Monday, July 17, 2017

Odd Bits - The Media Edition

Enough about me; let’s bitch about the state of things!

Obstruct This
I keep seeing GOP accusations and subsequent enraged internet comments that the Democrats in Congress are obstructing presidential appointments, as well as other minor matters such as the current tax giveaway masquerading as a health care bill.
Hello, Mr. Pot, this is Mr. Kettle.

Please. The Republicans spent eight years obstructing President Obama like a three-layer cheese sandwich with a cork inside, on every initiative whether it was good for the country or not, just because it was Obama who wanted it.  That includes stealing a Supreme Court seat for no reason but that it wasn’t their guy doing the seating.

For them to turn around and complain about getting obstructed is ludicrous.  And still, they have to mislead in order to press their point.

For example, in the Fox “News” story I linked above, they claim that the current approval rate of 20% is much lower than it was during the first two years of the Obama administration.

They don’t mention the good reason for that, which is that the Democrats had a super-majority of 60 in the Senate, so it was much harder for the GOP to obstruct.  But then after the 2010 election, which gave them control of the House, and 2014 when they took the Senate, they refused to pass a single meaningful piece of legislation.  If Obama wanted it, they voted it down, simple as that.  Then they spent the rest of their time in session passing poison pill bills with zero chance of being signed into law.  (Like repealing the ACA more than 70 times.)
If Republicans don’t like the obstruction now, they can look in the mirror.  They created this zero-sum culture.  Now they have to deal with it. 

Time to Get Serious on Police Shootings
Yep, there was another unjustified police shooting this weekend, one which may finally make police forces around the country take a good look at their occupational culture.  This time they really screwed up… they shot a blonde.

An Australian woman who had placed a 911 call to report a sound in the alley behind her home was fatally shot by police in Minneapolis, Minnesota.  Oof-dah.

We know that after the repeated police shootings of black men and black women and white guys who dress like black men, nothing has changed.  The body cameras the cops were wearing, as mandated by all these prior killings, were not turned on, according to the initial police report.  We’ll see what they say in the later police reports.  These things have a way of evolving over time. 

Meanwhile, I can just see President 45’s briefing on the matter:

Advisor: Mr. President, we just had another fatal police shooting.  This time it was an immigrant.

Trump: That’s what they get for coming here.  See, I told you we need a wall.

Advisor: No, Mr. President, the immigrant wasn’t Mexican.

Trump: So we lost another raghead dude, who’s just going to radicalize here and blow something up.  No big deal.

Advisor: No, it wasn’t a Muslim man, it was an Australian woman.

Trump:  Good God, man!  Was she hot?

Advisor: As a matter of fact, she was a very attractive blonde.

Trump: Dammit, I could have married her!  Tell all my people… We have to do something about this.  We have to act and act fast.  The American people will never stand for this senseless slaughter of hot blondes.

Advisor: What do you want us to do, sir?

Trump: Figure out how to blame it on Obama.

I know it’s really not a laughing matter; it’s yet another highly preventable tragedy.  But it’s still the same old thing, and now the “shoot first, ask questions later” way of conducting police business has killed yet another innocent human being. 

The widespread killings of unarmed black people and resulting protests, riots and unrest haven’t moved the needle one bit.  Maybe that will finally change, now that they’re murdering blondes, and no amount of fluffy “Cop plays with city kids” or “Cop rescues baby ducks” videos are going to repair the damage.

OK, who am I kidding?  Of course they will.  The law enforcement apologists will be out in 3…2…1… go.

Fox “News” Lite
You may remember a post I did in April, taking the Republican-controlled FCC to task for permitting Sinclair Broadcasting to buy up TV stations all over the country.  I said that there were reasons for limiting TV station ownership, mostly because if too many stations were run by one entity, that entity would have an outsized influence over the country’s viewing public.

That brings us to today’s Baltimore Sun, whose TV critic wrote an article about the use of Sinclair’s new extending reach.  In the past, they forced all affiliates to run a 90 second opinion piece three times a week from their “Chief Political Analyst” and former Trump campaign advisor, Boris Epshteyn.  Now they are now requiring that affiliates run his Trump propaganda pieces nine times per week.

And remember, these aren’t all Fox affiliates that Sinclair owns, they’re an assortment of major networks.  But now we’ll be seeing a steady diet of conservative talking points and carefully selected news stories aired, to highlight any GOP successes and Democratic perceived failures.

This is one more part of the creeping Republican power grab.  It’s actually quite brilliant.  They spend big bucks to win state and local seats, which beget governorships.  Once in control of state government, they gerrymander the hell out of the congressional districts and create voter suppressing requirements for elections.

Control of the states’ elective process begets control of the federal government, through which they can change laws that prevent them from amassing even more power and influence, like with banking regulations and media ownership.

They control the media to control the message, to control YOU.  And we don’t even notice.

The Democrats really have their work cut out for them.

A Fake to the Right
And while I’m talking about media, just keep in mind what “Fake News” really is.  Trump and the Republicans throw that term around a lot, but it’s almost always misused.  Ahem…

Fake News: Stories known to the writer and publisher as false, which are being published, circulated and quoted as if they’re true.

Not Fake News: Stories one desperately wishes were false but are not, or in other words, true stories about bad things one has done. 

Whenever you hear Trump or the muttonheads on Fox calling the Russia stories “Fake News,” you can be guaranteed that it’s the latter definition.  The stories about Russian collusion are corroborated and sourced out the wazoo.  (Just because there are anonymous sources doesn’t mean they’re wrong.)

NBC, CBS, ABC, CNN, even MSNBC… they present stories that, though occasionally slanted, are fact checked and corroborated using traditional journalistic practices.  And when something they report turns out not to be true?  Or even if they ARE true but their conformation practices have been violated?  The story is retracted, apologies are issues and heads roll.

When was the last time Fox ever apologized for a story or fired someone for being delivering factually incorrect information?

Never, that’s when. 

The most you see is that they stop talking about it… AFTER they’ve gone to great lengths to convince you it really is true.  And by then, Fox viewers have already taken it as gospel.  No apologies, no one gets fired… they just walk it back.

Folks, that’s not journalism and it’s not news.  It is the very definition of Fake News.

Occasionally Shep Smith at Fox will suddenly remember that he used to be a journalist and calls a spade a spade while contradicting his network’s spin.  Then like clockwork, Fox “News” viewers write in to protest, claiming that the Emperor really does have clothes on.
The only thing Republicans know about Fake News is that it’s a term that’s been hurled at their preferred stories, so they just turn it around and hurl it back. 

If only they learned what it was first.

Monday, July 10, 2017

The Glory of Doing Nothing

I apologize again for skipping a post last week, but not really because I was on vacation.  I took my annual trip to go see my old buddies back in NW Ohio, the VP of Hell No and the Chairman of Fuck Off (or CFO).  I wasn’t keen on doing anything that resembled “work,” lest I start down the slippery slope and accidentally do something productive, while I’m supposed to be relaxing.

The trip was almost kiboshed before it even started when I leaned over to grab my suitcase and felt something “pop” in my right calf.  It wasn’t very painful but it felt funny.  I couldn’t get much push from my foot when I walked.

Then by the time I got off the plane, I had a significant limp.  But even limping along like Verbal Kint, I was still moving faster than the hordes of dum-dums in the airport, around whom I had to maneuver.

As I progressed through the remainder of the day, it continued to cause me to limp, so I feared my vacation might be remembered more for icing my calf than icing my quaff.  But when I got up the next day, it felt much better.  There is still a “catch” in my calf and I still can’t push off with my right foot, but I don’t need to limp. 

You don’t want to be seen limping around Baltimore… you just look like prey.

Anyway, we’ll do a quick rundown of the week’s activities, such as they were.

Saturday
The VP picked me up at the airport and we headed straight back to the local tavern.  He just lost his Dad last month so this was the first time we didn’t stop to pick him up before going to the bar.  There, we toasted our lost friends and family.

Back at the house, the VP’s son and his family were visiting from Columbus.  The CFO and his daughter came out as well and we had dogs and burgers on the grill.  The VP just recently got DVR service so we rounded out the night by watching various Steelers-related shows and specials.

Sunday
I’d never been to a Costco before so we rectified that on Sunday.  We had to stock up on meat products for the week’s grilling.
Three racks of ribs and eleven pounds of pork butt.  That’s what I call a Pork-a-palooza.

The previous week, I took my first serious try at eating blue crabs (a Maryland specialty.)  Sweetpea taught me how it’s done and I muddled through about five crabs. 
Working on my first blue crab.

What I learned is that it’s more about having a social event than actual eating.  When they talk about eating crab in the Midwest, it’s an entirely different thing.
The crab case from Costco.  Now that’s my kinda crabbin’.

I also learned that you can make a lunch out of nothing but samples at Costco.  There was one table handing out grilled steak pieces.  We walked by and a couple of ladies said, “$8.95 a pound,” as we took a sample.  When we doubled back later, there was a dude there.

“$8.95 a pound,” he said, as we took another bite.  When we walked by again, not 45 seconds later, he said, “$8.95 a pound,” so we took a third piece.  Apparently, Costco hired Dory to hand out samples.

Another lady was cooking seasoned pork loin medallions.  We circled her like sharks, waiting for her to put some on the tray, but she kept putting her finished morsels in a plastic container.  The VP and I must have hovered for 20 minutes, waiting for her to produce the goods.  When she finally did, people came running from every direction.  We weren’t the only ones staking her out, I guess.  The smell alone was drool-inducing.

That evening turned out to be bratwurst night.
Ohio sausage party.

The CFO and his daughter were back, along with her boyfriend.  His other daughter was there too, with her baby.  And the VP’s son’s daughter arrived as well… I spent 30 seconds talking to her before I even realized who the hell she was.  When she saw me, she ran up and gave me a hug, and I’m thinking, “Who the hell is this?  I know it’s the VP’s family… which one is she?

It had been at least six years since I’d last seen her, when she was 4 or 5 years old.  I’d even blogged about it, remarking about how little girls “flit” rather than walk.  Couldn’t believe it was the same person. 

Monday
The VP’s wife’s family all came for the day; most of whom I’d never met, and those I had, it had been at the VP’s wedding almost 40 years ago.  So I mostly chilled in the TV room and watched movies.  Of course, I had to come out for the pulled pork.
The pork, in its initial, un-pulled state.

I finished the night at the tavern, with the VP and CFO.

Tuesday
The VP has more tools than any human I’ve ever met.  I should have known it was a “like father/like son” situation.  He told me he got his dad’s tool box.  I figured it was a regular tool box, about the size of a fishing tackle box.  I was mistaken.
I should have known that this was what his family considers a “tool box.”

From inside the toolbox, the VP pulled out the biggest Allen wrench I’ve ever seen.
It looks like it came from some exotic IKEA that sold furniture for giants.

Tuesday was the Fourth of July, (Happy Anniversary, Mom and Dad!) so we just hung out at the house.  The VP smoked the ribs, which were a-MAY-Zing!

The CFO, VP and I killed the night digesting our ribs and watching movies.

Wednesday
If you thought the trip to Costco was exciting, you should have come with the VP and I to the DMV, so he could get his license renewed.  (We really know how to throw a vacation!)

Really, it wasn’t too bad.  Only took about 20 minutes, unlike the two and a half hours it took me the last time I had to renew in Baltimore.  But the best part was the office was a couple doors down from a Mexican restaurant, where we went for lunch.

They asked if I wanted a large or small beer, which I usually take as a trick question.  Of course I want the LARGE beer… But then they set this 32-oz monster mug down in front of me.  [Gulp]
I swear, I had to two-hand that one.

We couldn’t fill up though because we had big plans for the evening.

Every year when I visit, we always earmarked one night for a visit to my old college town to get the best pizza on the planet, at a shop called Myles Pizza.  Unfortunately, Myles closed last year, so I was not anticipating a trip this year.  However, the CFO’s daughter (who just graduated from my alma mater) told me that she heard the place that replaced Myles was very close in quality.  So I figured we’d have to check it out for ourselves and do some due diligence.

I was mighty glad we did.  It was practically the same pizza, and just the way I like it… Massive.
The new establishment's name: 516 Pizza.  I think the 516 comes from how many ounces are in the pizza.

There was no beer for us after that dinner.  We had to make do with something less filling but no less satisfying; a nice bottle of Woodford Reserve.

That night, the local town had its Founder’s Day fireworks show, but we didn’t have to go anywhere.  We could see it from the VP’s driveway.
Oooh.  Ahhhh.

Thursday
The VP and I watched some more DVRed Steelers stuff, including the Steelers/Chiefs playoff game from this January.  It was funny because I remembered practically nothing about that game.  Not coincidentally, that was the evening I first met Sweetpea.  I was probably distracted.

Final grilled entrée for the week: chicken.
Not pictured: the baked potatoes.

Friday
My last day in town was as uneventful as the previous five. We hung out until afternoon, then went out to the tavern for dinner.  (Fresh perch special… no pics though.  You’ll just have to use your imagination.)

I know it sounds like my vacation is nothing but a big zero.  We didn’t really go anywhere exciting or do anything unique.  But, like every year, it’s what I need: just some uninterrupted time to unplug from daily stress and workplace pressure.  I want to somewhere I can just be… hang with my oldest friends, drink cold beverages, eat grilled meat, smell the clean air and look at the stars.  Or at least, movie stars.

I know it’s not exotic or fascinating but it’s what I need.  I returned to my Sweetpea’s arms on Saturday, loaded with stories, scuttlebutt, a couple pieces of leftover pizza and two quarts of pulled pork.

Perfect end to a perfect week.  Thanks, guys, for having me out.

Monday, June 26, 2017

The AHCA is Making Me Sick

I’m sorry I skipped a post last week.  I was at an Orioles game on Monday night and just never got back on track to write.  Tuesday I took delivery of my new 55” Ultra-HD TV, so I needed to sit and play with THAT all night. 
Scarlett Johanssen makes any TV look great.

Then I had jury duty on Wednesday, after which I was too worn out from sitting still, to write anything meaningful.
(Once again, I didn’t get seated on a jury.  I was called in with the first group of the day, but after 2 freakin’ hours of questioning jurors, they filled the jury (and 3 alternate spots) before they got to me.

I was just worried that I was going to get stuck as an alternate again, where you sit through the whole trial but are then dismissed if all 12 jurors are still around.  I termed the resulting condition of hearing all the evidence by being kept from doing any adjudicating, “Judicial Blue Balls.”  I don’t recommend it.)

Since I’ve been away, the Senate has excreted its version of the House health care bill.  Written by 13 white men, squirreled away in secret, it is every bit as oppressive as the House bill.  The CBO report came out this afternoon, stating 22 million people will lose their insurance, including 15 million by the end of next year.

This whole thing stinks from top to bottom, from the process to the result.

The Republicans have shown, once again, that they are immune to shame or charges of hypocrisy, by writing the bill in secret, limiting access, and then attempting to pass it with zero hearings and insufficient scrutiny.  You know… all the things they charged the Democrats with doing on the ACA, except the Dems had dozens of hearings and it took months to move their bill through Congress. 

In a nutshell, Republicans charged their opponents with terrible things that they didn’t actually do, and then they did all of those things themselves.  That’s hypocrisy.  Really, that’s worse.  That’s lies on top of hypocrisy.  But why quibble?  They know that no one will care by the time we have the next elections.

Both House and Senate bills have proved to be vastly unpopular with American voters.  As such, one might think that would impel our Congressmen to scrap such a hated idea.  But one would be wrong because Republican’s don’t give a rat’s ass what the American voters think.  They only care what the Koch Brothers think, along with the other filthy rich donors who keep their re-election campaigns flush with cash.

And the Koch Brothers want the massive tax cut that goes with the ACA repeal, so that’s what they’ll get.  It’s really that simple.

So far, a couple of Senators have declared that they can’t support this bill.  Some think the bill goes too far, others don’t think it went far enough.  But it doesn’t matter because it’s all completely for show.

Those who think it goes too far, have to say that because they’re in tough re-election fights and have to appear responsive to the Will of the People.  As with the House version, a few amendments or adjustments will be tacked on that sound good but solve very little, and these brave legislators will fold and fall back into line as they’re told to do.  I would expect two pre-chosen holdouts because two is all they can afford to lose.  There are 52 Republican senators and the GOP wins a 50-50 tie, with VP Pence casting the winning vote.  It will be very good theater.

Last time it was Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska who got the honors of appearing principled.  Maybe it will be someone else’s turn this time.

On the other side of the GOP holdouts, you have the mirrored problem.  Two of these guys are from the deepest of red states, (Texas, Utah) whose citizens have been fooled into thinking the ACA is some kind of Commie plot.  So, their senators also must appear to support the Will of the People and hold out for a more draconian bill.

Make no mistake, they will vote for passage too because they will shoulder significant blame if the ACA is left standing because of their abstention.  And by that, I mean blame from the Koch Brothers, not their constituents.  The Koch Brothers want their tax cut, period.  The rest is just details.

With the intense heat coming down on the GOP, you can see how hard they stick to their guns.  They are willing to take an incredible amount of bad press in order to financially fellate the 1-percenters.  To paraphrase the great sage James T Kirk, “The needs of the 1 (percent) outweighs the needs of the many.”  And they know they are bullet proof. 

The next time the key senators have to run for re-election, they know that all that Koch money will be used to manufacture some “outrage” issue which can be used to deflect attention away from their fat cat pandering.  

And in the House?  Forget about it.  The last couple special elections have shown that GOP seats are so well gerrymandered, they can survive amid huge opposition money streams.  They’re bulletproof as well. 

So the rest of us can hold all the protests we want and write letters all day and all night, march mile after mile, and blog furiously into the night, but it won’t make a lick of difference. 

Sure, with a concerted effort, plus increased attention and a lot of dough, maybe Democrats can flip a few Senate seats in 2020.  (Only a couple Republican senators are up for re-election in 2018.) 

But the only effective course of action is to play the long game, like the Republicans did, and pack state and local governments with progressive people.  Then maybe we can change some of those congressional boundaries the Republicans are going to court to defend.  And THEN, we can think about taking back the House of Representatives. 

But until that happens, all we can do is howl from the cheap seats while the press leaps at every distraction thrown their way.  Meanwhile, conservatives will work on what they do best, conserving their own power and directing the money trough upward, back to their corporate benefactors.

And if you think that’s cynical, I just had another thought.  Perhaps the Republicans know that every person who dies because they can’t get subsidized insurance is just one more opposition vote they no longer have to overcome.  If gerrymandering doesn’t work, they’ll win through attrition.

It’s like what the Reagan Administration said when gay men and drug users were dying at the onset of the AIDs epidemic… “It’s not like we’re losing “our” people…”

You know, because they’re the Family Values party and that’s what Jesus would do.

Monday, June 12, 2017

Odd Bits – The Batman and Batsmen Edition

Every couple of years, the Pittsburgh Pirates play a couple of games here in Baltimore, against the Orioles.  These are my two favorite teams so I always go see a couple of games from the series.  (This year they play two here, a Tuesday and Wednesday, and then two in the Burgh, in September.)

While you see me reference the Orioles more frequently, due to my proximity to Camden Yards, I still consider the Buccos my favorite team.  The black and gold runs deep.  And given that I have three different Pirates game jerseys and precious little chance to wear them, I had to take advantage of the opportunity.

I went to the Tuesday game by myself, although I met Sitcom Kelly and her Sitcom Mother and Sister, for pre-game beers.  But they were sitting under the deck to the right of home.  I had a seat 14 rows behind the Pirates’ dugout.  
The view from Section 52.

As such, there were a good many Pirates fans around me.  I ended up talking to one guy from Pittsburgh who was there with his family.

Pirates first baseman John Jaso tossed the kid a ball when coming off the field. 
John Jaso

I could have had a shot at it but Dad had me boxed out.  (Don’t judge… the kid will probably lose it down a sewer somewhere.)

So about halfway through the game, the Dad gets a message that we were both just on TV, on the Pittsburgh local broadcast.  I thought that might happen.  The local production likes to find their fans with the team on the road, and I was sitting in a cluster of them. 

Then whoever was watching the TV feed took a screen shot and sent it.  I had him text it to me, and voila.  Here I am on TV again

While I am talking to the Man in the Yellow Hat, that does not give you license to call me Curious George.

Pirates took a 2 run lead into the 9th, but the O’s tied it on Jonathan Schoop’s 2nd HR of the night…

I couldn’t complain; it was a heck of a game.

The next night, Sweetpea came with me.  We had seats in the club level, looking down the first baseline.
Our view from Section 244.

We chilled there for a couple of innings before going back to forage for food.  As we walked around, we ran right into my brother and his friends, talking to my brother-in-law from Cincinnati and his friends.  I knew they were both going to be there, but I was waiting for my brother to give me the high sign to join him in his company suite and figured I’d triangulate w/ the BIL at that point.  So they beat me to it.  We hung out and chilled there for a while and then watched the end of the game from the suite.
Sweet view from the Suite.  And it looks even better with a couple of crab cakes on your plate.

This time, the Pirates gave up a 4-run lead in the bottom of the 9th.  The O’s tied it on a homer by rookie, (and Sweetpea’s favorite player) Trey Mancini, and won it in the 11th on another Mancini HR.

While the endings didn’t go my way, both games were wildly entertaining.  No complaints from me.  Now I’m back to “Let’s Go O’s!”

Dimming the Bat Signal
It was with a great nostalgic sadness that I learned of the passing of Adam West, TV’s venerable Batman, from the campy 60s series.

I say it’s campy now, but at the time, when I was in early grade school, that shit was deadly serious.  Every afternoon, my brother and I would race home to see who the big villain was this week, or how Batman and Robin were going to get out of diabolical deathtrap in which they were ensnared.  When the show was over, we’d run outside to relive the episode, sometimes with our “official” bat capes and masks, sometimes with a dish towel tucked into our collars.
It wasn’t until I watched some of the episodes again, as an adult, that I saw how genuinely funny it was.  There was so much stuff I missed.

For example, in one episode, the police were questioning a bad buy in an empty room, save for one giant un-shaded light over the crook’s head.  On the wall, there was a sign by the switch: “SUBTLE INTERROGATION LIGHT.”

I’m happy that Mr. West made peace with his caped alter-ego, and was a regular at comic conventions and the like.  I’m sure he knew that his continuing safety was paramount to a legion of dish-toweled little kids like me.
Goodbye, Batman.  A grateful nation thanks you!

The Pen-Ultimate Series
So, what was it that happened last night?  Oh yeah, the Pittsburgh Penguins won the mudda fuckin’ Stanley Cup for the 5th time!  Holy crap!

But I have to start the story from last Thursday night.

I’d been having some trouble with my TV lately.  When I was watching Game 4 of the finals, all of a sudden the picture started freezing with a kind of strobe effect.  It made the screen appear like it was bleached out.  There was no depth or richness to the color.  It was annoying but I eventually “fixed” it by turning it off and on a few times.  That worked for the rest of the game and it stayed fixed throughout the week, and even during the day on Thursday, when I had the Comey hearing on.

(I was going to write some stuff about that, but what more is there to say at this point?  The Republicans just want to pretend President 45 was vindicated, claim vindication and move on.  So what else is new?)

Anyway, when I put the game on Thursday night, the problem returned, and turning the TV off and on didn’t do anything this time.  I was forced to watch the game like I was looking through a gauzy linen.  And that was a shame because this was the first game of the series where the Pens looked like themselves, winning 6-0.

Through the process of elimination, I determined that this was a problem with the TV, and not the network or the cable. 

I’d been poring over new TV models for the last couple years.  I got my TV, my first flat screen, a 46” Samsung, in 2009, just in time to watch the Pens win their third Cup.  With the way the tech has advanced since then, I've been longing for an upgrade, but you know how it is… I had a perfectly good TV and other things to replace kept arising.  (Washer, dryer, car, bedroom TV…)  I couldn’t justify the expense.

AND, if and when I join forces with Sweetpea, she already has an extremely nice TV.  I was planning on just ditching mine when the time came.

But now, my luck had just run out.  I’d have to replace the TV and there was no way I was going to get one delivered before Sunday.  (Yes, I know I could have just gone and bought one from whatever was in stock, but I A) wanted someone to set up the remote, B) set up the Wi-Fi (because this would be my first “smart TV”), C) take the old TV away.)

I went out to my local Best Buy on Saturday afternoon and made the purchase; a Samsung 7000 series 55” Smart TV.  And as I figured, it can’t be delivered until next week.

As I’ve written before, I’ve been spending my weekends with Sweetpea, but I’ve always come back home on Sunday night, before the start of the work week.  So if I were to watch the game at her place, I could either come home very late or just stay over another night.

Easy call.  I just had to bring clothes for work on Monday and decide on game attire.

For away games, I’ve been wearing my newest white Malkin #71 jersey, but the Penguins lost the last three times.  I felt it was time to do something daring, so I eschewed wearing any jersey and went with an old Pens t-shirt… the one I wore during Game 7 of the 2009 Cup Finals when the Pens won the Stanley Cup vs Detroit.
 It had a reliable recent history too because I’d also worn it during the Blue Jackets series when watching an away game at Sweetpea’s house, and the Pens won. 

So, it worked out, but damn if it wasn’t stressful.  As the score remained 0-0 throughout the 3rd period, I just kept thinking, “Please not overtime, please not overtime…”   Sweetpea had already gone to bed so it was only me there, living and dying on every shot.

Then, as you may know, Patrick Hornqvist knocked in a bank shot off the back of the goalie with a minute and a half left in the game.  I celebrated as loud as I could, without waking up the rest of the house.  Startled the hell out of the dog, though.

And that was all she wrote… the Pens added an empty netter but the result was already locked in.  My Penguins are the first team to repeat as Stanley Cup champions since 1998.
In retrospect, it was good that I was watching the game alone.  Watching the Pens skate the Cup always turns me into a sloppy mess, especially when it’s this guy’s turn.
Le Magnifique.

Congratulations to Sid, Geno, Phil, Flower, Murray, Kuny, and all the “kids.”  Great season.  Another amazing coaching job from Mike Sullivan. 

And as my nephew texted me, “Suddenly games in DC just became much easier to go to.”


Monday, June 5, 2017

Odd Bits - The Environmental Edition

Once again, President 45 has isolated our country from the rest of the civilized (and even the UN-civilized) world but moving to pull out of the Paris accord to fight climate change.  Every country in the entire world, including North Korea, all the crooked South American regimes, all the oil-ocracies in the Middle East, all the crazy warlord-ridden African nations, all of them except Syria and Nicaragua, have signed onto the accord.

Sources say that one of the reasons he pulled out is to seek revenge on the European countries who didn’t sufficiently kiss his ass last week during the G7 meetings, especially France, whose new boy-leader dared to engage in a handshake-as-bigger-dick contest with him.  Apparently, Marcon had advanced warning about Trump’s inclination to use handshakes from world leaders a means to express his own dominance, by pulling them toward him as the other man is letting go.  So French guy beat Trump at his own game and now he’s so butt-stung, he’s delivering a giant F-U to Europe, the world, and anyone else who doesn’t want to see the world turn into a Martian landscape.

Personally, I don’t think that was an over-riding reason Trump pulled out… I think it’s more like the gravy.  You know, it’s a small added bonus to stick it to some people who didn’t suck up enough, especially not compared to the Saudis.  The Middle East portion of his trip featured massive ego stroking.  You have to hand it to those dictatorial autocracies; they really know how to spit-shine an ego.  And all they got in return was a massive arms deal.

So now our “leader” is praising ruthless royal families and nutso dictators while insulting and quarreling with our most faithful allies.

There it is… Isolationism: The Millennial Edition

Now, I’m not going to get into the facts and figures, hypotheses and counter-hypotheses of climate change.  To everyone in the civilized world, except Republicans, the science is clear. 

The thing that made it clear for me is the graphic on this link.  Here, it shows the progression of average global temperature from 20,000 BC until today.  When climate critics claim that we’re just undergoing a natural cycle, like the planet has experienced before, you can see how full of shit they are.  These “cycles” are gradual increases and decreases that played out over thousands of years.  Nowhere in history has there ever been a jump in temperatures like we’ve experienced in the last 100 years. Or even the last 16.

But because Republicans are bought and paid for by the fossil fuel industry, they are forced to call the sky green and the grass blue and throw as much crap at the wall as possible to refute accepted scientific findings.  All because big business doesn’t want to spend money on anything that doesn’t positively impact their bottom line in the next quarter. 
It doesn’t matter if the planet burns up, or the coastline moves miles inland, they must protect their stockholders, right.  (And by extension, the executives whose bonuses are tied to profits and stock price.)  Granted, they may have been swept out to sea but more stock for the rest! 

London Bridges
After yet another terrorist attack in London, our tweet-happy president took the opportunity to politicize another country’s tragedy by applying our country’s politics to it.

First, he took the London mayor’s “Don’t be alarmed” comment completely out of context, you know, the way Fox “News” does every day.

The tweet:

The actual quote from the mayor: “Londoners will see an increased police presence today and over the course of the next few days,” Khan said on BBC. “No reason to be alarmed.”

See, this is why Fox “News” and the Republicans who fall in with them are frauds.  The “No reason to be alarmed” part was about a separate subject, the police presence, not the likelihood of further attacks.

Trump knew the difference… they all know the difference, but they don’t care.  He knows his base will believe him without question and an even greater number won’t read any further than the headlines or the lone tweet.  So he gets to reinforce his prejudicial viewpoint, the truth be damned.

And if you’ve paid attention over the last year, “truth” is irrelevant in conservative politics.

The other tweet was just as odd:

Maybe he’s right about this one because we SHOULD be having a gun debate, even though the terrorists didn’t use guns.  Because there’s a reason for that!

Seven people died in the London Bridge incident, which is tragic, but you can bet the death toll would have been much higher if guns were as easy to obtain in England as they are in the US.

There were reports of one guy fending off the terrorists by throwing a restaurant table and chair at them.  Think that’s going to happen if the bad guys were wielding semi-automatic weapons rather than cutlery?

If they had guns, they could have mowed down dozens in mere seconds.  Knives and motor vehicles aren’t nearly as efficient.  So no, the argument is not to ban knives and trucks, like conservatives pretend liberals should want to do; it’s to double the efforts to remove access to semi-automatic rifles.

Seven families have to grieve for their loved ones, taken too soon and that’s terrible.  But that’s better than dozens of families… or hundreds.   

It’s plain and simple: England’s restrictive gun policy saved lives.  But better we have all that “freedom,” to offset our massive death toll, right?



Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Arrhythmia 'N Bluz Part 4

And here I was, about to write about the holiday weekend, where my nephew graduated high school, for which my parents were in town, and how they finally got to meet Sweetpea.  But then real life intruded, as it is prone to do.

Over the aforementioned weekend, I began to experience a reoccurrence of the atrial fibrillation I last had in 2013.  I lived with this condition for many years and had surgery to correct it in 2002 and again in 2007.  Since then I’ve only had the one relapse four years ago, brought on by a long swig of ice-cold beer.

This time, I couldn’t identify a single cause, although the weekend’s carousing probably didn’t help.  But I knew the signs right off.  Chest felt funny and the smallest activity made me feel fatigued.

Per my cardiologist’s instructions, if I got down there within 48 hours of onset, I could get a cardioversion or “shock” treatment to jolt the heart back into rhythm, without the lengthy and invasive pre-op treatments and blood work.

Basically, it was a déjà vu experience, but with lessons learned.  This time, I knew not to expect to be out by 10 AM.  I got up super early and logged into my work computer from home, so I could clear any tasks leftover from the weekend and notify my boss that I’d be MIA today.

Sweetpea took me down to the subway station around 6:30 and agreed to pick me up at the hospital later, after working a half day.  She offered to come with me the whole time, but I told her it wasn’t necessary.  I’ve been to this rodeo before.

Anyway, I got down there, got evaluated in the Emergency Room, which confirmed my self-diagnosis.  They assigned me a room and had me take off my shirt and put on the dreaded hospital gown  This model was even more confounding than the previous ones.

I held it up and there was one hole, off to the side, bordered by snaps.  There were some other random snaps scattered about the other side.  I couldn’t tell if it was a head hole or an arm hole, so I stood there like an asshole until an orderly came in, who I asked for help.

Apparently, the one hole was an arm hole and he fashioned another arm hole out of the snaps on the other side.  These things need to have a schematic diagram printed on the inside.  Maybe IKEA can roll out their own line.  I wouldn’t have figured that out in a million years. 
They immediately stuck a port needle into my right arm but didn’t hook it up to anything.  Then later, they put one on my other side, at my wrist.  That one, they eventually used for the anesthetic.  The first one, they said when I asked, was merely a backup.  I think they just put it there to piss me and keep me tied down.
The port on my left wrist.

The staff was all very nice and as usual, I made sure they loved me.  I was polite, helpful, thoughtful, and joked around with them.  I wanted them to love me in case something went wrong during the procedure, so they’d try extra hard to save my ass.

There was a lot of waiting around again, but not nearly as much as the last time.  But it was nice they had a TV in the room, to keep me occupied.  It was even nicer when I could use the remote to turn off Spongebob Squarepants and put on ESPN and the NFL Network. 

It was ice cold in the room so they broke out a pair of hospital socks for me!
Score!

Around 11:00, I got word that approvals had been given, all systems were “go” and they were preparing to do the cardioversion as I wished (as opposed to prescribing meds or admitting me for overnight observation.)  And they were going to do it right there in the ER, rather than taking me up to the cardio unit, where they did my last one.  Hence, my small room began filling up with people.  One of them started putting the big adhesive pads on my chest and back, where the shock paddles were to go.

It was a weird point of view.  As I laid there, there were two people to my left, two people to my right and someone at the foot of the bed.  From my angle, it looked like I was looking through a bug-eyed lens at a small crowd peering down at me like I was a lab experiment.

The person at the foot of the bed introduced herself as the pharmacist and said she was there because she liked to see…

I cut her off and said, “Dudes get electrocuted?

Usually, when I’m put under, it’s an instantaneous blackout, like at the end of the final episode of the Sopranos.  One second I’m there, the next second I’m out and back again at a later time.

This time, when they pushed the drugs, they looked at me and said, “How do you feel?

At that point, I said, “Fine!  What’s the matter?  Want me to count?”  Nothing was happening.

But then a wave hit me and I go, “Ohhh, there we go.  Drowsy…  Good night.”  

And I was out.  And then awake again in two and a half seconds, which was really 10 minutes.  They put me out at 11:30 and brought me back by 11:40.

All went well, so they all packed up their shit and left me there to rest.  Heartbeat was back to normal.  I’d have loved to take a nap right there, but that was made impossible by the automated blood pressure cuff that kicked into action every five minutes for the next 2 hours.  But I could hear the now-steady beep beep beep of my heart on the monitor.  And that sure beats the hell out of Beeeeeeeeeeeeeep.

Since I couldn’t sleep, I turned to the NFL Network just in time to catch a replay of the Steelers/Ratbirds 2016 Christmas Day game (which the Steelers won in a huge comeback).  I didn’t even have to take out my crossword puzzle or iPad.
Here we go!

Sweetpea got there just about 3:00, just in time to witness them pulling all the adhesive pads off my chest.
I knew I should have shaved first…

I think they waited for her to be there just so I wouldn’t fuss and whine when they yanked it all off.  After dispatching the smaller patches, the nurse asked me if I wanted to do the big one myself.  I was like, “Hell no!  We’ll be here all night…”

It takes me 45 minutes just to get all the way into a cold swimming pool.  I’m not good with the big shock.  Left to my own devices, I’d have had them bring me in an Exact-O Knife.  So I let her do the honors and I tried very hard not to recreate the waxing scene from 40-Year-Old Virgin.

Earlier, when Sweetpea and I were waiting, she asked when they were going to come in and get me ready for discharge.  I didn’t know… they just kept turning up intermittently throughout the afternoon.  She said we should use the Call Button.

I wanted to wait.  It was getting to the end of the Steelers/Rats game and I wanted to see the end.  I didn’t want someone talking to me and giving me instructions while I was trying to watch AB stretch out over the goal line for the big “W.”  So I said we should wait until 3:30 because that was an even four hours after my procedure.

Minutes later we heard an announcement; there was a trauma coming in, which was three minutes out.  All doctors were to get ready.

Shortly after, when the nurse came in to remove my adhesive pads, she mentioned that I’d be free to go but all my doctors were tied up in that trauma.  She didn’t know how long it would be, but only a doctor could produce my exit paperwork.

So you can imagine the steely stare directed at me from Sweetpea.  If I’d have used the call button when she first mentioned it, we’d have been out of there.

I promised I’d listen to her from now on.  But I DID get to see the end of the game.  Whoo hoo!  Here We Go Steelers!

We didn’t really have to wait much longer, though.  We were out the doors by 4:00 and on the way for a Chinese dinner.

What?  There are a lot of vegetables in Chinese food… It’s GOOD for me!  I have to be health-conscious now.

The last thing Sweetpea told me?

"Next time you want to see me on a weeknight, just ask."

I tell you, this one's a keeper.  I just have to make sure I stay around.

Monday, May 22, 2017

Odd Bits - The Confederate Edition

I have to caution liberals and other sentient beings about trying to get our current president/clown removed from office.

I’m not saying that he shouldn’t be… after all, we’ve never seen such a combination of incompetence, petulance and pure profiteering coming from the office of the President.  But if 45 WAS impeached or forced to resign, what happens next?

I say, there’s no point in removing Trump without also getting rid of the rest of the posse.  Next man up is Pence, and he’s the one who scares me. 

Trump is a pragmatist; I think he’s using the social conservatives and alt-right racists to bolster his numbers so he can go about the very Republican business of bolstering big business at the expense of the rest of us.  So sure, he throws out a couple bones… Muslim ban here, religious “liberty” (to treat gays as second-class citizens) there, and he mollifies his supporters.  But I don’t think he really believes that stuff.  He only believes in making money for himself and his family.

Pence is a true believer.  He really thinks the gay community are undeserving of common decency and respect.  He showed us that by signing one noxious state law after another when he was governor of Indiana.  He is a religious holy roller with a keen interest in promoting narrow Christian ideals into government policy.  Of course, he’ll gladly omit the Christian ideals of healing the sick or feeding the poor, because the needy obviously don’t work hard enough. 

And speaking of healing the sick, the next batter up, Speaker of the House, Paul Ryan, is known for his draconian budget proposals and help no-one health care initiatives, which further squeeze the poor in favor of tax cuts for the rich. 

If either of these two become president, exactly nothing will change from what we have now, other than they will get these ponderous policy changes passed without shooting themselves in the foot every other day.  They’re consummate politicians, so they know how to get these things passed, in the houses they control, quietly and without disturbance.    The sideshow will leave and be replaced by the icy indifference of loan sharks.

None the less, the whole impeachment debate seems pointless to me.  I mean, the Republicans are going to have to be the ones to pull the trigger and I just don’t see that happening in the House.  The same racists, isolationists, and moralists who voted for Trump also voted for their GOP representative.  How anxious do you think they’ll be for overturning the will of their carefully gerrymandered districts?  No, they won’t buck the Prez until they’re made to by their constituents. 

And what happens when their constituents show up and complain at town hall meetings?  The dissent is blamed on those from outside the district.

I don’t think anything changes with the rank and file GOP until people start losing their insurance for real.  Granted they’ll still find a way to blame it on the Democrats…

Debunkery – The Statue of Limitations Edition
I haven’t enjoyed a good debunking in a while so I’m leaping at the chance to tear up this playground-level faulty analogy.

This issue is that some places in the south, New Orleans in particular, (and even here in Baltimore) are removing statues and monuments erected to pay tribute to Confederate soldiers and ideals.  Naturally, rednecks and racists are complaining about the loss of their “history.”  That brings us to this leap of logic:
In the grade-school level mind of the meme generator and those who re-post it, mosques = statues.  If the statues come down, so should mosques, because 9/11.

Here is the salient difference: The statues and monuments pay tribute to the idea of the Confederacy; a group of states who seceded from the Union because they wanted to keep other human beings in unpaid servitude.

A mosque is where millions of people pray to a different God than the Christians do, in a different manner.  A mosque doesn’t inherently stand for the destruction of the twin towers, other than in the minds of racists who cannot tell the difference between individuals and institutions. 

Sure, there may be mosques that preach revolution against the western dogs, but chances are, they’re located in the Middle East.  Removing mosques in the US serves no purpose but a twisted sense of vengeance. 

But every one of those Confederate monuments supports the idea that it’s OK for a race of people to be subjugated. 

The two examples are not remotely alike in form or function, which makes this an apples-to-oranges comparison and a ridiculous If/Then statement. 

I’m also tired of the argument: “But they’re removing our history!”

You know what?  Not all our history is something of which we should be proud.

People love to bring up Nazi Germany in persuasive arguments, but I’ll tell you what… There is a lot of history in Germany too, but you don’t see the Germans celebrating it.  Modern Germans (skinheads aside) are mortified by their country’s involvement in WWII; they’re not putting up monuments to the efficiency of their concentration camps or celebrating the nobility and devotion of the oven-operators. 

History should be remembered and learned from.  It doesn’t necessarily have to be commemorated.

But then, tell that to the people who are still fighting the war.

Monday, May 15, 2017

Monday, May 8, 2017

Dog Days

Things have been going swimmingly with my Sweetpea and me; so easily, in fact, that it makes me wonder why things were always so difficult for me in the past.

But the one variable that remains is a dogged one.  And I mean that literally.

Sweetpea has a 4-year old yellow lab, (aka The Beast), who she has essentially raised by herself.  That means they have an intense bond that is scary-strong.

Now, I’ve always loved dogs.  I think dogs are often better than people, especially judging by Facebook postings.  But I haven’t had a dog since I was in college.  In fact, no one in my family has; we’ve been exclusively a cat family for decades.

The Beast has never been mean or hostile to me; on the contrary, I get a huge greeting every time I come in the house.  And I’m not even bringing treats anymore.  Although I will admit that the intensity of the greeting has decreased since the treats have stopped.  I still get a few jumps and face licks, but as soon as he sees my hands are empty, he rapidly loses enthusiasm.  And when his “Mommy” and I come in at the same time, well, I might as well not even be there. 

Director’s DVD Commentary:  Yes, Sweetpea calls the Beast her “Son” and she is his “Mommy.”  And when we first started dating, she said her son needed a “baby-daddy.”  (And I applied for the job.)  I know some people get offended by using those terms with pets, but too bad.  They get to name their own relationships, not anyone else’s.  In my home, our pets were always called our “fur-brothers” or “fur-sisters.”  Ain’t no thang…

The thing about The Beast is that he’s extremely smart AND vocal.  He’s like having an 81-pound toddler with fangs.  When he wants to play, he expects to play.  NOW.  Dog doesn’t care if you’re tired or hungry or sick or have other shit to do; when he wants to play, it’s time to play.  (And it’s always time to play.)

And if we’re busy talking, or heaven forbid, hugging, he’ll start “talking,” in a sort of guttural, back-of-the-throat onslaught of vowels.  “Can’t you see me sitting here?  I’m right here, and I want to play ball!  If I had thumbs, I’d throw a bucket of cold water on you two…”

If you were to hear him, without being privy to what’s going on, you’d be like, “Who is torturing that poor dog?  He sounds like he’s being torn from his soul!

Like toddlers, they don’t understand the concept of “enough.”  She can take him for a 45-minute walk, feed him like a king, go outside and have a session or two of throw-the-ball-and retrieve, and as soon as they come in, he wants to know what they’re going to do next.

Hah!  Feeding… I bet that dog eats better than some of her schoolkids.  If we’re having breakfast, she makes him an egg, and he gets a slice of whatever else we’re eating with it.  If she grills, she makes him his own burger.  His regular meal has blueberries and cheese and broth and whatever else is left over added to it.
No, he doesn’t always get a full platter; he’s just licking up the meat juice.

They have a “training” routine that cracks me up.  She cuts up half of a weenie and a cheese stick and she puts him through the paces.  Sit, stay, leave it, kiss mommy, heel, down… etc., with each feat rewarded with a goodie.  The thing is, the only time The Beast will obey any of these commands is during the Routine.

I often joke with Sweetpea that he is actually training HER and this is really nothing but a highly-ritualized snack producing exercise.  I’m like, “I’ll be impressed when you tell him to stay when he clearly doesn’t want to stay and there is no treat in sight.”

But let me be clear; none of this really bothers me… I kind of get a kick out of it.  I like having a dog around and their dynamic amuses me.  But yes, it can be a pain sometimes. 

Here’s a typical evening.

When I go to her place after work, they’re playing ball (or just finished) and then she makes dinner.  He gets his dinner when we eat ours.  Then he gets a bit of our dinner once we’re done.

After cleanup, it’s back outside for another ball game.

When done, Mommy comes in to sit down with me and have a drink.  Dog stands there peering intently at Mommy, not moving when she implores him to sit with us on the couch.  (He has his own area(s).)
The Beast in his spot.

He brings a toy over, not to hand over for tossing, but to be tugged on, or for us to chase him.  (That’s his favorite thing… to be chased around the room.)  She reaches for the toy, but he backs away, head cocked, still staring intently.

If we go back to what we were doing, talking amongst ourselves, then the vocalizing starts, usually with a grunt or two.  Then it becomes the long, tortured vowel movements where you’d think an alien is about to burst forth from his noble chest.  If there is still no response, (to his liking) the barking commences and that’s when The Beast gets in trouble.

Labs have a Big Dog bark.  Barking inside the house amplifies that into a nerve-jangling knife-edge.  Then either he goes in the crate for five minutes, (bad) or Sweetpea goes in her own room and shuts the door (worse).

The funny thing is that I think he’s barking because we already caught onto his other trick.  When I first came around, when he wasn’t getting attention and the vocalizing didn’t work, he’d go steal something of ours… usually something of mine.  My shoes, my slippers, Sweetpea’s glasses… one time he nosed into my overnight back and pulled out a folded pair of clean underwear, with which he ran around.

So now, when I come in, my shoes go in the closet, my clothes stay in the bag and I zip it up.  There’s not much left of ours for him to steal.

But that’s how smart he is… like, problem-solving smart.  We defeated one ploy so he created another.
The Beast, staring at Mommy while she gets dressed to go out and not play with him.

Remember when I wrote about how we got on well from the start?  That is literally because Sweetpea told him about me and he understood.  I don’t doubt that a bit.

It might sound like I’m just bitching about the dog… I’m really not.  I think the situation is hilarious (other than the barking).  And he’s just a product of his upbringing.  For years, it was just the two of them.  He had her undivided attention for most of the time she was home.  Who would give that up without a fight?  No rooster wants to see another rooster in the henhouse. 

The weekends have a different issue.  On weekdays, Sweetpea gets up around 5 AM for school.  So on weekends, she used to just do the same, out of habit.  Dogs don’t understand weekend sleep-ins, so he was raised to be ready for the day at 5:00. 

I, however, am not.  But we’ve gotten him to where he doesn’t come wake us up until 6-6:30, so that’s progress.  (OK, maybe not “us.”  Sweetpea gets up to tend to him and I fight for another hour’s sleep.)

We had a good time this weekend though.  I found out that he loves to watch horses.  He sat and watched the Kentucky Derby with us and rarely flinched from the screen.
Talk about a dog and pony show…

So now all we have to do is find some horse videos for him, or maybe subscribe to an OTB cable channel.  If we leave it on all night, we just might be able to sleep til’ 7:00!

Anyway, it’s been fun being around a dog again.  I know he’ll get used to me being around.  And I’ll get used to saving rib bones for him from work lunches.

I’ve seen what he can do to a big, thick bone.  I definitely want to stay on his good side.