Sunday, September 28, 2008
Things that apparently happened while I was happily contemplating maples changing colors:
1. Gas lines in Atlanta. Not only is the price sky-high here, there's not enough of the stuff to go around.
2. Katie Couric did a tough interview. Sort of. Based on the clips I saw, Couric's questions were not exactly an example of attack journalism. It's more like Katie was pitching softballs while Sarah was still stuck in the tee-ball league.
3. Senator McCain managed to prove that maturity has nothing to do with age.
4. The tabloids are still hammering the Republicans. The Globe has a front page headline screaming about Cindy McCain's drug addiction.
5. Another perverted Bible-banger got caught with his pants down.
I am definitely wishing I could have stayed in the bunker a little longer.
Thursday, September 18, 2008
Of course, the down side to no internet for a week is I'm not going to be able to feed my blog addiction. The sun had better be shining and the fall colors spectacular, or things could get ugly.
Wish me luck with flying the surly skies of Northwest. I'll be changing planes at ground zero for employee discontent (Minneapolis) so am not anticipating that stage of the trip being much fun.
Wednesday, September 17, 2008
This whole episode with the flying home while in labor reeks in multiple ways. The options, all equally unpleasant, are: 1. She's so self-centered and flatout stupid she never thought about the risks. 2. She did think about the risks and is so self-centered and stupid she didn't care. 3. She thought about the risks and made a conscious decision to fly anyway because she hoped the baby would die.
I keep hearing the talking heads of the MSM opining that voters like Palin because she's "just like them." I sincerely hope that isn't true. I'd hate to think there really are that many self-centered stupid people walking around.
Then again, the depressing truth is that most Americans are very shallow thinkers. We look at the surface, the first thing presented, and rarely go beyond that. Long term or unintended consequences? Heck, all we can see is the fancy packaging. We'll get pissed off later when we discover the box is 99% empty, and then we'll blame someone else (blacks, Mexicans, those damn Chinese with their cheap labor, whoever the scapegoat du jour happens to be) for problems we created ourselves. I see people applauding Palin for lines like "I'm going to give your taxes back to you because you know how best to spend your money."
Yeah, right. Like the typical citizen is going to spend his or her money directly on repairing infrastructure. But we fall for the easy lines, don't think about long term consequences, dance the happy dance when we get our ludicrous "rebate" checks in the mail, and then bitch about crumbling highways. You get what you pay for, and in the case of the U.S. more and more what we're getting is a third world nation.
Does Palin recognize the long term consequences of what she's advocating? Does she care? I don't know. I have a feeling she really doesn't give a rat's patoot about anything other than Sarah Palin. For sure she doesn't seem to be a very discerning thinker. As mayor of Wasilla she ignored problems with the city's sewer system in favor of pushing through an ice arena that left the city saddled with debt and on-going litigation. Ditto with the state of Alaska -- imposed that windfall tax on the oil companies but instead of using any of the money to address some of the problems the state has she did the bread and circuses route again.
(*I don't disagree with all of Palin's positions -- I do think we should impose whopping windfall profits taxes on oil companies here in the lower 48 the way she did in Alaska. Exxon, BP, etc., have all been raking in such obscene profits for the last few years while refusing to expand refinery capacity that they deserve to pay through the nose for awhile.)
Update: I have now consumed enough coffee to be awake enough to see the typo in the flow chart. The chart is a jpeg, people, that I did not create. If you spot it (and I realize I've now mounted a challenge), please don't tell me about it.
Tuesday, September 16, 2008
Monday, September 15, 2008
Saturday, September 13, 2008
That's usually when one of my libertarian or right wing acquaintances (not necessarily the same group; some of the libertarians are actually pretty far left but just don't realize it -- they're fiscal conservatives but social liberals) will start bloviating about the problem is the government. No, people, in this case the problem is the private sector. The data collection and reporting system on the local level, the first place any disease is going to be noticed, is so fragmented, so broken up into thousands and thousands of individual and incompatible information collection systems, that a whole lot of people have to start getting sick before anyone notices there's an epidemic.
The only time a salmonella outbreak is going to be noticed fast is if you have lots of people eating the same contaminated food and getting sufficiently sick that they all end up going to the same Emergency Room or clinic at the same time. If I buy a contaminated pepper, use it in salsa shared by half a dozen co-workers and we all get sick, if we all go to different doctors or clinics it could take two months for the various lab reports to wend their way through the system and raise the proverbial red flag that triggers an investigation. That's if the doctors decide to order lab work at all. If you're an adult who comes in with a fever and a bad case of diarrhea but aren't sick enough to be hospitalized and you're the only patient the doctor's seen that week with that particular set of symptoms, she may simply prescribe antibiotics and anti-diarrheals and tell you to come back if it doesn't improve fast once you start taking the drugs.
Bottom line is that public health is one area where more government, not less, is the solution. The government is the only entity that's ever going to come up with a way to tie all those fragmented pieces together. Private industry does not have a reason to. In fact, fragmentation is in industry's best interest because that fragmentation creates more opportunities for making money.
Granted, I am not exactly a disinterested bystander on this issue (I do, after all, work for Large Nameless Agency), but the more I learn about the way the system does and does not work and just how huge some of the gaping holes are the more I recognize just how screwed up American health care in general, not just the public health aspect, truly is. The U.S. infant mortality rate is an embarrassment, so is life expectancy compared to other industrialized nations, as a nation we pay the highest per capita costs for health care in the world, . . . it's a mess. And instead of trying to fix some of the really broken parts, the private sector health care interest groups (like pharmaceutical companies) focus on the areas with the highest profit margins, like erectile dysfunction and a nonexistent obesity 'epidemic.' Public hospitals flounder while the boutique clinics doing boob jobs thrive. Everyone wants the trauma center to be there when they're in a car accident, but no one wants to pay for it until then. It's a classic free rider problem, wanting the benefits without having to pay any of the costs, kind of like the workers in right-to-work states who refuse to pay union dues but expect the shop steward to help them with grievances anyway.
I have a number of "libertarian" acquaintances who are convinced the private sector is the way to go for everything. They don't see a role for government anywhere -- they're totally convinced that if we'd just step back and let business do what it wanted, the invisible hand of the marketplace would solve all problems. In other words, they either want to time travel back to the 19th century or move to Somalia. I'm never quite sure which, although I have a hunch they think that if they could just live in the glory days of the Grant administration they'd be one of the plutocrats riding in the posh private rail cars and not one of the poor bastards working 14 hours a day to lay the rails, despite the fact there were a whole lot more of the latter than the former.
At the same time, of course, they bitch whenever prices go up on anything. Hello? Ever hear of market forces? You can't have it both ways. There is no such thing as a free lunch.
The same group of acquaintances does a lot of pissing and moaning about paying taxes. They complain about it being "their" money and how they shouldn't have to fork over a dime. Period. For anything. Grow up. Taxes are the membership fee you pay for getting to live in a country that allows you to piss and moan about how much you hate the government.
So, I repeat -- if you think the U.S. government is doing such a crap job, and you hate paying taxes so much, move to Somalia. No taxes, no government, literally a libertarian paradise. You'll love it there. Granted, you probably won't live long (life expectancy is only 47) but the freedom from an oppressive government should make up for dying 30 years sooner than the average U.S. citizen*.
(*We may not live as long as Europeans, but we've still got most African nations beat.)
Friday, September 12, 2008
Thursday, September 11, 2008
I loved this rationalization for partying hard and taking "gifts":
Report says oil agency ran amok
Government officials in charge of collecting billions of dollars worth of royalties from oil and gas companies accepted gifts, steered contracts to favored clients and engaged in drug use and illicit sex with employees of the energy firms, federal investigators reported yesterday.
Many employees identified in the report told investigators that they didn't think ethics rules applied to them because of their "unique" role in the agency and that they needed to socialize with industry representatives for "market intelligence," according to the report.Corruption like this is yet another sign we're sliding farther and farther towards Third World nation status. And it definitely puts a whole new spin on the phrase "getting screwed by the oil companies."
Wednesday, September 10, 2008
It does not, however, offer a cure for McCain's infuriating habit of starting every other phrase with "my friends." Sorry.
I would think about my parks and the various projects they had in progress 24/7. I dreamt about my parks, I'd have trouble falling asleep and then wake up multiple times during the night, I thought about my parks when I was on vacation. Heck, it went beyond thinking about them -- I'd go out of my way to visit my parks when I was on vacation! I loved it, but, let's face it, it wasn't particularly stress-free, especially with the added factor of being a term rather than a permanent employee factored in. There was always the "if I start this, will I be able to finish it before my term ends?" in the back of my mind.
Large Nameless Agency, in contrast, until recently had days when it came close to being like a paid vacation. My primary responsibility was as an author's editor -- the last person to see a potential journal article before it gets submitted to scholarly journals like Annals of Microbiology or Journal of Medical Informatics. It's interesting work, and relatively important to the overall process, but by the time articles cross my desk they've already gone through multiple iterations with the co-authors (a typical scientific article will have half a dozen co-authors) and it's also gone through an internal to the agency peer review/clearance process. My job is basically to make sure no egregious grammatical errors have slipped by the numerous other people who looked at it, and that it's formatted in the submission style the journal demands. The job might get labeled "substantive edit," but the reality is it's generally more like a really thorough proofreading. Once in awhile there'll be a paper that's a challenge -- the journal will have set a maximum word count of 3000, and the paper is at 3500 so needs to be trimmed -- but overall it's one of those jobs where I could amble into the office, put in my 8 hours, learn some interesting stuff while doing so (e.g., while the overall rates of TB in the U.S. have been going down, the percentage of TB cases that are advanced TB is going up -- doctors are getting poorer at recognizing early stage TB because they aren't seeing enough of it to routinely consider it as a preliminary diagnosis, especially in supposedly low-risk populations)(highest risk for tb are prison guards and inmates), and amble out at the end of the day leaving it all mentally behind in the cubicle. In any case, I don't have any emotional investment in the work -- I didn't do the research, I wasn't actively involved in the hard part of the writing, my name isn't going on the piece, and once it leaves my desk I never have to think about it again. It's nice, compartmentalized work.
Occasionally I'd get to do some fun stuff, like write a short article for LNA's public web site, but that was basically the same thing: put in the 8 hours, go home, don't think about work again until turning on the computer the following day.
That has changed. The same detail that gave me the electronic tether and the bus commute now has me thinking about work when I'm not in the office. I am not a happy camper. Because, unlike NPS and the parks I loved (Buffalo River, Apostle Islands, Saint Croix, Niobrara. . . and numerous others), this detail is not much fun to think about. There are way too many people involved in trying to create this document, there's extremely poor internal communication (I'd love to know how anyone can expect different agencies to cooperate in implementing this strategy once it's written when we've got different divisions within LNA fighting some fairly vicious turf wars), and the cliched goalposts keep moving. I'll put in several days trying to re-work a section, format it, maybe even get to the point of selecting graphics because it's so close to done, and then get told we're back to the beginning on that particular piece. Very, very frustrating.
And now I'm dreaming about the document and waking up early. I repeat, this is not good. The ankle bracelet was bad, but manageable (I brilliantly figured out that if I never turned it on, I could pretend it didn't exist). Invading my dreams, though. . . that's crossing the line. I did not want to be invested in this project, but it appears it's happened anyway.
Update: On top of the dreaming about it, today was definitely a Harlan Ellison (I Have No Mouth But I Must Scream) sort of day that had me trapped in phone conferences that just went on and on and on in totally unproductive circles for 90 minutes past quitting time.
Although the plus side of that was I got to see U.S. marshals block off Buford Highway and haul some woman away in handcuffs when they stopped her truck by forcing her to t-bone one of those humongous black federal law enforcement SUVs. The front end of her truck was pretty well smooshed, and it didn't look like there was even a scratch on that federal tank. Had I been home at my usual time I would have missed seeing the multiple helicopters in the air, the whole herd of tv news satellite trucks, and the cautiously intrigued on-lookers. The oddest part of the news report is seeing this neighborhood described as "suburban." Well, I guess it is -- it DeKalb County, not Fulton, and downtown Atlanta must be, oh, a good 6 minute drive away.
Sunday, September 7, 2008
So, what did I think of Twilight? Well, in the category of damning with faint praise, I do have to concede it's a heck of a lot better than any of the Sweet Valley High books that were popular when my girls were going through the young adult stage in reading material. It was also light years beyond the uniformly mediocre Potter books. Unlike J. K. Rowlings, Meyer can actually write.
On the other hand, Stephenie Meyer is no Paula Danziger -- although it's pretty obvious she's read a lot of Danziger (probably when she was in Danziger's target demographic herself and not as an adult). Twilight was undoubtedly influenced by Danziger classics like The Cat Ate My Gymsuit, except I found Meyer's self-centered and clueless heroine Bella a lot less likable than any of the misfits Danziger created. Danziger's characters have real problems -- as far as I could tell, the only problem Meyer's heroine has is she's so full of herself that she doesn't realize just how good her life is.
I can understand the appeal of Twilight: every tween/teen is totally convinced he or she is the one person on the planet that doesn't fit in anywhere, everyone's gone through stages where they're complete klutzes tripping over nonexistent cracks in the sidewalk and walking into doorframes, and everyone's also gone through the unable to talk honestly with parents about anything because they think the parents are too incompetent or too stupid to deal with reality. And every kid also fantasizes about being the positive center of attention even while they're feeling like the exact opposite -- and that's what Bella is in the book. She's a 17-year-old who thinks she's an unattractive outsider who will have zero friends at her new school when the reality is the opposite.
Her first day at the new school she has multiple male classmates tripping over themselves to hit on her, and she sits in classes feeling out of place not because she's feeling inadequate but because as an AP student at her huge urban high school she's already covered all the material that this pathetic little rural school is just getting to and she's having to go through the motions of needing to read any of it. Talk about catering to the ultimate tween/teen fantasy: superiority, not inferiority. Smartest kid in the school, not the dumbest. Not just one boy hitting on her, but a whole herd. There's this definite air of condescension throughout -- she's smarter than her classmates, she's smarter than her parents, she is the center of the universe.
And then she hooks up with a vampire. That's where the book definitely slides off into complete improbability, which is what fantasy is supposed to do, but there are limits. Meyer makes her vampires so over-the-top in the invulnerability category as to be unbelievable, and at the same time makes them so conspicuous in their not-quite-human auras and behavior that a whole lot of willful suspension of disbelief was required to keep reading.
Introducing the vampire does bring in the "Bella truly is the dumbest heroine ever" element. The boyfriend admits to her that he was attracted not because of her stellar personality, her sparkling wit, or even the fact she's a hottie, but because she smells good, kind of like a really prime T-Bone on the grill. He was drawn to her because she's food, kind of like a gourmet lunch unexpectedly appearing on a McDonald's menu. And then once she figures out that he truly is a vampire, what does self-centered Bella decide she wants?
To be a vampire, too, even after hearing all the downsides: having to move every couple of years because there's that awkward never growing old thing, having to constantly fight the urge to lunch on humans, not being able to go out in sun light, the ennui that sets in after a couple centuries go by and you realize that if you read one more bad piece of vampire fiction you're going to self-immolate, . . . I know Bella's rationale is that she really truly loves Edward and wants to be with him forever, but, hey, it's fairly obvious she's just dazzled by the glitzy side of vampire life: looking really good with minimal effort.
Bottom line: I'm glad I read the book, Meyer writes reasonably skillfully so it flowed easily and never felt like work (unlike those hideous Harry Potter clunkers) (or, on the adult level, the truly bad Sherilyn Kenyon fantasies), and I'm sure it won't sit very long on the Friends of the Library sale table. Am I going to bother with the rest of the series? No.
Saturday, September 6, 2008
Ever since I heard Sarah Palin open her mouth and allow pure stupidity to emerge -- "I guess a small-town mayor is sort of like a community organizer - except that you have actual responsibilities" -- I've been quietly seething. I've gotten used to politicians saying some truly stupid stuff, but to have the Republican vice presidential candidate manage to simultaneously sound as snarky as a self-centered 16-year-old on a My Space page and as ignorant as . . . as. . . well, a self-centered 16-year-old on a My Space page blew my mind. I know the woman didn't write the speech herself -- a vegetarian hypocrite named Matthew Scully* was the professional wordsmith who put the words in her mouth -- but didn't she have some clue just how many people she was insulting with that line? Including herself?
After all, who are community organizers? They're the people who do the stuff politicians won't or can't do until someone pressures them to. Martin Luther King was a community organizer. So was Sarah Palin when she served as president of her local PTA. Community organizers build the organizations ordinary people need to solve problems, both big and small, that government is failing to address.
Maybe it's the local PTA raising funds to buy books for the school library (oops -- bad example to use where Palin's concerned given her attempts to reduce the number of books in the Wasilla Public Library instead of expanding it), maybe it's a neighborhood group trying to get streets repaired or traffic signals installed at a dangerous crossing, or maybe it's an organization that starts off small and grows into a national movement, but whatever the motivation behind the organization, as Bishop Roy Dixon is quoted as saying by Faith in Public Life, "We see the fruits of community organizing in safer streets, new parks, and new affordable housing. It’s the spirit of democracy for people to have a say and we need more of it.”
On the other hand, when the Republican Party seems to have devolved into a group of aging white guys who are totally clueless about anything that happens outside their gated communities, it shouldn't be a surprise that their VP choice would gleefully exhibit so much contempt and disdain for anything that doesn't have a corporate stamp of approval on it. It's going to be interesting to see how this plays out -- I don't think the GOP had any idea how many of their own toes they were stepping on with that zinger. I think they forgot (or simply didn't care) how many religious organizations and churches are involved in community organizing. A Google search turned up a lot of sites selling tee shirts similar to the one pictured above, so there may be quite a few visual reminders walking around quite soon.
I do feel a little odd about the whole "Jesus was a community organizer" meme because even though I agree with the sentiment I'm not normally much of a fan of the faith-based community -- that big red A off to the side doesn't stand for Atlanta -- but this is one of those rare times when I'm in total agreement with Bishop Dixon and his colleagues, at least on the subject of community organizing.
Update: Go check out Stronger than Dirt for a great description of a VISTA volunteer's experiences in Montana.
[*He's a hard-core vegetarian who opposes all blood sports, but he's willing to help get a woman elected who thinks it's fun to shoot wolves from airplanes. If that's not hypocrisy, nothing is.]
Friday, September 5, 2008
I'm still convinced McCain wants to lose. It's like he looked at all the candidates being pushed forward for V.P. and said to himself, let's see, who's the least competent of the lot? And then he picked Palin.
I will take comfort in the fact the addiction isn't totally full-blown. I haven't taken the time to read the 60+ page vetting the Democrats did of her back in 2006 (as compared with McCain's 2008 post-it note), and I haven't gone running to Kroger to pick up the National Enquirer . . . but tomorrow is Saturday, so who knows how low I'll sink before the weekend's over.
Thursday, September 4, 2008
Georgia GOP Congressman Calls Obama 'Uppity'
Lynn Westmoreland, a conservative Republican from Georgia, let slip today what critics have been saying is the subtext of many of the attacks on Barack Obama: He's "uppity." According to The Hill, a Capitol Hill newspaper, Westmoreland was discussing Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin's acceptance speech outside the House chamber today when he veered into his thoughts on Michelle and Barack Obama.
"Just from what little I've seen of her and Mister Obama, Senator Obama, they're a member of an elitist class individual that thinks that they're uppity," Westmoreland said.
When a reporter sought clarification on the racially loaded word, Westmoreland replied, "Uppity, yeah."
Tuesday, September 2, 2008
Monday, September 1, 2008
Well, not anymore. I've learned the secret. Turned out Coke made with actual sugar is easy to find if you live in the right neighborhood. You just have to wander into a super mercado and look for the sodas hecho en Mexico, the Coca-Cola refresco that come in the 355 ml no retornable glass bottles.
I'm not going to linger long on the irony of having to buy Mexican Coke in Atlanta in order to find Coca-Cola that tastes the way it should.
Not all Mexican drinks are free of the curse of high fructose corn syrup, of course. Jumex canned nectars are loaded with the stuff. However, some of the other beverage brands do use sugar instead, and in smaller amounts than their U.S. counterparts. The Mexican mandarina soda I buy (and I'm blanking on the brand name) is sugar-sweetened, but has only 2/3s the calories of the same amount of Orange Crush.
Photo is not actual size. I swear the one I just saw trying to make the trek in from the patio was bigger.
Note to self: time to buy more boric acid.