Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Thanksgiving Post: Bonus Features

The thing about making one of those nice posts about a holiday is that after you post it with all the neat stuff you want to share you end up finding more stuff. So here are a few more things for the amusement of my two readers:

  • From Campus Squeeze, "The 8 Worst Things About Thanksgiving." No, not everything about Thanksgiving is good or something to be thankful for. By the way, this article does have a bit of political incorrectness (you have been warned).
  • The recipe, with pictures, for the Turbaconducken (a turducken wrapped in bacon). Yes, you read that right. I posted that link on my Facebook, and people can feel a heart attack coming from just looking at the picture. Go have a look and try not to keel over. (From Bacon Today. Who knew there was a site just for bacon, with daily updates?).
  • And if you are still cooking, or you just left it to the last possible moment, here are some "Last Minute Recipe Tips" from Medicine Net.
  • And if you eat too much, especially sugar (maybe one piece of pie too many), here is what could happen.From the Sheldon comic strip.
Then again, why eat turkey at all? The hard working fishermen of Deadliest Catch have a better suggestion: eat some crab. They worked very hard to catch those little @#$%:

Deadliest Catch is one of my favorite shows. Odds are good I will be catching the marathon on Friday. Someone else can go inflict some violence at the malls over some stuffed animal.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Thanksgiving Post 2008

Here is the traditional Thanksgiving post. I think stuff like this becomes traditional on a blog if you do it more than once, and this is the second time I have done this. I did it last year, with an addition. Feel free to look at those posts too, since they have some good links as well. As for me, I will probably be traveling on Thursday to spend some time with my brother's family. Our mother's health is a bit (very) frail, and she is in the hospital. Thus we will probably spend some time bringing her some cheer as well. I have to work this Saturday (because some administrator has the "brilliant" idea we should open the library on Saturday), so we are coming right back on Friday. As I often say, if you are traveling, may your travel be safe. If you are staying home and having people over, may it be a happy time with minimal stress. I even threw in a useful link to keep the stress to a minimum during the dinner. And by the way, if you choose to drink adult beverages, please do so in moderation.

Here then is a collection of links to entertain my two readers as well as provide a few useful things for the holiday.

Facts and trivia:

  • The Bureau of Labor Statistics offers some statistics spotlighting Thanksgiving. For example, did you know that turkey "has usually been less expensive during November and December than in other months"? The cynic in me would have thought the opposite would be the case.
  • The American Farm Bureau reassures us that the traditional meal is still affordable. Take a look at average costs of items and total costs.
  • Get sleepy after the meal? The turkey contains tryptophan, which combines with other things from the meal, like all those carbs along with some alcohol, to make you sleepy.
  • As many know, the U.S. President pardons a couple of turkeys every year. You can still vote for their names. Go here. The pardon happens on November 26.
  • Alaska Governor Sarah Palin pardoned a turkey up in Alaska, but that was not as successful given the background for the event.

Recipes and food:

You, well, most of you anyways, will be spending time with relatives, some of which you probably don't get along with. Be smart. Here are some topics to avoid during the dinner.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Monday, November 17, 2008

People are neither gambling nor smoking

This falls under my semi-regular (ok, mostly irregular series) on "Signs that the economy is bad." This time MSNBC has a report on activities that may no longer be recession-proof. The piece written by Allison Lin looks at things like gambling, smoking and drinking. The conventional wisdom is that things like that usually do well even when the economy is bad. Well, apparently the conventional wisdom is about to fail. At least the gun industry seems to be doing well. Oh wait, that is mostly hysteria from certain people who think Obama will take their guns away. So, what is one to do? What do I do?

: It turns out that "Starbucks conceded that the once high-flying company was losing its footing. It has since been forced to close stores and lay off workers as profits have plummeted." I never saw the allure of Starbucks. I am not saying I did not buy a nicer cup of coffee once in a while. I just did not get it from Starbucks. When I lived in Houston, I went to Bad Ass (much better than Starbucks, and the baristas are less pretentious) once in a while, that being maybe once a month at the most with the family. It was usually a treat for after a dinner out of home. Since it was a treat, it never was an issue of breaking the bank to get the better half a cup of that white chocolate mocha, a cup of hot cocoa for the little one, and whatever the coffee of the day was for me. Otherwise, we brew our coffee at home like any other average person. I even have a small coffee pot in my office to make my own when I feel like it. Why people feel a need to line up at Starbucks's drive-thru every morning and pay that money is beyond me. And the thing is, the Starbucks here in Tyler located on the route I take to work is almost always full every morning. The line goes around the building. Then again, Tyler, Texas is a bit of a bubble economically when compared to the rest of the nation. Unfortunately, being in that bubble means a lot of the "pious" conservatives here have a serious empathy problem, as in they have no compassion for anyone who may not be doing as well in this economy.

Gambling: That is a no-brainer for us. We don't gamble at all. I don't even buy lottery tickets. According to the article, "when times are tough, the common assumption has been that people will continue to gamble for relief and the hope of striking it rich." Throwing my money away is not my idea of relief, and I know the odds are always in favor of the house. You see, I take Ace Rothstein's words to heart: "in the casino, the cardinal rule is to keep them playing and to keep them coming back. The longer they play, the more they lose, and in the end, we get it all" (from the film Casino). I just don't go in at all. I personally don't see the allure, neither does my better half. And I know I won't strike it rich anytime soon (not working as a librarian anyways).

Smoking: This is even easier. We don't smoke.

Alcohol: Now now, let's not get desperate or extreme here and cut out the alcohol. We do drink in moderation. I personally prefer wines, but I am amenable to various alcoholic drinks. However, we don't drink at bars. We do our drinking at home or at the homes of relatives. Therefore, we buy our liquor and stock up. When it comes to wine, it is actually not that difficult. For one, Texas has a pretty good wine industry, so you can get a good bottle of wine from one of the local wineries for a few bucks, and you support your local industry. Actually, small wineries in the U.S. like the ones here are as local as they get. Even if they import their grapes, they still get them from California. It does not get any more "made in the USA" than that. When we lived in Indiana, it was the same thing. As for other wines (read non-local), I usually pick and choose and try to go moderate as well. For harder liquor, I just keep an eye on price and stock up when I can. Since we drink in moderation, a bottle of rum for instance will last a while.
Cable: Most people cut this when it comes time to cutting. Not for us. We admit we think of it like a utility. Given broadcast TV sucks, you have to have at least basic cable. We get the next tier up, but not premium channels. But we do get our value out of it. Daughter likes Discovery, Nick, Cartoon Network, and few others. So do we. I personally like shows like Dirty Jobs, and you can't get them without cable. We do bundle the Internet and phone with the cable. A bit pricey, but we get our value since we don't go to movie theaters, and we rarely rent movies. I use the Internet quite a bit for everything from news to blogging.

Movies: I gave up on movie theaters, and I am not alone in this. Cell phone jerks and overpriced movie tickets are not my idea of fun. When we want a movie, we just rent a couple of DVDs. Part of the reason we rarely rent films is we are rarely home together. My better half works an erratic schedule as a food service manager which can be open shift one day, closing the next, a midshift (about 10a or so til 7p), so on. It's one of the realities of life we both work.

Sporting events: We have no interest in this overall. My brother who lives in the DFW area has been to a Dallas Cowboys game or two, and even he gripes about the price. He stopped going I believe. No, he is not a librarian (he is not rich either, but he is comfortable). 150 bucks or more for a ticket to an event is pretty much not right in my view. Maybe they do need to rethink those excessive athlete salaries.

Phones: We have the land line with the cable company as mentioned. In part, we are not ready to simply move to cellphones exclusively. Our cells are for personal use; we do not give the number to anyone other than relatives and some people at work. Telemarketers can simply call the land line for all the good it will do them since we screen all calls.

We are not wealthy by any extent. We rent our housing, and we do have some college loans. We won't be getting a house any time soon, in part due to the college loans, but also to remain mobile. I hold no illusions about staying here long term. To advance in librarianship, you have to be mobile, and I know I am not advancing further here any time soon. Just the way the workplace is set up. Although who knows, maybe I will settle here. We keep our options open, plus, when something breaks at home, one phone call to the landlord gets it fixed. We do watch what earn. We do watch what we spend, but we are certainly not going the hysterical route that some people seem to be following. What I found interesting about the article is that it mentions the economy is so bad people may actually stop drinking, gambling, and smoking. And I think to myself, is that really a bad thing? To stop drinking, gambling, and smoking that is? Quitting the smokes is definitely a good idea. Stop throwing your money to the casinos and/or the lottery. As for drinking, do it in moderation. After all, there is evidence a drink now and then is good for you.

So just another sign the economy is bad. As for us, we are just hanging in there, and living the best we can.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

That terrible California vote (not the chicken one)

When I saw the news of Californians passing Prop. 8, I debated whether I wanted to blog about it or not. Here's my self-disclosure for openers: I am straight (as far as I know), married, and I have no real pick on the fight. But the fact that this is discrimination pure and simple finally made me decide to speak, or at least throw in my two cents. This bothers me: that people find it so easy to vote to take away something they themselves take for granted. It also bothers me because a lot of it had to do with a bunch of religious zealots imposing their views on everyone else (for example, the Catholics and the Mormons).

To those zealots I simply say, you believe being gay is a sin? Don't be gay then (or lived a repressed life and hope no one catches you in some airport restroom). I have news for you: a lot of people in the nation and world do not share your beliefs. So we would appreciate it if you minded your own business and stayed out of our lives.

So, I sit down and think, and I ask:

  • Will gay marriages destroy my marriage? No.
  • Will I turn gay, or my family, just because gay people decide to express their desire to live in a committed relationship and get married? No.
Those questions sound ridiculous, right? Yet there are some out there who not only embrace those ridiculous notions, but seek to impose them on others, and that is just not right.

So, since I often try to use a little humor when coping with the stupidity of others, here is a simple proposal. A lot of those zealots believe in "traditional marriage" for procreation purposes only. So, lets round up all the married people out there who do not have a bushel of kids and revoke their marriage licenses immediately. Hey, either start breeding and fulfilling your "obligation," or lose your license. Now, you say you are Catholic? But you also say (quietly) that you use contraceptives (a big no-no for Catholics, and no, natural family planning does not really work reliably, nor is it necessarily the most practical method for couples)? Well, too bad. Hand over that marriage license unless you start popping out some kids. Sounds ridiculous, huh? But when you look at it, you see the hypocrisy of those zealots exposed, hypocrisy that shows they don't even follow all their own morals, but they are more than happy imposing them on others who could not care less. And let's not even look at divorce stats. I think I recall Jesus had something to say about divorce being adultery (Matthew 5:31-32 if I recall correctly, for example). Matthew does allow for "unfaithfulness," but this is not the case for Luke (see 16:18) or Mark (10:11-12). I knew all those years in Catholic school would pay off. The point? Keep your beliefs to yourself. You think it's a sin? Don't do it! Your rules. Your religion. You go to hell. We are living and moving on.

But seriously, what is it about two people loving each other and simply wanting to express that love and have others witness it that scares those zealots so much? Should we go back to the days when blacks and whites were not legally allowed to get married? Oh wait, that would be bigotry and discrimination. So is this. Maybe those people should own up to the fact that they are intolerant bigots. Don't like that label? Tough, because by voting against something that is a matter of human dignity, you are showing yourself as a bigot. So, embrace your bigotry then. I want those who voted for that proposition to own up and say, "I voted for it because I am an intolerant bigot." Can't do it, huh? Unfortunately, that is exactly what you are revealing about yourself. Don't try to say that your religion tells you it is wrong. I can quote you the scripture too, like Luke 6:31, which by the way is not an exclusive Christian idea. The Golden Rule and reciprocity have been around for a while longer. And maybe, just maybe, that is what this is all about, the Golden Rule: do unto others as you would have them do unto you.

And by the way, I am not about to let minorities like blacks and Latinos off the hook either. To be honest, I am feeling kind of ashamed to be Latino after my brethren fell for this. Then again, a lot of them are Catholics. Not that it makes it right.

Anyhow, I was not planning on posting this (I wrote an earlier draft in my journal), but after reading some of the accounts, and after seeing Keith Olbermann's commentary last night, I knew I had to say something. Because at the end of the day, wrongs have to be denounced.

Here is Mr. Olbermann's commentary (from YouTube; was going to put the MSNBC, but the embed code is messing up Blogger). He said it very well: "this is about the human heart":

Get the text here. Maybe this cartoon by Tom Toles, (cartoon's date is 11/07/08) which was published in The Washington Post, make the point for you:

Friday, November 07, 2008

A Reading List for the New President, or my ten humble suggestions

This is inspired by this article published in Inside Higher Ed written by Scott McLemee, "Turning a Page." Mr. Lemee did an unscientific survey among academics asking them to suggest books (or articles, theses, dissertations or any other reading material) they would suggest to the incoming president. Well, it is a somewhat nice list, but I think it is a bit pretentious and stuffy, as many lists put together by academics often are. And yes, I know I work in academia, but I think I am bit more in the trenches than some of those folks. The point is I think we should be giving Mr. Obama some practical things to read. He is going to be a busy guy for one. And two, I think there are plenty of books out there that will give the man a good overview of things to consider. I am working on the assumption that Obama is already well-read in things like the classics and history (especially American History). So, if I could sit down with the guy, or at least pass him a note, these would be the titles I would suggest (book titles are linked to WorldCat records):

  • When it comes to education, I would suggest anything written by Jonathan Kozol. The Shame of the Nation would probably be pretty good, but Mr. Obama is on a tight schedule. So, I would instead suggest Savage Inequalities. It will make the point clear, and it is a shorter work. Our schools are pretty much an embarrassment. They need to be fixed pronto. And then ask him if he would send his children to any school Kozol writes about. If the answer is "no," then point made. By the way, Kozol has also written about the homeless and the illiterate in this country. Maybe a scan of those works might be good as well. The illiteracy issue is one close to my heart. I worked for almost a year as a volunteer at an adult literacy center. I have a tale or two I could tell.
  • For a treatment of war, I would suggest Joe Haldeman's The Forever War. In addition to doing a little escapism with science fiction, our new president can certainly reflect on the nature of war, especially in the context of two wars that seem to keep going without end in sight.
  • Need some insights on the working people? I would probably throw in Barbara Ehrenreich's Nickel and Dimed. Maybe he, along with the rest of the legislature, will get a clue that the minimum wage as it stands now does not work for most hardworking people. Not to mention getting some appreciation for the people who do the small jobs that make life better for the rest of us.
  • Joe Bageant's Deer Hunting with Jesus. This is probably one of the better books on looking at the red areas of the nation. By the way, the chapter on health care should give you enough reason to work on getting us universal health care (not just some token "improvement" over the disastrous system we have now).
  • Since the original list had plays, I have to put one in as well. After things like Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib, I would hope our new president is ready to put torture and other less than decent practices out of business. So, to go with this I would recommend Griselda Gambaro's Information For Foreigners. Originally in Spanish, it has been translated. Anyhow, Mr. Lemee assumed Mr. Obama would have a crack team of translators standing by for anything not in English.
  • The article suggested reading the words of Osama Bin Laden. I could not agree more. There are some editions out there by now. The article mentioned Messages to the World, which I read, so I am recommending it as well. This nation cannot afford to be ignorant of the enemy. To go along with this, pick out a good history of the Middle East and also read some parts of the Qu'ran while at it.
  • Margaret Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale. Not one of my favorites, but it will certainly show what will happen if we don't remember there are such a things in this nation as the separation of church and state as well as a right to the freedom of religion (and by logic, freedom from religion). In fact, I think a few Republicans (the few reasonable ones left) should be reading it as well before they keep letting religious extremists hijack their party.
  • Robert I. Sutton's The No Asshole Rule. A good number of people in the campaign behaved like total assholes, pure and simple. They should not have been tolerated. And I would hope Obama would not tolerate any in his administration.
  • Latinos in this country are emerging as the largest minority. They are a diverse people; yes, Mexicans are different from Puerto Ricans who are different from Cubans and so on. Ilan Stavans's Latino USA: A Cartoon History will provide a very quick and visual look at Latino History in the U.S. There are other books that treat this history well, but again, the man is on a tight schedule.
  • For Latin American History (i.e. the rest of the continent heading south), Eduardo Galeano's Open Veins of Latin America will do nicely. I read it in Spanish, but it has been translated into English.
  • I know; I said ten books, but here is one more, just for fun (and in case they give Obama one briefing and handout too many on how things work in the White House), here is How To Be President: What To Do and Where to Go Once You're in Office. This will remind you of things like who takes care of the laundry, how to get a haircut, and other little details of the new home.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Now that the election is over . . . not quite

Contrary to everything in the mainstream media, it's not quite over. As I told one of my coworkers this morning, I am cautiously optimistic, with emphasis on the word "cautiously." You don't have to be politically affiliated to know that the last eight years have pretty much been a clusterfuck, pure and simple. Heck, we can just look at our wallets to see our shrinking salaries as everything goes up in price. We can see health care for the mess it is, and don't even get me started on education.

That the U.S. managed to finally figure out that maybe we needed a change is nice. That this is a historical moment with the election of the first black man to the presidency is clear. Now, if the media would just drop it already, quit rounding up every black person they can find (preferably someone who lived during the struggle for civil rights era), and asking them "did it occur to you this would happen in your lifetime?" or a variant of that question, it would be nice. Because, folks, let's face it. Obama is inheriting one hell of a mess thanks to the previous guys, and he has his work cut out for him.

For me, one of the things that made me cautious was watching McCain's concession speech last night. No, it was not his speech. I thought his speech was very gracious. It was his followers and the big bunch of them who started booing. Because that is what I worry about. You see, at least in my humble point of view, in politics, you can disagree. You can do some trash talking. You can debate. But once the campaign is over, and there is a winner, it's time to concede, pledge to support the new guy for the sake of the nation, and move on. I just get the feeling there is a pretty vocal and significant minority out there just cleaning their rifles right about now. There is a substantial group of folks who make the Taliban look like amateurs. Not to mention that even though Obama won, bad things are still happening; his election was not the only thing in the ballots, folks. That stupidity with Prop. 8 in California comes to mind (not to mention similar measures in places like Arizona). The fact that, as of this writing, Ted Stevens (Mr. "The Internet is a Series of Tubes") might get reelected even though he is a convicted felon. That there are still a whole bunch of legislators, on both sides, who were pretty much collaborators with the mess the last administration caused and who pretty much are paid for by their lobbyists and special interest groups. It's not going to be an easy time for the new president (who I am sure has to answer to special interests of his own as well) as many would have us believe. So sure, celebrate now, but please, don't get cocky or complacent. This mess is going to take a long time to clean up, assuming the will is found to clean it up. There are a lot of wounds that need time to heal, unless the HMOs and their lobbyists actually take over, in which case those wounds will be declared pre-existing conditions and thus the insurance won't pay for it. Yes, in case you wonder, I find it pretty disgusting that in this nation health care is viewed as a commodity like oil or corn to be traded instead of a universal right like the rest of the world sees it.

Now, I am sure one of my two readers is going to ask, "why is he pissing on my corn flakes?" Maybe because I am a bit of a cynic. Maybe because I truly want to believe, and yet I have seen what stupid people in large numbers can do. Maybe because, like George Carlin would say, all politicians are bought and paid for (video link to Carlin on politicians here; some of his quotes over here). As Dr. PZ Myers, in his blog Pharyngula, puts it, "the world is a somewhat more hopeful place today than it was yesterday, but let's get real." He also went and gave some context for his view. So, take a breather, celebrate that the last years are coming to an end, then get to work. Because this is not over by a long shot. It's a new day, but that just means it's time go get to work. And we still have a lot of work to do in this nation. It's time to grab your prods and make sure that those you elected actually do something, and so something substantial and for the common good for a change.

So, we'll see.

Oh, and in case anyone wonders, yes, I did vote. It was tempting to follow Carlin's advice and stay home though.