Monday, July 30, 2012

Networking - 2012

I had a busy weekend, for a change.  It was so busy, I didn’t even have time to write my customary weekend post.  But no matter… no one was reading blogs anyway.

After staying quarantined last weekend due to a cold, and the previous two, due to it being 7,000 degrees outside, I finally ventured out of my cave on Saturday.  First order of business was to go see “The Dark Knight Returns.”  Obviously I had to stop at WalMart first, to pick up a bulletproof Kevlar suit, but they wouldn’t let me in the theater while wearing it.  I think they were afraid I might be smuggling in some Milk Duds.

After a bumpy start, (because the movie was delayed about 15 minutes due to technical difficulties), I immediately got lost in the story.  Short review: it was very dark and bloodlessly violent.  They did a lot of cutting away just before something horrible happened and then returned to the prone bodies.  Also, Batman gets his ass kicked, but good.  That’s not something we’ve seen very often.

It was also cool seeing Pittsburgh double as Gotham City, even though they matted out the more recognizable dahntahn landmarks.  While I wasn’t able to spot Carpetbagger’s house, I think I know what scene they filmed nearby. 

And during the big football scene, where Hines Ward runs a kick return back for a touchdown despite the giant craters opening up behind him, as if they were Casey Hampton’s footprints, there was a very clear shot of Ben Roethlisberger, Aaron Smith, Brett Keisel and Bill Cowher standing on the sidelines.

There were big twists throughout the film and I loved the ending.  Suffice to say, it’s something I’ve wished forever since I used to watch the TV show as a kid.  I’ll just leave it at that.

After a little more shopping and some Wendy’s, I continued on to Best Buy, to accomplish my primary objective for the day: obtaining an iPad.  I am anything but an “early adopter.”  In fact, I think I’m more like a “final adopter.”  I sniff around the new hot item for months, if not years, gathering intel and waiting for any bugs to be fixed.

Remember that during my Ohio vacation, I’d played around with my buddy’s iPad?  It was the first time I’d seen one in action, so I realized that it would be perfect for me.  Finally I would be able to tweet about a game or TV show, without having to get up and walk 20 feet to my PC.  I’d be living large!

Unfortunately, the moment I do jump onto some kind of technology or web service seems to be the tipping point for when that tech becomes un-cool and/or obsolete.  (See: my 2006 flip phone, which was State-of-the-Art for about 15 minutes before the iPhone came along.) 

To try to delay that tipping point for as long as possible, I spent another $100 and got the “new” iPad, the one with the retinal display that looks so cool in all those commercials.  I figured it was a small price to pay to delay obsolescence for at least another couple months.  I was going to get a case for it but they wanted $39.99 for the cheapest freakin’ one!  Most were from $49.99 to $79.99.  Screw that.  I ended up ordering one from for $8.97, that didn’t look any different.

I suppose I should say that getting the iPad was a partial objective.  The second part was setting it up with a wireless home network and getting everything to work.

Back when I got my current PC in 2004, there was an offer with my DSL service for a free wireless router.  I got the router, but never actually bothered to hook it up.  It didn’t really make sense… I only had one desktop; I had no need to go wireless.  So I sat on the equipment, thinking maybe one day, I’d have a need.  Next thing you know, eight years have gone by.  (As a reference to how long that is in Computer Years, the instructions on the box said you had to have IE 5 or above.)

Anyway, everyone I talked to told me that setting up a wireless network was a breeze.  Now I’m no electronics genius by any means, but I am sufficiently competent to follow some directions and get shit done.  I figured I’d come home, plug in the router, set up the network, charge up the iPad and I’d be watching the Olympics and tweeting from my couch.  I made sure that my 2004 router was wirelessly compatible with the iPad, so I was confident that everything would be a breeze.
Paint this thing red, and it looks like something out of Batman.

Basically, everyone that told me setting up a wireless network would be a breeze can kiss my ass.  I wasn’t setting up a network as much as opening a new level of Cryptic Computer Jargon Hell.

First, I followed the instructions that came with the router.  It didn’t work.  Then I noticed a sheet that came with the router, which said “DO NOT USE THE QUICK START INSTRUCTIONS, USE THE SETUP WIZARD ON THE ENCLOSED CD.”

OK, I popped in the Wizard, followed those instructions and what do you know?  It still didn’t work.  At that point, reversed everything I did, got back online the old way and looked up some instructions from my ISP.  I found more detailed instructions there, so I went at it a third time.  It still didn’t work.

What's worse is that I was using the instructions online from the ISP site.  You know, I really should have printed the goddamned things, but I figured, “Oh this will work… what could go wrong now?

So when I started changing all the settings, I lost my existing access, which included my instructions.  I feverishly tried to reset all the settings from memory, but as I’d been in and out of the system so many times, I had no idea how things were when I started.  It was well into the evening before I was able to reestablish my Internet connection through my original modem.  I spent from 6:30 to 9:30 working on this stuff, just to get back to where I started.

At that point, I had no will to continue with the new router, so I turned my attention to finding better directions.  Eventually, I did, and this time I printed the damned things and made some notes.  I checked some other sites that also gave advice on handling my old modem.  I didn’t get to bed until near midnight.

So much for my plans for leisure Olympic tweeting…

God may have rested on Sunday but I chose to wade back into my network of hell.  But this time, armed with some better directions, I sailed right through the setup and got the router working right off the bat.  (My new directions included a step that neither the Quick Start instructions nor the Wizard had mentioned.  Fuckers.)

Once the router was live, all I had left to do was play with my new iPad!  With all the hype about how Apple is so technologically progressive, I was sure they’d have a sleek little instruction booklet for me to go through.

You know what they had?  Three sentences on a playing card.  But it was OK, the iPad setup process was pretty much baked in.  I was able to follow the steps and get it going.  Still, would it have killed them to have a little something about what all the standard apps do?  Oh well, live and learn, and boy do I have some learnin’ to do.  Anyone know some cool apps I should check out?

I’ve always avoided the Apple products; their cult-like following has always struck me as odd.  So I’ve had no iMac, iPod, iTunes or i-anything.  I was just an i-Talian.  But no more.

Now I just wonder if this will all be worthwhile.  I need to figure out how to monetize the benefit I’m getting.  So if I would pay a quarter for each time I save a trip from my couch to the computer and back, (and I would) it would take me 2400 trips to make up for the $600 I spent. 

That means you’ll be seeing me get a lot more active on Twitter.  (Follow me @DarwinfishBluz)  Now that I’m using an official Apple iPad, my tweets are sure to be more creative, stylish and graphically pleasing… at least until they roll out the new SuperMega iPad 4000, coming in September to a store near you.

By the way, guess what happens when someone with Delayed Pressure Urticaria spends all day tapping on a piece of glass?  Swollen finger.

Great.  Now I’m going to have to make an effort to use more than my index finger on the iPad.  I’ll have to become ambifingerous.  I’ll let you know how that goes.  But now, I have to go answer some emails from the couch…

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Why I Vote Democratic - Part 2

At the beginning of the year, I did a guest post at the now-defunct AskCherlock site, in which I explained the reasons why I vote Democratic.  It was kind of a long piece, consisting of a list of chasm-sized differences between the two parties.  But even though the post was over four pages long (in Word), I felt like I wasn’t getting into the issues deeply enough. 

I also wanted to run the material here too, so I figured I would take each item on the list and flesh it out into its own post.  I posted Part 1 on May 15th and I’ve been meaning to pick it up again ever since.  With the presidential campaign in full swing, I figure I’d better get off the dime… 

Disclaimer:  When I refer to “Republicans” here, I’m referring only to the national party leaders and political apparatus.  The same goes for my use of “Democrats.”  Local jurisdictions may vary and I have no knowledge or comment about them. 

Also, as I roll out these posts, keep in mind that I am not presenting my reasons in any particular order.

Whichever side wins the White House (and controls Congress) this year will have an inordinate effect on your life and that of your children’s.  Big issues are being booted around and with partisanship at an all-time high; the stakes are equally high.  The differences between the party’s ideals are stark, as indicated by the 2nd reason I vote Democratic.

The Republicans are trying to strip away any and all environmental regulations and contaminate the EPA the same way they’re trying to contaminate the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (by undercutting funding and legal authority).  Adhering to environmental regulations costs money putting it in direct violation of the Prime Directive.  (As written in Part 1, the Republicans’ Prime Directive is to maintain the freedom of Big Business to do whatever they see fit, in support of their bottom line.)

The Democrats are trying to maintain the viability of our planet to support our very existence, by seeking limits and regulation on toxic emissions, into both air and water.  This is more than just hugging trees or saving snails, as the Republicans like to categorize anyone that dares interfere with their grand business plans.  This is a fight to maintain the viability of our own planet and keep it from turning into a more quarrelsome version of Mars.

This is not a new fight; Republicans and Democrats have been squabbling over ecological issues for as long as I can remember, going at least as far back to when I was a kid in the early 70s.  But the fight has taken on new meaning in the last ten years, as the effects of climate change has been unmistakably documented and observed all over the world.

Any rational person would be concerned about continuing to spew contaminants like mercury and carbon monoxide into the atmosphere or water supply.  A rational person might be concerned about destroying the living conditions on which we depend for our very survival.  But somehow there’s a disconnect.  Republicans don’t believe in safeguards for the environment, outside of providing places for the privileged to hunt, fish and play with guns.  Many go so far as to deny that humans have even contributed to our planet’s change in climate. 

A couple of hacked emails was all it took for Republicans to plunge their heads into the sand and overlook overwhelming scientific evidence that the earth is warming and the polar caps are dissolving.  This mantra is driven by the businesses that would be most affected by any tangible change in environmental policy.  In other words, ‘it would hurt profits, so we’re against it.’  And Chapter One of being ‘against something’ is to deny it even exists and more importantly, state that ‘even if it does exist, it’s not our fault.’

Perhaps they have plans for a giant bubble to encase a small homeland for coal, oil and other fossil fuel industry execs, probably somewhere around Branson MO.  It has to be inland because the Smokey Mountains will be the new eastern seaboard once the polar caps melt.

It’s alarming to me whenever someone “disbelieves” proven science because it goes against one’s political platform or costs money.  For example it’s a sad state of affairs when our (prior) highest elected official can ignore decades of physical, provable science and say something as inane as “the jury is still out” regarding evolution. 

No, the jury is not out.  It went out, came back 5 minutes later with the verdict and then went home for dinner, saying something about a “mountain of proof.”  The proof is what makes it science and not opinion

Thank you, Republicans, for ushering in the Age of Ignorance.  Some day, the history books, (if there are any left) will wonder why anyone ever listened to these clowns.  Their insistence that climate change is a hoax and that it’s perfectly fine to belch chemical waste into the atmosphere in exchange for providing factory jobs, is the another reason I vote Democratic.  You should too.

And speaking of ignorance, don’t even get me started on the Texas State Republican platform, which includes a prohibition on teaching critical thinking.  Perhaps they don’t believe in “book learnin’” any more either… unless, of course, the book was approved by the Texas Board of Education.  (Motto: “It MUST be true, it says so right there in the book we rewrote.”)

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Zombie Noun Apocalypse

I saw a brilliant column in the New York Times online this morning about the continued trend to dilute the power of simple, direct, written English.  Helen Sword charges head on to carve up “nominalizations” or as she calls them, “zombie nouns.”

A nominalization is when you tack a suffix onto an active verb to create a new noun.  She calls these “zombie nouns” because they “cannibalize active verbs, suck the lifeblood out of adjectives and substitute abstract entities for human beings.”

Academics, lawyers, bureaucrats and business writers love them, presumably because they take ordinary words and make them sound more important.  She provides a crystal clear example of the difference.  Start with this sentence here:

The proliferation of nominalizations in a discursive formation may be an indication of a tendency toward pomposity and abstraction.”

Now, this is the same sentence, without all the added baggage:

Writers who overload their sentences with nominalizations tend to sound pompous and abstract.”

How much better would our professional lives be if more businesses wrote that clearly?  That’s always been a pet peeve of mine.  So often, I see people who sound completely normal when speaking; change completely as soon as they have to write something in a business setting.  Out come all the fancy-schmancy twenty-dollar words, whose only purpose is to make an ordinary statement sound more intellectual.

Sometimes it’s better to “use your head” than “utilize your thought processes.”

When I first took the training course to learn how to write procedures, my completion certificate came with a great saying, “Good writing is clear thinking, made visible.” (Bill Wheeler – Technology Consultant/Writer)

My previous boss almost always wrote “utilize” when “use” would do just as well.  I would always change it when proofreading, saying, “Why put the longer word when the shorter one means the exact same thing?

He’d always agree, but then there it would be the next time.  The habit is hard to kick, I guess.

Ever since I came to my current department, it’s been a goal of mine to simplify the language we use in our department memos and procedures.  I’m lucky that my bosses see it the same way.  When I interviewed, I told her that I’m not one for long-winded writing and puffery; my documents would be clear and direct.  She said that was exactly what they wanted, so it was a match made in heaven.

At the end of the Times article, there was a link to the Writer’s Diet Test.  Here, you can submit a sample of your writing and obtain instant feedback and evaluation on how “fat” your writing is.

I’m a sucker for things like that, so I submitted one of my blog posts.  To be sure not to sway the evaluation by using one of my more simplistic posts, like the one with all the dick jokes, I went the other way.  I used the one where I was explaining why I vote Democratic, because I was pitching an argument and trying to sound like I knew what I was talking about.

This was the scale that I got back:

I was pleasantly surprised.  I was between “lean” and “fit and trim” in all but one category.  I have to shape up my “waste words.”  In re-reading what I’d submitted, I think the criticism was valid.  I found a number of places where I could have eliminated some of the filler and written more directly.

Overall I was given a rating of:
If only it applied to other areas as well.

I bookmarked the test site and plan on using it at work, as a check on myself when I’ve got an important communication in the works.

So what about you?  Want to test one of your posts and see how you stack up?  Let us know how you did, in Comments.

Note: the test is not really meant for highly descriptive, sensory-type stuff.  It was designed to promote clear business writing.  The romance novel you’re secretly working on probably wouldn’t be the best test subject. 

Another Note: I used the Writer’s Diet Test site on this post and while I got another “Fit and Trim,” the proportions were different.  Waste Words were down to “Fit and Trim” but Verbs were up to “Needs Toning.”  But that’s good because you have to realize that I was providing examples of the bad writing within the text and using the word "was" a lot.

What this shows is the testing tool can help a writer tone up his writing immediately!

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Bluz on Nuz

(And that’s NOT read "Bluhz on Nuhz.")

In spite of popular demand, it’s time once again for, Hey Bluz, What Do You Think Of…

… Michele Bachmann’s accusations that the State Department is harboring a Muslim spy?  It seems the Michele Bachmann has managed to claw her way back into the news this week, by starting up the new version of the House Un-American Activities Committee. 
The Crazy Eyes will give you away every time.

She’s demanding an investigation into one of Hillary Clinton’s top aides, Huma Abedin, who you may remember as the supportive wife of former US Representative, Anthony (Is There Anyone that Hasn’t Seen a Twitpic of my Ween?) Weiner.  Bachmann is claiming that Abedin has ties to the Muslim Brotherhood and is feeding them intel.

Glad to see the John McCain still has the balls to speak up for what’s right.  He knows a thing or two about getting smeared.  He hasn’t been the same since the Bushies ratfucked him in the 2000 South Carolina primaries.

Part of McCain’s valiant defense:
When anyone, not least a member of Congress, launches specious and degrading attacks against fellow Americans on the basis of nothing more than fear of who they are and ignorance of what they stand for, it defames the spirit of our nation, and we all grow poorer because of it.”

On Thursday, a Muslim human rights group fired back, comparing the linking of prominent Muslim Americans to terrorist organization to a game of 6-Degrees of Separation.  And they’re right.  This accusation is like Bachmann is saying she knows Kevin Bacon because she once had a BLT.

…the death of Deep Purple keyboardist, Jon Lord?  Rest in peace, dude.  Without those grungy keys, Deep Purple is just another 70s rock band… Black Sabbath with a better singer.

…That father that refused the Make-a-Wish Foundation’s offer to send his daughter to Disney World?  I usually love it when Bowling Green gets some press, but not like this.

A 4-year-old girl in Bowling Green, Ohio, had just undergone 2 years worth of leukemia treatments entailing chemotherapy, spinal taps and hospitalizations.  After beating back the cancer, the Make-a-Wish Foundation offered to send her to Disney World.

To make the trip, the girl needed permission from both her mother and father.  The father refused, saying that now that she was free and clear of the disease, it would be a misuse of the company’s donated funds.

Later, it came out that the guy had been having a battle with the mother over visitation privileges, and while no one knows for sure, it looks like he was using this opportunity to stick it to the mother.

Meanwhile, the local community is raising funds on its own, to send the girl to Disney World.  See, it does take a village to raise a child, especially when one of the parents is a chowderhead.  Whatever the beef with the mom, you shouldn’t jam up the little girl like that.  Like she hasn’t been through enough crap…

Looks like I have another place to boycott now.  Chick-fil-A president Dan Cathy says, "I pray God's mercy on our generation that has such a prideful, arrogant attitude to think that we have the audacity to define what marriage is about." 

He wants everyone in the country to snap to his views on God and marriage, and everyone else is prideful and arrogant…

It sounds like this will be the next guy claiming that some kind of natural disaster is actually God’s retribution for our secular ways.

Next time I see one of those “Eat mor chiken” cows, I’m going to try the steak, right then and there.

…that Sheriff in Arizona claiming that he has proof that Obama’s birth certificate is a fake?  Again with this stuff?  I guess when you’re investigated by the “posse” of the Maricopa County Sheriff of Arizona, that’s the gold standard.  What qualifications, exactly, does it take to become part of some Sheriff’s investigative “posse?”  I mean, other than determining the conclusion first and then backfilling the “evidence.”

This guy is in so much hot water in his own county, over inadequate investigation of sex crimes and racial profiling and other civil rights violations, he has no choice but to start pointing fingers in someone else’s direction.

Another day, another embarrassment for Arizona.  Note to the redneck sheriff: The State of Hawaii says the birth certificate is legal.  Therefore… Case. Fucking. Closed.

…your sore throat and oncoming summer cold?  It sucks.  I left work early yesterday and am going to lay low for the weekend.  I usually fight sore throats by gargling frequently with Listerine.  But you know what works even better?  Jack Daniels.  And if you don’t spit it out, it will help you sleep too. 

I know better than to ever spit out Jack Daniels.  If I ever did that, it would cause a disturbance in the space-time continuum, centering somewhere around Lynchburg.  And somehow, I’d be able to hear my Dad yelling, all the way from Pensacola.

But unless I rally big-time, it’s doubtful that I’ll be able to get out to see “The Dark Knight Rises” this weekend.  Next week, for sure.

Besides, I don’t have enough extra funds in the budget to buy new body armor.

Yes, I know I haven’t addressed the week’s “BIG” news from Colorado.  But it’s being worked to death already, from so many angles; I don’t feel that I have much to add.  I feel horrible for the families of all those poor souls, killed for nothing but shits and giggles.

If the country wasn’t so polarized right now, we might have seen some kind of common sense movement on guns.  I’m sure there is come kind of common ground in here somewhere, between All Guns and All Ammo Legal for Everyone All the Time, and No Guns Ever Ever Ever.

If I was king, I’d start with banning the large, assault-style clips.  No private citizen needs an assault rifle for hunting or self-defense.  I know it would take a while, but without the ammo, the assault weapons will become obsolete, so it won’t matter who’s carrying them.

Naturally, the NRA and its allies propose that the answer is MORE guns on the street, so there we stand, at the eternal impasse.  Another example of “American Exceptionalism” gone awry.

OK, maybe I had something to add after all.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Appearing Thoughtful

Apparently, going to lunch with one local blogger was all it took to shake some kudos loose from another.  Yesterday, I received the coveted Versatile Blogger Award from blog-friend Thoughts Appear, or “Thoughtsy,” to her loyal readers.

This is my 3rd go-round on this award. So happy it’s a new picture… that much better to bolster the illusion of popularity and quality.  But I know the Versatility is real… where else does one go to read about politics, weird news, other bloggers, bacon, Pittsburgh sports and drunk-stories?  So thank you, Thoughtsy, for being all, “I rec-a-nize…”

In keeping with the part of the rules where I have to provide 7 things about myself, (and ignoring the part where I have to pass the award on, because I’m a selfish prick), I present the following…

1. I spent 9 hours worth of my time this month, editing a book for someone I’ve never met. 

OK, two things… First, “editing” may be a reach.  I am reviewing and providing feedback, while also fixing phrasing, punctuation, grammatical and structural errors.  Secondly, it’s a friend of Sitcom Kelly’s, who she told that I might be a good sounding board for her manuscript.

The book itself was a challenge, because a dude like me is NOT the target audience.  Sure, the trials and tribulations of modern dating provides fertile ground, but there is only so much “Men are Inconsiderate Pigs” material that a guy can handle.  And the chapter about jewelry and wedding dress shopping was like an entire day of clothes shopping at the mall with your girlfriend, packed into 15 pages. 

Anyway, I got through it.  I’ll have to see if she takes any of my “advice.”  But I always wanted to take a shot at doing something like this.  I’ve done a lot of editing for other people, but never so much at one time, on a subject so far out of my wheelhouse.

I have a feeling that she’s going to think that I hate her, because there were a few occasions where I had to be brutally honest.  But I just channeled back to what my first editor did to me, and let it fly.  Thanks, Mom.

2. I barely ducked a hellacious fight last night.  While I was editing the book, Pinky started reading over my shoulder, during a chapter about how great it was to be single and living alone.  She thought it was something I was writing, rather than editing.

Luckily, I began typing a correction (in red, with Word “Change Tracker” on) and she realized that it wasn’t my doing. 

Phew!  Bullet dodged, and I got to watch “So You Think I Can Dance,” in peace.  (Come to daddy, Cat Deeley!)

3. This editing experience has wiped out any latent desires I’ve ever had to write my own book.  It’s one thing to throw a few old stories down on a blog… those are just bite-sized morsels.  It’s quite another to expect that strangers are going to plunk down money to read about the life of someone that’s never been on Inside Edition or Entertainment Tonight.  (Or Inside Entertainment or Tonight’s Edition, for that matter.)

I get told all the time that I should write a book.  And I always say, “I AM writing a book.  And I’m posting it chapter by chapter, in a blog, online.”

It looks like that’s going to have to do.

4. There are two points of view, when some old man is moving slowly and purposefully down the sidewalk.

Old Guy’s Perspective: Geez, this hurts, but I’ll be damned if I’m going to let anyone see me struggle.  I’m just going to fight my way through this and go where I have to go.  Heck, I’m probably being an inspiration to people right now.  They’re going, “Look how that guy’s fighting through his pain and persevering.”  That’s it, one foot in front of the other.  You can do it.

Guy Walking Behind the Old Guy’s Perspective:  I wish this old fuck would get the hell out of my way.

Is it bad that I’ve been both of these guys within the last year?

5. I’m becoming obsessed with getting an iPad, ever since I played with one when I was on vacation.  But in order to do that, I have to set up a wireless network at home, which gives me great pause.  I even have a wireless router, which came with the DSL hookup I got in 2005.  I just never set it up.  I have to get with some geeks down at Best Buy, to make sure a router from that era will work with a brand spanking new iPad.

Also, given the age of my PC, it’s kind of like putting a $1500 stereo in a $150 piece-of-shit car.  My PC is so slow anymore, I can’t stand it.  But I can’t stand even more, the thought of trying to transfer all my apps, programs, emails and other crap from one PC to a new one.

6. I may go see the new Batman movie this weekend.  And not only is the theater near a Wendy’s (Whoo Hoo!) but also a Best Buy.  I just might get sucked into showing up there.  And once that happens, my will power pretty much dissolves.  I can satisfy both my bacon AND electronics fix in one trip.

7. My letter to the editor (from the previous post) hasn’t made it onto the Baltimore Sun website, and it probably won’t.  But someone else’s has and he has my same point of view.  If only I could learn to make such solid points in so few paragraphs.

 So there… Those are my Seven Things About Me, even though they are really only kinda about me.  If Thoughtsy can fulfill her requirement by listing all her favorite cheeses, I can provide a fuzzy list, like this.  Because, I’ve already told you so many things about me over the last 3 years; I’m starting to run out of material.

I really gotta do more stuff.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

The Fraud of "Voter Fraud"

I saw a letter-to-the-editor in today’s Baltimore Sun that got my shorts in a twist again.  It was in response to a solid Leonard Pitts column on Sunday that called the black community into question for their silence on the attempts to dump the poor, the elderly and the young from state voter rolls.

The letter writer believed that these transparent attempts at disqualifying Democratic voters were actually valid, because someone found a couple of dead people and pets (dead and otherwise) that were registered to vote.

He also claimed that asking for an ID is no big deal because sometimes retail stores ask for IDs when you charge a purchase.  You can read the full letter, here.

After the smoke cleared from around my ears, I submitted the following letter to the paper:

Leonard Pitts was spot on, in his column about how people are silently standing by while thousands of voters are being purged from the voter rolls by Republican administrations, under the guise of ferreting out voter fraud.

Letters like the one headlined “Voter ID no threat to black civil rights, July 17,” demonstrate how twisted the logic becomes, to justify this blatant attempt at voter suppression. 

As has been widely reported, Justice Department investigations prompted by the Bush Administration turned up scant evidence of voter fraud influencing any national elections.  Yet we are to believe that the goal of purging a handful of names from voting rolls should take precedence over erecting barriers that keep thousands of poor, elderly, or young voters from exercising their Constitutional right to vote?

Is purging voter rolls in Florida really more important than the resulting consequence, where thousands of valid, legal registrations were wiped out of the system without verification that they were indeed non-citizens?  And we’re to think that it’s all just a big coincidence that these registrations overwhelmingly came from people that traditionally vote Democratic?  Please…

Another red herring is the bit about being asked for an ID at the store.  When shopping, if you don’t like the policy, you can shop somewhere else.  There’s only one time and place to vote in a given election.  To interfere with that right is to go against a fundamental principle for which this country stands.

Apologists also love to bring up the Miami mayoral election of 1997, which was nullified due to rampant voter fraud.  What they don’t mention is that the fraud in that case was due to the mass filing of absentee ballots.  Obviously, none of the Voter ID bills affect absentee ballots, which makes the “Miami” argument nothing but a red herring.

Obviously, ineligible voters should be removed from voter rolls, but it should be done in a careful, systematic way and carefully verified.  It should NOT be done in an election year rush, in a partisan attempt to influence the outcome.  As for requiring voter IDs, Mr. Pitts is right, that it’s nothing but a sledgehammer solution to a mosquito-like problem.

Sez Me, Maryland

Because I was trying to keep it short, I didn’t mention how easy it is for others to sit back on their big, fat, white, asses and decide what extra steps that other people should take, in order to exercise the same privileges that they have. 

Sure, you people without cars, or who are too old to drive any more… all YOU have to do is catch a ride  or take the bus down to the DMV and stand around on your bad knees for a couple of hours, shuffle some papers, pay your fees, and get your new State ID.  Meanwhile if I have to wait for a cashier to change her register tape, I’ll lose my shit on her and puff like Rush Limbaugh walking a flight of stairs.”

I probably should have cut the bit on the Miami election, but I already saw someone mentioning it in the comments online, defending that letter.  People love to grab at that one exception to “prove” that the thousands of other instances are invalid.

I also wanted to really nail down how obvious this whole thing is, this effort to suppress Democratic voting, and highlight the consequent twisted logic that conservatives are forced to adopt (in public) in order to justify the practice.  It amazes me how easily it happens though… If Fox says it enough times, the sheep believe it.

I’ll let you know if my little rant gets any traction.

Oh, and the Baltimore Sun is a pay-site now… no pay, no commenting.  I couldn’t even submit my letter online; I had to email it.  But at least you can still view for free.

In other news, just to end on a lighter note, I saw an article online about how authorities found a couple of bodies that had washed up from the Detroit River.  The heads, hands and feet had been cut off.

If this happened in Arizona, people would be screaming about Mexican drug violence.  Who are they going to blame for this one?  The Canadians?  Right, like there’s a gang of plaid-shirted lumberjacks running amok.
He’s OK.

Actually, this tragedy was probably home grown, right there in Detroit.  I wonder how much it would take to pay Canada to take Detroit off our hands…

Late Update:
They haven’t run my letter online yet, but they did run one from someone else that takes issue with the original offending letter.

If only I could learn to make such powerful points in so few paragraphs.

Even Later Update: You can see Misty's post about our lunch, described in my previous post, by clicking here.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Odd Bits - The Meet-Up Edition

As I've thoroughly documented before, I’ve been to three bloggers’ meet-ups in the past, with all of them taking place in Pittsburgh.  I've never met any bloggers from my own locale, here in Baltimore.

I’ve always been a little hesitant to dive into the blogging scene here, as I have a more Pittsburgh-centric blog, and Pittsburgh is Public Enemy #1 around here.  I don’t mean to pick any fights (that aren’t football-related).  But on Friday, I took a step in.

I’ve been following Misty’s Laws for several months now.  Misty is a lawyer who blogs about her family and observations around Maryland and downtown Baltimore.  (The lawyer part doesn’t really play into it.)  I found her via trading comments on Hoody’s blog

One of the things she does that kills me on a regular basis, is when she takes clandestine pictures of some of the fashion disasters found walking the streets.  I look at these closely, not only to try and recognize the locale, but also to ensure that I’m not one of the subjects.

Since we both work in the same general vicinity, I suggested that we meet up for lunch one afternoon.  That day turned out to be yesterday.

Quick side note: on the way to lunch, I shot this picture, which seemed quite out of place for a busy downtown street.
I call it, “Baltimore Salad,” although it probably looks more like something you would have found on the set of “Lost.”

Once we met up, she made sure I knew the Ground Rules, which had to do with preserving her anonymity.  Few people know that she writes a blog and she intends to keep it that way.  I certainly didn’t have a problem with that, as I’m more or less anonymous too, although I don’t go to quite the same lengths.  I just want to keep this blog out of Google searches on my actual name.  But obviously, if someone knew me, and found this blog, they’d know it was mine.

Anyway, it was cool.  We had a delicious lunch and yakked about her experiences with the legal system, out mutual blogging acquaintances, and our brushes with the movie business when the filmmakers set up downtown.

We had a great time and I hope we can do it again, now and then.  And perhaps even draw in another blogger or two.  (Thoughtsy and Hoody, I’m looking at you!)

In keeping with the Ground Rules, I won’t post any photos of us together, but I was given permission to run one of Misty’s traditional meet-up shots.
Here you have the feet from the two of us, making this a Ground Rule Double.

And now, it’s time for, “Hey Bluz, what do you think about…”

the two Florida teens that have been attacked by alligators?  I think it’s a hoax.  Everyone knows that alligators aren’t found in US rivers; they’re found under your bed.  Every kid in America knows that…

the news that the use of the anti-hair loss drug Propecia may cause long-lasting sexual side effects?  Geez, another tough pill to swallow for bald guys.  It’s bad enough that they get overlooked by our culture in general and women in particular, making it very tough for them to get laid.  But now if they take steps to correct the problem, they still can’t get laid.

What a Catch-22… stay bald and be ignored, or grow hair and be unable to get it up.  Luckily I prefer the tougher but more gratifying route; to find the rare gem that appreciates a perfectly-shaped head that’s untarnished by messy, “product-filled” hair.

But on the bright side to all this, maybe we can start feeding Propecia to sex criminals.

Boy, Jerry’s not screwing kids any more, and does his hair ever look great?

…Mitt Romney getting booed at the NAACP convention?  I read a columnist, I can’t remember who, that said (and I’m paraphrasing from memory), that no one should call his appearing there an act of bravery, because everyone knows that the NAACP is not his constituency and is not likely to vote for him.  He had nothing to lose by appearing.  An act of bravery would be appearing before his own people, say, the NRA, and advocating some kind of gun restrictions.  THAT would be bravery.

I’m going one further.  I think he was counting on getting booed, to solicit sympathy (and votes) from middle class independents and conservatives who might think, “Oh look at those savages booing the poor man…”

You think those boos aren’t going to be used in political advertising this year?  Count on it.

...the continued use of Monty Python references to describe this season's election?   I love it!  I saw this article that notes about a half-dozen different pundits that use Python sketches to compare to political stories.

Among those listed:

* Rick Perry’s denial of his dying candidacy being compared to the Dead Parrot Sketch.

Now that’s what I call a dead parrot!

* Rick Santorum’s and Newt Gingrich’s refusals to give up being compared to the Black Knight from Holy Grail,

Look, your arm’s off.”
No it t’isn’t...  It’s just a flesh wound.”

* The politics of wealth-denial, compared to the Four Yorkshiremen Sketch, wherein each character boasts about how poor he was when he grew up.

We were evicted from our hole in the ground… We had to go and live in the lake!

* The Republicans’ policy of consistent rejection of anything Obama proposes, compared to the famous Argument Clinic Sketch, where John Cleese disagrees with everything Michael Palin says.

“An argument is a collective series of statements, intended to establish a proposition.  

“No it isn’t.”

“Yes it is! It isn’t just contradiction.”

“Look, if I argue with you, I must take up a contrary position,”

“But it isn’t just saying ‘No it isn’t’”

“Yes it is.”


I think the pundits may have missed one.  What do you get when you mix the Republican’s Argument Clinic-esque Party-of-No-obstinacy, with the Holy Grail of a presidential election? You get…

Update: You can see Misty's post about our lunch by clicking here.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Dream On

Last weekend, I had one of those “WTF” kind of morning-dreams... a real doozy. (Sadly, neither Tina Fey nor Cat Deeley were involved.)

OK, get this… I dreamed that I was selected as an offensive lineman in the NFL draft, as the 4th pick overall, by the Seattle Seahawks. 

Now, just let all that ridiculousness wash over you, as you consider the absurdity.  I mean, I’m 50 years old, for cryin’ out loud.  And even at my most athletic, I would have never been confused with an offensive lineman.  (Those are the guys that usually go around 6’5”, 300-plus pounds, with arms as big around as my thighs.  Best I ever could have hoped to be was a pass-catching tight end, or in other words, a tall white guy with good hands, that’s too slow to be a wide receiver.)

And it gets worse… the dream setting was not Radio City Music Hall in New York, with the NFL commissioner, a podium or TV cameras.  My setting was some kind of wooded hillside and the situation was like choosing sides on a playground.

The Seattle coach just pointed at me and said, “You, you’re with me.”

He had already selected this other dude with the 3rd overall pick, who was definitely “offensive lineman” caliber, a huge black guy with a big, thick beard.  I figured they must have made a trade to land two consecutive first-round picks.

Even weirder than all of these strange things happening in the dream were the things that were going through my head, as I considered my situation (during the dream.)

My concerns:

* Ugh, I gotta play for the Seahawks??  Seattle is such a long way from everything I know.  And I don’t even LIKE Starbucks.  And what about all the rain?

* You mean I have to wear those ugly uniforms?

* I wonder if the Seattle fans will ever forgive me for rooting against them in Super Bowl XL.  (You know, the one I attended, adorned head-to-toe in Steelers gear?)

* On the other hand, getting picked 4th overall in the NFL draft is going to land me a shit-pot full of money.  I suppose I can get used to the change of scenery.

Next thing I knew, I was in the den at “my house,” which I didn’t recognize directly, but it resembled the place I used to live in New York.  And I thought to myself, “OK, now what do I do?

I considered my situation for a second and thought, “Well, I guess I better start working out, or else these guys are going to kill me.

That’s when I woke up, going “What the hell was that?”

I went right back to sleep though, and promptly started dreaming about telling people all about my NFL dream.  I’m serious!  It was totally carrying over, like a dream within a dream.  I imagine that somewhere in a pit-filled basement, Sitcom Kelly was “Inception-ing” me.

So what do I make of all this?  There are several options I can think of…

* I want to be recognized for my abilities.

* I want to be part of a team, because I was rarely picked early for teams, during grade school, and the effects are still rattling around my brain.

* I vastly overestimate the value of my so-called skill set.

* I really need to get into better shape.

* Seattle really was robbed of a Super Bowl title by poor refereeing and I should try to fix it.  (I threw up in my mouth a little bit, just typing that.)

* I secretly think I’d look good in sea-foam green or whatever hideous color that is.

* I should avoid hanging around with groups of large men, out in the woods.

* I’m just ready for football season to start.

Yeah… it’s probably the last one…

I checked in with Sitcom Kelly, to show her a draft of my post, and to see if she’s the one behind all this.  Turns out that because she’s been gorging herself on the 30 Rock DVDs I loaned her, she’s been having dreams about Tina Fey.  So we have agreed to switch dreams.

I can see it now, she’ll get a hillside full of athletes and I’ll get “Liz Lemon,” safely contained in a basement pit.  I bet she’d love my ziti.

Next, I just have to get Sitcom Kelly to watch some DVDs of “So You Think You Can Dance”. 

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Odd Bits - The Heat Stroke Edition

I know that no one is reading blogs this summer, but since it’s too damned hot outside to do anything else, here I am, writing anyway.

It’s supposed to reach 104 degrees today.  It’s been in the hundreds downtown all week and it’s to the point where I almost dread going home every night.  Stepping outside is like walking into a punch in the mouth, and our front door is shaded by 5:00.  Then when I step out into the sun, it feels like I’m about to disappear in a puff of smoke, the way those vampires do when the guy turns his fancy headlights on him in that commercial.  Just walking to and from the subway makes me feel like I’m breathing hot pudding.

Yes, I know it gets like this in the south all the time, but here in the upper Mid-Atlantic region, we’re just not conditioned for that.  Pity the poor folks that don’t have their power back on yet.

OK, enough bitching about that… there are plenty of other things I can bitch about…

WTF, Blogger?
With all the changes Blogger has been making, I keep hearing about people having all kinds of trouble with it.  Up until this week, that trouble has missed me, but it sure found me on Tuesday.

As I was putting up that day’s post, I noticed that I needed to add a label to my prior post.  I went in and made a very quick update, then hit {Update}.  Unfortunately, I think I was too quick.  Because my post was still loading into the template when I clicked {Update}, I ended up fixing the label problem but completely wiping out the post!

I noticed that just after I published the post I was working on, which triggered a mild panic attack.  It was only minor, though, because I’m me.  And me keeps every post I write on a Word file, as backup.  So I was able to very quickly lay the post back in, thus avoiding trying to remember everything I wrote about the first time.

The weird part is that it bumped the post up by one entry, so that it appears after the “Power Outage” post instead of before.  I guess in the greater scheme of things, I can live with it.  But it totally messes up my month-by-month stats, making my scant June postings look even skimpier.

Van Failen’
Remember how I was all excited to take my 13-year old nephew to his first rock concert, to see Van Halen, and then they postponed their tour?  It gets worse.  I found out last week that they have now cancelled the rest of the dates on their US tour.  They were originally scheduled to be here next weekend.

Bastards!  Is it really that much to ask that they get their collective shit together and honor their obligations?  People like me shelled out a lot of money to see their aging asses play the songs we so fondly remember. 

A lot of people get hurt with things like this, because it’s not just the band that’s affected here.  The arena loses a date, which means no work for the arena staff, technicians, vendors and maintenance people.  The area loses because there are 16,000 fewer people coming downtown to eat and drink, or just pay for parking.  And I don’t get to be a corrupting influence on my nephew.

I had the damned tickets in hand!  Gah!  So close…

Ticketmaster is supposed to be providing refunds.  I’ll be following that situation very closely.  I paid almost $150 each, which is more than twice the amount than the highest price I’ve ever paid for a show.  (George Thorogood, $65.50 in 2008.  Also, $75.00 to see Springsteen in 1984, but that included a bus ride from Toledo to Detroit and back.)

And speaking of the refunds, they better refund ALL of the ticket price. Have you ever seen all the freakin’ fees they tack onto concert ticket orders?  Holy shit!  Look at my receipt:

The fees tack on an additional $19.80 per ticket!  That’s more than I paid for most of the concerts I’ve ever been to!  And all that is for using a ticketing system that requires LESS human processing and handling than the old methods of distribution.  “Convenience Charge,” my ass.  We’re charged for their convenience!  Just call it the “Because We Can” charge.  Freakin’ leeches are what they are…

But not all my retail news is bad.  I received my Lehigh Valley IronPigs hat this week!

And thank you to the Carpetbagger, for telling me that an “Iron Pig” isn’t just a nonsensical minor league baseball team name; it’s an actual thing.  It’s a nickname for a squat iron railcar used for hauling coal up out of a mine.  I can always count of the Bagger for gems like this.

But it’s actually a more logical name than the one for the Single-A ball team around here, the Aberdeen Ironbirds.  The “bird” part comes from the fact that they’re affiliated with the Baltimore Orioles, or “The Birds.”  And the “Iron” part comes from the fact that their owned by Cal Ripken, aka “The Iron Man.”  Plus there is a military base in Aberdeen, meaning planes, or “Iron Birds.”  OK, I guess it does make sense after all.

Hot Cross Words
Back in November of 2009, I wrote about my crossword puzzle habit.  (I do them every day at lunch.)  The focus then was that I had just come off a huge streak of correctly completing 36 Baltimore Sun crossword puzzles in a row.

Now I haven’t come close to a streak like that again… I think my next best may be around 18 or 20 in a row.  I always shoot myself in the foot by doing something stupid.  But I was pretty proud of myself today, because I completed the Saturday crossword (traditionally the toughest one of the week), in pen!
Only a couple of trouble spots…

Not bad for a guy that was just too lazy to go across the room to get a pencil.  And then for bonus points, I did the Jumble in pen, too.  No chance on the Sudoku though.

A Story: “Body Language Counts”
Part of my job is to set up and assist with the Audio/Video part of my company’s meetings and town halls.  My colleague usually handles anything that the company president does, and I take care of the rest.  Last month, I was asked to help him out for a meeting held by our president.

She was having a Q and A session, so he needed someone to help to get microphones to people in the room that wanted to ask questions.  It’s not that the room is that big, but that there are also people calling in, and they can’t hear anything that’s not on mic.

Our handheld mics have different colored foam caps on the end.  We had red, green and blue, so I obviously picked the blue.  Bluz gotta represent, even if only subliminally.

Once the Q and A started, I stood up and to the side of the speaker.  Most of the questions came from the other side of the room, so I was not called upon to move very often.  For the most part, I stood there at attention, with my arms crossed low at the wrist, and the mic pointed downward.

After the event, I spoke with a friend, who giggled at me, poking fun at the way I was holding the mic and noting what it kind of looked like.  I hadn't considered that aspect of the visual.

All I could say was, “Thank goodness I didn't use the red one.”

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

A Week of Crazy Pt 5 - The Finale

OK, the power’s back on, food it saved, the candles are put away… time to put a wrap on my June Vacation Extravaganza.

One of the cool things about my room at the Doubletree was that I could see the Pittsburgh Penguins new arena, the Consol Energy Center, from my window.  Sunday morning, we wanted to go over and visit the new statue of Penguins owner and legend, Mario Lemieux.  I would have been able to provide a nice aerial shot, except that there was a damned church in the way.
The Damned Church.  The arrow points to the Lemieux statue.

I was already starting to think of it as “The Damned Church,” and then when I heard that Sitcom Kelly’s room was looking the opposite direction, so I told her to come get a look out my window.  When she said, “But there’s a Damned Church in the way,” I knew the name would stick for the rest of the trip.

Our itinerary for Sunday was to go see the Lemieux statue, visit the Rivers Casino and then go to the Pirates/Tigers game at 1:30.  After the game, Sitcom Kelly and her sister were heading home.  My plans were still up in the air.

My big dilemma was whether or not I should wear my Pirates game jersey right away, or carry it until game time.  But then, I remembered that I was in Pittsburgh… a game jersey is appropriate at all times.

As we strolled around town, we came across this fountain.  I took some shots while Sitcom Kelly looked for an ATM.
The fountain outside the PNC Tower, with the Omni William Penn in the background.

It occurred to me, while I was moseying around the square, how much I enjoyed just being in downtown Pittsburgh.  There’s really no city like it.  I felt such a sense of comfort and ease.  Perhaps that’s because I knew that the likelihood of being jumped and robbed by a pissed-off Ratbirds fan was practically nil.

We made our way over to the Consol Arena to visit the statue.
This is the front side of the Mario Lemieux statue, showing Le Magnifique splitting a pair of NY Islanders defensemen.

Just about everyone that has seen pictures of the statue have seen it from this angle.  So I figured I’d get a shot of the other end.

I was pleasantly surprised by the detail that went into the two defenders.  I almost expected a thought bubble to emanate from them both, going, “Oh shit!

I didn’t want to stay out in front of the arena for too long, or else I’d find Sitcom Kelly plastered to the outside glass, like a kid outside a candy store window.  I’m not saying she’s got a thing for hockey players, but I’d hate for maintenance to have to come out and clean the boob marks off the glass.

Our next stop was to get back onto “The T” and take it under the river and over to Rivers Casino.  This is a new subway route that just opened a few months ago.  It’s a free service that runs from downtown, under the Allegheny River, over to the North Shore, where the casino, Heinz Field and PNC Park sit all lined up in a row.  Residents may debate whether it was a worthy project for taxpayer dollars, but it sure helped us out. 

I’m all for it!” says the non-taxpaying nonresident.

The Rivers Casino is a full service gambling joint with slots and table games.  None of us being much of a gambler, the sisters and I settled on playing some slots, to kill the time before the game.  While I was there, I met up with my cousin Greg, who had managed to procure himself a ticket to the game, right beside our seats.

While I was busy pissing my money away, I swear he sat down beside me, fed in $5 and instantly hit a big one.  I don’t know how much he won on that roll, but he played for about another 15 minutes and still walked away with $50.  Bastard!

So Greg won, I dropped about $40, and the sisters broke close to even, before we broke and headed for the ballgame.

This is the Duquesne Incline.  It’s not the one we rode the night before; that ones about a half mile to the left, but they are similar.

Our seats were pretty good… 3 rows from the field (not including the row of special needs seats), down the third base line.

The game was a rare sellout, mostly because a lot of Detroit fans realized that this was a cool road trip to make.  And why not make the trip?  It’s still the most scenic ballpark in the country.  (In my humble, but biased opinion.)
OK, it would have looked nicer, if it had been sunny and we were shooting from behind home plate.

Justin Verlander was pitching for the Tigers.  To me, this was good news and bad news.  The good news was that I’d be getting to see a future Hall of Famer pitch.  The bad news was that the Pirates were probably going to get their asses kicked.
That’s Verlander, on the left.  The big guy on the right is Prince Fielder, who isn’t so much a first baseman but a nose tackle.

As for the game, the Pirates were down 2-0 early, came back to tie it later, gave up another run in the 8th, had guys on in the bottom of the 9th but couldn’t score and lost 3-2. 

It was an exciting game, but boy, was it hot.  With no shade and few clouds, we were left to simmer in our own juices.  Carpetbagger and his wife were with us too, although Mrs. Bagger spent most of the game back on the concourse, in the shade.  (Obviously, she’s the brains of the operation.  And so are Sitcom Kelly and her sister, as they ducked out early, to start their drive home, in glorious air conditioning.)

With the game over and goodbyes said, I had the rest of the evening ahead.  I had originally planned to hang with Greg for a while before retiring to my hotel, and then go out on Monday morning to see my Grandpa on the west side of town.

But before the game, Greg said his mom was making homemade pasta and invited me out for dinner.  Homemade spags?  You don’t have to ask me twice.  So Greg ran me out to Coraopolis so I could hang with my 96-year old Grandpa and other loved ones for a while.

Greg and his wife recently had their 2nd child, a girl whom they named Luci, after our Grandma.  Needless to say, that made my Grandpa a very happy guy.
Grandpa with his great granddaughter, Luci.

Check out the cheeks on this one!  She looks like a cabbage patch doll…
There’s enough room in there for a bowl of pasta and a couple of meatballs!

So we ate and yakked and had wine and looked at old pictures and yakked some more.  It was a great way to finish up a wonderful week and another satisfying trip to The Burgh.  Greg got me back to my room in time for True Blood on HBO, so I’d have less DVR to catch up on the next week.

Having my visit on Sunday night allowed me to head for home first thing Monday morning.  But the down side is that I wouldn’t be able to stop by the local market for some authentic Pittsburgh chipped-chopped ham and fresh Italian bread.  At least I learned that the place that serves the monster fish sandwiches that I love, was closed Monday too, so I didn’t miss anything there.

I got home uneventfully, which is good.  I made my usual Wendy’s stop in Breezewood, and for once had time to stop at that place that sells all the Steelers and Penguins paraphernalia.  Lord, I spent 30 minutes in there and could have dropped a ton of dough, but I was able to keep it under $35. 

My biggest problem was that I now had to go back to work on Tuesday.  

After all the craziness I’d just been through, I figured I’d need at least another day or two to recover from the vacation.