Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Gay Rights and the 2014 Elections

I don't knit.  Shocker, huh? No, I'd rather skate.  In fact, I'm trying to get into shape for a national 10K longboard race coming to my town in June. I've got some work ahead of me.  But I digress... I don't get what people who like to knit get out of it. It's just not my thing. If you want to, go ahead, knit to your heart's content.

I'm not gay. I'm 100% heterosexual. I don't "get" people who are gay, and if you want to be that, *shoulder shrug* fine by me. Truth be told, I don't even understand female attraction to men. Men are gross, but I am glad women find us attractive.

There seems to be a strong push to pass laws to allow legal discrimination against gays in a number of states lately: Arizona, Georgia, and a few others.  WTF Republicans?  Anti-Gay legislation hasn't been in vogue for at least 20 or 30 years.  If this is the issue Republicans are tying to themselves for the midterm elections in 2014 and the 2016 presidential election, I think they're in for a HUUUUUGE disappointment with the outcomes.  The demographic that is anti-gay is getter older and older (and perhaps whiter and whiter and poorer and poorer), in general, more and more extreme right wing. Younger people tend not to care about gays.  To me, it's like knitting. You wanna knit? Knit. You wanna be gay? Be gay. I don't get it, but knock yourself out.

Not convinced? How about this: Anti-Gay legislation is just plain mean spirited.  How about running the ol' simple Do-Unto-Others Test? Having lived most of my life in New York, let me tell you how it is up there. When the terrorists crashed into the Twin Towers on 9/11, you know what the firemen and policemen of New York City did? The ran into the towers, disregarding their own personal safety, and put forth every effort to save everyone that they could. They were heroes. It sounds like Arizona and Georgia either can't find the same caliber of human beings in their states or they just don't want that level of humanity in their midst. No, they want first responders to pull up to an emergency and take a time out to decide whether the person who needs saving is worth saving. And doctors in New York? If you get brought into an ER, they do everything they can to fix you up. In Arizona and Georgia, I guess it's a real dilemma deciding whether or not Humpty Dumpty is straight or gay and should or should not be put back together. I really don't get it. I have really tried to wrap my head around understanding why the things that other people do in their own privacy needs to concern me, and I just can't.

Moving on... an even bigger priority for Democrats, I predict, will be raising the minimum wage. Raising the minimum wage polls 70-80% for, and in the past, Raising the Minimum Wage movements have brought in massive numbers to the voting booths. Republicans may catch on and jump on the bandwagon, but I'll believe when I see it.  

There's 9 months until we see what events unfold.  In my eyes, the antiquated, mean-spirited right better get their shit together or it'll be a thorough trouncing by the left.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Memorable Life Moment #...uh...#...Uh, Whatever

As she shook my hand, my mind raced, but for once my ever-ready smart allecky mouth could muster nothing to say. She repeated herself.  It wasn't like my mind went blank, quite the opposite.  But I couldn't spit out anything that would make any sense. Since I had broken my collarbone in four places a mere 10 days earlier, I was rendered helpless.  She was not letting go, and I could not break free. This was not how I expected my last day of high school to end.  Wait. Let me back up.

I've always been good at math. Despite what you non-math geeks might think, it doesn't take being "super-smart" to be good at math. What I am good at allows me to be good at math: attention to detail, a good memory for taking things apart and putting them back together, a competitive nature, hard-headedness, etc...

But by the time my junior year of high school was ending, I "knew" I wouldn't be going to college. School was unbearable, except for math, and I wasn't looking to extend my exposure to it. I refused to take the SATs, and while setting up my senior year schedule, I figured out I could graduate half way through the year.  So I did.

But... on the last day of Christmas break, I was snowboarding (yeah, back in 1981 even - I know, I was totally cool!), taking that infamous "last run" and landing hard. On my neck. Breaking my collarbone. After three days in the hospital, I had a few days of school left and I was D-U-N, done!

Memorable Moment #8723*: On my last day, I said goodbye to all my teachers. The last class of the day was AP Calculus, a course I was taking "for fun" since I had taken it the year before and had done well. My teacher was Mrs. C, who was teaching it for the first time. Amazingly, my high school had four great math teachers (along with some crappy ones), and I had somehow lucked out and had all of them.  Mrs. C, I guess you could say, was one of those kind-hearted, gentle soul, hippy types, at least that was my impression of her. I sat in the back with one of my friends who was also repeating the course for fun. I got 99s and 100s on just about everything, but found myself filling in a lot of blanks mathematically from the previous year. I thought Mrs. C was great, but I hadn't really said two words to her that half-year. At the end of that class, the last of the day on my last day, I stopped by Mrs. C's desk on my way out. She stuck her hand out as I was saying good bye, and I shook it. She said, "You know you have a lot of talent when it comes to math. I want you to promise me, really promise me, you will go to college and do something with it." And that's where we started this posting. I couldn't believe it. Why was she saying this? Why is she putting me on the spot? I stood there like an idiot, "Hamina Hamina Hamina". She repeated herself. She wouldn't let go of my hand, so I finally relented and said I would.

The path from long haired slacker/skateboarder to college math instructor was a very long one, but even a journey of a 1000 miles begins with one step. You might say this was mine. It has long been obvious to me that I have had significant advantages - great parents, great teachers, the personality befitting a math person, but Mrs. C's words haunted me.  I, of course, did not immediately go to college, but I knew I would, pushed by an unfulfilled promise I needed to keep.

Near the end of my master's degree work, I read an interesting article about Dale Murphy, about how on the day of his retirement from major league baseball, he contacted all of his coaches over the years to thank them. So I did that, but initially I could not figure out where she lived or what she was up to. It was after all, about 20 years since I had seen her. A few more years went by, and I felt really bad about not getting in touch with her, so I gave it another try.

Calling someone out of the blue after 20 years to thank them is quite the difficult thing, but I did and was glad for it. Eventually, I moved to Albany within an hour of where she lived and taught AP Calc myself. I convinced her to meet me and exchange AP Calc stuff. It was fun. She stopped by my place in North Carolina while visiting her daughter, and I invited her to attend my high school class's 30th reunion a couple years back.

This is me with Mrs. C at my 30h reunion. I know what you're thinking - she looks younger than me, right? My theory is she found the Fountain of Youth.

I wrote this hoping to inspire someone out there, even one person, to get in touch with a teacher that meant something to him or her. Go on, you'll make their day.

*Yes, of course, I just made up that number.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

More Criticism of Republicans

Republicans love to boast about how fiscally conservative they are. They mention it every chance they get. Their Slash-Taxes-By-Slashing-Services-and-Benefits ideology is the backbone of their campaign platforms. I have pointed out here several times that this is pure foolishness on their part.

Now coming out of South Carolina is a story which exemplifies my point exactly. But first lets review the state of South Carolina for a moment. South Carolina is as Republican of a state that this country has, roughly 70% of the voters being Republican. State and local taxes are among the lowest in the country. Sounds like Eden, huh? But guess what less taxes mean? Right, less police, less fire departments, and crowded public school classrooms. As a result, this Republican "Eden" has the second worst crime rate (behind Michigan), the second lowest average income/most poverty (behind Michigan again), and regularly lands near the bottom in education. And the roads, don't even get me started on the roads. Unless you're on a federal highway, it's like traveling in a war zone. I know. Try driving on Route 25 from North Carolina to South Carolina. The rough, badly maintained pavement starts at the border. Some Eden. If it weren't for the auto industry leaving Michigan, South Carolina would have no competition for the title of the "Armpit of America".

So you would think a state that has so little money to work with would be very cautious about spending those tax dollars, right? Well you would be wrong. Turns out, Republicans are worried about voter fraud, specifically, dead people casting votes, and dag-nabbit, they'll spend whatever it takes to find that voter fraud. Only problem? THEY FOUND NOTHING! Not one single case! Not one. I'm not sure how much was spent on this snipe hunt (one report said a million dollars, another said 94 million, but much of it was to be earmarked for other projects, and the decision hasn't been made as to whether the snipe hunt should be called off or whether it should continue). Outrageous! I'm beside myself on this one! I can't think of the words to describe the level of stupidity here.

This is yet another example of Republican hypocrisy, basically saying, "We don't spend money except on stupid shit that doesn't matter." If South Carolinians want a voter ID law, pass it and make an effort to get every legal resident a legitimate ID. I'm actually for this, and I'll probably take some heat for saying that from by my left swinging friends, but this is 2013, not 1945. Critics on the left say getting ID is difficult for very young, very old, and poor voters. Well, get it done people! I know what it's like to have to get a license in a new state - just do it already!

Spending money the way they have in South Carolina, once again, reinforces the stereotype of how the left and moderates view Republican candidates. To my Republican friends who can't see what I'm seeing, you come across as Anti-Gay Marriage/Gay Rights, Anti-Gun Regulation, Anti-Abortion, Anti-Women's Equality/Women's Rights/Hell, Women Everything, Anti-Heath Care Reform, Anti-Sensible Immigration Reform, Pro-Voter Suppression, and Pro-Sequestation. You're on the short side of every one of those issues. What I see is a lot of shit. A whole lot of shit, and that shit ain't coming out by next election. I think.

The Midterm Elections are next year, and I think it's going to be another massive landslide of Democratic Party victories. So I beg you to start supporting less extreme, less Neanderthalish assholes to send to Washington and start sending candidates who want to work on fixing what needs to be fixed. If you're still shaking your head "No", well, I tried.

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Coliseum Rock vs. Led Zeppeliin IV

I know what you're thinking: "No way is he about to compare an all-time great album that sold 32 million copies to one that I've never heard of*!"  And you would be wrong to think that.

We might as well get out of the way the biggest objection to this comparison. Conventional thinking says any album that sells a gazillion more records than another has to be better because more people like it enough to buy it. WRONG! I don't give a crap how many records are sold. If popularity equals quality and/or greatness then you must think Justin Bieber is just about the greatest thing since sliced bread. In many cases, too numerous to cite even, the more copies sold, the shittier the album.

Google Starz, and you'll find much love heaped on them from classic rock sources, so the comparison may not be as crazy as it initially sounds.  If we went by "most listened to", I've listened to Coliseum Rock waaaaaaaay more times than I've listened to Led Zeppelin IV.

So after comparing record sales and band popularity, the score is tied 0-0.  For this post, I'm only going to consider the one thing that matters - the music.

The All-Time Greats
Stairway To Heaven and When the Levee Breaks vs. Coliseum Rock and It's A Riot. I know, Stairway To Heaven wins every rock station's yearly greatest song poll. Big whoop. Of these 4 songs, I think it's the weakest. OK, maybe "weakest" is a poor choice of words. How about "fourth best". Here's why I say that. If I'm being totally honest, and you are too, aren't ya just waiting for the first third of the song to pick it up a little? Be honest now. Until "If there's a bustle in your hedgerow", the pace of the song is just, well, painfully slow.  When the Levee Breaks is my favorite Led Zeppelin song. I can't say enough good things about it.  The production quality heavily favors the Led Zep songs as it is just so incredibly rich, I don't even think I need to explain it. Lyrically, the Zeppelin songs are superior as well, however, "They can stand by their honor for the rest of their life, but I ain't gonna make that bad fuck my wife" from It's A Riot is classic.

Now the other side. When you listen to Coliseum Rock and It's A Riot back to back, there's no way you're wishing it would skip ahead to a better part of either song. Start to finish, these songs are great, and just rock out so much that you don't want them to end.

So who wins this first round? I'm going to call it a wash, 1-1.

The Greats
Black Dog and Rock And Roll vs. Outfit and Last Night I Wrote A Letter. Not much to say here, because hands down, the Led Zeppelin songs are better. Score one for the favorites.

The Rest
Another one sided contest, only this time, it goes to the Starz songs. What's left for Led Zeppelin, Misty Mountain Hop? The Battle of Evermore? Maybe if your girlfriend dumps you and you're drunk crying into your beer, you might listen to these songs all the way through. The rest of the Starz album, on the other hand, maintains a much more listenable level. Clear Advantage: Starz.

Final Tally
I have a hard time saying Coliseum Rock is superior to Led Zeppelin IV beacause it has a far better collection of third tier songs.  So I'll say this: if you want to pick out a few songs to listen to, go with Led Zeppelin IV.  If you want to listen to an album from start to finish, go with Collesium Rock. Go listen, come back, and tell me I'm wrong.

* I couldn't even find how many copies Coliseum Rock sold!

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Drug Testing Welfare Recipients - How Did We Become A Nation Of Morons?

I was gonna lay off the political scene for a few postings, but this one caught my eye. You may have seen the meme on Facebook along this line: "We should drug test people on welfare, because if I have to pass a drug test for my job, they should have to pass one for their welfare check."

Ugh. How did our country get so stupid? Stupid! Stupid! Stupid! Gah! Breathe in... ok, where do I start?

Let me start by saying I do not take drugs. Wait, one of my inmate students from many years ago corrected me on this, telling me that I was a caffeine addict. I initially told him he was ridiculous, but after drinking non-caffeinated soda for a week, I had to admit he was right. So let me rephrase, I do not take illicit drugs. If my employer wanted to drug test me, I would comply and, I assume, would pass with flying colors. My first reaction to the idea of "testing people on welfare because working people have to pass drug tests for their job" is to call bullshit on working people passing drug tests.  Outside of a minimal number of federal and state employees in very specific job lines, I have NEVER heard of anyone having to take a drug test to be employed. I have held over 50 different jobs in my life - NEVER took a drug test. And I worked for the New York State Department of Corrections.  So, bullshit on your claim working people regularly take drug tests.

Next. I have a news flash for all of you in favor of this policy.  Are you sitting down?  Okay.  THERE IS NO SUCH THING AS A DRUG TESTING FAIRY WHO MAGICALLY DRUG TESTS AS MANY PEOPLE AS YOU WANT FOR FREE, YOU DUMB SHITS!!!  The idea behind drug testing is that all kinds of welfare recipients waste their money on drugs, right? And we can take away their welfare checks and save money, right? If that's not what it's about, then please, tell me what it is about.  This policy was implemented in Florida. 4000 welfare recipients paid $30 to be drug tested and 3900 had to be reimbursed by the state because they they tested negative.  That's $118,000 wasted on drug tests to "catch" 108 welfare recipients.  Your stereotype that welfare recipients are a bunch of drug smoking/sniffing/injecting addicts just went down the toilet.  That's just 2.7%.  That's practically nothing.

But wait, there's more! Surely, you're not naive enough to think that those 108 who tested positive will suddenly get the urge to go get a job and become productive citizens? No, some will claim, rightfully or wrongfully, that the drug test was wrong and demand to be retested, and perhaps they may pass a second test.  The others?  Some may take to the courts.  Hoo-boy, I have no idea what it is going to cost taxpayers to defend these suits, but I think I've already established that THERE IS NO MAGIC FAIRY PAYING FOR THIS!!!  These legal costs may go into the millions.

I haven't convinced you yet? How about this? Suppose a welfare recipient who takes drugs has kids and they fail their drug test. I'll concede a few, a very select few, will take it as a sign to get their act together and go out and get a job. What is more likely to occur is that over time they will be unwilling or unable to find adequate work, and their children will be taken from them. Once again, THERE IS NO MAGIC FAIRY TO PAY FOR THIS!!!

Are you really willing to paying a million dollars to clear 1, as in one single, welfare recipient off the roles, because when you add it all up, that's probably not far from what it is going to cost.  Is their such a surplus of tax payer money laying around that we have nothing better to spend it on? I am as much appalled at people on welfare wasting money on drugs, money intended to help them and their families pay for the bare necessities in life. But there's got to be a better way to solve this problem.

Oh yeah, by the way, you come across as mean spirited, petty, and prejudicial when you stereotype welfare recipients as drug addicts.  Just sayin'.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

My Latest Brilliant Polical Assessment

You've seen these before, right? I think they are very clever.

With the Sequestration looming, I'm reminded of this meme, but let me back up...

In the past couple of weeks, the liberal talk radio that I listen to has become very angry.  OK, I tend to be liberal, I'll own up to that, but nobody is 100% liberal or 100% conservative or 100% anything.  I'm not looking to convince anyone that "my side" is correct here, so let's not quibble about who is right and who is wrong*.  Anywho, I noticed that the libs seem even angrier about the Sequestration than the days leading up to the election, and I was wondering why that was.

I think it has to do with the way this is all playing out.  I think the Sequester is going to be a BFD**, unlike the Fiscal Cliff***, and I think most liberals would agree with me.  I think if the Sequester happens, our economy is going to be significantly hurt.  What I think the Republicans ought to be worried about is catching the blame for this potential economic shit-storm.  And again, I'm not looking to ascribe blame here, I'm looking to talk about the perception of who is to blame.  What I would be worried about if I were a Republican, is that America, that is the voters of the next election, would pin this on the Republicans like they did when Gingrich shut down the government.  And remember, that shutdown ended Gingrich's political career and ended that whole "Contract With America" conservative/Republican movement.  How the similarities between these 2 situations are not seen by the current Republican leadership, I do not know.

If 6 months or a year from now we are looking back and trying to remember who caused this debacle, I do not see how the Republicans are not going to get blamed.  What I think is angering liberals so much is that the Democrat leadership is trying so hard to avoid the Sequestration right now, while it looks like the Republicans are standing by letting it happen, so that it happens on Obama's watch.  And yes, it does anger me as a college instructor because I believe my job is more secure when there are more available students, and a poor economy more likely means less students capable of going to college.

I repeat, I am not writing to point fingers. I just want to be on record that this could have been avoided and that I am predicting it is going to dramatically affect Republicans, image-wise in the next round of elections. 

Getting back to the meme...

This is what I think Republicans think they look like:

And this is what I think Republicans look like to the rest of us:

In closing, I hope some miracle politicking occurs and the Sequester is avoided.  I'm doubtful, but I hope that happens.  Republicans, don't kill the messenger, if it does and America blames you.

*We all know I'm right anyways.
**Big Fucking Deal
***Yo, I'm Fiscal Cliff****
****Not a BFD

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Rodriguez - The Feel Good Story of 2012 (Rock's Most Amazing Story)

If you have not heard the story of Rodriguez, I highly recommend checking out Searching For Sugarman, the movie about the search for the truth of the life and "death" of the rock musician who was the voice of South Africa's white anti-Apartheid movement.  While Rodriguez was bigger in South Africa than Elvis or the Stones, he sold next to nothing in America WHERE HE'S ACTUALLY FROM.

I don't want to give away too much of the movie for those who haven't seen it (as if anyone reads this blog), but I do want to talk about one scene that makes the movie worth watching for anyone. Once Rodriguez has been "found" living in Detroit after giving up on a music career that went nowhere, he was quickly rushed to South Africa to perform. 

From the perspective of a South African rock affectionado, this would be like us hearing that Jim Morrison or Jimi Hendrix has been found secretly living in some far off land and that he was being flown in to perform.  Of course his fans were skeptical, but they bought the tickets and showed up anyway.

Looking at it  from Rodriguez's side, he seemed doubtful and skeptical about how it would turn out, a perfectly normal reaction, given the uniqueness of the circumstances.  One of his daughters who flew in with him even explained that she was just hoping 20 people would show up. 

What happened then, or course, is that the concert sold out, Rodriguez took the stage, and the thousands in attendance went berserk. After a 10 minute standing ovation, BEFORE RODRIGUEZ EVEN PLAYED OR SPOKE,  the crowd finally calmed down so that he could start to play.

I can't begin to imagine how he kept it together on stage that night. Suppose you have to give up a music career.  Things just didn't work out. You live a humble life, raise your kids, and you have no regrets.  Then, you receive news that people think you're the greatest musician to ever have played, and they'll do anything to hear you and see you. 

I think about the shit that passes for music these days and the people that receive so much wealth and fame *cough cough Justin Bieber Taylor Swift cough cough* (well maybe not so much wealth these days, but for some, yes, wealth) who are sooooo undeserving.  Then a guy like Rodriguez had to give up on his dreams, and it's all so unfair.  Only, sometimes karma pays you back, and I mean in a good way. 

This story is so unbelievable that when I first heard about the film, I thought it was fiction, but it most certainly is not.  I leave you with my favorite track: Hate Street Dialogue. If you give it a listen, you'll hear that Rodriguez has a Jim Croce/Bob Dylan sound that was in vogue in the early 70s.  If you like it, I recommend picking up Cold Fact, his first album.

And yes, Rodriguez is finally receiving at least some of those royalties, but he pretty much just gives it away to charity. Amazing guy, amazing story.