Monday, December 28, 2015

I Guess it Wasn't Such a Bad Year After All

I was sitting here this morning, wondering about how I would classify the year I just had.  My first thoughts were that it was kinda bleah… but then I realized that my view was being overly colored by recent events, like the Steelers losing to the Ratbirds and probably missing the playoffs, and the Penguins looking generally terrible all year.

I’ve also had kidney stones return and a rotten cold that’s just finishing up.  I’ve spent the year free from romantic entanglements (and action) and my internet service is down to about 1MB every two minutes.  (I think Verizon is trying to squeeze me out of my grandfathered Unlimited Data Plan.  But the only thing they’re going to force me to do is jump to another provider.)

But really, all those things are pretty minor.  I actually had a pretty good year.  I mean, despite some emergency practice and a false start, I got to throw out the first pitch at a major league baseball game!  Holy shit; that was a dream come true.  (Almost as good as that Tina Fey dream I keep having, but I don’t like the odds of realizing that one.)

Speaking of Tina Fey, if you like her and Amy Poehler, go see “Sisters.”  Never mind what the critics say, the movie is just plain funny.  I especially liked getting to watch these two cut loose in an R-rated environment, without the heavy hand of network Standards and Practices interfering.  The ballerina music box scene is worth the price of admission by itself.  But I digress…

Early in the year, I got to Pittsburgh twice… once with my brother and nephew for Pens and Steelers games, (right after the Buckeyes won the National Championship!) and once with Sitcom Kelly and her Sitcom Sister, for a March Penguins game.

After watching my brother do all kinds of things with his smartphone, I finally joined this decade by purchasing my own iPhone and creating the iPhone Pledge.  And I’ve been boring you on social media with my comings and goings ever since.

This summer, I went to 21 Orioles games (O’s were 13-8 when I was there).  Eight of those, Sitcom Kelly went with me. (O’s were 6-2 when she went.  The Orioles ought to comp her some season tickets, to guarantee a playoff run.)  I went to a Social Media Event featuring Q and A from closer Zach Britton and acquired yet another orange tee shirt.  (I’m up to 10 so far, not including BGSU shirts.)

I also saw baseball games in Pittsburgh (at my Mom’s family reunion), Philly (with my buddy the CFO and his son, and a minor league game in Toledo

I got to play host to the CFO and his giant son in August.  They came out for a couple of Tigers games and the aforementioned one in Philly.  But we did a bunch more stuff too, like visiting the CFO’s old Navy post (in dry dock), the National Aquarium, the Maryland Science Center, and stuffed ourselves with meat at Fogo de Chao.

A month before that, they were the hosts as I went out for my annual visit to Northwest Ohio, where I took a campus tour with my muse, the CFO’s daughter, saw a Mudhens game, ate a pile of grilled stuff, AND chowed on the best pizza in the world.

Try not to drool on your smartphone.

I had to get a new car in February, but that could go either way.  I mean, “New car… Yay!” or “Aw crap; four years of car payments I wasn’t expecting.”  At least I didn’t smash into anything when my old car suddenly quit workingwhile I was driving it.

It was a good year in music, even if only for Joan Jett getting inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and seeing Billy Joel again.

OK, it wasn’t all fun and games in 2015.  First of all, Baltimore went straight to hell in a handbasket.  Later that year, someone stole the side mirror from my car.  And we lost my Grandpa, the Patriarch.  But still wasn’t all that bad, considering he was 99 and died in his sleep, surrounded by loved ones, with nothing sticking into him.  Grandpa won big, at the game of life.

There was some work stuff as well.  In June, my company relocated its office building, down to the ritzy part of town, on the waterfront.  The trade up is a beautiful, modern building.  The trade down is an open seating format.  My kingdom for a cube wall!

Also, the long-awaited sale of my company to its largest competitor was finalized in November. Now, we can begin to consolidate operations.  At the moment, I’m cautiously optimistic, but I should have a clearer look at my future by this time next year.

This is the first full year that I’ve done the “one post per week” schedule.  Somehow, I’m ending up with 53 posts.  I’m not sure how that happened… maybe it has something to do with it almost being leap year.

Let me thank you for coming along for the ride.  I may well still write if no one was reading, but it wouldn’t be nearly as much fun.  I appreciate your encouraging my behavior.

Best wishes to you and your family for a rockin’ 2016. 

Monday, December 21, 2015

Odd Bits - The Morning Surprise Edition

So, it’s Saturday morning and I’ve just had a lovely sleep.  I had a few beers Friday evening, so after hauling my tired body out of bed, taking a leak was my first priority. 

There’s nothing like that first morning pee!  It’s such a sweet release, especially if you’ve been lying in bed awhile, too warm and cozy to get up.  So I’m standing there and suddenly it was like the fountain turned off.

You know how sometimes when you’re draining the water in the sink, and the stopper falls in and goes right to the drain and seals it up tight? That’s what it was like, for a moment or two.

And in those moments, all I could think was “WTF?” and gave a little extra push.  Immediately, the logjam broke free and I was able to finish my mission.  But I was puzzled… I had no idea what just happened, nor could I determine the nature of the blockage.

I hadn’t put my contacts in yet, so I was blind as a bat and flying without the sonar.  All I could see was a big mass of bubbles. 

It took me a couple of minutes to put my “eyes” in, which gave the bubbles enough time to dissipate.  Once I could see, I went and took a peek, and sonofabitch, there it was.

A kidney stone.  I’d finally passed one of those goddamned kidney stones and lo and behold, it was completely painless, albeit a bit unnerving. 

I had been laid up with kidney stone pain during Thanksgiving week, and again about 2 months before that.  And I went to the hospital for my first stone, as you may remember, way back in 2013.  But I’d never actually passed anything, as far as I could tell.  (And believe me, I could tell.)

Obviously, I needed to retrieve the stone, a process to which I was NOT looking forward.  Luckily, I had some rubber cleaning gloves in the kitchen, which proved to be just the thing.  No muss, no fuss.  (Well, maybe a little fuss, which sounded like a lot like “Ew ew ew ew.”)

So now, I am able to bring to you, in full Technicolor glory:

Tada!  A 5-mm kidney stone.  (What?  Of course I measured it.)

If my 2013 x-rays were correct, this means I still have a 7-mm stone and another 5-mm one rattling around in the bladder.  I guess I’ll have to remain vigilant and be careful where I point this thing, lest I put somebody’s eye out.

The Marketing Awakens
Did anybody notice this new movie that came out Thursday night?  Something about some kind of astral skirmish?

Yeah, even the Amish were going, “OK, we get it.  The new Star Wars is coming out.”

I’ve never seen such a pervasive marketing campaign.  Every other commercial had a Star Wars tie-in, even if neither the product nor the theme of the commercial was applicable.

It made me wonder how necessary all of that really is.  I mean, this is one of the most highly anticipated movies I can ever recall.  They probably could have saved a truckload of money and just ran a few trailers.

Or maybe the advertisers were paying Lucasfilm for the rights to use Star Wars in their commercials.  Advertising all the way to the bank.

I also wonder if the toys are going to be as popular as they used to be.  Remember, in the 70s and 80s, kids still played with molded plastic toys that didn’t light up, beep or interact with other toys.  (Of course, maybe the new toys do that now, I don’t know.)  Or, maybe all the Star Wars fans from the originals will buy up all the toys just to save for another 30 years and sell to a new generation of nerds.

I’ve never been a Star Wars fanatic, but I do like the films.  I wanted to make sure I saw it early on, just to avoid encountering spoilers, so I decided to see it last Friday as a matinee.  I was off from work, so I figured it would be the best time.  Most people were still at work and school was still in session.  I didn’t see the need to buy the tickets in advance. 

I began desperately rethinking that decision once I hit the movie theater parking lot.  It was jammed!  I had to park way back in the outskirts of the lot.  I was really hoping I wouldn’t have to hang around for two more hours for the next showing.

Fortunately, my fears were short-lived.  There was no one in line and there were still plenty of seats in the theater.  (I had to sit on the side, though, but that was no big deal.)  I figured all the cars in the lot were from holiday shoppers, not movie-goers.

(NO, I didn’t dress in costume and I didn’t see anyone else dressed up either.  Maybe they only come out at night.)

Anyway, I loved the movie.  There were a number of times I got chills, like the first time you see Han Solo and Chewie get onboard the Millennium Falcon, and then the first time Han and Leia see each other.

I saw it in 3D and I recommend you do so as well.  It seemed worth the extra couple bucks.  There was one incredible shot I remember, where one of those large, wedgie, triangular starships came onscreen, and the tip of the ship seemed to hang out halfway over the audience.

It’s no secret that there are two more movies to follow, in addition to three spinoffs, so I wasn’t surprised when the ending came with a giant cliffhanger.  (OK, maybe not literally, but you’re dying to see what comes next.)

So if you like the franchise, I don’t think you’ll be disappointed in this edition.  And if you don’t, then go see “Sisters,” with Tina Fey and Amy Poehler (like I will next weekend.)

Saw this on Facebook and couldn’t decide how to debunk it… long version or short version. 

Short version: Just like a significant number of Christians.

But I still have some room here, so let me expand.

Who was it that campaigned tirelessly to continue bans on same-sex marriage, urge clerks to ignore Supreme Court rulings and maintain the marginalization of gays?  Evangelical Christians, Mormons, and Baptists.

Who would prefer a Muslim president over an atheist president?  The majority of Americans, (who happen to be 70% Christian), as per a recent poll.

Who is it that is fear-mongering right now over non-Christians and trying to institute a religious litmus test for immigrants, thus setting aside Article Six of the Constitution?  Christians.

Christians love to talk about religious freedom, as long as that religion is their own.  Anybody else?  Screw’em.

And who is it circulating memes like this to try to take a bite out of liberals?  Christians.  Or Republicans.  Whichever.

One can also make a secondary parry to this thrust by noting that it’s not mainstream Muslims (contrary to what Fox “News” so frequently reports) who are trying to wipe out anything that doesn’t conform to their standards.  It’s the radical terrorist wing-nuts who are doing that.

So, much like judging all musicians by looking at Ted Nugent, I can’t judge all Christians by the wing-nuts who are battling LGBT, Feminists, Atheists, Socialists, etc., nor can anyone else judge the billions of Muslims on the planet by the fanaticism of these ISIS bastards.

So the next time these meme-makers want to make a point about keeping out the Muslims, I suggest they just own their racism and xenophobia and stop trying to get cute with semantics in place of a coherent rationale.

Monday, December 14, 2015

Gonna Take an Ornamental Journey...

Last week, I showed you a full-size picture of this year’s Christmas tree.  Today, I want to give you a closer look.

I’ve written before about my parent’s tradition for us kids, that every year since we were toddlers, they got us a special ornament.  Those were the ones we’d put on the tree ourselves, and pack up afterward.  And then when we grew up and moved out, we’d have ourselves our special ornaments for our new places and new lives.  And as it turns out, we’re still getting ornaments every year.  Never gets old, though.

That’s why I’ll never have a “theme” tree… I have too many disparate ornaments to support a unifying theme, and I have no intention of getting rid of any of them. (And no, I’m not putting up a second tree.)

So while I don’t have the theme tree, there are a couple of sub-themes, the most prominent of which are birds.  I have a LOT of bird ornaments.  I mean, what better than birds to display in trees?  And I tend to group them together.
 These are a couple with real feathers, which clip onto the branches.  Back when I was married, the tail feather on the red one drove the cat crazy.  We couldn’t keep in on the tree, or else he’d be up there going after it.

My parents send me a gold Danbury Mint ornament every year and they often save the birds for me.  So I have a couple of gold ones like this.  They’re very intricate.

They’ve also been sending me a porcelain bird each of the last 3 years.  This is the one from 2013.  They’ve very detailed and quite heavy, so I have to make sure they’re on a firm branch.

This one is made with real feathers and there’s a strip that you can pull out, which makes the bird chirp. (If I really wanted to provoke the cat.)  I love the look on his face, like, “You talkin’ to me?  Whadda YOU lookin' at?

These little chickies have the same attitude.  They’re made out of husks or something, so they’re very light.  I always sit them together on a branch.  The goldfinch on the right is porcelain, though, but he fits right in.

Another sub-theme is Steelers stuff, of course.  I addition to about a half-dozen bulbs, I have these two molded figures.

The detail is exquisite.  There’s Ben, The Bus, and Polamalu up top, and Troy again, by himself.

Back when my Grandma D passed, each of us kids got to pick one of her ornaments, to remember her at Christmas.  This was my pick.

I always loved this Rudolf ornament.  I always position it in a clearing, so it looks like he’s flying by.

I also ended up with these dapper elves, from Grandma’s collection.  They’re made of extremely thin glass and are quite fragile.  It’s a miracle I haven’t broken them yet.

This is another of my parent’s “specials,” a hand-blown glass star.  I always put it right in front of a light bulb, for extra twinkle.

This is another “special,” and comes with a story.

When I was in 9th grade, we had a class project to write a story, type it out, and bind it into a book.  Mom had told me a story before, which I’m now sure she lifted from a Mel Brooks bit but didn’t know it at the time, about the “real” story of the Three Kings.  In her version, they were named Balthasar, Melchior, and Murray.  I’ll spare you the details of the story, but Murray was apparently quite a card.  I took the main points of Mom’s story, fluffed it up with a beginning, middle and end, and presented the book to her for Christmas.  Or Mother’s Day… I don’t remember.

So that’s Murray, up above, (being photobombed by Suspicious Bird).

Obviously, I’m not much one for religious imagery, but I have room for this cherub.  This was a table favor at my late buddy Brill’s wedding, back in 1996.  I’ll always have this one on the tree.

We used to make ornaments as kids, so I still have a couple of those monstrosities.

This was from a paint-by-numbers partridge and pears ornament kit.  I was probably in 3rd or 4th grade when I made these.

I love how just about anything can be an ornament, like this mini Gentleman Jack bottle

And this peach, from my old record store, Peaches.

That goes along with these.

I have no idea how I ended up with these… Must have been when we changed our name and had to get rid of everything that said “Peaches.”

Last year, I saw this cool Darth Vader ornament at Target but was put off by the price.  I went back the day after Christmas, hoping to pick it up on sale, but it was long gone by then.  So I got this instead.

All year long, I fussed at myself for not getting the Darth ornament, so this year, I corrected my previous inaction.

Little known fact: Darth Vader was an All-American linebacker at Empire U.

Anyway, that’s the highlights.  There are still about 40-50 more, either specials or ornaments made by various crafting-gene relatives. (I probably have a dozen from my Aunt Linda alone.)  Working at the craft store back in the 90s, I was able to pick up a number of cool ornaments, many of which were music-themed.  (I forgot, that’s another sub-section.)

So yeah, it’s a lot of work every year, pulling all this stuff out, but once I get started, I just get caught up in the memories and the next thing I know, I’m done.

Now tell me, is your tree up?  What kind of stories does it tell?

Monday, December 7, 2015

Odd Bits - The Bulking Up Edition

I saw an article in the paper last week about how there’s a shortage of Flu Mist shots; you know, the flu shots they spray up your nose?  It said they have plenty of regular flu injection-type shots, but very little of the spray.

What really caught my eye, and subsequently pissed me off was how the article went on to say how some parents were preferring to let their kids go without flu inoculation rather than subjecting their little angels to an actual shot.

I know that no one likes getting jabbed with needles, least of all kids, but to let them risk getting the flu just to avoid a few minutes of unpleasantness?  Talk about misplaced priorities.

Listen, I got my share of shots as a kid, and I wasn’t given a choice about it. And yes, the first time or two, when I was 5 or 6, I screamed my little head off, too.  But then my parents did a little “parenting,” and solved the problem.  My mom bribed me into taking the shot like a big boy. 

Mom promised me that if I didn’t cry, she would give me a little tchotchke I’d been wanting.  I think it was a little squeezy thing to keep coins in.  I’d had one but lost it. Mom offered me a new one if I didn’t scream and cry and carry on.

Mind you, I was still scared to death, but apparently greed held greater sway over me than fear.  So with my little lip quivering, I let the doctor give me my shot without making a peep.  And I found out that it really wasn’t that bad.  I mean, it didn’t tickle, but I’d had worse by just bumping into things, like the pointed-edged coffee table in our living room.  (Child-proofing hadn’t been invented yet, other than by yelling, “Hey, watch out for that table.”)

The important thing was that I learned that shots were doable, and I knew I could take them.  Being considered a Big Boy was important to me.  (Then.  Now, not so much.)  But this was a skill that I’d need because, in due time, I had to get an allergy shot every Sunday, after church, administered by Dr. Dad.  (Who, believe me, tolerated zero crying or carrying on.)

Eventually, we went on to having a whole different kind of post-church shot, but that wasn’t until about 10 years later.

Anyway, I think it does a disservice to kids to keep them from getting actual shots.  They’re going to have to get some eventually.  The last thing you want is for your grown children to be terrified of needles.  The screaming and crying get much less understandable.  The earlier they learn to cope with a little discomfort in service of the greater good, the better off they’ll be.

Also, they won’t go around spreading infectious diseases to everyone else.

And yes, I know, you think I’d feel differently if I actually had kids of my own, which is why I always characterize this kind of opinion as, “Advice from Another Childless Douche.”

Oh Christmas Tree
Speaking of, this weekend I was really wishing I had kids of my own… or at least knew where I could rent some.  I put up my Christmas tree on Friday and I probably did about 7000 deep knee-bends to decorate the bottom third of the tree.  So on Saturday and Sunday, my legs felt like they’d been on a Stairmaster for a straight week.

The result came out pretty well, though…
I plan to say more about the tree decorating process in the next post… unless I think of something better.

Example #709 of Why I Hate Maryland Drivers
Pulling up to a red light at a T-shaped intersection this weekend, I saw this numb-nut demonstrating a painfully familiar dick move.
The guy in the SUV is making a left, but he’s planted smack-dab in the middle of the road.  There is plenty of room for two cars, side-by-side so that one can make a right if he wants.  But this asshole makes is making sure no one else can get by until he makes his left.

As you can see, I’m making a left as well, but I’m hugging the center line, so someone else can make a right if they need to.  If I was making the right, I probably would have given him the horn and maybe dramatic gesture.  (Think Carlton Fisk in Game 6 of the 1970-something World Series.)

I don’t know if it’s ignorance, indifference, or incompetence, but it’s all too common around here.

Bulking up
Last month, I got an offer for a free 90-day trial membership to BJ’s Wholesale and decided to give it a shot.

I’d always avoided wholesale clubs because really, I’m just a one-man operation.  I just don’t need that much of any one thing, and don’t have much room to put it.  But since it was free, I thought I’d check it out.

I’ve made two trips so far, and it’s pretty much what I thought.  Some good deals, others not so good… you really have to check.  But it’s been interesting.  But best of all, I saw something that made me crack up right in the giant aisle.

Some jokes just write themselves.

If you’re laughing, you’re probably a Monty Python fan and get the reference.  (If not, you might as well skip to the next segment.)

Right there in the store, I put the shot on Facebook, with the caption: #BloodyVikings.

I also had a thought that I should stick a can of baked beans in the middle, but then again, I was at BJ’s, so they only had them in cases.

And if you’re still wondering what I’m talking about, here’s the source material:

In Other News…
I saw this headline last month:

And I didn’t know they had any hoes in the first place, let alone need to reacquire them.  Guess it’s going to be an interesting season next year.  Can’t wait to see the new promotions.  The front office is going, “Maybe we can’t sign Chris Davis, but we can give them some hoes!

A Gift Idea Whose Time has Come
Remember when I wrote about the salami-warmer Christmas ornament my Dad puts on the tree every year?  Looks like the idea has caught on.  I saw this in one of the gift catalogs that come flooding in this time of year. 

It cracks me up that it’s placed right beside the Peanuts tumbler set.  It fits, though.

Also… “Non-returnable.”  LOL… Yeah, I’d say that’s a “given.”  If underwear is generally non-returnable, the Peter Heater definitely is. 

Monday, November 30, 2015

Put a Bork in it

I have to be very careful about how many new shows I start to follow.  Once I like a show, I have to see every episode, which can lead to difficulty once hockey season starts and there are 2-3 Penguins games on each week.  I have to be sure to leave some empty spaces in my schedule, where I can catch up on stuff I’ve DVRed.

But there was one show I felt warranted an instant place in my weekly lineup immediately.  It’s a new version of an old show I used to enjoy, back in The Day.

I think I was a sophomore in high school when the original Muppet Show came out, but I didn’t start to watch until I was a senior, I think.  I probably dismissed it as a kid’s show for the first couple years, before I actually saw an episode and learned that it wasn’t a kid’s show at all.  I’m not saying the humor was sophisticated, but it was definitely for the grown ups. 

One of the first articles I ever wrote for my high school paper was a (very positive) review of the Muppet Show.  I had a Dr. Teeth and the Electric Mayhem poster up in my room for ages.  And I remember I used to sit beside the TV speaker with my portable tape recorder and record the audio for every Swedish Chef segment.  (The Chef is still my favorite Muppet, bar none.)  We never got a VCR until years later, so I had to make do.

You probably remember the show; the premise was that the Muppets were putting on a weekly vaudeville-style variety show, each with a special human guest. 

In the new adaptation, the Muppets are still putting on a show, but now it’s a late night talk show, starring the temperamental Miss Piggy.  She and Kermie are no longer an item; they broke up and he’s seeing a new pig.  (No, that wasn’t an insult. She’s a pig and her name is Denise.) 

In this world, humans still interact with the Muppets, but in an entirely new way.  They’re not just on the show but involved with the Muppets’ lives.  In fact, Fozzie Bear has a new human girlfriend.  In the funniest scene of the premiere episode, as Fozzie is heading out to meet her parents, he explains how they met through a personals ad.  He said, “When your online profile says you're a 'passionate bear looking for love,' you get a lot of wrong responses.”

I almost fell off the couch laughing.  Nope, this isn’t the Muppet Show of my youth, and I love the newer, hipper, more culturally aware vibe. 

Not all agree with me, however.  That same line garnered online petitions and outragist offense-taking on the part of the usual busybodies on the Christian Right, (the group “One Million Moms”) who seemed to think the Muppets were synonymous with Sesame Street.  But as I said, this isn’t a show for kids.  And anything that’s been remotely daring has been addressed in terms that would go over a kid’s head.  (Like that “bear” joke.)

Someone needs to tell the “One Million Moms” that there are a corresponding One Million Channel Changing Buttons, and that they can use them as they see fit.  And to each, her own.

I was relieved to find that the Swedish Chef still has a prominent role in the show.  He may not get his own 2-minute segment anymore, but he’s a regular presence. 

I think it was in the third episode when the cast was tired of Miss Piggy being such a pain in the ass, so they decided to get her a man.  (Yes, really.)  So they got Kermit to book crooner Josh Groban on the show, knowing Miss Piggy would take to him nicely.  At one point, everyone is huddled around her dressing room door, wondering what she and Groban were doing in there.  The door opens, everyone looks shocked, and then the Chef says, (imagine the Swedish Chef voice) “Der piggen da gropin’ da Groben.”

Later Groban is giving Piggy a hot stone treatment on her back.  Chef ambles by, takes a sniff, and asks Kermit, “Soombody cooken der piggen?

I’ve always loved the Chef’s mumbo-jumbo.  It’s completely nonsensical, but never fails to kill me.  And they totally use it, too.  I mean, they had an episode where the cast went to a karaoke bar after the show, and the Chef takes on the 70s classic, “Rapper’s Delight.”

Apparently you can get that as a ringtone now.  I’ll have to look into that.  In the meantime, I found this:

My newest t-shirt.

I must say, considering Jim Henson has been dead for more than 20 years, it’s amazing that all the characters he used to do still have the same voice.

I also like Beaker, who’s still getting tossed around, pummeled and electrocuted, working as the lab assistant for Dr. Bunsen Honeydew.  He still doesn’t have much in the way of language skills, though.  If I didn’t get that Chef t-shirt, I was going to get this one.

In tomorrow night’s episode, I heard that former Nirvana drummer, Dave Grohl, is going to have a drum battle with Animal.  He’s already done a drum battle with legendary jazz drummer, Buddy Rich.  I can’t wait to see how this one turns out. 

I also read that the executives at ABC aren’t happy with the way the show is performing, and are having them overhaul the style and tone of the show.  Great, leave it to TV executives to ruin a perfectly good show.  As it stands now, the show is smart, hip, and funny.  If any of that changes, it’s one more nail in the coffin that is network television.

Monday, November 23, 2015

Playground Politics for a Grade School Candidate

In his next misapplication of logic, common sense and decency, Donald Trump suggested that he would bring back waterboarding because ISIS does worse things.  He went on to cite examples of Daniel Foley and other hostages being publicly beheaded.

In straight logical analysis, this is another apples to oranges comparison.  The beheadings were meant to kill and terrorize, period.  They were brutal, lethal, public disservice announcements, meant to cause fear and unrest in their target audience.  And I agree, that’s bad.  (And it was with great pleasure I read about the successful drone bombing of the ringmaster of that particular circus.  For a closeted “Muslim,” Obama sure has a lot of them blown up.)

Waterboarding, on the other hand, is an interrogation method, meant to elicit actionable intel from a captive.  It’s brutal, which conservatives seem to like, but it doesn’t really work, which conservatives don’t really care about as long as they’re kicking some ass.  It’s basically revenge, meant to make a primitive segment of our nation feel better about themselves.

It comes down to grade-school level foreign policy, the I Know You Are But What Am I Doctrine.  There are reasons that America is a great country and one of them is that we don’t stoop down to the level of our enemies.  At least we didn’t use to.  I don’t see how our becoming as reprehensible as these ISIS animals helps us or our allies in any way.  Take away the moral high ground, and we’re same bunch of savages, only with better weapons.

It’s always funny to me when people like Trump want to throw out all this bluster and bravado about torture and killings.  I mean, the most discomfort Trump’s ever felt was getting a splinter from the silver spoon in his mouth.  It’s easy for him to talk tough because he has no inkling of what it means to be tortured.  Maybe John McCain can show him.

When you condemn the enemy for his tactics and then adopt a set that are just as brutal, there ceases to be a difference between sides.

I’ll give Trump credit for this, though… when he’s wrong, he stays wrong.  Did you hear him talking about the Muslims in New Jersey he said he saw, cheering the collapse of the Towers?  Oh yeah, thousands of them, he said, right here in America.  Only problem is that it never happened.

And when it was pointed out to him that it never happened, he doubled down, insisting he saw thousands of despicable Muslims cheering “on the other side of New Jersey, where you have large Arab populations.”

Never happened.  There is not a single frame of that kind of “celebration,” to be verified anywhere.  (Remember, that’s “verified.”  That means when the inevitable xenophobe apologist repurposes demonstration footage from elsewhere and posts it on Facebook, it doesn’t count.) 

Snopes had a good analysis of the whole thing, even going as far as to probe the incidence of “false memories” in studies. 

I don’t know if Trump has a false memory, or he’s just full of shit.  I suspect he heard about something at the time and over the years has convinced himself that he’s seen it.  He probably does believe it was real.  Maybe he saw a couple of people in footage from other countries, then mixed in his usual dose of exaggeration to come up with the “thousands.”

But when confronted with evidence that there were zero news reports (still) to be found and denials from both police and Muslim leaders that any such celebration took place, you’d think he might go, “Well, OK, maybe not.”

But this is a modern conservative we’re talking about.  They don’t apologize and they never back down, regardless of how wrong they’re proven to be.

And isn’t that just the thing we would want in a world leader?

Monday, November 16, 2015

Bumper Sticker Politics

This morning, (Friday 11/13) I heard Donald Trump on the radio with his next Overly Simplistic Big Idea.

After claiming that ISIS oil wells are earning them millions of dollars per week, Trump said that as president,I would bomb the shit out of them.  I would just bomb those suckers. And that's right: I'd blow up the pipes, I'd blow up the refineries. I would blow up every single inch. There would be nothing left.”

He went on to say that our oil companies are very good at rebuilding, so he would send them in to rebuild, and then take the oil.

The article I linked didn’t mention that last part about taking the oil, but I heard a clip of him saying it this morning, and I’m paraphrasing to the best of my recollection.  Plus, none of this is new; he’s been using this idea in his stump speeches all summer. 

In Iowa, like it has on the stump, the idea of blowing up ISIS-held oilfields and taking the oil was met with raucous applause.  Because of course it was.  It’s a “feel-good” idea for the guys at the bar, that makes them feel powerful and in control.  “Yeah, we’ll just blow’em up real gooooood.” 

But as with most bumper sticker ideas, if you give a few minutes’ worth of thought on the matter, the whole thing unravels.

So I heard his quote on the radio this morning as I got up, and by the time I got out of the shower, I had this analysis.

The biggest problem isn’t necessarily the blowing up of the oil fields.  Hell, we’re doing that now.  The problem is rebuilding and taking the oil, and what it would require.  You think ISIS is going to just let some Exxon engineers waltz in and rebuild the facility?  Hell no.  So it would require a constant US military presence to clear the area and ensure the builder’s safety.

It’s the same with operation; once the facilities have been rebuilt.  ISIS would be relentless in trying to retake the area and resume reaping the glut of oil money.  So our military would have to remain there, indefinitely, to maintain operations.

It’s the same with transporting the oil.  The oil has to get to a refinery, or to a tanker ship (not necessarily in that order), and the transport avenues would be vulnerable to attack.  We’d have to provide military escort until the product was out of the region.  Indefinitely.

Now, add in the surrounding players in the oil business, in Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Russia, and the rest.  Do you think they’ll be happy with an American oil-producing outpost smack in their back yard?  (Putin will be pissed he didn’t do it first.)  There will be a lot of international hell to pay over our blatant resource-grab.  I’m thinking UN condemnation, trade sanctions, export tariffs, and whatnot.  Regardless of whether we “care” or not, it will make the job a lot harder and more costly.  

Wrap it all together and we now have a permanent American military presence in the middle east, the equivalent of a 3rd Gulf War.  And for what?  We can’t even kid ourselves that we’re sending our troops over there for national security.  They’ll be there for the oil, plain and simple.  Our soldiers will be fighting and dying so that the oil companies can line their pockets. 

If you believe what you see on Facebook, conservatives lay claim to being the most fervently supportive of the military.  Yet judging from the popularity of Trump’s statement, they show no hesitation to send them into a war-for-profit.

Maybe I’m “un-American,” but in addition to providing education, employment opportunities and health care for veterans, I say we should support the troops by not sending them into wars of choice.  The Department of Defense should be about defending, not the forced acquisitions of foreign resources, for the exclusive benefit of a select few.

If the oil companies want to commandeer mid-east oil fields, let them purchase security directly through the defense contractors like Halliburton, and leave our troops and the taxpayers out of it.

But you can’t put all that on a bumper sticker.

Monday, November 9, 2015

Praying for Deliverance from the Religious Litmus Test

Ted Cruz thinks a president should begin every day with a prayer.  I agree with him.  And that prayer should go, “Please deliver me from the hurtful things the religious right is going to do in God’s name.  Please give me the strength to keep from strangling Ted Cruz where he stands.  And let there be pecan pie for dessert.  Amen.”

While attending the National Religious Liberties Conference in Iowa, the emcee asked Ted Cruz how important it was for presidential candidates submit to Jesus Christ as “the king of the President of the United States.”  (Apparently that’s the kind of softball question Republicans really want teed up from debate moderators.)

Anyway, Cruz responded, “Any president who doesn't begin every day on his knees isn't fit to be commander-in-chief of this country.”

That leaves a lot of room for interpretation, doesn’t it, especially for those of us with our minds in the gutter?  However, this isn’t that kind of post.

But yeah, we get it.  The President must claim to be a religious man.  Judging from the religious Republican politicians, he obviously doesn’t have to govern by any meaningful religious principles… he doesn’t have to provide for the poor, or take up for the sick or weak, or love his neighbors. 

No, according to Ted Cruz and the rest of the political hypocrites, a president needs to pay lip service to religious ideals and then go out and make sure that Defense spending is increased, border walls are put up, tax cuts for the wealthiest citizens are enacted and breaks on health care are removed.  Oh, and also defund the one organization that is doing the most to lower the abortion rate in this country.

I’m uncomfortable with any kind of religious litmus test for presidential candidates.  And apparently so were the Founding Fathers, who wrote “no religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States,” in Article 6 of the Constitution.

So there’s not “technically” a prohibition against the non-religious seeking office, but oh yeah, there certainly is a practical one.  People can vote for whomever they choose, and if they choose not to vote for the Godless heathen, that’s the way it goes.  An atheist has zero chance of being elected president, or to any other higher office.  (Luckily, I’m not inclined to run, although the campaign would be one for the ages.)

I don’t think religion has any place in government, and to tell the truth, I don’t think Republicans do either.  They just use it as a means to procure votes from people they’re about to screw.  And while doing so, they use propaganda services like Fox “News” to convince people that Jesus didn’t really mean it is easier for a rich man to pass through the eye of a needle than it is to get into heaven.  And what He really meant was that the rich are “the meek” and as so, the ones to inherit the earth.  Or at least get the taxes lowered on their chunk of it.

It makes me laugh when I keep seeing in the news and on the Internet, the tales of “religious persecution” claimed by Christians in this country… the Christians who, by the way, make up about 70% of the US population.  Since when does the 30% persecute the 70%?  I’m pretty sure it’s not religious freedom they’re fighting for; it’s the freedom for everyone to abide by Christian dogma.  I don’t see any of the religious rights people fighting for Muslims, Jews, Buddhists, or any other flavor.

They claim injury any time they’re not allowed to buffalo their faith into the public realm and then call it “persecution.”  I call it pushing back when people assume that theirs is the only valid faith; the national default religion, if you will. 

Sometimes I sit back in wonder, amazed at all the strife, the world over, caused by the conflict over which invisible man in the sky we pray to and how and when we do it.

Being a heathen makes things so much simpler, even if I don’t get to be president.

Monday, November 2, 2015

Debate and Switch

I’m not surprised that the Republicans are orchestrating an organized campaign to push back against CNBC’s tough debate questions.

Sure, on one hand, they appear to be a bunch of spoiled children complaining to their parents because their teachers’ tests are too hard, when in fact, they didn’t study up.  What the presidential contestants refuse to understand is that the job of the debate moderators is to ask tough questions; ones that the candidates may not want to answer.  They are not there to lob softball questions designed provide opportunities for the candidates to repeat well-worn segments from their stump speeches.  And if a candidate dodges or tap-dances around a question, the moderators should call him on it, right then and there.

The moderators are supposed to be the stand-ins for We, the skeptical People.

Their complaining is especially galling to me because CNBC asked many of the exact same kind of questions that the Fox moderators did.  But no one (except Donald Trump) complained about them

I’m not saying they ran the most professional debate… I’m not fond of asking a candidate to comment on something an opponent said while he's standing right beside him.  (Which Fox also did.)  It just strikes me a bit too much like a schoolyard bully getting two lesser bullies to fight each other, for his own amusement.  And I think they should have done a better job in citing their sources when the candidates pushed back.

But I don’t buy the whole “unfair” thing.  They were executing the very definition of their job… asking hard questions of people who want to lead the country.  The GOP complaints seem to me like protesting that your job interviewer didn’t just let you read aloud from your resume. 

Now, on the other hand, I see the debate pushback as part of an overall strategy to discredit anyone or anything that dares to contradict the GOP party line.  It’s just like what a lawyer does when the other side’s witness provides damning testimony.  What do you do?  You discredit, you impugn character, you call them biased and untrustworthy.

In other words, you create labels like, “the liberal media.”

While the Republicans have always complained about the alleged “liberal media,” they’ve ramped it up in recent years.  And now they’ve begun to smear fact-checking sites like Snopes and PolitiFact.  It’s just another way of stacking the deck.

When there’s an entity researching their claims and pointing out the falsehoods, exaggerations, half-truths and out-of-context assertions, all they have left to do is claim “bias.”  You know, since they can’t defund them.

Or, of course, they could stop making claims they can’t support.  But that won’t win many elections.  America would rather hear a pretty lie than an ugly truth.  And unless one is versed in critical thinking and analysis, (which the GOP led the charge against being taught in Texas high schools in 2012), it’s difficult to tell the lies from the truth.

The GOP knows that they can make any claim they want, and a large number of people will believe it because it plays to their existing prejudices.  (Like, “I’m going to cut taxes, deport all the illegal aliens, build a wall, cut regulations, win the war in the Middle East and still lower the deficit.”)  So when the press or a fact-checking website run the numbers and say it’s not so, they get smeared as having anti-conservative bias.

In fact, if there’s a bias from these institutions, it’s a bias against bullshit, which I think should be celebrated rather than castigated.  I say let the truth be told on all sides.

That’s another myth, that the fact-checking sites are inherently liberal.  Anyone that looks can plainly see that they hold both parties’ feet to the fire.  Democrats get called on misinformation as well.  I just don’t hear any of them complaining that the sites are biased against them. 

And if there is more debunked material on one political side than another, maybe it’s because that side puts out so much more stuff that’s in need of debunking.

But going back to the original subject of debates, I think the moderators should take an even more aggressive approach to both party debates.  I think they should have a team of researchers looking up every specious claim that’s made, with a line to one moderator’s ear, whose only job is to be the referee.  Then they can “fact check” the debate in real time before the public is left with the permanent stain of misinformation.  In addition, I would put a running total up in the corner, like they do for football games.

If the presidential wannabees don’t want to get rung up, then tell the truth, in context, without exaggeration.  If they can’t tell the truth when campaigning, what makes us think they’ll tell the truth during their presidencies?

Monday, October 26, 2015

Ten Rules of Game Day Mojo

As a duly accredited Doctor of Mojo Arts, from the esteemed Jobu School of Mystic Juju, I put forth the following position paper on the practice of sports mojo.

I define “mojo” as the force that binds a team and its fans together.  It is the collective will of thousands of people, practicing their own rites and rituals, which provide an atmosphere of support and good will.  Good mojo can mean the difference between a successful play and disaster, and even the difference between winning and losing.  Or a field goal attempt hitting the goalpost, and either bouncing in or out from between the uprights.

Even professional athletes can falter when subjected to the best mojo practices.  What is commonly labeled as “the yips” may actually be a reaction to a stadium (or country) full of people engaged in the mojo arts.

The following are some general principles, honed under the most rigorous tracking, trial and error.  (Yes, we use Science and stuff, here at the Jobu School of Mystic Juju.)

1.  When wearing a game jersey, your first choice should be to as closely as possible, match whichever jersey your team is wearing.  If they lose, check for other variables.  Maybe you need a different hat or other accessory.

2.  Wearing the jersey of a current player is stronger mojo than that of a former player.  Jerseys of legendary players can also be powerful under the right circumstances. (Like if that player ever had a particularly good game against that opponent.)

3.  If you only have one jersey option, you’ll have to go by trial and error throughout the season.  Team t-shirts are an alternative strategy.

4.  You may want to consider what you wear earlier in the day, or on the last business day before the game, as a secondary mojo opportunity.  But you should take care not to wear the same gear as you intend to wear during the game.  Game gear should stand alone.

5.  Tchotchkes can be another secondary means of exercising good mojo.  These include team gnomes, ornaments, accessories, jewelry, etc.

6.  If your team has one predominant tchotchke, like a “Terrible Towel,” for example, that can be a powerful item.  For maximum effect, try varying the placement.  Start with it on your right knee, logo facing the action.  If this proves unsatisfactory, try the other knee during the next game.  Or display it nearby, hang it from your belt, wear it on your head...  Whatever works.

Note: Changing mojo strategies during the game almost never works, so don’t bother changing jerseys, sitting arrangements, or towel draping while the game is still on.  Wait until the next game to enact any changes.

7.  Never wear team championship apparel as outerwear, especially during the game.  In fact, never wear any championship gear at all, on game day.  To do so is to directly dare the mojo gods to smite your team.  The mojo gods hate presumption and expectation of a win.  One should remain humble before the mojo gods at all times. 

Don’t mess with Jobu’s rum, either.  Is very bad.

8.  Also, never speak of the anticipation or assumption of a win.  And during the playoffs, never, ever express a desire for one opponent over another.  The mojo gods will often grant your wish of a desired opponent, who will then smite your team’s ass all over the field (or rink, diamond or court).  Similarly, gloating after a win tempts the same fate.

9.  Mojo resets at the end of every season, so if something was bad luck one year, you can try it again the next.  However, if something proves to be bad mojo over multiple years, it’s a good idea to retire it.  Like this item:

My team never won a game, ever, while I was wearing these pants.  Although that might have been more due to the gods of fashion, rather than the gods of mojo.

10.  This is the most important rule of all: good Mojo is whatever you believe it is.  For example, if you believe not washing your game socks is good mojo, then it is.  Personally, believe I shouldn’t be stinky, so I wash all my game gear as needed.  This also means that you may go against every rule listed above and still come out mojologically sound.  Consider these rules as starting points for your own personal mojourney.

Monday, October 19, 2015


While it’s usually pretty cool to have a new-ish car, there’s also a down side… now you have something to lose if it gets damaged.

Last Monday, I got off the subway train, got in my car and headed for home.  About halfway there, I needed to change lanes so I checked my passenger mirror, and noticed that it wasn’t there.

I was like, WTF??  I’m lucky I didn’t rear-end anyone, because of how long I kept looking over there.  Maybe I was hoping it would reappear.  That way I wouldn’t have to worry about replacing it, I’d just have to worry that I’d had a stroke or something.

The weird thing was that only the mirror piece was gone; all the bracketing that holds the mirror was still there.  When I got home, I checked around the frame and there was no sign that someone had ran into it with their car.  It was more like someone stuck a knife in the crack and popped it out.

When I went back to the lot, there was no sign of the mirror on the ground, broken or otherwise.  That made coming up with a motive a lot harder.

That day, I had worn a Steelers shirt and hat to work, so my first thought was that someone saw me get out of the car and decided to screw with the Steelers fan.  But then I would figure they’d smash the mirror, not take it.  Then I wondered if it was more backlash from the Darwin fish plaque I have on the back of the car.  It wouldn’t be the first time.  But again, I’d expect the mirror to be broken or left behind.

The only reason I could think of for taking the mirror was that if someone needed the part himself.  I mean, if you’re a criminal, what is a subway parking lot other than an unlimited cross section of auto parts?

And what happens if I get it fixed and then they just come back and take it again?  At least if someone needed the part for himself, well now he has it and, therefore, should not need another one.  Of course, if he’s selling the parts, I’m back to being screwed.

But, because I’m a conscientious driver, I went to get it replaced.  Unlike so many of my Baltimore neighbors, I still check my mirrors and signal before changing lanes.  (I bet you could steal every turn signal in the state and nobody would notice for months.)

I had the dealership take a look at it on Tuesday, and hoped they’d just be able to replace the mirror part.  They were about to do just that until I discovered that the inner bracketing wouldn’t move when I worked the controls.  Bad news.  That meant I needed to replace the whole thing.  They had to order the part, which cost about $200.  Gah!

The dealership parts guy explained that I still got off light.  Because my car is a 2013 model, the mirror assembly comes pre-painted.  If I had a 2014 or 2015, it would need to be painted too, which would have run another $100.

(To save the $100, I probably would have done it myself… in crayon.  Sure, I’d have to buy some crayons, but I’d still be $196 ahead.)

So I set up an appointment for Saturday afternoon and went back out to get it fixed.  It was an easy fix… labor only ran another $50.  Best of all, there was a Wendy’s nearby, so I got to have a nice lunch.

It’s funny how complicated our cars have become now.  I mean, I was never anything close to a gear-head, but I could perform some basic functions… putting air in the tires, filling the wiper fluid, replacing wiper blades, changing a tire, taking the car to Jiffy Lube… I even replaced a brake light bulb once!  (CFO, stop rolling your eyes…)

But even jump-starting a car has changed up.

On Friday, I was heading out of the subway parking lot, trying to get to my local bar before happy hour was over, when I saw a crazy lady jumping up and down in the road and flapping her arms at me.  Upon closer examination, it was one of my co-workers, the one who sits beside me.

Quickly, I had to do some inner calculations; specifically, the odds of being able to help her out without missing the end of happy hour, versus how much blow-back there would be if I just pretended like I didn’t see her and headed straight to the bar.

OK, I kid… she is a 60-something African-American woman, of whom I am quite fond.  So of course I pulled over to help.  She told me her car wouldn’t start and she needed a jump.

While I haven’t had to jump-start a car in probably 10 years, it was still within my realm of capability.  Or so I thought.

I got my car pulled around, to go nose-to-nose with hers, got my jumper cables out, popped my hood, and… wait a minute.

Where the eff is the battery?

Go ahead, tell me.  Where’s the freakin’ battery?  Did they steal that too?

Now, this was the first time I’d opened the hood with this car, so I expected there to be a learning curve.  But nothing seemed familiar anymore.  Up is down, down is up… it’s chaos under the hood!

I looked at that plastic box on the right, which had a battery charge diagram on it, but when I opened it up, it was the fuse box.  As I recall, the fuse box used to be in the driver’s side foot well.  I mean, is the cigarette lighter in there now too?

After poking around some more, I finally went to consult the owner’s manual.  I may be male, but I’m not too proud to check the instructions.  And it paid off because it showed a diagram of where to hook up the positive and negative cables.  The positive node was under a plastic cap.  The negative node was just a bolt on a piece of metal covering.  Nowhere did I see anything battery-like.

Yes, CFO, I’m aware that the negative connection is probably a grounding site and not a battery terminal.

Anyway, once I figured out where to put the cables, the rest was a breeze.  We got my friend's car going again and we all went off on our way.  And I still made it in time to get a happy hour-priced beer.

But I tell you, as far as driving goes, this area is crazy.  I see things every day that has me yelling in my car.  It’s a shame when the first spoken word out of my mouth every morning is an obscenity directed at some numb-nut driver who doesn’t know what a turn signal is for.  Or that somehow his having a stop sign means “pull out immediately.”

A couple of weeks ago, I was driving home and I spotted this:

The sign taped in the middle of the back window says, “Student Driver.”

Are. You. Freakin. Kidding. Me?

You’re so worried about your student driver that you put up a sign smack dab in the middle of the back window?  So all your new driver can see from his rear-view mirror is a GD sign with backward writing?

Believe me, I had a sign for him, but he obviously couldn’t see it.