Thursday, December 31, 2009

Year-end Christmas Present Special

New office decoration.

Yes, I do have the best girlfriend ever. No, not the pretend one in the poster, the real one who put the poster under the tree this year.

Year-end Pre-January 1 Bowl Games Special

The Arizona Wildcats apparently thought last night was their Holiday Bowl walk-through rather than the actual game, and came away with a 33-0 drubbing at the hands of a pissed-off Nebraska team. The highlight of the evening for the 'Cats was Ndamukong Suh's failure to behead either of the UA quarterbacks. Three of Arizona's top signees for next season picked the U over Nebraska; the incoming AD better check to see that those letters of intent are signed in blood, or carved in stone, or possibly both.

Notre Dame did not play.

The end.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Year-end Abby Wambach Girlfriend Special

I think about current events and then slave away over the keyboard for full minutes, searching for just the perfect combination of words and the most apt turn of phrase, to bring my readership the most insightful commentary possible on politics and culture, occasionally baseball and soccer and food, every once in a while a heartfelt and poignant essay on life and family. And what do people want to know about? What brings them here in droves, more frequently than any other search terms?

abby wambach girlfriend.

Jesus. Fine. For the final word on "abby wambach girlfriend," head on over to the Twitter and follow Sarah Huffman and you will get all the updates you need on that particular Wombat situation.

Meanwhile, I will continue to toil in political commentary obscurity, dreaming of the day that a certain MSNBC commentator, while Googling giant lesbians on the US national team, will realize she needs a regular correspondent from this little blue corner of a big red desert. A girl can dream, no?

Year-end Terror Special

Janet Napolitano had an unfortunate little moment of idiocy a couple days back when she said the thwarted Christmas Day airliner attack showed that "the system worked," unless TSA's new super-effective security system relies on incompetent terrorists setting their nuts on fire, immobilizing them long enough for the nearest Dutchman to get them in a headlock. In which case it worked just fine.

Arizona's own esteemed junior senator, Jon Kyl (R-OhForFuck'sSake) piled on yesterday with his own little bout of idiocy.
Sen. Jon Kyl said he doesn't "feel totally safe'' with Janet Napolitano at the helm of the Department of Homeland Security, given that agency's handling of the attempt to blow up a Detroit-bound airliner.

Kyl said it was bad enough that the Nigerian got on the plane in the first place given what should have been warning signals. But in response to a question about whether he feels secure with Napolitano heading Homeland Security, he said that is only part of the problem.

Yes, the guy was dragging more red flags than the entire Pamplona running of the bulls and The Last Samurai combined and still managed to buy a ticket in Africa and get on a plane in Amsterdam. But. Unless Janet Napolitano was personally standing at the jetway door in Lagos saying come in! you fool! and waving Captain Underpants onto the plane without a passport, I'm not sure she's the one who needs to be slapped around here. Except, of course, for saying the parts of the system not involving self-immolation and alert Dutchmen worked.

Frankly, her words may have been more of an inadvertent slip than the up-is-down doublespeak/dumbassery we took them for at first. TSA security is... not thought out perhaps as well as it could be, shall we say, something I've thought ever since Richard Reid failed to ignite his Chuck Taylors and condemned the traveling public to taking off their shoes at security at the rest of forever. I said then that if I ran an al Qaeda cell I wouldn't bother trying to actually kill people, but would simply send a string of flunkies onto planes to pull off increasingly absurd failed attacks involving increasingly intimate levels of undergarments, just to see how far TSA would go with their reactionary rather than preventative rules. OMG a shoe bomber! Everybody take off your shoes! Jesus, a bra bomber! Sorry, ladies, but that's going to have to go into the bin. Holy shit, a hair bomber! Please hop into the barber chair right here at the shoe dropoff, okay?

And then aQ went and spoiled it by ramping up immediately to their underwear bomber, and the best TSA could bring themselves to do is no blankets and no laptops and no paperbacks and no wanking through your pants in the last hour of flight. Because the very first thing that went through everyone's mind when this news broke was underwear bomber = everybody flies naked now and TSA can't make that particular the-jokes-just-write-themselves joke come true. So they slap together more patchwork rules that essentially say okay, don't try THAT particular tactic again, which does pretty much zero to prevent the next new thing aQ will think up to make air travel even more annoying and possibly deadly, and I'm left with the distinct impression that the ultimate fallback system TSA is really counting on is passengers noticing something off and saying oh FUCK no and jumping the next guy who tries to blow up a plane.

Bruce Schneier, whose job is to think about this stuff, thinks the same thing.

"Security theater" refers to security measures that make people feel more secure without doing anything to actually improve their security.

Security is both a feeling and a reality. The propensity for security theater comes from the interplay between the public and its leaders.

When people are scared, they need something done that will make them feel safe, even if it doesn't truly make them safer. Politicians naturally want to do something in response to crisis, even if that something doesn't make any sense.

Happy traveling, America! And hey, keep your hands where I can see them.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Late December

*knock knock* Is this thing on? The annual post-Christmas timewarp trek up to my family in Flagstaff always makes it feel like forever since I've been back in my regular life. My brother and cousins and I crowded up to the table and played games and got fed and managed to forget for a couple of hours that we all got started on our personal white hair farms a long time ago. My son--aghast at learning that the piece of white wire he plucked from his own head last month was not an anomaly, but instead an unavoidable genetic legacy courtesy of a grandma we suspect started coloring at an early age--joined in and confused the hell out of me for a while because he's the age now that I usually feel I am at these confabs.

We sat around the fire drinking wassail and my father joined in the games he usually swore he hated playing and stayed up 'til midnight playing and laughing instead of stomping off to bed at nine grousing at us that we'd never get up in time for breakfast if we didn't go to bed too. He carried extra logs inside and put them on the fire and asked if I wanted more to drink, didn't hassle my brother inordinately, ruffled his grandson's hair and smiled, and it was warm in the house against the single-digit wind outside and I was seventeen again or maybe ten and the world was simple and right.

Yesterday morning I got up from the twin bed I slept in as a kid, straightened the dinosaur print blankets added to the mix when my younger brothers inherited the beds for their room, loaded up the car and pointed it home. A low sky hung to the south as the ponderosa pines thinned and the rocks asserted themselves above the snow and we dropped down below the rim to rolling rangeland, the raggedy gray cloud veil standing sentry over the passing through before we were spat back out into the desert where the calendar matters.

Monday, December 21, 2009


O_o. While I was away ripping out chicken wire and catclaw and building new fences and baking the wrong cookies and half-assedly dusting, the Republican leadership officially went batshit crazy.

Wow. When did Hulk Hogan get a second job as a mouthbreathing evangelist? And where is his spandex? I was originally going to slice this up and deal with the little bits piece by piece, but it's taking longer to scrape my jaw off the floor than I thought it would. Just watch the whole thing, maybe three times, and explain to me if I'm wrong in concluding that these witnessing chowderheads have finally conclusively demonstrated that they have abandoned any pretense of rational thought. Who is the Logic: Ur Doin It Rong poster boy here? Jim DeMint (R-Leviticus)?

If we have the government making decisions about the most personal and private part of our lives, it is so naive to think that that coverage is not gonna include a number of things that cause people of faith a lot of heartburn, whether it's funding abortions... whether it's funding medical marijuana...

Or Sam Brownback (R-James Dobson's Pocket)?

The Democrat [sic] leadership wants to fund abortion in this bill. And it's real tragic, because abortion's not healthcare!

Nice effort there by Brownback, but then DeMint brings it home with the simplest and only summation you really need.

We cannot fall for this idea that we need to keep our faith in the closet and let the country go its own secular way.

Congratulations, Jimmy D, for that spectacular bit of fail. Pardon me for not sticking around to join the jesusjesusjesus mumblers around you, but I need to get shopping for a bigger hat if y'all are calling down so much wrath from heaven.

I Come to Work to Recover from My Weekends

*flump* and Boltgirl collapses into the spring-shot non-ergonomic office chair nicked from the conference room several years ago when the last hand-me-down chair stopped being tolerable, and takes a deep breath.

Our annual holiday party hit Saturday afternoon and evening, and was lovely and exhausting as ever. Despite the large group (~65 hardy souls) and significant number of children under the age of five, absolutely nothing sticky got spilled on the floor, and every last empty bottle and can made it into the recycling bin. While this considerably diminished the usual Easter morning find-the-weirdest-places-people-decided-to-leave-stuff quality of the next day's cleanup, I was impressed. The exhaustion came in large part from--in what is becoming an alarmingly annual occurrence--something large and structural deciding to fall down in the yard, requiring a major construction episode starting 48 hours before the first guests were supposed to show up.

In the end, the new stuff got built and the landscaping got repaired, but I ran out of time to produce two signature dessert items and ended up with the wrong ingredients leading to a substandard batch of the signature hot spiced cider, and exactly one person noticed--that would be me--all of which served to remind me that the point of the whole deal is to reconnect with old friends and share hospitality with new ones and not send anyone home poisoned. And by those most important standards, it was a rollicking success.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

In Which We Have a Request for Santa

Random poster benefiting the American Library Association.

Want. Wantwantwant. Uh, because I'm a huge fan of reading, of course. That's the only reason. Seriously.

Monday, December 14, 2009

But a Supermajority Sounded Like Such a Good Idea at the Time

And this is how it ends. Can someone please explain to me--big words are fine--how a party can spend eight years being shit on by the majority and then, after gaining not only a majority but a veto-fucking-proof sixty seats, make their number one perpetual priority not offending the other party and caving in to their every demand? It's a classic abusive relationship, except, I suppose, for that crucial part where the abuser apologizes and makes nice for a while and promises to change, mainly because the Republicans and conservative Democrats and in-it-strictly-for-the-ego-stroking-and cash independents like Joe Lieberman face absolutely zero repercussions for their behavior and know no effort is necessary on their part to make a show of contrition that will bring the Dems crawling back with renewed hope. Seriously, fuck that sanctimonious Lieberman and every spineless Democrat who refused to call shenanigans on his bullshit and Bart Stupak's bullshit and Ben Nelson's bullshit and and the entire wad of bullshit confit in bullshit served over a bullshit puree with caramelized bullshit sauce and fennel fronds.

Teabaggers, you win. You stuck up for the insurance companies and worked against your own self-interest in working against the best interests of the nation, predictably and right on schedule, and the fucking Republicans and their pet Lieberman laugh all the way to the Aetna hospitality suite.

Yo, fierce advocate. Step it the fuck up, man.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Adventures in Reading

Sometimes old books are cool just because they're old, and sometimes they are downright MADE OF AWESOME. This one belonged to my great-uncle George.

First Reader, by Florence Rose, Heath & Co., Boston, 1904

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Advent Time

My days of lighting the purple and pink candles in the Advent wreath are long past, and I haven't had a decent chocolate-filled calendar in years, but Chez Bolt is quietly preparing for Christmas. Oh, you'd barely notice it from the outside. Some lights are up, but we haven't gotten around to finding the extension cords yet, so they're strictly a daytime decoration so far, and the tree has yet to make an appearance, and the stuffed albino squirrel still awaits his Santa cap.

I have been killing the time between the ordinary calendar and the appearance of the aforementioned harbingers of the season by baking cookies and playing music, reaching back into the past with the muscle memory of rolling pins and puffs of flour and ancient harmonies on the vocal cords as the past reaches forward with bubbling memories of scents and reverberation, and we meet somewhere in a middle where my grandfather still hangs boughs in every room and my grandmother scurries about a warm kitchen.

The house is shuttered now, of course, my grandfather long the property of the stars and the saints and my grandmother fading in the haze of a nursing home, and a thousand miles away I cut her shapes into dough and play his chords and, for the briefest time, collapse the years and the distance and feel Christmas again.

Merrily, on high.

Friday, December 04, 2009

The Weekend in Sports

The Friday in Sports, more like it, although it's effectively ended the Weekend in Sports not 20 minutes after it began. Uh, chickie pea in the pink shorts on co-ed team Should B? Yeah, you, the one who hacked me and trashed my ankle when you were already up 11-9 in players and 4-1 in goals? 20 minutes in? Yeah, fuck you. Instead of beers with my teammates I got a hot date with a cold bag of frozen peas. Fuck off with your hacky ways. I'm too old for this.

The upside is getting a jump on watching the women's College Cup on the DVR. Stanford beats UCLA on two Oh My Goodness goals resulting from rapid-fire collect-control-turn-SHOOT shots that left the Bruin keeper helpless and flat-footed. ND-UNC is up next; go Irish.

What else... ND declined a bowl bid, thank Touchdown Jeebus. In Additional Upside News, the upside to the crap season is lots of ND gear being offered at deep discounts, so I got matching Zbikowski jerseys (or Tony Rice, or Kyle Rudolph) for myself and my brother for Christmas.

And Kevin made the finals of Top Chef. Life is good, except for this ankle.

In Which We Have the Glimmer of a Chance

I would point out, for the record, that Boltgirl is also obsessed with The Weather Channel.

Continued Moments in WTF-ery

It's cold and dark when I have to get out of bed in the morning now, which I do not want to do in general and not at all now that we put the flannel sheets and extra blankets on, making the bed more of a giant warm marshmallow wrapped in a flannelly cloud cocoon that I DO NOT WANT TO CRAWL OUT OF EVER, plus judging from the interesting odor in here something appears to have died in my office overnight and it wasn't just dreams of weddings and rings and fabulous parties in New York.


So I'm spending my smoking breaks today--since I don't smoke--finding bits of marriage-related right-wing fuckery and posting them here. No fumar aqui, pero fumo cueste lo que cueste. Forthwith, courtesy of Joe.My.God.:
In a Christian Post article about an upcoming biography of Saddleback megachurch Pastor Rick Warren, we learn that Warren freely admits that when he married his wife, he didn't love her, was not attracted to her, and had "no feelings" for her at all. But he married her anyway because the marriage had been arranged. By God.

Good for you, Rick! Congratulations on your loveless arranged marriage! Fucking hell.

Thursday, December 03, 2009

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

Stop the Presses; Boltgirl Disagrees--Gasp--with Rachel

Oh, it was bound to happen eventually.

Visit for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

I don't see yesterday's escalation announcement as a new iteration of the Bush Doctrine so much as a response to the original Afghanistan situation continuing, albeit in a different venue; instead of blowing the whistle to stop the game and issue the Taliban a well-deserved red card, some cosmic referee has shouted play on as the action has spilled across the border into Pakistan. Except in this case the Taliban have grabbed the ball and taken it up into the stands and both teams are lobbing flares and batteries at each other, and we're somehow simultaneously opponent and referee, and the metaphor falls apart before our eyes. Much like the NATO coalition.

Anyway. Bad shit in Pakistan by the CIA and Blackwater Xe, drones and abduction teams and all, but even that doesn't make it a pre-emptive war by Team Obama. It's simply a new vector in an existing war, just as it's a new vector for Pakistan's ISI and a new vector for India's intelligence service, and for the warlords depending on support from one side or the other, a giant triangulated chess match that devolves into Red Rover more often than not. The Taliban are operating with impunity from Quetta, just as they operated from Kandahar before we got there. Same shit, different day, slightly different setting, same problem.

Amazingly, this has diminished my ardor for Dr. Maddow exactly not at all. Shocker!

War Footing

Argh. What to think, what to think? It was a long speech that boils down to 30,000 additional troops going to Afghanistan with the goal of stabilizing the country within 18 months and then leaving the former factional warlord-and-druglord driven shithole of corruption as a shiny new intact unified nation with a nice new transparent government and equal rights for women and people who can read and a marked lack of support for Taliban and roses instead of poppies.

No word as yet on where Obama plans to find the pod people for the replacements that will be necessary for this to work.

I am torn here. The Afghanistan adventure was doomed from the outset when Rumsfeld and his ilk decided to go in on an economy plan that was light on troops and heavy on cash payments to bribe warlords, tribal leaders, and drug dealers, with an exterminator's mindset rather than a community organizer's. The NATO alliance failed to focus on infrastructure building and thus failed to address the underlying issues creating the climate that made the Taliban such an attractive option to the populace in the first place, and whose resolution would have eliminated the conditions that allowed the Taliban to maintain a stranglehold on the people when they replaced the original despair with a newer, Sharia version of misery.

If you have not yet picked up Ahmed Rashid's Descent into Chaos: The U.S. and the Disaster in Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Central Asia, please do so now and spend the next week reading it, as well as hoping fervently that either Obama or someone with his ear has done the same. Eighteen months to undo decades of pure chaos and malfeasance? I hope it works. Without a parallel level of effort, money, and manpower on the part of just about every country in NATO, directed as much at infrastructure and civil affairs as military objectives, I'm not sure how this happens in eighteen months, if at all.

Friday, November 27, 2009


Christmas season sort of unofficially started today, I guess, maybe, although if Target is your cultural calendrical referent, it may have started sometime before Halloween. Ecclesiastically, I do not think we're into Advent yet--haven't been paying attention on that score for a while now--although the chocolate-filled Advent calendar season starts on Tuesday.

It's all very confusing.

No lights are up yet at Chez Bolt, and the Christmas CDs haven't made the annual migration over to the stereo yet. I may have seen them lacing up their boots for the trek earlier this evening. They will probably make it sometime tomorrow.

We are floating in the singular state of dread that presages a migraine. It's a familiar dance now, a regular pasa doble of pressure and pain feinting and retreating and circling and feinting forward again against the decision that's vascillating between waiting it out just a little longer or sucking it up and swallowing one of the ten-buck pills that promise relief, maybe, unless it's not a migraine, in which case I might as well take a ten-spot outside and set it on fire in the driveway. Maybe if I close my eyes. Maybe if I sip some Bailey's over ice. Maybe if I gouge my left eyeball out it will all go away.

Bailey's is winning so far.

One of the comments left on an online story this morning about the insane midnight shoppers suggested that people make charitable contributions in lieu of gifts. That sorta depends, I think. My ex-brother-and-sister-in-law memorably gave the charitable contribution route a bad name in their family one Christmas many years ago when they made contributions for everyone on their gift list. To their own favorite charity. The other ex-sister-in-law was downright pissed since she'd spent considerable time and money locating works by her brother's favorite potter for his gift. I guess she didn't see a bag of dog food in her name as being quite equivalent. Nice enough idea, clumsy execution; it helps for everyone to be on the same page.

Speaking of being on the same page, in other news, if I join a game of Facebook Scrabble you've started, it hurts my feelings when the game is summarily deleted. What the fuck is with people when it comes to Lexulous? Oh, your rating--which changes hourly, BTW--is too low/too high to be acceptable! Oh, your first word scored too many/too few points! You said hello! You didn't say hello! Delete! Delete! Seriously, people, I can't take this kind of rejection.

Hmmm. Maybe Relpax is the ticket.

Black Friday

No, Best Buy was not graced with my presence in the wee hours last night before the leftover gravy was even finished congealing, nor Wal-Mart in the predawn chill this morning, nor Target or K-Mart or Lenny's House of Rattan or anywhere else that dangled discounted TVs and Barbie DreamJets like so much chum before a tankful of hammerheads.

I don't get the appeal. I like money--and saving it--as much as the next guy, but there is just something seriously wrong with people who willingly give up their post-Thanksgiving stupor with family and friends to go stand in a fucking parking lot with hundreds of other like-minded schlubs to wait for the opportunity to push, shove, tackle, stampede, get in fistfights, and possibly be trampled to death in order to "save" money by "spending" assloads of cash on carts full of crap they are only buying because LOOK OMFG IT'S ON SALE. Oh, these DVDs are on sale for $12.99! Here, let's get fifty of 'em! Yes, my total bill was $700 and change, but look at how much I saved!

One time. I participated in the cattle call exactly one time, at what, looking back ten years, feels like the beginning of the phenomenon, in the hoary days when Toys 'R' Us took the bold, groundbreaking step of opening at SIX IN THE MORNING--oh, the vapors--and my grandparents thought it would be worth getting up that early to save ten bucks on some Hot Wheels garage thing they wanted to get for my son. We dutifully reported about 6:30 and stood in line at the register for half an hour, and after surviving that barely-a-blip-on-the-radar, barely-a-drop-in-the-bucket-of-things-to-come, shook our heads and decided it hadn't been worth it, and felt ashamed.

I can't fathom doing that now. Some people are certainly in it for the sport of it all, the excitement of feeling part of... something inexplicable, the challenge of laying out a plan of attack and storming the store in a coordinated assault. Others probably truly believe this is the only way they can afford to do Christmas the way they feel they need to do it for their kids or spouses or own egos or something. It's a mystery to me. If you'd like to give me a present, I'd prefer something small and thoughtful. I will not enjoy knowing you blew off Thanksgiving dinner to hold a vigil outside the mall and then ran over several old ladies as you dove for the shelf to grab the last whatever out of the hands of the person who reached it a split second before you did. Just bake me some cookies instead, okay?

My shopping today will be limited to a paintbrush I need for planned work around the house later this evening, and possibly a box of cereal in case breakfast beckons tomorrow. Enjoy my contributions, Black Friday economy! Wipe the grudge off the fiver if you need to!

Thursday, November 26, 2009


The multi-generational pie.

This year's Thanksgiving pie was cobbled (ha!) together from a filling recipe found in my maternal grandmother's 1953 Better Homes & Gardens cookbook, a pastry recipe from my paternal grandmother's mother, which Grandma taught me to make 20 years ago, and my tweaks of honeycrisp apples and the addition of apple cider in place of the water in the pastry.

Oh, and the pastry leaves on top were Martha Stewart's idea.

The pie made the trip up to the Land of Old Republican People with me and the boy, and while I have been grumbling about this business of (1) having to go to Mesa for Thanksgiving (2) with elderly relatives whose politics and religious fervor do not exactly mesh smoothly with my own (3) without my girlfriend, ultimately it was pretty okay. This may well be the last Thanksgiving my grandparents (90 and 87) see, and I am glad I was with them. My family is flung all across the country, and we have the same stupid shit going on that every family does from time to time, but I'm glad I have them. And pie. I hope your day brought things to be thankful for as well.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Oh, Facebook, You Pose Such Conundrums

Is it rude to de-friend a family member? How long would it take him to notice? I already hide him from my news feed, so in order to be aware of him at all I have to look him up, which I should not do, but sometimes curiosity gets the best of me and then I spend the next couple of hours with a knot in my stomach and the veins in my head playing that nasty kaBOOSH kaBOOSH cadence on a nonstop loop. You'd think I would have learned by now.

He's getting married in October. That should be a fun wedding; I'm hoping that instead of the usual bride-groom split on either side of the aisle the ushers ask Right-wing Conservative Evangelical Military Worshipping Obama Haters or Reality-based Community?

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

How's that Free Market Working Out for You?

E-mail from the boss this morning:
We have received our renewal offer from Cigna and it is extremely ugly. They are proposing a rate increase of 35%.

Boy, I sure hope the Blue Dogs manage to keep the public option out of the Senate healthcare bill, since the competition-free "market" has done such a dandy job of keeping our insurance plan affordable.

Another Day, Another Knee

Sprained my left MCL five seconds into the kiddie game I refereed last night. Excellent.

In other news, the dour parent state legislature stripped control of the Rio Nuevo project from starry-eyed and tragically unfocused Tucson yesterday, taking back what's left of the hard-earned allowance and babysitting money and quashing the dreams of aquariums and museums and rainbow bridges and gardens and mixed-use residential/retail for good. You are building a hotel and convention center, and that's that. Slam goes the door, and Tucson falls facedown onto the twin bed, pounding its fists impotently and sobbing.

Don't talk to Jesus on the field, 'kay? I said to Wilson Middle School's center midfielder yesterday after the third time she followed up a biffed kick with Jesus! So I hope you're not reading this, miss midfielder, because Jesus Urban Planning Christ, what a clusterfuck this whole thing has been. A gazillion dollars pissed away with little but some very interesting archaeology to show for it. Really stellar archaeology, that, and I'm very proud of it, but somehow I don't think even enshrining featured chapters from our technical reports Constitution-style would be the tourist draw/revenue stream the city was hoping for when it began this venture many many years ago.

The city should have given Jim Counts his loan and his land back in the beginning and developed a plaza around that brewpub centerpiece. Attractive open central space surrounded by interesting retail and restaurants has been a fairly successful formula for as long as cities have been around. Nimbus is thriving. Barrio Brewing is thriving. Unfortunately, they're thriving in the middle of industrial areas, so the potential spending energy emanating from the throngs of people they draw dissipates as soon as they stagger back to the vacant dirt lots where they parked, instead of happily spending money in the toy store or music store or vintage clothing store next door, since, as established, they're in the middle of nowhere. I'm just saying that the City of Tucson should have consulted with me first before chasing the herd of rainbow-shitting unicorns they were sure were hiding just behind that tortoise-shaped arena they built in their heads.

Friday, November 20, 2009

E-mails I Receive

My right-wing nutjob Army Ranger brother has declined to remove me from this right-wing nutjob e-mail blast list, so if there's a hot right-wing meme being flung through the interwebz, it'll land in my inbox eventually. Yesterday I got this one; have you seen it?

Picture from Wednesday's Veterans Day Ceremony...

Check out this latest picture from WEDNESDAY, Veterans Day 11/11/09 at the Ceremony in Arlington National Cemetery. I don't know whether the National Anthem is being played, or the Flag is going by, or WHAT, but EVERYBODY in the picture is either saluting or has his hand over the HEART.

All except ONE. Guess who??? And some people actually call him our President!!!???

I do not make this stuff up!

You would think he could, at least, fake it.

Really, I don't blame my brother. Why not just mindlessly click on "forward" when it would take an entire thirty seconds online and possibly THREE clicks to ascertain that the words accompanying the picture are, shall we say, flat-out wrong? The photo is actually from the Memorial Day ceremony at Arlington, and was snapped not during the anthem, but immediately after Obama walked onto the dais during "Hail to the Chief." Later, when the national anthem was played, Obama indeed placed his hand over his heart, as other photos show.

Simple enough, no? I replied to his e-mail with this information, including links to AND a corroborating piece on Free Republic (shudder), as a public service to the peeps on his list who think Snopes is a liberal conspiracy, as well as links to both the C-SPAN video of the ceremony and a cellphone video posted on YouTube. And this is the reponse I got from one of my brother's buddies:

Just a point of military and civilian ceremonial courtesy; when Hail to the Chief is played military officers do not generally salute forward, they face the direction of advance of the Commander and Chief, and upon facial recognition or 12 paces render a hand salute. ADM Mullen and the Lieutenant Colonel pictured are both facing forward. Also as a point of civilian courtesy the gentlemen to the Presidents left would not have his hand over his heart facing away from the President, he would not have his hand over his heart at all. If he did (which is fine but not proper) he would still turn to face the President as he advances. When Hail to the Chief is played the President continues to move past all other U.S. officials (civilian and military) at least two paces. This signifies that he is the highest ranking U.S. official in attendance, he would not have halted his advance behind the official party and crossed his hands. While I dispute you rendition of the facts I do not contend the President was in anyway being disrespectful, just that the facts do not fit the picture. Even if the cermony was altered and all parties remained facing forward, the President would have continued forward past his subordinates.

Protocol is huge, at least to the military so I highly doubt the scenario you laid out is accurate. Having served in a protocol position in the military and dealt with these types of events I feel qualified to dispute your findings.

I find this response fascinating for its "protocol mandates x; therefore y is impossible" mindset. Despite the "Hail to the Chief" explanation, hell, despite the video showing--complete with sound!--Obama walking onto the stage as HttC plays and the officers salute and the civilian clamps his hand over his heart, and despite the fact the the position of the table and chairs as shown in the photo leaves no space for Obama to have continued to a spot two paces in front of his subordinates (he is standing even with them against the table, not behind them as the e-mailer alleges), the former protocol officer highly doubts the scenario and feels qualified to dispute it. Protocol is huge in the military and mandates one specific procedure for the president to walk onto a stage, so therefore that is the only way he could have walked onto the stage, and I can tell you exactly how the photo would have looked if they'd taken a photo, which they couldn't have since the photo you showed me does not match what I know the photo should look like. I am aware that the speed limit on this road is 65, officer, so it is simply impossible that I was traveling at 85, and I am qualified to dispute your findings.

So of course I wrote him back with specific links to video, telling him that regardless of protocol, the evidence shows that something slightly different happened. His response?

I would guess the report is wrong but I can confirm thru a friend who commands one of the honor guard companies at Arlington. Not to be arrogant but [your brother] will tell you I am rarely wrong.

In other words, who are you going to believe, me or your lying eyes? I would dearly love to be so goddamn sure that everything I think--or, I suppose, everything I have been compelled to think by my institutions--is the only possible reality. Curse this career devoted to science for compelling me to draw conclusions from evidence even when they contradict expectations!

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Et Cum Spiriti Tuo

I did not know that I was living in a theocracy. Oh, of course my officemates and I have joked about it from time to time, and I have made snide comments about the American Talibangelicals on this blog. But the healthcare debate has finally delivered some clarity on the matter (h/t Americablog).

We are all Vatican Citizens today.
Rep. Bart Stupak (D-Mich.) pledged on Tuesday morning to defeat healthcare reform legislation if his abortion amendment is taken out, saying 10 to 20 anti-abortion-rights Democrats would vote against a bill with weaker language.

"They’re not going to take it out," Stupak said on "Fox and Friends," referring to Senate Democrats. "If they do, healthcare will not move forward."

On the off chance you haven't been keeping up with your congressional baseball card collection, Stupak is the C Street tenant the US Conference of Catholic Bishops settled on to be the conduit through which the even-tangential-federal-abortion-funding-ban amendment they wrote would splurt all over the House health bill. So after all our progressive blogwringing about the Mormons and the evangelicals trying to worm their respective theologies into civil law, the Catholics dispensed with the subterfuge and just flat-out did it.

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops defended its involvement in the health-care debate, saying Monday that church leaders have a duty to the nation and God to raise moral concerns on any issue, including abortion rights and coverage for the poor.

[Francis Cardinal] George [Asshat-Chicago] made the remarks at the start of the conference's fall meeting in a wide-ranging speech that re-asserted the bishops' role not only as guardians of the faith, but also as moral guides outside the church.

Really, Frank? Really? The bishops' role is to be moral guides for all of America, including non-Catholic America and, apparently, Congress? Jesus, did these guys help negotiate Charlie Weis' contract extension too? The hubris levels are certainly compatible.

This came up before, I think, in some presidential race or another, involving some Irish guy. Can Bart Stupak even recognize himself as belonging to the same institution--the Congress--this other Catholic did and comport himself in the same way?

I support the United States Constitution. I am concerned as a public official with the maintenance of that Constitution. I take the same oath of office as the President of the United States takes and have taken it for 14 years in the Senate and the House, and four years before that in the service. The Constitution provides very happily under Article 1 of the First Amendment, a provision for the separation of church and state, and I consider that to be the most admirable organization of society that we could possibly devise.

And I would feel that any group existing outside the United States, whether it is the Vatican or anyone else, respects our basic conviction that church and state must be separate and that my obligation is to the Constitution and to uphold my duty.

I also suggest that there is another part of the Constitution also relevant which is Article 6, which says there shall be no religious test for office. That protects all of us.

Monday, November 16, 2009

How to Do It

How does this happen? I have asked myself that a few times in the past ten months, with "that" referring to the repeated ability of __________ [insert the party, gang, or cabal in Congress lacking fifty percent of the votes plus one] to get what they want. This is how it happens.
10 of the 19 Democrats who signed the initial Stupak letter to Pelosi voted against health reform even after their demands on abortion were met.

Hold your breath and swear you'll keep holding it 'til you turn blue if mommy makes you wash the dishes, unless you get a piece of cake first, and then take the proffered slice of cake, exhale, eat the slice, inhale, grab the rest of the cake, and sprint out the door, leaving the dishes to continue moldering in the sink. And then try it again the next night when you're asked to clean your room, with the same results, while mommy stands there and wonders why nothing ever gets done around here and she's running to the store for more goddamn Duncan Hines every night after work.

The Sawdust Diaries

I just wrapped up 72 hours of home repair, and yes, I am counting hours spent sleeping in the total since they were also consumed by (1) thinking about sheetrock and (2) being sore. The main casualty was my beloved 20-year-old circular saw, which breathed its last in a puff of burned bearing grease smoke while hacking through the inch-thick cement stucco that was holding the windows hostage. Sniff, sniff. Amazingly, though, a shiny new Skilsaw ended the mourning pretty quickly.

Bloodletting? Not nearly as much as expected, and mostly limited to small punctures at the far extremities. Do not touch my fingers this morning. Seriously. I also managed to drop a broken window on my leg, but since it did more skidding than slicing, I ended up with what looks like a bad shaving incident rather than something requiring stitches. Oh, and a section of fence fell on me and knocked my beer over, and then the wind caught the tarp we had put up against Saturday's sprinkles and snapped the (surprise!) rotted fencepost it was tied to, which then, of course, also fell on me.

My dad, who was there to help and walk me through intricate things like sawing windows out of cement stucco, provided me with the genetic predisposition for general carpentry. Unfortunately, he apparently also included the gene that greatly increases the likelihood that things will fall on your head while you're in the middle of your projects. Thanks, dad!

All in all, a very productive weekend that got the major lifting out of the way. Coming up next on This Week in Sheetrock: taping, mudding, sanding, mudding, sanding, cursing, mudding again, throwing mud knife through new sheetrock, more mudding, sobbing, collapsing in heap.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

A Stupak Amendment Reader

I find it difficult to write, speak, or even think about the Stupak-Pitts amendment to the House healthcare bill without erupting into a giant ball of fire-spitting incredulous rage, and I do need to keep my surroundings fire-free today, so here is a roundup of what more rational people have loaded onto the big internet truck in the past couple days.

From Think Progress, Republicans acting like caterwauling teabaggers doing their best Joe Wilson impression to prevent members of the Democratic Women's Caucus from testifying in support of a healthcare bill that includes full reproductive health coverage, including abortion.
As the Democratic Women’s Caucus took to the microphone on the House floor to offer their arguments for how the bill would benefit women, House Republicans — led by Rep. Tom Price (R-GA) — repeatedly talked over, screamed, and shouted objections. “I object, I object, I object, I object, I object,” Price interjected as Rep. Lois Capps (D-CA) tried to hold the floor.

From Crooks and Liars, Dr. Nancy Snyderman (on MSNBC) fumes for all of us:

You know what I find so infuriating about this? I mean, absolutely infuriating? And this isn't about being pro-choice or pro-abortion or any of the hot button lingo. We know women pay more for insurance than men. We know women are restricted in the states. And now it's basically, if you're a 50 year old woman and you're in a monogamous relationship you suddenly find yourself pregnant, you better know that have an abortion rider in order to access health care that you thought you had? It is one more pressure on women.

From Jezebel, Latoya Peterson provides a very source-rich rundown and commentary.

So, let's recap:

1. No public option
2. We have an exchange that assumes a relative definition of "affordable"
3. Somehow, they managed to work this so that even women who were paying for their own care got conned out of abortion coverage
4. Undocumented workers can't access this plan, even without subsidies, though they - like other human beings - get sick and need treatment like everyone else.

Ladies and gentlemen, we got hosed.

Jezebel again, this time Anna North, relaying a WTF letter to Nancy Pelosi from pro-choice Democrats:

Greg Sargent reports at least 41 pro-choice Democrats have signed a letter to Nancy Pelosi stating the following:

As Members of Congress we believe that women should have access to a full range of reproductive health care. Health care reform must not be misused as an opportunity to restrict women's access to reproductive health services.

The Stupak-Pitts amendment to H.R. 3962, The Affordable Healthcare for America Act, represents an unprecedented and unacceptable restriction on women's ability to access the full range of reproductive health services to which they are lawfully entitled. We will not vote for a conference report that contains language that restricts women's right to choose any further than current law.

Talk to me, Rachel.

More from Latoya Peterson:

I still hate that "sneaking in funding for abortions" line: It's like the lawmakers heard the cries for affordable premiums and comprehensive coverage, and thought Yeah, but what about all those unscrupulous whores scheming to use their health care coverage to through abortion parties and make fetus-necklaces? WTF? Doesn't the Hyde Amendment go far enough?

And, finally, for the grand finale, who do we really have to thank for this clusterfuck (which is now solely for purposes of procreation, hahahaha you sluts)? Why, the Catholic Church, still inexplicably tax-exempt despite bending the third prong of the Lemon test fork so far backwards as to almost stab itself in its legislation-pushing wrist.

As rumors spread that Republicans might vote “present” in order to scuttle the entire bill, even Cardinal Francis George, archbishop of Chicago and president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, called Republican leader John Boehner to make sure the GOP didn’t play any games with the Stupak amendment, sources said.[...]

The drama had built for months, pitting a group of Democrats against the Catholic Church. Priests and bishops were calling members to lobby for stricter language to limit abortion coverage, members and aides said last week.[...]

[Rep. Brad] Ellsworth [D-IN], in consultation with the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, was trying to amend legislation passed out of the Energy and Commerce Committee to make sure insurance companies that receive federal funds under the programs created by the bill don’t use any of that money to pay for abortions.

By Thursday, Ellsworth, who was working closely with Rep. Mike Doyle (D-Pa.) realized the church wouldn’t accept anything less than a version of Hyde, so he and his staff started working on a version the bishops could accept, aides said.

Swell. First the Church throws loads of cash it could have spent on crumbling and closing parishes in Maine at, instead, ensuring committed gay couples can't marry, and now it swings its giant stick to make sure that all women who can't afford insurance on their own adhere to the Church's teachings on abortion, whether they're Catholic or not. Republican men in the House of Representatives shout down women. Teabaggers rejoice.

Good job, y'all. You've managed to push your odious legislation that's aimed at the mythical subset of unmarried women who use abortion as birth control, or as a backup mood-lifter when the nail salon is booked, through the first step of becoming law for us all. I don't know what happens next, as trying to make predictions in this arena has only led to me pulling my few remaining brown hairs out.

Sunday, November 08, 2009

All Souls...

Sigh. The All Souls procession steps off in about an hour and I have failed to convince either family member currently in town to go with me, so I sit back and hope Homer's going and will post lots of pictures.

I drove past Holy Hope Cemetery this afternoon and saw many Mexican families celebrating All Souls' Day with festive tables set up at their loved ones' gravesites, pink tablecloths and ribbons and balloons and a few hibachis smoking happily away. This definitely ranks up there with the finest traditions I have encountered here and there around the world, and seems like a deeply satisfying way to deal with the reality that people eventually die while others are left behind. Get together once a year to celebrate lives and share good food and set a place for the deceased, even if they can't chew quite as well as they used to. It's the thought that counts, and the thought kicks ass. Why cry when you can have a nice picnic instead?

Next year I suspect I will be going to the procession, accompanied or unaccompanied, it won't matter. The sun is rapidly setting on my three surviving grandparents after very long and (I hope, for them) rewarding lives. There will be no picnic in the graveyard--that sort of thing is not exactly understood in small town southern Illinois--and if it is not next year it will be the next, for something bittersweet but as celebratory as it can be.

Lovely weather tonight. I hope it's magical for everyone who goes.

Saturday, November 07, 2009


64. Sixty-four Democrats fell over themselves today to out-Republican the Republicans and vote for an amendment written by a fellow Democrat to the healthcare bill.
The amendment, written by Rep. Bart Stupak, D-Mich., would bar the new government insurance plan from covering abortions, except in cases of rape, incest, or where the life of the mother is in danger. The Democrats' original legislation would have allowed the government plan to cover abortions.

The amendment also would prohibit people who receive new federal health subsidies from buying insurance plans that include abortion coverage.

When the Stupak amendment first surfaced, some people had hoped that it was simply a bit of belt-and-suspenders redundancy intended to curtail any attempts to circumvent the execrable 1976 Hyde Amendment, which prevents funds allocated via the annual HHS appropriations from being used to pay for abortions. But that last bit, the part about no one being able to buy coverage that includes abortion from the to-be-established government exchange if they're using federal subsidies to acquire said coverage, takes it a step further.

Who were these 64 attempting to appease with this maneuver? Republicans in their districts who won't be voting for them anyway? Some subset of women who are both cash-poor and so conflicted by the potential for having to make a reproductive decision that they'll be relieved to have that bit of agency stripped from their lives?

Thanks to the grandstanding of the Democrats who joined every goddamn Republican in the House except, Arizona's own John Shaddegg (who voted 'present' in a tiny grandstanding protest of his own), the women who can least afford unwanted pregnancies are hit the hardest; if you get a federal subsidy and want abortion coverage, you'll need to buy a separate, abortion-only, policy with your own money. The availability and cost of those policies has not been addressed yet. Additionally, people who don't qualify for subsidies but wish to buy through the exchange fully on their own dime likely will see their options curtailed, as

Abortion-rights supporters say private insurers will not likely offer policies with abortion coverage in the exchange because many potential buyers will be getting federal subsidies.

Around 21 million people are expected to get coverage through the exchange by 2019, according to the Congressional Budget Office.

Amazingly, the Jehovah's Witnesses have not pressured any legislators to introduce amendments forbidding taxpayer-subsidized blood transfusions, nor have Orthodox Jews demanded that federal funds stop subsidizing neonatal care for uncircumsized male infants. Hello, House Democrats: abortion--even when rape, incest, and imminent maternal death are not conditioning factors--is. legal. in. America. End of story. Take away women's choices and you will, in some circumstances, inevitably create desperation that will result in horrible outcomes for existing women and their existing families.

Was your rep one of the 64? It's worth a look.

Friday, November 06, 2009

Friday Escapism

I couldn't lead off with the week's crap and then follow it with stuff that doesn't matter at all, so separate post time. This is probably only really funny if you've caught Glenn Beck's histrionics, tears, and chalkboards, so do yourself a favor via some preparatory video Googling, then come back to some of the best work Jon Stewart has ever done.

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Friday Summary

It was a crap week, topped off by an Army shrink losing his shit and gunning down a dozen soldiers at Hood. What a blow, what horrid implications.

People got blown up in Iraq by the dozens. Five British soldiers in Helmand were murdered by the Afghan cop who was working at their side. The Iraqi elections are pre-emptively fucked. Obama still hasn't come to a decision on Afghanistan. Can't say I envy him, but let's step it up just a touch.

Arizona is stripping tens of millions of dollars from the education budget, so Tucson--which failed to pass a school district budget override--can kiss art, music, and PE goodbye next year, as well as more teachers and classroom supplies. Possibly with an eye toward making sure education isn't lonely in its misery, equal amounts will be stripped from the Division of Economic Security, which includes the department that takes care of developmentally disabled people, thus ensuring that hundreds of folks who need just a little help will be left floundering to the point that they will end up homeless and committing crimes. Do you own stock in private prisons? The legislature is setting them up to be Arizona's only guaranteed growth industry--well, that and topical chemotherapy creams for melanoma--so buy now!

And, of course, we had the Maine vote on Tuesday re-affirming that a majority of Americans will jump at the chance to relegate me and mine to second-class citizenship whenever it's offered. But I'm supposed to take Chapel Hill's new mayor and Kalamazoo's anti-discrimination policy as a palliative (well, and Washington state's new everything-but-marriage DP legislation, although we've seen how well that worked in, say, New Jersey), so hey, meet me in Kalamazoo!

That's the news for the week. Whee.

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Just in Case You Were at all Unclear on Where This is Going

This citizen's initiative is going to be on the ballot in Maine next November (via a commenter at Pam's House Blend):
An Act to Remove Protections Based on Sexual Orientation from the Maine Human Rights Act, Eliminate Funding of Civil Rights Teams in Public Schools, Prohibit Adoptions by Unmarried Couples, Add a Definition of Marriage, and Declare Civil Unions Unlawful

Michael S.Heath
70 Sewall Street
Augusta, ME 04330

To be sure, it was filed in May of 2008, so it's not exactly new news. And it was filed by Mike Heath, of the Maine Christian Civic League, so it's not exactly a surprise. But it's a pertinent reminder that no matter how they swear up and down that it's only about the super secret special word marriage, it's never just about marriage. It's about taking every opportunity to strip away hard-won protections and basic affirmations of our humanity, to legitimize those who would shove us back into the closet and possibly leave a few lumps on our heads, or worse, in the process.

No marriage for you! And no adopted children for you. And no protection from bullying in school for you. How else will you learn your place in society? Because, really, that place also involves no job or housing protections, and if you try to simulate marriage by spending thousands of dollars on lawyers and notarized documents and wills and powers of attorney the way we always tell you to do, well, that's going to be against the law too. We probably can't throw you in jail, but maybe we can fine you.

Did we say it was only about marriage? Yes? Did you not understand at the time that all this other stuff was implicit in that? No? Well, you do now.

We Take a Break from Our Maine Fuming to Ask One Soccer Question

And the question would be, "huh?"
Sky Blue seems bent on making [Carli] Lloyd their showcase player for next season, giving her the 10-shirt off Yael Averbuch’s back and her own supporter group, named Lloyd’s Loonies in an apparent homage to LA’s Marta’s Maniacs.

Lloyd? Really? After last season's disappearing act in Chicago? When they already have HAO and Tash Kai in their lineup? Hope the supporters' group is armed with coffee, or at least blankies for the inevitable stultified-into-somnolence status they're likely to be enjoying (?) next season. I could be wrong.


The advantage to being a lifelong Cubs fan is an apparently genetic propensity for not getting overly bent out of shape over absurdly long losing streaks. Be that as it may--and despite being rich with metaphors--baseball is not life, and my reaction to Maine voters last night overturning their state's nascent marriage equality law (making such ballot measures voted on by my fellow citizens 0-for-32 now) is about as far from wait 'til next year as you can get. It is more along the lines of if you voted for this latest round of bigotry, fuck you.

That's it. It's not a constructive reaction, nor is it polite, and I am utterly unapologetic. There is so much this morning I find disingenuous about this election, this campaign, this issue every goddamn time it comes up and "the people" slap it down. We patiently point out logical inconsistencies in the usual litany of arguments the anti-equality camp trots out like clockwork, parrying every sacred rite invented by God bleating with the availability of religion-free weddings in a courtroom, every procreation yelp with newlywed senior citizens and young but sterile folks, every marriage is a holy union you faggots can't handle with the high divorce rates among evangelicals, and it doesn't matter. When the organized bigotry industry can draw on the no-limit ATM that is the Mormon-Catholic alliance (second collection, anyone? before we have to sell the church, that is? last one out, shut off the lights, 'k?) and produce TV spot after TV spot hammering the same lies over and over to a population with the collective critical thinking abilities of a turnip on a five-day bender, nothing we do matters. Nothing.

Won't someone think of the children? Seriously? This still works? How does this still work? It works when someone agrees to pimp out his five-year-old to stare into the camera with Puss-n-Boots eyes and say daddy, the teacher told me in kindergarten today I have to marry a man. The children will be taught gay marriage. Oh, the vapors. Kindergarten will turn into Kindergaytown. It will be an all gay all the time curriculum. No reading or math or naptime. Just gay. Gay, gay, gay kindergarten and first grade and third grade. Because that would totally happen.

And it works. Every. Goddamn. Time.

Yeah, I think of the little kids. I think of the fact that all those grownup gay folks who want to get married in Maine were little kids themselves once, and they all turned out gay despite not hearing one peep about gays, married or otherwise, when they were in kindergarten. I think about the gay kids who are still killing themselves at a rate that is horrifyingly higher than their straight peers and wonder if hearing gay=normal in elementary school might have created an environment for them where they wouldn't feel so hopeless. Shit, I wonder if I had learned the first thing about lesbians in school that was more extensive and accurate than the single sentence if you're infatuated with another girl it's just a phase that will pass, I might not have spent my entire middle school and high school career feeling like an outsider without knowing why, never quite fitting in, always just different enough from everyone else to not be counted as anyone's best friend. It might not have taken me 31 years to figure out what my deal was, all the while noticing other women similar to myself and thinking wow, she looks a lot like me, I wonder if she catches a lot of shit too. And the perfectly nice guy I was married to for a while as a result would have been spared a world of hurt.

So I think of the children, and I think of the adults they've grown into, and I wonder how otherwise intelligent people like Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton can stand there with a straight face and say marriage is a question that should be left to the states. Because it is never just "left to the states" when a national organization based in another state pulls in piles of money from even other states and buys airtime and flies their mouthpieces from yet other states into the target state to spread as many lies and as much fear as necessary to change laws to their liking and leave their muddy footprints on the lives of people they have never met and will never see, in a state they will likely never set foot in again once their meddling is complete and their crowing is over.

So please, spare me this morning the too-familiar platitudes about how these votes are just getting closer and closer, as if losing by six percentage points instead of sixty makes it a lower-case loss instead of an upper-case LOSS, as if it makes a bit of difference in the real legislative world or in the lives of couples who apparently are supposed to shrug and smile and say well, honey, we're not quite as second-class citizens as we used to be! Maybe next year!

Fuck next year. Bring on the ban-divorce ballot measures, because I will totally vote for that shit to protect sacred marriage and guarantee every child a mother and father at home. Hey, I got mine, so fuck y'all. That's the American way.

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

Another Election Night Nail-Biter

UPDATED: just to add that if you're keeping score at home, we would really like No on 1 in Maine, Yes on 71 in Washington. The updates on the Maine numbers are showing no more than a couple hundred votes separating the yes and no sides at any given time.

Stuff is scrolling by on the Tucson TV, but I'm far more riveted by the neck-and-neck race in Maine between the leave-marriage-equality-well-enough-alone folks and the bigots. There's a liveblog on Pam's House Blend, which you can follow tonight if you're so inclined, or check in tomorrow for what I hope isn't a sad story. The numbers-in-progress are almost more of a roller coaster ride than I have the stomach for; I cannot imagine what it is like to be a gay couple in Maine tonight, waiting to find out if your fellow citizens have decided to take one of your civil rights away from you. Been there and done that, a year ago in Arizona.

Hyde Amendment Be Damned

Excuse me, Senate Finance Committee?
At issue is how far healthcare legislation should go to prevent insurance companies from offering abortion services to the millions of women who could get taxpayer subsidies to help them pay premiums.

Are abortion services legal in this country? Yes? They are? Then STFU. End of story.

Monday, November 02, 2009

No, Seriously

Really, Abdullah Abdullah. So the election in Afghanistan last month was rigged in a fairly blatant and amateurish fashion, and over the past few days we have (1) Karzai's runoff opponent Mr. Abdullah threatening to pull out if the same bunch of jokers that fixed the first election run the second, (2) Abdullah making good on his threat and quitting on Saturday, and yesterday (3) the US saying it's troublesome but we'll go ahead and fully support Karzai because polling indicates Abdullah would have lost anyway.

Meanwhile, Wali Karzai laughs all the way to the bank.

Is there a better solution here? If there is, it's escaping me at the moment. I spent part of my swine flu downtime finishing Ahmed Rashid's Descent into Chaos: The U.S. and the Disaster in Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Central Asia, a complicated, detailed, extremely bothersome account that explains why "graveyard of empires" barely scratches the surface. Pakistan's secret intelligence agency (ISI) has spent the past couple of decades propping up the Taliban, effectively making them the ISI's western franchise in Kabul, Kandahar, and Helmand, all while the military either turned a blind eye or flat-out lied about their involvement and Pervez Musharraf conducted the government's business with the sole aim of maintaining his hold on power.

Meanwhile, since the September 11 attacks the CIA has been paying off first the warlords of the now-defunct Northern Alliance and now the drug lords in the south, with the mission focus remaining always Arab-tied al Qaeda operatives rather than the guys who are poppy farmers today, Taliban fuckwits tomorrow, a-Q sympathizers the day after that, and then poppy farmers again when the local warlord makes a power grab. Oh, and we've thrown a few billion dollars at Pakistan, which has promptly turned around and handed most of that to their military, which has promptly funneled wads of it to the Taliban holding court in the Waziristans, and you can see where this is going.

Most of our UN partner nations have greatly limited their involvement in Afghanistan (Germany, for example, refused to conduct combat patrols after dark) while all of us have pretty much left infrastructure development and repair--the one thing everyone seems to agree would go the furthest toward weaning the populace away from the Taliban toward nonsectarian stability, and which represents the most efficient use of cash resources sent over there--to NGOs, most of which can no longer operate in-country because the Taliban kill them. The UN food program gave up years ago after too many food convoys were hijacked and the supplies stolen or simply burned. This in a country where only about 16 percent of the land is arable.

Tribal factionalism, ISI intervention, Indian intervention, Pakistani Taliban infiltration, an abysmal literacy rate, and seven years of US policy constructed by people with no Pushtu language skills, let alone even a rudimentary understanding of the dozens of cultural and political vectors crisscrossing the country, have fed on each other to create a damn near unwinnable situation.

Hahmid Karzai has been the target of at least three assassination attempts--the ones that have been publicized, anyway--since he's been in office, and now a good faction of his countrymen think he got his second five-year term by cheating his way there as a puppet of the Americans. And all we can do is shrug and say this is our guy? Good luck, Mr. President. I hope you've read Rashid's book. A little history might go a long way here.

Sunday, November 01, 2009

Food, Football, Fighting Nausea: The New Sunday Routine is 67% Good

I learned an important lesson on Friday morning, at the horrid hour of 7 in the morning--not horrid on its face, but in the context of "at the gym," 7 sucks hard--and that would be that a month of zero physical activity means that Workout #1 is going to be near-lethal. I made it through half an hour of lunges, presses, crunches, and leg curls before collapsing onto the floor in a cold clammy puddle of defeated-person-trying-to-stay-conscious-and-not-puke.

A complicated cold clammy puddle, to be sure.

Thank god the trainer was a good sport about the whole thing, even running downstairs to fetch me a cup of Powerade on ice, and the other middle-aged old farts in the weight room wandered over to look down at me and cluck sympathetically. The rest of Friday and Saturday were devoted to trying to think about anything but the workout in order to avoid the resulting wave of nausea and cold sweat that accompanied the flashbacks. It was really a great experience.

Anyway. Today only brought a mild headache and queasy stomach--amateur shit at this point in the game--so the boy and I headed out on an expedition to find breakfast. Since our previous pacts to Do Something Together have fizzled due to uncooperative fish and inclement weather, we settled on keeping the adventure-seeking focused on new places to eat. This morning we hit on Shot in the Dark Cafe, located on Broadway just east of 6th in downtown Tucson. It's a typical downtown space, brick walls and exposed ceiling beams in a building that probably dates to the 1930s at the latest, soothingly worn down around the edges, mismatched sofas by the front window, flies circling languidly but never quite to the point of annoyance. I had something called the Cornucopia, which involves three eggs making intimate friends with several different vegetables while snuggling up against a pile of seasoned homefries and toast. Quite delightful. The boy got a bagel with smoked salmon, which is thoughtfully served with separate ramekins of cream cheese and capers, as well as thinly sliced tomatoes and onions and a lemon wedge. He inhaled it in roughly 45 seconds, so I assume it tasted good. The coffee is quality, and the Italian sodas are served in giant Imperial pint mugs. I would go back. It is homey, the people are friendly, and the menu is promising, so you should probably go too.

The rest of the day was spent watching football and listening to Fox color man Brian Billick offer new twists on the English language such as "put an explanation point on it." Tomorrow, back to the gym. What, me quit? Who do you think I am, Abdullah Abdullah or something?

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Coming off the Bench

This has been the longest stint on the PUP list I've ever had, never mind the DL. 28 days of nothing requiring lung action beyond walking twenty feet at a time! Lungs are still a bit on the bubbly side, but after the month of respiratory crap following several months of limited lifting thanks to a bum shoulder and bum elbow (Aging: It Sucks), I am hobbling into the gym tomorrow afternoon and giving the trainer free rein to make me cry.

The fantasies of transforming back into the stud I was at 19 or even the approximation of an athlete I was a few years ago may remain safely in my head. Or, hell, maybe I'll get a step back or be able to return to outlifting at. I got spiffy new running shoes, anyway.

Day One. Comeback Day. Tomorrow. I'm stoked.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Commie Fascist Socialist Liberal Media Strikes Again

The AP sure has been interesting recently. The byline on this morning's above-the-fold shrieker isn't Ron Fournier's, but it might as well have been. Insurers' profits not as big as claimed, the headline intones, before tsking into this lede:
In the health-care debate, Democrats and their allies have gone after insurance companies as rapacious profiteers making "immoral" and "obscene" returns while "the bodies pile up."

Ledgers tell a different reality. Health insurance profit margins typically run about 6 percent, give or take a percentage point or two. That's anemic compared with other forms of insurance and a broad array of industries, even some beleaguered ones.

Aren't the multiple scare quotes a nice "touch?" Because the Democrats are just being hysterical about the eeeeeeeevil insurance companies. Why, health insurance companies posted an average profit margin of only 2.2 percent last year! Which is only good for 35th place on the Fortune 500 list of top industries! So why are Democrats whining about how much money Cigna rakes in when its credit rating is tanking, and health insurance in general is outperformed by Tupperware and Coors?

After mulling the question for perhaps two seconds--hey, the bright and shiny objects in my office distracted me for a while there--I came up with two reasons for not shedding tears over my insurer profiting less than Clorox. Number one, I don't really need Clorox on a regular basis, much less Tupperware and Christ on an ignored hop-plant, Coors. My bleaching and food storage and beer needs are met, wonder of wonders, by the company whose product is on sale this week, and if things are tight it's not much of a problem to do without for a while, or improvise something on my own, or borrow from a friend.

My healthcare needs, on the other hand, can't exactly be put off, and, as the past 27 goddamn days have illustrated in a big way, can't be shopped around--Boltgirl is not made of money--or nicked from my neighbor's pantry. Don't get me wrong; I'm very grateful that I have insurance and that it only sets me back about twenty bucks out of every paycheck, plus about $150 out of pocket for the flu-related doctor visits and prescriptions. But if my plan sucked? Good luck finding a similar level of coverage in an individual plan for the same costs. I wouldn't be able to; that's what pooled risk is all about.

Speaking of being made of money, number two looks something like this.

Company and CEO's 2008 Total Compensation:
Aetna $24.3M
Cigna $12.2M (a 50 % drop from 2007! oh noes)
WellPoint $9.8M
Coventry Health Care $9.0M
Centene $8.8M
Humana $4.8M
Health Net $4.4M
Universal American $3.5M
UnitedHealthGroup $3.2M (although "in May 2006, the amount of Hemsley's supplemental retirement benefit was frozen based on his current age and average base salary and converted into a lump sum of $10,703,229.")

Another list that breaks the numbers down into base salary, stock options, and cash bonuses is available here. So from the perspective of obscene piles of cash being thrown at executives who may or may not have "earned" it, depending on your definition of "earn," the health insurance industry isn't necessarily much more or less revolting than, say, any investment bank still in business.

But a lot of people--Democrats and their allies included--see the compensation as "obscene" when cash bonuses representing five, seven, ten times a million-dollar base salary are funded by annual rate increases on the order of 20 percent. This isn't a cable TV or high-speed internet level of luxury item we're talking about here. It's the ability to go to the doctor when you're sick, or, better yet, before you're sick, for preventative care. It's the ability to, oh, say, not die from a preventable condition or treatable-when-caught-early disease. It's an industry that we're beholden to with little choice in provider (well, those of us not, as mentioned before, made of money), so when those providers rake in the cash, yeah, "rapacious profiteer" isn't a bad term at all.

Thanks for reminding us that it's all about the bottom line, AP.

Public Service Announcement

Even if the president hadn't declared H1N1 a national emergency, it is definitely a household-level emergency, and that should be enough to get your attention. You don't want to get this friggin' virus; you probably won't die--although about a thousand people have, sorry for their families--but you will lose anywhere from a few days to a month of your life to lying on the couch in too much of a daze to read or follow TV scenarios more complicated than Dancing with the Stars.

Get the vaccination if you can, and until then wash your hands, don't touch your face, and make every day your personal Beat the Record Day when it comes to ingesting immune-boosting foods like sweet potatoes, oranges, and green tea. And drink lots of water.

Seriously, be at least somewhat vigilant for a while, even if you normally don't get the seasonal flu. I don't usually get it, or if I do it doesn't last long. But this bug knocked me on my ass for a month and I don't like that one bit. Who am I and what am I doing? And do my lungs still work? I get to figure all that out today.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

A Mystery for Our Time

My fairly lofty opinion of McClatchy Newspapers may need to be dialed back a notch or two after this lede this morning:
MERCED, Calif. — Nobody can say why the Virgin of Guadalupe would appear on a hunk of rock formed millions of years before the birth of Jesus.

But David Nunez says the image is unmistakable — a bluish-black stain on the football-sized rock outlines what looks like the Holy Mother.

Friends have called it a miracle.

Really? Nobody can say? It seems like somebody could say, though, and it turns out a couple of people actually can, so thank Mary-in-a-rock the reporter decided to ask them. One is a priest, and the other is a geologist. What does the priest think?

"People see what they want to see," said [the Rev. Harvey] Fonseca, who hasn't examined the rock.

Well then. Scientist?

[Rob] Rogers, the geologist, said he couldn't see the image in the e-mailed photos of the rock. "I must lack imagination," he said.

And science lives to fight another day.

Personally, I think it looks like a giant Cretaceous almond. You know, the kind of big ol' nut T. rex was given those pointy teeth to crack open before Eve ate the apple and brought planet-wide veganism to a crashing halt. Can't you see the long gougy toothmarks? Does that make it a slightly cooler miracle? I think so.

Friday, October 16, 2009

A Marriage Parable for Our Time

Keith Bardwell is a justice of the peace in a state where, despite contentious debate and strong public sentiment opposing such pairings, a formerly banned type of marriage is now legal. He recently refused to issue a marriage license to a local couple, the law be damned, citing concerns for any children the couple might wish to raise and his certainty that their kinds of marriages don't last. In fact, he's done this four times in the past two and a half years.

Sigh. We've heard this plenty of times in Massachusetts, Connecticut, and California, haven't we?

Except that we haven't. The couple in question is straight and male-female, and the state in question is Louisiana. So what about these two people triggered JP Bardwell's won't-someone-think-of-the-children lobe, with a touch of you-people-can't-stay-married palsy? Oh. The woman is white. The man is black. And no way in hell are they getting married under Justice of the Peace Keith Bardwell's watch.

But don't get the wrong idea about Bardwell! He's not a racist! Look, he says so himself:
"I'm not a racist. I just don't believe in mixing the races that way," Bardwell told The Associated Press on Thursday. "I have piles and piles of black friends. They come to my home, I marry them, they use my bathroom. I treat them just like everyone else."

See? He has piles of black friends! He even lets them use his bathroom! How can you call him racist?

Bardwell clarified that conversations with both black and white people, and his own observations, have led him to conclude that mixed-race children aren't accepted by either blacks or whites. And that their parents don't stay married for long. The only thing lacking in his argument is the citation of the passages from Leviticus forbidding interracial marriage; otherwise, it's a spot-on simulation of arguments we've heard from other people--including, sadly, county clerks and other people whose job descriptions include "issue marriage licenses to qualified couples"--who rail against gay folk seeking marriage equality.

Hey, I have gay friends. I just don't want them to be allowed to get married because gays screw everything that moves so they'd probably just get divorced anyway and oh dear god people will make fun of their kids.

Beth Humphrey and Terence McKay, the most recent couple to be denied by Bardwell, plan to file a discrimination suit. I suspect the repercussions will be very, very interesting should the court find that perceptions about a certain class of people's ability to form lasting pair-bonds, and predictions about society's treatment of any children they might raise, have no bearing on those people's rights to enter into a marriage contract. I only wish Bardwell had tossed in a religious objection as well, but we can't have everything.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Do You Need Another Reason to Love Bao?

Not that you really do need another reason to love steamed buns, but if you do, here are three: (1) they dance, (2) they bust wicked nunchuk moves, and (3) they are adorable when they do it.

Dragon Fist from sun haipeng on Vimeo.

(via Serious Eats)