Wednesday, December 28, 2016

2016 - The Year That Sucked

2016 was an awful year all around. We lost some of our musical greats and some of my favorites: David Bowie, Prince and Leonard Cohen. Other famous people I've admired that we lost this year were musicians Leon Russell, Sharon Jones, Merle Haggard and Glenn Frey, actors Gene Wilder, George Kennedy and Alan Rickman, Gwen Ifill (journalist), Garry Shandling (comedian), Harper Lee (novelist), Pat Conroy (novelist), Edward Albee (playwright), Jose Fernandez (athlete), John Glenn (astronaut) and Mohammad Ali (athlete). I am from a generation of people who were the first to grow up with media saturation, the MTV generation, so it makes sense as we get older that we'd have a year like this year. The ubiquity of social media only makes it more in our face than ever before. I expect this may be the norm going forward. I was doing errands with my wife this weekend and I received a notification on my phone that Carrie Fisher died ... Bam! ... in your face. No getting away from it.

The election this year was incredibly divisive and seemed to go forever with two candidates that no one seemed to really want, the worst in my lifetime. It ended with a fascist in power and lots of people freaking out. The only good thing that happened this year, on a global front, was the Chicago Cubs winning the World Series. The rest of year just sucked.

On a personal level, the year has been even worse. It was full of death. I lost my father. I am not very close with my family but among them, he is the person with whom I was closest. He made my childhood bearable and I still don't know how he had time or energy to be a father. He had a lot of jobs and responsibilities which should have made him exhausted but he always had time for me whether it was for going bowling, fishing, playing cribbage or a game of croquet. He never failed to make me laugh.

A friend of mine's son, Tyler, died of an overdose at the age of 32. This might be the first people that I've known since he was a kid to die. He had some rough times as an adult, but as a kid he was a shining star. My favorite memory of him was driving him from Boston to Detroit to transport him from his dads to this mom's. We got to know him very well on that road trip. Losing him was a shock.

We also lost four pets this year. It sounds like we have a real zoo here but we didn't have more than three pets at any one time.  Last Summer, we adopted a puppy, Margo, who was going to be a great dog if she had lived. On a windy day last Winter, our front door blew open and both our dogs got out.  When they came back, she was limping. It got worst throughout the week. Eventually, she couldn't walk and was in real pain. An x-ray showed she had a displaced a bone in her back and no chance of meaningful recovery. We assumed that she jumped at a car on the road by our house. This is a picture of her when we first met her at the shelter.

Our 14 year old cat, Mavis disappeared this year. She was sickly and never a very good cat. We'd go weeks without seeing her so we didn't look for her when she disappeared. She disliked people but she was a great mouser. She must have gone some place to die. We knew she was gone for good when mice started showing up. We replaced her with Jasper who was one of the best cats ever. He was a few years old and an outdoor cat. Even if we tried, we couldn't keep this cat indoors especially during the summer. He was full of character, affectionate, a good mouser and would snuggle up with us and the dogs. I loved that cat. I was looking forward to having him for another decade or two. One day in September, one of neighbors came to our door to inform us that a car had hit him. We had to go out to the road to get him. We tried to bring him to the vet with blood all over my shirt, but he died on the way. That is two animals we lost on our dirt road this year that has very little traffic.
A few weeks later we got Wrigley, a female cat who was very sweet. We had her for a very short time. She got outside and was attacked by an animal.
We have a new dog, Woodrow and a new cat, Lester. They are both great and doing fine. Hopefully, I won't have to go through that for a long time.

The year was filled with a ton of other awful experiences. In August, I walked on a bee hive while mowing the lawn, getting at least eight stings. I ran yelling into the house. I spent a weekend in extreme pain. I had to get up early morning, while it was still cool, to kill the hive with bee bomb (see my outfit below).  In September, the well at our house went dry and this lasted into November. What made this worse is we had to turn the pump off, but we discovered the pump was hardwired to the house so we had to shut off one of the circuit breakers to stop the pump. A good part of the house was on this breaker, important things like my router, work phone, our freezer, refrigerator and both televisions. In order for me to live and work from home, we had to run extension cords throughout the house to have internet access and keep the frig and freezer on.  We lived like this, taking showers at friends' house, eating on paper plates and going to laundromats, for about six weeks. Ugh!
The only really great thing that happened this year, other than the Cubs winning, was that my niece Ashley came to live with us for about month this summer. I really love her and we got to spend some quality time with her playing games, kayaking and just hanging out. I also have been running consistently this year, about three miles every other day. I ran my first 5k race in 30 years. I hope to keep this up.

Let's hope for a better 2017. 

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Orange Is the New Black: Trump Log #7

I struggle with trying to find something positive with our new President. I've been looking everywhere in his decision making and I find little. Some things you just have to wait to see how they pan out. Take his trade policies, perhaps he's right, bringing manufacturing  back to the US may create jobs for the working class. But I doubt it. Most manufacturing jobs in America have been displaced by automation, not foreign competition. Also, the idea of having more manufacturing with a depleted EPA scares me. Are we going to back to the smog days of the 1970's with our rivers catching fire?

The use of Twitter as a communication tool to deliver complicated messages is very troubling. 140 characters is very limiting and leads to vague messaging. Trump's advisor keep telling the media "this is what he meant" ... perhaps he shouldn't be using a tool that has so many nuances. Are his administration's press briefings just going to be clarification sessions of the tweets of the night before?

This week's Trump Log:

12/27/16 - 10,000 doctors sign petition opposing Trump's nomination of Tom Price as Secretary of Health and Human Services. (Source: New York Times)

12/26/16 - A trade war is coming. (Source: New York Times)

12/25/16 - While Trump himself is full of conflicts of interest, his cabinet picks are no different. His pick for Health and Human Services made a lot of money trading in health care stock while he created health care laws in Congress.  (Source: Slate)

12/24/16 - Trump aims to destroy Obama's legacy, this is obvious. But his recent comments on Twitter about expanded our nuclear arsenal, threatens the legacies of Presidents going back to Nixon not to mention the security of the planet. (Source: New York Times

12/23/16 - It is clear that the Trump administration is going to be pro-Russia and anti-China. His new created presidential office for US trade and industrial policy with be headed by Peter Navarro, a well known China antagonist. (Source: The Guardian)

12/22/16 - If you donate a large gift to the Opening Day Foundation, Trump's inauguration fund, you can get access to Trump and his family.  (Source: New York Times)

12/21/16 - Every businessman we have ever had as president has been an awful president. The skills don't necessarily translate. Trump's transactional diplomacy may not work on a global scale. (Source: Washington Post)

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 

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

The Unbearable Lightness of Tweeting - Trump Log #6

I thought it would go away, but it just seems to be getting worse. Each day, I hate Trumps supporters more. Perhaps it is because Trump is revealing himself to be as bad as I suspected or even worse. I used to put Trump supporters in two categories, the morally corrupt and the complete idiot (with some crossover). Now I believe I have found a third category: those who wanted change and who were not turned off enough by Trump's racism/misogyny et al. They feel his behavior is a concern, but they can look past this. Lets call them the angry white voter. They are the people who are doing fine, but not as well as they'd like, so they could give a shit if them doing a little bit better would fuck over a good portion of the American public. I know one Trump supporter who talks about how difficult it is getting by, which is true, but this guy owns a boat, a huge boat, not a row boat or a commercial fishing boat, but a boat ... for fun. I'm guessing life isn't that bad for him. But hey, if we could kick a million Americans off of their health care, maybe he could have two boats ... and that's all that matters.

It is official, as of yesterday, that Trump will be our next president. Hopefully, I am wrong and he will be fine. In looking at his behavior as President-elect, I find this to be unlikely. His priorities seem to be out of whack. He doesn't have time to get daily intelligence briefings but does have time to tour the country for victory rallies, take P.R. pictures with Kanye West and be the executive producer of a moronic television show.

This week's Trump Log:

12/20/16 - Trump's pick for the director of the Office of Management and Budget is one of the congressman who refused to increase the debt ceiling. If he takes this approach into the budget office, our economy and the world economy could really suffer.  (Source: Washington Post)

12/19/16 - Trump's decision making process is problematic. He seems to be swayed by the last person who talks to him before a decision is made, he has a disdain for experts and he lags an ideology so advisers generally don't know how he will stand on any particular issue. (Source: Washington Post)

12/18/16 - Trump is critical of everyone except for Putin. (Source: New York Times)

12/17/16 - If you are concerned about the humane treatment of animals, then you should be concerned about who Trump is considering as Secretary of Agriculture, Butch Otter. (Source: Politico)

12/16/16 - Trump continues to surrounding himself with advisers who are anti-science. Whether they are really this ignorant or just pretending to appeal to their political base of morons, is unknown.  This Trump advisor, Anthony Scaramucci, compares the belief in global warming to the belief in a flat Earth and thinks the planet is only 5,500 years old.  (Source: Slate)

12/15/16 - Republicans have few ideas on how to replace the Affordable Care Act. Whether repeal and replace or simply repeal, millions will lose their health care coverage. (Source: Washington Post)

12/14/16 - Another oil man joins the Trump cabinet. Ex-Governor of Texas Rick Perry, who once proposed doing away with the Department of Energy, is Trump's Secretary of that Department. He continues to appoint people who are hostile to the department they will head.  (Source: The Guardian)

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

Thursday, December 15, 2016

The Electoral College

The electoral college votes next week, Monday December 19th. If they all vote "faithfully" based on the popular vote in their state, Donald Trump will win 306 to 232 for Clinton. However awful this seems, the orange one will be our President ... the world be damned. There is a big BUT here. Many of the state's electors are not bound to be faithful. They can choose to vote for another candidate ... anyone actually. If 37 of them decide to vote for someone else, he would not get 270 votes required to be president. Even if that happened, they'd all have to vote for Clinton for her to win. 

This is probably not going to happen, but what if it does?  What happens if the electoral college votes and no candidate has 270.  The House of Representatives gets to choose the President, among the top three electoral vote-getters and each state delegation gets one vote. The Vice President would be chosen by the Senate among the top two vote-getters. We could end up with Clinton as President and Governor Mike Pence as VP or Gary Johnson could be President and Tim Kaine could be VP.  Someone who wasn't on the ballot could be elected. The new Congress, 114th, will not be in office yet. The current make-up of the House is 247 Republicans and 187 Democrats (including the two Independents). Trump is not popular in his own party. The questions is how unpopular? Is he so unpopular that enough of them could vote against him. We could do all this and he could get elected anyway.  The Senate would most certainly pick Pence.

Why the madness?  We are the only nation that has such a system and the presidency is the only office that uses it. No state uses anything similar to the Electoral College to elect a Governor. The Founders feared a tyrannical demagogue, unfit for the office, being elected and also feared that as cities got larger, the rural voter would be ignored. What they envisioned was very different from what we have now. The political parties were in their infancy when it was created and certainly not quite so entrenched in the 18th century as they are now. They saw the Electoral College selecting from numerous candidates, debating their individual merits, and making compromises that benefit all regions and factions of the country. Under the Founder's vision, in 2016 states would have sent Electors for Trump, Clinton, Sanders, Cruz and Kasich, etc. to the college. In a close election, we would not have a President-Elect yet, and would be waiting for the result of the Electors. 

It really could happen this year. He fits the bill of an unhinge demagogue. We have had a total of 157 faithless electors in our nation's history which is not a lot. The most we ever had in any particular election is 63 in 1872 for Horace Greely who died after the November vote but before the December electoral college vote. He had a total 66 votes so three of his electors voted for him after he was dead.  

Arguments to eliminate the Electoral College and replace it with a popular vote runs across the political spectrum. This is surprising because a popular vote would really support liberals and, by proxy, Democrats.  Because it is in the original Constitution, it would require an amendment to remove it. In the last five elections, the candidate that received less popular votes became President which is bonkers.  A popular vote election would mean that candidates would spend most of their time in big cities like New York, Los Angeles, Houston and Miami. Since big cities is where most of the liberals live, it would mean a turn to the left in the executive branch at least ... and why not? If most people are liberal, a Democracy's government should reflect that.

It is a long shot, but I am looking for some history to be made on Monday. Best case scenario, 270 electors change their vote to Bernie Sanders and we have our first Jewish Socialist as president. That would make me happy.

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

The First Cyber Bully President - Trump Log #5

If you are wondering what it is going to be like to have Trump as president, look no further than the experience with Carrier Corporation this week. Trump campaigned to make corporations, that move job abroad, to pay higher taxes as a punishment. Yet, he does the opposite with Carrier and he portrays it as a success with most of the media is taking the bait. Carrier did keep about 1,000 jobs in the US which is great for those people who get to keep their jobs, but over 1,000 jobs still moved to Mexico. Also, those 1,000 jobs that stayed are going to be funded by Indiana tax payers. Instead of making a corporation pay, they are getting rewarded for keeping less than half of the jobs in the plant. Trump's Vice President, Mike Pence, is still the governor of that state which made it easier to get this done. You have to wonder if they are going to try to "make America great again" by micromanaging like this and how effective it is going to be when he doesn't have a governor in his pocket. All of it is difficult to bear, especially the backslapping from our hapless media outlets. 

Among Trump's picks for his cabinet so far we have an education secretary that is against public education, an EPA secretary that is hostile to the environment, a HUD secretary is against integrated housing and a small business director that has never owned a small business. Once again, we have an anti-government administration that will prove how ineffective government is by making it so.

Trump Log:
12/13/16 - Trump nominates Rex Tillerson as Secretary of State, America's top diplomat. He is another oil man with a ton conflicting interests in the Middle East as well as strong ties to Russia.  (Source: Washington Post).

12/12/16 - Even though there are more states that have legalized pot (in one form or another), Trump's Attorney General Jeff Sessions may be more interested in going after potheads than hate groups. (Source: Politco)

12/11/16 - Trump continues to bring into question any information that doesn't support him and his agenda regardless of where it is from or who is stating it. This includes reports from the CIA about Russian hacking. He continues to miss daily intelligence briefings. You have to wonder what his relationship will be with the FBI and the CIA once he is president. (Source: Washington Post).

12/10/16 - Trump's Transition Team is creating a hit list of Dept. of Energy employees in the past who worked on climate change. (Source: Washington Post)

12/9/16 - Trump's erratic behavior and inconsistent message is making it difficult to do business in America.  The auto industry is stymied as to what the new President's policies are going be. (Source: New York Times)

12/8/16 - Trump appoints oil man and opponent of Obama climate change policies, Scott Pruitt,  as head of the EPA. (Source: New York Times)

12/7/16 - Isolationism affects more than just the economy. The world has less war today than at any point in human history, a global economy has a lot to do with us. (Source Washington Post)

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

Saturday, December 10, 2016

Seatbelts on School Buses

Recently, a school bus in Chattanooga, Tennessee crashed causing the death of five children. This is a tragedy. You don't hear stories about deaths on school buses very often. When I do, I wonder, why don't school buses have seat belts? This seems like a no-brainer. Like many things, when you dig deeper, it is more complex than that. 

Currently, the US has five states that require seat belts on school buses (California, New York, Louisiana, Florida and New Jersey). Considering that lists of states, I am guessing that the rest of the country is going to follow. When I google this question, the big thing that does come up is the cost. It costs from $7k to $10k to add seat belts to a school bus. A lot of school districts are already strapped for money.

One of the arguments against this is that school buses are already very safe. Only four children die on school buses each year while 500 die during the same travel time in automobiles. It is also safer than walking to school which is what I did as a kid. I got into all kinds of trouble on my trek to school each morning. Why are school buses so safe? For one, school buses are driven slowly and usually, by a better driver. Also, cars tend to maintain a distance from a bus, I know I do, even when it is not required of me. School bus seats are also very padded and high. If a younger kid is thrown, chances are they will hitting the back of another seat's thick padding. This helps with quick stops, but not with rollovers. The chances of a bus rolling over is very unlikely. Spending money to prevent something that isn't a problem is hard to justify. In hindsight, I am sure the parents in Chattanooga probably feel that it would be a good investment.

Also, there are some logistical problems. If there is an accident, how difficult would it be to get kids out of the bus? The older kids would be fine, but the younger ones would need assistance. If there is a fire or a gas leak, you want to exit quickly. Try getting a bus load of preschoolers to take off their seats belts and exit a bus in a timely fashion, especially during the mayhem of an accident. Sounds messy. I would also imagine it would be difficult finding a one-size-fits-all belt.  Since shoulder belts are the only seat belts that are effective, you'd have to get one that would fit preschoolers comfortably and safely as well as high school students. You don't want a child to be strangled by a belt that is intended to save them.

Who enforces the seat belt use? You can have them on the bus but that doesn't mean that every student is going to use them. Does the driver or bus monitors have to guarantee that every student is wearing them before the bus takes off? How much work is this? Is this going to slow down traffic and increase the liability of the driver and/or monitor? What about the 6th grade boys (there is nothing more obnoxious than an 6th grade boy) who want to use their seat belts as weapons or nooses? It almost seems like seat belts would be more a problem than a solution.

Like most things labelled a "no-brainer," this is not one. I came up with more and more issues, the more I thought about this issue. I talked to one teacher and one bus driver before writing this. I am sure that there are others that disagree with them, but they seems right to me. We are better off without them.

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

The Art of the Misdeal - Trump Log #4

I've spent last weekend in Washington DC. I am guessing this is the last time in a while I will get to see this town before it gets Trumped on. I spent some time with some locals, friends and friends of friends, whose moods all seem to range from anger to depression about who will occupy the Executive office.  It is more a local thing outrage in their life. When their roads are blocked and a motorcade drives by, they don't mind so much when it is someone they like driving by ... they think they will mind when it is for a pussy-grabbing racist demagogue with delusions of godhood.  Most of us will just get screwed indirectly, but for the locals in DC, it is personal. 

Here is this week's Trump log:

12/6/16 - Trump's pick for Secretary of Education, Betsy DeVos, refers to her work in education reform as advancing "God's kingdom," a clear violation of the separation of church and state. (Source: Politico)

12/5/16 - Trump continues to lie about "millions" of votes being cast illegally.  There is no evidence of massive fraud yet he continues to beat this drum. Belief in voter fraud usually leads to more strict laws at the polls, preventing more citizens from voting. (Source: New York Times)

12/4/16- If Trump follows through on his trade policies, it could not only badly affect our economy but also Mexico's.  When Mexico economy crashes, this usually mean more violence and more immigration to the US, legally or otherwise. (Source: Washington Post)

12/3/16 - Trump's tax plan just doesn't add up. His cuts in taxes are not matched by cuts in spending creating an even bigger deficit. If this is the way he used to run his businesses, this might explain those six bankruptcies that we heard so much about during the election. (Source: Washington Post)

12/2/16 - Trump's lack of using advisers is showing us how his administration will be run. Instead of tapping into the resources at his disposal, he will make decisions on a gut level giving the rest of us gas. (Source: New York Times)

12/1/16 - Trump has assembled the wealthiest cabinet ever, made of a people who have been born millionaires.  Instead of draining the swamp, he is laminating it in gold (Source: Washington Post)

11/30/16 - Trump says he is going to back out of the Iran deal because "it's a bad deal."  But backing out of deals made by previous administrations sets a poor precedent. Why would anyone deal with us in the future?  (Source: New York Times)

Past Trump logs:
Issue # 1 - posted November 15th, 2016
Issue # 2 - posted November 22nd, 2016
Issue # 3 - posted November 29th, 2016

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

A Cabinet of Deplorables - Trump Log #3

I told myself that I would limit myself to one link per day on these Trump logs, but there is so much wrong with our President-elect. His incessant tweeting, the acts of hate in his name, his potential Cuban policy, the return of water boarding, threats to the ACA, Medicare and Medicaid, conflict of interests, climate change denial and a cabinet of deplorables, the guy isn't even president yet and I'm already sick of him. I can't get them all in this log. I only have so much time. I have a full time job.  

11/29/16 -Trump threatens to throw people expressing the First Amendments rights of freedom of speech in jail.  (Source: Slate)

11/28/16 - Trump wants to keep some parts of the Affordable Care Act, the good stuff, and do away with other stuff. The problem with this is that what he wants to do away with actually pays for the good stuff. (Source: New York Times)

11/27/16 - Trump continues his tirades on Twitter, acting more like a teenage troll than the future leader of the free world. Clinton and Stein are in their right especially in races that were so close: Wisconsin he won by 0.8 percent, Michigan by 0.2 percent and Pennsylvania by 1.1 percent .... especially, when Russian hacking is expected. (Source: Slate)

11/26/16 - The pile of conflicting interests are piling up. The president may be exempt from conflict of interest laws, but this is more of a question of ethics than it is of law. (Source: New York Times)

11/25/16 - Trump offered Ben Carson the position of Secretary of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).  Carson has no experience in government nor in housing. In his own admission, he is not qualified for a job in the federal government even though he ran for president. (Source: New York Times)

11/24/16 - Happy Thanksgiving 

11/23/16 - Trump will eliminate NASA's climate change research. (Source: The Guardian)

Past Trump logs:
Issue # 1 - posted November 15th, 2016
Issue # 2 - posted November 22nd, 2016

Saturday, November 26, 2016

The First Submarines

Designs of the submarine go back to antiquity, but the first actual useful submarines were not used until the 19th century. The first time a submarine was ever used in combat was in the American Revolution but it failed. It was used again in the War of 1812 but it failed again and the pilot died. In the mid-19th century they were propelled by occupants either by oars or a hand crank, because of this and poor air circulation, the crew were exhausted after using it. In the American Civil War both sides used submarines to deliver mines. They had a small effect on the war effort in the long run. It wasn't until World War I that their impact was significant.

At the beginning of the World War I, submarines were considered nuisances and still not taken seriously. They had a lot of limitations. Being stationed on sub was a miserable experience. They did not have a lot of room. They had a crew of 30 or so and had no room for food. They had to scavenge on islands or get fish by intimidating fishermen. If they ate submerged, the ship smelled of fish. This compounded the usual stench of diesel and body order. The hot engine and the warm bodies contrasted with the cold water on the exterior making for a humid environment, roughly 100 degrees F, much like a tropical jungle. All clothing was wet. They couldn't bathe and had one bathroom which could only be flushed when it was above water or in shallow water. Morale was low due to poor living conditions.

They also had limited tactical advantages. Early submarines were at its most vulnerable when they were submerging. They were defenseless to being rammed by a warship or being fired upon. Buoyancy was highly dependent on temperature and salinity. It was easier and quicker to descend in the Baltic Sea than it was in the North Sea because of this.  Sudden shifts in salinity was dangerous so when a submarine went by a river delta, it would suddenly rise. Sudden shifts in temperature and salinity could make you rise above water and appear in front an enemy destroyer. Also, they weren't sure what they were firing on when they did so. What they could see from a periscope was limited. They had no communication with the outside world because they were often very far from the rest of the fleet.  When they were in radio range, they had to be above water to transmit on the wireless. The captain of the sub was on his own with many of the decisions on whether to fire or not. The subs were packed so tight that when a torpedo was fired, the men would have to shift positions to redistribute the weight that was lost. Torpedoes had a 60% chance of failure and when they did fail, the crew could not tell why it failed.

It wasn't until the sinking of the Lusitania that the submarine was thought be of great use. Before the Lusitania sank, it was thought be impossible for a sub to sink a huge ocean liner.  The U20 German Sub sank it with one torpedo that caused a second explosion that brought it down. No one knows for sure what caused the second explosion. Some think it was carrying a cache of explosives, but there is no proof of this. It was carrying a supply of American made rifles to be delivered to the German's enemy Great Britain but that was the only armaments on board. The explosion was much too small to be a cache of explosives. Another theory was that the first explosion knocked loose coal dust which were ignited. The most official explanation was that a "thermal shock" occurred which is what the Lusitania's captain, William Thomas Turner, opined. This a steam explosion probably caused by the cold sea water entering the boiler room. Regardless, with the land war losing popularity among German citizenry, the new submarine war became very popular.

Of the 1,962 people on the Lusitania, only 764 survived. With the exception of two soldiers on leave, they were all civilians, 128 were Americans. The sinking of ocean liners by German u-boats continued, but this was the first big one and it changed public opinion of the war in the states. I always thought that the President Wilson immediately declared war on Germany after it sank, but it took two more years for the US to declare war. The Lusitania being compared to Pearl Harbor is not a good analogy. By 1917, ships leaving British ports had one in four chance of getting sunk. Who knows how many lives would have been saved if the US had gotten involved earlier.

Most of this information was found in the excellent book: Dead Wake: The Last Crossing of the Lusitania by Erik Larson.

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

It's Their Party and I Will Cry If I Want To - Trump Log - Issue # 2

I can think of only one good thing about Trump being our next president, it proves me right. I have been saying for years for how disgusting the Republican party is. I really wish I were wrong. We have white supremacist groups rallying, we have hate crimes on the rise and a potential cabinet of scary monsters.  I don't know what other proof any reasonable person needs to want to wipe this party off the map. If there were any decent Republicans before left the Trump election, I would think they would have left by now. 

 Here is this week's Trump log:

11/22/16 - During the campaign, Trump threatens to eliminate the freedom of the press, one of our core freedom protected in the Bill of Rights. Now that he is president elect, he assembled the main television network's news people for an off-the-record meeting. He says he wants a "cordial" relationship with the press. But that isn't the press's job, is it?  (Source: NPR

11/21/16 - It is clear that Trump will not change and will not start acting presidential. He continues to lash out on Twitter. Over the weekend he lashed out at Saturday Night Live and the cast of the Broadway musical, "Hamilton." (Source: New York Times)

11/20/16 - Trump's nomination for National Security Adviser is General Michael Flynn who seems unhinged. (Source: New York Times)

11/19/16 - Thousands of acres of conservation land could be in jeopardy of being opened to logging, coal mining and oil drilling under Trump's Interior. Do yourself a favor, visit Glacier National Park before it is devastated. (Source: New York Times)

11/18/16 - Trump continues to fill his chambers with deplorables. Jeff Sessions gets nominated for Attorney General. We don't have enough problems with race in this country, but now we're going to have a racist as AG.  Sessions, an ex-Senator, was rejected for a federal court seat in 1986 because he was deemed unfit. (Source: The Guardian)

11/17/16 - Trump campaigned to repeal the Affordable Care Act (aka Obamacare). He has since back pedaled and said that he would like to keep some of it, which is good news. But one of things that he plans to do away with is the Medicaid expansion which will hurt the poorest among us.
(Source: New York Times).

11/16/16 -Trump plans to roll bank a good portion of the Dodd-Frank bill which is distressing for two reason. 1) He wants to eliminate the Volcker Rule which is the provision that prevents banks from using your savings for risky investment. The intention of the rule was to help prevent another banking crisis.  2) They want to eliminate the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau which is Senator Warren's baby. It is obvious that they are playing to their base. No, not the poor white people that voted for them, but the millionaires and billionaires ... his real base. (Source: New York Times)

Past Trump logs:
Issue # 1 - posted November 15th, 2016

Friday, November 18, 2016

The American Interstate Highway System

On family road trips when I was a kid, I would sit up front with my dad. While he was driving, I'd ask him questions about his driving and the road ... why he was putting his directional on or why the yellow line in the road was double sometimes and sometimes not solid.  I would often keep track of state license plates. I'd get excited if I saw one from Alaska or British Columbia. I learned the rules of the road, how to read a map and basically, how to love the road. Also, I learned a few things that I probably shouldn't have like when to high-beam someone or throw them the finger, but most of the stuff I learned was useful. When I see families on road trips now with their DVD players in the car or the kids all looking at their electronic devices, I wonder what is being lost on the American road trip.  I also worry ... what kind of drivers are we producing. I see the results already. They can't even drive without looking at their screens. It is purely an anecdotal observation, but it seems that about half the drivers don't even know the rules of the road. Driving fast in the left lane, passing on the left, not knowing the rules of right-of-way, these aspects of driving seem to be getting lost on the future generation. Maybe, it just won't matter if we're all using self-driving cars soon.

I also mourn the death of downtime. To be alone with your thoughts, staring out the window as the road goes by, the world enfolds ... is this not where creativity is born? Is the lack of boredom producing non-creative adults? That is where creativity comes from is it not, our boredom? If we are never bored, where does the creativity go?

Today, the day I started this blog entry, is the anniversary of our numbered highway system. In 1926, a standardization of numbering highways was adapted. But people don't even understand that. When I was grad school, my favorite class was one of the most challenging. We had to read a novel each week and then write a short story in the style of the novel. We also had to read all our classmates short stories and give feedback each week.  I read a lot that year. I was probably the oldest person in this class. One of the better writers in this class wrote a story based in Texas. In the story, he mentioned Interstate 95 (I95). During the feedback session, I pointed out to him that I95 didn't go through Texas. He said, "How do you know?" I explained to him that there is only one I95 and it runs from Maine to Florida, nowhere near Texas. It occurred to me that most of the people in the class, some very intelligent young people, had no clue about the American highway system.

The US's interstate highway system got underway after the Federal Aid Highway Act of 1957 was passed under President Eisenhower, a Republican president in an era when Republicans weren't against using government to actually get things done. This was attempted a few times before but some other priorities, like World Wars, got in the way. Eisenhower was inspired by a cross country trip he made in a military convoy that took 56 days driving 10 hours a day. This was obviously too long from a military standpoint. If he were attacked on one of the coasts, we would need to get reinforcements cross country quicker than that. Developing the interstate system would also have practical uses for leisure and business. Its construction was considered complete in 1992, but even then parts of interstates 95 and 70 were not contiguous.

Here are some simple rules that will help you on a road trip on the US interstates:
  • Odd numbered routes run north to south (like 95 and 5).  Even numbers run East to West (like 90 and 70). 
  • The numbers run from low to high from West to East with I-5 being on the West Coast running through California, Oregon and Washington State and I-95, as mentioned earlier, runs the entire East Coast. Obviously, if you are driving on one of the I-50's, you are in the middle of the country like Interstate 55 which runs from the Mississippi delta to Chicago.
  • Higher numbers are in north and lower in the south. Interstate 10 runs from Santa Monica, California to Jacksonville, Florida where it connects to Interstate 95. I90 connects Seattle to Boston (or as they call it in Boston ... the Mass Pike). I've driven on most of this highway.
  • The major routes are below 100.  
  • When the hundred digit is odd (which is called a spur), it connects two major cities or economic centers. Interstate 195 (which connects to Interstate 95) in Providence goes east to Cape Cod and ends. 395 connects Washington DC with Richmond, Virginia.
  • When the hundred digit is an even number, a circumferential, it goes around major cities. 295 goes around Boston. 495 does an event bigger loop around the city and 287 goes around New York City. 
Route 90 is longest at over 3,000 miles. The shortest interstate is interstate 73 which is a little over 12 miles and is entirely within the state of North Carolina which begs the question, why is it an interstate? 

I love our interstate highway system. It is easy to use and allows me and my wife to take road trips across this beautiful country which is one of the joys of my life. I can't imagine how long and complicated driving cross country would be before our interstates. But like all change, it comes with both good and bad and some unexpected consequences  Some cities were unscathed by interstate development, like Cambridge, Massachusetts, where the super highways were developed far way and didn't cut through the city.  Or like Providence, Rhode Island where the highways followed an already existing barrier (like the Providence River).  But some cities were devastated by the highway plowing through their town like I-84 cutting Hartford in half, knocking down mostly homes of African Americans. A similar thing happened to Charlotte, NC, Jacksonville, FL and Birmingham, AL. Some of these cities have never recovered. Some entire neighborhoods were flattened. This hasn't only affected black neighborhoods. The City of Boston used to have a West End. It was mostly an Italian and Jewish neighborhood; this is where actor/photographer Leonard Nimoy hails from. In the 1950's it was destroyed to make way for I-93. The neighborhood still exists but it is mostly commercial buildings now.  If you bought a house to be near your church, when they build a highway between the two with no on-ramp, you were out of luck. Blight ensued. Then the wealthy used these same highways to flee the city and to commute from the suburbs they left it with even bigger problems, no tax bases.

This is something think about when you are looking out the window, not your smart phone screen, on a road trip through an American city. When we look out upon an urban landscape which is mostly blight, just remind yourself, this was done for your convenience. With Trump coming into office, who seems to have little interest in infrastructure, don't expect it to get any better any time soon. 

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Trump Log - Issue #1

It has been a week since the election. Not many historical events have done more in altering my world view.  When I was young, the assassination of John Lennon changed my outlook on life. It reminded me that this shit is real. In my adult life, if the terrorist attacks on 9/11/01 did anything to me, it made me ever more skeptical of religion, but this was not earth shattering for me. I was already done with religion. What really changed my world view was the day after 911,  September 12th, 2001. When I saw how my country reacted to the attacks, I knew it was not in the country that I thought I was. The hate, the fear and the rage ... had me questioning my life here and how I fit in, if at all.  While a little of that still lingered, it mostly scabbed over to a point that I could ignore it. The womb opened again last Tuesday. I have a feeling that it is going to be a long four years.

While I am grateful that the American president does not have a lot of power there are a lot of things that he can do that could damage our country and planet for years to come. I am mostly talking about the environment, but the economy and his potential Supreme Court nominations terrify me. 

To keep myself sane, I am limiting myself to one disturbing report per day.  You will find them below. Consider it my Trump log. If I keep this up for the next few years, I will have a nice reference point for you when you are arguing with that racist friend of yours ... or maybe for the toppling of a tyrant.

Trump Log issue #1:

11/15/2016- If the US pulls out of NAFTA, we are supposed to follow WTO rules when dealing with Mexico.  Trump claims that he would ignore this. This would not only devastate the Mexican economy but could result in international sanctions against the US.
(Source: The Guardian)

11/14 - Among Trump's list of possible candidates for Energy Secretary, is an oil billionaire from North Dakota. One of the top priorities will be the repeal of the Obama's Clean Power Plan, an executive order that helps to limit carbon emissions from power plants.
(Source: PBS)

11/13 - Trump names three of his grown children and his son-in-aw to his transition team along with well known white supremacist (aka alt-right) Stephen K. Bannon.
(Source: New York Times)

11/12 - Trump's tax plan is not only bad for everyone except the very rich, but will badly affect charitable giving.
(Source: New York Times)

11/11 - Trump campaigned that he would not have any lobbyist involved in his administration. Three days into his president-electhood he breaks that promise.
(Source: New York Times)

11/10 - Sarah Palin is being considered for a cabinet appointment, possibly Secretary of Interior. We'd have a developer in the White House and an idiot in charge of the National Parks. 

11/9 -Myron Ebell is spearheading Trump’s transition plans for the Environmental Protection Agency. He is a well known climate skeptic. You can kiss the Paris agreement good bye ... no America, no China or India either.
(Source: Scientific American)

Saturday, November 12, 2016

A Message for the Democrats #TakeBackCongress2018 #Hindsight2020

It is fairly obvious that I am not happy about the election this year. Not only do we have a white supremacist as president but his party, the Republican party, has control over both Houses of the Congress. I find this terrifying.  I have said it many times here in this blog that I am not a Democrat because I think they are great. I am a Democrat because the Republican party terrifies me. They are a group of privileged rich people, many of them are racists, many of them are misogynists and many are religious extremists. My wife says to me often, so-and-so isn't so bad and I reply, if he/she wasn't so bad they would have left that party long ago. The last Republican I voted for was in 2000, Jim Jeffords, and he quit the GOP the very next year. Currently, our president-elect believes that global warming is a plot invented by China. Our our vice president elect doesn't believe in evolution. Trump's cabinet nominations are rolling in and they are just making me want to put a blanket over my head and roll up into a ball.

So who is to blame?  Blame is spread widely. Ultimately, the voters are to blame. I blame each and every voter who voted for Trump. Yes, I know people are hurting and anxious, but that doesn't excuse voting for this monster. I throw most of my invective your way. The poor will be the people hurt most by his administration and if you voted for him, you deserve it. I also blame the Never Hillary people. Johnson and Stein are not options when there is a chance that Trump could (and did) get elected. I know Hillary was not an ideal candidate.  Having her as a president would be a headache, but I will always choose a headache over an infectious disease. Trump is an infectious disease and now he has a bully pulpit to spread his vitriol. I also blame the people who didn't vote. Apathy is a problem. If just a small number of these people showed up in key states (Florida, Ohio or North Carolina) and voted for Hillary Clinton, we wouldn't have this pig as a president. 

I also blame the Democrats. The Democratic National Committee put their finger on the scale for Hillary. Bernie Sanders would have been a better candidate to beat Trump. His past is squeaky clean and he had enthusiastic young voters behind him. Hillary did get more votes than Trump in this election, but there was a huge enthusiasm gap. Hillary lawn signs and bumper stickers were nowhere to be found. I know that Hillary beat him by 3 million votes, but how close would it have been if the DNC didn't schedule the debates on Saturdays when nobody watches television. The culture of disdain for Sanders at the DNC badly affected his ability to get his message out and to fund raise. I am also disappointed with some of my local politicians. Living in Vermont, I expected my local politicians to support Sanders as Super Delegates. Some of them didn't. Some of them were high profile Dems. My Senator, Patrick Leahy, voted against Sanders.  If Leahy runs again in 2022, I will be voting for a third party candidate. Howard Dean voted against Sanders.

This is a big deal. It is possible that Trump will get four Supreme Court nominees in the next four year. Scalia's spot is still open (thanks the Republican incompetence in the Congress) and we have three Supreme Court Justices that are over 70 years old. Any or all three of them could die by the time Trump is gone.  Think of that for a moment. Liberal complacency needs to stop.  Everything we've worked for over the last 40 years, could be wiped out here.  Good bye abortion rights, good bye any chance to reform voting rights and welcome back Jim Crow.

I usually don't vote for a third party candidate because they usually don't have a chance to win. The idea to vote for the person that will beat the Republican. But since the Democrats are so incompetent that they can't even beat a racist pig with no government experience, they have made it clear that they can't win either. So I might as well vote for someone in the Green Party. Democrats, consider yourself on notice. If you don't take the Senate back, at least, in 2018, you are dead to me. The first thing that Trumps does that is considered an impeachable offense, you better act on it. I don't want to see his name on the ballot in 2020.  In 2020, we will remember how we felt in November 2016. Hindsight is 20/20. #Hindsight2020

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Please Let Me Know If You Voted for Trump So That I Can Stop Being Your Friend

I may know who some of you are, but since I was not in the voting booth with you, if you are a friend of mine please let me know me know if you voted for Trump. I need to stop being your friend. This is something that I have been thinking about for a while. At some point, it occurred to me that some of the people I care for supported this man for the Presidency of the United States of America. Arguing about the subject stopped yesterday.

I never liked Trump. I only thought he looked like a fool and was an extremely privileged man but I didn't give him much thought at all.  But, like everyone else, I've gotten to know him since he started running for president. I have grown to know him as a white supremacist, a misogynist and a fear monger. Also, his vice president, Mike Pence, believes that homosexuality is a sickness. I am writing this today, the morning after the election. I have many emotions. None of them are positive.

I feel angry that I live in a country that is far more racist and misogynist than I thought. I feel anxiety as what this means for our future, for our Supreme Court, for our environment, but mostly for my friends. Oh not for the friends that voted for Trump, but for my black friends, for my Hispanic friends, for my Muslim friends and gay friends. This morning I see a lot of grief. I see friends reaching out for immigration lawyers because they fear for the status of a loved one. I see people wondering what to tell their kids, now that we have a president that hates them or hates their friends.  Mostly I see people who are scared and you, who voted for Trump, caused this.

Perhaps I should have acted earlier. Perhaps I should have been more clear earlier how unacceptable your behavior was. I apologize if I wasn't more clear but here I am now and .... I am through with you.

I am not being a sore loser. If we were in 4th grade, this term might apply. We are adults and I have been through many elections where my candidate lost. I was a big supported of Al Gore in the 2000 election. You didn't disgust me when you supported W; we simply disagreed. It is not a matter of just disliking Trump. It is a matter of him representing everything that is wrong with the world: ignorance, hate, unchecked privilege, fear mongering and animosity among others. If you want this person to be the most power person on the planet, then obviously you were not the person I thought you were when we made friends. 

You don't have to make a drama about.  Just drop me a line if you voted for Trump.  I promise you it will be quick and we won't ever have to talk to each other again.

Saturday, September 10, 2016

Our First Female President: Edith Wilson

About 25 years ago, Hillary Clinton did something that annoyed a lot of folks. She was First Lady but she didn't want the passive role in the President Clinton's administration. She didn't want to be the hostess of the White House and simply looking pretty and supportive beside her man. She wanted to get involved in policy. She was immediately disliked because of this. At the time I heard a lot of people saying stuff like "she doesn't know her place" or "no one voted for her." Her intelligence, strength and perseverance really challenged people's ideas of what a woman is.  In 1992, I was working in Norwood MA as a software analyst and one of my co-workers would always bring up the fact that when Bill and Hillary were lawyers, she made more money than he did. I used ask him repeatedly, "Why is that a problem?" and I never understood his answer.  The steady drumbeat of allegations against this woman has been a constant in our lives since she came onto the scene. None of them are substantiated. But if you say something long enough, people start believing it. For the Republican party, she represented (like President Obama years later) a demographic that challenges the status quo; a status quo which puts the white male on top. The onslaught of attacks on her smell of misogyny just like the attacks on Obama (from birthers and otherwise) smell of racism. Now that she is the presidential nominee for the Democratic party, as a voter it is difficult to separate what is true about her from the bullshit that the GOP has been feeding us. I hear that people don't trust her and think she is a crook yet I see no substantiation of it. If this presidential election were based on a candidate's abilities alone, she would win by a landslide.

While Clinton is the first woman to get the nomination for a major party in the USA, she is not the first woman to run for president. We have had plenty of them to run on non-major parties. Victoria Woodhull was a suffragette who ran as the candidate for the Equal Rights Party in 1872. This was pretty radical because women couldn't even vote at the time. She even nominated a black man, the awesome Frederick Douglass, as her Vice President.  Twelve years later Belva Ann Lockwock actually appeared on official ballots on election day for the same party. In 1940, the comedian Gracie Allen (the comedic party and wife of George Burns) ran for president as a joke. There are many other like Linda Jenness in 1972 for the Socialist Workers Party and Jill Stein this year for the Green Party. If Hillary Clinton wins this year, she won't even be the first woman to run this country. That has already happened. No, not Eleanor Roosevelt and certainly not any of the Republican First Ladies. Of course, I am talking about Edith Wilson.

When Woodrow Wilson was sworn into office in 1913, he was married to Ellen Axson Wilson. She was a daughter of slave owners. You can call it liberal guilt perhaps but she spent her time as First Lady working on improving the housing in the black districts of Washington DC. She died of Bright's Disease (kidney failure) while Wilson was still in office in August 1914. Her major concern, apparently, as she died was that her husband move on. The president suffered from depression for several months afterwards. He hated his job and it is surprising that he didn't resign. History might have been served well because his V.P., Thomas Marshall, was a real progressive and might have been more of a reformer than Wilson. The Great War had started in Europe, coal minors were striking and the economy suffered due to both of them. It wasn't until February the next year that his mood perked up when he met Edith Bolling Galt.

Wilson's cousin Helen Woodrow Bones was living in the White House acting as a proxy First Lady. She used to go on occasional walks with her friend Edith. One day Wilson was driving by, in his limo, when he first saw Edith. "Who is that beautiful lady?" he asked. She came over for dinner at the White House shortly after and they were married by December 1915 when Wilson had over a year mourning which was traditional at the time. The rumors said that they were having an affair while he was still married but there is nothing to substantiate this. One hundred years later, not much has changed.

Edith was also a widow, her husband died seven years earlier leaving her a jewelry business in D.C. It was deeply in debt and she knew nothing about the business.  She promoted a senior employee to run the business and it succeeded. She was an avid golfer and was the first woman in D.C. to have a driver's license.   She was a very capable person. She took on the usual role of hostess of the White House but during the war, her pet project was rationing. She promoted gasless Sunday, meatless Monday and wheatless Wednesday all to preserve resources for the war effort. She also arrange to have sheep roam the White House lawn to save on manpower. The wool was auctioned off to raise funds for the Red Cross.  She was the first First Lady to receive full time Secret Service protection and the first to accompany the President to an overseas diplomatic mission (to Europe during the war). She was given access to classified information, sat in meetings, was exposed to secret codes and advised the president on occasions.

Her role changed in 1919 after the war, when Wilson collapsed with a stroke. He had just come home from Europe having spent six months there for the Paris Peace Conference which led to the Treaty of Versailles. Exhausted when he got home, instead of resting, he attempted to tour the country to drum up suppose for the Treaty and the League of Nations. The stroke happened shortly into this trip and he returned home. Edith not only took charge of his health, but many historians believe she ran the Executive Branch there after. She let no one in to see the President other than doctors. She would return paperwork to officials that had notes written on them. Were they the notes of the partially paralyzed President or his caretaker trying to write like him?  No one know. She always stated that she was only a "steward" to the President. Cabinet members got no further than her. When Secretary of State John Lansing called for a Cabinet meeting without the President's permission and then suggested that Woodrow step down from the presidency, Edith fired him.

We will never know how many decisions she made, if any, instead of her husband. If there were any, this could very easily be called a coup d'├ętat because no one had voted for her and transition of power went to Vice President, not the spouse. She had no authority to make decisions yet she probably did so for one year and five months. So if anyone is concerned about having a woman president ... guess what ... we've probably already had one.

Friday, September 2, 2016

Why Bowling Is Better Than Religion

I used to be active in a Unitarian Universalist church. That's right, you can be an atheist and a Unitarian. You just have to respect the idea that everyone is on a journey. This was mostly a great experience. I was active for about eight years. I felt warm fellowship from many people and they did help me to get through some hard times. I also met my wife through the church. I enjoyed going to church on Sundays ... smelling the coffee brewing and chatting with friends about the sermon. Yes, religious people can respect science, out-of-the-box thinking and people who are different from themselves.

I am still good friends with many of the people I met through the church, but my membership in the church did not end well. I had a falling out with the church. When I announced I was leaving, I expected a lot of calls from fellow parishioners expressing their concern for me, making sure I was okay. I only received two calls, one from the pastor who seemed far more concerned about something I said about him than concern for me. The other call came about six weeks later when they realized my checks were no longer coming. That caller didn't express concern from me either, just for my money. I thought they were different than other religions, but apparently I was wrong. They are more about the money than the fellowship.

Earlier this week my father passed away. He was 89 years old and he lead a good life. This blog post isn't about how much I loved him or how much he will be missed or what a great father he was. I could write a lot about those and I probably will in the future. This blog post is about bowling. He loved bowling. He used take me and my little sister bowling a lot on his days off when I was a kid. He had two jobs during my youth so he didn't have a lot of time off.  We always had a great time.

My father was in the same bowling league for twenty years. He was also a practicing Catholic his entire life. He went to church every weekend for almost 90 years. I stood in the receiving line at his wake on Tuesday and there must have been 30 people, perhaps 50, that told me that they knew my dad from bowling. This is not an exaggeration. These were beautiful friendly people who said such nice things about him. They obviously knew him really well and would genuinely miss him. They described his wry wit and his unfiltered nature and how he'd make everyone at the alley laugh. I was really impressed with the depth of their friendship and they made me feel much better on a really miserable day.

If you are looking for fellowship and life-long friendship ... join a bowling league, not a church. Not a single person said that they knew him from the church.

Friday, August 5, 2016

Gays in Star Trek

When I look at the stats of this blog, I am always amazed. Every time I blog about Star Trek, the numbers are off the wall. For example, in the last week I have had over 90 hits on my post about Dr. Crusher (a character on Star Trek). This is the entry with the highest amount of hits for the week. This was posted over a year ago. The next two closest are my last two posts from last week, one with around 40 and the other around 20 hits. Every time I look at these stats, my Star Trek blog posts have the highest amount of hits. I am tempted to blog more about Star Trek. I don't want this blog to be a geekfest, dedicated only to a 50 year old television show, but it is tempting to follow the clicks. I must resist. I am larger than that. So I am only doing this on occasion.

This year's film Star Trek: Beyond was a good one. Remember every other Star Trek movie is a good one. I am not going to go into details about what made the movie worth seeing, for that you can go to Rotten Tomatoes. One little subtle detail in the film that may have caught your eye or may have even pissed a few people off: Mr. Sulu is gay.  That's right. The Enterprise docks at the space station Yorktown (one of the most spectacular things I have seen on the screen) and the crew goes on shore leave. They meet up with their loved ones. Lt. Hikaru Sulu picks up his daughter, hugs her and walks away with his arm around her and another man. Fans of the show will presume that the little girl is Demura, Sulu's daughter, but his male partner, that is entirely new.

The crew that is in the film is a reboot of the television show from the 60's. The same characters are in the film but obviously, with younger actors. The actor that played Sulu on the television show, George Takei, came out as gay in 2005 and announced that he had been, at the time, in a committed relationship with another man, Brad Altman, for 18 years. This was prompted by Republican governor Schwarzenegger's veto of California same-sex legislation. So it makes sense that if any character should be gay on Star Trek, it might as well be Sulu.  Nothing in the show's past would contradict this. There is one episode, Mirror, Mirror, where Sulu shows some interest in a female crew member, Uhura, but that was the evil Sulu from the alternative universe. Not our Sulu.

When Gene Roddenberry created the show in the 60's he was already pushing the envelope, when he had main characters from non-white descent. While three main characters were white males,the other three were not which didn't happen on television back then. It was somewhat radical for a character like Sulu to be of Japanese descent just a couple of decades after WW II. Uhura was a black woman from Africa and Chekov was Russian during the height of the cold war. Nothing on TV was like it. The network had problems with this, but since they were minor characters, they got away with it. The original pilot had a woman first officer but that was changed when the show was picked up. The network tried to get rid of Spock, because he was an alien, but he was such a popular character, they dealt with it. The original series showed us little of their personal lives so anyone of them could be gay, their sex lives never came into play. Also, their ethnicity and gender had little to do with the plots of the shows. When Star Trek: The Next Generation came out in the 1980's, Roddenberry tried to get a gay character into the mix but it never happened.  He had little control over the show by then and he died during the filming of the fifth season.

Science fiction is fertile ground for gender bending. I may have mentioned before, in prior posts, that Star Trek isn't always good sci-fi but it is almost always good television. It is easier to push the envelope on any subject, particular those considered by many to be controversial, when you can hide under the auspice of an alien culture. This is why, it is a bit disappointing that Star Trek didn't take a lead on this in the television world. While lesser shows like Soap and Will and Grace were making strides on this subject, the Star Trek franchise was quite tame.

Standout episodes exist, but until now, we haven't had a gay recurring character. The closest we have had is Commander Riker, the first officer on The Next Generation, who could be bisexual and seems like he'd have sex with anything. If I were on the crew with him, I wouldn't leave him alone with my pets. In a 5th season episode, called The Outcast, we are introduced to an androgynous species called the J'naii. This species has one gender. It is considered perverted among them to lean toward male or female and against the law. Riker forms a connection with one of them, Soren, who admits to him to lean towards the female. They quickly fall in love. When the J'naii force her to undergo a procedure to neutralize her, Riker and Worf (another crew member) risk their lives and careers to stop it. It is not a very good episode, mostly because of how out of character Riker acts and how his behavior is forgiven. I watched this episode when it originally aired in 1992 when I was living with housemates in the suburbs of Boston. I watched it with one of my housemates who got outright angry with it. It might have been the first time I had ever seen physical manifestations of homophobia. He was turning red and breathing heavily. Obviously, the show touched a nerve so maybe I do see why they weren't more bold. He might have had a heart attack if Captain Kirk and Spock started making out.

A number of episodes have had sexuality themes. Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, the third series, had a Trill character, Commander Jadzia Dax. DS9 had much stronger female characters than the other series and Dax was one of them. Trills are symbiotic species; they are slug-like and live inside a humanoid host. When the host dies, the slug moves to a new host who could be from another gender. The slug lives for generations and carries the memories of the prior host, so their sexuality is fluid. Dax may be a female character but she has memories of having had relationships with men and women.  In Rejoined, from season 4, Dax meets up with an old spouse and falls in love again. In Trill culture, having relations with an old spouse or lover from a prior joining is taboo. If they were to continue they would be exiled and their symbionts would not be assigned any more hosts. This episode contains the first same-sex kiss in Star Trek.  This is the 357th episode ... it was about time.

Also, in DS9 we had two male characters Miles O'Brien and Doctor Julian Bashir who spend a lot of time alone together on the holodeck. We never get to see what they are doing during these sessions and neither do any of their crew mates. They claim to be reliving famous battles, like the Alamo, but who knows what they are doing. Let your imagination run on this one that is what entertainment is for.

In January 2017, CBS will be premiering the seventh series (if you count the animated series from the 70's) called Star Trek: Discovery. So we'll see if they boldly go where no Star Trek series has gone before.  My guess, it will be more subtle than bold.

Sunday, July 24, 2016

This Year's Election Is Just a Pre-Impeachment Ceremony

I know you have all been there. You are at a wedding and as the bride heads down the aisle you think, this marriage will not last. At one of my friend's weddings, my friends and I were placing bets as to how long it was going to last. It is not a wedding but a pre-divorce ceremony. This year's presidential election is like that wedding, it is a pre-impeachment ceremony.

Negativity: Like most Americans I will not be voting for someone this November, but against someone. I will be voting against Trump, not for Hillary Clinton. Both candidates have the highest negativity numbers ever of any candidate running for president. Trump is the highest at 59.1 % of the electorate having a negative opinion of him, while Hillary has 55.9% which isn't much better. Passion for a candidate will not drive voters to the polls this fall, but dislike for their opponent. The election will be won by whomever gets the most people to show up. This means that it will be close, like in 2000, and it is going to be messy. Whoever wins will not have a mandate and will have difficulty leading.

Impeachment is difficult: It is not easy to impeach a president and that is as it should be. The US has only done it twice in our history, Andrew Johnson after our Civil War and Bill Clinton, who was impeached in the House of Representatives but acquitted in the Senate. Nixon would have been impeached if he hadn't resigned preemptively. At the Philadelphia Convention of 1787, it was Benjamin Franklin that first proposed the idea of impeachment. Usually, states removed "obnoxious" leaders by assassination. Since we were a country ruled by law, a legal way to remove such a leader was needed. Basically, the House is the jury and the Senate is the judge. A majority vote in the House is required to bring impeachment charges (Article I, Section 2, Clause 5), which are then tried before the Senate (Article I, Section 3, Clause 6). Two-thirds of the Senate must vote to convict before a president can be removed. The current make-up of the 114th Congress has a Republican majority in both houses. Of the 435 Representatives, 234 are Republican and 211 are Democrats. The Senate has 54 Republicans, 45 Democrats and 1 Independent. This obviously will change. Every seat in the House is up for re-election along with one third of the Senate.  Again, this election will be about who shows up. If all those young people, who loved Bernie Sanders, decide to stay home and not vote against Trump, we'll not only have our first orange president but Congress will probably not change either.

Popularity: Impeachment is more a game of popularity, than logic or law. Regardless of how bad of a president you are, if you are popular, you are not going to get impeached. In 1834, the House considered impeaching our 7th president Andrew Jackson who basically said "fuck you" to the Supreme Court in relation to the native people of this continent. He had a banking crisis and the nullification crisis which were included in the charges in the attempts to impeach him. Jackson was extremely popular and so were his actions against the natives. Impeaching him would have been near impossible. Like Bill Clinton he was censured instead (aka a hand slap). The case of Andrew Johnson's impeachment, our 17th president, is obvious, regardless of how bad of a president he was, he was a Southern in charge of the federal government after the Civil War. He was the only southern Senator to maintain his loyalty to the North after his state seceded.  He was unpopular in the North and the South. Impeaching him was easy.

Both Trump and Hillary Clinton are extremely unpopular. Any screw-up they have, either perceived or real, will fuel the creep towards impeachment. Trump is even unpopular in his own party. Even a Republican majority could remove him from office. With this in mind, their Vice Presidential picks are key. When voting, think closely about who you'd like for not only our 45th President, but our 46th as well ...  President Pence or President Kaine.

Saturday, July 23, 2016

Go Fever

I have Go Fever.  I get it often and I get it bad. Go Fever is an informal term that was created by NASA by the engineers involved in the Apollo I fire that resulted in the death of all three astronauts involved. It was also used after the Challenger disaster in 1984 and the Columbia disaster in 2003.  It is the frenzy that occurs by individuals and groups when involved in a big project. As go-live approaches, one's ability to see problems are diminished for fear of failure or of dragging your team down. No one wants to be the one to cause a project to miss its go-live date.  The money, the stress and the amount of time put into the project can contribute to the fever. One has a tendency to not see problems in this state of frenzy or to diminish their value.

This is not a failing in personality or character, it is just the residue of stress, just an aspect of being human. The big difference between me and the folks who work for NASA is that no one dies when I get the fever. There might be some money or good will lost , or inconvenienced doctors or patients, but no one is going to die because of my mistakes. I work in medical billing, I don't touch those machine that go beep. The Freakonomics podcast recently interviewed Allan McDonald, one of the engineers on the shuttle. He says that the more successful a person or organization, the worse the fever can get.  Prior to the Challenger disaster in 1984, NASA had never lost anyone is space. The Apollo I accident happened on the test pad and Apollo 13 failed but was ultimately saved due to their innovation and creativity. So you could say, they were going into the space shuttle project quite cockily. You can't learn from you mistakes if you haven't made a lot of them and you feel infallible.

I am blogging about this because I learned from my failures in the past. It is one of the reasons why someone with 20 years experience is better than someone with zero: we've already made our failures and have learned from them. A true failure is one that you haven't learned from. Freakonomics talks about a pre-mortem (as opposed to a post-mortem) on projects where they go over everything that can go wrong.  This is a lot like what I do with my team of testers. They test the code that I write and they get back to me about problems. We try to think of every way the software can be used and test the hell out of it.  I fix the problems reported and we start over again. As Go Fever sets in and gets stronger, my idea of what a problem is gets smaller and smaller. I tend to accept some problems later in a project that I may not have accepted it earlier.  This is why engineers don't test their own code. The testers are a fresh set of eyes that look at a project from a perspective that the coder could never. I have been working the same project for about a year now. My go-live date is the first week of August, a couple of weeks. My Go Fever is quite bad right now, not fatal, but I am looking forward to it being over.

Friday, June 24, 2016

Arizona: Likes and Dislikes

Earlier this year, my wife and I vacationed in Arizona. We spent a week going to Spring Training baseball games, enjoying the weather and took a nice side trip to New Mexico simply because we had never been there. I have been to Arizona before and it is a beautiful place. It is one of those places, like Las Vegas, that I experience a little bit of guilt when visiting because they are environmental scourges. Because the weather is so hot, it seems that everyone has a pool. Because there are so many pools, the desert now has humidity. That old argument that it is "a dry heat" is getting less and less accurate. Like every other environmental problem, there are just too many people living there now. Regardless, I enjoyed my vacation.

We spent a weekend in Tucson and the rest of the week in Phoenix. I saw bike lanes all over the place in both cities. They are both very flat so commuting via bike seems like a really good option for locals. Also, the traffic in both towns were not bad at all and this is the busy time, with half of the major league teams packing the fans in for Spring Training. Having lived in Boston, my idea of what bad traffic is might be twisted, but for the size of the cities, I was impressed. Phoenix is a grid so it is easy to get around, like New York, the streets are numbered.  We were staying off of 18th Street in a Homeaway home which was a short drive to Sloan Park. The only difficulty we had was that there was an 18th Place, a dead end street, on the side of 18th Street. We kept driving into the dead end street when we saw it.  Why do city do this?  If a street falls into between 18th and 19th, couldn't they just name it 18.5 Street or anything other than 18th Place. They definitely don't do these things with tourists in mind.  But the highway was very pretty. Even the on ramps had South Western style paintings on them.  Just a short drive out of the city, you can get to some really gorgeous dessert landscapes.

Arizona knows how to do baseball right. I've been to Florida for Spring Training to see the Red Sox and I have to say that the Arizona experience is much better. In Florida all the parks are spread apart, some of them several hours from each other. You could spend your Spring Training vacation in the car if you go to Florida. But in Arizona (the Cactus League), they are all in or around Phoenix, a short drive from each other. Some of the facilities are shared. For example, the Peoria Sports Complex is shared by the San Diego Padres and Seattle Mariners.  These facilities are huge. We spent all of our baseball time at Sloan Park watching the Cubs. We saw about five games in both good and bad seats.  Each day was a joy.  
My wife is on a 50 states before she is 50 kick. She turns 50 years old next year so I don't think she is going to make it. She has about six to go. The deal is: she has to sleep in each state. We were so close to New Mexico so we went for a road trip so that she could get NM off of her list. We took a road trip to Silver City NM, spent the night and went to visit Gila National Park in the morning. The drive in the park alone was worth it. Beautiful! We did a hike up the ancient cliff dwellings in the park.

Whenever I visit someplace, I always wonder if I could live here. There are definitely somethings about Arizona that I would like. The hot dry weather is very appealing.  But there are some things I don't think I would like at all.  One thing is the uniformity. If not for the numbered streets and the GPS, I would have gotten very lost. Most streets look like every other street. We repeatedly saw the same box stores and the same chains. The city doesn't have a lot of character. I have lived in New England my whole life. The character is definitely something that I would miss if I left. Every street looks different, the roads twist and turn and the buildings are by no means uniform. 

The worse thing about the place was the crime. We visited some of my wife's relatives when we were there, a lot of them. Every single one of them talked about how their houses were robbed and had many deadbolts on their doors. One of her cousins said he was car jacked twice. We left our car unlocked once, for about five minutes while we were checking in, and our GPS was stolen from our car. It was old and we use the Waze app on our phone most of the time anway so we didn't care much. I have never had any such problems any place I have lived in New England. I can deal with the New England weather, but feeling unsafe .... not something I can deal with.