Wednesday, February 7, 2018

Do You Remember the Last Time Korea Hosted the Olympics?

When Seoul was chosen as host for the 1988 Summer Olympics, their neighbor to the north wanted in. The dream of reunification was still in the air. The North wanted to co-host. South Korea said "whoa! wait a minute ... not so fast."  Working through the IOC, the South offered the North five events: some early games of the soccer tournament, archery, the cycling road race, table tennis and women's volleyball. This pissed off North Korea and talk of a boycott ensued. Boycotting the Olympics was a big thing in the 80's.

If the North's outrage stopped there, we could live with it, but in 1987, they bombed a Korean airliner killing 115 people.  A couple of assassins boarded Korean Air Flight 858 with two time bombs, one disguised as a bottle of cognac and the other in a Panasonic radio and left them in the overhead bin. They deboarded the plane at a stop over in Abu Dhabi. The plane departed for Baghdad and it exploded over the Andaman Sea killing everyone on board.  When caught, the two assassins took cyanide pills hidden in cigarettes. The male, Kim Seung II, died. The female, Kim Hyon-hui, survived. 

Hyon-hui was supposed to be executed, but her interrogators realized that she was brain washed. She was lead to believe that Seoul was filled with starving and a pawn of the United States. She was exposed to a film of modern day South Korea and taken for outings outside the prison to see Seoul in action. She realized that she had been duped and broke down, confessed to everything and pleaded for mercy. The president of South Korean, Roh Tae-woo, pardoned her.  She still alive today and plans to watching this year's Olympics in Pyeong Chang, South Korea, from her home. It will included a unified team North and South Korean team during the opening ceremony and a unified women's hockey team.  Who says sports doesn't promote peace?

Historically, you could say that this event marks the downhill trajectory for North Korean. Forever playing one-upmanship with their southern neighbor, they responded by planning what the World Festival for Youth and Students in 1989 in the capital of Pyongyang. It was a socialist response to the Olympics. They spent billions of dollars building sports arenas, hotels and expanding airports.  The event was a flop.  A few years later North Korea's number one trading partner, the Soviet Union, collapsed. They would have recovered a lot easier if they hadn't spent their war chest. In the 1990's they were hit by floods and droughts throughout the country resulting in famine. That is how we got the North Korea we know and don't love today. 

For the South, the '88 Olympics had the opposite effect. It was their coming out party. The building boom stimulated their economy and helped convert Seoul into a modern city.  The world learned to love Korea. Since I have friends in South Korea, I wanted to attend this year's games but it just didn't happen. My wife and I have always wanted to attend the games.  I'm hoping for another Montreal or Lake Placid Olympics.  

Tuesday, February 6, 2018

The Resort Vacation

When we were younger, the vacations that my wife and I went on were extremely cheap. They usually involved a road trip and a tent. Even our honeymoon was a road trip from Boston to Montana up to Canada's Jasper National Park and then back home across Canada. These were great times. Now we have more cash we are still not extravagant travelers. It wasn't until this year that we actually went to an all-inclusive resort.

Living in Vermont now, I like to take a vacation in warmer climes. In January or February we like to take a road trip south to Florida, Georgia, Alabama or Arkansas and we usually take our dogs.  We have had some bad luck weather-wise on some of these trips. We had a cold rainy week on Tybee Island. We even had snow in Alabama. We were getting in a little tired of this. We decided this year to go some place really warm. We had reward points towards a vacation on our credit card and we found a reasonable flight from Montreal to the Dominican Republic. So we booked the resort vacation, at the Iberostar in Punta Cana. We even discovered a good deal with Montreal hotels near the airport. If you stay the night, before your morning flight, you can park at the hotel for free for the week. It is so much cheaper than parking at the airport.

I'll be nice:
Before I trash the place let me say some nice things about the experience.  I don't think I have ever been more relaxed after a vacation. So this ultimately is a very good thing. I have been home for a week and I don't feel a tinge of stress. Each day we slept late, had a descent buffet breakfast, then went for a morning swim in the ocean, sat on the beach spending the next few hours reading and drinking cocktails being delivered to us, we moved to the pool in the afternoon, swam and then continued to read.  Then we went to dinner.  Evenings were spent low key, walking the beach, playing cards at a bar or losing a small amount of money at the casino.

Sounds nice doesn't it? It was. For the most part we really enjoyed ourselves and had some good couple time. All the staff members were really nice and we only met one group of guests that annoyed us. That might be a record. It was 82 degrees F most of the week. It rained towards the end of the week but when it did rain, it torrential rained for a few minutes, but then cleared up again. One day we left the beach because of the wind.

Our best day was a half day excursion we ended up paying for. Punta Cana is all resorts lining the shoreline of northeastern Hispaniola. We took a bus from our resort to a catamaran that had about 35 people all from different resorts. The boat brought us to an area to snorkel. For those of us who didn't want to snorkel, we had an open bar. We got very drunk with some strangers. Made friends with a gay couple from Toronto. It was a good time.

We paid for the excursion by sitting through a sales pitch for us to buy a ten year package in their resort. We had no interest in this and they didn't pressure us. They gave us a $100.00 voucher and we used it to pay for the excursion, plus another $30.00 out of our pocket.  Just a couple hours of our day wasted on the pitch but it wasn't so bad and worth the voucher.

Not so fast:
You can't complain about a week in sun can you? I can. It was a matter of isolation and lack of variety. I have already said that this was our first resort vacation. I found a little confining. I like to explore an area. When you stay at a resort, you don't get to see or to know the place you are visiting. I've been to the DR and I don't feel like I have. Other than what I saw from the cab from the airport and the beach, I haven't really seen it. We considered renting a car, but didn't want to spend any more money. I felt restless and grew tired of the 10 acres or so that was our resort.

Perhaps I've become a bit snobbish when it comes to food, because I live in the foodie paradise of Burlington VT, but the food wasn't very good.  Each meal we had a buffet with a wide variety of food but it is same wide variety all week. Iberostar has five themed restaurant that we can eat at each once while we were there: Asian, American, seafood, French and Mexican. Other than the French restaurant, none of them were very good. That's right, I've had better Mexican food in Vermont.  The food was very disappointing.

I am not a big drinker but an open bar meant that I drank more than usual. This was a new experience for me but we quickly figured out that that the drinks were not very strong. A mojito or margarita at the resort did not taste like the same drink at home. I was going to drink beer, but there was only one beer available, Presidente, a local beer.  It is okay but not great. It tastes like Budweiser without the aluminum aftertaste. I am used to having about twenty micro brews available to me. Again variety would have been nice. We ended up drinking a lot of sangria because it goes well with the beach and it was the only drink we could find that had a good kick to it.

When I travel internationally, I like getting exposed to the culture I am visiting. When visiting Portugal, I like to hear fado music etc. I heard some meringue music in the DR, but not a lot of it. Most of what I heard seemed like latin pop with a very loud bass drum beat ... let me emphasize LOUD. They blasted something most of the day at the pool. At one point I couldn't hear my book on mp3. It was pretty annoying.  You could even hear it on the beach. We had to walk to the far end of the beach to get away from it.

The duplex we stayed in was basic. We were in the spa package so we were next to the spa and had access to it whenever we wanted. It is a very poor planning that they put the spa rooms near the performance stage. So the people who are there to relax, also had live music blasting in their rooms until late at night.  We had the television blasting over the Olivia Newton John covers. Not relaxing.

Our television didn't work for three days. We asked for it to be fixed three times. The internet didn't work at all. We had to go to the dining hall or the beach to use the net. Also, every time our maid came in the room she blasted the AC and we came back to a room in a deep freeze.

I am not a resort person. I like paying for my room and not having it cleaned until after I leave. I like adventuring, going on quests for food and seeing the land. I don't like being trapped in one place being forced to listen to bad music and to eat sub par food. The confinement was relaxing, so if you want to only relax, perhaps this is for you.

Monday, January 1, 2018

Picks of the Year: 2017

2017 won't go down as a great year, but compared to 2016, it was fantastic. In reviewing, I noticed that I saw a lot less live shows than I usually do. This is probably due to my accident on July 4th when I tripped on some cobblestones in Portugal and dislocated my ankle. I spent the rest of the summer on crutches or at least walking very carefully. I remember attending the Elvis Costello concert and trying to maneuver a concert crowd at an outdoor (grass) venue. We usually attend many shows at this venue during the summer, but I was less motivated to attend when I'm hobbling. Also, standing for a few hours wasn't ever appealing as well.

Last years was full of death and mayhem, we had a little of that but no more than could be expected. I lost one of my favorite aunts. My father had ten siblings and now they are all gone. An entire generation of my family is gone from this planet forever which makes me more sad each time I think about it.

We had our roof fixed this year. This is a good thing. It was a pain for about a week. Compared to last year's loss of the furnace, being without electricity for a week and without water for six weeks, the new roof was a blessing.

I also started volunteering this year, something I used to do a lot of when I was younger. Every Saturday I drive into Burlington and assist in teaching a group of Bhutan refugees American civics in preparation for their citizenship test. I have been really enjoying this. For Christmas, they got together and bought me a new business suit.

Best book I read in 2017:
I joined a book club this year so this means I have less control over the books I am reading but I am having better reads and getting more perspective. This has mostly been a good thing because I'm meeting a lot really great people. As a telecommuter, I really need more outlets to makes friends in my area. My favorite book of the year was The Boys in the Boat by Daniel James Brown. I was surprised about how much I ended up caring about the rowing team in the 1936 Olympics. It read like good fictional novel. Other books I've read this year include: The Dispossessed by Ursula K. Le Guin, The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot, High Fidelity by Nick Hornby, The Brief and Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Juno Diaz, Var the Stick by Piers Anthony, Just Kids by Patti Smith, 11/22/63 by Stephen King and Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Wolff (which I didn't finish). With exception of the last one, I enjoyed them with varying degrees. I also read two graphic novels, Saga #6 and #7.

Favorite new movie: 
Because of my injury, I went to the movies more often than usual this year.  Here are all of them that I can think of: Star Wars: The Last Jedi, Thor: Ragnorak, Bladerunner 2049, The Big Sick, The Guardians of the Galaxy II, Logan, Lion, La La Land, Hidden Figures and Get Out.  I enjoyed all of them, but if I had to pick a favorite, it had to be Get Out. I can't say I have seen anything like it before, both scary and hysterical.  I'm guessing that both Get Out and The Big Sick are going to be ignored by the Oscars because they are comedies.

I only went to see La La Land because my wife dragged to it. I have to admit it was better than I expected. I finally got to see Moonlight on Blueray and I am glad that the better movie did win, because Moonlight was amazing.

Favorite new TV show: 
I discovered a lot of new shows this year. Among them are; The Crown, Gypsy, Dark, The Punisher, Alias Grace, The Handmaid's Tale, Westworld, Big Little Lies, Divorce, Crashing, The Deuce, Insecure, Mindhunter, The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, 13 Reasons Why, Iron Fist, Ozark, The Defenders, The OA, Runaways, The Orville, Preacher, Legion, Atlanta and Travelers.  I guess I watch a lot of TV.

There are some standouts. The Crown, The Handmaid's Tale, Big Little Lies and Atlanta are the best on the list. They are just superior television that you wouldn't be able to see on television years ago. We have some very creative people really stretching the form. They have creative story telling, social relevance and depth on many levels. The biggest disappointment was Westworld. I heard almost universal praise and it just wasn't that good. The biggest surprise was 13 Reasons Why. I didn't expect to be captivated by a drama about teen suicide.  

Favorite quote:
"Despite the constant negative press covfefe" by our toddler in chief. Need I say more!

Favorite new podcast : 
I discovered a lot of new podcasts this year, among them are: Radio Atlantic, The Daily, Slowburn, The Deeper Dig, Freak Out and Carry On, Civics 101 and The Hilarious World of Depression. My favorite is the New York Times' The Daily. It really should change its name to The Week Daily because it only comes out five days a week. It goes into depth about a story that is being covered in the New York Times that day. I listen every morning as I begin work.

Best concert I attended:
I only saw four live shows this year: Robert Cray, Elvis Costello, Kung Fu and Joe Pug. I have say that I enjoyed Joe Pug the most. It had to be because of the venue. He is a fantastic song writer and we saw him at an intimate setting, The Higher Ground in Burlington. This is much more my speed these days.

Best album:  
I bought some great new albums this year, in MP3 format of course. I bought "Lotta Sea Lice" by Courtney Barnett and Kurt Vile, "Mental Illness" by Aimee Mann, "Together At Last" by Jeff Tweedy, "A Deeper Understanding" by The War on Drugs, "The Navigator" by Hurray for the Riff Raff, "In Between" by the Feelies and "More Fast Songs about the Apocalypse" by Moby. The Moby album was a free download which I am grateful because it is awful.

The Aimee Mann album is my favorite with her deeply personal song writing. As usual, she is spectacular tackling her own experiences with mental illness. Here is some of the lines from "Philly Sinks":
Philly thinks, and when he thinks he can't feel anymore
Philly drinks, and when he drinks, all the drunks hit the floor
Philly sinks, and when he sinks you go down
And when you do, you both drown
The entire Jeff Tweedy album is a bunch of acoustic remakes from some of his other bands. If these were all new songs, I'd be picking this album because like Mann, he is one of America's greatest living song writers. Here are a few of great lines from some of his songs: "All my lies are always wishes," "His goal in life was to be an echo" and "you are right about the stars, each one is a setting sun."

Favorite new songs: 
I have 234 mp3 files of songs from 2017. I spend the month of December listening to only a playlist of these songs. I payed for most of them. In addition to getting the awful Moby album for free, I did download the NPR 100 which is their picks for the best 100 songs at the South by Southwest music festival. As usual, I end up disliking most of these tracks, but I do find some gems from the bunch which I am grateful, because they are free.

Here are some of my favorites:

"Benjamin Franklin's Song" by the Decemberists
"Sheep" by Mt. Joy
"Fight to Survive" by Thievery Corporation
"The Last Ten Years" by Mark Eitzel
"When the Wall Comes Down" by Hiss Golden Messenger
"Sign of the Times" by Harry Styles
"Total Entertainment Forever" by Father John Misty
"Hard Living" by Chris Stapleton
"One of These Days" by Bedouine
"Goose Snow Cone" by Aimee Mann
"Philly Sinks" by Aimee Mann
"Stuck in the Past" by Aimee Mann
"Muddy Waters" by the Deslondes
"Continental Breakfast" by Courtney Barnett and Kurt Vile
"Rosey" by Bermuda Triangle
"Faded Days" by Actual Wolf
"Passing Time" by Almighty American
"Destitute" by Christopher Paul Stelling
 "I'll Quit Tomorrow" by Dawg Yawp
"Sports" by Fufanu
"Forgot Myself" by Jen Cloher
"Going Mad As Street Bins" by L.A. Salami
"Carin at the Liquor Store" by The National
"Television" by Planes on Paper
"Darling" by Real Estate
"He's Fine" by the Secret Sisters
"Holding On" by The War On Drugs
"Thinking of a Place" by The War On Drugs
"Sea of Clouds" by Deer Tick
"Hungry Ghost" by Horray for the Riff Raff

Since I have to pick a favorite, I pick "Benjamin Franklin's Song" by the Decemberists. Franklin is one of my favorite personalities from American history so the fact someone wrote a great rock song documenting his achievements is very pleasing to me ... and it rocks.

The best trip of the year was our trip to Portugal.

We flew into Lisbon, met up with our friend Paul, enjoyed Lisbon (particularly the sangria on the beach) and then went to Porto. It was stunning. It might be the most beautiful city I've seen in Europe. The restaurants and bars line the Duoro River and row boats deliver the port wine from the vineyards up river. This was truly the peak of our trip and as we crossed the river into their sister city Vila Nova de Gaia, the highpoint quickly became the nadir. Maybe a half hour after we crossed the river, on July 4th with my Captain America shirt on, I tripped on the cobblestone and dislocated my ankle. For about a minute, my foot was perpendicular with my leg. As a group of strangers carried me off the street, I was screaming, it slowly snapped into place. I spent the next five hours in an ambulance and emergency room and the rest of the trip on crutches. I still haven't gotten a bill from the hospital. Gotta to love socialized medicine.

We went to Philadelphia for Memorial Day and met up with our niece and stayed with friends.  We went to see the Cubs in Cincinnati which is an amazing city.  We went to Arkansas for a week. The highlight of that trip is that we can now tell people we've been to Arkansas. I've been to 40 plus US states and I have to say, Arkansas is the least interesting and I have no plans to ever go back again. 

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

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.
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.
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.
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.
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 CafĂ© 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.
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

                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.

                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.

                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. 

                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.

                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.

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.