Namo amitabha Buddhaya, y'all.
This here's a religious establishment. Act respectable.

Sunday, December 13, 2015

Car!

Those of you who hang around here a lot probably know I drive a 1998 Toyota Corolla that I've had for, oh, about fifteen years.  Hey, it isn't that I get overly attached to a vehicle.  It's just that no matter what time it is, it's never the right time to get another car.  There's a medical emergency or I have to go on an unexpected trip or Christmas is coming or (in this case) all three at once. Which is why the way things fell together over the last few days just goes to show that sometimes the universe just wants something to happen. 

It all started when Kellum the Great, our massage therapist, was over doing his thing in our living room. (That sounds dirtier than it is, unfortunately.)  I mentioned I was looking for a car (and had been for months, in point of fact) and he said I should really check out Grapevine Motors.  He'd bought two cars from them, and Suzy had bought one, and each time it turned out to be a pretty good deal.  I told him I was a tough customer.  I wanted another Toyota Corolla, for one thing, and I wanted it to be somewhere between 2011 and 2014 with less than 80,000 miles on it.  Also, I didn't want to pay more than $10,000.  But I went ahead and logged onto their Web site, and darned if they didn't have a 2013 Corolla with 50,000 miles on it for sale for $10,990. 

Since I have USAA, though, I also logged on to USAA's car buying service.  This is about as painless as car shopping gets, folks, and if you even think you might be eligible for USAA's panoply of services, you really owe it to yourself to check them out.  All you need is a parent who served in the armed forces at one time or another, and they don't even have to have been an officer anymore.  The car buying service will literally find you the car you're looking for, negotiate a price for you, arrange your financing and tell you where to go pick it up.  That's all you have to do; go pick it up.  I mean, that is pretty hard to argue with.  So I got on to the car buying service and searched for Toyota Corollas of a certain age, and the same darn car from Grapevine Motors popped up.  The Web site even helpfully told me that Grapevine Motors was about 30 miles from my house, in case I was planning a trip out there.

So in no time flat I was planning a trip out there.  From my work I'm about halfway there, anyway.  I drove out there in horrible traffic, missed the turn twice, and eventually stumbled onto the place just a block or two from downtown Grapevine.  And there was the Corolla, sitting near the front and under the lights.  I looked at it for about thirty seconds before deciding to buy it. The main hurdle was getting Joan out there, to make sure she could get in and out of the car without too much trouble (she's having a lot of trouble with her knee and surgery is probably on the horizon at some point). 

So the next night I made another trip out there, with Joan.  She could get in and out of it just fine.  I drove the '98 Corolla for the last time, having gassed it up and washed it earlier in the day.  The proprietor of Grapevine Motors gave me $900 auction value, which I thought was exceedingly generous.  Then he told me how much the Corolla was going to cost, I agreed, we shook on it and that was that. 


Oh. Except for the title.

Yeah, I'd kind of forgotten that in transactions involving expensive things like cars, there are generally pieces of legal paper involved.  The proprietor of Grapevine Motors needed the title for the '98 Corolla and I haven't found it yet.  Half the time I'm lucky to know where my mortgage documents are, in case we ever have to evacuate before a flood or a tornado or some other oncoming disaster.  I think I'm going to have to go to the county tax office and have a duplicate created, which requires both Joan and I to be somewhere, dressed and scrubbed and with picture IDs, at seven in the morning.  But they can't sell my old Corolla at auction without it, so we gotta do it.  I'll let you know what happens.  I'm mildly concerned that if I take Joan out of the house before seven in the morning, she'll say, "Oh, great" and turn into a pile of dust. 

Anyway, title aside, I do have a very nice new car.  My odds of ending up on the side of the road in a pile of parts have dropped dramatically.  You can even tell what station the radio's tuned to.  And there's a (gasp!) CD player.  Best thing, though, is that it's another Corolla.  That means everything's right where it was in the old car.  I reach for the air conditioning and my hand goes right to it.  I need to turn on the defroster and there it is.  And get this:  I can turn the radio up and down using buttons on the steering wheel.  I mean, what kind of newfangled gadgets are the kids in Japan going to come up with next? 

Many many thanks to angel Kristen for helping to make it all happen.  As I believe I mentioned, it wasn't a good time to buy a car at all. 

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

It's Complicated

This has been one hell of a month.  I lost a brother-in-law, a cat, my patience and my last tenuous contact with Christianity.  And this month, I have all the joys of choosing (drum roll, please) a new health insurance plan. (rimshot)

Evidently Blue Cross and Blue Shield is canceling all of its PPO plans in Texas.  Those of us who are on one, and I liked my plan very much thank you, are all being shunted to a new HMO, which would be fine if either of my doctors took it, but neither of them do.  Given the choice between finding new health insurance and trying to find a new doctor, I will cheerfully take finding new health insurance.

Why not just find a new doctor, you ask?  Well, I will if I have to, but I'd really rather not have to.  Do you have any idea how hard it is to find a doctor who doesn't say, "Oh, it says here you're not on (blank). All my patients are on (blank) so I'm going to switch you to (blank)", when he first meets you?  Or worse, "Your problem is that you're fat. Lose fifty pounds and your wrist pain/bladder infection/sore throat/skin rash/brain tumor will clear right up."  I have heard these actual statements from the mouths of the actual doctors. But I can understand it, sort of.  I mean what fun is a patient who comes in and says, "Hi, nothing's actually wrong, I just need prescriptions for the meds I'm already taking, which I've been stable on for years"?  Not much of a challenge there, hey?  And what intrepid medical professional can resist the urge to say something like, "Well, I can see you're doing fine on (blank), but I'll bet you'll do JUST GREAT on (blank) XR!  And besides, I'll get a major speaking engagement from the drug company if I meet my prescription quota at the end of the month." No, they don't really say that last part out loud.  I just hear it.

So I'm looking for new health insurance.  There are something like 56 plans available.  After chopping off the "bronze" plans, which are basically worthless, it's more like 40 plans.  That is an awful lot of plans.  Yes, there's a company called Molina Insurance which can basically be dismissed outright because no one's heard of it, and a new one called Oscar that doesn't cover either of my doctors, but that still leaves some 24 or so plans.  And despite the fact that everybody from the health care representatives I've talked to on the phone to the President of the United States is telling me I need to compare prices and buy myself the cheapest plan, unfortunately, one glance at the monthly premium and the deductible is not enough to figure out if a particular plan will do the job for me.

You see, It's Complicated.  I have a chronic condition and I take certain prescription drugs. Some of them are Pricey.  The pricier a drug is, the more likely a drug company is to have limitations on it, such as you have to have your doc call and explain why you need it (preauthorization) or worse, you can't take it at all until you've tried all the cheaper ones and failed (step-up therapy).  The former is only a minor annoyance, but the latter is a serious problem if you're me.  Even if insurance companies sometimes waive that requirement at your doctor's request, they sometimes don't.

In case you did not know this, psychopharmacology is basically a hit or miss proposition.  The goal, as I understand it, is to treat the worst of your symptoms with medication that causes minimal side effects, or at least side effects you can live with.  And by the way, when I say "you can live with" I really mean, "you can live with." One of the drugs my doc and I tried had me feeling like it'd be a great idea to carve my arms up with a kitchen knife.  Not because I was depressed or mopey or more anxiety-ridden than usual, just because it seemed like such a good idea.  I stopped taking the stuff and the impulse disappeared within hours.  But yikes.  So when I say, "side effects you can live with," I mean stuff like stomach upset, weight gain, weight loss, and losing control of your right arm so that it flops around on your desk like a fish kicking out its last few moments of life at the bottom of a boat, and yes, that happened too.  I am the queen of strange and entertaining side effects.

For me, every change of meds introduces a really fun six-week period during which I throw up frequently, have a more or less constant upset stomach, eat too much, refuse to eat at all, sleep too much, don't sleep at all, feel like driving my car about 180 on the 635 and have nightmares in which I'm directing a musical about Hitler that features a singing, dancing polar bear and six penguins.  Pick three or four and stir.  Usually they go away after the six weeks, but if whatever we're trying out doesn't work, or works badly, or the side effects are intolerable, we have to either change the dose or try something else--starting the fun all over again.  So this "step-up" therapy, while I understand the logic behind it, is out of the question, really.  I have to find a plan that doesn't require it, and that's getting harder and harder to do.

The good news is, I may have found one.  The bad news is, I haven't yet talked to the insurance company reps yet but the way I read this thing, it sounds like they cover NOTHING until you reach the $3,500 deductible, not even prescriptions. Which means I'm going to need $3,500 for January and February and possibly part of March, and apart from selling my car, I'm not sure where to get it.

And just for the record, I'm navigating all this nonsense with a major brain disorder.  Somebody please explain how that makes any sense at all.

Universal single payer, anybody? Cuz that'd be awesome.


Friday, October 30, 2015

Michael Eugene Young


Unfortunately, my brother-in-law has died after a long illness.  
He was 45. 

Dharma Talk

In recent weeks, the leader of our meditation group has been out of town a few times, and I ended up in charge for those evenings, just because that's the sort of thing that usually happens to me.  Last night I not only facilitated the meditation, I gave my first dharma talk. A dharma talk is sort of a sermon, I guess you would say; some lesson or something insightful about the world and the Buddhist place in it. I think it went pretty well, considering I was nervous and going from notes and so on.  (It's that whole public speaking thing. Even though there were all of three people there. Small crowd.)  Anyway, here's what I said, more or less:

I've been thinking about politics a lot lately.  Well, it's hard not to think about politics lately.  Every time you turn on the TV or log into the Internet, there's another story about who said what to whom and how everyone reacted. I think we have something like 17 people running for President.  They're all different, but they have one thing in common: They all think they're right.  What's more, they think they're right and everybody else is wrong. People are lining up behind their candidate of choice, all thinking the same thing.  This poses an interesting challenge to us as Buddhists because we have this little thing in our philosophy called non-attachment to views.

Non-attachment to views is pretty important.  It's referred to in the Noble Eightfold Path under Right Speech.  Thich Nhat Hanh also cites it pretty early on in his Five Mindfulness Trainings:  "Seeing that harmful actions arise from anger, fear, greed, and intolerance, which in turn come from dualistic and discriminative thinking, I will cultivate openness, non-discrimination, and non-attachment to views in order to transform violence, fanaticism, and dogmatism in myself and in the world."

What is non-attachment to views? Well, basically it's keeping in mind that you might be wrong.  You may be absolutely positive about a thing, have reams of evidence on your side, but you never know when another fact might come up and change your whole interpretation of the situation. It doesn't mean you're not right, though.  It just means being open to the possibility that there may still be more to learn.

I have a bad habit.  I love to argue with people.  I'm trying to break that habit and spend less time trying to prove to other people that I'm right, but I still do it.  I especially like the kind of argument where I'm actually not sure that I have the right answer.  Depending on who I'm talking to, I might actually learn something.

Unfortunately, presidential candidates and their supporters don't often have the kinds of arguments where they might learn something.  To admit to having learned something means they were wrong before, and most candidates aren't going to admit they were ever wrong.  (One in particular, when confronted with evidence that some of the things she said--oops, I said she--are obviously false, basically keeps talking like she doesn't care.  Maybe she doesn't.) So what do we do, as Buddhists, when we come upon a situation where people think they are right and everyone else is wrong?  How do we defuse the situation, or at least not create any more harm?

Well, one way is to leave, I guess.  If you aren't there, you can't get into an argument. But that's not very satisfying and it doesn't really help the relationship.  I got some insights about this in two relationships I've had before.  One was with my uncle Al, who had Alzheimer's disease.  I'd come to see him and he'd say, "Now, you're Jane, right? You work at the bank?" and I'd say, "Why, yes.  I am."  For the time of the visit, anyway, I wasn't married to being Jennifer, music student, or Jennifer, aspiring writer, or Jennifer, whatever else. I could be Jane. In fact, since he wouldn't remember if I was Jane or not, I didn't really have to be anybody at all, which was kind of nice, in a way.

The other is a friend of mine who was about as far right as I am far left.  We used to fight like cats and dogs until a couple of years ago, when I got tired of it and started changing my approach.  I guess I was convinced that someday I'd say the right thing or quote the right person and he'd believe me and I'd win.  Well, nowadays when he goes off on one of his rants (and I know nothing of this ranting, myself; I am completely innocent of ranting), I try to respond with, "It sounds like you believe (blank.)"  If I do this right, he says, "Yeah," and usually adds, "It's not just a belief.  It's a fact."  Then, if I'm not caught up in trying to prove I'm right, I can say something like, "How did you come to believe that?" and just listen to what he says. What he says is actually not relevant, though I might learn something. What's important is that he starts thinking about it.  If you really want to change somebody's mind about something, you have to convince them to do it themselves.  How that starts, is by getting them to actually think about it.

See, most of our beliefs about the world and our place in it aren't really ours.  If you examine some of your beliefs and how you came by them, you might be pretty surprised to discover that you believe them because someone told you to.  Very rarely do we actually look at the pros and cons of a thing, evaluate them and then decide, on the basis of the evidence, what to believe.  Most of our beliefs are pretty knee-jerk.  This is of course true of other people, as well.  In a way, you can't blame them for believing what they believe, since they've never really examined those beliefs.

Now, that doesn't mean my friend thinks about where he got his ideas and suddenly says, "Why, you're right.  It's all bullshit." (You can say bullshit in my meditation group.) But sometimes I can see the wheels start to turn in his head, and that's pretty cool.  And our arguments--they're more like discussions now--have become a lot more interesting.

Besides, people like talking about themselves.  If you're ever in an uncomfortable social circumstance where you feel like you're being interrogated--meeting the girlfriend's parents, for example--one way to ease the situation is to turn the questions around. "Oh, enough about me. How did you decide to go into investment banking?" Not only will you feel less on the spot, the other person's going to go away from the conversation thinking you're pretty cool.  Why? Because you encouraged that person to talk about himself. And people like talking about themselves.

So that's the advice I have.  Don't marry your opinions, and try to get other people to tell you where theirs came from. It might not solve anything, but it might defuse a few arguments and open up a little space for discussion.  And the world needs some space for discussion.  That's all I have for you today.

Friday, October 23, 2015

The Vagina Monologue

Warning: this post contains the word "vagina." If you cannot handle the word "vagina" without giggling, please do not read this post. Go over to Yahoo where you will be safe. I'll get to that in a minute.

Today, I learned that some body parts are more equal than other body parts. But first, I have an ugly confession to make. Everybody has a bad habit, and this one is mine: I hang around in the comments section of the Yahoo page.

I'm not sure why Yahoo, exactly, except that it seems to have stories that I like to read. Rather it has stories that I care about, and it would not surprise me if Yahoo picks stories for the home page based entirely on what you click. Sort of like Pandora Radio but with a much more sinister intent.

I'm not proud of this. I have tried to break myself of the habit and number of times, but apparently, I like a little drama in my life, and / or, I just like arguing with people. The only fortunate in outcome of the incident I'm about to relate, is that I might have just gotten myself banned from Yahoo for life. Apart from the trouble of finding another email address, I might actually come out ahead.

It was an article about abortion. Of course it was. I really don't have anything else I feel the great need to argue about, except abortion. And the mistreatment of pregnant women by the legal system, but that's another thing. Anyway, some wit had just made the brilliant observation that women must enjoy having abortions, or else they would just take birth control pills. Now there's all kinds of things wrong with that particular twist of logic, but let's stick to the points made. I answered him with, "Why yes, it is a great thrill to take a day off work, go to a surgical suite, take off all my clothes, lie down on a steel table and let somebody poked a hose up my vagina. I'm surprised everyone doesn't do it."

This, by the way, is called sarcasm. Or rather, sarchasm, that vast gulf between your witty remark, and the person who is incapable of understanding it. My post came up on to the comments section, and much to my surprise, the word vagina was spelled "#$%$.". I was unaware up until this point that the word vagina was a swear word. I thought we were all adults here.

I made another post, in which I observed that the word vagina had apparently been censored by Yahoo. I used the word penis just to see what would happen. To nobody's surprise, the word penis came out just fine. The word vagina was once again spelled #$%$...

Ponder that for a minute. Seriously, think about it. Female body parts must be censored from the delicate minds in the Yahoo comments section, because obviously the word is too coarse for the ears to hear. However, male body parts are just fine. How does it make you feel, ladies, knowing that Yahoo thinks your body parts are swear words?

Well, you know what I did next. Or if you don't know, you can probably guess. I typed the word vagina vagina vagina vagina vagina vagina vagina vagina and clicked send. It came out #$%$. #$%$. #$%$. #$%$. #$%$. #$%$. #$%$. #$%$. So I did what everybody should do, when there's an issue that needs lots of attention immediately and you don't know how else to get it. I went over to Twitter and called out Yahoo for being the sexist bastards they obviously are. Several times. And then I went back to the comments section and typed in v@g1na v@g1na v@g1na v@g1na v@g1na v@g1na v@g1na v@g1na.

I don't know how Yahoo will take to being called out. Thus far there have been no replies. They might answer, or they might do nothing. Or they might ban me for life from the comments section. I did mention, did I not, that my going into Yahoo comments is a bad habit? Getting banned for life might actually be a good thing. If nothing else, I could probably get back those chunks of my life I keep losing 5 minutes at a time.

Anyway, that is my story, and I'm sticking to it. I'm sure I will have something more significant to write about next week. Like maybe world peace, or the Syrian crisis, or global warming or who knows.  In the meantime, please be advised that this is the first blog post I have ever composed entirely in Google Voice, while driving, in the rain, in Dallas.  Cheers y'all.

Thursday, October 8, 2015

Pavane for a Cat: Caesar, 2000-2015


Ever since I put that post on Facebook, people have been asking me what the heck happened to Caesar, anyway.  Well, as you all know, he was not young, nor was he entirely well.  But the real story of the life and death of Caesar the Cat actually goes back to before 2005, when he was just a young whippersnapper and I was still working for the Federal Government under the psuedonym "F. Mulder."

We'd had Seez for about three years at that point. He was a year old and homeless when he and his sister Chloe came to live with us.  We got them from a cat rescue organization, and as usual, my only regret was that we couldn't take all of them. By 2005 Caesar had weathered the Big Move To Dallas (four days trapped in a car!! Howling at every 18-wheeler that went by!!) and had settled into a pleasant routine of long naps and extra snacks.  However, we took him in for a routine checkup and found a lump on his leg.

The vet immediately sent us to a specialist to have a biopsy done.  The biopsy confirmed what we'd suspected; Caesar had cancer, a kind of fibrosarcoma that is often correlated with the ingredients in kitty vaccines (though the link has never been proven). He also had the same kind of fibrosarcoma that had killed our previous cat, Uhura.  However, unlike Uhura, Seez was only five years old, and healthy and strong, so he stood a good chance of beating this disease.  I just didn't know how we were ever going to be able to get him to stop chasing his feather toy long enough for chemotherapy.

Turned out he didn't have to. Radiation therapy for cats had just become available.  Yes, I said radiation therapy for cats.  Presumably dogs, also, and iguanas and guinea pigs and who knows what.  I had to be talked into it, because it seemed like a kind of crazy idea, but the oncologist was pretty confident that the radiation would do the trick.  "You don't have to treat them like it's 1945 anymore," was basically what he said to me.  So we decided to give it a try.

(Don't even ask how much this cost.  I've spent my money on stupider things.)

Radiation therapy was breeze for Seez.  As the oncologist put it, "He hops in a box, he goes to sleep, and when he wakes up he gets fed.  What's not to like?"  The hardest part was taking him in for treatment every other day for six weeks.  Good thing I hadn't started swimming with the swim team back then because there's no way I could have done it.  I would wrestle him into the kitty carrier in the morning, drop him off at the vet's on the way to work, pick him up on the way home and then do it all over again two days later.   Of course, he got wise to the whole "being wrestled into the kitty carrier" part, so it got more and more interesting as the days went by.  But he weathered the radiation therapy pretty well, even if he did glow in the dark a little at night.

After the radiation was over, Caesar had surgery.  The oncologist removed the (mostly dead) tumor and found another tumor, also dying, underneath the first one. The margins were clear, as they say, and the oncologist was pretty sure he got all of it.  If it wasn't a complete cure, it would at least buy him a lot of time.

At the time, all I really wanted was for Caesar to live a normal span of years.  And he did.  16 is really getting old for a cat, though some cats live to be 20 and a very few have even made it to 30.  As most of you know, he picked up an eating disorder along the way, and went through these phases of refusing to eat and dropping lots of weight.  Toward the end of his life, I was sticking a vitamin supplement down his throat and giving him whipped cream every day to try to keep his weight up.  It wasn't working very well, either,  Also, we fed Seez on the counter so the other cats wouldn't get into his special food, and toward the last few weeks of his life he lost his ability to jump up there.  He put up with being lifted, but you could tell he didn't like it.

Another thing--Caesar was gradually losing his position in the household.  As the resident male, he was of course alpha kitty.  He won the swatfests and disputes over treats that occasionally broke out. Or at least he used to win them.  He had started losing face to Sparrow, the young upstart. Going from alpha kitty to beta kitty is not a good thing for a cat.  A couple of times, Joan and I had the conversation about whether it was getting to be time.  As long as he was eating at all, though, we were content to let him keep doing it.

Well, I took him to the vet two Saturdays ago for a routine weight check and maybe a blood test, and history repeated itself. Caesar had another lump, but this one was a big one.  It stretched from the middle of his leg all the way up into the middle of his back.  It was also hard, which the vet took to mean it was probably necrotic.  It was right in the path of the old tumor.  Which is weird, because did it really take eleven years to grow back? or was it something new and exciting?  Why didn't we ever notice it?  For that matter, why didn't the vet notice it, seeing as he was there for a weight check once a month?  We'll probably never know.  I called Joan to come down and we had him euthanized right there.  No point in dragging it out and risking that he might be in pain.  I got to hold him in his last moments, and that was an honor and a privilege.  And it was so quick. One second he was there. The next, Caesar was gone.

Caesar was his own cat.  Chloe is definitely my cat and Sparrow is Joan's cat without a doubt, but Caesar was Caesar's cat. He was calm and self-possessed, liked to sleep on my meditation cushion, and had a way of remaining Above It All, or at least above the other two.  He was friendly, liked to be petted and have his ears rubbed, but he was a cat's cat.  We are keeping his ashes on the mantle next to Uhura's.  The household is a lot quieter with him gone, but it's certainly richer for his having been there.

Friday, September 25, 2015

/rant mode: ON/

Item:  Would somebody please tell me why the hell Jeb Bush would "disagree" with the Pope about the existence of climate change?  I can see why Jeb doesn't want anything done to fight climate change--he might make less money, which of course would be a tragedy--but why would anyone "disagree" that climate change is happening?  Maybe Jeb should check in with some real scientists.  Like, say, the Pope, who has a degree in chemistry and worked as a chemist before becoming a priest.

Item:  Global warming aside, can anybody offer some suggestions about how in the bloody hell we're going to feed, clothe, house, educate and employ 11 billion people using just this planet?

Item: I'm 46 years old and I do hereby promise you that I will never, ever wax nostalgic (at least, not in public) about how great things were in the "good old days" or when I was a kid.  People who do that seem not to realize that the "good old days" weren't good for everybody.  They were good for rich white people.  Nobody else had civil rights, access to good education, high-paying jobs or the ability to get ahead. Go on, ask an elderly black man about how great things were in the 1950s when he was legally prevented from using the same water fountain as you in most of the Southern states.  Go on.  I dare you.

Item: This high school in Idaho has officially banned its cheerleaders from wearing their uniforms without leggings or sweat pants, allegedly because the short skirts exposed their butts on stairs and while sitting.  I, personally, have never before seen a cheerleader skirt that didn't also have some kind of bloomer stitched into it, but that aside, has it maybe occurred to the school that the cheerleaders' skirts ought to be a little bit longer?!  You know, a couple of inches more fabric between her butt and the outside world?  Seems like this one can be blamed on the school, not the students.

Item: John Boehner is resigning from Congress.  So the next time you want to laugh at some guy with an orange face who just can't seem to stop embarrassing himself in public, you'll just have to find yourself a puppet or something.

Item: A flight was delayed because a pet tarantula escaped from its enclosure in the cargo bay.  Look, I'm all for exotic pets, but in a world where an eighteen-month-old baby can be removed from an airplane for being on the no-fly list, I just don't think anything that has a number of legs divisible by eight should get a pass.  And while it may be true that not all terrorists are spiders, it is also true that the vast majority of spiders are terrorists.  The price of liberty is eternal vigilance.

Item: Presidential candidate and general asshole Mike Huckabee apparently has it in for rainbow-colored Doritos.  Evidently your choice of snack is now a political statement.  So if you're a Republican, you might want to stick to Cheetos.  Not only are they crunchier, they will turn your fingers orange.  You know, like John Boehner's.

That's about it for today.  I started a new job this week, and one of the things I'm going to have to do, a lot, is speak a little Spanish.  Luckily, I already speak that language, but I'm a little rusty.  I forget stupid words like "building" and "boat."  But looky here what just came in the mail:
 
I think these will help.  It's awesome to live with a librarian.

/rant mode: OFF/

Sunday, September 20, 2015

I Stand With That Kid

By now you've probably heard of Ahmed Mohamad, the 14-year-old who was arrested for taking a homemade clock to school.  The police allegedly thought it was a "hoax bomb," even though Ahmed told anybody who'd listen that it was, in fact, a clock.  The school officials' idiotic behavior, which included suspending Ahmed for three days and calling the police, is probably grounds for a civil-rights lawsuit (among other things, the principal threatened to expel Ahmed if he didn't sign a statement; just for the record, students, like all American citizens and residents, don't lose their 5th Amendment rights when they walk into a school building).  The Internet exploded with outrage, most of it directed at the school officials.  Because would any of this have happened if Ahmed had been a white Christian boy named Chad?  Probably not. A new Twitter and Instagram hashtag reads, #IstandwithAhmed.  But this blog post isn't about Ahmed Mohamad.  Instead, it's about That Kid.

You know That Kid.  You've probably seen him at your child's school, standing a little apart from the others.  Maybe he's a friend of your kid's.  Maybe you know his mom, or work with his dad.  That Kid is the kid that just doesn't seem to fit in with the other kids.  Maybe he's a different race or a different religion.  Maybe he's very smart.  Maybe he's fascinated by insects or internal combustion engines or Nazi war planes or something else that grown-ups find creepy.  Maybe he just doesn't have the patience for the ever-growing list of soul-crushing bullshit rules that schools come up with in the name of "safety" and "good citizenship."  Regardless, he's the kid who's always in trouble, whether that's from his peers or from the school administration or both.  He's the nail that sticks up above the two-by-four, and everybody's on a relentless mission to pound him down.  You know.  That Kid.  Everybody knows That Kid.

I'm 46 years old, and I used to be That Kid.  My trek through elementary and middle school was particularly hellish because I was a. fat, b. very smart and c. the wrong religion.  Any one of these would be enough to make you a social outcast in the clannish, insular society where I grew up (Salt Lake City, Utah, in the early to mid-1970s).  But all three?  Forget it.  Not even your parents are going to back you up when you're all three.

My first brush with school administration bullshit in general happened when I was in kindergarten, or maybe first grade.  Something I was drawing upset one of my teachers.  I don't for the life of me remember what, but there was A Meeting.  You know those meetings; the ones where your parents talk to the teacher, you sit outside in the hallway in a chair, and you know that no matter what happens, you're going to catch hell when it's over.  After The Meeting, my mother suggested I try drawing flowers.  Flowers are nice.  So I started drawing flowers and everybody calmed down for a while.

The calm lasted, oh, for maybe a year.  Around then the school told my parents that I was "hyperactive" (the 1970s term for ADHD) and needed to be on medication.  (I like that; non-doctors telling other non-doctors that somebody needs medication.  I thought that was illegal.  Practicing medicine without a license or something.)  So my parents dutifully took me to a psychiatrist who gave me great big doses of a drug called Ritalin, which is a street drug in Canada, ground down and shot up like heroin.  All the stuff ever did was make me sleepy, but then the school isn't going to complain about a sleepy student, unless she nods off in the middle of math class.

So I was good to go, even though I had no friends, didn't really like any of the other students anyway and couldn't figure out why I even had to be around them at all, much less eight hours a day.  I would have been thrilled to just be left alone, but instead I became every bully's favorite target.  Don't think for a moment that discrimination against somebody because of his or her religion is a new thing; it dates back to approximately ancient Rome.  And I was Lutheran, for God's sake (!).  Not exactly the most controversial of faiths.  So there were more meetings with school officials.  And more meetings with school officials.  And why it never occurred to anybody I might do better at another school, or even no school at all, I have no earthly idea.

Anyway, it's a long story and very sad and it really doesn't turn around until I'm in high school, in the marching band, but that's not the point, anyway.  My point, and I do have one, is That Kid.  You probably know That Kid.  That Kid has probably grown up to be That Adult, somebody who's socially awkward at work or in your circle of friends.  So, since you know That Kid, how about giving him or her a break?   How about talking to him or her, getting past the social awkwardness and just hearing what he or she has to say, without worrying about what your friends might think?  You'd be doing That Kid a great favor (nothing facilitates normal interaction like interaction with normals) and who knows, you may even learn something.  Like how to build a clock from materials everybody has at home.  Cheers, y'all.

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Mass Migration

You guys, I am sorry again about the lack of blogitude.  I'm going to try once again to get this thing back on schedule, which means, every Thursday (in case you haven't been hanging around here for a while).  There's been a lot going on (hence the lack of blogitude, among other things.)  Stuff tends to develop in my life faster than I can write it down, or type it, or whatever.  But it's Thursday, so here I am.

You'd think, with everything that's been happening in the news lately, I'd have a plethora of stuff to blog about. There was the clerk in Kentucky who wouldn't issue marriage licenses and got to be world famous for, well, basically being an asshole, as far as I can tell (and I doubt we're finished yet; let's check back on Monday and see).  There was the airplane that caught fire in Las Vegas, during which, miraculously, no one was hurt (and if it had been an American plane, the death toll would have been staggering; try evacuating an airplane in a hurry with the amount of space you have between rows these days).  There was Donald Trump saying whatever he's said lately.  Finally, there were something like 800,000 people pouring out of Syria and into Europe, the pitiful European response, the even more pitiful American response (we'll take 5,000 of them.  Next year.  Maybe.) and the great big mess that's going to remain no matter what happens in Europe (let's see a show of hands; how many think it's only a matter of time before Angela Merkel starts cramming refugees onto cruise ships and sending them over here to the States?  Yep, that's what I thought).

So let's talk about those people from Syria for a minute, if we may.

Mass migration of human beings is not something that's going to stop, people.  It's just getting started, in point of fact.  In the next 20-30 years, we're going to have to evacuate Kiribati due to rising sea levels. Throw in Vanuatu and Tuvalu (both Pacific island nations with a maximum elevation of about 4.2 meters) and that's about 360,000 more people that will need new homes.  And let's not forget about Bangladesh.  It'll be underwater pretty soon too, and that'll make the current European mess look pretty minor (unless all 156 million Bangladeshis can fit onto their one 1052-meter mountain peak).  Yes, I did say 156 million.  Give or take fifty thousand or so.  All we need to make the mass migration over a billion is to hit China with a once-in-a-hundred-years typhoon on its heavily populated east coast--something that's bound to happen sooner or later.

Where are we going to put everybody?  Where are we going to find enough food and jobs and a decent education for everybody? These are not rhetorical questions.  We just think we're not going to live to see it actually happen.  In all probability, we'll be reborn right in the middle of it.  Well, I will be, anyway.  Unless I get enlightened this time around and decide not to come back, which honestly, I can't see happening.

(A couple of months ago I did a blog post about the clash between Mormon and Buddhist views of the afterlife, and who would probably win.  Answer: Mormons.  Buddhists keep disappearing to be reborn.  Damned inconvenient, that.)

So ponder that, and get back to me when you have some ideas. Meanwhile, back here in the First World, I am once again looking for work.  It's a long story and not that interesting, but if you know anybody who needs a paralegal, I'm fine with anything except possibly litigation.  I might just be done with litigation forever.  I'd say I'm done with being a paralegal forever, but tuition at guitar-building school is around $10,000 and the unemployment rate is pretty high. Besides, I like things legal.  Just other things legal.  I'm thinking about bankruptcy, or maybe criminal law, or even finance as long as it's not mortgage lending.  Or heck, maybe I'll get a job at Starbucks.  I'm certainly spending enough time there, perusing the Internet in search of work and just incidentally writing blog posts.  And I've gotta get back to that first thing.  So cheers, y'all.

Monday, August 10, 2015

She's Ba--ack...

Try not blogging for a couple of weeks and see what happens.  Sooner or later  your blog editor calls you and tells you you have to go to the blog unemployment office, where they give you a check equal to about 60% of your blogging salary.  You stand in a line, and this lady with a clipboard comes down the line and says, "Did you blog this week?" (No.)  "Did you try to blog this week?"(No.)  "Okay, look, this is your last week on blogger unemployment.  Either you blog something this week, or we'll have to change your status."  And since I don't wanna be a vlogger, or worse, a YouTube sensation, here I am blogging.  Hello, everybody.  

Since the last time I blogged, the following things have happened:
  • I kept working.  In fact, I worked a lot.  In fact, a lot of the work I was doing was why I wasn't blogging, seeing as I didn't want to stare at a computer anymore after I finally got home. 
  • I went to some writing classes about being stuck and how to get unstuck.
  • As a result of the classes, I dug out a thing I was working on and started working on it again, and it's going really well, at the moment.  Which is cool.
  • I talked to my kind-of mentor, Rhett in Oklahoma, which always makes me feel better. 
  • I swam the Big Swim, the 2k race in which I always place dead last but consider myself fortunate to have finished at all.  My time was 1.03.27.  I also did the July Swim for Distance Month thing, but without the usual hype, just because of stuff and things.  I managed 17 miles in July.  I will still send a full $20 to my favorite charity, which happens to be Survivors of Torture International.  If you wanna donate after the fact, please do.  Your favorite charity could always use a little cash.  
  • I went to Utah to see my parents and my sister, and my brother-in-law came along but he was very sick the whole time and so we didn't get to see him much.
  • My brother-in-law's condition turned out to be terminal.  Which sucks.  A lot.  
If you've already heard about this, you can skip this paragraph, but what's basically happening to Mike is that his spine is pressing on the main artery that supplies blood to his brain.  So his brain isn't getting enough oxygen, and he's gradually losing function (like most of his right side) and speech and, you know, the important things you need. When the best neurosurgeon in the state says there's nothing he can do, you know you have a problem.  But even if there were a surgical fix, there's no guarantee it would bring back the lost function. And Mike's quality of life is pretty low right now. 

So, there's been a lot of crying around here, and a lot of long talks about this whole "quality of life" thing and what a "meaningful recovery" would mean to me, or to you, or to whomever.  And if I haven't gotten on this soapbox lately, I would just like to remind all of you over the age of eighteen that if you haven't done it yet, you need to MAKE OUT YOUR LIVING WILL. NOW.  It might be called an "advanced medical directive" or something similar in your state.  If you go to this web site, you will find all the forms and instructions for making out a living will in your state.  It is legal and legally binding in all 50 states, so please don't hesitate.  It is a great kindness to your family and also to yourself, and don't forget to give a copy to your doctor and whatever hospital you're most likely to be taken to in an emergency.  

I'm going to Las Vegas to see Mike and Kristen at some point, but I don't know exactly when because their lives are a little complicated right now (understandably).  besides visiting nurses and medical appointments, they're also selling their house and moving to a disabled-accessible apartment on a single level.  The big move is scheduled for next weekend.  Lots of friends are coming to help, including my dad, so they don't really need us (let's face it, I'm not built for carrying boxes anyway). But soon, I hope.  

Anyway, sorry about the lapse in blogging.  I will make a sincere effort to adhere more closely to the schedule. For one thing, my editor will get on my case if I don't.  For another, those 60% checks really don't do much to pay the mortgage, if you know what I mean.  

Friday, June 12, 2015

Etiquette Advice

Far be it from me to offer advice on etiquette.  I'm blunt, crass and occasionally unreasonable.  I've improved quite a bit from my twenties, though ("Let's think about that a little more before we implement it" vs. "That's a really stupid idea", for example).  And occasionally I ask for advice, like I'm about to do.  Yes, believe it or not I really don't know everything.  That's not a job requirement for blogging.  Which is a good thing, or the number of blogs would soon plummet to zero and there wouldn't be anybody around to argue with.

Here's my issue.  Let's say you're at a lecture.  I'm not an engineer, but I'm going to say it was a lecture about engineering, and let's say you're an engineer.  It's a really good presentation and you're very interested until about halfway through, for no reason you can tell, the presenter says something that's completely wrong.

I'm not just talking about matter of opinion wrong.  I'm not even talking Wrong on the Internet, which is a whole nother thing.  I'm talking scientifically wrong.  I'm talking the equivalent of an engineering lecturer saying that, just incidentally, E does not equal MC squared, it equals RB cubed.  (RB cubed. RB cubed. Hm, I'm getting hungry.)  Or, to be a little less esoteric, let's say the engineering presenter just told everybody that sound travels faster than light.  Which is, by the way, completely untrue, and has been scientifically disproven any number of times.

(It's also obvious.  Try sending a friend of yours about a football field away with a pair of cymbals and have your friend play the cymbals.  If you're watching, you will clearly see that the cymbals come together a second or two before you hear the clash. Why? Because light, which involves things you can see, travels faster than sound, which involves things you can hear.  And if you have a friend that is good-natured enough to play cymbals on a football field with you just so you can prove a point, then, hang onto that person.  Such friends are rare.)

What's more is how the lecturer announced this piece of laws-of-physics-bending news.  Not merely "Here's a fact," but, "Here's a fact that everyone else on the planet (or at least all engineers) already know.  You people are the only people on earth who don't already know this, and I'm doing you the great favor of telling you, so be grateful, already."

Let's say that after you get over being surprised, you look around to see how your fellow engineers are taking this bit of news.  You expect that most of them will look skeptical or be frowning.  Instead, they're all earnestly writing this down.  Well, why not.  Somebody has just said that black is white, that freedom is slavery, that peace is war, and nobody knew this before.  What's worse, the guy to your left says, "Man, this is fascinating.  I never knew half this stuff."

Okay, end of hypothetical and time for the question.  What do you do?

Seriously, is it ever okay to interrupt a lecturer?  Should I have held up my hand, like a polite elementary-school student, and then, after being duly called on, should I have said, "I'm sorry, ma'am, but you're wrong"?  Should I have brought up all the scientific evidence to the contrary (Google on a cell phone is a wonderful thing) and engaged her in a debate?  Should I have waited for a break, then approached the lectern (hopefully without getting tackled by security) and told her privately that she's mistaken and hope she corrects herself?  Or what, exactly?  What do you do?

I know what I did do, which is to say, nothing.  I sat there and watched my fellow engineers (okay, they weren't really engineers) take notes on this scientifically incorrect point and nod sagely as though they'd been handed a great truth. And I've been feeling bad about it ever since.  I mean, this is forty or fifty people that are now walking around with a completely incorrect concept about how the world works.  Who knows how much trouble it will cause them in the future? but on the other hand, I can pretty much guarantee that if  I had interrupted said lecturer, everybody there would remember nothing about sound being faster than light but everything about some fat chick interrupting the speaker about something scientific and, I don't know, a pair of cymbals and a football field.

Would that have been a good thing?  I have no clue.

So anyway, if there is a Miss Manners among us, or if some arcane book of etiquette actually covers this particular situation, I'd be golden if one of y'all would let me know.  In the meantime, I remain silent in the face of physics-changing factual errors.  Cheers.

Friday, May 29, 2015

Things That Go Boom At 2 A.M.

The author and Mr. Fishy.
A confession:  I am afraid of thunderstorms.  This wasn't any big deal when we lived in California and there was maybe one courtesy thunderclap per storm (and we got maybe a thunderstorm a year, give or take?) but it's become An Issue since we moved to North Texas about ten years ago.  There are plenty of thunderstorms here.  They're big, they're loud, they come with terrifying flashes of lightning, and they always seem to hit about 2 A.M.  Shaken from a sound sleep by the Crack o' Doom directly above my ceiling, I'm prone to getting up, running into Joan's room (yes, we sleep in separate rooms; there are reasons for that, mainly with regard to preferred temperature) and burrowing deep under the covers with Mr. Fishy, here.  Mr. Fishy being a stuffed animal, he never seems to mind.  And there I stay, at least until things calm down and the air is quiet again and Joan says, "Go back to bed, you're too hot." (Well.  Thank you.)

This year, in particular, it's been a challenge.  I mean, it always rains a lot in the spring, but this year is just getting ridiculous.  I mean we're not ducks, for God's sake.  My back yard has been under three inches of water for pretty much a solid month now, I have mushrooms growing all over creation, there are more mosquitoes than you can shake a can of Cutter at and I've lost count of how many times I've gotten up at two a.m. looked up at the steadily vibrating ceiling and told God to stop it.  (Not sure he can hear me over all the thunder, anyway, but it's worth a try.)

So it's 2:55 a.m., I've been up for an hour and I just polished off a bowl of cereal (another consequence of thunderstorms; cereal killing).  Caesar the Cat is keeping an eye on me, the other two are kind of roaming around the kitchen and I'm pretty sure that's hail banging against our chimney up there.  Can the tornado sirens be far behind?

Hopefully not, because this house is not designed for tornadoes.  Everything's above ground.  There's no shelter or anything (and let's face it, it'd be full of water if there was one).  The best we can do when the sirens go off is decamp to the hallway, shut all the doors behind us and hope that the worst we get is flying debris.  Flying debris is, by the way, your number one problem during most tornadoes; getting sucked up into a funnel cloud doesn't happen nearly as often as Hollywood makes it out, though I guess it is a possibility.  A couple of years ago a tornado went by about a mile and a half from here.  Plenty of noise and wind and general scaryness but nobody hurt.  I have this theory about tornadoes; I think they aim for trailer parks.  Why?  Because the first thing they do when they build a trailer park is get rid of all the trees.  This is stupid; trees deflect heat, and tornadoes seem to be particularly interested in heat.  Anyway, my house has been here for 58 years, and has never been hit by a tornado. One should never say never, but last time the sirens went off (a couple of days ago) I woke up, pondered their existence, and then went back to sleep.  Until the next thunderclap.

In California, there were frequent small earthquakes and a few big ones.  I grew up in earthquake country, mainly Utah, and I had plenty of instruction in what to do if an earthquake strikes.  Best advice, get under a desk or another heavy piece of furniture.  Doorways won't really do it for you if the building collapses, but desks--there was a school that collapsed in Mexico City in 1985, and what held up the roof and the two stories that fell was a row of standard student desks.  All the kids under the desks were fine.  Still, what I actually did during earthquakes was generally just stand there, like a fool, until they were over.  Unless it was the middle of the night, like it generally was, and then I'd wake up, look around, see if anything was falling off a shelf, and if not, I'd just go back to sleep.  I was there for Northridge in 1994 and I'm not sure I even woke up that time.

So if I can do it with earthquakes I can do it with thunderstorms, right? Wrong.  As long as these long lines of "low pressure disturbances" are going to rumble through Dallas in the middle of the night like this, scattering chaos and mayhem, I'm gonna be losing sleep.  And (leaning against the door with one ear to a glass) yep, there go the tornado sirens.  Cripes, I'm gonna be finishing this blog post in the hallway.  With Mr. Fishy.  Cheers, all.  I hope your evening continues not to suck.

PS. Would whoever gave us the gift subscription to Architectural Digest kindly fess up?   Thanks.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Go Read This Blog Post.

Go read this blog post.

Seriously.  Go read it.  Click this link right here.  It is not often that I come across something that so completely encapsulates my thoughts on any subject, never mind abortion, but here one is.  

Yeah, I know all of you won't click the link.  That's okay.  The blogger (and for the life of me, I couldn't find out the author's name or how to contact her) is positing the sort of questions that the pollsters should be asking about this subject.  Never mind this whiny "Is it okay if a woman has an abortion if she's been raped?  If she's dying?  If she's ten years old?"  nonsense.  No, these are the real questions.  The hard questions.  The questions nobody wants to answer.

I'm'a'gonna give you an example.  This is risky, because I couldn't get ahold of the author (see above) to ask permission, but I'm thinking the "fair use" clause from the Copyright Act (17 u.s.c. § 101) will probably cover my butt. (I once had a two hour long conversation with a library director about the "fair use" clause, much to the annoyance of my boss, who hated the guy but was too polite to leave while I was still there talking to him).  Anyway, this is one of the questions that the author would ask, if she were a pollster:

1. Do you think it is acceptable to force a woman to carry a pregnancy and give birth against her will?
  • Yes, always
  • Yes, under some circumstances
  • No, never
2. If you answered “Yes, always,” what methods are acceptable to force the woman to continue her pregnancy?
  • Imprisonment until after birth
  • Mandatory subjection to monitoring of fetal well-being on a daily basis
  • Monitoring of the woman’s location, such as through an ankle bracelet
  • Provision of a chaperone to ascertain the woman’s whereabouts and actions
  • Monitoring of all communications to ascertain the woman is not planning to end the pregnancy
  • Other (please specify)
5. If certain methods are only acceptable for certain circumstances, please match the best method to each circumstance.  

Not so easy to answer, are they?  And here are a few I came up with all by myself:

If a woman is pregnant and continues to use illegal drugs, is it acceptable to imprison her until after birth?

What about legal drugs, like Ativan or Klonopin?

What about legal drugs, like OxyContin and Vicodin?

a.   Should she be incarcerated in an actual prison, or would a hospital be more appropriate?
   1.   If a hospital, should she be allowed to refuse medical procedures, such as a glucose tolerance test, or should she be declared incompetent to make her own decisions?
   2.   Should she be allowed to get a second opinion, or should she be required to do whatever her doctor says?
 b.   If a prison, should the state be required to provide her with medical care, or is that her problem?  

What about legal drugs, like something for depression, that might cause birth defects?

How about if she won't quit drinking?  Smoking?  Sky diving?  Rocky Mountain climbing?  Skiing?  

Should a woman ever be allowed to give birth at home?  Or should any woman attempting to give birth at home be arrested and taken immediately to the nearest hospital as soon as it becomes obvious that she's not going to go there of her own accord?  

Under what circumstances should a pregnant woman be reported to Child Protective Services for failure to follow doctor's orders?  

 Hyperbole, you say? Not at all.  Researchers found 413 cases  of forced medical interventiosn on pregnant women, ranging from mandatory C-sections  to actual imprisonment on the grounds of protecting the fetus.  You know, that critter that's evidently so much more important than the born woman walking around with it that women are being stripped of their civil rights, especially in states like Tennessee  and Alabama, on a regular basis.  Because when a fetus is considered more important than its mother, then its mother becomes a container.  Nothing else. 

In closing, one final question: If an adult woman is capable of making her own medical decisions, how does the implantation of an egg in her uterus change her mental capacity?

But I suspect you already know the answer to that.   

Saturday, May 9, 2015

Collisions of the Faith: Mormons vs. Buddhists

I adore Mormons.  Yes, I lived in Salt Lake City for 13 years and they were not happy years, and yes, I still frick'n have PTSD as a result, but still, I adore Mormons.  How can you not?  They're so nice.  They make Texans look blunt and abrupt.  They're so pretty. Mostly of Scandinavian descent (ahem, ahem).  Plus, they love their families.  I mean, seriously.  They love their families.  You do, of course, know that the reason the whole anti-same-sex marriage thing is petering out is because the Mormons, the driving force behind it, realized they were on an unsustainable course with their own faith. Yes, of course they were.  They were out there attacking "the gays" and suddenly somebody said, "Wait a minute.  My son is gay."  Then somebody else said, "Oh my God.  I have a gay aunt."  And just like a soap bubble bursting on the nose of a curious cat, the whole thing began to fall apart. Because the family is paramount in Mormonism.  The family is everything.  You always defend and stand with members of your family, no matter what.  And when they realized they were in essence attacking their own family members, that was the end of it.  Now there's no one left to carry the anti-same-sex marriage banner but a couple of hardcore old Republican guys, and even their own Young Republicans are saying, "Dudes.  Knock it off or we'll give all our money to Rand Paul."  Oh, and I forgot to mention weddings.  Mormons love weddings more than Greeks and Mexicans combined.  So how can more weddings possibly be bad?

Besides all that, they dress well and send their kids off to preach the faith at a tender age.  Two of the nicest boys knocked on my door the other day and we chatted about Salt Lake City for at least 20 minutes. They wouldn't come inside because there was no man in the house, except Caesar the Cat, but I was still happy to see them.  Because they're so nice.  Did I mention they were nice?

The only thing about Mormons that I don't like is that there's a serious problem in the afterlife.  In fact, Mormons and Buddhists collide so violently in the hereafter that they cannot possibly both be right.  It's not like there's a Mormon heaven somewhere and a Buddhist heaven somewhere else.  If the Mormon heaven exists, then the Buddhist afterlife cannot, and vice versa.  It's like the proverbial unstoppable force meeting the immovable object. I get this mental picture of Joseph Smith and H.H. the Thirteenth Dalai Lama pounding the crap out of each other somewhere in outer space.  I don't know who's gonna win, but it's ugly.

Mormons, in case you did not know this, do this thing called "baptism by proxy" or, as it's more commonly known, "baptism of the dead".  Which is exactly what it sounds like.  You, the living person, voluntarily allow yourself to be baptized in the name of someone who has died (and considering the Mormons go for total immersion, this is no small thing.  I mean, people have drowned.)  The reason for doing this is historical.  Mormonism, or the Church of Latter-Day Saints as it's formally called, only came about in the 1800s.  Before that, we have some 10,000 years of human history, not counting the other 300,000 years when we were still getting used to being homo sapiens, in which there was no Mormonism.  Therefore, if you believe that yours is the One True Church (and Mormons do), there's scads and scads of predeceased humans who died without ever hearing the Good News.  And they're all burning in hell.  Which, if you ask me, is a terrible thing to happen to you just because you never got to hear the Good News.

So, what Mormons do is research their family histories (you were wondering why the did that, didn't you?) in their chain of genealogical libraries, which are the best in the world.  I don't know if you've ever tried to trace your family history, but I promise it is not easy.  Oh, sure, your grandparents and great-grandparents you probably know by name, but much farther than that and you're combing through old census records, baptismal records, marriage certificates and all kinds of stuff.  And when it comes to more distant relatives (aunts, uncles, cousins) it gets even more complicated.  My mother does this (not, as far as I'm aware, to baptize dead people, though one never knows) and though she's put in considerable time and effort over several years, I don't even think she's past the 1700s yet, never mind out of America and back to the Old World.  I know I'm from Iceland, that part was easy, but other than that, the rumor is that we're English.  Or maybe Scotch-Irish.  I'd rather be Scotch-Irish, even if they did chase the Native Americans out of Appalachia.

Anyway, if you're a Mormon, this is a sacred duty.  You find out who your relatives are so you can be baptized in their names, thus giving them a get-out-of-hell-free card if they want to accept and embrace the true Church.  From what I understand, it's still a choice.  If they want to stay, say, Methodist, they can stay in hell. Without the baptism by proxy, though, there's no choice at all.  So you can see why somebody would want to be a proxy.  It's the Right Thing To Do.

Buddhists, you know, don't do the whole heaven thing.  They come back and live again, even, for the most part, if they become enlightened.  Once you're enlightened, see, you can choose to become a bodhisattva, which means you choose to come back even though you could skip it to teach the dharma to others "until even the grass is enlightened."  So if you come back, and go on to live another life, and you're, say, an eighth-grader in Beijing or something, what happens if somebody baptizes you by proxy in the name of the dead person you once were?  Do you suddenly get yanked out of your body and arrive in Mormon heaven?  And what happens to your body, if you decide to stay in Mormon heaven?  Does it just keep on going without you?  Without a soul and all that?

Imagine a world full of mostly-Asian people walking around without a soul.  Maybe it's already happened.  Maybe that's how you explain Pol Pot and Kim Jong Il and Kim Jong, Junior.  Before anybody panics and suggests we wipe out Southeast Asia, though, let me point out that most psychopathic serial killers are not Asian.  So if anybody's walking around without a soul, it's non-Mormon Christian white guys.

Still, it bears being concerned about.  Because Buddhists don't kill things, right?  And so the very last thing you'd want to be as a Buddhist is a serial killer, see?  So that's why we're on this collision course with Mormons.  Only one can win.  So, I say be as nice to each other in this life as possible.  If the Mormons win, you'll get your chance to go to Mormon heaven sooner.  If the Buddhists win, you'll be more likely to be reincarnated as a Mormon.

Either way, behave, y'all.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Formerly Known As

What do Buddhists and Catholic priests have in common?  No, that's not the beginning of an Irish dirty joke.  It's actually quite serious, and the answer is, they both believe in transmission.  Which has nothing at all to do with cars or electronic communications.

Seriously, Catholic priests believe in transmission.  In fact, if you ask one, he will tell you that he was ordained by a guy that was ordained by a guy that was ordained by a guy that...all the way back to Saint Peter, the first Pope, who was of course ordained by Jesus Himself.  Some of the nerdy types will even know what generation they're in as far as this getting-ordained-by-someone-who-was-ordained-by-someone-who-was...  I'm just guessing, but maybe forty?  forty-five?  A lot, anyway.  I mean, two thousand years is a long time.  And that whole unbroken-chain-of-transmission thing all the way back to the beginning is pretty cool, when you think about it.  Sort of like that time we all linked up in Hands Across America to fight homelessness.  I think that's what that was about.  I don't actually remember.  I watched it on TV, though.

Anyway, Buddhists also believe in transmission.  In fact, there is a thing called a transmission ceremony, in which a group of people, usually laypeople, get told the Five Precepts, or as they're called by my mentor, Thich Nhat Hanh, the "Five Mindfulness Trainings."  The idea is that you get these instructions from a dharma teacher who got these instructions from a dharma teacher who...all the way back to Buddha Himself.

What are the Five Mindfulness Trainings, you are no doubt wondering.  Well, Catholic priests have their Ten Commandments, and Buddhists have what I like to call the Five Really Excellent Suggestions. They're not commandments at all; they're advice on living a happy life by trying your best to do, or not to do, certain things.  If you want to see the full text of them (and they do go on), you can click here. Essentially, though, they come down to, don't kill things, don't steal things, don't fool around, don't say nasty things to or about people, and don't use drugs or alcohol.  Again, not mandates.  Just really good suggestions.  If you want to know the whys and wherefores, click on the link.

And there's a ceremony to transmit them from one generation to the next.  The thing about Buddhist ceremonies is that they are so Buddhist-y.  They're Serious but not Doctrinaire; every now and then something goes wrong, everybody laughs and there's a couple of seconds of levity before it goes back to being Serious again.  There's a lot of bowing and plenty of touching the earth (that's getting down on the ground and splaying oneself all over a mat, if you're not familiar with the term).  And of course plenty of chanting, in Sanskrit and English, and names that are about twenty-six letters long, none of them consonants.

And so it came to pass that, some 2500 years after Buddha, I, Jen, participated in a transmission ceremony Sunday evening.  I became the 50th generation removed from Buddha to get this information.  It involved a lot of sitting, a lot of standing, a lot of bowing, and--yeah.  Chanting.  But at the end of it I got a treat: A new name.

Deepening Mindfulness of the Source.

Yeah, I was hoping for Firebird or Starwind or something equally evocative that meant absolutely nothing.  Instead, Deepening Mindfulness of the Source.  Deep for short, I guess.

It's kinda Jedi, though, isn't it?

Saturday, April 18, 2015

Even Later

Yes, okay, three weeks between blog posts is too long.  My screaming fans (both of them) demand regular content.  I'm sorry, you guys, but it's been a pretty interesting three weeks.  My boss's other paralegal quit and he doesn't want to hire anyone else because he's about to get the influx of Summer Interns (law students from the local schools that work for a ridiculously low amount of money to gain experience in writing and research so they can get jobs after they graduate).  So I am now managing 140 cases.  (Thank God it's not 180; we almost took on another big MDL litigation.)  Note that I said "managing."  That does not mean "working."  (Which is good.)  My assistant got promoted and I now have a Team.  My assistant, another paralegal and the office manager, who helps me find people (like interns) to do things that need doing.  So I find people to do the things that need doing, they do it, I make sure it gets done, and then it goes out the door.  My job, as it has sometimes been, is to keep track of it all.

Luckily, I'm a huge fan of maps and graphs and spreadsheets and stranger things.  The entire office is now revolving around one big spreadsheet that is tracking all the cases and what needs to be done for each.  If I ever misplace that spreadsheet, I'm toast.  We're having meetings once a week to reassign things depending on everybody's workload, I've got people using some software to track case notes and I'm starting to use fancy management words like "implementation" and "chaos theory."  I;m getting my work email on my phone now, though I've been warned that this is a one way ticket down a black hole.

I've even started dressing better.  Yes, that was a dress I wore on Wednesday. Even painted my nails to match. Electric blue.

So now that I'm Management, it of course makes perfect sense for me to sign up for another class, since the one I'm already taking in federal civil procedure isn't nearly enough, and going to OA meetings, getting together with my meditation group and swimming four days a week isn't taking up near enough of my time.  Okay, yes, I did sign up for another class.  But it's a writing class, so it's kosher.  It's about journal writing and spiritual development and it's actually really good, although we've only met once so far.  I'm reading my chapters and doing my little writing exercises like I'm supposed to.  (Though I'm not sure what chapter we're on for this week. If it's chapter five, I'm good to go.  If we're supposed to be up through chapter six, I'm a chapter behind.)

I also have three books I'm supposed to have read by next Saturday and one of them is this late-1800s novel that's like 500 pages long.  Sheesh.

Oh yeah, and I'm writing a book, too.  I think.

Imagine if I'd had kids.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Late and Heavily Medicated

Ye gods, two weeks without a blog post.  You'd think I'd run out of things to say.  But hey, with Teddy Cruz running for President and various state legislatures trying to pass the usual batch of wacky stuff, there's no chance of that.  Here in Texas, for example, first-time legislator Molly White introduced a bill that said if the Supreme Court decided that same-sex marriage had to be allowed, it just wouldn't apply in Texas.  Yes, she really did that.  I'm not sure how anybody who didn't pass high-school civics got elected to public office, but hey, this is Texas.  Remember Molly Brown?  As in "the unsinkable" Molly Brown?  Well, some of us on Facebook have decided that anybody named Molly should have a nautical nickname.  So she's "Shipwreck" Molly White from here on out.  And Ted?  Maybe we should call him "Cruz the Canuck."  O Canada, our home and native land...

No, the real reason there hasn't been a blog post in two weeks is that I'm just tired.  For the first time in my life, I managed to come down with a simple cold (it usually morphs into a sinus infection, or sometimes bronchitis, and once pneumonia, just for variety).  So far this cold is staying a cold.  The other thing it's doing, though, is staying around.  I've had it for almost three weeks now, and yes, I do feel better every day, mostly, but it ain't gone yet and I am more than ready for it to go.  Couple that with some of the most stressful days I've ever had at work in my life (besides the Trial from Hell; there's some small comfort in knowing that it'll never be that bad again) and I'm ready to crawl under a rock and never blog again.

Of course my screaming fans, both of them, wouldn't stand for that.  So here I am.  And I need to spew about something, so tonight I'm going to spew about prescription drug prices.  Yep, prescription drug prices. No, I promise, this isn't on C-Span.  I take, let me see here, seven prescription drugs every day.  There are also two I take occasionally.  It's a very good thing I have insurance, because one of these suckers runs $981 a month without it.  Some of the others clock in at $385, $425, and one (this one I can't figure out) is only $2.42.  But what I'm saying is, they're pricey.  In fact, without insurance, if I were to add all the prices together, the total would be more than my take home pay.

More than my take home pay.  I kid you not.  Without insurance, I could not afford to live.  Even with insurance, it tops out around $250 a month, which is more than my gas bill, my water bill, my electric bill and a week's worth of groceries combined. It used to be even more than that, but I finally had The Talk with my doctor where I told him, "I can afford two of the three of these.  Pick two and I'll take those two."  And it's not like what I've got is ever going to go away.  Yep, I'm one of those Americans with a Chronic Condition.  Two of them, actually.  And if I were straight, I'd probably need birth control pills, on top of all of that.

People, chronic conditions are expensive.  Besides the cost of the drugs, which is by far the largest share of my health care expenses, I gotta see my doctor every month (at $50.00 a pop) and sometimes another doctor ($90.00 a session, but not every week anymore, thank God).  My wife, on the other hand, is taking five drugs that together run about $100 a month--after she meets her $750 deductible.  So hers are a little cheaper.  But we still add up the whole big ugly total at tax time to see if any of it comes back to us.  Guess what.  This year we made too much money.

Yeah, yeah,  I know.  Some cancer drugs run $100,000 a month.  When a new drug comes out it's gotta pay back its development costs.  If prescription drugs weren't so expensive, the entire U.S. economy would fall down a well.  But I get tired of hearing that.  Nobody asks to have a condition like this.  It's just fate, DNA, the dancing radiation in the air.  You're not a bad person if you come down with cancer, have a stroke or a heart attack, You healthy people out there, beware.  You're one car accident away from monthly trips to the pill mill.  So have good insurance. And don't vote for Ted.  Who, ironically, signed up for Obamacare today.  No, it's true. I saw it on CNN.

Thursday, March 5, 2015

Whiplash, Part II: Is This Any Way To Run A Music School?

Spoiler Alert: I will be talking about the outcome of Whiplash somewhere in this post.  Where, I can't really say, but I'm sure it'll come up.

In the last two weeks, I've missed three days of work due to inclement weather.  Namely ice storms, which is the Texas term for when the heavens open and dump tons of snow and sleet on the city, and then the temperature rattles down to way below freezing so that everything for miles around is evenly covered with a solid sheet of ice and it's basically impossible to leave your house without falling on the steps.  Now, I spent a goodly chunk of my formative years in Salt Lake City, where the whole valley fills up with clouds around about November 1 and just pretty much stays solidly socked in until March.  That's bad, too, but these Texas winters are just amazing.  The whole thing may sound like not so much if you live in Buffalo, New York or North Dakota or something, when you get seven feet of snow every time the governor sneezes, but when an ice storm like this hits, everything just grinds to a halt.  It has to.  You literally can't leave your house.

Fortunately, the power has stayed on the whole time (knock on Formica) and I have software that will let me load into my work computer, so I can get a few things done while I'm sitting in my kitchen.  Unfortunately, a lot of things I need to do my job are on my desk, or in the file room, or otherwise inaccessible.  So I end up working on stuff I need to do, but have been trying to avoid, like populating this table in Excel that lists and catalogs about 30,000 pages worth of documents generated by a certain business.  Or reading hundreds of pages of somebody's medical records and breaking them down into three talking points for a lawyer who's writing a complaint, Fun stuff like that.  All good, all important, all gotta be done, but not really the sort of thing I feel most proud of when somebody asks me why I do what I do.  Or whether or not a college degree really does any good in the long-term prospects for a job and a career.

Which brings us back to Whiplash (told you we'd get there), and the whole reason anybody goes to music school, vs. medical school or law school or guitar building school or any other old school, in the first place. (Like what I did there?)  About 2/3 of the way through Whiplash, after he's been thrown out of music school and Fletcher, the instructor, has been fired by the same music school, our protagonist meets up with Fletcher once again at a little jazz club where Fletcher is playing the piano.  Fletcher sees him, waves him over, buys him a drink, and there's some actual conversation, during which Fletcher explains himself, somewhat.  And what he has to say is actually very interesting.  He tells a few stories about legendary jazz artists and road blocks they hit along the way.  About how they screwed something up, made mistakes, were otherwise not at their best at this thing they were best at.  About how each one swore that whatever just happened would never happen again, and because of that, they became legendary jazz artists.  Fletcher says something like, "Do you know how Miles Davis got to be Miles Davis?  Because he never again let his horn be flat when he was playing with Dizzy Gillespie," or something like that (and yes, I know I just mixed up two eras, not to mention two instruments, but hey, jazz is not something I know a lot about, okay?)  Fletcher saw his role as a music teacher to be the obstacle, the guy everybody's afraid of, the guy who yells at you when you screw up so that you solemnly swear to yourself that it will never, ever happen again (and thus, later on, you achieve greatness).  He finishes his soliloquy by adding that the most ruinous words any music teacher ever speaks to a student are, "Good job."

And really, being on the receiving end of this speech, it sort of makes sense.  Does his classroom behavior discourage students?  Maybe, Fletcher says, "but Miles Davis wouldn't have been discouraged."  Maybe not, but we can't all be Miles Davis.  Still, as I mentioned in my last post on Whiplash, if you're not going to be Miles Davis, there's really no point in going to music school.  It's the non-Miles Davises among us who get kicked out of music school for failing piano.  Only the Miles Davises of the world are going to graduate, go into the performance world and get good jobs.  The rest of us are going to become music teachers.  Or lawyers or engineers or construction workers or whatever else pays the bills, and maybe play a little music on the side.  Is that fair? No. But lots of things aren't fair, and music school is just the tip of the iceberg.

Of course, we hear this speech, and sort of come to understand Fletcher a little, before we find out he's completely sociopathic and probably a little bit crazy.  The next thing we know, Fletcher's entered a major music contest with a new ensemble and then proceeds to throw the entire ensemble under the bus to get even with one guy.  Let me explain to you how often that Just. Doesn't. Happen. Music teachers live and die by the results of these contests and what Fletcher does here is, well, just crazy.  Yet the whole thing ends in a way nobody saw coming.  Well, I didn't see it coming, anyway, and I quit reading murder mysteries quite a few years ago when I realized I usually knew murderer, motive and method before anyone had even died yet.

So we're left with this question:  Is being an asshole ever justified?  Buddhist-y speaking, the answer is no.  Good behavior toward others is basically required as a condition of being human.  But, if being an asshole is what's required to fix a given situation, or to save a few lives we do it, and then we tell everybody we're sorry after the fact.  If, for example, the only way to get proper medical attention for your significant sweetie, after the pre-surgery unit has already screwed up three times and is about to do it for a fourth, is to raise your fist and yell about the standard of care and how they're not meeting it, then you do it.  (Not that that's ever happened to me, or anything.) And you come back afterward with a box of chocolates for the staff and explain you were "under duress" at the time and you're really a nice person and they're all just fine, fine doctors and nurses who were evidently having a very bad day.  And maybe they believe you. Or maybe they call security.  Anyway, it's a good way to avoid eating a box of chocolates by yourself.

In any case, I think most of us are nice people and are trying to do the right thing most of the time,  But then, some of us are Fletcher.  Maybe the important thing is to be able to tell the Fletchers of the planet for what they are, and if we can't beat them, find a way around them.  At least before you're part of the ensemble that gets thrown under the bus.

By the way, in case anybody missed my "adults only" post last week, here's a picture of a big, throbbing cock.

Cheers, all.