Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Political Odds and Ends.

I have not been writing much.  No, that's inaccurate.  I have not been posting much, at least not here. I thought I would just check in.

Part of it is that I have been involved with issues elsewhere in cyberspace, mainly over at Facebook, mainly involving relatives.  (You can pick your friends, but...)  I was forced to issue the following statement (for reasons that are too long to go into here, stretching back literally decades):
Note to the world: I am a fierce supporter of LGBT rights. I believe that the right to marry is a right, not a privilege, that belongs to all regardless of race, religion, national origin or *sexual orientation.* You have a problem with that? Unfriend me. Now.
Unfortunately, the person whom I hoped would take the hint didn't, and after further nasty personal attacks on my Wall, I was forced to ban him.  The upshot of all this is there are now people in my extended family with whom I am not on even the most basic of speaking terms (hey, I didn't start this) and I suddenly have a lot more free time around the holidays.


And then there were the Rick Perry signs. This was a much more civil debate -- although no less passionate on both sides.

It started when I posted a picture of a sign from St Catherine's Episcopal Church (where, I do not know) which read: "Gov. Perry.  God here. That voice in your head is not me.  Take your meds." Several people "liked" it, and one person (whom, her political opinions aside, I quite like) expressed unhappiness with "Sigh."

The next day, after much thought, I decided that the sign was in fact unfair to the mentally ill.  Bigotry is not a mental illness, and to lump people who take meds to be able to function in the world in with Rick Perry is just wrong. So I posted a sign from Texas Baptist Church (again, I have no idea where) which read: "I never told Rick Perry to run for anything.  I did suggest he stop harassing gays, Mexicans and Muslims, however.  God."  Along with this, I posted my explanation why I liked this sign better than the other one.

I was then accused of stating that people who disagree with me are mentally ill.  I responded, clarifying my position that I believe no such thing, that in fact it was because he was not mentally ill I thought the first sign unfair in retrospect.  I also added "there are a lot of people with whom I disagree vehemently about a number of things, but whom I like and respect. I have never reserved my affection only for people who viewed the world the same way I do." I also linked to a Ta-Nehisi Coates column about Rick Perry and a particularly troubling case from Texas.

I was then accused of candidate bashing.  You know what? She was right, at least partially.  The first sign was candidate bashing, pure and simple.  Yes, I am suspicious of anyone who claims God told them specifically to do anything, but to some extent that can be -- and in evangelical circles often is -- spiritual shorthand for "I discerned the will of God in this." Far be it from me to say where the will of God lies in anything.  To mock Perry here is to willfully make fun of a man's religious beliefs.

But that second sign? No dice.  When a man or woman runs for President, their statements on issues such as immigration and homosexuality, not to mention their record as an elected official, have every bearing on their fitness for the highest position in the land, and are fair game for all sorts of commentary and, yes, mockery.


Speaking of Rick Perry....

I have been trying to get together a post about Rick Perry and capital punishment.  It keeps getting longer and longer... and sadder and sadder. At some point in the next month I will have it finished or abandoned, I don't know.

Part of the reason is that I like to write about things that I feel passionately about but which do not affect me so much that I find it difficult to argue clearly.  Some things just strike me inarticulate with rage.  (This is exactly why I have yet to do a post about the Wal-Mart case from earlier this year.)  Capital punishment is a hot-button topic with me, and capital punishment in Texas more so.  Throw in a man who has publicly criticized the Supreme Court decision that outlawed the execution of the mentally retarded, and it gets very tricky for me to retain enough calm to write about it. 

And then there is the Willingham case. (See the Ta-Nehisi Coates column mentioned above.)  I can't write about this, yet, because as I said on my Facebook "It's kind of hard to write with the foam from your mouth dripping on the keyboard."  (This was, incidentally, the statement -- along with a chart showing how marriage was treated in the Bible -- which caused a flame-war and is the reason I am not leaving California this Christmas.)  Let's just say that I find Perry's actions reprehensible.

Of course, a post on Texas would inevitably lead  to posts about the state of capital punishment nationwide.  There are at least three posts running through my head having to do with that subject -- I just need to catch my breath enough to write them. 


A final thought about the death penalty, from Ta-Nehisi Coates (who is a wonderfully thoughtful witer):
Whenever tempted by moral dudgeon, it should be remembered that abolishing the death penalty would mean asking decent people to tolerate the lives of criminals who revel in the abuse of that tolerance. Opposing the death penalty is not rooted simply in the pursuit of justice, but, perhaps more firmly, in understanding the world’s fundamental injustice, and the ease with which an attempt to permanently balance the scales ultimately imbalances them further.
I have also been doing my best to stamp out ignorant parroting of talking points, where I can.  And in Facebook, even among otherwise intelligent people, you can see this in action.

For example:  a few weeks ago there was a meme circulating to the effect of "let's show Congress how to balance the budget by first getting rid of their salaries."  Aside from all of the practical political reasons this would be a terrible idea,  cutting Congressional salaries is empty posturing and will do absolutely nothing to close the deficit. If Congresspeople were being paid $200K a year (the highest salary is not that high) and if you were to eliminate all pay for Congress, you would save a staggering.... 107 million per year. We spent 63 times that in Afghanistan in February 2010 alone.* Pretty feeble for a gesture.  Not to mention that, with nearly 50% of people in Congress having a net worth of over $1,000,000, not very effective.

And then, reading yet another article that claimed that Congress gets free health care, this time from a left-leaning publication, I wrote:  
Repeat after me: Members of Congress get the same health care benefits as any other federal employee. They DO NOT get free health care. I have heard this repeated from people at both ends of the political spectrum. There are a lot of reasons to dislike Congress; this isn't one of them. Just because I agree with your political ends does not mean that I am going to let you get away with twisting facts, even unknowingly.

It is not even September 2011.  The nominating conventions are ten months away, the general election fourteen.  I am already tired of Presidential politics.  It's going to be a loooonnnnngggg year.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Heh. Poor Applebee's. Not.

I play trivia at several different venues.  The Loft in San Jose, Applebee's, St. Stephen's Green in Mountain View.  Different venues, different formats, different games.  I've done pretty well this week.  Although my team tanked at the Loft, our dinner was covered by virtue of the fifty dollar gift certificate I won (by myself) last week.  At St. Stephen's Green, I won a pitcher of beer by coming in second. (I got the manager to agree that I could get it at a future date, since I was playing by myself and driving.)

Applebee's is by far the easiest venue.  For one thing, people generally play as individuals.  This eliminates the team advantage.  Secondly, the questions are easier (and multiple choice, usually), and the rounds are timed, which means, by virtue of being fast (thank you, Jeopardy!) and secure in my knowledge (I know what I know) I can do well.  In the past I have cleaned up:  in the past eight weeks, I have won $130 at Applebee's -- and I have not even gone to most of the trivia nights. Of the six nights (out of a possible 16) I have been, I have participated in 15 rounds in two different formats.  I won 13 of them.  I have won more at Applebee's than I have ever spent at Applebee's.

Tonight at Applebee's, I had won the first two rounds when the manager came over, introduced himself, and told me that in the future there would be a "maximum two wins a night" rule, because, well, I had a reputation as winning all the time and "it's more fun if more than one person wins."  I understand that.  Although the rule was not in effect tonight, I took pity on everyone and left after three rounds -- all of which I had won.

I feel like a card-counter in Vegas.

I need a new business card: Pat Greene: Trivia Shark.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

That's great, it starts with an earthquake

It's very odd to see all of my friends on the East Coast freaking out a bit about the 5.8 magnitude earthquake that hit Virginia this morning.  As someone who lived through the 1989 Loma Prieta quake, part of me feels really smug, but the larger part of me is very sympathetic to how unnerving it is to feel the ground move under your feet for the first time. [Edited to add: not to mention the problem of unreinforced masonry buildings.  At noon, I have yet to hear any damage/casualty reports, but I would not have wanted to be in a brick building in, say, Richmond this morning.]

Also, an absolutely on point xkcd comic.

And just think, later this week many of them will get hit by a hurricane, as well.  What's next, a plague of locusts?

Monday, August 22, 2011

Hurricane Irene is strengthening into a Category 3. To my friends and family in Florida and along the East Coast, keep an eye out.  I know she's only a Cat 3, but I have a really bad feeling about this one.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Oh, no.

 A First Air 737 crashed just short of the runway in Resolute, Nunavut, Canada.  Although the scientists and staff who go to Devon were home, the Rocket Scientist and the NASA people he work with most probably know one or more of the victims.  Resolute is a community of 200, and some of the people on board were going on to Grise Fjord, a town of 70, where, the Rocket Scientist says, he and his colleagues knew pretty much everyone in the village. My heart goes out to the families affected by this tragedy.

This is exactly the sort of thing that gives nightmares about field season.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

School Daze.

One way to know that school has started? I am getting more hits from people Googling the words "little known heroes" or "little known American heroes."  Guys, you really need to go elsewhere than some blog by some person you've never heard of to find your materials.  Especially since your teacher has undoubtedly said you can't use Wikipedia as a source.

Be worried. Really.

According to writer John Batchelor in the Daily Beast blog, the Republicans do not stand a chance in 2012.


Remember how all of us (all of us liberal Dems, that is) laughed about the possible election of GW Bush?  You can never, never, take anything for granted in presidential politics.  Spin enough embarrassing incidents, cover enough of your previous record, and you can win handily. Or at least with the help of an uncritical media, the Florida supervisor of elections and the Supreme Court.

The thought of any of the Republican candidates being president -- with the possible exception of Mitt Romney whom I do not like but also do not fear -- is enough to make me wake up in the middle of the night with the cold sweats.

Just think of it: President Rick Perry.  Or even worse, President Rick Santorum. Thankfully, I do think that Michelle Bachmann is enough of a flake that she won't win the nomination.

 The time to start getting the message out about these people is now, not when it looks like they do have a serious following.

I know I wasn't going to blog so much about my family, but...

The first day of school....

Chem Honors teacher: Any questions?
Red-headed Menace: Kirk or Picard?

It is going to be one of those years, I can just tell.

The teacher actually gave a thoughtful answer ("it depends who you're fighting -- Kirk is better against the Klingons, Picard against the Romulans"), and then proceeded to liven up the rest of class by demonstrating the properties of flammability by pouring various sized pools of ethyl alcohol on lab tables and setting them alight. RHM describes this teacher (ecstatically) as a "sarcastic Trekkie pyro." Just his type of guy, in other words.

I need to have a talk with RHM about classroom behavior before I start getting calls from the school and emails from his teachers.  It reminds me of the time the Not-So-Little-Drummer Boy, stuck in an Econ class he needed to take to graduate but which he most emphatically did not want to be in, gave a fake name the first day of class. And the time the NSLDB responded to an assignment from a particularly humorless freshman English teacher by writing an essay on how the pot of petunias in Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy was a heroic figure.

Basically, both the NSLDB and RHM have a hard time dealing with lackluster teaching. On the other hand, they appreciate teachers who challenge them, even when other students hate them.  (RHM really likes his Modern History AP teacher even though the guy has a horrible rap among the students: he has a very dry sense of humor, RHM says, and has said that since this can be for college credit he plans to teach it like a college course.)

My kids are many things: boring is not among them. Teachers either love them or want to strangle them -- much as I do, frequently, except that I usually want to do both at the same time.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Vacation. Oh boy.

Yesyerday, I returned from several days in Mexico.  Rah.

I have had better vacations.  Much better vacations. There was a fair amount of crankiness on people's parts (and I'm not exempting myself in this), and not enough time to do what each of us wanted. Because of complications in the Rocket Scientist's field season resulting from issues between NASA and the DOD, sparked off by the actions of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (gee, thanks, JPL!), he had to be later coming home than planned and our trip was cut from ten days down to five.

The night before we left, Vincent, the black Mustang, died of as yet undiagnosed electronic failure. Fine.  We had to simply leave him on the street rather than in the driveway. Of course, there was nothing to steal and since it wouldn't start we didn't have to worry about the car being jacked.

We made it down to Mexico pretty much without incident. I drove through from Mission Hills to Ensanada, primarily because I get so much less cranky than the Rocket Scientist driving in urban traffic. Since I cannot navigate my way out of the proverbial paper bag, he needed to give directions.  The most nerve-wracking part was navigating streets in Tijuana getting to the highway.

Ensanada itself was okay, I guess.  I would have been just as happy -- happier, perhaps -- lying on the beach in Santa Monica.  One of my requirements for this vacation was that we go somewhere near water. Last year, we did deserts, and the year before mountains, volcanoes and forests, so I thought it only fair we hit oceans.

I am an ocean person of the first order, and really wanted to hear the surf.  In a place like Ensanada -- or San Diego, or Key West -- all I really need is a beach, a blanket and a book.  And if necessary, I can do without the book. That I only got to spend about two hours at the beach made me unhappy and unreasonable. Although to tell the truth, the marine geyser at Bufadora was really cool.

One aspect of the trip satisfied totally: the food.  It will be a long time before I can eat Mexican food in the States.  There is nothing like the taste of freshly pressed and cooked corn tortillas.  I normally avoid corn tortillas because I think they taste rubbery, but these were fresh and light, filled with either carne asada or fried fish. Yum.

Then there was the trip back.  We went an interior route, which was dry and desert-like, instead of the coastal route we had come down on.  We spent three hours crossing the border, which drove me batty.  After that barrel of fun, we stopped in San Ysidro to get gas and change money.

At which point the great San Diego curse hit.*

Each of the past four trips to San Diego have had something bad happen, either in San Diego or on the way to or from.  Three trips ago, it was an incident involving a waitress in a restaurant and my middle son, which ended up for a short time being a matter for extensive Internet discussion and which had us contacting the San Diego city attorney and contemplating legal action.  The time after was Echidna Quest, which while it had its amusing moments, also involved the car dying in Pasadena, and the Not So Little Drummer Boy spending an entire day in the hotel throwing up from food poisoning.

The time after that was the worst.  While in the San Diego Wild Animal Park, we got word that my beloved sister-in-law Nadia died.  Before we could get back, I had an asthma attack severe enough to require a visit to an urgent care clinic, so that we were late leaving.  While we driving back frantically so that my husband could catch a ten a.m. plane to Atlanta, the transmission on the van died.  Not only died, but self-destructed so spectacularly that the headquarters of Ford took an interest in it.  At midnight.  In the Central Valley, where the temperature was close to 100 degrees, with the omnipresent smell of cattle.  We waited three hours before a tow truck came and picked us up, then dropped us off at a hotel, where we got two hours of sleep before a friend rented a van and came and picked us up.

This time, the latch on the back liftgate broke.  This may not sound like all that much, until you consider we were packed to the gills with no way to close the trunk.  After various attempts to remedy the situation, we were reduced to tying the trunk closed so that we could go on our way.  When we stopped at Santa Clarita for the day, we had to unload everything through the front and side of the van. Which we had to reverse the next morning when we left.

Next time we head south, I refuse to go any farther than the Orange County line.

We then went to Traveltown in Griffith Park so that Railfan could look around.  I have to admit that was rather fun, especially since RF got to show off his accumulated knowledge of rail cars and locomotives. (And boy, does he know a lot.) I found listening to him highly educational, and he was happy to have an interested audience.

But then we had the long slog up I-5 through the Central Valley. We stopped for dinner at Pea Soup Andersen's in Santa Nella (in spite of my desire to run straight through -- which would have been a serious mistake), and got home at 9.  And then the kids had to get ready (including the Red-Headed Menace finishing up a summer assignment for his AP History class -- he was up until midnight), because school started today.  I had forgotten to take in the mail, and get someone to take in the trash cans (we had had to leave them in place for the trash/recycling pickup the day we left), so I am waiting to get a citation from the city in the mail for leaving the bins out for more than forty-eight hours. Penwiper the cat showed just how happy she was with the situation (even though we had gotten someone to take care of her while we were gone) by urinating all over a basket of clean clothes in my room.  And she chose to do so after we got home -- I discovered the message right after she left it. I love my cat, but sometimes I want to make a throw rug out of her.

Okay, so no one died and no one went to jail.  And I didn't even freak out about the car situation.  But I tell you, I need another vacation.  Near a beach.  By myself.

*Okay, so San Ysidro is not San Diego proper, but it is in San Diego County. 

Monday, August 01, 2011

I know I have a small (but hopefully dedicated) audience...

Perhaps because of the Russian LJ issue, and because of some cases I have heard recently of Google being overly aggressive in freezing people's accounts, I have taken to backing up all my posts here on a mirror blog on Wordpress.  I am playing around with the interface, and may end up moving permanently over there.  I do not know yet.  I'll let you guys know -- and if any of you have suggestions/preferences, comment.
My first introduction to the world of online writing was through LiveJournal in February, 2002.  Even with all the other social media outlets which have come (Dreamwidth, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn) and gone (MySpace, Vox), I still have maintained my LiveJournal account.  I still use it for talking to a small group of online friends about subjects too personal to discuss on Facebook, let alone here.  (Not to mention that Facebook has that insanely annoying 420 character limit.  Twitter I keep mainly for communicating in emergencies. LinkedIn... I'm not sure quite why I have a LinkedIn account anymore.  God knows that I do not use it the way it is supposed to be used.) When my children were smaller, LiveJournal saved my sanity, allowing me to communicate with people more than three feet tall.  It gave me a forum for writing and communicating in which I was Pat, not so-and-so's mother, or, worse yet, The Rocket Scientist's wife.* I have met friends -- some of them very close -- through LiveJournal.

As it turns out, LJ has assumed a much greater role in the world than I thought.  Far from simply being a place to bitch to your friends about your boyfriend not calling you, reading Criminal Minds slash, cooing over baby and kitten pictures or participating in random online polls, the service has international political importance.

LiveJournal has become a major platform for political dissidents in Russia. Unlike other media, it is totally uncontrolled, which allows for a complete diversity of opinions.  It is an outlet for free expression in a country where the concept is tenuous (even in the post-Soviet era). It allows Russians of all political stripes to communicate and organize.  And, for the third time since March, last week LJ was been hit with a major DDOS (distributed denial of service) attack.   This time the attacks spread out to the carriers Qwest and Verizon, as well.  There are strong indications that these are, if not government-sponsored, being driven by pro-government forces. 

I find all this fascinating. I should not be surprised at the use of LJ as a political tool: blogs and other social media have been used as such by political elements in every country. (It would have been a lot harder for the Tea Party movement in this country to have burgeoned quite as it has without the Internet providing batshit crazies concerned citizens a place to meet.)  A service such as LiveJournal is a repressive government's worst nightmare:  an easily accessible, totally open venue for political debate.  It is a way for people to foster community and exchange information that would otherwise be repressed.

Of course many people outside Russia have been seriously annoyed by these attacks.  If LJ is your primary way to keep in touch with your friends, it can be frustrating.  (On the small filter of people I talk to, a good 2/3 of them live more than 200 miles away from me.  In most cases I met those people through the Internet, and in some cases I have yet to meet them in person.)  It makes it easier to know, somehow, that all of this is about democracy and free speech, not some idiot 4-Chan/Anonymous power play.

I hope that it doesn't bring LiveJournal down in the end; that would be a shame.  But I have no doubt that the dissenters will find a way; the Internet has made political repression much more complicated. Even if LiveJournal were to fall (and at least one Russian commentator believes that these attacks are rehearsals for "cyber-war," to bring LJ down in case of emergency, to shut off dissent without having to disable the entire Internet), people are starting to find other sites and other ways to get their message out. The Internet will win in the end.

It makes this blogger feel all warm and glowy inside.

*I love them, but it does get tiresome when most of the people you talk to want to either discuss your kids or your husband. True story: when you go on Jeopardy!, you fill out a questionnaire about your life experiences.  The last question is "Why do you want to be on Jeopardy!?"  My answer was, flippantly, that it would be nice to have people at cocktail parties talk to me about what I was doing rather than what my husband the Rocket Scientist was involved in.  When you go on the show, they pick one item about you for Alex Trebek to chat with you about.  Out of all the fascinating stories I told about myself, guess what they chose?  Yep, how much I was in my husband's shadow and how this was a chance for my own place in the sun.  I just can't escape this.