Friday, August 7, 2015

Apples, Oranges, and Gun Violence in America

Its a Saturday night special 
Got a barrel that's blue and cold 
Ain't no good for nothin' 
But put a man six feet in a hole

A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.

Fetish: Any object, idea, etc., eliciting unquestioning reverence, respect, or devotion.

The USA has a problem that it refuses to admit is a problem. Gun violence in this nation of ours has reached epidemic proportions. Movie theaters and office buildings have become free-fire zones while the NRA and gun manufacturers not only sit back, playing Nero while America burns, but add fuel to the fire by fighting against anyone that dares disagree with them. One of the latest arguments I’ve seen buzzing around the Interwebs tries to compare gun ownership with car ownership. I’ve used this argument myself to advocate for mandatory registration, training, and liability insurance for gun owners similar to what I have to have on my car to legally operate it. I will use this apples-to-oranges argument no longer thanks to the following irrefutable fact:

Motor vehicles, used as the manufacturer intended, transport people and cargo. Handguns and assault weapons, used as the manufacturer intended, kill people.

You can try to compare guns to any other item in human experience. The only comparison I have seen where lethality is the intended purpose is the Ebola virus. American culture has always had an unhealthy fascination with guns and gun violence. We are surrounded by this violence in our media every day. Games, television, movies, and music all extol the virtues of gunplay. Show a bullet going through three heads in a row (I’m talking to you, Deadpool), get an R rating, show two people having sex, here’s your X. If that isn’t a sign of a thoroughly fucked up culture, I don’t know what is.

The NRA would like you to believe that the answer to gun violence is more guns. Let’s go back to our Ebola comparison. The answer to the spread of Ebola is NOT more Ebola. The answer is vaccination and curative medicine. More guns is simply not a viable solution to gun violence. Not only do I want to not have to worry about some disaffected idiot with a gun and a grudge when I go out in public, I also don’t want to have to worry about a passer-by thinking he or she is Dirty-bloody-Harry and shooting back!

Gun fetishists (see definition above) almost always rush to the 2nd Amendment as defense of their choice. In doing so, almost all dive right past the “well-regulated Militia” part of the sentence straight to the “shall not be infringed” clause. The writers and signatories to the Constitution did not intend the current free-fire zone that America is becoming. They were working from their own recent experience of standing up to a government that did not allow a voice to the governed being deposed by bands of home-grown militia members with the guts to stand up to one of the best professional armies of the day. They were talking about muzzle-loading black powder muskets and rifles. It is my firm belief that, as with much of American culture and politics of today, those who wrote our Constitution would be appalled by how their words have been interpreted, especially in relation to the advances in people-killing technology.

This is the point in my rant where the Constant Reader of this inconstant blog would normally get my wise and well-thought (snicker) answer to the problem at hand. I don’t have one. I do know that just as more Ebola isn’t the answer to the spread of Ebola, more guns is not the answer to the spread of gun violence in America. The answer is probably going to be comprised of many different initiatives. Common sense would dictate that one of those initiatives would have to be the reduction in the number of guns on the street. All that I know right now is that the status quo of gun violence in America is no longer acceptable.

Sunday, December 30, 2012


As the Constant Reader may well recall, I'm pretty proud of my prowess in the kitchen (among other places). My darling wife, The Lovely and Talented Cathy! (tm) mentioned that one of the folks she follows on Twitter was craving a good Italian-style tomato sauce. Since the sauce I use for spaghetti and lasagna was my first concoction and is still one of my favorite recipes, Cathy thought it would be a good idea to blog the recipe and share it. Without further ado, here it is!

Mark’s Drunken Red Sauce

1 pound ground beef
1 pound bulk Italian sausage (hot or sweet, to taste)
3 large cans tomato sauce
2-3 small cans tomato paste
1 pound mushrooms, sliced
1 large red onion, chopped
1 750 ml bottle Chianti or San Genovese wine
4 bay leaves
Italian Seasoning (to taste)
2 heaping tablespoons minced garlic
2 tablespoons olive oil (not extra virgin)

As with any recipe, get the best quality ingredients you can for best results. In a large stockpot, mix tomato sauce and paste over medium heat.Feel free to substitute chopped tomatoes for sauce on a one-for-one basis, but use at least one can of sauce. In a large skillet, brown and crumble the ground beef, drain VERY well and add to sauce with the garlic. Brown and crumble sausage, drain VERY well and add to sauce with the entire bottle of wine. Heat oil in skillet and sweat (do not brown) onion and mushrooms until mushrooms are cooked and onion is translucent. Add contents of skillet, juices and all, to the sauce. Stir in Italian seasoning and bay leaves and bring to a boil, stirring frequently. Reduce heat to a low simmer and cover, stirring occasionally. The longer the sauce simmers, the better the flavor of the final product. If possible, place stockpot in refrigerator overnight and remove any fat that has hardened on top before heating or using. Makes enough sauce to feed an entire herd or enough for 2 lasagnas and leftovers for 3 or 4 for spaghetti. Buon Appetito!  

There it is! The foundation of most of my Italian style cooking. Not "authentic Italian" by any stretch, but mega-yummy! Enjoy!

Monday, November 5, 2012

Election Eve

Can you believe that's it has already been four years since we made history? Yes, it is time to elect a President again. The Constant Reader is well aware of where I stand on the election, but those of you that are recent visitors need a clue.

That should do it. The list of reasons is as long as both my arms, but someone has once again put it into words that put my poor efforts to shame.

What does it say about us when we are simultaneously pro-life and pro AK-47's? What does it say about us when God's will would allow a rapist to ask for shared custody and child support payments? What does it say about us when a black guy's in charge and we say things like "it's time to take America back"? What does it say about us when we think the institution of marriage is threatened by gay people who love each other, but not by idiotic game shows like "The Bachelor"? What does it say about us when we export democracy with Hellfire missiles, then restrict the right to vote here? What does it say about us when we build nuclear submarines to defend against exploding vests? What does it say about us when we think a guy who doesn't drink, doesn't smoke, keeps his money offshore, stubs his toe and says "H-E-double hockey sticks" and wears magical underwear can feel our pain? What does it say about us when we demand less government and more FEMA? What does it say about us when we completely forgot the colossal shit storm we were in four years ago?
The answer, my friends, is not blowing in the wind.
The answer is, "We are fucking crazy." - Chuck Lorre, Producer, "Big Bang Theory"

In addition to that, I think that the Republican party is moving closer and closer to being nothing more than a tool of corporate interests. With the continued assault on personal liberty and deregulation of business, it's only a matter of time before corporations have more rights than citizens. Corporations are NOT people. Anyone that would grant a corporation the same rights as a citizen will NEVER get a vote from me. 

The divisiveness of American politics has long been a sore subject with me. The art of compromise appears to be dead. That being said, I am forced to decide between two extremes. If presented with a choice between a candidate that thinks that the rich and corporations have it too hard in this nation and one that thinks that the PEOPLE are the ones that need the breaks, I'll side with the people every time. That candidate is President Obama. I fear for the fate of America under a Romney administration. If you prefer HUMAN rights over corporate rights, you should as well.

Friday, October 5, 2012

If It Was Up To ME...

This is another of those entries that started as a political discussion between family members. My family runs the political gamut from progressives like The Amazing and Talented Cathy and I to staunch conservatives with libertarians and everything else in the mix. My wife's uncle Dave asked several of us a VERY juicy question: "If you were going to be president what would be your 4 goals on your agenda platform?" I just LOVE questions like this!  My first four planks on "The Amused Geek For President" platform are...

1. Flat tax. Everyone in America pays the same percentage of their entire income in income tax. No deductions, except possibly mortgage interest. No mile-long tax forms. No special rates for capital gains, estates or anything else. Nobody's rate changes unless EVERYBODY'S rate changes. There is absolutely NO reason why I should have to pay 30% in taxes while some rich boy only pays 14% (and over-paid, at that!).

2. Secularize government. This country was founded on the ability of every citizen to follow a god or not without interference from government. That appears to have been forgotten. Freedom of religion should also include freedom FROM religion. Any law that favors one set of religious beliefs over another has no business on the books. This is especially true of personal conduct laws. If no one is being harmed, people should be free to do their own thing.

3. National Service. Require every American to perform two years of government service. Military, Americorps, Peace Corps or something tailored for a specific disability. If you don't perform your 2 years, you don't ever qualify for welfare and cannot be hired by the government, even to elected positions. If you want to get extreme, even restrict the right to vote until your 2 years are completed satisfactorily. This has the added benefit of instilling a sense of ownership in this country.

4. Guest Worker Program. While the debate rages about illegal immigration, the jobs that these folks people fill are going undone because they don't pay enough or require harder work than most Americans are willing to do. Allow for some sort of program that will let Mexican citizens cross legally, but as guest workers to pick the produce, bus the tables and so on. Quit criminalizing the same sort of "make a better life" spirit that formed this country in the first place.

These are just a start, but I think they're a good start. What would be on YOUR platform?

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Chicken, Crow or Fox?

There has been a medium-grade shitstorm in the media lately. HUGE surprise, I know. This current cesspool swirls around a fast-food chain known as Chick-fil-A (CFA). CFA is a $4 billion/year company run by the very devout Cathy family of Atlanta, GA. These folks are one of two major retail outlets that are closed on Sundays that I am aware of, the other being furniture store RC Willey. According to the biography of company president Dan Cathy, as displayed on the company's website, CFA's corporate purpose is: "To glorify God by being a faithful steward of all that is entrusted to us. To have a positive influence on all who come in contact with Chick-fil-A."

Makes it sound like god wants you have that 16 grams of fat and 1400 milligrams of sodium in a 440 calorie sandwich, don't it? Selling fast food and buying into the god fantasy are no big deal, but it turns out that the Cathy family doesn't exactly want to keep their beliefs to themselves. Mr. Cathy appeared on a GA radio show and made the following statement:
"I think we are inviting God's judgment on our nation when we shake our fist at Him and say, 'We know better than you as to what constitutes a marriage,'" Cathy said. "I pray God's mercy on our generation that has such a prideful, arrogant attitude to think that we have the audacity to define what marriage is about." 
Please forget for a moment the prideful, arrogant attitude inherent in that statement. Or not. The fact that Mr. Cathy truly believes that his version of god can dictate to ANYONE the definition of ANYTHING is ludicrous. Cue the shitstorm. Those of us that support marriage equality are cheesed that the president of a major American company would behave like that in public. Are we not in the 21st century, rather than the 19th? Have we not progressed beyond such xenophobia? Did you not get that memo, Mr. Cathy?

The plot thickens when you find out that the officers of CFA are also the officers of the WinShape Foundation. CFA gives millions to WinShape. WinShape gives millions to groups like Focus on the Family to help in their crusades against abortion and marriage equality. Supporters of the LGBT population started calling for boycotts and the conservative media cried foul!

In an interview with Fixed Noise, no less a literary light than the former half-governor of Alaska, Sarah Palin, leapt to the defense of CFA. She said, "Well, that calling for the boycott is a real -- has a chilling effect on our 1st Amendment rights".  Liberal politicians are inviting CFA to stay away from their locales and social media is raging with the debate. The Constant Reader knows how I stand on the issue. For a refresher just look here or here. You also know I can smell a rat a mile away, and that's just what I smell here.

While the Net and the media burned with debate, CFA held their annual "Appreciation Day". It appears to be a promotion where you can get free product if you dress like a cow (the company mascot), and other prizes are given away. With all this free publicity swirling around, guess who reported "world record" sales on that day? Survey SAYS... Chick-fil-A!

That brings me to the title of this missive. Did Dan Cathy show his ass by insisting that his god has the undisputed right to define marriage? Absolutely! Will he be forced to eat crow one day when this nation comes to its' senses on equality for all? I sincerely hope so. Did CFA make a metric butt-load of money over the past week thanks to a shitstorm of free publicity? Damn right. Crazy like a fox.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

The Force IS With Us!

I had the opportunity to play in the most recent beta-test of Bioware's latest entry in the online game race, Star Wars: The Old Republic (AKA SW:TOR). I consider myself a casual gamer and have had experience with both Everquest and World of Warcraft. I have been eagerly anticipating this game and this past weekend did nothing to diminish that. I can honestly say that I haven't been this jazzed about a game since I first played Civilization (yes, Civ 1) many years ago.

From the first loading screen, this game pulls no punches. It is all about the struggle of Good vs. Evil. Most games have good guys and bad guys, but the bad guys are only bad to their opposition. Other than cosmetics, the Alliance and the Horde in Warcraft are pretty much the same. In SW:TOR, everything you do has the potential to move your character closer to light or darkness. Whether your budding Jedi is forgiving enemies or trying to find peaceful solutions or your up and coming Sith is executing prisoners or activating the shock collar on their slave (you read that right), you are frequently given options to embrace either the Light or Dark sides of the Force. There is FINALLY a game that actually encourages players to make the choice to be either a saint or a demon.

This is also a beautiful game. The Jedi starting world of Tython is green and peaceful except where the dreaded Flesh Raiders have become a blot on the landscape. The Sith starting world is the bleak and desolate Korriban. While Tython looks like the kind of place where you might want to hold a picnic, Korriban looks like you just know that you are going to get sand in that one spot in your armor where it will cause a nasty rash. The Senate Tower on Coruscant really looks as big and imposing as the movie version. It just looks shiny!

The game-play I experienced was just as impressive. Was it kind of linear? Yes, but every quest was made me feel like what I was doing mattered. Trying to get to a cache of Dark knowledge before it gets out, striving to become the favored acolyte and earn the right to become the apprentice to a Darth or trying to recover a stolen city-killer bomb made every quest feel like I was directly involved in the story. This game is intensely story-driven and all the parts I experienced felt like I really was a character in the saga. While there we some "get quantity X of item Y" quests, they were all worked in to the story and all made sense.

The voice acting is superb. That's especially important in this game because all of your quests and important NPC encounters are fully voiced and your responses are also voiced. I had my doubts about how this would work, but this past weekend put those to rest. I found myself looking forward to the next decision point or quest turn-in. This is a vast difference from any other online games I've played and it worked seamlessly for me.

Now for the disclaimers: I only got about 20 hours of play in over the weekend (Drat that pesky need to earn a living!) so I didn't get as deep into the game as I would have liked. I played three different classes (Sith warrior, Jedi consular and Republic trooper) to a maximum level of 12. I never made it to my own spaceship and I only played in one group mission (called "flashpoints"). That being said, I think that Star Wars: The Old Republic will be taking up a great deal of my free time for some time to come.

The Amused Geek rating: 5 out of 5 lightsabers, all red!

Friday, September 30, 2011

My Take on Newt's NEW Contract...

One of my Facebook friends posted a link to a video with a pretty huge claim “This is THE man that knows how to put America back on a path to growth and prosperity.”, he said. He also said that he would really like to know if anyone disagreed, and why. It turns out that the video was Newt Gingrich presenting his “21st Century Contract with America”. It's a long list, but here it is. I will quote Mr. Gingrich's proposals directly from his website.

1. Repeal Obamacare and pass a replacement that saves lives and money by empowering patients and doctors, not bureaucrats and politicians.

This appears to nothing more than leaving the heath insurance companies in charge of medical care in America and make it easier for them to do so. It also does nothing to help the millions of working poor that cannot afford any kind of health insurance even if deducted from their income tax. I think that the meager health care reform that made it through Congress didn't go nearly far enough. I support single-payer health care, the so-called “Medicare Part E (as in Everyone)” Health insurance companies spend 12.5-30% of premiums on administration costs and profits. Medicare? A paltry 3-5.5%. There's where you eliminate waste.

2. Return to robust job creation with a bold set of tax cuts and regulatory reforms that will free American entrepreneurs to invest and hire, as well as by reforming the Federal Reserve and creating a training requirement for extended federal unemployment benefits to encourage work and improve the quality of our workforce.

In this clause, Gingrich wants to replace the National Labor Relations Board, repeal Dodd-Frank and Sarbanes-Oxley (passed by Congress to combat corporate corruption) and lower corporate taxes even further as well as abolishing the Estate Tax. He also wants to mandate job training programs for extended unemployment qualification, but thinks that “This program should be delegated to the 50 states so each can experiment with the best way to use unemployment compensation as a job training program.” Can you say, “unfunded mandate”? He also wants to reform the Federal Reserve, blaming them for the mortgage crisis when it was in fact greedy and unregulated mortgage lenders packaging and selling junk mortgages that sent the market spiraling out of control. This is nothing more than a naked attempt to give the mega-corporations even more freedom to profit at the expense of American workers.

3. Unleash America’s full energy production potential in oil, natural gas, coal, biofuels, wind, nuclear oil shale and more, creating jobs, stimulating a sustainable manufacturing boom, lowering gasoline and other energy prices, increasing government revenues, strengthening the dollar, and bolstering national security.

This is nothing more than “Drill baby, drill!” without giving a damn about the land, water or air that the oil, natural gas or coal lies beneath. The American bio fuels industry is hopelessly married to corn even after scientists have proven that you can get FIVE times more energy from switchgrass. Gotta keep those corn farmers happy. Nuclear energy is only going to work if folks want a potential Fukushima reactor in their area. Oil shale is still a non-renewable resource. When it's gone, it's gone for good. This clause of the contract also calls for the replacement of the EPA with something less “anti-job”. The EPA isn't there to protect jobs, it's there to protect the environment from those who would destroy it for profit. One could add that I am unaware of anything called “nuclear oil shale”, but that would be petty.

4. Save Medicare and Social Security by giving Americans more choices and tools to live longer, healthier lives with greater financial independence.

Privatize Medicare and Social Security? Again? Place American retirement funds in the hands of “the free market”? Do the names Enron and Tyco ring a bell? How about the current market volatility that has caused massive swings in not just American, but world markets? Do you really want to trust the same fine people that gave you the mortgage crisis? Count me out.

5. Balance the federal budget by freeing job-creators to grow the economy, reforming entitlements, and implementing productivity improvement systems, such as Lean Six Sigma, to eliminate waste and fraud. Pass a balanced budget amendment to keep it balanced.

I actually agree that we need to balance the federal budget. Instead of doing it on the backs of the lower 99%, lets let the top 1% do the patriotic thing and pay their fair share of taxes. Let's implement productivity improvement systems, but start with the biggest discretionary spenders in the budget first. That would be Defense for those keeping score. Then we can go to Medicare and Social Security. The problem that I have with most of the “balanced budget” proposals that I have heard is that they demand that the government never spend more than it has, even for disaster relief. Everyone from families to businesses to the government has to sometimes spend money not on hand. If you do so unwisely, like starting two wars at the same time you cut taxes, you are going to run into debt issues. Remember, we had a budget surplus when President Clinton left office.

6. Control the border by January 1, 2014 and establish English as the official language of government; reform the legal visa system, and make it much easier to deport criminals and gang members while making it easier for law abiding visitors to come to the US.

As I recall, the United States has TWO borders and and three seacoasts. I have to assume that Gingrich is talking about the US/Mexico border. America's immigration system is broken. I don't know how to fix it. Newt talks about what needs to happen, but says not one concrete word about how to do it. Since 2005, the Republican solution for control of the Mexican border is a series of walls and fences blocking nearly 2,000 miles of border. Wasn't it President Reagan that said, "Mr.Gorbachev, tear down this wall!”? Why are Republicans so hot to build their own walls? As far as English-only laws go, what happens to the vast number of legal immigrants and citizens that speak the language poorly or not at all? English-only would effectively disenfranchise the citizens and deprive the legal immigrants of government services. Please remember that we are now and always have been a nation of immigrants.

7. Revitalize our national security system to meet 21st century threats by restructuring and adequately funding our security agencies to function within a grand strategy for victory over those who seek to kill us or to limit American freedom.

Let's cut everything else but spend more on Defense? Wrong again, Newt! Let's run the Defense Department through the “productivity improvement systems” you mention in clause 5, find a way to pay our brave men and women in uniform a decent wage, fully fund the VA care that they deserve and re-tool our military to adapt to the current world situation. The days of standing armies slugging it out toe-to-toe are over. Modern war is guerrilla tactics, armed militias (Libya, anyone?) and small-unit actions. Less General Patton and more Seal Team 6.

8. Maximize the speed and impact of medical breakthroughs by removing unnecessary obstacles that block new treatments from reaching patients and emphasizing research spending toward urgent national priorities, like brain science with its impact on Alzheimer’s, autism, Parkinson’s, mental health and other conditions that knowledge of the brain will help solve.

This from the same party that blocked the single most promising avenue of research into multitudes of medical conditions? I speak of stem-cell research, of course. Do I support new avenues of research? Hell, yes! Would I support a virtual gutting of the FDA to do so? Hell, no! I am a diabetic. I used to take a particular drug to help control my diabetes. It turns out that the drug's manufacturer wasn't quite forthcoming on ALL the studies to the FDA, and some of those studies found that the drug increased risks of heart failure, stroke and death. The reports were so strong that my doctor pulled me off the drug immediately. I am talking about Avandia. Without the FDA, these studies might never have been discovered and I might still be taking a dangerous drug. I'll keep the FDA and its' regulations, thanks.

9. Restore the proper role of the judicial branch by using the clearly delineated powers available to the president and Congress to correct, limit, or replace judges who violate the Constitution.

There is a reason why Supreme Court Justices are appointed for life. It's because if a Justice can be removed as a result of an unpopular ruling, said Justice would be tempted to frame their decisions in the light of whatever ideology happened to be in power at the time. The Supreme Court is supposed to disagree with the Legislative and Executive branches when they are wrong. That's what they are there for. Tampering with that would unravel the entire “checks and balances” required by the Constitution.

10. Enforce the Tenth Amendment by starting an orderly transfer of power and responsibility from the federal government back “to the states, respectively, or to the people,” as the Constitution requires. Over the next year, state and local officials and citizens will be asked to identify the areas which can be transferred back home.

Let the states decide? We've tried that before as well. Remember the Civil War? That started as a debate over whether the states or the federal government should decide which human beings were people and which were property. We had the same problem with the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Some states just didn't want to apply the law fairly, if at all. If a nationwide program is going to be administered fairly to all Americans, it cannot be left up to the states to decide how to administer it. This makes as little sense as letting the various state National Guards handle national defense. If you want all Americans to be treated equally, federal authority is necessary.

Anyone that wants to know why I disagree with this political platform should now understand. If left in the hands of a corporate America that has steadfastly refused to police itself and is interested in nothing more than naked greed, average Americans will be driven farther into economic serfdom than they already are. Mr. Gingrich's first contract didn't work. I fail to see how his second one is any better.