Friday, March 27, 2015

THE NEW OREGON TRAIL: ELIMINATING OBSTACLES IN THE VOTING PROCESS (as red-state legislatures mine the polling place harbors...)

            Are you registered to vote in the next election?  If not, you've probably got some hoop-jumping in front of you.  If you live in a "red" state, you might need to get your papers in order, comrade, because it's not as easy to sign up as it used to be.

            Like the swine flu vaccine, new voter ID laws in Republican leaning states are a cure without a disease.  The premise for these blatant voter suppression tactics is the non-existent threat of voter fraud, a problem so rare it barely registers a blip on statistical reports.  And yet, GOP legislatures all over America have figured out a way to keep millions of likely Democratic voters away from the voting booth by putting up the straw man argument that our precious elections are being stolen from us on a regular basis.  Undocumented immigrants and felons are swarming to the polls on election day to subvert American democracy!  Be afraid, be very afraid!

            While courts have routinely overruled many of these suppression tactics, a lot of them have been ratified into law in crucial swing states.  In fact, so many barriers have been placed in front of the poor, elderly, and students that the outcome of the next election cycle could be radically affected.  Mission accomplished, if you're a Republican and realize your Party's policies can't win on their own merits.

              But while legislatures in many states have been hard at work making it difficult to register to vote, the state of Oregon has done something remarkable.  If you've applied for and received an Oregon drivers license, you're registered to vote.  No need to fill out a voter registration form.  No need to show identification.  No rent or utility bills to present for public scrutiny.  You don't have to dig up your birth certificate or pay to have a special photo ID made.  Got a drivers license?  You can vote.

               How bold (and sane!) is that?

               Oregon's governor challenged the other forty-nine states to follow her state's lead, and already some in California's legislature are giving indications that they intend to present bills making that state the second to automatically register citizens known to qualify to vote.

               What a concept.

               And what a contrast.  Look at the barriers Republicans are needlessly putting up between the American people and their constitutionally protected right to free and fair elections.  Then look at what Democratic legislatures are doing to simplify and encourage the voting process.  The stark difference in democratic ideals couldn't be more evident.

                This is something all Americans should demand on a national level.  Our Congress should pass a law opening up the voter registration process to all taxpayers based upon their IRS information.  Old enough?  Valid citizenship?  Have a mailing address?  You can vote, regardless of what state you're visiting when election day rolls around.

                 What could be simpler, or more democratic than that?


Wednesday, March 25, 2015


           (heavy sigh...)

           It's not that I'm a speed demon or anything.  Hell, I used to drive pretty fast everywhere I went.  But as I've gotten older, wiser, and less willing to part with my meager resources due to speeding tickets, I've slowed my happy ass down.  I still get where I'm going faster than most people, though, and have to admit I can be one of those white-knuckle, vein bulging, impatient maniacs on the bumper of the car ahead of me if that person is texting and driving ten miles per hour under the speed limit.  Hang up and drive, asshole...

           But all that's about to change.  According to this article, things are heading our way that will take all of that "choice" shit right out of our hands when it comes to speeding.

           The Ford Motor Company has announced that their second generation S-Max cars in Europe will be sold with an optional technology capable of reading street speed limit signs and then restricting the fuel supply to the engine in order to adjust the car's speed accordingly.  A driver will have the option to temporarily override the system in order to pass another vehicle or avoid an accident, but it will routinely bring the car's speed back down to legal limits.  

            An insider quoted in the article says technology is in the works that will transmit speed limit information directly to our car's computer system, and our cars will be designed to maintain speeds at or below those limits.

             Which means the old computer-free muscle cars of my youth will be even more popular than they are now.

              Hint to folks wanting to make a killing:  Buy up old pony cars and GTO's and hot rods before they're all gone.  They'll be worth a fortune in a few years.

              Before long we'll just climb into our climate controlled electric cars, sit back and stare at the electronic "newspaper" in our hands while geo-positioning satellites take our vehicles to our designated destinations... at the correct speeds, with proper following distances, and ever mindful of changing road and weather conditions. We'll have as much to do with it as a dog in a crate being hauled to the vet.

              Like I said...  sigh.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015


            When my lovely (and dangerous) wife and I set out to assume guardianship of her nine year-old niece (whom I'm told resents being referred to as my "wife's" niece, instead of "our" niece, something I'm determined to work on) we knew our lives would be forever altered.  Gone were those carefree days of hedonistic behavior and those nights of (fairly) loud, unrestrained sex.  Suddenly we've found ourselves dealing with elementary school lunches, drop off and pick up schedules, piano lessons, voice lessons, dance lessons, random bouts of strep throat, stomach viruses, loose teeth, and a million other challenges.  Just dealing with a fourth grader's homework assignments has turned out to be humbling.  You know that show, "Are you Smarter Than a Fifth Grader?"  Well, as it turns out, I don't believe I am...

             Our afternoons and evenings have gone from having a beer on the back deck to relearning how to multiply and divide fractions.  For the record, I volunteered those particular brain cells to the Hooey Gods in exchange for righteous buzzes years ago, and have found retraining other, less adaptable grey matter to those mathematical disciplines difficult.  I no longer remember how to do some of the most basic functions I (surely!) must have learned as a child.  My fall-back response when faced with the prospect of helping "our" niece with some of her work is "Hey, I've already passed the fourth grade.  This is your job, work it out!"

             I get a lot of eye rolls and heavy sighs, and usually I sit down and "work it out", too.

             But some of her assignments are massive undertakings, and that's what I've called you all here for today.  I'm wondering exactly when did the fourth grade morph from pasting cutout hand-shaped Thanksgiving turkey art to an academic endeavor requiring multi-media presentations and research that would daunt the NSA?  I KNOW I never had to do anything like this when I was in the fourth grade.  Or middle school.  Or high school, for that matter.

              For example, Sarah has to present a "famous person report" to her class in the school cafeteria in front of her fellow students, their parents, grandparents, and the faculty.  She's required to show up in costume, be prepared to make an 8 minute presentation (minimum) about said famous person, then take 10 more minutes of questions from anyone in the room.  She has to turn in a bibliography of research materials used, supply a drawing of that person, provide a few props that help portray that person's background and accomplishments, describe that person's childhood, siblings, parents, activities, adult endeavors, education, and provide details of her famous person's life and death.  

            In short, this isn't something a kid can dash off between Minecraft marathons.

            Obviously, choosing a famous person is a wide open opportunity to make your life miserable.  You could choose someone everyone knows everything about, thus making everyone in the room an expert on your particular famous person.  Or you could choose someone obscure, and bluff your way past all the particulars.  

             Sarah has chosen to give her report on Helen Keller.  We don't know why she chose Helen Keller, and neither does she, apparently.  When asked, she told us, "She was the only famous person I could think of when I was asked who my report would be on..."  Further questioning revealed that Sarah didn't know much of anything about Helen Keller, other than the fact that she was blind.  She's not even seen the Anne Bancroft and Patty Duke version of "The Miracle Worker", a movie you might think would be readily available on Netflix or any of a hundred other movie sources.  But you would be way wrong.  Youtube has a lot of clips from that film, but no one seems to offer the entire movie.  (sigh...)

              So she's got this massive report to prepare, on top of her regular homework, piano lessons, voice lessons, Minecraft marathons, and all the other things that suddenly fill up our days around here.  And when I say "she's" got a report, what I mean is "WE'VE" got a report to prepare for, too.  See, we're expected to be there when these little dissertations are given in the cafeteria, and no one wants to be the parent of the unprepared kid...

               I think I'm lucky I got through the fourth grade when I did.  I can paste hand cutout Thanksgiving turkey artwork with the best of 'em... 

Thursday, March 19, 2015


         Okay, that title line might be a tad misleading...  It wasn't like my lovely (and dangerous) wife and I ended up lost in the Amicalola Forest or anything dramatic like that.  We never even heard banjo music from the woods. In fact, we had a well-appointed chalet next to a nice little river, and basically ate, drank, and made merry as if we were visiting royalty.  Surviving one of our trips usually involves coming home and finding that we need a vacation to get over our vacation.

          We stayed in a beautiful little mountain cabin, complete with a hot tub, pool table, and a game room that featured one of the old arcade Pac Man games.  We drank copious amounts of adult beverages (rum cosmos, B-52s, Bloody Marys, Jameson's, some vile brand of tequila "ta-kill-ya" my wife prefers, and a case and a half of Yuengling.  Filets, chicken, fresh crappie (thanks, Bartman!), massive breakfasts of fried potatoes, bacon, eggs, and any leftover steaks from the night before.  We never even got around to the shrimp we carried along for the ride.  

           The river ran directly adjacent to the cabin's lower deck, and a person could literally drop a line into the water over the railing.  So we caught a couple dozen fish (all of them too small to keep), shot pool, and played a sixteen game tournament of full contact take no prisoners Scrabble while there... a tourney that ended in an 8 to 8 deadlock just before we had to check out of the cabin this morning.

            About thirty minutes from our chalet near Ellijay, Georgia, is Amicalola Falls State Park, featuring (you guessed it) Amicalola Falls, a 729 foot cascade.  The park is a short 8.5 mile hike to the southern terminus of the Appalachian Trail at Springer Mountain, but we didn't take the hike to the AT.  Pondered a shirt at the park's gift shop that read, "I HIKED THE ENTIRE width of the APPALACHIAN TRAIL!"...

            Happy to be home, even though it's always a tad depressing to face the mundane day to day after a week of hedonistic revelry.  Sarah stayed here at our place with her grandfather (my Dangerous One's dad) and they teamed up to keep the cats' litter box cleaned out.  I think the man was ready to go have a few stiff drinks himself when we brought in our suitcase, officially taking him off the hook for the care and feeding of a picky nine year-old.  It's a chore taking care of a kid when you're out of practice, but I think they both had a great time.  Sarah's probably not looking forward to home cooked meals and vegetables again, after five nights of fast food, pizzas, and macaroni and cheese dinners.  

             Tomorrow morning we go to probate court and officially submit our request to take full guardianship of Sarah, and we have no idea how that's going to go (or even what it might involve).  We've been dealing with some unnecessary static from the kid's mother figure (Mommy Dearest), and don't really know what to expect if she shows up for our hearing.  The day after that little drama, I'll have to coordinate with two other hired guns, photographers I've hired to help me cover the local Special Kids Race event here in town.  Two thousand entrants are expected to run in the event, so it will be a challenge.

              Anyway, we're back.  Hope we didn't miss anything monumental while we were off the grid.  There's something to be said for staying in a cabin that doesn't receive cell phone service...  I think I like it a lot more than I should.


Friday, March 13, 2015

GENTLEMEN, (if you're still listening) I NEED YOUR HELP... (and to any women who might be reading this, please... be not too hard...)

           Guys, I'll try to keep this brief, unlike my usual posts.

           Have any of you fellas ever been minding your own business, then suddenly found that your wife or significant other is kissing you on the cheek with a breezy "Bye, honey!" on her way to the door?  And have you ever found yourself saying, "Wait?  What?  Where are you going?" as she heads toward her car, only to find out she's been talking to you about this specific appointment for the past half-hour?  This sort of thing happens to me all the damn time.  More often than I can remember.  Obviously, there's a problem here.

            My hearing is perfect.  If any other reasonably sober adult human can hear it, so can I.  Apparently, what's impaired is my "give-a-shit".  I have the capacity to process incoming information for a span of about thirty seconds before my brain starts to subconsciously change channels.  If the previous channel was interesting, I'm liable to remember what was being said.  If it didn't "grab" me, I'm far more likely to find myself wondering what that annoying background noise was all about.  And my lovely (and dangerous) wife doesn't appreciate having her conversation considered "annoying background noise".  I don't know anyone who does, now that I've written it down and looked at it.  I'm pondering the "delete" key as I go over this...

             What I'd like to know if this:  is there a Cochlear implant-type thing easily distracted men can insert in an ear (or some other orifice) that can help us pay closer attention to those informational onslaughts we often disregard?  I'm living with a woman whose good nature has its limits, and better than most people, I know not to rile her past the point of reasonable restraint.  Still, there are also limits to my addled brain's willingness to absorb useless data.  For instance, if I purchase a new appliance or electronic device, I don't spend the first two hours of my ownership perusing the owner's guide and manual.  I'm a "don't need this shit" kind of person about instruction manuals.  I'm more of a "plug it in, turn it on, try to figure out what I've fucked up" kind of guy.  Works out, most of the time.

              But I'm beginning to suspect she's growing weary of my Absent Minded Professor routine, especially given that I'm anything but professorial.  She could find a brighter bulb out in the iris bed.  I really have no idea why she puts up with my ass, to tell you the truth.  Half the time I spend dazed and confused, and the other half I'm just happy she's patient.

               Maybe I need a new drug.  Something capable of making me behave like those women who accompany politicians to the podium after they've been caught doing something reprehensible and scandalous.  You know those wives who look on adoringly as their miscreant asshole of a husband (governor, congressman, president) explains and apologizes for whatever horrible thing he's been caught doing?  I need whatever fucking drug those women are taking. That way I can at least look like I give-a-shit when things are being explained to me just before she grabs her keys and kisses me on the cheek.

                 'Cause I'm scared shitless she might not come back from one of those trips, and I won't remember what she said before she left me.

                  Any suggestions would be appreciated.