the way we think about life and the universe.

Actors and actresses help us escape reality.  They let us see into the imagination of the person that created the character that they are portraying.  Beyond that, they are just people, nothing more.  They are no more or no less important than you or me.  They only have the status that they do because you have fed the monster that put them there.  To be fair, there are those that do do good, that try and make a difference.  But those are not the ones that make the big news, because they know that you do not need to advertise when you do a good deed.  Those are the silent victories that they keep to themselves.   I know they are out there.

If you are reading this, and you happen to be one of those people that religiously watch or read the tabloids or programs that come on TV, then ask yourself why it is really that important that you know what these people, the actors and actresses, are doing.  Is anything you learn going to do anything to better your life?  Is any of it going to do anything to make you or those around you better people?  Isn’t there anything you can be doing with that time that is a better use of your time?

I know… I am probably being hard on you.  But face it, you can either sit and watch another person screw up their lives, or you can go out and make something of yours.  It really is your own choice.  Just keep in mind that we all have something to offer the world, and you will never learn what that is by watching other people live their lives.

Thanks for reading.

Charity

Let’s face it… We have all given to a charity. It gives us that “warm fuzzy” that lets us feel like we have done our part for (insert global/geopolitical/cultural/religious need here.)

The problem with these charities is that we are not always sure what the money will actually do for the people that it is going to. We give… and yes, we all know that a certain percentage does not get to the needy, but what does the money actually do?

Personally, I am very hesitant to give money to any group or organization for the simple fact that charity, in most cases, breeds further need. It solves nothing if not done right. Why would anyone want to give money to a group that feeds children in a foreign country, only to watch them grow and have more children that need to be fed? I see this as nothing more than watering the “need tree” and sowing the seeds for the next generation of people with extended hands.

Have we not learned that simply feeding a person accomplishes nothing, and in reality, without education, creates a growing needy base?

If we are to be truely charitable, then more of the groups that we give money to would dedicate themselves to educating the needy instead of just feeding them, giving them medicine and sending them on their way. This is not to say that there are not groups that do educate… there are. But there needs to be more.

These groups should band together and move into these communities and countries and educate the people, or build schools for the people that live in that area. The creates another form of propagation that spreads knowledge to help the next generation, and so on.

The purpose of Charitable groups SHOULD be to work themselves out of a job by making people more self-supportive… but see… there is the problem. Many of these groups realize that. Why would a person want to work at a job that they know when it was done, they would be out of work? Likewise why would you work at a job that the primary sign of your success was that you needed less and less money in the form of government hand outs or donations?

While many will not admit it, especially the Charitable groups that are out there, they do not want to see that money dry up, so they really do not WANT to see an end to poverty, famine, or need. Because the money you and I donate does not just go to the people that need it… it also goes to the employees that work in the offices, do the marketing, create the advertisements, and the actors that go out and walk among the kids to create the sharp contrast between them in their clean clothes and nice shoes, and the kids who are usually very dirty and living in filth.

If I seem like I have a problem with Charity… No… I do not. I have a problem with its abuse. By both the people that use it and those that offer it. I do have some clue what it is like, because when my mother and I first moved to Bakersfield, we lived on Welfare for some time, until my mother could get back on her feet, then we left it. We used it for what it was intended… a helping hand until she could get a job and get back on her feet.

Too often you find people that live on welfare or some other form of assistance for their entire lives, and if you approach them about it, they say stuff like “It’s my right.” or they point to some problem they have that they feel qualifies them for the assistance. Perhaps my favorite of the abusers are the people that have done drugs all their lives, and are now almost completely handicapped because of the affects. I have met several of these people that now live on permanent disability or welfare… and three of these people have never held much more than a burger-flipping job, and even then got fired or quit.

This moves me into my last topic before closing out…

How is it that people who have never held a job for any length of time, and have a history of abusing drugs, qualify for, in some cases, better benefits than members of the Armed forces who served with honor? I am not going to point out examples, because in almost every community we have heard of some poor veteran that is having problems with their medical coverage, or how the VA is not helping this person or that one, or like the incident in my community where an official in the VA was taking money from the coffers that were meant for the Vets in my area.

It is really sad. America celebrates the welfare state… we do not do enough to penalize people that abuse it, and we really do not give people enough incentive to get off of the welfare programs and support programs that are out there. Until we do, things will just get worse. Here are some ideas that I would love to see in place:

These are just ideas… I am not a politician, nor a planner… so there may be gaps… so just bare with the results and try and understand the point I am making.

Local Groups
1. Mandatory job training and placement for people who are no more than 50% disabled and received assistance.
2. Limited coverage for people that are disabled do to drug abuse.
3. 100% Med. Coverage for Veterans of the Armed Forces that were injured in action.
4. 80% Med Coverage for all Veterans, regardless of service during a conflict.
5. Mandatory GED training and Job Skills training and job placement for Welfare Recips. who have not graduated.
6. Organizations must provide accountability reports to a non-government based, volunteer committee to demonstrate that they are making a difference.

Overseas:
1. Must not go into a country without an action plan and statement showing when they will be able to pull out after creating a self-sustaining infrastructure to let the people help themselves.
2. All donors would receive quarterly statements explaining where their money is going (no pictures of “a child you are helping.”)
3. Facilities based overseas would be assigned a military or private security attache and a security force to protect it’s workers and stock from attack or theft.
4. When possible, they group should make use of local citizens to be trained in areas that will support the facilities and reduce the need for foreign support.
5. As the training moves forward the charitable group will reduce the amount they will help slowly, until the majority of the work is being done by the local inhabitants, thus setting the ground work for the removal of all foreign support.

What was I thinking? :


What WAS I thinking?

Disneyland during the holidays is an exercise in self abuse, that is all there is to it.

Living in Bakersfield, Ca. One must travel some distance to the Magic Kingdom… about 2 hours and change, to be approximate. And once you arrive, you are anything but enchanted.

When I was young, I lived off of Katella, a street not far from the Happiest place on Earth, and back then, Disney was a great place to go. People seemed genuinely happy to work there, and the place was always clean.

This latest trip was a disappointment, to say the least. I would complain about the crowds, but let’s face it, there are very few popular places that we can go these days that are not crowded.

No… My complaint is mainly about the PEOPLE factor of Disneyland… not just the employees, but the other guests as well.

After entering the park, we decided to get breakfast… in order to not draw negative attention to the specific place, I will not mention the name of the place we ate at, but for a reasonable sum of $50, my wife and I were treated to a breakfast that we could have easily found at a local Denny’s for a quarter the price, and it would probably have been better.

The park itself (i.e. the attractions) was pretty good… Not much to complain about there, with the exception that you better not be too close to retirement age, because you will be collecting your pension in line. We were lucky, I suppose… my mother-in-law was with us, and she is in a wheelchair… anyone who has been to Disneyland knows that that puts you right at the front of the line, thusly turning a 60+ minute wait into a couple minutes, and subsequently pissing off the rest of the line.

My biggest complaint about the part, as I have said, was the employees. Very few of them smiled, and their attitude was, on average, negative. I understand that your job is not always great, and you will not be a happy employee on a daily basis, but you should show the appearance of being happy. I worked retail for the better part of 15 years, and trust me… I do have some idea of not being happy about your work. Try working at Circuit City during Christmas season.

While I am sure that there are differences between regular retail and that of the “Cast Members” of the Enchanted Kingdom, that is all the more reason to “Fake it.” People do not go to Disney to pay $20 for two hot dogs, two pretzels and a drink to share, to listen to the person behind the counter bitch about the fact that they were supposed to be off that day and are angry about it, to another employee.

This is usually were I lose my composure. But I was proud of myself, and simply told the person that they should be glad they have a job at all, and that there are a lot of people out there that would love to have her job because they have none.

I am not sure when the magic left the Magic Kingdom, but if there is any left, then it is not as easy to find as it once was. The only exception to this was the veterans… When I did run into some of the minority of people there whose nametags said that they had been there in excess of 20 years, they seemed to truly be happy. Whether this was very good faking on their part, or a happiness as the result of skilled pharmacology, I am not sure, but the smiles and the attitude that I got from them was enough to offset most of the disappointment of the others.

In closing… Disneyland still holds a special place in my heart, because it was such a big part of my childhood. I will continue to go there for as long as they remain. I also feel that the best thing to happen to them was the loss of Michael Eisner from the family, though him putting a puppet in his place probably means that there will not be much of a change, but who knows… we will have to see.

Just remember… It’s a small world after all!!!

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