The Magic of Winter

It is once again time for my annual recitation of the love I feel for the season!

The Magic of Winter

Evil, heavy, wet, and cold
they sit upon the ground.
They clog the air in scads untold
and muffle every sound.
A snowflake is a pretty thing
its facets sparkling bright,
But in its ultimate demise
I find a great delight.
For snow has made my life like hell,
my back to ache, my arms as well.
And travel, you can just forget,
my car’s a ski, can’t land a jet.
The upshot, friends, it’s sad to say,
our day’s deprived of light.
There’ll be no joy outside today,
forget about tonight.

Posted in For Facebook, Geeky, General, Personal, Uncategorized, Whimsical | 1 Response

Yes. “Happy Holidays”, you schmuck!

joyNo, I’m not Jewish. Or Christian. Or Muslim/Hindu/Buddist/Jain/whatever! I did, however, grow up Catholic in a Jewish neighborhood. Maybe that gives me a little more perspective than most. Maybe not. But you know what’s most important to the discussion of “Happy Holidays”? I can fucking count! The people continuously posting stupid things like “It’s not ‘Happy Holidays’, it’s ‘Merry Christmas’!” apparently cannot.

Let’s say, for a moment, that I were a poorly educated, small-minded idiot that was only capable of recognizing holidays from my own Christian religion because the other ones “aren’t real”. If I could count, I’d still know that Christians alone have fifteen holidays just in December, and another seven in the first week of January. So even if I were this hypothetical idiot with the crudest of math skills, I’d “know” that everyone I greeted in the holiday season had multiple holidays coming soon, and all were church mandated holy days. Given all that, why wouldn’t I say “Happy Holidays”?

But let’s say I was a really ignorant idiot, who only knew about one of the holidays my own religion had in this season. Even then, I’d know that the secular holidays of New Year’s Eve/Day were one week afterward. So even my utter-idiot-self with the crudest of math skills would know that everyone I greeted in the holiday season had multiple holidays coming soon. Yet again, why wouldn’t I say “Happy Holidays”?

Now let’s say I had average intelligence and maybe read books, so I was aware I lived with countrymen of not only secular backgrounds, but even of other religions? Well then, in that case, I’d know about The Jews’ Hanukkah, the Buddists’ Bhodhi Day, the Hindus’ Pancha Ganapati, the Pagans’ Yule, etc. Maybe I’d even consider that sometimes, the people to whom I was talking didn’t know for certain that I was Christian, and wanted to wish me well without offending/confusing me.

Still confused? You can look this all up for yourself here.

In other words: Get a fucking grip. Take everyone’s well-wishes at face value, and stop being such a fucking schmuck! You’ll have lower blood-pressure…

Posted in For Facebook, Geeky, General, Philosophical, Rational | 1 Response

Domestic Terror (No, not that kind)

Welp, we at the Hartley house had a hell of a weekend. Three days of hard labor, topped off with a little terror and a trip to the hospital.

After 2.5 years of having a child in the house, our “stuff” has exceeded our capacity. We can’t throw anything out, you see, because we’re going to need it for the next child, but in the meantime, we need more “stuff” for the current child, and have nowhere to put it. We could get rid of some of our older “stuff”, but that means spending months we don’t have sorting it all, to decide what to get rid of. As a stopgap measure, the decision was made to erect an 80 square foot storage building in the yard to house the “temporary” overflow. I believe this means we have officially become a Typical American Family ™.

Pursuant to this plan of action, the Hartley clan spent the long weekend assembling the aforementioned shed, a Home Depot monstrosity comprised of several hundred parts and tens of thousands of fasteners (hyperbole only just barely required for this description), all of it primarily composed of sheets of incredibly thin, sharp sheets of metal. The work was endless, thankless, frustrating, hand-slicing (yes, we had gloves), and supremely boring to a two-year-old, who vacillated between “helping” by moving things that were needed to places that were unexpected and hindering by producing an astonishingly productivity-hampering stream of sundry noises, questions, demands, leg-entanglements, and outright bawling!

By day three, we asked one of Dashiell’s babysitters to come and take him off our hands for a few hours, providing us the time and peace we needed to finish off the job. This seemed like a smart move at the time. However, after cajoling said babysitter into bringing him back outside to play, the boy managed to work himself into a playtime frenzy that involved darting recklessly from place to place while chasing a ball.

Needless to say, one of these dashes (no pun intended) led directly through our construction site, into the now 90% completed shed, over the eminently toddler-tripping door-track, and via an all-out power-dive into the unfinished rear-wall floor frame, which as previously mentioned is composed of diamond-edged sheets of doom-metal. As might be expected, much of this observation was realized by the adults present long after the fact. What we actually experienced at the time was a brief blur of motion accompanied by a crash and followed by shrieks of pain and abject terror. This was, by far, the most terrifying moment of my life as a parent thus far.

I immediately jumped down from a ladder and scooped him up, bringing him to Momma for examimation. On initial inspection, he had a welt on his forehead from where he had slammed his face into the wall, but seemed otherwise unharmed. As I have learned, however, Dashiell is quite capable now of telling us what may be wrong with him, so I asked him to “show me the boo-boo”, upon which he help up his clenched hand, opened it, and provided me with a new most terrifying moment of my life as a parent thus far. For lack of better description, as the hand opened, blood tumbled out of it, as though he were holding a cup that he had tipped too far and was spilling all over us. In a split second, I was drenched with it, and galvanized by the terror I saw in his mother’s eyes.

In less than a second, as near as I can tell, Daddy had clamped down on the hand to staunch the flow while Mommy had snatched up the boy. Thus entangled, we ran for the house, climbed a flight of stairs, dodged toys and babygates, and got to the kitchen, where the bright lights and first aid supplies live. The first thing we found was that the direct pressure was, in fact, preventing more bleeding, which downgraded the terror alert from “someone could die” to “OK, take a breath and get a look at it”.

What we saw, in the brief moment I removed pressure and replaced my hand with a wad of paper towels, was a half-inch long gash in the inside of the primary joint of our boy’s right pinky. It was deep; Deep enough I began to worry the tendons might have been cut (I’m not a doctor, but it happened to me when I was eight, so I have some experience). I managed to get him to flex his hand, proving there was no fully severed tendon, but the screaming that followed did little to allay our fears!

Now less panicked, we cleaned up a bit and drove directly to urgent care. This turned out to be a mistake. After spending fifteen minutes driving the wrong way (we discovered) to our doctors’ urgent care facility, and another fifteen answering questions that could as easily have been answered during or after an examination, in an act that has me seriously considering the need for a change in family doctors, a nurse told us, “Oh, well, if it’s a cut that might require stitches, we can’t do that. You should go to the emergency room…” The nearest emergency room, of course, was ten minutes from the house in the opposite direction from urgent care.

And so began our little slice of hell, wherein an hour and a half from the original accident, we began the waiting…

We actually got in and examined rather quickly. The PA determined that in fact the tendon was undamaged and that sutures would be utterly traumatic, and thus unnecessary for such a young child, so she stuck him back together with super-glue. We were told to wait right there (on a gurney in a hallway, since they had no beds available) for a nurse to come and put a protective bandage over the hand to prevent picking etc.

Two hours later, I found myself begging a random nurse to find it in her heart to finish up my child’s treatment, if for no other reason than so that we could stop covering his ears to protect him from the terrified crying and moans from nearby beds. Just as I finished this request, the woman in the bed parked next to us in the hallway stopped breathing and was whisked away to the “crash cart”, while my son tried to look around us to see what the commotion was all about.

I should perhaps point out at this point that both my wife and I lost our mothers to terrible diseases that involved years-long hospital stays while we were still in college, and have rather raw feelings about hospitals in general, and specifically about this particular hospital, where my father passed from cancer six weeks before our son was born there. We were both absolute emotional wrecks at this point, our now perfectly happy and curious son actively trying to determine what was wrong with Momma’s eyes.

I was literally moments from beginning a furious tirade at the nurses’ station (one which would obviously have been misplaced, but try telling that to caveman-daddy-brain), when a nurse bustled up to us with copious apologies, wrapped the bandage, and gave us our discharge papers.

We went to McDonald’s for dinner. Dashiell chose. Incomprehensibly enough, it went a long way toward making everything better. Also, he is now addicted to pencil-top trolls, a fad I had assumed died somewhere in the early nineties!

As a side note, our son was little affected by this whole thing. By the time we were at the “hopipal”, he had decided he needed no help holding the paper towel clenched in his hand, and was happily running around the waiting room asking for snacks and climbing things. He charmed every person he met, and although in clear pain, only even cried during treatment when the saline syringe they used to irrigate the wound first opened its seal, spraying out with a pop that startled him.

We got him home, put him happily to bed, curled up together, and cried and shook far more than he had.

This morning, when I woke him up, he asked me if we could go back the the doctor, because he wanted a matching bandage for his other hand. When I told him he didn’t need to go back to the doctor, he asked if we could go to a different doctor then. I love my boy…

Posted in Family, For Facebook, General, Personal, Uncategorized | 1 Response

Oh, Hell…

I just need to put this out there, for what it’s worth. Our two-year-old went out for his first real trick-or-treating in our neighborhood this Halloween. He came back with a giant load of candy, a huge, exhausted smile, and an odd little plastic bag that held a couple of pieces of what as kids we called “beat candy” and a tiny book.

HellFortunately for my family, I vaguely recognized the tiny book from pictures I’d seen online years ago, and intercepted the bag as it came out of the pile. It was what’s known as a “Chick Tract”, one of a few-thousand little religious propaganda cartoon books published by a fervid, puritanical nutjob named Jack Chick. I gave it a quick read to confirm.

This hateful little tome tells the story of a child being beaten and sexually molested in a foster home by filthy, evil atheists, and how he is saved by a crusading cop and a foster home full of Jesus freaks (with a weird side trip into how the UN tacitly approved the rape and murder of millions in Rwanda, because they’re filthy *European* atheists, of course), who teach the boy he’ll only stop feeling guilty for being molested if he prays for his molester’s soul, but it’s OK, because once he’s forgiven them, God will make sure they have a terrible accident or heart attack, die young, and go to hell.

Needless to say, I first threw away the candy, lest my child discover it was laced with something by the detestable purveyors of this monstrosity, then spent the rest of the evening keeping my rage from showing to my family. All I could think was, what if he were five, and gave it read it on the way home before I saw it? What if I never caught it, and this poison were poured into my impressionable child’s head with no counter-information from us? How many children actually saw and read this poison that night, and how many were mentally mature enough to filter out the hatred and perverse sex-obsession and see it for what it was?

I’ve been sick with seething hatred of these loathesome creeps for days, and needed to say it here to get it out of me. In one sense, I’m glad I have only a vague idea of the block it might have come from, as I really don’t know how I’d handle myself if I could go bang on their door. In another sense, I hate that I don’t know, because I can’t do anything to prevent my child from being exposed to their depravity in the future!

I suppose at least, in the unlikely event there IS an afterlife, I can take some comfort in the fantasy that wherever I end it up, it won’t be wherever they are!

Posted in Family, For Facebook, General, Personal, Philosophical, Rational, Uncategorized | 3 Responses

Yes, I’m voting minor party. No, it isn’t a vote for Trump/Clinton. No, it’s not a wasted vote.

The CandidatesThis has been a hell of an election cycle, hasn’t it? We’ve got an outsider(read: utterly inexperienced and temperamentally unsuited), racist, sexist ‘conservative’ who loves the idea of building giant government programs and eliminating civil liberties, and a corporate-owned machine ‘liberal’ with a war-hawk record who loves the idea of building giant government programs and eliminating civil liberties. Well, there’s nothing to do about it, right? If you don’t vote for the bad one, the worse one might win!

Well no, actually, that couldn’t be more wrong…

A trick of the math

The reason we have such poor choices in the first place is the fact that Americans have been using that same short-sighted, tactical thinking for the last forty years. It’s not really surprising. Due to the plurality/winner-takes-all voting system we use, the math shows that over time, our system will tend to move toward a stable, two party system, which is exactly what it has done. There have been several arrangements over the last two and a half centuries, but for the last 150 years, those two parties are the Republicans and the Democrats. The thing is, that “stable” system inherently under-represents the actual will of the people, because there are vastly more than two positions on every issue. It can be mitigated by active participation in the political process by those who disagree with the two parties, and there are voting systems, like range voting and ranked-choice voting, that would eliminate this effect, but there are entrenched interests who would not benefit from those improvements…

The entrenched interests

Of course, once two parties have edged out all the other options, they work together to retain that advantage, so they can split up the entire political and financial pie without worry of anyone upsetting their nice, cozy arrangement with each other or with the corporations who fund them. While publicly they represent each other as the enemy, in private, they are best buds. This is why, no matter which one is elected president in any given election, no matter who “controls” Congress, we virtually always end up with the same results, constantly growing government, constantly decreasing personal freedom, constant war, constantly growing influence for corporations and other moneyed interests, all at the expense of the citizenry.

Sure, you see a few superficial differences on the social policy front, playing to voting bases. The Republicans land a “Defense of Marriage Act” with much social-conservative fanfare, making life much harder for married gay couples, and then its worst parts almost immediately get thrown out by the courts. The Democrats get through “socialized” medicine, and (surprise!), it actually involves forcing citizens under the threat of financial penalty to buy health insurance from a collection of corporations who conveniently donate millions to the campaigns of both Democrats and Republicans. Ultimately, however, these are window dressing. They rarely fulfill what they were sold to do by one side or the other, and ignore the big issues, where despite opposing rhetoric, they always follow mostly the same policies. The two major parties have formed a duopoly that has a stranglehold on our democracy.

Tactics versus strategy

They really can’t lose, though. In the media, they fight like cats and dogs, portraying each others’ candidates as apocalyptic harbingers of doom. They breed fear in the public, selling the idea that each is the only possible salvation from the other. They manipulate us into thinking tactically (“What’s the best of these two bad options right now”) rather than strategically (“What’s the best choice for our nation in the long run”). We see article after article in the media telling us that we must vote to defeat the evil one, even if we are certain the less evil one does not represent our interests well. In the rare years there are other practical options available, they say things like, “Voting minor party is a vote for Trump/Clinton”, “Voting minor party is nothing but white, male privilege“, “Vote like it matters, because voting minor party is throwing away your vote“, or “Minor Parties should focus on lesser elections, where they have a chance”.

Of course, everything about those arguments is intellectually bankrupt:

  • Voting for one candidate is NOT voting for another candidate, by definition. There are two subtle lies in this argument. The first lie is the assumption that lost votes for the “less evil” constitute extra votes for the “more evil” candidate. Obviously, this one is wrong mathematically (since vote totals for one candidate are not a part of the vote totals for another) and practically, because of the next point. The second lie is the assumption that everyone voting for a minor party candidate would otherwise have voted for the “less evil” candidate, which is provably false. Most minor party votes come from people not registered as Democrat or Republican (a larger group of US voters than either Democrats or Republicans, FYI), and history shows they tend to break about evenly between the two major parties when no viable minor party candidates are available.
  • “White, male privilege” may insulate some from the effects of “the evil one”, but facts are facts, and no one is benefited by the duopoly in the long run but the duopoly and their funders. This is, of course, based on the same “voting for X is a vote for Y” fallacy, but even granted that fallacy, consider: There is no question that minorities would fare somewhat worse under a Trump administration than a Clinton administration, but by how much, and for how long would those differences last? Leaving the two parties in power means you’ll be facing this same risk again and again, forever. Things will never get better if you don’t ever act to make them so. Isn’t it worth a little risk now to move toward an eventual better system?
  • The vast majority of US voters live in states where statistically, no individual vote can affect the outcome, as one of the two major parties always wins. There are only about ten states where there is ever really a contest between Democratic or Republican winners, and those ten states only represent about 25% of our population. The other 75% of us will get what we’ve always got, regardless of how we vote. Ironically, despite the exhortations of these pundits, for most of us, the wasted vote is one cast for a major party candidate! The minor parties benefit from votes cast even if they don’t win, while the major parties don’t…
  • Minor parties do focus on “lesser”elections. In fact, there are more minor party candidates running in this election cycle than in the last ten decades. The problem is that those minor party candidates have to get on a ballot, and in most states, that doesn’t happen automatically unless they do well in the presidential election (more on that in the next point).

There are more important things than winning in the short term!

  1. Ballot Access – Minor parties have to spend millions every election cycle petitioning for their candidates to even be on the ballot, so they have no funds for actual campaigning. In most states, if they get even 5% of the presidential vote, they can stay on the ballot automatically next time. This frees up massive amounts of resources for actually winning the next time around. In addition, they qualify for matching federal funds, and become eligible to use “SuperPACs”.
  2. Visibility – In races where minor parties make a good showing in the presidential race, their candidates for lesser offices at the federal, state, and local levels benefit from a huge advertising multiplication. This has already been seen, in the current cycle, for both the Libertarian and Green parties.
  3. Sending a message – Whoever gets elected won’t be there long, but sending a message that whoever is currently proposed by the Republicans/Democrats is utterly unacceptable has long term effects. If nothing else, it raises the visibility of the minor parties in the public consciousness, and gives you the peace of mind of not having voted for the “lesser evil”, who you still despise.
  4. Spoiling is a good thing, in the long run – Most times, minor party candidates do not split votes. They usually take more or less evenly from both parties’ support. But even in the case they potentially *do* ‘spoil’ for one of the parties (e.g. Nader 2000, although even here, there is little evidence to support the popular prejudice), in the next cycle, major party candidates pick up the issues/policies of the last spoiler to win back those lost votes, which means your issues might at least nominally actually be addressed by an elected representative eventually.
    In 1912, former President Theodore Roosevelt abandoned the Republican Party and formed the Progressive Party, championing political reforms, women’s suffrage, and workers’ rights. He took twenty-seven percent of the popular vote, a higher percentage than any minor-party candidate in history, and in response, both the Democrats and the Republicans included most of the Progressives’ issues/positions in their platforms by the next Presidential election. During Ross Perot’s candidacy in the 1992 election, both Clinton and Bush adopted his views on deficit reduction before the election was even over.

The Goal

We need to end the two party system and get money out of politics, which is what makes that system so deeply entrenched. This is the only real issue in American politics right now. The only way this can happen is if our elected representatives can be convinved to change the rules. I’m sure you can see how unlikely this is, when nearly 100% of our “representatives” are part of the duopoly we need to defeat. Our only hope is to stop buying into their carefully orchestrated fear-mongering and start as individuals voting for candidates that actually represent our desires in government.

If each voter votes their conscience, things won’t change immediately, it’s true, but slowly, one piece at a time, we can take back control of our government. The fact that there are not one, but two minor party candidates on the ballot in enough states to win the presidency, and that at least one state has proposed legislation to eliminate plurality voting is proof that change can come, if we constantly push for change every time we go to the polls. It only requires more of us to participate to be successful. We only need to elect enough representatives willing to change our voting structure to one that will not breed two-party dominance to make it a well visible issue. Once the legislation is in public view, the only way the two parties can oppose it is by admitting that they are trying to manipulate the system to their advantage.

If you truly believe that the Democrat/Republican best represents your viewpoint of all the possible representatives out there, you should of course vote for them. If you are voting tactically, without looking past this one election, you are nothing more than a tool of the people who want to control you.
THAT is wasting your vote!

In closing, consider this quote from Douglas Adams’ blisteringly funny satire, So Long, And Thanks For All The Fish:

“It comes from a very ancient democracy, you see…”
“You mean, it comes from a world of lizards?”
“No,” said Ford, who by this time was a little more rational and coherent than he had been, having finally had the coffee forced down him, “nothing so simple. Nothing anything like so straightforward. On its world, the people are people. The leaders are lizards. The people hate the lizards and the lizards rule the people.”
“Odd,” said Arthur, “I thought you said it was a democracy.”
“I did,” said Ford. “It is.”
“So,” said Arthur, hoping he wasn’t sounding ridiculously obtuse, “why don’t people get rid of the lizards?”
“It honestly doesn’t occur to them,” said Ford. “They’ve all got the vote, so they all pretty much assume that the government they’ve voted in more or less approximates to the government they want.”
“You mean they actually vote for the lizards?”
“Oh yes,” said Ford with a shrug, “of course.”
“But,” said Arthur, going for the big one again, “why?”
“Because if they didn’t vote for a lizard,” said Ford, “the wrong lizard might get in. Got any gin?”
“I said,” said Ford, with an increasing air of urgency creeping into his voice, “have you got any gin?”
“I’ll look. Tell me about the lizards.”
Ford shrugged again.
“Some people say that the lizards are the best thing that ever happenned to them,” he said. “They’re completely wrong of course, completely and utterly wrong, but someone’s got to say it.”

Posted in For Facebook, General, Personal, Philosophical, Political, Rational, Uncategorized | 1 Response
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