Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Gah!

Sorry this is so late.  Things have been bat$#!+ crazy as we get ready for the holidays.  Practicing for an octet number for the Christmas Eve service; buying / wrapping /  mailing the presents; filling out the cards and getting them off in time; decorating the house, decorating the tree, etc., etc., etc.

It's been nuts.

I'm close to being done.  All that's left is putting together the fresh food items for Christmas dinner and it's still a touch early for all that just yet.  Soon, though.

All this trouble.  And me an unbeliever.

Happy Holidays, no matter what you celebrate.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Campus Rape at U.Va.

I am a graduate of the University of Virginia.  I graduated in 1976 after receiving Bachelor of Arts degrees in History and Drama.  I was in the minority of students who did not participate in "Greek life."  I did not join a fraternity, but I'm ashamed to say that it was not for lack of trying.  See, when I first attended U.Va. they were in the process of transitioning from an all-male school to a coeducational institution.  There had never been enough dormitory space, and even off-campus apartments were at a premium.  The tradition was that most young men joined a fraternity during their first year at school, and lived at the frat house during their second year (sophomore year to everybody else, but at U.Va. there are no freshmen, sophomores, etc.  Students are First Year, Second Year and so on.)  By the third year, students would take over the lease of a graduating fraternity brother and live in that inherited apartment until graduation.

When I realized that there were very few options, I rushed one of the fraternities.  Most of them were located on one street near the main campus.  Purely through coincidence the fraternity that offered me a bid also offered bids to the majority of men on my dorm floor.  I should have seen the trouble coming right there.

I freely admit that I was not a popular guy in college, at least not at first.  I was a scholarship student and was about as poor as I could be.  I did not realize that, at least during my first year, the tradition was  that men wore a coat and tie to class.  I owned one sport jacket, and two ties.  I took a lot of grief for wearing the same clothes again and again.  Also, on the day I left for university my parents admitted to me that they had taken the money from my savings account and that I had almost no cash for school.  My father had also neglected to enroll me in the school meal plan, so I had no food, no means, and no money to enroll in it myself.  I took a part-time job as soon as I could find one and ate in the dorm.  I ate whatever I could afford -- it wasn't much -- and subsisting on care packages from my grandmother.  I also caught serious grief from my hallmates about that.

So it should have come as no surprise when one afternoon in May, just before the end of the school year, my Resident Adviser, my "big brother" (my sponsor at the fraternity) and the fraternity president all showed up at my room to inform me that in the final admissions vote of the year at the frat, I had been blackballed from joining.  I had the dubious honor of being the first pledge ever to do so.  The blackballer(?) was a graduating senior from my home state of New Jersey who did not know me, and would never have had to live with me or deal with me.  I sometimes wonder if he had been put up to it because there would be no way for me to pursue it.  That, or maybe he was just a douche.

At any rate, I found myself with no place to live and with less than two weeks to find something before I had to leave town for the summer.  Somehow I found a vacant rathole apartment in a former rooming house that had been built in 1854.  The rooming house was nicknamed "Roach Haven" by its residents and for $55 per month I got to live in a slant-floored bedroom and to share a single toilet and shower with six other residents who found themselves in similar straights.

And it was the best thing that could have happened to me.

Greek culture at U.Va. by then was abhorrent to me.  I had gone along with it because I needed a place to live but I was not then and am not now the kind of guy who hangs out with his "brothers" and drinks beer and watches sports.  I learned later that some of the other brothers were pretty pissed off at the guy who blackballed me, because they desperately wanted my 4.0 grades to boost the House average.  But for some reason he would not be moved, and I am grateful to him.

During my pledge year I was never privy to any sexual misconduct at my own fraternity, but I heard stories.  U.Va. even then had a reputation as a party school and as a school with a lot of alcohol abuse.  So I was unsurprised to learn that the following article was recently published in Rolling StoneA Rape On Campus

I am deeply saddened to learn that not much has changed since I graduated.  I believe that the University then as well as now has an attraction for a certain kind of person.  Fraternity life at the university then suited this type of sexist, entitled personality to a T.  I say this because my one indirect experience with date rape occurred, not at a fraternity, but in a neighboring dorm.  During my first year I was visited by a high school classmate who was attending Mary Washington College.  At that time, Mary Washington was an all-female college and was considered a sister school to the recently-all-male U.Va.  It was a surprise visit and I had prior plans that I could not change, so my friend went off with her roommate, who had come with her to Charlottesville.  The two of them visited a friend of the roommate, whose entire floor in a neighboring dorm was having a party.  At that party, the roommate and her U.Va. friend lost track of my classmate.  My friend was drugged and raped in the dorm.  I did not learn of this until the following Sunday morning.  It was reported to the authorities but to my knowledge nothing was done about it.  My friend left Mary Washington after that semester and shortly afterwards severed ties with me because the memory was too painful for her.  To the best of my knowledge, the guilty party was not punished.  In fact, when I sought advice from my Resident Advisor, I was told that this young man came from an old and wealthy Virginia family and that no good would come of pursuing charges.  The man was confronted by several of his hallmates, though, and he ultimately elected to leave the University "under a cloud," as the expression went.  While I was glad to see the back of him, I regret not doing more to see that he was punished for his crime.  That the culture of rape and alcohol in Greek life and at U.Va. in general has not changed much in the last 38 years is a source of great personal pain.

Even greater is the pain that I still have from my failure to change my plans that night so I could stay with my friend.  It's the one thing in my past that I truly wish I could change.  It is a regret that has colored a great deal of my life, and continues to do so by the mere fact that how this incident affected me is NOTHING compared to how it affected the life of my one-time friend.

She and I briefly spoke after 20 years at a high school reunion.  My friend indicated that she had no hard feelings or blame for me, but neither did she spend any time with me after those few exchanged sentences.  I expect the association was still too painful.  

I have never seen or spoken with her again.  

And it kills me to learn that absolutely nothing has changed at the University of Virginia.

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Guys: "No" means NO!!!

So.  Last night, my daughter finally came out of her shell long enough to come with her mother and me to a fundraiser at our church.  The annual Auction.  Instead of just spending the evening with her old fart parents, she reconnected with some friends her age whom she had not seen in a few years.  All was going well.

Then some asshole, not someone in her circle of friends, came over with his phone.  He asked if any of the girls wanted to see a baby animal.  Of course, they said "yes" and he showed them some cute picture.  Then in a creepy sort of voice, according to my daughter, he asked if they wanted "to see where it came from?"  My daughter, who is no dummy, saw what was probably coming and said, "No."

He grabbed her and shoved the phone at her so she could see his stupid video of animals mating.

Now my daughter is a pretty modest kid.  She always has been.  And church for her, even though she's an atheist like her old man, has always been a place where she could feel safe.  That all changed last night.

Her reaction to this incident was somewhat out of proportion to the circumstances, but not unreasonable, especially not when you consider that in her freshman year of college she had what in polite society used to be called a "bad sexual experience."  Her first serious boyfriend at college turned out to be an abusive, controlling, possessive thug.  So grabbing her and forcing something on her to which she had already said "no" triggered all of her insecurities and anxieties.  When I finally realized that something was wrong, I got her out of there and took her home.  She was tearful, and shaking, and clearly very, very upset.  She settled down almost immediately when we were in the car and was almost normal by time I got her home.

But now a place where she always felt safe has been crossed off of that list for her, perhaps forever.

Men, I cannot stress this strongly enough:  When a woman says "no" to you, you cannot ignore her.  Period.  You don't know what her story might be, and frankly, you don't need to know.  The "no" is enough for you to stop.  Always.  Add to that the basic fact of the Golden Rule and damn it, you just have to treat her the way you yourself would want to be treated.  Or your mother to be treated.  Or your sister.  Or your grandmother.

I don't know who did this to her.  She won't spill, and I hope for her sake that I never find out.  Because  he and I will have words.

And I don't know that I will listen to him when he says "no."

Sunday, November 2, 2014

The Time Change: An Encore

The following is an encore of my rant against the switch to Daylight Saving Time last spring.  I equally hate switching back.  WE NEED TO PICK ONE TIME SET, AND STICK WITH IT.  We're not idiots.  It's time to prove it.

The more you know about why we change our clocks twice each year...the more you'll hate it.

I'm usually set off into a major rant by this thanks to the switch back and forth with Daylight Saving Time (and yes, it's "Saving," not "Savings.")  I've always hated it and thought it was a stupid idea.  Sadly, we humans are essentially sheep who keep doing the same dumb thing over and over again because it has become habit.  Nowhere is this more true than with the semiannual switch between standards of time.

As a kid growing up, I heard all the reasons for it; reasons which all turned out to be wrong.  That the switch was to accommodate farm schedules and give farmers "an extra hour of daylight" in which to tend crops.  That it was to create energy savings in time of oil crises.  And every single reason I ever heard as to why we had to do this idiotic thing to ourselves twice a year is complete bull.

(Yeah, I'll get my hoe ready.  So I can shove it up your....)

I will spare you all the Wikipedia entry -- you can go read that for yourselves -- but the short version is that Daylight Saving Time was instituted in the 19th Century because of the independent efforts of two men.  One was an entomologist in New Zealand who wanted the extra daylight to hunt bugs for his collection after his workday was over.  The other was a builder in London who wanted more time for golf after work since dusk came too soon to suit him.

That's it.  That's why millions of people blindly put up with this crap every year.  Bugs and golf.

Bugs.  And.  Golf.

Early studies showing substantial energy savings turn out to be flawed.  If there are any savings at all -- and studies disagree even on that point -- those savings are in the neighborhood of less than one percent.  In fact, in 2000, parts of Australia began DST in late winter and promptly found that overall electricity consumption did not decrease.  Instead, the morning peak load and electricity prices both increased.  And it turns out that the majority of those farmers in whose name we do this stupidity hate it.  Absolutely hate it.

Just to be absolutely clear on a purely scientific point -- changing the clocks does not give us an "extra hour of daylight."  Our changing a clock does not make the sun stay in the sky for an extra hour.  The sun shines when the sun shines.  Which is why farmers are not fans of DST.  Farmers were never responsible for it.  No other profession works more with the sun itself -- not some arbitrary number on a dial -- than farmers.  They go out when there's light and work until it gets dark.  Period.  The time change has nothing to do with harvests or crop tending or anything else.  And changing their clocks and their schedule to deal with the rest of us who do change our clocks is a huge inconvenience for these selfsame farmers.  It's a big ol' nuisance for them.

Bugs and golf.

I never thought I'd admire the state of Arizona for anything.  I find their laws concerning immigration, and their statewide reluctance to recognize Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s holiday, and just their overall conservatism offensive.  But I have to admire them for getting rid of DST over 40 years ago.  And the way they did it was genius.  They countered stupid reasons with their own stupid reason:  that DST gave them, not an extra hour of light, but an extra hour of DESERT HEAT, which was burdensome to their population.  So the federal government granted them an exemption.  Genius.

So while I can't believe this sentence is coming out of me -- we can all learn a lot from Arizona.  Get rid of the time change.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Oh, For C#®!$+'s Sake!

This is going to be a very politically incorrect rant.  You have been warned.

It's no secret that more and more I really, really, really dislike Facebook.  One reason I dislike it so much is one I haven't shared yet:  it's the soapbox platform that Facebook gives to people that otherwise I like and respect.  This is what set me off today:


There is an assumption here that "of course all of my friends will agree with this" that I absolutely and viscerally resent.  It's right up there with those obnoxious "98% of the people reading this won't have the guts to repost it" messages.  It's bullying, and presumptuous.  Even when I agree with the message, I won't repost it, and it has nothing to do with how gutsy I might or might not be.

This one, the Halloween one, just rubs me the wrong way.  Not the overall sentiment, no; just the "holier than thou" attitude it reeks of between the lines.

Let me put it as simply as I can:  If your kid has any of the problems listed, you need to BE WITH him or her at Trick or Treat.  Please don't dump your political correctness into my lap.  THE KIDS RINGING MY DOORBELL ARE NOT MY PROBLEM.  It's the parents' job to deal with this, not the person handing out the candy.  A person, I might add, who could have just turned off the porch light and made you buy your own damned candy.

There.  I said it.  Yes, I'm an awful person.

Yeah, the kid grabbing a handful of candy may have poor fine motor skills.  He may also be a greedy little s.o.b. in sore need of some polite, gentle correction.  I will surely be nice about it, but I don't have to let it slide.  Then if Mom or Dad steps in and says, "I'm so sorry, but Timmy has poor fine motor skills," I can sympathize with them while I nicely ask them to give back a portion of the giant wad of Kit-Kats Timmy just seized.  After all, IT'S EVERYONE'S HALLOWEEN, right? So let's save a few Kit-Kats for the other kids, okay?

"Motor planning issues?"  I have no idea what in Hell those are.  I'm happy to choose for Timmy if too much of my home's heat is leaching out into the cold Halloween night.  Again, if Timmy is that limited, Mom or Dad needs to be there to tell me that Timmy prefers M&M's.  Same goes double for the allergy problem.  If all I have left is PayDays and Timmy has an anaphylactic peanut reaction just thinking about elephants, Mom or Dad needs to be there to spot for him.  IT'S NOT MY FREAKING PROBLEM!  But if Mom or Dad is polite enough to explain the situation to me, I'll gladly drop a few bucks into Timmy's goody sack instead.  At our house we actually make sure that we have a few bucks set aside for just such a situation.  Just because I don't have the "right" treat is no excuse for a kid to pull a face.  That's just rude.  And Mom and Dad should have dealt with teaching what is polite long before they all arrived at my door.

I'm also not some a-hole who snidely asks kids, "What do you say?" when I pass out candy.  (No, I saved that for my own kid when I took her trick-or-treating. You know, to teach her proper manners.)  Silence is just fine.  Ringing a stranger's doorbell to ask for a handout is terrifying enough.  And I don't give a flying jump at the Moon whether or not your kid has a costume.  I've been so poor as a kid that I couldn't swing a costume.  You ring my bell on Trick or Treat Night, you get candy.  Period.  That's how I do it, and that's how my friends and neighbors do it.  In my neighborhood, it wouldn't be Halloween if we didn't get a passel of uncostumed teens ringing the bell for a candy handout.  Half of 'em only barely mumble "Trick or treat," and maybe as many mutter a thank-you.  I don't care!  It's Halloween!  I choose to give out treats to whoever comes to my door.  For me, that's what it's all about.  In other words, if I had a problem with passing out candy, I wouldn't answer the door.

Yes, "it's everyone's Halloween."  So could we please not PC all of the fun out of an already besieged holiday?  The religious nuts who are convinced that it's Satan's Birthday (because they apparently don't realize that "Halloween" is an archaic form of "Hallowed (as in "holy") Evening," but that's another column for another day) already make celebrating Halloween enough of a pain.  But I digress.  My point is, I'm already "nice" and "patient" when I answer the door, and I don't need a smug, superior-attitude reminder to behave that way.  I don't think anybody does.  The folks who do aren't the type who answer the door on trick-or-treat night.  They leave the porch light off and go to the movies, and good riddance.

What it all boils down to is, yes, I need to treat the kids who ring my doorbell with the respect and kindness I would want shown to my own children.  But it's not all on me.  The people trick-or-treating have just as much of a responsibility to treat me in accordance with the Golden Rule as well.

Because it's everyone's Halloween.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Fixing Facebook

A while back I complained about the way Facebook was forcing its Messenger app on all of us who used to like to check Facebook on our mobile devices.  The only alternative to the Facebook/Messenger one-two punch and its concomitant invasion of privacy was to use the browser on your device to see and use the full version of Facebook.  It is buggy as hell and frequently dies even on my iPad...but it's better than giving Facebook the right to send texts and calls on my phone, along with all the other nasty little hidden surprises and tricks that are used by the marketing tool which Facebook has become.

For about ten minutes it looked like something called Ello would actually have a chance at replacing Facebook, but that appears to have fizzled out for now, leaving us stuck with Facebook the way we were stuck with VHS and Blu-ray even though Betamax and HD were better.

So I guess we need to try to fix Facebook "from within," as it were.  Here's how I would want to begin if this were my private universe:

• I don't want to see any more photos of your restaurant food.  I'm glad you are enjoying your meal but I don't need to see it.  Now, if the lasagne you just made yourself looks like it should be in a cookbook, that I do want to see.  But if you like the look of the soufflĂ© you were just served at Le Bon Pain, just eat the damned thing.

• Please, no more reposts of other peoples' cat pictures or funny videos or whatever.  If it's not your own experience, keep it to yourself.  Everybody already sees what George Takei has posted.  Pretty sure we all see Upworthy and all the others too.

• No more pictures of your tattoos.  Please.  It's way too much information, especially those still-inflamed close-up shots.

• Please post nothing that starts along the lines of, "98% people won't repost this...."  You're right.  We won't.  I personally resent the hell out of feeling bullied even when it's to agree with a cause that I already support.  Post your own impassioned plea for vaccinating children, rescuing pit bulls, or sympathizing with those who suffer from depression.  It means so much more.

• Please do share your important life events.  I want to know what happened with your life and your family.  I want to know when your kids achieve something or say something cute.  Hell, I want to know when your cat achieves something or does something cute.  As long as it's YOUR cat, not some bloody generic Internet cat.

• If you are posting for a site or cause that I support, DON'T SPAM.  I used to be a big fan of pages like "Being Liberal" and "Doctor Who" until they began posting ten freaking times every hour, twenty-four hours a day.  It's enough to send you screaming into the arms of Fox News.  It's too much.  [EDIT: As I write this addendum early on a Sunday morning, 12 of the 20 most recent notifications posted to my Facebook wall are from Being Liberal.  TWELVE.  It's exhausting.]

I could go on, but this is already starting to spam you.  You get the idea.  Keep it about you and let the rest of us decide for ourselves which of the big, popular sites we want to look at.  It's you that I love.  It's you with whom I want to keep in contact.  When I want an "Ohh myyy" I'm perfectly capable of checking out George Takei all by myself.

Saturday, October 4, 2014

31 Days of Hallowe'en

One film for every night in October.  Go nuts.











(I remember seeing this turkey on the Million Dollar Movie as a kid in NJ.  Enjoy!)

(Another personal favorite.  You can't beat Bruce Campbell and his Boom Stick!)









(Fritz Lang's silent classic, "The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari.")






(A lovely old film with an unexpected cast.)


(Absolutely my favorite movie on this list!)


(And we cap things off with the obligatory 1950's Giant Insect Fear Film!)

Have a Happy Hallowe'en!!!

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Facebook Is Broken


Warning:  The following is a rant, so if you’re not in the mood, skip it.

Facebook is broken.  Yeah, I realize I am just the latest in a long, long line of complainers, but still.  I had planned on leaving Facebook this week.  This saddened me, because I actually use Facebook, not as a measure of popularity or a method for sharing my life (which, let’s face it, simply isn’t that important or that interesting.)  No, I use it as a way of connecting with dear friends from my past who are often too far away to communicate with easily in any other way.  Some are literally on the other side of the world (hello, New Zealand and Australia!!)  I also use Facebook in several of my hobbies, most notably to learn new techniques for prop-making and to see the handiwork of other people with the same interest, most of whom are far more talented than I am.  This is great, because it inspires me to try harder and do better.

In short, I use it, probably pretty much the way most of my friends use it.

But Facebook itself is making it an untenable option for these things.  And as I said, that saddened me greatly, because I only recently reconnected with many of those folks and then found myself preparing to say goodbye.

The reason, of course, is the new Facebook Messenger app.  Facebook wants to pull the chat function out of the standard Facebook app and make it a separate thing.  It would be bad enough that you now have to use two things where once you only needed to use one.  But the new thing, the Messenger app, invades privacy to an egregious degree.  

Facebook has always had issues with privacy.  They have access to your personal profile information, and, in the fine print, have the right to do pretty much whatever they want to do with it.  Some of that has changed over the years, as particularly invasive assaults were identified and made public, but the personal profile information is still in play.  All you have to do is load your Facebook page and you’ll likely see ads for the last product you looked at on Amazon, or eBay, or even ThinkGeek.  You’ll see promotions for the last movie whose showtimes you checked, or the last college where your high schooler wanted to apply.  It’s pretty scary, when you stop to think about it.

Facebook Messenger would be even worse.  The app requires that you give it “permissions” which include giving Facebook access to your texts, giving Facebook the ability to send texts on your device, and giving Facebook the ability to MAKE CALLS on your device.  Messenger would have access to find your mail and phone accounts, to use your personal contacts list, and to access ALL of your other text messages.

Let me say that again.  With this app, Facebook gets the ability to make calls and to send and receive texts ON YOUR PHONE OR TABLET.  And to read all your other mail.

According to Google Play, the app has “access to find accounts on the device, read contacts, access the user’s [account], as well as edit, read and receive text messages.  Other permissions give Facebook the ability to directly call phone numbers, modify or delete files on USB storage, take pictures and videos, receive audio, download files without notification, control vibration [on the device] and change network connectivity.”

Holy crap.  At least buy me dinner first.

So I was on the verge of leaving altogether, despite regretting losing the renewed contact with distant friends.  Then I stumbled across a fairly simple workaround, at least for now.

I only use Facebook on my iPhone’s internet browser.  I do NOT use the Facebook app.  Yes, it’s smaller, and more annoying, and a bit more cumbersome.  But the features and information that I want are there, and I have a lot more control over what my browser will and will not allow.  It certainly will never give the Facebook page access to my camera or let it send texts and make calls.

The Facebook app is gone from my phone and from my iPad, and for good.  And they have only themselves to blame.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

"I'll See You In Baltimore!"

That's the slogan for the Baltimore Comic-Con.  As I've said here before, Baltimore is what San Diego used to be -- a three-day nerdfest celebrating all things comic book.  Virtually no Hollywood or television influence.  Sometimes a small indy gaming company will have a presence, and the cosplay has definitely grown and improved over the years, but it's really all about the comic books -- celebrating the stories and the characters, meeting and discussing with creators, and of course, doing some shopping so as to fill in the holes in that collection of, oh, say, your 1960's Green Lantern collection.


The whole family is going this time, hoping to meet some of our favorite creators, including old friend Jimmy Gownley who has achieved riotous success with his creation Amelia Rules! and Gail Simone, probably my favorite comics creator working today.  Gail Simone is a writer who has written some of the best comics of the last decade, including Tomb Raider, Wonder Woman, Batgirl, Birds of Prey, Secret Six, and Deadpool.  Her independent project with artist Jim Calafiore, Leaving Megalopolis, is in my opinion one of the great works of fiction of the past decade, never mind that it's a graphic novel.  Gail is my hero, not only for the strong female characters she writes, but for her deeply real characters and her fierce determination to include LGBTQ and differently-abled characters in her work.  I think that she's amazing, and apparently the comics industry agrees, because Gail is flying in from her home in the Pacific Northwest to deliver the keynote address at the Harvey Awards in Baltimore -- the comics world's Oscars.

Not dressing up in costume this time, but I haven't been this excited for a con since I got to meet Stan Lee a couple of years ago.  In Baltimore, of course.  You can't get near the man in San Diego.

Friday, August 22, 2014

Right Back In It

...and for what?  One of the nice things -- perhaps the only nice thing -- about having such a little-noticed blog is that so few people see it when I need to get something off my chest.  This is one of those times; it's a mental-health dump purely for myself, so go do something productive with your time.  Go on, get out of here now, the both of you.

We're just back from vacation.  Friend after friend is talking about taking their daughters to college this weekend.  Mine will not be going back for what should have been her senior year.  Even if she had gone back, it wouldn't have been her graduating year.  She has only taken 12 credit hours per semester for her entire academic tenure (for a grand total of 72) and has only passed half of them.  Usually it's a feast-or-famine grade report, 2 A+ grades and 2 failures or incompletes.  Which breaks my heart, because this kid is as bright as they come.  I just don't know how things manage to go wrong with her every single year.  The first year we blamed the plethora of daily bomb threats her university received.  The second year we blamed on an unfortunate roommate matchup.  Last year, we had nothing, except for dashed high hopes.  So after much discussion and heartache we explained that we simply cannot keep throwing $30K a year at an education which is going nowhere.  My daughter is staying home when so many are leaving.  To her credit, she has found a job, a good one -- one that is still beneath her talents, in my opinion, and below what I think she is capable of contributing to society, but she is not sitting at home with her nose buried in the Internet, and that is a good thing.  She has a civil service job, with a pension, and benefits, and the potential for advancement into something truly worthwhile someday, and she earned it entirely on her own.  It gives her structure, and a feeling of some successful accomplishment even on the days spent entirely in the file room.  So overall, I'm glad for her, but still a little sad sometimes.

My wife is already back at work.  As I've noted here before, she's a physician with a specialty in Family Medicine; she's a primary care, first-line-of-defense doctor who does the most work for the least compensation.  Even more so because she is a woman.  She works entirely too hard.  After a 10-12 hour day at her office, she comes home and, once supper is over, enters notes into charts on her laptop until bedtime.  Between the new electronic medical records laws and the privacy laws here in our state of Pennsylvania, she must do this work unaided.  So while she is working on one side of the sofa, my daughter is on the other side, unwinding after her day by burying her nose in the Internet (see above!) on her own laptop.  I'm pretty much alone even when I'm in the same room, and I'm finding that it wears me down considerably.  My own depression has been worsening and deepening lately, despite counseling and tweaking of the meds.  Whether as a cause of the depression or as a result, my health has been really rotten lately.  This despite just getting back from a week's vacation where I essentially did nothing.  (See, the opening sentence of the previous paragraph was not a complete non sequitur.  You should have trusted that I'd get back to it eventually.)

Last night what should have been an emotional boost instead became something of a letdown.  After a chunk of the summer off, the church choir got back together for the first time in a while.  It should have been a fun reunion with good friends seen all too seldom in the past weeks.  Instead, for the first time our practice was held at our downtown church building, in a mildewed and vaguely smelly room, in a building I loathe, in a neighborhood in which I feel terribly and increasingly unsafe.  (On a side note, I used to feel a little better about the neighborhood because I thought we were somewhat shielded by the good our church does.  Then this past summer, a neighboring church was horribly vandalized -- its kitchen was damaged by a gang of teenagers, the very kitchen that feeds many in the neighborhood who are unable to find the means to feed themselves.  It meant that the whole neighborhood went hungry for a day or two.  So much for the veil of protection provided by a church that does good.  So much for, if you will, the idea of Sanctuary.)  While it was good to see friends, there was much talk of taking daughters to college (again, see above!) and new grandchildren, and other positive things which are not part of my life, nor are they likely to be any time soon.  And I was not encouraged by our meeting with the new minister, who does not seem to be the kind of humanist Unitarian I was hoping we'd have.  More like a mystical, spiritual maybe-former-hippie person who expresses herself in dance.  Still, many in the room seemed to like her very much, and these are people I love deeply, so we'll see how things go.

I'm doing what I can to keep myself afloat, emotionally.  As much as I loathe my daily routine sometimes ("It's Friday! Cut the grass as long as it ain't raining!") it gives me the same structure with a small sense of accomplishment that I hope for my daughter.  I do think it's what she needs right now.

Me, I'm not so sure about.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Vacation, So-Called ;P

There's nothing quite like packing to go away for the week and receiving a phone call from your bank, letting you know that your credit card has been canceled because someone in Eastern Europe just tried to charge $119 worth of boner pills at a Walgreens in Illinois.  (Yes, this actually happened just over a week ago.)  I don't carry much in the way of credit cards, primarily to make identity theft easier to deal with for, not if, but when it happens -- but the timing on this was particularly inconvenient.  The bank promised to overnight the new card to my hotel.  It arrived four days later.  Luckily we brought enough cash to deal, but...geez.

The vacation itself was nice, once the finances got straightened out.  My wife loves the beach; I am a bit more "meh" about it, but I have a much easier time relaxing and being in my head wherever I am than she does.  Still, it was very nice not to have to cook, clean or worry about the household for an entire week.

Of course, like an idiot I dove in with both feet yesterday:  five hour drive home, four loads of laundry, cut and edge the lawn since I knew we were expecting rain today...I must have been out of my bleeding mind.  I can barely type this up, much less be any kind of productive today.

Still, believe it or not, it was a nice rest...and it's good to be back.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Fed Up With "Heaven"

What is up with this sudden resurgence of New Age near-death Heaven nonsense?  Movies like Heaven Is For Real and God's Not Dead, and books, including one from a neurologist, for crying out loud, are all touting the idea that there really is an Afterlife, that Our Loved Ones are "there" waiting for us, et al., ad nauseam.

People should know better than to trust the delusions brought on by a lack of oxygen to the brain.  I have no trust in hallucinations caused by dying brain cells, even those in a neurologist, who should know better.

I attribute most of our modern world's ills to religion.  I admit it.  Sunni vs. Shia, Hamas vs. Israeli, and every other variation thereon in the Middle East can be laid squarely at religion's door.  It's getting to be like the old Hatfields/McCoys feud, in that nobody can even remember what started it off any more.  And don't even get me started on abortion and meddling in Women's Health issues.  My God is better than your God.  My God's Messenger is better than your God's Messenger.  And I'm going to shove mine down your throat for your own good, whether you like it or not.

It's all a load of crap.

And it's never going to stop, especially not as long as we keep feeding the fire with fuel like the drivel that is Heaven Is For Real.

How the same species can put a wonderful robot explorer on Mars and still eagerly lap up this kind of crap makes me despair for our future.  Not that we have much of one, since a lot of climate change denial is either based on religious imperatives -- after all, their God did give them complete "dominion" over the planet -- or worse, is encouraged, because hey, after all, anything we can do to get the End Times here sooner has got to be a Good Thing, right?

We're worse than chimps.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Geek Summer 2014

We're only halfway through the summer of 2014 and it's already been an interesting time for geek culture.  There's been the usual mix of the good, the bad and the ugly, and San Diego Comic-Con International hasn't even started yet.

Definitely on the "good" side, it's been a really good summer for one of my favorite writers in comics, Gail Simone.  Simone has written for both of the Big Two comics companies, as well as some indie work and work for smaller publishing houses like Dark Horse Comics.  She is currently writing two of my absolute favorite books, Batgirl from DC and Tomb Raider from Dark Horse.  Sadly, she will be leaving Batgirl in a few issues over creative differences with the publisher, but her run on the book has been absolutely amazing, including the addition of Barbara "Batgirl" Gordon's transgender roommate Alysia.  I'm not a comics historian, so I can't state for a fact that Alysia is the first transgender character in comics, but she is certainly the first one in a major title from a mainstream publisher.  Simone's writing is thoughtful and deeply complex and personal and her characters are utterly believable, even in a setting which involves the lead character putting on a costume and going out to fight crime as a vigilante.  Her additions to this portion of the Batman canon will give other writers inspiration and material for years and years to come.


She is also the writer for Tomb Raider, a book based on the recent hit videogame which revitalized the classic videogame character with a complicated retelling and reimagination of the adventure which turned archaeologist Lara Croft into the badass character which has been depicted in the Tomb Raider games for over a decade.  The comic takes up immediately following the events in the game and is the sequel that gamers only dreamed about.  It's wonderful.  Search out Gail Simone's work, even if you don't read comics.  You will not be disappointed.  If you are, contact me here and I'll buy the book back from you.  But I think my money is safe.

As for summer movies, the one I've been waiting for all summer is just a couple of weeks away now:  Marvel's Guardians of the Galaxy.  If you had asked me ten years ago to name the least likely comic book to be made into a movie, Guardians would have been on the short list.  But here we are, and it looks great.  Review to follow once the picture opens on August 1st!


This week also marks the 75th anniversary of the first appearance of the Bat-Man in Detective Comics #27 back in 1939.  There are all kinds of events planned for the anniversary, including an appearance by Batman himself at my local comics store, Comix Connection on the Carlisle Pike in Mechanicsburg, PA.  I think it's pretty amazing that the character has survived through repeated reinventions of itself, even with the campy 1960's Adam West TV show.  Just about every Bat-book DC publishes will be out this Wednesday to commemorate the anniversary, as well as a variety of free Batman masks from the various eras and incarnations.

Finally, the thing that I am least looking forward to, the Batman origins television show due out from Fox this fall, Gotham.  I haven't seen it, and it may yet prove to be a pleasant surprise, but there a lot of little signals that are warning this fanboy to stay well away from Gotham.  Not the least of which is how the inevitable committee of writers is yet again (A) making seemingly unnecessary changes to the Batman story in order to put their own "artistic" spin on it, and (B) how they are in particular messing with one of the iconic Batman characters, Poison Ivy.  In the comics, Pamela Isley was the victim of harassment and experimentation by her mad scientist boss, the end result of which was her transformation into the ultimate femme fatale, Poison Ivy.  In Gotham, the character's name has been changed to "Ivy Pepper" -- apparently we viewers are too stupid to realize that Pamela Isley was going to be turned into Poison Ivy at some later point without her having "Ivy" in her name.  I can't tell you how much I hate this.  They kept Selena Kyle, who will become the Catwoman, and they kept Edward Nygma (yeah, I know) who will become Riddler, and Oswald Cobblepot, someday the Penguin.  Why mess with Ivy?  It just doesn't bode well.

There are some other things later on this year that I'm looking forward to, notably comic book adaptations for television like The Flash and Constantine.  But that's fodder for a later post.  Meanwhile, enjoy the rest of the summer, including all of the insanity that is Comic-Con which, as usual, I will attend only from the safety of my living room.  No overnight lines to get into Hall H for me!

And besides, Gail Simone isn't going either.  ;)

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Post 9/11, No News Ain't Good News



At least, not for me.  It's almost 13 years since 9/11, and I'm finding that I have developed an interesting neurosis:  the longer I go without news in the morning, the more anxious I become.

On September 11th, 2001, I was at home, alone, with my wife at work and my daughter at her 4th grade class.  I was cleaning the house and had just turned on the television in the family room "for company" while I was vacuuming.  I don't recall what network was on; I think it might have been the Today Show on NBC, but whatever it was, the reporter had a view of the city behind him and I tuned in just in time to see the second plane crash into the Towers, live on TV.  (The only other time I saw anyone actually die on television was when I was in the 4th grade, and I saw Jack Ruby gun down Lee Harvey Oswald during that now-infamous prisoner transfer.  Needless to say, I did not cope very well with either one.)  Later in the morning I saw the Towers fall, fully realizing how many lives had to have been lost.  Later in the week I learned that a friend who worked at the restaurant at the top of the Trade Center narrowly missed being killed when he ran home to get the eyeglasses he had forgotten.  He suffered terrible survivor's guilt for this, and ultimately took his own life a few years later.  A devastating day for so many.

There are mornings when the three of us might like to sleep in and enjoy the quiet of the season, whatever season that may be.  But now, for me, the longer I go without checking the news, the more anxious and worried I become.  I worry that some new awful thing has happened, something that will change our world entirely and forever, and I worry that I am enjoying my peaceful ignorance at some horrible, horrible expense.  To the point where I am, in fact, enjoying nothing at all.  I try to cope, I really do, but I only find some peace when I turn on NPR and realize after a few minutes that nothing has crashed, the President is still alive, and to the best of our collective knowledge, no meteors or comets are about to crash into the planet and extinguish all life.

It's sick, I know.  It's a neurosis.  I'm not sure what to do about it.  I guess as neuroses go, it's relatively harmless, since the worst thing that happens is that I interrupt the peace and quiet of the morning to turn on Morning Edition to make sure that everything is still the way it was yesterday.  I will say that seeing the new World Trade Center building fill that awful hole in the New York City skyline on my last visit to the City helped quite a bit.  But I think I will never be able to spend the day completely unplugged from the news, not ever again.


Saturday, June 28, 2014

Short Points

It's been 18 days since the last update -- sorry about that!  Here's why:

• Crohn's Disease has been enjoying a major flareup this summer, with no sign of abating.  I had been putting out the fire, so to speak, with large doses of Prednisone.  Turns out I can't do that any more, because:

• Sustained use of high-dose Prednisone has knocked my blood pressure wayyyy up into dangerous territory (160/98!) and also knocked my fasting blood sugar levels wayyyy up into, you guessed it, dangerous territory (131!) as well.  So I can now add hypertension and pre-diabetic to my list.  Yay!

• All of the above has left me a prisoner in my own home most days, as I simply cannot be far from a bathroom any more, at least not until things settle down or I major-medicate with stuff to keep me out of the bathroom...but using this stuff always comes with a heavy price later.

• My only remaining relative from the previous generation (apart from my father, about whom the less said the better, except to mention that whoever said, "Only the good die young" must have known him) is my mother's kid sister, my aunt, and she is dying of liver failure due to complications from iron therapy for chronic anemia.  She is not expected to survive the summer.

• Two dear friends have died from colon cancer recently, practically back to back.  As I said a few weeks ago, for the sake of all  the people who love you, get a friggin' colonoscopy.

• My daughter is going through some rough times herself, dealing with depression and feelings that she has little worth.  She is probably not going to go back to University in the autumn.  Her stint there has been both expensive and unsuccessful, and until she finds some direction, as well as some help for her depression, she has returned to the nest and is attempting to enter the work force while figuring out what she wants to do with her life.  Right now she is working your basic college-kid summer job at an amusement park, and hates it.  We are hoping she will turn up something that better suits her soon.  (On a side note, be nicer to the kid who makes sure your seat belt is fastened on the roller coaster, OK?)

So clearly my attention has been focused more on the day-to-day rather than on you, my dear audience, although I love both of you dearly.

More when I can!

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Jekyll & Hyde Club, NYC


OK, this is a shameless (and uncompensated!) plug for one of my favorite places to dine in New York City, the Jekyll & Hyde Club on W. 44th St.  I've been a couple of times now, and it's become a staple of any visit I make into the City.  The place has a definitely-theme-park kind of a vibe, but since it's all steampunk Victorian horror, it's a vibe I thoroughly enjoy.  This past weekend we went into the City to see a show and grabbed a bite and a drink afterwards at J&H.

My favorite part of the evening was when my daughter, who had never visited, asked me if I knew where the bathroom was.  More accurately, it was the expression on her face when I replied, "Go into the Library, find the secret door in the fireplace, go down the hall and find the second secret door in the bookcase."  Her puzzled "Is he kidding?" face that slowly morphed into "Cool!" was the best!  (Needless to say, she shares a lot of my sensibilities regarding what is "cool.")

The library fireplace, secret entrance to...

...the bathroom hallway.  It's down there, somewhere.  Not where you think, though.

The food is good, the drinks are excellent, and the staff all seem to be enthusiastic about being there.  Expect to have your table visited several times during the evening by various creepy folk, and for various interruptions both human and animatronic.  Might be an attempted Frankensteinian revival of a corpse.  Might be a visit from the Elephant Man.  It's always different.

Whoever decorated the place did a fantastic job.  The place is busy, eclectic, and authentic.

The bar.

The entryway, as seen from the bar landing.

One of the many, many dining alcoves.

There is also a decent little gift and souvenir shop, and an excellent "haunted house" type of attaction which is accessed from the bar.  Worth it, but do it before you eat anything.  It's extremely, shall we say, atmospheric, and most people are glad of a drink afterwards.

If you do visit, sure, you can walk right into the lobby if you wish and go through the gift shop area into the restaurant.  Or, you can approach the doorman in his somber attire and ask for the day's password.  You then enter the black British phone box out front, speak the password into the antique telephone, and enter the fun way.  Or perhaps "funhouse" way is a better adjective.  In any event, go in via the doorman.  You've already gone to all the trouble to get there; you might as well go all the way.

The exterior.  You can just see the tophatted doorman and the telephone box/secret door.

Don't be afraid to interact with staff.  They won't be afraid to interact with you.  And if the girl dressed as an undertaker comes to your table with a bucket full of syringes and asks if you want to be injected...do say "Yes, please!"

(As I stated above, I have received absolutely no compensation from the Club.  It's simply one of my absolute favorite places in New York City.  More information can be found at the club website: 


Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Get Ready For Your Close-Up

As I write this, I am home from one memorial service and getting ready to attend another one next week.  I realize that as an old fart in his 60's I am at the age where friends and acquaintances of a similar age are starting to, shall we say, shuffle off this mortal coil, but it doesn't make it any easier to deal with when it happens.

The point of this brief column is a very simple one.

If you are age 50, or older, and have never had a screening colonoscopy, GET ONE.

Two friends have died of colon cancer and a brother-in-law had a narrow escape this year after much fear and surgery.  None of them had had a colonoscopy when they reached "a certain age."

Is preparing to have a doctor insert a camera up your behind unpleasant?  You bet it is.

Is it inconvenient?  Yes, inconvenient as Hell.  You can't drive for 24 hours after, which means that you not only miss a day of work but a friend or loved one has to take time off as well to be your chauffeur.

Is it worth it?  Completely.  Peace of mind if you have an "All-Clear," and early diagnosis and treatment in the worst case scenario.

In my almost-half-century-long love affair with Crohn's Disease, I have had to get a colonoscopy every two years.  (For you normal folks, it's usually every five years.)  I can tell you that it's saved my life at least twice, with the early discovery and removal of polyps that almost certainly would have become cancerous.  I hate colonscopies, I dread them...and I always do them when it's time.

Don't make the people that love you watch you die from one of the most easily preventable and treatable forms of cancer ... IF it's caught early.

Get a damned colonoscopy already.  (Or whatever other tests are appropriate for your age and/or gender.  See your doctor, get a physical, and get tested, and stop putting it off.  Please.)