Comments on life, the universe and everything from an aging Sixties survivor.

Location: Massachusetts, United States

Ummm, isn't "about me" part of the point of the blog?

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Why we have cats, I think

My niece, M, is a serious dog person. She works in the canine business, she has more control over any dog that ever lived than Uncle Matty, and of course, she has dogs. This was where we spent Christmas Day. We left the cats home.

The senior citizen is a good-natured mutt of nearly 12 who came to her when she worked in a vet clinic, more or less in pieces. She rebuilt the mutt (and had to be restrained from dismantling the dog's former bad owners) and it's been love ever since.

M is not a large person. A bit taller than her mother, who is also a dogophile, but not large at all. I leave it to psychiatrists to suggest why small people own large dogs, but M has taken the tendency to extremes.

Apart from the normal-sized mutt, she now has three dogs that ranging from merely large to enormous. On an ascending scale they are an American Staffordshire terrier bitch (you too can call yourself by a five-dollar name instead of "pit bull" when you get a five-page pedigree). Next we have the newcomer, a French Mastiff, a mere puppy of ten months and about 110 pounds. Finally we have the self-styled Momma dog, an English bull mastiff bitch who weighs just a shade less than a bull. Mutt included, the house has over 400 pounds of dog: large, loud, or both. They are very well-behaved unless you show up unannounced, because my niece is absolutely alpha dog in this pack. Anything M can't control, Momma dog can.

The French mastiff puppy decided that he and I should be special friends. I enjoy friendly dogs, but mastiffs have this drool issue. If this one decided to attack you, it would be a question whether you would drown before he made pulled pork of you. After he was reproved for inappropriate conduct, he kept sidling back to make sure we were still buddies, leaving another pint of canine mucus as a calling card.

Does anyone have helpful hints for removing dog drool from dress slacks?

Thursday, December 20, 2007

I think I have a cause

Nice thing about blogs, as in any other form of writing, is you get to put pretty packaging on your obsessions and call them causes. I think mocking New England weather broadcasts is becoming my cause. It's less contentious than political blogging, where even your friends rip you. Even meterologists ridicule weather forecasts.

We are in, oh, hour 37 of the current weather broadcasting overreaction to last week's weather broadcasting overreaction. In this case, the most populous parts of New England may just possibly see an inch or two of snow by this time tomorrow (it's raining right now). Since the temp will also be at or above freezing most of that time, and since there is more than an inch of salt on most paved public ways in Massachusetts, the chances of an accumulation of anything but raw hype are minimal.

At the present rate, the hysteria will begin shortly after July 4, skipping right through hurricane season to begin warning people of the need to maintain their shovels while they are still trying to maintain inflatable water toys.

Links and pictures soon, I promise.

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Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Street Smarts

Boston's Channel 7 news is nearly always good for a laugh. Today's dose of unintended comedy came when they interviewed an earnest young urban dweller of the female persuasion. She was upset that she had parked in an East Boston street space someone else had cleared, and came back the next morning to find all four of her tyres slashed. This young person seems to be a slow learner. Some months earlier, she said, she had parked in what may have been someone's personal space, was double-parked in, called the cops, and found her windscreen smashed soon after.

Rewind about 30 years, to days when I worked in the pre-gentry North End. Despite having a job with certain local privileges, I learned early to shrug and go to a parking lot when there was snow on the ground. There's a good deal of hard work that goes with those spaces, and the possessiveness is understandable. As for the tyres and windscreen, working-class Bostonians have a refreshing directness about their objections to inappropriate conduct. The young person in question is merely being told to shovel her own fricken parking space, which will then be left alone.

Before Channel 7 was done with its story, they were politely (I'm sure) told that they too were parked in someone else's space. They moved.

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Saturday, December 15, 2007

The 12/13 snowstorm, the 12/14 blamestorm

One of the new words of the year is "blamestorm," and we seem to be having one today. typically, none of the participants is able to do what grownups do: take on a portion of the responsibility for a merely average New England snowstorm turning into a freakin mess.

I spent 4 1/2 hours going from Framingham to Marblehead yesterday, via the Pike and Route 1-A, which would be quite enough for me to qualify for whine with my cheese, but as usual I'm looking at things cockeyed. Disclaimer: I left work twenty minutes after my usual departure time. I was told to go home early, but took one look at the mob in my own company parking lot and decided I'd be more useful and more comfortable at work for another hour. That may be one reason my trip was shorter than many others, although it covered more miles.

The Commonwealth has always been in denial about being a northern state, and consequently is always unprepared for normal snowfalls. If you want your limited access highways plowed early and often, you need an adequate snow removal budget. You must spend part of that budget on snow removal teams on the state payroll, led by plows capable of clearing snow at 50 mph, which are on the road within minutes of the first flake's appearance, whether they drop a blade or not. You then can leave the secondary roads to contractors. Here, we spend most of our inadequate snow removal budgets on contractors, whose equipment is not up to high-speed snow removal, and can be comedic*. In fairness to the contractors, there isn't enough money in the pot to motivate them to obtain adequate high-speed hardware. Thus, Massachusetts tries to clear major highways with equipment and tactics better suited to a suburban main street. It gets done, but sure can take a while.

The entire culture of disaster is the unspoken heavy. Its chief enablers are the local news media and the general public.

The local news and weather media have successfully created the fable that they were prepared for the Blizzard of 1978. I was here: they were not. It was clear enough that it was going to snow. In those far-off, naive days, six inches of snow was reported as what it was: six inches of snow: be careful, but it's no big deal. That was what the models predicted. That was what was broadcast. The forecasts were about thirty inches short. Our local forecasters were caught with their pants down and they have never forgotten it. From that day onward, no snowflake has gone unreported.

We as the public could respond to this steady diet of hype with cautious, informed skepticism. We do not. We either panic on cue, or ignore the news completely. Tens of thousands of us queue up in supermarkets to buy potato chips and soft drinks by the case every time the word snow is in the forecast. Yesterday, about two million people who generally leave work over a period of six hours left work over a period of one hour, and guess what? The roads got clogged. They would have become clogged on the finest day in summer with the same situation.

Because the roads were clogged with people unable to exercise their own common sense, the snow removal resources, such as they are, were literally unable to move. That's how we got a mess.

The business community's response was, as usual, both timid and dense. In snow emergencies, companies gather like penguins on the edge of an ice floe, waiting for someone else to be pushed in and survive before they jump. Their chief concerns seem to be neither the common good nor the welfare of their employees, but their own liability position and the opinion of their stockholders. Ultimately it was employers, in every sector, who made the decisions that put those millions on the street at once. I should check to see if I own any piece of the companies who aided this decision, because my opinion of their judgment hasn't been at all improved.

If no one but state employees had gone home early, it is likely that the major highways and arteries would have been reasonably passable by the normal rush hour period. Solutions would come faster if all concerned admitted this instead of sidestepping it.

I understand the Boston Chamber of Commerce is belatedly trying to create a programme that spreads the load out more effectively and allows the snow removal resources we have to get to work ahead of the highest demand. One can hope that idea spreads to the suburbs as well:
Because I hate to think what would happen if we had a real snowstorm.

*I have seen highways plowed in ten states. Massachusetts is the only place I have seen a divided highway plowed by oil tank trucks, and I am not making this up.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Why Johnny Can't Talk (or Think) Good

Oh My GAWD!! It's December in New England! There's going to be SNOW!!! Call FEMA!!! (Or not: call someone who can actually help instead.)

Don't you get sick of the broadcast media's fixation with making normal events into disasters?

Don't you wonder about those panic shoppers ahead of you in the checkout line? What do they live on when they can't get two dozen two-litre bottles of Coke and cases of giant-size bags of ripple chips? What do they do with the surplus when our blizzard amounts to two inches and they can go out the next day? Are their houses overflowing with stashes of soft drinks and potato chips?

PET PEEVE WARNING: Will this be the year when at least one bold New England weather prophet has the stones to say "Northeaster" as normal people do? "Nor'easter" has never been widely used outside newsrooms in the history of the language...except by New Yorkers pretending to be New Englanders.

The answer is "fat chance". There will be snow Sunday: let it come down. There will also be a football game against the Jets, who have just enough of a chance to make life interesting. So what is it we hear about? "Spygate." The geniuses of the broadcast media still think that applying, or misapplying, a stale suffix over 30 years old to any scandal that shows up is clever. Evidently, they now think that evidence of a routine coaching procedure constitutes scandal.

Isn't the endless repetition of a meaningless word a symptom of some psychosis or other?

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Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Deal, but...

So Gagne is a closer for the Brewers, as opposed to being a loser for the Red Sox. And for $10 million. I think somebody out there had a little bit of what made Milwaukee famous before inking this deal, considering you could have started a fund here that would have paid any team to take him off Boston's hands, maybe as much as ten mil.

We shall see. There's a little lost voice at the back of my head reminding me of the number of pitchers with 5-plus ERAs who left the Sox and became brilliant with their new teams. Must be the weather or something.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Yes, Yes, Yes...

OK, I saw the end of the Ravens game. It was not intentional: I couldn't sleep and wandered downstairs in time for the last classic moments.

This NFL marketing scheme that overloads the night game schedule generally loses poor schmucks like me, who are up and doing before 0500. Most of the time, I have to wait until I'm at work to find out what happened. No, I don't listen to the car radio in the morning, because I don't want to interrupt my theta state. It adds to my period of rest.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Tin Man

I'm a cable Luddite, having lost that contest to my spouse, so there is no Sci-Fi channel in my house. All the same, I've been intrigued by "Tin Man." Reworking the Oz story is an ingenious idea if one can carry it off.

I rather wonder about Glitch, the character with half a brain. I hope he turns out heroic and I'll be asking my daughter about it. Some of the people she treats have little more than half a brain in real life, and they deserve an heroic representation.

Fire One!

I suppose I count as an animal lover, but our current allegedly alpha cat makes it a trial.

Spike's excuse may be traumatic brain injury (he fell down a flight of stairs in early kittenhood) but whatever the cause, he is dumber than a bag of hammers. Today it has been snowing, sleeting, or generally crudding all day. Despite this, Spike hasn't lost his determination to show off his manliness, so Mr. Indoor Kitty makes his daily bolt for the exit. I am burdened with shopping bags and unable to resist. The temperature has been dropping. The coat of rain on the deck has become ice. Spike makes his break for freedom.

It is a tribute to the braking power of cat claws that he doesn't rocket off the deck and down the outside steps. Having come to a halt inches from disaster, he thinks about wimping out, licks himself a few times, and goes down the steps with as much manly swagger as he can muster. Spike can now shiver under the porch for fifteen minutes before making his reappearance at the back door, point made and dignity restored.

If any of this sounds like the behaviour of any other male mammal, I'm sure it's coincidence.

Saturday, December 01, 2007

Too Old to be Carded?

It's taken me somewhere over two years to get around to obtaining a Beer Works VIP card. I spent most of that time procrastinating. I spent the rest quarreling with a very unintuitive Web site until it crossed my mind that I'd do better dealing with the live human behind the bar at the Salem emporium. After the barkeep expressed astonishment that I didn't have one (seeing that I have engraved spots for my elbows on the bar) I received my Precious.

Now, I may just need help using it for something more reckless than the spouse's weekly Cabernet.
Seems like Hercules must be just below the horizon.

Oh Gasp! There’s that S-word again!

In our last episode, someone who shall be called Nosey Parker opted to shame me because I had dared mention that the death of a very dear friend might have been suicide.

My friend’s death has been rending for many people, for many reasons. Nosey proclaimed that I had no evidence to include suicide in my speculations. Actually, I had enough to support the possibility. I left that and other things (like a name) out of my blog from a sense of decency my critic appears not to possess.

My entry was an expression of grief and, unfortunately, I’m a writer. At such moments, I must put words down in some medium or other.

For a good education, I suggest Googling suicide in all its forms, especially the question of why people are so horribly afraid of it. You won’t come away with much except a deadening sense of denial.

My resolution of the moment is to say as little as possible about the chronic illness that I live with. After a while, such things are a bore, and one finds that one has said all there is to say on the subject. Still I have now to get one thing straight: that I know a damn sight more about suicide than any self-righteous goody two-shoes.

Like the illness, the prospect of suicide is my daily companion. When things are going well (as they are at this moment), it’s as far in the background as I can shove it. When I have my sickness on, suicide is right out there. No amount of piety, platitude or sermonising can change that. Around one person in six with this disorder takes their own life. They do not act from any of the lightweight reasons you’ll find when you Google the topic. They do it as a reasonable response to a disease that can inflict more pain than the human body was meant to endure, without actually killing it. I have not been to that level more than a few times, so I am only reporting. Such an illness swiftly erases affectations like "fear of death."

Don’t presume, don’t dare, to lecture me about suicide.

(I am grateful that Nosey Parker provided me with a perfectly worthless place to direct my second stage of grief. )