Sunday, December 28, 2014

How To Design The Perfect Men's Bathroom

When designing a business, most builders and architects seem to neglect the one room that will leave the biggest impression of the cleanliness of the whole place, the bathroom. Having had over 35 years experience of using the bathroom I feel I'm more than qualified to comment on how public restrooms could be improved. Those who are offended by gross bathrooms may want to turn away.

PROPER URINAL SELECTION, PLACEMENT, AND ENVIRONMENT

It should go without saying that the primary objective in keeping any bathroom clean is making sure that everything that will find its way into the pipes actually gets inside the porcelain container that holds it. Unfortunately, this seems to be afterthought for the people who build most public restrooms.

First, a lot of times the wrong urinal is selected. Often plumbers will install the type of urinal that is rather narrow and has a base that sticks way out of the wall. This may seem like a great way to ensure that the guy has a large target to aim at. Unfortunately, it ignores one basic fact of male bathroom going. No guy wants to be on display or see a display while he's urinating. This type of urinal ensures a man must stand back, and cannot block a view. When faced with this situation, many a pee shy guy will forego the urinal and walk into the stall, where he will proceed to aim with all the precision of Dick Cheney at a Bar Association turkey hunt.

Second, the urinal is often placed in the wrong position. I have a 30 inch inseam, about average for men. I'm always amused when I walk up to the urinal and the flush mechanism is at waist level. The placement should be where good aim will guaranteed. This means the top of the urinal needs to be a few inches above the average waistline and serve as a shelf for body parts that don't belong there.

Third is that there must be a divider between multiple urinals. Again, for every guy that doesn't care who is staring, there are five who do. A wall of sufficient depth and height will ensure that guys feel comfortable using a urinal and standing right next to someone they don't know.

And if you can, make sure you put one of those white hockey pucks in there for target practice.

INVENT AN AUTOMATIC SINK THAT DOESN'T MAKE ME FEEL LIKE DRACULA

Maybe it is me. I finish my business, I walk up to the sink, I see it has no handles, and I stick my hands underneath. NOTHING. I move them away. SPLISSSSSSSSSSSSHHHHHHHHHHHH! The water comes on. I stick my hands underneath. NOTHING. Pull them away. SPLISSSSSSSSHHHHHHH again.
I'm convinced that either I'm on candid camera or I've become a vampire and I no longer reflect sufficient light to trip the electric eyes.
And don't get me started on those disturbingly phallic soap dispensers. Seldom to I manage to get them to work, and when I do, they normally overshoot my hand and leave a nice glob on the sink itself.
Of course, the toilet sensor ALWAYS works, often well enough that it will flush by itself while you're planted on top of it.

FIND A GOOD WAY OF DRYING MY HANDS

This seems to have been something that has troubled men for centuries. When I was growing up in the 70s and 80s there were usually three types of drying methods.

First was the continuous cloth towel. For some reason, these were normally found in the disgusting bathrooms of bathrooms of Exxon stations built in the mid 50's. The towel was attached to the wall in some sort of continuous feed 8-track tape mechanism that appeared to be feeding the same towel to you that had been in there for the past two decades. You'd wash your hands and turn to dry them and there would be a filthy towel. So you'd have to pull that down and pray to God that you found a slightly clean section. Then you'd rewash your hands (using the hot air balloon shaped soap dispenser where you had to shove upward on a gamey plunger) turn off the filthy handles, and dry it on the section, only to discover it was wetter than your hands.

Second was the "automatic" paper towel dispenser. This was the one that required you to pull down with both hands on a paper towel. Then, after several moments of anticipation, the device would spit out another towel. In theory. More often than not these dispensers required you to put your clean thumbs on a little red notched wheel marked "emergency feed". As a child, I found this vaguely upsetting. It was a bit like saying, "In Case of Wet Hands, Break Glass". Not having a towel sucked, but it seldom arose to the level of needing defibilator paddles, so why mark it "emergency"? The real emergency was when you smashed your hand against the dispenser hoping it would open up because the emergency feed was ALSO jammed.
Third was the good old fashioned air dryer. These were the white machines that stuck out of the wall and had what looked like a modified dryer vent stuck to them that you could turn in a complete circle. They were almost always made by the World Dryer Corporation, which claimed to be greener than Al Gore and always had instructions that were defaced as follows:

Push Butt
Rub Hands Under Arm
Stops Auto (or the alternate, "Tops All")

Often these dryers would take so long that by the time you had your hands dry, you had to pee again.
Even in a new century we're still having difficulty finding a good system to dispense towels and dry our hands. The only real technological advance has been the replacement of the automatic feed towel dispenser that doesn't work with an electric eye automatic towel dispenser that doesn't work. Thankfully, James Dyson, the same guy behind the Playskool Plastic Dyson Vacuum, has invented the Airblade, a hot air dryer that apparently works by using a column of air to cut off your hands, thus eliminating your need to dry them.

HOSEABLE WALLS AND FLOORS

For some reason, guys always need something to do when they're in the bathroom. If they're going to be there for awhile, they take a book. If they don't have a book, they'll bring a newspaper. If there is no paper, they'll pull out the cell phone. And if there is no cell phone, they'll go digging for nose goblins in their nostrils. Even in my professional office building, the walls near the urinal and around the toilets look like a metal and tile kleenex, with snot rockets coating them. Addtionally, the grout and tiles on the floors have an odd cast to them that is the result of years of neglect and bad aim.

My solution, is to build all surfaces in the bathroom so they can be sprayed down with a pressure washer full of bleach. This would eliminate the need for mopping, scraping, and repainting.

AUTOMATIC DOORS

In exiting the bathroom, it seems as though most men are overcome with OCD, judging by the way that they grasp the handle with the same paper towel they just seconds ago wrestled from the dispenser. The OCD quickly disappears once they get through the door and drop the same towel to the ground.

Simple solution..... automatic doors. After you wash your hands, you simply walk up to the door and it swings open for you, where you can walk out germ free.

Of course, since they're automatic, they wouldn't open for me until I got right on top of them, at which point they'd swing directly at my head, knocking me cold.

Sunday, December 21, 2014

All Lives Matter -- Fair and Unbalanced Edition

Some thoughts in the wake of protests of police brutality.  
  1. All lives matter
  2. Stating "Black Lives Matter" doesn't negate point 1
  3. Nobody should threaten the death of any person in charge of enforcing laws
  4. This includes protesters, politicians, and pundits.  
  5. Police should be screened and trained to avoid reactions to situations in disproportion to the actual threat posed.
  6. Police should be trained to respond to potentially dangerous situations in ways that minimize loss of life, including threat to their own.  
  7. Citizens should have respect for police, but should not fear for their life because of them.
  8. Those who are victims of police brutality should be able to count on our justice system to give the victims a fair hearing.
  9. Citizens of one color or race should not have disproportionate treatment over another for similar offenses.   
  10. Violence in response to violence seldom achieves any lasting change. 
  11. The actions of a bad cops don't negate the actions of good cops.
  12. The actions of thieves and vandals during protests do not negate the intentions of peaceful protesters.
  13. We will never fix the many things that are broken in this country by viewing the issues in simplistic terms in which one side is "right" and another is "wrong"
  14. Talking is important, listening is even more important
  15. All lives matter

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Why I'm voting for Democrats in the 2014 Midterms

Why am I voting for Democrats this Tuesday?
  • Because my values of making sure each person has the opportunity to learn, succeed, and be healthy and thrive in this country are in line with both my Christian upbringing and American history  
  • Because I believe people deserve more of a voice than corporations, despite our Supreme Court equating the two.  
  • Because I believe that women are equal and should have equal pay for work, not be subject to government dictating their personal healthcare decisions, and be treated as equals to men in every sphere of life.
  • Because I understand science and support the use of science in helping guide the choices we make in governing.
  • Because I believe business is important, but shouldn't be allowed through lax regulation or enforcement to prey on the economic, environmental, or physical well being of individuals.   
  • Because a strong public education is one of the most valuable contributions we can make to our children, and I do not support the weakening of public education through privatization to line the pockets of people with zero interest in improving educational outcomes.  
  • Because I'm tired of the influence of a narrow band of the religious right in politics who have created a culture that demonizes those most oppressed in order to support the interests of those with the most power.    
  • Because I don't believe essential services provided by our government should be privatized or based on the whims of the stock market.  
  • Because trickle down economics doesn't work, hasn't worked, and won't ever work
  • Because a strong middle class is the backbone of a strong United States, and Americans working for a living wage are the TRUE job creators.   
  • Because my gay and lesbian friends and relatives deserve to have the same rights as my wife and I do, and shouldn't face legal discrimination by employers and the community.   
  • Because I cannot support Senate leaders who place a higher priority on making the President look bad than going to DC to do the lawmaking they were elected and paid for
  • Because I want my daughter to face a future that is better than that of her parents, and the parents before her.    
Join me and vote Democratic in 2014 midterms.   

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Is Obama To Blame for Ebola? The Conspiracy Deepens!

It is clear by the most recent epidemic of Ebola cases in the United States, that African-American(Maybe) president Barack Obama clearly wanted to bring the disease to this country so he could go about microchipping us, tracking us through the CDC, ruin the cruise ship industry, get money sent to his homeland of Kenya, and get Walking Dead cancelled when people realize the creepy parallels.  

Or so I thought.

But then I did some studying.

Seems that several years ago when President Bush was fighting communist terrorists in Afghanistan and Iraq, to the dismay of liberals, he was also doing something that EVERYONE liked.   Namely, he was helping lead US humanitarian work in Africa to deal with poverty and various diseases.  And he's still doing that work.

So let's think about this rationally and examine the facts:
  • Bush spent a lot of time in Africa dealing with disease.  
  • Ebola is a disease.
  • The first person to bring Ebola to the US came from Africa.  
  • This person came to Dallas.
  • Dallas is where a Democrat President was killed in 1963.
  • Dallas is in Texas.
  • George Bush was Governor of Texas.   
  • GOP political power players Rick Perry, Ted Cruz, and Ron Paul are also from Texas.  
  • The disease didn't enter the US until right before the critical 2014 elections that could sway the Senate to GOP control. 
  • The GOP wants control of the Senate
  • Ebola panic could sway the Senate to the side of the GOP
See what I'm saying?   Ebola is a conspiracy that goes to the highest reaches of government back to the Bush Presidency.  Obviously with Bush's connections to the illuminati and the Koch brothers, he was able to set this vicious chain of events in motion with the express purpose of making people who fear Ebola vote for the Republicans.

Please spread this to every moron you know!   

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Me The Plumber

In the past several weeks, our toilet's flush mechanism went from being a little sticky to requiring the force of ten men and an anvil to flush.   Being the incredible handy man that I am, I dealt with this situation in the only way I knew how, reciting poetry.

If it's brown, flush it down.  If it's mellow, let it yellow.  
Because I Could Not Stop for Poop Emily Dickinson --  (May 1886)  


Unfortunately, as I am married and enjoy staying that way, I knew that this solution couldn't be permanent, so I debated my options.

Call a Plumber -- Back in the day (1950's sitcoms) when men went to work in seven piece suits to offices, plumbers were often called in to fix plumbing needs, most of which involved an offscreen toy stuck in the toilet, or grandpa getting his foot caught in the shower drain again.   Pipes were made of lead and would kill you and your brain cells before anything happened to them.   Toilets were 80 gallon flush toilets and a little leak would give it character.    Brave do-it-yourselfers would walk in to the bathroom with a monkey wrench, some rhino pliers, and an aardvark philips head screwdriver, examine the toilet, and fix it in manly ways, such as jiggling the handle, or putting a brick in the tank.    And it is because of this (and the $500 per hour rates) that I didn't want to call a plumber.   I think every person that walks into my house to do these manly things looks at me like "you called me to do THIS?   I should charge you double."  And then they would spend two second looking at my toilet, take ten seconds to fix it, and ask me "cash, check, credit, or second mortgage?"

Let It Go -- Yeah, now that song's stuck in your head to.   But the only thing that would be Frozen would be me, kicked out of the house because my wife and daughter had finally snapped off the flusher handle after doing their business.

Fix It Myself -- Seriously?   The list of handyman failures in my life is long, starting with the very first thing I ever attempted, a paper towel rack.    I got out my drill, level, and after spending an hour and a half carefully measuring, stud finding (hey, it's pointing back at me), drilling holes, and attaching the towel rack, found out that the wall anchors I'd chosen were too large for my drywall, which meant every tug on the towel rack would pull it a quarter inch from the wall.    And it stayed there for three years, mocking me with every soda spill and cat puke.  

But hey, Google is my friend, right, so I googled "Mansfield 160 toilet" and instantly found six thousand posts regarding my toilet model, all referring to a tough to flush toilet.   It seems I would need something called a "flush valve", which was essentially a giant rubber washer about the size of a Coke can.  My wife, who was worried about the overdeveloped muscles in her flush hand, cheerfully agreed to go to Home Depot and buy one, while I toiled away in the fields of corporate cubicledom.

I spent the day at work full of apprehension.   I had visions of the toilet flying apart as I replaced the flush valve, spraying water everywhere, until a giant hole opened in the ground and swallowed me and my entire family with it, but not before corpses that were buried there in the 16th century rose up and attacked us all.

I decided to watch a YouTube video to prepare me.   Then I realized "Kittens Riding a Pony" wasn't going to help much at all, so I googled "Mansfield Flush Valve", where a man with a nice voice walked me through the process.   I was psyched.   This looked easy.

But on my drive home, that fear rose up again.    I steeled myself for the procedure.  When I got home,  I put on my most ill fitting pants that exposed a portion of my butt crack as I'd seen the professionals do.   I got the bag from Home Depot, opened up the giant ring, and went in for action.   First I turned off the water to my toilet, then I drained it.   Then I opened up the toilet tank and did the minor plastic surgery necessary to remove the parts.   I pulled the old flush valve up.   Instantly my hand was covered with a black inky substance.   My toilet was attacking me like an octopus!   I continued.    I threw the old flush valve away, crossed myself, and gently put the new one on.

"There are two notches on the mechanism.   Make sure you align it with the TOP one, and not the bottom one!"   The nice man's voice spoke in my subconscious like some sort of HGTV version of Obi Wan Kenobi.

I imagined the designer of the toilet chuckling to himself at creating a needless complication for Do-It-Yourselfers.   How many people put the ring on that second notch and were condemned to a toilet that wouldn't flush and would mock them until they called the plumber, who would insult THEIR manhoods, and steal their wives.

I slowly moved the ring around the mechanism, guiding it into place.  I then gently put the entire assembly back together and turned on the water.  

DAMN IT, A LEAK!   The water from the top tank was slowly seeping out into the bottom one after the flush.

I went back in for surgery again, this time making sure the area around the flush valve was clean and had no gaps in it.   Feeling cocky, I turned the water on again.

WHAT?   Water was pouring down the front of the tank.   I'd somehow created a magic hole in the tank itself that was spilling everywhere.    Then I realized in my haste I'd forgotten to reinsert a water fill tube into the top of the mechanism.

I fixed it.    I flushed again.   To my surprise.   It worked.

As I stood there flushed with success, I imagined what this would mean for me.   My wife would see me in a new light, and swoon over my newly proven manliness.    I ran into the living room.  

"Come be the first to flush this."  (Okay, it was a lie, but c'mon.)

"I'm good."

"No, please!"

My wife, realizing my fragile ego needed a stroke, came in and flushed the toilet.   The handle pressed easily at the movement of her delicate and fragile fingers, and I'm almost certain I saw a tear forming in her eye.   Or it could have been some stray water I hadn't yet wiped up.

So there it is, my first real Do-It-Yourself success.   No plumber needed.  No anxious call to my Father-In-Law (a pipefitter) to come fix my mistakes.    Just a manly $1.87 five minute repair that a well trained dog could do.

Now to change the battery in the smoke detector that's been beeping since 2012.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Quick Political Rant on Ebola

Want to understand the consequences of a country in which companies cut corners to save money, and many people don't have health insurance, an income safety net, or basic protections of job security?  Think of these things.

  • How many privately run hospitals and doctors offices have invested time and money in adequately identifying and containing infectious diseases?  
  • How many doctors and nurses are working with patient quotas and incentives for the number of patients they see, increasing the chance they may misdiagnose patients?   
  • How many nurses have a workload that allows them adequate time to prepare, sterilize, clean, themselves and other things before moving on to the next patient, or a stress level that they are mentally prepared to dot all Is and cross all Ts when dealing with major health issues?
  • How many health care facilities either outsource or run short staff on cleaning people?  How many of these cleaning jobs are low paying enough that they attract people who don't care how well they do their job, or the jobs turnover so quickly that training and experience is non-existent?   
  • How many people have no or inadequate insurance, and either go to cheap facilities that aren't prepared to handle a major infectious disease, or avoid going to the doctor until it is too late?  
  • How many people cannot leave their job for illness of any kind, either because they fear losing their job or because they cannot afford to lose their income?   
When you have a country that continually spends less and less on regulation, has a privatized healthcare system that increasingly is only accessible to those with the most money, and has been continually chipping away at protections for workers, it's not hard to see we might have some serious issues if we continue to vote for the people who think unfettered capitalism will somehow solve all woes.   

This November, if you vote for the people who think healthcare for all is a bad idea, protections of our workforce are an undue burden on employers, or that government oversight of businesses and adequate resources to monitor regulation of them are a fate worse than death, think of what could happen if Ebola or any other disease reaches epidemic proportions.  

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Is Apple Making a Large Mistake?

For the first time ever, my wife and I decided to join in the iPhone release day hysteria, lining up 10 minutes after a Verizon Wireless store opened to get our hands on our own iPhone 6.    Both of us have approached the age in which our vision is determined by how far away you can hold something away from your face, and were looking forward to the larger screens to comfort our less than teenage eyes.     We both avoided the monster screens of the iPhone 6 plus though, because we realized we enjoyed holding our phones with one hand, and didn't want to hire someone to carry it for us.   

When my daughter arrived at the bus stop, I became the little kid, showing her my new toy.   She has an iPhone 5 that she bought with her own money about a year and a half ago, and I just knew she'd be dazzled by the wonderful gadgetry in my hand.  

"Ewwwwww..... it's too big."  

I looked down at my daughter, whose smaller hands made my iPhone 6 look like an iPad mini.  

I instantly thought of all of her friends, almost every single one who owned an iPhone 5, 5c, or 5s.   Every one of them shoving it into a back pocket or a small purse.   Every one of them enjoying a phone that seems tailor made for them and their blasted good eyesight.     And parents having a little less to worry about because the thing could be easily gripped, carried, and used by smaller hands.    My daughter rejected my cool big new phone not because it was Dad's but because the thing was simply too damned big to be cool, or easy to use.  

Which makes me hope Apple doesn't continue its pattern of killing phone models two years after their release and instead continues to make a smaller iPhone, with internal components that reliably last at least two years.   There's a whole new generation of Apple fanboys waiting to be cultivated who don't need to be alienated by something too big to comfortably use.   

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Going Postal

This morning I made a trek to the post office to get something my wife called "stamps".   I was shaking off the morning fog and trying to make my way the mile to the post office in the 15 minute window of time they are open on Saturdays when my car's display lit up and said, "No Phone Connnected."

I DIDN'T HAVE MY SMARTPHONE

I panicked.   No smartphone.   What if my family was attacked by rabid possums while I was on my way to buy stamps?   Worse yet, what if my two month old car broke down?   Or if I had a flat tire, or FOUR FLAT TIRES on the way to the post office?

And then, as I sat there with my broken down car with four flat tires, while trying to figure out how to call AAA with just the items in my trunk, a guy in a tow truck pulls up.  But it says "Leatherface Towing" on the side, and  he's wearing a hockey mask, and carrying a bloody tire iron.

And so I run into the half acre of woods near my house, but I have no idea which way I'm going because I HAVE NO GPS!

And then I step into a bear trap, because I'm sure there are many bear traps in this narrow band of trees between houses, because I've never seen a bear, which must mean people trap them before they get to my house.

And because I can't Google "How do I get out of a bear trap?", I'm stuck there in the woods, and I can't yell for help because I'm kind of shy and like to do most of my conversation via text, and so I have to gnaw off my leg to get out of the trap, but I'm not sure the best way to eat it, because my recipe app is nowhere in sight and then I see the bear who the trap was meant for coming at me, and he looks a little gray and rough around the edges because....  he's a zombie bear, and he's wearing a post office uniform, and ......

"May I help you?"

The dark haired guy behind the counter looks at me like I'm crazy.

"What?"

"Is there something you need?"  

"Yes.   I just don't remember.   Hold on, let me grab my phone and call my.....    OH MY GOD!!!!!!"


Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Perspective on Ferguson From a Translucent White Guy

I was reading an editorial from a local station on Ferguson and the prerequisite flustercuck of racist and ignorant comments in response.   Here's a sampling of the insightful and thoughtful comments from my fellow white guys and gals:

  •  If they weren't looting shoe stores and rim shops it might be a diff situation but they make them selves look utterly stupid running out of a store with 6 Nike boxes and 24" wheel.
  • Stupid is as stupid does let's fix the problem by making it look like a thug was a choir boy that was doing nothing wrong by beating a police officer in the head I agree build a wall pull out the police and let them make it on their own. And if you think it's alright to loot steal and throw molotov cocktails at police then you are the true racist
  • Reports say that of every shoe store robbed, not one single pair of work boots were taken

  • they want to act like animals, there going to get treated like animals. "peaceful" protest,? haha i havent seen one thing that has been peaceful!
  • some people like the blame game blame the white people blame the police blame blame in america everyone has the same choices either work hard or give up some get free checks some get food stamps and some have 3 or 4 jobs
  • I AGREE WITH YOU 100%.....SCOTT NEEDS TO KEEP HER MOUTH SHUT UNLESS SHE HAS SOMETHING INTELLIGENT TO SAY...ITS PEOPLE LIKE HER THAT EGGS IT ON AND INCITES THINGS LIKE THIS TO HAPPEN....SHE HAD NO BUSINESS GOING THERE AND SAYING ANYTHING...IT HAD NOTHING TO DO WITH HER OR LOUISVILLE...SHE DID IT JUST TO STICK HER NOSE WHERE IT DIDNT BELONG AND WANTED ATTENTION FOR HERSELF....I AGREE ALSO WITH THE GENTLEMAN FROM THE COLLEGE HERE, HE SAID THAT IN SO MANY WORDS NOBODY PROTESTS WHEN BLACK PEOPLE KILL OTHER BLACK PEOPLE ITS A SHAME, WHERE IS THE OUTRAGE OVER THAT....LISTEN TO WHAT HE SAYS.....PLUS I KNEW THE TRUTH WOULD COME OUT, THE OFFICER WAS ATTACKED FIRST, HE HAD AN ORBITAL FRACTURE WHICH MEANS THE OFFICER WAS ATTACKED FIRST AND EYE WITNESSES STATE HE WAS...THIS TEEN WAS A MAN, LET ME GET THAT OUT THERE..YOU ARE A LEGAL MAN AT 18....HE ALSO ROBBED A STORE BEFORE HE DIED...THERE ARE PICTURES OF HIM WITH GUNS AND DRUGS.....HE WAS A THUG, WHERE DO PEOPLE NOT GET THAT?!?!?! FYI....IF YOU ARE SO AGAINST POLICE OFFICERS....DONT DONT DONT CALL THEM WHEN SOMETHING HAPPENS TO YOU LIKE BEING ROBBED AT GUN POINT OR RAPED AND WHATNOT, CALL SOMEONE WHO DOESNT GO OUT OF THIER WAY EACH DAY AND PUTS THEIR LIVES ON THE LINE FOR YOU SO YOU CAN SLEEP WELL AT NIGHT...REMEMBER YOU ARE THE ONES WHO CONSIDER THEM BAD....JUST SAYIN
Yup, "just sayin'", and sayin' it real goddamned dumb.  So here's a perspective from another white guy (me) I'd like to add, with the hopes that one of my fellow white guys who subscribes to beliefs like the crap above might see it and say, "hmmm.... I never thought of that."

See Skippy, you and I are white.   And being white, there are some things that we simply don't know and cannot understand.    In fact, I can say with almost 100% certainty that as white guys we:  
  • Will never watch people cross the street when they see us coming toward them
  • Will not have to see the bad actions of a few be said to be the mindset of the entire population of our race
  • Won't find ourselves subject to multiple police stops, questions about why we're hanging out or driving in an upscale neighborhood (that we happen to live in)
  • Won't be followed around a store by people who aren't interested in selling us something
  • Won't get arrested and jailed for the pettiest of offenses, often discovered because we've been subject to unwarranted police stops 
  • Will never have it assumed that we only like country music, Barry Manilow, the comedy stylings of Jeff Foxworthy, or hockey, simply because of the color of our skin
  • Won't see people struggling to talk about "white" things when they meet us for the first time
  • Won't have people come to us solely to discuss concerns they have dealing with other white people or to be reassured that they're not prejudice against white people  
  • Won't have trouble renting a house or buying a home when we have adequate income and credit
  • Won't have it presumed that we're in our position at work or secured a spot in college solely because of the color of our skin 
  • Won't have the most threatening looking picture of us chosen by the media to represent who we are if we should fall victim to murder  
  • Won't have people act shocked that we're "articulate" or "well-spoken"  (okay, maybe this isn't true after reading the comments above
  • Won't get cussed at, presumed guilty by, harassed, or shot dead by a cop for jaywalking, or doing nothing at all
As white people, we enjoy the privilege of not being noticed, judged, or standing out because of longstanding racist perceptions of who we are.     There are hundreds of negative experiences that African-Americans have that we will never experience or be aware of.  So before you look at Ferguson and dismiss the protests of the population as simply angry rantings by people who don't understand how good they have it, I'd ask that you take the time to talk to your black friends, coworkers, or neighbors about their own feelings and life experiences and try to learn from them.    

Just sayin'.  

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Rest in Peace Robin Williams

When John Lennon died in 1980, I can remember the images of people crying with deep sorrow over their loss.  I remember my brother's friend acting as though he'd lost a best friend.    It was something that made no sense to me.   Yes, it was sad, but they weren't someone these people knew.    Celebrity deaths tended to impact me like that.  It was always sad, sometimes a shock, but always a distant feeling of sorrow.  

Then I remember May 16, 1990.  On that day I was coming home from college, sitting in the backseat of a car and listening to the news when I heard Jim Henson had died.   That was when it hit home.  Jim and his Muppets were a major part of my childhood.  Henson was an expert in bring sheer joy to life in the form of some googly eyes and felt.   The Muppets made me happy.   The Muppets made me laugh.   And the man that created them was gone, and with it a piece of my childhood.  

When I heard about Robin Williams' death yesterday, quite honestly, I couldn't get a real read on why I felt down.   I hadn't seen a Williams movie in years, and honestly, I hadn't thought much about him either.   But there he was, and I felt the same way I did with Jim Henson.  Crushed.  

After thinking about it, I remembered picking up Dynamite Magazine around 1979 via Scholastic Books, most likely the one shown here.  For some reason, I remember vividly that Robin Williams indicated in the piece that he was a shy, fat, and lonely kid who lived a lot in his imagination.   As the years went on for me in elementary, middle, and high school,  I watched myself grow up and sideways, and felt that same loneliness, which manifested itself in an active imaginary world.      The sheer goofy outgoing nature of Robin Williams at the time was both a representative of who I was, and who I'd love to be.  

But in watching and listening to the many retrospectives of clips and interviews from Robin, I realized that it went much deeper than that.    Robin was a kid at heart who seemed always to want to make others feel better.   But it wasn't hard to see that in his personal life, Robin probably felt he was hurting people, and probably never really stopping to think about what would make Robin feel better about himself.    

Robin Williams talked in Marc Maron's WTF podcast interview about how he briefly thought of suicide, but knew in his heart that he had it good.   Somehow in the four years since that interview, the part of Robin that embraced the rational thought of all of the good things in life got jettisoned on a life raft to drift further and further away from his mind.    The insidious hold of depression kept the voices of those who loved him and his own mind's assessment of his self worth from breaking through his suicidal thoughts.  The gleeful clown we loved got overtaken by the hints of sorrow that always lurked in the background of his best movie roles and the most personal interviews of him.    That someone who was such a force of good could so tragically battle these demons and lose is devastating.    Something inside of him kept him from seeing the love we all had for him, or perhaps allowing Robin to love himself for who he was, who he is, and who he could be in the future.   It's scary for those of us who are a bit like Robin, a bit too eager to please with humor, a little too harshly critical and unforgiving of ourselves, and who sometimes get lost in our own melancholy.  

And so I find myself crushed again, sad that a bright light for good chose to snuff itself out for reasons we may never know.    Good Night, Robin.   May you find peace in death that eluded you in life.  

A Few Thoughts on Robin Williams and Mental Illness


Have you ever said any of the following to a person who is battling cancer, about someone who died from cancer, or to their family?

  • Why didn't he fight this harder?  
  • My God, get over it.  
  • You've got everything to live for.  
  • It's not that bad.  
  • Why would you do this to yourself?
  • Why did you do this to your family?  
  • Why were you so selfish?  
  • Why didn't you do more for her?  
  • Why didn't you get her help?   
  • Get out of bed, you're faking it.   
  • You had everything.  Why???????
Then why in the hell would you say it to or about someone who is fighting mental illness or who has lost their battle with it?

If it helps, think of mental illness as a cancer that attacks your thought process, and one that can be treated, sometimes cured, but often results in a relapse that can be worse.  

Rest in peace, Robin Williams.  Thanks for the laughs.   I wish the world could have provided you a few more yesterday.   

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Questions for All Education Reformers, Including Campbell Brown

Education is in crisis.

Public schools suck.  

Our teachers are failing.

Our schools are failing.

 It seems as though not a day goes by in which we hear about how our educational future is a mess.   The latest "savior" in education is former reporter Campbell Brown, who is attacking teacher tenure and/or teacher unions for being one of the driving forces behind educational underachievement.   And Brown has been rightfully ridiculed for asking for "transparency" while refusing to name the backers of her Partnership for Educational Justice, and sadly, since she's a journalist, for having trouble with the facts.     As someone who got an incredible education in a Kentucky Public School, and who is working toward getting my daughter a great education in Louisville's much maligned public system, I'm certainly interested in improving education.   But so many of these "reform" minded individuals seem to spend more time attacking easy targets than really proving they've invested in the factors that play into schools, teachers, and students underperforming.    So here are a series of questions to ask anyone who places themselves in the public eye as an education reformer, especially those who found or are backed by larger organizations.  

What is your background in education and what experience do you have as a teacher, parent, or student in public schools?   

In my own personal experience, many of the biggest critics of public schools are those who have neither attended nor sent their children to public schools.  Additionally, many of these reformers have little if any experience in public school education.   Campbell Brown's biography appears to show private schooling and one year teaching English in a foreign country.  Many of the backers of school "choice" or charter schools in the Louisville area have similar backgrounds of private schools and limited or no teaching experience.

The reason this question is important is because it is important to understand motivation.   While I do not doubt that there are people who want to improve education out of altruistic reasons, it is also true that many reformers back plans that have political, religious, or economic motivations.    As a parent in public schools, I want my fellow parents with experience within the system to be driving the discussion and debate, because the decisions made impact us directly.  

What is your motivation?   Who is backing you, and what is their motivation?   

True education reform should be motivated by improving educational outcomes.   Unfortunately, in the field of education reform, we see a lot of individuals and groups with interests that have nothing to do with true educational improvement.   Some "reformers" are motivated by profit, looking to bring their own educational materials, programs, or charter schools into districts they seek to reform.   Some are motivated by political reasons, seeking to weaken teacher unions, or to dismantle publicly funded schools.   Others are motivated by religious reasons, seeking to push religious education or dismantle science education within the public school systems.     And still others are simply looking for the attention and fundraising that such efforts can bring.  

Knowing who is behind and who is funding an educational reform effort goes a long way toward judging their true motivations.   Anyone who refuses to speak openly about this, like Campbell Brown, should be considered suspect.  

What specific research and analysis have you done into the problems you've identified and the reforms you are proposing?   How will the reforms you propose fix these issues, and what evidence do you have that supports this?   And how will you measure and compare your results to 

School reformers in Louisville and elsewhere love to shout "charter schools" as a panacea for all that ails public education.   If you research charter schools, you'll find mixed results at best, and find that even those that do appear to improve results often do so through selective enrollment, questionable measurement, or don't raise the overall level of schools within the district.   Change for change's sake is not real reform.   Improving anything requires in depth analysis of ALL factors that go into deficiencies.  Any reformer who cannot provide a detailed and well sourced analysis of what is wrong and how their proposed reforms will fix it, including a detailed plan for how they will compare educational outcomes from the existing system to the new one, should be considered suspect.    



Friday, August 8, 2014

A Limerick for the Kentucky Senate Race

There once was a wife named Elaine Chou
Whose group went after the coal cash cow.
Her hubby Mitch was a slime
Attacking Alison Grimes
When he's full of the stuff of moved bowels.

(News story:  Elaine Chao Committed To Ending American's Reliance On Dirty Coal)

Reflections on a Week Off Of Facebook

It's been one week since I deactivated my Facebook account.  Honestly, the deactivation was a whim, following in the footsteps of my wife who killed hers a few days earlier.    Here it is a week later, and upon reactivating it briefly, I thought it was a chance to reflect on what I learned.  

MUCH OF FACEBOOK IS HABIT 

That big F on my phone (no, not the one aimed at me from an angry twitter follower) was still there this past week, taunting me to click through it.   And like the Pavlov's dog of gossip, I kept clicking it mindlessly every time I'd check my phone.    Thankfully Facebook wasn't evil enough to make their app automatically log me back in.    

NO NEWS IS GOOD NEWS 

I follow every local station and a few news programs on Facebook.   Each one of these posts stories of breaking news, controversial stories, and a Greyhound Bus Line full of trollish comments about each of them.  I never really reflected on how much I used Facebook to learn about these stories, nor how much time and brainpower every little story about a crime, injustice, cute kitten, or reality star took up.   How many times did I read a story and feel the need to post an angry comment at a fellow poster or at the news media for posting a worthless story with no significance to the local area?   Seven days without this urge was pleasant.   An added bonus was that I didn't feel the need to tune in for these stories on the local news either, saving myself a couple of hours of repetitive local news.

MISERY CAN'T LOVE COMPANY IT DOESN'T HAVE (AKA: HOW BIG A CIRCLE OF FRIENDS IS ENOUGH)  

In my brief return to Facebook, I learned of the death of someone my parents age whose daughter my brother had been friends with, as well as two other deaths, and a person whose parent was facing a terrible diagnosis.    These were all things I saw within the first five minutes of my return.   All of these made me feel horrible, but none of these stories involved people who had played a part in the last 20 years of my life.  The part of me that is full of empathy felt terrible about all of these things.   But another part of me realized that had I not been on Facebook, none of these stories would have reached my ears, and the stress and sorrow I felt about these things wouldn't exist.    Do I really need to know the triumph or tribulations of 500 people I have known for awhile, but have never been close to?  While I certainly care, there is an emotional toll exacted on some of us that is disproportional to the strength of our relationships with our social media friends.  

HATING THE PEOPLE YOU LIKE 

Ever seen someone's status on Facebook and envied them for their vacation, degree, marathon, or job they absolutely love?    Ever find yourself reading a status and judging a friend, coworker or relative?   Facebook throws the best and worst of people at us, with no consideration as to what the audience on the other end may be feeling.   Just a few weeks ago a relative left a comment under an article I posted that rubbed me the wrong way.   I responded with a response I thought was pointed but fair.   She blocked me after making another comment that rubbed me the wrong way.    Do I really need that in my life?   Did she?  Would either of us have discussed this issue in person at a reunion?    I feel both angry at her and mad at myself for what transpired.  On Facebook many of us lay out pieces of our lives and beliefs that we didn't normally lay out for our casual acquaintances.   What our real friends accept and love about us can annoy our Facebook "friends".   It's both a blessing and a curse that Facebook allows us to be who we are and share our interests.  I'm beginning to think that I'd prefer to keep my relationships with some people at a comfortable distance so that I may maintain both my and their positive viewpoint about each other, and maybe to keep the understanding that face to face relationships provide that online relationships just don't have.  

TIME AND PEACE OF MIND 

Did I mention time?  I finished two books this week.  My wife has plowed through two big ones.   I've watched Jeopardy with my daughter.    I've focused my mind on writing some blog posts.   I've let my mind think about things beyond the most recent news.   I've picked up my phone..... and put it immediately back down.    The peace of not drinking from a fire hose of information has been nice.   It's even made me rethink my first love, Twitter.     I don't feel caught up in the news, angry about comments made by people I don't know (or those that I do), or worried about the lives of people I don't know that well and who I can't do much of anything about.    Truly, ignorance is bliss.  

DID YOU MISS ANYTHING?  

Both my wife and I realized that Facebook has replaced e-mail for keeping in touch with people.  There were several people whose updates I look forward to, and I always love seeing happy stories about my daughters friends and the kids of my relatives and friends.    Truthfully, I want to stay in touch with these people, and Facebook remains the best way to do so.  

SO NOW WHAT?

I'm thinking about extending my Facebook absence another week at least to see what I really miss.    Once I do come back, I plan on reducing my friends list and the information I can see about some of the other people I keep as friends.  I also think I will reduce the amount of news sources I subscribe to so that I can avoid endless news stories that make me angry.     And I may delete the application on my phone to cut back on the mindless clicking through it when I'm bored.     No matter what I do, I see a future where I

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Going to Church

I've been taking walks at work for months now.   For 30 minutes I get out and about, usually taking my walk to the more touristy places that surround me in Louisville, if only to watch families and buses of tourists and school children marvel at the giant metal Louisville Slugger, or giggle at the smaller gaudy gold slugger on the naked statue of David nearby.  

But the last couple of weeks I've been taking a detour.   This time I go south toward another tourist area, Fourth Street Live.   It's a converted downtown mall full of overpriced restaurants expressly designed for businessmen with expense accounts.   Here you can get a $15 overcooked cheeseburger with ice cold greasy fries served to you by a charmless overpierced college student who just texted your order to her boyfriend on her iPhone and sent an order to the kitchen for a date tonight at 8 PM.    I walk through there and I cut past the Hard Rock Cafe (celebrating Louisville's rich musical history with an Aerosmith display) and through some doors toward the Cathedral of the Assumption.      I walk down the small alley/sidewalk beside the building, past the tiny birds that line the way, and round the corner to the entrance of the church.   I open the massive doors, which always opens the set of doors up the stairway from the entrance, leading me to believe someone is up there in front of me, which always seems to unsettle me.

It unsettles me because I come here for one reason.   To be alone in quiet thought.    I grew up Catholic, and whatever my beliefs now (as of 6 AM on Wednesday, we'll go with agnostic but spiritual) I always appreciated the ritual of mass, especially those few moments of silence after communion or when the priest would offer a moment of silence to offer up our own personal prayers when you could let go of your worries, offer up some positive thoughts for the people that you cared about, or the situations in the world that you hoped would be better.     On weekday afternoons, I get the church all to myself, free from the distractions of other people, a priest, or the American Idol concerts that mass seems to have become in recent years.   The only noise is a babbling pool of holy water near the back of the church.     I can sit anywhere I like and quietly contemplate the day, my stresses, my worries, and my hopes, and silently (or quietly) toss them out to God, or the world, or simply back to myself, and walk away a little bit lighter than when I walked in.   And when I walk out, I try to write something in the prayer book in the back,  wishing for something positive for me, my family, or the world.  And I often put some spare change in the poor box, thinking of it as an admission fee, still cheaper than a walk to Starbucks.  

While I will not claim any divine intervention, or reaffirmation of my faith, I will simply say that doing this does make me feel better.   I'm trying to reflect on the ways in which I fall short of being a kind, caring, and loving person, and do better.   And I try to take all of the worries that fill my ever stressed mind and give at least a few of them up for awhile, trusting that the cosmos, my family, and others will take care of me.  It's a nice retreat from the world, if only for a few minutes.

Sunday, August 3, 2014

The Ephemeral Digital World

From Shoeboxblog.com
If you'd have told me when I was my daughter's age that I would be able to buy any book, magazine, videogame, movie, or album in a format that would be transferred to my house in a matter of seconds, and that I could store all of these on devices that were the size of a dictionary or less, I'd have rolled my eyes and gone back to playing Atari. The idea that in 30 years we'd be able to have almost instant access to such vast sums of information through a simple search would have blown my World Book loving mind.
And honestly, 30 years later, it does feel like my mind is indeed blown somewhat, but not necessarily in a good way. Consider my iPad. On it there were numerous apps that stored dozens of books, hundreds of magazines (with new ones every month!), tweets, news articles, facebook updates, more movies than I could ever watch, music, video games, podcasts, and photos. It was everything I loved in one easy place. And it sucked.

We now live in a world where everything is at our fingertips EXCEPT the experience behind obtaining them and consuming them.

I have a collection of thousands of CDs. I can tell you where I bought almost everyone of them. Just looking at the covers can bring back experiences of walking through Tower Records, or even Walmart. The smells of the CDs, the booklets, and the CDs themselves all stick in the mind and frame pieces of history for me.
Mixtapes and radio tapes told the tale of their time, and forever linked two songs in your mind simply because they were recorded there in order.

The books on my shelves all share stories beyond their pages. I can look at some of my older books and feel the joy of the amount of times I thumbed through their pages, and their spines show the wear they got as I bounced back and forth through them time and again.

There are old magazine copies with covers and even multiple pages long gone. They show how much I loved rereading old articles, revisiting lists of albums I must own, and movies I must see. Obscure magazine titles that I saved tell the tale of the visits to bookstores with huge newsstands that fascinated me with titles you never saw at the drug or grocery store.

And photos. So fearful were we that we'd not have enough film to capture the moment when we needed it that we have relatively few photos of some of the events that shaped our lives. But these photos have become representatives of that moment. Faded and distorted colors represent the 60s and 70s. The heads cut off reflect the crude cameras we used. The person just out of the frame or slighty blurring whose identity remains a point of contention. When was this taken? Where was this taken? All of these questions hidden from us by cameras that didn't record our locations, the time of day or date, facebook tags, or anything but the photo in front of them. We pull the photos out and examine them, looking at the back to see if the photo paper, or even some unseen ghost just off the photo can tell us something we do not see. And those events forever become shaped by just a few representative photos.

Today most all of this exists in our devices. Everything has the same empty weight and feel. We do not own our books, music, magazines, or even our photos. They are zeros and ones we keep in little windows in our pockets, on our laps, and in our hands. We experience them when we see them, and then they're gone, stored away in files that we may never come across again. We have no sense of completion or fulfillment from these digital files, because they seem temporary, part of a realm that is always slightly out of our reach. There is always one more thing to read, listen to, or see that keeps us from lingering on what we do own, or treasuring them for what they represent to us.

And I think that's what's bringing many of us back. E-book sales have flattened. Used bookstores seem to be doing brisk business. Albums have enjoyed a spike in sales as everything else remains flat or crashes. Moleskines, notebooks, and fancy pens are written about with glee by people who otherwise embrace technology. We need the things we enjoy not just to be experiences, but to also exist. We have to have the feeling that we've used things, taken a part of them and made it our own.

As I thought about this, I walked by my daughter's room. She has all of the various forms of digital entertainment at her disposal. But in her room are dozens of books. Real paper books that she has bought and won't part with. Even as a child of the digital age, she sees why some of us still embrace an analog world. May she always know the joy of ownership.

(Cartoon taken from shoeboxblog.com)

Saturday, August 2, 2014

Reflections on Old Technology

I look at my daughter's room and her toys and I think to myself, "How in the world did we ever cope or live to see our fifth birthday?" Here are some random thoughts on things I grew up with that my child will probably never understand.

Handheld AM Transistor Radios

One of the websites I'm fond of here in Louisville is 79waky.com. It is devoted to an AM radio station that defined rock music for Louisville in the 60's and 70's. I can remember listening to WAKY 790 on my little AM FlavoRadio from Radio Shack. These radios were inexpensive, and had speakers of less fidelity than you'd find in a dollar pair of headphones. They were usually powered by a 9 volt battery, and after about a week of use, they built up static in their volume control that would result in some nice white noise everytime you tried to turn it up or down.

They also had nice little schematic diagrams in them that showed how it was all wired. Apparently in the 1970's, we were all MacGyver. My parents also had a Panapet, a cute little radio that had a radio dial and a volume and tuning control that looked like eyes. It was attached to a long chain with a keyring attached. This always fascinated me because the thing weighed about 2 pounds, which meant that if you used the chain to carry it around, you could also defend yourself by swinging it over your head and chucking it at someone. At last check, my parents still had one, and it worked. I like to think that the iPod's white earbuds are a nod to the old earphones we used to shove into our earcanals with these radios.

8-Track Tapes


My family still has three 8 track tape players and a large selection of the tapes. 8 Track tapes represented the latest in technology in the mid 60s, providing the user with a nice way to take their music on the go. Unfortunately, the limited amount of tape that the 8-Track could hold, and the fact that it contained 4 separate sets of stereo tracks meant that record companies had to be creative when separating an album. Sometimes songs would get tracked in the middle, so you'd hear the song, then a loud "KACHUNK" as the player moved the heads down a track, then your song would start again. According to 8trackheaven.com, the last 8 tracks were produced for record clubs up until 1988, with the last 8 track apparently being Fleetwood Mac's Greatest Hits (A selection I bought on CD that year).

Black and White Television


As analog television rapidly fades into the sunset, let me give a shout out to Black and White TV. Our house has seven televisions right now. All color, two digital, five analog. It may be hard for my daughter to believe, but there were still people back in the 70s who didn't even have COLOR televisions. And most kids were lucky to have a television. If they did have one (like me), it was typically a black and white model, with rabbit ears, a large wire "Bow-Tie" antenna that would pop off when the wind blew too hard, a horizontal hold that would get wonky and cause your picture to roll, and a volume control with the exact same problem as their FlavoRadio, namely static whenever you moved it. 19 inch televisions were BIG SCREENS, and having a remote control would add a hundred or more to the price.

My 12 inch Zenith probably cost about $150.00 at the time, but did a pretty good job of sucking in the Louisville TV stations with a minimal of effort on the bowtie antenna. It received hundreds of hours of play watching reruns of Gilligan, Leave It To Beaver, the Brady Bunch, and others.

Records and Record Stores

These 12 inch vinyl platters have never really left us. Following their alleged "demise" in the early 90's, they were repositioned as a niche product, appealing to a snobby subset of collectors and bands too hip for their own good. Many audiophiles claim that lp's sound better than CDs. Of course, these are the people who spend more on a diamond needle than I did on my wife's diamond ring, and who probably take better care of their records than just running a Ronco Record Vacuum over them occasionally. Still, there was something satisfying about owning an album on record than on cassette or CD. The covers were big enough to be appreciated as art. The discs themselves could be different shapes, colors, and designs. And they were a lot easier to flip through at a record store.

Ah, the record store. While I have an iPod, and appreciate iTunes, there is something that just isn't that satisfying about clicking links to see albums. You miss the community of people that gravitates toward record stores, people who loved music. You miss the chance to hear that random song that will make you a fan of an artist you never heard before. You miss the posters, the sights, the weird guy with the pierced scalp, and above all the chance to buy music in a permanent form, not an impersonal electronic file.

Boom Boxes

A few weeks ago, my daughter did a little dance on the floor and said to us, "I'm break dancing." Unfortunately, because we laughed a bit too hard at her wholly unexpected statement, we have yet to find out where she heard about break dancing. It brought to mind the visual of the boom box, the allegedly portable radio/cassette players powered by $30 worth of batteries, and with enough lights to land a plane in the fog. Granted, these were only a small subset of the boom box industry, but most of us in the late 70s and early 80s had some variation of one of them. I remember measuring quality by the smoothness of the eject. If it shot out like Dick Cheney spotting a lawyer on a hunting trip, it was junk. If the tape mechanism slowly slid out like it had nowhere to go in the next year, it was a quality piece of merchandise. And these things weren't cheap. Often the barest bones brand name model was over $100, and one that would make an 80's street dancer proud might cost over $500.

I can't imagine explaining to my daughter, who no doubt will have some sort of implanted earbud by the time she's a teenager, that people used to carry these things on their shoulder's with them like some sort of crowd clearing luggage. Perhaps it is just best to point her to the Pocket Calculator Show's boombox section for a primer.




Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Bank Robbery

Based on a true story.  

Scene:  Third National Bank, Monday.  

TELLER:   Welcome to Third National Bank, how may I help you?

ROBBER:  (Pointing gun.)  This is a hold up.   I need all of your cash in this bag.  (Hands bag to teller)

TELLER:   Oh dear.  Are you currently a customer of Third National?  

ROBBER:  What?   No.   I'm holding you up.

TELLER:  So what brought you in?  

ROBBER:  I..... AM..... HOLDING....... YOU.....  UP

TELLER:  I understand sir.  Do you have a credit card?  

ROBBER:  Several, I'm maxed out and so is my patience.  The money.   

TELLER:   Well our gold card protects you from identity theft and you'll have no liability should someone falsely make charges on the card.  Ever had that happen?   It's awful.  

ROBBER:  The money?   Please put the money in the bag.

TELLER:   Do you own your own home?

ROBBER:  What?  Yes.  And I'm about to be foreclosed on.  

TELLER:  Have you considered refinancing?  We've got low interest rates and no closing costs.

ROBBER:  Are you kidding me?   

TELLER:  It seems you need a little extra cash, how about a home equity loan?

ROBBER:  LOOK AT ME!  LOOK IN MY HAND!   I HAVE A GUN!  

TELLER:   Yes sir, and a very pretty gun it is, what did that run you?

ROBBER:   It was handed down to me by my dad.   THE MONEY!

TELLER:  Oh, so it's an heirloom.  You'd hate for that to get misplaced.   We have lots of nice safe deposit boxes to keep your valuables safe.   I can show you one if you'd like.   

(Sirens are heard in the background)  

ROBBER:  Lady, I would like for you to put the money in the bag I just handed you.  Hurry.  

TELLER:   Wow, this bag looks really old.  Doubt that would hold all the money.  Would you like a new Third National tote bag?  It can be yours for opening an account.   

ROBBER:   WHAT?  OMG, YOU PEOPLE ARE CRAZY!

(Robber runs out.)   

(Cops run into bank.)

COP:  FREEZE!   EVERYONE DOWN!

TELLER:  Certainly officer, but before I do, can I interest you in our no fee checking?    


Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Review: Personal


Personal
Personal by Lee Child

My rating: 5 of 5 stars



I was a Lee Child fan before Lee Child was cool (my hazy recollection is that I started reading him around the time of his first novel), and as such, I have spent a lot of time recommending his novels to people. Each one seemed as crisp and exciting as the last. But in the past several years I've started to worry. Child seemed to be falling into the problem so many series authors have. How do you keep the formula fresh to the reader and interesting to the author? The absolute rock bottom was Nothing to Lose, the weakest Reacher novel, in which Lee Child's personal politics (no matter how much I agree with them) overtook his need to create a compelling story. Subsequent books have been okay, but have felt more like eating a bag of potato chips than a satisfying meal you want to tell your friends about.

That's why it is great to see Child rebounding with Personal, a book in which, following an assassination attempt on the President of France, Jack Reacher is called upon to help track down the man believed responsible, a former sniper that Reacher once arrested. In a novel that spans several countries, Reacher teams up with rookie agent Casey Nice to help track down the sniper and accomplices and bring him to justice before he can create havoc at the G8 summit.

Child is back in top form here, creating a novel that is less action thriller than a satisfying suspenseful whodunit, with credible plot twists, interesting local color, and a great cast of characters to keep it entertaining. The result is Child's best novel in several years. Highly recommended.



View all my reviews

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Knowing Dick on Foreign Policy

The aptly named Dick Cheney and his heir to the asshole throne, Liz decided to rub salt in the nation's festering 8 year wound that was the Bush Presidency today by publishing an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal (Motto: Remember when we used to do journalism?).   The title?   The Collapsing Obama Doctrine: Rarely has a U.S. president been so wrong about so much at the expense of so many.

Hey, if there's one thing that Dick Cheney knows, it's failed foreign policy. You have to love a guy who shoots a friend in the face and has him apologize for being in the way, and who, upon being given the precious gift of life by a heart donor and his family, said "When I came out from under the anesthetic after the transplant, I was euphoric. I’d had–I’d been given the gift of additional lives, additional years of life. For the family of the donor, they’d just been [through] some terrible tragedy, they’d lost a family member. Can’t tell why, obviously, when you don’t know the details, but the way I think of it from a psychological standpoint is that it’s my new heart, not someone else’s old heart. And I always thank the donor, generically thank donors for the gift that I’ve been given, but I don’t spend time wondering who had it, what they’d done, what kind of person."

But seriously, Dick knows dick about foreign policy. To say a word about the mess he left the administration that followed him shows surprising balls for a five time draft deferring chickenhawk. By pursuing wreckless wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, thousands of brave men and women doing the service he busted his ass to avoid were killed and injured, their families were forever changed, and both the psyche and the economy was cripped for years to come.   To blame Obama for the shitstorm he created is beyond the pale.

If Dick wants to be helpful, here's an idea I think we all can get behind.  Let's strap a parachute on Dick, fly him to the Middle East, and drop him in the middle of Iraq with whatever gun the NRA likes this week. Maybe he can make Iraq apologize for all that he and his cronies did to them.

As to the Wall Street Journal, I'd say it's a fish wrapper for having the gall to publish this, but that would be an insult to fish. 

Saturday, May 17, 2014

The Morons Are Coming, The Morons Are Coming -- Rush Limbaugh's Rush Revere becomes the Milli Vanilli of the Children's Book World

Here's the list of Children's Choice Book Award nominees for author of the year.  Nominees were selected by book sales.   Let's see how many you've heard of.

  • Veronica Roth, "Allegiant"  -- My daughter just finished this again tonight, her second trip through the series.   
  • Rachel Renee Russell, "Dork Diaries 6: Tales From A Not-So-Happy Heartbreaker" -- Sitting on my daughter's shelf with every Dork Diary book.
  • Rick Riordan, "The House of Hades" -- Daughter has read other Riordan books.  
  • Jeff Kinney, "Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Hard Luck" -- Every Diary book is on my daughter's shelf. 
  • Rush Limbaugh, "Rush Revere and the Brave Pilgrims: Time-Travel Adventures with Exceptional Americans"  -- WTF?  
Seriously.  Rush Limbaugh sold enough books to be on this list, and in a stunning bit of WTFery, won the award for Author of the Year based on votes, presumably from Rush's large audience of 9 to 13 year olds.  

Now, being the good liberal I am, I assumed Rush gamed the system.    It's not unheard of for conservative groups to buy up books in bulk to drive sales figures, and Rush has a powerful enough pulpit to drive his audience to vote for the book.    Maybe these were all sales to clueless parents and grandparents who had no idea what kids read.   But maybe I was wrong.  Maybe kids were reading these things.  

So I decided to ask my daughter about the books.  

"Have you heard of the Rush Revere series of books?"

"No."

I showed her the cover of the book.  

"Why would you put an old guy on the cover of a kid's book?  And it's about history?   No kid's going to willingly read that." 

It's great to have your kid confirm your suspicions.    But why not go further.   I decided to check our library to see how popular the books were.  

Results:

Allegiant:   21 copies owned, 73 people are waiting for a copy.  

Dork Diaries 6:  11 copies.   No holds.   

House of Hades:  28 copies.  22 people are waiting for a copy.   

Diary of a Wimpy Kid:  Hard Luck:  14 copies.  4 people are waiting for a copy.  

Rush Revere and the Brave Pilgrims:  4 copies.  3 people are waiting for a copy.

Certainly not official, but it would appear that Rush is not exactly setting the world on fire in our public library, especially for the most popular children's book of the year of which limited copies are available, a couple of days after Rush won this award.    

What's saddest to me is that an award intended to reward and celebrate books our kids know and love has been hijacked by a book that by many accounts (herehere, and here for example) is a historically inaccurate, poorly written and illustrated piece of crap and serves as a masturbatory paean to Rush Limbaugh and his politics (complete with product placement) rather than an engaging piece of children's literature.    

Of course, just like Milli Vanilli, the last laugh will be had in years to come when kids are still reading some of the series on this list, and and Rush Revere is stacking up at used book stores and landfills across the country.

What do you think?  Has your kid read, or even heard of Rush Revere and His Hellish History series?  

Saturday, April 26, 2014

The World Has Changed. Stop Arguing With Poorly Informed Idiots.

As a well educated person who came to my mostly liberal point of view after years of careful consideration, I appreciate opinions of others that are expressed in a way that shows they have given careful consideration of the issues at hand, done research of reputable sources to find out more about the issues, and can support their replies with facts and logical conclusions.   At the very least, if someone is expressing pure opinion, I'd love to hear them admit that it was that, and not try to pretend that it comes from anywhere but their own gut.  

With the rise of the internet and opinion masquerading as news (both online and on TV), I've grown increasingly frustrated when engaging people in conversations about issues.   In a time when we have billions of pages of information at our disposal to review and digest, people seem to have gotten dumber.  

What I failed to realize is that people have always been this way.   In the world that I grew up in, there were a few primary sources of information that most people consumed, TV news and newspapers.   For the most part, the integrity of these sources was considered important by the companies that ran them and their mission to serve the public.   Journalists were confrontational, concerned about collecting the facts and validating them, and often unafraid of offending the businesses or politicians they covered.    The result was that we had a news that truly comforted the afflicted and afflicted the comfortable.   Even the least educated among us got a mostly fair critical representation of government, politicians, businesses, and the important issues of today.

Fast forward to today.  "News" is truly infotainment.   The companies that cover the news treat it as a profit center, a place intended to make money first, serve the public interest second.    Advertisers are not to be offended.   Politicians are not to be too strenuously questioned, lest they deny your network access to them in the future.  And rather than present a nuanced position of issues, journalism is now a simple see saw, where "balanced" reporting is giving equal weight to both sides of an issue, even if you have to put ten pounds of facts on one side of that see saw, and ten pounds of industrial grade bullshit on the other side.  All the better to turn information into a team sport for people to pick sides than actually provide useful facts.   And if you don't like the point of view espoused by reality based press, you can find any number of propaganda outlets online and on cable that will provide you with a point of view about the world that more closely aligns with yours, facts be damned.  

Unfortunately, I have been too stupid to acknowledge this reality online.   For more than a decade I've engaged in "discussions" with people who bring no facts or real knowledge to a situation, have no grasp of history or quality journalism, and who would rather argue a point with fiction and illogical thinking than to concede a point.   Trying to convince them or have them provide you with information about their viewpoint that supports its validity, in short, is like shouting at a brick.  

Because of this, I've started stepping away from internet arguments.   I'll make a statement supporting my own view with sources, but I've realized there is no point in engaging with idiots who will go after your point of view without even reading it first.   it's best to allow them to make an ass out of themselves without them dragging you down to your level.     You're not going to change their minds, or the people who feel they're right, and you're just going to irritate the people who may agree with you but get tired of the verbal fisticuffs everywhere you turn online.  


Saturday, April 19, 2014

A post for Maddie Yates and the People She Left Behind

I do not know Maddie Yates.   But reading her twitter feed, I could have been her 25 years ago in high school.  Mentions of school work, the ACT, her score, a 30, almost identical to mine.   She shares her worries about getting into the Kentucky Governor's Scholars Program, a program I was in that was a sort of dry run for college offered to exceptional students in the state of Kentucky between Junior and Senior year.  

But reading further, she could be my daughter.   Pictures of her show a happy, pretty girl, who appeared to have a lot of friends.    Other similarities are sprinkled throughout.    The picture shared of a "minion" from Despicable Me.  The Girl Scout cookie sales.   The silly jokes sprinkled throughout.   The in jokes and messages to friends.

I think of these things as I ponder Maddie Yates, who earlier this week. took her own life.  I cannot speak to the reason why things were to hard for her to bear, and it's not my place to.   But as someone who often felt alone, stressed, sad, and depressed during high school, I'd like to offer some thoughts to teenagers as I  look back on high school 25 years after I graduated.

First.  Rumors, lies, and mean comments about the situation help nobody.  They dishonor the dead and hurt the living.   Don't create them or spread them.

Second.  If you want to help friends and family who are grieving, lend an ear.   Listen.  Put yourself in their shoes and imagine how they'd feel and what they'd want to hear.    Let them grieve at their own pace.

Now some things to think about when you're feeling sad, or despairing about life as a teenager:

  • Tomorrow is another day.  No matter what happens today, it seldom looks as bad tomorrow, and almost never looks as bad six months or a year later.    The key is to understand either the event or your ability to handle it will get better.  
  • Even if you feel like nobody loves you or cares, know that someone does.    
  • If you need help, ask.  Talk to your parents, friends, counselors, teachers, minister, or call one of the many hotlines available to you to talk to someone.  
  • Parents are doing their best based on how they were raised and what issues and problems are going on in their lives.   They love you, even if they sometimes aren't equipped to show it in the way you need at the time.   
  • Middle and high school are NOT the rest of your life.   The class prom king and queen will age badly. The odd looking geek will grow into a good looking adult.  The person most likely to succeed will stumble, and that kid you thought wouldn't amount to anything will become a successful business owner.  And at some point you'll find out that the people you thought had everything going for them had the same insecurities and issues you had.  We do not know our futures, and many times we don't even know someone else's true present.    
  • While religion and faith can be good things, they should never make you feel like a horrible human being because of who you are, or that you're beyond redemption because of something you've done.  If your church tells you that you're going to hell because you're gay, had premarital sex, or are struggling with other issues the church feels are taboo, they are simply wrong.   Let living the golden rule be your guide, and if your faith makes you feel like less of a person, seek out a new one as soon as you are able.    
  • Remember social media is not real life.   It's far easier to be mean and evil when your cannot see the results your words have on other people.    If people are making you feel terrible, hide them, unfriend them, or get off social media altogether.  Mean people suck.  Don't let them take over your brain  
  • Not getting picked for the team, play, band, honor society, summer program, or other organization is not the end of the world, even if you deserved it.   Sometimes life is unfair.    You may remember the sting five or ten years later, but trust me, you'll realize how trivial it is.    
  • A grade of B, C, D, or F is not the end of the world.   A lower score than you hoped on the SAT/ACT is not the end of the world.   Not getting into the school of your choice is not the end of the world.    Try your best and accept that you tried your best.   Live for today and make the best of it.   
  • If you feel socially awkward, that you'll never fit in, or that you will never find a girlfriend or boyfriend, realize that some day you will find the people meant for you.   Perhaps you already have them in your life and you just haven't given them the time.    Don't be afraid to embrace those who share your geekiness, awkwardness, or your passions, just because they are different from others.   Your friends and first love, and keys to who you become in the future might be there for you.    If nothing else, have a laugh at  this tweet by highly successful actor and comedian Patton Oswalt.  
  • Remember that suicide is a permanent solution to temporary pain.   There are people who love you, people who can help you feel better about life, and decades of life ahead of you to learn and embrace what is good about people.   As much hurt as you feel now, it doesn't compare to the hurt that others feel when you're gone, and the ripple effect it has on family and friends.   Even in the darkest days, there is always hope.  
To the friends and family of Maddie Yates, my deepest sympathies.   I hope that there will be some good to come out of this tragedy and that in some way you can come to grips with your sorrow.