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 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.

Monday, July 16, 2012

It is AMAZING how seriously everything is taken on the Internet

Anthony Cumia, half of Sirius/XM's Opie and Anthony Show has invented, or at least popularized, a new sport - Twitter-Baiting.  He'll take what could be best described as a "contrary view" to a popular issue of the day, and sits back and watches the heartfelt pleas and vitriol roll in.

A few months back, he took the side of noted partier and (alleged, alleged) child-killer Casey Anthony.  Just started posting how she was getting pilloried in the media, and needed to get a fair shake in her trial.  Nothing that would sound unreasonable if you weren't talking about such a universally hated person.  (OK, he also said he wanted to bring her up to his palatial compound on Long Island for a celebratory party after the verdict, but hey, exaggeration is a tenet of comedy)

People came down on him like a house afire.  By a little judicious hash-tagging, he made sure that his comments were being seen by people who were tracking the issue, but had no idea who he was.  And for some reason, they responded to him with such verse and vigor to change his mind, you'd think he was the judge on the case.  He'd regularly claim that any woman who was against Casey was, to varying degrees, jealous, ugly, and fat.  Which as you can imagine, did SUCH a good job to calm them down.  It was truly a sight to behold.  Like sharks in a tank full of chum.  They were all so DESPERATE to change his mind, as if it would somehow change the minds of the world.

He's been doing it again concerning the Trayvon Martin / George Zimmerman case.  All he's done is tossed out innocuous statement suggesting that Mr. Zimmerman's feelings of being under threat might have been sufficiently legitimate, at least in his own mind, to warrant his actions.  And oh, do the well-meaning busybodies come out in force.  Here though, there's not as much attempt to change his mind, but a patent disbelief that he could even ENTERTAIN a varying mindset.  It's a subtle shift, but a telling one.

Now, in neither case do I even suspect the opinions expressed in any way represent Mr. Cumia's actual beliefs.  Like many on-air performers, like Rush and Glenn Beck, he takes a radically opposite position to get conversation flowing.  And brother, does he succeed.  Most of the conversation the aforementioned conservative hosts share are in agreement to them.  And that's usually as creepy as the radically dedicated to changing his mind that Anthony shares.  In both cases, we're talking about views deliberately crafted to allow no compromise - it's their way or, forget that one.

But in both cases, it's not as much a desire to get "the truth" out there, it's a desire to be the guy who changed Joe Famousguy's mind.  No matter how many people have come up and fallen against these people, this next guy is CONVINCED that he'll be the one to make the scales fall from the pompous windbag's eyes, and make him see the light.

And I listen (or read) and laugh, and await the inevitable.  It's like each time a new person asks Dr. Laura for help, honestly thinking that THEIR story of having five kids with four men, and no job nor prospects, will miraculously be the one to melt her heart and get her to offer assistance.  And each time, I ask my empty car, "Did this lady ever HEAR this show?"

It's a verbal, electronic equivalent of a dollar bill on a string.  There is ALWAYS someone ready to fall for it.

Friday, July 6, 2012

No, no, I meant freedom of MY religion

So down in Louisiana they passed a law that allows for vouchers to be used to pay for private (read - religious) schools to be paid with by state funds.

For the record, I'm okay with this.  There's a lot of folks sending their kids to parochial schools, not for the religious teaching, but for the superior education in all the other stuff, in comparison to the public schools in their area.

And in fact, if someone DOES want to send their kid to a religious school for the religious stuff, I'm cool with that too.  And it seems fair that the share of public school funds that would go to educating that kid (or at least a percentage of it) should go toward it, especially if they can show that the public schools in the area are not up to the proverbial snuff.

But that's not the point of this piece, so let's try not to get distracted.

The point is, that as the law was drafted, and all the legislators voted for it with fervor and zeal, they seem to have forgotten something.

Islam is a religion.

As reported in this piece from, a Muslim school applied for the funds, causing a great deal of hemming and hawing. Suddenly the law is being re-examined, and issues brought up (and largely ignored) before the vote are suddenly being given greater scrutiny, now that a need to Stop This Right Now has come to light.

Most are couching their protests with insulating verbiage, but Rep. Valarie Hodges is taking it a step further and saying aloud what the rest are merely thinking...
“I actually support funding for teaching the fundamentals of America’s Founding Fathers’ religion, which is Christianity, in public schools or private schools,”
How do you say "Dolt" in Farsi?

As I mentioned before, I'm okay with the idea of the law.  But clearly this lady (and one could infer with some confidence, others like her) only intended it to be used for Christian schooling only.  Oh, I imagine they'd have let some funding go to the Jews, but only cause they control the banks and everything.

I went to Catholic school for 11.5 / 12 years of my basic education.  In those years I learned, from both people of the cloth and lay-persons:
  • That the bible is allegorical, not literal
  • The existence of the Greenhouse Effect, what eventually became know as Global Warming
  • How evolution works
  • The importance of birth control
So, not exactly what one would think of as a religious education, based on what you hear today.
I also received what could best be described as a comparative religions course - over the years, I was exposed to the faiths and practices of other religions (mostly other Christian sects, but still) via filmstrips and the occasional field trip.  This served to show that most religions are similar more then they differ.  As such, I learned tolerance of other religions, perhaps more than they intended me to gain.

In short, I got a solid and rounded education with a background in religion, but not shaped by it.  Sadly, too many examples of "religious education" today are far more keen on the Religious than the Education.  And to suggest that any other form of religious education is only intended to misinform and brainwash is both naive and hypocritical.

It's well beyond tragic that this lady not only HOLDS the belief that Christianity is the One True Way, and that Islam is merely a cover story for terrorism, but that she feels no qualms with SHARING those beliefs, honestly thinking that she will be supported, perhaps even lauded, for saying so.

It is a bit more tragic still that she may be right.
As an aside, I would like to point out how cruel and hilarious ad-servers can be. I love the fact that this story, on a blog titled "The Friendly Atheist", was matched with ads touting the Church of Mormon.

It's equally funny when Amy Alkon, the Advice Goddess will post one of her surprising anti-Muslim posts, will almost always be sponsored by a website offering Muslim matchmaking services.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

It's good to know that Jim Henson is still offending people even today

I meant to write about this back when it happened, but I was probably distracted by a passing unicorn so I didn't.  But since this is the 22nd anniversary of the passing of creative genius Jim Henson, it seemed a good time to dig it up and mock it now.

The Hub (formerly Discovery Kids) has got a LOT of good shows on now - Transformers (both new and old), My Little Pony Friendship is Magic (where my bronies at?) and the new Aquabats show.  They also re-run Fraggle Rock, Jim's show for HBO, which was as new and different from the Sesame Street work as were his sketches for Saturday Night Live. He built a whole new world with new characters, and proved there was much more to come from Henson Associates.  It's universally loved and respected, and is still a classic of children's entertainment.

Except for this guy from Texas, that is.

Friday, May 11, 2012

Don't drop the good argument to go for the easy yet stupid one.

I'm an ethical debater. Ask anybody. Even if I AGREE with you on a topic, if you believe Thing ABC should be done, but for a damn fool reason, I'm honor bound to argue with you. 
When I was getting my first car, I picked a little foreign number that was reasonably priced.  I knew I wasn't going to drive it far, or often, and didn't want (and knew I didn't need) a brand new car or anything expensive.  So I showed it to my Mom, who vetoed it, saying...

"It's yellow. It'll attract bees in summer."

I spent a good five minutes trying to get her to grasp how featherheaded a reason that is for saying no to a car.  She finally responded that she's ALSO heard that this model of car was unreliable, and she wanted me to get a car with a bit more weight to it.

Again, I tried to get her to grasp that if she'd led with that perfectly valid reason, I'd have agreed with her straight away, and we'd have been done.

Much of my early life was iterations of that conversation.  So I'm really sensitive to the idea of leading off with your BEST argument, one that's hard to dispute.

OK, fast-wipe to today.

Rand Paul (The didn't-fall-far-from-the tree apple of Crazy Ron's eye) sent out an email (to be more precise, an independent organization sent out an email that he agreed with. And allowed his face and name to be used upon.  And signed.) urging local voters to put pressure on Congress not to pass the "Million rifle ban" that President Obama is pushing.

OK, let's look at the facts.
That was easy.

There IS no such thing.  There's no bill, act, initiative or back-bunch ulterior motive even CLOSE to that being put forth.  But that doesn't matter.  This letter SAYS there is, and that the president is behind it, and that's enough to get the arch-gun-nuts up on their hind legs to send their pointless emails to Washington, and increases their fear and distrust of the President, and maybe they better vote against him in November just in case he ever DOES want to create such a ban.

Now, that seems like a pretty good argument against this email, right?  They're making up something from whole cloth in an attempt to convince voters that he wants to take away their guns, one of the few issues they have feelings about, or at least think they understand.  Seems like a good club to pick, right?


There's the graphic from the email.It features a picture of Rand Paul on the left, because that's the direction you read, so you see him first.  And a picture of the president on the right, because he's the one the letter is about.  And in the middle, a picture of a rifle; the topic of the email, about which it attempt to de-bejabber you with terror.

So rather than argue the fallacious nature of the text. Everyone goes bats over the picture, claiming that "there's a gun pointing at the President's head".

There's that yellow car again.

The gun is NOT "aimed at Obama". It's a graphic element on the page. It's a stock photo. I did a Google search - something like ninety percent of the stock photos of guns I found point to the right.  I have no idea why.  Perhaps that's how they're usually displayed, maybe they're easier to pick up for right-handed people that way, I've no idea.  But most pictures of guns seem to point that way.

It's not even a well laid out graphic.  The rifle and the text beneath aren't centered, because they chose to use a picture of Obama where he's pointing in what I'm sure is supposed to be a bossy (dare I say "uppity"?) fashion, while Rand stands stoically, waiting to speak.  They also chose to place Rand's head in a slightly elevated position, at the expense of shearing off the top of his hairdo.  So, again, sloppy.

If there was more time spent on the fearmongering meat of the piece, it would come off as a more substantive argument. But going for perceived threats in the (poor) design of the art reduces the debate to alternating "Yuh-huh" and "Nuh-uh"s

In the sound-bite based 24-hour news cycle, there's no time for a reasoned and rational argument.  So the points of a specific argument against this policy of that stand are glossed over for a crappy Photoshop letterhead, or a snippet from a biography, or a story of bullying a hippie 50 years ago. 

It's only a matter of time before I see a headline reading "President rises 10 points in polls by holding up something shiny".

Thursday, May 10, 2012

The social equivalent of "I'm cold, go put on a sweater"

Long time friend John Wirenius hosted a long discussion about the recent verbal exploits of Rush Limbaugh on his Facebook page.  One of the topics discussed was whether or not boycotting Rush was considered a restriction of his free speech rights.  And by that, I refer to the colloquial definition (a person may say anything they like, and no one may stop them) a opposed to the actual verbiage of the first amendment (that the government shall not restrict freedom of speech).  He eventually wrote one of his meticulously researched blog posts on the matter. 

I was one of the folks coming down against boycotting, but I fear one of the problems was that I have a rather specific opinion of what passes for botcotting today.  Allow me to specify:

If you don't care for a change to a product, a recipe, or even the packaging, or their choice of spokesman, you are well within your rights, and the rules of decorum, to stop buying the product, and by writing a letter, email, or angry 140-charachter tweet-missive.

If enough individuals do so, the company may choose to amend its actions.  Or it may do the math, and realize they got 35 negative letters, but sold 3 million additional boxes of Cheesy Chomps since they hired a Kardashian to be in the commercials (In honesty, they're not even sure which one they hired, save for it's not the horse-faced one), decide that the letters represent a vanishgly small minority (possibly comprised entirely of people who never have purchased their product, and never would) and discount them.

Note that I used the term individuals.

A true grass roots movement, representing the opinions of many people, all coming to their opinion independently, and joining up to make their voices heard, is the base of astounding change in the world, as well as in this country.  The boycotts of the mass transit system in Alabama is one of the most shining examples. The recent Occupy protests are another, though sadly there actions were not as efficacious. But again, it was MANY people, protesting a true injustice. What passes for a boycott today is a pale comparison. 

Nowadays they're the go-to tool of small tiny-minded groups of people who wish to overturn the opinion of the majority.  Some well-meaning busybody slaps a letterhead together, calls themselves the National Alliance for Decency in Television Entertainment, claims to have 30,000 members, and says that if Captain Happy's Fun Palace doesn't get rid of Princess Harold, they won't buy Squishy Bread anymore.  Not 30,000 letters, not even 10.  Just the PROMISE of letters. 

When thousands, millions of people, those directly affected by the issue, and those who support them, band together to combat an injustice, that's democracy in action.  When 17 people click a petition to, say, protest The Avengers for being anti-adoption, that's what used to be referred to as the "Lunatic fringe".  And if you'd like to trot out the pithy comment that they're the ones running both parties, this would be the place to do that.

I am a firm proponent of the free market, in its purest form.  Yes, we need oversight (and sadly, it seems we need more than one would hope we would) but one of its basic tenets is hard to get around - if people want a product (or can be convinced they do), it will sell.  If they don't want it, it will not.  The product or service should rise or fall on its merits, and not because Ned Flanders and his Online Christian Soldiers posted 25 comments on the company's website.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Short term smart, long term foolish

After patiently waiting, Verizon finally has refurbished iPhones for sale on their website, just in time for me to renew my contract.

But Verizon has just started charging an "Upgrade fee" of thirty dollars to people who want to renew their contract and/or buy a new phone.  Which would basically mean that the money I was going to save on the phone would go to them anyway.

This rankled me.  So I chose to speak to their Customer Service department, who have usually been very good at sorting out problems with billing and service.

Until today, alas.

The CS rep and his supervisor were both positively adamant about not being able to do anything about reversing, waiving or refunding the fee.  Their explanation was that these new smart phones were much more expensive than older phones, so this was a way to attempt to keep up with the added expense of the phone.

"Then why," I asked, "would you not just simply increase the price of the more powerful smart phones by that thirty dollars?  You say it's to cover the cost of the smart phones, but you'd charge me the same fee if I bought a simple feature phone, or even basic clamshell, wouldn't you?"

Yes they would, they admitted.

"So then," I continued, "you're not just charging the smartphone users more, you're asking ALL your customers to subsidize your supposed increased expenses."

They admitted that this was indeed so.

I marched onward.  "And to you grasp that by not being willing to waive this fee, which you only just started to charge, I will choose not to purchase a new phone, or ANY new equipment, and will NOT renew my contract, giving me the right to part ways with your company at any time, resulting in you LOSING far more than thirty dollars in business?"

They understood that.

"And you're certain that you, as a supervisor, can't find a way to keep me from paying that fee, be it a waive, a reversal, or simply a customer service credit?"

They were certain.

So I said thank you, bought nothing, and hung up.

The first person I spoke to told me he had spoken to at least fifty people that day alone who were also upset with this new fee. 

Huh.  Fifty people.  That's just one guy, and the day isn't even half over yet.

Can you see the problem?

So now I'm thinking about what I use my phone for.  Save the odd text from the folks at work, the main thing I use the smart aspects of my phone for is to stream music via Pandora and XM Radio, and quite literally, the only thing I listen to on XM is Opie and Anthony, and even that is only the two days I drive to work.  Well, I HAVE an XM radio that I could be using instead of the phone app, and an iPod that I can listen to music with.  Everything else; the apps, the games, the various social networking apps I upload the occasional photo with, I can do with my iPod Touch. 

So much like so many did when they saw what Netflix was doing to their fees, I'm now considering dropping my smartphone (and its thirty dollar data package) altogether, which will save me a GREAT deal of money, all because Verizon wouldn't waive a SINGLE thirty dollar fee.

But here's the irony.  If I re-up with them, and buy a simple feature phone...they'll STILL charge me the goddam upgrade fee.

But it'll be the LAST thirty dollars.

So that seems pretty damn fair.

Monday, March 19, 2012

It's astounding the scams that people are still falling for.

We just got a letter from the "United States Achievement Academy", letting us know that The Kid, as a result of her high grades, has been included in the national "Who's Who Among Honor Students".  And she's eligible for as much as $10,000 in scholarship money.

And if we'll just fill out the attached form, she'll be included in the national Who's Who registry.

A copy of which we can buy for only $59.95.

At which paragraph did your eyebrow go up?

This is the latest iteration of Who's Who registry scams.  For only a nominal fee (A word which here means "More than you would ever pay for a book with your name in it, ever") they'll include you in this registry, and since it's such a big honor, you'll probably want to get a copy for the grandparents, and some other relateives and...well, you get the point.  It's right up there with the local chamber of commerce who awards any local businesses with accolades, as long as they can afford to buy enough tables at the awards dinner. It's not quite the Spanish Prisoner, but it's up there.
Here's the part that amazes me the most.  We got this from The Kid's school

Now in fairness, it was mailed to the school in care for The Kid, and was passed along unopened.  So it's very possible they don't know a thing about the organization, and just passed it along as due dilligence. 

But I have to wonder how many of the exact same letters they got...and if they get a cut.

Hey, schools cost money, and a sixty-dollar book is only slightly more usurous than the fifteen-dollar bags of pasta they expect us to buy this semester.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

The crusade to end women's suffrage

It's International Women's Day today.  Websites like The MarySue are using the day to commemorate great women in history, like King Peggy, the monarch of a small African village, and Sara Blakely, the lady that invented Spanx.
I am going to go with what they call "counter-programming" and talk about the single greatest prank they pulled on the short-lived Comedy central series, The Man Show.  It was in the first goddamn episode, and if you want to take that to mean that they hit their peak in that episode, I will not attempt to disavow you of that opinion.

The show's hosts, Jimmy Kimmel (who has gone on to great things) and Adam Carrolla (who...not so much) set up a booth at some tochy-feely rally or something, with a big sign reading "END WOMEN'S SUFFRAGE".

I'll save you the time - "Suffrage" is the right to vote.  As opposed to "suffering", which is having to watch all those debates in preparation for voting.

The segment consisted of DOZENS of people, mostly women, coming over and signing a petition to end the right to vote. Proudly.  And for the one or two people who knew what the word actually meant, they got a good laugh out of it.

Well, one didn't.  As Jimmy and Adam were talking to a woman with a thick accent, a finery-clad well-meaning busybody came over and explained to the lady that they were "making fun of her".  The helpful woman did not grasp the irony that she was talking to the lady as one would to a child; speaking loudly and slowly, which is how you can make English understandable to anyone on Earth, including the deaf.  I am utterly sure she spoke the same way to her maid and gardener. It was a perfect example of how most whale-savers think of the rest of us - someone to be talked down to, to be guided, because they Know Better. She did a far better job of making that woman look foolish than the guys ever could.

This prank has been re-done by many people since then - a quick youTube search will find any number of examples...tho sadly, not the original.  It's just one of a larger prank category that shows that  people will sign ANYTHING, no matter what it says, without reading or understanding it, if they think it will Help.  Odds are you've heard about the dangerous chemical Dihydrogen Monoxide?

UNDERSTAND the causes you're supporting.  That's all I'm saying. 

I'll leave you with the words of Stan Freberg, the song "A Guy Can't be too Careful About What He Signs These Days"

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Like everyone else in America, I have this Really Good Idea for a TV show.

I love game shows, and I love their history.  I was one of the few people who saw Quiz Show and already knew the events in question.  And for the record, John Tuturro NAILED Herb Stempel.

So I had this idea about a show that would be about the production of a (fictional) game show.  It would be set in modern day, and I wouldn't do any "give the contestants the answers" plots, cause there's no way it'd make the air, cause the networks would never want to give the impression that could ever happen today.  But they could go on about casting, try and convince contestants they like to get new haircuts, try and find ways to pump up or get rid of contestants they like or don't, while not breaking the S&P rules of the network.  I think a fictionalized version of how they tried to get Dr. Joyce brothers off the 64,000 question by asking her progressively more impossible questions (which she answered handily) could be fun.

The show would be called "The Big Question", and would effectively be two shows - the first half would be about the production of the show, adventured with the cast and crew, etc.  The second half, which would start on the half hour, would be the "actual" game show.  Utterly fake, no one's really winning money, but real within the universe of the show

There's been any number of shows based around the production of a tv show, as far back as Dick Van Dyke, and as recently as 30 Rock.  But you'd very rarely get to actually SEE the show they made, save for the odd scene or sketch.  Here, they almost could be advertised separately.  Yeah, you'd have to add all sorts of buzzkill "This is not a real game show, nobody is really winning anything" disclaimers and all, but I'll lay odds you'd get people tuning in just for the game show.

The format of the show would flow into each other - the commercial break between the two shows would be there, but you'd get a 30-second jump back to the show in the middle, cast prepping the show to go to air, bustle in the control booth, director cueing the next commercial - all intended to KEEP YOU WATCHING during the commercial break.  The networks LOVE that shit.  They started to do it on Ugly Betty; they'd edit the first commercial with a wipe like the previous scene used, so you were several seconds into a Maybelline ad before you realized you were watching a commercial. Alton brown was doing it for his live Thanksgiving event - they'd cut back to him prepping for the next segment, so you had to keep an eye on the screen for fear of missing anything.

You'd occasionally cut to the production team talking about the show, getting a look at how they keep things going, stuff like that - check out the opening to the aforementioned Quiz Show for an idea of what I mean.  But while the first half of the show would be more about the crew, the second half would all be to drive the drama to the game show, and the contestants.

There was a drama called (IIRC) Lottery! years back that tried to do that - three people would be told they were first prize winners of the state lottery, and you'd get to know them, and when they held the bonus round at the end, you'd be rooting for one or the other to win the big jackpot.  It was closer to a revamp of The Millionaire than anything else; the lottery aspect was intended to ride the trend of state-run Lotto games that were coming back at the time, with the first few big million-dollar jackpots making the news.

Game show, especially prime-time game shows are bigger than ever.  And believe me, if the networks could gin up the drama so there was the chance of a big jackpot every week, they would.  This would be a way to have the best of both worlds - have a big-stakes drama every week, while not actually having to give the money away.

The crazy part is, by having actors that would only PRETEND to win that money, a drama ABOUT a game show would actually be MORE expensive than an actual game show.  It's one of the reasons game shows and reality television are so prevalent now - it's cheaper to pay an amateur nothing (save for some Lovely Parting Gifts) and watch them sweat over maybe winning a million dollars than to hire professionals and give real performances.

And that's pretty much why I'm sharing it here, and not trying to find an agent to shop it in Hollywood.  Now if such a show appears in a year or so, I'll have a ready-made lawsuit all set.  I'll never forget how, walking down the streets of new York, I improved the plot of a show about a master detective who can't get work, until he begins to pretend he's a psychic detective, and the money rolls in.  And nine months later, Psych shows up on USA.  Now I'm not saying there was any connection...but this time I want documentation.

But the plot for my Christmas movie? NOBODY'S getting that.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Exactly WHY is it considered bad to speak ill of the dead?

I mean, I get why it's considered bad to WISH someone dead, or to be actively GLAD they're dead, but if a cockneck dies, they were still a cockneck; the only change is they're now a dead cockneck, and shall engage in no new cockneckery. That seems like it could be considered a good thing.

Directly wishing ill on someone is a karmic boomerang - my sister-in-law somehow exchanged her soul for a small rubber ball some years ago, 'cause truly anything you wish on her bounces right back. And for all their holier-than-thou protestations, there were a lot of Christians nodding their heads knowingly over Christopher Hitchens.

When Nixon died, everybody went from calling him a thief, a liar and a shorts-wearing metal-detector holder and started remembering all the GOOD things he did. If these same things had been brought up a week before, the people who did would have been called "apologists" and voted off the island. Instead, the one guy who did a negative cartoon (a gravestone reading "Here lies Richard Nixon") was treated like he'd taken a dump in the flowers.

Yeah, you don't walk up to the wife or husband and say "He was an invenerate bastard, caused abject grief for millions, and I will be dancing on his grave as soon as the grass grows in".  I get that.  You either go with the means-absolutely-nothing "I'm sorry for your loss", or you just shake their hand and nod mutely.  I'd like to stress the part about mutely.  As the saying goes, if you can't say something nice, don't say anything, or hire someone to write something nice for you to say.

I'm hearing a lot of "I didn't like what he wrote, but it's a shame he's dead" today. In some cases, I'd not be surprised if the not-spoken-aloud next sentence was "because I had so much fun writing things that ripped him apart."

But if you thought someone was a pillock on Monday, and they die on Tuesday, they don't suddenly become a saint on Wednesday. Maybe a day or two truce, OK, but don't try to spin your hatred. Getting on camera and saying "Well, he was certainly dedicated to his cause"... come on.

Time was you'd go to the funeral and bring a mirror, just to check. Is that so bad?

But I tell you, right now... Anthony Weiner is allowing himself a moment, just a moment, mind you, of smirking. Perhaps a quiet chuckle.

Friday, February 17, 2012

We can't ALL be the center of universe

The rules of the Internet are fairly simple:

  1. My opinions are right, and the things I like are the best.
  2. There will be no argument in this matter.
  3. If there is argument, you are wrong, stupid, fat, and if at all possible, a racist.
To clarify, the "I" is each person on the internet, as they speak the rules.

Likely you can see the problem here.

Earlier this week, it was brought to my attention by John Moe, public radio mogul and man responsible for more awesome twitter hashtag games than Baskin-Robbins is for flavors of ice cream, that Rosie O'Donnell had admitted on her new chat show that she was afraid of little people. John's daughter is a little person, so his reaction was somewhat similar to The Wife's reaction when someone asks if The Kid is "retarded":

He passed a number of comments about Rosie's reaction, wishing he could come up with a real zinger, but deciding it wasn't worth it.

I don't have any little people relatives, but I'm not gonna turn down a chance to skewer Rosie...

Now that's a DAMN good line.  Plays on the fact that she's got way too big an ego and views everyone as beneath her, as well as the obvious fat joke.

Rosie must have thought so, cause she retweeted it.

And so started the responses.  My personal favorite:

I didn't figure out until just now that she meant "Paisan".

Now, I know, jumping right to pointing out spelling and grammar mistakes is just reaching for the low-hanging fruit, and you will likely notice reading this, I am in NO position to comment.  But I am truly amazed at what passes for acceptable discourse today.

I got a couple of those "I don't care what the conversation is about, I want to talk about what *I* want to talk about" ones as well:

That's right up there with "Magnets: how the *&(% do they work?!?" right there.

One person replied with a simple "Rosie is a GIANT" to which I calmly responded, "That was...kinda my point".  And once she realized we were in agreement (rolleyes) apologized to me.

So that was fun, and I actually got a couple new followers out of it.

Cut to today.  Comics fan, professional journalist, MDA spokesman and damn fine cosplayer Jill Pantozzi ran her review of Kevin Smith's new reality show Comic Book Men earlier in the week.  In it, she followed up on her previous article's points that the show had no female viewpoint, and as such served to reinforce the stereotype that there are no women in comics fandom.

(I hasten to add that when she wrote that in the aforementioned first article, the number of response that ran to "Of COURSE there's no women in it; it's called Comic Book MEN...duh!" was truly disheartening.)

She did not care for the show.  She found it something that would not attract new people to comics.  I mean, Ice Truckers and Pawn Stars aren't exactly making people line up to get into those industries, but at least they're made to seem interesting. But her review was reasoned, not vindictive or scathing about the show or anyone on it, and could be boiled down to the classic line

“People who like this sort of thing will find this the sort of thing they like.”
Which was said, according to the internet, by either Abraham Lincoln, Dorothy Parker, or Tharko, king of Neptune
 The cast of the show, who do a podcast together, found out about the review today, through a third party.  I have no evidence they READ the review,  but I think we can all agree that the fourth rule of the Internet is "I don't need to have read or seen what you're talking about to have an opinion on it"


So in short, a little saltier than the Rosie fans.

When Jill reposted that missive, I was pretty sure that Bryan and Walt were gonna get SouthWested for sure.  And said so.

Which only meant that I started getting hit with as many verbal brickbats as Jill.

Now the part that's interesting, is we can now compare the tweets that came in defense of Kevin Smith and his friends and creations (which are possibly one and the same) to the ones from Rosie's supporters.

Rosie's fans were split between messages that supported Rosie and telling her to ignore the haters, and inoffensive statements to me that I was rude, wrong, or just plain mean.  The tweets from Kevin's folks all but ignored the comments, and went straight for personal attacks.

Rosie's commenters attempted to explain, justify or spin Rosie's comments, some calling her brave for sharing such a revelation.  They hadn't all SEEN the clip, but at least they took what they knew about it and tried to figure what an inherently nice person COULD have meant when they said they saw little people as if they were children.  Kevin's folks made no attempt to defend the show, nor to read the review.  Indeed, many began writing the review in their heads, versions that had personal attacks on Walt and Bryan, and began discussing THAT review.

The show, IMHO, suffered from mission creep.  It was originally supposed to be a reality show about a comic store, with a varied cast of people working there (and in disclosure, Jill actually auditioned to be on the show)  There WAS a woman in the pilot, but she was edited out entirely.  The show has basically a video version of the Tell Em Steve-Dave podcast.  Same cast, same topics, and all told, not too much about the running of a comic store.  Which is fine; if it does well, that's a good thing.  Kevin has a lot of fans, myself included, and it's something at least a little different on TV.  But if you meet someone who doesn't like it, especially someone who can explain why with words, your response should not be #KissMyAssYouBitterWannabeJournalist.

I honestly think Bryan was just trying to stay "in character" as a guy's guy kind of comic fan; after all, he does play Steve-Dave in the Askewniverse movies.

Only one problem.

Steve-Dave's an asshole.