Friday, December 7, 2012

Religion and Comic Books

Life.  Sometimes it just hands you amusement on a silver platter.  Some time ago our Four Musketeers who write on Comics and...Other Imaginary Tales touched on religion and science, a curiously hotbed issue in the USA and among more than a few other spots in the world, though less so here in our wonderful blog world.  We have one of our number who's a devout Christian, believing the literal truth of the Bible.  I'm the only outright atheist amongst the remaining three.  I'll not lay any claim to what the other two believe.  They can share that if they like.  We do not have sectarian strife.

I'm one of the rare atheists who likes religion.  I don't believe a lick of it but really like the stories.  That's one reason why I've studied religion a good bit.  In college I took several courses on religion.  I've read the Bible, the Quran, the Book of Mormon, some Upanishads, some Compassionate Budha, a lot of Native American myth stories, and a lot of Greek/Roman mythology, with a lesser amount of Norse, Japanese, and Chinese myth.  Oh, yeah, some Aztek, Maya and Inca myth, too.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Political Correctness?

A month or so ago I was reading something when someone said that All in the Family and The Jeffersons wouldn't have made it on TV today because they weren't politically correct.  Clearly, I'm missing something or the term has reached the point of meaninglessness, which is more likely.

Originally, saying something was politically correct was shorthand for saying being rigidly within the bounds of not saying something that might offend, particularly if those who might be offended were anything but white males.  Which is to say, it's a term created by white males petulantly whining that they couldn't insult people at will without being called on it.  Not that people couldn't be criticized on the basis of the substance of differences in actions or opinions.  Just that it wasn't legitimate to insult based on ethnicity or gender alone.  Wah, wah, wah.  White guys.  A lot of us sure are babies.

But All in the Family and The Jeffersons?  These two sitcoms were all about criticizing the stereotypes and prejudices of white males, especially the former.  The latter hoist the ego of George Jefferson on its own petard, skewering his own various prejudices.  Both used irrational statements by the lead character to show how that sort of bigoted thinking didn't make sense.  The shows weren't violating some sort of code of political correctness.  They were using coarse, unsupported opinions as a means to educate and amuse, actually supporting the political correctness of not letting insults fly without consequence.

A brief aside, too.  I don't know how anyone can say that these shows wouldn't make it today because they're not politically correct.  Has this person not seen the idiocy that is Two and a Half Men or The Big Bang Theory?  Talk about insults on intelligence.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Litte Seen

I'm back.  I know you didn't miss me because you're not reading in the first place.

I'll start on a happy note.  Way back on May 23, the Baltimore Sun ran a piece by Trang Diem Vu, a soon to graduate of Johns Hopkins University.  She was going to be going to the Mayo Clinic for medical school.  The same day, her sister would be graduating from Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine and beginning a residency.  Nothing terribly unusual in that, nor even that their family had come to the US only in 1990.  Immigrants working hard to have their children seize opportunities is a long story in the US.

What's unusual is that she didn't sell it as a "pulling up by my own bootstraps" sort of thing that's been twisted into a level of rationalization for selfishness that's dumbfounding.  No, "I got mine, screw you!" that's so prevalent in the Know Nothing movement.

Instead, she took the time to write this piece to thank all those who helped her.  In particular she thanked the city of Baltimore, a much maligned institution in Maryland.  She sings the praises of neighbors and teachers and many programs in the city and its schools that are in place to help the econimically distressed achieve.  She had an extended communtiy, Vietnamese, black, and white, that helped her and her sister to be fluent in English and achieve in school.

As she says, the graduation ceremony "is the peak to which the city of Baltimore has carried me and my family."
Congratulations to her for recognizing that she's not traveling life alone, that success is not a singular achievement, but one of community and caring.

Friday, July 6, 2012

Wave Goodbye

I have friends across the gamut of the political spectrum, so I get all kinds of propaganda on Facebook.  I have the strictly Christian relatives, whose political views aren't part of the frequent postings but whose postings are generally promoting a non-specific Christianity ('cause we all know there are a plethora of sects on that).  I have HS friends who subscribe to religious right opinions.  I have Libertarian leaning friends, who fortunately use their brains a lot more than the strictly Know Nothing sorts.  Surprisingly, the least frequent postings I see are from left leaning friends.  Not the usual chatter postings.  They have plenty of them.  They just don't put up a lot of political stuff.  Except my brother.  He does plenty.

So, that brings me to the point.  On the side of those opposing the Affordable Care Act (ACA or Obamacare), there's much gnashing of teeth that the government is forcing people to buy a product.  There's a certain amount of irony in that because the Democrats, on the whole, would have preferred a government run system of single payer insurance for all, but couldn't get that through with all the cries of socialism from the GOP.  Instead, the ACA is a GOP plan.  As we all know, it's the current GOP standard bearer's plan, which he now disowns.  Ah, hypocrisy, thy name is Romney.

The problem with the objection that the government (federal, in this case) is forcing citizens to buy a product is that the ship for objecting to that sailed long ago.  At the state level most states force citizens (and non-citizens, too) to buy auto insurance.  They also charge you a bunch of fees, taxes by another name, to register a car, get license, and all sorts of other things related to cars. 

Now, many argue that a person doesn't have to buy a car, which is true, albeit disingenuous in our car based transportation world.  Ok.  But the governments at the local, state and federal levels require taxpayers to buy all sorts of things, albeit indirectly.  We're buying highways and equipment.  We're buying food for those who can't afford it.  We're buying anything that the government buys.  It's our money, at some point.

Of course, legally speaking, the ACA isn't requiring anyone to buy anything.  You have a choice between buying health coverage (or obtaining it through your employer or the government) or paying a tax (fee) if you choose not to buy the coverage.  Guess what?  This has been going on for a very long time.  Ever heard of the mortgage tax credit?  You can buy a house and get the credit, if you have a mortgage, or you can not buy a house and pay more in taxes.  Same thing with the marriage tax credit and deductions for dependents.  You can choose to get married and have kids, getting deductions on your taxes, or you can choose not to and pay more in taxes.  It's the same thing.

Sure, it doesn't fly off the lips as readily as socialism or totalitarian alien, but then, reasoned thinking isn't a sound bite.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

It's a Derby (Demolition, that is)

What to do when the voices who are supposed to propogate reasoned information that promotes public safety instead misinform and promote anarchy?  Well, in my case, the solution is to get on here and bitch about it.

Two recent examples come to mind.  Both are legally incorrect.  I know because I'm both a lawyer and somoene who works in auto claims in Maryland. 

First, there's a new law in Maryland that's designed to protect police and EMTs and such from getting killed by morons driving recklessly and speedily.  There's no question it's a dangerous place to be when a cop pulls someone over for speeding or something.  Highway shoulders aren't affording any protection from the morons who drive too fast and lose control.  So, Maryland passed a law that says anyone passing an emergency personnel vehicle with lights activated has to either slow down to 10 mph below the posted speed limit or move over a lane.  It has to be that either/or because not every place that cops pull someone over has more than one lane, unless you want to compound the situation and have people crossing the center line into oncoming traffic.  Anyway, the State Highway Administration and the police are putting out there only one part of the law, the having to move over a lane.  This means that traffic is effectively funneling into only one lane on most highways whenever a cop is on the shoulder, jamming up traffic and making accidents more likely.  It may be the preference of the cops that traffic move over a lane, but it's not the law and it's creating dangerous situations.

Worse than that is the traffic light admonition being promulgated in local media.  Maryland had severe storms blow through on June 29, which caused a lot of traffic lights to be out at intersections.  Every local station, radio or TV, is telling people to treat these intersections as 4 way stops.  Problem is, that's not the law in Maryland.  They're only supposed to be treated as 4 way stops if the intersecting roads are the same size (i.e. both are 2 lanes in each direction).  If one road is larger (i.e. 2 lanes in each direction versus 1 lane in each direction), then the larger road has the right of way.  So, someone who knows the law and is proceeding along a major road with the right of way now has people pulling out in front of them from smaller roads because the local news is telling them the person on the major road is supposed to stop as though it were 4 way stop.  I smell major accidents and possibly litigation against the stations spreading the misinformation.  Now that would be interesting.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Happy Birthday, USA!

I like flags.  I mentioned that, right? 

So, in honor of the nation's birthday, here are some flags through its history, including a few before it was actually a separate country.

From 1775, this was a Continental Navy flag.  It wasn't about Federal taxes.  Really.


Also from 1775, this was the Sons of Liberty flag.


Clearly, 1775 was a busy year for flags.  Probably had something to do with there not being an actual country or central authority.  This was a New England, though the tree puts me in mind of California.


Now, this is probably my favorite, combining my two favorite countries as it does.  This one dates to 1776 and was the Grand Union flag, making obvious the ongoing connection to Britain despite the conflicts.


The better known flag from 1776, the famous Betsy Ross version.


A new favorite for me.  This was a Maryland regiment's flag at the Battle of Cowpens in South Carolina in 1777.  Evidently the original is in the Maryland State House.  I'll have to get a copy to fly at my house.


This one's called the Indian Peace flag and is from 1803.  I don't suppose the Indians found much peaceful about it.


The Great Star flag from 1837.  No idea why the stars were configured this way.  Not much standardization back in those days.


The symmetry in this 1847 flag is interesting.  Reminds me of Chinese Checkers, though.


This was the flag flown at Ft Sumter in 1861.  Some 14 years and 4 more states later someone was trying to keep the 1847 design going.  Looks more like Space Invaders than Chinese Checkers.

Post Civil War, this 1877 flag is curiously amateur looking. Does everyone claim to be the biggest star?

After 1877 the flags more or less fall into line and keep the same basic idea as our current flag, just adding in new states as necessary.  There hasn't been a change in the flag since 1960 when our last states were added.  Puerto Rico, we're waiting for you.


Tuesday, July 3, 2012

A Switch in Time?

Hoo Rah!  It's time for the conspiracy nuts to crawl out of the woodwork.  The Supreme Court, as we all know by now, decided that the colloquially named Obamacare is constitutional, by a 5-4 vote.  What's interesting in that is who was the 5th vote in favor of upholding the law.  Chief Justice John Roberts cast the deciding vote and wrote the opinion.

This makes two cases where he sided with the liberal side of the court (Kagan, Sotomayor, Ginsberg & Breyer) and against the "conservatives" (Scalia, Thomas & Alito).  Surprisingly, Chief Justice Roberts had voted against Arizona's restrictive immigration tactics as an affront to an area specifically designated for Federal control.  That kind of obviousness didn't stop the three mental midgets from voting for Arizona, or Scalia from shooting off his ignorant mouth at the release of the decision to attack President Obama on an issue entirely unrelated to the decision at hand (amnesty to illegal immigrants brought here as minors).

These switches by the previously solidly conservative Roberts reminded me of The Switch in Time that Saved Nine in 1937.  Then there was the threat of expansion of the court to 15 justices because FDR was frustrated by the court's continual overturning of New Deal legislation and state legislation regulating business.  There was no such threat this time, though.  Coincidentally, the justice who switched from voting with the conservative block of four then was also named Roberts.  Justice Owen Roberts was the one that time.

I'm thinking that the switch this time may have something to do with Justice Scalia.  He's so unreasonable, so partisan and so divorced from any clear legal thinking, Roberts may be trying to separate himself from Scalia to show that it's his court rather than Know Nothing darling Scalia's court.  Roberts is the Chief Justice, after all.  Scalia can keep his posse of Alito (a cypher so far as any thoughts of his own) and Thomas (the most unqualified justice to serve in half a century), who support whatever he says without question.  Like the wing nuts they represent, they're only driving themselves further away from the majority and relegating themselves to the ash can of history.

Monday, July 2, 2012

Religion's Hostility

Recently the new Archbishop for Baltimore had an op-ed piece in the Baltimore Sun.  It touched on problems with immigration laws in places like Alabama and Arizona criminalizing the compassionate works of the church if their compassion is directed toward illegal immigrants,  but the main thrust of the piece was that churches, and the Catholic Church in particular, are being persecuted by the US Government.  In fact, he went so far as to draw comparison to Christians being killed in Iraq and Nigeria.

Now Archbishop Lori had just enough sense to say that the persecution faced in the US is much less severe than places like that, but he still thinks he's being persecuted in the US.  How?  Why, the requirement that church based organizations that provide services to people who aren't of that particular faith have to provide health care coverage to their employees that provides for services the church might oppose.  In his case, that would be abortion and contraception.

Of course, this would be a moot issue if the GOP had allowed passage of a health care law that provided for a single payer system through the federal government, but instead we have a plan based in Republican principles of promoting private industry, which the GOP opposes mostly because a Democrat lead the charge on its passage.  Now they characterize their own philosophy of just a few years ago as socialism.  But I digress.

Churches complaining about unfair treatment by the various governments of the United States is usually very amusing to me.  Churches are mostly heirarchical organizations that dictate from the top what the followers below are to believe and do in comportment with those beliefes.  Southern Baptists (or whatever new name they're using) and Quakers are among the exceptions, but the Southern Baptists still end up in the same place with a sort of tyranny of the majority that has lead to the expurging of moderate and liberal congregations that haven't fallen into lock step with the conservative majority.

And that's because monotheistic religious organizations are inherently anti-representative.  They enjoy the greatest freedoms in the world here in the US, where no religion is allowed to have supremacy over any other in government, but religions themselves are monarchical or dictatorial.  It's why churches, and the Catholic Church especially so, were supporters of the divine right of kings.  It fit with their philosophy that all came down from the supreme diety, via his representative, the Pope.  The Protestant Reformation brought plenty of conflict between countries where the Protestants became the majority against countries where Catholicism was the majority, but they weren't any better in supporting representative government.

It was the almost pagan Founding Fathers who brought representative government back to the world.  Most of them would be eviscerated as something less than Christian by today's right wing who ignorantly hoist them as some sort of saints who crafted an infallible document, bizarrely making the US Constitution into another book of the Bible.  The irony runs thick.

Friday, June 29, 2012

Opportunist

I do some gardening and home maintenance, as most who own a home with any land do.  I've reduced the amount of lawn on my acre in favor of landscaping.  It looks nicer and cuts down time on mowing.  When I first started with it I worked on the popular conception of planting things I bought at local nurseries and weeding out anything else from the landscaping.  As time has progressed, I've gone in a different direction.

See, life (living things) is an opportunist.  There's no cognizant thought necessary.  Life is just carpe diem.  Look at the various plants growing in cracks in sidewalks and roads.  They're going to get run over.  They're going to get weeded or sprayed.  If there was intelligence there, it wouldn't pick that spot.  And yet, that's what works.  Life seizing opportunities is why there is so much life.  Plenty of those seized moments result in failure (death), but those that make it through spread life even further.

Sometimes that life seizing life is at the expense of other life, too.  Quite often, actually.  Kudzu strangles out other plants all across the South.  Animals eat plants or other animals.  Mammals become dominant over lizards.  It's been going on as long as there's been life on Earth, if not longer on some other planet or moon in the universe.

Interestingly, the most succesful of living things on Earth is the only one to try to put the brakes on its seizing of opportunity.  Humanity is the only living thing ever to have considered the matter, at least on this planet.  Any other life on this planet that was as successful would simply continue to seize its opportunities until there were no more opportunities to be seized and it was so successful as to cause its own end.

But life is merciless.  Life doesn't consider other life or inanimate objects.  Life grabs what it can take for as long as it can take it.  It may look beautiful to our eyes, as does my landscaping that's now a mix of bought plants and wild plants that have joined the fray, but it's not compassionate or in any way loving.  Life's a bitch, then it dies.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Tipping

What's going on with tipping?  When I was young, my mother the accountant taught me that a standard tip was 15% for good service, with bad service being something less and excellent service being something more.  Now, advice columnists espouse 20% and a floor, and tell people that even the business owner should be tipped, at least in the context of a hair stylist.

How's that?  The hair stylist is getting all of the money from the cost of the service if the hair stylist owns the business.  The point of a tip is to provide more to a low paid employee for being particularly good at the job.  It's a sort of incentive program for good service.  The employer already has the incentive, to go along with all the money from the basic charge.  If the owner doesn't provide good service, the business goes under.

Then there's the issue of mandatory tips.  Those are reserved for large groups.  It's just that what constitutes a large group seems to be shrinking.  When I waited tables about 23 years ago a large group was 10, at least 8.  Just a few weeks ago at The Green Turtle it was 6.  That mean an 18% tip, without me having any say about it.  And the service was maybe 15% on that occasion.

Which brings about my bigger beef.  I'm not a fan of tipping in the first place.  It allows employers to pay below minimum wage to people who are working hard and takes the management of those employees' performance out of the hand of the employer and puts it into the hands of the customer.  I want the employer to be responsible for the employee's behavior.  I don't want to have to be the one to regulate it, and indirectly at best.  It's not like I can sit down and have a lengthy conversation with the server about performance and goals.  I'd much rather the tips were abandoned and a full, living wage be paid to the employee, with commensurate firings for those not performing adequately.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Flags and Know Nothings (aka Tea Party)

I like flags.  National flags, mostly, with the Maryland flag being an exception to otherwise largely dull field of state flags.  I also like historical flags.  I always have a US flag flying at my house, whether it's the current flag or a historical one, such as the circular star field of the original 13.

Recently I was shopping for replacement flags.  My US flag was sun faded and my orignal 13 flag had gotten torn.  I found a current flag easily enough but wasn't so lucky in finding the original 13.  However, in the course of my search I did find a historical flag from the Revolutionary period.  Actually, I found two that had some similarities, but important differences.

One was the Don't Tread on Me flag depicting the coiled snake.  The other is the Join, or Die flag depicting a snake in several pieces, with each piece representing a colony or region.  The Know Nothings have seized on the Don't Tread on Me flag as a symbol of their terrible oppresion under the tax code of the United States.

The Join, or Die flag shows clearly that the Revolution would not have succeeded if the 13 colonies hadn't united.  In fact, the Articles of Confederation that first governed the 13 colonies also showed that being united had to be more than a European Union sort of unification.  There had to be a strong central government to make decisions that affected all 13 colonies, or different numbers of them, because not all government decisions could be made at the state level.  The squabbling between the original 13 brought actual governance to a halt, much like the European debt crisis drags on and on without a central decision making authority.

The Know Nothings, as befitting their lack of intellectual heft, use the Don't Tread on Me flag to mean something it didn't mean during the Revolution.  The snake on the flag represents the united colonies resisting the crown.  They were being stepped on because the crown was imposing taxes in which the colonies had no say, as well as quartering troops in private homes, among other indignities.  None of this is what's going on in the US today.  The taxes at the federal level are taxes resulting from votes by duly elected representatives of the very people claiming they're being oppressed.  They're not being oppressed.  They just don't like that they were in the minority in the most recent election.

The Know Nothings totally miss the point of what the Founding Fathers learned.  To be free the colonies, later states, needed to be united.  They needed to work together to address the problems that crossed state lines.  That's precisely why the Constitution was drafted.  It was a work of compromise that papered over significant conflicts between the states, but it created the framework for a central government that could evolved over time to address the needs of the people. 

We the People.  It's right in the first words of the document as to who it's for.

Of course, I bought the Join, or Die flag.  There's no time for subtlety when there's this much stupidity running around.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Pandora and Personality

I recently bought an iPhone.  To be accurate, I bought iPhones for myself, my wife, and the two kids.  Anyway, the three of them give me grief about how few apps I have on the phone that's really a small computer.  One of the few I have is Pandora.

Pandora is an internet radio of sorts.  You create stations by entering an artist or song, which it plays for you and then cascades from there to other songs and artists who are in the same field of sound and style.  It means you don't pick your own songs but go with whatever the algorithm provides.

My wife doesn't like Pandora much because she doesn't have control over what's being played.  She wants to pick the song she wants to hear.  I like it.  I like the new discoveries that result.  Besides, I'm seldom in the mood for only one song or artist.

It's a difference in personality.  She wants control.  I like going with the flow.  It works pretty well for us in the marriage, too, as long as we're communicating well about these things.  I've seen the same dynamic in vacations, which she likes to schedule.  By working a give and take between us, we end up with a vacation that has some structure to it but isn't limned with requirements of being at x place at y time.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Skew the Game

My wife has some Republican tendencies.  As a result, she's made a big deal of the fact that Obama recently had the single largest, in terms of money, campaign fundraising event ever, and that Obama spent far more than McCain in '08.  The angle of attack is that Obama isn't any representative of the common man but a tool of wealthy interests.  I can always tell when she's been watching Faux News.

There are major flaws with this line of thinking.  First, Obama's spending in '08 was from large numbers of small donations, not big spenders.  Kind of had to be, then, as Citizens United hadn't been decided yet.  The campaign money spiggot that's now open was closed then.  So nowhere near as much money could even come into the campaigns unless it was from a wider base of sources, which dilutes the influence of the large money donors.

This is the flaw in the thinking behind Citizens United.  Well, one of the flaws.  By equating money with speech, the Supreme Court decided that the speech of the wealthy is more important than the speech of the non-wealthy.  Everyone has an equal right to spend as much money as he or she wishes on campaign electioneering that's not directly controlled by a candidate, but the wealthy easily shout down all those who don't have the disposable cash to spend on TV, radio, and newspaper ad buys, as well as internet ads, come to think of it.

Anyway, back to the point.  The fact that Obama raised the most money at one event isn't nearly as significant as how much money is raised over the course of a camaign.  Romney is quickly overcoming Obama there with all the unregulated money of wealthy donors, which is another vast difference between the two campaigns.  While only something around 16% of Obama's donations come from those making the maximum contributions, Romeny's percentage is around 80%.  The huge number of dollars coming in to Obama are from small donators,  giving what they can.  Obama manages to get a few larger contributors together at one event, but that's nothing compared to the many large donations coming in to Romney.

Who does Faux News think it's kidding (other than the obvious answer of my wife)?  They helped lobby for this fucked up system that Citizens United has wrought because it provides diproportionate benefits to the few that their party represents.  Now they try to portray this free money system as benefitting the very man they targeted by this effort.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Making Decisions

Yesterday I touched on the problem of parents making decisions, and teaching their kids the same.  Seems like more than a few kids are led down the path of "I can do it all", which is far from the truth. 

It reminded me of how hard it is for decisions to be made in work places.  Small businesses are less likely to have this problem, especially if they're so small as to be run by one person, but in a big business like the one I work in, making a decision is a lost skill.

Nothing can be decided of any significance, and what's significant keeps getting smaller and smaller, without three levels of discussion, if not more.  And that's just on a simple claim.  Don't let there need to be a decision on something broader, like the generality of how to structure the claim handling.  That takes years of committees and pilot programs.  And the end result is what you'd expect from that many cooks in the soup.  All very frustrating.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Physics and Childhood

I've read about the over schedulers of the world, and sometimes I feel like I've become one with the dance activities for my daughter, but I've really run into one now.

A friend of my daughter goes to the same dance studio and is on the competition team.  She also has been doing cheerleading, lacrosse, field hockey, GT class work, and on and on.  Every thing that comes across her path that she finds interesting she wants to do.  And her parents go right along with that. 

The thing is, there's only so much time in a day and only so many places you can be at one time.  In fact, it's 24 hours in a day and only one place that you can be at a given time.  This is causing conflicts with the various activities, and the mom wants to try to get the activities to tailor a schedule to the daughter can do everything.  But you can't.  The space time continuum will win on this everytime.

What needs to be done is the making of decisions.  Choices have to be made.  "If I'm going to do X, I can't do Y."

We started on that a long time ago.  Katya was limited in the number of dance classes she could take, especially if she wanted to do something else, like soccer or Girl Scouts.  Over the years she's decided dance is her favorite, and she now takes a lot of dance classes.  But, she's not doing anything else, either.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Contradictions

I've heard more than a few people complain about the lack of restaurants in Reisterstown and Owings Mills on Reisterstown Rd.  Too many auto parts stores and nothing to do.  This amuses me because it sounds like they want to live in a city where there's a vibrant night life.  Of course, they're afraid to live in Baltimore, so that's out.

When you press on it, what they want are more chain restaurants, though.  Not McDonalds or BK, which are already present.  They want Panera and the like.  As it is, Owings Mills has Outback, Bone Fish, Red Robin, Don Pablo, Green Turtle, Five Guys, and is almost certainly going to have several more in the Owings Mills Mall redevelopment and the development of the Owings Mills Metro stop, where there are seven liquor licenses. 

I fail to see what is so appealing about more chains.  It's like a parochialism.  Eldersburg has a Panera, so Owings Mills must have one, too.  Why?  It's just an over priced sandwich shop.

What Reisterstown does have are The Grille at Harryman House, Tonino's, The Cow, Java Mama, and other locally owned restaurants.  Owings Mills has some of its own local places, too.  That's what I like to see.  Not a homoginzation but an individualization.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Holiday

Happy Juneteenth!

Scheduling

Things are a bit busy at the moment and no one's reading this other than me, so I'll be posting whenever I feel like it.  That may be weekdays or it may be something less.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Poor Driving Assumptions

A few days ago I was heading home after work.  I was on Church Rd in Owings Mills.  In fact, it was Tuesday when we had the monsoon weather.

Anyway, I'm behind a large red pickup truck that belongs to Kinsley Construction.  It's poking along on Church, which is to be expected to some extent because of speed humps that make you slow down to 25 mph on a road that's posted for 30 mph.  Crappy construction of the humps, that.

But the driver of this truck has to know I'm behind him.  I have my headlights on and have been behind him for a good quarter mile or so.  In fact, he passed me as I waited to turn right behind him.  Nonetheless, as we near Delight Rd he puts on a left turn signal and crosses the center line toward the driveway to a residence, right at one of the speed humps.  Naturally, I figure he's turning into the driveway.  And he is.  Sort of.  But instead of pulling head in to the driveway, he wants to back in.  So, he crosses the center line and then starts to swing back into my lane as I'm continuing past him.  The son of a bitch nearly hits me right on my driver's door, but apparently notices me just in time and stops.

What kind of moron assumes that traffic behind him is going to a) know that he's making this kind of maneuver when he just has a left turn signal on, and b) doesn't stop once he's crossed the center line to make sure the traffic behind him has stopped to allow him to complete the maneuver.  No doubt he would have been incredulous and thought I was at fault if he had hit me.  Probably would have claimed I tried to pass him illegally on the right, even though that's an impossibility with the woods right up on the road.

Par for the course in that area, though.  I'm constantly having people pull out from the stop sign on Delight into my path on Church, even though I'm clearly coming right toward them and don't have a turn signal on to turn onto Delight.  It's a breeding ground for stupid driving right there.

Friday, June 15, 2012

Making my Head Hurt

I investigate complex auto insurance claims, as you may know.  What I think is complex and what someone else thinks is complex are often two different things, though.  I ran smack into that talking to a cab driver earlier this week.

So, my insured loses control of his vehicle, hits a parked car on the left side of the road, then swerves right and hits a cab stopped in front of a residence after having just dropped off a fare.  My insured says the cab made a U turn into the side of his vehicle as he was passing, pushing him into the parked car.  The cab driver says he had no reason to make the U turn because he was going straight down the road once he was done with the fare, as he does regularly in dropping off this fare.  Giving my insured less credibility, he fled the scene, but claims he walked back after parking his damage car a few blocks away.  He didn't talk to the police because he's not on the police report.

But here's the part that left me going in circles with the cab driver.  My insured had no driver's license.  The cab driver concludes that because my insured was driving illegally without a license, my insured must be at fault for the accident.  If he had been obeying the law and not driving, the accident would not have happened.

The thing is, that's not logical.  The possession of a license is irrelevant to whether a person is driving a car negligently.  Not having a license is a criminal or traffic violation that is separate from a tort determination of who was negligent.  They're different, albeit overlapping, areas of law.

I tried to explain to the cab driver and brought up the example of drunk driving.  I've had a few claims over the years where a person was driving drunk but was not at fault in the loss.  The person was going straight and someone turned in front of them or something along those lines.  He just would not get it.  He was hung up on the illegal operation of the vehicle, either drunk or without a license.  I tried to paint it for him by saying if a licensed or sober driver was substituted for the illegal driver, the same result would have occurred, and that person wouldn't be at fault.

It all ended up moot because I found the cab driver far more credible than my insured who fled the scene, so he was perfectly fine with my finding the insured at fault.

To some degree it reminded me of the illegal immigration discussions.  Far too many people think that illegal immigrants get whatever they deserve when they're here illegally, as long as what happens to them is negative.  If the illegal is successful, or even just getting by, the illegal should be sent "home" because the person is here illegally.  Nevermind the contributions that person is making to the society.  Immigration status is all that matters.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Happy Flag Day Birthday

Late getting this one up because of work, but it's a special one.  Today, my boy, in all his goofy might, is 11.  Upholding the tradition of his namesake grandfather, he was born on a minor holiday. 

Hard to believe our jaundiced baby is now off to middle school in the fall, but he's still as silly as ever.

A big Happy Birthday, my boy.  Enjoy the Pokemon fiesta.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Segregation in Housing

I don't know what to make of this one.  The Baltimore Sun has an article about housing patterins from 1977 to 2005.  Read about it here.

For starters, the study only tracks black and white families.  Um, there's a lot more to the ethnic make-up of the US than that, so I don't know that the initial premise of the study is entirely valid.

And that's reflected in the numbers.  Much is decried that 44% of black families who moved in the time period moved to predominantly black neighborhoods, while 5% moved to predominantly white neighborhoods, 18% moved to multi-ethinic neighborhoods, and 34% to other types of neighborhoods.  Similarly, 57% of whites moved to predominantly white neighborhoods, 2% to predominantly black neighborhoods, 6% to multi-ethnic neighborhoods, and 36% to other types of neighborhoods.

For starters, I don't know what the hell an other type of neighborhood would be.  It seems to me the first three categories cover all the bases.  I suppose it could mean predominantly Hispanic, Asian, or Native American neighborhoods.  But what's the size of a neighborhood?  Parts of Ellicott City have large Korean populations.  Does that make those areas predominantly other types of neighborhoods, or is the whole of Ellicott City what's counted and it's considered predominantly white or multi-ethnic?

A large hit to the questionable usefulness if this study is in the terminology.  "Predominantly" is a key word.  That's because there aren't many neighborhoods, particurly in urban and suburban areas, that are entirely one ethnicity.  Even in rural areas it's getting harder to find, as many Hispanic immigrants are willing to move far and wide for employment.  And why not?  They already left home for a strange land.  While there are some clusters of fellow immigrants to give support in more urban areas, there are more labor job opportunities in rural areas.

So, what does this study provide?  Aside from a somewhat hysterical, and possibly misleading, headline that segregation remains a problem in the US, not much.  Some white people continue to flee further and further away from cities?  No news there.  They mostly cloak it in affordable housing or lower taxes, as our white flighters from Maryland are wont to do, but some are doing it to live with "their own kind" as much as possible, too. 

These numbers really mean next to nothing because of the qualifiers used in the black and white neighborhoods and the lack of definition for the other.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Wealthy Wage Class Warfare

One of the great victories of the GOP is that it has mastered the manipulation of language to bamboozle people into voting GOP when there's no rational economic reason to do so.  I've mentioned previously how the GOP has sold the public on the idea that benefits that only benefit the wealthy are really good for everyone else because we might all be weatlhy someday, despite the statistical improbablility, if not impossibility, of that.

A corollary to that sale is the mantra of "class warfare," and its sister econimic pejorative, "socialist state."  Despite a three year track record of supporting business development and expansion Obama is still pasted with the socialist label by the GOP and its many minions of moronic mouthing.

But class warfare is my favorite of the moment.  Everytime the wealthiest of the nation are asked to contribute more to the weal of the broader population, a population entirely necessary for their success, large numbers of these wealthy cry "class warfare" (with the exception of your occasional Warren Buffett or George Soros). 

Which is fine, I suppose, in so far as greed is fine.  Because, really, what's being asked of the wealthy wouldn't even be one luxury car for them and none are being asked to subject themselves to penury.  But the amazing thing is how many people who are not weathly and aren't likely to be wealthy will carry their standard and fight their peers in these things.

Look at Wisconsin.  The recall vote for governor was based on anger over public employees losing collective bargaining rights, which is the same thing as not having unions, seeing as that's what unions do.  Governor Walker's solution to a declining Wisconsin economy, industrially based as it once was, was to convince people who lost their own union benefits when the industrial jobs went away to vote to deprive their fellow workers in the public sector of the same benefits they once had.  The GOP has turned worker against worker and used them to push worker benefits further downward.

Of course, the irony in this is that most of the benefits that are so costly, the ones related to health care, would be entirely unnecessary if the United States had universal health care.  Businesses would have much more flexibility, and workers, too, if there was no worry about paying for health care.  That's a big write-off the business books if health insurance isn't necessary.  It particularly benefits the small business that can then hire more talented workers who might otherwise go to work for the bigger companies who can afford health coverage with the greater spread of the cost in more employees.

The GOP supposedly is the stalwart of small business but has worked consistently at keeping small business down by driving costs on to small business that ought to be born by the larger society.  Once again, it's war waged on the lower earners, and using lower earners to fight the battle for them.

The GOP has for some time been the representative of irrational thinking, whether it's evolution or economics, but it's getting worse all the time.  Now the presidential candidate of the party is a guy who has blatantly changed positions solely to run for the office, cannot even lie with a straight face about his bullying behavior as a youth, and is quite obviously running primarily as today's Steve Forbes, a man who wants to hoard as much money for himself as possible, silver spoon providing the leg up for each.  It's no wonder Donald Trump is a Romney supporter.  He's as big an ego maniac as we're likely to find in the celebri-business world and Romney is just the same, only with better hair.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Automated Machine Sentience

My office has gone to touchless equipment in the bathroom for the urinals, sinks and paper towel dispensers.  The soap dispenser for the sink is set wrong so that it's constantly shooting soap out at you as you rinse your hands under the water, which has resulted in a battle between employees who twist the dispenser to avoid that and whoever thinks it should be set on its base as aligned.

More interestingly, the paper towel dispenser has achieved intelligence.  Its sensor is set at a short range so that you have to nearly touch it to get a towel out of it; however, as of Friday it is now anticipating my arrival and need for a towel.  I walked into the bathroom to the sound of a towel dispensing, but no one was in the bathroom until I entered.  I'm hoping the ambitions of a paper towel dispenser are limited and that it won't start to conspire with the sink, soap dispenser and urinals to take over the office, though in truth it might operate better if it did.

Friday, June 8, 2012

Immigration

I get mighty tired of the anti-immigration crowd, who cloak themselves in opposition to illegal immigrants but who don't make much in the way of fine distinction between those who are legal or illegal.  On the whole it's a matter of whether they speak English or Spanish.  Seems like Russian speakers don't engender much antipathy. 

Anyway, amongst their crusades of righteousness is English Only.  The idea here is that English is the lingua franca, always has been and always should be.  The fact that English Only flies in the face of equal access seems to be of little concern.

So, I'm reading Franklin and Marshall College's alumni magazine for Spring '12.  There's an article about the goings on in the soon to be US (ok, it already was, but pre-Constitution) in 1787, the year of the founding of Franklin College.  Here's some interesting information from that time.

"The mission of Franklin College was to educate the German youth of central Pennsylvania and help in the diffusion of 'knowledge through every part of the State, in order to preserve our present republican system of government, as well as to promote these improvements in the arts and sciences which alone render nations respectable, great and happy,' according to the petition put before the General Assembly of Pennsylvania."

At the dedication ceremony for the school the program was printed in English and German.  The college's first "principal" delivered his address in German, while a professor of English delivered his address in English.

It's nothing new that immigrants have come to this country not speaking English.  But Franklin and Marshall set the right example from its inception in trying to make those immigrants into full, functional citizents of a society governed by elected representatives.  Today's English Only and Know Nothing crowds are only interested in marginalizing immigrants to keep them from taking American jobs, as if American were limited to only those born here.  Shit, most of these Know Nothings know so little they ought not be allowed to vote, but for the illegality of poll tests.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Citizenship Test

Why is the citizenship test for non native borns to the US being used as a political tool of indoctrination to Know Nothing thinking?  You think I kid?

Here's a link to a sample of the citizenship test.  Citizenship sample questions.

The answer the adminstrators give to the question of what was the cause of the American Revolution: high taxes.  Bullshit.

The cause of the American Revolution, so far as taxes are concerned, was not high taxes.  The issue was that the taxes were imposed by Parliament and King George on the colonies without any say by the colonies.  The colonies had no representatives in Parliament; therefore, they were without voice in the matter.  The taxes were imposed to help defray the cost of the French and Indian War, which had been fought to the benefit of the colonists, so the mother land had a legitimate argument that the colonies should help pay for the war.  Some colonists were willing to pay the taxes even without a voice, too.

The answer given by the government is entirely without historical merit and reflects a Know Nothing thinking that says all taxes are bad.  That's one of the main idiocies of the Tea Party movement.  They object to taxes under the banner of the Boston Tea Party.  The Boston Tea Party was about taxes imposed without representation.  Taxes by the federal government are the results of votes by a Congress and President who are all elected.  They may be idiots, but we elected them to be our representatives.

The Know Nothings are really a petulant, childish movement.  They want to keep everything and not share and have temper tantrum when they don't get their way.  That and they're afraid of that which they do not know, particularly people from other countries or cultures.  Wah, wah, wah.

It's not Constitutional but I wouldn't mind a citizenship test for everyone before they could vote.  The problem would be making it a test of substance that was non-partisan.  Ah, meritocracy.  Would that you were feasible.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

So?

If you're living in Maryland, this is a headline you're seeing in almost all of the local media sources:

This one is from the Baltimore Sun, but the TV and radio folks all have the same story. 

And that's the problem.  It's not much of a story and certainly doesn't paint any picture of where things are going.  To put the statute granting same sex marriage rights in Maryland up for referendum only 55,736 signatures were necessary.  Over 122,000 were submitted.  This is presented as some sort of great victory for opponents of same sex marriage.  Not so much.

Baltimore County alone has a population over 1 million.  Baltimore City is over 600,000.  Montgomery and Prince George's Counties are larger than Baltimore County.  These signatures are drop in the bucket in the population of Maryland. 

And polling in Maryland is trending for more than 57% in favor of the statute.  We'll see when it comes to the actual voting, but it's far from over.

Monday, June 4, 2012

Delicious Irony

I recently read an article on extreme mothering by celebreties.  For instance, Alicia Silverstone chews her son's food before giving it to him to eat.  Mayim Bialik is still nursing a 3 1/2 year old son.  And Gisel Bundchen is among celebrities who are raising their kids without diapers.

The first seems to me to be made unnecessary by the invention of the blender, though, truth be told, finding a nice stone to pound the food to mush would work just as well in a pre-blender society.  The long term breast feeding seems like a relatively recent idea, and certainly is not common in the US.  The diaper bit can be traced back throughout much of human history, naturally.

The one thing these all have in common is that the require the presence of a mother with a child 24/7, especially the latter two.  Mom better be around for that breast milk snack, and she sure as hell better be around to watch the child like a hawk for signs that bowel or bladder activity is imminent.  Evidently that's how it's supposed to be done, so the kid can be held over a toilet.

The irony in all this sort of child rearing by women from what's generally considered left leaning celebrity land is that it's a very conservative view of women.  Women are primarily present to provide sustance and training for children, and by these labor intensive methods, do not have the time for any other role.  Certainly they don't have the time to work a job that requires an 8 hour day, 5 days a week.

Of course, it has a double irony because it's so elitist.  Women who live in lower economic circumstances, who have to work to support their families with either a second income or a primary income for the family, don't have these options.  They can't stand there watching for signs of impending poop.  A diaper will have to do.  They can't be around to be a ready faucet whenever junior wants a snack, either.  Work is calling.

Not that I'm saying that any of these child rearing things is a bad thing.  I reserve that for raising a kid vegan.  We're omnivores, people.  Our bodies are the product of millenia of evolution in which our ancestors ate whatever they could get their hands on.  Eat meat in moderation.  It's good for you.  And vegan kids, especially boys, have stunted growth from the vegan diet.

Ah, well.  Far too late for my kids to have this sort of high end rearing.  They're long past the diaper and mommy masticating stage.  Instead of focusing on these sorts of peculiar things, I'd rather someone focus on finding a way to get my kids to hand in the work they've completed instead of getting docked for being late, even though they were done on time.  Sheesh.

Friday, June 1, 2012

Economic Insanity Corollary

Yesterday's post delved into the fallacy of GOP economic theory.  Here's a corollary to the con job they've perpetuated on the American people.

The laws that they want to benefit the 1% of the wealthiest portion of the population are to the benefit of the remaining 99% because at some point the members of the 99% will earn so much income that they too will be in the 1%.  You wouldn't want laws that take money from the wealthiest because you, the Horatio Alger that you are, will someday have made a pile of cash that will be taxed away from you.  Not that the tax would take anything remotely like all of the wealthy's cash, but that's the gist.

That, of course, is a statisical impossibility.  At no point can everyone in the 99% take a turn being part of the 1%.  There's nothing like a constant current of new members of the 1% with old members of the 1% joining the 99%.  The 1% only occasionally changes in constituency. 

As a result, the GOP has a significant number of voters believing that laws that harm them are ultimately to their benefit because they might, some day, become wealthy.  A Ponzi scheme of epic proportions, far exceeding Madoff.

Thursday, May 31, 2012

Economic Insanity

Recent polls suggest that on the economy voters are split 50/50 on whether Romney or Obama would be better as president.  Near as I can tell this is a reflection of the greatest con job since PT Barnum or Ponzi himself.

It's part and parcel of a grand con job that started with Reagan and trickle down economics but has spread into the great lie that all taxes are bad.  All taxes retard business activity and dampen economic growth.

This starts with a kernel of truth.  Too much taxation can cause business to move operations or not expand.  However, the kernel does not blossom into all taxes being bad, which is where Romney is.  Furthermore, taking business tax and equating it with income tax is a sleight of hand that only cause concentration of wealth in the hands of a few.  Wealthy income earners are not businesses creating jobs, unless you count their personal servants. 

Jobs are created by businesses.  On the small business side these are often individuals, but their personal income and business income, while tied to one another, are not synonymous.  Money generated by the business can be returned to further investment in the business or to the personal income of the individual.  If the business is so profitable that the individual becomes wealthy, that is, is able to sit on large sums of money, it's in the broader interest of the society that such concentration be spread out.  Taxation encourages that person to put more money into growing the business or into charitable endeavors that benefit the larger population, as both lower the taxes that the individual pays.  If the person decides to do neither and pays the taxes instead, the money is also spread to a wider use.

Frequently the argument from the proponents of concentration of wealth comes down to this: "No one will want to become wealthy if the tax burden is X.  Everyone will want to be poor because all the money is being distributed to the poor."  Here's the thing.  No matter how much money is given to the poor, they're still poor.  That's because money isn't given directly to the poor.  The money is used to provide opportunities, such as education and housing, or to provide staples, such as basic food that WIC provides.  It's not even low middle class level of provisions, though.  No one wants to stay at that level (unless they're fulfilling the Lazy and Stupid Theory).  Most just have no knowledge of how to get out of it. 

Conversely, the taxes that hit the wealthy are on a small percentage of very high income earners.  They still have so much money left over that they can afford luxury goods and still have money to spare in large quantities.  No one is going to want to give that up for some government assistance programs.  That would be an extreme example of the Stupid part of the Lazy and Stupid Theory if it were to happen.

Despite all this, the GOP has managed to sell half the voting population on the idea that its in their interest for the 1% of the wealthiest earners to keep as much of their money as possible so that that 1% can create jobs.  Never mind that money that comes in as income isn't used to create jobs.  If the wealthy have more money to buy more toys, in some mysterious way a job will be created for you, the 99%.  Oh, sure, it probably will be at Wal-Mart as a greeter, but it's a job and you should be kowtowing to the 1% for giving it to you.

Economic insanity.  Doing the same thing (cutting taxes for the wealthy) over and over but expecting different results (less concentration of wealth in the hands of a few).  Ever since Reagan the GOP has been selling this policy and nothing has ever trickled down to the rest.  In fact, the other arm of the GOP plan is to provide even less government services for the rest of us.  The only thing they want to maintain is the military to protect the 1%'s assets around the world. 

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

All Human Ills

I have a theory.  It's a theory I've espoused for many years.  My wife has occasionaly tried to disabuse me of the flawlessness of the theory, but so far I'm finding there is no flaw.

Here it is.  All human ills that are not caused by natural phenomenon (earthquakes, hurricanes, etc) are due to either laziness, stupidity, or both.  Hell, even some of the ills associated with natural phenomenon fit, such as building a city below sea level in a hurricane prone area.

But try applying the theory to anything that comes across your path personally or in the news.  Somoene shoots someone else over a drug dispute?  Stupid.  Shooting isn't going to resolve the problem, just spiral it further.  It's also lazy because the disputants fail to take other means to resolve their dispute.  Or, more broadly, it's stupid because it's a product of making drugs illegal rather than regulated.

Someone cuts you off in traffic?  Too lazy to look in their mirrors or too stupid to double check.  My favorite, of course, is all the lazy bastards out there who don't use turn signals.  I've posted before about the prevalence of this with luxury car drivers, but it's not limited to them.

So, go ahead and apply the theory to your life.  Laziness and stupidity are the banes of our existence.  Recognition of that is the first step in endeavoring not to be one of the perpetrators.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Traditional Marriage

In the ever ongoing debate about whether gays should be allowed to have marriages recognized by the civil law of the states, much is said on the opposing side about traditional marriage being between one man and one woman.  Sure enough, that's generally been the case in Western history, but how those marriages are viewed historically versus now is very different.

Most marriages in the US are entirely as between a man and a woman deciding to marry one another.  That's a fairly recent change, particularly in the higher classes of society where marriage has been about family alliances and binding ties rather than love and affection.  Considering that the upper classes were the ones who created the laws about such things, it's interesting to note how different the view was.

I've been reading Cervantes's Don Quixote for probably about a year now.  I only read a couple of chapters a week because I'm reading several other things at the same time.  Recently I came across a passage in which Don Quixote was talking about marriage.  Much of the book is about the travails of various couples in love and the impediments to them marrying.  Don Quixote, in his fantasy role of knight errant, is often defending such unions, and yet he declaims the following at length.

"If everyone married the person they love parents would lose their power to marry their children when and to whom they should; and if it were left to daughters to choose their husbands as they pleased, one would pick her father's servant, and another a man she has just seen walking down the street and who she thinks looks jaunty and dashing, even though he is in reality some wild swashbuckler; because love and fancy easily blind the eyes of the understading, which are so necessary when making decisions about settling down in life, and with marriage there is such a danger of making mistakes, and great circumspection and the special help of heaven are needed to make the right choice.  When a pruduent man sets out on a long journey, he first looks for someone trustworthy and agreeable to keep him company.  Well, should not someone setting out on the journey of life, with death as his destination, do the same, particularly since the person he chooses will keep him company in bed, at the table and everywhere else, as a wife does her husband?  The companionship of one's wife is not some article of merchandise that can be returned or bartered or exchanged after it has been pruchased; it is an inseparable appendage that lasts as long as life itself lasts.  It is a noose that once placed around the neck becomes a Gordian knot, never to be undone except by the scythe of death."

Now, Quixote is generally considered to be insane in his actions but entirely rational in his arguments, so far as the other characters and the narrator of the book are concerned, so I take this as a position that the general society of the time found appropriate.

Advocates of traditional marriage, then, ought to be careful of that for which they wish, lest they return to the tradition of parentally chosen marriages and no divorce under any circumstances.  I don't know what heterosexuals in the US would do if they didn't have divorce.  Divorce is a fair recognition that people make mistakes in their decisions and should be able to rectify those mistakes.  You might as well ban bankruptcy as ban divorce.  They're both designed to reorganize and repair mistaken relationships.

Friday, May 25, 2012

A Change for the Worse

No, this isn't some right wing attempt at cleverness about hope and change.

As most who know me are aware, I spend a lot of time at dance related things with my daughter.  Spring is competition season for her studio, so T Unit (as the team is called) has several weekends of naught but competition.  The last one was this past weekend in Towson, which was a lot closer than the one two weeks prior in Huntingtown.

Anyway, dances run the gamut from classical to current pop in the accompanying music.  Unfortunately, when the music is announced with the dance, all too often I get my hopes up that it's a song I like, only to be disappointed.  Who knew there were so many covers of famous songs?

The most disappointing this weekend was Seven Nation Army.  This White Stripes song, probably the band's best known song, is one of my favorites.  But when the song started playing there was no driving drum beat by Meg White or Jack White's powerful vocals.  Instead it was a slower, tamer version sung by some woman whose voice I didn't know.

That was even worse than all the lyrical dance numbers that take already slow songs and use cover versions that make them even slower and more depressing.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Why I'm a Father

Or, I could call it Why I'm a Fater, taking a page from my son, whose Mother's Day card said "Happy Moter's Day".  Made it himself, in case you couldn't tell.  Maybe I'll get the same deleted "h" next month.

Anyway, continuing my theme of exploring my self descriptives, today's choice is why I'm a father.  Of course there's the obvious that I got my wife pregnant, but since that was the goal, and we live a time and place where not getting pregnant is fairly routine, there's more to it than the biology.

I've probably put less thought into becoming a father than I did with the the other things on my descriptions.  Only being a pain in the ass has engendered less thought.  That just comes naturally.

For as long as I can remember I always presumed I'd be a father at some point.  It was more a matter of when than whether.  My father much preferred being around kids to being around adults, appropriate enough for someone in elementary education, but I never had such an affinity for kids.  When I was one I certainly enjoyed it, though like most I wanted more autonomy. 

It certainly hasn't been my experience of kids since I was an adult.  Most kids are irritating to me.  They're too often untrained.  No adult has ever taught them any kind of self control.  They run around in places they shouldn't.  They scream and holler to get their way with weak will parents who bend and break.  Or worse, they ignore what their parents say without consequence. 

I suppose the biological imperative of passing on the genes is a good reason but wanting to have my own kids who don't behave like so many of those I've experienced is a good reason, too.  I think I've been successful at that, too.  Not that my kids are any paragons.  They need frequent reminders of things they should remember on their own.  They need reminding about behavior every now and then, too.   But on the whole they behave in a way I'm happy to say is appropriate for their surroundings, whether informal or formal.  When it's time to play, they're on that.  When it's time to sit quietly, they're able to do that, too.

So there's one of my contributions to society.  Two people who know how to behave appropriately and civilly in society.  Yea me.  Now if I can get them out of school and into jobs, we'll be all set.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Weak Faith

What would I do without The Sun to provide fodder for this blog?  Here's the latest: http://www.baltimoresun.com/news/opinion/oped/bs-ed-obama-marriage-20120516,0,1078517.story

There's so much to savor here, it's hard to know where to start.  I guess I'll go with the obvious chortling with glee that Mike McManus displays in this column in which he opines that President Obama's statement that gay marriage ought to be recognized civilly is guaranteeing that he'll be a one term President.  You'd never know it from the print version but the on-line version says this guy's a pastor.  He's definitely not one of the forgiveness kind.

Then there's the name of his group - Marriage Savers.  Being a single issue group, it's clear he and his believe that keeping gay people from marrying is necessary to save heterosexual marriage.  For the life of me I can't see how that's going to happen.  Gay people have never been able to legally marry until recently, yet the marriages of straight people have been failing for millenia.  I don't mean failing in terms of divorce.  The increase in that rate is about a half century or so of event.  I mean that marriages throughout history have largely been a failure by the standard of a partnership.  Most often it was a one way street in which the female was subservient to the male.  That's not a successful marriage.  That's just bondage.

What strikes me most about this column is how weak is the faith of opponents to gay marriage.  The premise of their opposition is basd on a conflation of two different things.  Their opposition is based on religious faith that says a marriage recognized by their religion is between one man and one woman.  Ok, fine.  That has nothing to do with civil marriage.  A government recognition of marriage serves two purposes.  One, it promotes stability in relationships, thus stability in home situations in raising children.  (This is theory, not reality.  Reality is that many marriages are unstable and promote dysfunctional children.)  Two, civil marriage provides benefits to partners (and children).  Tax benefits, legal status in home ownership, legal power to make decisions relating to one another, and inheritance and insurance benefits accrue from civil marriage.  Civil marriage has nothing to do with religious faith.

As it stands, gay people can already get married in religious ceremonies.  Unitarian Universalist churches, for one, will marry gay couples.  No one from another faith is required to recognize those marriages.  Similarly, civil marriages are not required to be recognized by churches.  All churches have to do is provide equal benefits to their employees, but nothing requires that a church hire a gay employee in the first place.  Churches, and Congress, are in the unique position of being protected in being as discriminatory in hiring as they want to be. 

Further bolstering my view that opponents to gay marriage are weak on their own faith, McManus, writing about the successful killing of legalized gay marriage in California, quotes a TV add run during that election.  The ad said "Children in public schools will have to be taught that same-sex marriage is just as good as traditional marriage."  This was apparently the lynchpin in the success of the drive to kill gay marriage. 

Ironically, it sums up what's wrong with the opposition and their blindness to the flaws in their position.  Why would it be a bad thing to teach children that civil marriage is civil marriage, regardless of whether it's between a man and a woman or two people of the same gender?  Without meaning to, McManus is saying he is in favor of segregation.  Marriage is a good thing but we're only going to allow some people to get married.  If you're gay, you are segregated from this institution.  Get to the back of the bus and ride your civil union.  Or no union at all.

It's all so pointless to me.  Opponents of gay marriage can't keep gay people from having sex or living together (Bowers v Hardwick having been overturned).  So what's the point in segregating gay people?  They're still going to engage in the behavior you abhor.  All you're doing is keeping them from enjoying legal rights that any other couple composed of opposite sexes can enjoy.  Or not enjoy, as there are plenty of heterosexual couples who decide not to marry, voluntarily foregoing the legal benefits.  But that's their choice.  Why deny gays the same choice?  Even more pointlessly, in the end, no matter how many of these efforts McManus and his allies overturn, in the long run gay marriage will be recognized.  Younger people don't have the issues he has with gay marriage.  In 20 years, as older voters overwhelmingly opposed to gay marriage die off, there will be gay marriage throughout the land, no matter the losses now.

And as a final note, not really germane to the main point, I'll point out that the religious premise of one man/one woman as the basis of traditional, biblical marriage is bunk, too.  There was polygamy in the early days of the Bible's writings.  What about that tradition?

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Maryland Special Session

This almost falls into the category of Why I'm a Democrat, but not quite.

My disorderly party, frequently know for fights among its own members, showed again why it is often its own worst enemy when the Democrat controlled Senate and House of Delegates in Maryland failed to pass a budget by the end of the regular 90 day session.  It's one of the reasons I'm amused when the Maryland GOP decries the control Democrats have over the legislature and executive in Maryland, bemoaning one party rule.  There's no unanimity among Democrats, so there's never any danger of one party hegemony.  Of course, the other amusing aspect of the Maryland GOP's lament is that they don't have a similar concern about one party rule in, say, Alabama, Mississippi or Texas.

Anyway, here's The Sun article on the results of the sesssion.  http://www.baltimoresun.com/news/maryland/bs-md-special-session-day3-20120516,0,2008676.story

I couldn't find the article from the previous day that broke out by Maryland county where the tax increase would effect people.   This tax in crease is only on the top 14% of incomes in the state, so 86% of Maryland residents are facing no tax increase at all.  Of the 14%, the increase will range from 1/4% to 3/4% over the current taxes.  So, for all the GOP cries of economic collapse from this increase, we're talking miniscule sums to these particular high income earners.  On average it'll be a few hundred dollars for each of these households. 

This is a far more fair tax than the 1% increase in sales tax that was the last effort to balance the budget.  That's a regressive tax that disproportionately falls on the lower income earners.  As a percentage of income, it's a far larger hit to the poor than these few hundred dollars is to the high earners.

Now, the item that's something of a point of pride for me as a Democrat is who voted for this.  Aside from a few dissenters in Montgomery County, the Democrats who passed this are passing this as a hit on themselves and their constituents.  Of the 14% of all Marylanders looking at a tax increase, 75% of them live in Montgomery, Howard, Anne Arundel, and Baltimore Counties.  They and Prince George's County are the core of the Democratic voting block that conrols the legislature.  Almost all of the Republican controlled counties, where opposition lies strongest to this tax increase, each have less than 2% of the population that will face this tax increase.

Democrats should be standing up and saying, look, we did what had to be done to balance the budget and retain the spending priorities important to Maryland voters.  We did it and we paid for it with a tax increase on our own, not the voters who dissent from responsible governance.  Democrats need to sell responsible governance as a give and take.  Responsible governance is compromise.  This is a prime example.

They should be embarrassed that they had to call a special session to do it, but when they met in that session they did it right and did it promptly.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Point Man for Maryland Racists

Del. Pat McDonough of Baltimore and Harford Counties always reminds me why I'm glad I live on the west side of Baltimore County.  Our pols are far from perfect, but at least they're not demagogues pandering to the worst fears of constituents.

McDonough is best known for his incessant attacks on Hispanics.  He calls them attacks on illegal immigrants, but his discernment of who's legal and who's not is something he's spent no time honing.  All Hispanics are illegals, so far as he's concerned.  Of course he's spearheaded the crusae to repeal Maryland's effort to make the children of illegals full citizens with strong educations and a likelihood of being productive members of society.  Wouldn't want that.  Better to send them all home.  Of course, you can never catch them all to send home, so that means you just create a sub strata of society that has no chance of advancing on the economic ladder.  Unless they're Cuban, of course.

But McDonough's usual racist attacks on Hispanics isn't today's subject.  No, our hero took the opportunity of the last day of the legislature's specials session to call for martial law in Baltimore's Inner Harbor.


Here's a quote from The Sun about the "news release" McDonough put out.  The title of the release is just so subtle. "'Black Youth Mobs Terrorize Baltimore on Holidays.' In it, McDonough said he had sent a letter to Gov. Martin O'Malley urging him to use the state police to help prevent attacks and to declare the Inner Harbor area a "no-travel zone" until safety can be guaranteed."

Let's just think about the stupidity here.  The solution to a few incidents of youths causing fights is to shut down the businesses at the Inner Harbor, and barring that, to scare as many people away from patronizing those businesses as possible.  How's that helping the city? 

Keep in mind that no one has been killed in any of these incidents.  In fact, no one has been seriously injured, viral video of one guy being knocked down, robbed, and stripped naked notwithstanding.  That guy was so drunk he didn't even remember the incident or report it to the police until the next day.

Now, there's no question the police need to be on the scene in large force whenever these incidents occur.  Plentiful arrests of these bands of bozos, who appear to think they're just engaging in some fun, will put an end to it quickly enough.

The real issue isn't misbehaving youths.  The issue is that McDonough feels it's necessary to point out the ethnicity of the youths.  Quoting The Sun again, "McDonough refused to back down, saying he had heard from police that the crowds involved in several recent incidents were all black. Failing to mention the race of the participants, he said, would be 'political correctness on steroids.'"

McDonough, of course, has no first hand knowledge of the ethnicity of the youths and cites no specific person with such knowledge.  He's citing the grapevine.  There's a persuasive source. 

Then there's what he calls "political correctness".  This remains one of my favorite bullshit terms the loons on the right use.  It's so broadly used as to be almost meaningless, but it boils down to a label for anyone who doesn't agree with them and points out the utter baselessness of their assertions.

For instance, what relevance does ethnicity have?  Is McDonough saying that everyone should be forewarned to run away from black people?  It certainly seems that's the only possible relevance.  So, if you run across an NAACP meeting, make sure to run and hide, lest the distinguished members suddenly turn into a violent mob and attack you.  Even if his warning is limited to black youth, I'd have to say he and his adherents avoid Ravens games.  Most of the team is black.  They're young.  They might go charging into the stands to assault people at random.

I would hope the voters of eastern Baltimore County and Harford County would have enough of this idiot and his blatant racism, but he's been there a long time, so I doubt it.  Still, there are more and more black and Hispanic voters living in that area, so his day will come in time.  More power to them.  I'll stay in western Baltimore County, home of the sane.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Animal Rights Blindness

I think I've mentioned on other posts that I catch the Ellen Degeners show on Mondays because my daughter likes it and has it on when I'm working out.  Well, as long as she has her homework done.  I've also mentioned some of the goofy things that come out of the show, and Ellen in particular.  Recently, there was another.

Ellen was quite upset that people in areas hit by disaster weren't allowed to bring their dogs to the shelters.  This is a travesty, I guess, because people and their "animal companions" should not have to be separated in such trying times. 

As though everyone can be around dogs.  Cats, for that matter.  There are plenty of people with allergies to the animals and still others who just are afraid or uncomfortable with them.  On top of that, from what I've seen of how people don't train their pets, there's not a chance in hell I'd want to be in a shelter where people are allowed to bring their pets.  It'd be bad enough if I had to put up with their untrained kids.  No need to inflict dogs and cats on me too.

There's a lot of this sort of thing with the animal rights crowd.  They believe that animals are equivalent to humans.  They have the same worth so they should be treated equally.  They can believe that if they like, but there's no way you can convince me a cat or dog is equivalent to a human.  You might have some luck with higher primates, sea mammals, and maybe even crows and ravens, but pets?  Nah.  They may be lovable, but that doesn't make them the same as humans.  Inanimate objects can be lovable.  They're not the same as humans, either.

Seems to me the solution for this is that the animal rights crowd goes into disaster areas and provides shelters for pets somewhere near where the people shelters are.  Then the owners can spend time with the pets while not causing problems for the humans who are their actual equals. 

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Irrational Behavior and Healthcare

Can someone explain to me the philosophical opposition that the GOP has to the Obama healthcare plan?  I don't mean political opposition to the plan.  That I get.  Anything Democrats favor, the GOP oppposes.  That wasn't always the way of things in Congress, but that's the way it is now.

What I mean is, what's the philosophy to the opposition?  For instance, the GOP is philosophically in favor of banning gay marriage because it believes that government has an interest in recognizing only a marriage between one man and one woman.  I can argue the validity of that position, but it is a philosophy.

There doesn't seem to be any philosophy underpinning the opposition to the healthcare plan.  The arguments have been based on states' rights, a long dead doctrine resolved once by the Civil War and again by Brown v Board of Education and its progeny, or that there's a violation of individual rights in requiring the purchase of health insurance.

This Supreme Court, which can't even read the one sentence Second Amendment accurately, may well be dumb enough to revive states' rights, but that's still not a philosphical opposition to the plan itself.  If the plan were changed to be universal, government administered healthcare paid for by a tax, the states' rights argument would die on the vine but the opposition would not.  As a tax paid program it would be no different from any other government plan, such as agricultural subsidies, defense spending, or WIC.  Yet the GOP remains adamantly opposed to providing healthcare to as many Americans as possible, operating in some sort of logical bubble that separates the availability of medical providers from the expense of paying for them.

The opposition based on the requirement of individual purchase of coverage is not a philosophical objection, either.  It's convenience.  The GOP doesn't oppose mandatory auto insurance.  For that matter it doesn't oppose requiring fees to register vehicles or to obtain a driver's license.  These are all required purchases.  Again, the current Supreme Court is dumb enough, and ideological enough, to buy this argument, but it's still not a philosophy. 

Why does the GOP oppose Americans having healthcare available and paid for in a sustainable manner?  (Not that this plan is necessarily either, but it's an attempt, and none of the opposition to it is couched in any failure it may be in that attempt.)