Wednesday, September 30, 2009

polio pilgrimage

I guess occasionally an oppressive unilateral empire might do something useful:

Saudi Arabia has announced that everyone arriving for the annual pilgrimage to Mecca in November will have to swallow a dose of oral polio vaccine under the eyes of health officials.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Solicitation of minors

The Jr. Gophers have frequent flyer cards with (formerly) Northwest. Due to the (stupid) merger, we've been getting offers & stuff from Delta. The boys' accounts list my email. This was in today's queue:

Dear Jr.Gopher#1,
If you had a WorldPerks Credit Card, you stopped earning WorldPerks miles and your WorldPerks Credit Card is no longer valid. To continue to earn frequent flyer miles in the merged SkyMiles program and take advantage of this great offer, you must apply and be approved for the Credit Card from American Express. This offer expires November 9, 2009 and is only available online. Apply now.

Now, mind you, somewhere in the account is their d.o.b. ... ?? New suggestion for politicians: forbid the solicitation of minors.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Funerals & Death

This I Believe essay this week is moving, "you should always go to the funeral". I concur. We must have people to usher us in, godparents and such; we must have people to usher us out. Someone. Anyone.

Funerals are educational experiences. We learn about our relatives: sometimes the dead ones, sometimes the living.

I never asked, I always assume I went to my Grandfather Sullivan's funeral. I was a year and a half. I learned much later that it must have been utterly horrible - he died at my aunt's wedding.

The next one I remember attending was for my Grandmother Smith; I think I was in college. I discovered a younger cousin I hadn't seen since I was 7 is a total ass.

Then Aunt Alice's; I discovered she was called Sister Leonardine when she first took her vows.

Quite a few years later, Grandmother Sullivan: it was the 2nd time I ever saw my mother cry.

The Petitions in a Catholic Mass include some standard prayers: for the sick, for the prayers we hold in our hearts, and for the dead. During the last of these, I silently remember those people whom I personally know who have died. Not my grandparents, not that I don't care about them. I do specifically remember them on the big Masses involving death: Feast of All Souls and Good Friday.

The ones I recall are Danny Ferguson (hunting accident, high school classmate), Steve Councilman (thrombosis, SCA), Fred Spencer (power tool accident, SCA), Pete Wakeman (drug overdose, coworker), Earl Davis (motorcycle accident, coworker), Mimi Fusco (cancer, coworker). Hopefully it will be a while before the list gets longer. I personally went to Steve, Fred & Pete's funerals. They were all huge. Steve & Fred were both very popular. All 3 were in their 30s.

Fred's was the first (partially) military funeral I attended. He was the CO of a Mich. Nat'l Guard unit. He was also a rather large figure within the SCA. The pall bearers on the way into the Funeral Mass were family & friends. On the way out of the church it was the SCA dressed in their medieval military finest. The National Guard took over at the cemetery. I spent the previous day at the wake sewing things onto Army uniforms: their Guard unit never wears its dress uniforms & quite a few of the guys had out-of-date stuff. The soldiers flat out refused to wear the wrong insignia. (This would be more moving, in my opinion, if they hadn't waited till the last minute to do something about it; at least they all said thank you.)

Steve's funeral was a non-denominational agnostic affair, unlike Fred's gung-ho Italian Catholic Mass. There was a little wooden chalice-looking affair in a place of honor. We all assumed it was a place-holder in lieu of a casket. We knew he was going to be cremated & buried. Since it was there, we took it with us to have a private wake: we went to Moriarity's for a drink between the memorial and paying our respects to his wife. RoseAnn had been our friend far longer than Steve. We bought an extra beer, Steve's favorite kind, placing it next to the little chalice-looking thing in the center of the tables. Dave returned it to the funeral parlor later that afternoon. Two years later I was at RoseAnn's and noticed it on her mantle piece. Uhhhh.... We apparently took Steve's ashes to the pub with us. There is absolutely no question that Steve would have found this not only appropriate but funnier than hell.

Co-workers are different in some respects. We only know them through that narrow facet we see on the job. Some times their death is ordinary. Some times it makes us re-think our perceptions. Earl was 72, still working, and got killed while enjoying a motorcycle ride on a beautiful Summer weekend afternoon. Dick died of some ordinary cause, but his spouse blamed it on occupational exposure; the internal investigation was a first for me. Pete died of an OD, which made me wonder how he managed to hide it; then I wondered if he even did hide it from his close co-workers. Mimi struggled to keep working through chemo because she had an obsession about not being dependent upon anyone else.

Some times the deceased is not human. I remember Bismark being put to sleep when I was a kid. Fricka died of old age in the warm Summer sun in her sleep. Shiro died unexpectedly of a blood clot one morning. I learned what it means to make a decision to end a life. He was the first pet who was really "mine", rather than a collective family pet.

We expect death. It requires quite a bit of planning to avoid Death: daily diet, exercise, check-ups, etc. It requires even more planning, if less effort, to plan for Death. Mr.Gopher & I have recently been discussing funeral arrangements and wills. What do we want done with our mortal remains? Where should we be buried? What should I do with his assets which aren't quite Joint? What if we both die at the same time? Who should be designated as the boys' guardians.

We teach our children about death. I am perhaps thankful that the first relative to die since our children were born is an uncle they never met (living on different continents is challenging to maintaining that family tree). We could explain that Uncle Josef died & is in heaven with God. All 3 concepts are rather abstract at this point in their lives. We visited a cemetery in town, for a physical experience to see what happens after you die. We figured it would provide a non-emotional introduction to Death; because one of these days - God let it be long off - someone the boys know will die and it will be emotionally devastating.

Educational as well is observing how people respond to death. I am constitutionally incapable of attending a funeral and not crying. Doesn't matter whether or not I know the person. I cry. Always. I used to be embarrassed about this. Being in the choir at St. John's relieved me of that idiocy. (the embarrassment, that is; I still cry)

The church always provided a piano player and one vocalist for funerals. Some of the choir offered its services to supplement this; I went whenever I was able. I cried every time. One day it was a funeral for an 18-month old baby. I knew ahead it was a baby; I burst into tears when I saw the casket enter the church. The casket was so tiny, so very, very tiny. I cannot understand how the cantor could make it without crying. The baby's mother was beyond distraught & had to be helped to walk down the aisle. It was somehow an obscene reversal of walking down the same aisle with one's new husband in anticipation of life.

My studies have include much in the way of mortality. Public Health runs from neo-natal to post mortem. Epidemiology addresses many different ways of analyzing death and illness. Numbers make it easier to learn about the public's health while remaining totally dissociated from Death itself.

note: a reduced & slightly modified version of this was sent to This I Believe. I assure you I'll post it, if the publish it. Not likely, but what the hell...? Is that something one would include on one's CV with the list of publications?


Tuesday, September 22, 2009


Not to be surpassed but Brother #1, Mr. STFU & GBTW, we have the CSPDGF. [adult content]

Ring ring... beep ...
if you want to pay usurious pay-by-phone-get-fucked fees please press 1 ...
if you want to just get fucked, please press 2 ...
para habla Espanol 4 ...

They never mention on these dickwad menus that you can press 0 and reach a real human being. Why? because they don’t want you to. They want you to think your only option is to pay them. They want you to get so frustrated by your apparent inability to get your way that you forget to demand it and wander off into the financial fog of fraud that constitutes the modern mortgage market.

They never mention that there’s a $15 pay-by-phone “convenience” fee. Why? because they want to fuck you.

I spoke to the Cock-Sucking Pencil-Dicked Goat-Fuckers (CSPDGF, alias GMAC the evil empire) to bitch that their computer system won’t let me on so that I can pay them. There’s no option for “fix your damn system”. There’s only “pay now” or “can’t pay now”. I - of course - pushed 0.

Am I going to get charged for paying over the phone?

mumble mumble mumble $12.5.

I don’t want to get charged, I want to pay on-line where I won’t get charged. I want to talk to someone to fix my on-line access.

Well, ma’am I can reduce the fee to $7.5.

I don’t want to pay anything. I want to pay on-line. I don’t get charged on-line. Can you please transfer me to the person to fix this? Or can you tell me who I do need to call.

Well, ma’am I can waive the fee for a one-time courtesy.

Well, at least this time they’ll find the KY.

-->> Gopher Tip: next time you're confronted with someone demanding "convenience fees" for paying over the phone demand to have the waived.

They wanted to know why this month’s payment was late.

Well, let’s see: Your computer system is so clearly designed to fuck me & fuck my bank account that it won’t let me set up a monthly automatic payment.

Why is that so?

'Cause they want to fuck you.

Their lame-ass excuse is that my monthly payment isn’t always the same (escrow changes sort of thing). Their lame-o excuse is that they would need prior authorization any time my payment changed.

Well, Xcel Energy, T-Mobile and Consumer’s Energy all seem perfectly willing to bill me monthly with whatever that month’s utility bill is.**

This is up there with the We Are Servants Of The Computer mentality that I got from HSBC.

** addendum:
gee, guess what? GMAC does actually have a monthly payment option. Why tell anyone it's there? And, if you do happen to sign up for it, the maximum amount you can pay at once is $25,000. First I thought I'd misplaced the decimal. $25k? Who the hell would pay 25 Gs at once? And, why in the world would the mortgage company want to limit the amount of money you can pay them? In chorus, class: Because they want to fuck you.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Cockroaches in the house (the one with a capital H)

"Should Democrats respond with a powerful and aggressive response to the vocal minority objectors?" apparently the question to seduce you into listening to the next segment of the news. I hope this was a rhetorical question. If not, I have an answer:

Hell, yes!

Squash them like the cockroaches they are!

No one is going to vote for you if you're not powerful. Just accept that the loud minority of dickwads are never going to vote for you, squash them like roaches, and get on with running the country.

You have power! After an aeon of dickwad Conservatives running (a.k.a. totally fucking up) the country, you've got the reins of power! Use them! You'll likely get voted out of office anyway, so what the hell? Go for broke & just DO something morally righteous & spit in their eye if they bitch. They are up for re-election, you're not.

Now, I'm never going to run for office (shoot me first, please) and I doubt anyone in Washington will be struck by enough Divine Insight to offer me the job of running OSHA (where I would be soooo fired after about 4.2 minutes), so I can say what apparently gets you fired: Republicans are assholes. Conclusion? Crazy evil morons make up things for Obama to do, and he does it. [Bill Maher]

Now, sure, you're going to complain that this is so over-generalized & stereotyped. Maybe. Progressives in this country are pussies. Over generalized & stereotyped? Maybe. But,what the hell? It's true. Something can be offensive and still be true. Cogent example:

This morning Jr. Gopher #1 wanted me to turn off MPR news & turn on Button 2. (This is the only decent rock & roll station in town.) Of course, he wanted to know why I said no.


Because the people talking on that station in the morning are offensive.


Are they lying or telling the truth?
(wow, now there's an amazing question from a 5 year old in this situation.)

... Silence. ... Struggle to find an honest answer.

Some of what they say is the truth. But the way they explain it is offensive.

Can you turn on Button 2 in the afternoon when you pick me up?


Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Self expression & children

From a comment posted earlier ...
>>I love that you encourage him to just do whatever he wants to do...

Well, we don't encourage him to do quite anything. (grin)

When it comes to creativity, then yes, pretty much the sky is the limit for permission. He's on a soccer team for a few weeks. (sports are creative, too.) If he wants to go skating again this Winter, I'll be happy to take him. Art? yes! Music? yes! Sculpture? sure! Writing the Great American Novel? why not!

The expression of himself is critical to the development of his Self. I enjoy seeing what he creates. It gives me the opportunity to see the world through his eyes. What kind of story does he tell? That story shouldn’t be limited to one created in words.

Some people are handicapped by their language ability. They can't use the written or spoken language effectively. This is especially true for children, who haven't had the opportunity to learn this skill.

Giving children additional outlets for self expression will give them an opportunity to communicate with the rest of the world. I only hope that the world bothers to listen.

Having learned a 2nd language, I have been confronted with the truly overwhelming bitterness of being incapable of saying something. The lack of vocabulary, the lack of colloquial use of those words, and then the sheer physical impediment of the brain suddenly going off line in both languages. I can hardly explain - in any language - how frustrating this is. I’ve been close to tears over this, and as an adult at least I know why. For a small child? It should be no wonder that they have melt-downs. They’re pushed to their intellectual limits - and beyond - on a daily basis. They don’t understand why this frustration is happening. “Sweetie, you’re engaged in language acquisition” isn’t really an effective explanation to a 5 year old.

I drew a mouse for Jr. Gopher #2, using his stuffed mouse as a model. Subsequently, he wanted me to keep drawing another mouse. He then started drawing his own mice. I don’t think I would ever have considered his art to be a mouse. It made him happy to be able to do something like mom. I think it also provides a sense of ownership, of a relationship with the creation. "That's my mouse!"

Below is our Wall of Art in our bedroom. Artwork is all the boys’ (except for the vapid-looking giraffe, courtesy of yours truly). Most of them are Jr.Gopher#1's butterflies.

The Sounds of Silence

Since the airport shut down one of the runways for construction, the traffic to Minneapolis-St.Paul Airport over our house has more than doubled: more planes and much lower approach paths. It is occasionally extremely annoying. Like when you can't hear the person sitting next to you. Some people in our neighborhood are doing some serious NIMBY whining. "waa, you didn't ask my opinion." At least this is only temporary. Maybe they can get a feel for what it's like living in the parts of the city where no one really gives a damn about your opinon because no one there votes/makes above minimum wage.

It was noticeable Saturday morning that Air Force One had stopped by. At least the only noise we had to overcome was Jr. Gopher #1's soccer game. Our neighborhood's mail-list had this posted (we're at 36th & 16th):

Dear Mr President,
Thank you for coming to Mpls today. Those of us that live on the N/S airport
runway area of S. Mpls appreciated the quiet of the early day. You are most welcome anytime!
Mala V.
34th & 16th

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Warm & emotionally supportive just ain't the path to success

"I think you're going to see a kinder workplace," said Suzanne Hodes, vice president of CareerXchange, a South Florida staffing firm. "It's my belief that women are more nurturing, caring and looking for work-life balance."

1) every "woman are nice & need to get more high-powered jobs" is made by a woman. Only 1 interview-ee is a man, who apparently whined a confused "why is this happening to us?"

2) the above statement is unbelievably sexist bullshit. The vast majority of women I know in Management are just as hard-assed, profession-driven as men.

2a) any woman heading into the top corporate, Fortune 500 companies had better be as hard-assed, profession driven as men. Otherwise the company won't want them. And those companies assuredly don't give a damn about a warm & fuzzy emotionally supportive work place. They care about money.

-->> this is why women don't get paid as much as men at this point in their business careers: if they're willing to put family first, without a stay-at-home husband, they're not going to compete on an even playing field, because they're disadvantaging themselves by trying to play a different game with different rules expecting the same results?

3) 'it's my belief' does not belong in a piece like this, unless is completely panders to (in this case) women. ... ... Oh, that's right, it does.

4) The Business section of the NY Times had a large picture of the head of the pension plan at GM above the fold on p.1. She was wearing a nice business suit, smiling in a friendly manner, standing with her hands
demurely held together in front of her standing in the unoccupied foyer of some large building. Described as "A soft-spoken woman described time and again as likable, ..." No where did I see anything which said "I'm a high-powered kick-ass hard-ball playing s.o.b., so don't fuck with me'. If this is how GM presents its financially powerful people, it's no wonder they're about to be stomped out of existence. I wouldn't take her seriously, even if it was my kid's school principal. I might dress like that at work, but I sure as hell wouldn't let anyone take a photograph of me for the Times (or anything else) looking like that. I'd want to be standing in front of my desk with the evidence of my hard work trying to drive up my employer's assets. Or at least some totem of business power. There was a picture of Whitney Houston in some glossy mag the same day - now that was a photo of a powerful, self confident woman.

And yet, the story is basically "this is a high-powered, highly paid woman who's being investigated because of how much money the top people at GM make, including herself". So, it says "she makes boat loads of money, and is being looked at suspiciously - oh, and she's a woman too".

--->> This is why women don't make as much money as men in business. If you are presented as submissive, no one is going to take you seriously. If you have that much power, you should have the brass balls to demand to control how you are presented to the public, who don't realize you're powerful. This is how we're telling young girls to get ahead? Look like someone's secretary? Even the C.E.O. Barbie (really I saw one in the neighbor girl's Barbie book) looks more like a CEO - facing front in front of a big desk in a big office with the trappings of power (it was 15 years old and she had a fax, something on the big cheeses got back then).

I'm willing to bet that if I went looking for photos of Angela Merkel and Hilary Clinton, the American press would be painting Clinton as a nice, warm woman who wants to help you. The only photo I've seen of Merkel looking warm & supportive was at a professional soccer match. Which isn't really the same kind of 'supportive'.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Geography lesson

What to do with your geography class. Of course, if you won't let your kids listen to the President say "Keep Your Ass In School", you probably don't want them listening to a comedian turned Senator demonstrating that it isn't so hard to learn where all 50 states are (or even that there are 50 of them). Clip is 1:21 min. The Jr. Gophers had melted down by then, so I heard it off stage left.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Cars vs. Twins

If they can't afford car payments or maintenance, they can't afford to buy Twins tickets in the new stadium, so fuck 'em.

Reason for idiocy

Ah, finally I have figured out why I think people are so often idiots.
It's not an inherent stupidity, per se, it's an unwillingness to embrace reason as a basis for reality.

"They believe in an evidence-based world, something called rationalism. But it's a tiny group. Not so influential."

Monday, September 7, 2009

New Photographer

Jr.Gopher #1 has developed a taste for photography. The following pictures are his. His portfolio, as a whole, is rather interesting. Electrons are cheap - we'll keep letting him use the camera.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Great Minnesota Get-Together

The Great Minnesota Get-Together (a.k.a. The State Fair) is hitting its stride today. We went yesterday. Thankfully it was less crowded than opening day. Monday had a record breaking 114,000 people in one day - ed: total attendance = 1.8 million. The weather was nice: sunny but not too hot. The crowd was nice: crowded enough to be a crowd without needing to stop every 6 feet to wait for someone to get out of the way of our double-seater stroller. It was pretty much the same thing as always. Animals, Agricultural Supply Displays, Educational Booths (let's hear a big round of applause for the Metropolitan Mosquito Control agency - a group I'd never heard of), Rides, and Food On A Stick.

I know I never went to the Michigan State Fair, and I can't remember if I ever went to one in West Virginia. But, seriously, people here joke about the food-on-a-stick all year long. You can't go 10 feet without a vendor selling some food item on a stick. Sure, corn on the cob or chocolate covered frozen bananas I understand. But pork chops? Deep fried cheese? Deep fried cheese cake? Is this such a Minnesota thing?

Two of my favorite stops are the birthing barn and the Little Farm Hands. One might connect the two... The former however, being the 4-footed kind and the latter being the tax-deductible 2-legged ones.

Jr.Gopher#2 got to pet a 1-hour old piglet, a couple of adolescent bunnies (hey, why no baby ones?), get pecked by some day old chicks, and pet a 3 hour old lamb. Well, actually he tried to climb into the pen with the lambs. He stuck his finger into the cage with the chicks and giggled when he got pecked. Being brand-new, they weren't as lethal as full-grown chickens. He promptly stuck his finger back in, giggled, and then repeated it. He then started crying when he couldn't get his finger out.

The Little Farm Hands exhibit let the little kids play farmer. They got an apron & little metal feed bucket. Then a scoop of feed corn. Oh, and a John Deere sun visor. (more about that below)

They got to ride on a tractor-tricycle to carry the feed bucket & a miniature bale of hay.

Then they went through a chicken coop, gave the chickens some of the corn & collected a (wood) egg.

Then the sheep barn: fed the sheep & collected a bag of raw wool. The milking parlor let them hand milk a cow & collect a little container of milk.

Stopped at the vegetable garden: took a seed & trowel, planted the seed & collected a vegetable.
Went through the orchard: picked an apple.

Went to the market to sell the produce.

Fun 4 All.
Who cares if the stuff was all play-food (well, the feed corn was real ground corn), and the cow's udder produced water? The kids loved it. Fun 4 All. Especially when there's so much stuff that kids just don't find exciting. Sure, some of the exhibits look cool (e.g. 1915 tractor), but what good is it, if you can't climb on it, papa?

At the Little Farm Hands exhibit, a local mega-dairy had free samples of pelletized ice cream. The lack of sample spoons made it a much, much messier event with little kids. Tipping the little cup up to drop the pellets into the mouth works with adults. Not 2 year olds. No. - 2 year-olds use their fingers. Obviously the person organizing this was not a parent of small children.

Friday was Minnesota Public Radio Day. The Midday Show was broadcast from the Fair with Guest #1 being Sen. Al Franken (D-MN). Who, when asked a question about electronic voting machines & their programming codes, said he was unfamiliar with the bill in question. He paused before observing that 'you'd think I'd be more aware of vote counting'. (Thankfully our new home state isn't stupid enough to use them.)

Culture Chasm:
Afterward, Mr.Gopher asked if I had heard of [Franken] before the election. He isn't one to ask trick questions, but this really left me confused.
Me: are you kidding?
Mr.G: no.
Me: well, yes, he's a comedian.
picture me looking confused like listening to my prof talking about Bayesian statistics...
Mr.G: but did you know him from his work as a comedian?
picture me looking confused that anyone our age has never heard of Al Franken
I then had to be reminded that, no, Saturday Night Live was not only not live, it wasn't even dead in Germany. And he was in the German Army when I was at WVU watching SNL. Stay tuned ... I'm sure I'll be sitting at some German soiree asking Mr.Gopher the same question.

Of course, there's always Minnesota's contribution to Western Civilization. Wild Rice? No. Hubert Humphrey? No. F.Scott Fitzgerald? No. Bob Dylan? No. Consistently the highest voter turnout in the country? No. ... Nope, we've got Spam. Or rather, SPAM. Made right here in Austin, Minnesota. Yeah, that would also be the same place where there's an outbreak of some exotic nerological human disease from exposure to aerosolized pig brains. Yum. yum.

Well, then again ... I'm not sure how many state fairs have Dung Beetles in their parades. Complete with Dung Ball. This little group was at the May Day Parade here in in the Powderhorn Park neighborhood (where we live). Now that I'm not surprised about.

How is it that a person lives in a state like Minnesota, manages to get to the state fair, and then looks at my kids' little green sun visors with the yellow john deere logo with deer horns and says "aw, cute, a moose"?

On the way out of the fair, we passed a fiddler in the parking lot. We stopped to let the boys listen to him. Being 3 feet away, they could actually see someone play. He did a little jig while playing (impressive). So, I asked Jr.Gopher #2 if he wanted to dance. He said yes. He likes to dance. So, he shakes his booty a bit and then holds out his hands for me. We're doing some simple steps (I'm leading) to a country/bluegrass sounding tune when I realize the fiddler is calling the steps. However, unlike the dancers following the caller, he was sort of providing a commentary on us. With a promenade and a do-si-do. I think we entertained him as much as he did us.

Jr.Gopher #2 passed out on the way home around 5:30. He woke up for about 20 min. at 11 p.m. What a tired little boy. It was a very long day. According to Jr.Gopher #1, it was boring. I guess that was the boredom in between squealing during the parade, jumping up & down at getting waaay too much sugar, trying to climb over the barrier to check out operating farming equipment, climbing on everything, and playing at the kids' farm.

Ah, back to school on Tuesday for both him and me...

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Multi-Species Health Care Options

Walgreen's has a prescription assistance program. No qualifying criteria; anyone can join. It's an annual fee to get certain generic drugs cheaper than normal by selling them in 3-month quantities rather than 1- month.

Raven - our cat - now has an insurance policy. I pay $12/mo rather than $18/mo.

So, my cat can get prescription assistance because I can fork out $20 and pay for 3 months at a time?

I have actually never understood the conservative position that public health care is evil. It's obvious listening to their rhetoric that they have absolutely no clue what Socialism is. But what is this option bad? "It just is" fails to move me. Repeating stupidity fails to move me, too.

I suppose I'm glad we can afford our cat - she's been horribly expensive this month.

The cat + the car + my education = breaking the bank this month.

Raven is okay - she finally put on weight. Unfortunately, she hasn't stopped caterwauling or slobbering. That's why I wanted a cat - they don't slobber. Except mine. ... ah, well. I hope when I'm that old, no one complains about me drooling.