Tuesday, April 23, 2013

A Little *What* Music?

The church across the street is singing to me.

St. Stephen's Catholic installed an electronic carillon, a set of electronic bells, in its tower last year. It plays Westminster Chimes to mark the hours. (Considerately, only from 8 am to 8 pm.)  But at 12:05 and 6:05 the carillon plays a couple of hymns rotating through its rather limited repertory. The only change is at Christmas time, when it rotates through a limited repertory of Christmas carols.

This is fine, but it occasionally does something startling. It did it just now, in fact. In the carillon's repertory is the Austrian anthem "Gott Erhalte Franz den Kaiser," written by Franz Josef Haydn to celebrate the birthday of Emperor Franz II. During the 19th Century, however, it was adopted as its own by Germany, renamed the Deutschlandlied, and given new lyrics. The most well known of those lyrics are: "Deutschland, Deutschland, über alles; über alles in der Welt."

Playing out hymns is fine, and quite understandable coming from a church. But occasionally throwing in the Nazi national anthem is, as I say, startling.

Saturday, April 14, 2012


It is difficult, sometimes. A is nearly 79, which is pushing 80, and has been bedridden since his stroke two years ago. To get into bed in the evening, he gets undressed and rolls over to the other side of the bed. Then I fold the bedclothes down, he rolls back, and gets in. Reverse in the morning. He almost couldn't do the roll tonight. Babies can roll. If he can't, what's he doing at home instead of in a hospital? But he won't hear of that. He'd rather die. Literally.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Death Panels? Please

I read of what Sarah Palin is up to, and I conclude the woman is insane:

The America I know and love is not one in which my parents or my baby with Down Syndrome will have to stand in front of Obama’s 'death panel' so his bureaucrats can decide, based on a subjective judgment of their 'level of productivity in society,' whether they are worthy of health care. Such a system is downright evil."

There is of course no such system, nor will there ever be, because it would indeed be downright evil. Euthanasia is illegal in the USA, and that's not going to change. But frightening old people with Soylent Green fantasies is also evil. The more so if it distracts from the fact that we're already there:

You have no idea [Sarah Palin,] what it’s like to be called into a sterile conference room with a hospital administrator you’ve never met before and be told that your mother’s insurance policy will only pay for 30 days in ICU. You can't imagine what it's like to be advised that you need to “make some decisions,” like whether your mother should be released “HTD” which is hospital parlance for “home to die,” or if you want to pay out of pocket to keep her in the ICU another week. And when you ask how much that would cost you are given a number so impossibly large that you realize there really are no decisions to make. The decision has been made for you. "Living will" or no, it doesn't matter. The bank account and the insurance policy have trumped any legal document.

If this isn’t a “death panel” I don’t know what is.

Now, I'm pretty lucky. Yes, I'm caring for Alden who is 76 and pretty much an invalid because of his back, plus lesser issues. But Medicare and UCLA health insurance covers him and lets him go to the best specialists there are. I've had a major health scare myself, and take a lot of daily medications to keep things calm, but I'm covered under Alden's plan through spousal benefits.

Alden's mother, Mariana, died three years ago at age 94. If she even had health insurance she exhausted it, but used her wealth -- not extreme, but comfortable -- to pay for the care she wanted. It was sad to visit her in the last few years and see how she had declined, but at least she was able to stay in her home and die peacefully asleep in her own bed.

Which makes me painfully aware of just how lucky I am. When Alden was hired by UCLA in 1969 universities were competing to attract hot young faculty prospects with spectacular, iron-clad, locked-in benefits packages. As his spouse under California Domestic Partnership laws I share in those benefits.

But if we didn't have that coverage, or didn't have the money to just pay for the care you want like Mariana, I know we'd both be two pretty scared puppies. But even with that coverage I'm uneasy, since we all know now that having what you think is great health insurance doesn't mean, should you get really and expensively ill, that your insurance folks won't suddenly say, "Well, we have this little problem......."

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Saturday, June 13, 2009


WEST HOLLYWOOD, CA - JUNE 08:  Gay pride parti...Image by Getty Images via Daylife

It's been a long time since I posted here, but something very bad has happened.

Barack Obama ran for president on a very gay-friendly basis, appealing directly to us and making many promises. (The photo is of marchers in the 2008 West Hollywood Gay Pride parade waving Obama posters.) He stopped short of endorsing gay marriage, but said he supported civil unions and full federal rights for couples in those unions. He promised legislation to overturn Don't Ask Don't Tell (DADT) and the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA). The latter is a Clinton-era law that says that US states that don't allow gays to marry would not have to recognize same-sex marriages performed in other states. It also applies at the federal level.

Since his inauguration the silence from President Obama on gay issues has been pretty deafening. No legislation has been proposed, and not a word from him even as same-sex marriage has spread from state to state. Well, the Administration has broken its silence now, and it's a fucking catastrophe.

Smelt v. United States is a federal lawsuit brought by two California men, Arthur Smelt and Christopher Hammer, who married during the pre-Prop. 8 window of opportunity. The suit was to obtain federal marriage benefits due to their legal marriage. The case was weak, but it was challenging a federal law, so the Obama Department of Justice filed a brief on June 11 calling for dismissal. Mind you, that's a brief supporting DOMA.

That in itself is nothing really bad. Faced with a suit challenging a law they didn't think much of, previous Administrations have mounted perfunctory defenses because, hey, until Congress changes it, it is the law. But there is nothing perfunctory about this brief. It is vicious, hateful, homophobic, full of lies, and reads like it could have been written by Antonin Scalia with input from Pat Robertson and Pope Benedict. It is an outright attack by the Obama Administration on the gay community that supported him. I have never felt so betrayed.

If you want to read all 54 pages, you can do so here. A rundown of some of the worst passages by lawyer John Aravosis is on this page at his AMERICAblog. Let's look at some of the highlights, shall we?

-- To support the principle of holding invalid a marriage performed elsewhere because it's not legal in your state, the brief gives examples of a man who married his niece -- allowed in Italy, invalid in Connecticut -- and a man who married a 16-year-old girl -- allowed in Indiana, invalid in New Jersey -- and therefore DOMA is constitutional. Great. The old gay = incest and pedophilia card.

-- The brief specifically distances DOMA from the miscegenation laws that were overturned by Loving v. Virginia, the 1967 Supreme Court ruling that made interracial couples legal throughout all 50 states. You know, like Obama's own parents.

-- It claims that DOMA denies benefits to no one, but merely restricts federal benefits to those who enter into "the traditional form of marriage." So if you're a gay man, all you have to do is marry a woman and you'll be fine.

-- DOMA isn't anti-gay, in fact it's "neutral." Traditional marriages are univerally recognized, so they get benefits. But since the states are divided on accepting gay marriages, it's "neutral" for the Feds to sit on their hands until a consensus emerges. One, so long as straight married couples get federal benefits and gay couples are denied them it's a farce to contend this is "neutrality," and, two, how long do you think we'll be waiting for that consensus?

-- DOMA is not at all motivated by any anti-gay sentiment or dislike. Right.

There is much, much more, and it's appalling. It puts an official Democratic, Presidential imprimatur on the most vile lies, slander, and legal schemes that have been used to persecute gays for centuries. After this, any attempt to counter homophobic bigotry can be met with, "Hey!! It's not just me. Your liberal President Obama thinks the same thing!" And since it is a legal brief issued by the DOJ, its arguments will be used as ammunition to counter every lawsuit on any level seeking to obtain basic rights and fairness for gay people. As I said, a catastrophe.

There is a very, very small chance that this is some kind of mistake. Andrew Sullivan discovered that one of the three DOJ attorneys who wrote the brief is a Bush holdover, and a Mormon to boot, so his influence may have shaped this thing. But that's not much better, because it would mean the DOJ filed it without running it by ONE gay attorney (like Arivosis, who lives in DC), or ONE gay rights organization (they were given no warning), or anyone who might have realized how awful this is. That would be an amazing error by an administration that has so far run like a well-oiled machine.

But if so, Obama and his people have a lot of damage to repair. Gay rights organizations that are usually pretty supine, like the Human Rights Campaign and the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, have grown a spine for once and have issued a statement condemning this brief. Ignoring it and hoping it goes away won't work; it won't go away. We're not about to forget about it. Obama would have to disavow, on camera, at least the worst of the lies and slander in this brief, and do it within days. And he can't get away with saying he had no choice, despite what I wrote earlier. All three of his predecessors declined to defend in court certain federal laws that they considered unwise or unconstitutional. He could have done the same.

What a disappointment.

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Saturday, January 03, 2009

Wow, man

The Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain, playing ..... no, I'll let you find that out for yourself. Happy New Year.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Proposition 8

Of course, I'm disappointed that it went through, even though I probably would not have taken advantage of it. A and I have been together over 30 years, and throwing a wedding at this point would seem a little silly, and after the fact. For better or for worse? In sickness and in health? Been there, done that. Till death do us part? Don't rush things.

But I sure do understand the shock and pain, and it was quite a wake-up call to a lot of people. I particularly feel for the couples that got married during the window of opportunity. The uncertainty they're going through must be terrible. It's true that AG Jerry Brown says the existing marriages probably would not be invalidated, but you don't really know until a test case goes through the courts. And who wants to be that test case?

And it's worth remembering that the trends are not going against us. As Andrew Sullivan pointed out, Proposition 22, which banned same-sex marriage in 2000, passed by 61.4%. Proposition 8 passed by 52.3%. That's a big change in only eight years. Most importantly, it's the younger voters that are most positive on the issue, and they're the future. You just have to be patient and keep telling yourself, this too shall pass.

No, that wasn't the best choice of words, no it wasn't.

Laughter and ridicule are pretty potent weapons, remember. Nobody's doing it better than sex advice columnist and podcaster Dan Savage, appearing here on the Colbert Report just a few days after the election. Stephen Colbert is known for maintaining his poker face through anything. Anything but what he gets at about 4'55":

Monday, October 20, 2008

Brain Surgery Breakdown

Often in brain surgery the patient is kept conscious through the process. With anesthetic and mild sedation, his responses to the surgeon's probes can help to focus in on just the right spot in his brain for intervention.

Banjo player Eddie Adcock had been having trouble with a neurological problem causing a tremor in his right hand which interfered with his playing. So when brain surgery was performed to try and control this, it was only natural to have him playing his axe on the table to measure the success of the procedure.

Now, when I first heard of this, all I could think of was the possibility for comic dialogue:

"Mr. Adcock, sir, this is Dr. Bannerjee, can you hear me? Sir? Yes? Good good, very good. Now sir, we are ready to proceed and I want you to try something for me at this point. My assistant Dr. Kim has the probe in place, and what we want you to do ... [consults clipboard] ... is Foggy - Mountain - Breakdown. Did your hear me, sir? Good. Now ... begin.

Oh my goodness me, that is Turkey In The Straw. Remove the probe, Dr. Kim, we must try again ...."

Actually, as a lapsed member of the banjo community, I would not joke about this if Adcock wasn't doing very well. Here is the report from Adcock and his family, and here is some actual video from the surgery:

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Blog You Must

Andrew Sullivan has a good article, Why I Blog, in both the online and print versions of The Atlantic. It's a very good description of the blogging experience, a good introduction to the form for those who have never yet dared to jump into these hazardous waters, filled as they are with so many sea monsters.

When he compares the improvisational nature of blog writing with the more deliberate one of writing for print -- exemplified by that very same article -- I discern an interesting point. Writing for print really is different, and you take more time to weigh and balance various factors, reorder them just so. Bloggers just go. You just do it. No time to think and go back and redo it. Besides, what's the point? That sentence was so 1:49 pm, and now it's 1:50!

The implication is that if you want to have the experience of blogging, you just have to keep at it. Don't wait for inspiration, or you'll never blog at all! Get cracking!!

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

No Questions, Please

Here's McCain campaign manager Rick Davis explaining why Sarah Palin isn't giving any press conferences.

So until at which point in time we feel like the news media is going to treat her with some level of respect and deference, I think it would be foolhardy to put her out into that kind of environment.

Wow. I didn't realize she was running for queen.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

This is serious

McCain seems to think his medical records are on a need-to-know basis, and that we don't need to know.

He's wrong. We need to know.

Friday, August 29, 2008


Off to Mississippi again.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Fucking Hell

Yet another hurricane? It's looking more and more likely that Hurricane Gustav is going to chase us out of uptown New Orleans. Again.

I mean, it's good, very good, wonderful even, that we were able to set up a place in Jackson, MS, we can evacuate to. But this running for your life thing is getting pretty tedious. If we have to do it this time, that will make three.

Or four, if you count the Northridge Earthquake.

Saturday, July 05, 2008

Some Things Never Change

It seems that some battles have to be fought, some lessons learned, over and over again. Carl Schurz (1829-1906) was a German revolutionary who at 19 fled Germany after the unsuccessful Revolution of 1848. He wound up in America and threw himself into anti-slavery politics. During the Civil War he served in the Union Army, rising to the rank of major general, fighting in the Second Battle of Bull Run, and the battles of Gettysburg and Chattanooga.

After the war he was elected Senator from Missouri, served as Secretary of the Interior for Rutherford B. Hayes, and then retired to New York to write. He always had very strong opinions and no reluctance in expressing them, in letters, speeches, and articles that were forceful (if you agreed with him) or vitriolic (if you didn't).

Two things of his I've stumbled across seem worth quoting. The first is from remarks he made during debate in the Senate on February 29, 1872

The Senator from Wisconsin cannot frighten me by exclaiming, 'My country, right or wrong.' In one sense I say so too. My country; and my country is the great American Republic. My country, right or wrong; if right, to be kept right; and if wrong, to be set right.

The second is from the article, "About Patriotism" that he published in Harper's Weekly on April 16, 1898:

The man who in times of popular excitement boldly and unflinchingly resists hot-tempered clamor for an unnecessary war, and thus exposes himself to the opprobrious imputation of a lack of patriotism or of courage, to the end of saving his country from a great calamity, is, as to "loving and faithfully serving his country," at least as good a patriot as the hero of the most daring feat of arms, and a far better one than those who, with an ostentatious pretense of superior patriotism, cry for war before it is needed, especially if then they let others do the fighting.

Some things never change.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Prurient Interest.....

...it gets me every time. McMurdo Station is the largest permanent outpost in Antarctica, and its purpose is scientific research. During the summer it can house around 1,250 residents: scientists and their assistants, station staff, the odd reporter.

When winter comes, everyone leaves except the core staff needed to keep the Station functioning and intact until spring, and a few scientists to look after the equipment, about 125 people. When the coldest place on earth starts blasting storms around, the Station becomes the most isolated place on earth. Nothing can get in or out, so the last supply shipments have to contain everything the base staff might need until the thaw. [Note: As this is the Southern Hemisphere, winter lasts roughly from March to September.]

I'm sure they have a large library of books and DVDs, and as much internet access as they can get from satellites during breaks in the storms. Still, this has to be the top hardship post on earth, and one has to wonder how the staff gets through the storms and the months of night and remain sane.

Well maybe we just got one big honking clue.

According to this news report from the Saskatoon Star-Phoenix, the last supply delivery this year was made in early June, so winter's coming late to Antarctica this year. If winter is short and ends sometime in September or so, that's 120-150 days of isolation before resupply can arrive. And included in the last supply shipment was 16,500 condoms. For 125 people.

Shall we do the math? 16,500 condoms distributed among 125 people comes to 132 condoms per person. Now, we know what condoms are used for, and nobody ever uses one alone. (At least, no one I care to know about.) This means that in each, mmm, incident in which a condom is used, it provides protection for both of the two participants. So, in effect, that 16,500 condoms amounts in practice to 264 condoms per person.

For 120-150 days. And nights.

How DO they pass the time? Do we know now, maybe? And just what IS the m/f ratio of the staff down there?

(h/t: Because No One Asked)

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Truth Revealed

Do you remember the State of the Union speech President Bush gave in 2003 to justify his planned attack on Iraq? Actually you don't. My GP covert ops team has uncovered incontrovertible evidence that this supposedly live broadcast speech was a sophisticated media hoax, pulling the wool over all our eyes. Fortunately GPCO was able to recover a copy of the actual speech, though we lost two guys in the process. (Not sure how. They tell me it's best not to ask about such things.) Compared to the dummy speech it's surprisingly short. Revise history accordingly.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Happy Mother's Day

To honor all mothers everywhere, here is Anita Renfroe distilling it all down for you. If you are actively parenting at this time, it might be useful to play this every morning at breakfast and get it all out of the way.

[Technical note: The subtitles, which are very helpful, are in English and Japanese because the English-only clip I found has lousy audio.]

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

No Sympathy

So the folks in Michigan and Florida are all upset that they aren't getting any delegates to the Democratic convention. Doesn't matter that it's their own stupid fault. Doesn't matter that their state party leaders were clearly warned that this would happen if they broke the rules by holding primaries too soon. It's just wroooongg, they say, for them to go to all the trouble of holding illicit elections and not have the votes count for something. My response is much the same as Sara Robinson of the Group News Blog: Boo Fucking Hoo. (Go read, it's funny.)

Like Mrs. Robinson, I am a California native now an expatriate. Though I've been a diligent voter since I turned eighteen, I have never - until this year in Louisiana - cast a presidential primary vote that meant a damn thing.

Because until this year, California always held its primary on the first Tuesday of June, and the nominations were always decided by then. So, although I always followed the primary contests avidly, I never saw a primary candidate so much as set foot in California except to raise money. Until this year the most populous state in the union, with far more people in it than Florida and Michigan combined, has always had to watch the nomination contests from the sidelines.

Hey Michigan, Florida, doesn't feel so good, does it?

In fact, I thought it would be interesting to see how close we ever got to making a difference, by seeing when recent presidents secured their first nominations. George W. Bush ended John McCain's challenge with the South Carolina primary, second after New Hampshire in February. In 1992 Bill Clinton had it sewn up by Georgia, March 3. George H.W. Bush had it in the bag on Super Tuesday, March 8, 1988. In 1980 Ronald Reagan had a commanding lead almost from the start.

And so it goes. California joined the crowd at Super Tuesday this year, and when that actually didn't decide the race, Obama showed up to give a speech at Tulane. His first big cheer line was when he noted that the St. Charles Streetcar was running again, the first time since Katrina. If you live in New Orleans, you know what that means.

And it was nice to cast a primary vote knowing that it meant something. If the folks in Florida and Michigan want to get that feeling back next time, they need to tell their party leaders, in a clear loud voice: Don't fuck up again.

Saturday, May 03, 2008

History tells

There's been talk about whether Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal might be under consideration as a running mate for John McCain. He's a very conservative Republican, an up and coming politico, and the first elected Indian-American state governor. That's Indian as Punjabi, not Comanche.

I don't think it will happen, as I think Jindal's far too smart a guy to fall for this. Why? Aaaaaand that gives me my lead to mention a really interesting site: My History Can Beat Up Your Politics.

Bruce Carlson is a history buff whose passion is taking current political issues and looking at American history to see if it will give us any insights. He then makes a podcast about each issue, talking it all through taking anywhere from 10 to 40 minutes. His thesis, which he supports with a lot of evidence, is that you'd do better to look at historical trends than current polling, if you want to know what's going to happen. It's very wonky, as he'll methodically go through, say, every single presidential election in light of his current question, but if you like that stuff (and I do) it's great.

About McCain, two of the podcasts I've listened to seem relevant. In Running From the President, Carlson notes that no candidate trying to succeed a president of his own party has ever done so without the enthusiastic support of his predecessor, which he cannot get if he repudiates or even just distances himself from his predecessor's policies. McCain has already tied himself to Bush's policies.

But in Presidential Pass-offs, he notes that nobody, starting with John Adams following George Washington, has gotten elected to succeed a president of his own party unless the outgoing president was very popular. Bush now is officially the most unpopular president since modern polling was invented around 1935.

That puts McCain between a rock and a hard place. He's handcuffed to Bush's hideously unpopular person and policies, which indicates he's sunk, according to history. But if he were to break away from Bush, Mr. Straight Talk Patriot Hero would look like a disloyal little fuck of a weasel, and history says he's sunk again.

This is why I think Jindal will pass. Think what you may of his policies, nobody thinks Jindal is stupid, and he's certainly not stupid enough to chain his Louisiana shrimp boat to a sinking ship called the USS John McCain.

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Cat Engineering

The thing about the beasts is that they never have come with a users manual. Somebody's trying to remedy that.

An Engineer s Guide to Cats @ Yahoo! Video

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Straight Talk Indeed

It's a pity that people who really care about this election turn to the media only to find blathering about lapel pins and bowling scores, rather than, say, how to fix the economy. Not helpful. But in this Internet age at least we can go to the candidates' websites and find out from them directly what we want to know. But sometimes that's not much better. I found this on John McCain's site, from his page on Iraq, section "Winning the Homefront"

If efforts in Iraq do not retain the support of the American people, the war will be lost as soundly as if our forces were defeated in battle. A renewed effort at home starts with explaining precisely what is at stake in this war to ensure that Americans fully understand the high cost of a military defeat.

Now wait just one damn minute here. For one, those two sentences don't really fit together. The first seems to be speaking metaphorically -- "as if our forces were defeated in battle" -- while the second seems to threaten the real thing -- "the high cost of a military defeat."

I grant the high cost. I believe there's a saying to the effect that while winning a war costs a huge amount of money, resources, and lives, losing one costs everything you have. But that's not what we're looking at.

A military defeat? Is there the slightest chance that American troops in Iraq will be compelled to surrender to superior force? No, none at all. And that is what a military defeat is.

No, a defeat in Iraq would be a political defeat. A defeat resulting from a failure to understand what the military can and cannot do, a failure to understand both the country of Iraq and the region, a failure to understand the resentment people feel towards a foreign occupancy and the risks of an insurgency, and so on.

But of course McCain mutters about the threat of a military defeat. A military defeat can be blamed on the military. The blame for a political defeat must be laid at the feet of the politicians who led us into this situation and supported it. Like John McCain.