Saturday, September 19, 2015

Full Circle

Well, I'm back doing essentially what I was doing as a job back in 1984. Our Moose Lodge administrator came to me a couple weeks ago and asked if I would be interested in working in the office full time. I'd sub'ed a couple times when he was off at conferences, so I had a pretty good idea of what would be required. Given that they are willing to pay me more than I've made in most of a decade and the job is literally right around the corner, the answer was pretty easy.

So no more tax seasons sitting in Walmart Hell. I'll still do some returns on the side, but not the hundreds I've done over the last few years. That by itself makes the change worthwhile; forget about the higher pay, better hours and year-'round work. I do have to work every Saturday and Sunday, but I have Wednesday's and Thursday's off. Debbie gets Thursday off whenever she works a Saturday, so she'll just work more Saturday's so we have a day off together. It's not like what day of the week it is really makes a difference to us anyway.

So other than all that, not much else going on. Other than the obvious Florida summer stuff like it's frackin' HOT and RAINS EVERY DAY. Except today; it's just HOT with bright white hot sun and not a cloud in the sky. Not sure that's really an improvement. [Before I was able to post this, a thunderstorm blew in and is currently dumping a couple inches of rain on us. Remember the old joke about how if you didn't like the weather in Michigan, just hang around for a minute and it will change? Florida has Michigan beat six ways to Sunday on that score.] Of course in a few months I'll be whining because it's so cold that I have to wear a shirt and enclosed shoes. Maybe even socks. We'll just have to tough it out somehow....

I stopped watching, listening and reading (and quite frankly caring in any way about) anything from the mainstream media around 15 years ago or so, and last walked into a voting booth in 2004. So you know things must be completely crazy if I'm hearing about it. As far as I understand, some significant portion of the US population over the age of 35 is running for the GOP nomination. I was at work and some 24-hour news station was playing over the bar showing pictures of everyone running. There were, like, three screens of postage-stamp-sized photos. Other than Trump and three or four other people, I had no idea who any of these people even were. Have the GOP party hacks lost complete control of their party? Can we go back to the good ol' days when parties decided who their candidates were going to be in some smoke-filled room? Oh, right. This is supposed to be more democratic. Which just proves that there is such a thing as too much democracy.

But even a recluse like me can see that there is a shift occurring, and not just in the United States. John Michael Greer took a break from his series of posts to comment on the upset in Britain's Labor Party:

...a sign I’ve been awaiting for quite some time has appeared on the horizon—the first rumble of a tectonic shift that will leave few things unchanged. Unsurprisingly, this didn’t happen in the United States, but I was somewhat startled to see where it did happen. That would be in Britain, where Jeremy Corbyn has just been elected head of Britain’s Labour Party.


Logically speaking, if the policies you propose don’t yield the results you expect, you change the policies. That’s not what’s happened so far in this case, though.  Quite the contrary, the accelerating failures of neoliberalism have been met across the board by an increasingly angry insistence from the corridors of power that neoliberal policies are the only options there are.

What Jeremy Corbyn’s election shows is that that insistence has just passed its pull date. Corbyn’s an old-fashioned Labourite of the pre-Blair variety, and he’s made it clear for decades that he supports the opposite of the neoliberal consensus: more regulation of finance and industry, higher tax rates and fewer handouts to the rich, more benefits for the poor, and a less aggressive foreign policy.

As JMG points out elsewhere in his essay (and has been repeating endlessly since the start of his blog in 2006), different should never be confused with better. And even if a proposed change seems to be better, the follow-up question ought to be for whom. We do seem to be living in interesting times.

Speaking of interesting times, is everyone enjoying the crazy and completely illogical swings in the stock market? Now that we're pretty much fully in greenbacks, I know I've been enjoying the high-pitched squeals and puckered-sphincter looks from all the talking heads every time markets take another plunge. Oh, and anybody remember all the Saudi America crap that was being ladled out so generously a while back? Wonder why you haven't heard anything about that lately? Lessee if I understand what all the excitement was about: Borrow billions, use the money to over-produce a fungible commodity thus crashing its market price, then produce even more of it in a (mostly-vain) attempt to service those borrowed billions. Rinse and repeat. What could possibly go wrong? We should all be stinkin' rich in no time!

And this is from what are supposed to be the smartest people in the room? No wonder Trump is leading in the polls.

Anyway, I need to get things cleaned up and go to bed early so I can get up for another exciting day in the office!

Monday, August 03, 2015

Cecil the Lion

The internet was set aflame by the story of Cecil; a lion supposedly beloved of locals in Zimbabwe killed by a dentist from Minnesota. As usual in these cases, facts are hard to come by. There are no longer any sources you can trust for information. Every media outlet, internet or otherwise, reports unsubstantiated rumors as unvarnished Truth. The hunt was illegal, the guide a well-known local poacher. The lion suffered in agony for 40 hours. Dr. Palmer is a pedophile. Zimbabwe is looking to extradite Dr. Palmer. Zimbabwean locals have no idea who this "Cecil" was. The hunt was perfectly legal, conducted by a licensed guide.

I could go on for pages, but anyone who has tried to get to the bottom of any news story in the last ten years or so already knows the drill. True journalists, people who bother to fact check and at least try to get to the truth of a story, are like unicorns or honest politicians. They simply don't exist.

Meanwhile, for the safety of himself and his patients, Dr. Palmer has closed his dental practice, as he, his family, and anyone who has ever been a patient are now considered fair game. Literally. The local police have lost count of the thousands of death threats. Personal details of not just Palmer's life, but every member of his family are being shared on the internet. But it's all good; Palmer, the internet assures us, is filthy rich and can move himself and his family off to some foreign country to live incommunicado, safe from death threats and/or legal repercussions of his hunting trip.

This is the new "animal rights" movement in all its glory: Demonstrate your love of animals by dehumanizing people, destroying their lives and the lives of anyone close to them, or anyone who makes any attempt to defend them. Carriage horse owners in New York City. Elephant trainers in circuses. Owners of ponies who give rides to children at fairs. Hunters. Small-scale farmers. (Factory farms are kept safe behind a wall of bought-and-paid-for politicians.) Trainers who work with animals used in movies or TV. All these groups have been and/or are being subjected to the tender ministrations of these so-called animal rights activists. The tactics used are predictable. The person or group are horrible people, beneath contempt, outcasts, drunkards, racists. Their actions are indefensible to all right-thinking people. Inevitably, the person or group being demonized is labeled (always without even a shred of evidence) pedophiles or rapists. Which probably says more about the accusers mental state than the accused, but does little to mitigate the damage such accusations cause.

The favorite tool of the modern "activist" is, of course, social media. Anyone remember when the internet was supposed to eliminate arbitrary barriers and brings us all together in peace and harmony, singing Kumbaya? Instead, it became a place for international mobs to form over random news stories (even if it happens to be completely fake, like the UofV rape case), demonizing random individuals or groups and completely destroying their lives, then just as quickly moving on to the next outrage. The mainstream media, so focused on being "relevant" and eager to fill up all those 24-hour news channels, jumps on board without so much as the most cursory of investigations, never bothering to retract even blatant lies.

Left behind is the wreckage that was once some human being's life. And no one even had to leave the comfort of their living room couch or work cubicle to make it happen.

I'm a hunter and unrepentant meat-eater. I'm comfortable with killing game for food. I see no difference in killing, gutting, skinning, cooking and eating a rabbit, squirrel or deer, and going to Walmart and picking up a package of chicken, beef or pork. Other than in the later instance, I've paid someone else to do the dirty work for me. However, I will say that I'm uncomfortable with pure trophy hunting; killing an animal only for the purpose of displaying some part of it on your den wall. Note that I'm not talking about getting the head of a deer mounted that was killed primarily for the dinner table. I'm referring to what Dr. Palmer's hunt appears to have been; the killing of an animal purely for the sake of displaying some part of it on a floor or wall.

Note that I said, "uncomfortable with" rather than "violently opposed to". I fully understand that trophy hunting (as well as the less-lethal version, the photo safari) provides much needed income for countries like Zimbabwe. That it is much easier to convince locals to accept the loss of some cattle to predators from the neighboring preserve if they receive some benefit from them being there. That safari income is what pays the salaries of staff who go after commercial poachers. That some "Disney animals" like lions, tigers and elephants are over-populating certain areas, meaning some must be culled for the benefit of the remaining animals. That large predators can go rogue by hunting humans and need to be killed. I fully appreciate all of it. That doesn't mean that I would ever participate in such a hunt. However, should someone else choose to, I'm certainly not going to label him a murderer and try to destroy him and everyone around him.

In this instance, the part of the story that I do find disturbing is the length of time from the first shot to the lion being killed. If the forty-hour figure flying around the internet is even close to being true, something went terribly wrong out in the field. Someone, either Dr. Palmer or the guide (or both), at a minimum displayed bad judgement and more likely, incompetence. "Never take a shot unless you know it will be lethal" was pounded into my head at a very young age. Know your weapon, know its limitations, know your limitations, were simply givens. Leaving an animal wounded by a bad shot to suffer and die slowly was considered the worst sort of slob hunting. Because we are not living in some Utopia, things go bad from time to time. But you take every possible precaution to reduce the likelihood of things going sideways. Most importantly, if there is any doubt of a clean kill, if anything feels off in any way, don't take the shot. That something so basic seems to have been ignored is certainly troubling to me. Assuming there is any more truth to the forty-hour pursuit "fact" than there is in the accusations that Dr. Palmer is some sort of sexual predator.

Now I'm seeing Facebook petitions calling for the elimination of all trophy hunting. First of all, is there anyone over the age of twelve that believes "signing" any sort of online petition or sharing a post on Facebook has any impact whatsoever, other than making you feel good about yourself for "doing something" while not actually doing anything? Secondly, definitions matter. What, exactly, is a trophy hunt? If I take home a pound of giraffe meat along with the head and hide, is it still a trophy hunt? How about two pounds? Three? Thirty? If the goal is to ban all killing of "Disney animals", what do we do about over-population or rogues? How many local children killed and eaten do you think it will take before locals start killing animals? How much dead livestock or destroyed food crops? Third, given the success of the ban on sales of ivory and rhino horn in turning poaching into a multinational cartel, does anyone think a ban on trophy hunting would have the intended effect?

And once again, I've probably pissed off enough people and should head off to bed.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Family Events

July so far has been Family Event Month. On Sunday, July 5, Debbie's niece got married:

Jerrica and Mike

Jerrica doing her "I'm shy" bit

I wasn't able to attend due to prior commitments at the Moose Lodge, so Debbie flew up on Saturday, attended the wedding on Sunday, then flew back on Monday.

Then on July 11, we had another of Debbie's niece's graduation open house. When we checked on airfare, the prices completely sucked, as in over $300 each. Why airfare was reasonable on a major holiday weekend, then completely out of sight the weekend after a major holiday weekend is something only the Gods of the Airline Computers can really answer. So we decided to drive up and back to save on money. We left Thursday night after Debbie got off work, drove all night and landed at Debbie's mom's place Friday afternoon. We slept there a bit, jumped up early Saturday to drive the rest of the way to Alpena for the open house. We couch-surfed there, then up Sunday morning to drive straight through all the way to Zephyrhills. We managed it, but it took a toll on our aging bodies. I remember being able to do silly things like this when we were in our 20's like it was nothing. Not anymore.

In any case, a couple pictures:


Polacks doing what polacks always do in groups: eating, drinking, and BSing.

Today is a rain day, which is why I'm doing this instead of working outside. Before we left, I got a fresh coat of stain on the porch which is finally dry enough to move all the porch furniture out of my shed and back on the porch. If it ever stops raining. It will be a joy to finally be able to get into my shed again.

John Oliver hits another one out of the park, so to speak. This segment is on the insanity of taxpayer-funded sports stadiums:

Maybe I'm turning into a curmudgeon, but I find myself caring less and less about professional sports. Not that I've ever cared that much in the first place, but I would at least watch a game or two and have some vague notion whether the home team was doing well or not. Now I can't even muster that little bit of interest. Most of the players and all the team owners act and talk like narcissistic sociopaths rather than someone that ought to be looked up to or celebrated in any way. The massive amounts of money sloshing around, not just in professional sports, but college and even high school sports as well, has corrupted everything and everyone involved to the very core. Players suffering permanent brain injuries seem to be the rule rather than the exception, no matter how much padding you wrap the them in. And all so some lard-ass who can't walk ten feet without running out of breath can live vicariously through "his" team, and spend weekends screaming such uplifting sentiments as, "Rip his head off, Kowalski!!" while spraying everyone in a ten-foot radius with half-chewed nachos.

And that's probably enough on that.

Wednesday, July 01, 2015

All Done with F*&King IRS (and some other stuff)

I'm officially done with the IRS. I'm tired of the constant bullshit and expense with this whole Enrolled Agent thing and it turns out that it's been all for nothing anyway. All done. Kiss my ass.

In other news, we went to Alaska and tramped around a bit:

Anchorage, Alaska

Denali from Mt. McKinley Lodge


View from our room at the Denali lodge

Denali from inside the park

Margaret Glacier

Mendenhall Glacier

Ketchikan Lumberjack Show

The weather was completely unbelievable. We went packed for 50's and rain and instead got 80's and sunny skies. We were able to see all of Denali the entire five days we were there. Normally, there is only a clear view of Denali for something like eight days a year. We managed to dodge the wildfire as well, although our train from Denali to the cruise ship did get held up for a couple hours because the fire was burning near the tracks. We finally got through and they held the ship for us (advantage of using the cruise line's transfers), so it worked out, but we were getting a little nervous. These are from the train:

Since we've been back, I've done a whole lot of nothing. I need to get outside and get things in shape. The jungle took over a bit while we were away and I need to get things back under control, get a coat of stain on the porch, get some painting and caulking done, etc. Lots to do, just not a lot of motivation to do it.

Over at John Michael Greer's Archdruid Report, he's had a series of posts on the five phases of the decline and fall of a civilization. He calls the phases the Eras of Pretense, Impact, Response, Breakdown, and Dissolution. Our current western industrial civilization is firmly in the Era of Pretense, but as John Michael repeatedly points out in his books and on his blog, the process isn't linear or coherent. Different places will run through these phases at different times and rates and on different scales. For example, right at the moment, Michigan is in a later phase than the rest of the US:
One city neglected to inform its residents that its water supply was laced with cancerous chemicals. Another dissolved its public school district and replaced it with a charter school system, only to witness the for-profit management company it hired flee the scene after determining it couldn’t turn a profit. Numerous cities and school districts in the state are now run by single, state-appointed technocrats, as permitted under an emergency financial manager law pushed through by Rick Snyder, Michigan’s austerity-promoting governor. This legislation not only strips residents of their local voting rights, but gives Snyder’s appointee the power to do just about anything, including dissolving the city itself -- all (no matter how disastrous) in the name of “fiscal responsibility.”

I knew it was bad, but not living there anymore, I hadn't realized just how far gone things really were. I'd put Michigan as a whole in Greer's Era of Response; frantic attempts to prop up the status quo by any means necessary; fair, foul, unconstitutional, etc., while failing to realize that the status quo is the root cause of the state's problems.

But, in keeping with Greer's idea of the fractal nature of decline, most of the state is still a blooming paradise when compared with Detroit:
Highland Park is a tiny 3-square-mile municipality located within Detroit. Extremely dangerous, blighted, and 94% black, Highland Park is a concentrated example of the conditions in Detroit’s poorest neighborhoods—what some call the “Detroit of Detroit.”

In late 2011, the impoverished little municipality was so deep in debt to its public electric company, DTE Energy, that the local government was forced to decommission all streetlights on its residential streets. Not only did DTE cut the power to street lights in Highland Park, it sent out workers to physically dig up and remove nearly 1,000 light-poles from the neighborhood. Highland Parkers now live in permanent, debt-induced darkness.

Six miles away, in Detroit’s rapidly gentrifying downtown area, DTE Energy runs a very different public policy. The same company that repossessed 1,000 streetlights from Highland Park, condemning its residents to permanent darkness, has recently launched a pro-bono security program in the increasingly white area.

And here we see the fractal pattern being repeated at the level of individual neighborhoods, with different parts of the Detroit Metro area in different eras of collapse.

So what about where you live? Is everyone still gliding along with their head in the sand pretending all is well, or are things a bit further along? It's a fun little game the whole family can play!!

Thursday, May 28, 2015

Before May is Gone...

Not sure where the month of May went to, but I thought I'd post something here before we slip into June.

The primary reason it's been quiet on the blog is that we've busier than one-armed paper hangers for some reason. I seems like every time we think we have some spare time, something comes up that we have to head out on some errand or take care of some emergency or another. Even when we do get a day to ourselves, we're so far behind on the normal household crap that our "day off" winds up being consumed with dishes, laundry and other such fun tasks.

Most of the busy has involved the Moose Lodge. As I mentioned last post, I went and got myself elected Treasurer, so now I'm working in the office for a few hours in the morning one or two days a week, plus meetings, meetings and more meetings. As well, there are various expectations made of all elected officers to show up at certain events, volunteer for this, that and the other, etc. On top of that, we've had a pretty significant dry spell this month. Other than a couple sprinkles that didn't even get through the leaves on the trees, it didn't rain from April 29 (the day I headed out for Michigan with my parents, natch) until Tuesday evening. That means that for the first time since I've been on the Moose landscape crew, we've been able to get out into a large, overgrown area between the lodge and the highway. So lots of fun stuff there cutting neck-high grass and pulling out scrub and trees that have been growing since the last time anyone bothered to cut out there. It doesn't help that in Florida, any area with tall grass is assumed to be a public landfill; we've pulled truck-loads of garbage, broken concrete, chunks of asphalt, steel posts, you name it. We are making some serious progress, but I'm also spending about twice the usual time on the job. The hope is that with all the vegetation cut back, the sun will dry things out between rains instead of the water just piling up all summer. We're also working on drainage issues, like a blocked culvert, so all the runoff from two miles of highway will go down the ditch instead of flooding the front yard. We'll see if any of it does any good once the rainy season finally gets here.

One thing I did get to do was play with the new mobile hotspot while I was in Michigan. I did all the driving, so other than an hour or so during our stop in Alabama, I didn't get a chance to mess with it until we were in Kalkaska. After we stopped at G's for lunch, I let my dad drive out to the house and I crawled into the back seat and jumped online. I wasn't sure what sort of coverage I would have in northern Michigan, but it worked great all the way out of town, was still going good on the two-lane county road, even kept working on the dirt road. Then about halfway up my parents' driveway, "BEEP!" No signal. It's like my parents' place is a little cellular back hole. But at least I had something to do while I was sitting at the Traverse City airport waiting for the flight home, then sitting in Detroit waiting three hours for my connection to Tampa. I've also been using it on-and-off here at the trailer. The data is use-it-or-lose-it after 60 days, so I may as well burn it up. Besides, Brighthouse is trying to say that the reason that Debbie's work phone (an IP phone) works like crap is because I'm sucking up all the bandwidth reading blogs on my Kindle. Of course the real problem is that IP phones SUCK!! Businesses get talked into the things because they are so much cheaper than traditional phones. As with nearly everything in this universe, "cheap" and "works" rarely go together. So I get to listen to Debbie spend an hour asking some poor sot how to spell their last name over and over and over and over because their voice keeps cutting out or there is so much line noise she can't hear what they are saying. It doesn't help that the person she is talking to is usually on one of the New and Improved smart phones, which are neither smart, nor are they intended to ever be used as a phone. Our ten-year-old flip phone has ten times better voice quality than any "smart" "phone" on the market. Add in that the moron she's talking to is invariably driving down the expressway while trying to book a cruise. With the radio on full blast. And kids in the backseat watching a movie with the volume cranked even louder so they can hear over the radio.

Yea, I spend a lot of time at home with my headphones on trying to drown out the endless stupid with something soothing like System of a Down's Chop Suey so I don't go postal.

One of these days, I need to do a post on our attempts to grow small bits of food here in the Land of Poisoned Soil, but that will have to wait for next time. Right now, it's time to start getting things ready for tonight's stir fry chicken.