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?

Saturday, March 31, 2012


I have something else to say, but to start with:'s upgrade sucks moose wang. I hate the idea of looking for a new online home, but this set of changes for the sake of change is among the most poorly thought-out upgrades ever executed. I feel evicted.

Meanwhile, let's start with the trials of Mr. Spike. the good news is that prednisolone has made a world of difference to our kitteh. When we got him on it, he was hardly eating at all, and that grudgingly. After three weeks of prednisolone gels applied to the inside of the ear, he's back to chomping down a cup or more of food daily. One begins to hope that inflammatory bowel disease, and not cancer, is the correct Dx.

Meanwhile. ancient Annie is not only blooming with the end of Spike's low-fat diet, she's actually growing pudgy. At 24, we can probably cut her some slack. The worst part of Spike's returning health is returning vigour. This is a cat, mind, who has always set limits on his hooman interaction. Being picked up has always been out of bounds. Hoomans messing with the sacred ears has been way out of bounds. Now, the price of survival is that he submit to both of these impositions twice a day. He doesn't like it, and he's getting strong enough to get his point across.

Well, cry me a fucking river, kitteh. One of my daily meds, Neurontin, is something like a partially-tamed wild horse. Most of the time, it quietly does its job. But sometimes, it will trot out one of the half page of side effects and
blindside you.

One of most singular is known to Neurontin users as "the goofies." It is a sense of disorientation, loss of focus and balance, that's rare (after a while) but totally random. The goofies came to visit today. It was as usual a few minutes before I realised what was happening. The disturbing part was that I was driving home from work at the time.

One puts up with this because of the benefits (so suck it up, Spike). This year, at least, the benefits include a winter breakthrough episode that only lasted four or five weeks. But as time goes by, Goofies are only one part of the price. The winter Beast was at least predictable. Lately, the visits are shorter, much shorter: sudden, random stabs that literally stop one in one's tracks, then subside. My homework tells me that a good many people with TN have similar experiences.

I feel Spike's pain, but with a smidge of impatience.

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Thursday, March 29, 2012

One reason I left home

Vermont has made the news this week for the wrong reason: a bizarre homicide at the edges of the Northeast Kingdom, followed by a quick arrest and (in the circumstances) an even more bizarre charge of second degree murder.

If the state's allegations are correct, the perps showed a singular degree of premeditation. Makes one wonder just exactly what constitutes first degree murder in the Green Mountain State.

When my spouse and I lived in Boston's Fens area, we quickly developed street smarts. In the city, one learns to expect, and to anticipate, criminal activity. Barring one purse snatching (spouse) and one failed attempt at car theft (me) we made out all right.

People from urban areas who get away from it all in rural northern New England usually leave their street smarts at the border. They don't realise that certain of their neighbours may be more dangerous than any street punk in the cities they are from; more dangerous than anything in the woods on four legs. Among the native stock, inbreeding occurs with remarkable frequency, and the results can be unpredictable. Just guessing here, but I detect the singular sexual mores of certain northern New England natives as a contributing factor here.

Having been raised country, among similar stock, and seen photos of the alleged perps, I know I wouldn't trust either one to make change, much less would I drive to their rescue on a deserted road. The trial in this case promises to be interesting. One account calls the wife a "New Yorker." Big state, that: many parts of it compare culturally with northern New England. I'd be interested to learn where exactly she's from.

The sturdy, pious upcountry Yankees of a certain level did their cousins, sisters and mothers indiscriminately. Nor was this something out of the remote past. My town had a couple of dirt-poor families who had carried this habit on one generation too many. As a result the offspring of my generation were, um, remarkably sub-normal.

Oddly enough, both these habits, and mere illegitimacy, were barely hidden. One of the pillars of our church had an illegitimate son. Pretty much all the natives, and a quorum of newcomers, knew it and knew who the father was. The mother's family were respectable stock (i.e. land and dairy). The father's were a cut below (labourers without much land who kept only pigs and chickens) so there was never a question of marriage.

The common knowledge didn't extend to the grandchildren, of my generation. That is, until the lady's grandson began dating the granddaughter of her lover. That was when my parents taught us the facts of life, country style. I never knew whether the pair stopped dating from natural teenage causes or because of parental intervention to keep the gene pool pure. My town managed to miss out on homicide; not the case in some nearby towns with a little more genetic blending. Nope, the locals stuck to indiscriminate sex and occasional bestiality.

Last summer I bought a used kayak in New Hampshire. The male partner of the sellers was a painfully earnest Libertarian. When we mentioned that we were both raised in New Hampshire, he wondered why we hadn't moved back. Although we've both wondered the same now and then, keeping some distance between ourselves and the back-country hybrids is one reason.

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Monday, March 26, 2012

Sartorial statements and other rants

Sometime before 2004, I used to encounter this guy--New Yorker by accent and attitude--outside the local hardware store. If I happened to have picked up my Red Sox hat on the way out the door, he'd invariably sing out "so how about those Sox?" This of course happened more often when the Sox record was unimpressive.

Eventually he said it once too often and I snapped back, "it's a hat."

My daughter brought me back a U of Texas t-shirt as a souvenir of her cross-country auto trip some years back. I gave up wearing it after hearing a number of actual U of T grads wish me "hook 'em, horns," or make the horns gesture. I figured out eventually that it was a social gesture, not an insult.

For some years, as part of my defence against the Beast, I have worn hoodies for most of the cold months. Now I learn that because I wear a hoodie, I must be a gangsta and therefore it's fair for any white guy packing to shoot me on sight.
This insight is of course courtesy of Geraldo Rivera. In media packed with entertainers playing journalists, Rivera has long stood alone in his idiocy. There was a slight window for doubt that he's a total doofus, but he has now slammed that shut. Even Fox must find him hard to stomach.

Speaking of idiot media: as I write, the Trayvon Martin backlash pack is in full cry. I'm not the first to wonder a) how it is that Mr. Zimmerman's alleged injuries at the hands of Mr. Martin did not come up until a month after the fact? and b) how it might be that the "stand your ground" defence wouldn't apply to someone armed with Skittles and Ice Tea confronted by a stranger packing heat? And oh so many other things. Note to the lawyers. If Mr. Z had his head pounded on the sidewalk by the vic, and there are (conveniently) no superficial wounds a month later, such trauma would likely leave brain lesions that will be detectable for quite some time yet. Evidence is extremely helpful.

The most remarkable feature of the health care pissing contest is the way that Republicans in general, and the TP in particular, fly passionately to the defence of people after something for nothing. Their darlings are people who can afford health care but don't buy it. They prefer to take their troubles to the nearest Emergency Department (ED) and plead lack of coverage to avoid paying most, or all, of their bill.

The availability of free coverage today (such as it is) was meant to provide care
to those who genuinely can't afford it, not to small business people suffering from Stage 4 cheaps, who won't even cover themselves for fear of cutting into their margin. Reactionaries have a word they like to apply to people they think are after something for nothing, when those people are poor, or old, or not them: freeloaders. It seems to fit the case here. We have private health insuorance, and one reason (the main one) that it costs so much is that we're paying not only for ourselves, and for the system capacity that goes to the indigent, but also for this sort of freeloader. Of course, the same rule is true for government subsidies to, say, oil companies. It's not freeloading when Republicans do it.

Speaking of freeloading, I've spent the last couple of days trying to get a MBTA senior discount pass. In theory, I'm eligible for this because I just had my 65th birthday.

In practice, well.... I went online to see what I could do to expedite the process. The answer is nothing. The T in its wisdom has merged the processes for senior cards and TAP cards (the latter being for people with disabilities). In doing so, any opportunity for an older, non-disabled person to fill out paperwork in advance has vanished. So yesterday I followed the instructions to Back Bay Station to fill out forms and file in person. A helpful T person inside the turnstiles directed me to the office, which is outside the turnstiles. There, a less helpful person said "the-system-is-down-call-tomorrow." Tomorrow is today, and I don't have enough time off to do that. I'll call next Monday, and I'm betting on the same thing happening. (I'm also betting the office still won't inform any T employee on the platform, so that people can turn around without paying a second fare.) The Monday after that I'm booked; the one after that is Patriot's Day, so they'll be closed. Come April 23, I wonder if "the system" will still be down.

Massachusetts residents are well aware of the MBTA's budget shortfall, and that the cuts the T will make to close the gap will be announced next week. Being more than a little paranoid, I have to wonder whether this is an unannounced part of the plan: simply stop enrolling new riders in the discount plans. That surely would meet Republican approval. Tough cookies if some senior has to go without their cat food dinner to ride the T, or if someone in a wheelchair has to ride their own two wheels from Lynn to Boston. There will be a later report.

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Thursday, March 22, 2012


One of the lesser media amusements of the last fortnight has been the exposure of pink slime and its associated evils.

This is one of those items that recurs about once a generation, when certain people discover they've been eating garbage. My mother could remember when one didn't admit to eating beans and hot dogs on Saturday night. It wasn't the beans so much as it was the hot dogs, which were generally known to be made from scraps, floor scrapings and sawdust. Spin the wheel of time ahead to the time when us people of a certain age were in college. Then, the dining halls specialised in Mystery Meat. That was a meatlike substance that was constituted into various exotic dishes, such as pasta with "meatballs"* and the ever-popular "Swiss steak." One feels certain that Mystery Meat was an earlier manifestation of pink slime.

One of the generational changes I found had to assimilate when the offspring went to college was that college dining had become a serious culinary experience. My daughter's ultimate choice did itself proud, but I was utterly blown away by student dining at Gettysburg College and Bowdoin, then engaged in a bloody contest for the nation's top college dining accolades. It seems reasonable to suppose none of them served pink slime in any form.

Lest anyone wonder why the last two generations didn't all die of food poisoning, there was a radically different standard. It appeared in local stores and butcher shops. If someone ordered ground beef, they could specify the cut and stand there while the butcher ground it to order. We were still out of luck with hot dogs, though. My mother's antidote to frankfurter toxicity was to remind us how hard they had it when she was a child. Guilt kills all known biological toxins.

*"They taste the same...if you close your eyes." (Rent)

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Friday, March 16, 2012

Be careful what you wish for

There are, of course, fewer Welsh than Irish. The latter, for a variety of reasons, won the fecundity derby long ago. They also won the emigration derby hands down 150 years ago. Well, well, beware success and assimilation.

It's been a mere five years since St. Patrick's Day fell on a weekend. You'd think it had been 50. What remains a solemn religious holiday in Ireland, what is a day of thoughtfulness and reflection (as well as jollification) among the better-informed Irish-Americans, has morphed. It is now an occasion of thoughtless, amateur drunkenness, chiefly celebrated by people in green plastic hats, with plastic shillelaghs, without a drop of Irish blood among 100 of them. They drink themselves shit-faced on American light beer with green food colouring, eat a dish of corned beef and cabbage, and think they're Irish for a day. They don't know who Saint Patrick was*. Hell, if it wasn't for the financial meltdown, they wouldn't know what Ireland is and they don't know how to find Ireland on a map. The Aer Lingus gate is all they need.


Better by far to be Welsh, to have a country no American ever heard of, and a holiday known only within the British Isles. Obscurity belongs only to itself: celebrity is owned by the world.

*St. Patrick was born in Wales. Heh.


Monday, March 12, 2012


Well, isn't that special? An Afghan mass murder by a sole American soldier. Leaving aside the next expressions of Afghan outrage that are likely to kill more Allied troops, all of them innocent of this crime, we turn first to the predictable defence: he has undiagnosed PTSD, so he's a victim.

I have more than the usual empathy for the very worn troops sent to do what has been impossible for a millennium or so: to make Afghanistan run in a way that's comprehensible to the outside world. PTSD, you might say, runs in my family. However, I might point out that it's somewhat more usual a) to take it back home and b) to turn it inward, on self or family.

As the title suggests, there are other candidates. First of them is TMT: too many tours. A military person doesn't necessarily need PTSD. Successive experiences of being wound up like a spring for dangerous service, then released, at best take the edge off the best soldier. At worst they open the door to (usually) self-destructive behaviour. This perp, says the Guardian, had three previous tours in Iraq. So this is the soldier's fourth high-stress tour in just over ten years. That's too much. There has been at least some awareness that there's a limit to human endurance in war since the Civil War, but we seem to have shelved that thought.

The next one is LTG. Armed services run on the backs of their non-commissioned officers (NCOs), or what we Navy people call petty officers.
The good ones make the machine run smoothly, providing positive motivation for their juniors and subtle, background support for commissioned officers. The role of the middle ranks of NCO can be tough. They have little actual authority over their juniors, being more primus inter pares than anything else. In these ranks--which include staff sergeants, the perp's rank-- all too often cases of LTG break out. LTG is for Little Tin God: the longer NCOs stay in the middle ranks, the more vulnerable they are to LTG inclinations. They know everything, they think. They don't hide their attitude from their seniors, which puts a damper on their chances of advancement. They tend to behave badly toward the people they're supposed to lead. Sometimes they presume too much on their authority. I saw a PO1 end his career with a presumption that angered our Admiral. Sometimes they just come apart at the seams, and possibly that happened in the current case, although self-destruction is more common to LTG than other-directed violence. They get reckless: I also knew a PO1 with a fine record but a raging case of LTG end his career drunk on the crypto room deck while on watch: a bad thing to do and a worse place to do it.

The trial of someone who has ruined any case left of a dignified exit from Afghanistan will be interesting in the worst sense of the word.

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Sunday, March 11, 2012

Gullibility et al.

The biggest non-news of this past Saturday was Rick Santorum's sweeping, stunning, choose your hyperbole win in the Kansas caucuses.

Stunning to whom? In the first place, careful observers have noted that caucuses anywhere are the bastard, inbred offspring of a primary systems whose antecedents are equally doubtful. But this is Kansas. Second, one can call it either the buckle of the Bible Belt or a large black hole in the centre of the country. Perhaps the only surprise is that Kansans didn't reject him because he's Catholic. Probably the out-there evangelism of his Catholicism won over anyone still suspicious of the Papists.

Our naive media seem surprised at the win. It isn't a surprise that most of them don't do background any more. But surely someone would have read What's the Matter with Kansas? before they pulled out the over-the-top prose. The only surprise would have been if Santorum didn't win Kansas.

Moving elsewhere, we come to the Republican bleat of the week, asking why liberal slams against the former governor of Alaska and a sitting congressperson from Minnesota haven't generated the same outrage as Rush Limbaugh's multi-day rant against Sandra Fluke. There are several excellent reasons, but one of them comes from Journalism 101. You can say much more about public figures than you can about private citizens without crossing the line into malice and libel. Even then, it's usually helpful to have a bit of evidence before you go over the edge. Sandra Fluke meets the standard of private citizen that I was taught. That Limbaugh went on about her for three days looks malicious indeed. The other two people in play meet the standard of public figure. They both rant. They both say things that are either actionable or idiotic, and their speech is fair game. But when they are mocked for their remarks, they whine.

A couple of generations ago, when people were quicker on the legal trigger than they often are now, Limbaugh would have had much bigger trouble than the loss of sponsors. Consider that Westbrook Pegler, quite as much a ranter as Limbaugh, and just as far right, lost the largest libel action of its time by crossing the line in a very similar fashion, but with a public figure. The radio clown is very lucky.

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Tuesday, March 06, 2012


The local authorities seem unaware of the power of automatic pilot when comes to elections. Several months ago, redistricting hit us and we went from seven precincts to six. After the initial flurry, nobody much thought about the consequences of the reduction. The Town was, evidently, supposed to send a letter to all voters to identify their new precinct and, most importantly, their new polling place.

They didn't, and I showed up early at the old polling place, which also houses a day care centre. It took a few minutes of looking like Chester the Molester before I figured out the polls weren't there. So, I went home, checked the town Web site and found that my precinct (still the same) now voted at the , Community Centre. Thanks very much and I'm glad I wasn't in a hurry.

After months of considering picking up a Republican ballot and voting for the craziest clown still standing, I dumbfounded the volunteers by asking for a Democratic ballot. I did think of the Green Party for a moment, but the Democratic ballot was breathtaking enough. Most of my precinct's volunteers are much older than me, and I was afraid a Green Party ballot would cause cardiac arrest somewhere. The shock was quietly hilarious. But in the end, I could not stomach anyone in the Republican clown, and that was my chief motivation.

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Sunday, March 04, 2012

A comment from the age barrier

Some of the online idiots whose uninformed opinion passes for truth would have one believe that I, at 65, am eligible for Social Security.


People my age, first wave of the so-called Boomers, had our full retirement age advanced to 66 a generation ago. The second round of my generation had their full retirement age hiked to 67 at the same time. Thus, in a stable political climate, and an employment climate that didn't consider people old and worthless at 45, I would have no problem with further incremental advances in the retirement age. I've never had a problem with moving up, or eliminating, the income ceiling. The latter especially could eliminate the projected Social Security deficit all by itself.

Although I do belong to AARP, I take some exception to its periodic descent into scare tactics about these and other reasonable reforms. However, I understand why they do it because they share my chief reservation.

I do not trust the shredded remains of our legislative branch. Along with millions of others, I have to assume that the majority will lie; that they will make a determined effort to eliminate the entire system, which the wingnuts have hated since it was enacted. In their ideological zeal, they are quite capable of eliminating Social Security entirely without a moment's thought to what will happen to the people who depend mostly or entirely on Social Security. They certainly won't give a damn about breaking the commitment the system represents to those people. After all, the wingnuts in particular are owned by the same corporations who promised their workers pension plans, then sold them out.

Further, any idea of continuing to increase retirement age in a reasonable way rests on the assumption that years left to live at 65 is going to go on increasing. But beware the sine wave fallacy: put simply, this is the belief that a given variable will always move in the same direction. Today's increases in years left to live are on a collision course with the corporate age bigotry which has lately been enabled by the Supreme Court. A society which considers workers useless after age 45 is wedded to a principle which is likely to cause mean age at death to plummet. Pop goes the sine wave!

Perhaps that's what the wingnuts in Congress want, as long as it doesn't include them.

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Proving a point

With a little determination, one can make almost anything edible. In this case, it's cawl, the traditional Welsh soup that is one of the favoured traditional dishes for St. David's Day. There are numerous recipes, so the first trick is to choose the one most agreeable to one's palate. This was my selection.

There are purists who would possibly be troubled that I'm choosing a recipe without mutton. First, finding mutton around here is an adventure in itself. Lamb is easy. Grown up dead sheep meat, not so much. Second, my appreciation of Welsh cuisine was permanently twisted by my paternal grandmother's cooking. She was given by nature a commanding personality and a conviction that anything one could actually recognise, when it came off the cooker, was underdone. That did nothing to improve culinary adventures like mutton. Second, this recipe has enough cholesterol without mutton.

Last year, I spent far too much time hunting up parsnips, which are hard to find hereabouts at this season. Even though parsnips give the soup an extra distinction, what with sick kitty preoccupations, I didn't have time. I used rutabaga instead, which turned out to be serendipitous.

My next change is to use Canadian bacon, which reduces the soup's fat content. This too is a sin. Traditional cawl is brought to a boil, then cooled until a thick layer of fat forms on the surface (see step 4). Canadian bacon lets you skip that step entirely, especially if your beef is lean. Also, after browning, I cook the lot in a slow cooker. No need for all that grease, and I can do without cooking over a coal fire.

This recipe works very well with the rutabaga, but anyone who can get local parsnip should use it. Sometime, I may try this recipe with turnip and parsnip, and no potatoes. That would make it authentically pre-Columbian, even palaeo. The recipe's weakness is preparation time, but using the slow cooker takes the curse off that.

Serve hot, with whole grain bread and Double Gloucester cheese. If you can get Welsh cheese, lucky you!

Iechyd a!

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Saturday, March 03, 2012

Dumb phone, etc.

The week has been full of signs of age.

1) I signed up for Medicare Part A. Not that I wanted to. However, now that I'm imminently 65, it seems that my wife's employer (she's the one with the health plan) wants both of us off the hospitalisation rolls. There will be a Round Two to this, after we meet the spectacularly bored individual at the local office who deigned to answer my few questions.

2) I've long accepted that I have a dumb phone. We're in a family plan created by the offspring, so upgrades are in her hands. Someday it may happen. However, the lowest blow was this week's discovery that I have a dumb watch. Granted that I date myself by having a watch that I actually use to tell time, but the goddam thing didn't recognise Leap Day.

Never mind. When there are no clouds, there's a moon to admire. Americans are not very good at admiring the moon, which is worth a pause at every opportunity. Howling is optional.

Three weeks hence I get to sign up for a senior's Charlie Card. That'll wash out the fare increase, but if they cut my buses, I can't ride it downtown.

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