Sunday, April 20, 2014

Praise it and blaze it.

Easter is a strange holiday. I'm not even going to look at its pagan roots: the concept isn't really in dispute any more. But Easter is, if viewed from one angle, an opportunity for conservative Christians to explain that their support for the death penalty is proven by their approval of nailing some guy to a stick and letting him hang there until he dies. Or something like that.

Has anybody noticed that Easter this year comes on 4/20? It's a popular meme among the marijuana crowd online. However, to put it in another light, it can be used as evidence that Jesus supports medical marijuana.

Probably because the Bible can be used to support pretty much any viewpoint out there, there are plenty of verses that can be cited to support this position.

Isaiah 18:4 - "The Lord said unto me, 'I will take my rest and I will consider in my dwelling place like a clear heat upon herbs.' "

Ezekiel 34:29 - And I will raise up for them a plant of renown, and they shall be no more consumed with hunger in the land, neither bear the shame of the heathen any more.

Genesis 1:12 - And the earth brought forth grass, and herb yielding seed after his kind, and the tree yielding fruit, whose seed was in itself, after his kind: and God saw that it was good.

Genesis 1:29-31 - God said, "Behold, I have given you every herb bearing seed which is upon the face of all the earth.…To you it will be for meat." …And God saw everything that he had made, and, behold, it was very good.

Revelations 22:2 - In the midst of the street of it, and on either side of the river, was there the tree of life, which bare twelve manner of fruits, and yielded her fruit every month: and the leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations.

Psalm 104:14-15 - He causeth the grass to grow for the cattle, and herb for the service of man: that he may bring forth food out of the earth; and wine that maketh glad the heart of man, and oil to make his face to shine, and bread which strengtheneth man's heart.

You can google the term "easter grass" and come up with a lot of sites that sell it, but I think you'll be disappointed with what you get.

And you can even drag politics into it. Remember, the US government is conducting a war on drugs, whereas Matthew 5:9 tells us "Blessed are the peacemakers." I'll bet you can do that math on your own.

There are those who will try to tell you that the Bible condemns drug use: one explanation is that the original Greek word for "sorcery," pharmacea, is the same root word for "pharmacy." Look hard enough, you'll see explanations for the use of herbs (to include marijuana) as medicine only, because all drug companies deal in poison. That's not only a little extreme, but shows an open ignorance of history: much like chemistry and alchemy have the same roots (as do astrology and astronomy), early wise women and hedge wizards started concocting drugs to help people. But many of their naturalist practices came from pagan roots (and berries, but let's not get into that...): the priestesses would often double as healers. And if they could help people more than the Christian priests and their prayers, the witches must obviously be condemned as evil (otherwise, people might go see the pagans for help).

This is also where you'll find the argument that the actual phrase should not be "suffer not a witch to live," but "suffer not a poisoner to live." Sorry, guys. The specific translation there should, in fact, be "witch." It's just that pagan priestesses of the time knew enough about natural medicine that they could also concoct poisons.

In a similar vein, there's an old French word, grimoire, that refers to a book containing magic spells, such as what would be owned by a witch or sorcerer. The root for that word was grammaire, which was a book of grammar (usually Latin, in the early days; the same source gave us the Olde Englishe word grammarye). But much like with the Tea Party today, somebody with a little knowledge frightened the average illiterate peasant back then; so somebody with a big thick book was probably up to no good.

And much like with pharmacea, that's the difference between the root of a word and the actual definition.

But, really, what can be more pot-induced than a holiday based around hard-boiled eggs and ample supplies of chocolate?

Monday, April 07, 2014

Playin' with the dogs

So on Wednesday night, Rocky broke a nail.

Now, I should probably explain that Rocky is our smaller, auxiliary dog, and when I say "broke a nail," I mean "snapped it in half at the quick, so it was hanging off and the rough edge cut the next toe over and wouldn't stop bleeding." I suppose it sounds a little more impressive when I mention the details, doesn't it?

We tried to deal with it ourselves, but this cheerful little, personable, loving dog snapped at us when we even came near it. So that was a problem.

So I spent the next morning calling around for a vet who could see him and not charge us $500, and got lucky with the Ponderosa Animal Clinic, who said they could fit him in at 12:30. And I figured I could give up my lunch hour and deal with this problem (at 1:15, when I was still in the waiting room, I'll admit that I was a little less enamored of the plan, but that comes later).

The clinic was closer to work than home, but I have a forgiving boss (who happens to have two dogs herself) and got permission to keep Rocky with me after his appointment, and we went for it. At noon, I rushed home, grabbed the dog, some chew toys and a small bowl for water, and jetted back.

The first problem came up as we entered the clinic. Rocky apparently had flashbacks to the pound, because he was fine as he limped up to the entrance. But when I opened the door, he went exactly halfway through it and stopped dead. His head slowly tracked side to side, and I tried to urge him forward.

"Come on, Rocky. Let's go, boy." Nope. Not a chance.

I stepped over him through the door. "Come on, Rocky." Not only wasn't he going to move, but he dropped to the floor and just lay there. He had no intention of going even one step farther. Fortunately, figuring that he was going to end up in the Cone of Shame, I'd taken off his collar and replaced it with his harness, so I could just pull him forward and he automatically lifted up on his feet again. (Even more fortunately, it was 40 pound Rocky, and not 120 pound Boris, our larger, primary dog.)

After entirely too long in the waiting room (did I mention that?), we got in to see the vet, a tiny little old lady who never looked at me, even when she was telling me what to do with him once we got him home. Rocky got a combination of shots that made him a little groggy, but it still took two of us holding him down while she cleaned him up and bandaged him. Once she was done, she didn't think he was going to need a cone: as she explained to the back of Rocky's head, "since his foot should feel a lot better, he probably won't keep worrying at it."

So, $160 later, I got him loaded into the car and drove him to the office. I'd also brought along a kid's gate that we use to keep the dog out of various rooms, and I set it up to keep him blocked in behind my desk. And he flumped down on the floor, quietly ignoring everybody who tried to tell him what a handsome boy he was. (He either had developed an inflated idea of his own attractiveness, or he was still feeling the effects of the drug. One or the other.)

A couple of hours later, I had to load everything back in the car and pick up the Trophy Wife for her doctor's appointment (the main difference being that I didn't need a leash to get her there... yeah, she's going to kill me when she reads this), and I stayed in the car with Rocky while she went in on her own.

At which time, I discovered that mild downers made Rocky prone to getting car-sick. Fortunately, there was a roll of paper towels under my seat (I have no idea where they came from, but they had a Christmas pattern on them, so I like to think it was Santa).

Once Annette came out, we got Rocky home, my son went out with the upholstery cleaner and Rocky immediately perked up and jumped on Boris.

We taped an old sock over the bandage so Rocky could go outside, and he's been doing fine. He charges around the house at full speed (just occasionally on three legs), and it hasn't rained, so we haven't had any problems with the bandage getting ruined. (Yes, that's him to the right. His foot isn't swollen - there's just a lot of loose space in the sock. Weirdly enough, our feet seem to be larger than his.)

Even more amazingly, he hasn't been gnawing at the bandage, so no Cone needed.

Of course, it also meant that he got out of his bath this weekend, and he's probably going to get a little ripe by the time we can wash him again. I wonder if I can just spray him with Febreze. Or maybe sprinkle him with baking soda.

We'll see.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Talkin' with Dad

I always respected my Dad as an educated man, but at some point, he turned into one of those cranky Republicans completely blinded by an abject hatred of the Kenyan-in-Chief. I don't know when that was (most likely, around 2008), but there it is.

He likes to forward random emails and the like, and often includes me in his mailing list, just because it tickles his sense of humor. And I tend to respond in good grace.

So the other day, when I saw an email from him entitled "usma1959-forum: Fw: Saul David Alinsky," I knew we were in for a bumpy ride. And I was right.

As far as I could tell, he just sent this to me and a bunch of his West Point buddies (that's in the title: US Military Academy forum, and his graduating class of 1959), and he started it with "Scary, isn't it?"

After that, it was standard boilerplate propaganda, only unique in that it was in green Comic Sans with red "titles" for each bullet point. But the weird part is, aside from the random formatting, it was familiar. Somebody had taken an old Obama/Alinsky email, added a line to the beginning about Hillary Clinton writing her senior thesis on Alinsky, and we were off to the races.

Now, like I said, I love my Dad, even when he's being an idiot. So I didn't hit "reply all." I replied just to him, and wrote:
You know, you could look these things up for yourself, instead of falling for any old chunk of BS that rolls down the line.
(If you really need to read it now, feel free to follow the link. But I go over the high points later, and didn't think I should repeat it more than once. Your choice.)

I figured that my reply to his email would be the end of it. And in a reasonable world, it would be. But no. (I had to get my stubborn streak somewhere, right?)
Agreed. Except that while the Alinsky connections are not only suspect, they are downright false. the eight points are a rewrite of the "Communist Rules" (See the Snopes article that you quoted. And regardless of the accuracy of the thing, we are headed down a slippery slope because all of the eight points in the original e-mail are being pushed by the Obongo administration, and I fear for the country if we keep on.

Love you – Dad
Yes, that's right. "Obongo." As he's gotten older, he's become less and less reticent about his racism. (In his defense, he's never sent me a picture of Obama photoshopped to look like a witchdoctor - I can't guarantee that he didn't send one to other people, of course.)

I'd tried to be nice. I really had. But if he was going to push it...
Yup, Gonna have to look closer at 'em, aren't we?

First, yes, those "8 points" are a rewrite of the "Communist rules for revolution." Which are also mythical. You didn't go deep enough: those "8 points" date back to either the end of WWII or the McCarthy era, and are idiot counterfeits - propaganda from your father's era, which somebody dug up, dusted off, and recycled (apparently successfully, based on your reaction).

But, hey, let's go farther, shall we? Let's look at this dreadful list that has you so fearful for the future of America.

1) Healthcare– Control healthcare and you control the people
Well, there's an obvious flaw right there. Obama doesn't "control healthcare." The insurance companies are still at work making a profit. It's a capitalist solution to a healthcare crisis - there is no "socialized medicine." There's just suddenly some regulation on an industry that's been stealing from the American people for far too long. And they hate that.

(In your defense, there is one example of "socialized medicine" in America. It's called the Veteran's Administration - I'm sure you're familiar with them.)

2) Poverty – Increase the Poverty level as high as possible, poor people are easier to control and will not fight back if you are providing everything for them to live.
I'm sure you've heard the phrase "income inequality" - yeah, that's the thing that Obama is trying to fight, not increase. And incidentally, despite what Fox "News" want you to believe, the median household income in the United States has been increasing since midway through Obama's first term - you know, following the slide he inherited from the previous administration.

3) Debt – Increase the debt to an unsustainable level. That way you are able to increase taxes, and this will produce more poverty.
Again, you really should avoid listening to Fox "News." U.S. GDP is up. Unemployment is down to 6.7 percent in February, and despite the current sag, the stock market has has been setting new records each quarter. Oh, and those terrible tax increases? Have you noticed that they didn't happen?

4) Gun Control– Remove the ability to defend themselves from the Government. That way you are able to create a police state
Oy. OK, name a gun law that Obama has pushed through. Just one. The NRA is reduced to chanting "you know he's going to do it!" over and over. And the suckers fall for it. Gun sales are up, Dad. Sorry.

5) Welfare – Take control of every aspect of their lives (Food, Housing, and Income)
Again, oy. This is the ignorant nonsense that social conservatives and rich entitled douchebags have been peddling since time immemorial. You don't believe me? In 1912, Hilaire Belloc argued that, while capitalism was harsh, any attempts to amend its defects through could only lead to the rise of what he calls the "Servile State". According to Belloc, this servile state resembles ancient slavery, in its reliance on the government solving problems instead of the force of society taking care of issues on their own.

Sound familiar? Despite that, and despite the fact that 20 years later, the Federal government started up this dreaded "welfare state," the American people still managed to win WWII. In fact, your generation, and mine, both grew from this evil abuse of taxpayer's money, which prevents people from dying of starvation in the middle of what your boy Hannity calls "the single greatest nation that God ever gave man on this earth."

6) Education – Take control of what people read and listen to – take control of what children learn in school.
So, now you're talking about "No Child Left Behind"? Wrong president there, Pops.

Please tell me where Obama has taken control of Fox "News." And then explain why this doesn't invalidate your argument.

7) Religion – Remove the belief in the God from the Government and schools
Tell me one single thing that Obama has done to "remove God from government and schools," that wouldn't be done under any president, because it's the way the Constitution reads. (Treaty of Tripoli, 1797 - "the Government of the United States of America is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion.")

Incidentally, if you're looking for examples of how wonderful life is under a religious government, look no farther than the Taliban.

8) Class Warfare – Divide the people into the wealthy and the poor. This will cause more discontent and it will be easier to take (Tax) the wealthy with the support of the poor.
It wasn't Obama that gave all the money to the upper 1%. Again, that was Bush (look up "real estate bubble" - remember? That whole "Wall Street collapse" thing?). And the whole "class warfare" meme is getting pushed, once again, not by the White House, but by Fox News. Obama is trying to rebuild the middle class, not tear down society. It's the rich, self-important pricks with the multi-million dollar homes and and an elevator for their cars who are trying to turn it into a war.

You have really got to find a new source for your news, Dad. When you allow Rupert Murdoch to brainwash you, it doesn't lead to a good place.

Love you,
In case you're curious, those parts up above in boldface? Yeah, I just cut-and-pasted from the original. So, yes, green Comic Sans, with the first word in red. I just took pity on your eyes and didn't recreate it here.

The saddest part, though? Dad will take it in reasonably good grace. His wife, though, already doesn't like me. And this isn't going to do anything to improve that relationship.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Fred Phelps: a premature obituary

So, apparently Fred Phelps is in a hospice and on the verge of death.

The founder of the Westboro Baptist Church is clinging to life, despite the combined wishes of the majority of the American population.

Apparently, although the Westboro members refuse to talk about it, Fred was voted out of the church by the other members, according to people like his estranged son, Nate Phelps (who regained his sanity 37 years ago and left the church).

Now, it's possible that the other members of Westboro Baptist Church realized that Fred was the worst person in America, and decided that they didn't want him around any more. It's just as likely, though, that much like the Tea Party and the Republicans, they've decided that Freddy was holding them back from reaching the true depths of hatred available to them.

Here's the thing, though. Our boy Freddy isn't dying because of some unexpected illness or because his body finally got tired of his shit. It appears that he is dying from an extended tantrum.
After Phelps was voted out of Westboro Baptist Church this past summer, he was moved out of the church and into a house, where he was watched to ensure he wouldn’t harm himself, a son estranged from the church said Sunday. Phelps eventually stopped eating and drinking, and on Sunday, he was near death.
And at age of 84, you can't do that to your body, as Fred has apparently just discovered.

So, having warped the minds of at least three generations of followers, Fred has just learned that you can't keep your body running for over eight decades on a diet of hate, and then try to replace it with sadness.

When he finally stops wasting our oxygen, he will not be missed.

Saturday, March 15, 2014

The limits of my language means the limits of my world. (Ludwig Wittgenstein)

So, considering all the important things going on in the world, let's prioritize and consider one of the subjects most vital to each and every one of us: Katy Perry.

(In the spirit of full disclosure, it took me two tries to spell her name right. My first try was Katie, but the Google machine showed me the error of my ways. She really doesn't impact my life that much.)

Now, to be honest, there's nothing wrong with Katy Perry. She's an attractive woman (even though she chooses to hide it under some industrial-grade makeup), and somewhere under all that Autotune, there might be a nice voice. (Might be. I suspect it needs some work.) But here's the thing.

I recognize that she doesn't write her own music. But she really needs to consider her lyrics a little harder. Let's look at two of her recent hits.

Now, I'll admit that Ms Perry gives good video, and this is no exception. But I really want to watch it with the sound off, because the song annoys the crap out of me.

There are no less than five writing credits, which is rarely a good thing. Particularly, in this case, because this song is nothing but a solid block of clichés (this is an unfortunate side effect of writing by committee). This, for example, is just the first verse:
I used to bite my tongue and hold my breath
Scared to rock the boat and make a mess.
So I sat quietly, agreed politely,
I guess that I forgot I had a choice;
I let you push me past the breaking point
I stood for nothing, so I fell for everything
Now, I suppose that it's possible to bite your tongue while holding your breath, but why would you do both at once? Kind of self-defeating. But almost every line contains some over-used phrase or clichéd euphemism. The worst, of course, is the chorus, which uses, as its central theme, ANOTHER SONG ENTIRELY!
I got the eye of the tiger, the fighter, dancing through the fire.
Cause I am a champion and you’re gonna hear me roar;
Louder, louder than a lion,
Cause I am a champion and you’re gonna hear me roar.
The damned thing is just a massive pileup of overused platitudes. And her more recent hit has an even bigger problem. The title, and the central theme of the song, is built around a cliché that she didn't even use right. This one has six writing credits (surprise! Katy is one of them!), and for some reason, none of them ever bothered to look up what "a dark horse" refers to?

Here, let me help you out: a "dark horse candidate" is somebody who comes out of nowhere and gets a lot of votes. It's not somebody who's supposed to be scary or dangerous. So who told you it should be used that way?

I like your videos, Ms Perry. You put a lot of work into them, and it shows. But here's a new word for you: "lyricist."

Really, you should look it up. It's a concept you need to consider.

Saturday, March 08, 2014

Driving and psychology - a brief reflection

On my way to work this morning, I ended up behind some oversized, lifted pickup with a huge pair of gold-colored truck nuts, who was tooling along doing 20 in a 40 zone. Now, I needed to get to work; I have no idea what he was doing. So, once oncoming traffic was clear, I passed him.

(Now, admittedly, there might have been some question about whether it was a legal passing zone. I can't answer those questions with any assurance at this time, and I don't think that this is necessarily the right forum to speculate. So, in the words of Wolf Blitzer, "We'll have to leave it there.")

In the normal course of events, that would have been the end of the story. But apparently, "holding up traffic" had, in fact, been this douchenozzle's entire purpose this morning. Because he became completely unhinged. He slammed down the gas as soon as he noticed me passing him, but, physics being what they are, it was too late and I pulled in front of him. But he crawled right up on my rear bumper for a block, and then, at the next red light, he pulled into the left-turn lane, revved his engine, and when the light changed, he leaped forward, swerved in front of me in the middle of the intersection, and kept going straight.

But from then on, he was afraid that I'd pass him again, so every time he slowed down, all I had to do was hug the middle line and he'd speed up to 40 mph again, which is all that I was after.

So I guess he thought he'd "won" that one, since he was in front again, even though I got what I wanted.

Nothing special to the story here. Just a thought that you should keep in mind: sometimes, if you focus too hard on everything being "win/lose," you can miss the fact that somebody else is manipulating you.

Saturday, March 01, 2014


The 31st of January dawned cold but clear in Moscow in 1990. It had been two years since the Communist Party had given their permission to open the first McDonalds in the former Soviet Union. Located in Moscow's Pushkin Square, the largest McDonalds restaurant had 28 cash registers and seating capacity for around 700 people.

That capacity was quickly exceeded, as people stood in line for up to six hours for their first taste of Western fast food. The Moscow restaurant broke a record for first-day sales for any McDonalds in the world - they served 30,000 people that day alone.

They remain popular in Russia almost 25 years later: McDonalds controls 70% of the Russian fast-food market, and the flagship store in Pushkin Square still serves 20,000 people per day. Ironically, it wasn't the American headquarters of the McDonalds Corporation which had pushed the new branch of the franchise. It was the head of McDonalds Canada, George Cohen, who had opened the twelve-year-long negotiations with the Soviet Union.

But within 8 months of the first McDonalds restaurant opening, the Berlin Wall fell. And within two years, the Soviet Union was dissolved.

So the next time someone tries to tell you that Ronald Reagan toppled the USSR, you can tell them that, no, it was Ronald McDonald that killed the bear.

Tuesday, February 04, 2014

A quick note to George Will

The following was sent this morning to George Will's email address at the Washington Post, without pictures, and with the web pages supplied as footnotes instead of links (which might have redirected this to his spam folder).
Dear Mr Will,

I realize that Fox News is now paying your paycheck, so perhaps you're no longer allowed to look at any other news outlets, but, despite your conservative views, I've always felt that you were reasonably intelligent. If nothing else, you seem capable of forming coherent sentences and spelling things correctly, and these days, that counts for a lot.

However, you might be surprised to learn that you've entered some sort of information bubble. I saw your appearance on Monday's Special Report with Bret Baier, and it appears that there are some facts that you seem to be entirely unaware of.

When you said that the IRS targeting of conservative groups was one of the three biggest political scandals in the last 40 years, this lack of data became openly apparent. And while I hate to argue with a journalist of your extensive experience, I found humor in your statement that "this is not being perused and the president knows that. Hence his sense of weariness and boredom as he discussed this with Bill O'Reilly."

No, Mr Will, he was bored by it because it was a manufactured non-scandal. You see, the simple fact is, this is an example of the IRS actually doing its job, and investigating whether these groups were breaking the law; the simple fact of the matter is that political organizations do not qualify for the tax-exempt status that these groups had applied for.

Let's start from the beginning. The tax code gives us a number of different classifications based on what we do. One of them, a tax-exempt status, is designated 501(c)(4), and it's defined as "Civic leagues or organizations not organized for profit but operated exclusively for the promotion of social welfare, ...the net earnings of which are devoted exclusively to charitable, educational, or recreational purposes."

This allows groups to be formed to construct basketball courts for inner-city kids, build a gym for a high school, set up after-school reading programs, operate food banks, or any other activity that can be defined as "social welfare." And it goes further: to prevent people from arguing that defeating a politician would qualify as "social welfare," the IRS specifically excludes political organizations from this particular tax-exempt status.
(ii) Political or social activities. The promotion of social welfare does not include direct or indirect participation or intervention in political campaigns on behalf of or in opposition to any candidate for public office.
Now, here's where the story gets a little weird, Mr Will. You see, the reason that the IRS appeared to be targeting conservative groups was because of a slick little piece of misdirection. You only saw that the IRS investigated conservative groups, because the Congress only looked into the IRS actions when they involved conservative groups, and actively ignored any investigations of liberal or progressive groups.
The Treasury inspector general (IG) whose report helped drive the IRS targeting controversy says it limited its examination to conservative groups because of a request from House Republicans.

A spokesman for Russell George, Treasury's inspector general for tax administration, said they were asked by House Oversight Chairman Darrell Issa (R-CA) "to narrowly focus on Tea Party organizations."
See how that works? I mean, you're a classy guy, Mr Will - you were rocking that bow tie for years after most people had abandoned it, because you felt it gave you a certain old-fashioned gravitas, I guess. So I feel certain that you would disapprove of me referring to a sitting member of Congress as a "lying bag of fuck." That, however, is the immediate reaction I get from this little revelation.

(Now, to be fair, a full listing of the groups under investigation could, at first glance, possibly have given someone the impression that conservative groups were being targeted: after all, since two-thirds of the groups approved for tax-exempt status since 2010 were conservative, you'd expect a larger percentage of them to fall under scrutiny. However, that is very different from the blatant spin that Darrel Issa put on things, isn't it?)

But after all, once even Mitch McConnell abandons a smear campaign, it's pretty clear that the whole thing has just collapsed.

Perhaps, to avoid making yourself look like a hack or a paid shill for Fox "News," you should try to restrict your comments to that nebulous realm we call "facts," instead of just repeating the latest talking points being handed out by liars and partisans? And maybe by doing that, you can come out of this with at least a small shred of the dignity you've been clinging to for years.

Don't you think that would be a good idea?


Bill Minnich (Albuquerque, NM)

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

You riled 'em up, GOP. Now you have to deal with 'em.

Last night, the President gave his State of the Union speech for 2014. The thing is, there wasn't just one response to it. There was the "official" Republican response from Cathy McMorris Rodgers (I'm not clear if she's Fred Rogers' evil twin, or if that lady from the Harry Potter books doesn't just wear pink any more), and then there was the Tea Party response (because, as my momma always said, "stupid is as stupid does"), and then, only on Youtube, Rand Paul gave his own "Tea Party Response," speaking for the Batshit Insane caucus.

Let's all take a moment to enjoy the current dynamics playing out within the Republican Party. They've split into a bunch of tiny, warring factions, each out to stab all the others in the back. They're trying their best to hide it, but they really aren't doing a good job, as last night proved.

The problem, you see, is that in 2008 the Republicans felt that, in order to defeat Obama, instead of taking up a more reasonable stance on a few key issues, they needed to mobilize the morons and the low information voters. Unfortunately, some of the newly-active mouth-breathers refused to retreat to their sofas and soap operas after the election, and kept right on chanting, picketing, and writing increasingly incoherent diatribes and tweets.

Social media had given them new access to vast fields of topics that they knew nothing about, and they felt that it was their duty to prove how little they knew. And the best way to do this was to elect people just as stupid as they were: enter Ted Cruz, Louis Gohmert, and all of their ilk.

While there may have been some dissension in the GOP during Obama's first term, things really started coming to a head during the government shutdown debates back in September, when the nominally intelligent Republicans realized that their new, hyperpartisan friends were not just willing, but actually eager, to see the government collapse - after all, the wet dream of any dedicated small government enthusiast would have to be government disappearing completely.

People like Libertarian Fox Business wonk John Stossel wanted lawmakers to "shut down more," and "I'm hoping the shutdown will wake people up... and say 'hey, maybe we don't need all this stuff.'" (A philosophy that ignores the 24 billion dollars that the 16-day shutdown cost the taxpayers, or the billions lost by businesses across the country that are more difficult to calculate.)

The most prescient (or in this case, conniving) saw it coming months earlier: Karl Rove, in the runup to the upcoming midterm elections, basically told his donors "yes, I wasted $300 million in 2012, and if you don't give me more money, the Democrats will win again!"

That's a venal and dishonest strategy, in that it ignores the fact that most of the money he takes from the gullible rich will be going to fight the new breed of rabid Tea Partiers that he helped create.

Speaker of the House John Boehner has become openly dismissive of the Tea Party fringes. And he isn't the only one. And the Tea Party, on their part, has no love for the establishment Republicans, even the ones who danced to their tune as hard as they could (just not to the point of destroying the economy).

Millions of dollars are being raised, on both sides, as Republicans prepare to square off against other Republicans for the future of the Republican philosophy.

The best result that we can hope for, really, is that nobody learns any lessons from the trouncing they're about to get, and the GOP stays divided through the 2016 elections. In the meantime, though, I'm just going to sit here with my popcorn and watch the fireworks.

Monday, January 13, 2014

Talking to The Man

Every so often, I like to send little notes to the members of Congress in my state. (Sometimes I'll send them to Congresscritters in other states, too. But let's not talk about that.) Mostly, this just gets me on mailing lists and doesn't do much else. But I'm an optimist by nature, so I keep trying.

This time, I thought I'd wander over to the "contact Tom" button on Senator Tom Udall's (D-NM) site.

(Can I call you Tom? As much as you've emailed me, I feel I should be allowed to.)

I couldn't help noticing that a number of Democrats are caving in to the Republican talking point that any extension of unemployment benefits should be "paid for."

Well, if that's the case, how are we paying for all of the corporate subsidies that my tax dollars are going to? Gas and oil companies get massive subsidies every year, and none of them are struggling. But families in your state are.

What about the $1.1 billion we pay out to distillers every ten years, to allow them to produce flavored vodka? (That one's covered in Section 5010 of the tax code, if you're wondering.) What about the $80 million worth of sugar we bought back from domestic sugar producers (a $3.3 billion dollar industry)?

See if you can "pay for" the unemployment by reducing the subsidy to any industry that's consistently turned a profit in the last decade. This wouldn't even be a hard sell. You could point out that the majority of unemployment insurance goes to families with children, and you personally don't see the benefits to the country that comes from forcing children to starve.

You could point out that long-term unemployment hurts the economy, and while there are people who would like to see the US economy destroyed, none of them should be in Congress.

You can even finish with "And if extending unemployment benefits is such a distasteful subject, I would like to ask why our Republican colleagues have been blocking every effort to create any type of jobs bill for the past six years?"

Give it a shot, Senator. See how far it could take you.
As always, I doubt it will accomplish anything, but let's see what happens.

Monday, January 06, 2014

Who remembers Nicaragua?

So, on Face the Nation this weekend, Peggy Noonan called New York mayor Bill De Blasio a "Sandinista" – she tried to walk it back almost immediately, as soon as the host called her on it.

But, you know, it's a funny thing: that idea seems to be the latest right wing talking point. In November, Rush Limbaugh called De Blasio a Sandinista and a communist, as did the pundits on Fox "News."

So let’s be clear what’s going on here: the right wing is assuming (perhaps justifiably, considering how they’ve destroyed education) that nobody knows who the Sandinistas were. But before we get to them, the first thing you should know is that the Somoza family ran Nicaragua for 43 years (either directly or through puppets); they were wonderful guys, who kept power through assassination and torture; their relations with the US finally fell apart finally when the Nicaraguan National Guard was caught on tape gunning down ABC reporter Bill Stewart (and his translator Juan Espinoza) in early 1979.

In 1979, the Frente Sandinista de Liberación Nacional (FSLN) overthrew the Somoza regime by force: the only way possible when faced with a tyrant, with a secret police force and a prison full of anyone who spoke out against them. In 1988, Bill De Blasio traveled to Nicaragua, and came away with admiration for what the Sandinistas were accomplishing to help their people.

And, admittedly, the Sandinistas got a little repressive later on - mostly in order to fight the Contras (more on them later), but never, by any stretch of the imagination, did they get as bad as the government they replaced.

But Peggy Noonan was speechwriter for Ronald Reagan, who supported the Somoza regime. This was not surprising, because Reagan had this habit of supporting murderous thugs around the world, like the Taliban, the racist government of South Africa and their policy of apartheid, Augusto Pinochet in Chile, and many others. Essentially, it wouldn't matter how many of his own people a dictator killed or tortured: if they bought their guns from the US instead of the USSR, Reagan liked them. He was friendly that way.

In fact, one of the most memorable acts of the Reagan administration (you might have heard of it) was when they quietly sold arms to Iran (the same country that had just recently taken over their American embassy), and funneled the money to a terrorist organization called the Contras.

Remember the Contras? They opposed the Sandinista government. And they showed their opposition through the gentle, humanitarian tactics of rape, murder, destruction of entire towns, kidnapping, blowing up health care clinics, and targeting doctors for assassination. You know, just good, clean fun; these were the people Reagan supported.

So, let's draw a few lines: Peggy Noonan worked for Reagan, who supported the Contras, who were opposed to the Sandinistas. So I guess it's understandable that Noonan might think badly of the Sandinistas, as well.

Because she, too, apparently loves murderous thugs and hates freedom. At least, that’s the impression I get. Can anybody explain what it is that I might be misunderstanding?

Wednesday, January 01, 2014

Pot calling the Kettle

I only talk about it once in a while, but my wife suffers from chronic pain issues. She's been seeing a number of doctors for a number of years, some better than others, trying to keep her going. As the years have gone on and the pain has gotten worse, she's ended up on gradually stronger and heavier doses of narcotics. And she hates it.

She's always been intelligent. She used to catch on immediately to the most subtle nuance. And then, as the cloud of narcotics around her head got thicker and heavier, she found it harder and harder to concentrate. She couldn't easily focus her attention on anything.

The tradeoff between being less intelligent and not being in pain was difficult for her. It was a different kind of pain, but there it is.

But New Mexico, unlike many more "civilized" states, has medical marijuana laws. And after our daughter suggested medical marijuana, she started doing her research. (OK, technically, our daughter suggested Marinol - she didn't think there was a chance in hell that her mother would smoke.)

New Mexico issues licenses to its known users, and the process for getting a license, while not particularly complicated, is rigid, structured, and annoying as hell.

We gathered all the documents that they wanted: the completed five-page application, a copy of her driver's license, her medical records, and certification from two different practitioners (her primary care guy, and her Pain Management guy).

(Weirdly, we also got a call from the Department of Health asking permission to contact a third doctor - she had an x-ray in her records, and they wanted to contact the radiologist who read it: possibly as evidence that she had cysts where he said she did - we've never really been certain.)

We had different problems getting the two medical authorizations. The first one, and easily the strangest one, was from our primary care guy. We've been seeing this short, elderly guy, and he wanted us to make an appointment with him. He'd apparently reviewed her records, and he sat down with her, looked her in the eyes, and asked her if she was aware of the possibility of the drug causing severe schizophrenia?

Yes, that's right. A medical doctor, concerned about Reefer Madness. (That was actually the incident that caused us to reevaluate our primary care provider.)

The second problem was came up later. It seems that the Pain Management doctor's paperwork didn't meet their requirements, and we'd been back-burnered for three weeks before we found out.

After a long and angry phone call with the Department of Health, I got them to finally explain what the problem was: the doctor's Physician's Assistant (PA) had filled out the paperwork for him - that, after all, is what PA's do. But she wasn't a Board Certified Pain Medicine specialist - the doctor was.

The next day, I overnighted updated paperwork from the doctor to them, and my wife now has a bright, shiny green card from the New Mexico Department of Health. It has a fascinating statement on the back: "card holders are legally permitted to use and possess up to six (6)ounces (170 grams) of usable marijuana." As opposed to all that unusable marijuana that people are caught with every day?

She also has a list of all the non-profit pot stores certified by the State of New Mexico (I think they should call them "dealerships"), along with an admonition not to disclose their locations. My wife is now a state-sponsored stoner.

So there's the trick: the government has a program, but they don't have a lot of inclination to help you themselves. You have to push them into doing their job, and you have to keep resubmitting anything they have a problem with - all it takes is one comma out of place, and everything comes to a halt.

She has a vaporizer (smoking irritates her throat, so we avoid that), and the store has some fairly high-quality pot, with names like "Wow" and "Shiska-berry", along with information on which of the various cannabinoids each brand contains.

And while she spends most days mildly buzzed, she no longer feels like her head is wrapped in cotton. She can concentrate on things for an extended period; she can read books again, and not have to go back over the same page three or four times.

There are conflicting theories regarding the use of marijuana; I just know this. It helps my wife, and that's what matters to me.

Saturday, December 07, 2013

Happy Holidays, y'all!

You know, it's that time of year again; as we approach the end of the year, we enter the Holiday Season. And just like every year of late, there are those who can't be happy unless they're given the opportunity to feel angry about something. And this time of year, the majority of them are the fine folks who don't believe in American values like "inclusiveness" and other sentiments best expressed at the base of the Statue of Liberty (you know, that whole "Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free" thing).

People like (just as an example) Bill O'Reilly, who want to pretend that there's some kind of "War on Christmas." They have decided to make themselves angry over something as innocuous as wishing people "Happy Holidays," instead of saying "Merry Christmas."

This is a particularly stupid thing to get cranky over, if you think about it, because the time in question, often referred to as the "Christmas season," runs from Thanksgiving through Christmas, and usually spills over into New Years, which is three holidays right there.

(I'm going with the current, somewhat commercialized version of the "Christmas season" - you know, "free market = good thing" - as practiced here in America in the 21st Century, so keep your cranky little historical interruptions to yourself - I might just mention them later anyway. And incidentally, the current "Christmas season" seems to have extended itself almost to Halloween at this point, which is yet a FOURTH holiday.)

December is just littered with minor Christian holidays, some of which (depending on your particular flavor of Christianity) are considered of relative importance, such as the Feast of the Immaculate Conception (December 8) and the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe on December 12 (which is moderately popular here in New Mexico for some reason).

(A little trivia for you: the "Immaculate Conception" doesn't refer to the birth of Jesus, but to the day Mary was conceived, probably a decade and a half or so earlier: see, in order to give birth to the child of God, her birth had to be "immaculate." A lot of good Christians get that wrong - it's pretty much a Catholic thing.)

December is particularly full of Feast Days to various saints, from St Francis Xavier (December 3) to St Lucy of Syracuse (December 13). Yesterday, December 6, was St Nicholas Day, if it helps - that, at least, has a Christmas-based attachment to the holiday.

At least five of the December saints are Johns, if you count one non-English variation: St John Damascene (December 4), St Juan Diego (December 9), St John of the Cross (December 14), St John of Kanty (December 23) and, of course, St John the Apostle (December 27).

A lot of the saints were Johns; that's why Jesus needed to make sure that the prostitutes got into heaven first (Matthew 21:31). * ba-dum CHING *

Now, that last John (the Apostley one) is actually a part of a whole series of Feast Days (an even dozen of them, in fact), which make up a string of holidays immortalized in the song "the Twelve Days of Christmas." You'd think that somebody fixated on Christmas traditions could at least remember that much.

There's a whole buttload of secular holidays and commemorations going on: December 10 is Human Rights Day, December first was World AIDS Awareness Day; it seems like every time you turn around, somebody wants to remember, bring attention to, or sell something. Look up International Civil Aviation Day, and Poinsettia Day (which is also Christmas-related, if it helps - December 12). In fact, today (December 7, 2013) is National Pearl Harbor Remembrance Day. (Did you remember? SpaghettiOs did.)

December 22 is Forefather's Day, commemorating the Pilgrim's landing on Plymouth Rock. You want a whiter, more all-American holiday? And how come you didn't celebrate it last year, you commie?

The day after Christmas, December 26 (which is also St Stephen’s day, one of those Twelve Days of Christmas I mentioned earlier) is Boxing Day, which is mostly (but not entirely) only still celebrated in England.

December 4 through December 21, a roughly 2-week string, are considered Zappadan, celebrating the life and works of Frank Zappa. Popular culture also gave us Festivus (you know, for the rest of us) on December 23.

If you happen to be African-American, Kwanzaa runs from December 26 through January 1, and it's a commemoration of African heritage; having first been celebrated in 1966, it's now officially older than a lot of the people bitching about it. (Here's a thought: if you're going to complain about people not honoring your white, Christian traditions, perhaps you shouldn't complain when they hold celebrations in honor of theirs.)

But just because other religions aren't Christian doesn't mean they don't have their own celebrations. For example, if you're of a particularly pagan turn of mind, December 21, 2013 will be the Winter Solstice. Among the Germanic people, this was known as Yule - it's one of the many pagan celebrations that the early Christian church hijacked. (Where do you think the term "yuletide" comes from?) There's also Saturnalia, which is a festival based around fertility rituals that comes from the Greco-Roman traditions (and certainly sounds like more fun than another round of carol-singing).

For our Hindu friends, Friday the 13th this year will be Gita Jayanti, celebrating the "birth" (creation) of the Bhagavad Gita; technically, it's held on the Ekadasi (11th day of the waxing moon) of the month of Margashirsha in the Hindu calendar, so I did that math for you.

If you happen to be of the Buddhist persuasion, tomorrow (the eighth day of the twelfth month) is Rohatsu, or "Bodhi Day," commemorating the enlightenment of the Buddha. (If you happen to live in a Zen Buddhist monastery - I don't, but your mileage may vary - this would be the last day of a week-long sesshin, or meditative retreat.)

Hanukkah ended on December 5 this year. Since our right-wing friends like to trumpet the term "Judeo-Christian traditions," it's surprising how few menorahs I saw in the windows.

If you are a follower of the Jedi church, I really don't know what to tell you. "Life Day" is a Wookie holiday, and falls about once every three years on our calendar. But the first human awareness of it came about this time of year in 1978. Make of that what you will.

In that magical era of the Fifties that conservatives like to pretend was a special time in American history when everything was perfect, they liked to refer to America as "the melting pot," where people from all cultures could live and thrive. So, really, if the phrase "Happy Holidays" offends you, perhaps you should consider why you're such a crappy American.

Saturday, November 30, 2013

Debunking "A Tale of Two Cities"

You know, now that the holidays are over, I can spend a little time clearing out my email. And what do I find? A message from my dad! Let's see what he has to say!

Aw, it's cute. It really is. I love it when unsubstantiated facts and statistical anomalies are stirred together and turn into fertilizer. And this one has tables and everything! In fact, it looks something like this.
A Tale of Two Cities

Chicago, IL Houston, TX
Population 2.7 million 2.15 million
Median HH Income $38,600 $37,000
% African-American 38.9% 24%
% Hispanic 29.9% 44%
% Asian 5.5% 6%
% Non-Hispanic White 28.7% 26%

Pretty similar until you compare the following:

Chicago, IL Houston, TX
Concealed Carry gun law no yes
# of Gun Stores 0 184 - Dedicated gun stores plus 1500 - legal places to buy guns- Walmart, K-mart, sporting goods, etc.
Homicides, 2012 1,806 207
Homicides per 100K 38.4 9.6
Avg. January high temperature (F) 31 63

Conclusion: Cold weather causes murder
Now, my dad is a reasonably smart person, so I can't assume that this is evidence of incipient Alzheimer's or anything. In fact, mostly, it looks like he just forwarded somebody else's data, without bothering to fact-check it (I'm sure most of us have relatives who do that). But since it's sitting there stinking up my inbox, I guess it deserves an answer.

First off, let's start with the fact that any time the NRA tries to claim that Chicago's "unreasonable gun laws" don't do any good, it ignores the fact that Chicago is surrounded by unreasonably loose gun laws, and anybody who wants a gun just needs to drive an hour to get someplace where they can buy one without a problem. So, you know, that part's crap - Chicago's laws have minimal effect because those laws have been nullified. Or, if you really want to look at how it works:
More than a quarter of the firearms seized on the streets here by the Chicago Police Department over the past five years were bought just outside city limits in Cook County suburbs, according to an analysis by the University of Chicago Crime Lab. Others came from stores around Illinois and from other states, like Indiana, less than an hour’s drive away. Since 2008, more than 1,300 of the confiscated guns, the analysis showed, were bought from just one store, Chuck’s Gun Shop in Riverdale, Ill., within a few miles of Chicago’s city limits.
Now, let's look at the statistics as presented. Assuming they're accurate (and we'll get to that in a second), remember the phrase "pretty similar until you compare the following." Because, just taking them at face value, you have a 15% difference in African American populations, and a 14% difference in Hispanic populations. Anybody who thinks those numbers are "pretty similar" either failed statistics, or never graduated high school.

But you can just feel free to pull out your Klan membership card and claim that the higher number of blacks explain the difference in the murder rate. (Trust me, the argument has been made.) Of course, you'd then also have to explain how the lower percentage of Hispanics has affected these statistics, and I'd LOVE to hear you try to argue around that corner.

But then, just for fun, let's consider the REAL facts. (You remember "facts," right? Those things Fox News has no time for?) First of all, this link here goes to a Cost of Living calculator. Now, I want you to do a little homework (calm down, it isn't difficult). Compare the costs of living between Houston and Chicago.

Done? Did you notice that tricky little 22% percent (average) difference in the cost of living? So that a person making $78,000 in Houston would need to earn $100,000 to live in the same style in Chicago? Hmmm... I wonder if that has any effect?

But, you know, those numbers in the chart still seem a little off. And statistical analysis is probably a real pain when you're working with incorrect data, isn't it?

So I went looking, and it seems that there's this thing the census bureau does, and it's called the American Community Survey. But those are all these tables, filled with numbers and stuff, and I don't want to make anybody's head hurt worse than it probably does. So I found a website that extracts numbers from the Census Bureau's American Community Survey, and you know, it's funny. There seems to be a discrepancy here. Just a slight one.

Because, as it turns out, the median household income for the Chicago-Naperville-Joliet Illinois metro area was $59,261 in 2012. Not $38,600, as claimed. Wow, that's a little bit of a difference, isn't it?

And look here: the median household income for the Houston-Sugar Land-Baytown Texas metro area was $55,910 in 2012. Not $37,000. That's kind of interesting, too.

But, you know what else? I seem to remember just a couple of months ago, when it was big news that Chicago was the "murder capital of the USA." But, funny thing. The number of homicides wasn't 1,806, like that cute little table claimed. Seems like it was more like 500 or so. Isn't that odd?

But let's check that, shall we? How about we look at the FBI's official data? And we poke around for a while, and we see that, sure enough, the number under "Murder and non-negligent manslaughter" for Chicago was exactly 500. Kind of a round number - you know, the kind of number that might stick in your head if you had any interest in actual facts, instead of... well, I don't want to call it "fecal matter," because that would be rude. But still...

So they were... well, maybe they were off by a little bit. Roughly 1306 homicides off, to be exact: they were wrong by almost three times the actual figure! I wonder how they did with the number of homicides in Houston? Well, right there, they were MUCH closer! Houston had 217 homicides, instead of the 207 in the table! That's so much closer! I mean, it's still wrong, but it's so much better than they've been doing!

But still, it seems like a lot more people have been killed in Chicago than in Houston, doesn't it? That's just weird. Is there some sort of difference between the Chicago mobster and the Texas cowboy that could account for these numbers? I wonder if anybody has looked into this problem?
Efforts to compare the strictness of gun laws and the level of violence across major American cities are fraught with contradiction and complication, not least because of varying degrees of coordination between local and state laws and differing levels of enforcement. In New York City, where homicides and shootings have decreased, the gun laws are generally seen as at least as strict as Chicago's, and the state laws in New York and many of its neighboring states are viewed as still tougher than those in and around Illinois. Philadelphia, like cities in many states, is limited in writing gun measures that go beyond those set by Pennsylvania law. Some city officials there have chafed under what they see as relatively lax state controls...

"The way the laws are structured facilitates the flow of those guns to hit our streets," Garry F. McCarthy, the Chicago police superintendent, said in an interview, later adding, "Chicago may have comprehensive gun laws, but they are not strict because the sanctions don't exist."
So, really, even if you used accurate numbers and factored in socioeconomic data, the numbers wouldn't really mean a thing, would they? It's almost as if this email was comparing two completely unrelated things, isn't it?

I wonder if whoever put together the original chart knew that when he wrote it?

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Adventures in Cooking

OK, so the Trophy Wife was busy sewing this year, and I got to make the whole Thanksgiving spread this year (it's not the first time, but we usually share the cooking these days - she's better at it than I am, so she's usually driving the bus, but I'm right there plugging away).

But this year, since I was in charge, I decided to go the traditional route. We tend to be pretty hard on tradition: ham is relatively normal, but we've had Thanksgiving pizza, and one year we decided that everybody does "pilgrim food," so we needed to have Indian food. So we had chicken Korma, cucumber raita, homemade naan, a whole spread - it was awesome.

But this year, I just decided that I was cooking, and damn it, I like turkey. So I went with the standard menu - turkey, mashed potatoes, stuffing, green beans, sweet potato pie.

The green beans are an old Southern recipe, with versions on both sides of our family: boiled for hours, with a ham hock, salt, sugar and a little apple cider vinegar. By the time they're done, there's nothing remotely healthy about 'em. I had Aunt Drew in Texarkana, who used to put on a huge spread whenever anybody in the family came to visit; and the wife had any number of relatives who did the same. And they all used basically the same green bean recipe.

The stuffing was an interesting challenge, because I wanted to duplicate the Trophy Wife's cornbread stuffing, which is awesome. But when I asked what recipe she used, it turns out that she basically fakes it every year. So that was interesting.

But for the main course, I decided to see whether Alton Brown's turkey recipe was a winner - he starts it at a high heat, and then backs it down, to end up with both a crispy skin and a juicy bird. But that didn't work for me as well as I'd hoped.

We didn't use a standard brine, because, truth be told, I'm not entirely sold on the joys of brining. (Your mileage may vary.)

We started at 500 degrees for half an hour, and then lowered the heat to 350 for two and a half hours. But at the end of that time, we had a browned chicken which would have been way underdone in the middle (which isn't good in poultry). But keeping it going at too low a heat would have resulted in turkey jerky, so we cranked it to 425 for another hour, and it turned out amazing: moist, flavorful, and exactly what we wanted. But I'm not going to proclaim the joys of the three-stage cooking method - the usual low-and-slow method makes it just as good, without the random moments of panic that this one had.

(Please note: all temperatures are in Fahrenheit, because we're American and stupid.)

So, in the end, everything worked out, with only a tiny amount of tension. And a good time was had by all.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

The War On Thanksgiving

The entire country (outside of corporate boardrooms) seems to be up in arms about all the stores being open on Thanksgiving, which is traditionally a national holiday. It all started when Wal-Mart, that bastion of worker abuse, announced that they were going to beat "Black Friday" by a day, and everybody started following suit.

The lefties view it as just another example of the corporations treating workers like machines, with no time for their families. The right wing, on the other hand, has a somewhat more nuanced view: knee-jerk patriotism demands that they wail and cry about this abandonment of traditional American values, but brainwashed worship of unfettered capitalism won't allow them to criticize big corporations. So the whole situation makes them angry, but they don't know what to do about it.

The answer is fairly simple, though. If you don't like stores being open on Thanksgiving, don't shop on Thanksgiving. Tell all your friends not to shop on Thanksgiving, and explain why. Social media is an important part of this: send out the word on Facebook and Twitter, post videos on YouTube and Vine, or even post a message on Google+ (if you're particularly fond of the sound of your own voice echoing off empty walls).

You can even slant your message to match your audience. "Abusing the workers" won't resonate with the Fox News crowd, but "destruction of American values" seems to do it for them.

Protests might work, but you'd be giving up your holiday at that point, and it's a little late in the game for that anyway: you aren't going to get massive crowds to help you out. So the best way to get your message across is through your wallet - by not using it. If the profits for sales on Thanksgiving don't pay for the employees to come in that day, the corporations aren't going to do it again.

Sunday, November 03, 2013

Oops, I did it again

I'm getting into the habit, every 3 years or so, of getting a little trim whether I need it or not.

See, we have now scientifically calculated that it takes me three months to grow an inch of hair. And my preferred hair donation place requires ten inches of hair, as a minimum length, for a donation. So, a little math will tell you that I should be getting my head shaved every 30 months.

But since I try to do this in conjunction with the United Way folks (yeah, they have some issues, but they do help people), and since I haven't been able to convince our local rep to set something up outside of their usual Fall donation cycle, I seem to end up doing this in October of every third year.

My wife, having been raised on a college campus in the Sixties, prefers long hair.

I'm really not clear why.

You know, it's weird, but every time I mention donating hair, people say something like "Oh, you mean 'Locks of Love'?"

That group gets all the press (I blame Oprah), but they've never been completely open about their accounting practices, and even after all these years, they still haven't gotten any better. Even today, their accounting practices make it very difficult to figure out where all the hair goes. One watchdog group estimates that they waste $6 million in donations every year.

So it's kind of a shame that they've got Oprah pulling for them, when there are so many charities out there more deserving of your donations.

Really, it would be nice if I was shaving my head sometime when it wasn't dropping down around freezing at night, but you do what you can.

If I'd been wearing a costume this year, this was probably the last year when a Breaking Bad costume would be topical, but, for much the same reason that my blogging rate has dropped, I was a little too busy to put together a costume.

Oh, well. I would have just been one among a legion of Heisenbergs this year. And who wants that, right?

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Some unconnected thoughts on the aging process

Apparently, I turned 50 today.

I’m not clear how it happened, but through dint of sheer survival, I am now officially middle-aged. I am no longer merely a cranky asshole, I now qualify as a curmudgeon, which is what I've always aspired to be.

I have now surpassed the average life expectancy of the citizens of Classical Rome – particularly if they drank from those lead pipes. About 92% of American males survive past my age, but then again, very few Africans survive even this long. I suppose I can take comfort in that (I’m a strong supporter of schadenfreude).

(Incidentally, it’s the rare spellcheck program that will recognize "schadenfreude," assuming you’re not speaking German. Ironically, very few spellcheck programs will recognize the word "spellcheck," either.)

I share a birthday with Oscar Wilde and playwright Eugene O'Neill, and both of those motherfuckers are dead. Pamela Bach was born exactly the same day I was in 1963, but at least I never married David Hasselhoff. So there’s that.

I succeeded in reaching this age without really trying. I don't work out, I drink, I drive too fast; the only thing I've done right in my life was marry my wife. I took the road less traveled by, got lost, and failed to find any money along the way.

I'm apparently also losing bone mass at a ridiculous rate. Maybe that will help me lose weight. Or maybe I should drink more milk; I'm not clear which way to go with that.

Overall, I really have no clear plan, which might well be part of the problem. I just intend to keep doing what got me through five decades of life so far. Keep moving and see what happens.
I grow old... I grow old...
I shall wear the bottoms of my trousers rolled.

Shall I part my hair behind? Do I dare to eat a peach?
I shall wear white flannel trousers, and walk upon the beach.
I have heard the mermaids singing, each to each.

I do not think that they will sing to me.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

The righteous hates falsehood, but the wicked brings shame and disgrace. (Proverbs 13:5)

We'll discover over the course of the next few days (or possibly hours) whether the GOP hates the Affordable Care Act more than they love the United States of America.

Over the last two weeks, the Republicans have continued with their basic tactic of lying about every facet of the debt standoff, at every phase of the fight. They continue to try and claim that this is "Obama's shutdown," despite the fact that they've been planning the shutdown for months.
Although the law's opponents say that shutting down the government was not their objective, the activists anticipated that a shutdown could occur — and worked with members of the Tea Party caucus in Congress who were excited about drawing a red line against a law they despise.

A defunding "tool kit" created in early September included talking points for the question, "What happens when you shut down the government and you are blamed for it?" The suggested answer was the one House Republicans give today: "We are simply calling to fund the entire government except for the Affordable Care Act/Obamacare."
And to get to this point, Boehner even admitted that he had made a deal over the budget, which he then simply broke. Because he's a lying bag of douche.

And the lies go on: they can't even tell the truth about the basic issue here. The Congressional GOP is not allowing a raise to the debt ceiling. Let's ignore the fact that every other president in history has gotten debt ceiling increases without a fight. (And most especially, let's not point out the one single difference between the current president and every other president throughout history. What's the one thing that's different? Is he more liberal than any other president? Even Jimmy Carter? Although you're coming close to the real answer at that point - Jimmy Carter was from Georgia, and the population of Georgia is over 30% black, second highest in the nation.)

And let's ignore the fact that the debt ceiling was raised seven times under Bush, and eighteen times under Reagan. We're ignoring that. What we're looking at is the basic fact of what the debt ceiling is.

The "debt ceiling" is the ability of the Treasury to sell bonds to pay the government's bills. (That's shorthand. Here's a slightly more detailed explanation.) That doesn't mean we're on a spending spree, or wandering through Sears making impulse buys - this is the money to pay the bills that America already owes.

And that's the ugly secret that the Republicans don't want to mention. Aside from the continuing bills - you know, pensions, power and pencils - we need this money to pay off the budget. The budget that was passed by both the Democratically-controlled Senate, and by the Republican-controlled House of Representatives.

Our friends the Republicans have packed the budget with billions of dollars of unnecessary spending. Like a defense budget loaded with spending that the Pentagon didn't even want. Like the billions spent annually in oil company subsidies.

But the problem runs deeper than that. There is a small minority of the GOP who don't see the government going into default to be a problem. They believe, in fact, that we should "repudiate" all government debt - simply tell the world that we don't believe in it, and aren't going to pay it. They believe that destroying the US economy, triggering a catastrophic recession, and throwing world financial markets into meltdown, is a small price to pay to meet their goals.

Do you want to know why the president can't negotiate with the GOP? Because you can only conduct actual negotiations when you can trust the other side to live up to their side of the agreement. That's why there's the phrase "you can't negotiate with terrorists." Even if they get the helicopter and the money, you can't trust them not to kill the hostages.

Or in this case, destroy the economy.


Update (10/16/2013): It may not be related, but since it's obvious that the GOP has been planning this government shutdown for months, isn't it interesting that Teabagger Congressman Joe Barton started cashing out of the stock market back in August? Maybe some of them DID understand what the term "global economic disaster" means. And just didn't care.

Tuesday, October 08, 2013

Such are all their wicked works, and there is no truth in them.

Although most Democrats already know that most Republicans are, as a group, pathological lying sacks of shit, perhaps it will be the government shutdown that brings this fact into focus for most of America.

I doubt it - much of the country is blinded by partisan hatred of our president, and the many of the rest will stick with the "both sides do it" cop-out. But a guy can hope, right?

This tiny-minded Koch-sucking group of overwhelmingly Caucasian males has, for the most part, stopped even trying to tell the truth, because they know that any lie they tell will be twisted by a compliant press to extract what few grains of reality might have accidentally been included.

Alternatively, when there isn't a passing relationship with the truth in whatever ignorant statement they vomited up, Fox "News" and the right-wing blogs will simply repeat it over and over, louder. And through sheer repetition, the hope is that the inbred paste-eaters making up their "base" will come to believe it anyway.

And sadly, this tactic all too often works.

The GOP has turned the act of making ridiculous untruths a standard move in their playbook. They've been lying about the Affordable Care Act for so long, and in such idiotic ways, that they can't even make lucid arguments any more. They just devolve into random spewings of illegitimate talking points and mindless babble.

These "fiscal conservatives" who are so worried about passing along the costs to our children? They're costing the country $300 million per day that the government is shut down.

John Boehner's latest mantra is that he won't even allow reopening the government to come to a vote, because it couldn't pass. Which is an open and blatant lie, as just a little math will tell you. But it doesn't matter. Why would Boehner want to allow the government to reopen? There is ample evidence that the GOP has been trying to shut down the government since at least 2010.

The GOP has lied about the Affordable Care Act so hard, and for so long, that the drooling illiterati don't even know what they want any more. In poll after poll, they show that they support every aspect of Obamacare; they just hate anything named "Obamacare." This is so universal that late night comedians can create viral videos around the concept.

One of the GOP's current talking points is that Obamacare must be defeated because it was "rammed through in the middle of the night without a single Republican vote." Which, of course, ignores an entire year of committee meetings, and dozens of compromises and changes to make it palatable to the Republicans who then voted against it, because you can't trust them to keep their agreements.

But the brightest zit on the GOP nose, the puddle of puke that they keep returning to, is "he won't meet with us." Which is eyeball-meltingly stupid. He's met with them multiple times - he just hasn't caved in to their demands. Because you don't negotiate with terrorists.

In fact, that's probably the one fact that's driving them into the most stroke-inducing paroxysms of rage. Obama has been compromising and negotiating with them for so long that, now that he's standing firm on a position, they don't know what to do.

So they've shut down the government, after planning on it for so long. And now that they've done it, they don't even know what they actually want. The few who realize that defunding "Obamacare" is a losing proposition don't care. Rep. Marlin Stutzman (R-Ind) accidentally let slip the fact that they really don't care about the American people any more - they govern with the calm logic of a six-year-old throwing a temper tantrum. "We're not going to be disrespected. We have to get something out of this. And I don't know what that even is."

The lunatics have taken over the asylum. They've taken their hostages and are screaming about what they're going to do to them. It may be time to reactivate Seal Team Six.