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Wednesday, December 15, 2010

You're in Bad Hands with Allstate

This email was sent via the feedback page at Allstate.com.

After a heavy heavy rainfall in November, Dane Johnson and Kathy Justin's house cracked and slid off its foundation in Burien. Hundreds of neighbors hand-carried their belongings from the waterfront Burien home to storage in a massive undertaking of neighborhood support.

They bought homeowners' insurance through Allstate, believing that the moniker "you're in good hands" rang true. That Allstate would in fact take care of them. They had paid insurance diligently, on time, every time. They were good homeowners. They knew their house's location placed them at a higher risk, and they paid higher premiums for it.

Now the couple's claim has been denied by their homeowner's insurance agency, Allstate.

Allstate is known for its commercials of "being safe from Mayhem" - a character that slams bricks into windshields, stomps on the brakes to cause rear-end collisions, drops branches and trees on cars, smashes trees into houses, and a host of other dastardly deeds. Allstate's new ad campaign, in essence, is precisely what Johnson and Justin went through.

On November 23rd, a freak stormsurge undercut the basement of Johnson and Justin's house. Allstate didn't send an adjuster until November 30th, and denied the claim almost immediately.

Allstate is denying Johnson and Justin's claim for their destroyed home. Johnson and Justin are core arts community advocates in the Puget Sound region - he works for KUOW, she's a sound and lighting engineer, and both were pivotal to the Burien Art Council formation.

Your company is denying two people who did the right thing, and trusted YOU to do the right thing. They believed you when you said, "You're in good hands with Allstate". They bought your insurance with that in mind. They believed their insurance agents were actually the good guys. They listened to Dennis Haybert calmly explain how Allstate does exactly the right thing, all the time.

And then Allstate denies their claim.

If this does not change, I will personally make it my mission to tell this story to every person I know. I will give this story to people who work for State Farm, for Farmer's Insurance, and GEICO. I will explain to my family and friends and coworkers exactly what Allstate did to people who played exactly by the rules, paid the extra dollars, and still got their claim denied by their insurance agency - who have said routinely that their job is to look out for their clients.

I won't ever buy Allstate insurance of any type; that's certain. However, I would greatly like to notify and report a positive resolution of this story to my contacts within various news agencies, including Lifehacker, Gawker, Gizmodo, the New York Times, CNet, The Seattle Times, The Seattle PI, LinkedIn.com, The LA Times, the San Francisco Chronicle, the Washington Post, and local and national television news media. I'd also like to be able to report the resolution of this issue to my 35,000+ social and professional network.

At this moment in time, that is not going to happen. What -is- going to happen is a description of exactly what Allstate said they would do when selling an insurance policy, and what they did when that insurance policy was desperately needed during the holiday season.

For more information on the house and the incident, see:

http://www.nwcn.com/news/slideshows/House-Slipping-Toward-Sound-110268744.html

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Coping with the TSA

The one thing that I've realized out of all of this TSA inspection crap is pretty simple.


Commercial aviation is a privilege, NOT a right.


And damn near everyone's acting like it is.


I must put forth that I used to fly a lot for work, most specifically right after 9/11, when I was working for a company building bullet-resistent cockpit doors and bulkheads. Oh, and the places I flew! I unconfiscated my cartons of American Spirits from the clutches of overzealous stewardesses after citing chapter and verse of the installation manuals of the lavatory smoke detectors, helpfully exploded lumbar support balloons that shoved business class passengers facefirst into the seats in front of them after failing to deflate, or rather, after failing to stop inflating by using a dual-government approved and jointly-issued icepick. I helped explain to a room of very well-dressed, very insistent men in long, flowing robes why the sultan could NOT have a hot tub on his personal 777 without a serious amount of work in the weight balance and hydrodynamic equipment departments, and knew the passcodes to most of the flight deck doors for at least three major domestic American airlines.


And I got dogged in Heathrow, patted down in Dubai, politely wanded in Tokyo and aggressively detained in Beijing (where I learned if you want to write a college article in 1995 about a repressive government smacking an ethnic minority down, it's best to not do it where PRC agents might copy and see it and add it to your permanent record). I even had an interesting conversation with a couple of Israeli security agents. The ones who point the big guns not -directly- at you, but close enough that it makes your toes curl up to avoid being blown off by cheerful 19-year old soldiers who are happy to in an airport and not, say, getting rocks hurled at their heads by Palestinian kids.


And this is with me carrying identification authorizing me to fiddle around with the innards of Very Important Federal Aircraft.


But that's all completely unrelated to the issues at hand. Because it doesn't matter. Flying is not a RIGHT. It's a privilege. A luxury. Like the ubiquitous iPod, something we've cheerfully adopted as part of our pack of Essentials.


While it's true that as a member of a privileged class of people (IE, people who can afford to plunk down a couple of hundred to travel at insane speed across the sky), I can also state that I've been on many, many, MANY flights where I was sitting smack dab in the minority of skin color and economic class. Think about an albino at the Apollo theater, or Bill Gates in the middle of South Central.


I don't exactly BLEND as an expertly unoppressed class-structure privileged 6'5" freckled white boy with giant knobby knees, and on my flights to and from Dubai, this was indeed the case. Air India was also a lesson in excitement and "WOW, you have FRECKLES!". Had I dropped in painted bright green and wearing alien horns, I might have made a slightly more impressive entrance. Having to stoop to avoid bonking my head on the cabin ceiling was probably enough.


It was pretty awesome for the first two hours. The next eighteen, not so much.


So please, let's not turn this into an elder version of "One of these things is not like the others!" Sesame Street song; in any class structure or system, yes, the poor will probably not be able to afford air travel, but then again the desperately poor are probably less concerned about flying and more about not losing their health benefits because Wal-Mart screwed them over again for the holidays. If the patriarch of the family of eight Dalits (whom I kept poking in the shoulder when he kept trying to explain why they were traditionally called "Untouchables") could afford to travel from London to Delhi for Holi every year, then Joe The Wal-Mart employee can shell out some savings for a flight. It's a matter of choices made.


Nobody is bloody ENTITLED to an iPod. Nobody is bloody entitled to a seat on a vehicle traveling at 650 mph, either.


If I can't afford to be in a bar, then who CARES if I don't have the dollars to get righteously shit-faced while not being able to smoke? I can't afford to smoke or to drink in bars, so is that the problem of the people who are affluent enough to both smoke and go to bars? Should I feel guilty as I drink my $3 PBR that someone out there can't afford to come in and drink crappy beer and smoke a fifty-cent cigarette with me while huddled 25 feet from the door? No, because hopefully that person's disposable income will be going to other things.


The point (or rather, an academic's relentlessly academic race/class/gender argumentative point about poor people and people of color historically not being able to have their rights infringed like everyone else being a major cause of Social Justice) has merit, and the concept is akin to the question of the 90s of "How many slums will be bulldozed to make way for the Information Superhighway?" (namely, that the impoverished will not be able to see the benefits or have the opportunity to have their personal freedom infringed upon because they can't afford to go to the airport to have their junk groped), is not only demonstratably false and misleading, it's also a complete red herring for the issue.


I'll also admit that every time the white guilt argument comes out, I get a wee cranky, because White Guilt is sloppily applied at best and reminiscent of growing up Catholic at worst. It's the more educated cousin of "There's starving children in Africa, so you should eat your lentils", which I could figure out at the age of six to be an utter load of shite. For one thing, if those starving Children In Africa were really THAT hungry I'd happily ship my lentils to them, but I was pretty sure they wouldn't want to eat the damn things either, especially after two weeks of transportation.


But hey, it was a good straw man argument to help muddle up the argument which, namely, was "I hate lentils and don't want to eat them. And frankly, I don't give a shit about those starving kids in Africa, because at least if they die, then they wouldn't have to eat the lentils. If it were a choice between styrofoam packing peanuts covered in sea urchin entrail sauce and lentils, I'll take the sea urchin-styrofoam*."


This is a similar situation, which is, "I hate people touching my junk and seeing me naked. Seeing me NEKKID is completely different, but I can't run through the TSA counters with a rubber glove on my head and nothing else screaming, "Look! Look! I'm a SQUID**!" without getting arrested, and so I am thusly righteously AROUSED FOR MY RIGHTS."


And the reply here seems to be, "Yeah, but think about all those non-flying poor people! They can't afford to fly! Think about all the starving non-flying children in Africa! THINK OF THE HUNGRY PEOPLE!"


My reply: "No shit. I had a $8 latte and a $20 donut. I'm surprised they don't have a bankruptcy court next to the Hudson News counters."


This is very much like the people crying out that the pat-downs bring back memories of childhood trauma, molestation, WTO protest arrests, PTSD, the shingles, and that one time the Cubbies really almost made the World Series but didn't because that douchewad caught the ball instead of the outfielder. (I'm kidding about the last two. Most Cubs fans have more emotional resilience than a sub-Saharan AIDS orphanage hospice doctor. It's damn near a prerequisite.)


Thus, the cries for social justice have NOTHING to do with the matter at hand. It's just another issue thrown in to protest wildly that it's NOT OKAY AND YOU ARE NOT STANDING FOR THIS!


That's fine! There is a solution to all these problems, and they don't include stripping off in public, having hysterical breakdowns, or flexing your nuts at the TSA agents for "infringing upon your rights" when they're getting paid $13 per hour to deal with irate people who at best tolerate them and at worst want to rip their faces off with their teeth.


It's called "Get out of line, go back outside, hail another taxi, drive home, and unpack your bags."


Which brings me back to my primary point.


Flight is a privilege, not a right. It's like driving. You don't have a RIGHT to a driver's license. You have an opportunity, but if you don't pass the test, have crap vision, consider the rules of the road to be more "suggestion" than actual rules, prefer to drive tipsy and fast, consider insurance a tool of the Illuminati and oil changes to be so much frippery, then you might not get to drive. You are not guaranteed a Ford Focus as a right of being a citizen of the United States.


Likewise, flight is a private enterprise, and most certainly not included in the Constitution of the United State of America. There are NO public airplane transportation services in America. (Nope, as much as American Airlines likes to front, they are not the American airline. Air China, however, most definitively IS a government-owned airline. So a few points for autocracy there. But surprisingly they don't seem to care too much whether they're invading your personal space when they give you a pat-down.)


Airplanes are tubes of hyperpressurized air that are propelled by giant engines fueled by the fossilized remains of dinosaurs with over a quarter of a million moving, straining, expanding, and exploding parts. Any one of those systems can go wrong at any moment. If strict maintenance schedules are not adhered to, then those tubes slowly disintegrate. Making sure you do not have anything in your bag that would interfere with the miracle of shoving that tube of hyperpressurized air from Seattle to Los Angeles (a distance of over fifteen hundred miles in less time than it takes to watch a back-to-back episode of CSI: Miami) and forcing you to spend another fifteen minutes patiently waiting to get checked out seems to be a bit overblown. Hundreds of thousands of people do this every day, and it is so unremarkable that now different airlines advertise on how much suck other airlines have compared to their own experience, when ultimately, the experience remains the same - packing at least a hundred people into an aluminum tube with giant engines strapped to thin pieces of aluminum and hurling it with insane precision across the sky.


Air travel is standardized insanity, straight up, served on a platter of physical impossibility broken apart by science, physics, and a lot of dead guys in jumpsuits.


So pardon my cavalier attitude towards getting my junk checked out before I fly.


Quite possibly, my lack of modesty has something to do with this, but anyone who has to look their doctor in the eye after hearing him say "Turn your head and cough" should probably not worry overmuch about the shame of someone seeing you on a body scanner. Nobody accuses their gynecologist of enjoying their work; why the hell are we putting THAT drama on all of the TSA agents? Sure, there's a whole bunch of troglodytic TSA employees out there who get off on the petty power of making people with more money and mobility than they do go through a song-and-dance and cop a random feel, but after the first four hundred lawsuits the processes are going to get highly refined, and those douchemonkeys will get kicked to the curb, preferably with a black mark on a federal job record, a hefty fine, and a gross misdemeanor.


For the rest of them, it's like working at a strip club, a bank, a brewery or a porn store - after a while all of the stuff you're working with just becomes stuff. Yeah yeah, that's a naked chick. Yeah, yeah, that's a 60-year old bottle of scotch. Woo. Fucking. Hoo, four hundred thousand dollars. Can I get back to work now?


As for the people who decry how invasive the new process is, and point to the egregious examples of inspection: I'm positive that the guy whose urine bag broke and soaked him had a rough time of it, but come ON, people, ever hear of the Boy Scouts? If you've got a bag of pee attached to your hip, who DOESN'T carry wet wipes, a bag of spare medical kit, a spare pair of pants and a couple of gallon-sized ziploc bag with them? Hell, I took care of my cousin with severe cerebral palsy in a wheelchair for a month. After a while, you simply don't leave the house without certain things, including a spare innertube for the wheelchair and lots of baby wipes.


People, most of us air travelers are NOT on the Amazing Race. Ten more minutes to get through the line means you have ten more minutes to think about whatever you think about when you're standing in line. It does not mean the Communists have invaded, it most definitely does not mean the Founding Fathers are spinning in their graves, and a few swipes around the groinal region from someone else who would really rather not be doing what they're doing isn't a massive infringement on your "rights".


Because, as stated previously, air travel is not a "right". It is a privilege. It's our OWN personal responsibilities and choices to fly or NOT to fly, to take a cab or to drive, to ride a train, a bus, or take a ship.


Cheap and efficient air travel has become so ubiquitous (like iPods) that it's all too easy to believe that because you happen to be living in a society that has made it so easy and cheap to book a 20 hour flight halfway around the world that not a century ago would have taken a full month of travel ($781 one-way to Tokyo's Naruta airport leaving at 11PM tonight, found in about the same amount of time it took you to read this entire SENTENCE) we are somehow entitled to the convenience, and bitch relentlessly when our travel times are extended by an hour or more due to a problem found in the hydraulic system of the aircraft.


And, in some cases, to cry out, "Think of all the flightless children in Africa!" Or "Think of all the pee-bag carriers!" Or, "Think of all the people who have to conquer their personal demons in order just to be able to get on the plane!"


Really? Really. Personal demons, huh?


I'm fucking terrified of flying. Each time I step on a plane I nearly crap my pants in terror.


Surprised? So was my nearly-wife when I nearly crushed her hand on our first flight together. It's a testament to her gentle nature, good will, and grace that after the cast came off and she allowed me to buy her a metal-framed brace to squeeze, she still continued to both A) date me and B) fly seated next to me. Before flying with her, I tended to go through a lot of scotch, anti-anxiety medication and warm milk in airports and marked a LOT of airplane seat hand rests. Now I just hold her hand and tremble. Being schnockered helped press down the sheer panic to the point where my former passport collected enough stamps to raise eyebrows at the immigration counter, but it did lend a certain aroma to my clothing and person while in flight. Small children would be moved two seats back due to the possibility of getting intoxication merely by proximity. (And may explain why I kept poking my friend Tim from North London in the shoulder every time he said "Untouchable".)


So my response to the TSA bruhahaha, therefore, is usually "Learn. To. Fucking. Cope." There's a lot scarier things in the world than a bored government official running their hands around your body and looking at an anonymized image of you on a computer screen, and the rules are in place to make those scary things not happen.


Believe me, having an aggressively intent German shepherd nosing your crotch with two paramilitary guys with clean British public school accents holding automatic weapons pointed near your feet while you are politely but firmly requested not to move until he finishes his inspection, because we're afraid, really, old chap, that he smells plastic explosives in your tighty-whiteys, and you fit the profile of most American-based IRA supporters tends to color all of your future flight inspections in a different light. Not only because you don't want to move, AT ALL, but also because you have to wonder at the utter lack of perspicacity of someone who would carry plastic explosives that close to the bangers and mash, with the codicil that THESE guys, the ones with the hefty, fully-loaded automatic weapons with the safety off and the really big scary dog with sharp pointy teeth nosing around in your nether regions, have actually dealt with those people, and are probably not at home to clever jokes about how we saved their asses in World War II or the one about Queen Vicky and the donkey in Tijuana.


If you got all the way down to the end here, here's the short version: If you want to fly without getting a pat down, go buy a Cessna and learn how to fly it, pay for the gas, get your pilot's license, and use that to fly yourself around. If, however, you want to fly on a commercial airline, shut up and follow the rules, regardless of how intrusive you find the inspections. They're not there for your personal comfort and joy; they're there to keep your bitchy ass from getting blown up. If you don't like it, don't buy a ticket, and DON'T make a spectacle out of yourself to prove that you're not a fan of the new regulations. It's ultimately pointless and does nothing but keep people from doing what they are legally required to do (and legally means "by law" - IE, if they don't do their job, they can get arrested.)


The other one thing I find immensely bemusing and amusing, is that so many people don't realize that they have at least one other option. Prior to 1939, people did it all the time.


Ride the train. No pat-downs and you can move about the cabin all you like.


*Mom still doesn't understand why I like sushi.

**More fun than it sounds like. Trust me on this one; you'll probably get arrested otherwise.

Friday, November 19, 2010

On being "rude"

Rudeness is one of those things you're taught about as an early child. Don't interrupt others when they're talking. Try to be polite. Ask nicely. Say things like, "please" and "thank you". These are habits ingrained in us from early childhood. It's not hard to extend courtesy to anyone.

But somewhere along the way "rudeness" and "disagreement" got jumbled up together. Even worse, now the idea of calling someone out for their behavior or statements is considered "rude".

Take my trip off to lunch today, for example. Since my break is relatively short (I prefer to eat at my desk and do a bit more writing) I usually scarper off to a local takeaway joint and get some food. To do this, you have to find a parking spot. Enter Clueless "Disabled" Guy in a BMW. For some inexplicable reason, as cars are stacking up behind us as he pulls halfway out of his handicapped spot, he decides to look down at his phone and do some jotting or texting. This would not have been a problem had six cars NOT been waiting for him to move. So I honked.

I do love my new car's horn - it's loud, and goes into harmonics if you keep it pressed. Two tones, then three. but this was a short one, just a "hey, dude. Wake up" toot that was meant to say, "People are waiting, let's get rollin' here." He rolls down his window and yells out, "You rude son of a bitch!"

My look of bafflement must have made his day, but the two cars that honked right back at him from behind me probably didn't. As I got out, shrugging and walking off, I heard him screaming at the other people who were telling him he was blocking traffic. Words like, "Veteran" and "disabled" were getting bandied about, and the argument that I heard went something along the lines of the salient, yet earthy points of: Just because you have a vet sticker and license plate, happen to be gray-haired and sporting a blue hanging placard, you are not entitled to drive and act like a douchemonkey.

This is also true for people with "Baby on Board" placards. I don't care if you have a baby on board. I have a puppy on board most days, and I still drive carefully. Somehow the idea that a sign notifying people of the cargo you're carrying will earn you special privileges while weaving back and forth in your lane got implanted into the parental collective mind, like the idea that Dilbert cartoons stuck to your cubicle wall indicates in any way that you have a sense of humor about your workplace. You must, because you have Dilbert cartoons on your wall. Right? RIGHT? RIIIIIGHT????

But this is the trend. One cannot state the obvious without being considered "rude". If I tell someone their political beliefs are complete crap and their entire foundation is based on utter lies and bullshit, I'm not cited for being accurate, I'm told I'm rude, or overbearing, or just not understanding of the situation.

Look, in some circumstances, telling someone they're wrong is not rude. For instance, when the younger Palin daughters begin attacking people by calling them "faggots" on Facebook, and saying that behavior is wrong, I'm definitely not being rude. I'm being accurate. When Boehner broadly says that he's getting rid of Obamacare because it doesn't do X, Y, and Z, and someone points out that he's being a moron and will be forcing expensive changes upon the industry and the people of America, that person is not being -rude-, they are being factual.

Somehow telling people they are wrong has become a social no-no.

That's going to suck for me, because I have no qualms about telling someone they're full of it.

This is a behavior that's coming due on a lot of levels. Having been a member of multiple online forums and arenas, I've found that discord and disagreement are no longer considered acceptable; even if someone's stated behavior happens to indicate a criminal activity, you can't out and out say, "Look, I'm sure you know your children and everything, but have you considered the fact that when you allowed your son's friend to sit with your daughter for a full hour in a bedroom put her in danger, and quite potentially a dangerous social situation where she had no escape, recourse, or ability to say "no"?" Nope, I'm being rude if I say that, and censured.

If I note that a particular individual has shown abberrant, destructive behavior, the new tendency of the social strata is not to discourage the destructive behavior, but rather to punish those who'd dare point out that the person happens to be manipulating and controlling, and is getting away with extraordinarily bad behavior in a community.

The most egregious examples? Billy Ray Cyrus throwing a hissy fit when asked about his extremely public divorce on a country western radio station interview and calling the interviewer "rude". And yet the rudest people - those who thrust themselves into prominence by being the loudest, most obnoxious, heaviest in-your-face individuals of celebrity and popularity have the thinnest skins. Bill O'Reilly, Glenn Beck, and Rush Limbaugh never permit themselves an audience that can talk back at them; the Dittoheads are their favorite constituency.

Berkeley Breathed once said that Steve Dallas, the philandering, no-morals, no-ethics, chain-smoking personal defense attorney/band manager/creepy sunglassed character started out as a buffoon in the college paper, a parody of every entitled preppy out there, and suddenly men began emulating the behavior. Breathed's most memorable quote regarding Steve Dallas: "This was not my intent."

We're living in a culture where rudeness is cultivated, and if you disagree with anyone's personal or political point of view, offer a different perspective, or want to note that frankly, you could care less about Lindsey Lohan's latest yeast infection / alcoholism detox commitment as opposed to the discovery of a new element, you're considered to be standoffish or rude.

I'm neither, I simply don't give a rat's patootey what Barack Obama had for dinner last night, or what the Real Housewives of DC thought of each other. I have my own personal fantasies and a rich, happy inner world without dealing with the enforced personal issues of people who aren't even terribly good actors. I do not enjoy celebrity for celebrity's sake; I think Jimmy Kimmel to be a moron and Jimmy Fallon a genius precisely for those reasons. I find Keith Olbermann to be an overbearing blowhard, but a necessary one in a day and age when politicos place pressure upon the media to keep mum about the mistakes, the lies, the coverups, and the intentionally misleading statements.

The whistleblower is truly becoming the villain of any scenario.

And I can't talk about my discomfiture with some family members, either, because rather than keeping the respectful notification that two sides have different perspectives that are approached differently, I see a trending towards the "you disagree with me, therefore you are rude / totally lame". It's in the "that's so gay" phrasing of homophobic teenagers, it's in the inability of any political pundit to engage in something remotely approaching discourse. The craziest people with the loudest voices are being paid attention to, and the intelligent, quiet, rational people are getting left behind.

I've always said that the secret of my success is crap humor and a loud voice. T is almost the mirror opposite - she's far funnier than I am, but she never booms it out loud. And that's gaining traction in the media. It's not about who has the right message, it's about who has the reality show, who has the TLC channel following them around, who has the best sound bites, who has the most drama.

I don't -like- drama. I don't like dramatic personae. I don't like having to get emotionally involved with someone else's life whom I have no contact with, at all. What I want from my politicians is intelligent, straightforward discourse and people who are willing to put personal ambition aside for the purpose of the public good.

But that's not who we're getting. We are getting the Donald Trumps, the Sarah Palins, the Billy Ray Cyruses, the Paris Hiltons, the Wrestling Federation Superstars, the cult of Celebrity fed and puppeteered. Our political figures are no longer the Russ Feingolds, Ted Kennedys, Robert Byrds or the Ronald Reagans, Bush Senior or the deeply thoughtful men of a generation ago. Now it's who tweets fastest and who has the most followers.

To wit, if Bristol Palin had not had her mother's deeply rabid fanbase, she would have been cut from "Dancing With the Stars" long before anyone else. How else could we explain how the teenaged single mother of a former Alaska township mayor not only managed to stay on the show, but also wound up becoming a media celebrity? There is no reason we should know anything about these people. There is no CAUSE for me to know or care a bit about who these people are outside of the ability of the woman who is active in politics.

And yet Palin is simply the most egregious example of celebrity as qualification for a position she's woefully inadequate. There's a hint: Jesse The Body Ventura did not transition well into politics. His entire political career was based around being different, but ultimately, he had no idea how to govern or lead. Now he hosts a show about how the government hates you - and he's "back" - albeit on a poorly-rated cable TV channel.

But back to the chap who, absorbed in his own little world of the telephone, refused to see how his actions impacted those around him today. He aggravated half a dozen people simply because he was intentionally unaware of how he impacted others. It mattered little what other people were doing or needing. It's the lack of a turn signal to let someone know you're going left, instead of right. It's honking because someone can't move over to let you through. It's demanding that you be served even though you have eighty items in the express lane because you're "in a very important hurry, young man." It's yelling at a cop or fireman, "I pay your salary, you will pay attention to me!"

A digression: I adore people who scream this out at someone, because due to my ability with mathmatics, statistics, and the tracking software of my brilliantly awesome job, I can in fact figure out exactly how much someone has paid as a percentage of someone's salary. Categorizing a salary means that you can take the percentile of most people who pay taxes, find the percentage of taxes they pay to the state, federal, or city government, then estimate by 10% (generous, but quibbling isn't the issue here) what that amount of money is, divide that by the average number of taxpaying citizens in the state, and pro-rate it per year. Usually, for a single police officer, clerk, or other individual, the rate comes down to something like $0.27 US, so that argument is ALWAYS fun to see in action because if I don't have $0.27 on me, I will give the person a dollar and say, "There you go. Now you have what you paid for his salary this year back, and you can kindly shut the fuck up. You're not entitled to jack or shit just because you happened to pay taxes, you stupid lobotomized llamafucker."

The reason we obey traffic laws and don't stop in the middle of the freeway is because we are expected to behave in a similar manner. Unfortunately, the sheer volume of people who choosing reactionaryism over rationalism means that entitled asshats in BMWs shall continue to pull halfway out of a parking spot; that people with more personality than talent shall get the lions' share of the attention and validation, and that for the foreseeable future, bad behavior shall be rewarded, while people who blow the whistle, or choose to walk away, will be villified for their actions.

I don't want to be "rude". But I'm going to be rude if that's what it takes to let someone know what they're doing is not okay. I'll point out that John Boehner is an opportunistic, power-hungry jackhole interested more in scoring points than actual leadership, that the Tea Party seems to be comprised of people who only want to chant along with Glenn Beck, and that the "movements" of this part of the early century are almost entirely comprised of people who have no real idea of what they're doing.

I pick on the WingNut NeoCons purposefully as well. It is as easy and intelligent to point at PETA protesters, at any left-wing elements of society, at the people who smoke Gauloise cigarettes in university college towns and rant and rave about how we must change the dominant paradigm without knowing A) what the dominant paradigm actually IS, B) what a paradigm might be, or C) whether it's actually capable of donning a corset, fishnets, and a mask of former Senator Larry Craig. That doesn't mean that they are in any way, shape or form more correct or less right than I am; it merely means that the FoxNews and Glenn Beckians have taken the art form of playing aggressively wounded victim to a whole new artistic level. One cannot attack without opening themselves up for dire criticism - and frankly, Sarah Palin, Glenn Beck, Olbermann, and many, many of our loud, obnoxious voices in the media need to be backhanded with rationalism and veracity more than a few times.

We need a return to truth, not true enough or truthiness. We need media who don't shape the message, but simply present facts and information as they happen, to provide pure and undiluted information in its best and clearest form. We need truth; we do not need the circus that has become what our media has decided it should be.

Edward R. Murrow is quite possibly the best example of someone who, under intense, violent scrutiny, was what could be best described as "rude". However, we have no Edward R. Murrow. We only have Joel McHale, Jon Stewart, and Stephen Colbert - none of whom do more than mock those who choose to attack with a hammer and defend with a thin skin.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

When comics should just go away

The news that Cathy, the newspaper comic chronicling the life of the single, then married, then something else female of the 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s is now coming to an end made me consider the time of endings.

My favorite comic of years past - Calvin and Hobbes - ended after a long run, and with an arc that made perfect, timeless sense. Conversely, Charles Schultz's Peanuts, while a "classic", makes about as much sense in most daily events as an Alzheimer's patient with Tourette's Syndrome. Cathy, while a standard mainstay of the newspaper funnies for years, is written by a sixty-year old woman whose touch on the gestalt of American womanhood is long passed.

Perhaps the most obvious one I can think of is For Better or For Worse. Lynn Johnston has been retconning her earlier work over and over again, and while the comic may have been brilliant back in the day of Canadian and life during a time of change, the comic is overwrought, irritating, and deeply retrospective. Instead of ending the comic, Johnston (immediately after finding out her husband was leaving her) came out of retirement and began rewriting the whole thing. And shockingly, all of the character husband's attitudes have changed for the jerkier. Shocked. Shocked, are we.

The thing is, it wasn't that brilliant. It's like remaking Star Wars. It worked in the time and place it existed in, and now it's possibly the worst franchise simply because George Lucas can't stop playing with Ewok dolls and working out his Oedipal complex issues with his Jedi knight characters.

Cathy is a prime example of a comic artist who knows when to gracefully bow out of the time. Newspapers in general are sliding towards closure, and the load maintained by Johnston on the newspaper means several strips just exist when they simply shouldn't. For Better Or Worse was a family comic for us growing up, but it did not make the easy transition once Johnston decided to get all retrospective on it.

For my money, the comics that were great when I was a kid need to ease into retirement. Get rid of Garfield, Peanuts, FBOFW, and the old, aging comics - there's simply better and more relevant comics out there that could and should be placed front and center.

But man, don't take away my Doonesbury. That would just be tragic.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Daniel Schorr, last of a dying breed

If you have no idea who Daniel Schorr is, he wasn't Bob Woodward or Dan Rather. Schorr was, in essence, one of my great heroes. He was a journalist and writer from the age of Kruschev through the age of Cheney. He was a journalist, and his rough, tobacco-stained voice was a crusty reminder of the news era of a bygone age.

I never met you, Mr. Schorr, but you changed my life in many ways, and you stood for truth in an era that slid to mendacity for the sake of the subject, rather than the audience. You , and your final words at the end of a commentary on the radio, were a marker of sanity in an era of insane politics. You shall be missed.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

No, Steve. The iPhone 4 just sucks, no matter how many lovey-dovey commercials you make.

http://www.cnn.com/2010/TECH/mobile/07/20/cnet.handsets.steve.jobs/index.html?hpt=Sbin

Sorry, Stevie. Your phone sucks. Don't try to point the finger at everyone else. If ConsumerReports recommends against your product, perhaps it's because you screwed up, not because the phone industry made a mistake. Admittedly, this is your fourth phone, and the Cult of Apple continues to bring converts, but hell, I -had- an iPhone, and used a different carrier than AT&T to avoid your monopoly. And it STILL sucked, compared to an HTC myTouch.

No matter how many times you show images of people (who need to be on a wifi connection for the video conferencing software to work, unlike, say, the HTC Evo phone available on Sprint) talking about the miracle of small children and babies on primetime TV, your technology is still sucky and I'm never again going to buy one of your crappy iPods masquerading as a phone.

Glenn Beck going Blind? Yeah, tell us something new.

http://pagingdrgupta.blogs.cnn.com/2010/07/21/what-is-glenn-becks-eye-disorder/?hpt=Sbin

Frankly, if Glenn Beck is going blind, this isn't a bad thing. Although I would be willing to bet Beck is going to claim disability from the government due to his "blindness", regardless of the amount of money he makes as a right-wing pundit/entertainer for the slavering, racially-charged Teabagging movement, his macular dystrophy (eyes go bad, in a nutshell) would at the very least increase awareness of the sightless in America.

Although at the same time I'm now more or less aware that Beck, who's posed in Nazi-era uniforms for the covers of his books and raged against black Americans given "preferential treatment" now that an African-American is in the White House is going to milk this for all the sympathy in the world, I'm somewhat cheerful. After all, being forced to rely on others after spending two decades blaming everyone but himself for the problems of America might humble someone marginally less offensive than former KKK members in the Teabagging movement.

My schadenfreue is brimming over, and I can't stop my internal snickers. I'm crossing my fingers with deep and sincere hope his right-wing, ultra-conservative butt gets thrown to the mercy of the welfare state he has so often decried.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

StarCraft II, et al

On Starcraft II: Wings of Liberty...

I never really enjoyed a lot of the twitch gamer process gaming issues. I do like managing wars and doing the whole strategy thing, but if you asked me to put together a battle of Waterloo I'd question why you were asking me. I wasn't there - I had no idea what the men or generals were up to, and the only thing I could tell you is that Napoleon bit it there.

That said, I did love me some Starcraft. And I recall playing it when the massive games were 500mb, and you had to really load in a CD. Now I'm ashamed (well, not really, because I loved Starcraft and its expansion) to say I went ahead for the full StarCraft II. The only thing is, there's going to be a very, very limited series of games that I can go with now. The specialization of most people in a gaming genre of one kind or another means that no longer can I actually play a game and get a specified area of fun; I can only now play first-person shooters, real-time strategy, MMORPGs, or side-scrollers with any kind of specialization.

And I'm still pining for my very own Medieval Madness pinball game. (Of course, space constraints aside, the $8,500 price tag for such a machine would be an issue. My beloved books don't take that much space.)

But I really did get in on the Warcraft mania, to the point where, not seven years later, I still roll with the game every so often. I'm hoping, too, that it won't go the way of the Sims 3 - where I played for a bit, but got intensely bored after a week.

Either way, I am looking forward to the game, I'm just hoping it'll be good for the long-term, and have the traction its predecessory did.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Banning the Bodies Exhibition

http://www.publicola.net/2010/06/29/without-valid-written-authorization-from-the-deceased/

San Francisco has already banned the Bodies exhibition due to the fact that some of the bodies were obtained from China, and China's current status as a country where "permission" is often synonymous with "you didn't say no loud enough" or "you were a political prisoner / murderer / mental patient, ergo you don't get to say yes or no what's done with your body". Now Nick Lacata, Seattle City Council member, is sponsoring legislation that would require any exhibition to obtain permission from the donor's bodies to make sure the bodies are exhibited with respect and dignity.

And that's definitely NOT what happens with the Bodies Exhibition.

On some level I see the Bodies exhibition as a fascinating anatomy discussion, on another a puppetry of intensely macabre proportions. The bodies that are built and maintained are plasticized in an incredibly brilliant method that replaces all of the muscles and veins, capillaries and other organic materials that allows the preservation of the musculature - on the other hand, I'm fairly certain none of the bodies shown in the exhibition really wanted to be paraded around in public. Chinese ancestor traditions means that the families cannot visit these people and provide the graveside services; and frankly, if I knew my grandfather or grandmother, my aunt or my sister were plasticized after their bodies were sold to an organization without my consent, I'd be livid. At best this is disrespectful, at worst it's the desecration of a corpse.

I've not been able to find out whether the bodies used in the exhibition were willingly given by either the families or the deceased themselves. But I also don't see much of a need to outright ban these - I don't plan on attending because of the moral issues I have with this, and I am not the type of person who likes watching the Saw movies the check out the interior body components of other human beings. The Bodies Exhibition is doing downhill; had Licata actually wanted to make a dent in the behavior, he should have set something like this in motion four years ago when the exhibition showed up in the first place.

There's also a racial or a foreign component to this that bothers me. Western societies have a long tradition of using the bodies of "foreigners" as curiosities and exploiting them for "scientific research". The Victorian era hasn't quite finished with the morbid fascination of digging up dead people and showing them in a museum. Very few pioneers of the West were dug up and shown because it wouldn't be "respectful" - likewise, the majority of bodies donated in the United States to medical science aren't used for museum exhibitions. The museums have the technology to virtually explore human bodies in 3-D without sacrificing the dignity of a human being - and the costs would be similar, if not identical to putting a corpse on display, much like Saartjie Baartman (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Saartjie_Baartman) or the bones of Geronimo.

I wonder if the reaction and the fascination about Bodies would be so popular if the bodies came from Ohio, or Eureka, or the San Fernando Valley, or Manhattan's Upper West Side. Or whether the question of respect for the deceased would even come up. But since they're bodies from China that nobody knows where they came from (aside from some government officials in China who likely made a tidy bribe off of their sale), they are anonymous and we don't have to think about them. If our reaction to Mrs. Sophie Carmichael, grandmother of five, died of a heart attack is that she should be given a dignified burial and that her corpse should not be plasticized in a pose that implies she was a bit of a tramp for all eternity, then it's likely the same pose of Xia Hiu, political prisoner, should be treated the same. 

For my perspective, I won't attend a Bodies exhibition precisely because I cannot see the intention of the people who built this Exhibition as being anything other than sensationalism using the cheapest and most accessible human remains they could - and that happened to be from China, with no questions asked. In a lot of ways, actively walking through the Bodies Exhibition is participating, and while I'm sure the "scientific" curiosity and experience must, for some, outweigh the moral costs, I am also quite sure that the people who "own" this exhibit have made more than their fair share of money profiting from the display of the bodies without the consent of the deceased, or their families.

Friday, July 16, 2010

iPad on the road for kids? Not bloody likely

Don't get me wrong, I believe in the concept that keeping kids entertained on the road is a pretty good thing. However, the article referenced below mentions the general idea that somehow, as Mom and Dad and family rolls on down the road this summer, everyone (save the person driving, hopefully) will be poking around on their brand-new iPads, surfing along, cheerfully playing everything.

This is one of those things that makes me go "burrrhuuuuh?"

I know we're in the age of people happily and cheerfully handing $700 pieces of equipment to their kids, but I can't, for the life of me, understand what average parent would shove a $700 iPad at their kid while driving or trying to entertain a kid solely through the iPad. Sure, I'm positive someone will be able to do so, but come on. $700 buys a kid a laptop. You think they're going to be all trundling along in the backseat with a piece of equipment that I wouldn't trust my former roomie with? (Granted, my former roomie had a tendency to shake when he had low blood sugar and a view of technology that verged on the violent, but still. Even with a fourteen-year old kid I'd be locking the dang thing up in a vault.)

So while the iPad for kids marketing campaign seems to be rolling along, I hardly think the majority of people will be putting out iPads and letting their kids plug into it. For my money, let the kids do what worked for years on road trips - read books, listen to their personal listening devices, roll their eyes disgustedly when asked where they want to eat, and complain when the motel doesn't have a swimming pool.

But then, I'm one of those guys who wonders why a Toyota Sienna would NEED a dual-zone entertainment system. Not to be an annoying old man, but dammit, if I had to learn how to read and pack books while on vacation that would keep me occupied for a three-week run through the southwest, my kids should be able to do so too.

http://www.usatoday.com/tech/columnist/jinnygudmundsen/2010-07-08-ipad-apps_N.htm

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Reiki for the Duwamish River? Really? REALLY?

I present KUOW's own Megan Sukys, in her own radio show, about how reiki can heal the Duwamish river.

I'm not really all that into reiki as a practice, though I've had people practicing reiki work on me before, and my subsequent dizziness after lying faceup on a table while people passed their hands and focused energy on certain points of my body might have been due to the energy flow redirect - or that I'm 6'5" and built accordingly and failed to eat my cookie before lying down.

But somehow the idea that a Superfund Cleanup site could be healed by the power of reiki seems...well, stupid.

http://kuow.org/program.php?id=20796

Monday, January 18, 2010

So, T and I are now officially engaged. While the story goes something like, "A romantic kiss held as we watched the fireworks bursting over Seattle's Space Needle minutes after midnight, and a heartfelt promise to hold no other in our hearts excepting the one we each kissed," the reality is that yes, I made that promise, yes, I made that vow, and then we both saw a freaked-out golden retriever scampering across the condo parking lot, hell-bent for cover. I, of course, being of less-than-sober mind and body, surged downstairs to try to capture the wee beastie and return it to the fold of its owner, or at least clap some hearing protection on the poor puppy.

Needless to say I was unsuccessful, but it's one of those things that reminds me not to leave little details to chance. If proposing any other way, I probably would have split my dress pants in the crotch trying to get down on one knee proposing at the restaraunt we'd said we should go to instead of, say, chasing a stray golden retriever minutes afterwards and slipping down four stairs to land on my butt. As my grandmother says, I was not born to be graceful.

But as a result of that kiss, that proposal, and the subsequent idea behind our wedding date, everything is a little "YIPES!" We went to the Seattle Wedding show and managed to book not only the photographer, but reserved our limo (a Rolls Royce 1963 Princess with enough leg room for a 6'5" groom), and a wonderful friend who happily said, "Yes! I'll DJ for you guys at the wedding!"

And we've been looking at really AWESOME cakes. The one thing I don't like in this world is sugary, high-fructose corn-syrup monstrosity cake slathered with a half-inch of icing. I like fondant; I like the filling, I like tasty crunchy eclairs, but I cannot stand the spongiform mouthfeel of the cake.

That said, I've been exposed to the idea of the "Groomscake", which was in the wedding planner T and I bought. Well, I say "we" bought; realistically I cringed from the wedding planning section of the bookstore that more or less exuded estrogen. (And in an excellent move of product placement, right next to the "Cooking Light" and "Diet for Success" section of books. Knowing one's audience is probably the best way to make a sale, right?)

At any rate, the Anti-Bride's Wedding Planner is what we're using. It's helpful, but there's some parts of it that make me realize that this is definitely NOT a book that the male gender is allowed to peer inside. Wedding planning seems to still be the last bastion of feminine holdouts. Walking into that world seems akin to tramping into a women's nail spa and salon in a leather outfit, your axe dripping with the blood of the Saxon horde. You might need a manicure, but dude, you're so very much not in the right place.

At any rate, we now have large chunks of our wedding more or less outlined, and I can probably say I'll be the only groom in Seattle who will have former Iraq-war embedded photojournalists snapping pics of me all day, but I still come back to the cake.

Oh, the cake. I tell you, if I had my way, I would declare soppy cake illegal. Give me brownies! Give me cookies! Give me pie! Give me cupcakes layered with creamy fillings! But for the love of god, you keep that half-inch of frosting away from me! The tradition of smashing cake in the face of the bride or groom makes me growl. Do that with key lime and I won't complain. My issue is with the cake.

That said, I still do love the Ace of Cakes and the Charm City Cakes show on the Food Network; the creativity and the insanely cool methods used to make food into art; which is one of the most important things to me. If I don't have the ability to make art in my life with the aspects of my work, it's not fun.

Which is why I still think people who wear rubber noses at formal events are a LOT of fun, that a ceremonial clown wig is preferable to a barrister's periwig, and a stretch Beetle is WAY better than a stretch Humvee.

But the additions of weddings and the excess seems...difficult to me. On some level, I keep wondering why people add things in like the "Groomscake". I don't want more than one cake; I want ONE cake that's awesome.

But then again, I'm also probably both the infuriatingly involved groom - most women if they really did want their significant others involved in the process mean they want someone to do the things they don't really want to think about very much. I, on the other hand, tend towards the less-than-helpful questioner of "Are you sure we should get this place/photographer/pie/floral arrangement/vehicle registry/clown for the wedding?" (Okay, I'll admit, the idea of the clowns was mine, but still.)

And the reality is, clowns or no clowns, I'd happily marry this woman in front of three people and a labrador retriever wearing a bowtie. I don't need frippery or excess to prove that I'm going to be with her for the rest of my life...

..but I do want it to be one hell of a party.

I'm excited, and terrified, and I have almost 342 days before I get to see her in the dress.

It's freaking AWESOME.
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