Friday, December 28, 2012

And a Happy New Year!

Happy New Year, everybody!

On Christmas Day, I developed a slight cough in the afternoon.  I thought it was related to our dinner in the oven -- I always cook our Christmas Turkey using the High Heat Method, which roasts the bird in record time BUT can make the home a little smoky unless the oven is spectacularly clean.  But no.  By the time my beloved Doctor Who Christmas Special was over I was running a fever of 102 and I've been sick with the flu ever since.  And this is AFTER my flu shot in October.

I'm hoping to be recovered by the time the new year rolls in, but if not (and in the meantime) -- have yourselves a very Happy New Year!!

Saturday, December 22, 2012


For the first time in over two decades, we are actually completely ready for the holidays.

I know, right??!?

Cards were all sent by December 10th, packages mailed by the 15th, and our own presents wrapped and ready over a week ago.  I don't need anything last minute for the stockings.  I don't need anything from the grocery store until December 26th.  I remembered my sister's birthday and got her birthday present and card to her in time.  The outside of the house was decorated by November 30th, and the only reason the tree remained undecorated until December 15th was that we were waiting for my lovely daughter to come home for her Christmas break from University.

It's all done.

And you need to understand something:  we are never done early.  Never.  Not even a little bit.

One time, when Meg and I had been married for just a couple of years, she had a relatively easy rotation in her medical training in October and we got it all done for the simple reason that she was going to be absolutely hammered by medical school in November and December so we got it done when we could.  That was the last time.

It's weird.  I'm actually antsy because I have nothing to do until Christmas Eve.  This morning I actually made a huge batch of chili just to have something to do in the kitchen.  There are a couple of foodie things we need to do to make Christmas dinner go smoothly -- I like to have made the cranberry sauce ahead of time because I think it tastes better after a day or two in the fridge; I use orange zest and walnuts and brandy and -- much like the chili I made earlier -- it just goes down better after some time for all the flavors to meld.

I expect this probably won't happen again for another twenty-five years or so.

I hope you all have wonderful holidays.  No matter which ones you celebrate.  As an atheist at Christmastime, I can often feel like the proverbial long-tailed cat in the room full of rocking chairs -- one false move and I'm in deep trouble.  But this time of year isn't about arguing over how to greet each other ("Happy holidays?" Or "Merry Christmas?"  Jesus, or Solstice?)  It's about reconnecting with family and with the values that makes us human.  It's about remembering that we are meant to treat others the way we ourselves want to be treated, not just now, but always.

I still weep for the families in Connecticut who have the heartbreaking wrapped presents under their trees that will never be opened.  I can't begin to fathom their pain.  My love for my child is as necessary to me as breathing.  And like breathing, it's something I have absolutely no choice over.  I chose my wife, my friends, most of the people in my life.  But my daughter owns a love from me so fiercely personal, so intense, so necessary that I can't imagine having it taken from me.

Treasure what you have.  Like Penn Jillette says in his new book, Every Day is an Atheist Holiday, "Everything in the world is enough.  I'm rejoicing that what scares me and breaks my heart is the beauty of what I have right now."  I come here often to bemoan the everyday tribulations of owning a dog I don't want, or an appliance or automobile that's broken down.  But know that I know how extraordinarily lucky I am.  I have a wife that loves me, a roof over my head, food in my belly and an amazing daughter who actually speaks her heart to me.

That makes for the very best Christmas anybody could possibly ask.  Even me.

From my family to you and yours, I wish you all the very, very best that the season has to offer, and a new year with far less contention and tragedy than the one we are finally leaving.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Another Tragedy.

Damn it, I am sick unto death of having to come onto this forum and bemoan another gun tragedy.  This is the worst by far.  Ten days before Christmas some idiot (and yes, I know his name, and no, I will not dignify him or immortalize him by printing it here) some idiot goes into an ELEMENTARY SCHOOL and kills twenty kids, four adults and himself AFTER stopping to murder his mom, who was a teacher there.  He had a Glock and a Sig and Bushmaster rifle (the American AK-47) and I am sick, sick, sick of the gun debate.  It's time for the debate to end.  This bull with guns has to stop.  Period.

And don't tell me about the second amendment.  Screw your second amendment.  It was written for a different culture, a different society and a different time.  We no longer have to worry about invaders or despots coming down our streets and into our homes and requiring citizen militias to push them back into the sea.  We have an army and police and a national guard and they are all brilliant first responders and absolute geniuses at what they do.  They don't need me sticking my oar in.

Nobody needs an automatic handgun to hunt.  Nobody needs an automatic rifle for pest control.

And please be warned.  If I hear anybody say that they will take their guns when they pry them from their cold dead hands, I would respectfully direct their attention to the 40 cold dead hands that forty parents in Connecticut are weeping into.  Then I will punch the gun defender right in the face.  And if I hear anybody say that if THEY had been there with THEIR guns, "things would have been different" (yeah, you, nephew Steve) I will also punch them right in their face.  Right in their face.  Try me.

We only need guns for protection because there are so many føç≠ing guns.  Get rid of the guns and you get rid of the problem.

There are too many crazy idiots out there, too many guns, and it's too damned easy for them to arm themselves.  I'm just putting my heart back together from the Colorado Theater shooting, and now this.

I ask our politicians to grow a pair and start a meaningful discussion about the best way to begin the de-arming of America.  And the best way to get the NRA money out of their pockets.  We can't lose any more innocent children.

We can't.

ADDENDUM:  Shortly after I wrote this piece, I found this article over at The Onion.  Normally a site I visit for humor, for a smile, for some satire.  They sure got it right today:,30743/

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Nope and Nope

No nibbles on anyone interested in adopting the dog yet, and the estimate to install the whole-house generator came in at double what we expected -- over $9,000.00.  We're passing.  If the power goes out, it goes out.  And if the dog goes out, he goes out too.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Adopt This Dog?

About 3 1/2 years ago, the mother of a friend passed away, leaving behind a neutered male Apricot miniature poodle called KC.  Her daughter tried to take him but her own much larger dogs did not welcome him.  KC spent several months hiding under the couch or bed.  Whenever he did emerge for food or drink, the other dogs would beat him up.  When we heard about this, we took pity on KC and adopted him.

KC has had a rough past.  He was rescued by his previous owner after he was found abandoned on the side of the road.  Whoever his first owner was, they had his tail bobbed and did whatever else one does to "remodel" miniature poodles.  Then they decided they didn't want him and dumped him somewhere.

We also know that KC must have been abused.  He still cringes sometimes as though he is anticipating a whipping.  He also cringes if he sees me pick up a bottle by the neck.  I'm pretty certain he was beaten with a bottle and whipped with his leash at some point.  We guesstimate that KC is now about 9 1/2 - 10 years old.  He is current on all his vaccinations through May, 2013. We are clients of Colonial Park Animal Clinic in Harrisburg, PA, and can make his records available at anyone's request.  

We were told that KC is gentle, loves baths and being brushed, is housebroken, etc., etc. and so we thought he would be a good fit for our family.  I am 60 years old, retired, and haven't had a dog in my life for several years, but I do have some experience.  After only a few days in our home, KC started acting up.  He decidedly does NOT like baths or brushing.  He suffers terribly from separation anxiety when we have to leave him alone, and our vet finally put him on dog Prozac to stop some bad behavior that occurred when we were out of the house without him.  KC will also sometimes sneak off to relieve himself in lesser-used parts of the house if we do not regularly walk him or take him outside.  I suspect he would be much happier in a home with a doggie-door and a fenced-in yard -- neither of which we have.  I think he also needs almost constant company.

I do not believe that any animal should be put to death because of abuse suffered at the hands of human beings.  But I have to accept the fact that I am not able to give this little guy the care he needs.  My own health, I am sorry to say, is in serious decline.  I have always suffered from a whole suite of autoimmune diseases, but the worst of those, rheumatoid arthritis, is starting to severely limit my activities and my ability to give KC the walking and exercise that he needs to thrive.  Like it or not, dogs need to be walked and exercised, and just because it's raining or snowing and I am in pain does not let me (or the dog) off the hook.

I have tried Poodle Rescue but they are full up.  Other adoption sites seem to be more geared towards offering pets than taking them.  I have asked my vet to look into options for me as well, but I have heard nothing back.  I realize that it's difficult to get someone to adopt a dog with problems.  But I'm putting this appeal out there on the Internet in hopes that it reaches someone who can help us.

Like I said, I don't believe any animal deserves to be put to death because of stupid humans. I would like KC to find a home that is good for him and for which he would be a good addition.  He needs to be with people who can offer him patience, and love, and who are probably without younger children.  I think a fenced-in yard that he can access when he needs to do so would mean the world to him.  He can be very playful, and affectionate, and sweet, but he does not do well with other dogs or with solitude.

So if anyone knows of someone who fits these admittedly pretty specific criteria, I would greatly appreciate hearing from you.  Please e-mail me any time at

I wish I was able to better care for this dog.  After what he's suffered at the hands of other humans, he certainly deserves it.  But I have to be honest with myself and admit that I am growing less and less able to care for him properly and I would very much like to see him placed in a home that's better for him, and sooner rather than later.  And I sure don't want him to live out his days in a cage at the shelter.

Please share this with anyone you think might be interested.  Please share this, period.  Somewhere out there is a retired homebody who has a fenced-in yard and some love for this poor little soul.  And I thank you for your time.

[UPDATE:  We were never able to find a home for KC on our own, and my rheumatoid arthritis is now bad enough that I could barely walk him some days.  I explained my situation to the Humane Society of Harrisburg, a non-euthanizing facility, and they graciously decided to waive the waiting period for me, which normally runs a year to a year and a half.  Last Friday, I surrendered KC to them.  If you're interested in adopting him, call their adoption center at 717-564-3320.  But be quick about it!  They say that the smaller dogs -- and the cute ones, which he definitely is -- don't stay around the facility for very long.  I wish KC the best of luck and nothing but joy in the next chapter of his little life.]

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Happy Thanksgiving

I use this platform to bitch and moan about all kinds of things, but I want to say for the record that, despite it all, all the vagaries of marriage, parenthood, pet ownership, home ownership, ill health and all the rest, I am profoundly grateful for all that I do have.  As Mel Brooks says, "Could be worse.  Could be raining."

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Never again

Well, with my luck, probably not NEVER again, but we're hoping.  I'm referring to the possibility of going for days and days without electricity.  We were very lucky with Superstorm Sandy in that we only lost power briefly, but many of our friends and loved ones were not nearly so lucky.  One family friend of ours lost power for two weeks and although he has a generator, he was unable to find fuel for it for a while, which meant of course living in the dark and cold with food quietly spoiling in the kitchen.

In the late 1990's my area went without power for five or six days after some hurricane whose name I can no longer remember.  It was only by the merest chance that we were out of town for it.  We came home to the spoilage and inconvenience but did not actually have to live through the mess.  Our hotel was also in the path of the hurricane and lost power for about a day, but nothing like the length of time here at home.

And then there was the Christmas Day power blackout, when someone took out a transformer pole with their car on Christmas Morning; there were two feet of snow on the ground and it was bitter cold, and the turkey had just gone into the oven...when the power went out for what turned out to be almost twelve hours.  And us with a house full of company, no heat and no way to prepare the refrigerator full of food that was in our kitchen.

Well, no more.  Megan and I have decided to bite the bullet, pool our pennies and purchase a whole-house generator which will run on our natural gas line.  Unlike many of the homes in our neighborhood, we are actually connected to the gas lines instead of having propane delivered to a tank attached to the house.  In the event of a major power outage, the generator will kick in and will deliver enough power to run the heat (or the air conditioning) as well as the fridge, and the lights.  There is a considerable demand for generators right now, so we probably won't get anything actually installed until sometime in January at the very earliest.

All of which virtually guarantees two things:  one, that at some time between now and the installation we can expect to endure one last major power outage, and two, that once the generator is installed, Central Pennsylvania will never again experience a power outage of any kind.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Now that the dust has settled...

It's been a long and grueling election "season" here in the U.S.  If you can even describe an ordeal that has lasted eighteen months as a "season."  The temptation is to sit back and breathe a deep sigh now that it's over, but I believe strongly that sitting back in relief would be one of the worst mistakes we can make.

Put quite simply, this nation needs to change the way we elect our leaders.

Our elected officials now spend more time fighting to be re-elected than they do performing the jobs we sent them to do.  It's not right.  No President should start his re-eelction bid half-way into his term.  It's no wonder that between the bid for re-election and the complete intractability of opposition party members like John "Crocodile Tears" Boehner, President Obama was able to accomplish surprisingly little in the second half of his first term.  While I am heartened by the Tea Party congressional freshmen who were sent packing, by the fact that gay marriage rights won on every single ballot in which it appeared, and by the election of our first gay senator, I also despair of the way we have begun to do the business of electioneering.

I think we need to make some big changes.  I think it will probably be very difficult to implement any of them, but I think for the sake of our nation and of our sanity, we need to make the attempt.  My suggestions:

• Make whatever legal changes are necessary to overturn Citizens United.  One of the most toxic aspects of the campaigns we just completed were the negative and misleading advertisements by so-called Super Pacs like Crossroads and Americans for Prosperity.  At the very least, there should be full accountability so that the average person knows who is responsible for these ads.  They need to know that it's not really Americans for Prosperity banding together to make a point, it's two billionaire brothers.  That it's not Americans at a Crossroads sharing their beliefs, it's one well-known neo-conservative and Republican strategist named Karl Rove.  Complete transparency in the funding would at least enable most people to put the messages in context and take them with a grain of salt.  Banning them altogether would be even better.

Think of how those billions of dollars spent in the most expensive election to date could have been better spent.  How many bridges could have been repaired, potholes filled, textbooks purchased and empty bellies sated?  Instead, the money filled a few pockets in the advertising and entertainment industries.  It's not right.  It needs to change.  We can not afford to run the risk of elections being purchased through propaganda elicited by a wealthy few.  We know -- know! -- that when enough money is thrown at an election, it can have a huge effect on the result.  I don't want to live in an oligarchy, thank you very much, and I don't think the wealthy deserve a bigger voice than I have.  I truly believe that if we want to be a truly free society, we need serious, major campaign finance reform.

• Shorten the election season.  REALLY shorten it.  Take all the time you want to quietly get your ducks in a row, but primary season should not begin before January of the year of the election.  Winnow down the field by the summer party convention and spend September and October campaigning.  That's it.  If you can't get your message across in those nine weeks, then your message is clearly not what the public wants to hear.  And cut the posturing bullshit between Iowa and New Hampshire about who comes first in the primary season.  Part of the reason why this election was as long and grueling as it was is attributable directly to this inane competition between the states as to who gets to have the First Primary.  Get over yourselves.  The rest of us can't bear these eighteen month grinds.  And we shouldn't have to.

So that's it.  Get rid of the Super Pacs, have meaningful finance reform, and less time wasted in trading hot air with one another.  Once we put all that money to better use, we really can sit back and breathe a real sigh of relief that it's all over.

Until the next one, of course.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Ricky Gervais' "Why I Am An Atheist."

Go to speakeasy and READ THIS NOW.  I wish I'd written it myself.  It certainly describes how I feel and what I believe, damn near perfectly.

And for God's, er, Heaven's, no, er, the UNIVERSE's sake, don't miss the postscript:

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty ... Leia?!?

We got through Hurricane Sandy.  The house survived the horrendous winds and we didn't lose power for nearly as long as some folks did -- friends in New Jersey will not have their power back for another four days.  If they can get gasoline, they might actually be able to let us put them up.  Right now, that's a pretty big "if" since gas is being rationed there -- $50 limit and odd/even day/license plate sales like we all had to deal with back in 1974.  I hope the estimates are wrong and that people can start getting back to their lives as soon as possible.

One bit of news waiting for us when the power came back on was that George Lucas is selling Lucasfilm to Disney.  Overall I have to say that I find this news to be both disturbing and disappointing.  I see it as part of an overall pattern of business acquisition in this country where companies just become absolutely, bloatedly enormous and leave us consumers with fewer and fewer choices, as well as fewer opportunities for the little guys trying to start something.  Soon we'll have just one or two giant banks, entertainment corporations, airlines, oil companies, etc., etc., etc.

Seth McFarlane, the creator of Family Guy, tweeted about the Disney/Lucasfilm deal, something to the effect that, "oh, great, Star Wars is now in the hands of the talented dream makers who gave us Mars Needs Moms."  I can't say I disagree.  And for years I have hated — hated — how Disney has to put its name on every bloody property they crop in front of us.  Disney's Sleeping Beauty, Disney's Pinocchio, Disney's The Lion King, blah, blah, blah.  Walt didn't write those stories, and his studio barely gives credit to those who did; certainly not with the prominence it gives to its own moniker.  Pixar Studio is its own entity apart from the name on the deed of the property -- they write, direct, create and produce all their brilliant stuff (like Finding Nemo and The Incredibles) in-house.  But it's all labeled "DISNEY/Pixar" above the title.  Shameless.

I was sad when Disney acquired the Muppets.  I was devastated when they acquired Marvel Comics.  But their acquisition of Lucasfilm and the Star Wars properties is absolutely devastating to me.  Yeah, George Lucas really tanked with his writing and directing of The Phantom Menace but the original Star Wars: A New Hope was a pure delight.  It's original and fresh and exciting and nobody had ever seen anything remotely like it.  It was like someone dumped The Wizard of Oz and Forbidden Planet into a blender and managed to fuse the best of both of them into something entirely new.  Disney's version is going to be slick and technically brilliant...and utterly soulless.  Now we can look forward to Princess Leia joining the ranks of Snow White, Belle, Ariel the Mermaid and Cinderella in the Disney aisle of the toy store.

No, the Disneyfication of the Star Wars universe and its characters is not something to which I'm looking forward.  At all.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Happy Hallowe'en, Frankenstorm!

I just wanted to take a second to jot down an entry here while I'm still able to do so!  I live in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, and if you aren't sure where that is, just go on to the Weather Channel, look at Hurricane Sandy's projected landfall tomorrow and follow the line of the path to the first city it hits.

That's me.

We got a robo-call from the power company earlier this evening warning us that we may be without power for a week or more.  My wife and I have been trying to have a whole-home generator installed for some weeks, but because of a whole bunch of unnecessary-in-my-humble-opinion red tape, we're still waiting for the gas company and their HVAC division to get their proverbial act together...and we will have no power for this crisis.  Like most of us, we depend on electricity for most of our house.  I can do without computers or entertainment or light for a week, but I hate the thought of all of the food we're going to lose.  And I hate even more the thought of doing without heat until such time as the United States removes its head from its posterior and leaves the 19th Century for the 21st and stops stringing its power wires on poles!  Put the bloody things underground like most of the rest of the civilized world, won't you?  This isn't the bloody Wild West, after all.

Temperatures are expected to run in the 40s F.  It's going to be damned cold in here if it goes on for the week they're warning me about.

And since the storm is about 700 miles across and is moving at about 10-12 miles per hour, we can expect this nonsense to last for days.  I can't wait until tomorrow when we have to try to walk the poor dog in winds of 40 mph while eight to ten inches of rain are dumping down simultaneously.  Oh, wait.  Yes, I can.

My telephone, internet and entertainment are provided by a fibre-optic system which has a battery backup for power failures that will last us about eight hours.  After that, I will no longer have access to my land line.  We will have to run out to the car to charge up our cell phones, but at least we will have those.

So, if ten days or so pass, and this blog has not been updated, well, it's been swell, folks.  My sincere thanks to the over 5,000 visitors who have dropped by over the past couple of years.  I wish more of you had left comments or votes, but just the fact that you were here means more to me than I can properly express.  I hope the experts are wrong, I hope the storm moves more quickly and with less power than predicted, and I hope that I still have power, and enough food, and a roof on my home.  And I hope the same for everyone else in this historic "perfect" storm's path.  May all of us be safe, be well, and most of all, be a little lucky.

Monday, October 22, 2012


I actually do try not to get overly political in this blog.  I named it after a fictional planet in a comic book universe because once upon a time I had planned to use this forum to talk about funny books and action figures.  Instead I found myself diverting down staggeringly different paths, as everything from trivialities like getting a dog to serious issues involving my health found their ways onto this little soapbox of mine.  Now I find myself hitting politics once again.

But I have to.  Because this election is killing me.

I love my President, and I plan to vote for his second term.  I dislike his major competitor intensely, and I freely admit that as an atheist, or more properly, as an antitheist, I find the Governor's religious beliefs troubling as best.  The more I learn about his faith, the more it feels and sounds like something that was made up by a science fiction writer.  Planet Kolob?  Seriously?  That's just looney.  And I'm supposed to put his finger on the Big Red Button because he believes that he knows how to create jobs?  He also happens to believe that God hangs out on an alien planet!  Is this real life, or Star Trek V?  Not that I have a whole lot of respect for Mr. Obama caving in to pressure from the great unwashed middle when he started to wear his flag lapel pin and end every speech with, "God bless you, and God bless the United States of America."  I personally think that Mr. Obama is, like me, primarily a humanist who believes strongly that religion has no place in government, and vice versa, but he's having about as much success with that as Teddy Roosevelt did when he tried to get "In God We Trust" taken off our currency.

Worst of all, though, is how both of them -- and sorry, Mr. Obama, but it's true -- both of them don't answer the questions so much as they work their way around to hitting the same talking points over and over and over and over again.  If Romney talks about how he knows how to create jobs, or Obama talks about Romney's budget math not working, I'm going to scream.  Really.  The same bloody phraseology over and over.

Candidates, it's maddening.  And it's not fooling anybody.

Tonight's debate was supposed to be about foreign policy.  But it sure didn't take long to get back to the same old talking points, Governor Romney's from Fox News and Roger Ailes, and President Obama's from the DNC.  The ship has sailed on all of those sound bites, gentlemen, so put them on the shelf with those binders full of women and start answering our bloody questions!!!

Wednesday, October 17, 2012


Where the hell did my lovely wife put my binder full of women???

Wednesday, October 10, 2012


Honestly, as an old hippie, one who lived through the Viet Nam troubles, and who even spent a little time in jail for protesting that war, I thought I had seen America at its most divisive.  That it could never possibly be as divided as it was between the "Hell, no, we won't go" anti-war Americans and the "America, love it or leave it" Americans.  Never did I think that things would ever be as bad again as they were, say, during the 1968 Chicago Democratic convention.

Boy, was I wrong.

I am getting really sick of the politicians (and let's face facts, most of them are Republicans, and in the interests of full disclosure, I am a liberal who usually votes Democrat) who keep saying that they need to be elected because "we need to take America back."

From whom?

Who's got it?  When did they come in and take it away from "us?"  Did it happen when we were asleep?

You know, I do believe that these inflammatory idiots are talking about ME.

Well, I hate to break it to you, buddies, but I'm an American, too.  Just because I disagree with you does not make me treasonous, or any less of a patriotic American than you are.  Now listen to this next bit, because it's important: I'M JUST AS AMERICAN AS YOU ARE.  The fact that I have a different vision for where our country should be going does not make me evil.  It just means we don't agree on everything.  OK, we don't agree on LOTS of things.  But in the past, even in the Viet Nam protest past, the "other side" was never vilified like it is now.  We disagreed right up until the election, and then we rolled up our sleeves and all got to work behind the winner.  We did it with Ike, with JFK, and even, God help us, with Nixon.  But we did it.

America was founded by, and upon, dissent.  By white landed males who disagreed with the idea of a king who was granted his power by divine right from God Himself.  They set up an admittedly faulty system that put more power into the hands of more people, but it didn't address slavery, commerce, or a whole bunch of other issues.  But it DID guarantee more personal freedoms than any previous society or system ever had.  It's still the best damned thing that human beings have come up with so far.

So believing in ANY of the following does not make me a traitor to our country, only perhaps to your vision of it.  With which the government has guaranteed my right to disagree.

• I believe it's important to share resources that protect our poorest and weakest from falling into lives of poverty and degradation by implementing social programs that feed, clothe and educate them.

• I believe that every woman has the right to control what happens to her body, without exception.

• I believe that every human being in this country has the right to health care, and that it ought to be paid for by the government, just like it is in other first world nations like Canada, Britain, France, Italy, Australia, New Zealand, Belgium, the Netherlands, Germany, etc., etc., etc.  And I say this as a person who has been chronically ill for 48 years and who has seen others get rich on treatments and remedies that have failed to improve my life.  Health for profit does not work.  Sorry if you own shares in an insurance company, but there it is.

• I don't trust the rich 1% to do right by me.  I think their real attitude towards me is what Mitt Romney was filmed saying, namely that because I live on my social security now -- a fund into which I paid plenty when I was working despite ill health -- I am now some kind of bum who feels he is entitled to wheedling a pittance of a living out of their pockets.  Social Security and Medicare are NOT entitlements.  We paid into them our whole working lives and we're just taking OUR money back, not taking YOUR money from YOU.  Stop slapping the "entitlement" label on anything you don't like as though it were a "Poison" label.

• I think it's GREAT that the government supports things like the National Endowment for the Arts and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.  It's always the first thing that conservatives want to cut, and I suspect it's because a literate, educated middle class scares the bejeezus out of them.  That funding amounts to 0.12% of the budget.  Cutting that funding gains us almost nothing in balancing the budget, but we get it back four-fold in pre-school education benefits.  And it's good for our collective souls.  (You hear that, conservatives?  Yes, I just called you "soulless!")

The real list of differences is far, far longer, but you get the idea.  So stop calling me a traitor, stop throwing stumbling blocks into my path to the polls, and stop using that bloody divisive language before another public figure -- or any figure -- has to take a bullet for it.

The only thing you need to "take back" is your mean-spirited language.  America?  It's just fine, right where it is.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Short Random Bursts

• The movie The Avengers has been out on DVD for a week now.  What the hell are you waiting for?  Go buy a blu-ray player that can handle 3-D and pick up the deluxe 4-disc set.  Now.  Go on.  Go.

• More violence in my church's second neighborhood this week.  Now we have a couple of teens shooting at random cars.  No reason.  No drug-related, no gang-related, just the good clean fun of pumping bullets into random vehicles as they make their way down the street.  Harrisburg police maybe caught the right kids.  Maybe not.

• Some days I feel like all I do is walk a dog I don't want and go to a church in which I no longer believe.  The higher principles of Unitarian-Universalissm?  You bet.  The way Harrisburg puts them into practice?  Not so much.  And I truly, honestly believe that they put their -- OUR -- congregation in danger every single week.  Every.  Single.  Week.  When the other shoe drops, it's going to be a disaster.  You read it here first.  (Well, probably third.)

• I was reading some late work by Douglas Adams of The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy fame in which he describes his personal beliefs as, not atheism, but antitheism.  Not only did Adams not believe in a god, he actively opposed belief in any god.  Christopher Hitchens says it more eloquently than I could:  "I'm not even an atheist so much as I am an antitheist; I not only maintain that all religions are versions of the same untruth, but I hold that the influence of churches, and the effect of religious belief, is positively harmful."  Yes, this, please.

• In the same vein, Douglas Adams again:  "The rights of an individual to practice their taith ends where the rights of another to not be encroached upon begin."  I have never understood why this is so difficult for humanity at large to put into practice; that most societies actually find it easier to kill those who disagree with them than to allow them to live in peace.  If you believe strongly in something, like, say, marriage being only between a man and a woman, then live your life that way.  Only marry the opposite sex.  Knock yourself out.  Conversely, if you find something hateful, or repugnant to your god, then by all means don't do it.  Don't have abortions, don't have sex except for procreation, don't use your left hand for anything that doesn't please your deity or deities.  Go nuts.  But leave me the hell alone.  

Friday, September 28, 2012

Thanks For Nothing

Just when I think I'm getting a handle on my recent anxiety regarding guns, Harrisburg and my family's safety, along comes the new mass murder in Minneapolis this morning.  A gunman opened fire in a residential neighborhood business -- a sign-making shop -- and killed four people and then himself.  My deepest sympathies to the surviving families.

Sometimes I wonder if Chris Rock isn't right -- let guns be as common as popcorn; just charge $5,000.00 for a bullet.  The dichotomy of living in a species that is equally capable of such atrocities AND putting a robot on Mars simply tears my mind apart some days.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

WITF and the Islamic World Tension

This morning, the local PBS station aired it's local news-affairs program, Smart Talk, and had as its topic the recent tensions in the Islamic world that resulted from "that" amateurish video that was posted on YouTube and triggered riots, demonstrations, and possible the incident that resulted in the death of the United States Ambassador to Libya.  This is what I told them:

The other day the British comic Ricky Gervais tweeted, "I see Atheists are fighting and killing each other again, over who doesn't believe in any God the most. Oh, no..wait..that never happens." Yes, the video is terrible. So was the desecration of the Buddhist statues in Bamiyan, Afghanistan. There is a double standard that Islam needs to address. So much of the problem seems to be the intolerance of either side to respect the beliefs of others. I personally try to live my life in such a way that if you want to believe in Allah, or Jesus, or a Flying Spaghetti Monster, go for it. If it fills your spiritual void, then it's what's good for you. Trouble starts with the imposition of one set of beliefs over another. Christians are just as guilty; for example, if one doesn't believe in abortion, one should not get one. But don't impose that belief on others who do not share it. Muslims, I think, need to accept the fact that other faiths are going to depict their Prophet, if for no other reason than to educate themselves about Islam, without going off the deep end about how the infidels are disrespecting them and their Prophet. Please know that I am not saying that the video was in any way educational -- it was despicable as well as amateurish, and was clearly, to my mind, hate speech of the worst sort. I believe it was the intention of the author to incite violence around the world, especially during our election cycle. But the Muslim extremists walked right into the trap. Once, Islam led the world in knowledge and in science, in everything from mathematics ("algebra" is an Arabic word) to astronomy. Now Islamic sects promote beliefs that others find nonsensical, such as the need to cover women to prevent the inflammation of male passions. The Islamic world needs to find their way into a more moderate, modern world, and the West needs to be more accepting of ways that are different from theirs.  Just my opinion -- I could be wrong.

And probably am.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Guns, Guns, Guns

This has definitely been the year of the Second Amendment.  And I'll warn you in advance, I'm not entirely sure on which side of the issue I fall.  I do know that there are too many damned guns in our society, and not enough controls over who gets them.  I also know that, as I said here once, if ever I get the slightest whiff that things are really going to fall apart, be it from class war, civil war, or zombie apocalypse, I will be first in line at Wal-Mart for a shotgun.  There's no other way I can protect my family and my home in a true collapse of civilization.  Certainly not with just the machetes in my garage.

(Although I am damned good with a machete.  Zombies, take note.)

But last spring, during a service at our church's downtown location which was entitled, sadly enough, "Music for the Soul," a cab driver was murdered quite literally on our church doorstep.  When the service was over, we had to exit through the kitchen door because the front of the building was a freakin' crime scene.

Since then, we have had the Colorado Theater shooting, the Sikh Temple shooting, and all manner of greater or lesser gun-related mayhem and murder incidents.  The public response has ranged from a concerned "we have finally got to get rid of these guns" to the idiotic "well, if I'd been there carrying, it would have been different."  (A side note to my idiot nephew-in-law:  No, if you had been "carrying" at the Colorado movie theater, you would not have been a hero, you would have made things infinitely worse.  Anyone who thinks that returning gunfire in a smoke-filled, darkened room full of panicked people AND CHILDREN would be a good idea is an idiot, an imbecile, and a complete waste of human tissue.  Now go complain to Mommy so she can write me a snotty e-mail.)

Without rehashing every incident since the end of last Spring, let me just cut to the most recent incident, back at our downtown church location yesterday.  A young teenaged man was shot dead in the grassy plot our church uses for parking yesterday afternoon at 4:00 PM.  His assailant escaped.

When I first joined the Unitarian Church of Harrisburg, it was solely at a suburban location.  Since then we have changed ministers, grown substantially, and acquired an old brick church downtown in an admittedly terrible neighborhood so that, among other things, those of our congregation who wished to do so could not only talk the talk of social justice work, but also walk the walk.

I am ashamed to admit it, but I am not one of those people.  I do not like the downtown location.  I have not felt comfortable there, ever, but since the murder on our front steps last spring, I no longer feel safe there.  When we must attend services there, I do not find it spiritually fulfilling; I am simply counting the minutes until I can end the panic attack that being there kicks me into and get the hell out of there.

It's no way to attend church.  It's no way to attend anything.

Now an 18-year-old was shot dead where I park my car.  Quite literally, on the spot on the sidewalk next to where I park my car.  And not at 3:00 AM or some other time when I am unlikely to be down there.  It was in broad daylight, during an hour that I might be there.  Since I retired I am constantly pressured to volunteer my time more, and I cannot seem to get across the idea that I do not feel safe there.  It's not a place that I would normally go, not under any circumstances whatsoever.  I worked hard to get out of the similarly crappy part of South Philadelphia, thank you very much, and I have zero desire to go back and help out.  Again, I am somewhat ashamed of my attitude, but it is what it is.  I can appreciate with my head that gun incidents could -- and do -- happen anywhere, and that downtown Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, is no more or less likely than any other place ... except we've had two murders right on our corner this year.

And they say lightning doesn't strike twice.  Horse hockey.

At the end of the day, at least for right now, I don't feel safe there, and I won't be going there except under extreme pressure and duress.  It's going to be a long time before I feel comfortable in that neighborhood, if ever.  I had to be there this past Sunday and I about jumped out of my skin when the inevitable police/fire/ambulance/whatever-it's-always-something siren went off right outside during the church service.

My gut feeling is that it's only a matter of time before it's a friend or a family member who's killed down there.  And I'm just not ready to have that particular memorial service.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

September 11th

I was struck by how similar today was to that day eleven years ago, when religious zealots commandeered four airplanes and drove them into the original World Trade Center, the Pentagon, and -- thanks to the bravery and heroic sacrifice of the passengers on that fourth plane -- the ground.  Eleven years ago I was in my home's family room, doing housework, and trying to get finished with it as quickly as I could because it was a simply beautiful day outside.  It was a cloudless, sunny, brilliant day with the mild warm temperatures that used to seem to be Pennsylvania's specialty, but now seem to come with less frequency.  In any event, I remember that I couldn't wait to get outside.

Today was much the same.  Lovely blue sky, mild temperatures, loads of sun.  Once again I found myself cleaning the house.  Different home, different family room, same old routine that I follow every week.  Not as eager to get outside, admittedly -- not with eleven more years of arthritis, not with having to take a dog with me everywhere so that he doesn't get separation anxiety, and so forth.  But still, a lovely, lovely day.

Eleven years ago I had turned on the television to one of the morning network infotainment shows, just to have a little background noise while I worked.  My daughter was at her fourth grade class in her elementary school and my wife was at work.  The only pet in the house was a hamster, and she was pretty quiet.  I happened to glance up at the screen just in time to see the first plane crash into the Towers, over the shoulders of the news anchor.  I actually saw it before the people on the television realized what was going on.  (I'm sure that the camera people and everybody else in the studio facing the anchor desk saw it and were just as upset and puzzled as I was -- how does an airplane plow into a building in midtown Manhattan?  It hadn't happened since an old prop plane rammed into the Empire State Building in the 1930's.)

About fifteen minutes later we saw the second plane hit.  And shortly after that, we heard about an explosion at the Pentagon.  At that point we were all certain something bad was happening, and of course, we were right.  I didn't make it out into that beautiful weather until much later in the day, glued to the set as were so many other Americans, watching the Towers fall, seeing the aftermath in Washington, and generally becoming almost numb with the horror of it all.  I hadn't been so overwhelmed by the news and the media showing the same awful thing over and over and over again since the space shuttle Challenger exploded a few seconds into its launch.

There was something terribly traumatic about seeing it all happen in front of you.  About seeing it "live."  As a kid, I was in fourth grade when President John F. Kennedy was assassinated.  We were sent home from school early.  I don't think the administrators knew quite what else to do.  My mother, who was cleaning house without her television or radio on, asked us what we were doing home so early.  When I told her they sent us home because the President was shot, she smacked me for telling such an awful lie.  Then she turned on the TV and realized something bad had indeed happened.  Kennedy's murder didn't affect me nearly as deeply, though, as did the murder of Lee Harvey Oswald by Jack Ruby, once again, on "live" television.  A man was murdered right in front of me, albeit 2,000 miles away, but I was affected badly by the experience.

In 2001, my daughter came home at the regular time and I had to tell her what had happened.  Of course, being a fourth grader, she didn't get it.  It was too big, too far away, and hadn't happened to anybody she really knew well.  She sort of understood the vague idea that people had died, but I don't think she understood why Dad was so upset.  We finally went outside into that beautiful day, together, and she finally got it a little bit when we both realized how quiet the skies had become.  By mid-afternoon, the airports had been locked down and nothing man-made was flying in the skies of Pennsylvania or anywhere else in the US.  I've never know any quiet like the quiet of the skies that day and in the days that followed, and honestly, I hope I never do again.

Today, I saw the weather, I saw the date, and I started my dusting and vacuuming, and this time, I left the television and the radio off.  And it was sort of OK to do that.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012


As I watched the conventions from the two dominant political parties in this country and listened to all of the incredibly ignorant things being said -- admittedly on both sides, but also admittedly far more by Republicans than Democrats -- about issues like rape and marriage and global warming and so forth.

At first the level of ignorance just simply astounded me.

Then I flashed back to my recent drive home from Pittsburgh.  I took my daughter back to University and had to drive the 200 miles back to my home without the benefit of my own music.  I had forgotten to throw any CD's or my iPod into the car, and so I was forced to listen to whatever I might be able to glean from the airwaves on the radio.  Now around Harrisburg there's lots to listen to, and the same holds for Pittsburgh, but for about two hours you're stuck between the two in what I refer to as "Pennsyltucky."  It's very rural, lots of mountains -- which means lots of interference of radio signals -- and what radio there is, is likely to be country music or what I like to call "Radio Jesus."  Talk radio with a right-wing Christian focus.  Oy.

On my way home, trying to find something to keep me awake, I discovered a Radio Jesus talk show where the interviewee was a "Creation Scientist."  Now to me, "creation scientist" is an oxymoron if ever there was one, but this guy was so wildly out there that I found it compelling.  Here, as best as I understood it, is the "scientist's" explanation of why evolution cannot possibly be right:

• The "false" fossil record, from which evolution gets its evidence, is dependent on death to be right.  Previous generations have to die so that subsequent offspring can adapt and develop their changes.

• The Bible clearly tells us that God created the perfect world back in Genesis.  There was no death until Adam committed the first Sin of eating the Apple in the Garden.  So there could not have been any evolution because there was no Death.

• Besides, if Death existed BEFORE Adam's sin, it would make Adam's punishment irrelevant.  Even worse, it would make the sacrifice Jesus made for us all on the cross irrelevant, because God created Death as both the means for punishing Original Sin AND the means for Jesus to redeem us through self-sacrifice.

•Therefore, evolution could not possibly be correct because it flies in the face of God's plan for us, for Jesus and for Death.

I.  Was.  Stupefied.

I could not believe that in the 21st Century this kind of voodoo nonsense would be spouted on the radio, not even in the wilds of my great Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, much less be taken seriously. By anybody.  There were so many holes and logical errors and false assumptions that in my opinion, you only needed to be of average intelligence to see the enormous fallacies in the argument.  You didn't need to be a student of logic or philosophy.  You just needed to have half a brain in your head.

And yet, there it was.

So I no longer wonder why Republican candidates think, honestly think, that a raped woman's body has ways of shutting that whole pregnancy thing down.  Why they look at you goggle-eyed when you tell them that actually, there were 32,000 pregnancies as a result of rape just last year AND THEN REFUSE TO BELIEVE YOU.  It's why Paul Ryan can lump together ALL of the bankruptcies last year and claim that 1.4 million businesses claimed bankruptcies.  In fact, it was fewer than 50,000 businesses.  The 1.4 million included personal bankruptcies as well.  And in fact, the number of 50,000, while disturbing, is actually down 22% from the previous year -- and the personal bankruptcies are down by 11%.

But you tell them this, no matter how gently, and they refuse to believe it.  They say that they are not going to let their campaign be stalled by fact checkers.

In other words, they don't give a flying crap about the truth.  Hell, Ryan can't even honestly give you the time he ran his marathon.  He actually took four hours plus to run it, but insists it was done in under three.  Clearly the man is a stranger to the truth on every level.  And he's just one guy.

If I wasn't an atheist, I'd pray, "God help us all."  But I think we're going to have to help ourselves.

If you value hearing the truth from your elected officials, if you value having your information vetted and verified before it's fed to you, if you're tired of having to get the truth from Rolling Stone and Jon Stewart and NPR because NOBODY ELSE IN THE NEWS MEDIA IS BOTHERING -- I urge you to really think twice about how you vote this November.  Please.

Monday, September 3, 2012

Labor Day Weekend

It's been nice to have three whole days off with my lovely wife.  It feels like a little taste of what retirement is going to be like in another decade.  And I think I'll be able to do it.  I was afraid that it was going to be weird being around only each other all the time.  But it wasn't.

Friday, August 24, 2012

About the Countdown Widget

Regular visitors -- both of you! -- may have noticed that the Doctor Who season 7 countdown widget has been changing almost daily.  This is because the BBC has been waffling considerably about the premiere date of the programme.  First it was to be September 1, then Sept. 8, then 9/1 again, etc.  I tried to keep current with the latest information as it was coming from the BBC promotions department.  I am pleased to say that they have finally, firmly established September 1st as the date for the Season 7 premiere episode, "Asylum of the Daleks."  Just 8 more days!

Sunday, August 19, 2012


Not even going to try to pretend to have anything to say this week.  Far too depressed and overwhelmed by current events, both personal and political.  Mostly personal.  And my daughter returning to Pitt this Thursday for what I hope will be a successful sophomore year -- and what I desperately fear will NOT be -- ain't helping, not one little bit.


Tuesday, August 14, 2012

What To Do....

Regular visitors to Oa will know that a couple of years ago, against my better judgement, I gave my wife and daughter permission to acquire a dog, a rescue from a family at our church who inherited the little guy when his owner passed away.  Their own dogs were regularly beating up on what was going to become our dog.  He went from being the master of his little domain -- it turns out that the little old lady who previously had him spoiled him rotten -- to cringing under the sofa and only sneaking out to eat and pee when there was a chance the other dogs in the house would leave him alone.  The story in capsule form like that makes it seems like we did a wonderful thing, giving this plucky little rescue a new home.

It has been less than idyllic.

Not only have I, as I feared, been stuck with most of the care, feeding and walking, but the dog has really turned out to be quite the bundle of problems and limitations.  I tried and failed to get my family to understand before we took him on that were effectively killing any spontaneity in our lives by adding this pet to our home.  Want to wake up some Saturday and decide to go to Philly, or an amusement park, or even just to the freaking library for the day?  You can't.  Somebody needs to walk the dog.

You get the idea.

And he has turned out to be pretty much the opposite of what we were hoping for in the dog department.  He is not affectionate.  We have daily battles, for over two years, on who is the alpha in our family "pack."  He refuses to accept a spot lower down on the totem pole, and the resulting anxiety makes him crazy.  He feels like he has to always be "on duty" despite all our best efforts to get him to relax, and consequently becomes destructive if left alone for too long.  I still have to repair our kitchen floor where he apparently tried to tunnel his way out to join us when we were all at choir practice.  And I do not want to install a doggie door, or fence in my property -- we have a beautifully landscaped yard, which cost us a pretty penny, and I simply do not want to ruin it with fencing -- so sticking him outside is not an option.  Also, we're pretty rural here, with all kinds of critters visiting our yard, including the occasional bear and skunk, and I just don't want to go there.

And that's just the tip of the iceberg.  We have spent hundreds on trainers and dog "whisperers" trying to get him on track.  We had to buy all kinds of crating supplies when it turned out he was NOT housebroken and destructive if left alone.  He regularly develops fatty tumors, which so far have turned out to be benign (and at this point, forgive me, but I'm not sure that's a blessing) and have to be removed at anywhere from $800 to $1,600 in vet fees.  I could have spent two weeks in Tuscany with the fees paid from the surgeries alone.  His prescriptions rival mine, and I'm chronically ill.  He has to take Puppy Prozac, an anti-inflammatory for arthritis, an antihistamine for allergies, a tranquilizer for sleep (actually the tranquilizer is so that WE can get a few hours of sleep) and pain medication for spinal inflammation.  He keeps finding new ways to avoid taking these medications -- even the vet has never seen a dog who will suck on a doggie pill pocket and spit out the pill .  It's just ridiculous, and he still "ain't right" as the saying goes.  And as a poodle, a breed that doesn't shed, he has to be groomed every six weeks to the tune of $80 a throw.  He's been a costly addition, at a time when I'm nearly overwhelmed by college tuition costs and home repairs.

Of all the people in the family to focus on, he has chosen ME to be his special "puppy."  I am followed everywhere.  If I leave a room and find I've forgotten something, I always accidentally trip over him or kick him when I turn to go back.  Hell, I cannot so much as go to the john without tripping over him, and I am normally a pretty solitary guy.  I don't like it and I have spent hundreds of dollars AND hundreds of hours trying to change it, to no avail.  God forbid he should latch onto one of the family members who actually wanted him.

Also, he bites.  Not often, but enough to make me worry about lawsuits.  And he goes uncontrollably bat $#!+ crazy when the doorbell rings, which is just annoying, but still.

So.  My daughter is a college student and my wife is a physician who works 70-80 hours a week.  It falls to me to do the feeding and the walking.  And the end result of trying to do a good deed and rescue this dog is having the effect of tearing my family apart.  Wife and daughter profess to love him, although they spend almost no time with him and he gives them very little affection, absorbed as he is in me.  They are as tired of hearing me complain about how I feel trapped and how I'm cleaning up the vomit and pee as I am of living through it.  My wife and I had words just the other night when she and my daughter made plans to visit the PA Renaissance Faire this coming weekend with a visiting friend...and I had to remind them that someone has to Stay Home With The Dog.

More and more, I find myself resenting him.  Now if something should happen to me -- if I should need surgery again for my Crohn's Disease, or have a stroke from my high blood pressure -- my daughter is not going to come home from university to help with his care.  And my wife is certainly not going to change her work schedule to come home twice a day to walk him so that he doesn't pee in the bedroom.  No, we would have to find someone to take him; giving up a 10-year-old poodle who bites to the pound is effectively sentencing him to death, and I don't want that karma.

I think we need to start looking for an alternative home for him now.  Because I can guarantee you, the stress I'm having from this dog is sure as shootin' going to give me that stroke, and sooner rather than later.

And I don't want that karma either.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

XXX Olympiad

There was some pretty cool stuff at the Summer Olympics this year.  I'm still in shock over Jamaica's phenomenal 4 x 100m relay, which Usain Bolt and the rest of the Jamaican squad ran in just a little over 36 SECONDS.  That's FOUR 100m runs just over 9 seconds each, with time made for passing the baton three times in there as well.  Each of those runs individually was a potential gold medal sprint, and the four of them together just took my breath away.

I loved that Rhythmic Gymnastics got so much air time, even if it was only during the day as opposed to airing in prime time.  I think that rhythmic gymnastics is one of the most beautiful and lyrical sports,  bordering on modern dance as it does with the incorporation of the hoop, ball and ribbon apparatuses.  Even though the USA is NEVER a contender, NBC managed to get several hours of rhythmic gymnastics to my television, which just made my day.  It was refreshing to see the coverage be a little more cosmopolitan for once, and a little less chauvinistic and jingoistic.

Did I have problems with the coverage?  You bet.  Failing to show the homage to the 7/7 terror victims in the Opening Ceremonies and replacing it with Ryan Seacrest's vapid interview with Michael Phelps was egregious.  There was too much volleyball and too much Michael Phelps.  No disrespect; they are all great athletes who brought home a lot of medals to the USA.  But I would have loved to see more track and field events, and a lot less fluff.  Did you know that the USA won both the gold AND silver medals in the Decathlon this year?  Neither did I until I looked it up on Wikipedia.  When I was a kid, the Decathlon was a huge deal, culminating with Bruce Jenner on the Wheaties cereal box.  Today I don't think most Olympics viewers even recognize the name of Ashton Eaton, the gold medal winner.  I only spotted a few minutes of things like the pole vault and the discus and the hammer throw; I suspect because these are things at which the USA does not excel.

And the entire world needs to get over treating silver medalists like losers.  Gold medalists are of course the heroes of the moment, and bronze winners are plucky underdogs who are just thrilled to be on the podium.  Silver medalists, however, seem to bear some sort of stigma, like a bad smell.  It's not right.  To win a silver medal in anything at the Olympic Games is a high honor, and it's about time that we started treating it as such.

So thanks, Britain, for giving us a brief distraction from our political and economic woes.  The UK did a fantastic job on the Olympics.  Kudos to the Queen for her superb sportsmanship and willingness to inject a little fun into the opening ceremonies, with her "parachuting" into the stadium to open the games, assisted by none other than James Bond, Agent 007 himself.  It's a memory I will treasure.

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Dog Days

It's been nuts here in Central Pennsylvania the past couple of weeks.  The summer is as hot as it's ever been.  The power has gone out just about every single day, albeit briefly, but it's scary.  We are actually looking into having a generator installed that will run off of our natural gas because at age 59, I simply do not have good enough health to tolerate a week or more without power in hundred-degree F. weather.  As global warming worsens -- this was the week when Greenland suffered a 97% melt of its ice and calved an iceberg twice the size of Manhattan -- I think we are going to see more and more storms, more powerful storms, and more new and scary storms like the newly-minted "derecho."  (The derecho takes its name from the Spanish for "straight ahead" because it is essentially a hurricane without the circular rotation of its winds.  It just roars straight ahead with winds of 80 mph or more, and one was responsible for millions of people going without electricity for over a week this summer.)  So I think we need to prepare, even though this is probably NOT the last house we will ever own.  The plan is still to follow my daughter to wherever she winds up after grad school, so it may be silly to make this kind of investment in a property that we probably aren't going to keep.  But I'm sure whoever winds up in this house is going to find occasion to be grateful for this particular modification.

In the meantime we are trying to enjoy the air conditioning and the 2012 London Olympics despite the usual chauvinistic coverage -- if the USA isn't playing, it's hard to get to see it unless you can scare it up online.  I personally have always loved watching rhythmic gymnastics, but good luck finding it anywhere in prime time on this side of the pond.  But the Olympics are still great fun and are probably the only sports I watch with any kind of regularity.  And as a long-time Anglophile, I am double dog dee-lighted to see Britain winning so many medals!

When the Olympics isn't doing anything especially interesting (*cough* water polo *cough*), we're getting our daughter ready to go back to university.  We are hoping she has a more successful year this year than last year.  I think she suffered more than she let on from the constant fear of the University of Pittsburgh's nonstop daily bomb scares which ran from February right through finals week.  Her grades suffered, as did her psyche.  I hope that she will have learned as much about how to be more successful in her studies as she has in what or what not to pack up for the coming year.  I am really struggling with letting go, even more so this year than I was when she went away as a freshman last year.  Sophomore year is going to make or break her, and I hope it's the former.  Oh, how I hope it's the former.

And if all that isn't enough, we're back to struggling again with our dog, KC.  He is suffering from some as-yet-undiagnosed malady or maladies which is/are causing everything from loud night panting to sporadic limping to wheezing and coughing.  It also seems to involve a whole slew of intermittent behavioral disappointments as well.  We do not have health insurance for him, and the vet bills are running up high and fast.  The next step is more X-rays, more blood tests and a CAT scan of his brain.  Our vet hasn't come out and said anything, but the little guy has always been prone to benign fatty tumors -- I could have paid for a trip to those Olympics with what we've spent in surgeries on his tumors -- and I think that the vet suspects some sort of bad news might be found in his brain.  Regular readers will know already that KC is not my favorite pet, but I nevertheless dread getting bad news and having to make any of the possible resulting decisions about his care.  My wife and I have talked about it, and the current tentative plan is to proceed reasonably but not heroically with his care.  We simply can't afford it.  The CAT scan alone is going to be about as expensive as we can afford.  Needless to say, it's a source of stress for all of us.

So that's it.  Stress about the weather, about back to school and about the dog.  And my health could not be much worse than it has been lately.  I'm now taking 46 pills daily for my Crohn's Disease, my neuropathy and my rheumatoid arthritis, and that's just to keep me functional around the house.  My hardworking wife recently took some time off and I wanted to treat her to a long weekend in New York City, to catch a Broadway show and eat some cuisine that's not readily available here in the Bible Belt of Pennsylvania.  (We caught Jim Parsons -- Sheldon in The Big Bang Theory -- in Harvey and he was brilliant.)  But the amounts of medication I had to take to make the trip, and the stiff payment I made in side effects once we got home, really made me question whether or not it was worth it.  Circling back to London again, visiting Britain has been on my bucket list since I was a little kid ... and I'm just not capable of making that trip right now.  I may never again be capable of making it, and that, you should pardon the metaphor, is a hard pill to swallow.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Brief Notes

• When you are eliminated from a dancing competition (yes, Brandon on So You Think You Can Dance, I'm talking about you) please try to refrain from thanking your Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.  It's offensive to those of us who don't believe, and believe me, if He's out there, He already knows how you feel.

• America, it is no longer the Nineteenth Century.  Please stop stringing your power lines on WOODEN POLES.  Especially if you're going to continue to deny global warming and let us have those wonderful "derecho" storms.  I personally cannot take a week without power in hundred degree weather.  (That's 37 degrees C. to the rest of the world.)

• We don't need gun control.  Just stop selling bullets on the Internet and I'll be thrilled.  Especially if you're selling them in lots of 3,000 to loons.

• Americans need to stop worrying about non-issues like gay marriage.  I don't care who gets married to whom, as long as you both love each other and don't hurt the kids in your life.  If you feel the uncontrollable urge to hurt your kids, though, I don't care what your orientation is, you need to grab your Second Amendment pistol and take one for the team.

• Finally, and I can't say this often enough, or loudly enough, or firmly enough:  If you're driving a car or a truck or any other vehicle, put the effing phone down before you kill somebody.  You want to off yourself, that's your business, but find a way to do it without involving any of the rest of us.  (And for all the car manufacturers who are, for all intents and purposes, installing iPads on the dashboards of new cars, I hope Dante comes up with a brand-new special circle of Hell for you.  I shudder at the thought of how many people are going to die because you just HAD to put Pandora on a touch screen above the gearshift.)

Thank you, and good night.

Friday, July 20, 2012

Aurora, CO

My heart goes out to the families, especially the children, who were victims of the crazy person in Aurora, CO, last night at a screening of The Dark Knight Rises.  In case you have not heard the news, a gunman clad in black and wearing a gas mask attacked a midnight screening of the movie with smoke grenades, tear gas, and a shotgun, wounding over 30 people and outright killing 12.

Once again I am ashamed to live in a country which is so preoccupied with gun "rights" that we have allowed a tragedy of this magnitude to occur.  I am ashamed to live in this country where we give so much press and negative energy to non-issues like abortion and gay marriage -- and yes, these are NON-ISSUES; if you don't like them, don't do them but damn it, keep your morality to yourself because it ISN'T MINE -- and yet refuse, year after year, to do anything about the proliferation of weapons.  As blogger Barry Lyga said, more eloquently than I could have done, "anyone so brain-damaged as to walk into a movie theater with smoke grenades and a shotgun never should have been able to get his hands on smoke grenades and a shotgun in the first place."

You can read his excellent comments at his blog here:

You know the media is going to blame everything but gun laws.  They are going to blame violent movies and television and video games and entertainment.  They are going to blame Batman, for Christ's sake.  But nobody is going to dare piss off the NRA by saying what so many of us are thinking, which is that we need to do something about keeping weaponry out of the hands of loons.  And don't get me wrong.  I'm not anti-gun.  My old man kept a rifle over the doorway in my childhood home the whole time I was growing up.  I never once thought about loading it up and taking it TO THE MOVIES.  None of us did.  We were not insane.

As Barry said, I'm not anti-gun.

I'm anti-death.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Summertime Blues

Whew!  Been a busy couple of weeks.  We hosted a small bash at our home for friends who were visiting us from New Zealand last weekend, and the week before was busy with preparations and the week after has been busy with cleaning up and getting work done around the house.  My wife has two weeks off starting yesterday, and so far we have absolutely no idea of how to spend them.  We're capping them off with a long weekend in NYC to catch Jim Parsons in Harvey, but even that has become something a bit bittersweet as my daughter will not be able to join us for the show after all.  (It involves a scheduling conflict far too complicated and silly to delineate here....)  So if you're going to be in The City at the end of July and want to catch a show with us, please feel free to message me here!

Tribulations with the dog have been continuing for the past couple of weeks as well.  He started panting loudly each night, all night, about a week ago, and we thought he was going through another wave of anxiety for which we could find absolutely no trigger or reason.  Turns out, he about bit the had off of the vet when he examined the dog's hindquarters.  We think he might have been in a lot of pain and that was causing the panting and the needy, clingy behavior.  All I know for sure is that he's been on an anti-inflammatory medication for three nights, and he's been fine.

So if we can figure out day care for the dog, we will try to get away with little stay-cation trips in between painting the dining room, maybe getting it a new chandelier, and all the other nonsense that goes with owning a 30+ year old home that hasn't been getting enough attention for the past couple of years.  Meanwhile, I'll keep an eye on the dog and try not to be too terribly depressed.  I just turned 59 and am already rounding up to feeling 60; Universe knows I feel far older than even that ... but I don't think that's why I've been so down in the proverbial dumps lately.  I think I just have a bad case of the Summertime Blues.  And as we all know ... there ain't no cure.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Stan Lee

For my birthday, my wife and daughter have given me a great gift.  When he comes to the East Coast for the Baltimore Comic-Con, I'm going to get to meet Stan Lee.  They got me the VIP ride:  autograph, photo session, a few minutes of one-on-one time, and guaranteed seating at Stan's discussion panel.

I.  Can't.  Wait.

It may be the Baltimore Comic-Con, and not the huge San Diego Comic-Con (although Stan will be there, too) but it will be great to meet him.  Stan Lee, for those few of you who might not know who he is, has been a legend in the comics book industry for decades.  He started out in the so-called Golden Age of comics at Timely Comics in the 1940's when he was just a teenager.  He went on to become the editor and publisher at Marvel Comics (which evolved out of Timely Comics) and was the writer on most of Marvel's early classic comics.  He co-created Spider-Man, the Fantastic Four, the Incredible Hulk, the Invincible Iron Man, the Avengers, and the Uncanny X-Men.  He's appeared in a cameo in just about every Marvel Comics movie, some more memorable than others, but spotting him is always a treat, at least for me.  And the Baltimore Con is the perfect place to meet him.  It's a real old-school comic fan convention.  No TV shows, no movie premieres, no Hollywood hoopla; just fans of comic books getting to meet and talk comics with some of the greatest creators in the comic book industry.

I've written how Green Lantern #4 was the first comic book I ever read, finding it in a basket of magazines at my mother's hairdresser when I was a kid in the early 1960's.  Well, the second comic book I read, from the same basket, was Amazing Spider-Man #6, the first appearance of the villain known as The Lizard.  (This same villain is making his screen debut this weekend in the new Amazing Spider-Man movie and is played by the great British actor, Rhys Ifans.)

Stan's early Marvel comics were unlike anything that had been written before for kids.  His heroes, unlike DC's Superman and Batman, were fallible human beings who had trouble finding work or paying the rent.  Spider-Man himself was a neurotic, bullied, skinny teenaged science nerd who was an orphan, had a chronically ill guardian (his Aunt May) and a terrible boss in the person of Daily Bugle newspaper editor J. Jonah Jameson.  His love life was a disaster, unlike playboy Bruce Wayne or super reporter Clark Kent who had his choice of Lois Lane, Lana Lang, Lori Lemaris or a bevy of other beauties whose initials were LL.  In issue #6, the Lizard comes about because a war veteran turned scientist tries to restore the arm he lost in the war by attempting to replicate a lizard's ability to regrow lost limbs.  It of course goes tragically awry, and to make matters worse, this selfsame scientist just happens to be Spider-Man's idol and science mentor.  Spidey needs to figure out a way to beat the Lizard without actually hurting the human being inside him.

When I was 9, this just blew me away.  Spider-Man was a bullied kid at school, just like I was.  His dad was dead; mine was an abusive a-hole.  Spidey had problems with his friends, his schoolwork, making money, and just generally getting through each day with the guilt he felt for allowing his beloved uncle to be killed by a prowler -- a prowler that Spider-Man could have stopped earlier, and didn't.  He learned the lesson which is Stan Lee's gift to all of us, that With Great Power Must Come Great Responsibility.

I didn't get much in the way of moral guidance from my own father.  I won't go into the details, but suffice it to say that I didn't get much in the way of learning about lying, cheating or stealing from my dad.  Stan Lee, on the other hand, taught me a lot about how to live a moral life.  His heroes often struggled with choosing between doing the Right Thing, and doing the Easy Thing.  They always ultimately chose the Right Thing, but usually with serious personal cost.  Stan Lee taught me that there always choices, and always consequences.

I no longer have that copy of Amazing Spider-man #6, and if I did, it would probably not be in any kind of shape for Stan to autograph.  And replacing it with one in decent condition would cost, quite literally, thousands of dollars.  I do, however, have a reprint copy, and I plan to have Stan sign it for me.

A lot of people will tell you that when you get something autographed, you should never have it personalized or made out to you because it will be worth far more if it's a generic signature.  Well, to hell with that.  I will be asking Stan to make that Lizard comic out to me, and it will be priceless.  It sure isn't going to wind up on eBay.  I haven't had the chance to geek out with a lot of famous celebrities and creators, but the few from whom I have received autographs have always made them out to me, personally.  This autograph, from this man, on this comic is going to mean a great deal to me.  Maybe only to me, but to me.

And I wouldn't have it any other way.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

And The Hits Just Keep On Comin'....

I've been having some puzzling health difficulties lately, and so I've been seeing a lot of doctors, everybody from my family doc to various and sundry specialists.  At each office visit, just as part of the routine, each respective nurse has been taking my temperature and my blood pressure.  Suddenly, after years of a perfect (for me) BP of 117/72 I have suddenly taken off.  I have been averaging -- averaging!!! -- pressures of 167/105.

In short, I am ready to pop.

My family doc has put me on medication, lysinopril, which is slow to work but easier on my system and not so interactive with my numerous other medications.  After a couple of days on it I'm already down to 130/92 -- still dangerously, outrageously high, but clearly coming down.  So far the only side effect I'm noticing is fatigue, which I can live with since I'm chronically tired anyway thanks to my anemia.

Speaking of you know, last October my blood iron saturation percentage dropped from 18% (20% is normal) to 2% over a period of six months, despite infusions, transfusions, shots, pills and the rest of the works.  We were unable to find out why or how this was happening.  I stopped taking any iron supplements over a month ago so as not to mask any symptoms, watching myself like a hawk for any indications that my blood was about to give out, so to speak, so that they could get me to a hospital or a hematologist or somebody before any crisis got too bad.  I found out I was a bad risk for the Pill Camera endoscopy, which we hoped would find out if I was bleeding somewhere that other tests weren't seeing.  Last week I went in for my quarterly blood tests...and they came back so different that at first I thought there had to be some error; they couldn't possibly be MINE.

But they were.

It took seven months for my blood iron to drop from 18 to 2.  In six weeks it has climbed back up to 17%.  With no iron supplementation of any kind.

Completely inexplicable.

They repeated the tests, just to make sure it was really me.  It really was.

When I had my upper GI series, the radiologist mentioned off-hand to me that, while he was no specialist in blood or liver function, he was of the opinion that my other docs had in fact overloaded my liver with iron, and the liver was so attuned to iron that it was acting like a sink, or a magnet, or a dumping ground for all the iron entering my system.  He thought that maybe if I just stopped everything, the situation would right itself.

It appears he was right.

So we'll keep an eye on things, but it was sure nice to get a bit of decent news for once, even if I had to get stuck twice for blood tests to get it.  Meanwhile, a big Oan "hello!" to High Blood Pressure!  You can have a seat over there between Crohn's Disease and Rheumatoid Arthritis, in front of Peripheral Neuropathy, Unknown Neurological Degenerative Disease, Mediterranean Anemia and Chronic Asthma.  Welcome aboard!!!

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Summer Diversions

A lot of people look for summer reading reviews around this time of year.  Don't get me wrong, I think summer reading is great.  The thing is, I read year-round.  I read all the time.  I always take a book to the doctor's office, for example; here in the great Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, our doctors are so overworked that you can almost always count on a hefty wait before they can see you.  And with my various health problems, I pretty much always have an appointment with one doctor or another waiting in the wings.  So it's a good idea to have a book handy.  With me, it's more like a stack of them.

Right now I'm working on two books.  One is The Final Evolution, by Jeff Somers.  This is the fifth volume in Somers' Electric Church series.  It's an old-fashioned cyberpunk thriller with one of my favorite anti-heroes in recent fiction, Avery Cates, a career criminal who regularly manages to mess with The System in a very dystopian future.  The other book is Drift by Rachel Maddow, which details how our economy and our defense policies have been going further and further off the rails since the Reagan administration.  Very informative stuff about how the paranoid anti-Soviet 1980's resulted in a gigantic jump in defense spending and how that spending has taken us further and further from the founding fathers' reluctance to have a large standing military.  Both worth reading, but in the case of the Somers novel, you will be completely lost if you haven't read the previous volumes; it is not friendly to new readers and is most certainly not a stand-alone novel.

Summer for me is usually a heightened time of health problems.  It may be that my autoimmune diseases are worsened by allergens; there is certainly a lot more pollen now than there is in, oh, say, November.  So I suffer a lot more from March through October.  I try to limit my pain medication to helping me sleep at night, so daytime can be miserable.  I've found, like many others have, that video gaming quite successfully can occupy my mind sufficiently to reduce significantly the pain I experience on a daily basis.  This summer I'm hooked on two new games, both available on a number of gaming platforms.  One is the new Lego game, Lego Batman 2: DC Superheroes.  The Lego games are great.  They are all-ages friendly, and they are LOADED with content.  In order to get 100% of the game, you can play for literally hundreds of hours as you look for gold Lego bricks, red Lego bricks, pieces to build models, Lego "coins" ("studs" in the game lingo) which function as both points and currency, and so forth.  You can play the story if you're not interested in any of the side stuff, or you can try to unlock every character and collect every special item.  It's a game that little kids can play that adults will find interesting and challenging, especially if you're a fan of Batman, Superman, Green Lantern, the Flash, and the other DC Comics characters.

The other game is on the far opposite side of the gaming spectrum, Lollipop Chainsaw.  It's a zombie killing game, rated "M" for mature.  The protagonist character is a Buffy the Vampire Slayer type, a cheerleader named Juliet who just happens to be from a long line of zombie hunters.  It's a pretty standard game in that you must learn various combinations of buttons in order to initiate a number of attack moves, but pull them off and the zombies disappear in clouds of glitter and rainbows.  The game has a lot of salty language -- those zombies have filthy, filthy mouths -- but I'm finding it hilarious.  And it's very, very good at taking my mind off what's going on otherwise.

So that's how I'll be spending the bulk of my summer.  I have lots to do around the house and in the yard, but on the days when it's all too overwhelming, or when my work is done for the day, you can find me with either a book or a game controller in my hand.  I may not be able to be more than ten feet away from a bathroom on most days -- which can certainly put a damper on most normal summer activities -- but I can at least escape into a printed page, or a silly game world.  And believe me, I'm very grateful for that.

Friday, June 15, 2012

Uncle Einar

It's been a rough week and a half.  My wife has pneumonia, and I have whooping cough, which explains why I have been sick since the first week of April.  I have since learned that the Chinese call whooping cough the "hundred day cough" ... which means I'm good to go until the first or second week of July.  Hence, few posts here.  Too busy being sick.

A couple of local friends who actually read this nonsense expressed an interest in the Ray Bradbury audition piece that I used to use, from his short story, "Uncle Einar," which I mentioned in my last entry.  So here it is:

"Uncle Einar's beautiful, silk-like wings hung like sea-green sails behind him, and whirred and whispered from his shoulders whenever he sneezed or turned swiftly.  He was one of the few in The Family whose talent was visible.  All of his dark cousins and nephews and brothers hid in small towns across the world, did unseen mental things or things with witch-fingers and white teeth, or blew down the sky like fire-leaves, or loped in forests like moon-silvered wolves.  They lived comparatively safe from normal humans.  Not so a man with great green wings.

"Not that he hated his wings.  Far from it.  In his youth, he'd always flown nights, because nights were rare times for winged men.  Daylight held dangers, always had, always would, but nights!  Ah, nights he had sailed over islands of cloud and seas of summer sky.  With no danger to himself.  It had been a full rich soaring.  An exhilaration.

"But now he could not fly at night.

"On his way home to some high mountain pass in Europe after a Homecoming among Family Members (some years ago) he had drunk too much rich crimson wine.  "I'll be all right," he had told himself, vaguely, as he beat his long way under the morning stars, over the moon-dreaming country hills beyond the town.  And then--crack out of the sky!  A high-tension tower!

"Like a netted duck!  A great sizzle!  His face blown black by a blue sparkler of wire, he fended off the electricity with a terrific back-jumping percussion of his wings...and fell.

"His hitting the moonlit meadow beneath the tower made a noise like a large telephone book dropped from the sky.

"Early the next morning, his dew-sodden wings shaking violently, he stood up.  It was still dark.  There was a faint bandage of dawn stretched across the east.  Soon that bandage would stain and all flight would be restricted.  There was nothing to do but take refuge in the forest and wait out the day in the deepest thicket until night once again gave his wings a hidden motion in the sky."

I was surprised that I still knew it.  I double-checked it against my copy of The Stories of Ray Bradbury, and was amazed at how accurately I remembered it.  Bradbury fans will notice a few changes in punctuation or a change in word ("under" becoming "beneath" for example) to accommodate my speaking style, but it's all Ray.  Like I said last time, beautiful images, complex language, and a great way to show a director what I might be able to do without boring him with a monologue he's heard a thousand times.

I miss those days sometimes....