Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Link Dump 2015: Grab Your Helmet

As someone who uses his cell phone nearly every hour of every day, my mobile browser sometimes gets bloated with open tabs from things I've read. So, in an effort to cull those tabs, I am dumping some of my favorite recent reads for you to enjoy.


Craft beer is exploding in the U.S., and here's a story about one of its largest microbreweries:

"There's this big blob of young people now turning legal drinking age over the past four or five years and I don't think any of them even grew up thinking about tasting a Budweiser," he says. "It's just like all these 15-year-olds who have never not had a smartphone. These things are becoming native now to the next generation, and that's something for the big brewers to be afraid of."

Across the pond, we learn about a French style beer:

Medical journals of the period also suggested that visitors to the Strasbourg area seek out Bière de Mars (as well as still-familiar names like 'bock-bier' and 'Lambick'), for both health and leisure purposes, while many travel guides also supported this notion. Biere de Mars even developed its own lore, garnering an association with Napoleon that seems to have come about via a bit of (fancy) folk etymology—classically-educated British visitors asserted, often in jest, that 'mars' referred to the god of war and that the beer fueled the army before battles, while the direct (and less romantic) French-to-English translation of 'March' was overlooked.

If you can ignore the throwback web design, there's a nice (and short) little history lesson tucked in here about American beer production:

Lagers produced by these breweries, were not the weak and mild lagers now associated with modern American mega-breweries. These "pilseners" were a significantly stronger beer, both in flavor and alcohol, designed to meet the appetites of the various central European immigrants working the coal mines.


Pop Music is commercial, should we be surprised?:

Millions of Swifties and KatyCats—as well as Beliebers, Barbz, and Selenators, and the Rihanna Navy—would be stunned by the revelation that a handful of people, a crazily high percentage of them middle-aged Scandinavian men, write most of America’s pop hits. It is an open yet closely guarded secret, protected jealously by the labels and the performers themselves, whose identities are as carefully constructed as their songs and dances. The illusion of creative control is maintained by the fig leaf of a songwriting credit. The performer’s name will often appear in the list of songwriters, even if his or her contribution is negligible. (There’s a saying for this in the music industry: “Change a word, get a third.”) But almost no pop celebrities write their own hits. Too much is on the line for that, and being a global celebrity is a full-time job. It would be like Will Smith writing the next Independence Day.

Just a good bit of fun:

It’s pretty much a very short parody of Watchmen with news paper comic characters instead of superheroes. Somewhat inspired by Bartkira, I made this sampling of pages both as a joke and to see what it would look like if newspaper characters got the same dark treatment superheroes did in the 80s. There was no copy/pasting in any of these pages, I redrew them by looking intimately at my copy of Watchmen and pictures of each character I was using.

The Soviet Union did not allow western consumer products behind the iron curtain, but that doesn't mean they couldn't indulge in their own versions:

Well, to put it simply: it means no Pac-Man. It means no fantasies. It means presenting work as physical labor, promoting Communist patriotism, and glorifying habits of mind that were appropriate to Marxist thinking. Fantasy and role-playing games featuring treasure-hunting, princesses, and invented creatures had no home in the USSR.

A famous New York City restaurant which was adorned with drawings by many famous artists is no more, and the artwork has been painted over:

Artists hand-sketched the cartoons in exchange for meals throughout the years. Many worked at nearby King Features Syndicate, a comic company. The famed walls were restored in 1995. Today, Palm restaurants worldwide are run by direct descendants of the founding owners. It was impossible, they said in a statement, to take the original artwork with them. Environment

If we can't even tackle the pollution that causes climate upheaval, how are we ever going to address light pollution? Let's pretend:

In polluted cities around the world, it’s a struggle to see the stars in our night skies. And it’s that struggle that The World at Night’s 6th International Earth and Sky Photo Contest tries to highlight, showing us images of how the world would look if we controlled light pollution.

Corporations have a vested interest in profiting from pollution:

Despite its efforts for nearly two decades to raise doubts about the science of climate change, newly discovered company documents show that as early as 1977, Exxon research scientists warned company executives that carbon dioxide was increasing in the atmosphere and that the burning of fossil fuels was to blame.

A humorous piece about Britain's business-first mentality at the expense of our environment:

Bearing this in mind, I finally find myself reluctantly agreeing with the business community. There is no time for delay. Let’s build the runway. Let’s choke the Earth. Let’s get this damn thing over with, for what can be avoided, whose end is purposed by the mighty gods of business? Hasten our demise, let our children be the last of their sorry line, and spare their unborn descendants any further suffering. We will not save the rhino. We will not even save the hedgehog. How can we save the world?

This is ancient news in terms of the Internet, but still a good read about how damaging K-Cups are to our world:

But critics warn that the packaging needed for these systems comes with environmental and health-related costs. By making each pod so individualized, and so easy to dispose of, you must also exponentially increase the packaging—packaging that ultimately ends up in landfills. (And that's to say nothing of the plastic and metal brewing systems, which if broken, aren't that easy to recycle either.)

The Times had an article last year about water rights, especially relevant this year as things have only gotten worse (the Colorado River has been at risk for decades now, glad we still haven't addressed it yet):

Residents of the arid West have always scrapped over water. But years of persistent drought are now intensifying those struggles, and the explosive growth — and thirst — of Western cities and suburbs is raising their stakes to an entirely new level.

The destruction of our planet is a bummer, to say the least; good thing I don't have any kids to leave behind to inherit this mess:

"It's just too late for it," he says. "Perhaps if we'd gone along routes like that in 1967, it might have helped. But we don't have time. All these standard green things, like sustainable development, I think these are just words that mean nothing. I get an awful lot of people coming to me saying you can't say that, because it gives us nothing to do. I say on the contrary, it gives us an immense amount to do. Just not the kinds of things you want to do."


Reappropriation of America's fastest passenger ship:

In its heyday, the SS United States was renowned for its luxury as well as its functionality. It is the largest non-military ship ever built in the United States and could travel at speeds of about 40 knots, nearly twice as fast as cruise ships today. On its first trip across the Atlantic, it traveled so fast some of its paint was blown off.

Pho is bloody delicious:

Pho refers to the noodles -- flat, long rice noodles -- not the soup itself, although it is commonly associated with the dish as a unit. The two main types of soup are pho bo, which is made with beef broth, and pho ga, made with chicken broth. If you ask for just pho in Vietnam, it'll commonly be understood as Pho Bo. A hearty dish, pho is often eaten for breakfast, usually outside of the house at market stands or stalls.

To quote the great George Michael, sex is natural, sex is fun:

In a bad mood? You need to get laid. Have a terrible headache? An orgasm would solve that. Feeling bad about yourself? You need someone to f*ck you.

A fellow who used to work as a tour guide at a Southern Plantation explains just how ignorant some of his guests were regarding slavery:

For most guests, this is the most emotionally meaningful moment of the tour. I showed the young mother some of the slaves' names and pointed out which people were related to each other. The mom stiffened up, raised her chin, and asked pinchedly, "Did the slaves here appreciate the care they got from their mistress?"

White collar crime is treated as a joke, but I'm tired of being the punchline:

The primary difference between the deaths that occur in the “workworld” vs. the “underworld” is simply the perspective our society – which is tilted towards the worldview of the rich – gives them. A poor mugger killing you after a fight over your wallet is considered a grave crime, whereas a worker being killed because their employer didn't spend the money necessary to give them proper safety is considered routine.

I remember a TV news magazine episode about Indian call centers, and a woman who worked there was demonstrating how she mastered many American accents, including Brooklyn and Southern. Every accent she did was heavily twinged with her native accent. It was a mess:

Every month, thousands of Indians leave their Himalayan tribes and coastal fishing towns to seek work in business process outsourcing, which includes customer service, sales, and anything else foreign corporations hire Indians to do. The competition is fierce. No one keeps a reliable count, but each year there are possibly millions of applicants vying for BPO positions. A good many of them are bright recent college grads, but their knowledge of econometrics and Soviet history won't help them in interviews. Instead, they pore over flashcards and accent tapes, intoning the shibboleths of English pronunciation—"wherever" and "pleasure" and "socialization"—that recruiters use to distinguish the employable candidates from those still suffering from MTI, or "mother tongue influence."


A state politician is apparently unstable, tweeting some bizarre, macho threats:

"Not smart to come up and harass somebody in a parking lot who's caryring a handgun. Better be glad you decided to walk away. #armed&ready"

Kim Davis dominated the news like no one else (except Donald Trump) by refusing to do the job she was elected to do because she feels that homosexuality is not only a sin, but a sin she has to be proactive in fighting against:

This is a tough position and her only real choice in line with her religious beliefs is to resign her position so as not to violate those beliefs - even though it was a good paying job she inherited from her mother and plans to pass on to her son. But Davis doesn't want to give her job! Who does? She wants a job enforcing the public laws. But there's a public law she doesn't want to enforce, which means she really can't do the job without violating her religious beliefs. But she doesn't have the courage of her convictions that would allow her to quit her job. It's a classic case of wanting to have your cake and eat it too. So she wants to be able to keep her job but just not do part of it, sacrifice for her religious beliefs but also hold on to the job. This is never what religious liberty has meant in any context ever.

President Obama has been on a roll during his "lame duck" term, and the Iran Deal is quite the accomplishment:

As the Senate came back into session, but before the C-SPAN microphones were on, Reid approached Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky on the Senate floor and told him Democrats had the votes to block the disapproval resolution. When aides asked Reid later if that was really the case, the Nevadan just shrugged.

Regarding the internal collapse of the Republican Party, sanity was the first victim:

One need look no further than the Republican presidential race to understand Boehner’s lack of appeal to extreme conservatives. In the latest GOP polls, Donald Trump and Ben Carson stand in first and second place, respectively. Trump and Carson are exactly the kind of leaders that Tea Party conservatives love: they lack government experience, they have a poor grasp of the issues, they take absurdly extreme policy positions and they make crudely offensive and deeply divisive statements on a routine basis. In the age of Trump and Carson, Boehner’s days were numbered.

A mayor of a city in Texas is obsessed with Sharia Law:

Van Duyne first made headlines for challenging Islam in February, when she wrote a Facebook post vowing to look into a "Shariah law court" that was said to have been set up by an Irving mosque. "While I am working to better understand how this 'court' will function and whom will be subject to its decisions, please know that if it is determined that there are violations of basic rights occurring, I will not stand idle and will fight with every fiber of my being against this action," she wrote.

But the "Shariah law court" wasn't actually headquartered in Irving, which abuts Dallas, nor did it have anything to do with the Islamic Center of Irving. A note on the homepage of Dallas' Islamic Tribunal, which settle civil disputes between Muslims for a fee, aimed to disambiguate the two.

Unrestrained capitalism lets us bleed:

In America we have this myth that if you deserve it, you will have it. We’re afraid to look at our downtrodden because it undercuts that myth. There is a fear of the poor that is uniquely American. It’s especially hard to look at someone who could be one of their kids – someone like me who’s white and intelligent – and see them as poor. When the crash happened, there was a panic among the rich because suddenly wealth wasn’t only to do with how hard you’d worked. It could be taken away! They got really fearful. So much of Americans’ self-image is based on what we own and how we present ourselves.

Unrestrained capitalism lets us bleed, redux:

Today’s low-wage workers are also more educated, with 41 percent having at least some college, up from 29 percent in 2000. “Minimum-wage and low-wage workers are older and more educated than 10 or 20 years ago, yet they’re making wages below where they were 10 or 20 years ago after inflation,” said Mr. Schmitt, senior economist at the research center. “If you look back several decades, workers near the minimum wage were more likely to be teenagers — that’s the stereotype people had. It’s definitely not accurate anymore.”

The gun culture is so entrenched in this country, and the gun lobby so powerful, that any meaningful legislation is but a dream at this point; however, this is not only a feasible idea, but workable:

Gun insurance would work very much like car insurance. You would need it to buy a gun, and the policy would have to include liability coverage in case that gun injures someone. If a gun owner has no accidents, his premiums go down. Someone who wants to "open carry" his weapon would pay more than someone who keeps it locked at home. Assault weapons would be more expensive to insure than hunting rifles because they they have a greater capacity to do harm. But it wouldn't be government making these decisions, which would be unconstitutional - it would be insurance companies, competing with one another to keep premiums reasonable.

Although the Confederate flag issue has fizzled out and no longer makes the headlines, we still had some great comments about society and race:

“And we struggle with it. We try to ignore it. We pretend, with the election of Barack Obama, that we’re in some post-racial society,” he continued. “And what we have seen is a kind of reaction to this. The birther movement, of which Donald Trump is one of the authors of, is another politer way of saying the N word. It’s just more sophisticated and a little bit more clever. He’s ‘other,’ he’s different.”

If a black person tried to open carry, he would be shot (a few African Americans have been shot by police over carrying a TOY gun):

Kylie Morris of Channel 4 in Britain visited Ferguson on Tuesday and tried to explain to the British people why white “Oath Keepers” were allowed to openly carry firearms on the street while peaceful black protesters were arrested.

Yeah, I'm partisan:

There are other bits of crankery here and there that are driven by base politics, but in the end, the versions of conservative crankery that really matter nearly always come down to pandering to the rich at all costs—or, at the very least, doing nothing to offend them. Whatever else you can say about the Republican Party, it knows who's in charge and it always has. This is starting to create some seismic faults that are likely to cause them a lot of angst in the near future, but for now, it's the wealthy uber alles.

As a reminder, Dick Cheney is a subhuman:

These guys wreck the economy, and then complain that Obama hasn't fixed it fast enough. They blow a hole in the deficit, and then complain that Obama hasn't quite filled it yet. They pursue a disastrous war in Iraq, and then complain that Obama ruined it all by not leaving a few more brigades behind. They twiddle their thumbs over Iran, and then complain that Obama's nuclear deal isn't quite to their liking.

Money in politics is an absolute joke, where even millionaires are brushed aside so candidates can pander to billionaires:

The most interesting question amid the wreckage of Walker's campaign may now be this: Where will his wealthy backers go with their money? In July, the super-PAC supporting Walker, Unintimidated PAC, reported having locked up more than $20 million, placing him in the top echelon of GOP candidates in terms of financial backing. The bulk of the money, $13.4 million, came from just four people, including Wisconsin-based roofing supply magnate Diane Hendricks, a longtime supporter who gave $5 million.

Yes, I read Talking Points Memo quite a bit:

Latimer continued to work for the company after its 1892 merger into General Electric, and all told spent nearly half of his 80 years working as part of Edison’s laboratories and corporation—and more than half a century helping pioneer some of our most significant national technologies. Yet it is Bell whom we remember for the telephone and Edison for the electric light bulb—and while those men certainly deserve a place in our collective narratives of those technologies and of American invention more generally, those narratives are quite simply incomplete without a far more prominent place for the contributions of [African American] Lewis Latimer (among many others) as well.

Republicans can spew whatever crazy shit they want and then say, "We're not racist, we have a black guy and a few Hispanics running for president, it's fine":

That the party responsible for the Southern strategy, the racist populism of the Reagan era, and the current age of voter suppression can count a black neurosurgeon among its most popular Presidential candidate is in itself a form of vaccination against charges of racism. It means one thing when a white billionaire taps into whites’ anxieties about cultural and economic displacement, and something else entirely when a black man from Detroit validates their conspiratorial fears about the Affordable Care Act. Or when, in an oblivious echo of the Dred Scott decision, an African-American states that entire segments of the population are irreconcilable with the Constitution.


Making money on the web seems to be an endless challenge for businesses born in the analog age, but even the digital born are finding it difficult as technology evolves:

In recent years, banner ads have been usurped by the “native ad,” sometimes called sponsored content. These often look like regular articles but are paid for by companies. Sometimes the sponsor’s logo is the only sign of their investment. Other times the entire post hints at the sponsor’s product—like this quiz about bathroom graffiti by Scrubbing Bubbles. These ads attract more attention than banners, so advertisers pay more for them. BI Intelligence, Business Insider’s research service, suggests that spending on native ads will reach $7.9 billion this year, up from $4.7 billion in 2013.

Social media, while fun to engage in, really puts our private lives in the hands of corporations to pour over and profit from:

But with as few as four publicly available geo-tagged data points, scientists can accurately connect 90 percent of people to their credit card transactions, according to research published in the journal Science on Friday. That data is supposed to be anonymous, but it’s not really, and women and high-income people have less anonymity than others.

Saturday, September 26, 2015

It''s a beautiful life

With the U.S. presidential campaign turning its gears despite the election being over a year away, Americans have heard some remarkably stupid comments from candidates vying for attention. Most of the headline grabbing statements invariably are anti-women, anti-immigrant, anti-sanity. Over in Europe, they are dealing with a refugee crisis as people flee the chaos and bloodshed in Syria, while Israel wants to build a wall to keep those seeking asylum from entering the country. Yet, leave it to the machinations of the universe to provide example of humanity to make those stories seem like mere fluff. In the span of a month, I saw three news articles so vile it made me shudder.

In August, a 22 year old woman believed her 16 year old sister was possessed by demons. The family was told by a local religious figure that pain would drive the evil spirit out, so the woman arranged to have her sister gang raped, which police then say was followed by an even more gruesome act. Police Commissioner Paul Almiron said the pastor told the family to cut the girl's eyes out as part of the exorcism, and the ghastly act was carried out by the elder sister with a sharp instrument.

A few weeks later, in Florida, a man was making love when his companion called out the name of her ex-husband. Enraged, the man raped the woman vaginally and anally with various objects, until he eventually shoved his arm inside her. Per the article, "He said that he then inserted both fists, before putting his arm in her up the elbow and ripping out intestinal matter. Lopez told authorities that he had a cigarette after disemboweling Nemeth, and after he finished it she had stopped breathing."

Finally, in case your stomach is not already churning, a minister in Alabama has been accused of grooming young girls for deviant sexual acts. How young, you might be wondering, as if there was an age that might somehow make the previous statement more palatable. Well, "Jane said she lost her virginity to her pastor on her father's grave when she was just 9 years old." Oh, yes, that's right, the girl was raped in a cemetery. She was told that if she said anything, the pastor would not place flowers on the grave and demons would instead come and get her while she slept.

Those three stories were published from August 21 through September 21. Who knows what happened in small towns and distant regions that never even made it into the light of day?

Friday, July 24, 2015

Mum's the word

Most of you who know me know I'm not a believer in the fanciful, but I got what I consider definitive proof that there is no such thing as karma. On the first Tuesday of this month, I was ordering take-out from a restaurant, because my mom loved the rice balls from this particular place and I wanted to get her something she would eat. She was not doing so well the past couple of weeks, but she always asked for this whenever I asked her what she wanted to eat. So, rice ball it is. The person handling the order gave me an extra $10 bill as part of my change, then turned around to get a piece of carrot cake, another of my mom's favorites. About 2 seconds passed where my eyes lingered on the money and I contemplated keeping the extra cash, but I thought that if the register was short, the girl would be docked $10 and ten bucks probably means way more to her than it does to me. My mom raised me better than that. So, when she came back, I told the young woman she gave me too much money and there was a wave of confusion, panic, and then relief in her face. The look in her eyes seemed like a mixture of being stunned and thankful. I felt pretty good about being honest and helping someone else out. I did a good deed and neither asked for, nor needed, anything in return.

Two days later, my mom died.

My mom was diagnosed with cancer in May of 2014. The cancer was not only in her right breast, but had traveled to her liver and bones as well. One year ago today, July 24, I found my mom on her back, blood caked on her mouth and mumbling incoherently. I called out to her and she raised an arm up, but not towards me, just up. An ambulance came moments later, and in the hospital it was determined she would be put into an induced coma. I wasn't sure she would make it. I was not sure we would ever speak again. By October 25, she was home, after surviving having a Tracheotomy and then having the tube removed, plus a lengthy stint at an in-patient physical rehab. She was a tough woman. She raised me by herself from when I was three years old, and her body had been worn down from years working in a hospital and then a facility for the mentally disabled, where she received multiple herniated discs after being kicked in the head by a 22 year old with severe developmental problems as he was being lifted onto a stretcher. That was followed up with an accident a few years later, when a bus rear ended her vehicle. She took her licks and kept on going.

Following her initial spinal accident, she went back to university and earned a Bachelors and a Masters, the latter following one year after the former, and with a 4.0 GPA to boot. She moved herself, me and at least one cat (sometimes two) cross-country four times, by herself (the last one was 20 years ago this month, and took 2,512 miles across ten states in five days). When we were back on the East Coast, my mom purchased a ticket package for the 1996 season, which included about 16 games, plus one game per playoff round, if they could manage to make the postseason in back to back years following a 14 year drought. That season, of course, the Yankees won the World Series. The one game we went to? Game 1, where the team lost 12-1.

Doing those road trips from Pennsylvania to the Yankees games, we would often stop at some good food places in Brooklyn, her home town, although obviously it wasn't always feasible to detour into that borough to buy food to take home. However, my mom was a typical New Yorker, insisting the best food in the country came from there (this was before all the chain restaurants moved in). We would also sometimes stop in New Jersey, sometimes getting a monster sized corned beef sandwich. We almost always stopped at a pizzeria in Wayne, where we would order 8 pies, half cooked, to take home, put in the freezer, and cook up when the mood struck. Pizza was serious business, and central Pennsylvania pizza was not what either of us grew up on. In the age before podcasts, we listened to a lot of music on those car trips, including Queen, George Michael, Jefferson Airplane, the Moody Blues, Aerosmith, and Elton John. We saw the latter three in concert together, which included camping outside for 16 hours waiting for Elton John tickets. Although my musical interests diverged from hers, we could at least bond over those musicians.

These are the memories I try to hold on to, but the past month has been rough. On June 30, exactly 20 years to the day we first began our last cross-country move, we were told the cancer had spread and her course of treatment was no longer working. We tried a new medication, but things were too far gone. Nevertheless, my mom refused to give up. That was in her spirit. Indomitable. Even when the simplest things were a monumental task, when it took her an hour to get herself from one room to another, she refused to stop, she would not give up, and she would never surrender. If you've ever seen a movie where a boxer is bruised and cut up, can barely stand, and is still trying to throw a punch, that's basically where she was. She was standing only through sheer force of will. I didn't know how bad things were, because no matter how bad things got, she was always forcing herself back up. She was back in the hospital for some minor surgery this February, went back in in-patient rehab, and then was told she had to leave. She wanted to train to walk up stairs, but the facility said she would never do it, so it was time to leave. Within two weeks of leaving, she was walking up stairs by herself.

On the morning of July 7, despite her efforts, I finally put my foot down and said she needed assistance. I called her oncologist who then referred her to a hospice agency. I went in work late and then came home early so I could meet with the nurse. When I got back from work on July 8, she went to the bathroom and three hours later, she was still either on her way there or trying to go back. I found her trying to sit on the television stand because she was too tired to go anywhere else. The hospice nurse finally came and noticed she took a turn for the worse. Her hospice nurse and I finally convinced her to go to in-patient hospice late Wednesday night. She bargained with us. She said she would go the next day. The nurse told her it wasn't safe. She couldn't get up and she couldn't lift her head. When the nurse went to the 24 hour pharmacy to get some pain medication, I was alone with her and tried to walk her from her bedroom to the living room. I had to bring her a folding chair to sit in because she couldn't make it the whole way, but she was determined, got up, and tried again.

As I was walking her to the couch, she looked at me and told me she was dying. I asked her when and she said, "soon." I dismissed the claim, because over the past few months I tried to remain as optimistic as possible, for her sake. I kept telling her to make plans. Although she would probably never retire to Panama like she wanted to, she could get a smaller place which would give her independence. We would make it to her great-niece's Baptism. We would go to a nice Italian restaurant that Sunday. And even though I knew she was going to die, at some point, I didn't know how on the mark her words were.

We sat down on the couch together, my arm around her as she slumped forward. I offered her a drink, but she could barely suck anything through the straw. She was so weak. When the medical transport came with the stretcher, she was confused, and I thought this is why we need to get her to a place where we could manage her pain and keep her comfortable. She did not even remember the nurse at first. Then, when it was time to get her onto the stretcher, she refused. She cried out, "I'm scared, I'm scared." Aside from losing her, that is the worst thing about the whole experience. I didn't want her to be afraid.

On the stretcher, she reached out to me, and when I came over, she hugged me. I told her I would follow her to the hospice unit, and they wheeled her out. She waved to me from the ambulance, clearly nervous about what was happening. She waved to me, and I waved back briefly, but then used my hand to shield my eyes from the ambulance lights. Her face was full of confusion, sadness and fear. Why didn't I wave more? Why didn't I blow her kisses? Why didn't I do more to comfort her? I knew I would be following her to the facility, a half hour away, but I had no clue these were her final hours. I did everything I could, but I also didn't do enough. This is part of my guilt, my pain.

When I met her at hospice, my mom was more relaxed, finally getting relief from the crushing pain and also cleaned up. We chatted briefly, and I promised that later that day (it was already 3:00 in the morning), she could make the decision of when she would leave. I let her know, since we were in town, I would rent out a luxury suite at the minor league baseball park a few miles away, and we could watch a game in peace and comfort as soon as she was ready to leave the facility. I pulled up the schedule and told her they would be in town that weekend, that it was great timing. Since it was so late, I told her I would leave, but she asked me to stay a while, and so we sat together. I don't remember, but I'm pretty sure I didn't say anything, but just sat there. Why didn't I tell her I loved her, over and over? Why didn't I explain how much I was grateful for all she did for me? Why didn't I tell her not to worry, that everything would be alright in the end? Finally, she told me to go home, and we hugged, and I told her we would talk later, but that was not to be.

When I came back about 8 hours later, she was already in the last stage of life. She could not open her eyes. I was told she was not going to be around much longer. I cried, I say that with no shame, because my pain is too great to be worried about keeping up appearances. I talked to my mom, kissed her, and held her hand. I told her I loved her, respected her, and was so thankful for everything she did. I hope she heard me. I don't know. People say the dying can hear, that it's the last thing to go, and even if she couldn't make out the words she could recognize my voice. But people say things like that all the time, lies to make the suffering feel better. It's why we believe in Heaven or an afterlife, to help manage the pain. My mom believed in God, and prayed, and had a prayer book. I hope it brought her some peace, but I already knew she was afraid. Maybe believing that faith brought her peace is as foolish having faith in the first place.

All I know for certain is that I watched the woman who was there when I took my first breath pass on as she breathed out her last breath. George Michael played quietly in the background. She thought he had a beautiful voice. I agree, but at that moment, all beauty was darkened. The sun would still shine on in the universe, but it would never shine was bright to me. A part of my heart was scooped out and I'll never be the same again. I've gone through waves of grief, of sadness, but the worst has been the hindsight and regrets and things like that. I recall every argument of the past year, every time I was a jerk, every stupid thing I did, every time I did something else instead of spending time with her. I recall her pain and fear and kick myself for not trying to do more. She did not want to die and did not want to die that way and had so many plans she would never be able to accomplish. I feel sorrow, and regret, and rage. I just want to talk with her one more time.

She had so many ups and downs over the past year, it was not really possible to tell this was the last down, but I still look at it like “maybe I should have taken off that day” or “maybe I should have done more to be around her” type stuff. I know there’s nothing I can do about it now and I probably did everything I was able to do, but it’s not an easy thing to deal with. I took her to doctors' appointments and I drove her to out-patient rehab. I cooked meals for her. I sat with her and listened to her talk about things I wasn't necessarily interested in, but I knew it was good for her to have a conversation (even if we did argue about the fact that conversations were two way streets). Instead of listening, I feel like I should have been more engaging. I was a fool for not taking the time to sit and ask her more about her past. I thought I knew so many stories from her life B.C. (Before Chris, one of her jokes), but there's a million stories I'll never know and a million questions I never bothered to ask.

Now I'm emptier than I have ever been, deeply wounded. The person I knew better than anyone else, the person I spent the most time with in my life, the person who single-handedly raised me and made sure I could work my way through school and land a job and be a functioning human being, is gone. Forever. No more conversations. No more hugs. No more time together. Without her, I would not be where I am today, and now I have to figure out the rest of my life without her guidance and presence. We did not always get along, we did not always see eye to eye, but I'd still rather argue over something stupid than face the silence. I miss her. The void is vast.

I am 33. She was 66. Her life was cut short, and I'm faced with the prospect of spending the majority of my life without my mom, provided I live longer than she did. We’ve been cheated out of so many years we could have had together. I keep on, but I feel broken. There are times I am drowning in my anguish.

If you've read this far, I ask you for one favor. Please consider if there is a parent or special person in your life that you should call. Make time to see them. Let them know you love them. A time will come when you'll never have the chance to do those things again.

Goodbye, mom. I love you and miss you.

Monday, June 15, 2015

Sam Brownback is a symptom of political rot

If you don't keep up with state politics in states you don't live in (or if you don't live in the United States), here's the short version of the Sam Brownback saga. The citizens of Kansas elected tea party Republican candidate Sam Brownback into the office of the governor. Once in power, he delivered on his pledge to slash income taxes. He and his policy wonks promised enormous economic growth following the tax cuts, but that turned out not to be the case. In fact, the consequences were monumentally disastrous for the economy. Although he managed to survive a re-election campaign where he still pulled in less than 50% of the vote, he has been hammered with severe criticism, including being mercilessly booed at a Wichita State University vs Kansas University game in which he broke down in tears while remembering same in a GOP meeting a bit later. Today, the state legislature passed a bill raising taxes, and Brownback signed same. However, the problem is these taxes are not income based but sales based.

If you took any kind of economics course in school, you probably remember that income tax, property tax and sales tax affect the classes disproportionately, with lower middle class and poor people hit the hardest by sales tax. Worse, Kansas charges taxes on items that most other states don't, such as food. The cherry on top? Kansas now has one of the highest sales taxes in the country.

Is there a lesson to be learned in all of this? A few, I think. The first is that running a country or state or county or city costs money. Even if you don't want to fund science or art or health care or anything else, it still costs money to have a basic infrastructure. Taxes fund that. You have to have taxes. The people and businesses who bring in the most money should pay the most taxes. We're not punishing them for their "success," we are making them support a system that they have profited off of.

Finally, the most important lesson is that Conservative politics hurt people. Conservatives want to conserve the status quo, and the status quo means oppression. Whether it is chipping away at women's reproductive rights or shifting the tax burden from the wealthy to the working poor, disadvantaged groups will further be disadvantaged under political theories and policies motivated by making sure wealthy (usually) white (usually) men maintain their power over everyone else.

So why do people continue to vote for them? How did Brownback get elected for a second term despite ruining the economy well before the election? There are probably scholarly papers more informed than I am on this, but my two cents is that there is always an appeal to some base instinct: Greed. Bigotry. Misogony. Homophobia/transphobia. Punish the "other" to make yourself feel good.

There's not even any reason to believe these people. Are they anti health care? They'll vote to give themselves the best insurance available, paid for by tax payers. Are they anti-gay? Chances are they are having an affair with a same sex intern, or worse, diddling some kids. Are they anti-tax? You know they are getting handsome donations by the richest people and corporations. Do they bleat about voter fraud? It's because they lie, steal and cheat every day.

Maybe you're on board with that. Maybe you really hate abortions, or immigrants, or homos. I tell you this, though: if you are reading this, you are not a wealthy, powerful mover and shaker. Once everyone else is disenfranchised, you'll be next. You're not part of their team.

That's just my opinion, and you're entitled to it.