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, March 31, 2010

April Fools' Day is at our throats

Was there a great rush at the White House to get the offshore oil decision out before Thursday? No good, because it's become April Fools' week.

Then there's the great Texas hoax (name yourself after the Texas Motor Speedway for $100,000), eagerly lapped up by both media and interwebs, just to show what's happened to journalistic integrity.

But speaking of, consider how GMA and nearly every other media outlet has lapped up the History Channel's shroud of Turin story. Presumably the idea was to put out the release and the show for the christian holy week. The History Channel, whose past record is very shady regarding both historical and journalistic integrity, seems to play down the inconvenient, repeated, scientific evidence (the "blood" is paint pigment, the fabric is 12th-14th century, etc.). The provable date of the shroud's fabric coincides with the heyday of a medieval trade in religious relic faking that is little known today. This industry was one of the outrages that fed the Reformation, which makes any hint of evangelical protestant faith in the shroud a bizarre irony.

The shroud is the whack-a-mole of idolatry. Its credibility has been smacked down repeatedly as long as there's been the science to do so. The only researchers who still support it have, in one way or another, impugned their own impartiality, usually at the start. One tests something like this by setting out to find out what conclusions the evidence support, not by setting out to find in the data proof of what one already believes.

The enormous amount of creative energy that went into relic fakery in the middle ages ought to be an historic fascination in itself. There is no more reality in this than in the latest image of an angel in a doughnut or whatever. As a relic of an era in which gullible acceptance of such "signs" was the norm, when (to judge by what reformers found in the 16th C.) fake relics outnumbered real ones by about 1000 to one, and in which skepticism was kept under wraps on pain of death, the shroud holds much more interest.

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Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Tuesday snickers

And I don't mean the candy bar: however, note that Snickers bars reportedly fry as well as Mars bars.

Gratitude, dude
I was in a new lawyer's office yesterday (nothing special, just old fart business). This one is a favourite already, because the waiting room had brand new magazines! When have you ever seen that in a physician's office?

It's the economy, stupid

In one of those magazines, I was reading a piece which quoted some small business type on what it would take to get him to hire more workers. He said, increased consumer demand. OK, let's think. One worker in five is unemployed or underemployed. Until Monday, I was getting along OK with unemployment benefits that are around half my salary this time last year. In a small way, I was able to contribute to this consumer-driven economy and (note to the uninformed) I paid taxes.

Thanks to the game-playing fools in Congress, today I get nothing. That means we live on one income, consume much less, and pay no taxes unless and until the public sector straightens this out or I actually get a job. I sent Easter greetings to Senators Kerry and Brown; with an edge, of course.

I'd also ask Mr. Small-business-type if he's one of those who would rather wreck the economy than hire a worker over 50 or under 25, then ask him where the hell he thinks the demand is going to come from? The only American business person who ever understood that his workers were also his customers was Henry Ford, and even he wasn't able to hang onto the idea for long.

A name game

One of my cheap hobbies is looking out for apposite names. (It's one thing that makes football especially hilarious to watch, but I digress.) In the South Coast area of Massachusetts there is a town called Lakeville, because the dry land is stuffed amongst two or three largish bodies of water. As we stare out our windows at the third major rainstorm in two weeks, it seems that Lakeville is becoming all lake. Another name to consider is "party," when applied to (allegedly) organised political bodies. Over the next fortnight, the members of both major parties evidently will devote their time to "party" in the other sense. I appreciate their sense of responsibility.

Couldn't happen to a nicer guy

It's unclear which is funnier: the calls for Benny the Rat (aka Pope Benedict XVI, aka I vas not a Nazi, I chust played vun on TV) to resign, or the inept media analysis of the topic. Yes, Virginia, popes have resigned: ten have, and whilst it hasn't happened in 593 years, it can. The analysts have skipped over the other things that have happened, since so much of the media has bought into the myth of the one holy head of the one holy church. Most often, they have had competition, so called antipopes. With the backing of one of more heads of state, antipopes set up shop elsewhere and try to rally the faithful to them instead of that other guy. Popes have been deposed, virtually or actually imprisoned, and they have been executed or murdered. The executions happened very frequently in Roman times, whilst the whackings happened now and again through the Middle Ages and Renaissance. Does anyone recall that Pope Benny was supposed to be the pillar of conservative Catholic rectitude who would provide a transition through trying times? Uh-huh, I didn't think so.

Monday, March 29, 2010

A dish best served cold

It probably makes sense that the broadcast media were able to find South Hadley High School parents who thought criminal charges were "too hard" for the nine students charged with bullying Phoebe Prince to death. Move along if you're looking for sympathy at this address.

I wrote this after the Virginia Tech killings in 2007, in frustration over the failure to address bullying's role in reactive violence by its victims:

“Bullied” has become a weasel word, thanks to the punditry, so I will not say I was bullied in seventh grade. I was pushed up against a brick wall and beaten three to five times a week for most of the school year, by a group of five boys. That was in addition to the much more usual tripping in the halls or on the stairs, the threatening phone calls (no Internet then), and ridicule in class or, worse, in gym. Neither my parents, nor teachers, nor administrators of the school did anything. They knew and ignored it. Before I was 13, I learnt that in such situations, I was on my own. Authority was of no use to me, and would (as once happened) even punish me if I fought back.

I am totally biased on this subject and I don't think any criminal charges can be hard enough. It's interesting how it has been the taking of two lives, by suicide, that finally pushed this Commonwealth into action. (Consider what the response would have been if Phoebe had solved her problems by blowing her tormentors away.)

A good many cynics don't think legislation will solve the problem. They trot out that stale old phrase, "we've always done it this way." In the first place, no we haven't: not at the extreme levels that lead to violent reactions. Want to know what the legislation will do? It will force school administrators, teachers, and parents to grow a spine. These people can, and should, contain this sort of harassment before it turns toxic. I've heard their excuses for half a century and I'm tired of them. If it takes statutes to smarten them up, so be it.

It sounds as if the DA is prepared to hit this case hard. Good. I hope a successful prosecution will not only put these goons away, and not just fire a warning shot across the bows of anyone who thinks this sort of thing is cool. I hope it causes every school bully, whatever age they now are, to feel a bit of a cold sweat, as every bullying victim now alive cheers on the prosecution by way of vicarious revenge.


How time flies

With what was certainly meant to be a clever headline, Yahoo reported on Russia's reduction of its 11 time zones to nine: Russia eliminates two time zones. If you read the link, it attempts to be even more clever with "russia killing time."

Here we see the hand of writers and editors for whom the Cold War is something they reached in history surveys about the same time that spring fever struck the classroom. Nyet, nyet, comrades: The former USSR never (publicly) did anything as crass as eliminate anyone. Certainly, except in wartime, they never killed anyone either. Enemies of the people, such as these two reactionary time zones, were liquidated: much nicer, of course. Thus a clever (and properly edited) headline here should speak of Russia liquidating two time zones. Alas, this would not occur in a decade in which liquidation only happens to toxic financial assets. Nor would many younger persons reflect that Stalin's purge of 20 million of his own people came very near to liquidating two time zones by slaughtering the inhabitants of two time zones.

Do read this item. As usual, there seem to be unintended consequences. Note the complaints of time zones some distance east of Moscow which will hereafter be on Moscow time, even though midwinter sunsets will consequently arrive at midday.

Darkness at Noon is made literal: Arthur Koestler must be rolling in his grave.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

It's happened

Having a headache and resultant loss of judgement, I went onto Yahoo's Buzz log, where the main event was Biden's open mic faux pas. However, pay heed to the question at the bottom: why all the pens?

Umm, the first time I saw a President sign a bill on TV it was Eisenhower, and he used umpteen pens. Every President since has done this little bit of showmanship, which I suppose came about because the price of ballpoint pens dropped dramatically during Eisenhower's first term. If all you had to go by was the Buzz log reply, you'd think Obama was the first to do this: which makes the answer nearly as stup---er, misinformed, as the question.

It doesn't surprise me that these people don't know what happened during Eisenhower's presidency. A good many of them don't know who was President before Bush 1. It is surprising that they have never run into this ceremony before, multiple pens and all, and I think I have the answer.

Space aliens have taken over the earth while most of us were preoccupied with the next sale. Their cover is fairly good, but like most Americans, they are unable to grasp the concept of history, and the idea of extra-somatic knowledge. Their weakness is believing that nothing has happened unless they saw it themselves, possibly live but preferably on YouTube.

Those of us who can still think should form remote colonies in the deep woods, far beyond the comprehension of the aliens. From them, we can gradually take control of the Internet, presenting a view of the planet that is steeped in something called reality.

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Monday, March 22, 2010

Nobody reads it all

Just one more about the reform bill and then I'll move on.

Those of us who have made our livings writing operating manuals, online help, or even those little bits of paper that come with whatever new gadget you buy, all learnt at the start of our careers that little sentence in the title: "nobody reads it all." As soon as I moved into writing about health care, I discovered that this principle applies to major legislation*. That's why legislators have aides. Everyone in an office reads something and summarises it, then someone else stitches together all the summaries to make an overall summary for the legislator. That is what she or he reads, along with some particularly ripe sections that she or he finds from directions in the summary.

So I noticed, amongst the barrage of hypocrisy thrown at health care reform, the taunt of "have you read it?" Those who threw it knew, of course, the dictum. They believed that their ranting followers did not. A number of people in public life have noticed that many of the people with the loudest voices** have never been involved in political action before; some have never voted before, and it's reasonable to think that many are mostly acquainted with books from the outside. Thus, the puppeteers could be sure that they wouldn't know that none of their legislators have read all of most major pieces of legislation.

Nor is this one all that long as health care legislation goes. At 2400 pages or so, it is a masterpiece of laconic presentation compared with two annual pieces of legislation that run Medicare, and secondarily define the direction of almost all American care for just one year. These documents (one for inpatient care, one for outpatient care) often reach 2000 pages... each; per year: plus a few hundred pages of quarterly amendments. You get my drift.

So the next time a republican shouts "have you read it?" remember that he or she hasn't, either.

* One health care lobbyist I know does read all of those annual pieces of legislation I mentioned, and usually in one long weekend for each, but that's an unusual performance.

**Congress needs a New England Town Moderator to keep the tea bags in line. A few years back a contentious local issue had brought hundreds of similar loudmouths to the local Town Meeting for the first time. They were shocked to learn that they had to wait their turn to speak, stick to the point, sit down when the Moderator told them they were done, and that they could be removed and even arrested if they did not do as they were told.

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Sunday, March 21, 2010

The elusive genius of compromise

We are in danger of earthquakes touched off by the whines and bleats from the shills of the health insurance industry—oh sorry, the republican party—but equally high decibel complaints from what passes for a left wing* in this country. One knows why the republicans complain: first, health care was their last stand and they have, by their own definitions, lost. Second, they're paid to complain.

America's stand-in left complains because health insurance reform isn't perfect. This idea has brought a host of historical and literary reflections pouring into my mind. Richard Armour provided the literary one:

The bride, white of hair, is stooped over her cane
Her faltering footsteps need guiding.
While down the church aisle, with wan toothless smile,
The groom in a wheelchair comes riding.
And who is this elderly couple you ask?
You'll find, when you've closely explored it,
That here is that rare, most conservative pair,
Who waited 'til they could afford it

We've waited over 100 years, and it's time to get something out there, perfect or not.

The historical ones come in order. The USA had its start only after a compromise, distasteful to nearly half the Continental Congress, sidestepped slavery, already the elephant in the room. The nation's Constitution was accepted, then ratified, only after a host of compromises. The slavery question was at least contained by a further succession of compromises, which put off an all but inevitable civil war until the nation was large enough to sustain such a trauma and survive.

Then my generation came along and, in its moment of greatest stupidity, declared that compromise is evil and got that destructive idea embedded in the national psyche.

Then there's the matter of emancipation. The preliminary Emancipation Proclamation is a fair equivalent of this health care reform legislation. I quote Bruce Catton (not because I think he's the be-all on the subject, but because that's the book at hand):

This proclamation was nothing much.... It declared slavery extinct in precisely the areas where the Federal government lacked all power to enforce its decrees....If the President was going to declare himself on slavery, this...was just about the least he could say.

Yet it...locked the Confederacy in with the anachronism that was [its] dreadful, fatal burden.... An ideal that might be humanly unattainable had been riveted in so that it could never, in all the years to come, be abandoned.

Your history classes probably never taught you that emancipation was, in its time, the most universally despised action ever taken by an American president. The government had to take active measures to ensure that the Federal army (much of it encamped within a day's march of Washington) would not rise, revolt, and take over the country. Much of the Federal union was not reconciled to the idea until nearly the end of the war. Jefferson Davis spoke for the whole white South when he called emancipation "the most exercrable measure recorded in the history of guilty man." (Nod if you think that sounds a bit like McCain's pandering sound bite today.)

The parallels just keep coming. It is interesting how much progressive scorn for this legislation and for the President sounds so much like that of extreme abolitionists toward Lincoln for most of his presidency.

This nation looks most like a nation when its people and politicians recall the compromises that created it and that have lighted many of its most significant moments. It looks least like one when public and elected officials become so carried away with their rhetoric and extreme politics that they forget to look for achievable objectives.

It may be that some republican angst is motivated by an understanding of how Catton's description applies here. They have allowed themselves to become a one-trick pony, locked in with the anachronism of capitalist health care. This least, hobbling, almost insignificant, piece of legislation is far short of perfect, but it is enough to turn the page, and perhaps begin the process that will prevent our own health care from ruining the nation.

We can now argue how we will manage to join the rest of the developed world, decades late, in recognising health care for all as both a right and as good economics. We can no longer argue whether we should. Because so many of the features with immediate benefits (to children and small businesses, amongst others) begin when the President's pen touches the paper, republican talk of repeal seems little short of delusional. Let them try. As David Axelrod said tonight on the News Hour, let them campaign on the promise of taking away the benefits this law, this slow-moving, minimal law, will have already provided by November. They will not only make many people very unhappy with them; they will find that this ideal too cannot ever be abandoned.

So far has discord gone that it's necessary to offer several disclaimers. The first is that scorn for a disorganised, just left-of-centre political party and for "leftists" about five degrees to the left of that does not mean the author is a conservative: Quite the contrary. There is a lot of underpopulated political real estate to the left of the conventional positions. Some of it (hallelujah) is occupied by pragmatists who want to keep the ball rolling.

Second, I consider all ideologies to be troubled substitutes for rational thinking. If you are an ideologue, you can get treatment.

Third, as a British-American, I have to wonder whether it might have been better if that first compromise (over independence and slavery) had failed. This land would still have become independent, just a bit later. It would now have universal health care without all this delay. It would have a parliamentary form of government, with all the incentives that form of government has for getting things done (like elected representatives keeping their jobs only when they deliver). It would have achieved emancipation without killing half a million people. And the beer would be better.

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A minor insight

The listserv of an area networking group I frequent, and several LinkedIn groups I'm in, have a certain monotony to their topics. In several previous comments, I've noted that the advice of most job-hunting pundits had grown a bit stale. That's me; I've lost more jobs than any three other people in any of these groups. After a dozen or so of these experiences, one has heard nearly all the ideas. It would be nice to hear something new, but the business of hawking stale job-seeking advice relies upon the innocence of large number of people (of all ages, genders, faiths, etc.) who have never been laid off or fired.

I'm beginning to see that here's more to it than sharp pundits and inexperienced job seekers. Many of today's professionals bring a set of entitled expectations to the job search party. A great many of those looking for work today led very fortunate lives until the HR person with the cardboard box showed up at their cubicle. No one has ever said no to them; anything they wanted they could have; their expectations were only going to get better. The average credit card debt in the USA was reportedly $11,000 going into this recession, and I expect I've been seeing some of the people above the 50th percentile. I meet these people every other week. Sometimes old faces by now, sometimes new: for some of them, interruption or loss of unemployment benefits could mean homelessness in a Brooks Brothers suit. This is a stunning fall for them. I was stunned once, but that was nearly 30 years ago: and I was never so deeply in debt or in shock as to be threatened with actual homelessness.

One never knows where one may find wisdom. At the moment, I've been finding wisdom in the legacy of a troubled childhood. I've found it in Navy service that didn't make me a hero but showed me how to endure. It's available in many years of public sector, non-profit work and writing, for incomes that would appall many of today's unemployed professionals. There's even wisdom in the old saying that just because you're paranoid, it doesn't mean they are not out to get you.

Long ago, I had bouts of jealousy, wishing I had been born more privileged. Now, not so much. I have not liked everything I experienced, but it's made me better able to put up with hard times. It's made me able to mock the foolish aspects of the job-seeking process rather than be eaten away with anxiety. I would be able to muster more compassion for what I've been seeing if I were not so surprised at the childlike helplessness of so many unemployed professionals.

As the song says

Nobody's ever taught you how to live out on the street,
Now you're gonna have to get used to it.


Thursday, March 18, 2010

55,70, 95, and 88

The non-news of the day award goes to this revelation (from that master of non-news, The Wall Street Journal) that the 55 mph highway speed limit is a dead item. On 3-2-1: D'uh!

I could see this coming in the late 90s, when I traded up from a dogged but overmatched Escort wagon to a used Nissan. Whilst some of my friends are prone to sneer at Nissan products, I point out that this car, at the advanced age of 150,000 miles, crossed the country twice. But I digress.
Early on, I noticed that this ride got its best highway mileage between 65 and 75. I was also commuting from the North Shore to Portsmouth, NH back then. You do not drive 55 over the bulk of I-95 along that route, unless you want to be rear-ended within 30 seconds. You wait to be overtaken by a car or two, then set cruise control at something slower than they were going.

The next spring we took the first of many trips to E's chosen college in upstate NY. Our direct route took us along Interstate 88 for 100 or so miles. What, you've never heard of I- 88?
Never mind, most people haven't. Hardly anyone drives it unless they have some pressing business along it. I couldn't ever get on this all-but-deserted ribbon of four-lane concrete without the word "pork" crossing my mind. Except at the college input and output seasons, the highway was as deserted as any interstate I've ever seen. Since then I've driven I-40 from Oklahoma to California and I-5 on a weekday from the Grapevine to the Bay area: I-88 is right up there in the lack of company department.

My I-95 travel routine proved to be perfect for I-88, except that one had to wait longer for the interference to blow past. After exiting the Thruway south, one happily cruised at the posted 65 until a local or two smoked by at 85 plus. Then it was set cruise control for 70-something and keep an eye out for brake lights or blue lights in the distance. It paid to keep an eye on the rearview, of course. But over most of 88's course, one could see overtaking vehicles when they were still a couple of miles out of radar range. I still got optimal highway mileage.

For a good many American drivers, these two experiences form the reality. First, the observed experience is that 55 does not represent the best mileage performance on a nearly empty highway at a uniform cruising speed; not any more. Second, many people are going to be on underused, if not empty, highways, a good part of the time.

That's something to consider when chasing the link above and looking at the average highway speeds. Massachusetts' averages aren't low because we are Goody Two-Shoes drivers. They reflect realities such as Friday night on the Massachusetts Turnpike (I-90) westbound, when it's often bumper-to-bumper from Logan Airport to the I-84 exit, some 60 miles. Likewise I'm sure that California averages are pulled down by normal weekday travel around greater LA, where any speed that is in forward counts as a major gain. I love that Montana and Wyoming have no data recorded. I expect that's because the technology to measure Warp Factor 5 hasn't been invented yet. Readers here who go back far enough may recall that Arizona would be much the same, if I-40 didn't cross Reservation land where speed limits are indeed enforced.

So, yep. Double-nickel is double dead, except where going that fast is still a fantasy.

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Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Evacuation Day

1) Boston, March 10, 1776. The four British generals in Boston (Gage, Clinton, Howe, and Burgoyne) debate their exit strategy after the Colonial forces have occupied Dorchester Heights)

Gage: Gentlemen, it appears that we can complete our withdrawal a week from today.
Clinton: Rot! We can withdraw in five days. I suggest the 15th.
Burgoyne: (languidly) Oh how classical of you, my dear Clinton.
Clinton: Beg pardon?
Burgoyne: The Ides of March, old man. Beware the Ides of March? Shakespeare and all.
Howe: Trust you to think of a literary allusion, Burgoyne.
Gage (irritated with the lot) Then what's your suggestion, Howe?
Howe: We shall certainly be ready by the 20th...
Clinton: Day late and a shilling short again, Billy?
Howe: That would be the vernal equinox, if we're after allusions. And in that case, it can't be the 17th.
All: Why not?
Howe: That's St. Patrick's Day.
Gage: St. Who?
Howe: St. Patrick; patron saint of Ireland.
Clinton: If he's their patron, he'd bloody well better get on it.
Howe: It's a holiday for them.
Burgoyne: What reason have the Irish got for a holiday?
Howe: I can't imagine, but it is. But gentlemen, suppose that in a century's time it's the Irish who are running Boston...
Clinton (musing) There are already some here, y'know.
Burgoyne: And they do breed like rabbits.
Howe: And one of their politicians cooks up an idea to make St. Patrick's Day a holiday under cover of celebrating our withdrawal...
Clinton: Outrageous!!
Gage: Hmm. Serve the bloody Yankees right though. Right then, 17th it is?
All: St. Patrick's Evacuation Day!

2) Today, I read solemn treatises (even from the BBC) assuring the Webducated that a St. Patrick's Day pinch is amongst the most revered of holiday traditions. Having grown up with a large quantity of Irish-American in-laws and out-laws, I scratched my head in confusion; never heard of this. I then asked my spouse, who bleeds green if she's cut today, and who has various relations who were connections of the late beloved James Michael Curley, and who had (to a point) a good parochial education. She thought for a moment and said, "must be from Chicago."
I believe we're witnessing the birth of an urban legend. In my environs, and I think around Boston, anyone who delivered a pinch on St. Patrick's Day was (and is) likely to get a punch in reply. Don't believe everything you read on the Web.

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Saturday, March 13, 2010

Someone gets it

I found this link whilst googling the problem of older workers. I suppose it figures that one has to go as far as Australia to find some common sense about the growing problem. Note that this dates from August 2008, before the global recession had deepened. Above all note that here is a job pundit, Malcolm King, who isn't afraid to say what I've been waiting to hear:

Ageist attitudes to employment are not new but I suggest that as the boomer cohort ages, ageist attitudes are becoming more entrenched - and I don’t know why.

Do note the comments. First, most are far more intelligent than one can expect to find on a similar topic posted in the USA. Second, they outline both ends of the problem. Third, they indicate the growth of a global bias that bodes very ill.

If age bigotry is not contained, and soon, workers' careers will run from ages 25 to 40. Typical entry-level employees will be shut out of meaningful work until they acquire, somehow, "experience." At the other end, anyone who has amassed more than 15 years of experience will be shut out of meaningful work.

Workers will either have to figure out what they're going to live on between the date that their profession shuts them out and the date their retirement income begins, or that retirement income will need drastic change. Are age bigots actually prepared to (a wild estimate) double the compensation of skilled workers or professionals to enable them to amass a retirement fund in 15 years? Are they willing to increase government retirement contributions at the same time and accept the beginning of entitlements at 40? Are they OK with the idea that the few who are allowed to work at a skilled or professional level for 15 years will have to pay for the entitlements of the many who are not? Pay them for half of the lengthening human lifespan?

Or will these people finally realise their "19th century" attitudes (thanks for that, Malcolm) are altogether unsuited to the 21st century? Shutting down the working and purchasing potential of half the population is a recipe for permanent economic crisis. And why does it happen? Either because the people making these decisions cannot rid themselves of age perceptions that are more than a century old...or because they can't face their own fears of mortality. That fear makes the people in the middle of the working demographic fear equally those older, and those younger, than they. I believe fear motivates this two-front war they wage.

In a LinkedIn thread on this subject, I commented that legislation and torts won't entirely cure age bigotry. So far, all they have done is motivate concealment. The model for such business is the cultural shift away from smoking. When this behaviour becomes shameful, or at least uncool, it will fade away.

Whether that happens in time to help those of us between 40 and 65 is another matter.

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Thank you thank you

The thanks go to the friend who noted the following item on Facebook:

Republicans turned off by size of Obama's package.

If you don't follow this, you are possessed of the purest mind since Sir Galahad, you poor thing. It is the context, thoughtfully provided by Glenn Beck's fiasco with ex-Congressman Massa, that elevates the comment from the mundane to the hysterical.

Watching Republicans try to be smutty in public is much like watching cows try to waltz or pigs sing. Their entire ethos is built on the premise that smut-think is exclusively male and decidedly no more public than the environs of the frat house. That was overlooked fact number one in Beck's attempt to interview Massa.

Fact number two, as has been mentioned elsewhere, is a little more sombre. Massa's behaviour is all too common amongst deeply closeted sexually different people. Somehow many of them just don't get the idea that not everyone views the world as they do. In their blundering attempts to express their sexuality, they leave a trail of angered and offended people, some of whom turn to homophobia to express their anger. All this makes life more difficult for those who do not fondle where they should not.

Oddly, I don't buy the idea that the closeted people should shoulder the whole burden for this. Wouldn't it be a whole lot better if we only needed closets for their original purpose? They are limiting places for people to hide.

Massa has my sympathy. Beck's disaster--now just the first of the week--couldn't happen to anyone more deserving. And now we read that Rush Limbaugh will flee to Costa Rica if health care reform passes.


Can we start a fund to buy the one-way ticket?

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Monday, March 08, 2010

My town's haunted waters

The local news to-do over the weekend is the story of another person in harm's way on one of my town's several ponds and wetlands. This tale follows what has become a fairly common plot. Family dog runs out onto thin ice. Family dog falls through the ice. Paterfamilias tries to rescue dog. Paterfamilias falls through ice. The variations have mostly to do with the outcome. This weekend's tale has a happy ending, because Dad and dog were both successfully rescued by first responders. (We may not have a lot of crime here, but we have a lot of water accidents: the first responders are damn good at this.)

Not all the endings have been happy. For instance about ten years back, the same story played out with a worse ending. Dog self-rescued; Dad drowned or died first of hypothermia, because the dog was only a dog, not Rin Tin Tin. A number of these ponds are glacial. They may look scenic, cute and harmless, but they are very deep. Jumping in without assistance nearby may be the last dumb thing one ever does.

I have to believe that the waters are haunted, toxic, or that these are part of a canine plot to take over the world. I allow the latter because of the prominent role dogs have played in several of these misadventures.

As to the first, let's think. The dog has fallen through the ice. The man who died a decade ago had no humans along. This weekend's victim had two toddlers in a stroller. (Talk about childhood trauma!) Now, Watson, consider that the dog has fallen through the ice. What leads a presumably rational human being to think that he (always he), who weighs at least as much as the dog, is not also going to fall through the ice? Either we have evil sprites inhabiting the waters, beckoning males into hazardous situations, or the ponds exude a miasma of stupid that men inhale during their decision-making process.

A couple of books I've read in recent years, dealing with human accidents in wild places, have statistically proven that the most significant toxin in any of these accidents is testosterone. That may be, but for now I'm going with the sprites or the canine plot.


Thursday, March 04, 2010

Not just a sea story

Many thanks to the cruise ship Louis Majesty and the 33 foot waves that struck it for reinforcing my earlier point that going to sea is, as Samuel Johnson once said, like going to hell for a pastime.

And this was just the Mediterranean. Wave size is a product of wind velocity x fetch (how far the wave gets to travel over water) x duration of wind. If the Med can produce waves this size on occasion, imagine what the Atlantic or Pacific can (and do) generate: without earthquakes.

So much for the soft life of sailors.

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Wednesday, March 03, 2010

Didymo spreading across the Web

As it says in this link, "Didymosphenia geminata (Didymo for short), is a single celled algae that's spreading across rivers and streams across the world."

Amongst people involved in water sports, the stuff has another name: rock snot. Follow the link and you'll see a lovely picture that explains the name.

I'm gradually weaning myself from going onto any public thread on the internet, because all of them have been gradually taken over and choked off by the Web equivalent of rock snot. The latest infestation appears in any thread involving the notorious Jim Bunning. There, you'll observe that the compassion claimed to exist for the jobless amongst the employed is largely a myth. For Web snot, it is not enough to say that it supports Bunning. It must trot out every slander in existence about unemployed people. The trouble with both forms of infestation is that anyone who tries to contain it winds up getting slimed as well.

The parallels are fascinating. Web trolls seem very much like single-celled algae that do nothing but ingest and reproduce, and choke off the discourse of all other life forms. Like didymo, Web snot is spread by carelessness, self-absorption and ignorance. Didymo can be contained by cleansing efforts but above all by preventing its spread by stupid people. We can say the same of Web snot.

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Tuesday, March 02, 2010

If the R-word is bad, what about the P-word, et al.?

It begins to seem that words become bad under two circumstances. First, they have to have fairly recent currency. Second, they need a lobby.

OK, I can see why people object to "retard," the noun. It was a bit of a surprise when Rahm Emmanuel used it, because I've long thought of that usage as New England idiom, like "wicked." What I don't see, exactly, is the selectivity of such campaigns. One can only explain it by appreciating the role interest groups play in this.

Regular readers may be aware that there are some "crazee" people around this site. They may know that we aren't crazy in the casual sense: we have lived with, learned to cope with, and triumphed over, psychiatric illness. It is not very helpful when people use words like "paranoid," "psycho," "schizoid," "neurotic," and a good number of others. That usage is also casual (outside the clinic) and usually the hurt is just as unintentional. But there's something about psychiatry that induces people to practice without a licence. Using such words may be a passive stigmatisation. People who would never think of performing an appendectomy think nothing of slapping a psychiatric diagnosis on those whose behaviour may be, well, different. That's a very active stigmatisation.

That sort of thing goes on with mentally challenged people as well, I know, but they and their advocates should be grateful that they only have one word to fight. I'll sign up for your campaign, but I hope you sign up for mine. Just leave me one word to describe the people who object to having their already limited vocabularies limited further: fools.

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Monday, March 01, 2010

Monday commentary

Confession: I spent Sunday afternoon shamelessly rooting for team Canada. I think it's always a good thing when imperialist powers discover they can't have everything. (Note to China: that's you, too.) Also, it's mere chance that my grandfather decided to to use a friend's sponsorship to come to the USA instead of using a relation's sponsorship to go to Canada. I might have got to that cheering section on my own.

It may be possible that hockey will benefit from this game (one of the best I've ever seen) in the way many people hope. However, I'd suggest the NHL adopt another item from the international hockey rules that govern Olympic play: ejections for fighting. I know that the principal objection many people have to hockey is the fighting and the wrist-slapping that penalises it.

And for my last Olympics reflection: can we just lose that Cold War relic, the national medal count? It's the attitude shift that might make Russia be a bit more philosophical, and possibly not spend money it doesn't have on athletic preparation for Sochi. Maybe PM Harper should send Medvedev a case of Molson and explain about beer and a shot.

Speaking of hockey pucks, the Senate's ranking hockey puck for the second week in a row is Kentucky's Senator Bunning. The rest of the Senate isn't that far behind, for having rules that permit a single senator to block legislation.
He is resigning at the end of his term because of Republican party pressure. That's too long; characteristic of that chocolate eclair, McConnell. Let me offer a couple of points, for Senators who can't do math and think it's cool to grandstand with voter's lives.
  1. One American in six is unemployed or unemployed. When you add to that the voting family members affected by that you have the biggest voting bloc in the country, as large or larger than the entire Republican "base."
  2. Even Reagan understood that a major element in unemployment benefits was to allow unemployed people to contribute directly to the economy in a modest way. No benefits=no spending=a real possibility of continued or worsening economic crisis.
  3. The unemployed can thank Reagan for the fact that they pay income tax on their benefits. No benefits=no tax revenue from 1/6 of the work force.
If Sen. Bunning won't lay off the Jack Daniels long enough to get a grip on reality, then Senate Republicans should lay him off now.

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