Sunday, December 3, 2017

Republicans May Be More Disgusting Than Originally Projected

I didn't think it was possible, but it seems that the Republican Party might be more disgusting than I had originally imagined. Once there was a time where you could find a Republican or two and say he/she was one of the good ones, but the days of Jim Jeffords and John Chaffee are long gone. Non-scumbag left this party long ago, if you are still in this party, guess what? You are one of the scumbags. Their tax plan passed in both the House and the Senate with only Republicans voting for it (yes, even John McCain). If you need more examples to prove they are scumbags, there are plenty.  This is just the latest example.

If you are a Republican Governor, local politician or simply a GOP voter, your hands are not clean here. Being merely a member of this party is compliance. You are not just part of the problem, you are the problem. If you don't know what I am talking about, please turn of Fox "News," check out any reputable source of media and emerge from your bubble. After your head emerges from your ass and you figure out how much you are hurting your fellow Americans, maybe then you will realize that you delusions are patriotism are just that.

Their latest tax plan gives massive tax cuts to millionaires and billionaires. The idea behind trickle down economics is that the upper echelon of our society would transfer this tax savings to the rest of us by reinvesting in our economy. The problem with this is it does not work. If you were alive in the 1980's, you know what I am talking about. The neighborhood I grew up in was devastated by trickle down economics. The word "homeless" did not exist before the 1980's. The wealthy do not reinvest this influx of money, they mostly don't even notice it. Why? Because they are wealthy. If you are a billionaire, getting a few extra thousand dollars means nothing to you. There is no incentive for them to reinvest into the American economy or to spend it. All I can think of now when I hear trickling down is the rich piss all over the poor. This is exactly what they are doing with this tax bill. If you wanted to stimulate the economy, you would give the middle class a tax cut.

Do you remember when Republicans were concerned about deficits? The next time they bring up the deficit as a concern, please remember they are lying their fucking asses off. The last Republican President declared two unnecessary wars and implemented Medicare Part D while cutting taxes, and their current douche-bag-in-chief will be approving this tax bill which is predicted to add $1.4 trillion to the deficit over the next ten years. They are increasing some taxes in this bill ... guess who is getting hurt?  Teachers and students. Since the 80's, the Republicans have making it harder and harder for the poor and working class to get an education in this country. Why?  I used to have a theory that they wanted to keep us ignorant, for the ignorant are easily manipulated. Also, if the poor can get student loans easily, who will join the military and fight their bloody, profit-making fucking wars. Not their kids. I used to right this theory off as paranoia, but as the old saying goes, "Just because you're paranoid, doesn't mean no one is out to get you."

Back when my wife was a public pre-school teacher, she spent a good part of the summer looking for deals on supplies for her classroom. We'd drive around to garage and yard sales, looking for books, blocks and rocking chairs, you name it. I used to complain, shouldn't the school or the parents be paying for supplies. But that just doesn't happen does it? She used to say she wouldn't be able to do her job without the supplies. The one good thing was that teachers used to be able to declared up to $250.00 of unreimbursed expenses on their taxes. Since the average public school teacher spends from $500 to $600 on supplies, this certainly helped. No more. Under the House's tax bill, this write-off is completely eliminated. Those lavish spending teacher will have buckle-up, because those millionaires really need their tax break. There is an offshore account that is need of more padding.

Graduate students are getting hit as well.  Many grad students work for universities (teaching classes, etc.) For reimbursement, they get their tuition paid. That payment will now be taxable. So if your tuition would have been $40,000.00, you will now have to count that as income and be taxed on it. This means that some students will not be able to go to graduate school. Welcome to the brain drain. We need more people going to grad school, not less.

The middle class will be particularly hurt by the fact that we won't be able to write off our state taxes anymore. If you live in a state that has high state taxes, this is really going to hurt. I am sure it is no accident that these are also traditionally Democratic states (blue states) like New York and California.

The mandate for the Affordable Care Act will be illuminated. This is just another step in the destruction of this law. The mandate is how we pay for the ACA, because it forces healthy people to buy into the system. If you think of fire insurance, it doesn't work if only people who have fires pay for it. The healthy pay for the non-healthy. By eliminating the mandate, it is going to be even harder to pay for the ACA.  The loss will probably be made up for by the taxpayer ... hence, more deficit.

This is not conservatism.  Eisenhower was our last conservative president and if the Republican Party was producing politicians like him, I'd might even be a Republican. This is not reform. Reform makes it easier to file your taxes. This is just a greedy money grab for the wealthy. This is a gift to their base, the ultra-rich with elimination of the estate and alternative minimum tax. They are shitting on the middle class and wiping their asses with the poor. That is the modern Republican. Please join me in voting against them at every possibility.




Sunday, October 1, 2017

A Week In the Life ... part 2

9/25/17
Monday mornings are low key for me, by design. I wake later than most weekdays. I log into work each workday at 8am. On Mondays I sometimes sleep until 7:45am. This morning was no exception. Not having a commute is conducive to sleeping late. I had two large iced coffees waiting for me in the frig that I made the night before. They felt great. It is was hot already at 8am.
It always takes me long to fall asleep. My wife falls asleep long before me, especially on Sunday nights. Because I sleep late on the weekends, Sunday night slumber takes long.  After she nodded off, I went downstairs to watch television. I watched the season premiere of Gotham and then the late innings of the Red Sox game. I may have fallen asleep around 1:30am. I awoke around 4am and went back upstairs to join my wife. She was playing the Skeptics Guide to the Universe podcast and it lulled me to sleep.
Monday morning at work is usually mellow. Unless there is some emergency, I will try to spend the morning coding or doing something else I enjoy. Lately, I’ve been having a lot a conference calls to start the week. The ingesting of large amounts of coffee is important here.
When conference calls get boring or irrelevant to me, social media is a convenient distraction. This is difficult today because everyone on social media is talking about the protest at the football games yesterday. I think I have mentioned this before, but there aren’t many things I dislike more than football.  But as we know, this isn’t about football, but about the poor treatment of black Americans by police, the legal system and otherwise. But like most protests, people aren’t talking about that issue that is being protested. They are talking about the protest. Like the protests that block traffic, they aren’t moving the needle for their cause, they are just pissing people off who are stuck in traffic. Do the protesters think their pithy comments on their hand painted signs are going to change anyone’s minds? Maybe it did in the 1960’s, but in the era of instant and 24 hour news, this is doubtful.
To add it, President Douche Bag is tweeting about it. They are not distracting us, but distracting him. He is like a child, you really should wait until he goes to bed before you break out the bong, but I am not sure he sleeps.
America seems to be a country where symbols seem to be more powerful than actual events. People seem to be outraged by these players kneeing down during our national anthem. Yet this league if full of wife beaters, animal torturers, rapists and murders … they don’t seem too outraged by this. The guy leading the kneeing protest hasn’t even gotten a contract to play because he’s too controversial. This seems kinda sick to me.  Here is a conversation I had with some Brits on Facebook, I call them P.C. and E.L.F:
P…C… I lived in America nearly 30 years ago. I found the "respecting the flag" stuff a bit disturbing.
Mark Peloquin it is disturbing and if you say anything about it, you are treated like a pariah
P… C… It's all a bit North Korea, to be honest. A Brit let some old flag drop on the floor when I was there and you'd have thought he had committed assault or something.
E…L… F…. As a Brit I find it super creepy
Creepy is good word for it. Try not taking your hat off during the national anthem at a ball game someday. I don’t dare, I don’t want the drama. I just want to watch the game. Here is another one of things I don’t get.  When someone says "my father died for that," meaning he served in a war and died for the flag. This isn’t quite right. He died for what this flag represents … right?  One of things that the flag is supposed to represent is freedom of speech and yet, if you disagree with them about the flag, you are scum.  It is very … as P.C. said … a bit North Korea.
9/26/17
It has nothing to do with not respecting and loving the country I live in. It is about the symbolism just not working for me. The real thing has more power for me than any symbol. The symbol, the flag, is just a piece of cloth. The anthem is just a song, a bad one at that. The actual aspects of being a US citizen that I like so much are not represented by these symbols … freedom of speech, the separation of church and state, and the rule of law. All wrapping yourself in symbols does is further reinforce my belief that you haven’t thought much about your patriotism. I remember people yelling about the Constitution during the Obama years. When you took these people aside and ask them about the Constitution, they knew nothing about it. It isn't long. It shouldn't take anyone very long to read. 
We have become a country of empty gestures. The litany of thoughts and prayers I see on Facebook is a perfect example. Houston is wiped out “Thoughts and Prayers to people of Houston.” The kneeling during the National Anthem, wow, how heroic. No one is talking about the reason they are doing it, only that they are doing it. They’ve become a rallying cry for jingoist and empty patriotism. Time to move on.
9/27/17
I have the afternoon off today for a doctor’s appt.  This summer we were on vacation in Portugal for about twelve days. On day five, July 4th, I was wearing my Captain America shirt walking up a cobblestone street in Porto, possibly the most beautiful city in Europe, with my wife and friend Paul. I stepped on some uneven basement and dislocated my ankle. I fell and my right foot was at a 45 degree angle to my leg.  I was in pain. Some nice people helped me, three young women from Belgium and a couple of local young men. They helped move me off the road. As they moved me, my ankle fell into place. Great relief of pain. One of the locals called an ambulance and I was transported to a hospital where I waited, still in pain, for about three hours to see a doctor. About half the people I dealt with spoke English. I received very good service once I did see the doctor. The experience was a lot like an American emergency room. Not fun, chaotic but within acceptable parameters.
The rest of the vacation wasn’t great for me. I spent the next two days in bed. Having my buddy Paul there was convenient because he really helped me with the stairs. He left the next morning to go back to his life in Germany. My wife waited on me but she didn’t stay around for long and had a good time being a tourist without me.  After a couple days, I was at least able to walk with crutches and we went out to dinner together. The taxis were handy.
Flying home was difficult. We upgraded to first class so that I would have room for my foot, but still that wasn’t great. I was in real pain for about six hours on the flight and then the drive home from Montreal in rush hour traffic while we were also exhausted, that wasn’t fun.
So here I am now, almost two months later. I am walking around okay but still having some difficult with stairs.
9/29/17
My wife is out of town for twelve days. This isn’t entirely uncommon. She travels for work and sometimes travel for fun without me. She has a lot more vacation time than I do. She is on the west coast for some conference. I don’t mind that much, I miss her but I enjoy my alone time as well. It just means I should go out into the world more often and interact. If I don’t, after about a week, I get depressed.
Other than companionship, the other reason I really miss her is that she is a very good cook and I am not. I’ve tried but I just don’t like to cook. It bores me. I just want my food. When she is gone I have a lot of frozen dinners from Trader Joe’s.
9/30/17
I received a check that I wasn’t expecting the other day. It was from the life insurance payment from my father, something I had totally forgotten about.  I hadn’t forgotten about my dad, obviously, but I forgot about the check coming. I was just going to put it into savings but my wife suggested I treat myself to a toy. I thought this was a good idea. I could use a new Mac, IPad or I was even thinking of buying a game console. I got up this morning, had my coffee, fed the dogs and heading out with Woodrow to do my shopping. 
I had breakfast at one of my favorite places, Firebird Café in Essex. Still undecided about my toy, I went to Best Buy to look at Xboxes and PlayStations. Everyone around me was teenager so I felt a little self-conscious. They are cheaper than I expected by then the add-ons and games add up. I decided against it. I don’t need another piece of hardware cluttering up my living room. I then drove to Small Dog Electronics, my favorite Mac store. It looked dead as I approached.  There was a big sign on the door, “Closed on September 30th, please accept our apologies.”  Apology accepted now, please pay for the gas that I used to drive here, obnoxious thought of the day. I was very disappointed. I drove to the dog park to let Woodrow play.
While doing all this I had ESPN radio listening to the pre-game and then the actual Red Sox game. This was the biggest game of the year. With two games left, they either needed to win or the dreadful Yankees needed to lose. The Yankees won so they needed to win. The Sox were playing the Houston Astros, one of the best team in the American League. They eventually won, 6 to 4, but it was close. By the time I got home from the dog park with deviations to the gas station and then grocery shopping, I got to see the top of the 9th inning. AL Champs, hooray! First time they have ever done this, two years in a row.
Following professional sports is a confection, seemingly unimportant in the grand scheme of things. I find baseball poetic in its own way. It also a fine distraction from an otherwise frustrating world. Being a Red Sox fans has its frustrations but it also has its highs and the camaraderie between fans cannot be beaten. In a crowded room of strangers or in a strange town, I can always find a fellow fan or two to high five.
10/1/17
The good news in my life is that my two year old puppy, Woodrow, is starting to act like a full grown dog.  If you have ever had a puppy, you know, that after two years of dealing with puppy behavior, it gets old and it is no longer fun after a while.  I just left him in my living room, uncrated, while I headed to the hardware store and he did destroy anything. No remotes or computer mice were destroyed in this experiment.
The bad news is that my other dog, Hazel, who is a full grown five or six years old, got out of our fenced yard again. I was out in the yard with both the dogs. It is a beautiful Fall day and I decided to start working on winterizing the deck and filling some holes in the yard. I had the dogs out there with me. I was only out there for about 15 minutes and I realized that Hazel was gone.  All the possible spots in the fence that a dog could fit have been repaired. I have no idea how she is doing this.
Yesterday I step out of the fenced area and left Hazel alone within it. I wanted to catch where she was getting out. She cried a lot, she looked for places to get out but she didn’t. If I didn’t know better, I swear she could transport.
This wouldn’t be such a problem if it were not for her aggression. She is very sweet dog. We adopted her a few years ago when she was maybe three years old. Once we got the puppy, she start showing signs of aggression. Not towards the puppy or people but other dogs, usually female dogs. She goes on attack mode, instantly goes for the other dog’s throat.  It is very scary. So when she gets out like she did today, I have to drop everything.
This is what you get when you get a rescue dog. Some idiot fucked up this dog and we are left to try to repair her. Getting a puppy is a lot of work, but ultimately, you get the dog you trained. 
I looked for her for about a half hour, until I saw her running down the road towards me. When she sees me she comes and stays by my side. Finding her is the difficult part. Once she is found, she is fine. I am guessing that she is trying to find the dogs down the street from us. This is not good because she has gotten into bouts with both of them. I dodged a bullet this time. 

Sunday, September 24, 2017

A Week In the Life ... part 1

9/18/17
                Our cat Mavis wasn’t a very good cat. If I had to grade her I’d give her a passing grade, because she was a decent mouser, but that is it. No affection, she’d ducked when we went to pet her. Weeks would go by without us seeing her. The only reason we knew she was gone (I mean dead) was that mice kept showing up. We wondered, is she coming back this time or did she just go someplace to die?
                About a month after we had last seen her, someone on our neighborhood forum stated that they found a cat that was white, skittish and emaciated. I wondered if it was her so I emailed the woman. I asked her to send me a picture and she didn’t know how. So I just asked her, “does the cat look like Hitler?” I can’t imagine what she thought about that. Mavis had a black mark under nose that made it look like a Hitler’s iconic mustache. I can’t remember the woman’s response, but she did seemed confused by my email. I asked her if I could come and see the cat. This must have scared her thus motivated her to figure how to email a photo.  I got the photo, the cat did not look like Hitler. It was not Mavis. The mystery remains, Mavis is gone, assumed dead and we know not how.



9/19/17
                Our current cat, Lester, is a joy. The dogs still mess with him too much for him to come into our living room, where most of the living in our house takes place, but if you are in my office or preparing a meal in the kitchen, he is there. Our living room is gated off from the rest of the house because our dog Woodrow is a counter surfer. This makes more than half the house Lester’s domain.
                If you ask my wife, she will claim that he is named after a Cubs pitcher. If I am asked, I will say he’s named after an ex-Red Sox pitcher. Since these are one in the same, Jon Lester, it seems silly that we make this distinction, and yet we do. He brought World Series victories to both of our teams. The cat could also have been named after a character on HBO’s The Wire, but really, it isn’t very important. It is a good name, for a great cat.
                When we go upstairs each night to expire for the evening, he follows us upstairs. He comes into the bathroom with us as we prepare for bedtime and then he joins us in bed along with Woodrow. Our other dog, Hazel, sleeps beside the bed. She is not much of a cuddler.


                I like my pets more than I like most humans. This is obvious if you know me even for a short amount of time. Pets, animals in general, completely lack pretense. Nuances in your relationship are few and you always know where you stand. Human relationships are far more complicated. I am introverted and really struggle with being social. I stand around at parties, sometimes full of people I know and like, and struggle to find something to say. When I was a teenager, I started drinking heavily to deal with it. I’d get drunk on the weekends and have a grand old time. It was courage in a bottle. This continued throughout college into my 20’s until after I graduated. I eventually gave up drinking entirely for about ten year. No AA, nothing like that. I just realized what a crutch it was. There are still few people I know that I don’t struggle with social interaction … but I can’t say this about a single pet hence the preference for cats and dogs.
                I drink a little now, but for better reasons. Not for courage, but simply for flavor. I have a beer, maybe two, with dinner sometimes. Rarely do I have more than that. I might feel buzzed occasionally but I don’t get drunk anymore. I see no reason for it. Now that I’ve figured things out, there is no need for it. It has been years, maybe decades, since I have been out right plastered.
                Social anxiety is easy now. I simply run away. I discovered this while in college. While at a party, when I was feeling anxious, I’d just leave. Often these parties were down at the beach in Rhode Island, I’d leave the party without telling anyone and go for a long walk on the beach usually in the middle of the night. Ah, alone time. Sweet relief. I feel like myself again.
                Running away works long term as well.  You have someone in your life that depresses you or consistently makes you angry … run away. I haven’t run away from a pet yet.

9/20/17
                Running away can take many forms, like avoiding the family holidays because they depress the hell out of you. It helps if you live far away. Telecommuting is another form of running away. You don’t have to deal with the outside world at all… no commute and minimal office politics. I have an ideal life now. It does get lonely but I have Facebook, Twitter and various other toys. In this way running away doesn’t take an effort at all. If someone makes you feel awful, intentional or otherwise, there is no reason you need to keep that person in your life. Follow these instruction, back your bag and leave. It is that simple. 
                I took Woodrow for a lunchtime walk today. I leave my other dog, Hazel, at home when I do this because she is aggressive toward other dogs. We control this by simply leaving her at home. I drove to the town trails behind our elementary school and had a nice walk. The leaves are in the early stages of changing now. It is a great time of year for a walk. When I got home Hazel was outside. We don’t know how she gets through the fence. I think she is opposite of me. She doesn't like being alone. 

9/21/17
                This may seem like a lonely life, but for the most part, it is not. The little amount of human interaction I get is sufficient for me.  Besides, a little bit of loneliness is preferable to dealing with the drama of annoying people or interoffice politics.  I am also very lucky. I generally don’t use that term, but I lack a better one for the fact that I found my wife. She is social enough for both of us. She is my social conduit.
                Tonight, we are going to a dinner at a friend’s. When I say “friend,” it usually means one of her friends. I enjoy myself with this friend, her new husband and her daughter, but if not for my wife, it just wouldn’t be happening. For the past ten years, I have been telecommuting to work. The office I work for is in New York City and Fort Lee, New Jersey. So I don't get to meet a lot of people here in Vermont hence I don’t make a lot local friends here either. I’ve been in Vermont almost two decades and I haven’t made a lot of friends because of this. Even when I did have a job where I had to go into the office, I was mostly all work and no play. Such is the life of the introvert.
                Most of my friends, not the ones I get through my conduit wife, are in other states, mostly Massachusetts and Rhode Island. But even them, of the ones I consider friends, even they are a bit annoying. Social media is helpful with this. I can maintain cordial relationships without leaving the confines of my laptop. Even with this distance, Facebook can sometimes feel like that crowded room when I have to run away from. Too many personalities to balance, too many expectations to manage, too many, too many, too many.
                Keeping up with old friends is one of the great things about Facebook. If not for that, I’d probably leave it. Because I spend much of my day alone on a dirt road in my home with very few people walking by, having access to the world via Facebook’s feed is very helpful to me. The other thing I like about social media, is that it gives you the potential for chatting with strangers. This is more often than not, not very productive but occasionally you can really connect with people. Because they can’t see you face, it can get obnoxious fairly quick. You cannot see the face or emotions of the distance people producing blips on your screen. It is easy to go off the rails and say something you wouldn’t if you were talking to them in person. But the connection happens sometimes. I’ve connected with strangers talking about music, politics, literature and games. This doesn't happen a lot in person.

9/22/17
                I find that I have less social anxiety if I have an anchor. This is basically something to do or something to think about to drive conversions. I recently joined a book group. I barely have any social anxiety with this group of people mostly because if I ever run out of things to talk about, I talk about the book. This is the first book group I’ve ever joined. I don’t know why I haven’t joined one before now. It was a good idea. I am enjoying it. I think my resistance was that I wanted to have 100% control of what I read. Like any social engagement, it is a give and take. I sacrifice this control and once I’ve accepted this, I am okay with it. If they pick someone I don’t want to read, I just won’t and not go that to that book group session. So far so good. Other than Mrs. Dalloway, I have liked everything we’ve read. Going into each group, every six weeks or so, I have some questions I’d like to ask. This is a great relief to my anxiety.
I have found this adaptive behavior useful in many social occasions. A couple of years ago, I attended a wedding (or what I’d like to call a pre-divorce ceremony). To help with my anxiety, I gave myself a mission to take pictures of everyone I met but to ask them to make an angry face. Some didn’t comply, oh well, but for those that did, I had a good time and I have some very funny pictures from that wedding. And yes, they are already divorced.

As you can see, some people are better than others at looking angry.

Of course, there is always humor. I had dinner with a friend of my wife and her daughter last night and I had little to talk about. But having a young person (mid-20’s) there, aka an audience, gave me a purpose. I inherited a keen sense of humor from my dad and the ability to make people laugh is a handy crutch that I have leaned on often. As the two other adults were talking shop, I was making the young lady laugh.

9/24/17
The weekend is full as usual thanks to my loving conduit, but I have managed to get some time to myself to do some writing and other stuff that I enjoy … namely, watching Game of Thrones, playing Civilization VI, Chess with Friends (the Sicilian Defense), reading High Fidelity, walking through the woods foraging for firewood and making a fire.
I was supposed to go kayaking today with my wife, another different friend and her daughter. Our friend’s daughter received a kayak for her tenth birthday and wanted to go out with it before the winter came. Because her mom wanted to go with her and she doesn’t have a kayak, we were short one. We failed to find another one for me, so I bowed out so our friend could use my kayak. This is one of the things that people with social anxiety do. I love kayaking, but if I can avoid it for alone time, I will. I also really like the people going kayaking but they talk a lot and I’d rather spend the afternoon with a book or writing than engaging in conversation. 
Yesterday morning, Saturday, we got up early and headed to breakfast at the 158 Main, one of our favorite breakfast joints in Jeffersonville. We had to find a parking space in the shade because we had Woodrow with us and it is unseasonably hot for Fall in Vermont. They were under-staffed so we got to play two complete games of cribbage before we got any food. We split the games. We were up early because we were headed to Harvest Festival in Underhill, an annual event that happens the first weekend of the Fall. It has lots of booths mostly yard sale type stuff, live music, crafts and food. It is a good time. This year I bought about 15 CDs for a buck each. It was a good bunch ranging from Shawn Colvin (2) to Brian Eno (2) to U2, Fugees and Anna Nalick. In addition, we bought a dog crate for 20 bucks, a few books and a Trivial Pursuit edition that we didn’t have (the 60’s).  Mostly, we had a great time walking around the crowd of strangers taking in the good weather and a root beer float. Woodrow grew tired easily, dranks lots of water and smelled lots of new friends. Crowds are okay for the socially anxious lout. No reason to feel anxious with strangers. It is only once I know them that they make me nervous.
I spent the few hours after the festival importing the CDs into my ITunes and reading and then headed out to do my weekly volunteer work. I volunteer assisting a group of Bhutanese refugees take their citizenship tests. These folks have been through hell and spending quality time with them is a good way for me to check my privilege. Since Trump got elected I’ve been feeling like I haven’t been doing my part … so I found this to do. I enjoy it. They struggle with English and many of them confuse words like "colonists" with "Congress" and don’t know the different between Bernie Sanders (our Senator) and Mike Pence (our V.P.) Among other things, I find this refreshing. Something I thought to be completely political, ended up being the opposite, as apolitical as anything I’ve ever done. It is just something good I am doing and it makes me feel good. It is also patriotic in a way, to help some good people who have been through shit become productive citizens.
After our 1.5 hour session was done, I met my wife in Burlington, at Ri Ra’s, one of our favorite Irish bars. She was having some mules with some friends visiting from Massachusetts. See, conduit. I had some beer, nachos and burger. Then we headed home to watch the Cubs lose in the 10th inning via a Travis Shaw two run walk off.
I love my life. I never thought it would be this good. I love my wife, I have good job working from home and I love my home. Also, my pets make me happy. Running away works. When you run away, you are also running towards something. In my case, I was running towards this ... happiness.

Sunday, September 3, 2017

Texas, Government Power and Hurricane Harvey

The state of Texas is the land of weak government. I don't mean this as demeaning at all, it is merely a statement of fact that most Texans would agree with. They like their government weak. Their state legislators are part-time and are paid very little. They usually have other means of employment, because you couldn't live on what they make. The Governorship is not officially part-time, but as designed, they have very little power. Unlike the President and other executors like Governors in others state, the cabinet does not report to him/her. They work in conjunction with the Governor not at the Governor's pleasure. The strongest power the Texas governor has is the bully pulpit. This is something to consider the next time a Texas governor runs for President. When someone says "they run the second most populous state," you can say, "um not really." This isn't necessarily a problem, just an observation. The state seems to be run well. It has low corruption and a high standard of living. I spent a week there and I liked it. They might be the best drivers I've seen anywhere in the US. San Antonio was gorgeous, Austin was funky and they have great bacon.

Their approach of low government spending and involvement is extended into local government and urban planning. The city of Houston was built on a bogs and prairies 80 feet above sea level. They have no centralized zoning or urban planning, but they have unfettered development and capitalism which has resulted in unprecedented growth in the last 50 years. If you are looking for a good example of why Libertarianism is joke, look no further. They paved over their pastures and floodplains, which are the sponges that absorb rainwater, to build tenements and parking lots. Their success has been based on unchecked growth to the point where they are the fourth largest city in the country. Over 4,000 residential and commercial structures have been built in their 100 year floodplain since 2010. Both of their hypocritical US Senators have voted against relief for Sandy victims a few years ago. It devastated New Jersey and other parts of the East Coast calling it pork. They also supported cutting funding for FEMA for the same reason, now have their hands out for Federal funds to support their people after Hurricane Harvey devastated Houston. The people in Texas voted for them. I realize not everyone in Texas voted for them, yet it still makes me a little bitter when my Federal tax dollars are going to a city that has done all the wrong things based on a outdated ideology and greed. Poor planning on their part doesn't constitute an emergency on mine. You want Federal relief, Texas? Stop voting for out of touch whack jobs like Ted Cruz.

This flood isn't an anomaly. It is much larger than their earlier floods, but they have had three 500 year floods in the last three years. So expect another next year and the year after etc. The water temperature of the Gulf of Mexico did not go below 73 degrees this winter which causes more storms in the area. This is a new record. Imagine that, a new records in the era of global warming, but yet the people of Texas keep electing global warming deniers into congress. Both Cruz and John Cornyn were among the 22 senators to urge Trump to pull out of the Paris Accord. They also consistently support the political party, Republicans, that hasn't made global climate change a priority. Most of their representatives in Congress are Republicans. They have 32 Congressional districts, and all but 11 of their Representative are deniers. Even those 11, the Democrats included, have awful environmental records. They have no interest in resolving their flood problem.

Since President Obama was elected in 2008, a steady rise of anti-government militia groups around the country has been apparent. The number of these groups in Texas, as reported by the Southern Poverty Law Center, is 17. Texas is second only to Michigan in this category. Since they hate government so much, why must we send billions of our Federal tax dollar to them? I won't be donating any money to the relief since I have already given with my taxes. I know this sounds harsh, but to me this seems like a financial sink hole. I see nothing that tells me they will rebuild in a responsible way. Since they hate government so much, lets see how well they rebuild without Federal tax payer money.

Sunday, July 30, 2017

Album Dissection: The Royal Scam

A few weeks ago I went to see a jam band called Kung Fu. I didn't know much about this band, the only reason I went is because they were playing an entire set of Steely Dan music. Their original music was pretty good but I really enjoyed myself when they came out for the second set of the Dan. Check them out:



Steely Dan has been credited (or blamed or chastised) for creating the fusion jazz sound. This is not entirely accurate. They only have one album heavily infused by jazz, Aja, their sixth and most popular. Most of their work is pure rock and roll. Like many bands, Steely Dan met in college. The two main guys, Walter Becker and Donald Fagen met at Bard College in New York State in 1968 in a cafe called The Red Balloon. They formed many bands together. Believe it or not, one of the bands feature the comedian Chevy Chase on drums. After graduating they moved to Brooklyn and started working in the music industry writing songs and music for low budget films and even some big stars like Barbra Streisand. ABC records didn't know what to do with them because they kept coming up with music that was too complex for anything they had, so they urged them to form a band. They got the name Steely Dan from William S. Burroughs novel The Naked Lunch. In the novel, a Steely Dan III from Yokohama is a strap-on dildo. They have had many musicians matriculating in and out of the band but mostly it has been these two guys.

The Royal Scam, their fourth album, is my favorite of theirs and when I ranked my favorite 100 albums (see list below), it came up as #47. It is the most guitar heavy of their albums and a concept album. You don't hear the term concept album very much anymore because people buy individual songs now and it is usually only older people like me that are buying entire albums. The Royal Scam could easily be called "the American dream and other really big lies." It is scattered with songs about immigrants, oddballs and people down on their luck getting screwed-over and turning to the underworld for survival. The album cover features a man in a suit sleeping uncomfortably on what appears to be a radiator or a bench possibly in a bus station; he is dreaming about skyscrapers turning into beasts. If I remember correctly the album back cover had a close-up on the hole in his shoe. No doubt, the album cover is allusion to the theme of the album.

Side One: 

"Kid Charlemagne" is the opening track and it is loosely based on the rise and fall of San Francisco chemist Owlsey Stanley who was the LSD supplier to Ken Kesey and his Merry Pranksters. The first stanza is about Stanley on top of the world due to his skill of making pure acid:

       "Just by chance you crossed
              the diamond with the pearl
        You turned it on the world
        That's when you turned the world around
        Did you feel like Jesus?"

The second stanza is about his fame and his link to the Merry Pranksters: "Everyone stopped to stare at your technicolor motor home / Every A-Frame had your number on the wall." By stanza three, the party is over: "Son you were mistaken. You are obsolete" and by the fourth stanza they are running from the law worrying if there is enough gas in the car.  All of this is surrounded by one of the best guitar jams in rock history with guest fusion jazz guitarist Larry Carlton getting props from Rolling Stone magazine. The song makes their 100 best guitar rock songs list coming in at #80.

"The Caves of Altimira" is the only positive song on the album about a boy discovering the famous Caves of Altimira in northern Spain. He sees the cave painting by candlelight and their simplicity and beauty open the world up for him.
      "Before the fall when they wrote it on the wall
       When there wasn't even any Hollywood
       They heard the call
       And they wrote it on the wall
       For you and me, we understood"
He is in the dark being save by the prehistoric picture of a sun. Quite poetic.

"Don't Take Me Alive" is a sharp contrast to the previous song. It is about a guy name Mad Dog who is held up, surrounded by cops and he has a case of dynamite. We don't know how he got there but we know that he crossed his father, a bookkeeper, back in Oregon.
                "Where no sun is shining
                  No red light are flashing
                  Here in this darkness
                  I know what I've done
                  I know all at once who I am"
Unlike the boy in the cave, it is darkness that allows him to discover himself, all too late I am afraid.

"Sign in Stranger" is a science fiction rock and roll song; no wait, it is a song about a gangster ...um, okay, maybe it's both. As a kid, Donald Fagen wrote sci-fi so the first stanza is a throw back to those days. It about a planet named Mizar Five where people have to "shout to stay alive."  This is a planet of gangsters and they have the ability to give you a new identity. Admittedly, I have no idea what is going in this song, but I love the piano jam. 

"The Fez" is a short sweet song about a guy and his condom. "Ain't never going to do it without the fez on .... Please understand/I want to be your holy man." That is most of the lyrics right there. It is just a fun song. The fez in this case is not a Moroccan hat, but a condom. 

Side 2:
"Green Earrings," like "The Fez" is a vague song without a lot of lyrics. The narrator recalls a woman and her green earrings. He likes the earrings more than her, so he steals them. All he remembers about her is "the look in her eyes" but he doesn't mind. He's an egomaniac. In the Kung Fu youtube clip above, they perform both of these songs segued into each other. On a CD they actually play back to back, but on an album, the medium I grew up with, you'd have to get up and flip sides in between songs.  These songs sound great together. They are the lightness of a fairly dark album.

"The Haitian Divorce" is about a couple named Babs and Clean Willy. "Babs and Clean Willy were in love they say/So in love the preacher's face turned red." They get married then they fight and end up in Haiti for a quick divorce. After the divorce Babs drowns her sorrows at a bar and ends up having a one night stand with a Haitian. She gets back together with Clean Willy in the states and have a baby. Surprise! The baby isn't his ... "Who's this kinky so-and-so?"

"Everything You Did" is about an argument between a couple. The narrator's partner has hidden something from him and now he wants to know. He caught her with a lover. "Where did the bastard run" is the first line in the song, but he wants to know everything. He wants to know in detail really, he is a voyeur not a jealous lover. That is what he's angry about, she is hiding the sordid detrails from him.

"The Royal Scam" is the magnum opus of the album and the title track. This is very common in rock albums of this era, like Bruce's "Jungle Land" on Born to Run, The Eagles' "Last Resort" on Hotel California or Billy Joel's "Captain Jack" on Piano Man. They are the last song on the album; they are longer songs, usually one of the best songs on the album and quite serious ... and definitely not a hit song. Scam is about some Puerto Rican immigrants coming to New York City with starry eyes only to be greeted with a harsh reality and getting swallowed up by organized crime. The middle verse might be one of the most poignant and beautiful verse written in rock and roll:

     "They are hounded down
       To the bottom of a bad town
       Amidst the ruins.
       Where they learn to fear
       An angry race of fallen kings
       Their dark companions
       While their memory of
        Their southern sky was clouded by
        A savage winter
        Every patron saint
        Hung on the wall, shared the room
        With twenty sinners"

However awful his experience in America, the third stanza tells how the narrator of the song tells a different story in his letters home. The first and the last sentence of the song are the same forming a circle "They wandered in from the city of Saint John without a dime."  The cycle continues. The myth of America is a lie but it is a hopeful lie that we need. Immigrants continue to come with hope and are eaten up by the city.

All the songs on this album stand alone as great songs, but like most of the great rock albums of the 1970's, you really should listen to them in order. It is like a great movie, you could probably watch the scenes out of order if you knew it well enough, but why would you do that? These songs were put in this order for a reason. Collectively, it is not a story but a tone. It is full of darkness, but it gives you great release via guitar and piano by master musicians.

Here is the list of my top 100 albums:

My 100 Favorite Albums:
#1 Dark Side of the Moon by Pink Floyd
#2 Blood on the Tracks by Bob Dylan
#3 The Wall by Pink Floyd
#4 Captain Fantastic and Brown Dirt Cowboy by Elton John
#5 Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Heart Club Band by The Beatles
#6 Ziggy Stardust and the Spider's from Mars by David Bowie
#7 The Poet Game by Greg Brown
#8 Summer's Teeth by Wilco
#9 The Native Americans by Robbie Robertson
#10 Home by Spearhead
#11 Highway 61 Revisited by Bob Dylan
#12 Yoshimi and the Pink Robots by The Flaming Lips
#13 Harvest Moon by Neil Young
#14 Odelay by Beck
#15 Hunky Dory by David Bowie
#16 Desire by Bob Dylan
#17 Zepplin II by Led Zepplin
#18 LA Woman by the Doors
#19 Mermaid Avenue by Billy Bragg and Wilco
#20 Rust Never Sleeps by Neil Young
#21 The Final Cut by Pink Floyd
#22 I'm Your Man by Leonard Cohen
#23 Who's Next by The Who
#24 New York by Lou Reed
#25 Days of Future Past by Moody Blues
#26 Rain Dogs by Tom Waits
#27 The Low Spark of High Heels Boys by Traffic
#28 The Soft Parade by the Doors
#29 Aqualung by Jethro Tull
#30 Moving Pictures by Rush
#31 Terrapin Station by The Grateful Dead
#32 The Night Fly by Donald Fagen
#33 Nebraska by Bruce Springsteen
#34 Station to Station by David Bowie
#35 Beggar's Banquet by The Rolling Stones
#36 Breakfast in America by Supertramp
#37 Oh Mercy by Bob Dylan
#38 Born To Run by Bruce Springsteen
#39 Everybody Knows This is Nowhere by Neil Young
#40 Yankee Hotel Foxtrot by Wilco
#41 Cure for Pain by Morphine
#42 I Do Not Want What I Haven't Got by Sinead O'Connor
#43 Rift by Phish
#44 déjà vu by Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young
#45 Prolonging the Magic by Cake
#46 Become You by The Indigo Grils
#47 The Royal Scam by Steely Dan
#48 Animals by Pink Floyd
#49 Abbey Road by The Beatles
#50 Aja by Steely Dan
#51 I'm the Man by Joe Jackson
#52 Blonde on Blonde by Bob Dylan
#53 Comfort Eagle by Cake
#54 Diamond Dogs by David Bowie
#55 Greetings from Asbury Park by Bruce Springsteen
#56 Stop Making Sense by The Talking Heads
#57 Gimme Fiction by Spoon
#58 Bachelor #2 by Aimee Mann
#59 Titanic by Jim's Big Ego
#60 Pale Sun Crescent Moon by Cowboy Junkies
#61 Document by REM
#62 US3 by US3
#63 Making Movies by Dire Straits
#64 Goodbye Yellow Brick Road by Elton John
#65 Red Dirt Girl by Emmy Lou Harris
#66 Tea for the Tillerman by Cat Stevens
#67 American Idiot by Green Day
#68 August and Everything After by the Counting Crows
#69 52nd Street by Billy Joel
#70 Court and Spark by Joni Mitchell
#71 Meddle by Pink Floyd
#72 War by U2
#73 Darkness on the Edge of Town by Bruce Springsteen
#74 Tumbleweed Connection by Elton John
#75 Train Home by Chris Smither
#76 Secret Samadhi by Live
#77 Graceland by Paul Simon
#78 Drag Queens and Limousines by Mary Gauthier
#79 Drum Hat Buddha by Dave Carter and Tracey Grammar
#80 Turnstyles by Billy Joel
#81 Not for Kids Only by Jerry Garcia
#82 Work by Dan Bern
#83 Modern Times by Bob Dylan
#84 Songs from the Wood by Jethro Tull
#85 Play by Moby
#86 Obscured by Clouds by Pink Floyd
#87 Naturally by JJ Cale
#88 John Barley Corn Must Die by Traffic
#89 Shakedown Street the Grateful Dead
#90 Tenacious D by Tenacious D
#91 Wish You Were Here by Pink Floyd
#92 Elton John by Elton John
#93 At Folsom Prison by Johnny Cash
#94 The Innocent, The Wild and the E Street Shuffle by Bruce Springsteen
#95 Night and Day by Joe Jackson
#96 The Crane Wife by The Decemberists
#97 Fragile by YES
#98 Hotel California by The Eagles
#99 Ten by Pearl Jam
#100 After the Gold Rush by Neil Young

Thursday, June 29, 2017

Term Limits Equals Voter Suppression

Daily, on social media, I see things that just really make me scratch my head. Obvious things may come to mind like breatharians (people who believe that they can survive without food) or the Flat Earth Society (that's right, people you believe the Earth is flat), but I am not talking about those things. I expect the crazy in an unfiltered medium where anyone can get on-line, chat and hook-up with someone who is equally crazy. No, I am talking about bad ideas, specifically, term limits.

Term limits, to put it lightly, is a very bad idea that has legs. The idea of limiting the terms of members of Congress became very popular during the 1990's when incumbents were reelected at a rate of 100%. Term limits is when you put a limit to the amount of years or terms a political office holder can hold that office. They are usually passed when a group of people, either from one part of the country or in a particular party, don't like the choices that the other side is making, so they try to limit the amount of time their elected officials can hold office. US Presidents serving two terms was only a tradition for over a century set in place by our first president, George Washington. President Grant, our 18th President, was the first to break tradition and actually try to run for a third term, but he lost the nomination of his party to James Garfield. It wasn't until President Franklin Roosevelt, our 32nd President, was inaugurated for a third and a fourth term that anyone officially broke this tradition. He died during his fourth term so we don't know if he ever would have attempted to run for more. During his fourth term, his opponent in his last election, Thomas Dewey, proposed an Amendment to the Constitution to limit the terms of the presidency. Since both houses of Congress was controlled by the Republicans, it was passed and completely ratified by 1951. It took a total of seven years for the 22nd Amendment to be passed.

Since then many Presidents have had to stepped down after two terms. Among them were Eisenhower, Reagan, Clinton, W. Bush and Obama. Truman was grandfathered in so the law didn't apply to him but he decided not to run for a third term on his own.  Supporters of term limits would argue, aren't you glad that the law prevented Reagan or W. from run for a third term. I say, no, I am glad they didn't get a third term, but I think it should be the voters or the candidate to decide this, not the law. I also think that having Obama as President for a third term would be much better than having Trump as President. I find it frustrating that I didn't get a chance to vote for him again. Since I have already stated, in prior blog entries, that I'd support Zippy the Pinhead over Donald Trump, so this is probably obvious. Any of our prior Presidents having a third term would be better than Trump serving even one term. Maybe even W. At least we'd be getting someone with some experience. I digress.

The idea of Congressional term limits angers me in particular. As a Vermonter, I am very much over-represented in Congress. I have two great Senators in Patrick Leahy and Bernie Sanders and my Congressman, Peter Welch, is proving to be very effective. Why should I lose them? Because someone in Indiana or Florida thinks they are dead weight? Isn't that for the voters of Vermont to decide? If they weren't doing a good job, we'd vote for another candidate. That's called a Representative Democracy. Term limits is the antithesis to Democracy. You don't like some Congressman in another state ... tough! Adults deal with these things.

Every time I see someone stumping for Congressional term limits, it is never their own representation that they are complaining about, but someone else's. It is someone in Rhode Island complaining about a Georgia or Texan representative or it is someone in South Carolina complaining about New York and California. Never their own. We have a process to get rid of dead weight and under performing politicians ...again, it is called an election.

Lets apply this logic to other occupations, lets try brain surgeons. After eights years of you developing your skills as a surgeon ... sorry, you can't be a brain surgeon anymore. After twenty years or so, our society would have no skilled brain surgeons. Bad analogy? Bad example? A politician is not as skill an occupation as a brain surgeon? Sure, but it is still a very skilled occupation. If you think Congress is dysfunctional now, imagine if it were filled with freshman Congressmen. Imagine a legislative body with no institutional memory.

In one of Vonnegut's novels, I believe it was Slapstick, he came up with a solution to our democratic woes. Our leaders were chosen at random, in a lottery, to ensure that no one who wanted the job would get it, because anyone who wanted it was surely insane therefore unqualified. It is an absurd idea in an absurdist work, but it always made me think ... hmm. Surely any random person would be a better selection than Trump. Right? Maybe so. But would they be better Senators than Bernie Sanders or Patrick Leahy, I think not. Surely, our election process has produced more good statesmen than bad. The bad just get more press. Until the Vonnegut method takes hold, keep your term limits off of my candidates and stop trying to suppress my vote.

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Authoritarian Creep - Trump Log #33

I have spent my life in awe at how many stupid people I meet ... people with little or no media skepticism, with no ability to communicate and seemingly no desire or ability to change. I am not talking about the mentally disabled, but functioning adults in our society. Not to sound too arrogant, but we all have met people who have very strange, paranoid and ill-informed ideas. Trump's election just shows that we have reached a critical mass. They have reached an unmanageable number and they have organized. They can be easily manipulated into organizing and voting against their own interests. It is only so long a culture can go around celebrating ignorance before it will end up with a snake oil salesman as its leader.

The scariest thing about living under an authoritarian is how normal it all starts becoming. What we were outraged by a month ago becomes old hat today. "What did he do now," is a daily mantra. Yesterday's outrage is today's yawn because we have a new outrage that will soon be tired. This is why it is important to remind ourselves everyday of the predicament that we are in.

Trump log:
6/21/17 - Trump wants to cut housing subsides for the poor with one exception, the subsidies that he personally makes millions off of. (Source: Washington Post)

6/22/17 - Trump appoints a wedding planner, Lynne Patton, to be in charge of the arm of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) that oversees New York and New Jersey. Like his Secretary of HUD, she has zero experience with housing, but she did plan his son's wedding. Again, he clearly values loyalty over everything else including ability, experience and qualifications. (Source: CNN)

6/23/17 - Not only is the Trump administration having a difficult time finding talent, but the talent that the Federal Government already has, some that has spilled over from multiple administrations, are bowing out. Expect more incompetence to creep on by. (Source: Washington Post)

6/24/17 - Several positions on the EPA's Board of Scientific Counselors are expiring. Trump's EPA director plans to fill them with industry representative from the oil, coal and gas. Stop it! It isn't opposite day anymore. (Source: Slate)

6/25/17 - The President called my Senator, Bernie Sanders, "crazy" on Twitter. Now it is getting personal. (Source: Washington Post)

6/26/17 - Now that I am moderately successful, I travel to Europe every few years. By the conversations I've had with the locals, I could tell America was losing popularity during the W. Bush years but seemed to have been perking back up during the Obama years. It seems we're heading back down in again in the world's opinion. Time to pull out my Canadian flag patch for my backpack again. (Source: Washington Post)

6/27/17 - The Senate's version of Trumpcare has been released this week and it is just as bad as the House version. The non-partisan Congressional Business Office (CBO) has reported that 22 million Americans will lose their insurance by 2026.  The estimated amount of deaths by loss of insurance per year is in the 10 thousands, mostly the elderly, poor and disabled. Maybe this is the Republican's cure for global warming ... to depopulate the planet! (Source: Chicago Tribune)

Prior Trump Logs:
Issue # 1 - posted November 15th, 2016
Issue # 2 - posted November 22nd, 2016
Issue # 3 - posted November 29th, 2016
Issue # 4 - posted December 6, 2016
Issue # 5 - posted December 12, 2016
Issue # 6 - posted December 19, 2016
Issue # 7 - posted December 26, 2016
Issue # 8 - posted January 3, 2017
Issue # 9 - posted January 10, 2017
Issue #10 - posted January 17, 2017
Issue #11 - posted January 24, 2017
Issue #12 - posted January 31, 2017
Issue #13 - posted February 7, 2017
Issue #14 - posted February 14, 2017
Issue #15 - posted February 21, 2017
Issue #16 - posted February 28, 2017
Issue #17 - posted March 7, 2017
Issue #18 - posted March 14, 2017
Issue #19 - posted March 21, 2017
Issue #20 - posted March 28, 2017
Issue #21 - posted April 5, 2017
Issue #22 - posted April 11, 2017
Issue #23 - posted April 18, 2017
Issue #24 - posted April 25, 2017
Issue #25 - posted May 2, 2017
Issue #26 - posted May 9, 2017
Issue #27 - posted May 16, 2017
Issue #28 - posted May 23, 2017
Issue #29 - posted May 30, 2017
Issue #30 - posted June 6, 2017
Issue #31 - posted June 13, 2017
Issue #32 - posted June 20, 2017