Monday, May 2, 2016

The Benefits of a Highly Attuned Bullshit Filter

One of the best things about getting older is that you’ve had a lot of practice at sniffing out deception from sales clerks, public service reps and other people you encounter throughout your day.  It can turn you into a really suspicious SOB, that’s for sure.  But it comes in handy.

Take, for example, a couple of weeks ago when I was heading home from work via the Baltimore Metro subway.

When I got down to the underground platform at the Shot Tower stop, I heard them making an announcement.  Not that I could actually hear what they were saying.  Even after I took my earphones out, it sounded like Charlie Brown’s teacher: “Whonk whonk whonk…”

Everyone else must have understood, though, because they all started heading back up to ground level.  I joined them but when I stopped at the little glassed-in room where the attendant is, she was hollering to the crowd, “The subway is closed.  Please go to the nearest bus stop up on the street.  They know what is going on and will take you where you need to go.  And I am NOT taking any questions.”

OK, there’s so much to dissect there, but first off, you’re “not taking any questions???”  What kind of civil servant are you?  There’s mass confusion here and you’re actively promoting it by withholding information!  So that got me all jammed up right off the bat.

Still, I waited until the crowd thinned out a bit and she started talking with more people.  Ever the rebel, I dared to ask a question, “Did you say the whole subway line is shut down, or just this station?

She said the whole subway was shut down.

That got my BS detector pinging.  I figured, there are only two things that will shut down the entire system.  One is a massive, area-wide power failure (which we obviously weren’t having).  The other would be a bomb threat.

While a bomb threat was certainly possible, I thought it was highly unlikely.  Why would anyone care about our piddley one-route subway line, when you’ve got a much more expansive and widely used subway system right down the road in Washington?  Or one that was much more heavily traveled in New York City?

Nah, something was off here.  Most likely, someone fell or jumped onto the tracks and ate a subway car.  It wouldn’t be the first time.

The other thing that I was skeptical about was that crap about just going to the nearest bus stop and waiting for a bus, who would know what’s going on and where to take everyone.  Huge, steaming pile of BS, right there.

Each bus has its own route and there are dozens of them running throughout the day.  What are the odds that the closest particular bus is going to run in the direction I need to go?  Minimal, if you ask me.  I was NOT going to go get on some random bus.  Lord knows in what kind of urban hellscape I might end up?

So I came up out of the subway and began to consider my options.  One of them was to walk about a block and then jump on the east/west Charm City Circulator line to take me over to the light rail.  (The Circulator is a free commuter bus service for downtown Baltimore.  The light rail is a 2-car on-road rail line, powered by overhead electrical lines.  It runs straight north/south through Baltimore and the surrounding areas.)

So as I was waiting for the Circulator, it dawned on me, “Dummy, this is no good.  So what if you get to the light rail?  Your car is still at the subway parking lot!  You’d still be stranded.”  (The subway and light rail only intersect near Lexington Market, in downtown Baltimore.  My home neighborhood is another 10-12 miles north.)

I stepped away from the Circulator stop and decided to go back to the subway.  I figured I might be able to pull out some more information.  The MTA website was no help.  Service had been shut down for 20 minutes and they still showed “On Time” status for the subway.  Useless.

When I got back to the subway, there were two guards at the top of the escalator, preventing people from entering the station.  There were several clusters of people standing around, peering at their cell phones.  I went up closer to the guards and overheard them tell another passenger that the problem was at the next station over, Charles Center, where they thought someone got hit by a train.

Aha!  Just as I thought.  This is highly relevant because I know for a fact that whenever there’s any kind of incident at a subway stop, they just close off that stop and continue service on either side.  They either provide a bus to bridge the gap or fly straight through without stopping at the station in question.

My original plan was back in play.  As I was reasoning it out, I was joined by another commuter, a woman with a nice “Island” accent.  She asked what was going on, I told her what I’d heard, and what I was considering next.

I told her I was going to jump on the Circulator Orange Route, take it the 11 blocks west, then walk a few blocks north to Lexington Market station and catch the subway on the other side of the station closure.  She wasn’t familiar with the Circulator routes, so I invited her along.  It’s much more fun to have a travel buddy.

So that’s what we did and it worked like a charm.  Once we got to Lexington Market, we heard several more versions of what happened back at Charles Center.  It’s funny how word travels on the street.

When these things happen, the MTA never tells you anything, like they’re afraid of getting sued, or of bad publicity.  I think it would help their cause if they could demonstrate that they were truthful and cooperative, rather than dishonest and evasive.

The Lexington Market station was crowded with others who were scrambling to find their ways home.  We saw two trains heading back in the direction from whence we came before one finally came along from the right direction.  Of course, it was packed, but by that time, I was happy to jam onboard under any conditions.

All along, I knew I could use this occasion to try Uber for the first time, but I kind of kept that in my back pocket.  I’d rather demo Uber when I’m not in a state of duress, but I knew I could always use it if nothing else panned out.  But as it was, I went from “Holy shit, I’m stranded downtown with no way home,” to getting on the train at another station an hour later.

I’ll take it.  I know many people who have had it worse when faced with an unexpected subway closure.  But it would have been so much worse for me if I hadn’t disregarded almost everything I was told by subway “officials.”

At work the next day, I talked to some people who DID get on the bus and they said those bus drivers didn’t know squat about what was going on.  They didn’t even know how to get where they were supposed to go… the passengers had to direct them.  It was a total clusterfuck.

There was practically no coverage of the incident in the local media.  The only thing we found was a short blurb from a minor news page, giving only the minimum of information; someone jumped onto the tracks, was hit, but survived.

The important part, of course, was that I was inconvenienced during my daily commute... LOL.

No, really, the reason I’m telling this tale is to highlight the importance of a healthy skepticism.  Public officials lie to us, misdirect, or obfuscate constantly, so it behooves us to develop a stringent BS filter.  If someone tells you something that seems too good to be true, especially given the general incompetence of those they’re talking about, it should be sifted through the filter and disregarded.

Or else the next thing you know, you could be trapped on a crowded bus heading for parts unknown.  It’s enough to make you want to jump on the tracks yourself.

Monday, April 25, 2016

Debunkery - The Floral Print Edition

Sometimes debunking conservative memes is like shooting fish in a barrel.  Like with this one:

This is how you know that conservatives just don’t understand the situation.  People like Klinger, who last I checked, isn’t even a real person, aren’t the ones fighting for the right to use the women’s restroom. (Let alone hiding out in there and waiting to ambush women.)

MASH was a TV comedy and Klinger was a joke.  (Except for being a Toledo Mudhens and Tony Packo’s hot dog fan; that was totally legit.)  Using this character to back up prejudicial claims shows how weak a hand they’re trying to play.  It’s another symptom of the general GOP promotion of ignorance.  The truth is complicated, but everyone can understand biased generalizations (with a touch of dick fear).

The people affected by this issue are those with recognized psychological conditions… they identify, usually from birth, as a member of the opposite sex.  They live their lives as they feel they were meant to be, often times going through surgery or hormonal therapy.  These aren’t just dudes traipsing around in a dress for the hell of it.

Again I say, show me where there’s been an attack in a women’s restroom by a guy wearing women’s clothing.  It’s just not happening.  Fox “News” even admitted that this is a solution in search of a problem.   But I wouldn’t put it past conservatives to send some guys in dresses out into the women’s rooms just to make a scene, so they can go, “See?  There it is. We told you so.”

I think this is a bunch of rednecks finding a way to send some select “prey” into the men’s rooms for the sole purpose of getting their asses kicked.  Transgendered men living as women are the only ones at risk in this whole equation.

And I’m pretty sure that’s exactly the way Republicans want it.


Going hand in hand with the Klinger meme, I also spotted this one:

First off, this isn’t necessarily a conservative meme, although the person who posted it definitely was.  The bottom half is all about Congress and an appeal for term limits, using the Social Security system as a wedge.  But what pissed me off was the opening line about the media.  That’s a traditional “Kill the messenger” GOP strategy.

The thing is, it wasn’t the media that wrote and passed these repressive “bathroom laws,” it was the Republicans.  It’s the media’s job to report on what politicians do, especially when there is an uproar about it, and that’s what they’re doing. 

If a state government passes and enacts a law in a two-day span that’s so reprehensible that major business abort plans there and national touring acts cancel shows, in what world is that not going to be reported?  Not to do so would be a gross dereliction of duty on the part of the media.

What I ask instead is: why is a governmental body so concerned about so few people?  The number of transgendered Americans is estimated to be about 700,000, or 0.3% of the population.  Contrast that with the estimated number of LGB Americans, which is 8 million, or 3.5%.

Think in personal terms.  I can name (after a minute of consideration) more than a half dozen gay or lesbian friends or acquaintances (not including their significant others).  But the number of trans people?  None.  Maybe I’m sheltered (I don’t think so), but I don’t know any. 

Maybe that’s why it seems so easy for people to shit on trans people… they don’t know any and therefore, don’t really understand the condition or surrounding issues.  People fear what they don’t understand.

It was the same with gays for the longest time; then the more people came out, the more people who knew them changed their attitudes, until we are finally where we’re at today, in terms of acceptance.  (Which is not all the way there, by any means, but a hell of a lot further than we used to be.)

The meme is right on one thing: legislation like this bathroom law IS a distraction issue; it’s just that it’s not those reporting the issue at fault; it’s the creators of the issues.  They know as long as we’re fighting over self-created problems, we’re not looking for solutions to real problems from an ineffective government.

Monday, April 18, 2016

More Quick Hits and Odd Bits

Hey Bluz, what do you think about…

…the boycott of North Carolina?  National politics gets an awful lot of attention but the real news is happening at the local level.  Once you have one-party rule between a governor and state representative bodies, just about anything can get put into law.

That’s what happened with this mess in North Carolina, where the legislature borrowed language from a conservative website (specializing in creating legal language for use in bills), rammed it through the legislature in a single day and had the governor sign it the next day.

This wildfire process was executed because the city of Charlotte dared to pass their own “equal protections” law, which included discrimination shields for sexual orientation and gender identification.  The state law contained a whole slew of rollbacks, including the infamous “bathroom of your biological origin” edict.  It also banned municipalities from instituting their own protections, banned people for suing the state over the issue, and just for shits and giggles, prevented any municipality from raising its minimum wage.

Because the country has progressed so far in accepting the existence of gays and transgenders, (especially among the young, money-spending generations), businesses have stepped up to the plate to take direct actions in sanctioning the state.

PayPal and Deutsche Bank abandoned plans to build facilities there.  CEOs of more than 80 corporations signed a letter condemning the law and hinted at taking further action.  Several music acts have cancelled shows, including Bruce Springsteen, and Ringo Starr.

In response, the governor issued an “executive order,” which he claimed addressed the concerns of those opposed to the law.  Unfortunately, the executive order doesn’t really do anything to change the conditions on the ground or in the bathrooms.

I really don’t get this whole bathroom thing. Why are conservatives so obsessed about who’s in the bathroom?  They claim it’s all about safety, but that’s about as valid as their claim that their Voter ID laws are all about stopping voter fraud.

It seems to me they’re running in a blind panic over the prospect that there are people out there who they don’t understand in the least, and who might have to pee.  Like with the “voter fraud” issue, they’re putting out draconian laws designed to prevent a problem that’s not really a problem.

Show me one headline about some guy dressed like a girl, camping out in the bathroom with the intent to harm or perv on the other bathroom users.  You can’t.  It’s a solution in search of a problem, which just happens (coincidentally!) to go hand in hand with a Bible Belt government trying merge church and state... and making sure gays don't get too big for their britches.

You think a trans guy dressed as a woman is going to feel safe in the men's room?  I'm sure that's part of the plan too... GOP Trans Therapy!  By getting their asses kicked in men's rooms, someone just might knock some sense into them.

Maybe cooler heads will prevail in North Carolina when enough economic pressure is brought to bear, but I doubt it.  You can’t pressure ideologues. 

Just look at Kansas.  Their entire state is falling apart due directly to unchallenged Republican leadership instituting Republican tax and budget policies.  Within a year of said changes, they have a huge deficit and no money for education or infrastructure.  But have they reversed course?  Absolutely not.  Have you ever heard a Republican admit a mistake?  You think there’s any possible way they’ll admit that top-side, trickle-down economics works for anyone but the top side?

I just wonder what’s going to happen in Mississippi.  They passed a law similar to North Carolina’s, but as far as I can see, there’s nowhere near the same corporate disincentive effort going on.  I suspect it’s because there aren’t that many businesses looking to move into Mississippi in the first place. 

…Axl Rose joining AC/DC to finish off their current tour?  I was really hoping it wouldn’t come to this.  I mean, Axl Rose is a great lead singer… for Guns & Roses.  I heard a clip on the radio this morning, of Angus Young joining G&R on stage at Coachella over the weekend, to play “Whole Lotta Rosie.”  Axl sounded great.  But he’s a head case.

AC/DC is known for soldiering on under any circumstances.  They show up, they play their asses off, rock your world, and move on to the next town.  They’re professionals.

Guns & Roses history has been littered with inconsistency and unreliability, mostly due to their temperamental lead singer.  If you have tickets to a G&R show, you never know when (or if) it’s going to start.  You’re lucky if it’s only an hour or so late.

I was kind of hoping they’d find some guy in an AC/DC tribute band and give him the gig.  Maybe they could have gotten two… one to do the Bon Scott song and one to do Brian Johnson. 

…the Fart Barrier?  Last month, I saw this article online, which trumpeted the headline: “Here’s When it’s OK to Start Openly Farting in a Relationship.” 

I was probably overly optimistic that it would prove in any way useful, but I couldn’t pass up that kind of click-bait.  Turned out to be a small survey (only 129 responses), which showed a whole myriad of opinions.

Two descriptions are missing: Red 7% wedge at the top- “I will never, ever fart in front of a significant Other.” Purple 8% wedge- “Other.”

My answer would probably be to wait to see how my significant other handles it.  I’ve had a variety of scenarios in the past.  One would fart any time she felt the need, to the point where we’d be sitting on the couch and I’d have to say, “Hon, would you please point that thing the other way?  I can feel the lesions forming on my lungs.”

Another basically denied she even had a digestive system of any kind, so any acknowledgement to the contrary was met with a withering stare.  As far as she was concerned, her asshole was there merely for ornamental purposes.  (And no, I don’t mean ME!)

Anyway, I don’t have anything much to say on the subject… I just can’t believe that someone actually put forth the effort into a fart survey.  I think it probably started as a bar argument and blasted out from there.

…the Light City show you saw getting set up when you were showing Kernut around the Harbor?  Right, as we were walking around the Harbor back in late March, we saw the set-up in progress for a big light show extravaganza.  So when the exhibition opened that week, Sitcom Kelly and I had a happy hour and then took a walk down through the exhibits to see what we could see.

The verdict?  Some things were really cool, others were kind of ‘meh.’  I think the bottom line was that there should have been more things to see.  Or maybe we just didn’t go far enough, because it was crowded and kind of cold out.  But here are a couple of the cool things we saw:

This was my favorite.

We saw these being set up on Saturday and they were all white in the daylight.  At night, they changed colors throughout.

Old Glory, via little boats.

This was the 7-Foot Knoll Lighthouse that Kernut was so keen to see, with sheets of lights hung from it, which functioned like a scoreboard light display.

This was Sitcom Kelly’s favorite exhibit.

…the Penguins’ Stanley Cup run?  I’ll spare you the dedicated jersey mojo post this year because there was a game changer. 

Ever since I got these two jerseysin March, the Penguins went 13-2 when I was wearing them.  The black Malkin was 6-1 and the white Ron Francis was 7-1, with the loss coming in the last game, played with 6 starters missing.  I’m obviously going to work these two jerseys throughout the playoffs, assuming they survive the Rangers series (which is tied 1-1)

But it was a strange season, mojo-wise.  My main “away” jersey, a white Sidney Crosby, was 0-8.  The only reason I kept going back to it was because my only other current white jersey belongs to a player who’s gone.

I also spent 20 games wearing no jersey at all.  Granted, most of those were late-starting, west coast games, but there was a number of games where I just didn’t feel like getting up to change, or I wasn’t at home.  Or I was watching something more compelling on network TV.  Turned out the Pens went 10-10 when I wasn’t wearing a jersey.  Dressing neutrally ensured a neutral result.  Huh. 

That’s science right there.

Monday, April 11, 2016

How You Can Tell if I'm Losing my Shit

I’m so happy to see baseball season here again!  I’ve been to two games so far, Wednesday night and Sunday afternoon.

This year, I resolved not to make the mistake of buying tickets when they first go on sale.  Every time I do that; when game day comes, it’s crappy out.  So this year I vowed not to buy any tickets until I’ve seen a weather forecast.  I went Wednesday because it was the first game after Opening Day and I was pretty antsy to go see a game.

It’s funny… Opening Day drew a sellout crowd… 44,000-plus people.  The very next game?  Not so much.

Attendance announced at 12,600. Most were dressed as empty seats.

What a difference between the first and second games of the year.

I had a nice spot, 1st row of the upper deck, behind home plate.  But it was cold and windy and I was rapidly having less fun as the night went on.  With the Orioles up 4-1, I made a break for it in the 6th inning and was home in time to watch the end.

Sunday, I saw it would still be cold, but sunny.  Game time temperature was about 48.  But I bought a seat where I knew I’d be in the sun the whole time; 3rd row up from the left field wall.  It was fun and I got on TV again.  (I’d run the picture but due to my Orioles hoodie, I’m only identifiable as a big orange blob.)

These two games were the first times I ever tried to use the “iPhone Wallet” app.  When I got my tickets, I had the options to print or add to Wallet app, or both.  I did both, for a couple of reasons.

First, I wanted to try the Wallet app because it’s the new shiny thing.  And it’s easier to deal with than trying to fish the paper ticket out of my pocket.  I have to have my phone out of my pocket anyway, when I go through the entrance metal detector.

My e-ticket from Sunday.

But I still like to have the paper ticket for the souvenir and for tradition.  Having both means of ticketing allows me to have a backup system in case something goes wrong, like if I lose the paper ticket or my phone runs out of juice.  (I won’t even consider the possibility of losing the phone.)

As you may know, I keep all my stubs and after the game, record the score and attendance on them.  Sitcom Kelly and I have had extensive conversations about my ticketing quirks, for example, that I don’t like printing paper tickets (although not so much that I forego the convenience of buying tickets online over getting standard cardboard tickets from the box office). 

The paper tickets are printed on a full page; then after the game, I cut out the “ticket-shaped” portion for permanent storage.  I always print them in color too; the better to simulate a traditional ticket stub.

Last summer, Sitcom Kelly and I were going to a game and she ordered our tickets online.  When she gave them to me, she said, “Sorry, there’s a fold in the ticket.”

I said, “That’s OK, I’ll smooth it out with the iron when I get home.”

I was totally joking, but she never even questioned it.  She just assumed it was just another one of those weird things I do.  She’s so used to all my strange habits and quirks; she figured this was just one more.

It cracked me up because it made me wonder what exactly I’d have to do in order for my friends to think I lost my marbles.  See, it wouldn’t be the normal stuff… It’d have to be on a whole different plane.

So as a public service... or rather, a personal service, here’s a list of ways you can tell if Bluz’s elevator is no longer going all the way to the top:

  • You see him eating vegetables with more than one syllable.
  • He only takes one trip through the buffet line.
  • He watches PBS.
  • He finds his car in a crowded parking lot, right away.
  • He turns on a Top-40 radio station.  Or any radio station.
  • He books a trip to a third-world country.  On purpose.
  • You hear him say, “No, I don’t want another drink.”
  • He says something nice about the Baltimore Ravens.
  • Wears an item of clothing without mojo implications, on game day.
  • He answers the phone when the caller ID says “Unavailable.”
  • He approaches a stranger and starts a conversation.
  • He goes for a drive.
  • He turns on a golf match on TV.
  • He opens the hood of his car, without jumper cables or windshield washer fluid in his hands.
  • He puts small, decorative pillows on the bed.
  • You see him cleaning behind a large appliance or piece of furniture.
  • He’s jogging.

Please; if you should witness this or any similar activity, please summon a representative from the Charm City Home for the Bewildered.

Monday, April 4, 2016

The Royal We

I could not WAIT to tell you about this, but alas, I had to because my day with Kernut had to come first.  But still, get a load of the dream I had last week.

I dreamt I was the recently-crowned King of a small African country.

Seriously!  I couldn't believe it my own self!

But you know how it is with dreams... No matter how far-fetched and ridiculous, in the dream, it all makes perfect sense and you just go with it.  And I totally went with it.  Here's how it went.

The dream began with me being set up in a kind of kingly bedroom/ready room, just off the main "throne room."  It wasn't traditionally opulent, but it was nice, like a very old but upscale hotel suite.  It was kind of dark, with plush drapery.  And that's when it hit me that I was now King of an African nation.  Which nation?  I have no idea. For purposes of this post, I'll call it "Burundi," as referenced in the 1993 movie, "Dave."
 "They know hats in Burundi."

That totally works for me, because I know hats in Baltimore.

As I was getting set up, someone from the Royal,Staff brought me breakfast, which was cool.  But the eggs were runny, which was decidedly uncool.  I debated with myself as to whether or not I should send them back, because in my non-dream world, I rarely send my food back, for anything short of an insect infestation. But then I thought, "Well hell, I'm King, after all... I can send my food back if I want to!"

And in that moment within the dream, I celebrated the fact that I could now quote Mel Brooks' "History of the World" and mean it when I say, 

As I waited for my less runny eggs, I began to consider the work before me.  I liked this gig, so I figured I'd better be a good King; a benevolent King; a King who got shit done.  My first decision was that I'd need to get a computer in the room immediately.  I'd need it to keep up on current events and to learn about my new domain.  I also decided to wear regular clothes, to better look the part of Man of the People.  No fancy robes or scepters for this guy.

My next thoughts were for my "subjects."  What would they need to make their lives better? Jobs!  If people were busy making a good living, they'd have less time to plot my overthrow, wouldn't they?  

So how would I get them jobs?

Aha!  They could build a wall, to keep out the neighboring country, with whom we were at war.

Yes, I know, you don't have to tell me.  Here I am proposing an idea straight from the Trump camp.  My subconscious is guilty as charged, although there ARE some key differences.

First, we, (the good people of Burundi and I), were being attacked by a bordering nation, so it was a public safety and security issue.

Second, my regime was paying for the labor, and you bet your ass my worksites would have been OSHA-approved.

Third, look; I'd only been on the job for a couple of minutes... And I hadn't even eaten breakfast yet.  I'm sure I'd have come up with something else shortly.  I was just spit-balling there.

Next, I realized that providing jobs was only part of the solution.  I had to publicize my plans.  But how?

I decided I needed to set up a Twitter account, like @KingBluz or something, but I had to wait until I got the computer I just asked for.  So much to do and there I was, waiting for tech support, like a peasant. And where were my damned eggs?

Luckily I stopped myself short of demanding everyone's heads.  Only five minutes into the job and I was already flirting with becoming a primadonna.

For the rest of the night, I was in and out of dreaming sleep, but in those half asleep stages, I kept returning to my royal duties and grand plans for the good people of Burundi.

I woke up with the radio, as usual, listened to the news and thought about the day's business ahead, (none of which had to do with walls or Royal Twitter accounts).  I got out of bed to begin my morning   Suddenly, in the shower, the details of the dream came washing over me and I was like, "Holy shit!  Where the hell did THAT come from?  What the F..."

It's good to start the day off with a laugh.

Often times, when I'm off on a rant, I'll say something like, "When I become King, I'll make a law..."

Well damned if I didn't just get the chance.  I just wish I could have worn the crown for more that 10 minutes.  Burundi would never be the same.

Monday, March 28, 2016

Tales from the Glassy Knoll

I had a glorious day on Saturday, playing Baltimore Ambassador to another visiting dignitary.  I had received an email from my long-time blog friend, Kernut the Blond, asking if she could take me up on an offer I once made.

Kernut writes a kind of life and travel blog, featuring lots of small towns, roadside attractions, and tales from the heartland.  I don’t remember how we came to start following each other’s blogs, but hers is a real pisser.

After living in California and making a living doing office work, Kernut decided to chuck it all, buy an RV, and ramble around the southwest and make do as she went.  She spent the last several years living in waterfront RV parks in Texas and Oklahoma, doing whatever kind of work she could find to keep herself afloat.  She documents all her adventures in her blog.  (It also includes an explanation of how her nickname came to be.)

I’ll say this, the woman is brave.  She faced an internal “put up or shut up” moment and went all in.

It was some time ago, I don’t remember the context, but I dropped a comment on her blog saying that if she ever found herself out this way, let me know and I’d take her out for crab cakes. 

Then several weeks ago, I heard from Kernut, saying she would soon be coming to southeastern Pennsylvania, and wanted to get together for those crab cakes.

As you know, I love to meet other bloggers so immediately accepted her accepting my original invitation.

When the day drew near, I emailed her with a brief rundown of things I thought she might like to do, which included the Inner Harbor, the National Aquarium and a waterfront lunch.

She also had some ideas after a little Google research.  She wanted to go the “Top of the World” observation deck of Baltimore’s “World Trade Center,” and to go find what’s known as the “Seven-foot Knoll Lighthouse.”

The former was easy; the latter… that gave me a brief twinge of heartburn.  This area is flush with waterways.  The Patapsco River feeds the harbor area and there are all kinds of offshoots here, there and everywhere.  This lighthouse could be anywhere, including clear down on the Eastern Shore.

Then I Googled it myself.  Turns out, I can see the damned thing from my office building. 

If you look to the left of the Marriott Waterfront, and the right of the Four Seasons construction, and just above the white Pier Six Pavilion roof, you can see a little red lighthouse.

I had no idea it was even a lighthouse.  In fact, I already had a picture of it, from when I went to see Boston at the Pier Six Pavilion two summers ago.

So it was perfect!  Everything we wanted to do was in about a 3-block area surrounding the Inner Harbor. 

It’s always a bit nerve-wracking meeting someone I’ve only known online. I get so amped up wanting to make sure everything goes well and that I’m sufficiently entertaining.  Then when the time comes, I find myself relating a story, which inevitably reminds me of another story and next thing I know, I have a dozen stories all fighting to get out at the same time, leaving me jabbering like a monkey.  Sometimes I just have to force myself to STFU.

So, it was gorgeous out on Saturday and the flowering trees were in full bloom.

My theory is that those trees look so good because they’re right next to the water treatment plant.  I’m sure they’re well fertilized.

The harbor area was also setting up for a massive Festival of Lights which starts tonight and runs through the week, so we could see the preparations taking place.

I’m assuming these will be all lit up, come nightfall.  (That’s Pier Six Pavilion in the background.)

We started our tour with the Seven-Foot Knoll lighthouse.  Built in 1856, it used to be out in the water at the mouth of the harbor but was moved to shore in 1988, to serve as a museum.
The National Aquarium tour was awesome, as usual.  We saw everything from happy turtles…

S'up guys?! grumpy fish.

Another day, another lap around this stupid tank…”

It takes a good couple of hours to get through the Aquarium, so by the time we were done, we were ready for a seat and a meal.  I picked the local McCormick and Schmick because it’s supposed to be good and it’s located right beside the lighthouse. 

Kernut liked her crab cake; I was less than thrilled with my fish and chips.  The fish were more like marginally puffier Mrs. Paul’s fish sticks.  The calamari, however, was wonderful. 

After eating, we walked up the pier to the “World Trade Center” and the "Top of the World" observation deck.  It’s a pretty lofty set of names for a mere 28-story building, but it’s a good place to take a look around Baltimore.

In this shot, you can see everywhere we’d been so far that day. Pyramid-looking buildings on the right are the Aquarium and you can see the little lighthouse between the “pyramid” and the Pier Six Pavilion.

After the high-level observing, we took a walk around the harbor to scope out some of the old, retired boats moored there.  You can buy tours of all of them, but we were pleasantly surprised by a visiting “tall ship,” the Stad Amsterdam.”

The Stad Amsterdam (with the “World Trade Center” directly behind it).

They were letting people look around the boat for free, so we had a walkabout.  It was pretty cool.

A look up one of the masts.

As we were wandering around onboard, a couple came up to us and asked if we’d take their picture for them, and in return, they’d take one of us.  So here we are.

As you can see, I was a very lucky guy to be squiring around such a treasure.  She looked great… I, however, looked like an unmade bed.  When the hell did I get so rumply?

After the ship, we made our way back to the car; we pretty much had our fill of walking around by then.  We also wanted to get Kernut back on the road, so she could make it home, (or at least close), by dark.

All in all, I had a ball.  I just hope Kernut had a good enough of a time that I can tempt her to come back.  As a lover of kitsch, she’s just got to see HonFest.

Kernut has posted her version of her trip to Charm City. You can see it here:

Monday, March 21, 2016

Court Jester

I think the Republicans have really boxed themselves into a corner with this Supreme Court obstruction, following the death of Justice Antonin Scalia.

All they had to do was put on a show, go through the motions and very somberly place their predetermined vote of no.  That, alone, would have taken the Democrats’ number one objection off the board… they would have done their jobs.  (Poorly, but still…)

But within hours of Scalia’s death, Mitch McConnell released a statement saying that they would not consider any Obama appointment, regardless of who it was.  Subsequently, a laundry list of other GOP leaders echoed the statement.

The effect of those statements was to tie their own hands.  Now, even if they reverse field and hold meetings and hearings, everyone knows the nominee is being turned down because of politics, not qualifications.  And that leaves them looking like political hacks.

(See, technically, the Senate is supposed to be evaluating the qualifications of a Supreme Court nominee.  They are not supposed to automatically turn down anyone with opposing political views.)

It’s funny that Obama then went out and nominated a centrist; someone numerous Republican leaders have already endorsed for the federal bench, after which they accused Obama of playing politics with the nomination.  My hope is that they continue to shoot down this nomination, the Democrats win in November, and then the new President nominates someone much less palatable to the Right.

No one knows justice like Samuel L Jackson.

My hunch is that Mitch was told by the Koch Brothers and the other filthy rich GOP financiers that he needed to shoot down any possibility of a liberal-leaning Supreme Court.

Big Business has prospered mightily for the last 40 years, under a Republican majority court.  But what would happen if all of a sudden, decisions involving worker protections and environmental regulations started falling on the side of the People instead of Big Business?  It would hit these guys right in the wallets, that’s what.  Can’t have that, now, can we?

So Mitch was sent out to strangle this possibility in its sleep.  He just had to come up with a plausible excuse.

The first try was a disaster… “The American People should have a say in the nomination.

Instantly, Democrats from all over the country responded with the obvious retort, that we had already spoken, twice, by a combined total of 14 million votes.  We elected Barack Obama with the specific intention of him making Supreme Court nominations throughout each term.

The Republicans are still pushing that line, by the way, but even they don’t believe it.  It’s just too stupid for words.

So they sequestered themselves for a weekend, and what do you know?  Someone found a clip of Joe Biden saying the Senate shouldn’t approve any nominees during a presidential election year.

Bingo!  Just what they needed.  Looks pretty bad, doesn’t it?

Of course, it’s not really a valid comparison, although it is about standard for Fox “News” and talk radio.  McConnell and the GOP are now calling it “The Biden Rule.”  Like the Republicans have ever given any weight to something Joe Biden said…

The clip in question was Senator Biden answering a hypothetical question, a couple months before an election, with no nominees in play, without even a judicial opening.

It’s a hypothetical statement that meant less than nothing and the Republicans are making it the centerpiece to their unprecedented obstruction.  It’s par for the course, really.  The GOP has spent the last seven years in unprecedented obstruction.  And Mitch knows all about obstruction…
Where’s the jobs bill, Mitch?

Have you ever seen a picture of this guy when he doesn’t look constipated?

Monday, March 14, 2016

Quick Hits and Odd Bits

Let’s fire up that browser because it’s time to play, “Hey Bluz, what do you think of…”

I don’t see what the problem is.  It kind of cracks me up.  I keep hearing “We don’t want to bring terrorists onto American soil.

I say, it’s a big assumption that these people will ever see anything resembling “soil.”  I don’t see the harm in throwing known terrorists into the deepest, darkest jail cells we have and introducing them to some of the righteously convicted Americans dwelling within.

You want to hate America?  We’ll give you something to hate America over.”

And as far as where to put any newly located terrorists, we don’t seem to be capturing them as much as blowing them the fuck up.

Completely manufactured outrage.

The last line defines Obama’s entire presidency. It’s only a big deal because it’s Obama.

Same goes for the first lady.  I still can’t rationally understand why Michelle Obama gets so much shit.  Is fighting childhood obesity and growing a vegetable garden really that big of a deal?  Hell, it’s what your mother told you throughout your childhood…

Put that junk down and eat your vegetables.”

Maybe it was just mine.

Then there are also those memes you see on Facebook lamenting our lack of a “classy” first lady.  Seriously?  I’ve never seen Mrs. Obama do anything that wasn’t classy or appropriate for the occasion. 

She is a first lady of our times and our times are not the 1940s or 1960s.  Oh, and she can’t be found online starring in nudie “modeling” pictures either, like one of our prospective first ladies.  Can’t seem to locate any public outrage over that development.

And if Michelle Obama ever spent $200,000 of anyone’s money to buy new china for the Whitehouse, like Mrs. Reagan did, Fox “News” would have a new graphics package up and the GOP Senate would have an investigation committee appointed so fast our teacups would spin.

I wonder what it is that makes Mrs. Obama so much different from the other two…  Hmmm.  What could it be?

It ultimately failed, so now state law allows the good, God-fearing, sincerely believing people of Missouri to pick a single item from the Bible and use it to deprive their neighbors of their civil rights.  Ain’t religion wonderful?

So who’s going to deny flower service to a wedding reception serving shrimp and scallops?  Hmm?  The same guy who says men laying with men is a sin said the same thing about shellfish.  Funny, I don’t hear anyone taking that part seriously.  Where are the pickets outside Red Lobster?

Could it be some conservatives are using religion to ban behavior they find icky?

Nah, couldn’t be.  At least not until one of their own kids comes out. 

I admit, my first thought was that maybe Dad should have let it go and taught the boy a lesson, that you should pay attention when you’re sitting down there in the danger zone.

But no, I don’t really want to see some kid get conked like that.  But that’s totally a teaching moment.  Get your nose out of your phone, kid, and watch the game.

Yes, I know he was sending his mom a picture, but that’s what the inning breaks are for.  If you’re sitting down there, low along the baselines, you have to be alert at all times.  Otherwise, we’re going to end up with netting all the way around the damn ballpark, and where’s the fun in that?

First of all, I’m glad she wasn’t killed and no one else was injured.  Secondly, that’s still pretty damned funny, if you ask me. 

If a “Second Amendment Activist” doesn’t have enough sense to keep her loaded handgun out of reach from her 4-year old, while she’s driving and unable to keep watch on the kid, where exactly are the common sense gun rights supporters?

I suppose the only answer is to get more 4-year olds with guns.  I can see it now… “Gunfight at the OK Daycare Center.”

I agree, Obama is completely culpable.  He had the audacity to be black and the president at the same time.  He should have known better going in.

I can’t believe this is a thing.  It’s been a fact of life since 1918.   That means every single person in this country has grown up with it.  Why exactly are we unable to cope with it now?

To me, it’s a mild irritation on a Sunday, but by Monday, it’s back to business as usual.  I still go to bed at 11 and still wake up at 6.  All year long, the same hour sees a different level of light.

I say, quit bellyaching, get up and go the fuck to work.  If it’s dark, sit tight; it will be light momentarily.  And if your kids are pitching a fit, maybe just take them to a baseball game and hand them your phone to play with.

Monday, March 7, 2016

Liz Lemon Goes to War

Yesterday I went to see the new Tina Fey movie, Whiskey Tango Foxtrot, (which is NATO-alphabet for “What the Fuck?”)

I’m on a roll here… that’s two Tina Fey movies in 3 months.  Granted, she is a goddess to me, but it’s not like I go see every one of her movies. 

I can do without the dippy rom-coms.  But put her in an R-rated movie, and I’m there.  "Sisters" was a riot; pure mayhem.  “WTF” was funny, but not in the same way.

The movie is loosely based on a book written by Kim Baker, who was a print journalist, thrust into a war correspondent’s role in the war in Afghanistan.  She hangs out in Kabul with the rest of the war reporters in their own little community/nightclub.

It was more like an episodic war correspondents’ story, with lots of snappy banter.  And swear words.  Lots and lots of swear words.  And one thing I learned: you can take the most vulgar and obscene lines of dialogue, and if they’re spoken with a Scottish accent, they become endearing and exponentially funnier.

Once on the ground, in the “Kabubble,” she meets Amazonian beauty Margot Robbie, playing an English war correspondent, who becomes her friend and advisor. 

The young and lovely Ms. Robbie’s fame is about to explode once the movie Suicide Squad comes out, in which she plays The Joker’s protégé, Harley Quinn.

Kim also meets Englishman Martin Freeman playing a Scottish photojournalist, and provider of all the Scottish vulgarity.  He is best known (to me) for playing Bilbo Baggins in the last three Hobbit movies.

One of the consistent criticisms I read in the reviews was that the movie doesn’t quite have a point.  It’s not a pro or anti-war movie, it’s not an out and out comedy, it’s not a feminist vehicle or any other catch-all bucket.  But I don’t see where it has to be.  It touches all those areas while it just tells the story of what happens to a sheltered writer when she is thrust out of her comfort zone.

Anyway, I liked it a great deal.  It made me wish Tina Fey would go back to TV and do a comedy series for HBO, or some other pay-cable outlet.  I mean, I absolutely loved 30 Rock, but I’d really love to see what she could do without a network Standards and Practices department monitoring every line.

I’ve written before that I think she’s drop-dead gorgeous, but it’s really more than that.  One of the reasons I find her so appealing is that she’s so sharp.  She writes, funny, biting satire, the kind I can only aspire to creating myself.  It took me awhile to figure that out, though.

I first saw where most people did: doing Weekend Update on Saturday Night Live.  I remember seeing her and thinking, “Hey, she’s seriously cute!  And hilarious, too.” 

So I started paying more attention to her bits.  (Material bits, not naughty bits!)  I always liked to follow stars that weren’t obvious; who were not the usual bombshells.

What I didn’t know at the time was that she wasn’t just doing that one role, she was the head writer.  I suppose I might have picked that up quicker if I’d watched SNL more regularly. 

When she took that experience and spun it into 30 Rock, I tried it out right away.  And, believe it or not, I wasn’t impressed.  It didn’t seem to be any more than Alec Baldwin being a meddling boss, Tracy Morgan being weird and a bunch of misfit comedy writers.  I saw the first episode or two and kind of dropped it.

In retrospect, I understand why.  It takes a while for a new series to hit its stride.  I ended up reading a lot of positive press in later months and gave it another shot in the 2nd season.  So glad I did.  Suddenly it was a LOT tighter and snappier. 

When I eventually began buying the season DVDs, I saw that it took until around the 8th episode of Season 1 before it started clicking.  And I began falling head over heels for Liz Lemon.

If there was one moment that locked it all down, it was this one… the famous “Night Cheese” bit.

It was a brilliant bit of Monty Python-esque absurdity. I loved that not only does she have a name for sitting on the couch at night, in a snuggie, eating cheese straight off the block, but she has a song for it.  AND, her boss knows the song.

I thought, “This is a world I want to hang out in every week.”

Plus, they figured out what to do with Alec Baldwin’s character; by setting him up as Liz’s friend and mentor, they gave him some of the best lines on TV:
  • There are no bad ideas, Lemon. Only good ideas that go horribly wrong.
  • Fifty is the new forty for men. Fifty is still sixty for women.
  • Rich fifty is middle-class thirty-eight.
  • Lemon, the grown-up dating world is like your haircut. Sometimes, awkward triangles occur.
  • (This one’s not even a line.  He walks into Lemon’s office, finds her crying, and hands her a business card that says “There there.”)
  • You are going to be an excellent mother… as long as you don’t overthink the names.  Stick to Kings and Queens of England.  There will never be a President Ashton or a Dr. Katniss, or a non-sexually confused Lorne.” (Poke at executive producer Lorne Michaels.)
  • Good God, Lemon, those jeans make you look like a Mexican sports reporter.
  • Lemon, what happened? Did you take an Ambien with your Franzia and sleepwalk here?
  • Ambition is the willingness to kill the things you love and eat them in order to stay alive.  Haven’t you ever read my throw pillow?
  • I only pass gas once a year… for an hour… on a mountain in Switzerland. 
Well, I could keep quoting dialogue lines for the rest of the post, but it’s getting late.

And that Night Cheese isn’t going to eat itself.

Monday, February 29, 2016

Politix 4 Dummies

It’s been interesting to watch the institutional panic set in with the Republican Party, as it looks more and more like Donald Trump is a shoe-in to be their presidential nominee.  The reason for the panic, I believe, is that in addition to being unpredictable, they can’t control him.

Because of his wealth and name recognition, he doesn’t really need their money or the party machinery.  That frees him up to do pretty much whatever he pleases.  And everyone who’s tried to attack him has gotten their asses handed to them. 

Fox “News” seems to have a love/hate relationship with him, depending on what week it is.  But Trump has already shown that they need him more than he needs them.  He’s getting free coverage from all the networks, of everything he says and everywhere he goes.

I’ve mentioned it before but Dilbert cartoonist, Scott Adams, has been running a series of fascinating blog posts which explain why Trump appears bulletproof; triumphing over gaffes that would end the campaigns of anyone else.  In fact, he predicted back in August, that not only would Trump win the nomination, but he’ll win the general election in a landslide.

You can find a complete listing of all his applicable posts, AKA the Trump Master Persuader Series, by clicking here.  But be careful, you can totally go down the rabbit hole.

The general point is that Trump is highly trained in the art of persuasion. While he may seem like a content-free, gaffe-spewing bumbler, everything he says has a specific purpose.  He speaks in images and identity, not specifics.  He leaves out detail so the listener can supply his own.  He speaks “past the sale,” so subconsciously, people already picture him as president.  And he is the master of the linguistic “kill shot.”

“That face…”
“Low energy…”
“Too nice…”
“Will be tied up in investigations…”
“Sweats too much…”
“Chokes under pressure…”

If you’re paying attention to the race, you likely know who the recipient of each of those was, because they were designed to stick.  (Granted, the last two were for one candidate.)

Adams also points out that some of Trump’s most extreme positions, (building the wall and having Mexico pay for it, banning Muslim immigrants, etc.) are not actually intended to be enacted as is.  Rather, they are the opening positions in a long negotiation, coming from a guy who’s an expert in deal-making.  And should Trump win the election, look for him to be pragmatic in getting the best deal that can be had, rather than sticking to the opening bid.

So what do I think?

I’ve enjoyed looking behind the curtain on the campaign, but I think a Trump presidency would be a disaster for the middle class.  The one-percenters will continue to reap record profits, as per custom during modern GOP administrations, but the rest of us will have to hear a lot about “austerity.”  We can’t afford Planned Parenthood or SNAP, but heaven forbid we cut the defense budget.

Granted, the same would be true under Cruz or Rubio, but I’d prefer the guy who’s not a religious zealot.

To me, the thing about Trump’s campaign is that I can’t respect the lack of substance.  I’m the kind of guy who wants to know HOW a process is going to work.  I’m not satisfied with a campaign based on 4th-grade level vocabulary.  It’s the very definition of lowest common denominator politics.

Don’t tell me “Many, many people think this is a good idea,” tell me how many, or cite an independent poll.  Don’t tell me “many Mexicans coming over the border are murderers and rapists.”  What are the stats and how were they gathered?  If you can’t quantify it, I don’t believe it.

But politicians don’t want to give that kind of evidence because there usually isn’t any, or if there is, it’s underwhelming.  This is a political campaign and the rules of right, wrong, and common decency do not exist.  The amount of misinformation getting put out there is staggering.  They tell lies they know are lies and when they’re reported as lies, they blame a biased media.  The only thing that matters is corralling votes by playing to people’s prejudices.

And if Trump is bad, his followers are even scarier.  I haven’t seen this kind of nationalistic fervor since the 1930s (via newsreel).  Trump can claim up and down that he’s not racist, but when his policy ideas become rallying cries of avowed racists and white supremacists, the personal attestations to the contrary don’t really matter anymore.

It’s funny how these idiots proclaim America to be so great, so exceptional, and so free, yet their first order of business is to turn America into a Christian version of Iran.  The cognitive dissonance is staggering.

And it’s no wonder there’s such a large market for Trump’s simplistic platitudes.  Most Americans are just not trained in critical thinking and that’s by design.  The powers that be don’t want educated people; they want pliable people who are educated just enough to get a job, but can be influenced to vote against their own best interest.  Trump’s not the first person to take advantage of that.

So, tomorrow should be telling, once the Super Tuesday votes have been counted.  If the Trump machine continues to roll, the Republicans will have a decision to make: Do they get on board, or sacrifice the will of their low-information voters to scuttle the whole thing through back-room convention deals?

Personally, there’s nothing I’d like to see more than a crash and burn, but I don’t think that’s likely.  They already ignored the lessons of the last two elections and doubled down on playing to angry white men and religious wing-nuts. 

And now their chosen constituency is selecting an unpredictable, self-financed, uncouth steamroller.  I don’t see how they can ignore the will of their people and then expect them to turn out in November.

If only the 1% took up a greater share of the electorate, right?