Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Of Sickness and Hockey

It’s been a rough week and a half.

I started coming down with my annual cold on Cyber Monday, with a tickle in my throat.  That begat the dreaded post-sinus drip, which means I had to sleep in my easy chair if I wanted to keep from choking myself awake every ten minutes. 

More throat crud Tuesday.  Wednesday and Thursday I worked from home, so at least I wasn’t bothering anyone with my sneezing and honking.  I was already scheduled off on Friday and Monday, so I knew I had time to get back on my feet.

The thing was, the reason I took the days off is because I had plans to go to Pittsburgh for the weekend, with my brother and his sons.  So all week I was worried about not being able to go, or even worse, going and getting everyone sick.

Our original purpose of the trip was to see the Penguins play the Red Wings on Saturday night and then the Steelers/Giants game on Sunday.  We’d stay downtown for two nights and come home Monday.

The problem was the tickets.  My brother picked up some Pens tickets easily, but the Steelers tickets proved to be too expensive, due to the popularity of the visiting New York Giants team.  As a comparison, for the next two home games against the Ratbirds and Bengals, two division rivals, secondary market tickets started around $80.  For the Giants game, they started around $200… and that’s for nosebleed seats.  Then factor in the second night’s stay, with pumped up football prices and you have quite a chunk of change.  (Especially for my brother, who has to cover the boys.)

So we dialed our plans back to just the hockey game.

By Saturday, I felt tolerable and I was pretty sure I wasn’t contagious any longer. The contagious part is usually early in an illness.  As long as I didn’t cough globs on anyone, I figured they should be fine.  I packed myself a travel bag for the car, with cough drops, Kleenex and hand sanitizer.  I also made sure I coughed into my sleeve and blew my nose away from everyone.  Sadly, I had to refrain from my customary hugs for the boys.  I just hope my precautions worked.

Before checking in, we went straight to the west side to see the Aunts and Uncle, and met up for lunch, featuring a classic Pittsburgh massive fish sandwich.  (Sorry, no picture this time.)  But it was memorable because that was the last food I’ve been able to taste.

We checked into our rooms with enough time for me to grab a nap before the game. 

We ended up in the 5th row in the corner, at the end where the Penguins shot twice.  The seats were great, as long as the action was in our end.  At the other end, it was hard to look through the glass at an angle.  Everything looked like a funhouse mirror.  Luckily, there was the overhead scoreboard with a live video feed.

It’s funny; I’d be watching the game up on the board when the action was at the other end, but then forget to look back to the ice when it came down to our end, leaving me craning my neck up to watch a feed of the game that was happening 10 feet in front of me.  I got the hang of it eventually. 
 My brother and the boys decked out in battle jerseys.


The game was great.  The Pens came back from a 3-1 deficit by scoring 4 in the 3rd period to win 5-3.  Very exciting.  Daniel and I found ourselves in one of the press shots too.
We’re in the upper left corner.  There’s my brother’s elbow and Sam’s elbow right above the rail, then Daniel and me.

We took off early Sunday morning and were home by 11.  I had plans to go to the sports bar to watch the Ratbirds game at 1:00 and the Steelers at 4:30, but I only made it to halftime of the first game.  Only had two beers but I suppose it was the combination with all the cold medicine I’d been taking that made me just want to go right to sleep on the bar.  So I went home and slept straight through the second half before waking up for the Steeler game.

I just laid around on Monday, trying to summon the strength to go back to work on Tuesday.  The cold has pretty much moved to my chest now, so we’re at the disgusting part, where I have to hack great chunks of lung butter into the toilet, just to breathe again.  So much fun.  I’m sure the neighbors just wish I’d hurry up and die already.

But the worst part is that I haven’t been able to taste anything since Saturday, aside from very spicy or very salty.  I expect that when I can’t breathe through my nose, but even when I can, I still can’t taste anything.  I wonder if it’s from the cold medicine or all the gunk. 

All I can say is that it better be temporary, or else I might not have much reason to live. 

Or maybe this could be an opportunity to eat a bunch of stuff that I hate, but is good for me… (Nahhh)

Both Tuesday and Wednesday, I went into work, went as long as I could, and came home early.  No sense killing myself.  But I did want to get in and clean up some stuff.

That’s all I’ve got for now.  Sorry, there are no big idea or caustic rants today; I’m not up to forming complex thoughts just yet.  So let me just drop a few more pictures from the game…

Our view, from section 110.


Everyone looking up.


Penguins goalie, Marc-Andre Fleury


I don’t know how goalies even move with all that stuff on.


Penguins TV analyst Bob Errey and Radio analyst Phil Bourque, between the benches. Both are wearing jerseys celebrating the Stanley Cup Championship teams of 1991 and 1992, of which they were both members.

Now I need another nap…

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Political Stew, with a Side of Anxiety

I was really hoping this was all just a dream, but according to the news, the president-elect is still a thin-skinned, silver-spooned Cheeto with horrible impulse control.

As I watched him rise through the primaries and overcome a series of gaffes that would bury any other candidate imaginable, it was clear that he was onto something.

Where many people saw him as the next Hitler, I saw someone who was a master at playing the game.  (Granted, I had considerable help from the Scott Adams blog and his posts about the presidential race in terms of persuasion.)  See, I don’t think that he, himself is a racist fascist.  I think he plays one on TV.

I know that seems like a big difference, but where some see a raging racist, I see someone using the ocean of racism embedded in this country, to further his own agenda.  (Get elected, make the world a better place for the 1%.)  He positioned himself, with his Brooklyn accent and elementary school vocabulary, as the champion of the common man. 

Just wait and see what kind of dry screwing the common man gets in the next four years.  And if he provides a steady stream of “Others” for the common man to crap on, it’ll be another four.  When people get preoccupied with building walls, monitoring bathrooms, and creating more hoops for people to jump through just to keep from starving, it will be a breeze to slide legislation through that opens the trough for the filthy rich.

You’ll see it; there will be a big hoopla about deficit reduction when they cut services that provide a lifeline to the poor, yet amounts to a fraction of a percent of the federal budget.  And then you’ll see tax breaks and loopholes created that quietly add billions back to the deficit.

Under all the xenophobic and homophobic bluster, Trump is still just a big business Republican.  Look at all the big promises he’s already rolled back.  The wall?  Maybe.  Prosecuting Clinton?  Gone.  Deporting millions?  Not as such.

But they’re already licking their chops at the prospect of neutering the EPA, disregarding climate change, closing or defunding the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, and tanking all the financial regulations enacted after the Bush Recession.  All of those actions are the result of the same goal: enriching the wealthy at the expense of the rest of us.

And we just greased up and bent over for them, didn’t we?  We made it so easy.

Now some other stray thoughts…

Bannon
I’m not sure how my theory that Trump is not some rich, racist fuck jibes with his appointment of Steve Bannon to his circle of advisors.  This guy is a cancer on a free America.  He was the leader of the Breitbart website (after Breitbart himself croaked), which is a top purveyor of conservative fake news.  If Breitbart says it’s going to rain, you might as well plan a day at the beach.  Breitbart feeds the alt-right with conspiracy theories and outlandish assertions that they are only too eager to lap up.  Having this guy in the White House is a national embarrassment. 

Maybe Trump keeps him around for his zero sum zeal and take-no-prisoners strategy.  Someone is going to have to wrangle those alt-right, all white yahoos when they find out Trump can’t do all those things he said he was going to do.

Fake News
We’re hearing a lot about fake news now, aren’t we?  Fake news is big business and may have swayed this election.  Why do you think so many people thought Hillary was untrustworthy?  If you believed even a fraction of the Big News about Clinton, coming from Facebook and other sites and aggregators that promote sizzle over substance, it was inevitable.

And while conservatives weren’t the only ones pushing BS stories, they supplied an overwhelming majority.  The Russians had a whole cottage industry behind producing fake stories about Hillary.  Plus, they single-handedly kept Democratic scandals alive by hacking emails and leaking them every day for weeks prior to the election.

I seriously wonder if anyone really thinks we wouldn’t find the same things or worse if the Republicans’ emails had been hacked and released.  You don’t think those guys were steaming mad at Trump down at the RNC?  I guarantee you there were some salty emails flying around.  But those were the guys the Russians wanted in office. 

Doesn’t anyone wonder why?

Protests
I think all the college protests were a giant waste of time.  If they’re really so upset, that time would be better spent preparing and organizing for the midterm election in 2018.  That’s the only way to change anything.  Destructive hissy fits don’t help.

Of course, listening to the Republicans tell it, it’s an affront to the presidency and America herself.  I guess you’re only allowed to badmouth the president when he’s a black guy.

The Tea Party was borne of public protests, weren’t they?  Of course, those were middle-aged white guys, so it’s cool, right?

Republicans don’t get to mount their high horses about the protesters; not after they spent eight years obstructing everything our legally and overwhelmingly elected president wanted to do.  I’ve probably said it a dozen times here and I’ll say it again: They spent eight years blocking any bill that could help the country, put people back to work, or repair the infrastructure.  They ensured… they GUARANTEED that nothing would get done.  And then they turned around and ran on the assertion that the Democrats didn’t make anyone’s lives any better.

And this country was dumb enough to fall for it.

Appointments
These cabinet appointments are scary… not because they’re a bunch of racists, but that they’re Republicans.  Well, future AG Jeff Sessions may be racist, or at least have a dangerous imbalance in his values system.  I mean, he’s been quoted as saying that the Klan was OK, up until he heard they smoked marijuana.  That’s what put them on his shit list.  With this guy in charge, say goodbye to the burgeoning marijuana laws being passed in the states.

Trump’s new Secretary of Education is a billionaire and crusader for private school vouchers.  (Heaven forbid her little angels have to mix with any undesirables at a public school.)  Say goodbye to our system of education and say hello to the reintegration of church and state.  Intelligent Design 101, here we come.

Trump’s domestic policy advisor thinks gay conversion therapy can be used to “reform” gay people.  I say, when it works on turning heterosexuals gay, it will work the other way around.  Oh yeah, and every respected psychological professional in the business says that too.  (Well, they say it doesn’t work and it’s downright cruel.)  But don’t mind the scientific community; we need politicians to tell us what we are.

Impeachment
One might think I’d be eager to see Trump impeached or otherwise thrown out of office immediately.  Nothing could be farther from the truth.  I think Trump is a pragmatist and will never do anything that’s bad for business.  (Mostly HIS business, but still.)  I think he uses these other thumpers as cover.  They keep the rabble roused while he can tend to business.

That changes if Mike Pence becomes president.  He’s a True Believer; religious zealot who actually believes all this shit about homosexuality being a sin and birth control is murder and so on. 

He’s crusaded against abortion access, including trying to redefine “rape” as a means to do so, signed laws allowing businesses to discriminate against gays, tried to redefine rape as a way to limit abortion, diverted 3.5 million dollars from Indiana’s Temporary Assistance to Needy Families program into a Pennsylvania anti-abortion organization, and probably most scary, co-sponsored “Personhood” legislation, which provided full human rights to an embryo the moment the two cells intersect.

Putting that guy in charge is the next step in turning this into the United States of Iran. 

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

One Time I... Wait... Was That Me?

First, let me apologize for the long layoff.  Because I had two posts just days apart, I was going to let the second one count as last Monday’s post, and come back with new material last night.  The flaw in the plan (when I formulated it) was that I forgot I was having an old friend for dinner.

Whoops, maybe I should say “an old friend was passing through town and we were meeting for dinner.” Glad I cleared that up.

I had planned to unload the mélange of political stew that had been simmering in my brain for the last week and a half, but then the dinner changed my mind.  (And there’s always next week.  Trump will still be President-Elect and there will still be unease and discomfort throughout the land.)

I hadn’t seen my friend “Clark” since late in the summer of 1979.  He went away to college and never came back.  Five years later, I also hit the road to seek my destiny (working in record stores for shitty pay).  We never crossed paths again.

I know I’ve mentioned my small group of close friends here many times here over the years, and our little band of neighborhood misfits who hung out in our barn, but Clark was never part of that crowd.  He was a guy in my class who was always friendly enough, but we didn’t really mix with the same people. 

But late in our senior year, he was dating a friend of mine, who was a close friend of the girl I took to prom.  We all went out on a double date to a fancy restaurant shortly after, to celebrate our mutual friend’s birthday and seemed to hit it off nicely.  (I mean he and I… the girls kind of drifted away from the group.)

Director’s DVD Commentary: I’m calling him “Clark,” not as a tribute to the Grizwald family patriarch, but because when my mom wanted to know who I was going to hang out with, I showed her his yearbook picture and she said, “That’s not (his name), that’s Clark Kent.”

Anyway, I realized he was a quality dude and a genuinely good guy, so we hung out a couple more times during the summer before he left for college Down South. 

One night, we went out to see the original “Alien” movie and got hammered up in the second row.  All I could remember about the movie were a couple of brief impressions: “Wow, that spaceship landing is pretty wild,” and “Hmm. This is probably really scary.”  (When I finally saw the movie on VHS, it was literally like seeing it for the first time.)

Another time I had mentioned something about having a harmonica, and he had me come over to his house to play some music.  He spent 20 minutes looking for some piano sheet music in the key my harmonica was in, but I was like, “Dude, it really won’t matter; I can’t play this thing for shit.”  I think I fumbled through one song before we decided to find something else to do.

We hadn’t really gotten The Barn up and running as a miscreant HQ yet, or else I’d have had him come out.  So like I said, once he left town, our paths diverged.

But now there’s Facebook, so we friended up several years ago.  And then a couple weeks back, he said he’d be traveling from North Carolina up to visit his daughter in Massachusetts, and what do you know, Baltimore is right on the way, about halfway there.  It would be a convenient pit stop and a chance to catch up.

So we met last night at my regular sports bar to just sit, have a few beers, some hamburgers and catch up.  (Not ketchup; not for me, anyway.)

Now tell me, have you ever tried to catch up on 37 years?  It’s not easy.  I mean, how do you summarize that much time, without putting on a 3-hour One Man Show?  If you’ve been with me for very long, you know the circuitous path I’ve taken to get where I am now.

(Luckily, he’s read this blog before so there were some adventures he’d already heard about.)

It came down to describing college, jobs, relocations, relationships, and various story tangents that I hoped proved entertaining.  I mean, how could I talk about my college years without the various pranks we pulled?  How could I talk about my experience working in record stores without talking about some of the bands I got to meet?  Sometimes repeatedly.  How could I talk about getting my first store without mentioning the Legend of the Felonious Lesbian, or talk about the ex-wife without mentioning how she became the Belle of the Firehouse?  There were some serious tangents I had to cover.

And it was in telling The Big Story all at once that I realized how weird some of it sounds to me now.  It’s like someone else did all that stuff in another lifetime.

And the thing was, he had so many of the same experiences I did, with college, jobs, relocations, and relationships.  Of course, my realm was merely national; I rarely left the Midwest, Northeast or Mid-Atlantic.  Clark’s path took him all over the globe.  The man lived in Poland, Indonesia, Switzerland, and a number of other places. 

It was funny; every time I thought I had a really good Facebook post from an Orioles game in Camden Yards, I’d see one of his posts while he was hiking through the freakin’ Swiss Alps.

But wherever we were, we still had the same kind of shit happen to us.  We both majored in disciplines that probably weren’t the most helpful to us.  We both ended up in jobs far from our majors, and kind of Forrest Gumped ourselves through our professional careers. Both of us had the same or similar problems with wives and girlfriends.  Both of us have had generally lousy luck with online dating.  We’ve both been impacted and influenced by lost friends.  We both played sandlot football against the same group of jagoffs and came to the same conclusions (that they were jagoffs).  (Come to think of it, I really need to tell that story here.  I’ll put it on the list.)  Both of us have considered running for elected office but figured we could just stay home and bash our heads against the wall, and save time. 

It was kind of cool, though, looking back on our shared high school experience.  Out of the blue, he brought up an old mutual friend, about whom I once wrote extensively; the auburn-haired beauty from my post about redheads I've known.  They were pretty good friends back then and in fact, she lives near him right now, back in North Carolina. 

When I mentioned my first college girlfriend, who also went to high school with the both of us, he was like, “Man, she was smokin’ hot!” 

It was funny because he saw the potential long before I did.  I didn’t see it until college when she changed her hair.  To me, she went from kind of mousey to “Ka-Boom!” 

It’s interesting to kind of “deconstruct” your high school experience with someone who was there, but not necessarily in your closest circle.  You can get a whole different take on things.

Anyway, we spent more than five hours at the bar, just talking and drinking beer.  And whoever wasn’t telling a story got to eat his dinner. 

It’s a good thing we quit when we did.  I’d cut myself off on beer and my throat was starting to get sore from all the yapping.  So we called it a night… I had to go to work in the morning and he had the rest of his drive.

See?  With thicker frames, he really would look like Clark Kent.  Whereas I look like Donkey from Shrek.  Stupid selfies...

So… Fun night.  Thank you, “Clark” for coming up with the great idea to stop by.

They really ought to market Baltimore this way… as a rest stop on the east coast highways.  “Charm City: A great town to stop temporarily before passing through.”


Wednesday, November 9, 2016

The Sky is Crying

It is the day after Election Day and even the sky was weeping for what our country has become.

So, it’s done.  November 8th, 2016 will go down in history as the day we stood up and declared that we are a small, fearful people, who would rather literally build walls than solve philosophical and economic problems.  It’s the day we rejected calm, well-reasoned decision-making for a carnival sideshow of bluster and bravado.

Why is it always the people who wrap themselves in the flag and venerate the Constitution are the ones who want to completely undo the very freedoms the Constitution provides?  They “love America,” but want to change her basic nature.

What about religious freedom?” I hear them cry.

Religious freedom has never been a trump card to play when depriving the civil rights others who don’t adhere to your beliefs.  Not in this country.  Until now.

Well, as they say in retail, “You broke it, you bought it.”  Conservatives elected a bloodless tycoon and a religious prig, so it is now up to them to make good on all the things they promised they could do.  After all, there will be a Republican president and a Republican congress.  They should be able to do just about anything.  Now we’ll see who for whom they really work.

Let’s see if they really have a medical plan besides just shit-canning Obamacare and tossing 20 million people off their insurance.  Let’s see if there really is a plan to defeat ISIS, besides just ramping up defense spending on weapon systems and private contractors.  Let’s see if there really is a coherent immigration plan, besides building some ridiculous wall and closing borders to Muslims.

Personally, I doubt it.  But I suspect you’ll see the elimination of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau almost immediately, along with the roll-back of all the regulations enacted in the wake of the 2008 recession.  First priority is to get Big Business back to the business of raking in as much profit as possible, while the consumers bear the risk.  You’ll see this along with giant tax cuts aimed at the richest among us, while the rest of us are expected to be thankful for the leftover scraps.

You’ll see the appointment of hard-right Supreme Court justices who will overturn Roe v Wade at the earliest opportunity, strengthen the right of corporations to pour anonymous money into politics and bolster the claims of religious liberty in refusing service to those whose very existence is found to be an affront to their version of God.

I hope to hell that Ruth Bader Ginsburg is healthier than she looks.

I also think that if the Democrats try any of the obstruction tactics the Republicans have used for the last eight years, Republicans will institute the full “nuclear option” and eliminate the filibuster.

They don’t care about senatorial tradition, they care only about wielding and retaining their own power.

So how did we get here?  I see two main causes.

Cause #1: Over 20 years of loud, yet fruitless investigations.

The Clintons have been the victims of hyped-up witch hunts since the Big Dog was president.  What these investigations did or didn’t find wasn’t nearly as important as the volume at which they were conducted.  Every time an investigation closed without finding anything actionable, another one began. 

The entire Benghazi farce was created and propagated for the sole purpose of smearing potential and then actual candidate, Hillary Clinton.  None of the 11 investigations found jack shit that they could use, yet each investigation begat a new one.  And all this was despite the 60 or so lives lost in Embassy attacks during Republican administrations, which yielded zero outrage and zero investigations.

Just once I’d like to hear someone explain why this attack was so much more important than any of the others.  But no one can because the only difference is political.  The Benghazi investigations were nothing but a prolonged smear campaign, designed to alter America’s perception of a political figure.

Basically, the Republicans spent years claiming that Hillary Clinton was a lying, crooked, scandal machine and then ran a campaign against the image they created.  Is she a choirgirl?  Hell no, she’s a politician.  But for some reason, she’s the one who has to be perfect while the other guy’s considerable scandals barely register.

In the land of the rational, some improper emailing is a hill of beans compared to running a fraudulent education scam, going on trial for raping a 13-year old, sucking up to a Communist dictator and encouraging his people to hack his opposition’s email accounts and use them to influence an election, spending one’s life stiffing people he hired, running out on debts, avoiding taxes and refusing to provide his tax returns, and generally acting like a rich, entitled, boorish person of privilege.

Yet he went out there and accused her of doing everything that he, himself has been documented as doing.  And because of the giant cloud of suspicion the GOP created over the years, people believed him.

It’s the classic case of saying something enough times that people eventually believe it to be true, especially if they want to believe it.

Cause #2: The systematic institution of voter suppression tactics in GOP-controlled states.

What the red states have done to the voting process is nothing short of criminal.  They specifically engineered a series of moves that made it harder, more inconvenient and more expensive for minorities (and any likely Democrats) to vote, all under the guise of protecting against “voter fraud.”

This “voter fraud” from which they were “protecting us” was found through extensive research, to have happened 31 times among over a billion votes.  So they pushed for particular IDs to be presented to vote, which were designed not to be convenient for minorities, students and the elderly.  They raised fees to acquire these IDs, and closed or restricted hours at the document-issuing locations where these minorities, students and the elderly were likely to go.

They reduced the number of polling places where their perceived opponents traditionally voted.  They reduced the number of early voting days and stations.  They interfered with organizations that attempted to get people registered.

And then they sat back and congratulated themselves on how well the whole charade worked.

That is how you rig an election.  The Russians couldn’t have done it any better themselves.

Of course, there is a myriad of other sub-causes and subplots which contributed to this toxic political and social environment.  And as a result, this was the night Americans stood up and proclaimed they would rather vote for charismatic stupidity than icy competence. 

Gods help us all.  We’re gonna need it.

Director’s DVD Commentary: I wrote this first thing this morning and I was going to hold it for Monday, but I feel like it needs to go out now.  Consider this my Monday post, 5 days early.

Monday, November 7, 2016

V-Minus One

Well, tomorrow is it… all the craziness of the last four years comes down to what happens tomorrow in voting booths all across America.  And yes, I mean four years.  It was almost immediately after Obama won his second term that politicians and the media began hyping the 2016 election.  And it’s sad.

Stuck with a Republican congress who was determined to run out the clock, Obama never really had a chance to do anything domestically.  Every proposed bill was blocked, regardless of how it could benefit America.  If Obama wanted it, Congress prevented it from happening.

So where the President could change some things with executive orders, he did.  (And, of course, got called a dictator by butt-stung Republicans.)  He also went about fighting ISIS.  Notice how their leaders keep getting themselves blown up.  Not bad for a closet Muslim.

Now we’re about to elect a new president and we’re pretty much in the same predicament as we were four years ago.  Republicans continually tell you how bad things are, all the while the facts say otherwise.

(And this is old data.)



Who knows how well our economy would be doing if we could have passed some jobs or infrastructure bills?  Such is the GOP hypocrisy… step on the brake and then complain that we’re not there yet.  I’ve been saying it since the early days of this blog: You can’t hold up every bill and then complain that nothing is getting done.
Well, they really can, and they did, but they can’t pretend that no one notices.  I just have doubts about how many others actually do.

I’m not optimistic about tomorrow.  I think there is too much room for dirty tricks, like voter disinformation coming from GOP-run state governments, the closing of voting stations, self-appointed poll watchers intimidating minorities from voting… and that’s just the stuff we’ve already seen happening.  Electronic voting systems are not hard to hack at all.

I read an article, last week, about a “white-hat” hacker who along with some graduate students at a major university, took less than 48 hours to hack into a proposed internet voting system during a mock election.  They were able to alter the votes without anyone the wiser.  Officials would have never known about it if it weren't for some voters complaining about the weird music they heard at the Thank You For Voting screen, where the hackers inserted their college fight song.

It can be done and probably will.  It’s not like the Russians have any disincentive to stop after hacking Democratic Party emails.

Another thing that worries me is how often you see nation-wide polling, like when you see a poll that says Hillary is favored throughout the country, any percent to any percent.  It doesn’t matter because the total of votes on the national level doesn’t matter.  Just ask Al Gore.

What matters is state by state polling.  That’s what’s going to win states and electoral votes, and that’s all that matters. 

After all the time, money and effort spent on this campaign, it’s sad to think about how little of it really matters.  Every ad out there is playing to your emotions and providing one red herring after another. 

No politician operates in a vacuum.  They all need advisors and a cabinet, and that’s where the party apparatus comes in.  And once the parties are involved, you have predictability because we have seen the history of what they stand for. That’s why it’s so easy to decide in an election like this.

The Republicans want to:

  • use red tape, legal technicalities, and disinformation to continue limiting access to abortion (and birth control) and ultimately overturn Roe v Wade.

  • ensure Citizens United remains in place, so wealthy donors (their bosses, in effect) can continue to put politicians on their payroll to do their bidding. (Like delay Supreme Court nominations indefinitely.)

  • defund, delegitimize or just eliminate the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, whose only job is to prevent banks from screwing its customers.

  • prohibit any regulation on guns whatsoever, despite the carnage throughout the nation.

  • keep wages low, so not to cut into business profits.  Raising the minimum wage is out of the question.  North Carolina went so far as to prohibit municipalities from instituting their own minimum wage.

  • privatize Social Security, putting our money in the hands of Wall Street, who brought about the financial collapse of 2008 via their own greed and mismanagement.

  • eliminate Obamacare, or any other breaks on medical coverage, tossing 20 million people off insurance rolls without a plan for what to do next.

  • continue the war on drugs (and marijuana) to make sure for-profit prisons are full (of minorities).

  • increase military spending, despite the fact that our current spending totals more than the military spending of the next 10 ranked countries.  And I’m not talking about giving raises to the troops or taking care of veterans: I mean funneling the dough to defense contractors and weapon production.

  • continue their illicit campaigns of voter suppression under the guise of preventing voter fraud.  And I’ll include aggressive gerrymandering as a part of it, just to eliminate another bullet.
If you are for all of these things, then vote Republican.  I won’t agree with you, but you certainly have the right to vote your values. 

But if you don’t, then you have no choice but to vote Democratic, up and down the board, if possible.  And if there are some things on this list you agree with, and some you don’t, then you have to make a decision on which items are the most important to you.

The Republicans have already shown what happens when they get what they want.
Massive tax cuts for the rich only benefit the rich.  Our history from 1984 through 2008 demonstrates that clearly.  Instead of creating jobs, as promised, they created more bonuses for their executives and more earnings for major shareholders.

It’s about time we start voting for our actual self-interest and not illusions we’re so desperately being sold by the Right.  Or even better, vote to make the lives of others a little better, like those who can’t afford their own lobbyists.

The emails don’t matter.  The recordings don’t matter.  Benghazi doesn’t matter.  Trump University doesn’t matter.

The direction we pick for this country is what matters and this is a black and white choice. 

We move forward, or we go back.

Monday, October 31, 2016

Odd Bits - The Survivor's Edition

It was kind of a rough week last week; a bunch more people got let go at my office.  Yes, I’m fine, but it really plays on you watching people you like having to pack up their desks and knowing you’ll probably never see them again.

You may remember that my company was bought, last year, by a competitor company. Obviously, any time you have two fully functioning organizations doing the same job, there’s going to be some job loss.  But knowing it’s coming still doesn’t make it any easier to say goodbye to your friends.

Last year, we had 8 people sitting in our little bump-out at the back of the building.  After two women from our department were let go on Tuesday, we’re down to three.


I know my job is safe for the near future, so I’m not worrying about myself.  And it’s not exactly “survivor’s guilt,” because the two from my group were both in their 60, wanting to retire, and just waiting for that severance package.  They basically skipped out the door like they were going down the Yellowbrick Road.

But one of them, my next-desk neighbor, always asked how my weekend was and listened while I recounted my recent adventures.  She really gave a damn.  And the other one?  That was my TV buddy.  Every morning we’d get together and recap the previous night’s shows we both watched.  Without these two in the office, I’m going to have to actually start working when I get the door.

***

Early voting opened up in Maryland last week, so I went out on Saturday to vote.  It was completely uneventful, as I suspected it would be.  The poll worker I talked so said it was really busy early, but less crowded and “steady” the rest of the afternoon.  I was in and out in 15 minutes, and that counts about 8 minutes of walking to and from the car.

It was quite a different scene when I voted early before the 2012 election.  There was a big storm/hurricane forecasted to blow through on Election Day and a lot of people (like me) wanted to make sure my vote was in before there was any trouble.  I wrote about it all right here.

One of the things I wrote four years ago, holds true today as it did back then:

“There is really no substantive reason to prevent early voting.  Any safeguards in place on Election Day are in place when you vote early.   The movement to suppress our citizens’ voting rights under the guise of preventing voter fraud is not now, nor has ever been anything but a smokescreen to disenfranchise likely Democratic voters.”

Republicans were trying to rig the game then just like they are now.  The only novel part this season is how they’re accusing the Democrats of doing the rigging, all the while passing law after law that “just coincidentally” happens to affect likely Democratic voters.

In Arizona alone, in heavily Latino Maricopa County, the Republicans have:
·        Reduced the number of polling places by 70%.
·        Printed 2 million Spanish-language ballots with the wrong description for a local Proposition.
·        Printed the wrong polling place on election material mailed out to two heavily Democratic precincts.  (Oopsie!)

Multiply these things by every state run by the GOP and you have election rigging on a massive scale.

Conservative outlets love to talk about the tens of thousands of dead people who are still registered to vote.  You know what? Unless they all pop out of the grave, OR tens of thousands of people come out of the woodwork to vote in their place, it doesn’t make a lick of difference.  It’s only proof of their own shoddy election recordkeeping.  It’s a problem they could fix if they cared to.  All it would take are a couple of interns and 20 years of death records.  But it’s more useful as a political Trojan horse, to fool people who aren’t smart enough to know any better.

And then you have the threat of Russians hacking voting systems and installing the puppet they’re working so hard to bolster via the DNC hacks.  In my opinion, Democratic turnout has to be massive to overcome the deck the Republicans have stacked against them.

It’s no wonder conservatives rely so heavily on logical fallacy and misdirection to sway their followers.  The truth doesn’t help them so deception is all they have.  Like here:

There are two parts here.  The first fallacy is an invalid comparison.  The "4 Americans” in question were in an embassy under siege, with no military support within tactical range.  (Perhaps there might have been, if the GOP congress hadn’t turned down requests for increased security funding for embassies, in 2011 and 2012.  But Conservatives don’t talk about that little detail.)  The Syrian refugees are not hard to find, nor are they going anywhere.  So, of course they are able to be “rescued.”  To suggest otherwise is willfully disingenuous.

The other part is that they get “our benefits and housing free of charge.”  I’m not sure I’d call crowded mass barracks “housing” any more than you would a jail.  But it’s funny how often you see a conservative argument that boils down to this: “Why should we spend money on “X” (foreign issue du jour) before we take care of our own “Y” (pet domestic issue)?

Reading that point, you’d think Republicans actually want to help our own people.  But in reality, Republicans vote against aid to anyone who isn’t running a corporation.  Homeless?  Screw’em.  Working poor?  Screw’em.  Disabled vets?  Screw’em.  (Yes, the GOP loves to talk about helping our returning servicemen, but they voted down anything proposed by this administration, even at the cost of our veterans.)

Here’s another example of conservative misdirection, namely, the Strawman Argument.

No one says that we must take down flags and crosses so we don’t offend Muslims.  No one.

If these guys were honest, they would say, “Liberals won’t let us buffalo our one single religion into public spaces that serve people of all faiths.”  But then that’s not as scary, so they pervert the argument and attack the ridiculous statement they just made up.

None of it has to do with political correctness; it has to do with upholding Article One of the Constitution.  (Conservatives love the Constitution as long as you’re talking about the 2nd Amendment.  The rest is just an impediment to getting more guns.)

***

This should be the easiest election decision to make, ever, if you’re a reasonable person.  The big rallying cry on the right is what?  Make America Great Again.  Take America Back.  Geez…

Just who the fuck do they think they’re taking America away from?  The 15 million more Americans who voted for Obama over McCain or Romney?  What the hell do they want to be different?

It should be very simple.

If you’re filthy rich or run a top-tier corporation, vote Republican.

If you feel you are within your rights to make personal, life-changing decisions for other people, who may or may not share your ideas, vote Republican.

If you’re afraid of foreigners or feel your benefits of white privilege may begin to diminish, due to growing influence of non-white people, vote Republican.

If you believe that our country of multiple religions and ideologies should be run by the principles of your Christian religion only, vote Republican.

But if you want to continue to allow people who love each other to get married, continue to have regulators watch over the banking industry to make sure they aren’t screwing us like they used to, (and that they don’t collapse the economy again,) allow women and their doctors to make their own reproductive choices, and fight against the very rich to keep them from buying our government, lock stock and barrel, then you have to vote Democratic.

Not just for Hillary, it has to be up and down the ticket.  Republicans in the Senate are already broadcasting their intentions to not approve any Democratic Supreme Court nominees for the next one or two terms.  Republicans in the House are planning for years of investigations, to do to Hillary what they did to her husband.  They are stating that the gridlock will continue until they get their way.

The only way to prevent that is to vote the bastards out.  All of them.

It’s the only way to move the country forward.

I’ve said it before… The emails don’t matter.  The lawsuits don’t matter.  The "he said/she said" doesn’t matter.  (OK, the pussy grabbing matters a little.)  The health reports don’t matter.  The limited vocabulary doesn’t matter.  The incessant lying doesn’t matter.

The only thing that matters is the direction the leadership is going to take this country.  We either go forwards or backward.  We can’t afford to be stuck in neutral.

Monday, October 24, 2016

The Third Debate

I’m sorry if this is a couple of news cycles late, but I want to offer up my thoughts on that last presidential debate.  Such is the peril of a once a week blogging schedule.  I may sacrifice timeliness, but I’ll more than make up for it in carefully considered wordsmithing.  After all, I’ve been working on this in my head since last week and am totally not throwing this together slap-dash so I can get on with watching TV. [Snork!]

I’m just going to hit some of the topics they touched on and give Hillary some helpful advice on things she could have said.  It’s kind of like Monday Morning Quarterbacking for political arguments.

Abortion
Trump showed either a shocking unawareness of why “partial-birth” abortions exist or a brazen indifference so he could pander to the social conservatives he’s trying to woo back to the fold.

The point Hillary should have made was that it’s not like they do these for shits and giggles.  It’s either to save the life of the mother or the baby is severely damaged or non-viable.  Women aren’t having these late term abortions because they just haven’t gotten around to it.  When having to choose between saving the woman’s health or life, and not, it’s not really a contest.  

Pivoting
Aside from the fact that every politician does this in a debate or Q and A session, it really wasn’t much of a pivot.  Hillary explained how the moderator took her quote out of context, which nullified the overall point, and then moved on.  (The moderator, Chris Wallace, was from Fox “News,” and taking quotes out of context is so ingrained there, he probably didn’t even realize he was doing it.)

The Economy
Trump was still pushing the idea that tax cuts for corporations and the rich will result in a benefit for all.  Unfortunately for him, anyone who was alive when Reagan was president, or more recently when GW Bush was president, remembers that tax cuts for the wealthy stayed with the wealthy.  Corporate taxes were at their lowest point in history and regulations had been slashed.  And all the rest of us got out of it was a lousy recession.  Where were the jobs?

Or look to the current Republican-led states, who have implemented the GOP wet dream of government budgeting.

And when Trump complained about how the (she and) Democrats haven’t been able to address jobs or the economy over the last 6 years, Hillary needed to remind him that the Republicans have blocked every meaningful jobs and infrastructure bill they put forth.  They can’t obstruct every bill and then complain that nothing got done.

Well… I guess they CAN, really, because that’s exactly what they’re doing.  But it’s linguistically and intellectually bankrupt.  But that’s the reality.  They would rather nothing get done and have the country suffer than let a Democrat (in general) or Obama (in particular) get credit for something.

King of Denial
I honest to God don’t get how Donald Trump can stand up there and claim he never said things that we all heard him say, even stuff he said at the last debate.  This is stuff that’s on audio and video tape, in context, and incontrovertible.  The man is playing the American public for fools.

The New O’Keefe Video and Election Rigging
Over and over Trump kept going back to how the Democrats are somehow rigging the election against him and citing the new O’Keefe video as proof.

As far as I’m concerned, you can’t believe anything you see in one of this guy’s hack job videos.  His entire history is a series of dishonestly edited undercover videos, where up is edited into down and yes is edited into no.  They have zero credibility.  But at this point, neither does Trump, so I imagine he sees O’Keefe as a kindred spirit.

I have to hand it to Hillary on this one, though.  She totally reeled him in on the rigging thing.  He took the bait and she beat him to death with it, basically calling him a whiner who’s making excuses for losing.

The thing is, though, I do believe the election is being rigged.  But it’s not by the Democrats.  I see a two-pronged attack.  The first is the well-documented GOP voter ID laws and purging of voter rolls, to fix the alleged voter fraud, which no one has ever found in a statistically meaningful way.  And then at the same time, people are trying to obtain the newly required documents, they cut back DMV operations in Democrat-heavy areas.  The GOP has had 4 years to hone their voter disenfranchisement policies and they know what they’re doing.

The second thing is that Russian hackers are raising their ugly heads and are actively inserting themselves into our election, by hacking Democratic servers and leaking emails they consider damaging.  And if they can do that, they can certainly hack into the hundreds of electronic-voting precincts that have no paper backup.  Piece of cake.

So to me, this is why Trump keeps going on about election rigging: If he loses, he already has an excuse and a rallying cry to maintain power and influence.  And if he wins, the Democrats (as well as most everyone else) have already put themselves on record as saying there is no voter fraud and the voting system is sound, so if they complain, then THEY’LL look like the sore losers.  Either way, Trump wins.

Mosul
Trump blames Hillary and Obama for the Russians and Iranians getting involved with Assad.

Sigh.  Even a numb-nut like me knows that they’ve been involved in Syria for decades.  Christ, Trump, read a newspaper sometime and not just by looking for your name.

The best part of the foreign policy segment was that I came up with this:

That’s for all my Broadway fans… Trump tries to pass himself off as Tevye, but he’s really Lazar Wolf; rich boor and butcher of language.

It was obvious that Trump started out the debate trying to stay calm and under control.  He didn’t interrupt, waited his term, and measured his words.  But then Hillary got under his skin and baited him into going back to the old Trump.

The thing is, the constant interruptions and interjections didn’t make him look clever; they just made him look like a punk… and ill-mannered, back-of-the-classroom oaf.

But I’m glad these things are over with and there are only a couple more weeks until Election Day.  Then we’ll know who’s rigging what.  At any rate, I’m taking advantage of early voting and doing it next Saturday.  You should check your local voting rules and do so as well.  November 8th could be a major nightmare, just getting your vote down, especially in areas where Trump will have his helpful poll watchers out in force.

I don’t expect any trouble in deep blue Maryland, but you never know.  If the ballot asks me to vote “da” or “nyet” on Issue 1, we may be in for more trouble than I thought.

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

The Miami Road Trip - 2016

Last weekend was the highlight of our football season so far, with our family’s trip to South Florida for the Steelers/Dolphins game.  We used to take these destination football/family reunion trips all the time, but we haven’t done it since 2010.

My mom and dad drove out from the panhandle, my sister and her husband came in from Cincinnati, and I flew down with my brother and his family.  We booked rooms at the Ft Lauderdale Hilton Resort and man, was that ever nice.  My brother and family had adjoining rooms with the parents which functioned like a huge suite.  That was where we hung out in between eating events.

I had a King Studio room on the 23rd floor and just loved it. 

The balcony wrapped around the corner.

I mean, look at this view from my balcony!

The place was oddly outfitted, though.

I suppose this is here in case I have a sudden urge to perform a bongo solo.

Once we got ourselves situated and carried up to the room the crates of booze that Dad brought, we had time to mix a few drinks, watch some college football and shoot the breeze.

For dinner, we went downstairs to one of those fancy schmancy “small plates and sushi” restaurants.  Might have been a mistake on our part.  We’re more of a Steakhouse/Italian/Chinese/Sandwich the Size of your Head kind of group.

I did see one interesting menu item…

The Pan Roasted Scallops come with “Forbidden Stir Fry Rice.”

I wanted to try it but I’m pretty sure the waiter would refuse to serve it to me.  I mean, I could see the whole conversation:

Bluz: I’d like the scallops with the Forbidden Stir Fry Rice.

Waiter: I’m sorry, you can’t order that.

Bluz: Why?

Waiter: [furtivelyIt is forbidden.

Bluz: Then why is it on the menu?

Waiter: Ask not a question for which you are not prepared for the answer.

Bluz: Yinz got a big fish sammich n’at? And maybe a Klondike?

We ended up mixing and matching enough small plates that everyone got their fill.  Afterward, we returned to home base for more drinks and an evening of Ohio State football.  Buckeyes beat Wisconsin in overtime, which put a nice cap on the night.

Sunday started out ominously.


There’s a big one brewing…

I hoped it was going to be more of a coastal storm than anything further inland, where the stadium was.

After the breakfast buffet, which didn’t make a bid deal about the size of the plates, we loaded up the car for the tailgate party.  My brother-in-law, the Dolphins fan, and I carried the beer cooler and headed for the elevator.  As we were going down the hall, he said something like, “Isn’t this a shining example of what happens when two opposing teams come together in the spirit of cooperation?

Then we got to the elevator lobby.

And here we have today’s metaphor for the current political atmosphere.

After eventually summoning an elevator, we took off for what is now named Hard Rock Stadium. 

I swear, this is my fourth Dolphins game in Miami and every time there’s been a new name on the facade.

Anticipating that the Dolphins would wear their white jerseys (to better cope with playing in the hot sun) I geared up with my black Antonio Brown jersey and classic Terrible Towel.

My vintage 1996 Battle Towel.  This one has been with me to every Steelers game since the day I bought it in the Pittsburgh airport.

All things pointed to there being a huge Pittsburgh contingent at the game and we weren’t disappointed.

If you didn’t know better, and there weren’t palm trees, you’d think this was a Steelers home game.

But because it was South Florida, it had to rain roughly every 20 minutes.

You see all those little portable gazebos?  Those mark the experienced South Florida tailgater.  We had one right beside us; a small group of Dolphins fans.  Luckily, they took pity on us and let us duck under their shelter.

I told them, “If this had been Baltimore, they would have made us stand out in the rain and laughed at our wet black and gold asses.”

Once we went in, we took our seats in the club level in the end zone.

They ought to rethink their logo design, or else everyone will think it’s called “rd Ro” Stadium.

They just put the roof extensions on this season, for which we were grateful.  It kept us nice and cool in the shade.  And it also would have kept us dry, if it had rained again.

Inside the facility was nice too.  In fact, the bartender was so nice, she let my brother buy beers for himself and his two boys.

Disclaimer: No underage boys were given beer in the stadium.  It just totally looks that way.

Then onto the game.

The game sucked.  The Steelers got their asses handed to them, but good, despite the valiant efforts of me and my Battle Towel.  It was too bad because the place was crackling with Pittsburgh energy.  When the Steelers scored early, the towels were everywhere and they almost tore the new roof off the place with the roar.

But after that, there was nothing left to roar about.  My brother-in-law got so wound up with excitement, he bought this ridiculous hat.

Fins up!

And I got so discombobulated that when we left, I walked off without my camera, which I’d left in the cup holder (for easy access).  All the pictures you see today were shot with my iPhone.  It’s a shame, not only that I have to buy a new camera now, but you’re being deprived of all the incredible action shots I had lovingly composed and framed.  I might have gotten the Nobel Prize for Amateur Sports and Food Photography.

But all told, it was an incredible weekend and we all had a ball.  I highly recommend this particular Hilton, if you’re ever in the area. 

Just bring your own plates.

To quote the Denny’s breakfast menu, this is “The Moon over My Hammy.