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Thursday, November 30, 2006

God to Pat Robertson: Can you hear Me NOW?

On May 8 of this year, televangelist Pat Robertson made the following statement:

...I go away at the end of each year to pray, and if I heard the Lord right about 2006, the coasts of America will be lashed by storms. I think we're going to see some really serious storms.

Apparently Mr. Robertson did not hear the Lord right about 2006. Or perhaps Pat Robertson and friends prayed and God granted the coasts a reprieve. That's the fun thing about prophecies: even the blatantly wrong ones can be retrofitted to match whatever situation arises.

Pat Robertson's statement was made six months after the end of the most active hurricane season on record. Who didn't expect 2006 to be at least somewhat comparable? Who would have seriously thought that 2006 would have one of the least active hurricane seasons?

Or maybe Pat wasn't talking about hurricanes. Maybe he meant thunderstorms, or wind storms, or dust storms, or snow stoms? Hurricane season 2006 ends today, but weird weather season 2006 extends through the last day of December 2006. He could still be right, sort of.

Pat Robertson wasn't all prophetic statements back in May. On the 17th he also said this:
So we're positioning supplies in California. We've got supplies positioned in Florida. We'll have others, and, of course, we have a major presence in the Gulf right now. We're there because we feel the Lord wants us to help people. We feel it's our duty to help the poor and the needy.

And you know what? That's a good thing. Just because no major natural disaster has happened so far this year, we can't assume that nothing is going to happen. In fact, it's a pretty safe bet that something will happen, someday, somewhere. Actually, it doesn't take a natural disaster to produce poor and needy who need help.

So, Mr. Robertson, keep those supplies fresh and rotated. When the time comes, I hope that you can help. And I hope you're doing your duty every day and helping the poor and needy. Maybe you didn't hear the Lord right. But do you think the Lord heard what you said, and will hold you to it?

Because the rest of us did, and some of us will.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

No matter how hopeless, no matter how far

I'm looking for a star for my Christmas tree. Not a "star" per se, since these days that generally means a five-pointed job with lightbulbs and a plug. No, what I'm looking for, I discovered during a Google image search, is what's referred to as an "antique tree topper", which may explain the difficulty in locating one. It looks like a slightly squashed eye with the iris and pupil pushed in, with a spike on top and a cone beneath, and possibly more spikes to the sides. Nothing fancy.

It's not available anywhere that I've looked so far. This includes Kmart, Wal-Mart, Target, Ollie's, Big Lots!, Dollar Tree, Dollar General, Kohl's, JcPenny's, Macy's, Sears, CVS, Spencer Gifts, a temporary holiday decorations store that sprang up at the Wyoming Valley Mall, and Dundee Gardens, the upscale overpriced gardening botique located inexplicably on the outskirts of Nanticoke.

Dundee Gardens was actually my best bet. They have thousands of ornaments there, most of them ridiculously expensive. One of the clerks told me that yes, last year they had many tree toppers in the style I was describing, but this year...wait, here is a two-foot long designer model made of hand-blown glass for $120, and here is another slightly different model for the same price, and oh, over there, there is a smaller one for only $65. Bear in mind that I paid $16.99 at Big Lots! for my six foot tall tree.

The strange thing is, ornaments in this style are easily available. Dundee Gardens had a tree covered exclusively in them, but no matching tree topper. Macy's had a bunch of "eyeball" ornaments, too. I did find a miniature version of a similar topper in an overpriced box of miniature glass ornaments, but the topper was designed for a one-foot-tall tree. A little small for me.

My mom pointed out to me that we actually have at least one tree topper in the style I've described. As she no longer uses the big tree from my childhood, this topper is likely going to hibernate in an old box of ornaments for the rest of its existence. If I can locate it, I can take it.

That will feel strange, but it may be the right thing to do. I wanted to find this on my own. But I have brought many new things into my new house, my grandmother's old house. Maybe it will be right for me to bring in something that is itself a little bit older, and help to establish a bridge to the past.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

The Culture Wars and The War on Christmas

Never mention the birth of Jesus
in certain company
They'll tell you it's 'bout Santa
and the stuff beneath the tree

So it's that time of the year again: time for the folks who like to fan the flames of controversy to start going on about the secular War on Christmas. A favorite target in recent years has been the retail industry.

They say he talks to reindeer
calls them out by their name
Yeah, he talks to reindeer
calls them out by their name

Why, you may ask? Not for the reason that religious radicals used to cite to rail against retailers at Christmas: the commercialization of Christmas. Why don't those retailers realize that Christmas isn't about stuff that you buy in stores? Christmas has nothing to do with sales! Don't use the Birth of Christ as an excuse to get people to spend money on material things!

Yeah, he don't miss nothin'
knows if you're naughty or nice
So if you're thinking of bein' naughty
You know, you'd better think twice

No, they seem to have conceded that point. Christmas is about retail sales, and, by God, those retailers - those same retailers who just a few years ago were condemned as blasphemers for commercializing Christmas - had better make sure they honor the religious foundations of their sales by selling stuff in Jesus's name!

Wears a suit that's red as blood now
has a beard that's white as snow
His eyes have a little twinkle
and his nose has a certain glow

The Culture Wars aren't about sex. They aren't about religion. They're not even about politics. They're about power. Control. Who calls the music, and who dances the dance. Religion, "morality", politics, these are all just tools, a means to an end.

The War on Christmas is really about who controls Christmas: the secularists, with Santa Claus and Christmas sales and the all-inclusive "Happy Holidays", or the religious groups with commemorating the birth of Christ and their "Merry Christmas or else" attitude?

So we see retailers threatened with boycotts for not putting Christ's name into their sales flyers and for not using the proper greeting at their doors. We see homeowners threatened with fines for displaying Christmas decorations that incorporate a message of peace. Who controls Christmas?

Peace on Earth, Good Will to Men, now
are just a bunch of words.
'Cause when neighbors hate their neighbors
Peace on Earth is just absurd.


(to the tune of "She Talks to Angels" by the Black Crowes)

Monday, November 27, 2006

Blackout

So there I was last night, minding my own business, watching my DVD of Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. The movie came out a year ago and the DVD came out eight months ago, but this is the first time I've sat down to actually watch it. Granted, I read the book the week that it came out and I've reread it several times since then - it's my favorite of the Harry Potter stories, so I know it pretty well.

I must say I was a little disappointed by a few things in the movie. The Quiddich World Cup, which should have been the Podrace of the Harry Potter series, was reduced to little more than a minute of the opening ceremonies. (The aftermath, with the Death Eaters on a rampage through the field of tents, was much cooler than I imagined it - not a bunch of high-spirited bad guys out for a lark, but actually a scary, scary scene of wizard terrorists letting loose.) Mad-Eye Moody is neither as old nor as grizzled nor as curmudgeonly as I imagined him - still, knowing what is to come, he is being played exceptionally well. (There's a reason I'm using the present tense.)

On the plus side, Cedric Diggory is fleshed out very nicely, and is less of a non-entity than he was in the book. Barty Crouch Senior is well-played, and the flashback scene in the Pensieve was great. I'm still having a hard time with Dr. Who playing Barty Crouch Junior. I suppose a lot of people have a hard time watching Barty Crouch Junior play Dr. Who!

Anyway, like I said, there I was at 11:00 last night, minding my own business and watching my DVD. Cedric and Harry had both touched the TriWizard Cup (dammit, lady, Harry Potter and the Doomspell Tournament was a much cooler title, you should've stuck with that) and found themselves transported to a graveyard where a tombstone prominently bore the name RIDDLE. Suddenly the lights went out. The TV winked off.

Then the lights came on, the TV winked back into existence, and the movie kept on playing.

Then off, on, off again. By this point I was desperately trying to power things off manually. What the hell was going on?

The lights! We had put some lighted decorations outside - two tiny Christmas trees, one on either side of the front door - and they must have shorted out and were about to burn the house down!

On again, off again, this time for good. Could I find the circuit breaker box in the dark? Should I grab a flashlight first?

No. There was no light coming in from the street. This wasn't just us.

I maneuvered through the darkened house to the front door and looked out. The street was dark. Already I could see flashlight beams playing across the fronts of other houses. I grabbed a flashlight and joined the fun.

A note on flashlight etiquette: When holding a conversation with someone in total darkness, it is bad form to shine a flashlight directly in their face when they are speaking. After I had this done to me several times, I took to shining my own flashlight in my face when I spoke. This way I could avoid blinding myself and could create those cool spooky special effects that you get with a flashlight under your chin.

We quickly established that the power was out in the entire neighborhood and at least for several blocks around. Based on the lack of skyglow, I estimated (wrongly) that all of Nanticoke was without power. Fortunately it was a warm night - I have some experience with how quickly the temperature can drop in a house without a furnace when it is freezing outside. Stopping first to "loan" some D batteries to an impecunious neighbor with a year-old child, I hopped in my car to survey the extent of the darkness.

I drove a mile west across town to my house where the battery-operated candles gave a cheerful, powered-up appearance to the place. (Some people assumed incorrectly that my mom's house had power, for the same reason.) But just a block south of my house the lights were on - streetlights, house lights, Christmas lights, everything. A block further west all the lights were out, and from the top of a hill I could see that the outage stretched two more blocks south and one more block west. I turned north and drove three more blocks to find streetlights and houselights on. Driving further north into Nanticoke's downtown revealed a sea of light - the blackout had not affected this part of town at all.

I drove east along Main Street back towards my mother's house. Blocks to the south appeared dark, but that could have simply been from a lack of lights, not a lack of power.

Finally I turned south again and headed for home - my mom's house, that is. The blacked-out region did not start until only two blocks from our house.

OK. It wasn't everybody. It was only about half of Nanticoke. But why? And was something being done to fix the problem?

After a half hour of waiting on hold on a cell phone on our utility company's emergency number, my mom managed to get through to report the issue. She was told that a car had hit a utility pole and knocked out the power. A crew was on the way to assess the situation. Super.

The power finally came back on at 1:43 in the morning. I'm not sure what woke me up - maybe it was the clock radio flashing to life, maybe it was the sudden resumption of the almost subsonic hum that permeates the house. But it was back. Hooray.

Now I can watch the rest of Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire and see how it ends. Not that I don't already know damn well how it ends. I'm just glad to have electricity again!

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Mistletoe

The other day I was poking my head into the storage room that used to be my bedroom. I was trying to see if I could find any of the Christmas ornaments I painted three years ago so I could take them over to my house. Suddenly a bag containing a plastic ball of Mistletoe sort of fell out at me. I had no idea it was in that room, on those shelves. But I remember very well where it was from.

The Mistletoe was an ornament I had bought in 1998 for my grandmother. She had been in a series of nursing homes since early 1996 and was about to see her third Christmas from inside of one. Each year I had decorated her room for the holidays, making it as festive as I could manage with window clings and garland and cardboard cut-outs taped to the walls.

Some time earlier, in late 1996 or early 1997, she had suffered an additional mini-stroke that had robbed her of the ability to swallow, which meant she could no longer take food by mouth. She had a PEG tube installed which allowed liquid nutrition to be pumped directly into her stomach through a hole in her side. The bottle of nutrient was held on a pole mounted to the back of her wheelchair. At times the pole almost resembled a bicycle flag. In 1998 I resolved that I would give my grandmother one additional bit of Christmas decoration: I would hang a ball of Mistletoe from her nutrient-hanging pole. This would add a whimsical touch to her wheelchair - my grandmother was a very whimsical person - but would also give a message: "Kiss me, I'm under the Mistletoe!"

My grandmother died December 13, 1998. I never got a chance to give her her Mistletoe ball.

So now it hangs in her house. My house.

If you come over, ladies, and I invite you into the kitchen, you may want to look up when I pause in the doorway. You'll be standing under the Mistletoe.

Saturday, November 25, 2006

O Christmas Tree

Well, I may not be moved in to my new house yet. I may not have accomplished most of my major goals, like painting or rewiring. But by gum, I've got a Christmas Tree!
Note the play of light on the walls. This is an effect I was really going for. Almost everything on the tree is either a mirror or a refractor, designed to toss around the light everywhere. The bust of Mary and the crazy lamp in the background are holdovers from my grandmother. My grandfather liked that lamp. I thought it was ridiculous, very "Dating Game"-ish.
A slightly closer view showing some of the musical instrument ornaments. Virtually every ornament on this tree, with the exception of the glass balls, came from a dollar store. Even the trees themselves are from dollar stores - it's damn hard to find small, non-prelit trees anywhere else. Note the painting of Jesus in the Garden of Gethsamane, another holdover from my grandmother.
A closeup showing some of the "crystal" ornaments.

Note the "candy" ornaments, also from a dollar store. They are glass, and have a milky translusence that works well with the intense LED lights.

No star on the tree yet - that's about to become an epic quest. 'Cause I think most of the stars available in stores today are tacky. When I find one I like, I'll let you know.

That's it for now. I need to take more pictures to show you the other aspects of the Christmas decorations!

Friday, November 24, 2006

Decoration Day

Yay. My new house is about 95% decorated for Christmas. Both sides. No pictures yet, but coming soon.

I was operating under two major constraints:

1. No electrical decorations on the outside of the house. This is mainly because there are no electrical outlets on the outside of the house. My mom says they used to wire the decorations through the socket of one of the porch lights. I'm not about to do that. Electrical outlets are on the list of things I'd like my electrician to do for me, although the #1 thing on that list is get back to me with an estimate, dammit.

2. No electricity on the "storage" side of the house. When the tenants moved out my aunt decided to turn off the utilities. As far as electricity goes, this turned out to be a bad idea - getting the electricity turned back on will cost about as much as it would have cost to keep the electricity on with minimal usage for about two years. Thank goodness for battery-operated candles on timers.

I think the house looks real nice. I've worked creatively around these constraints - you'll see, whenever I get the pictures taken.

A note for people who haven't bought their Christmas lights yet: I chose to use LED lights on the tree on the side of my house that has electricity because of their vastly reduced power consumption and their very low heat output (less likely to burn the house down.) My tree has two strands of colored lights (60 lights on a strand) and one strand of white lights. The white lights are now unplugged. Their light is just too damned intense, and has the blue-white color typical of, say, welding torches or those super bright headlights that people install on their cars just to be jerks and blind everyone else on the road. So: colored LED lights are great. Avoid white LED lights until they come in a slightly yellower version that is closer to incandescent light.

Now, to get started on my mom's house...

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Holiday reruns: Some rules for shopping this holiday season

Happy Thanksgiving, everybody! Once again I'm not up to writing something clever and original, so I'm drawing upon my massive body of work to post another rerun. I present to you Some rules for shopping this holiday season, first posted November 19, 2005. (Originally posted as "Part 1", but I haven't come up with a Part 2 yet!)

Some rules for shopping this holiday season

I was out doing a little early Christmas shopping yesterday and tonight, and I noticed I wasn't the only one. The Christmas shopping season has definitely begun. To make the Christmas shopping experience a little more pleasant*, here are a few rules I've derived over the years:

1. Please control your children. The time to take care of this one is well before you go out to the Mall. Teaching your children how to behave in public is something that you should have been working on from the day they were born. Once you're out there, don't think you can figure out on the spot how to rein in your children when they have decided to play "tag" through an entire store. And there is a corollary to this one:

2. Please discipline your children, but not here. Yes, it is important that your children know how to behave, but again, the time to instruct them in this is long before you ever set foot in the store. Do not decide to discipline them in the middle of a store or the middle of a crowded Mall walkway. If you are having a problem with your kids, remove them from the store, take them home, and sort it out there.

3. Don't be rude. Few things piss me off more than rudeness in public to total strangers. This includes the use of obscene language in front of kids. Don't piss me off. (That should probably be rule #1, and actually summarizes all the other rules.)

4. Please do not have joyous reunions with long-lost friends in the middle of a walkway. So you haven't seen so-and-so in years? Great! So they're looking good? Fantastic! So you really need to get together sometime and catch up with each other? Super! Now, would you mind stepping off to the side? I'm trying to shop.

5. Please do not engage in conversation circles. A conversation circle is a fascinating human geometric structure created when three or more people meet in the middle of a walkway and decide to talk. If it's just two people, they tend to stand face to face, about 24 to 36 inches apart. (This is true in the U.S.; there was a study a while back that shows that this distance, and the likelihood of physical contact, varies from country to country.) Three people will form a triangle with each person about 18 - 24 inches apart, shoulder to shoulder. Four people will form a diamond, five people a pentagon, with the shoulder-to-shoulder distance decreasing but the diameter of the construct always increasing. I once saw a conversation circle made of about 12 people, all standing shoulder to shoulder, forming an impenetrable circle about ten feet across in the middle of a walkway. People going in every direction had to squeeze around the people in the conversation circle, who were blissfully unaware of the existence of anyone other than themselves. Which brings us to the next rule:

6. You are not the only person in the world. Some people slip into solipsism while shopping. They will stand in the middle of an aisle, oblivious to the fact that other people are trying to navigate the aisle with their shopping carts. You are not the only shopper in the store, nor even the most important shopper. I am. Which brings us to the next rule:

7. Get out of my way. There are many different types of shoppers. The two extremes are the Saunterers and the Guided Missiles. These roughly correspond to "gatherers" and "hunters". In a Mall, Saunterers will move slowly and aimlessly, apparently waiting for inspiration to strike them, or perhaps waiting for the drugs to wear off. Guided Missiles know exactly what they want and where they have to go to get it. They move with determination and speed, which doesn't always work well in a Mall walkway jammed with Saunterers. The Guided Missiles will weave in and out of the Saunterers, who are often known to come to complete stops for no readily apparent reason. I am a Guided Missile, and a big one at that. Get out of my way, and we'll all be happier. And finally...

Special rule for retailers: Baby, it's cold outside.
This is especially true in regions like Northeastern Pennsylvania where temperatures can get painfully cold during the Christmas shopping season. People shopping indoors need to dress for the weather outdoors. That means hats and scarves and heavy coats. So unless your store has a heated indoor parking lot, or offers changing rooms and lockers or a coat check room, please do not heat your establishment to make everybody toasty and warm. This may be great for employees, but it will tend to make shoppers grouchy and overheated. And sweaty. And smelly. I can smell them. If your store or Mall is full of smelly sweaty people, I'm gettin' out of there. And I don't want to walk out of your sweltering hot store into the freezing cold air. That will also piss me off.

So, see? Very simple rules that, if we all follow them, will make me happy this holiday shopping season. And when I'm happy, it's a better shopping experience all around.

*More pleasant for me, that is. But trust me, you want me to be happy when I'm out amongst the crowds.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Holiday reruns: The Littlest Turkey

What's more traditional during the holidays than reruns of your favorite holiday specials? In that spirit, and the spirit of not having very much time this year, I present to you The Littlest Turkey complete in one post!

The Littlest Turkey was originally posted November 16 (Part 1) and 17 (Part 2 and Conclusion), 2005, and was originally posted complete in one post on November 24, 2005.

THE LITTLEST TURKEY
by
D.B. Echo

Once upon a time there was a farm where turkeys lived. All of them were young and plump, big and strong and proud. All of them except one. He was smaller than all the other turkeys. He was called the Littlest Turkey.

The Littlest Turkey wanted to run and play with the other turkeys, but they didn't want to play with him. "Go away, Littlest Turkey," they would say. "Come back when you've gotten bigger."

But the Littlest Turkey was sure he was as big as he was going to get. He tried to eat as much as he could, but he never seemed to get as big and plump as the other turkeys. And he knew that unless he got big and plump like the other turkeys, he would never get to go to the Laughter House.

The Laughter House was a wonderful place. The Littlest Turkey had never been in there. He knew that only the big and plump turkeys would get to go inside the Laughter House. He had seen them go in once, and had heard their squawks and gobbles of laughter for a little while. It must be wonderful in there, the Littlest Turkey thought. All those turkeys go in to laugh, and none of them had ever come out again. How much fun they must be having!

The Littlest Turkey decided that, big and plump or not, he would get into the Laughter House the next time they let the turkeys in.

*********


THE LITTLEST TURKEY

Part 2
by
D.B. Echo

The weather started getting cooler, and the leaves on the trees started to change colors. All the turkeys knew that soon it would be time for the biggest holiday of the year, Turkey Day.
"Just before Turkey Day is when they take the big and plump turkeys into the Laughter House," thought the Littlest Turkey. "But this time I'm going to get in there, too!"

It wasn't long before the big day came. All of the big and plump turkeys lined up to go into the Laughter House. The Littlest Turkey waited near the entrance of the Laughter House, then squeezed in between two very big and plump turkeys. No one noticed him because he was so little.

The Laughter House was dark inside, and there was a sort of moving sidewalk there that was taking turkeys into another room, where he could hear gobbles and squawks of laughter. One by one the turkeys hopped up to ride the sidewalk. The Littlest Turkey hopped up, too.
The turkey in front of him, whose name was Tom, turned around. "Go away, Littlest Turkey," he said. "Come back when you are bigger."

"Yes, go away," said the turkey behind him, whose name was also Tom. "They do not want little turkeys at the Market. Only big and plump ones."

"No," said the Littlest Turkey. "I want to go to the Market with you." He had never heard of the Market, but he realized that it must be even better than the Laughter House.

A Man spotted the Littlest Turkey. "Go away, Littlest Turkey," he said. "Come back when you are bigger."

"Oh, please, Mr. Man," said the Littlest Turkey. "I do so want to go to the Market with the other turkeys."

"Very well," said the Man. "We've got a quota to meet, anyway."

The Littlest Turkey rode the sidewalk into the other room. He wondered what things would be like at the Market.

*********


THE LITTLEST TURKEY
Conclusion
by
D.B. Echo

The Littlest Turkey was cold. He was colder than he ever remembered being before. But then again, it was hard to remember much since they had chopped his head off.

He was in a case with the other turkeys, the big and plump turkeys. Turkey Day was coming soon, and people were coming to the Market to pick turkeys to take home.

They always seemed to want the big and plump turkeys. One time a little girl had seen him in the case. "Mommy, mommy, look at the little turkey," she said. "I want to take home the littlest turkey."

"No, dear," her mother said. "We are having many people over for Thanksgiving. We need a big, plump turkey."

One by one the other turkeys left the Market to go home with people. Turkey Day was coming soon, and people were taking away more and more of the big and plump turkeys. But no one wanted the Littlest Turkey.
Finally, the day before Turkey Day came, and the Littlest Turkey found himself all alone in the case.

"How sad," he thought. "No one wants to take me home."

It was late in the day, and the Manager was about to close down the Market for the night. Suddenly a Man came into the store.

"I have a coupon," he said, "for a free turkey. Do you have any left?"

"You're in luck," said the Manager. "I have one left." He showed the Man the Littlest Turkey, all alone in the case.

"It's a little small," the Man said. "But I guess beggars can't be choosers. Besides, it's just me and my wife this year. A little turkey might be just what we need."

The Manager took the Littlest Turkey out of the case and traded him to the Man for the coupon he was holding. "Happy Thanksgiving!", he said to the Man.

"I'm not going to be left behind for Turkey Day," thought the Littlest Turkey happily as the Man put him in the trunk of his car. "I'm so happy. But I'm so cold." He rolled around a little as the car pulled out of the parking lot. "I sure hope I'm going someplace warm."

THE END

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Think I'll miss this one this year

Buying a house really changes your financial status in a hurry. Suddenly that huge stockpile of cash that I used to have - what I used to refer to as "my life savings" - has been converted into a down payment (20%, to avoid PMI), closing costs, various taxes and fees, with the remainder consigned to a fund to cover incidental espenses like, say, rewiring the entire house so it doesn't burn down the first time I try to make toast.

Christmas will be lean and mean this year, I'm afraid. But there will be one. That's not what I'm planning on skipping.

For the past few years it's become a semi-tradition for my friends and me to get up in the wee hours of Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving, and head out to the Wyoming Valley Mall to get in line with all the other bargain-hunting idiots. At best we're there for one or two items each: a rocking horse, a video game, a piece of temporarily discounted fine jewelry, some pillows. Nothing outrageous, nothing special. Before long we break for breakfast. By noon we're wiped out and ready to head home.

Paradigm shifts sometimes take place when someone decides to do something in a novel way - the Fosbury Flop, which allowed higher and higher records in the high jump, is often cited as an example. Before Fosbury, nobody thought to do this particular maneuver. After Fosbury showed how it was done, it was quickly adopted and became the standard. A paradigm shifted, and high jumping was never the same.

Last week two men approached a line of 15 to 20 people who were lined up outside of a Wal-Mart in Connecticut, eagerly awaiting the release of the Playstation 3. Outnumbered ten-to-one but armed with a handgun and a shotgun, the pair robbed the line of would-be shoppers and shot the one person who resisted.

On the morning of Black Friday there will be lines of people in many major shopping centers throughout the United States, pockets full of cash and credit cards and heads full of visions of bargains. How many others will look at these lines as easy targets, lines of babies just waiting to have their candy taken from them? Will anyone else try it, or will the Connecticut robbery be an aberration? Has there been a paradigm shift when it comes to Black Friday?

Maybe. Maybe not. Either way, I'm going to stay at my new house and do some work on it that day. No Black Friday for me this year!

Monday, November 20, 2006

The midterm election and the price of gas

I updated my gas mileage / gas price spreadsheet to include data collected since the last time I posted on this topic back in April. I was going to include the graphs here, but getting them from the old MS Works Spreadsheet application to something that looks good on my blog is a little more work than I wanted to engage in tonight. For now, you will have to trust my descriptions of the graphs.

The mileage chart does not show any surprises: values ranging from a high of 41.8 mpg on 9/2/06 (fill-up at a Sunoco on the Pennsylvania Turnpike on the way to the Felberpalooza!) to a low of 33.8 mpg on 10/18, with a high "run" in July and August and a general trend that correlates fuel economy to temperature. (Did we have an unusually warm April? I'll have to look that up.)

The price of gas is another story.

One of the urban legends around the price of gas is that the Bush Administration is responsible for manipulating the gas prices to benefit their cronies in the oil industry while at the same time playing on the American public's lack of long-term memory by convincing them that any momentary drop in the price of gasoline is an indication of good times ahead. This has been thoroughly debunked by analysts who have pointed out that any influence one powerful family and one powerful government can exert on the behavior of the industry as a whole is negligible compared to market forces, supply, infrastructure considerations, and the weather.

This didn't slow down people from strongly suggesting that the Bush Administration was responsible for a decline in gas prices in the weeks leading up to the midterm election. And this myth was only reinforced when Bush, during one of the many, many political support trips he took during those crucial pre-election weeks, cited dropping gas prices as a reason why voters should maintain the political status quo. Vote for the Democrats and gas prices will go up!

So what does this look like graphically?

From the end of April to the end of June we see a downward tend in prices, from $2.939/gallon on 4/27 to $2.679/gallon on 6/23. Prices then climb to a high (for this data set) of $2.999/gallon on 8/3 and begin a long, downward slide, interrupted only by the anomalous price of gas at the Pennsylvania Turnpike Sunoco where I stopped going to and coming back from the Felberpalooza - but these points don't directly compare to my other price data, since they represent a whole other set of local price considerations.

The end of this slide actually came just before the election. Gas prices hit a minimum of $2.139/gallon on 11/2. On my very next fill-up (at the same station as the $2.139 gas) gas was two cents more a mere five days later, on 11/7 - Election Day. The price jumped another four cents to $2.199/gallon by 11/13, and on 11/17 - my last fill-up - the price had jumped another seven cents to $2.269/gallon, a total increase of 11 cents per gallon since Election Day, or 13 cents per gallon since the minimum price on 11/2.

Did the Bush Administration manipulate the cost of gas in the weeks leading up to the election? If they did, I wasn't very impressed, and neither were a sufficient number of voters. If you want to get my attention, take us back to the happy days of 1999 and the Clinton Administration, when gas was under a dollar a gallon! In the meantime, I guess we'll have to watch and see what happens to the price of gas in the coming weeks.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

NaBloPoMo

November is nearly two-thirds of the way through. You may not realize it, but November is also NaBloPoMo - National Blog Posting Month!

I first heard about NaBloPoMo from this post on Ashley's Ink On Paper. The goal of the project is simple: participants agree to post at least once each day every day in the month of November. Frankly, it sounded a bit gimmicky to me, and seemed like it was possibly a bad idea. If people who did not normally post that often started churning out daily posts, what would that look like?

I didn't join up. In part this is because I'm a chronic non-joiner, in part it's because I may be traveling around the holidays and may not be able to post then, and in part because the best way to get me to not do something I'm already doing is to tell me I have to do it. I've been posting at least once a day on my own for a while. I don't know when I last skipped a day. I don't need NaBloPoMo to get me to post every day.

Eventually, after the start of the month, I made my way over to the official NaBloPoMo site. I was stunned by the list of participants. Hundreds and hundreds of bloggers had registered their blogs, from 1ideal Life to Zucchinis in Bikinis, including both Ashley's Ink On Paper and Lauren's Please Make Rice, I Love You! This was big. All it needed, I thought, was a function to randomly access participants' blogs - and before long, someone had developed one.

So is it worth it? Well, by forcing people to set aside a little time each day to first think about and then write up blog entries, it may be helping to improve the writing habits of participants, and that's not a bad thing. There has also been another effect: Ashley's SiteMeter has indicated a sustained increase in the number of visitors to her site, many of them coming either through the official site or by way of the randomizer. (I check Ashley's SiteMeter regularly. I check everybody's SiteMeters regularly, including my own, at least those that are not blocked. I encourage you to click on my SiteMeter and see who is visiting my site, and why.) Perhaps some of these new visitors will become regular readers and will continue to visit even after the end of NaBloPoMo. And there may be a side effect to this: Ashley has been receiving more Google searches to her site lately. This may mean that her Google rank has increased as a consequence of being linked by the NaBloPoMo website, which itself is being linked to by hundreds of participants. So it's good news all around!

I haven't used the randomizer yet. I'm afraid of getting sucked in. But I am glad to know that both Lauren and Ashley will have a new post every day, at least until the end of the month, and maybe beyond, if the daily posting becomes a habit that takes root. That would be good for me, because then I will know that every day they will have something new for me to read. Let's make every month NaBloPoMo!

Saturday, November 18, 2006

Ready...maybe

I just spent lots more money than I should have on Christmas decorations for my house. It's a double-block, so it's two houses, really: two sides, two Christmas trees, two sets of decorations.

Normally I would wait until after Thanksgiving to start decorating, but I think I should start on the trees tomorrow. I also have a lot of stuff to haul from here to there before my family comes here for Thanksgiving dinner, so I'd better get going on that.

So, see, dee? I didn't wait until December 1st to start shopping for decorations! Though I was going to wait until November 24th...

Friday, November 17, 2006

Leonids! Leonids! LEONIDS!

Rima posted recently about seeing a shooting star. I immediately thought of the Leonid meteor shower, an annual meteor shower that takes place aroung this time each year.

The most spectacular meteor shower I have ever seen was the 1999 Leonid shower - in a very short period of time I saw dozens of bright, long-trailed meteors, one after another after another, some of which left behind lingering "smoke" trails that were quickly twisted and knotted by high-altitude winds. Viewers were blown away across the country - one NPR commentator the next day quoted a friend as saying "now I know where they got the idea for fireworks."

Most years the Leonids are a pretty decent storm, but word is that this year's shower might be superb, though not quite on par with the 1999 event. If you're in the United States, go outside late Saturday night - around 11:30 if you're on the East Coast. Dress warmly, get a comfortable chair (I favor Adirondack chairs because the high, slightly reclined back puts you in a good position for viewing the sky while minimizing neck strain), and look to the South. You can find out more information on viewing the Leonids from your location by going to this page from NASA, and lots of solid information about this particular shower and meteors in general by going to this page from the American Meteor Society.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Flash flood

I should have known to expect bad weather this morning when I walked out to my car to find the air temperature in the mid-to-high 60's. I should have known something was up when I saw my 70-something neighbor retrieve his recycling container from the curb while wearing nothing but shorts, socks, and bedroom slippers. And I should have had a hint-and-a-half that something was coming when I heard every weather forecaster say "Heavy rains this afternoon, flash floods likely." But somehow I didn't get the message.

I work on the top floor of our facility, so when it rains, we know about it. It began to come down in buckets this afternoon. Nobody had really come to work expecting rain, not even me. But I was better prepared than most because I wore my usual Fall/Winter/Spring ensemble of a black raincoat and an Irish tweed cap. When I left for the day (early, because I had received word from a friend in a nearby city that her basement was taking on water, and mine would probably be getting flooded soon), it was with the cap pulled down, the collar turned up, and all the buttons buttoned tight. I looked like a cartoon flasher, but I stayed dry - well, except for the coat, the hat, and the lower parts of my legs.

But I couldn't head straight home. I had to pick up my aunt from my cousin's house in Moosic. Moosic is on the sloping edge of a valley, at least the part of it where my cousin lives. When you get off the highway you drive down a hill, turn onto a one-way street, drive along that street for a while, and then turn and go back up another hill for a little bit. No problem.

Except there is a problem when the rain is coming down like it's being shot from a fire hose. Going down the hill was no problem. Going along the one-way street was no problem - until I got to an intersection where the water was about two feet deep, with more water pouring down the hill all the time. Several people appeared to have decided to park in the deepest parts of the intersection. I quickly realized that they had in fact volunteered to provide an object lesson in why you should never, ever drive into a water-covered area - you have no way of knowing how deep the water is until your car stalls in the deepest part.

So there I was: stopped on a one-way road about twenty feet from a flooded intersection, staring at stranded cars in front of me and the oncoming headlights of cars approaching me from behind. I turned on my hazard lights, my four way flashers. The cars kept approaching. I pulled over to the far right curb. The cars kept approaching. Then some SUV-driving idiot decided to plow into the intersection from the cross street and the water sloshed in all directions, nearly reaching my car. The approaching cars swerved around me, heading into the water. Screw this, I thought, I'm going in reverse.

I put my car in reverse and, first making sure the way behind me was clear, began to drive backwards. I made it a few dozen feet when more cars approached from behind. I stopped and let my hazards signal a warning to the other drivers. One of them edged into the flooded intersection and promptly got stuck. Another SUV driver assessed the situation and decided to turn around and drive the wrong way down the one-way street.

Fine, I thought, clear a path. I nimbly turned my Tercel around and followed in the SUV's wake. Vehicles continued to head towards the flooded intersection, despite the growing procession of cars driving the wrong way . I flashed my lights at anyone who approached. Many of them kept on going. Oh well. I tried.

I found a side street that led uphill and took it. Another street that would have gotten me closer to my cousin's house was also blocked by water, so I had to backtrack again and climb higher up the hill. Finally I got myself one street uphill from my cousin's house. I swooped in, did a quick turnaround in his driveway, and picked up my aunt. We headed out on an alternate, uphill route back to the highway.

The rest of the trip home was slow but without incident. My house did not get water in the basement, and neither did my aunt's. Some roads around Nanticoke are closed, and there is scattered flooding throughout the region. Hazleton has declared a state of emergency, and parts of Wilkes Barre Township have been evacuated, are without power, or are under water.

But it could have been worse. It could have been snow. There will be plenty of time for that, later.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Sammie's in the dictionary!

One of the things I love about blogging and the Internet in general is its international nature. Norway, Australia, and the rest of the world are just on the other side of a piece of glass three feet in front of me.

Two of my favorite bloggers are the two I started out reading first: Camilla in Norway and Sammie in Australia. Camilla speaks and writes prose and poetry in Norwegian, but she has also learned English from the time she was a child. Reading her blog you would be hard-pressed to identify her as someone from Norway and not, say, New York, although when you hear her speak she has the cutest little accent! Sammie, on the other hand, salts her posts with enough bits of Australian English (as well as references to dingoes and bandicoots) to let you know that you're reading an Aussie blog, mate!

So when Sammie used the phrase "mission walk" in a post I assumed it was an Australianism I was unfamiliar with. I looked it up and couldn't find anything online about it - not even an entry in the Urban Dictionary. By the time I got back to report my failure, Sammie had already commented that this was just a term she had made up. Well, at that point I decided that this term needed to be in the Urban Dictionary. (Fellow commentor jerry - who also makes regular appearances in Camilla's comments section! - had the same idea with the Merriam-Webster Open Dictionary.)

And now it is! Check out the entry for "mission walk" in the Urban Dictionary! I did not take the liberty of citing Sammie as the originator, but I did lift the chunk of text that was the phrase's birthplace! Check it out, and then go visit Sammie and tell her how amazingly cool she is!

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

For Decorative Purposes Only

Anyone who knows me knows I am not one for ornamentation and finery, for those things that are purely decorative. Many of the clothes I wear are years old and have been mended (by me) several times. I have no tattoos or piercings. I wear no jewelry, and my watch is a simple, inexpensive, and precise Timex. My car is over ten years old and is still going strong.

Around the beginning of October my mom stopped at a dollar store (our modern equivalent of a Five & Dime) and picked up some Fall and Halloween decorations for my house. Scarecrows on swings, reflective bats and Jack-O-Lanterns on wire stakes, cloth ghosts on bamboo sticks. Judiciously placed by my mother, the decorations made the house look lived-in, which is important if you want to avoid attracting attention from the sort of people who would break into unoccupied houses. (The changing patterns of lights and the clock radios set to talk shows and news programs help, too.)

The day after Halloween was All Saints' Day. After morning Mass I stopped at my house to undecorate from Halloween. In a few minutes, the house looked bare. I need some stuff for Thanksgiving, I thought.

Easier said than done. What few Thanksgiving decorations existed were mostly bought up in the weeks before Halloween. Still, I was able to get some stuff.

My front window, decorated with gel clings. For Halloween I had some pumpkins and Autumn leaves. The Thanksgiving packs I picked up had more leaves, plus some fruit and a turkey (the orange thing above the electric candle.) If you look carefully behind the reflection of the white car you can see the scarecrow on a swing, which I am leaving up until Thanksgiving. Since I have two sides to the house, I have two windows done up like this, as mirror images.
OK, this decoration can't be seen from the street, but I'm proud of it. My mom found the wicker cornucopia at a dollar store, and I filled it with artificial fruit and vegetables that I picked up here and there on clearance (as well as some tiny plastic corn that fell out of one of my grandmother's old artificial flower arrangements.). The artificial Autumn leaves are also clearance items. The spilling-over-the-top-of-the-piano effect (that's what this is, the top of an upright player piano) is accomplished with the help of a fruit and leaf-covered branch, also purchased on clearance.

In the background: a winged dog gargoyle (from Target, $7, Halloween item, to be displayed year-round); a monkey in a fez holding some sort of container over his head, maybe for a candle, I don't know (CVS, $2); plaster bust of Pope John Paul II purchased by me for my grandmother about 25 years ago; small ornamental basket of flowers that belonged to my grandmother; one of three monkey photo holders, bought for me by my cousin last Christmas; a photo cube displaying a picture of my grandmother with me, my brother, my sister, and several of our cousins in front of the grapevine in the back yard; a monkey gripping a fake verdigris vase (CVS, $2); and an autumn-ish basket of artificial flowers that belonged to my grandmother. Note the peeling paint on the wall in the background. There's still lots of work to be done.

It's also important to give the back side of the house a lived-in appearance, and this clearance wreath was just the thing. I love the wear and aging on this kitchen door. The crackled paint finish is something I have worked hard to reproduce artificially, and here it is, appearing naturally. The wreath is simple and understated enough that it doesn't take away from the door itself. I may leave it up year-round.

So there you have it. Decorative stuff done in the name of security. And in a few weeks, it will be time to decorate for Christmas. Oh, boy, here we go...

Monday, November 13, 2006

Self-Portrait with Wreath

Self-Portrait with Wreath,
November 11, 2006
Per Mr. H.K.'s request, here is the picture referred to in an earlier post. Note the Summer-like sunshine glistening off of the lovely silver tips of my wrought-iron fence. (Next Spring, I plan to paint the rest of the fence. That will only take about a month, but is not on the "must-do" list from my insurance company.) Note also the reflection of the high-mileage blue Tercel and the close-set houses. (Sammie has described my house as looking like something out of the Spider-Man movie, and she's absolutely right. Young Peter Parker's neighborhood - well, Aunt May's neighborhood - looks a heck of a lot like the neighborhood where my house is.)

Here you see the greatest drawback of my Nikon digital cameras (in this case, the Nikon Coolpix L4): edge distortion. I had hoped I would be able to use the door in the final image, but it looks like I will not. Maybe If I took the picture from a distance so the edges of the window are well away from the edges of the image, the edge distortion won't come into play. We'll see.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

A long-expected day of raking

As I left the house this morning to go over to my new house to remove the tarps I had been using to catch paint drips yesterday, I glanced up at the oak tree in the front lawn and saw that it was now devoid of leaves. That's it, then. All the leaves are down. No need to wait until the end of the day to rake. One last raking, and then we're done for the year.

Easier said than done. Raking took about three hours, with a break for lunch. It was 40 degrees (F) outside today, as opposed to the 60 degrees that it was yesterday (that's 4.4 degrees C compared to 15.6 degrees C.) I wore a black sweatshirt and sweatpants, an Irish tweed cap, and leather gloves, which got thoroughly soaked by handling the wet leaves. After I was 90% of the way done it started to rain ever so slightly. So when I was done, I was completely chilled.

But it's done, dammit. Three weekends of raking, done.

Now I get to look forward to Winter and shoveling the sidewalks for two houses on opposite sides of town.

Saturday, November 11, 2006

An unexpected day of painting

I stayed over at my house for the third time last night. The plan was that in the morning I would get started on winterizing the "storage" side of the house, putting up plastic over the windows to seal them and hanging up curtains. (There are no curtains there currently.)

That was the plan, anyway. As usual I took a good long time getting ready in the morning. While I waited for the water in the kettle to get hot enough to make tea, I emptied out a few boxes of stuff that I had brought over. I remembered that I wanted to get a photo of one of the Christmas wreaths I had made as it would look at Christmastime, hanging on the front door. I got the wreath ready, grabbed my camera, and stepped on to the porch.

...where I discovered it was well over 60 degrees. Very warm for this time of year.

I took the picture and revised my plans. Today I would finally finish painting the wrought-iron railings on my front porch.

And I did. About 90 minutes of wirebrushing and sanding and 90 minutes of painting, interspersed with occasional breaks, and I was done. The front railings are finished.

So. My porch is blue and my railings are black. The porch still needs a second coat, but that's fine. Everything has at least one coat of paint on it. (Including much of my right hand - one of my latex gloves must have sprung a leak.)

Now I have to plan some other time for winterization.

Friday, November 10, 2006

A comment on Bill's blog

I have expended my budgeted Blogging Energy Units for this morning leaving a comment on this post on Bill's IndustrialBlog. (I'd really like to leave a comment on this post, but Bill's argument is wrong in so many ways that it would take me too much time to take it apart, piece by piece, only to see my comment edited or deleted after I posted it. So I'm not going to bother.*)

Here is my comment - which I suppose also serves as a standalone post:

I have seen one episode of "The Apprentice" in my life. Well, not really. I was helping my cousin make and decorate sugar cookies for her niece's birthday, so I was more sort of listening, only because my cousin is one of those people who likes to have a TV on at all times, "just for noise." So I heard one episode. But that was enough.

There was an exercise where the five male contestants (I think there were five, maybe six) had to create a car commercial. One of them - the charismatic leader type - came up with an obviously dumb idea, which three others - the yes-men enthusiastic follower types - ran with. The other guy, a thoughtful, introspective type, knew that the idea was bad, explained why it was bad, and presented a much better alternative, which no one listened to.

In the end they did it the bad way. It was a disaster. The leader-type immediately blamed the three followers, but particularly the guy with the other idea. If only he had supported me, he said, we would have succeeded.

In the end, who did Trump fire?

He fired the bad leader. He had a bad idea, didn't think it through, refused to listen to good advice, and failed to take responsibility for his own failure. I was shocked: this would never happen in the real world.

Then Trump turned and ALSO fired the guy who couldn't convince anyone to listen to him. Good ideas don't mean crap unless you can persuade others that they are good ideas, and get them to follow them.

I think there's an allegory for American politics there.

Of course, in the end all that were left were the yes-men who followed the leader because of his force of personality, not because he had a good idea. I think that helps to clarify the whole concept of "The Apprentice."

*I haven't been commenting there lately because Bill has some policies that I find, well, just plain wrong. He reserves the right to edit his posts at any time for any reason. Well, OK, fine. I have only edited a post substantially for content once. I like to think through my posts before I put them up, and then I think of them as being pretty much set in stone - except for typos, or sometimes grammar. (For example, in the above piece I use the phrase "in the end" three times. That's something I would normally fix. But since I've already posted this comment to Bill's blog, I will not violate the integrity of the comment by modifying it after-the-fact.) But that's just me.

He also has a policy of deleting comments at any time for any reason. OK, sure, so does everybody else, but usually there is some reason there - I have had comments deleted because they thoroughly undermined points he was trying to make, not for any reason anyone would normally think to delete a comment.

But he has another policy. He reserves the right to edit comments, too. Cut out just pieces of them. I've had that done, too, again, not due to content, but because the point I made was particularly damaging to a point he had made. Combine this with the first policy, and you see that Bill reserves the right to modify both sides of any argument - and that's the part I find wrong. But Bill is an editor by profession. It's what he does. And it's his blog, he can do what he wants.


UPDATE: Bill has posted an explanation of his comment editing policy, along with some history and background, here.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Now that you've got it

I used to wrestle in High School. I wasn't very good. I was big and fat and slow and uncoordinated. But joining the wrestling team was part of a process of reinventing myself in the afterglow of having fallen in love for the first time, and it was something I stuck with.

Late in the wrestling season we had a joint practice with another school. It was supposed to be a friendly practice - no crippling injuries or anything like that. We paired off with their wrestlers for a few minutes at a time and then moved around. As I was in the Heavyweight class, there weren't all that many wrestlers in my same weight class that I could practice against. At one point I wound up wrestling with their coach.

One thing I was - am - good at is leg work. A wrestler uses his legs like a second set of arms. Being heavy is an advantage here, since the simple act of walking around builds up your leg muscles tremendously. I wrestled hard and fast against the other team's coach, and after some hard fighting eventually got my legs into a grotesque pretzel twist around his in a position that didn't seem to make any sense. I had one arm under him and one arm free.

When we both realized I had gotten my legs into whatever the hell position I was trying to get them in, the coach spoke to me. "Now that you've got it," he said, "what are you going to do with it?"

As of this morning it looks like Democrats have managed to take both the House of Representatives and the Senate. The House was almost a given in the days leading up to the election, but no one was sure which way the Senate would go. Even now the 51-49 razor-thin majority is a little misleading, since at least one of the Democrats has been voting like a Republican for the past few years, and was in fact only elected on the basis of massive Republican support.

But now that the Democrats have it, what are they going to do with it?

It would be easy to take the Republican-majority path to the dark side of self-serving behavior, where political considerations outweigh the good of the people and protection of party members and adherence to party doctrine are paramount. Democrats will almost certainly be held responsible for every bad thing that happens in the country from this moment on - but that's nothing new, and is to be expected. Remember, President Clinton got the blame for both the 1993 World Trade Center bombing (which happened a few weeks after he took office after 12 years of Republicans in the White House) and the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks (which happened after George W. Bush had been in office for 234 days.)

Democrats have to be proactive, responsive, and decisive. They have to rally the support of the American people. There's so much that needs fixing. The biggest question is going to be: "Where do we start?" And they have to get started right away, as soon as they are sworn in.

"Now that you've got it, what are you going to do with it?" the other team's coach asked me.

I unfolded and untwisted my legs like an origami sculpture in reverse. Inexorably, his body twisted around on the mat. I reached out with my free arm and pressed his shoulders to the mat. He couldn't move. He was pinned.

"This," I said.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

The day after

Still waiting for results from the Senate. Democrats won the House, but the Senate is too close to call. And Lieberman will be a wild card in any event.

Key races locally went in the right direction. Rick "Man-on-Dog" Santorum and Don "The Strangler" Sherwood are both out.

Now things can start to get back to normal around here. Some news and future topics:

- Ashley from Ink On Paper is doing a fundraiser on eBay, for the "Help Repair Ashley's Car" foundation. Comic book collectibles and other stuff - great gift items, just in time for the holidays! I'll post a link as soon as I have it.

- Camilla is going to see Nine Inch Nails in April, and she's mighty pleased.

- Why the hell can't I find any Thanksgiving decorations for the outside of my house? Is it like I'm hearing, that lots of people bought Thanksgiving stuff at the same time they bought Halloween? Or have retailers decided to skip selling stuff for Thanksgiving and go straight from Halloween to Christmas?

- And speaking of Christmas, why is it so damned hard to find non-prelit trees? Is it really worth an extra $100 to not have to deal with stringing up lights?

Anyway, all of that in later posts. For now, I'm glad the elections are over.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

VOTE

Vote today.

Vote for change. Vote for accountability.

I voted this morning, and everything went fine. The machine didn't stop working as I walked up to it. I didn't manage to knock it over and break it. No one tried to suppress my vote.

Please vote. You can make a difference.

Monday, November 06, 2006

Tomorrow is Election Day

Vote. It's important.

Tomorrow is a referendum. It's a referendum that asks these questions: Are you happy with where this country has gone in the past six years? Are you happy with where the country has gone in the last two? Are you content to let things continue along the same path for the next two years?

Are you happy with a do-nothing Congress, with an absence of checks and balances, with an absence of accountability, with a government that has moved so very far from our founders' intent?

Are you happy with hypocrisy, with moral bankruptcy, with an economy where the few grow richer by the day while the rest of us see our standards of living drop day after day as we shell out more and more for the necessities of life while we watch our incomes remain stagnant - unless, of course, our jobs have been outsourced to Third-World countries?

Are you willing to look at your children, your grandchildren, your great-grandchildren 20 years down the road and say "Yes, I was there. Yes, we were warned - warned about the economy, the environment, the failures of foreign policy, the failures of domestic policy, about so many other things. We knew what was going on in the country, in the government. We knew. But we chose to let it happen, rather than taking a stand, rather than saying 'No, this is wrong, this ends here, this ends now.'"

If you voted Republican in 2000, or in 2004, you probably realize by now that you made a mistake. Our country is hurting as a result. But it's not too late. You can start making things right - by casting your vote for the party and the candidates that will start making things right.

If you voted Democratic in the past, you know what you have to do. Vote. And get as many other people to vote as possible. There are forces out there trying to suppress voter turnout, trying to discourage people from voting. Don't let them win.

And if you are Undecided - well, remember, the Undecideds have held the fate of this nation in their hands before. In the runup to the 2000 election vast numbers of Undecideds told pollsters that they weren't going to decide who to vote for for President until they were in the voting booth. Undecideds, more than Katherine Harris and the butterfly ballot, more than hanging and pregnant chads, more than Ralph Nader and a horde of third-party candidates, brought our country to the state that it was in in November and December of 2000, until the outcome of that election was decided by five Supreme Court justices. Undecideds may hold the fate of this nation in their hands once again. Please, choose wisely.

Tomorrow is Election Day.

Vote.

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Electronic Voting

As a result of the 2000 Presidential Election fiasco, America no longer has a hodgepodge of confusing and potentially unreliable voting systems. We now have a hodgepodge of confusing and potentially unreliable electronic voting systems.

To get an idea of what I'm talking about, take a look at this map of the county-by-county breakdown of voting machines being used in Pennsylvania, which also allows you to view a video showing how your particular electronic voting machine works. I live in Luzerne County, so I will be using the ES&S iVotetronic, which sounds like something out of The Jetsons. (The folks in Montgomery County will be using the Sequoia Advantage and those in York County will be using the Sequoia Edge, both of which sound like either multi-bladed razors or fancy types of NordicTracks.)

Oh, surprise, surprise: according to the Wilkes-Barre Citizen's Voice, it turns out that Luzerne County has to pay an annual maintenance fee for the fancy new voting machines, budgeted at over $252,000 for next year - $62,500 to download ballot information for two elections and $190,000 for "routine and preventative computer maintenannce, which would be completed by the electronic voting machine vendor." (The article notes that the old lever voting machines had no maintenance costs, though this is probably an underestimate; I am sure somebody spent a few minutes each year dusting the machines and applying a few drops of oil to the mechanism.) This is on top of the $2.4 million price tag for the machines, which were bought from Nebraska-based Electronic Systems and Software. It's nice to know that somebody is making a huge profit from the fiasco of 2000!

Saturday, November 04, 2006

SuperG on politics

Today I went to the dentist, gave blood, got my tires rotated, got 277 digital photos printed, got an oil change and a car wash, went shopping for Thanksgiving decorations for my house, and went to church. Every one of those activities involved a considerable amout of sitting and waiting, except for the shopping, which involved a lot of fruitless searching. Now I'm tired, but that is probably because of the blood donation.

Writing about politics takes a lot out of me. I'm glad Election Day is this Tuesday. I plan on doing political posts right up until that day. Today I'm going to be lazy and link to a bunch of posts by SuperG, who says things much more passionately than I could without dropping a B-52 worth of F-bombs.

In THROW THE BUMS OUT, SuperG gives a list of reasons why it's time to end the GOP's stranglehold on the American government.

How the GOP Got Out Foxed recounts how Republican darling drug addict and chickenhawk Rush Limbaugh applied his Bill Frist-like diagnostic skills to determine that Michael J. Fox is faking his Parkinson's Disease symptoms.

Gut Feelings on the 2006 Election reminds us that all politics is local, giving us a view of the upcoming election through a North Carolina lens.

No Victory Big Enough lays it on the line: "The Republicans were the wrong party at the wrong time. George Bush has been and still is the wrong leader....This GOP world is a sick and twisted place. That won't change on November 8th. May be in January of 2009 we'll be on our way to a better world."

Go. Read.

And on Tuesday,
VOTE.

Friday, November 03, 2006

AP gets it wrong

The Associated Press has misrepresented the "stuck in Iraq" comment in an article on a mocking banner created by some troops as a response:

MINNEAPOLIS (Nov. 2) - A group of Minnesota National Guard soldiers in Iraq has made a comically misspelled sign mocking Sen. John Kerry's recent comments about the education level of troops, and their handiwork is getting plenty of attention.

Kerry's comments were never about our troops or their educational level. The fact that the AP has made this statement suggests that they have been taking their cues from Karl Rove.

Intentional deception or simple mischaracterization, their statement is false.

Time for the AP to issue a retraction and apology.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

The REAL "Botched Joke"

The Bush Administration.

I don't have the energy to fight this right now. Besides, I said my piece over at Adam Felber's site.

Angry? Yes. Partisan? Hell, yeah.

It's the Gutless Cowardly Chickenhawks vs. the Vietnam Veteran. Round two. Will we let the bad guys win again?

November 7th can't come soon enough.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Watch this video, hear this song

Lauren at Please Make Rice. I Love You! has a music video posted at her site. Watch it. Listen to it. It's really quite remarkable.

You can have your record player
I think the needle's broken
It made a mess out of my 45's

You'll find yourself singing the chorus as you go about your day.