Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Random Thoughts 14

I have come up with a number of indie band names for free use:

Sneeze-guard Attrition
Redacted Betrayal Fellowship
2Faced Triathletes
Hamstrung Collateral Veganism
Freudian Video-Gamesmanship
Love Triangle Squared
Serpentine Axis Theory
Intimacy Subpoena
Relational Foghorn Collective
Handlebar Balderdash
Bruce’s Waning
Point-of-Sale Hedonism
Snark Week
Solitary Consignment

I have always suspected that the wide discrepancy in my Netflix DVD return times is attributable to the postal employee that services my mailbox. Perhaps they open the red-envelope to see what I watched, and based on the synopsis, take it by the house and watch it before allowing it to continue its journey.

This was the first item I encountered upon opening the box of infant furniture for my son. I knew that if the grammar was reflective of the overall craftsmanship, I was in for a real treat.
My wife recently purchased a jar of ranch salad dressing that touted the new formula only included “real ingredients.” Legally speaking, any non-metaphorical element or component of a consumable product qualifies as a “real ingredient.” Artificial colors, toenail clippings and anthrax would all fall under this umbrella. I can’t wait until their “Now Completely Edible” Thousand Island makes its debut.
The true measure of a polite society is how long a complete stranger will observe you trying to insert a credit card into the Redbox disc-return slot before intervening.
My son attends a wonderful Christian Pre-K program and, in addition to the secular curriculum, they complete scriptural worksheets. Most of these are fairly straightforward, but he recently came home with one that presented quite a challenge. It was based upon Mathew 21:12-13 in which Jesus overturned the tables of the money-changers in the temple.

The students were asked to read this passage and then decide (in the context of the verse) if the scenes illustrated on the worksheet would “make Jesus happy or sad.” The first row of illustration was easy to decipher (the forlorn look of the children holding the Bible non-withstanding) However, the second row raises the stakes.

The very last image depicts what appears to be the same young lady from the Bible illustration except she seems to be happy. She is staffing an innocuous-looking Bake Sale table and, as any good Protestant knows, the bake sale / chili supper is the fiscal cornerstone of all youth activities. Mission trips and outreach all depend somewhat on the revenue from these events. With that in mind, this scene of a joyful young disciple selflessly raising money would clearly get a thumbs-up from JC.
Or would it?

Let’s look again. Suzie’s innocent little “bake sale” is not positioned in the fellowship hall or recreational center, but right in the front of the pulpit in the sanctuary. Not only is she standing on “holy ground”; her very presence could pose an altar-call safety hazard. Furthermore, the conspicuous absence of a cash box would indicate that Bake-Sale Suze is pocketing the proceeds (why else do you think that her left hand is outside of our view?) Even worse, there is no evidence of fiscal oversight to balance the books.

So which is it? My interpretation of the original verse is that Jesus is not against temple commerce in principle, but rather he is denouncing those who would knowingly prey upon worshipers to dishonestly enrich themselves. Under this assumption, the only way to determine Christ’s approval of the image is to be privy to whether or not Suzie is pricing her wares at fair market value and not cutting the product. I felt it would at least to be necessary to ascertain whether or not the bear-claw icing is 100% pure. My son chose to leave it blank. I hope it does not affect his GPA.
When a movie touts that it was helmed by a “visionary director” this is code for “we are giving them one last chance to produce a commercially viable film before we move on”
Just a few days ago, I was ordering a Marpac White Noise Machine for my son’s room. These are the wonderful cylindrical devices that emit the sound of a fan to block out other noises to promote sleeping or privacy of conversation. As is Amazon’s custom, their algorithm suggested “related” items that other customers bought along with their Marpac White Noise Machines. I was not prepared for the suggested companion items.

Perhaps I am reading too much into things, but if the apparently substantial number of people acquiring the noise machine / cooking spray / “Do You Have A Secret?” trifecta aren’t planning a surprise dinner for mommy; this might be worth law enforcement looking into.
I have been seeing a lot of marketing for the horror / thriller “A Quiet Place” which follows a family forced to exist in silence because they are being hunted by creatures drawn by noise. One trailer even shows the parents and children sitting around in a living room in silence as the parents read and the children play a board game. As a parent of multiple young children, I can tell you that watching that scene evoked as much longing as it did dread.

Sure, the idea of being constantly threatened by malevolent creatures is not best case scenario, but the absence of one child loudly accusing the other one of being a “big doo-doo baby head” is not the most disproportionate trade-off I can imagine.
There is no better irony to be found on the Internet than being forced to watch a YouTube Ad purporting to show me how to theoretically build my wealth while coming to the realization that by watching their promo, I am actually building theirs.
We exist in a world where commercially-available smartphones can instantly recognize the unique facial contours of a human-being, but the grocery self-checkout kiosk still requires my assistance to identify fruit.
I got the following letter in the mail. I simply wrote them a response that I was turning them in for violation of Child Labor Laws.

Friday, December 8, 2017

Baby #3

My wife had been dilated, effaced, and experiencing contractions for almost 6 weeks before the birth of our son. Our weekly ritual was as follows:

1. Wife has painful contractions at a frequency normally necessitating hospital admission.
2. We would go for a checkup and the doctor would inform her “you are still a 3.”
3. I would immediately interject that I disagreed with his assessment and told her that she has "always been a 10 in my book."
4. She would strongly suggest that I refrain from further commentary.

So, at 39 weeks, our doctor agreed to induce. A few hours before the scheduled time, my wife began having intense contractions. Finally, around 3 AM we decided that we might as well go to the hospital because they weren’t likely to send us home 6 hours before a scheduled induction.

Upon arrival, my wife was having very intense, painful contractions. She was loaded in a wheelchair and taken to the front desk where a receptionist prepared a hospital arm band. The receptionist calmly asked my wife (who was doubled over in the wheelchair at the moment) to put her arm on the counter so that she could attach the band. When my wife did not respond, the receptionist asked me if I could kindly have my wife place her hand on the counter. I offered to attach it myself and was told this was against protocol. I was on the verge of asking if walking out from around the counter to help a patient was against protocol when my wife raised her hand and we were on our way.

Once upstairs we immediately requested to be placed on the “epidural list.” Heads were nodded and noncommittal language was used. In short order, we were taken to another room and another set of nurses heard the epidural request. Finally, during an extremely-painful contraction my wife demanded a status on the epidural only to be told, “We are working on it.” The same nurse then looked into my eyes and mouthed, “She’s not getting one.”

We had been through birth twice before, but never Little House on the Prairie style. If the hospital staff thought I was going to break that news to her, they were sadly mistaken. 

Eventually, one of the nurses gave her the “pull yourself together” tough-love act which my wife reciprocated in both volume and intensity. At this point I realized two things:
1.      My wife is far stronger than I could ever hope to be.
2.      If men were responsible for the business-end of reproduction; overpopulation would never be a concern.
Within an hour of arriving at the hospital, our son was born. It was shortly thereafter that we realized most of our previous knowledge of newborns was hopelessly outdated. Cleaning the umbilical cord with rubbing alcohol? Barbaric. Inserting the bulb syringe into an infant’s nasal passage? Inconceivable! It had been less than three years since our last child’s birth and I felt as if I was stockpiling paregoric and asking about twilight sleep.

The hospital had made some procedural changes since our last birth as well. Some were welcome (they give you extra time in Labor & Delivery) and others were unintentionally ironic (my wife’s breastfeeding was interrupted on multiple occasions by a woman tasked with ensuring the hospital retained its “breastfeeding friendly” accreditation).

In keeping with new policy, the hospital attempts to keep the newborn in the mother’s room as much as possible. At one point, a staff member asked if we wished for our child to receive their bath in the room or not. My wife and I agonized over this as if it was destined to reappear at his future parole hearing.

Then came the paperwork. Even though we had already decided on a name, there is some natural trepidation when committing it to paper. Is this the right name? What if the Japanese translation is vulgar and it becomes an issue one day? And, although we had never experienced it, there was the face/name mismatch contingency. I firmly believe that there are precious few instances where it is appropriate to bring this up:

 - When naming a child
 - During the planning stages of an undercover narcotics operation
 - Deciding to launch a career in show-business

I have never understood the phenomenon of meeting someone, hearing their name, and challenging the name’s validity based on appearance.
Hi. I’m George and this is my wife Susan 
You don’t really strike me as a George. More like a Roderick or a Hershel.

What is the recipient of this comment supposed to do with this information? Apologize? Agree for the sake of continued small-talk? I wish that I could witness someone seizing this opportunity to turn the tables:

George  - *begins to violently sob* I have always felt uncomfortable in my own skin. For years I have lived life as a George would. Buying George cars. Eating George food. Susan and I even named our firstborn after me; but until I heard you verbalize it so eloquently, I never realized that my entire existence was predicated upon a lie. Thanks to you, I have been endowed with the courage and strength to begin life anew as a Hershel. As of this moment, I am an avid cigar enthusiast who fabricates Civil War dioramas from discarded toiletries.

I would also like to point out that the official birth certificate application treats paternity as an afterthought. I am paraphrasing, but the idea is something like, “you can name the father but until results are Povich-validated the state assumes this was a virgin-birth.” I realize that there are legal considerations, but it is disheartening nonetheless.

Once we got him home, our other children took to him immediately. They would gather round and attempt to hold and kiss him. My son, having recently viewed The Boss Baby, was convinced that the whole I-am-a-helpless-newborn thing was an act. The first time I dropped him off at daycare after his younger brother was born, he requested that I make sure that the family’s new addition did not mess with stuff in his room.

When I jokingly responded that I did not foresee that being an issue, his eyes and tone got more serious and he repeated his request. This went on until after the first full days we were all home together. In short order, our oldest son’s reaction changed from suspicion to disappointment. He watched the newborn sleeping in my wife’s lap and asked, “Is this really all that he does?” He sounded truly crestfallen as if someone had pulled the bait-and-switch on him at a car dealership (I thought this was the model with the interactive whimsy….)

Like all stages in life, the third child gives you better perspective on the stages that precede it. Before kids, my wife and I used to talk about how tired / busy we were. Once we became parents, we laughed at our previous naivety. Once our second child came along, we saw how foolish it was to ever complain about how difficult it was when we outnumbered our offspring. Now, we scoff at how we foolishly laughed about our naivety concerning how tired we were. 

Thursday, November 16, 2017

NRA Pen Pals

On November 1, 2017, a letter signed by Wayne LaPierre was sent to lifetime N.R.A. members. Like most, it was a fundraising letter asking lifetime members to “take the next big step” and upgrade to a Patriot Life Membership at the Endowment Level. This is the fundraising equivalent of rounding third base.

What struck me is not the ask (all political organizations regardless of ideology need money to operate) it was the tone. Some highlights.

I suppose it is hard to quantify the NRA’s claim that they did “more than any other organization in America” (insert Russian meddling joke here) to get Trump elected, so if we take that at face value the NRA is the most powerful lobbying organization in the United States. 

This establishes that those whose opinions differ from the NRA’s on a specific issue are not just wrong, they actually “hate freedom” and are responsible for unspecified “anger, hatred, and violence” unprecedented in a half-century. Americans are never going to agree on everything, but perhaps it is a little disingenuous to suggest their opinion is derived from a hatred of freedom. That is like trying to discredit a differing opinion on farm subsidies because they “despise liberty or happiness.” 

Here we have Mr. LaPierre strongly denouncing the “denigration and slandering” of police officers. This is particularly ironic given Mr. LaPierre’s previous comments in another NRA fundraising letter (sent in the direct aftermath of the 1995 Oklahoma City Bombing) where he referred to federal law-enforcement agents as “armed terrorists dressed in Ninja black … jack-booted thugs armed to the teeth who break down doors, open fire with automatic weapons and kill law-abiding citizens.”

It was Mr. LaPierre’s words that caused former President George H.W. Bush to publicly resign his lifetime NRA membership. Some would argue that Federal law enforcement officers are not the same as police officers employed by a municipality, but a sizable number of Federal law enforcement positions are filled by those with previous experience as police officers, military or both. In these cases, it would appear that the wardrobe change is the primary target of Mr. LaPierre’s ire.

The “twisted madman” of the last sentence refers to the June 14, 2017 shooting at the Congressional Baseball Game for Charity perpetrated by 66 year-old James Hodgkinson. Mr. Hodgkinson utilized several legally-purchased firearms to injure Republican representative Steve Scalise, police officer Crystal Griner, congressional aide Zack Barth, and a lobbyist for Tyson Foods named Matt Mika before being ultimately killed by police.

He appeared to have a dislike of Republicans and had worked on the campaign of Bernie Sanders. What struck me was the idea that the NRA – an organization that prides itself on personal accountability with regards to gun ownership – would blame unspecified “leftist rhetoric” for actions of Mr. Hodgkinson rather that his own choices. Also conspicuously absent from the letter is the mention of any other “twisted madmen” despite the fact our nation’s deadliest mass shooting had occurred just weeks prior in Las Vegas.

After the Sandy Hook shooting, Mr. LaPierre dramatically unmasked a “callous, corrupt and corrupting shadow industry that sells and sows violence against its own people.” The culprit? The video game industry. Titles like Grand Theft Auto and Mortal Kombat were specifically singled out as contributing factors to this unspeakable tragedy and those like it. The implication that if Adam Lanza had stuck to a Nintendo Wii, perhaps none of this would have happened.

However, if we accept his idea that “rhetoric” bears some responsibility for turning a legal gun-owner into a homicidal madman; the rest of Mr. LaPierre’s letter might be considered dangerous indeed. The very next paragraph paints a dire portrait:

Just to be clear. At no point in the history of America has there been a greater threat to the “fabric that binds our nation together.” Not even the Civil War. Furthermore, anyone who disagrees with the NRA is “destroying America.” There is no possibility that disagreeing with the NRA on gun policy has anything to do with gun policy. They are selling the idea that if another American does not see eye to eye with you on guns, it is because they hate the Constitution and want to destroy their country. Guns serve only as a proxy.

This is somewhat unique even in public policy. Rarely will you hear people on opposite sides of abortion or homosexuality accuse the others of hating “America, The Constitution and freedom in general.” In addition to that, the 6 page letter contains a proportionally-large volume of combative language. Some variations of “fight” “battle” “enemies” “destroy” and “war” appear 16 times. There is talk of “fortifying our lines” and “sacrifice.”  Hopefully “inflammatory rhetoric” isn’t as potent when it originates from the other side of the ideological spectrum.

Then we get the heartstrings…

Millions of people are safe thanks to your willingness to write a check to the NRA. In fact, at the very moment you are reading this letter, there are mothers and fathers who owe (not just their freedom) but their continued existence to your financial benevolence (it would appear those without children must fend for themselves). Just think, if everyone reading this letter would pony-up for the Eternal Patriot Membership with a Double-Valor Enhancement we might end crime entirely.

My issue with the NRA (and many of those on the extreme side of gun ideology) is not that we cannot agree on an issue, it is that my willingness to have the conversation is deemed anti-American. And for all of the patriotism-steeped vernacular, almost every argument for the unfettered application of the second Ammendment seems to end in the ultimate anti-patriotism.

Let me give you an example of an actual conversation I had with a young man and fierce defender of the 2nd Amendment:

Me – Would you at least agree that we should restrict the ability of everyday citizens to own nuclear weapons?
Him – No, because the 2nd Amendment protects our ability to have access to any and all weaponry available to the United States Military.
Me – Why?
Him – Because we must be able to defend ourselves against enemies foreign or domestic.
Me – You believe that the US Military is going to turn on the citizenry?
Him – They will just do what they are told.
Me – By whom?
Him – Whoever they take orders from.

We continued in this vein for some time with him insisting that any limitations or context placed on the 2nd amendment amounted to an infringement and would end in himself and likeminded patriots facing down a rogue US military armed with nothing but punji sticks. I do not believe he was being facetious. This was a visceral fear he lived with. And this is how he felt with the Republican party in control of all three branches of the Federal government.

Just because we think it is okay to have an honest conversation about guns does not mean we “hate America.” I dare say that the majority of us are rather fond of our country and weary of seeing its flag at half-mast to honor the victims of mass-shootings. We have never been a country that looks at a tragedy and resign ourselves to its perpetual repetition. We change procedures, we shift tactics and we do our best to balance individual freedom with sound governance.

I have never understood why this issue causes such legislative paralysis. I realize that we cannot totally prevent mass murder, but is that a valid reason for us to give up on trying to reduce its frequency or scope? Last month I attempted to purchase a box of Sudafed for a head cold. In my state, this requires a government ID and a long talk with the pharmacist who attempts to dissuade you from your purchase in favor of an alternative. As a law-abiding citizen, I am even limited (both monthly and annually) on the amount of ephedrine or pseudoephedrine I can buy. 

All of this was enacted to reduce the amount of methamphetamine being manufactured and distributed in our communities. It is frustrating and inconvenient, but I will subject myself to it if it can be demonstrably shown to reduce the negative impact of misuse on our community. Even when these draconian laws were enacted, I got not fliers from big pharma and was not subjected to a single Facebook meme of “Claritan D! Don’t Tread on Me!”  

Perhaps if we took Mr. Lapierre seriously, we should have a quota on the number of hours we are allowed play Call of Duty each month and have our browsing history checked for “inflammatory leftist-rhetoric.” 

The letter winds down with a promise “to be relentless every time another New York media elite tells a straight-faced lie on national T.V.” I feel safer already.