Victory means exit strategy, and it's important for the President to explain to us what the exit strategy is.    The Honorable Governor of Texas, George W. Bush

I hate quotations. Tell me what you know.    Ralph Waldo Emerson

Tuesday, April 26, 2005

When The Right Turn is What's Left

After all the Support our Troops ribbons have been bought up; after all the coffee klatches filled with political debate have ended; after the day’s hammering of we say/they say has been endured; after all the rhetoric; it’s time to come home to one’s own reality.

I have a customer, let’s call him Jose Rodriguez. Jose might once been Mexican, Cuban or Philippine for all I know—now he is all American. He’s damn proud of his success in this country, so proud that he’s moved into a place called “Liberty Trails”. On the left is a map of his neighborhood, or at least as much of it that Goggle Maps has so far. There are more streets, and none of them is named Kennedy or Roosevelt, if you get my drift. I’m actually impressed that someone knew that a Whig like Tyler was the same thing as a Republican. My guy has his bit of the housing bubble plunked down on Hoover.

That would scare me.

Jose and his lovely wife have a couple of raggedy-ass little pooches and called us to give them an estimate for a fence. We talked over the options and about a year later the decision was made to go with low maintenance elegance. Spending a little extra Yankee dollar, the R’s ordered an ornamental aluminum fence, kind of like wrought iron but of a more modern, clean design.

Excellent choice. The order went in and the proper authorities were applied to, put it on the board.

Today Jose Rodriguez isn’t so happy. It turns out that the premium, durable and maintenance free option of aluminum fence is not allowed in his neighborhood. Fences must be cedar to maintain the hometown pseudo-colonial motif of this little Yankee Doodle Dandy enclave. Ornamental fences are for Italians and such and you know what communists they all are!

Turns out life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness is a little more complicated than you might have thought, Jose. We must consider the property values, you see. We may talk a fine game about too much government but when it comes down to your money and my money—even on the corner of Reagan Boulevard and Hoover Trail—a little socialism can be just the ticket.

Sunday, April 24, 2005

Look Familiar?

Stopped on my way home and took this shot in Silver Lake, Wisconsin, previously the home town of nothing more horrific than my two nieces.

Or Does Someone Have the Dessert Cart Ahead of the Eating Like a Horse?

Timing is everything, they say, though this was certainly truer in the days before electronic ignition, when starting one’s 1972 Plymouth Fury II was an art form. I have an uncanny ability to have all the right moves at precisely the minimum of separation from the right time to render them essentially ineffective.

I was in there for the .com day-trading extravaganza. In three short weeks I was up 150%, and then the fun was over. Had I been on to this phenomenon 12 months earlier, who knows?

At one point I decided I needed to find a way to work out of my home, as well as have a good semi-retirement option. I liked PC’s, so I decided I would get some training, work at a job long enough to get my feet wet, and then go into consulting. Good plan. The curve of my training managed to exactly mirror the decline in employment for English speaking IT support people and, upon the arrival of my MCSE certification such hiring leveled off at something like zero. On the bright side, I don’t have any spyware issues.

My latest bit has to do with the Excel Diet I started in January. For six weeks I dutifully kept stats of my caloric intake and exercise routines until I developed a reasonably maintainable diet of 1700 to 1800 calories coupled with about 450 calories of exercise daily, and there was some success. On January 12th I weighed 247 lbs. This morning I weighed in at 218.

Not too shabby, but still a ways to go to reach my target of 195 lbs., a pretty lean figure for a 6’ 1” tall former tradesman with a well above average muscle mass. It occurred to me some time last week that around 220lbs. was probably my happy weight, but I’m determined to push on.

And so, like clockwork, comes a report from the AMA that somewhat overweight people live longer than thin people. The response is cacophonous, as one would expect. Pundits far and wide have pulled their I-told-you-so buttons and pinned them back to their 44 short jackets. I imagine the drive-thru line for those 3 million calorie Burger King breakfast beauties got a little longer as chubby little momma’s boy wags like Rush and Hannity go on about the skinny little Starbucks fueled elitists’ conspiracy against the good old sausage, gravy and grits wholesomeness of mainstream (aortal?) America.

But hold on, there. Reaction is usually a level one process, and any second level thinking (there’s that old IT training paying off again) will likely give one pause. Pundits are fully aware of the old saw that statistics lie and liars quote statistics, yet even a David Brooks can’t resist jumping on this bandwagon;

…then it seems that Mother Nature has built a little Laffer curve into the fabric of reality: health-conscious people can hit a point of negative returns, so the more fit they are, the quicker they kick the bucket. People who work out, eat responsibly and deserve to live are more likely to be culled by the Thin Reaper.
I don’t find much about the controls for this study readily available, but I’m going to make a few guesses here:

· people die skinny a lot
· happier people live longer
· happier people eat more
· people who can eat are happier
· nervous and/or stressed people burn more calories and die younger, though these things are otherwise unrelated
· declines in obesity related health care would make the AMA very unhappy

I’m going to boldly assume that a thorough analysis would likely reveal that happy, fit people last longer than happy, slightly obese people.Such devilry about, and just as I find myself pushing on into uncharted(!) waters!

I will stay the course. Should I be wrong, after all, I’ll only be a couple of Double Beef Whoppers from shore.

Friday, April 22, 2005

Man the Turrets and Lower the Garage Door

It’s Earth Day! HooHoo!

“Self,” I says, “stay away from that Public radio station, cuz it’s just gonna make you crazy today.” But then miracle of miracles, on Ben Merens’s show comes a Clara Jeffery, deputy editor of Mother Jones magazine, and she’s talkin’ my language.

Skipping the usual grist about windmills, bio-engineered automobiles, etc., this woman is right close to the nitty gritty of the American ravaging of the finite resources we humans must learn to manage if we are to survive with any level of comfort we have eked out thus far.

She speaks of the millions and millions of 2,500 to 6,000 square feet homes we are building hours of choking pollution from our workplaces. She mentions how working people have to locate in far exurbia and devote hours and hours of their time commuting to corporate campuses built adjacent to the highly exclusively zoned and thus too expensive enclaves of the upper middle class.

She actually mentioned class.

She called this urge to own a cul-de-castle, and I had to pinch myself, neo-feudalism. (see Stuck in the Middle with You) This yearning to own a postage stamp of land at all costs is costly indeed, and has led to a hideous non-design in many ways, let alone obvious transportation issues.

This is my busy season, and I visit more homes during the six to seven o’clock family hour. I’m struck by the frenetic atmosphere of these “family” times, as too-tired spouses shoot their little arrows at each other while they work out the travel arrangements to Johnny’s band practice and Sally’s gymnastics. While this crankiness is going on the kids know to stay out of sight having learned that the time when Daddy and/or Mommy come home is too temperamental to have any other quality.

Considering the social, we have now what I like to call the “garage door” syndrome. Suburbanites move from their big sealed sphere into a smaller one and though the portal of the automatic garage door and out into the world, but their journey is as sterile as that of Dave in the movie 2001 as he slips into silent space in the EVA pod. Should they have to venture 50 out into the world of a service station they lock everything up tight. When they get home they make sure all the windows and doors are locked tight, never stopping to realize that the front door hasn’t been unlocked in days.

Half the housewives I visit during the day lock the front door after I’m in. Some are locking their kids in—something we never required, but that is probably a subject for another time—but for many it’s autotronic. If it’s not safe beyond your door, then why have a lawn to mow? I don’t get it.

Because it is Earth Day I’ll repeat a thought I had in You Crack Open a Window, Honey, While I Throw another Log on the Fire. The greatest irony of America is that the thing we consider our greatest comfort, the single family home in the suburbs, is also our biggest threat. Perhaps the world’s environment would survive this American ideal in America, but on the horizon emergent China, Russia, India and so many others are looking to follow our dream, and I don’t see how this will be possible.

And soon—I would say within three years—we will be faced with the scenario that those who can least afford it will have to buy the most $5.00 gallons of gasoline to get to work. This includes me, though I realize that time is short to make a change ahead of the game, and am acting accordingly.

Or maybe I should be more concerned with a tax on “paper or plastic” bags?

I don’t think so.

Monday, April 18, 2005

If Looks Could Kill it Would Have Been Us Instead of Him

                                               Bungalow Bill     by Lennon and McCartney

Stopped on the way home to walk nine holes, as it was a gorgeous, sunny 80° and I got done at a normal, human time of 4:45 for a change. There’s a place in western Kenosha County called the Brighton Dale Links. It’s a championship sized, 45 hole wonder in the middle of nowhere where you can walk on as a single and play any of 5 challenging nines at five o’clock on a pretty Monday for $14.00.

In fact, it’s part of a park and adjacent to a very large prairie/marsh preserve where if you like you can take your expensive bird scope out to stands and watch birds of all kinds. “There’s one taking off over there,” and “There’s one about to land over there,” and “There’s a few thousand over there,” and I guess you’d have to give a hoot.

Needless to say, or perhaps it needs saying, some of these birds prefer the golf course. Hundreds of geese but also big wading things and little scurrying things and so forth shared the pleasantry of my march, very cool and I didn’t give a damn what they’re called. As well I saw dozens and dozens of squirrels and chipmunks, one red fox, and two deer; all this in an hour and a half (power golf, the stepper and glider machines are paying off).

But there’s one thing I didn’t see, a “feral” cat.

Forget the War and the Pope and Terri What’s-her-name, now cheeseheads are up in arms over Fluffy. I mean, there are death threats going back and forth over the Conservation Committee (people who sell guns and deer urine) deciding or undeciding to call “free range” kitty cats unprotected or protected or something, it’s all very complicated. The gist is that if a cat didn’t have a collar, it would be fair game.

If they pass this and the concealed carry law and lower the hunting age to ten then we have the scenario of a ten year old walking down the street, spying a collarless cat, pulling out a 9 mm and blasting Tabby to kingdom come, thus qualifying for initiation into the NRA.

I suppose we have to do something about all these cats, recent studies estimate that there are somewhere between 5 and around 2 million of Garfield’s vicious little cousins running around Ouisconsin, though the geese really didn’t seemed too stressed about it. The ASPCA wants to trap, neuter, and release them; this seems like a pretty big job to me.

It’s a mission, but something bothers me about people who get up in the morning a little too enthusiastic about neutering, the same queasiness I get about those who just can’t wait to have everyone’s urine collected.

The most needed change is that of attitude, all parties agree. Get your pet fixed and keep it inside. Well, here’s a better attitude shift for you.

Pet ownership is slavery. People should quit imprisoning animals. People should quit mutilating animals. People should quit fiddling around with animals and try to figure out how to get along with human beings. People should quit feeding 80 pound dogs and start feeding 60 pound Africans.

Cats don’t belong in the Wisconsin woods and they don’t belong in Wisconsin homes, but they certainly don’t deserve to be the latest plaything in Elmer Fudd’s sights.

Leave them alone. Give them a chance to adapt and find a spot in the food chain. It’s better than the imprisoned, clawless, fat and lazy, mutilated and hormonally altered existence the ASPCA recommends.

Free the cats! (and Toto, too!)

Wednesday, April 13, 2005

Kenosha Cadillac

A Kenosha Cadillac is what we around here used to call a Rambler. I had seriously considered this as a name for this blog (strangely, blog is not yet an official Word). After all, it’s a lot like “the wandering”. It comes to mind today because I think I’ll just ramble a bit.

I did a lot more research on the Pope, and as to anyone who might achieve some lofty status there are, of course, positives and negatives. John Paul II was highly critical of the concept that the free market can successfully arbitrage all social contracts. From Ecclesia in America:

More and more, in many countries of America, a system known as "neo-liberalism" prevails; based on a purely economic conception of the human person, this system considers profit and the law of the market as its only parameters, to the detriment of the dignity of and the respect due to individuals and peoples. At times this system has become the ideological justification for certain attitudes and behavior in the social and political spheres leading to the neglect of the weaker members of society. Indeed, the poor are becoming ever more numerous, victims of specific policies and structures which are often unjust.

In America neo-liberalism (Clinton) and neo-conservatism (Bush) amount to the same thing, currently the middle of the water slide. Fox didn’t mention this aspect of the Pope’s teachings. Neither in any meaningful way did CBS, NBC or any of the other members of the vast “left wing conspiracy” of mass advertising shucksters. On and on they went with the heroism of the Pope in helping to dismantle collectivism in Russia—not a word about his desire to see capitalism infused with a healthy dose of social consciousness.

page 2 (sorry, Paul Harvey)

After twenty years or so of faithful service, I had to retire my Trac II shaver. Apparently Gillette has taken the plunge and stopped production of blades for this stalwart, as I can no longer find them at the Incredibly Cornucopious Super Wal Mart Center, and Amazon says “nope” too. Where else does one turn? Someone is on to this and has distributed a generic blade, apparently manufactured from the hundreds of miles of rusting scrap metal the Chinese pile alongside of and allow to steadily leech into their rivers. Not good, and so I entered the 21st Century in a big way as my petite roux cheri brought home the very spiffy Gillette Mach 3 supershaver.

Apparently* think tanking at Gillette in the search of the latest breakthrough in scraping a blade across one’s face, a job that must be one of the toughest in the world, nevertheless attracts a pretty good bunch. The flow-through head is so easy to clean and it pivots too! This may sound to you youngins like an old Appalachian man discovering indoor plumbing for the first time and that would be nearing the point. All these improvements did little to assuage my grousing little mind in that 5 refills for this little baby cost twice as much as 10 for the Trac II that was perfectly good for all those years and….

God Dammit, why can’t they leave things well enough alone?

There are other signs of impending Ed Mertzness. The other day—and apparently someone decided long ago there would only be one other day—I was heating some soup. Somehow I just left the soup on and got engrossed in changing all the clocks, and then watching the ending of An Affair to Remember for the thousandth time. Before I could again come to the semi-annual conclusion that no combination of buttons on the wave radio remote was going to adjust the time, from the kitchen I heard the mom-in-law chirp, “Soup’s done.”

“I would think so, after a half hour,” I muttered to myself as I dreaded discovering just how thoroughly I had bonded Progresso minestrone soup into the stove top. With the clock thingy and all I was thinking that all I needed was another chore on this busy Sunday afternoon. Perplexingly, the soup was perfect and hadn’t boiled over, burned or even scummed itself and I went off to enjoy it. About an hour later I was returning the dish to the sink and saw to my horror that the burner was still flaming away on medium high and…..

God Dammit, they can send a man to the moon, why can’t they do something about this?

Well, now that I have that off my Sansabelted chest it’s time for:

Page 3

The Guinness Book of World Records states that The Guinness Book of World Records is the most stolen book from public libraries. I wondered if there might be some self-service leaking out of that claim, so I’ve looked a little deeper. It seems the type of literature most stolen from libraries is about the occult. It’s suspected that this is a type of vigilante censorship by the righteous. However, it turns out that the single book most stolen is likely the Bible, it would follow from the previous theory by atheists.

And now you know…………………..the wrest of the Story.

* "Apparently" the author left the room sometime before the needle got stuck on this word!

Wednesday, April 06, 2005

John Paul II and the Doctrine of Inequivalent Equality

At some point today it occurred to me that the flags of our “nation” were at half mast. At first I wondered what I might have missed—I don’t monitor the news as closely as I used to. I was a bit surprised when I realized that this gesture was in honor of the passing of the Pope. Then I wasn’t. There is plenty in the air in America that we would without precedent bestow such an honor—normally reserved for heads of state or American political and/or heroic figures—upon a religious figurehead.

On Ben Merens's WPR talk show this afternoon I listened to Annie Laurie Gaylor, co-president of the Freedom From Religion Foundation, express her disapproval of this gesture as the Pope was inimical to the freedom of women with effect few other men could match. I began to wonder just how the Pope—who was in a position of extreme delicacy as spiritual leader of so many disparate people—approached the subject of the position of women in society.

Perhaps his heart was ultimately in the right place, as when he begins to get to the point in his Letter to Women from 1995 he starts off pretty well:

The Book of Genesis speaks of creation in summary fashion, in language which is poetic and symbolic, yet profoundly true: "God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them (emphasis his)" (Gen 1:27).
Further in the text he states the following:

In their fruitful relationship as husband and wife, in their common task of exercising dominion over the earth, woman and man are marked neither by a static and undifferentiated equality nor by an irreconcilable and inexorably conflictual difference. Their most natural relationship, which corresponds to the plan of God, is the "unity of the two", a relational "uni-duality", which enables each to experience their interpersonal and reciprocal relationship as a gift which enriches and which confers responsibility.
Setting aside for now my abhorrence at the ecological disaster human “dominion” has wreaked upon this planet, I though this was a reasonable—even surprisingly astute for a celibate—summary of a good relationship.

Enter the mumbo-jumbo and one sees that all this altruism is but to soften the blow.

It is thus my hope, dear sisters, that you will reflect carefully on what it means to speak of the "genius of women", not only in order to be able to see in this phrase a specific part of God's plan which needs to be accepted and appreciated, but also in order to let this genius be more fully expressed in the life of society as a whole, as well as in the life of the Church.
The next spoonful is obviously going to be more medicine than sugar!

For the rest of the piece he likens the role of women to that of Mary. While only men can be the “iconic” representation of Christ as priests of the Church (because Jesus according to the Gospel said so) women can at least adopt the role of the gift to His Son, the Virgin Mary, thereby achieving a “highly significant ‘iconic character’”.

Presto! In a nutshell, one is the real thing and the other is really a lot like the real thing, really.

Now, John Paul II, being an intelligent man, realizes that this might be a bitter pill and so he obfuscates in a type of priestly patronizing tone even this Protestant based agnostic can recognize:

These role distinctions should not be viewed in accordance with the criteria of functionality typical in human societies. Rather they must be understood according to the particular criteria of the sacramental economy, i.e. the economy of "signs" which God freely chooses in order to become present in the midst of humanity.
Or, in other words, “Don’t worry your pretty little head about it, this is ecclesiastical stuff.”

Mary is referred to as “wife and mother in the family of Nazareth” and “handmaid of the Lord”. He maintains it is said of her, “For her, ‘to reign’ is to serve! Her service is ‘to reign’”.

If not ultimately, at least “to reign” in some “highly significant” way.

I can see why this flag thing might irritate an Annie Laurie Gaylor.