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?

Monday, August 31, 2009

Embracing the Penguin

The moment of critical discount having arrived, I have plunged for a netbook loaded with Ubuntu Linux. This is a moment that satisfies my inner geek as well as my self-respect. The idea has been to have at least one machine in this household running Linux for about three years now, and it's happened at last. Goes to prove that eventually I can do this shit. I switched from Microsoft Office to Open Office some months ago, with nary a hiccup in functionality or interoperability. I have a Puppy Linux bootable CD for the desktop machine, but bootable CDs hardly signify. When life gets difficult, you can reboot, pull out the CD and run back to Uncle Bill. Still, Puppy is cool. If you have a reasonably modern machine that lets you boot from a flash drive, you can boot it from your flash drive and operate the whole damn thing from the flash.

I love Linux already. The netbook will take some adjustment, chiefly because there's not a lot of real estate on the keyboard. I keep putting the heels of my hands on the wrong places. The screen resolution is fine; about anything I need by way of peripherals I can plug in, it's a damn sight easier to carry around than a laptop and much easier to operate than a smart phone (at least, if you're digitally challenged).

For the moment, these thoughts still come to you from the desktop, but I'll be moving its Firefox bookmarks to the netbook shortly, and so be able to carry on my mockery from anywhere.

Oh, and why penguins anyway? I refer you to this pair of quotes from Linus Torvalds, initiator of the Linux kernel. And you thought developers weren't funny.

Another obligatory blog

This obligation is in reference to Sen. Kennedy's death, lengthy obsequies and even lengthier media coverage. As a child of New Hampshire, I was raised on a steady diet of Daniel Webster, a diet even steadier than that which has nourished any Massachusetts child these 47 years.

This brief biography will do well enough. It has one item in common with the Webster mythology of my childhood: scarcely a word said against the man. This is in sharp contrast with the public career of Edward Kennedy, or any politician during the last 40 years or so. Curiously, it is also in sharp contrast with public careers in Webster's own lifetime. The hindsight of history sees Webster as a seminal figure in creating the idea of federal union. It sees him as one of the three great public figures of his time (together with Henry Clay and John C. Calhoun) whose genius for compromise bought the nation two generations of peace and growth before its inevitable plunge into the furnace of civil war. That history also sees Webster as his peers did: a colossally egotistical, self-obsessed and fanatically ambitious man held in awe by many in Congress, bought by many interest groups, but with limited and situational respect from peers and voters . His final compromise, that of 1850, bought the nation another ten years of peace, but cost him the respect of all but a handful of his fellow Whigs and of New England abolitionists.

Like Jefferson, and so many others of the early National era, he spent his life deeply in debt, debt that he tried to ameliorate by being one of the most avaricious politicians of his time. He made no secret of his fondness for a bribe. The balance, which the era of the 24/7 news cycle seems to forget, is that the assets outweighed the liabilities.

Naturally, they didn't teach this to New Hampshire grade schoolers. I had to reach college to discover Webster's inner rogue. I think that's a damned shame: we'd do better to teach children to measure public people by their achievements, not their wardrobe or sex lives.

Monday, August 24, 2009

The real reason?

The idea that the Scots are either more compassionate or more reckless than anyone else in the West is one of the most comical I've ever heard, whether it's being advanced by the Scottish government on the one hand or the US FBI director on the other.

Consider two things. First, under devolution, Scotland has the opportunity to make all of the idiotic mistakes of a major power without the consequences. That's the nature of devolution. It's rather like Kentucky having a foreign policy. Second, Scotland is full of, well, Scots. Do we think for a minute that the Scottish government really want to be saddled with the cost of caring for a dying terrorist?

I rest my case.

Saturday, August 22, 2009


OK, so those of us a little closer to the story know that "earn big money; get into health care" is just a tad overblown. All the same, once the economics get balanced, there is still a greater need for people to do almost every job than there are people to do the jobs.

This brings me back to that regrettable job interview I had at the beginning of the month. I grant that what the hiring manager wanted bore little or no resemblance to the job description that got me there. Still, one early feature of the interview was a snarky comment from the hiring manager that I must have shown up to partake of the endless job opportunities and big bucks in the health care field.

That was the first moment at which I nearly ended the interview. Jesus H. Christ--whatever happened to reading resumes? I've been writing for health care for four years. Not only did I take a college certificate in medical coding, I passed a certification exam (on the first go) which has a failure rate of nearly 60 percent. I'm not exactly a newcomer to this area.

The question I pose to the universe: is that a fair representation of attitudes within the health professions toward career changers? If it is, it's no wonder the professions can't recruit enough people to meet demand. My immediate thought after this interview, based on this and several other factors, was simply that the hiring manager was representative of a common type: the physician asshole. (I suppose we should label such persons in Latin: medicus anus.)

It's only later that I've begun to wonder how widespread this attitude is and whether anyone has taken thought to adjusting it.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Pondering stuff

Got my aquatic exercise at the beach this week, in proportion to the weather. Monday: did a mile along the beach, swimming as long as I could and filling in the aqua-jogging. Tuesday, pretty much the same, a bit more aqua-jogging. Yesterday it was nearly all aqua-jogging because the water temp had dropped about eight degrees. Today it was more or less aqua-sloshing waist deep with the water temp down a bit more and a lot of cloud. Tomorrow, surf's up and I'm not in the water. Resolution degenerates.

I looked into the prospects of making minimum wage writing for a well-known online publication. Prospects are not good. They pay (not making this up) $2.50 per thousand hits, still want about four pieces a week and expect you to shill for them into the bargain. The economics of collecting discarded cans and bottles suddenly look better.

The question of creating a viable economic model for online publication seems as insoluble as ever, with the possible exception of pornography. Even there, the pictures sell better and the plagiarism rate is outrageous. I'm turning my mind to finding a target for subsidised mockery that hasn't already been overdone. It's that or smut.

These musings are all you get from spending an hour and a half a day exercising neck deep in dirty salt water. Well, these and some muscle strain.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

My obligatory Woodstock story

Forty years ago this week, I had recently a) graduated from college b) joined the navy and was on inactive Reserve (non) duty until my November active duty date came up. I had left one part time job at the end of June. While I had just started another in the week before Woodstock, I hadn't yet seen a paycheck. The usual entree on my apartment table was feed corn snitched from nearby fields. (It's not bad, if you boil it long enough.) What was left of my ready money went to weekly rent and the tank of my car so I could get to work.

So, go to New York for a rock concert? No thanks.

As is the case with the Blizzard of 1978, there's been a lot of retrospective falsification in connection with that concert. Specifically, many people now speak and act as if they knew it was going to be a defining moment for a generation, and the people who claim to have been there would have covered upstate New York from Albany to Buffalo, as an old song goes.

We didn't know. What we knew was there was going to be another rock concert. The lineup looked cool. If you had time and the few bucks it took for gas and food, maybe it was worth going to. Period. I had neither, so I got some sleep and went back to Concord Monday for the 6:00 a.m to 2:30 p.m. shift that paid my rent. We talked about it at work, but it was some time before the significance of the event really sank in with non-attendees.

And that's the truth. Undoubtedly, people who were there have a different perspective.

It's not "insurance"

Measures by the leadership to protect the health and well-being of those who follow fall under the actuarial heading of insurance in one--guess which one?--nation.

This responsibility (on the part of the leaders) and right (on the part of the led) is one of the fundamental building blocks of social organisation. It is a building block this nation has managed to misplace during the last century and a half. Other nations have been equally careless but have come to their senses. There are many expressions of this responsibility and right, and it says much that in this country, most of them are considered subversive.

When humans agree to follow one leader or one set of rules or one government, call it what you will, one of the understandings is that the leaders will protect the led from harm so far as is possible. We have torn down, trampled and pissed on this basic principle of governance in the name of profit. To protect profit on the one hand, and to restore this basic right on the other, we find ourselves quivering at the precipice of civil war.

If we too don't come to our senses, perhaps we deserve everything we may get.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

A threat

I plan to take and publish a pic of me in my Speedos in the near future. Beware!

Ready for the streets

I was disappointed on Friday last when even a proportion of WGBH's Beat the Press simply did not get it regarding Republican mob politics to oppose health care. Mob rule: good lord, Alexander Hamilton is spinning in his grave.

Whatever his other credentials, it was clear that Emerson's Paul Niwa flunked American history when he compared the reactionary Republican mobs disrupting healthcare town meetings to the Sons of Liberty. Paul, there were such groups, true, but they weren't the Sons of Liberty: they were Loyalist (Tory) mobs; like today's mobs, they existed to defend the status quo and to prevent change.

Paul Sciacca trotted out what must be the Herald party line. He doesn't do that often, so shame on him. He argued that the press would not call a demonstration by union members an angry mob.

Well, no, they wouldn't. Because union demonstrators would fly their true colours, a principle republicans seem to have abandoned. Good journalism demands that one would call them by their identity. However, when republican sneaks paid off by health insurance interests hire and deploy an angry mob under no colours at all, they have no reason to object when it is called an angry mob.

I've ignored the emails asking me to show up for Obama at this event or that. While I am not best pleased with how the administration has handled this business, that isn't the reason. I am not there because I am furious, I am feeling very revolutionary, and I would test the value of some reactionary clown's health insurance. The world is better off with my sweet self on the sidelines.

But back to the journalists. so-called. Most now seem to be clear on the concept that these are paid thugs. I grant that GMA among others is still without a clue, and none of them can figure out the ones demanding that Obama "keep the gummint outta my Medicare." Health care providers have been rolling on the floor over that one for years. One said to me the other day that we'd have emergency room overcrowding fixed overnight if we could find a cure for stupid. Beat the Press should have been asking, "where was the critical faculty?" What terminal flaw is it that prevents broadcast journalists from ever questioning the source and nature of the story? That flaw is, I submit, that they are not journalists at all, that they do not work for news media. They are entertainers, and their employers are simply circuses in the Roman sense, who gull the mass audience into blind acceptance.


Sunday, August 09, 2009

Don't believe it? I do

I refer to David Ortiz' statement regarding being on "the list".

Long ago, whilst earning big bucks as a freelance writer (pause for laughs) I took a part-time job at ...umm...a well-known health food and supplement store. One learned very early that the way to make a decent living there was to push certain commission items. None of the commissions were huge but they added up. It was possible to increase a minimum wage take four or fivefold.

Among the items were a number of bodybuilding supplements popular with the hard-core gym rats. To reduce the biochemistry to its fundamentals: supplement combinations go in; supplement combinations essentially become anabolic steroids in the body; bulky bod goes out. Add to this equation that minimum wage salespeople looking for commissions didn't trouble themselves with the long-term consequences. So yes, I was an enabler.

For every gym rat who knew what was going on, there were five or more eager but clueless people who bought these products because somebody told them they were good for bulking up. That was 25 years ago. Should athletes have got smarter about cause and effect? Sure. Were they smarter six years ago? I'm not so sure about that.

I wonder how many of the snarky reporters covering Ortiz would have done any better, in 2003, defining and explaining the biochemistry of bodily assimilation of supplements? Ortiz has tested negative for those six years. Nobody has claimed to find steroids in his locker, etc. etc. Conclusion: O-V-E-R. But its a Boston athlete/coach/team, and New York-based journalists feel obliged to buy into a lame, stale rivalry story.

And there's one of those annoying lacunae that bedevil journalism these days. It's easier to find out the vault combinations at Fort Knox than it is to get explicit information about whose name was on the 2003 steroid list and what he was alleged to have taken. Who then leaked Ortiz' name, and does he or she live in New York? Riddle me that and I'll move on.

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Saturday, August 08, 2009

The mixed feelings of the young-old

On the one hand, it is good news that John Smoltz has been designated for assignment. It is good for the Sox--one of those moments when it's better to do something than nothing. In baseball, moves like that can pay off. The decision brings to a close an awkward and embarrassing coda to a stellar career. Ballplayers are no better than opera stars when it comes to knowing when it's time to hang it up.

When my daughter E was young, from age seven through 11 or so, we spent many Friday evenings watching the Braves on TNT or TBS. I would tell her how my grandfather used to be able to sit in the dugout when they were the Boston Braves and things were slow for the day games. I trotted out the old, splintered, Braves bat that I inherited from him. Then we'd talk about the game, the tactics, the probabilities...and when Smoltz was the Braves closer, we couldn't wait for him to stride out from the dugout with the very un-PC "chop" in the background, and finish off the adversary.

Growing up when and where she did, E naturally became an unreconstructed Red Sox fan. But I have to credit Smoltz and the Braves for doing their part to make her a baseball fan, which to me is so much more important.

Here's to you, John Smoltz. I wish this had worked out, but nothing that has happened this year will ever take away what you gave to at least one father and daughter.

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Friday, August 07, 2009

More proof that the cats are winning

I become semi-conscious in the pre-dawn hour at all seasons, which is a nuisance in the summer. Today, a repeated "ackkk---ackkk" sound penetrated my brain, where the grey cells immediately translated it to "cat--hairball--yuck!"

I hopped out of bed and sure enough, found Mr Spike on the wrong--inner--side of the bedroom door. I had no sooner opened the door than the hacking stopped. I got a "thanks, dude" look and he exited triumphant. Of course, no hairball.

This is disturbing, because we have never made a big deal about Mr Spike's imminent hairball throws. Ms Annie's, however, are bothersome, because at her age it's never certain whether the next hairball will be her last. Mr Spike has clearly seen this, noted the reaction, and realised that a good throaty hack is the best way to get attention from the hoomans. It is more speculative, of course, but possibly Ms Annie has been beta testing the response reflex, and Mr Spike is simply putting the whole thing into production.

This sort of thing has drawn attention even from dedicated goggie people. Manipulation of this level indicates that a higher intelligence is at work. Kittehs--emissaries from a parallel and more advanced universe.

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Thursday, August 06, 2009

More pet peeves of the unemployed

There is this logic that says that a published job description should in fact describe the vacancy. The objective is to find the right person for the job and to avoid wasting the time of two people: the interviewer and the candidate.

Once in a while, this doesn't work out. Last week I applied for an editorial position at...let's just say it was somewhere in the well-known Longwood medical area of Boston. I applied because the published job description was a very close match to my skills. I got an e-mail this Monday, which led to a phone screening by the interviewer, who was also the hiring manager. Rush rush, can I come in Wednesday?

I did. It was clear within three minutes that the job they had in mind bore only a casual resemblance to the published job description. During the next dozen minutes the interviewer and I tried gamely to determine if there was the least reason for me to be there. At that point the interviewer suggested ending the ordeal moments before I made the same suggestion.

Note to hiring managers. You really ought to do this stuff during the phone screening. That is what screenings are for, to set out the basis of the discussion and make absolutely sure that you're talking to the right candidate. I would apologise for wasting this hiring manager's time, except that he wasted his own time with an irrelevant job description and a blown opportunity to actually screen during the phone screening. And do remember that the candidate's time also has value.


Sunday, August 02, 2009

Fitness Education

The trouble with relying on gyms for your fitness quotient is that other people rely on them too.

Hence, you get 30 minutes a session--or whatever mite it is--so that everybody can share. You come away with an illusion of fitness.

Submitted as evidence: this weekend, August 1-2, was the first weekend this summer on which we kayaked on two successive days. Saturday was a mere shakedown cruise of an hour and a half or so out the hahbah and back, hastened by the reported coliform cooties in the water. OK, stiff yes, but not horrible.

Today we went up to the Ipswich River, to get the benefit of an unseasonably high water level and flow. Thanks to suburban fiefdoms with acres of lawns needing watering, this river, which is fed only by brooks and wetlands, has sometimes been dry or near dry by August 2. As you might guess, this is not so this year. It is not white water by any means, but it made a challenging slog upstream for just under two hours, followed by a lively spin downstream in just over half the time.

We hurt. This is not just a matter of effort, but a souvenir of assorted small traumas that come from downstream collisions with river debris ranging from clusters of twigs to whole trees. If you don't kayak on streams, do this to get the effect. Find a large staircase with columns at the bottom. Run down it as fast as you can whilst staying upright. At the bottom, stop yourself by holding one arm out so that it runs into the column.

Uh huh. It was fun, but it's troubling to be this far off our form when we're going for a one week kayak vacation in six weeks. Either kayak more, or be more obnoxious over the gym machinery.

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Saturday, August 01, 2009

Know what? He probably meant it

Another seeker after 15 minutes of Gates fame blundered into it with both feet: Boston policeman Justin Barrett chose the best possible means of being known as the author of his slur against Gates: a mass email. Ask anyone who has hit the bricks after doing the same thing.

Worse, he was probably sincere when he told CNN that he is "not a racist."

Barrett, you should not do magic you do not understand. At the moment, this fool is a stand-in for every white male in the country who thinks that he was entitled from birth to a superior place in the universe by virtue of being a white het male. That sense of entitlement has led tens of millions of white het males to fuck off between the ages of five and 18, barely graduate from high school, and then look around for someone to blame when the world did not become their oyster. Many people in that condition take a round turn on themselves, become educated or develop durable skills, and make themselves into human beings entitled to respect they have actually earned.

The rest whine. They began whining over 40 years ago, with the advent of AM talk radio, and they haven't stopped since. Enabled by the talk show hosts, they prefer thinking of themselves as a repressed underclass rather than as the authors of their own troubles.

And of course, they've found the Web, even if they don't understand it. For example, they think it is more anonymous than talk radio when it is actually the most transparent medium in existence. But seduced by this apparent anonymity, people who may be mostly polite to their peers, good to their families, and civil to people of every race and background pop the cork on their seething inner rage--their bitter disappointment that being born to a particular race is not enough to land you in the corner office anymore. These are the people whose rants spoil even the most basic, civil and self-evident Web discourse. They shout down everyone reasonable and hide behind the cloak of free speech: then they are shocked that any Web-savvy ten-year-old can out them to the world in under ten minutes. Of course they think that black people have become entitled on the basis of race. When last I looked, that was called projection.

Mayor Menino has said that Barrett is "G-O-N-E" from the Boston Police. Let's hope Menino keeps his word on that one, because Barrett just flunked the intelligence test from Life at Work 101: no mass emails that can bite you on the ankle, and they all can.

It was reported that the National Guard might dump him too. Now that would be too bad: Afghanistan is a good place to adjust attitudes like that.