Saturday, September 12, 2009

Would you want to read this book?

That's right gang, while I'm still not giving up on Made in Vermont, I've gotta itch and I need to scratch it by cleaning up what I consider my best work yet. Here's the query.

Dear Agent of my fantasies,

I chose to submit to you because of your wonderful taste in humorous fantasy, and because you like the same kind of pie I do.

Over the course of his many lifetimes, Matthew Newman could rightfully lay claim to being many things. He’s crossed an ocean in search of the New World, fought alongside the Allied Forces against the army of a maniacal dictator, and wrestled with the Bermuda Triangle. But of all Matthew’s many fine qualities, possessing a good sense of direction was never one of them. Sometimes, however, wandering aimlessly can work in ones favor. After taking a wrong turn in the great monolith of the In Between, Matthew happens upon the Untouchable One, brightest and most beautiful soul in all the Universe. For Matthew, it’s true love. Unfortunately, as the only daughter of the Great Almighty, she’s the one possession the creator of all things keeps for himself. There is one way, however, to win her and her father over, and that is to locate the Eveningstar Gem and master its ultimate powers. Naturally there’s an evil entity out there named Kran competing with Matthew for possession of the gem. With it Kran would plunge the planet into darkness, and, even worse, compete with Matthew for the Untouchable One’s heart. Staying one-step ahead of Kran will require Matthew to navigate his way through several lifetimes’ worth of adventures and questionable career choices—not an easy task for one with a lack of direction. It will take his many other fine qualities to find a way to derail Kran’s diabolical quest for power, save the earth from an apocalyptic event, and find true love.

Matthew Newman is a 100,000 word work of humorous fantasy. I am the author of several things, and this is my first really good novel.

Thank you for your time, and I look forward to hearing from you soon.

Best wishes,
Charles Horse

Thursday, September 10, 2009

I Disagree With Gabby the Republican

Lately, the political "discourse" from the right is so overwrought, stupid, paranoid, and downright desperate, that I get the impression they're trying to tell me something, but it's being hidden under the church bell of other terms. For clarification, perhaps we need to turn to Blazing Saddles:

Gabby the Republican: "The Sheriff is a <>"
Rest of the Right Wing Media Town: "He's a Socialist?"
Gabby the Republican: "NO, he's a <>."
Rest of the Right Wing Media Town: "He's an Illegal Alien?"
Gabby the Republican: "NO, he's a <>."
Rest of the Right Wing Media Town: "He's Indoctrinating our children?"
Gabby the Republican: "NO, he's a <>."
Rest of the Right Wing Media Town: "He's Kim Jong Il?"
Gabby the Republican: "NO, DAGNAMIT, HE'S A <>"
Rest of the Right Wing Media Town: "He's a Nazi?"
Gabby the Republican: "Well, that's closer!"

There's really only one logical reason the right responds with such fevered hatred over everything Obama does, including a lot of things other presidents routinely have done. Considering that his policy is not surprisingly new, is often surprisingly centrist, and that most of the attacks on it are about as proportional as calling for the death penalty for a shoplifter, there has to be something else afoot.

How about I say what's on all your minds: The President is a black man. That's right, the American voters went bat shit crazy and elected an African American. 

Feel better?

Hey, at least he's not Irish...

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Cow 1, Sebastian 0


"Don't kid yourself, Jimmy. If a cow ever got the chance, he'd eat you and everyone you care about!"  - Troy McClure

Fact: Cows are not bright.

Fact: Cows smell bad.

Fact: Cows like holes in the ground. 


Wait, what? What kind of nonsense is that?

Before 1997, someone mentioned this to me in passing and I just laughed at them. I know I may not be the brightest bulb in the basket, but no one is going to fool me with that ridiculous line.

Am I some sort of moron?

In 1997, I had the pleasure of going out on an archaeological dig. I lived for a few months in a small town near the Romanian border in Ukraine. The people were nice enough, the experience was fun, the food downright sucked, but the experience was still fun. I may not have enjoyed it all too well at the time, but looking back on it, it made for some good memories. I won't even get into the run-ins with the Russian mafia.

That summer, our crew had two sites we were working on: the backyard of a house that local architects thought contained an older structure, and a small plaza within an abandoned church that was at one time a bazaar and also a cemetery. Now, because I may have rubbed some people the wrong way, or because I had a disdain for working with bones, I never got the chance to work in the church. Instead, I spent the whole summer working in the backyard, usually alone with people who only spoke Ukrainian and no English. But we got along, we were able to communicate, and I got to be in charge.

Around the same time, a local boy was hanging around the area tending to his one horse and his one cow. What he did with those two animals I have no clue, but he'd herd them around town and they would mind their own merry business and leave us alone.

One day, the boy was not doing his job, and the cow decided she was curious about what I was doing in the backyard of the house.
For those who don't know what archaeology is, it is the study of past human civilizations. In order to get at the past and find the remains these people have left behind, we sometimes have to dig down into the ground and bring things up to the surface. This means we have to dig a hole in the ground, a fact my new best friend was all too happy to learn.

The cow leaves her group and heads towards me, and her eyes widened upon seeing my square (geek talk for hole in the ground). And lo and behold, that one little tidbit someone told me years ago was actually true. This cow decided it was her mission in life to get into my hole (insert joke here).

I saw this and I couldn't believe my eyes! I wasn't sure what I should do about this, but the one thing I knew was that I couldn't let a cow get down into my square! If she got in, we couldn't work. If she got in, how do we get her out? If she got in, I would never hear the end of it! "How'd you let a freakin' cow in your square?!?!?!" I had to man up and throw up resistance!

I grabbed the closest thing to me, a shovel. Now I know in other countries they are not as gentle with their animals the way Americans are, but I could not bring myself to doing any harm to a dumb animal who just wanted to get down and dirty. I took the shovel, I held it with both hands, and I held my ground. The cow began taking steps into the square, knocking down my perfectly straight walls (very important for us dirt playin' fools). This could not be happening!

I get in the cow's way. She goes left, I move left and block her. She turns and tries to go right, but Betsy is none too quick, so I block her again. But Betsy is none all too bright either, so she tries left and right a few more times, only to be turned back by the shovel-armed sentry.

Finally, she can't take it anymore. She knows she can't get by me. She knows her dreams have been dashed. Betsy wisens up, and starts walking away. I keep my position, in case she decides to try one last quick sneak attack. 

As she walks away, her backside is directly facing me, her head the opposite direction. But only a few feet away from me, she stops, turns her head, and with the look of disdain I have never seen from any animal or person before or since, she looks straight into my eyes and deep down into my soul. 

There is nothing in the world at that moment aside from the cow and me.

All that matters is that look. 

The only important thing is what she is thinking.

And at our most perfect moment, at the opportune time, with her eyes constantly gazing upon mine, with me still holding the shovel in both hands and a stupid smirk on my face, she lets me know what she really thinks of me. 

She drops the biggest pile of shit I have ever seen.

She drops it only about 5 feet away from me.

And her eyes never leave mine for a second.

Point made, the cow turns and walks away, leaving me with her gift. 

Still with a dumb smirk on my face, and a pile of shit on the ground. The cow sent her message loud and clear. She did not mix words.

Since I still had the shovel, I put it to good use, moved the shit and covered it up. 

But it took me a few minutes to come out of the shock of being shat at by a cow. By a cow who only wanted to climb down into a hole in the ground.

From that moment on, I realized I could not take cows lightly anymore. But I also came to another conclusion that is still with me today. 

I fucking hate cows.

Now please pass the ketchup.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Straight out of Star Wars

As a fiction writer, I'm acutely aware of the palette of plotlines used time and again to create the novels and stories we have come to know and love over the course of time. Some will say there's nothing original to write about anymore. As an author, all one can do is try to tell an old story in a new way. Put your own spin on it if you will. One of my favorite bits exemplifying this comes (not surprisingly) from a TV show where Stewie, in Family Guy says ... Nice little narrative? Beginning, middle, and end? Some friends become enemies, some enemies become friends? At the end your main character is richer from the experience? Yeah? Yeah?

We all know that art imitates life, and that quite often real life can be much more entertaining than anything even the best of story tellers can make up. Take for instance the news surrounding Tom Ridge, former Secretary of the already ambiguous Department of Homeland Security, and the revelations he reveals in his upcoming book "The Test of Our Times: America Under Siege ... and How We Can Be Safe Again," due to be released on September 1. In it he claims he was pressured by former Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld and former Attorney General John Ashcroft to raise the terror alert shortly before the 2004 presidential election. Subsequently, then President Bush's approval rating demonstrated a significant increase. In fact, it seems pretty obvious that a major contributing factor to Dubyah's reelection was the nation's unease in the area of national security. Now let's think, where have we heard this story before? Oh yeah, Star Wars. Remember Senator Palpatine (who,in case no one has noticed looks a hell of a lot like Joe Lieberman), whose rise to Ruler of the Galactic Empire was orchestrated by the perceived threat from the evil Trade Alliance?

I admit, it's hard to come up with a good original story, but good god, you'd think these old white guys who've been in the game for so long could come up with something a little more original.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Who let the dogs in?

Pop quiz. What do you call a gay man who pretends to be a straight man in public? Closeted. What do you call a politician who pretends to be something he or she is not in public? A blue dog Democrat.

That's right, I'm taking on my own, something you apparently, if Sarah Palin's approval numbers among the faithful are to be believed, will never see from a Republican. The fact is, the Blue Dogs must figure out who they are, or we need to do it for them.

I understand there is a variety of beliefs in the Democratic party. In another differentiation from Republicans, we do not seek to "purify" our party on ideological grounds. There truly is a big tent. But sometimes, disputes within the party have to be settled within the party, and must not end up serving the needs of the opponent.

Case in point, health care reform. I do not expect Max Baucus, Ben Nelson, Claire McCaskill et al to just roll over and become liberal. But they can't use the party's name and funds to win elections, and then revert to joining the Republican party in opposition to their own party. I get that they are not deeply blue (despite the name), perhaps, as a friend puts it, they're a bit purple. But shouldn't they be endeavoring to find a compromise between the purple and the blue, not between the purple and the red? That's what's happening. They wish to drag their entire party over into compromising between the center and the far right, and even that may not be enough. And they are using parliamentary procedure to do so, lacking the majority, even in concert with Republicans. They are in effect stalling the will of the majority to the default victory of their supposed opponent.

Here's the deal dogs. We don't expect you to agree with the left completely. But you must show some party affiliation, if not loyalty, by negotiating in good faith between your position and the prevailing views of the party. If you cannot be satisfied with the result, fine, we won't expect you to vote for it. But what you better do, what you are compelled by all decency to do, is simply the right thing: Vote down any filibuster, which the size of the Republican Minority does not entitle them to. Then vote against the measure in an up and down vote.

There, you've covered all your bases. You've negotiated in good faith, giving up neither principle nor party integrity. You have not allowed your opponent to use you to deny the measure a vote. You have gone on the record as being against the measure, thus displaying your courage and beliefs. And most of all, you have allowed the majority to prevail, which is as it should be.

If you can't do this much, then quite frankly, will the last one of you shut the door on your way out? If you're going to do the work of the red, you have no business draped in blue.

This isn't "goodbye," it's "see you soon."

She was always a dependable one. There to comfort me when a man wasn't around, yet never hesitated to treat a boyfriend like he, too, was a long-time friend. She never complained about being a third wheel, nor did she feel left out when my man and I decided to go it alone. They always loved her company as well, and if I didn't know any better I might've suspected they were sneaking off and hanging out without me. Not that I would even mind that.

She was just as crazy and adventurous as I was; even moreso if I'm being honest. She always had something new and exciting to share with me. Whatever mood I was in, she knew the best way to entertain me.

But with all her good, there was also the bad. You see, she was a promiscuous one. She tried it all, and with many different partners. Sometimes multiple partners a night, or even at a time. I guess you never really think it could happen to you, but it can, and it did for her. She contracted a virus.

Most would deem their life to be over after a bombshell such as this, but she's a fighter. Whatever treatment it takes, I'll do it. For her. Even if it takes professional help. After all, I was her friend; I should have looked out for her the way she's done for me all these years. How could she know to protect herself? That's not her role. Her job is to be fun and exciting. Looking out for her was my responsibility.

I've failed her, so now I must face the consequences. I will save her, and she will go on. But I'm afraid that she'll never be the same again. I will promise her this, though. She will build up that bank of memories again over time. One day we'll look back on this and laugh as she tells me new stories, and shows me new things I've never seen before.

You mean the world to me, Porn Laptop. I will fix you, and promise to never let you go unprotected again.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

No game is any good without officials

There are two types of true fiscal conservative: The tiny minority of individuals who, through privileged accident of birth and a surfeit of that most basic of human flaws, pure selfish greed, actually personally benefit from unfettered, rapacious, deregulated Darwinism; and the rest who, despite suffering at the hands of the first group, romanticize the idea that they too could be a “master of the universe”, primarily because like sheep, they’ve been cleverly sold this concept co-mingled with some combination of their deeply-held social bigotries. It is the staggering effectiveness of such selling-the-disease-to-the-afflicted that causes me to acknowledge the genius of Ronald Reagan, or at least that of his political handlers. It is fairly easy to sell the idea of a cure to the sick, but to convince them that their salvation lies in more people contracting their dread illness? That’s impressive, and more than a little heartbreaking.


Selfish greed and decency are both human nature and politically colorblind. Really.
The problem is defining greed and decency. Is it selfish greed to pay $10.00 for coffee and cigarettes or whiskey, or any of the unnecessary indulgences that we take for granted? Most would say no (certainly by our actions) because we work hard and deserve simple pleasures. But if we took 10 bucks from a homeless man to spend in that way it would cross beyond selfish greed entering into inhuman cruelty. That is the choice we make with every silly purchase and wasteful indulgence. That is the human opportunity cost that fills our lives.

Giving that money to a person who needs it seems like a decent thing to do, but is it? What assurance do we have that giving that $10 to the homeless man doesn't do more harm than good in furtherance of an addiction? Perhaps the decent thing to do for a homeless person is to show them kindness and move them into the extra bedroom that many have. But that isn't an answer, because the problems with the homeless don't begin nor end with greed and aren't solved with decency. I don't have the answers because there are none, or if there are there are still huge areas of gray in between. Or purple. Most can read a specific set of circumstances and decide what is greed or decency, it is just impossile to extrapolate that to the populace.

I believe in the idea of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness in whatever form that takes for each and every individual. On that basis the only role of goverment is to enforce the laws necessary to protect our health, wealth and personal freedoms. Anything else does not interest me and should never fall under the umbrella of government. Sexuality, race, gender, Nationality, religion and what we put into our bodies are all areas for societal debate, not legislative.

'Greed is bad' seems easy enough in the microview. But you don't have to go too far to realize that every important discovery, invention and improvement to society is in some part due to greed. We happily purchase the products sold by the very greedy bastards we condemn. We all pass right by the very broken wretch that we profess to care about. If you want to embrace either side or condemn either side that is a matter of perspective and personal fulfillment, not right and wrong. Red and Blue are just the uniforms used to identify the enemy no matter how much alike we are in practice. Shades of purple define us more than red or blue, my friends.

Convenient you had that swastika lying around

So the right wing nut jobs wish to infuse fascism into the discussion, Nazi German fascism in particular? What exactly were the hallmarks of German Fascism?

Intense nationalism.
Aggressive, warlike militarism.
Empire building.
The total cooperation of government and corporate profiteers.
The right of the government to hold people without charge on the suspicion that they are "the enemy"
The cleansing of the homeland of all "illegitimate" outsiders, including gays, Jews, non-whites, liberals, intellectuals.
The adherence of all to one majority, white supremacist dogma.

Sound familiar? Careful painting that swastika folks, lest you tar yourself with your own brush.

Call it what it is

The newest phenomenon in our public "discourse" seems to be the need for some to show up armed. It started out as one guy, and has since escalated both in number of people and the firepower they are carrying. What is the message? Is there any doubt that a guy showing up with a gun and a sign declaring "It's time to water the tree of liberty" is not just demonstrating a right to carry a gun? Isn't it pretty clear what he's quite plainly calling for?

We've been hearing of late that the guns are just symbology for rights, and that the healthcare reform opponents (the only people showing up armed) are merely using the display of one right to call for protection of others.

This is, quite simply, bullshit. They know it, we know it, and we know that they know that we know it. This has nothing to do with rights. If that were the case, utilizing the right of free speech (including odious, hateful signs) certainly gets the message across. You don't see these people showing up with guns at rallies protesting every other legislative action they feel reduces their freedoms. Besides, you don't show up with a beer at a rally protesting abortion, because one's got nothing to do with each other. The symbology is all wrong.

Let's call it what it is. These people are showing up for one reason and one reason only, and it's quite telling that they are only bringing their guns to meeting hosted by the (black) president, not the ones by the people who must actually pass the legislation. This is intimidation, pure and simple. Just as hanging a person in effigy is symbolic lynching, this is a symbolic assassination. Nothing more, nothing less.

Far from being brave patriots who stand for freedom, these are instead cowards who choose to display their impotence and rage through an act of pseudo-macho aggression and threat. How long before one of them actually gets the guts to try to do what they are all pantomiming?

Meet your grass-roots health care reform opponent

So you've read about the people who protest the government wanting to take over their medicare. Now meet Dan Hornback. He lives in a camper, and makes 5-8,00 per year. He is protesting the government wanting to take over healthcare. His logic is, as with the birthers and deathers of all stripes, impeccable.

"He said he hurt himself a few years back and was treated in an emergency room for free. "That's the way it should be. Why do we need some big government program?" he asked, adding that people should take care of their own families, "like they do in Japan." I noted that Japan had universal health care. "Still ...," he said."

Yup, Dan wants to get free treatment at the emergency room, so he's fine with someone else paying for his treatment. He just doesn't want that someone to be the government, since it might, apparently, come out of the taxes he doesn't pay (given his income level). And of course, he has the usual cosmopolitan grasp of the world that all such people show...

You can read the rest of Dan's story at

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Fitting In vs. Fitting Out

It's common knowledge that being in the company of others is a valuable experience. Something to treasure, memorize, replicate, and enjoy. Family members, co-workers, classmates, and childhood friends all share a collective desire to bond and build stronger connections with each passing day. Some with the ultimate goal to "grow old together" and hopefully celebrate each others successes. Aware that there will likely be frustrations, life-altering events, unseen occurrences that result in heartbreak and disappointment that will test the DNA of each relationship-- most seem to find a way to make room for the good and bad that comes with these connections. Simply put, they do it for the love. Unfortunately, there are many who struggle to find people whom they can relate to long enough to establish such an important life asset.

If having friends or belonging to a certain group/organization is fitting in, then being lonely (not to be confused with being single) is fitting out.

Even as a child, fitting in isn't "all it's cracked up to be" and in some cases, can be a traumatizing experience. The process doesn't get any easier as an adult. Does everyone eventually find someone else or a group of someone elses' to grow and change with? What of the ones that don't and have no such no luck of ever feeling like they "fit" in? Is there really a fence to straddle in that regard?

How about the "no friendless person left out or behind" act? Communication plays one of the biggest roles in this "conundrum" and there's no doubt that technology has changed how groups are formed.


Sunday, August 16, 2009

Tales from Retail Eyeglass Shopping

This was written back in March, but I felt it was a good idea to warn you all of the dangers of leaving the well-being of your eyeballs in the hands of mall employees.


Because I have been having migraines and the fact that my eyeglass prescription is over two years old, I decided to stop by LensCrafters the other day. I’m an instant gratification type of gal, so the “ready in an hour” sales pitch appealed to me. My appointment was at 5:20 and I arrived a little early. Appointments never start on time so I wandered around browsing the selection in search of my new frames. There were only two cases to look through, and it was at least 20 minutes before I was seen, so I probably walked back and forth from each case a hundred times. I was already regretting making this appointment knowing that I’d have to settle for some shitty style, but for some reason I stuck it out.

Finally a sales guy helped me, and then it was too late to run. From the get go, he was acting all kinds of creepy and abrasive towards me. His opening line was “have you gotten a prescription recently because if you did I don’t want to waste my time.” I said no, it’s been a while. He didn’t believe me (because I often lie about my optical exams) so he checked the computer anyway, and of course I was right. He gave me all the forms to fill out and I didn’t check mark any of the “what diseases does your family have?” because I honestly didn’t know and for the most part we’re a healthy bunch. Again, he didn’t believe me so he interrogated me and insisted on going over every single question again to confirm my answer. Once he was convinced that I wasn’t trying to pull a fast one on him, hiding a family history of asthma, he moved on. But not to the preliminary eye tests like he should have.

Instead, he asked me if I was Filipino, and then spouted off all of the tagalog words for genitals that he could think of. He obviously knew what they meant, but wanted me to translate anyway because he is a sick fuck who would get off on me saying the words penis and vagina. He then said “sip sip ti ti mo” (loosely means “suck your dick”), and asked me to translate again. I refused again. He gathered copies of the paperwork I filled out and handed them to me, then said some strange comment like “I like to put those near my toilet so I can read them while I go to the bathroom.” I made a face at him, then he laughed at me and smacked me on the back- rather hard- like we were old mates. At that point I was too shocked to react properly and just wanted to finish the damn eye exam so I could get the hell out of there.

Finally, he fitted me with an eye patch and had me rest my chin on a jaw support to do that periphery test. You know, the one where you focus one eyeball on a dot and then press a button anytime you see any movement? Instead of letting me concentrate on my test in peace, he insisted on making conversation and socializing, expecting me to respond to his asinine questions while my jaw was held shut. The line of questioning was all personal stuff– am I married, do I have a boyfriend, do I live alone, do my parents help me pay my rent, do I make a lot of money… umm yeah. Clearly appropriate conversation with a customer that you just met 20 minutes ago.

After the tests were done I sat around some more while he basically just stared at me, waiting for the test results to print out. He then leaned in real close, clearly entering my personal space, and asked me if I wanted any special discounts, all dodgy-like. I asked him to clarify, and he thought it over for a moment, possibly debating internally whether or not to ask me to blow him under the eyeball air poof machine for a free polycarbonate lens upgrade. I might not be too far off because he ultimately decided against offering it, saying “Nahhh I’m too scared… I might get caught.” I didn’t bother to ask what he meant. At last, it was time to see the REAL eye doctor. An eye doctor who apparently hates his life because he was the most miserable man I had ever met. While I was reading off letters projected onto the wall, another employee came in to get some things out of a cabinet, and was completely blocking my view. It was a good 30 seconds before the doctor even said anything to the employee. Strange, strange, strange.

The exam was all done and it was time to dilate my pupils. He dropped the solution in my eyes causing my retinas to burn like a mother bitch. I was supposed to see the doctor again after paying for my glasses and all that, but that never happened, so I was finally cleared to leave. I had tossed my contacts and didn’t have my eyeglasses on me, so walking out into the dark parking lot was quite difficult. First off, I couldn’t even find my car. Then I realized I had exited the opposite side of the building. Even in the correct lot, it was still impossible to find my car. Once I found it, I had the daunting task of actually driving home… in the dark… in traffic… with my eyes burning and blurry… barely even able to keep them open. Thank god I only lived a couple miles from the place. Definitely never doing that again.

That was Monday, it is now Thursday, and I still haven’t gone back to see the doc again or even pick up my “ready in an hour” eyeglasses. I am putting it off for as long as I possibly can; that’s how bad I DON’T want to go back. I wish they could just pop them in the mail. I just really don’t want to see that dude again. Maybe I’ll go Saturday morning and hope he’s not working. All I know is I am never, ever going back to that place again for my future optical needs.


August 16, 2009 update: I never did go back to get my glasses. They also never bothered to call to see if I was still alive.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Clear Cut

If you saw down new ideas

To better view the known

A stumpy, vacant prairie

Is all that you will own

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

My Least Favorite People

Today's honorary title will have to be split among two people, whom I will not name, the better to deny them any publicity.

1. The numbskull who showed up to President Obama's town hall meeting in NH wearing a gun, and carrying a sign referring to Jefferson's famous quote:"The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants." What do you suppose his message meant? To top it off, he was standing on the property of a church across the street from where the meeting was held, which gave him permission to do so. I wonder what type of church endorses such behavior. I was reminded of the Southern churches that used to harbor, extoll, and exhort the members of the KKK when they set about to "protesting" the civil rights movement. Of course, he got his wish and received numerous television interviews, where at no time would he explain the need for the gun, nor the exact nature of his gripe.

2. The idiot doctor who, in an online debate over health reform, weighed in with the idea that health care was not a right. He was representing a coalition of doctors against health reform. This is of course a lot like a group of trial lawyers opposing tort reform. But really, a doctor thinks health care isn't a right? We are a nation that requires our children to receive an education, but a more basic need is not a right, but rather a privilege. Ironic and sad that most people who seem to be opposing health care reform also didn't seem to think much of education either.

By the numbers

So here are some basic numbers:

Roughly 80% of Americans have some sort of health insurance.

Of those, approximately 73% like their coverage.

This means that 58% of Americans like their health care coverage.

Of course, of that 58%, how many would feel that way if they got a really bad illness and got kicked off their coverage, as has become a common practice these days among the insurance companies?

Setting all that aside, there hasn't been a protester at one of the town halls yet who has claimed to be uninsured. Could much of this simply be a case of those in the boat being unwilling to pay for those in the water to have a chance to be in the boat? Sounds a bit like immigration, doesn't it?

Economics 666

There are two types of fiscal conservative: The tiny minority of individuals who, through privileged accident of birth and a surfeit of that most basic of human flaws, pure selfish greed, actually personally benefit from unfettered, rapacious, deregulated Darwinism; and the rest who, despite suffering at the hands of the first group, romanticize the idea that they too could be a “master of the universe”, primarily because like sheep, they’ve been cleverly sold this concept co-mingled with some combination of their deeply-held social bigotries. It is the staggering effectiveness of such selling-the-disease-to-the-afflicted that causes me to acknowledge the genius of Ronald Reagan, or at least that of his political handlers. It is fairly easy to sell the idea of a cure to the sick, but to convince them that their salvation lies in more people contracting their dread illness? That’s impressive, and more than a little heartbreaking.

Beginning Anew

I don't know about everyone else, but I got busy, then I somehow got locked out of the blog. It would seem there are things to be said, and I have solved the pesky password issue, so let the fun begin anew.
The less and less I'm included in things, the more and more I get left out.

Wait, I think I worded that incorrectly....

Friday, February 6, 2009

The Universe

I know this flies in the face of some philosophies posted here. I accept and even respect those opinions and will even go so far as to say I can agree with them, at least to the extent of where they come from. But from my perspective there are some things that just make sense to me regardless of the any sort of rationale or grounding in fact. As most of my waking hours are spent on a diverse and sometimes lively University campus, I couldn't help but make this observation.

The brilliance of the Universe never ceases to amaze me. Just the notion of individualism speaks volumes. When you take into consideration that, outside of relatively few exceptions, no two creatures on the planet are identical you can’t help but marvel at the creativity on display. Certainly, a lesser Universe would have created maybe one or two models and been satisfied. But for the billions of creatures on this planet alone, the Universe has broken the mold after each one.

Happy Friday everyone.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Digging deeper, seeing wider

I was recently in an online discussion about the NBA dress code and its racial implications. As it addresses a broader issue of seeing only personally important issues in larger issues, something I find in all manner of discussions (religion and politics being two), I think my response bears repeating here. Additionally, I hope you find the information I have gleaned about the subject matter itself, information that while readily available seems unknown to so many people, to be interesting as well. The assertion was that the NBA's dress code was based entirely upon racism. Here is my response:

In order to adequately address your points, it is important to discuss both the advent of hip hop fashion, as well as the state of the NBA when this fashion reached it’s crescendo there. I will start with the former: 

The genesis of hip hop fashion (baggy pants, over-sized, un-tucked shirts, etc.) is actually a Mexican invention, not a black one. It originated in the California penal system. Mexican gangs devised this style of dress as a way to stamp their identity onto prison issue uniforms. Given that all the uniforms looked the same (OK, that was pretty obvious), going for larger sizes and un-tucking them created a unique and identifiable look. 

Since most gang leadership was and is in a constant state of migration to (and often from) prison, and given the fact that leaders often retained their posts during incarceration (in many cases, they were and are revered for their “martyrdom”), the fashion on the inside soon passed to the outside. This was abetted by the fact that this “uniform” was ideal for concealing weaponry. Of course, on the outside, variations in color as well as other items not available to prisoners rapidly were added to the uniform. 

At some point, and as there is very little authoritative documentation, I will leave off a description of how and when, this style was adopted by black gangs as well. They in turn added their own symbology, including ostentatious jewelry, sports jerseys, and basketball sneakers (more on this shortly). 

What moved this into the mainstream was the rise of gangster rap. Its acts were members of, associated with, or at the very least identified themselves by gang culture, primarily LA gang culture. Thus the style of dress in this culture was a prominent part of their video image (along with guns, drugs, and “ho’s”). It is interesting to note that the fast and wide spread of this style was due in large part to the backing of (white) music moguls and clothing designers (Tommy Hilfiger being probably the most influential), who saw the marketing potential, and the profit to be made selling this narrow urban slice to a wide sector of bored, affluent, and yes white, suburban teens. Hilfiger reckoned that rock and roll didn’t reach these youth anymore, since their parents approved of rock and roll, the kiss of death in teen fashion. To paraphrase, he (correctly) noted that both the music itself and the style of dress/ lifestyle associated with it were guaranteed to piss suburban parents off, thus guaranteeing appeal among young, testosterone-laden white males. This was to be a goldmine of marketing possibilities, where album sales were just the leader into apparel sales. Along the way, tragically, this entire mélange of accoutrements and violent, misogynist lifestyle became accepted as a (the?) legitimate representation of black culture (but that is an entirely different discussion), and ultimately overshadowed the musical art-form it co-mingled with. 

Now to the NBA. At this time, the league was engulfed in two distinct problems. Both of them are tied to Michael Jordan. 

The first problem was the game itself. Given that the league had almost wholly abandoned it’s rivalries and stars theme for a one-star-to-rule-them-all system, and given MJ’s unrivaled prowess, teams led by coaches such as Mike Fratello, Pat Riley, and Jeff Van Gundy began devising defensive schemes designed to reduce the game to a slow-down slugfest, the better to try to nullify MJ. The game became quite an ugly thing, bearing little or no resemblance to the beauty of the game a decade earlier. The product was becoming boring. It was also devolving into a partisan dichotomy of Jordan lovers and critics, with less and less of the old rivalries and regional potency. 

The second problem, related to the first, was marketing. MJ was the greatest pitchman Madison Avenue had ever seen (check out the stock market plunge when he retired). He brought about the first piece of marketing gold, the uber-star shoe. No shoe (or any other article of apparel) before or since has matched the Air Jordan in market share or category creation. This shoe (and the ones to follow), along with the subsequent jersey phenomenon, was very quickly adopted by the burgeoning hip hop/ gangster rap scene. Thus the marriage between basketball and hip hop fashion was cemented. The galaxy of lesser stars also put out shoes, and marketed them through hip hop channels. “Street cred” (loosely translated as being or at least appearing “hard”, gangsta-ish, and yes, at least a bit dangerous) became a ubiquitous phrase, and an NBA baller had to have it in order to move merchandise. 

The NBA was very aware of this marketing phenomenon. They also profited greatly from it. A whole new group of people were avid fans, and their tie to it was hip hop fashion and lifestyle. So you began to hear hip hop at games. Of course, for the most part these fans weren’t the big-dollar ticket base, but they were filling the coffers from apparel sales. 

With the retirement of Jordan, the league found itself in tremendous peril. The game wasn’t as good, the rivalries and multi-star system had been abandoned, so there was a huge vacuum. With television and other basketball-related revenues struggling, the league scrambled to find its next MJ. Unfortunately, its MJ-centric system had left it with no heirs, merely a slew of hip-hop-oriented apparel salesmen. But at least apparel brought money, so for a time the league hitched itself strongly to this identity. The problem with this was that these stars, personified by Allen Iverson, turned off basketball purists as well as the older, monied mainstream fans who the league relied on for the basketball-related revenue. Was there a racial component? Sure, but to limit it to race is to deny an entire panoply of related issues. 

The league adapted, slowly but surely. It changed and re-changed rules in an effort to bringing back the free-flowing, offense-oriented game. It began (in deference to the success of the NFL) to try to return to teams, rivalries, and parity. It also realized that while hip-hop was now an integral part of the scene, it couldn’t be the sole, dominant face (as an aside, I think this explains the league's fascination with and support of the Spurs. Smaller market, fundamental, older style of play, and Robinson and Duncan were the antithesis of the AI-style persona, while also being black). 

The dress code was simply one in a long line of things the league did (including broadening the music, marketing in Asia and Europe, among others), to broaden and mainstream its appeal. You can define this strictly as racial politics, but to do so, you have to ignore a mountain of other things…

Tuesday, January 20, 2009


"We reject as false the choice between our safety and our ideals" 

Monday, January 19, 2009

Nine Important Words

Recently, I sent an e-mail to the Obama campaign, requesting that in his inaugural address, the new president include the words, "I'm from the government, and I'm here to help".

Many of you will remember those famous words, uttered by President Reagan. Of course, he preceded them with the phrase "...the nine most terrifying words in the English language are...". In my mind, that was the seminal moment of the movement that has given us the deep economic morass we currently find ourselves in.

True, there has always been a tension between belief in, and fear of, the government, just as the question of a reasonable size and scope of government has been with us from our founding, actually before it, if you read the many discussions that our founding fathers engaged in. But it was Reagan who gave the anti-government folks a populist platform, with that one silly statement. Virtually every current supply-sider views those words as holy, and given the inevitabilities of corruption and ineptitude, it has become somewhat of a maxim for a disaffected, disenfranchised, and ignorant populace.

What exactly did Reagan mean? Given his war on drugs, his positions on state mandated morality, his cold-warrior status, and his heretofore unheard-of budgetary excesses, it's hard to say that Reagan was any real enemy of big government. In fact, the size of the federal government swelled under Reagan in a manner not seen since the days of FDR.

It would seem that Reagan's anti-government philosophy was in fact limited to economic matters. Reagan, like many before and after, believed in an economic form of Darwinism, where the role of government was to stay out of the way of the market. He was a proponent of lower taxes, primarily in the upper brackets and capital gains sectors, slashing regulations that reduced profitability, and generally staying out of the market wherever possible (with the odd exceptions of corporate welfare and union busting), believing that such behavior would spur the economy as a whole, and that such growth would feed down to all sectors,the famed "trickle-down" economic theory.

There were, however, three large problems with the theory:

1. The belief that the free market economy was a (the) central pillar of our nation, and that government and economic prosperity were natural enemies. Obviously, economics had a lot to do with our revolution, but it was more about taxation without representation than about the market free of government. In fact, many of our founding fathers opined about the tyranny of the monied elite, and our revolution was by no means a referendum on replacing the king's hereditary aristocracy with that of the local wealthy. Many, especially Jefferson, feared the rise of corporations and wealthy elites as a new set of tyrants who would strip our fledgeling democracy of its equity as much as they detested the monarchy. The very system of democratically elected, representative government was designed to protect the common man from such eventualities (or inevitabilities, per Jefferson). Belief in the market without government involvement is belief in football without rules or referees to enforce them.

2. Belief that the market is self sustaining and regulating. If history has taught us anything, it is that devoid of government intervention or regulation, the free market leads inevitably to monopolies, economic collapse, or both. The "rising tide" that lifts all boats theory summarily ignores the ultimately minute number of boat owners, as well as the fact that a healthy middle class of consumers is required to fuel those boats.

3. The belief that Capital is more important than Labor. Quite simply, an imbalance in either wreaks havoc, but the economy of the late 20th century and the early 21st has been an orgy of worship to capital, at the expense of any form of egalitarianism. A system geared toward capital equates to "one dollar, one vote", and will inevitably spell the end of peaceful democracy.

At the end of the day, the legacy of the Reagan revolution was the sale of religious ideology (a subject for another day) and fear of the government (on both real and imagined, paranoiac grounds) to the common man, the better to enlist his service in denying the one form of redress he had.

Personally, I have no interest in supporting people who have no use for the government, especially in running it. When we the people no longer have an interest in the organ that binds us together, we deserve whatever befalls us. In reality, government is part of the problem, but the ideology of abolition cannot and must not replace the idea of reform. Perhaps we can keep the baby and merely change the bath water...

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

On Terry Pratchett

Terry Pratchett is for the moment my favorite author. He's one of those who inspires me to keep at it if only to be half as good a writer as he is. Pratchett tosses off lines that are so obviously clever, yet never in a million years could be produced by anyone else.

The other day I learned he has been diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer's. This news was a bit shocking to me in several ways. First, it broke my illusion that things like this don't happen to people like Pratchett who utilizes his brain at a level above and beyond that of normal people. I've always clung to the theory that if you use it, you have a better than average chance you won't lose it. I should know better. When I was younger, my parents took in a brilliant classical pianist, head of the piano performance department at U.S.C., when she fell prey to dementia. I watched with a bit of disdain as Lillian Steuber, one of the premier performers and educators of her time, slipped away from reality. The sad thing was, that of all the people who surrounded her in health, few besides my parents seemed willing to support her in her fall.

Second, like so many others I'm sure, I fear the day when Pratchett is no longer able to produce more books. When this day comes, the Universe will mourn. Certainly, this brings to mind the same sense as when Magic Johnson announced he had the HIV virus; a devastating day for all of basketball, especially those of us who live and breath Lakers basketball. I only hope that Pratchett, like Magic, finds the right prescription to beat the odds and keep functioning at a high level for years to come.

The following is a transcript of his announcement taken from his website (I love the references to snake oil and L. Ron Hubbard).

My name is Terry Pratchett, author of a series of inexplicably successful fantasy books and I have had Alzheimer's now for the past two years plus, in which time I managed to write a couple of bestsellers.

I have a rare variant. I don't understand very much about it, but apparently if you are going to have Alzheimer's it's a good one to have.

So, a stroke of luck there then!

Interestingly enough, when I was diagnosed last December by those nice people at Addenbrooke's, I started a very different journey through dementia.

This one had much better scenery, interesting and often very attractive inhabitants, wonderful wildlife and many opportunities for excitement and adventure.

Those of you who's last experience with computer games was looking at Lara Croft's buttocks might not be aware of how good they have become as audio and visual experiences, although I would concede that Lara's buttocks were a visual experience in their own right.

But in this case I was travelling through a country that was part of the huge computer game called Oblivion, which is so beautifully detailed that I have often ridden around it to enjoy the scenery and weather and have hardly bothered to kill anything at all.

At the same time as I began exploring the wonderful Kingdom of Dementia, which is next door to the Kingdom of Mania, I was also experiencing the slightly more realistic experience of being a 59 year old who finds they have early onset Alzheimer's.

Apparently I reacted to this situation in a reasonably typical way, with a sense of loss and abandonment with an incoherent, or perhaps I should say, violently coherent fury that made the Miltonic Lucifer's rage against Heaven seem a bit miffed by comparison. That fire still burns.

I want to go on writing! Admittedly, that means I have to stay alive.

You can't write books when you are dead, unless your name is L. Ron Hubbard.

And so now I'm a game for real. It's a nasty disease, surrounded by shadows and small, largely unseen tragedies.

People don't know what to say, unless they have had it in the family.

People ask me why I announced that I had Alzheimer's.

My response was: why shouldn't I?

I remember when people died "of a long illness" now we call cancer by its name, and as every wizard knows, once you have a thing's real name you have the first step to its taming.

We are at war with cancer, and we use that vocabulary.

We battle, we are brave, we survive. And we have a large armaments industry.

For those of us with early onset in particular, it's more of a series of skirmishes.

My GP is helpful and patient, but I don't have a specialist locally.

The NHS kindly allows me to buy my own Aricept because I'm too young to have Alzheimer's for free, a situation I'm okay with, in a want-to-kick-a-politician-in-the-teeth-kind of way.

But, on the whole, you try to be your own doctor.

The internet twangs night and day. I walk a lot and take more supplements than the Sunday papers. We talk to one another and compare regimes.

Part of me lives in a world of new age remedies and science, and some of the science is a little like voodoo.

But science was never an exact science, and personally I'd eat the arse out of a dead mole if it offered a fighting chance.

Fortunately, I have the Greek Chorus to calm me down

Soon after I told the world my website fell over and my PA had to spend the evening negotiating more bandwidth.

I had more than 60,000 messages within the first few hours.

Most of them were readers and well-wishers.

Some of them wanted to sell me snake oil and I'm not necessarily going to dismiss all of these, as I have never found a rusty snake.

But a large handful came from 'experienced' sufferers, successfully fighting a holding action, and various people in universities and research establishments who had, despite all expectations, risen to high places in their various professions even while being confirmed readers of my books.

And they said; can we help? They are the Greek Chorus. Only two of them are known to each other and they give me their advice on various options that I suggest.

They include a Wiccan, too. It's a good idea to cover all the angles.

It was interesting when I asked about having my dental amalgam fillings removed.

There was a chorus of ? hrumph, no scientific evidence, hrumph???., but if you can afford to have it done properly then it certainly won't do any harm and you never know.

And that is where I am, along with many others, scrabbling to stay ahead long enough to be there when the cure, which I suspect may be more like a regime, comes along.

Say it will be soon - there's nearly as many of us as there are cancer sufferers, and it looks as if the number of people with the disease will double within a generation.

And in most cases you will find alongside the sufferer you will find a spouse, suffering as much. It's a shock and a shame, then, to find out that funding for research is three per cent of that which goes to find cancer cures.

Perhaps that is why, for example, that I know three people who have successfully survived brain tumours but no-one who has beaten Alzheimer's???although among the Greek Chorus are some who are giving it a hard time.

I'd like a chance to die like my father did - of cancer, at 86.

Remember, I'm speaking as a man with Alzheimer's, which strips away your living self a bit at a time.

Before he went to spend his last two weeks in a hospice he was bustling around the house, fixing things.

He talked to us right up to the last few days, knowing who we were and who he was.

Right now, I envy him. And there are thousands like me, except that they don't get heard.

So let's shout something loud enough to hear. We need you and you need money. I'm giving you a million dollars. Spend it wisely.

Good luck Terry.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Defying Gravity from Wicked

Idina Menzel and Kristin Chenowith are amazing talents.