Monday, March 29, 2010


About three years ago, we had a family vote about getting a dog. The final tally was three in favor, one opposed. Yours truly was the sole dissenting vote. I hadn’t had a dog my entire adult life and I wasn’t keen about getting one now. While the other family members thought only of a cute furry canine companion, I thought only of a poop-strewn lawn and chewed-up personal belongings.

I finally relented on condition that the three family members who wanted the dog would be the ones to take care of it.

And so they got a dog. It was what they called a “designer dog” which means essentially she’s just a mutt for which breeders charge a lot of money. She’s a maltipoo: part Maltese, part poodle. My son christened her “Lily” after Harry Potter’s mother. She spent the first few weeks at our home peeing, pooping and occasionally barfing on the floor, whining and chewing on my stuff. I found her annoying as hell.

And, while I realize it’s considered déclassé to use the word “retarded” in polite company, I honestly cannot think of a more accurate description of her mental capacities. But, in bowing to social convention, I shall merely say that she is a “special needs” dog in the intelligence department.

And while some animal experts have speculated that most domesticated dogs would only survive about a week without human help, in Lily’s case I think a one week life expectancy would be hopelessly optimistic. If there was any life-threatening stupid thing she could do, she would quickly and obliviously stumble into it. (For example, she has a tendency to be naively friendly toward cats. Even the hissing ones with arched backs, ready claws and erect fur.)

Fast forward to today. I’m unemployed, the kids are away at school and my wife is at work. I could just lie on the sofa and sleep the days away. Nobody would ever know. And there’s nothing to stop me.

Except that damned dog.

Sure… I said I wasn’t going to be the one taking care of her, but it’s just me and her. And she looks at me with those big, dark, clueless eyes. And it’s that dumb mutt that gives me the motivation to get off my ass and face the day. I shower and shave and get dressed and I commence the first of several daily canine perambulations.

And since I’m up and about, I may as well do my daily job search. And the house cleaning. And the yard work. And the cooking…

And although it’s true she likely wouldn’t last a week without a human around, I’m beginning to think perhaps I need that vacuous friendly furball just as much.

And upon closer reflection, I suppose she’s not all THAT bad. She does, despite her cranial deficiencies, have an unsettling though amazing ability to know when there’s food around to be mooched. And I can call her a “bitch” without fear of retribution. (Sorry ladies... it’s a guy thing.) And she lets me pet her as she lies on her favorite blanket on the La-Z-Boy and she loves licking my face.

Yep. I hate to admit when I’m wrong. But honestly, if we had that family vote to do over again, it would be resoundingly unanimous.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Men Can't Win

Once upon a time, all men were pigs. They were sexist, smelly, boorish drunks who wouldn’t lift a finger to help their wives around the house and certainly wouldn’t help with any childrearing chores.
Then one day, feminism happened. Women liberated themselves and in the process gave the more enlightened of our gender the opportunity to re-examine their societal roles and to liberate themselves as well. These men became more conscious of the expectations placed upon them and became more sensitive and aware of their relationship to their wives and family. As women increasingly entered the workforce, men found themselves in a position where being lazy on the home front was no longer an option. If they didn’t help out when their wives were working, the work simply wouldn’t get done.
So the men, reluctantly at first, started helping out. And a strange thing happened. These men who started becoming more involved in working around the house found it rewarding. Helping with the children allowed the dads to bond with their offspring in a more loving and human way than had been experienced in previous generations. And a more equitable division of domestic tasks promoted a more genuine feeling of togetherness between husband and wife. All was well. The liberation of women had also resulted in a liberation of men and together both genders had advanced from the abyss of sexism to the rarified apex of gender equality.

Or so we guys thought.

It turns out we had been horribly misled. While we guys thought we were being helpful, it now turns out that every diaper changed and every armoire dusted was a veritable knife driven into our spouse’s hearts. And the tragedy is compounded by the fact we thought we were doing the right thing!
You see, researchers at the University of Texas in Austin have just completed a study indicating that husbands who are competent with parenting and domestic duties are destroying the self-esteem of their wives! We thought we were being helpful while we were actually putting them through an emotional Cuisinart!
This travesty must be corrected! From now on, the self-esteem of my beloved spouse will be my top priority! No more helping around the house! The kids can fend for themselves! I simply will not, through my actions, condemn my wife to the apocalypse of low self-esteem!

So tonight, when I yell “Gimme a beer, bitch!” from the sofa during the big game, please be aware I’m doing it for HER benefit, not mine. It will be difficult, but sacrifices will have to be made. Her self-esteem is far too precious to go unprotected!

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Clandestine Bread Diary - Entry One

Having been unemployed for over six weeks now, I'm getting the hang of the daily job search and of walking Lily the Maltipoo and driving the kids all over the place. I've also done much more cooking - achieving a degree of proficiency that surprised even me. In addition, I am doing some midweek grocery shopping on behalf of the wife. While going through the local store's bakery section on one such excursion, I happened to notice all the different kinds of bread and the pleasant aromas coming from the ovens. Years ago, I had a job cleaning a bakery at a grocery store in my hometown, so it wasn't an entirely foreign atmosphere to me.

And then it struck me...

Just because I'm unemployed doesn't mean I have to be lazy! If I can't "make bread" in the metaphorical sense, why not make it in the literal sense? It would be a sort of therapy... salving a psyche left fragile by numerous rejections on the job front. That night, I excitedly passed along this excellent idea to my wife. Besides, I know she likes warm, fresh bread. It would be a win-win situation!

"Baking bread is too difficult for you", she said. "You have to use yeast and the water has to be the exact temperature and you have to wait for it to rise. You won't be able to handle it."

Poor Leanne. She somehow had the naive and mistaken belief that the difficulty of the task would frighten me off. You'd think that after over 20 years of wedded tolerance she would have caught on to my fondness for the Quixotic. The more daunting a task, the more intrigued I become.

"What? You mean it's really involved? So what you're saying is it will be like a challenge! Just the sort of thing I'll need to keep my mind occupied until I find a job. What's wrong with learning something new?"

At that point she gave me the glowering look that usually portends earth-shattering doom.

"You are NOT - repeat NOT! - going to bake bread!!! You're going to make a mess of my kitchen and you're going to screw up the recipe anyway! Besides, you can buy bread at the store for next to nothing. What the hell are you thinking? Just forget all about that stupid idea!!!"

But to me, that's like saying "Why buy a guitar and learn how to play when you can buy a CD of a really good guitar player for cheap?"


So I have resolved to pick up some books on making bread at the local library. I'll see if it's something I might actually be able to do.

(Shhhh... don't tell Leanne!)

I'll keep you posted.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Lions & Tigers & Lesbians... Oh My!

In an earlier posting, I had discussed a book which argued Neanderthals weren’t as backward and brutish as once believed. It appears, however, that certain members of the species Homo sapiens are displaying behavior better suited to the early Paleolithic.

In Jackson, Mississippi, a Lesbian student wanted to bring a female date to the senior prom. She also wanted to wear a tuxedo. Personally, I feel as long as she buys the prom ticket, she should be allowed to bring whomever she likes. And trust me; having seen some of the prom dresses being worn nowadays, a tux would be downright refreshing.

Well, the school board couldn’t leave well enough alone. They tried to ban the gay couple from attending. When the ACLU threatened to file a lawsuit to allow her to attend, the school board simply cancelled the prom altogether.

So, of course, people are blaming the Lesbian teen for the prom being cancelled!

News flash! The teen didn’t cancel the prom; the homophobic school board did! News flash number two: most high school students today don’t give a rodent’s behind about anyone’s sexual orientation. There are so many successful openly gay people out there it’s simply no big deal to them. It’s the old farts who have the hang-ups about it.

If I were rich and famous, I’d rent out a hall down there for those who wish to attend to have a prom anyway and tell the school board to go to hell.

Of course, it should come as no surprise that the main opponents to having a (gasp!) Lesbian at a prom are Christian fundamentalists.

And it is also no surprise that these backasswards morons are trying to spin the debate so as to make themselves look like the victims. One Baptist minister went so far as to complain that the South was being made to appear “backwards” when, in fact, it was merely a case of Southerners having “biblically based values”.

Hmmm… could it possibly be that in comparison to enlightenment values “biblically based values” ARE backward?

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Triumph of the Will... DeLayed

There’s a unique feeling of bemusement one feels seeing a self-professed expert say with impeccable authority things you know are complete bullshit. He may be fooling others, but you know for a fact he’s a complete idiot.

I first experienced that feeling around 1974. There had been a spring thaw after a major snowstorm. The Shiawassee River was rising dramatically. An unusually large volume of water was spilling over the Fenton millpond dam, but it was holding out just fine. Then, however, an “expert” noticed that there was a crack in the dam! It must have been caused by the flood waters! This “expert” soon was on the radio and TV warning the dam was about to burst and people downstream of it were in danger! I was 11 years old and knew he was full of shit. That crack had been there as long as I could remember. It had been there as long as my dad could remember. And the old-timers in the area knew that crack had been there since at least the 1940’s and had been caused by routine settling of the concrete and that the dam was as structurally sound as the day it was made.
Needless to say, despite the expert’s prediction of calamity, the dam didn’t burst and, in fact, is still sitting there serenely – settling crack and all – over 35 years later.
I learned a valuable lesson: just because someone says they know what’s going on doesn’t mean they do.

I am torn between that strange feeling of bemusement and just plain anger when I now hear other self-professed “experts” – most recently conservative commentators George Will and Tom DeLay – say that unemployment benefits are a disincentive to people finding work and are somehow “promoting laziness”. As someone who now depends on unemployment insurance to keep paying the bills to maintain food and shelter for my family and myself, I would like to make a few observations.

First of all, despite the stereotype, a vast majority of people on unemployment not only WANTS to work, they WERE gainfully employed... most for many years. We are not collecting unemployment because we thought it would be fun to sit around the house all day doing nothing… we’re collecting it because our jobs were eliminated! If I was offered a choice between collecting unemployment and a job, I would take the job in an instant…even if it paid the same or even less than unemployment. But that’s the problem. There are no jobs out there. I know because I have been looking for months and have sent out countless resumes for any job for which I was even remotely qualified. I have a college degree, a great work record and excellent references. Still no job offers.

Second, in Michigan at least, collecting unemployment insurance is contingent upon posting a resume on the Michigan Works website, which may be accessed by employers throughout the state. One must post the resume and have it verified in person at the Michigan Works office before you can even be considered for receiving unemployment insurance.

Finally, and most damning to the assertions of Will and DeLay, if you are offered a job and you refuse it, you lose your benefits. Simple as that. When one verifies their unemployment status every two weeks under the Michigan system, one of the questions asked is: “Have you refused a job offer in the past two weeks?” If you have, buh-bye unemployment benefits. And making a false statement in that regard makes one liable to criminal prosecution.

As I have stated before in this blog, given the high unemployment rate, conservatives are faced with a choice: they must either concede there is a problem with the system or with the people who are unemployed. The last thing they would want to do is admit there may be flaws in unregulated free-market capitalism, so they claim it must be the fault of the (ex-)workers.

As far as I’m concerned, that’s libelous. I would invite either Mr. Will or Mr. DeLay to spend a day with me as I take hours doing a job search and filling out applications when there are possible openings. I’ll show ‘em how “lazy” and “unwilling” I am to find employment!

Instead of bitching about the people who have lost their jobs, why don’t they fix this Capitalist system to which they constantly offer Hosannas of praise? If they can’t, perhaps it’s time to try something else. And if they don't, it'll be a dam shame.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Coming Up Next... in My Dreams

I suppose everybody has an idea for a TV show and I’m no different. So here’s mine. There’s a cool website called that has lots of interesting random number generators and whatnot. One of my favorite applications on that site, however, is a tool that allows you to select random geographic coordinates. Just press a button and it picks a random spot on the planet superimposed on Google maps.

The idea for the show is simplicity itself: click for a random spot on earth and go there with a camera crew. See what’s there. Talk to the people if there are any around. What’s the site’s history? What’s it like now? If, as statistically is likely, the random spot is in the middle of an ocean, get a submarine and look around to see what kind of fish and sea critters there are.

The place that is randomly picked may be idyllic; it may be a war ravaged hellhole. That’s part of the point. Just pick a random spot and see what’s there.

So I’ve got the idea… now all I need is equipment, a production budget, a distributor…

Monday, March 8, 2010

More Educational Stuff

No need to thank me, but here are some more helpful definitions:

DEFER - What a pet groomer trims off dedog or decat.

EXFOLIATE - What comes after exfoliseven.

HUMANE - The state next to Huvermont and Hunewhampshire.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Must...Have... (Quality)...Tea...

This is wrong. Horribly, metaphysically, cosmically wrong.

I knew that with unemployment and its resultant reduction in income I would need to make sacrifices. And I have. All unnecessary purchases have been eliminated. Books? Can’t buy ‘em anymore. I’ve gotta hope the ones I want show up at the library someday. Clothes? Salvation Army. Food? Ramen noodles.

For the most part, I have adjusted to this new asceticism fairly well… with one oh-so-major exception. Tea. I have the distinct disadvantage of being an incorrigible tea snob on a limited income. The thought of having to consume common swill via teabags is anathema to me. I must have high-quality loose leaf tea. Twining’s at the very least. I suppose Teavana isn’t a realistic option anymore. Hell, if I were a rich zillionaire I’d go to Toronto’s House of Tea and stock up on hundreds of dollars worth of the most amazing teas available in North America. But I’ve gotta wait at least until I either win the lottery or get a job. And in this economy I can’t say for certain which is the more likely possibility.

This sucks. Perhaps I can ask for a Teavana gift certificate for my birthday. But dammit, that won’t be until July. My Twining tins are down to nothing but tea dust.

Things could get very, very, very ugly…

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Education Corner

As a public service, and in an attempt to increase the vocabulary of our youth, I plan on occasion to present some words and their definintions. Hopefully the lexicon of future generations will become correspondingly embiggened. The first installment:

DECIPHER - One tenth of a pher.

EMULATE - A large flightless bird that has trouble with puncuality.

SUBLIME - Similar to a sublemon, but green.

Go Buzz, Go!

Despite the self-delusion that I am above certain of the lower-hanging fruits of pop culture, I must admit to being intrigued by the selection of Apollo 11 astronaut and moonwalker Buzz Aldrin to compete in the upcoming season of “Dancing with the Stars”. While I must confess that particular program is not “appointment viewing” for me, I still think it’s great Buzz will be competing. Admittedly I have no high hopes for his ability to get very far in the competition; he is, after all, an 80-year-old white guy with a doctorate in astrophysics. Nerd-cred? Yes. Funky-dance-move-cred? Not likely.

Still, I hope he does better than that pathetobnoxious media slore Kate Gosselin. Seeing Buzz outlast her on the show would be schadenfreudelicious!

As you may have guessed, I don’t like Kate. No… it goes beyond NOT liking her. It’s more of an inherent INABILITY to like her. I realize it is most likely a severe character flaw on my part, but there is literally nothing she could ever do to make me find her anything more than retch-worthy. If she rescued my children from a burning building and sustained fatal burns in the process and her last dying wish was for me to like her and she offered her last breath as a penance to me, though as a parent I would be grateful for her actions, I’d STILL find her creepy and obnoxious.

Now… what was I talking about? Oh yeah… Buzz Aldrin. Sorry ‘bout that.

Anyway, the real reason I wish Buzz Aldrin well in the competition is one which perhaps is unexpected. True, anyone who knows me even casually cannot help but be aware of my obsession with manned space flight… particularly Project Apollo. But surprisingly, that’s only part of my interest. The primary reason I want Buzz Aldrin to have a good time is because of his most courageous act. No, I’m not talking about climbing into a Saturn V or a Titan booster or even his combat missions during the Korean War. Those, though dangerous, were calculated risks. If things had gone to hell he would at least be assured a hero’s funeral and the admiration of others.

No, in my opinion the bravest thing he ever did was write the 1973 autobiography “Return to Earth”. In that book, Aldrin openly discussed his battles with depression after the conclusion of his successful Apollo 11 mission. While in today’s world of “tell all” books this may not seem like much, in its time the book was nothing less than a revelation. Here was a person from a hyper-alpha-male military/astronaut background - where even the slightest hint of weakness was anathema - talking openly about his struggles with mental illness. In doing so, he exposed himself to charges of being a “wimp” (actually, being in the military, that would likely have been one of the milder epithets hurled his way).

In the spirit of Aldrin's book, and as someone who has dealt with mental health issues in the past (in my case, anxiety disorder) here are a few things I’d like to pass along to others – particularly men - who may be dealing with anxiety or depression:
First of all, get help. Don’t try to be all macho about it and suffer in silence. Quite often it’s the macho bullshit and the pervasive need to look invincible that causes these problems. We men are pretty damned stupid in this regard. This is clearly one area where we have a LOT to learn from women. As a general rule, women tend to be much more honest and open in their communication and are less ashamed to confide in each other when they need help. That’s one thing that made Buzz Aldrin’s book so important: he was a man with undeniable "guy cred" telling other men this is an important medical issue which had been ignored far too long. If you think you may be suffering from depression, talk to a trusted friend or a reputable medical practitioner. Second, don’t be ashamed of it. The brain is a biological organ just like your heart or liver or pancreas. Having a mental disorder doesn’t make you a bad or ethically weak person any more than a kidney infection does. Third, if a health professional prescribes medication for the condition, take it as directed. If you have any adverse reactions, tell your doctor. Let him or her know what works for you and what doesn’t. While the medical folks are usually knowledgeable and helpful, in the end you’re the best judge of how your body is reacting. Finally, be patient. I know from hard personal experience this is difficult, but as you battle mental conditions, be aware that they don’t cure themselves overnight and that the brain needs time to recover. Just as a broken leg needs time to heal, your mind needs time, too. When things are bad, learn to be like a passenger in a jet plane hit by turbulence: don’t fight it; just “ride it out” in the knowledge things WILL get better. Just as with a broken bone, if it heals properly, your mind can come back stronger than before.

All of which somehow brings me back to Buzz Aldrin. He not only has come through his battle with depression but has used his experiences to help others. And so, while I think Buzz’s chances of winning the dancing competition are about nil, I genuinely hope he has a wonderful time for as long as he’s on the program. He’s earned it.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Random Incoherent Ranting

Back in late 2008, when Wall Street was collapsing under the weight of its own greed and incompetence, among the corporations who went whimpering to the government tin cup in hand was Citibank. According to reports they received hundreds of billions of our tax dollars to bail them out of the self-created mess.

Fast forward to 2010: I receive a letter in the mail informing me I am to be charged an annual $60 fee for the privilege of having their credit card in my wallet whether I use it or not. Leanne and I decided that was bullshit and resolved to cancel our account with Citibank.

We then called the customer support number for Citibank to cancel the credit card and were greeted on the phone by a man with a thick Indian accent who insisted his name was “Steve”. (Yeah… right.)

And that’s another thing that really gets me. Conservatives generally argue for tax cuts for corporations on the grounds that doing so will allow them to hire more workers. That may have been true at one time, but now any service and manufacturing jobs created by additional tax cuts would almost certainly go to Asia. Personally, I think any company that outsources their jobs overseas should be taxed at a 90% rate. If they hire American workers, their taxes would then be decreased considerably. Not that anybody in power is listening.

Even a cursory look at economic history shows a nation's prosperity is closely tied to its manufacturing base. It seems that many corporations are screwing America in the name of short-term profits and are enriching other nations in the process. Corporations that outsource are, in my opinion, committing economic treason. Am I the only one who feels this way?

Things have got to change soon or they're going to get ugly. The American people are usually patient, but that patience isn’t infinite. The status quo should not – indeed I think it cannot – last. The next few years could get interesting.