Simple Saturday: Leaky Boats

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Every year, CareerCast.com rates 200 jobs based on average pay, stress, hazards and outlook. This year, “Reporter (Newspaper)” finished at 184, between “Sailor” and “Stevedore” (someone who loads and unloads ships).

Lists such as this are rather arbitrary, of course, but when did a profession that used to have at least a sense of pride become something of a joke in so many eyes?

One of the immediate answers on many people’s lips is the advent of the Internet and how newspapers were slow in adapting to it. That’s possible, but I’m unsure conditions at many newspapers were all that great even before then. I actually wonder if it was the incorporation of newspapers that is more to blame.

I unfortunately was not around when the newspaper I work for was privately owned, but I have heard tales from those who were. There were regular company events during the summer and holidays and real, honest-to-goodness Christmas bonuses. Even the carriers were treated well with giveaways and gatherings.

When the paper was acquired by a national corporation in the early 90s, the newly-appointed publisher’s first order of business was to make life so miserable for those with the highest salaries that they would leave, and they found a man who was good at doing just that. The good things about having your owners a direct part of your operations slowly vanished.

When I climbed aboard in late 2005, there was still a Christmas party at a nearby restaurant. We received $35 gift cards for our bonus. That downgraded to $25, then a windbreaker, then a hat and a tote bag. The party ended two years ago. Now there’s a buffet set up in the conference room where we get our food and return to our seats.

We have to make do with a mix of decade-old Macs and newer Dell PCs to lay out our pages. The carpets are worn out and dirty. Ceiling tiles growing mold have been removed. It took three drenchings of an editor’s office before the corporation ponied up the money to fix the deteriorating roof. And this is where the public comes to interact with us.

And it’s not the bosses here. They try as hard as they can to make things the best they can be, but they must deal with orders from above to continue cutting services, paper size, positions…

Perhaps corporate ownership of massive, nationally-read papers such as The New York Times and Wall Street Journal makes sense, but I don’t understand the benefit to smaller town venues who must struggle to balance a dedication to their locality with a dedication to a company headquartered several states away. Perhaps I am naive to the way business runs.

Perhaps I should change “Simple Saturday” to “Serious Saturday.”

Proving your medal

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The Winter Olympics: the penultimate test of one’s skill with ski, board or blade; the culmination of years of practice and dedication, when the whole world has its eye upon you. What better time to act like a whiny, narcissistic brat.

No, I’m not talking about The Netherlands’ Sven Kramer, whose gold medal-worthy, Olympic record speed skating run was disqualified after his coach told him to switch to the wrong lane. The entire country wants to throw the coach under the Zamboni, but I’m sure he’ll land on his feet in a different career–perhaps air traffic control.

Nor am I talking about the Canadians who, after watching their men’s hockey team fall at the hands of the U.S., remained ever dignified and gracious. They even took some gentle teasing well, although the Canadian boss of the games site I write for has demoted me to reviewing only Barbie titles.

The individual who deserves the World’s Smallest Ice Violin is Russian men’s figure skater Evgeni Plushenko, who not only has a surname that oddly compels me to watch The Price is Right, but who feels he really should have won the gold medal over American Evan Lysacek because he was more spinny-jumpy than everyone else. He not only went so far as to show his protest by walking over the gold medal platform when accepting his silver medal, but his web site also describes his silver medal as a “platinum medal.”

I really shouldn’t say a whole lot against Plushenko as it is simply the gentlemanly thing to do–and also, as one friend pointed out to me, he looks like he could be a former KGB assassin. However, I will say that yes, while he did perform the technically superior quad jump in his routine unlike Lysacek, it was still wobbly and caused him to line up all his big stuff at the front of his routine to keep from wearing out, leaving his second half a little dull. If you want figure skating to be based only on technical difficulty and not factor in grace and artistry as well, you might want to write a letter to the X-Games asking them to open a “Big Lutz” event.

And if Scott Hamilton, one of the best definitions of the word “man” in men’s figure skating, doesn’t think you earned the gold, then you didn’t earn the gold. Plushenko has proven himself a spectacular force in his sport, but athletes like him need to keep their grace and let their fans speak for them instead.

And finally, a platinum medal? Pfft, please. Everyone knows the absolute bestest awesomenest medal you can get for yourself nowadays is the Unobtanium Medal!

Suggestions for the Winter Olympics

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My blog activity has been a bit low recently. While I could blame it on work, I will honestly admit it’s been more the Winter Games than anything else. I’m an Olympics junkie. I’ll watch anything that’s on because it always becomes fresh to me after 4 years and I don’t pay attention to the fact that all this stuff is actually on every year in the form of world championships.

Although it started tragically, the games in Vancouver have been fun to watch so far. There are times, though, when I start to wonder if the events can’t be improved a little…

  • Cross-country skiing would greatly benefit from having secret “snowball ambush” sites set up along the course. This would not be recommended for the biathlon.
  • The ski jump itself is a great event, but there should be a sub-event where skiers fling the front ends of their skis into a giant dartbaord for points.
  • Speed skating is too basic; figure skating too long and boring. The two should be combined into speed figure skating, Four performers would take the speed skating track at a time, trying to include all their required jumps and spins as they go around, with points obviously added to whomever completes all their laps first. Pairs skaters would be permitted to throw each other ahead of and at other skaters. Of course, playing all of the skaters’ performance numbers at once would be utter chaos, so they would all skate to the same IOC-sanctioned piece: “Cotton-eyed Joe.”
  • Curling does not need to change — it is perfect. It is the beautiful, golden-haired lovechild of bowling and bocce ball, kidnapped at birth but rescued and raised by a troop of brave penguins.

Do you have any suggestions?

Obama responds to unemployment

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In another bold move aimed to enrich and protect the future of many struggling Americans, President Barack Obama today signed a new law in response to the nation’s elevated unemployment rate.

“America is facing one of its most significant crises in decades as the number of people desperately seeking a highly limited number of jobs increases,” President Obama said. “The most direct and threatening effect of these circumstances is clear: a massive influx of resumés thrown away by employers is filling our landfills, destroying our trees and probably contributing to climate change somehow.

“That is why I am proud to say today we have passed through legislation requiring all resumés submitted by job seekers to be printed on special, federally-certified paper that is both 100 percent recycled and highly biodegradable. I welcome this law as a giant step forward in addressing the problem caused by unemployment in our country.”

The new law was lauded by employers, who had been complaining for some time of feeling oppressed and hopeless against what feels like an insurmountable wall of people wishing to work for them.

“We get so many job applications nowadays, we’ve gone to only opening envelopes with the cutest stamps on them,” said Leonard Hills, CEO of McDermot—Schlesenhauffer Enterprises. “We’ve felt so guilty about shipping all this paper away. It’s a godsend the government has finally heard our pleas and decided to truly do something about this awful situation we’ve been under.”

The new paper is expected to cost approximately 2.7 cents more per sheet than standard paper. Proposals made to the government requesting funding to build domestic plants for such paper have been denied, as a sufficient number of plants sprung up in China yesterday.

Interview with the Cherub

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[Editor’s Note: If you’re familiar with my writing in past places, you may have already read this. I am planning on porting old pieces I enjoy onto my blog when convenient times present themselves. Please enjoy, and Happy Valentine’s Day!]

[A camera is trained on a small, chubby, man sitting on a stool. He winces momentarily, his wings flinching, as a light passes over his eyes.]

OFF-SCREEN INTERVIEWER: I’m sorry. We’re usually set up well in advance for these, but this was on such short notice and we know you’re very busy. We’re very grateful you could take time at all.

WINGED MAN: Hey, no worries. No one’s ever wanted to ask us anything before, like it’s some mystical sorta thing, you know? It’s really pretty basic if—

INTERVIEWER: I’ve been told we’re ready, sir.

WINGED MAN: Oh, right. Good to go, here.

INTERVIEWER: Right, then. Roll film.
[The camera’s red light blinks on.]
Again, thank you for taking the time, Mr. … Cupid…?

WINGED MAN: Kip, please. Cupid was our founder, so he’s become our brand name in a way. Like Kleenex with us, but we all have different names.

INTERVIEWER: Kip, then. Sorry. There are many of you, then?

KIP: Yep! A couple million, give or take.

INTERVIEWER: Unionized?

KIP: Think we’d still be wearing these diapers if we were?

INTERVIEWER: Fair enough. Please describe your job for us.

KIP: Sure. It’s really just about how everyone thinks it goes. We’re the “sparks” in love, right? We’re given assignments to join two people chosen by fate to be together in as holy a matrimony as possible, and we go stoke their fires. Call us the links in the ol’ ball and chain.

INTERVIEWER: And you do this with the classic bow and arrow?

KIP: Eh, we still carry ’em around for tradition’s sake, but we try to use other means when we can.

INTERVIEWER: Why is that?

KIP: Well, come on. You can be a master archer, but sometimes arrows just don’t go where you want them. Wind gusts, things getting in the way. You ever have a time when you went to the house of some lady you might’ve been interested in and things were going pretty well, but then her mutt starts going all Pepe LePew on your leg and it wrecks the mood?

INTERVIEWER: Yes…

KIP: That’s a miss. Sorry. Sometimes another human gets hit, too, and that causes all sorts of headaches. The best-known example’s gotta be—

INTERVIEWER: Lennon and Ono?

KIP: Charlie still gets flak for that.

INTERVIEWER: What about all those crazy celebrity matchups?

KIP: Sorry, not our jurisdiction. You’ll have to ask their respective planets’ cherubs about that.

INTERVIEWER: Ouch.

KIP: Anyway, you were asking what we use, right? It’s largely situational. Ideally, it’s a long-distance job. High-powered love rifles.

INTERVIEWER: High-powered rifles.

KIP: Of love.

INTERVIEWER: That doesn’t sound very romantic…

KIP: And getting an arrow through your chest is better just ’cause the point’s shaped like a heart? Get over yourselves.

INTERVIEWER: Yeah. But, well, I just thought—

KIP: (rolls his eyes) We carve hearts on the bullets if it makes ya feel better.

INTERVIEWER: Ah. Good…

KIP: And the bullets fragment, making sure all the shrapnel stays in the target and doesn’t hit bystanders.

INTERVIEWER: …

KIP: …Pink, fluffy little bits of lovey-dovey shrapnel? That what you wanna hear?

INTERVIEWER: Okay. I get it now.

KIP: It’s serious stuff, pal. But sometimes you can’t do it with the rifles. People are too hidden away for various reasons. But love blooms in the strangest places too, so we gotta be there. That’s when we go covert…

[Flash to a dim warehouse floor. Groups of people, their faces covered by bandannas, are busily loading bags of white, powdery substances into boxes as groups of gunmen, their faces also covered by bandannas, look on. The only person not wearing a bandanna — and is, in fact, in a nice suit — watches from an upper balcony. His sweeping gaze suddenly locks upon a pair of eyes belonging to an obviously female packer. It remains…

…as a very short worker in a pink bandanna sidles by. With nearly imperceptible speed the figure draws a knife, flips it open]

KIP: I can tell you want to ask it.

INTERVIEWER: …D… does the butterfly knife—

KIP: YES IT HAS BUTTERFLIES ON IT!

[and plunges it cleanly into the boss’s abdomen, who staggers and falls over. By the time the guards make it up to the balcony, there was no sign the pink figure was ever there.

GUARD: Boss! You okay?!

BOSS: Hurgh… yeah, yeah. Just… got some butterflies in my stomach…]

INTERVIEWER: That was pretty corny.

KIP: What was?

INTERVIEWER: The whole ‘butterflies’ thing. Come on.

KIP: What are you talking ab—oh… Oh! Hey now, I did NOT realize the pun there when I started telling this. Honest! You’re the one who asked about the knife in the first place!

INTERVIEWER: All right; no need to argue. Please continue.

KIP: Fine. Now, there are some situations where you just can’t take in any sorta metal whatsoever…

[A woman sits alone at an airport bar, staring listlessly ahead. A man walks up and lightly taps her on the shoulder.

MAN: I’m sorry to bother you, miss, but do you happen to know which gate the Delta flight to Atlanta is leaving from?

WOMAN: Hm? Oh, um… A5. That’s the one I’m taking.

MAN: Really? Me too! Flying out alone to meet with the other single, high-end shoe company CEOs. We like to set up golf trips now and then.

WOMAN: Oh, r-really?? Well, I— I—

The woman falls face-flat onto the bartop as a pink rock smacks off the back of her head.

MAN: Miss? …Miss?

WOMAN: (babbles incoherently)]

INTERVIEWER: Honestly, now.

KIP: What? She’s fine! In her world, her head may have gotten the raw deal, but the happiness of her feet more than make up for it.

INTERVIEWER: And this is really how it works nowadays?

KIP: Yep! There are some different methods in other countries. The Japanese cherubs are the stealthiest out of all of us, for example…

[A boy and girl catch eyes across a classroom. The boy gives a small smile. The girl blushes. Suddenly, a small breeze blows through the classroom, a stinging orchestra hit rings out, and the boy screams at the heart-shaped shuriken now in his chest.]

INTERVIEWER: The orchestra hit wasn’t necessary, I don’t thi—

KIP: And the cherubs of the Argentinean plains are much more straightforward…

[People awkwardly begin to mingle at a club’s singles night, but the talking eventually stops as a rumble and the sound of shouting grow closer. Confused questioning instantly gives way to chaos as a band of dusty, horse-riding gaucherubs bust through a wall. Love bolas in hand, they begin separating the weaker members out of the singles herd, tripping them up and carrying them away in twos.]

INTERVIEWER: Okay, this is just becoming ridiculous now. Mr. Kip, can you please—

KIP: But the most dedicated workers we’ve got are in the Middle East…

[A crowded marketplace in]

INTERVIEWER: No! NO! We are NOT going there! This interview is over, Mr. Kip! Cameras off! We’re leaving!

KIP: Eh, be that way. Just watch yourself around dogs from now on, pal.

A question of confectionery ethics

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I pose to you today a real-life moral dilemma of sugary proportions:

Yesterday at the news office, the photographer brought back a sampling of cookies from an assignment covering the local teachers association’s Valentine’s Day deliveries to the elderly. Most of the cookies came from the loving ovens of Wal-Mart, but there were a few homemade treats among the mix; most notably a chocolate-covered Oreo I managed to claim through the fair, office-agreed policy of getting my germs all over it first.

The cookie was all decked out for the holiday, with little red sprinkle hearts and one of those big, bumpy sugar lump hearts dead center. As I bit into it, the quality of the chocolate was pleasantly jolting — smooth and dark — and the cookie inside was crisp.

Yet as I looked down into the cross-section created by my bite, expecting to see a quaint, panda-like color scheme, I was shocked to instead find the telltale orange frosting.

Someone — someone teaching our youth, no less — had made Valentine’s Day treats with HALLOWEEN Oreos!

Aside from the potential heart attacks this may cause the area’s elderly, do you feel this is an acceptable practice? Note that the Halloween Oreo did not appear stale, yet Holiday (Christmas) Oreos have red frosting and come out later. There was obviously no regard for color in this choice.

Personally… I think the defiance of standards made it taste a little better; what Homer Simpson would deem “sacrilicious.” But what do you think?

Chart: Uses of money singles save on Valentine’s Day

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