Monday, October 31, 2011

A note about that last post*

In 1986, the Rocket Scientist and I were living in married student housing at Georgia Tech.  We had been watching the Series. He was pulling for the Red Sox and I for the Mets, a team which he hates even more than I hate the Yankees.** 

 I had been fighting a migraine all day.  I get killer migraines now, but they could be even worse back then.  This one was horrific.  By the seventh inning of the game, I had started throwing up and the light coming from the television felt like needles being jabbed into my brain.  I reluctantly got a warm compress for my head and went to bed in an absolutely pitch dark bedroom.

Some while later, the door opened, and I groaned as the light from the hallway hit my eyes.  "The Red Sox are up by two, and there is one out left.  Want to come watch your Mets lose the Series?" The Rocket Scientist was positively cackling.

"F*** you," I responded in a typical Met-fan fashion.  He let out one more chuckle and went back to the living room. 

I was lying in pitch black darkness, in too much pain to even care about the game.  Through the wall, I hear a groan, then another, and then a few minutes later, a gasp.  I could hear shouting in all the apartments around ours.

The door to the bedroom opened.  RS was standing in the doorway, shaking his head in disbelief.  "They...won.  They won..."  he said in a stunned voice. And then, as quietly as he had shown up, he closed the door and went back into the other room.

And I lay in the dark, and through all my pain, smiled.

*I started to put this as a footnote to the previous post, than decided it was too long.
**He was a Braves fan, and the hatred extended back to 1969, when the "Miracle Mets" swept the Braves in the league championship series on their way to winning the World Series.

1986: the obvious.

[Note: this may be the first of several baseball posts. I'm not quite sure.  It's a little silly to do this now, since the Series has ended and we are well and truly into football season, but it's what is on my mind after seeing Moneyball last Friday.]

As many of my friends can tell you, I have a penchant for stating the obvious.  It's not because I'm not bright, but because I don't always self-edit as much as I could.  So, once again I am going to state the obvious truth:

Bill Buckner did not lose the Red Sox the World Series in 1986.

I have always hated the Blame Bill Buckner theory, because a) it's not fair to Buckner and b) it belittles exactly what the Mets did to win the Series. In order for it to make sense, you have to ignore several crucial facts.

Fact 1: Baseball is a team sport.  No one person, generally speaking, loses a game for a club -- unless it's a pitcher that gives up 5 runs in an inning, and even then, the manager bears some responsibility for not yanking the guy.

Fact 2: The poor performance of the Red Sox relievers.  The Mets were behind 5-3 with one out remaining. The Red Sox relievers gave up not one, not two, but three singles to let the Mets tie the game.  If any one of those singles had been an out, then the Sox would have won the Series, and saved the rest of us from having to hear their fans crying about it to this day.* And that is even overlooking Bob Stanley's wild pitch that allowed Kevin Mitchell to score the tying run.  So Mookie Wilson's slow grounder to first went through Buckner's legs?  Mookie Wilson should never had been up to the plate in the first place; the relievers fell down on the job.

Fact 3:  This was only Game 6.  There was another game. I mentioned this to a Red Sox fan in the mid-1990s, and his reply was that it was simply a foregone conclusion that the Sox would lose Game 7.  They would simply be too demoralized.

Baloney.  The Red Sox led through five innings, and it was tied in the sixth. I remember: I was sitting chewing my fingernails watching the game.  Fortunately, Sid Fernandez (on whom I had a major league crush at one time, heh) held down the fort so that Jesse Orosco, who Bill James names as one of the best left-handed relievers in baseball history, could close out the game.  Also fortunately, the Mets bats finally came alive.

Great teams come back from humbling defeats.  The fact that the Sox were able to get a lead and hold it for more than half the game showed that they were a great team, that they had not been beaten down by the loss the night before.

They were simply beaten by a greater team.  The Mets never led the series until they won it.  They had been down two games to none and they battled back.  They were down three games to two, and they battled back.  They were down to their very last out, and they scrapped out a win.

So no, Bill Buckner did NOT lose the Series for the Red Sox in 1986.  If any of their players were responsible, it was their relievers.  In reality, though, no one lost the '86 Series for the Red Sox...

The Mets won it for themselves.

*Although since 2004 they've cried about it a great deal less often.

Another reminder of the passing of time. Sigh.

It's Halloween.

I don't have to help anyone with their costume this year, not even to the point of taking them to the Party USA store to get fake swords.  I don't have to carve the pumpkin.  I don't even have to hand out candy. The kids will take care of those things.

I was planning to post a long rant about adults co-opting Halloween and making it all about parties where one dresses up like a hooker and gets drunk, but I realized that that might be seen as sour grapes from someone who simply had no party to go to.*

Over the years I have made some very good costumes.  One year in college, I went to a party as I-75. Really. I won the best individual costume; best group award was won by six people who went as the Golden Gate bridge. And no, we did not coordinate our costumes to have some sort of roadway theme.

For the kids, I have made devil costumes (the Red-Headed Menace went as a devil for four years straight -- and a disturbing number of adult friends said, "Yeah, that fits").  I have made hobo costumes.  A few years back, in the last significant costume year for me, both Railfan and the RHM were, at their request, Link from Legend of Zelda.

My best costume, though, was a costume I made for the Not-So-Little Drummer Boy, back when he was in third grade.  He went to school as a mummy: I had taken white sweats, and spent hours hot gluing strips of torn bedsheets in rows to them.  People were generally impressed; so much so that I thought I would simply keep it for the next year.  That would have worked, had I not accidentally gotten it mixed up with a load of whites, and washed it in hot water.  All that was left after the washer was through was a nicely clean pair of sweats and about twenty feet of inch and-a-half strips of bedsheets.

As much as I griped over the years about the stress of coming up with a great costume, I miss it.

I want my Halloween back.

*And yes, there is a fair amount of truth to that.

I wish it were April 1st...

...And I could write all of this off as a hoax.  But it's not, and I can't.

I have always held that people who opposed vaccination for their children were dangerous. It seems some of them are far more dangerous than I thought.

If the anti-vaxers simply endangered their own children by refusing to get them vaccinated for disease, that would be sad. (It would also be child abuse, in my opinion, but I don't write the laws on this.)  They put not just themselves and their children at risk: they endanger everyone who cannot be vaccinated for these diseases for medical reasons as well. I suppose one could avoid people who oppose vaccination like, well, the plague...

Unless you're a postal worker, as it turns out. There are now people sending infected items through the mail so that the infections their children carry can be passed along to the children of other anti-vaxers.

My mind reels at this idiocy. As Mike the Mad Biologist states, the only thing that separates this from bioterrorism is the intent, which the pathogens aren't affected by.

It is clearly illegal.  Exactly which law it falls under, I am not sure: I would guess it would probably fall under several, including the PATRIOT Act and the 2002 Bioterrorism Preparedness Act.  If nothing else, it is clearly against postal regulations.

Not that these people care.

I want prosecutions, dammit.  If these people can't be brought in on child abuse charges (and I can see reasons why that is infeasible) for what dangers they expose their own children to, they at least should be held accountable for endangering others who do not share their crackpot views.

Saturday, October 29, 2011


This is just a note to myself here to remind me about the post I mean to write on the Billy Beane approach to baseball and what it means to all of us who were not traditionally the baseball in-crowd, and the one on why I love Bill James. These may take a while to take shape, but I am sure I will be posting lots of little things in the meantime -- I am practicing for NaBloPoMo. (National Blog Posting Month.) Of course, both of those may be delayed even more because I am running a low-grade fever, sneezing, and feel generally like I am coming down with a cold. I think NyQuil and Coke, and possibly food, as well as whatever is showing on Food Network, may be in order.

Note to self.

Since the RSS feed goes out very soon after the posts are published, it is imperative that you let very emotional posts like this one sit for a while so that you can make sure that you can tone down the overheated rhetoric and make sure what you have written accurately reflects what you see in the news. (Even edited now, the post is a bit melodramatic, but I am going to leave it.)

You sat on the Troy Davis/death penalty post for a month for just this reason, remember.

"Moneyball": a short, emphatic but uninformative review.

When I was eleven or twelve, I asked for, and got, for Christmas a book of baseball history covering from the mid-19th century to 1972.  It was a hefty volume.

I awoke at five. I beat everyone up by at least an hour.  I unwrapped it and began to read.  A very fast reader, I was done by noon. I reread it.  And re-reread it.* 

I have been a baseball fan for most of my life.  My first love was my beloved Mets.  And then the Red Sox in college, who were supplanted by the As when I went to law school.  And then, miracle of miracles, the (Devil) Rays were spawned, and I have been their staunch supporter ever since, even when they were at their worst.

Tonight I saw Moneyball, starring Brad Pitt as As General Manager Billy Beane during the 2002 season.  And I say to you, as someone who remembers this period in As history, and who actually owns a copy of Bill James...

If you like Brad Pitt (I don't, but at least I respect him now), go see this movie. If you love the Oakland As**, go see this movie.

But most of all, if you love the game, go see this movie

*One of the only times I have completely run a round at trivia was "Match the nickname to the baseball player."  This book was a big reason why.

**I do love the As, only not so much as the Rays.  The Rocket Scientist and I saw two of the games they won during the Quake Series of '89.  We had tickets to games six and seven, but the As swept the Series. They are third on my list of favorite teams, after the Rays and Mets and before the Red Sox.   The other local team (the one in orange and black) is high up on the list of teams I actively dislike. That list is headed, of course, by those damned Yankees.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Ch-ch-ch-change. Hopefully. Scarily.

It is hard not to notice something new is happening.  Actually, it has been happening for a while now, only with a different group of people.

The citizens of this great nation are getting royally pissed off about the way things are.  Although they have vastly different -- and opposing -- viewpoints of who's to blame and how to fix things, they are making their voices known. OWS supporters, Tea Partiers: they have the same underlying message.

Things suck. We cannot go on this way. Change has got to happen.

Of course, there is bitter disagreement about many things between the two.  Many of us who support OWS are quite frankly scared of the Tea Party and what seems to be their tenuous grasp of reality.  Their willingness to support radical extremists worries us, not to mention the occasional willingness of their leaders and politicians to a) make things up and b) urge actual harm to the United States. (The "do anything to make the country fall apart so that Obama won't be re-elected" attitude seen during the debt crisis is terrifying.)  What seems to be their inability to recognize that other people's lives are through no fault of their own much more difficult than theirs, is infuriating. (That "pull yourself up by your bootstraps" mentality only works if you have bootstraps to begin with.)

I am sure that they have similar issues with us.

I am not going to engage in the spurious "the truth is in the middle" charade.  The truth is frequently not in the middle.  This is not to say the OTW people are always right about everything, just that I think we are right much more often than the Tea Partiers, and when we are wrong, we are much less dangerous to the welfare of the Republic.

But we live, as the Chinese curse says, in interesting times:  the status quo may not hold, one way or another. If it does hold, it will have to do so on the backs of everyday people, much as it is now. Change has to occur: many everyday people fall farther and farther into the abyss.  But if the status quo fails...

Years ago, someone I know pointed out that in the wake of the 2000 election there were no riots in the streets.  Transition was orderly.  Who we were as a nation won out over what we wanted or needed as individuals.

What gives me nightmares is my worry that the sense of us as a nation, rather than simply opposing entities each claiming the moral and political high ground, has eroded past the point of where it can be recovered. That entrenched governmental and corporate interests will fight tooth and nail before they give way, and that there will be those who will defend those interests no matter what the cost. That the demand for change -- and both the opposing visions of that change, as well as the defense of the current system -- will grow more violent.

The result may be more Oaklands.

I am an imaginative and, I admit, melodramatic person.  But I would not have imagined an Iraq War veteran* injured by police action against peaceful protesters.

I worry about what might be next.

*My thoughts and prayers go out to Iraq War vet Scott Olsen and his family.

Arbitrary death.

On September 21,  Constitution Day, Troy Davis sat in his cell on Death Row in a Jackson, Georgia, waiting to hear if his last-minute appeal to the Supreme Court would be successful in postponing his execution. It was not. He was executed at 11:08 pm, Eastern Standard Time.

I find his execution on Constitution Day to be grimly ironic. (This is even though I know the rights afforded criminal defendants are enshrined in the Bill of Rights, not the body of the Constitution.) What happened to Troy Davis brings into question the entire system of capital punishment in the United States.

For those of you unfamiliar with the case, Davis was convicted in 1989 for the killing of an off-duty police officer. There was no physical evidence tying him to the crime: he was convicted on the word of nine witnesses who claimed to either have witnessed the shooting or that Davis had confessed to them in jail. Over the years seven of the nine have recanted their testimony, in some cases indicated that they had been pressured by police or prosecutors.

In 2009, Davis's case reached the Supreme Court. The Court ordered an evidentiary hearing on the new evidence. The case went back to the district court, which held the evidentiary hearing and found that the recantations were not enough to order a new trial. David was ordered to show that there was no way that a jury would have convicted him.

As Bob Barr, former prosecutor and U.S. Representative said,
Proving innocence is far more difficult than establishing doubts as to one's guilt and flips our system of criminal jurisprudence on its head. Instead of the American system's presumption of innocence and a requirement that the state prove guilt, Davis' evidentiary hearing began with the court presuming guilt and required the condemned to prove his innocence.
Even though the judge in the evidentiary hearing denied Davis a new trial, he conceded the standard was "extraordinarily high."

Davis was unable to meet this nearly insurmountable task. But while he fell short of "proving" his innocence, he established doubts as to his guilt, prompting the judge to concede the state's case against him was "not ironclad."
Proving innocence is a far higher standard than that required of prosecutors in criminal case, that the defendant be shown to be guilty "beyond a reasonable doubt." The judge decided that the defense's case for a new trial was largely "smoke and mirrors," finding only two of the recantations credible.  I have heard a number of people say "he had 20 years to prove his innocence" -- but how could he prove his innocence with evidence that was not available?  How does one prove a negative, especially in the face of existent but unknown evidence?

The entire case shows gaping holes in the American system.  Firstly, there is the issue of eyewitness testimony, which studies have been shown to be unreliable.  (The police did not include in the lineup of photos they showed to witnesses the other suspect in the case, Ronald Coles, who turned himself in and fingered Davis.)  Then there is the use of jailhouse informants, who have something to gain by providing evidence of guilt. (Both jailhouse informants later said they were lying.)

Davis's case is not, unfortunately, unique. In Texas, Cameron Todd Willingham was executed in spite of expert witness coming forward to state that the forensic evidence which was the backbone of  his conviction was seriously, seriously flawed: in fact, it had been discredited.

These cases demonstrates the capriciousness that underlies our system of death penalty justice:

If he had been alleged to have killed someone other than a police officer (or, to a lesser extent, a child) Troy Davis might not have received the death penalty. If Cameron Todd Willingham had not been accused of murdering his whole family, likewise.

In another state, they might not have been convicted.

In another state, they might have not been sentenced to death.

In another state, the state courts might well have ordered new trials.

In another state, they might not have even have faced the death penalty.  Jeffrey Dahmer, one of the most heinous murderers in our nation's history, the sort that death penalty proponents point to when arguing in its favor, died at the hands of another inmate instead of the state because Wisconsin has not had a death penalty since 1853.

Had either of them been a very popular ex-athlete, the prosecutors might well have decided not to even try for death.*

You are much better off being accused of murder in Colorado, New Hampshire or Kansas than  Oklahoma, Texas, Delaware or Virginia. And even within states, there are discrepancies.  You are much better off facing a murder prosecution in Santa Cruz than in Bakersfield.

There is something seriously flawed in our system of justice when a man who cut up young boys and stashed them in his freezer faces a lesser sentence than the getaway driver in a gas station robbery that goes wrong. Or when a man who is fingered as a murderer by the other person accused of the crime, who has everything to gain by the blame falling elsewhere, is sentenced to death. When the Supreme Court's decisions that hold that it is unconstitutional to execute the mentally ill and mentally retarded results in arguments about whether an inmate is retarded enough or mentally ill enough to escape execution.

How can the death penalty fail to be cruel and unusual punishment when it can be so arbitrary?

No other Western country executes people.  They view it as barbaric. Given the state of the death penalty in our country, we would do well to emulate them.

*It was the O.J. Simpson case which cemented my opposition to capital punishment.  Regardless of Simpson's guilt or innocence, you cannot convince me that another defendant, charged with lying in wait and brutally murdering two people, would not have been facing death rather than life in prison, especially in Los Angeles County.  The experts mentioned in the LA Times article state that the death penalty is not generally sought when the victim is a spouse, or when there is no prior felony record.  Oh, yeah? Tell that to Scott Petersen, who, in a similarly high profile case but without the "star defendant" factor, was sentenced to death even though he likewise had no felony record and was convicted of murdering a spouse. Ironically enough, I think had the O.J. prosecutors gone for the death penalty, they would have been more likely to have gotten a conviction: death-qualified juries are both more likely to trust law enforcement and to convict.

Anecdotes from home

The Red-Headed Menace keeps wanting to be a comedian, and failing miserably.  His attempts at jokes are sad.  All the while, he is capable of coming up with amusing statements that come out of nowhere.  One that I loved, although I admit your mileage may vary on this:

Railfan: "Emo is just wanna-be Goth."
RHM: "Nah, being Goth just means you sacked Rome."

If nothing else, it shows he was paying attention in World History.


Me, to the Rocket Scientist: "You're obnoxious."*
RS: "The kids had to get it from somewhere."

*And he was being obnoxious, although truth in blogging compels me to add that he is usually not so.

My obsession with facts strikes again.

I know this is a bore.  I know few people read this.  I am assuming that those who do care, although maybe not as obsessively as I do.

Some more false statements out there:

First one that is very close to my heart, an email is circulating including the claim that Barack Obama was the first president who terminated America's ability to put in space.  Politifact rates that as "Pants on Fire."  This is hardly surprising -- ask any NASA employee, or space buff, and they will tell you that Richard Nixon killed manned exploration after Apollo.

From the other side of the political spectrum, Rachel Maddow (whom I usually love) claimed that "A recent Department of Labor study guessed Wall Street fees cost a worker 28 percent of the value of your plan over the span of your career." While granting Maddows' larger point, that fees eat up a lot of money, Politifact reported that her numbers were way higher than reality, and rated the claim "mostly false."

And from Snopes, the truth behind the email/Facebook post supposedly from Warren Buffet.  The upshot?  The quote by Buffet about fixing the deficit in 5 minutes by making all members of Congress ineligible for re-election anytime there was a deficit more than 3% of the GNP was real. Most of the  rest of the email is a repackaged version of the "28th Amendment" crap that I reported on earlier.

There are so many, many others, such as Newt Gingrich's repeating of Sarah Palin's lie about "death panels," to a claim that Wisconsin governor Scott Walker's bill freezing state employees' salaries included a 5.4 raise for himself.  Politifact labeled those "Pants on Fire" and "False," respectively.

I have to remember that I am not responsible for correcting everybody's misstatements and outright lies.  Or I am going to burn out on this, quickly.

It's just that this sort of thing bugs me.  If "We the people" are going to influence policy and political decisions, if we are to be an informed citizenry capable of fixing what is wrong in this country, we need to deal in reality. And sooner, rather than later.

For myself, I want truth.  I want accuracy.  I have an idea where facts will lead me in the end, but I need my decisions to be grounded in the way the world really is, not the way other people would wish it to be.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Have a lot of time on our hands, do we?

QOTD, from "Does installing a GPS device on a car constitute a Fourth Amendment search or seizure?" at SCOTUSblog:

If you really want to get into the weeds on the question of whether accessing the undercarriage of the car is a search — and the Internet isn’t running out of electrons, so why not — you can see the uncertainty of the question by noting that the Court has had a very hard time applying the Fourth Amendment to similar types of government efforts to access parts of cars.
No, the Internet is not running out of electrons, and I find this approach refreshing enough that I'll probably read this section of the post.

They like me!

As I have said, this is a personal blog.  You guys get hit with whatever is on my mind.  It may be what is going on in my life, funny things my offspring say, pictures of me in low-cut clothing, or recipes.

It is by no means a political blog, although I talk politics a lot.  I've always been a political animal.

Perhaps because of the foregoing, I have a pretty low hit count (although I know a number of people who follow via RSS feed).  I've never been too worried about this; I don't do the work needed to get people beating a path to my door.  I am not really interested in making the changes that becoming a more popular blog would probably require, as far as I can tell by reading books on how to create popular blogs. I inhabit a backwater of the blogosphere, along with all the other people with very small blogs, although I rarely post pictures of my cat. [Edited to add: Yes, the cats are on the sidebar.  Or at least two of the cats: my owner Penwiper and the dearly departed Chocolate.  Pandora -- who was given that name because she was beautiful and always getting into trouble, but who has turned out to have an obsession with boxes -- has never been shown.  I do not generally post new pictures of my cats.]

The Wild Winds of Fortune is my sandbox.  My escape valve.  My canvas.

My voice.

I love the fact that there are at least a few people who follow me:  I can be talking to you rather than simply myself. I think of you as my invisible friends.

It was quite a surprise to discover that I had been quoted in an article at is the website of Pew Research Center's Project for Excellence in Journalism. They apparently found the last paragraph of my post "Class Warfare" worthy of being included in an article called "Bloggers Back the Occupy Wall Street Protests."*

This makes me inordinately happy.

Although it does make me sort of regret having posted the corset picture.

*Fittingly, given my penchant for footnotes, they had a footnote following the quote: "For the sake of authenticity, PEJ has a policy of not correcting misspellings or grammatical errors that appear in direct quotes from online postings." Oh, well.

Thought for the day, courtesy of Matt Stone and Trey Parker

Heavenly Father, why do you let bad things happen?
More to the point, why do you let bad things happen to me?*

"Man Up,"** from The Book of Mormon

*No, nothing terrible, life is just generally not wonderful right now.  I know I should count my blessings, and I do, and there are a lot of people (some of whom are sitting in various city parks around the country) who are facing much more serious problems than I am.  I just had to laugh when I heard this line this morning -- or reheard it, since I have listened to the song before -- because there are times when I think this.

**There is an entirely separate rant in here about both the ridiculousness and the sexism implicit in this ludicrous phrase.  Not to mention the other phrase in the song, "grow a pair" -- why would anyone want to who didn't already have them? Testicles are notoriously fragile organs.  Kick me where you suppose my ovaries to be, and it will  hurt; kick a guy in the crotch and you can do real and lasting damage. (I am not the first woman to think this, of course. Betty White is reported to have said "Why do people say 'Grow some balls'? Balls are weak and sensitive! If you really wanna get tough, grow a vagina! Those things take a pounding!")

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Resolution in progress

When I look at my post Eleven for '11, I see many things -- most things -- I have left undone, sadly.  But there is one area where I have had a significant improvement.

One of my resolutions was to write or blog every single day.  I have not done that (early in the year was very spotty) but I have come closer than any year I have had this blog.  Significantly.

In 2006, my first year with this blog, I wrote 123 posts (and average of one post every 3 days.  Blogging was very sparse the next three years, and then in 2010 I picked up the pace, posting 152 times, or an average of one post every 2.5 days.  October 26 is the 299th day of the year.  Thus far, not counting this post, I have made 203 blog posts in 2011, or an average of one post every 1.5 days.

While I admit this is very misleading in some sense -- I often post multiple times in one day and skip others, it is still better by a long shot than other years. (For example, although October has been a very chatty month -- I have 46 blog posts thus far -- only in January, June and July did I post more than a dozen items (33, 31, and 33, respectively).  )

The length and quality of posts varies considerably. Nonetheless, I am working towards a discipline. I am doing other writing* as well, and am trying to make my writing smoother and more controlled.  I am not sure that I am doing at all well with that last part. 

Go me.

*Nope, haven't worked on the book.  Oh, well.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Facts matter on both sides.

If you have a Facebook, and you have friends who are of the liberal/progressive/Democrat persuasion, you may have seen the post that claims "Congressional Republicans have introduced dozens of bills on social issues and other topics, but 'zero on job creation.'"

Politifact rates this not only false, but "Pants On Fire."

Brought to you once again by the Campaign for Factual Accuracy in Political Discourse.  You don't get a pass on telling the truth just because I agree with your general political views.

As promised, a picture.

Few people participated in the poll, but those who did said they wanted to see a picture of the corset.  This is not a good picture of me, although it does show the corset well.

The corset is fun: it makes me feel very Belle Watling-esque.  I'm not sure where I'll wear it, though.

Cut for bandwidth.

The bat out of hell got caught.

In 28 years of driving, I have had three tickets: one for hitting an [illegally] parked car*, and two for rolling stop signs.  I have never gotten a speeding ticket from either Highway Patrol or local cops.

Until tonight.

Coming off a hill heading south into Redding, California, I was tagged doing 86 in a 65 mph zone. Considering I was actually doing ninety higher up, it was a fair cop.

Damn.  That's over $200 down the drain.

On the other hand, 28 years without a speeding ticket is not too shabby.

*My explanation to the judge that my car had slid on gravel, and that had the other car not been illegally parked to begin with I wouldn't have hit it, totally failed to fly.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

I accompanied the Resident Shrink from the Bay Area to Oregon this weekend, so she could attend a memorial service for a friend.  We drove over to the Central Valley and up, rather than the longer, more scenic, coast route.

This time of year in this part of California, the hills are golden brown.  A little rain has fallen, meaning the hills are not quite so dry, but they are not yet the verdant shade of green they get later in the season.

We went through Vacaville.  Vacaville is not the most liberal place in the world; when people talk about how liberal California is, they are not talking about Vacaville (or much of the Central Valley, either). 

Coming into town on I-580, we saw a single word burned into the golden grass on a hillside:


Even in the most unlikely places, you can find harbingers of unrest.

I am in love.

Oregon in the fall is almost inexpressibly beautiful. 

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Facts: where to find them

It can be difficult sometimes to find real, honest-to-goodness facts on the Internet.* Here are a couple of places I like:

First and foremost:, and  These two important sources are decidedly non-partisan, taking on statements from all parts of the political spectrum.  They usually agree, but not always, showing that no matter how thorough you are, factuality is a matter of analysis, and so it is important to read the full report on any statement.

For the more outlandish claims that often circulate in email and on Facebook:, specifically the political pages.  The most recent issue I used Snopes for was the "Congressional Reform Act of 2011."

For number crunching and various other analysis Nate Silver's Five-thirty-eight blog at the New York Times is usually trustworthy.

Are there any places you go to check facts?

*There is a reason teachers tell their students they can't use Wikipedia for research papers.

Open letter to the Occupy people

Dear everyone occupying everywhere (in the US):

Great.  I am all behind you.  I am glad you are taking the initiative to bring important matters to the world's attention. 

There are a couple of other things you could do for me.

One is to...


The next is to...


Depending upon where you live, this may not come into play until next year, but it will matter.  A lot.  And yes, I know there is an argument to be made that voting will not really change anything, but at least we can try.  There is really no other option: as long as the politicians believe we cannot or will not take political action, they will do nothing.  Unless you want armed revolution in the streets, this is the best course of action (while still protesting, of course).

Think about it.

There's your problem.

I went on vacation yesterday.  I stupidly left my prescription meds on the dining room table.  Oops.

The meds cost me $10 with insurance at Walgreen's.
An online pharmacy sells a thirty-day supply of the same meds for $37.
When I called Walgreen's to replace them, they quoted me a "cash price" of over $500 for the same thirty-day supply of meds.  A three-day supply was $59.

What the hell?

I ended up going to Target and getting two days worth of meds for $22.  That is more than half what the online pharmacy charges for a thirty day supply.

I don't know about you, but I see something very wrong with this picture.

Factual accuracy is a good thing; making stuff up isn't.

Remember I had that post about how someone wrote a heart-filled response to that "53%-er" picture going around Facebook?

Butster Blonde at  ran the numbers. Basically, it boils down to: this person is either phenomenally lucky, or, much more likely, lying. [Edited to add: the "53%" is lying, not the guy who responded to him.  Just to make that clear.]

I cannot speak for anyone else, but I am getting so tired of this crap getting traction from people who either lack or refuse to use critical thinking skills.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Peace in Spain. For now.

ETA, the Basque terrorist organization fighting for an independent Basque state, has declared a cease-fire.

This has happened before, though.  I am not holding my breath to see if this one holds.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Pumpkin-Date Bread

Because I think it will be easier to find here than in my LJ, the best pumpkin bread recipe I have ever had*:

3 1/3 c.flour
2 t. baking soda
1/2 t. baking powder
1 1/2 t.salt
1 t. cinnamon
1/2 t. nutmeg
1/2 t. ground cloves
2/3 c. vegetable shortening
2 c. mashed or pureed pumpkin**
2/3 c. milk
4 eggs, slightly beaten
2 2/3 c. sugar
1 c. dates, pitted and chopped ***

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Grease and flour two 9 x 5 x 3 loaf pans (I use disposable aluminum). Combine dry ingredients (the first seven), stir and toss together with a fork or whisk. In a large bowl, combine shortening, pumpkin, eggs, sugar, milk, and dates. Add dry ingredients to wet ingredients, mixing until just blended; there should be no dry flour, but there will be small bits of shortening that will disappear in baking. place in pans, bake for about one hour until a broomstraw comes out clean.

* It probably came from a cookbook,  I just can't remember where or when.

** I bake or roast my own pumpkin -- I prefer white pumpkin because of its sweet, rich flavor.
*** I use whole Medjool dates and chop them myself; the prechopped dates are much drier

It would be easier than throttling them. Messier, though.

My favorite reality show that does not involve either food or traveling is History Channel's Top Shot. I like it most for the attitude of the contestants: they usually vote the weaker performers to face possible elimination, so that the strongest people advance. There seems to be an ethic of "I want to challenge myself against the best shooters" not "I need to game this to make sure I win." With a few exceptions, there is a remarkable degree of good sportsmanship shown.*

For a variety of reasons (bad eyesight, poor peripheral vision, hand tremors, the demonstrated inability to hit the broad side of a barn with anything, etc.) firearms and I are a bad mix.  But damn, a lot of the things they do in this show look fun. (Last night's individual challenge?  Contestants were strapped to a large carnival ride sort of arm and swung in a huge vertical circle while they tried to hit targets 35 feet away with a gun that looked like the equivalent of a sawed-off AK-47. Now, tell me that does not sound like an absolute blast.)

My fascination with the show led to the following conversation:

The Rocket Scientist: Is some of the attraction of this a case of "forbidden fruit"?
Me: No, I think I've just gotten to the point in life where I think there are people I need to take out.**

*That said, I really could go quite a while without hearing the phrase "man up" again, The Book of Mormon notwithstanding.
**Not that I would ever do that, of course.  I am not a violent person.  Besides, I have seen CSI, and there is no way I could successfully hide the bodies.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Singing on the edge of time.

Most men lead lives of quiet desperation and go to the grave with the song still in them.
 Henry David Thoreau.

 It is October.  Correction: October is over halfway gone.

October is usually a very good month.  For some reason this October is different.  The weather has been good, the sky that intense blue it becomes in Northern California between Labor Day and the first serious rain.  We have gotten rain, but not a lot.  

The days are shorter, and for the first time in forever I find this disquieting rather than comforting.  The darkness does not bother me; the increasing sense of the passage of time does.

More and more people are dying from natural causes who are my age, or only a little bit older.  Steve Jobs was the same age as my older sister -- and younger than my eldest sister and my older brother. Yes, he died too young, but still...

When you spend years doing what I have the last two decades of my life, the metaphorical songs you sing are quiet ones: lullabies and campfire ballads, songs to lend strength to legs too wobbly to walk, to help minds exploring new horizons, and comfort hearts learning to heal from breaking.  Songs of love and encouragement, songs of lessons to be learned and fears to be faced, until the time when your voice ceases and those to whom you sing pick up their own song.

I have always encouraged my sons to have their own voices.  I have never been under any illusion that I am anything more than a steward, raising them to be unique and valuable people.  Perhaps as a result, I have three sons who are as different from each other as they are from me.  I am, I think with some justification, proud of this and of them.

But the songs, my songs,are becoming fainter and fainter.  I do not know where new ones will come from, what they will sound like.  I am not alone in this, many other mothers face this every year.  Given the economy, many other women and men are as well:  careers they held for years go away, and they are faced with people telling them they are too old to adapt.*

Had I not made the choices I did, to stay at home rather than continuing to work, I would not be facing this dilemma now.  I know that the circumstances of my family made staying home the best thing for everyone, but I still sometimes wonder "What if?"**

I feel like I am whining.  There are so many people who have it so much worse than I.  There are many families which would, for whatever reason, be better off with a stay at home parent, but where economic necessity forecloses that option.  There are many women who would love to stay home with their kids who can't because they need a job to feed and house themselves and their families.  I was lucky enough to have a husband who is well-employed and where doing the best thing for all of us was a viable alternative.


I am having a hard time finding my new voice.  It scares me that I might end up being one of those people Thoreau wrote about.

* I was in a workshop for "older workers seeking employment."  The teacher said "In [Silicon] Valley, if you are over thirty-five, you belong in this class."

** I have read posts online by women who claim that any woman who does not continue to work after her children is born is irresponsible.  I generally think this is just another volley in the mommy wars, and usually have no truck with it.  Every family's situation is unique to that family (and not, as Tolstoy wrote, merely unhappy ones).  Very occasionally, though, I wonder if they might have a point.

Speak to the hand.

Depending upon who you look at, and what years they give, I'm a Baby Boomer.  I never really felt like a boomer, though, and according to at least one authority I qualify as a Gen-Xer.

In any case, I thought this piece ("Generation X Doesn't Want to Hear It") was sad, true, and very funny.

The comments are well worth reading, too, if for no other reason than seeing the snippy Gen-Yers show up.  Personal favorite: "Do you know where to find some Ecstasy and a reliable babysitter?"

Edited to add: the comments have turned political, predictable, and boring.  Too bad.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Twenty-two years and counting

Before the date changes, I just want to observe that today is the 22d anniversary of the Loma Prieta earthquake

I was a 3L at Stanford.  My first words to the Rocket Scientist when he got home were not "Thank God you're okay!" but "We are moving the hell out of this fucking state." 22 years later, we're still here, even though we did take a year off to live in Northern Virginia.

Quite frankly, I can live quite well without experiencing another of that magnitude, although I know given the way that geology runs around here that's not realistic. I'm just waiting for the Hayward fault to slip any day now.  I sincerely hope it waits until the state gets the seismically upgraded new Bay Bridge completed.

More links.

Mike Huckabee suggests taking steps to prevent people in Ohio from voting.  Already claims are being made that he was "only joking."  Given other efforts to suppress the vote in Ohio (and why the hell is he stumping for a bill in a state that he has no stake in?), I doubt it. Anyway, there are things that are not funny, and this is one of them.

The usually reliable Onion has screwed up: they reported that Americans would pay more under Herman Cain's "9-9-9" tax plan.  The problem? According to Politifact, this is in fact true.  Given that people assume, rightly, that anything coming from The Onion is satire and therefore to be automatically classed as fake, this really could mislead voters.  It seems odd to be chastising an organization for telling the truth, but there it is.

Finally, regarding my post "Stolen valor? or free speech?," the Supreme Court granted cert in United States v. Alvarez.  I will certainly be interested in how they rule on this one.  I have no prediction on what they'll do; I gave up predicting the Court a few years ago.

If it weren't for Wilfred Owen...

...I would have half the traffic that I do now -- or less.  I am once again the top hit for the words "children ardent for desperate glory," i.e., for people searching for Owen's tragic, moving poem "Dulce Et Decorum Est."  Between that and people (probably high school students) looking for "little known heroes" (I'm the number three hit for that phrase), I have enough traffic to fool myself into thinking this is a worthwhile exercise.  Which it is, if only to help people discover Wilfred Owen and Harry Burn.

Brought to you by the campaign for factual accuracy in political discourse

A couple of links I would like to share:

First of all, regarding an email/Facebook post regarding a proposed 28th Amendment: this post is mostly false.  It contains oft-repeated claims about Congress exempting themselves from health-care mandates and sexual harassment laws.  Snopes does its usual thorough job debunking this.

Also, when faced with people who complain that so many people in 2009 did not pay taxes, hand this to them: an analysis of the actual tax burdens people carry.

I am separating these two links out from other posts, because I do not want to muddy the waters with attempts at persuasion.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Trick or treat

I have often thought that Chopped was by far the toughest cooking show on Food Network.  Tougher than Food Network Challenge.  Tougher than Iron Chef America. The episode I am watching tonight simply reinforces that opinion. And we're just through the appetizer round.

The mystery ingredients? Poblano peppers, black radish, fruit candies ... and chicken feet.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Stolen valor? or free speech?

There are a number of petitions before the Court that look to be quite interesting this term.  There is a takings case from the 9th Circuit, and some Establishment Clause cases, and a couple of cases involving who can be sued for torture.  Normally, that last one would have commanded my attention the most, but the case I  most hope the Court grants cert for is United States v. Alvarez, concerning the constitutionality of the Stolen Valor Act, which makes it a crime to misrepresent that you have been awarded military medals.  The issue before the Court is whether the act infringes upon free speech.

I am normally a free speech zealot (see my reaction to the Westboro Baptist case).  But this time, I just  don't know...

Perhaps it is because next month it will have been fifteen years since my dad died.  Dad was one of the few, the proud... He was a Marine, and in many ways it defined his life. He served in the Pacific during World War II, and in China after the war, where he was tortured by having his teeth pulled out. In later years he clearly suffered from what would today be diagnosed as PTSD.

He took his oath seriously, even after he was no longer in active service.  One of my clear memories of the 80s was watching the Iran-Contra hearings with Dad: when Ollie North stated that his duty was to follow his commander-in-chief, Dad yelled at the television: "No, it's NOT! It is to uphold and defend the Constitution of the United States!" He went on to call North a disgrace to the uniform.  For a mostly conservative Republican (which did not mean then what it means now), that was significant.

Three years before he died, he and my uncle, a career Marine who had served from the Pacific Theater to Korea through to Vietnam, got into a dispute about a battle in the Pacific.  I don't remember which battle, now, nor does it matter much.  What matters is that my uncle insisted heatedly that Dad could not have been there, and Dad even more heatedly insisted he was.  What I remember was that the island in question was the scene of fighting for some time, so I suppose it would have been possible for Dad not to have been in the first wave but have been there subsequently. Dad died never having been reconciled to his brother and a couple of my siblings were all for banning my uncle from the funeral, until Mom stepped in and put a stop to that nonsense.

Dad abhorred lying.  "Liar" was one of the worst things you could call someone, and you damn well better have proof of knowledge of the untruth and active intent to deceive.  My siblings and I had that drilled into us.  There is a strong difference between "You're mistaken," or even "You're wrong," and "You're lying," and he made sure we understood it. For his own brother to call him a liar was simply unacceptable.  But it went further than that.  He was being accused of lying about one of the most important -- and horrific -- experiences of his life.

Dad did not really talk about the horrors; most of the war stories he told were of amusing things that happened between battles. One he told me, however, left me stunned.

He was nineteen.  He had landed with his comrades on an island, where they were being cut down by withering fire coming from up in the hills.  Night fell, and he waited for the dawn, to die.  He said that it was not even a matter of simply thinking he might die.  He was sure he was dead.  He spent the night repeating the 121st Psalm, looking up into the hills. (This was the Psalm that we read at his wake, at his request.)  As it turned out, the Japanese had had something happen (I don't remember what) which left them in some disarray the next morning.  Dad survived.

When I was nineteen, I was trying to figure out if I really wanted to date the geeky kid from MIT, and whether history would make a good major.  I was not sitting on a hunk of rock thousands of miles away from my home and loved ones, waiting to be shot to death.  The enormity of it seemed beyond my comprehension.

That is, until Steven Spielberg made Saving Private Ryan.  I made myself watch it, even though I don't handle violence in movies well: I figured it would help me understand a little of what Dad went through. (I avoided Terrence Malick's Thin Red Line, which supposedly did for the Pacific what Saving Private Ryan did for the European theatre.  I just couldn't handle it.) The first twenty minutes made it crystal clear all of a sudden why the argument between my dad and his brother was so important, to both sides.

For someone to go through what soldiers experienced in battle, and come out the other side, would mean to be changed forever.  To have that experience, that horror, negated would be beyond infuriating.  Similarly, to have seen such death and destruction, or to have known those who did, would make one very protective of those who survived and the memories of those who died.  For someone to falsely claim kinship in that fraternity would be almost sacrilegious.

So, I don't know.  I think the Stolen Valor Act is fine: that to falsely claim equivalence with those who put their lives on the line, and especially those who acted with such valor as to be recognized for it, is akin to fraud.  Fraud on all of us who, whatever our views towards the particular wars in which they are sent to fight, have a deep and abiding respect for our men and women in uniform.

I think Dad would agree with me.


It's Saturday night, and I am sitting in a Starbucks, with a bunch of what appear to be college students (it's the SB closest to Stanford on El Camino, for those keeping score).  The Rocket Scientist had another obligation this evening, and I decided to leave the house before I committed actual violence on my sons. (I am trying to refer to them as something other than children: at nearly 21, 17 and 15, they are emphatically not children any more, no matter how they might act sometimes.)

This blogging every day business might be harder than it looks.  After a couple of actual substantive posts, I feel I have nothing really to say.  I have you guys for company, but that is a little like talking to my imaginary friends.  I know you're there, I just can't see you.  (Not to say that you guys are imaginary... oh, hell.  You are intelligent people, you can understand the simile.) Not to mention that some of you won't read this until tomorrow, or the day after, or next week.

It is not that there are not a lot of things out in the world to comment on: Occupy Wall Street keeps on keeping on.  Today, cops arrested people who were trying to close their accounts at Citibank.  That's one way to keep customers.  Arrest them.  So much for the "free market" and "voting with your feet."

The fact that both Citibank and Bank of America have been so desperate to prevent people from taking their money elsewhere -- say to a local bank or credit union -- supports what the protesters have been yelling about.  People are not citizens, or even customers.  They're cattle to be milked.

I am trying to figure out why every SB I have been in is so freaking cold. Maybe it is to create an incentive for people to buy more hot drinks.

I have gotten some good feedback for my "Silence = Death" post, for which I am grateful.  It was one of the hardest posts I've ever written, but it felt important.

I am not following the baseball playoffs any more.  After the Rays were eliminated, I kept paying attention only to see if the Yankees advanced.  Thank you, Detroit!

This morning I worked at a walk-a-thon for a nonprofit I volunteer at, which specializes in grief and bereavement counseling.  I wasn't able to walk (see previous post, "Venting," about my FMS, which has abated a little but which still makes walking more than about 100 feet difficult and painful) but I did oversee the volunteers running registration. It is important work, and I am glad I can support it.

Be careful what you wish for:  I expressed a longing a couple of weeks back for a corset.  I am now the owner of a blue and black brocade corset with a Victorian sweetheart neckline.  (It was a gift.) I have been told that I look great in it, but am not sure if a) it is clothing or lingerie and b) if the former, exactly where I would wear it. I have pictures, but in keeping with other people's sensibilities, not to mention my own sheepishness, I am not going to post them here.

Oddly enough, now that I am writing, I am finding it a little hard to stop.  Rambling on seems much  more interesting that checking FaceBook or LiveJournal.

Maybe I'll go check out SCOTUSblog and see what's coming up.  I'm sure you'll hear from me later.  If not, I hope you have a more exciting evening than I am having.

Friday, October 14, 2011

What about a *woman's* right to live?

Every so often the House of Representatives does something which takes my breath away.  And not in a good way, either.

Yesterday, the House passed H.R. 358, the so-called "Protect Life Act." You think H.R. 3, the bill that would redefine rape for the purposes of insurance coverage of abortion, was atrocious?  This is worse.  Much worse.

Under this bill, women could die.

Currently, the Emergency Medical Treatment and Labor Act (EMTLA) requires hospitals to provide life-saving care and to stabilize patients who come through the doors of their E.R. If they cannot, they are to facilitate a transfer to another hospital.  This was originally designed so that people would not be allowed to die simply because they had no insurance or the means to pay for treatment.

H.R. 358 would exempt abortions from those requirements.  If a woman came into an ER needing an abortion to save her life, and the ER were attached to, say, a Roman Catholic hospital who refused as a matter of principle to either perform an abortion or transfer the woman, she could die.  They could legally watch her die.

Pregnancy is a hazardous business.  Sometimes an abortion is required so a woman will live.  This Daily Kos diarist describes one such scenario; and a ruptured placenta previa would be another, as would severe preeclampsia.

These bastards do not seem to care.  How they can reconcile "protecting life" when what they are doing may well cost it, is completely beyond my comprehension. It is not as though the fetus will come to term if the mother dies, is it?

Oh, I forgot.  Fetuses are more important than grown women. Silly me.
Remember my post about Occupy Wall Street?  There has been pushback, of course.  A lot of it from very hardworking Americans, who point out "I'm making it, I don't see why other people aren't."  There is a lot of blaming of poor people going around.

One of these has been popping up various places, from a guy who calls himself a "53 per center."  He draws on his own experiences to castigate those who are not making it, telling them to "suck it up" and calling them "whiners."

Here is a wonderful answer to him, which says what so many of us feel about America today.

Silence = Death.

I should have published this on Tuesday.* 

My nickname is gender-neutral.  The name that the Rocket Scientist goes by with his friends is gender-neutral.  The license plate on Vincent, the black Mustang, has both those names joined by "N". It could be the license plate of a couple composed of two men, two women, or one of each. We also have a prominent "NO on 8" bumper sticker.

I live in Northern California.  Of anywhere in the country, I would think that this area has the lowest level of homophobic bigots looking to inflict violence.  Small numbers or not, they're still here.

All the vandalism started around the time the Proposition 8 fight hit high gear a couple of years ago and has continued.  The tires of the Mustang have been slashed at least twice.  (Not only while it was sitting in front of our house, either.) The tires on another of our cars have also been slashed.  Acid has been poured on Vincent's bumper.  The car has been keyed twice.  As far as I knew, nothing had occurred while anyone was around to see it happening...

Until Wednesday.

Wednesday, I found out that The Rocket Scientist had been confronted with the homophobia that exists even here. He was driving around town a couple of weeks ago, and pulled up to a light.  Two people in the car next to him screamed "Faggot!!!" and tried to spit into his window. RS laughed at them and drove off. Fortunately, they were only armed with words and spit, not rocks or guns.

We have no intention of either changing license plates or removing the sticker.

I'm lucky. Because of my life circumstances, I am spared a lot of crap that other LGBT people deal with on a regular basis.  When you are a bisexual woman with kids, married to a member of the opposite sex, the default assumption is that you're straight. So, yes, for a long time I have been coasting along on heteronormative privilege, telling myself and others that my orientation was only the business of the people I had sex with.  I still believe that to be true, for each and every one of us...

... in an ideal world.

We don't live in an ideal world.  And it is not enough anymore simply to indicate I stand in solidarity with those seeking human rights for all.  As though I were simply a dedicated but removed bystander. As though it were not my skin on the line as well as so many of my friends.  Silence is complicity.  Just because I am married to a man does not mean that I always will be.  Just because I live in an area where I am relatively safe (although, as mentioned above, not nearly as safe as I would have thought) does not mean I always will.

Silence = death. 

I choose life.

*October 11 is National Coming Out Day.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

My life did not flash before my eyes. I was too busy closing them.

In my post "One is a wanderer," I mentioned New Zealand.

Don't get me wrong, anything in this post notwithstanding, I love New Zealand.  It is the most beautiful country on the face of the earth.  My sole reason for seeing The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring was because it was shot there.* (I figured they would butcher the books completely.  Imagine my surprise when they didn't.)

The backroads of New Zealand are usually two-lane, although very well paved.  Passing on them is certainly possible, provided one can find a straight stretch without a blind curve. Unless one is a New Zealander, in which case you pass anyway, blind curve be damned.  in 1991, The Rocket Scientist and I were tooling along through the North Island, and we were constantly amazed by the people zooming past us around curves that would give us the willies. And as we were driving, we ended up behind a sheep truck going far slower than we either wanted or needed to be going.

One sheep is a smelly creature.  A entire truckload of them is horrific. For those Californians who have traversed I-5 past the cattle pens, a truck full of sheep is worse.

We kept hitting short stretches of road followed by blind curves.  After about forty minutes of the choking smell (even the air conditioning could not make it bearable) we decided that, at the next straight spell, regardless of a blind curve at the end or not, we had to pass.  We had not seen any traffic in quite a while, so we thought "What's the harm?"

We got to a straight stretch.  I pulled out to pass, at which point a semi-truck hauling God knows what appeared at the edge of the curve.  It's a doable pass, but just.  I sped up.

So did the sheep truck.  Damn.  Okay, he's going to play that game. I slowed.

He did, too.  He would not let me pass, nor would he let me drop back behind him.  On one side of the road is a steep hill, with no shoulder.  On the other side, a steep drop, again with no shoulder. Our choices seemed to be meeting the grim reaper smashed into a bloody pulp on the grille of a truck, or rolling over the edge, again with very nasty results.

I could actually see the panicked face of the oncoming trucker.  He was trying to slow, but a full truck has a lot of inertia.  "We're going to die we're going to die we're going to die..." was all I could think.  I was not even swearing: I was too terrified.

Finally, I closed my eyes (I am not joking about that), floored the accelerator, and eyes still closed managed to swerve back into my lane.  I somehow did not overcorrect, either.  This is not a merely minor miracle.

Because my eyes were closed, I did not see how close we came to disaster.  The Rocket Scientist, a brave man willing to face death head-on, was staring in horrified fascination, and did.  According to his usually quite accurate estimation, we cleared both the sheep truck and the semi by six feet, at sixty miles an hour.

I kept accelerating (after opening my eyes, of course).  The psychopathic sheep truck driver, his attempt at vehicular homicide thwarted, dropped back to his former pace.  I was shaking so badly I could hardly steer, but the Rocket Scientist would not let me stop and change places.  "If we stop," he said, "we'll be back behind the sheep truck." So we drove on in complete and stunned silence, for probably forty-five minutes, when we figured that we were far enough ahead that we could stop for the two minutes needed to change drivers.

I have often wondered if I should take this as a sign: that either I or my children (two of whom had not yet been born at that point) are destined for greatness.  I don't think so, really, but damn, it does make me shake every time I think of it.

Life is a great thing, most of the time.  It should be appreciated on its own terms, regardless of where it takes you or how much you accomplish.  We can't all be Steve Jobs.

And you never know when you might run into a sheep truck driver with mayhem on his mind.

*When the Not-So-Little-Drummer Boy and I first watched the movie on DVD, I kept saying "It's not CGI.  There really are places that beautiful in New Zealand." When the Fellowship reached the Gates of Moria, and the monster appeared from the lake, the NSLDB turned to me and said, "Yes, I know, Mom.  There really are monsters like that in New Zealand."  God, I love that boy.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Oh, my.

I have gotten around to listening to the soundtrack to The Book Of Mormon, which I bought some time ago but which had been having trouble downloading from my Amazon Cloud account to my laptop.

One warning: if you are given to laughing out loud at hysterical material, maybe playing it in public is not such a good idea.  I have already been glared at by the woman across the table in the library.

One is a wanderer.

The good news out here on the highway
Is that everything in life is a suggestion
But the bad news lonely on the highway
Is each question just begs another question*
Robbie Schaefer, "Number Six Driver"

I've paid my dues because I have owed them
But I've paid a price sometimes
For being such a stubborn woman
In such stubborn times
I have run from the arms of lovers
I have run from the eyes of friends
I have from the hands of kindness
I have run.... just because I can
Mary Chapin Carpenter, "The Moon and St. Christopher"

The years roll on by 
and just like the sky
the road never ends
And the people who love me still ask me
When are you coming back to town
And I answer, quite frankly
when they stop building roads
and all God needs is gravity to hold me down
Alison Krauss, "Gravity"

As I look over my music collection, I have a lot of songs which have roaming as a theme.  It's not any accident.  I am by nature a restless soul.  Every so often I get the urge to simply leave, and go somewhere else.  Part of it is escapism.  And stress.  But the rest of it...

I moved across country three times. I moved from Florida to Massachusetts to Florida to Georgia to California to Virginia to California again (sadly).  I moved while pregnant with each of my children, albeit two of the times only across town. (The Rocket Scientist used to claim that I timed my pregnancies so as to avoid packing, since I was usually too busy being sick as a dog to do much.  I've never been quite sure if he was joking or not.) Not to mention various moves within locales.  Aside from moving, I have also driven across country and back, as well as up and down the East Coast and from Georgia to Florida and Mississippi numerous times. On one family vacation, I helped drive from Minneapolis to Atlanta by way of Topeka, St. Louis, Chicago, Washington D.C. and Raleigh, North Carolina.  I have driven in almost all of the states of the union, in Canada, Mexico, Spain, France, Belgium, Germany, The Netherlands and the United Kingdom.  I have driven in Australia and New Zealand.

I sometimes drive Big Sur for the sheer joy of it.  Even aside from economics, there are reasons family vacations almost always involve driving rather than flying. (And I am not -- nor is anyone in my family -- afraid of flying.) Some people find relief in a bottle: I find mine on an accelerator pedal.**

As crazy as some of that some of that driving has been, I have for the most part loved it.  (I am a good driver, and a cranky passenger.) It has given me stories that become part of who I am.  (Remind me to tell you sometime about my dice with death involving a sheep truck, a blind curve and an oncoming semi in New Zealand.  Or how Spanish drivers are crazier than Parisian drivers.)

Part of the fabric of my life for very many years now is that I cannot roam. I am tied, in ways that I take on with some measure of acceptance, even if grace is sometimes well beyond me.  (That I have lived uninterruptedly in California for 18 years, and in the same house for eleven,  drives me absolutely nuts.) Leaving would mean leaving the Rocket Scientist, who is tied here by love and career, and the kids.

I look towards the horizon with longing, even as I understand fully how much any effort on my part to leave would burden people I love.  Intellectually, I understand that wherever I go would be fraught with many of the same issues I face now, but it would be somewhere new, with new challenges.  And as the kids grow older, and less in need of me, the road calls even more insistently. In three years, the Red-Headed Menace will be out of the house and into college. And then...

I don't know what I'll do.

So don't ask where I'm going
Just listen when I'm gone
And far away you'll hear me
Singing softly to the dawn
Steven Schwartz, "Corner of the Sky" from Pippin

*I love this song -- and this lyric -- in spite of how grating I find the misuse of the term "begs the question" to be.
**And I know how environmentally horrible this is.  How I know.  Isn't the definition of addiction when you do things you know to be bad, and you do them anyway?

Writing. Some more.

I am waffling on whether or not to use November's National Novel Writing Month as a springboard for creating a disciplined period for my own nonfiction writing.  I know from past experience that 50K is a lot for me -- not in terms of words, but in terms of plot.  I just do not have the attention span to handle developing the coherence needed. I used to say that my previous foray into NaNoWriMo ended up with me simply proving that I could type 50,000 words in one month.

Remember Up? Remember Doug?  Yes.  Just like tha-- Squirrel!!!*

But... there are a couple of projects I have started/have been thinking of starting.  One is my long-delayed (I started working on the thing in 2005) trivia book.  (I know, it seems like a very long time, but there have been significant periods where I did no work on it whatsoever.)  As I am rather picky about what I think people might find interesting, it is not simply a matter of scanning the Encyclopedia Britannica for random pieces of information. It takes a lot longer to write than one might think, if for no other reason than the time it takes to research.

The other is a memoir of the past twelve years of my life.  I know it is self-indulgent, but I think I have some things going for me that might make it an interesting read, FSV of interesting.  Much of what I would write about I have not written about here.** I probably will opt out of this one, though, as I do want my family and friends to keep talking to me.

So, we'll see.

In any case, I have signed up for NaBloPoMo: National Blog Posting Month.  A much lighter commitment than NaNoWriMo, participants merely sign on to post every day to their blogs. There is no word limit.  Although you can start at any time -- as long as you post thirty days in succession -- I plan to officially start in November.

Oh, boy! You get to read even more of my ravings! Aren't you happy?

*We are having one of my children assessed for ADD, and the psychologist started listing behaviors common to people with the disorder, and I kept finding myself saying, "Yep, do that.  Yep, do that."  The most surprising one for me (because I had never thought of it as anything but normal) is the need to have at least some ambient noise (usually music, but often television) in the background to be able to concentrate.  It drives the Rocket Scientist up the wall.  We have the fan running all the time in our room, no matter how cold it gets,  because I have trouble falling and staying asleep in an entirely silent room.

** Of course, if I am completely honest with myself, I want to write this solely so I can write a chapter called "The Cherry Red Convertible."  It's not actually about cars at all, but I do love the title.

But... what implications does this have for the Apocalypse?

As I said, I don't read intellectual property cases on SCOTUSblog.

Yet this morning, I struggled through an entire post on Golan v Holder, a case involving both copyright and international law, areas in which I have next to no knowledge.  It was slow going, and I still think I don't understand all the nuances completely.  There are times I think I have lost my brain.

What would entice me to do such a thing?  The post's title: "Argument Recap: the Constitutionality of Zombie Copyrights."

Who can resist something like that?

Monday, October 10, 2011

Holy moly.

A virus has infected the computers used to pilot the U.S. Air Force's drones.

Wow.  That's scary. 

I found this paragraph to be the most disturbing, in a "WTF?!?!" sort of way:

But despite their widespread use, the drone systems are known to have security flaws. Many Reapers and Predators don’t encrypt the video they transmit to American troops on the ground. [emphasis mine] In the summer of 2009, U.S. forces discovered “days and days and hours and hours” of the drone footage on the laptops of Iraqi insurgents. A $26 piece of software allowed the militants to capture the video.

The information from military aircraft on top secret missions was not being encrypted?  I'm just speechless.  Yes, I know that hindsight is 20/20, but how could anyone reasonably miss the importance of encryption here?

Friday, October 07, 2011

Poor Jimi.

I generally read on at least an occasional basis, concentrating on death penalty, juvenile justice and sometimes environmental cases from the Ninth and Eleventh Circuits. (I have at least three death penalty cases -- even aside from the Troy Davis and Charles Willingham cases -- which I really need to write posts on, stretching back through last term.) I rarely read intellectual property cases, or at least not in any detail.  Today, though, while scrolling through the LiveJournal SCOTUSblog feed, I happened upon their coverage of oral argument in Golan v. Holder, a case over whether Congress can extend copyright protections to works previously in the public domain.

The post included the following:

The Chief Justice, famously fond of invoking (once-)popular music citations in his questions and opinions, proffered a hypothetical designed to acutely dramatize his First Amendment concerns:
What about Jimi Hendrix . . . ?  He has a distinctive rendition of the national anthem [NOTE: I assume the Chief was referring to this iconic version], and . . . assuming the national anthem is suddenly entitled to copyright protection that it wasn’t before, he can’t do that, right?
SOLICITOR GENERAL VERRILLI: What copyright does, by definition, is provide exclusive rights in expression; and so if the First Amendment is triggered whenever copyright provides exclusive rights in expression that it didn’t used to provide, then heightened scrutiny will apply any time Congress exercises its copyright power, and what the Court said in Eldred.
CHIEF JUSTICE ROBERTS: So [Hendrix] is just out of luck?
One response to this is, of course, to lament that Jimi Hendrix has, alas, been out of luck — and unable to perform the Star Spangled Banner — for quite some time.

I read this sitting in Starbucks and began laughing, loudly.  At the startled looks from the other patrons, I managed to stifle my giggles, albeit with tears leaking from my eyes with the effort.

I guess you just had to be there.

[Edited to add:  yes, I agree I need to add the citation, especially given that an author was listed:  Marty Lederman, Francis Scott Key* v. James Marshall Hendrix?, SCOTUSblog (Oct. 5, 2011, 8:51 PM),]

Thursday, October 06, 2011


I had requests to put the post I wrote about FMS back up.  I thought about taking down the post announcing I was taking the post down, then decided not to bother.

Thank you, Mr. Jobs.

It is the day for Steve Jobs stories, and I have mine.

Years ago, 2002 or 2003 I think it was, I was organizing the VIP Readers Day for the school my kids went to.  I had done it for two years, and had a cadre of local officials (the mayor, the city council, school board and California Assembly members, writers for the local paper, people in the community I knew were good readers and enjoyed the kids) that I called on.  When necessary, I called on friends and parents of students in interesting professions. With the help of other volunteers, I also purchased books and planned the reception for readers. It was a time-consuming task that took up my life from January to May.

I had told the principal the previous year that I would not do it again.  Oddly enough, at the first PTA meeting of the year, I discovered that I was once again responsible for the program.  I went home, tore my hair out a bit, and kept my mouth shut.

Sometime in February, as I slogged through the round of emails begging for readers, my principal collared me one day after school.  "Hey, I just heard a rumor that Steve Jobs went to school here. Maybe you could ask him?"  Yeah, right.  I figured that a) every elementary school in the area probably had a rumor floating around that someone like Jobs had gone there, and b) like he was really going to take time out of his busy schedule to read to a bunch of elementary school kids.  So I shelved the idea.

My principal wouldn't give up.  So, I sent an email to "" politely identifying myself and the school, and asking if he would come read.  I expected nothing, or a polite email from some assistant stating that Mr. Jobs received so many requests to speak, he couldn't fulfill all of them, and the best of luck, etc.

I received an email from an assistant, alright.  An email that said he would be more than happy to read for VIP Reading Day. (I kept that particular set of emails for what must have been five years, when they got lost in a computer crash.)  It turned out that yes, he had gone to the school for two years, and had very fond memories of the place.

I suggested that he read to a sixth grade class, since they would have the best idea who he was.  No, he wanted to read to a fourth grade class, since that was the last year he had been there and he had particularly liked it.  I have to admit I played favorites: I assigned him to the fourth grade teacher I liked the best.

That Reading Day was crazy.  But I still remember meeting Steve, and his assistant (who was completely charming).  I can remember how I was barely able to stammer out how much I had enjoyed working with his assistant and how delighted I was to have him there.  I blathered a bit, to tell you the truth.  I can still remember my first thought, which was "Wow, he's a lot taller than I thought." He smiled, shook my hand, and went on to the class where he was reading.  He didn't stay for the reception, but then I didn't really expect him to; I was just happy he had been able to help us at all.

This was a man who remembered where he came from.  A man who graciously took time out to read to a bunch of fourth graders, many of whom probably had little idea who he was, without fanfare or publicity.

I had been a supporter of Apple for years (my family has always and will always be Mac devotees), but had never thought much about Jobs himself.  That changed that day; I became a Steve Jobs fan.

This man changed the world for everyone, and was still willing to help a small group of children understand the beauty of the written word.  To help change their world, in a small and concrete way.

May he rest in peace.

Class Warfare?

It only becomes class warfare when we fight back.
Seen all over Facebook.

Occupy Wall Street is spreading.

It is spreading to cities as far apart as Detroit, Seattle, and Los Angeles.  Minneapolis.  Chicago.  Hilo.  That would be Hilo, Hawaii, as far away from Wall Street as you can get in these 50 states.

You have heard of Occupy Wall Street, haven't you? Not everyone has, it seems.  On September 24, one week after the protests started, The New York Times ran an opinion piece by Michael Kazin, which discussed how disorganized and unfocused the left was as a historical artifact.  Kazin did pause long enough in his scholarly look at the rise of political movements to ask "Why the relative silence from the left?"

The left is not silent.  We are screaming in blogs and alternative news sources, mainly because the traditional ones are not doing an adequate job covering us.  (God bless Rachel Maddow and Keith Olbermann, even though he has now been banished from MSNBC to the backwaters of the cable channel Current.) To ask why we are silent is akin to asking black artists in the early days of MTV why they are not being aired:  because the decision as to who gets the best soapbox rests in someone's else hands.

So, Mr. Kazin, still think we're silent?

In the 1980s, Jerry Falwell spearheaded a movement called "the Silent Majority." It turned out in the minds of many of us to be neither.  I do not know if the protesters represent a majority of Americans, yet. They certainly speak for many of us who decry the way programs for the poor are under attack and tax breaks for corporations are being defended, even as the disparity between the richest 1% and the rest of the populace continues to grow, where the tax rates on the wealthiest Americans are one third of those under Ronald Regan, and half those of 1945? When worker compensation since the 1970s has stagnated, while CEO compensation has skyrocketed? 

Interestingly enough, some Tea Partiers have joined the protest.  Politics does indeed make strange bedfellows. This demonstrates what some of us have believed all along: that the mass of Tea Party followers fall into the groups most affected by the income disparity, that many of them are among those struggling to get by.

But, now, finally, the people hurt by the current system are making their voices heard.  They are asking to be treated by the government and corporate America as though their lives were worth a damn beyond consuming whatever we are offered, be it goods or unregulated mortgage-backed securities.

I hope the objects of their ire are listening.

When some people in the the 99% call for tax increases for millionaires and corporations, or question bonuses and bailouts, we stand accused of "inciting class warfare."  Bring it on: those who defend the status quo started it first.

Sometimes, the jokes write themselves.

In a totally foreseeable move, the Westboro Baptist Church will be picketing Steve Jobs's funeral.

They announced this over Twitter ... using an iPhone.
I took down yesterday's post because it was, well, whiny.  Yes, I can whine with the best of them, but I prefer not to do it in public where it can annoy others.

Of course, the Internet is forever, so it can still be seen on Google Reader, and the LiveJournal feed and...

Wednesday, October 05, 2011


Please feel free to ignore this post: I am merely venting, and what good is venting unless you vent to someone?

I have "invisible" disabilities.  One of them is fibromyalgia syndrome (FMS). Fibromyalgia was believed by many doctors to not even exist until 2008, when a French researcher discovered differences in blood flows to parts of the brain in FMS patients. As I understand it, FMS sufferers have neurons which feel pain more acutely.

Many days, indeed most days,  I appear as able-bodied as the next person.  Other days, like today, are difficult.  Because I do not carry a cane, or use a wheelchair or a scooter, I sometimes get glares from people who see me pull into the blue handicapped spaces.  I wish they could understand...

There are days, like today, when it hurts to walk.
There are days, like today, when it hurts to sit.
There are days, like today, when it hurts to move.
There are days, like today, when it hurts to freaking breathe.

I wish they could understand that this can hit anytime: I can feel all right in the morning (as I did today), get in the car, and by the time that I have reached my destination, every muscle in my body has seized up. I have had times when I walk into a grocery store and by the time I leave I can barely lift my feet.

I get really tired of having to ask people to slow down when they walk with me.  I get really tired of avoiding places -- such as the Starbucks I was planning on going to, rather than the one I ended up at -- because I cannot find parking close enough to be manageable.  I get really tired of being treated as though it was my weight which causes my pain (how can weight cause excruciating pain in my elbows?).

I can work.  Working helps keep my occupied.  I had a flare this bad last summer, when I was employed by the Census, and I kept on working.  When I do not work, the temptation to go to bed can be overwhelming.  I am sitting in a Starbucks, not at home, because it is a distraction:  far better to write or otherwise get computer work done than to give into the pain.

Being unemployed is a problem: I have to think through the pain enough to give myself tasks.  It is much easier to concentrate on tasks someone else sets.  I am a very good employee, even when flaring: I do work, and do good work, no matter my level of pain.  I take pride in that.

Vicodin only works some of the time, and because it contains acetaminophen, I am limited in the amount I can take.  I am supposed to limit my intake of NSAIDS to prevent ulcers. I suppose I could ask my doctor for Oxycontin, but I am not going to try another opiate when the one I've been using has ceased to work.  Yes, I am scared of addiction.  I cannot take Lyrica, or other fibromyalgia drugs, for medical reasons.

I do not want pity.  I do not want to be treated as I were somehow heroic for dealing with this crap.  I'm no hero, just a woman putting one foot in front of another. There are a lot of people who deal with occasionally severe chronic pain of one sort or another: I'm just one more.  Not to mention other disabilities which have a far greater impact on quality of life.

I just hate this disease, that's all.

Thanks for listening.
Against a perfect moment, the centuries beat in vain.
Terry Pratchett, from Thief of Time

This morning, as I was driving the Red-Headed Menace and Railfan to school, we were all singing along to Billy Joel's "You May Be Right."  The clouds were beginning to clear, and there was a rainbow stretching in a full arc across the sky, with the hint of a twin underneath.

A perfect moment.

Tuesday, October 04, 2011

So that's what he does up north...

I have often mentioned the Rocket Scientist's field seasons. His tongue-and-cheek response about his work, when asked, is "I break things for a living."  Such as drills.

Monday, October 03, 2011

My new goal.

I was looking at this post again.  Steven C. Holtzman powerfully said in four five words that which took me twenty later on in the post. It strikes me how much harder I find it to write a strong four word sentence, as opposed to an eight, twelve, or twenty word sentence. I definitely need to tighten up my style and make it more concise.

Time to reread Strunk & White, methinks.

Edited to add: not only can I not write a concise sentence, I can't count: the quote I used was five words long, not four.