Thursday, September 13, 2012

Viva Pre-Cana: Here Comes the Bride, All Dressed in Realism


To me, the most romantic words in the world aren’t simply “Will you marry me?” I’d add: “…and start a Pre-Cana course right away?”

Okay, for those of you who weren’t raised as Roman Catholics, let me backtrack. You see, although we of Team Bartilucci are native New Yorkers, we’ve lived in northeastern Pennyslvania since 2001. But we still watch the New York-based morning show GoodDay New York (GDNY)even more so since one of our favorite TV personalities, Dave Price, recently returned to the show as co-anchor with Rosanna Scotto.

This morning, while Vinnie and I prepared for the day ahead, our genial co-hosts were interviewing guest Vikki Ziegler, Esq., high-profile matrimonial lawyer and author of The Pre-Marital Planner (from Imagine, a Charlesbridge Imprint).  Not to put the whammy on it, but Vinnie and I have been a happy couple since we met in 1985, and a happily-married couple since 1989, so it was refreshing to find that Ms. Ziegler’s book was about keeping couples happy and thriving together with refreshingly sensible advice—no small feat, considering almost 50% of marriages end in divorce. Having come from a family of much-married people, I was intrigued to hear how Ms. Ziegler had succeeded when so many others haven’t.

Here's a link to the video.
It's an asphalt jungle out there for
couples who don't plan their future well!

Would you believe the secret of Ms. Ziegler’s success is to plan ahead and be honest with yourself and your beloved about pretty much every aspect of your life?  You know—good old common sense!  She’s big on talking wisely about every crucial pre-marital concern, from whether or not to have kids, to being honest with yourself and your beloved about your finances, and more. It might not sound romantic, but let’s face it, everyone has to eat and pay bills, no matter how much in love you are. 

I knew Ms. Ziegler was on the right track when she brought up a subject Vinnie and I have been touting to every young couple I’ve known who wanted to jump the broom: a
Pre-Cana! Vinnie can vouch for me cheering and hooting and hollering! This rite originated with Catholic couples, but I’ve known others who found Pre-Cana-style courses helpful, too (as you’ll see shortly). The name comes from John 2:1 and the wedding feast in Galilee, where Jesus turned water into wine. Catholic couples are required to take six-week course before they can be married in a Catholic church. A priest or deacon leads six weekly sessions with support from another married Catholic couple.Some couples even do online programs, like when one of the affianced must be deployed overseas (damn war!).


But the cool thing about the Pre-Cana is that even if you’re not Catholic or at all religious, the topics discussed are helpful and sensible for pretty much anyone.  In addition to faith, here are the topics that the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops consider as “must-have conversations” before couples get hitched:

  • Conflict Resolution Skills
  • Careers
  • Finances
  • Intimacy/Cohabitation
  • Children
  • Commitment
Vikki Ziegler shows brides-to-be how to
make marriage go swimmingly!

There, that wasn’t so scary, was it?  Heck, the book even goes into finance charts and lengthy questionnaires that can eliminate nasty postnuptial surprises. Yes, I hear all the romantics out there whining that this kind of preparation takes all the romance out of love.  Well, sorry to break it to you, folks, but fights, distrust, disillusionment, and divorce take the romance out of love, too.The Pre-Marital Planner provides smart answers to the fundamental matters that need to be addressed before you enter into the most important relationship in your life.

Monday, August 27, 2012

You can't shine stupid, either

To summarize - Todd Akin claimed that women had a system that sensed when they were being raped (check that, legitimately raped, whatever that means) which caused their uterus to shut down, preventing pregnancy.

Thanks to the Internet, the responses were almost instantaneous, and vociferous.  Said response varied from laughing and pointing to righteous offense.  Fellow Republicans almost broke their fingers making shame-shame motions at him, and nearly displayed red-shift backing away from him.  I was reminded of the scene in Dumbo where the elephants took all agreed to disavow the titular pachyderm out of embarrassment for his actions.  except I foresee no miraculous vindication for Mr. Akin here.

To be clear, he was roundly pilloried for his statements.  Presumed presidential nominee Mitt Romney made it abundantly clear he did not hold the same views as Mr. Akin, making it clear he supported allowing abortions in the case of rape or incest. (How kind of him)

There were more than a few suggestions that he had shit the bed so badly, he'd never be able to clean off in time for the election.  They hoped they could quickly bring in someone who did have the stink of failure and medieval-level ignorance of biology on him.  But Akin chose to stay in the race.

So the Republicans were left with an odd puzzle - do they write the election off, or find a way of salvaging this walking fiasco?  The answer is somewhat predictable.

The folks at The Atlantic Wire are tracking what they describe as "The backlash to the backlash".  The strategy seems to be taking a two-prong attack:

1) He SAID he was sorry.As a rule, if an opponent does something wrong, addlepated, or just plain stupid, you pounce on it like a cat on a mouse, and never let it go.  If you're lucky, you can stop talking about the issues altogether, and just obsess on the mistake.

Contrariwise, if someone on YOUR side makes a similar mistake, the moment he apologizes, that's it.  It's utterly forgotten, and any attempt to bring it up again is mercilessly attacked as an attempt to distract the public from the issues.

Surely you see the problem.

2) It wasn't THAT ridiculous. The things he said rose the bar for the act of Saying What You Only Meant To Think.  But since he's decided to stay in the race, the rest of the party is forced to...well, maybe not agree with what he said, but at least try to soften the crazy a bit.

So while they can't exactly pull out doctors' reports showing the existence of an intrauterine panic room, they're trying to get mileage out of the idea that it at least sounds plausible.  They draw attention to the fact that stress, along with many other criteria, can throw off a woman's body chemistry to the point that even if an egg is fertilized, it may not adhere to the walls of the womb, or even after that, may miscarry.  There's no attempt to prove Akin is right, just that he might not be as wrong as everybody (rightly) thinks he is.

The Democrats have made hay while the sun shone, and made a very good case that Akin's mindset is representative of the Republican mindset in general.  A mindset that still wants to put blame for rape on the woman, while at the same time grant her magical powers for surviving it.  It all merges into an idea that raps is somehow Not That Big A Deal.  Combine that with the "war on women" in the acts of attempting to limit, revise, abridge, and if necessary, re-spell the rights of a woman to choose what happens to and within her body, and you get a picture of a party that no rational person would want near the panel in an elevator, let alone in charge of a country.

Now why would they even choose to make this case, when there's oh so much juicy economic dynamite to play with?  Simple - most people don't grasp how money works, don't want to do the math, and get a glazed look in their eye as you try to explain it to them.  Believe me, I've tried.  I can't TELL you how many "percentage vs. dollar amounts" conversations I've had that still end with "But that number's bigger".

Rather then give people a primer on math, it's easier to get them to see the things that will affect them directly, no numbers required.  And sadly, The republicans are doing a fine job of handing th Democrats more ammo.  Each thing a Republican says over the last few weeks comes off sounding worse than the last.  And Romney is quick to make clear he doesn't agree with what these yukkapucks say, but it's a case of accretion - with each wacky thing a republican says, a little bit of the stink is draw to Romney, as he is the largest political body on their side of the cosmos. 

And when the crazy statements are coming from his own damn running mate, it becomes harder to distance from them.  Last week, Paul Ryan gave an interview in which, defending his position that there should be no excuses for abortion, he referred to rape as a “method of conception.”
Jesus Fucking Wept.
Remember when spelling “potato” wrong was the worst you could expect from a politician?

I would have those days again.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

The Grocery Store To Which You Do Not Go

Terry Pratchett, manufacturer of 34% of the world's wit and awesome, called it "The Shonky Shop".  The cut-rate store where the poor of Ankh-Morpork bought their clothes.  And sometimes, in times or true poverty, they'd sell clothing to the pawn shop next to the Shonky Shop.  Which meant that the pawn store had lots of clothes, and even cheaper than the Shonky Shop, but you never saw anyone buying clothes from the pawn shop, cause that's just TOO low, and you've got to have "Stannards".  Of course, nobody cared to think about where the Shonky Shop bought its clothes...

Every neighborhood has "The poor-people's grocery store".  It's not like you're buying your stuff at the bodega or the sev-eleven, it's a real grocery store; it has aisles, cash registers (well, at least two, even if one is broken) and all.  But there's something...off about it.  It's not a chain (or it's a chain you've never heard of), and more than ten percent of the fluorescent bulbs need replacing.  Maybe there's more generic and store-brand products than brand names.  And somehow...the ethnic section seems just a little bit too large.  You just get the vibe "I shouldn't be here".

When we first moved down to Pennsylvania, there was a store that sold, so help me, damaged food.  Dented cans, day-old bread, and water-damaged boxes of breakfast cereal.  No, truly, there was nothing wrong with those groceries - they just couldn't (OK, wouldn't) be sold by a proper grocery store because no sane person would do so.  The box of the Froot Loops may have been all warped and bubbly after being wet and then dried, but the foil or plastic bag inside was still sealed and safe, if a bit musty-smelling for a while after you opened the box.  And people WERE buying them.  But I just couldn't bring myself to do so, great deal or not.  Cause, again, you got to have Stannards.

Another chain, very popular down here, touts itself as having the lowest prices of any national chain.  And that may be, but it's like trying to compare mattress prices - no two stores have the exact same products, so you can't compare, you should forgive the obvious cliche, apples to apples.  They don't seem to carry a single brand name product.  Everything is their own store brand or some never-heard-of-it off brand, with names kind of like actual products but not quite.  You almost expect the names of the actual things to be spelled wrong, like "egs" or "melk"; knockoffs of the actual produce.  And it's all in huge month-supply bags (boxes are expensive), because welfare people buy all their food at once and live off it like ants in the winter.  Again, I ran from the place feeling like I should wash.

Now, I can go the other direction and point to chains like Whole Foods and Food Emporium, that try to make themselves seem like a higher-class store with snob appeal, and charge accordingly higher prices, because clearly these are better products. Look, a hand-lettered sign for the apples - that's the sign of caring, that is. (hint - the sign comes printed that way)  OK, yeah, they do get better produce, but explain how their house brand elbow macaroni.gets to cost twice as much as the place down the street when odds are it's all made by the same company?

It's amazing how much a broom and a bit of marketing will make you feel one place deserves your business and one deserves a visit by a bunch of drug-sniffing dogs.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

This post is not intended to provide any useful ideas or information (wink)

The lovely folks at The Mary Sue have reported that eBay has updated their seller's guidelines, and banned a few new items. including...
Advice; spells; curses; hexing; conjuring; magic; prayers; blessing services; magic potions; healing sessions; work from home businesses & information; wholesale lists, and drop shop lists.
Now, let's just take a moment to note that this sentence effectively places work from home information and "magic spells" in the same bucket.  And, IMHO, quite right.

In all these cases, I can see the reason for the change. In all these cases, there is EVERY possiblility the items won't work.  And eBay has a blanket guarantee.  I'll bet there's more than a few Magic Lucky Juju wands that eBay had to eat the cost of when the poor suckers came back complaining they still haven't found their true love.

However, for you internet Wiccans out there, I see a simple workaround. Holistic products, herbal tea, and all the supplements must carry a disclaimer that says "Not intended to diagnose, treat of cure any known disease." a label that says, clearly and explicitly, "THIS DOES NOTHING".  And yet, they still sell by the turnip truck full.  Cause people "know" that the FDA (under the orders of Big Pharma)would only block the manufacturers from helping people should they attempt to see approval for their perfectly good products. It's like how Head Shops have to put up signs that say "for tobacco products only". 

Slap a "for entertainment purposes - not intended to solve any personal issues" sticker on it, and it all should be just fine.  And the people buying it will know the ONLY reason it's there is to get around the evil, heartless new stumbling block Big Doubt is placing in the way of their happiness.

I swear, if wasn't for these damned ethics, I'd have been a millionaire YEARS ago.

Monday, August 13, 2012

I'll be honest, this ad scares the bejabbers out of me.

Not cause I think things will ever get so bad that I think I'll need my own emergency food supply, but that OTHERS think that's the case.

As you might imagine, this ad was found on a more...right-leaning website.  The kind that suggests you convert some of your investments into gold. And that's a perfectly reasonable idea - a diversified portfolio is a good idea, and precious metals are always a good investment.  But the people who visit these sites and listen to these shows aren't looking to diversify their investments are honestly afraid that things are going to get so bad that pretty soon nothing that won't give to a gentle bite or scratch glass will be worth anything.  They're expecting a world out of an FPS videogame like Borderlands.

So the idea of having emergency food, or an emergency seed supply (cause when the apocalypse comes, surely it's the garden centers they're going to hit first), or hard assets you can use to trade with the local warlords seems a reasonable investment for them.  And that horrifies me. 

But even worse is the reason.  Do these people fear a nuclear war?  some plague of natural blight?  Alien invasion and enslavement?

No, they fear this collapse will come because we're spending too much on the poor.

These nightmare scenarios are all economically sourced.  the banks will give up the ghost, we'll see hyper-inflation, and your only hope is to give massive amounts of money to the rich.  So instead of Borderlands, we'll have a feudal-based system like Stronghold.

Now, it would please me to think that this isn't a case of so many people buying into this idea as much as it is the people selling the products (and ideas) being very good at convincing them that it's so close to happening that it couldn't hurt to grab a few cases of MREs and distilled water. And hey, if nothing happens, we can have a big party with it all.

But as I've mentioned before, I tend to be extravagantly optimist.

Saturday, August 4, 2012

I did TOO build this Blog Post


Surely you've seen this photo by now. It's the latest in the back-and-forth between the liberals and conservatives over Obama's "You didn't build that" gaffe.

And it WAS a gaffe. Not that he didn't mean to say it, cause he did. But because he didn't make his actual message clear enough through the entire speech that it couldn't be edited and misinterpreted.
What he said, or meant to say, was that everyone, including business owners, benefits from the infrastructure set up by various facets of the government, and paid for with taxes. Roads, electricity, police and firemen, all the things pointed out in the photo. And that's entirely accurate.

His error was, as Daffy Duck described it, was "Pronoun Trouble". He talked about all the infrastructure, even casting the net so far as to include the support or inspiration of a teacher when you were young. He then said "So if you have a business, you didn't build that" - the "That" being the aforementioned infrastructure. And that made it too easy for his opponents to just grab that sentence and spin it as they have.

Elizabeth Warren made a similar speech some months back, and got the same message across FAR better than the President did. She made the point that a company benefits from the infrastructure that a functioning government creates and maintains, and as such, a company has a responsibility to pay taxes to contribute to both the upkeep and improvement of said infrastructure, both so it will be there for him, and the next generation.

And so we get signs like this across the country. And we get ads including businessmen talking about how DARE the President say he didn't build his company, only to have it revealed that said businesses accepted grants from the government to help their business along. And so there's lots of finger pointing and laughing.

The actual case, as it usually does, lies somewhere in the middle. A company IS built by the guy that starts it, and works at it, and puts in the hours. But it's built on the foundation set up by the government, and using tools and services it provides and maintains. On the conservative side, they're trying to spin that infrastructure as if it's just assumed; it just magically happened, and it provided no direct benefit at all. As a result, the responsibility to pay taxes (or certainly higher taxes) is fraudulent. And they're wrong. If that road, those power lines, the cell phone signal, the police patrols, etc weren't there, and they had to set them up themselves, starting a business would be an order of magnitude more difficult.

But on the liberal side, there are people trying to claim that it was far MORE of a player in the game than it was. Look at that photo again - SO many things are listed, it intends (as I perceive it) to get across the point that the business owner's contribution is almost ancillary. In short, even though such point was not the President's intent, his supporters feel the need to show that if he HAD meant that, he would STILL have been right.

There was a news puff piece on the Huff Post a week or two back where the President got booed for his choice in Girl Scout Cookies. A Girl Scout got on the mic at a Town Hall meeting and asked him his favorite type of GS Cookie. He went with Thin Mint, and one guy in the audience booed. Everybody laughed. It was funny. Nobody seriously tried to claim that the President was in some way evil for liking Thin Mint Cookies. But the writer saw the need to research the matter, and found poll data that showed that the Thin Mint cookie was the most popular. So even in a case like that, the need to support the President was unstoppable. I do not recall this much need to back a President, ever.

There's another very subtle things happening here. The Conservatives are arguing they made their business single-handed, the Liberals argue the Government had a far bigger hand than it deserves, but there's someone who DID have a far more direct hand in the business' success that isn't getting discussed at all.

The employees.

Hands up, who's surprised?

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Look, I just like the sandwiches.

I hate the fact that due both to their CEO's addlepated statements (which they did try to at least play down, if not actively distance themselves from) and the zero-tolerance Internet making the very act of eating at Chick-Fil-A a hate crime, I can't just buy food there without being considered a bigoted cretin.

Yes, gay marriage, gay rights and gay tolerance should all become things, and should all become so accepted that the "gay" part gets forgotten, and they just become marriage, rights and tolerance. Nobody is disputing this.

But just like the Westboro Baptist Church, by casting a light on CFA, you give them MORE power.
So why has this become the straw that broke the Internet's back?  Cause it's an easy target.  They're not going to fight back, they're not going to sue, they're fun to draw witty graphics about.  And what will it achieve?  Very little.  It's not going to change the minds of the folks who are avowed anti-gay.  It might bring their choices to the light of a small number of people, but pretty much, there aren't that many internet-savvy people who didn't already know about it.

All it's done, as I mentioned at the start, is so over-politicize lunch that it's turned eating there into a blow against freedom. And one without finger Muppets, as well.

Regardless of the fact that there are gay employees of the chain, despite the Nashua NH franchise co-sponsoring the local gay pride festival this month, the company is being treated as a monolithic uni-minded entity, with no dissension or consideration being accepted.  Because it's easier to hate (and inspire others to hate) a single homogenous (you should pardon the term) entity, as opposed to a large number of individuals who may or may not agree with the company's stand to varying degrees, and may not deserve, or want to deal with, the brickbats from either or the other side.  It's better to de-humanize the enemy. 

It's exactly BECAUSE of that dogpile-on-the-rabbit tactic that CFA has been able to spin this situation so that they seem the put-upon party, and the pro-gay-rights people the bad guys.  THAT'S the reason their little support day went so well - people absolutely came because they now perceive the place as "Anti gay marriage", but they wouldn't have found that OUT had the internet gotten up on its hind legs and let everyone know.  It's the exact inverse of how it usually goes - most of the time it's the conservatives bringing something to everyone's attention, much to the delight of the folks who made it, cause it's almost guaranteed to increase sales as everyone runs to see what's so bad about it.  The Streisand Effect has finally turned around and bit you.

Plus, let's remember, they're members of a losing cause.  They're donating money to organizations that no rational person seriously listens to.  One of them just had their founder recant their practice of "converting" gays.  Not because of protests, or political pressure, or witty graphics on the Internet, but because they just plain figured out it doesn't fucking WORK.

They're throwing their money down a rat hole on a fool's crusade.  They might as well be donating to the Flat Earth Society. 

Until Cathy The Younger opened his yap in that interview, the awareness about the company's stand was known by few, and cared about by less.  It was the myriad re-postings and amplifications that made sure everyone knew about it now, and turned a fast food company into a national tentpole for the gay movement.  And they don't WANT to be.  They go out of their way to tell their employees to not respond when customers bring the issue up, one way or another.  They would love it if they could just get back to the business of selling chicken sandwiches.

It'd be great if they were willing to do that by not donating to those causes now, but I don't see that happening.

If this were the drug war, they'd be the street dealers, the one the Government say they're not as interested in taking down. They need the big guys, the suppliers.  But they're harder to fight, so they just pick up a bunch of the street dealers (and continue to demonize the users) to give the impression they're making progress.

Go after the organizations that CFA donate to.  Get people to grasp the hateful things those organizations are doing directly, not connecting the place they buy lunch to the evil by following the money.  That doesn't work - ask the guy who came up with the campaign that claimed video piracy led to terrorism.