Stray Political Thoughts

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I watched tonight's Democratic candidates debate with some friends and have some thoughts.

  • The moderators from ABC News were gawd-awful. Every question from them seemed to be designed to start a fight. To their credit, the candidates generally refused to take the bait, which seemed to frustrate, especially, moderator David Muir. When Muir didn't get an answer he liked, he followed up with another candidate trying to bring out the claws. It was infuriating. Muir's ridiculously simplistic question to several candidates concerning the killing of Iranian general Soleimani was embarrassingly stupid and his rejection of nuanced answers to it spoke quite poorly of Muir's grasp of reality. Most if not all debates have occurrences when a candidate dodges a question or otherwise manages to avoid a direct answer, but this was the first time I can recall being pleased to see question avoidance. The questions tended to suck.
  • Candidates that impressed: Pete, Bernie, Warren, and Steyer. Mayor Pete was exceptionally eloquent, gave brilliant answers to lame questions, and came across as monumentally competent. As I said to my companions here, if Pete were ten years older and had served in Congress, I'd be tempted to vote for him based on this.
  • My candidate of choice right now, though, is Senator Warren, and she had one standout moment by articulating an agenda based around fighting corruption, including creating a standing agency to keep tabs on government actions that cross lines of legality. Unfortunately, none of her other answers struck me as enough to move the needle for her; she remains strong, but this debate probably didn't win new voters to her side.
  • Bernie Sanders was the only one to give an actual answer to the final question that candidates used for closing remarks, and he hit an upper-deck homer with it. The question was, essentially, child poverty continues to be really bad in the U.S., why is that? Sanders crushed it with a simple truth: Because our priorities are fucked up, rewarding the rich and corporate in a Republican economic disaster that began in the 1980s and has never truly righted itself. Bernie also had good remarks on party unity—his most fervent supporters really need to hear that, we can have no _____ or Bust people this time—and on his evolution on gun control.
  • And Tom Steyer, who nobody really considers to be a legit contender, barged his way into the discussion with a frustration that a lot of us watching were also feeling: These nitpicky arguments about Medicare for All vs. Medicare for All Who Want It vs. Obamacare + Public Option and the like are tiresome, we've been over it and over it, and no matter what, every single Democrat running will push for vast improvements with the same ultimate goal; what we really need to be discussing is the existential danger of a President Trump who would be King Trump the Dear Leader. Several candidates made the case for turning out a massive number of voters as necessary for victory, which is true, but none of them noted that part of the reason it's necessary is that we need to overcome the cheating that the Republicans are and will continue to perpetrate.
  • Amy Klobuchar and Yang were fine, came across well, but didn't impress me. Yang seemed pretty simplistic by always leaning on his basic income proposal as a panacea.
  • Everyone missed the opportunity for a simple, clear, true, and relevant answer to a question on whether or not approving the USMCA was a good idea. Instead of arguing that not making climate-change mitigation part of the agreement was a reason to oppose it or defending that it was more important to have a united bloc among the US, Canada, and Mexico on trade, there was a better response: For the Senators who cast a vote, there were but two options—nothing, or a bit better than nothing. Voting no would not help climate change, but voting yes would help some in other areas. Warren almost got there, but veered off before making the point.
  • Joe Biden was better than he was in prior debates, but he still seems like a poor choice. Not that he'd be a poor choice to be President, I mean a poor choice to be a candidate for President in the general. The stakes are so very, very high this time around and Joe has this way of interrupting himself, speaking in terms that lack context, being oddly aggressive at times that don't really call for it, and, at least in a debate format, is remarkably defensive. It's scary to me, given how malleable voters have shown themselves to be in the past.
  • Mayor Pete is going to make an excellent Secretary of Veterans Affairs.
  • I'm more in Warren's camp than ever at this point, but not due to her performance tonight. I started out supporting Kamala Harris, thinking that we need a prosecutor in this election (and she's been a solid public servant). Warren is closer to my thinking in terms of policy, but now, with the field narrowed as it is, she's also the one that gives me the least anxiety as a potential nominee. She's unabashedly and authentically the opposite of Trump in most ways: anti-corruption, pro-labor, full of integrity, whip-smart, and compassionate. And she relates to the general public well. There is still some of that Senator-speak that I cringe at—it's the thing that drove me nuts more than anything else while working for John Kerry's campaign, using the language of the Senate floor on the campaign trail and sounding condescending when it was far from his intent—but in general she connects with the masses.
  • Biden and Sanders do the Senator-speak too—the most common offense being to start a sentence with "Look, blah blah," which almost 100% of the time sounds as if there's an unsaid portion that makes it really "Look, you idiot, blah blah"—but Sanders is such a unique character that it just blends into his style and doesn't stand out. Biden is really bad with it, though, especially when he's defensive or amped up.
  • Discussing the idiocy of having Iowa and New Hampshire get so much say in who gets nominated, my friend Mark mentioned that at least we in Washington have done away with caucuses. This, weirdly, was news to me! What? When did that happen?! Why didn't I know this?! Just yesterday I blogged about how much I enjoyed them! Turns out Mark is correct—last April the state Democratic party made the change to a primary, and we vote shortly after Super Tuesday. How this escaped my notice I have no idea. Seems like something I would have been plugged into. It was April, so I was likely immersed in baseball, but still. Sigh.
  • Little to no commentary in the debate tonight about Trump's truly frightening off-the-rails ego trip yesterday in the East Room. It deserved a mention.
  • However, Trump's retaliation against impeachment witnesses Col. Vindman and Ambassador Sondland did get mentions, though not enough. He's going full-on Emperor Palpatine now.
  • FactCheck.org has a rundown of things said in the debate that aren't 100% accurate, and it's kind of amusing; none of the items are in spirit incorrect, only in fine details, which is such a giant contrast to any given day of Trump's Twitter feed.

This has been a brutal couple of weeks, politically, and it's necessary to remember not to fall back into normal election season behavior. Watching the debates is interesting and reading analyses of candidate performance is good and all that, but we have to keep in mind that if Trump has his way, this election will not be on the up-and-up and could easily be the last one with any sense of legitimacy at all for a long, long time. Tom Steyer was right: bickering about who has the incrementally better health-care plan means nothing compared to defeating Trump and making it stick. Because we know he won't take losing gracefully, he'll fight it with claims of fraud—because in his mind, everyone does what he does as nothing else makes sense to him—and bogus whining about being a victim and his corrupt and evil henchmen in the Justice Department. That's the priority: Not just beating him, but beating him so soundly and forcefully that he can't cheat his way out of it.

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Caucus Mockus

LisaBensonIowa
By Lisa Benson, WaPo Writers Group

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So, the Iowa caucuses were a bit of a shitshow this year, and people all over the political world are to some extent losing their minds, including the esteemed Mr. Hayes, above. As if this was something new.

Iowa caucuses have been a mess for a long time, this shouldn't surprise anybody. Remember 2012, when Mitt Romney won Iowa, no wait, Ron Paul did, no wait, Rick Santorum did? There wasn't even a mobile app to blame then. Yes, the Iowa state Democratic Party screwed the pooch on this. No question. But let's not make a bigger deal of it than it is; Iowa fucks up, it's normal, and eventually we get results that are agreed upon.

That said, I do think things should change. The wonks on Pod Save America predict this was the last time we'd have Iowa caucuses, at least as we've known them since the modern process started in 1972. I don't see that happening, because this mess will be forgotten just as all previous Iowa caucus messes have been. But the problems are undeniable.

Ultimately, I think I agree with Chris Hayes. Doing away with the caucus process and having every state adopt a primary instead would be more democratic, more inclusive, more understandable. It'd be better. Yet, I like caucuses. I'd miss them.

I've attended the Washington State Democratic caucuses in 1992, 2000, 2004, 2008, and 2016, skipping the years when incumbent Democrats were running for reelection and had essentially no competitors. They're fun. For political nerds like me, anyway; they aren't continuously fun, they also involve a great deal of boredom and standing/sitting around. But when stuff is happening, it's neat. It's talking with your neighbors about important national issues and advocating for your chosen candidate. It can also mean greater participation in the whole lengthy campaign—in 2004, I was elected as a delegate for the John Kerry campaign (which I had been doing considerable volunteer work for over many months by then) to the next stage in the nominating process, the district caucus, and had circumstances permitted I would have run for delegate to county and state conventions.

One positive element to caucuses is the ability to switch your allegiance. In a way, it seems unfair, but in the end it's a good thing: If your chosen candidate does not have enough support in your precinct to net a delegate, you may join the group supporting a different candidate so your participation will aid your choice of the remaining options. This happened to me in 1992, my first caucus—I was the only one in my precinct supporting Jerry Brown, thus Governor Moonbeam was unviable there, having less than 15% support. So was Senator Paul Simon. I then opted to join the Clinton supporters over the Paul Tsongas supporters. In the moment I didn't like this, but had the state apportioned delegates via primary election, my vote for Brown would have contributed zero while my caucus support for Clinton gave him one more delegate at the precinct level. Similarly, in 2008—before the scandal broke—I was in the John Edwards camp, but again was in a sub-15% minority and thus had the chance to throw my support to Barack Obama and help him take the state over Hillary Clinton. Of course, calculating voters can make strategic votes in primaries by making assumptions on viability ahead of time, but I still like the process.

We should get rid of it, though.

Caucuses by design limit participation and effectively disenfranchise voters who for whatever reason cannot devote several hours to go to a school gym or a church basement or wherever. They discourage those who simply don't want to give up their afternoon (or evening, in Iowa). They are not a secret ballot, which can keep people away. People who are not comfortable speaking up in groups or who have social anxiety issues won't participate. Elections, on the other hand, are simple. Especially here, where it's all done by mail (or neighborhood drop box). Far more voters can participate. Sure, there are election security issues that caucuses avoid, but as we see every time, there are caucus administration issues that are inevitable. And elections, done right, have a paper trail that can be audited while caucuses can be comparatively recordless proceedings.

Oh, and caucus or not, Iowa has had its fun being first. Time to share that honor around. Yes, yes, they like it so much (as does New Hampshire) that they have a state law mandating they be first, but let's be serious. Let's revamp this to give (a) a more populous and diverse state (say, Georgia? Michigan?) the influence of being first, and (b) change up the order every cycle, so it isn't always the same three or four states that winnow the field. Iowa and New Hampshire have the most influence on who gets nominated, always. South Carolina got in on it recently, and more recently Nevada got in on things, but by the time any large population gets to vote, the field has been cut considerably. Every damn time.

So, change it up. Put in a rotation system. Not necessarily random, I mean, having California go first might be its own problem, but put some thought into it. Albino Iowa and palesnow New Hampshire can go later. Maybe on Super Tuesday.

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Welcome to the Banana Republic

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Well, they did it. As we knew they would. As they telegraphed they would on multiple occasions and as they confirmed with vehemence last Friday by denying evidence be admitted to trial. 52 United States Senators decreed today that we are no longer a democratic republic, no longer a representative democracy. Instead, in direct opposition to the will of the national majority, those 52 United States Senators welcomed the transition to despotism by giving the current president of the nation unchecked power, by removing any remnants of inhibition that might remain in his behavior.

The current holder of the office of the President, whose actual name I will not use today and whose name will, should we survive into history, become a synonym for corruption and cruelty, was impeached by the House of Representatives on only two counts. He could have been impeached on many more, as he has committed many more reprehensible offenses, but the two in question—abuse of power by extorting a foreign leader to tar a political opponent with made-up accusations and obstruction of Congress in covering that abuse up—were slam-dunks. The proof was overwhelming. He admitted it, repeatedly, on television. No attentive person with even a modicum of intelligence and understanding of the United States Constitution could reasonably deny that he committed these offenses.

52 United States Senators, however, found they could unreasonably deny it and pretend they were honorably upholding their principles.

President VonClownstick reacted to his faux-acquittal by immediately tweeting an animated graphic based on a Time magazine cover displaying his desire to remain in power in perpetuity. Some of the 52 Senators gloated, many of the wannabe-dictator's fans and cultists verbally bashed adherents to the rule of law as losers and, paradoxically, traitors. The wannabe-dictator's son attacked the only Republican Senator to side with the Constitution by demanding that Senator be expelled from his party and branding him a "member of the resistance," a term that in and of itself is troubling. (If there is a resistance, there must by definition be something to resist, and common parlance relegates "The Resistance," in political contexts, to oppressed populations opposing tyranny.)

Those 52 Senators will rue this day, presuming they live more than another few months. There is no question that our wannabe-dictator will continue to abuse his power, will continue to commit atrocities, will continue to show contempt for the Constitution, will continue to behave like the leader of the international criminal enterprise that he is. As House Impeachment Manager Rep. Adam Schiff put it, the odds of this are "one-hundred percent." Further details of the abuses already committed, including those the 52 Senators declared to be perfectly acceptable, will come to light soon. The political calculation these 52 people made will backfire. But will it matter?

We have one opportunity to reclaim the United States of America as the democratic republic it had been before this administration began tearing it down. 52 United States Senators have abdicated their responsibility out of fear of retribution from a vindictive man-child, out of their own corruption and lust for power, out of rank stupidity, and/or out of allegiance to foreign dictatorships. That leaves the electoral process as the only remedy left, and as we have seen many times before, too many American voters are easily-manipulated simpletons that can be tricked into voting against their interests.

It's crisis time. If this president is not defeated in this year's election, if the Senate is not wrested from the death grip of Mitch McConnell, then this country is finished. That sounds hyperbolic, I know, but it's not. This president is profoundly anti-democracy, profoundly dishonorable, profoundly corrupt—and profoundly fragile. He is so thin-skinned and insecure, so in need of utter adulation to fuel his ego, that he demands complete fealty. The danger is, to use one of his favored words, tremendous.

And 52 United States Senators do not care.

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Is This Thing On?

Forgive me, Internet, for I have lazed: It has been over a year since my last blog post. In that time I have engaged in numerous behaviors and inner monologues that were worthy of posting about, but failed to do so. I spent my time doing other things. Unfortunate, but as we say on Earth, "c'est la vie."

There has been so much going on in the world, most of it horrible. I know y'all know what's what regarding impeachment. I don't need to go off on a screed here. I mean, I might anyway, because therapy, but you know it sucks and me spelling out the myriad ways President VonClownstick is a vile despotic turd masquerading as a human being isn't going to reveal any new information. Also, the world is on fire. Also, plastic is killing us. Also, Runaways and Cloak & Dagger were both canceled.

But I need to use this platform again. I use my side project over at grandsalami.net to talk baseball, but there's plenty to discuss here (especially in the offseason) and I should do it.

Not right now, though. And not because the State of the Union is happening right this second, I'm not watching that. I will consume all manner of analysis and reportage after the fact, but watching it live would just piss me off and run the battery down on my phaser. No, I have to go pick up my equipment and umpire a softball game now. It's 34 degrees out. Fahrenheit.

More later.

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Time Flies When You're Having No Fun at All

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Gravity is winning of late

I have not been enjoying life of late. Firstly, this asshat has been making trouble again, and getting the rage and frustration over all that out of my head has been difficult to impossible. More rudimentary frustrations over computer failure, cold viruses, and cash flow happening concurrently don't help, but by themselves would be a lot more manageable. Anyway, for these reasons or none at all—it's tough to tell sometimes—the number of lost days I've been racking up has been troubling.

Holiday season is likely a contributor. Holidays are not the fun time they used to be once upon a time; I may not have really enjoyed a Christmas since the '80s. Hard to say, depends, I guess, on how generous you want to be with your terms.

Plus, it just sneaked up on me. The weeks in between the World Series and December seem to have passed in a blink, suddenly we're in the middle of all these Christmasy trappings and people are holiday overscheduled and oh crap, I should hurry up and make a Christmas list before there are no more shopping days, and you know what frak Christmas anyway. I'm feeling a bit like the gang in the recent Thanksgiving episode of "The Flash."

 

 

Anyway, I thought I'd post a little grumpiness as a way of giving myself a kick in the butt to put some extra oomph into the struggle to gain orbital altitude on The Black Hole. And to get back to having days with activity besides internal-monologue-screaming-matches-with-someone-I'll-never-speak-to-again more than four times a week.

Grumble. Humbug.

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Grudges

rage

Howdy, Internet. Long time no blog. I guess any writing time I've had has been devoted to trying to make grandsalami.net function as a potentially at-least-break-even endeavor. Eh. Plenty to write about, I should do a bit more here aboard starshiptim.

Anyway, tonight I am musing on the concept of letting things go, or rather my selective inability to do so. Or maybe "selective" isn't the right word. I don't mean I'm choosing not to let things go, rather that some things are so offensive to me that I just can't seem to will myself to forgive.

One of those things has reared its ugly head over the last couple of weeks and I've spent a truly unhealthy amount of time having shouting matches in my head with this particular person that I will probably never speak to in reality again ever. And not always in my head. I've spoken my part of some of the "conversations" out loud (loud) while sitting in my office. Good thing there are no shared walls from my office.

The particular series of incidents that spawned this resentment happened in the weeks and months after, and are directly related to, my becoming trustee and executor of my mom's estate and later my stepfather's estate. So it's already a raw subject emotionally. I'm not going to elucidate details here because that would open a valve I don't know if I could close before New Year's, but the reality I'm left with now is that I am so completely and thoroughly angry and bitter with this specific individual that the fact of it, this rage, has zero benefit and is wholly detrimental.

Which I am intellectually cognizant of, yet I can't or won't(?) let it go. Feels like ever.

Rage has its uses, if channeled into something productive like removing a criminal president from office (just as a random example), but in a case like this there is absolutely nothing productive to channel it into. It's all negative. It's righteous, sure, but just because I'm right and I'm justified in my rage doesn't mean it serves a purpose anymore. All it can do really is make things worse. Not even by taking any actions, just by thinking about it. My mental energy is diverted into teeth-gnashing, blood-presure-spiking, red-faced fury about things I can't do anything about. This guy's going to be an asshole whether I'm pissed and bitter or not, it doesn't make any difference.

So, I'm thinking about grudges. I think I'm basically against them. But I'm a hypocrite about it.

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Cake or Death?

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Here in Washington, we do all our voting by mail. It's fantastic. People can vote at their convenience, take their time, no traffic issues, easy-peasy.

I voted yesterday, and though there was one choice I didn't make—a local ballot measure that both sides argued well on and I just didn't find I had a preference for, kind of like how I feel about this year's World Series—it was otherwise the simplest electoral decision making in my experience of voting (Tim Voting, est. 1988), and it should be thus for everyone in the country, local ballot measures notwithstanding.

But if you find yourself unsure of how to vote in congressional races, gubernatorial races, even city council races, please remember these points:

  • You may or may not like the current two-party structure of the American political system, but it's what we have now, and with the state of affairs in crisis as it is the priority has to be mitigating the disaster as much as practical right now. Reforming the system to be something other than primarily Republicans and Democrats can wait until things are stable and calm.
  • Which party has the majority in congress is critically important in setting a legislative agenda as well as overseeing and investigating governmental action.
  • One of those two parties supports the concepts of democracy, representative government, civil liberties for all, equality in principle, the bill of rights, a right to health care, social and civil infrastructure, the rule of law, prohibitions on corruption, international diplomacy, human rights, international arms control, logic, recognition of complex matters that interrelate, mitigating action on climate change, clean air and water, and so on.
  • The other party now supports kidnapping children seeking asylum, allowing as much poison in the air and water as companies want to pump in, taking money from those who have the least and giving it to those who already have the most, denying people health insurance in order to make insurance companies more profitable, self-dealing in government for personal enrichment, demonizing the press, overt bigotry and misogyny, aiding and abetting the murder of a journalist, election fraud, and a plethora of other criminal actions so long as they're only committed by rich white people.

The Republican party is now a wholly owned subsidiary of Donald Trump and the Koch brothers. This is not just my opinion, nor is it hyperbole, and I urge all not to take my word for it but to look at evidence and voting records and patterns of behavior by the individual Republican candidates and the Republican party apparatus. If you favor being lied to on a regular basis, having your money stolen from you, having your health insurance revoked, terrorism of journalists, limitless pollution, totalitarian "ethics," and the creation of an environmental hellscape of submerged cities and massive refugee crises, then the Republican party is your jam.

On the other hand, if you want the United States of America to return to being a place of freedom and democracy; if you want a healthy population that respects science, respects the law, strives for equality; and if you think the United States should be an example to the world for humanitarianism, moral fiber, and civilization, then please, vote for Democrats. Especially for Senate and US House of Representatives, but also for your state legislatures, governors, and city councils. Congress is critical, but local governments can do a lot too.

The Republican party's electoral playbook has been primarily about cheating for at least the last two decades. Voter suppression is a favorite tactic, as are voter purges. To overcome the cheating that is already apparent in several states, voter turnout has to be massive.

This is not trivial. We're in crisis. The Republican agenda of destruction and corruption must be arrested and reversed. Please vote. The choices are pretty easy.

 

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Moving Beyond

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I'm still sad, but this movie was a good salve

I've been pretty dang depressed this last week. Losing Pixel has been hard, and when things start to level off into a sense of "normal," I'll run across a clump of her fur between couch cushions or something, or just realize that my big new condo feels really empty without my lovely ball of fur and attitude running around it. It's kind of refreshing in its way, because being depressed when there's a clear, external reason to be depressed is a kind of novelty for people like me that take medication to keep the personal black hole that follows them around at bay. But I am working my way through it. Still procrastinating on some things, but starting to get other things done and putting my mind to positive things. Intermittently.

One coping mechanism this week has been one part lazy/one part distraction/one part mood-enhancer, and that's movies. I've watched a few movies this week. Erik suggested one, People, Places, and Things, about a cartoonist with a fucked-up love life. He thought I'd relate. He was right. It's a nice little movie. I also watched Irreplaceable You, which is about a character dying, which I thought might be good perspective but just turned out to be sad (though Christopher Walken has a fun curmudgeonly supporting role). Also Laggies, about a directionless 30-ish woman who backslides into adolescent habits, which I rather enjoyed. But also some good old reliable "comfort food" movies: Spider-Man Homecoming (as fun as I remembered), Thor: Ragnarok (funnier than I remembered), Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 (fun, but too dumb/shallow for repeat viewing and more violent than necessary), and tonight, Star Trek Beyond.

I'd watched Beyond once before since it left theaters, and liked it well enough but maybe not as much as I did when I first saw it. This time I give it a lot more credit. Simon Pegg and his writing partner (whose name escapes me at the moment) pulled off something really impressive: They made a movie that has the modern-studio-mandated action set pieces and spectacle that also has a solid Star Trek story. It is much better than the 2009 J.J. Abrams Star Trek and a billion times better than the idiotic mess that was Star Trek Into Darkness. Granted, that's a low bar.

Still, it's a really enjoyable movie. It has its issues—Captain Kirk is really stupid in one critical point, something that could have been avoided with a few lines of dialogue to propel the story/action without making him an idiot—and the Villainous Plot™ has a MacGuffin (two, actually) that doesn't have enough explanation to make any sense. (Oh, and a motorcycle? That's 100+ years old and runs great and has fuel in it? Really? OK, I'll let that one go.) But the villain at his core has a nice backstory (not well-developed enough, but points anyway given the need for ACTION SPECTACLE), the story flows well, our heroes are handled (for the most part) well. And the in-jokes/callbacks/homages are organic and serve the story (unlike in Into Darkness, where whole sections of the movie are poorly done callbacks/recreations there for no reason except to be callbacks). And they're funny. Simon Pegg does subtly funny really well. 

It's a shame it didn't do the box office business its immediate predecessors did. But as Erik has pointed out time and again, a sequel's ticket-selling success is largely based on the quality of the previous movie, not its own. And STID, let's be generous here, sucked. But there may not be a follow-up to this one. Which might be OK. Star Trek is not nearly its best when treated as an action franchise, and that's what Paramount Studios seems to think these movies need to be, and the rumor mill has a possible sequel written or co-written by Quintin Tarantino, of all people. Hard. Pass.

Anyway, Beyond is a fun movie. I liked it (again). And it picked me up a little bit.

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Pixel (4/15/2000 – 8/22/2018)

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My cat died today, and I am profoundly sad.

People who don't have pets won't understand. Not really. It's a different kind of attachment than you find among people. Not better or worse, but unique. At least that's been my experience, and I think other pet guardians will back me up on that. But regardless of whether non-pet people get it or not, this is its own kind of hellish grief; profoundly sad will have to do as a descriptor.

It was semi-unexpected. Pixel had been visibly ill for about six weeks and her condition had deteriorated to the point that I knew her days were numbered, but today's visit to the vet wasn't supposed to be the end.

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Bags: the ultimate fortress

We don't know for sure, but it's likely that Pixel had lung cancer. There was an indeterminate something on her x-rays, and finding out for sure what it was seemed like a very expensive academic exercise; if it was Bad Cancer, there wasn't anything we could realistically do about it, and if it was something else, we were already doing what there was to do. Meanwhile, her lungs had begun to fill with fluid. The vet drained what she could, but initially it wasn't manifesting outwardly as a big deal, just an occasional cough, so we went about our lives while keeping an eye on things. A few weeks later, Pix went from seemingly OK to scarily very much not OK overnight and we went back to the vet. They did another chest tap and drained enough fluid from her little lungs to fill half a standard soda can. Test results on the fluid ruled out a few things, but didn't give us much useful diagnostic info.

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Baby Pix

After that tap, Pix was so much better. Not her old self, but back to near-normal behavior for a geriatric kitty. That lasted a couple of days. The third day she had some mild decline, but it wasn't immediately worrisome. The fourth day she was obviously miserable and by the fifth she was putting all her energy into breathing. Today was day six, and we went in hoping to do another fluid drain to give her some comfort for a couple of days, at least, during which I would make The Tough Decision about what to do next. But she wasn't strong enough to handle another drain, which was not a variable I had anticipated.

They told me the x-ray-then-drainage procedure would take a couple of hours and I should check in if I didn't hear from them by 1:00. They called me around 11 to tell me she didn't survive the tap.


"This little one's not worth the effort..."

It wasn't supposed to be today.

We were supposed to get a few more days together.

I fully expected to pick her up and take her home and she'd feel better tomorrow.

I know she was scared. She was always scared when we'd go to the vet, even for routine exams. She was so scared on exam days that a couple of times she peed on me, another she peed on Dr. S. She'd cower in a corner when she didn't need to be on the table. She was terrified of the vet clinic even under good circumstances, and I left her there without me this morning, and I know she was terrified and that makes me even sadder and makes me feel guilty even though I know there's no rational reason to feel guilt. I did everything I could think of to do right by my special feline friend. But she was still scared, and that makes me cry.

Pix in box
Master of all she surveys

I am trying to see the big picture. That is, I'm trying to take some comfort in the fact that, if she had to go down by cancer/illness, this was pretty much the best way that could go—a quick transition from no appreciable symptoms (that we knew about) to the end of the line in just a few weeks, no long and drawn out period of misery. I'm also trying to keep in mind that for 18.1 of her 18.35 years of life she lived happily with me and her kitty roomies—first I-Chaya, then Bansei—and that even in her last night, when I stayed up throughout the night with her to lend whatever comfort my being nearby would bring, she still mustered up a purr for me.

I went through a series of cats when I was a kid. My pets seemed to have the lifespan of the average Spinal Tap drummer. That changed when I got Pixel's predecessor when I was 13; she broke the curse and lived to be 17 before dying of complications from hypothyroidism, aided by incompetent veterinary practice (whole 'nother story). I-Chaya entered the picture about five years later and lived to be 15½; she died of cancer too. Pixel is now the record-holder, and I hope Bansei breaks it and I hope whatever kitty I end up adopting next will break that mark.


From the long-ago time of land lines

Because I know I will. Adopt another one. Probably soon. Maybe that's a little crazy, because when I adopt one I know I'm signing up for another day like this someday. Not precisely like this, of course, but close enough. And days like this are awful. They hurt. A lot. But the reason days like this are so awful is that all the days and years beforehand are made richer and better by loving and being loved back by a loyal feline friend.

My cats have meant so much to me throughout my life. Even the short-timers, but especially the ones that got full lives. Two in particular were real symbiotic bonds, I think, where cat and human shared a particularly strong attachment to each other. Pixel was the second one.

The principle of conservation of energy demands that something happen to a creature's life-essence after death. I don't know what. Nobody does. But physics tells us it can't just disappear, it becomes something else. Maybe something mundane, maybe something more in the realm of what my dad's husband might call "woo-woo cosmic stuff." Either way, I hope Pixel is in some way aware that her brief time suffering is over. And that her human loved her very much, and did everything in his power to keep her healthy and happy.

I miss you so much, ピクシュル-chan. You made my life better. I'd like to think you thought I made yours better too.

Pixel080518

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Powerless Panic

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So, yeah, I've neglected the poor blog. No posts here since Discovery was on and I had to nerd out on that. What can I say, there's been a lot going on.

I bought a condo. I moved (still unpacking). Went to California for a bit. Got sick for a bit.

And I've been running the baseball site GrandSalami.net as a way of keeping up the brand and maintaining some tenuous connection to what had been my favorite client gig until Grand Salami magazine stopped publishing last fall; I guess most of my writing has been dedicated to that online outlet for a while. (Aside: It would be really great if I had some help over there. It isn't making any money so far, but in order for it to ever make any it needs more traffic, which means more content, which means either I devote even more time to a one-man show over there or some other writers help me out. It's baseball! The Mariners are having their best year in ages, surely people have opinions to share. Doesn't have to be the Mariners, necessarily, any baseball-related writing would be welcome. I can't pay yet, but contributions will be greatly appreciated nonetheless.)

But that doesn't mean there hasn't been lots I've wanted to say. Because the country is going to shit.

I mean, it's been headed there for a while now. Depending on your calculus, it started November 8th, 2016, or when Cheeto Hitler first announced his candidacy, or in 1980 when Ronald Reagan conned Republicans into believing in trickle-down economics and got elected. Whichever period you point to, the descent into madness has accelerated to superluminal speeds this year.

The elections of Barack Obama gave me hope, and not just as a campaign slogan. After two presidential elections that I remain convinced were "won" by cheating (see: Florida 2000, Ohio 2004), the country actually showed up to vote and surpassed whatever GOP shenanigans were in place and did it handily. Twice. But I hadn't counted on the backlash being quite so forceful.

That backlash gave us the Tea Party and a rise of attitudes espousing (overtly or covertly) racism and jingoism and fear of equity. And a degree of that was to be expected; having an African-American president was bound to rile up the bigot brigade. What I and apparently a lot of other people underestimated was the size of that brigade and the degree to which that entrenched, ingrained hatred and fear would overwhelm reason and principle.

Even when we witnessed this abhorrent behavior all through the Obama years, both at street level and where it hurt society writ large (talking to you, Mitch McConnell, you criminal sleazebucket), it didn't register how truly threatening and pernicious the cancer of small minds was. The carcinogen had already taken root and metastasized all through the Republican party. That was evident all the way back to George W. Bush and Dick Cheney and seen daily with McConnell, Sarah Palin, Paul Ryan, Michelle Bachman, et.al. Yet the significance still didn't penetrate through our illusion of safety, because we believed—not even with conscious thought, we simply took for granted—that the laws and egalitarian principles of the United States, however lacking in certain areas, were strong and there to protect us.

But the cancer of small minds ultimately gave us President von Clownstick. And he and his Russian masters will—if not stopped very, very soon—literally destroy those laws and principles and then all bets are off. It is really and truly time, if not to panic, then to scream loudly and often.

There's a problem with that, though, and it's a problem the cancer-ridden Republican party has deliberately created and nurtured with either long-term calculated planning or dumb luck. They've peppered the media and culture for years with enough whacko conspiracy theories and tin-foil-hat level nutjobbery—Alex Jones, birtherism, Whitewater murder stories, "pizzagate," etc., etc.—that we have two major problems: One, society is numb to the absurdity of prominent figures and public officials saying ridiculously false things, from the more abstract tax-cuts-will-pay-for-themselves to the visceral everyone-seeking-asylum-is-from-MS13, and thus presenting such poses no consequence to the liar; and two, the crazy from the political right was delivered in ways designed to stir fear, to panic the listener, and was always, of course, too stupid to take seriously and deserved to be mocked. Because of that, when the political left, now, is correctly saying what I'm saying here, that we're in severe danger of descending into fascism because of what the Trump Administration is doing, it presents in a similar fashion—not because we want to instill fear and cause panic with what we say, but because we are afraid and panicked because of what the right-wingers have done. But that's not a distinction that penetrates to many. Thanks to Republican manipulation and deliberate spread of the cancer, we live in a society in which false equivalences are accepted.

And I don't know what to do about it.

I was watching Bill Maher's show tonight. He had Michael Moore on at the tail end of the show and Ben Shapiro on at the beginning. Shapiro demonstrated how the small-mind cancer had already ravaged his brain as he did ethical contortions to justify support for Trump, even while claiming to object to some of the things Trump has done. He has lost his ability to reason because the fear cancer has overwhelmed the logic center of his brain and thus he could be fine with the Hail Hydra horror show of Trump because he got a tax cut and an oligarch on the Supreme Court with another on the way. Moore, on the other hand, was justifiably panicked about our slide into dictatorship but was presenting like a crazy person, in much the same way Republican crazies went on about their baseless fever dreams that Barack Obama was going to proclaim Sharia law and melt down everyone's guns.

The thing is, Moore is essentially right. But he isn't going to reach anyone not already there with him that way. Shapiro is utterly wrong, but can claim "civility" and look more "reasonable" to many with his calmly stated support for an unabashedly offensive criminal bigot who is at this moment building internment camps for brown people. Because the cancer of small minds is everywhere now.

A point made repeatedly on the show was that Democrats must "play hardball" and push back as hard as Republicans have historically done. I get that. I agree with it in many circumstances. But how it's done is important. Yelling just as loudly isn't going to do the trick. And it doesn't address the basis of that particular complaint. Democrats have not pushed as hard or been as stubbornly assholish as Republicans because of a fundamental difference in makeup: Democrats respect the opinions of other people enough to allow for compromise, and respect rules, laws, and traditions enough to work within them. Republicans have no empathy or respect for anyone else and are happy to subvert rules, laws, and traditions if they become inconvenient. (And I'm talking about modern Republicans here, the 21st century models. Go back to even the end of the '90s and there were still plenty of human beings in the party that hadn't been overtaken by the cancer yet, along with the true scumbags like Newt Gingrich and Rudy Giuliani that have always been there.)

For all the whining last week about "civility" after Sarah Huckabee Sanders Thurmond Gohmert was asked to leave a restaurant, what's lost in the story is that she was asked to leave, politely and with great civility, because she is a vile individual doing the bidding of a much more vile and much more powerful threat to democracy. What's the response been from these alleged defenders of civilized behavior? Death threats to the restaurateur. Vandalism at establishments with similar names. Hypocrisy is a prerequisite for the modern Republican party and a necessity in Trump support, so none of that is surprising, but it illustrates the problem. One side is basically respectful, the other side isn't.

I've always held to the belief that one cannot succumb to the level of one's enemy. My ethical standards reflect Mr. Spock and Spider-Man: the bad guys kill people, we don't. In this case, the bad guys get their way with intimidation and manipulation and violence. The good guys are better than that and are above such tactics.

But this is a "desperate times" situation. Do we need desperate measures? Do they need to be as vicious as the Trumpers'? Are there still enough people in this country with the ability and means to stop this fall of American civilization before it's too late without resorting to dubious tactics?

Without such desperate measures, all we have left to work with is political pressure. And if the Trumpers have their way, that won't matter much longer. As much pressure as we can muster has to be applied to Senators who need convincing to prevent this criminal president from stacking a Supreme Court that will surely be asked to rule on his own conduct. To congresspeople and other officials to oppose and act against the incarceration of legal asylum-seekers. To media publishers who regurgitate propaganda and fail to communicate the severity of the current government's un-American behavior and the blatancy of its seemingly boundless dishonesty.

It just doesn't seem to be enough. And I don't know what else to do.

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Discovery Thoughts

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So...is it good?

When it premiered in September, I wondered if Star Trek: Discovery would end up being good Star Trek, or just good science-fiction? Due to the serialized nature of the new show, it wasn't obvious from the pilot, or even the first half of the season, if we were seeing something that fit within the overall Trek concept or something that was taking way too many liberties in the interest of being "fresh" or "appealing to the masses." Now that we've completed the first season, I can say, yeah, this is Star Trek. Even pretty decent Star Trek.

It's not without flaws, and I don't mean the sort of things I complained about in September. Mostly, anyway. It's a much less egregious form of the problem with the recent JJ Abrams movies, which is simply lazy writing. (There's a common element between those with executive producer Alex Kurtzman, who is also listed as "co-creator"; not saying it's necessarily his fault—especially since screenwriter Bob Orci was the prime screwup on those films—just noting the connection.) There are plot points that either don't make a lot of sense or are just way too convenient, plus fairly obvious alternatives that would have made for stronger storytelling. TV constraints might factor into this—not budgetary, as Discovery seems to have everything it wants there, but available time, as in, "there are only so many screen-minutes we have available to us." But the streaming model might take most of those away, so perhaps allowing for time constraints is too generous.

Take the season finale episode, for instance. (SPOILERS AHEAD, proceed at your own risk.)


See full post: "Discovery Thoughts"...

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Occam's Razor Applies to Coding, Too

In the previous post I mentioned temporarily frakking up the comments here aboard StarshipTim.com, done while testing a feature I was putting together for a different project, and thought that since I'd solved the issue over there, fixing it over here would take all of five minutes.

Three nights later, I finally have it working. I still don't know quite why it broke in the first place; a compatibility issue with PHP versions and software updates and associated whooziwhatsises, to be sure, but specifically...still beats me.

However, I still could have fixed it in maybe half an hour instead of three days if I'd remembered the Holmesian credo to respect the simpler solution in the face of more complicated ones. I wanted my code to work within the bounds of nested PHP and MySql tables and cooperate with the database-oriented CMS. But the conflicts were making me tear my hair out (which is thinning enough on its own, thank you very much) and it finally occurred to me that I could accomplish the same goal with two lines of Javascript.

If you don't need the whiz-bang goodies and fancy whatsises, then—revelation—you don't have to use them. Go figure.

Anyway, the comments work now.

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