The Hess Report

Sunday, July 31, 2005

Silly Hunters, Freedom's for People With Balls 

I was at K-mart yesterday (I know, I know), and I was looking for a manager to make him an offer on two Pokemon stuffed animals that had been sitting on the shelf for over two months. When I tracked him down, he was arguing with a customer at the Sporting Goods counter. The customer was upset about having to give his Social Security Number in order to get his hunting license, and the potential for identity theft therein. He had a point, as you had to write your SSN and other identifying statistics into a log book from which the next several customers could easily see your information.

The guy was pissed, and justifiably so. As this is an area of interest for me, I listened in.

The customer's argument can be summed up as: "You're requiring my SSN to make this sale, and you can't even show me that the information is secure in even the slightest way."

The manager's take was: "It's state law. We can't sell a hunting license without your SSN. If you don't like it, call your Congressman."

Of course, they both failed to realize that the solution was for the man to fill out the form, which he would have to do no matter where he got the license, then remove it from the book and have K-mart file it more securely. They didn't think of that, but that's why I'm the best, and they're not.

Anyway, the man asked why the state even needed the SSN. The manager stated that they were trying to use the information to track down tax evaders and people trying to get out of paying child support. "You know," said the manager, "deadbeats." Like that made it okay to insecurely extract personal financial documentation (which the SSN is these days) from law abiding citizens who were engaged in lawful activity, in order to help law enforcement and the State Department of Revenue. Once again, we see a burden placed on the normal citizen for the simple convenience of the State. And once again, that's completely backwards.

The problem in this case stems from the same source as that of PennDOT and my take on driver's licensing. Hunters, in conceding that the State had some kind of right to regulate hunting and license it, opened a can of nasty, fanged worms. I'm not saying that hunting shouldn't be licensed. Licensing hunters grants solutions to several problems (minimum firearms safety education, management of herd size, etc.). But people have to realize that ceding authority to the State usually has unintended, but entirely predictable consequences: the State will begin to accumulate more authority, expanding their powers while at the same time requiring more of it's citizens. It is, I think, the natural progression of power in a beauracracy, and must be considered any time we grant the State authority in a certain area.

Which is why I've never been a fan of the Hunting Lobby when it comes to guns. They're too soft on the Second Amendment. As long as "sporting rights" aren't compromised, they don't care. It's nice that firearms offer you the potential to feed your family in adverse situations, but that's not why the Founding Fathers instilled the RKBA (Right to Keep and Bear Arms) into the Constitution. As I've said before, it's to help keep the government honest and to prevent the possibility of a land-based invasion.

And since the hunters (and I know that there is some overlap between the hunting community and the RKBA community, so not all hunters fall under this indictment) have divorced their hunting rights from the RKBA, they allowed the State to begin dictating terms. And now, hunters in Pennsylvania have to pony up their personal financial information in order to be the given the privilege of hunting.

The customer at K-mart walked out without getting his hunting license. He seemed pissed enough to call his Congressman. Of course, our Congressman here is soon-to-be-felon Jeff Habay, so he's not going to be exercising a lot of pull in the State House next session. But when people like him (a whitehaired gentleman in khakis and a red polo shirt) start walking out of K-mart in protest, the hunting lobby might be about to realize that they've given away the store, and received very little in return.

(P.S. I know that Freedom is for everyone. The title of this post is not to imply that people lacking balls do not have a right to freedom. It just means that freedom will not long hang around your neck of the woods if you demonstrate to the tyrannies of the world your lack of cojones.)

Friday, July 29, 2005

Harry Potter and the Evil Beaver 

Maddie was very interested in the whole Harry Potter thing, so last month, literature!Joy dragged out our paperback copy of the first novel, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone. It took Maddie a while to get through it, and we read probably 1/3 of it to her, but she finished it two weeks ago. She enjoyed it immensely. frugal!Joy got her the second book, The Chamber of Secrets, from the library. Maddie's almost done with it already. Her reading speed is noticeably faster this time around, which needless to say, is awesome for a seven year old.

Joy came home yesterday with the latest Potter installment, The Half-Blood Prince, in the grocery bag. As soon as it hit the tabletop, Maddie was reading through the chapter names to try to get a feel for what it was about. Of course, she's four books away from this one, and we warned her not to spoil it for herself. When reading the first book, she made it about 1/4 of the way through before skipping to the end and reading the chapter entitled The Man With Two Faces. She said that the chapter name freaked her out so much that she had to see what it was. She's not the type that cares about spoilers.

After some bad spoiling experiences over the last couple of years, I've found that I prefer to remain spoiler free for all of my entertainment, or as people associated with spoiler culture call it: pure. Although finding out copious details about upcoming movies, books and television shows can be fun and a little addictive, I've found that it also severely limits my future enjoyment of those same entertainment consumables. And so it was that after finding out waaaay too many spoilers about both the Matrix sequels and Survivor, I gave it up. I've found that I prefer to go into things cold. I want to give the benefit of the doubt to the writers and/or directors of whatever it might be, and attempt to let them tell me the story without me trying to figure it out ahead of time.

So now: spoilers? I don't want to read them. Or hear them. Unless I don't care at all about the show/book/movie. If it's something dumb that I don't give a rat's ass about, I'll read the full synopsis in advance with bootlegged screen captures and everything, saving me the time of having to actually watch or read the real thing. And although I have some problems with the pacing and overall structure of the Harry Potter series, it seems to have worked out pretty well for J.K. Rowling, and I don't want to be spoiled.

In fact, I kind of think about the Harry Potter series like I think about ABC's Lost. The overall story is very interesting. There are some cool characters and excellent set pieces. But the pacing is sooooo slooooooow. And we get mondo build ups, with very few payoffs. And we learn all kinds of details that would have been just as well left out if a strong, skilled editor were to assert themselves. However, as the story and characters are the interesting bit, they would be adversely affected by spoiling, and thus have I attempted to avoid spoilers for The Half-Blood Prince.

Last week, the comments section at one of the websites I frequent contained this text, in the middle of a completely unrelated thread:

The Half-Blood prince is ************

Only they didn't censor it with asterisks. Bastards. As I learned a long time ago, you can't un-read something.

And then two days ago, I'm at Busy Beaver, which I shall forevermore refer to as Evil Beaver, a regional chain of home improvement supply stores positioned halfway between Home Depot/Lowe's and your local Tru-Value Hardware hole-in-the-wall. As I walk in, one of the floor managers is saying in a very loud voice to one of the cashiers:

"And if you had told me yesterday that ??????? kills ?????, I would have killed you for spoiling it for me! Wow!"

Substitute the names of Harry Potter characters for the question marks in the previous quote, damn it. So now I'm completely spoiled for the book. Ruined. Oh well. I was peeved, yes, but I'm a reasonable sort of person, so I didn't even give her the mild reproach she probably deserved, like, say, tipping a display stack of five gallon cans of paint onto her. Or maybe I deserved to be spoiled for being so lame as to have not read the book yet. My Venge-o-meter seems to be calibrated pretty well, and it would take a lot for someone to get me to do or say anything to them as actual retribution for an unwitting verbal affront. But some folks have extremely sensitive Venge-o-meters, the kind that go from zero to high-powered-rifle at the drop of a word.

And now I'm just waiting for someone to sue someone else or beat them to a pulp because they spoiled Harry Potter for them. And although I'm going to guess that most Potter fans won't be the "pulp beating" type, the appeal of the books is wide spread, and I would hate to underestimate the literary inclinations of our less reasonable, more pugnacious brethren around the world. I'm just glad the Islamofacists aren't into Harry Potter, because, well, first off that would just be weird, and second, they have a history of getting nasty when people say things about certain books that they don't think should be said.

By the way, the Half-Blood Prince is Draco Malfoy. Just kidding. Maybe.

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

A Phyloplankton Walks Into a Bar... 

I watched an episode of The Magic Schoolbus with Maddie and Lucy last night. Even though they've seen every one several times, they still like the show. It's quality edutainment.

The one we watched last night was called "The Magic Schoolbus Gets Eaten". The lesson was mostly about the aquatic food chain.

When the Bus first shrinks to microscopic size, they kids swim around with a bunch of phyloplankton. Suddenly, a slightly larger seafaring beasty appears (a zooplankton) and gobbles up one of the smaller plankton.

As I try to be an active participant when I watch a show like this with the kids, I said (with mock surprise) "What was that thing!?"

Lucy shrugged her shoulders and said: "Must be an anti-plankton."

Does that come off as cute and silly in type as it did in person? Obviously, I don't have any way to tell, but let me assure you, it was ridiculously cute.

So now I have to make up a plankton joke to fit the post title. Give me a minute...


A Phyloplankton walks into a bar and orders a rum and Coke.

The bartender looks at him and says: "Take a hike, pal. We don't serve you filthy little effers in here."

The Phyloplankton shakes his head. "Up yours, buddy. I'm all 'G'".

Get it? The bartender called him an "F"'er? And he said he was All G? Algae? Get it?

Monday, July 25, 2005

The Parable of the Vineyard, or, God Is Not a Leftist 

From Matthew 20:1-16 (verse numbers stripped and put into modern paragraphs by me):

For the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire men to work in his vineyard. He agreed to pay them a denarius for the day and sent them into his vineyard. About the third hour he went out and saw others standing in the marketplace doing nothing. He told them, "You also go and work in my vineyard, and I will pay you whatever is right." So they went.

He went out again about the sixth hour and the ninth hour and did the same thing. About the eleventh hour he went out and found still others standing around. He asked them, "Why have you been standing here all day long doing nothing?"

"Because no one has hired us," they answered.

He said to them, "You also go and work in my vineyard."

When evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his foreman, "Call the workers and pay them their wages, beginning with the last ones hired and going on to the first." The workers who were hired about the eleventh hour came and each received a denarius. So when those came who were hired first, they expected to receive more. But each one of them also received a denarius. When they received it, they began to grumble against the landowner.

"These men who were hired last worked only one hour," they said, "and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the work and the heat of the day."

But he answered one of them, "Friend, I am not being unfair to you. Didn't you agree to work for a denarius? Take your pay and go. I want to give the man who was hired last the same as I gave you. Don't I have the right to do what I want with my own money? Or are you envious because I am generous?"

Not one of the most quoted or popular passages from the Bible, but it's one of my favorites. The point that I (and most people) take from it is that we each make our deal/pact with God, and we don't have the right to comment or complain about the deal that He has made with others. It's none of our business.

The reason I bring it up in the blog is that it came up at work today. I was looking at the vacation board on which everyone's scheduled vacation time is indicated, trying to figure out who from my department was going to be out when, and what I would need to do about it. Our one customer service rep, who works in the room where the board resides, commented that I hadn't taken much vacation this year, and that other people from my department seemed to be gone much more frequently than myself. I acknowledged that fact, and she indicated that she thought I was perhaps more deserving of extended vacation time than other people in my department.

I started to gripe about it, just a bit, when my brain served up this parable to me.

So I said: "I shouldn't really complain about it. If I think I'm being treated badly, I should try to get myself a better deal. [The boss's] deal with other people is his deal with them."

Of course, I can use his deals with others as a negotiating tool, but the basic fact was that in the end, I had to work out my own contract with the boss.

My coworker kind of boggled at that point of view, and I gave her the brief synopsis of the Vineyard story.

Her response: "That's not in any Bible I ever read."

Well, it could just be that you haven't read it as well as you thought you did.

I said "It's pretty much a direct quote from Jesus."

"But that doesn't sound fair."

I tried to explain to her what I keep trying to get my girls to internalize: Fairness resides in everyone playing by the same rules, not in an equality of outcome. In the parable, everyone plays by the same rules: they each form a private contract with the vineyard owner to perform a certain amount of work and receive a payment that gives them, at the very least, a just compensation for their labor. It's a good deal for the people who worked all day; they received a full day's pay. It's an even better deal (ostensibly) for the people who only worked a single hour and received a full day's pay.

"That's just not fair," the CSR repeated. "In that story, you have the right to complain to the boss that everyone else was paid more than you." Which just shows that she missed the entire point. Oh well. I wouldn't say that anything I can think of gives me the right to complain to God about the terms of my salvation, vis a vis the terms of someone else's. Waaaaah! I got a gift that I would otherwise be perfectly happy with, but she got a better, more generous gift, and now I'm upset! Waaaaah!

Modern liberalism, through Affirmative Action, progressive income taxes, minimum wage, etc., desires "fairness" through an equality of outcomes, not through a baseline of shared rules. To me, a person's regard for this notion is a good litmus test to figure out if a person really believes in self-determination, or if they're an unwitting socialist. Obviously, the CSR falls into that last category. Someone else might get more than her, so she's pissed. Nice.

Of course, one could argue that, Dude! God paid everyone the same, so he's like a communist or something! On the other hand, you could say that God's goal was to institute full employment, and that as time passed, greater incentives were required to attract workers, as those who were more motivated to work had already found employment earlier. Or, you could say that God's goal wasn't full employment, but to gather as many crops as he could before the end of the day, and so the labor that he brought in later in order to maximize the harvest before the deadline was in fact more valuable to the end cause on a minute for minute basis than the all-day labor, and therefore deserved more pay. But that would indicate that God had done some less than stellar labor planning and harvest estimation earlier in the day, or that the original workers performed more poorly than they had advertised themselves, and the only conclusion you can really draw then is that you can stretch a parable only so far before the useful comparisons start to break down.

Or, to take the modern art tack, maybe that was God's whole point! To get us to overanalyze the parable and realize that you can only intellectualize for so long before it becomes useless, highlighting the contrast between mental inaction and taking to the streets! Instead of sitting at home, endlessly considering stories about people picking grapes, we should actually be out picking grapes. Or something. Okay, I was just being silly, and it turns out that it's a valid point anyway, just not the one being made in the parable.

My final take it that God chooses to work with us each individually, in a private transaction that shouldn't be scrutinized by others, and that's just fine with me. That's the nature of the boss/worker relationship. I don't think God will be paying out good wages just because you're part of a collective bargaining agreement, if you know what I'm saying.

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

Geek With a Capital "G" 

I know this marks me as a Grade A geek, born and raised on the corner of Geek St. and Geek Run Road, in the north side section of Geekopolis, but I watched the pentultimate episode of Cartoon Network's Justice League Unlimited with the girls yesterday, and it completely ruled. It really seems to me that the (American) 1/2 hour animated series is having some kind of golden age right now.

Maddie started watching Justice League when she was five, and we still watch it from time to time. I realized that I had simply assumed that Lucy wouldn't be interested, so I never asked her if she wanted to watch it too. She's old enough now not to be confused by what's going on, and to get almost all of the funny bits, so I asked her if she was interested. She was, so the three of us watched it together.

It was always a passable cartoon, but we hadn't watched it more than two or three times this season. I had read, though, that this season was really good, and that they were pushing some of the boundaries found in traditional American animation, regarding both animation style and the complexity/continuity of the plot. Having watched it yesterday, I can only say that man, they were right.

Things that were great:

"Less talking. More hitting."

Maddie wondering if Superman was really going to kill Lex Luthor ("Of course not: he's Superman," but he sure looks like he wants to.)

Wonder Woman using a jet as a javelin.

The anti-Superman/Batman/Flash/GL/Hawkgirl/WW.

The Lex Luthor/Brainiac hybrid creature.

Lucy explaining Brainiac's name: "He's a Brain Maniac." Which, duh, I'd never thought of in twenty-eight years.

And one of the things that always gets me in fiction, either in motion picture format or written, is when a character does something out of absolute necessity and desperation, and without realizing it they push themselves completely beyond the limits of anything they had thought possible, and when they look back on it they see that they did something truly incredible. Well, that's what the Flash did in this episode. Dude, isn't his only power to, like, run real fast? Yep. Isn't he kind of not too smart? Yeah. But he does that sort of thing I just mentioned, and it completely rocks. I mean, you suspect what he's doing, but you're not sure, and then they give you a point-of-view shot and he is indeed doing what you think he's doing, and you're just geeking out like crazy, because it's probably one of the coolest things you've ever seen animated. And then you think, yeah, but if he did THAT, then THIS would be happening, and they cut to showing just what you were wondering about, and you know that they thought the exact same things when they made this whole sequence that you did while you watched it. And that's geekdom for you.

By the way, I probably ought to put some curlicues, ornaments and gold leaf all over my capital "G", just to make sure it's big enough.

What Artists Do 

Maddie's artistic talents, like mine, are very constructionist, and tend toward realism. Our ideal goal is usually to get something as close to life as possible. Obviously, I'm a lot further along that road than she is at this point, but the direction is clearly the same.

On the other hand, Lucy (take note, ye lefties) is much more impressionistic. Her favorite illustrator is Eric Carle, who lists Picasso and Matisse as influences. He's much more into textures and overall composition than anything approaching realism. As is Lucy. Recently, Joy and I spent the day at the Carnegie museums, and saw some great artwork, very little of which was located in the contemporary collection.

My definition of art is: a specifically created work (can't be naturally occurring or just a pile of crap that fell together and someone liked) that evokes an emotional response in the observer. The degree to which I'll call it "good" or "bad" art is based on the combination of my evaluation of the artist's technical skill and the degree to which it evokes any kind of emotional response.

In the case of most contemporary art (the Carnegie's current "On Paper" collection), it loses out on both criteria. A couple of boxes colored in on a large piece of graph paper? Please. (It was actually in there. Honest!) What is that supposed to make me feel, other than that the "artist" is a twit? Oh, I get it. Maybe it's a meta thing: by deliberately failing to provoke any kind of artistic recognition or response in the observer, the observer is forced to consider the process of art itself, thereby undercutting the normal pathway for exchange between artist and observer, giving the observer an insight into the very nature of Art. Or, to put it another way: blah-blah-blah-undergrad-lit-major-bullshit.

Then there are the artists who I don't get anything out of personally, like the aforementioned Picasso, but whose technical skill I recognize and whose works I can at least recognize as having emotional content for other, more sophisticated folk than myself.

So back to Lucy. Her current painting technique is layered spattering, with some occasional contact of the brush to the paper. When she's happy with the look of a painting, she gets a clean sheet, then presses it onto the painted one. Upon removal, the original painted sheet is her "big copy" and the print is her "little copy", as she calls them. One was so excellent and interesting to view that Joy matted and framed it. Evocative of autumn, to me. A very cool picture. Much better by my criteria than any single work I saw in the Carnegie's "On Paper" exhibit. In fact, I'd go as far as to say that if we snuck that picture into the collection and posted it, it would get as much, if not more attention, than ninety percent of the other stuff in there.

The other day, it was just Lucy and I in the house, and she was cranking out the artwork. Her first splatter painting was great, and had it been left to dry as it was, it would probably have been my favorite piece of art from her so far. I told her how excellent I thought it was, and she promptly proceeded to blot it, in her fashion, with another sheet, sort of ruining it for me.

I said "I kind of liked it better the other way."

"Dad, this is how artists do things."

Okay, then. When she was finished, I helped her clean up, as there was paint splattered pretty much everywhere on and around her art desk.

I said "Wow. You really threw the paint around."

"Dad, artists have to be messy. That's how they make cool paintings."

Again, okay. Had she just been into making a mess, I wouldn't have allowed it, but the girl is seriously concentrating when she paints, and that makes it fine with me. After things were cleaned, I reminded her to wash her hands and arms, which were pretty well covered with blue, red, yellow, orange, black, green and gold speckles.

Several minutes passed, with the bathroom door shut. Uh oh. Lucy in the bathroom with the door shut usually means, well, if you've been reading the Hess Report for any length of time, you already know what it means: nothing good. Well, nothing horribly bad, and usually something at least mildly amusing. I knocked.

"You doing okay in there?"


There was a beat of silence.

"You want to see what I'm doing?"

"Uh, okay."

I opened the bathroom door. Lucy's clothes are in a pile on the floor. She's buck naked with a dripping washcloth in her hand. She's also clean as a whistle.

"This is what artists do," she said. "They take off all their clothes, then wash the paint off like this."

"Not a bath?"

"Dad!" she said, but I think she was spelling it d-u-h instead of d-a-d. "After I get dressed, I'm going to slick my hair, because artists don't like their hair all puffy."

"Good enough," I said, and closed the door.

Friday, July 08, 2005

Brave Bunny 

There are a lot of rabbits in our neighborhood. They're a bit of a nuisance, as they'll eat our flowers from time to time, but overall, it's not that bad. In fact, it's kind of nice to know that at almost any time of the day you care to choose, you can step outside and see two or three of the buggers loping around or munching on something.

There have also been a lot of snakes in our neighborhood this year. I've personally carried off/removed/extracted five in the last month. Nothing poisonous, but the neighbors all seem to want them gone, so I do my duty, and besides, catching them is kind of fun. They've certainly cut down on the mouse population.

One night I was on my way home, when I got a call from Joy. She said there was a big snake in the cul-de-sac, and how far away was I? It turned out that I was less than a minute down the hill. As I approached our house, I saw about ten people in a bunch, pointing into the grass. I parked and got out.

The snake in question this time looked to be a black rat snake, about five feet long and maybe two and a half inches in diameter at its thickest part. I sent Maddie inside to retrieve the robot grabby arm. Not that I couldn't catch it with my bare hands -- I've done so in the past -- but snakes usually carry salmonella on their skin and other nasty crap in their mouths. A bite wouldn't injure me, but it would bleed and freak everyone out and possibly get funky snake-mouth bacteria into the puncture, and I didn't really want to deal with that.

RGA in hand, I approached the snake. As I did, one of the neighborhood rabbits came up to and started threatening the snake! Unless you count the Killer Rabbit of Caerbannog, bunnies usually don't threaten anything. In fact, seeing one do it is akin to watching ninety pound man put down a sixteen pound hamburger in one sitting. Which is just weird. Crazy freaking rabbit. The snake wasn't nearly big enough to eat the bunny, but it was big enough and dumb enough to at least try, which would have entailed crushing the life out the furry fellow. There was a rabid cat reported a mile or two away recently, and I wondered if this guy wasn't on his way down the same frothy road. Like I said, crazy rabbit.

When I went after the snake, the bunny took off. It took a while to finally get ahold of the snake, as I was trying to not hurt him and not let him escape (I had my reputation in front of the neighbors to uphold, you know). Finally, I got him, and Maddie and I walked half a mile down the road and to toss him over a grassy hillside. It was one of those brutally hot, muggy days, and people were lounging on their porches. As we passed them with the snake, they took notice. We had several gaggles of Indian kids and adults who were very interested and asked lots of questions. I explained how to identify Pennsylvania's poisonous snakes (catlike eyes), etc., and let some of the kids touch him, as long as they knew to wash their hands right away (salmonella again).

One guy took our picture, which, okay man, it's just a snake.

But still, I wondered about that crazy rabbit.

A couple of weeks later, it became clear to me, and it was one of those "duh" things that you should have realized immediately. Home from work, I stepped out of the car. Normal bunny activity: one in the neighbor's yard, one across the cul-de-sac. And there, almost invisible in the neighbor's tall grass: one baby bunny, so small that it looked like a toy. I zipped inside and got the girls. As cute as the thing was just sitting here, it was even cuter when it hopped. Wacky, crazy cute. So cute that you almost can't stand it. In fact, I am incapable of conveying this baby bunny's cuteness level to you: you would just have to see it for yourself. And there was the Mama Bunny (I'm assuming, of course), sitting at the ready, keeping a watchful eye as Bunny Jr. hopped about. Whenever the baby would get too far, the mom would move a bit so that he was back within her circle of comfort.

She was being a good Mama Bunny, just like she had been that day when she was ready to take on the snake.

Thursday, July 07, 2005

His Lord High Holiness Ed Rendell Speaks: "Let Them Drink Beer" 

I've written about Pennsylvania's moronic liquor laws before.

Well today, our elected legislators and our Governor, his high holiness Ed Rendell, have decided to allow us, to grant us leave, to give us their heavenly-ordained permission, to buy beer on a Sunday from people who want to sell it to us. I'm so happy, I could just kiss them all.

Today's article from the Post-Gazette is so brief, I'll just quote the whole thing:

Gov. Ed Rendell yesterday signed legislation permitting Pennsylvania beer distributors to sell beer by the case on Sunday afternoons, starting in 60 days.

Each distributor who wants to be open Sundays from noon to 5 p.m. must buy a state permit for $100 a year.

"By modernizing this law allowing beer sales at distributors on Sunday, we will create opportunities for business growth, while mirroring the beer sales practices of other states,'' Rendell said.

The bill protects tavern and restaurant owners, who had enjoyed a monopoly on Sunday beer sales by the six-pack, by providing a 10 percent discount for wholesale liquor purchases.

Up until today, beer distributors (who only exist because it's not legal to sell beer in grocery stores) weren't allowed to sell beer on Sunday. And now, thanks to the beneficent magic of Ed Rendell, who runs this state like a low-level mafioso takes care of his neighborhood, we are allowed to! Before this watershed event, being the clueless subservient minion of the State the I am, I had no idea that it would be a good idea to actually let people buy things that they want from people who want to sell them (and here comes the radical part) whenever the two parties agree to make the transaction! The next thing you know, we'll be allowed to have restaurants that sell food, like, after midnight or something!

Isn't being happy about these statist sons-of-bitches relaxing an iota of their control kind of like thanking the neighborhood bully for only kicking you in the balls three times today, instead of his normal four?

There are so many things wrong with Rendell's statement that it boggles my mind. Pennsylvania's liquor laws are about as modern as the cotton gin. And creating opportunities for business growth? That $100/year fee is a great way to start. It's also good to see that the Post-Gazette at least acknowledges that the State had been giving certain players a monopoly on this for years, but far be it from them to suggest that the State granting monopolies in any retail category could be anything other than just frakking ducky. The PG, in case you're not from Pittsburgh, is a pretty liberal paper, and that means that they just luuuurve themselves the power of the State, especially when it's exercised against for the good of those beer-swilling rednecks.

How about this, guys: anyone who cares to can sell beer, wine and/or liquor whenever and wherever they want to, and for whatever price they can get for it. Trying to avoid paying sales taxes to the State, or selling alcohol to minors will still land you in jail. But just like drivers licensing, all that these ludicrous laws do is make the State's life easier (easier law enforcement and tax collection) while placing a significant burden (in the form of both the direct cost of retail goods and the time it takes to seek out that product under a severely restricted system of distribution) on the law abiding citizens.

But that's just me being stoopid again. I thought they worked for us. Wannabe fascists.

Tuesday, July 05, 2005

Fourth of July Weekend Roundup 

Squaw Run Park

Good: Cool local park with some still-dangerous playground equipment(!) and large stage for kid's impromptu play; creek for stream hiking; cute water snake.

Bad: The park's pond was ruined in the floods last fall and now sits empty; dry conditions had the stream too low to have any real fun.

South Side Works

Good: Great weather; fun ground fountains for kids to run through; live music by Mon Gumbo

Bad: stoopid kid who decides to run through the fountains at full speed without looking where he is going, who completely flattens Lucy.

Worse: clueless parent of said kid who didn't bother to tell him to stop after he had flattened Lucy, leaving her crying [and bleeding - Joy] on the cement, nor indicate that he should apologize. I suppressed the urge to lay her out in a similar fashion when she finally got up to leave.

Presque Isle on Lake Erie

Good: Beautiful; great weather; great swimming; great beach (available shade, very clean, not crowded).

Bad: cashiers at local restaurant that accidentally charge their server number (23920, or $239.20) to your debit account after you leave the restaurant.

July 4th Lunch with Family

Good: Well, it was July 4th, and it was lunch with the family (sister and parents); brother in law, who is an excellent cook, manned the grill, producing excellent food.

Bad: Beastly honking hot.


Good: You can see them from our house, so we don't have to go anywhere; Maddie thinks fireworks are really cool, and it's a treat for her to stay up to see them; I remember feeling the same way as a kid.

Bad: Even when they're good, they're just kind of lame to me anymore. I mean, the fireworks downtown, the big Zambelli extravaganza was okay, but it's just a bunch of stuff blowing up.

Worse: No Fourth of July toad, who had shown up in our neighborhood only on the fourth, for the last two years. Oh well. You know what they say: "Two years of a toad is life; three years is a sign from God."

Friday, July 01, 2005

Bug Spray In My Eyes Makes Me Happy 

I haven't written anything in a while not because there has been nothing to write about, just that I didn't feel like it.

Break's over now, I guess. So, what I'm going to do is write up all the stuff that's been going on and post it as it suits me. I'm not going to say "two weeks ago" or time stamp it, because the chronology isn't critical. You can just pretend that it happened in the order that you're reading it, and ten years from now, I guarantee it won't make any difference.

And now, on with the show...

Bug Spray In My Eyes Makes Me Happy

We've had almost no bees/hornets/wasps around the house so far this year. I took out a big paper wasp nest last fall (long-range dowsing by insecticide followed by nest-destroying bombardment by slingshot - fun!), and maybe the rest of the little suckers saw that, got the message, and got the hell out of Dodge.

The few we've seen this year, we've tried to kill off right away. I saw two yellow jackets crawling into a tiny crevice where my back patio roof connects to the main house. We have Ortho Hornet & Wasp Killer 5, some cool stuff that shoots up to twenty feet(tm), and expands into a sticky foam that knocks the bastards right out of the sky, as well as blocking them from exiting their nests. So, I grabbed the foamy stuff, stuck the nozzle in the crevice, and let rip. Sounds dirty, doesn't it?

That taken care of, I checked out the corner on the opposite side of the patio, and Lo! and Behold! a similar situation existed there as well. Yellow jacket crawling out. I hit him with the foam, then filled the crack with it. As he plummeted to the ground, I felt something hit next to my left eye. Horrible dangerous insecticidal foam! Argh! I should have been wearing sunglasses, at least. Oh well, I thought. I'll just head inside and wipe it off.

"Ouch! Waah!" I looked to my left. Maddie had scraped her knee, which is apparently a major injury these days. I went to her to handle it. And the eye? It was forgotten.

That night, as I brushed my teeth, I thought that something in the mirror looked a bit weird. Upon further examination, I noticed that the skin around my left eye was puffy and red, and my eyelid was swollen. Ulp. The bug killer. I flushed it with some water, dried it carefully (it was a bit sore), and put some anti-inflammatory cream on it. I figured that if that was as bad as it had become over the last six hours, it would be okay.

The next morning it was about the same. When I got to work, I called Pittsburgh's Poison Control line. Now, I'm no wuss-bag, and if it had been anywhere else but around my eye (okay, not anywhere else) I wouldn't have bothered. But the very nice Poison Control lady took my info, put me on hold for a few minutes, then came back on to tell me that my eye was going to shrivel up and fall out. Well, obviously not, but if I worked for them, that's what I'd do. Then I'd laugh, and say that I could tell they were nervous, and I was just trying to break the tension.

She said that it wasn't a big deal, but that I should wash it thoroughly (check!) and not apply any creams (doh!), as they can seal the chemicals into your pores and make it worse. She also mentioned that I should wear safety goggles when I use insecticides and that actual contact with the eyeball would have been significantly worse. Like, duh. Just to clarify, that's a "Duh" for me, not for them, as I'm the one who came within about 1/2 cm of screwing up my eye. So kids, when you're using the bug spray, at least put on some sunglasses.

By the end of the work day, everything was almost back to normal. Around 3:00, Poison Control called me back to see how I was doing, which was very cool. They were professional and pleasant to talk to, so if you're feeling lonely, you could do worse than to call Pittsburgh Poison Control, pretend you just ate moth balls and chat with the nice people for a while. Don't forget to wheeze and gag every now and then to keep it real.