Monthly Archives: October 2013

Confessions of a Fair Weather Fan

Forgive me, fellow Bostonians, for I have watched baseball all this week after mocking it for most of the season.

I have complained that baseball is boring, slow-moving, and un-athletic.  I have called some of the players chubby and sluggish.  I have accused others of excessive steroid use.

beardsI have even made disparaging remarks about my hometown team’s personal grooming habits, declaring that I can’t tell the difference between the Red Sox and the cast of Duck Dynasty.

I freely confess, now that “my” team is in the World Series, that I am somehow drawn to the game, the team, and the hype.  I have become that person I love to hate in all other sports:  The Fair Weather Fan.

I am sorry for this, and all my sins.

If it will help bring me absolution, please know that my fair weather fandom in baseball stands in stark relief to my genuine fandom in other sports.  I have pulled my kids out of school and bought tickets I couldn’t afford, just for the chance to see my college basketball team play in the national championship game.  I have endured freezing rain and sat on a hard bench for hours to faithfully watch every last down of a football game in which my team not only lost, but also failed to gain more than 3 yards of offense against our biggest rival.

Nevertheless, I have failed to show similar support to the Boston Red Sox.  I don’t even know when Opening Day happened.  I cannot name more than two of our pitchers.  Before the World Series began, I had never heard of the rule that designated hitters can’t play in the National League (and when I did learn of it, I indulged in a disrespectful rant about the game of baseball generally and the National League specifically).

I may have used the Lord’s name in vain during said rant.

Oh, ye of so much faith, fellow members of Red Sox Nation, please forgive me.  I promise to be a better fan.

I’ve already made some progress…two years ago I arrogantly tossed “I told you so’s” to all my baseball-loving friends, after the Boston Globe revealed that the Red Sox starting pitchers were drinking beer and eating fried chicken in the clubhouse during games.  Didn’t this prove what I’d been saying all along about baseball being a fat man’s game? I was so smug.

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This season, I hold my tongue when a beer belly topped by a scraggly beard and supported by churning legs gamely makes its way around the bases.  “Look how fast he can run!” I remark to my family.  They smile gently; they are pulling for me.  They know this is part of my penance.

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As for the rest of it, I will watch the game tonight.  I will wear my Red Sox t-shirt and I will resist the urge to channel surf between Bar Rescue or Wife Swap between pitches.  And I will rejoice if the Red Sox win the World Series.

As for keeping track of Opening Day, 2014, I can’t make any promises.  I’m still a work in progress.

The National Security Agency: Exemplifying Competence in Government Since 1960

They say every cloud has a silver lining.

These days, finding the silver lining surrounding the US government debacles is like finding a diamond sunk in a bucket of sewage – you really have to dig deep for it, and it’s not all that nice when you find it.

Given the recent sequester cuts and the government shut-down and the spectacular bumbling of the Obamacare website, I was beginning to wonder if our government would ever get anything right.

That’s why I was delighted with the good news to come out of the National Security Agency recently: the bureaucrats and lifelong public servants working for the NSA have been listening to German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s private phone calls. 

Now this may not be good news to Congress, who despite being tasked with overseeing this agency had no clue what it was doing.  It definitely isn’t good news to Angela Merkel, who wasn’t expressing Fahrvergnügen or any other kind of Vergnügen (translation: enjoyment) when she realized her phone had been tapped.

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It’s absolutely terrible news to President Barack Obama, who despite being the Most Powerful Man In The World is now like a teenager who’s been caught looking at porn (he’s not sure which is worse: that he was caught doing it or that he won’t ever be able to do it again).

President Obama sure had a good thing going there for a while.  And he would have gotten away with it, too, if it hadn’t been for that meddling kid!

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So what’s the good news?  Where is the silver lining?

I hope you’re sitting down for this:  An agency of our government was tasked with something really difficult –some might say nearly impossible – and they did it perfectly for over a decade.  Their accomplishment is like the SIGINT (Signals Intelligence) version of getting Osama Bin Laden or landing the Mars Rover safely on the red planet.

brad pittIt’s like something Brad Pitt would do in a spy movie, all the while looking ruggedly handsome but also resourceful and MacGyver-ish, brushing a lock of lustrous hair out of his eyes while his bare biceps strain to adjust the massive antenna just enough to catch the signal which, after he cracks the code, will save the planet.

I’m sorry, where was I?

Oh, yes. What a relief to see a branch of government that’s working.  Like them or hate them, the NSA is supposed to collect information that others are trying to hide from them.  Trying desperately to hide.  We’re talking information that’s blocked, jammed, and encrypted at every turn.  Top Secret information, the most private conversations by the most powerful people in the world, who know things and discuss things that might have huge implications for US interests and policy.

But we sure showed them.  There is no match for American ingenuity and fortitude, and we were victorious despite all obstacles!  Our SIGINT analysts are the most brilliant, imaginative, outstanding code breakers in the entire world!  It seems our potential is limitless – where do we go from here?

Alas, nowhere.  The White House says such data collection “will not continue.”  Thanks to Edward Snowden, a successful secret program that probably took years to build is over.  Done.

So where’s the silver lining now?

At least we know there’s competence somewhere.  Those folks at the NSA know what they’re doing and they do it well.  A major work item has just dropped off their departmental “to do” list.  And they’ve already passed every background check required of government employees.

Perhaps they could call up the Department of Health and Human Services and see if anyone needs any help with anything.

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Lessons Learned from an Infamous Boy Scout


Meet Glen Taylor, Great Menace to State Parks.  News reports describe him as a Boy Scout leader who was on a church camp-out with a group that included his son.  It’s hard to imagine a more wholesome back story, yet this Boy Scout went decidedly rogue.

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If you didn’t see this piece on the evening news, fear not: there is an inverse relationship between IQ and the tendency to videotape oneself.   

This story falls into the category of “you can’t make this stuff up.”  As a blogger who’s been silenced by an idea drought for a couple of weeks, I felt like I was standing under a waterfall when I heard this one.

Glen Taylor purposely destroyed a Jurassic-era stone formation for fun, high-fiving his buddy when the ancient monument crumbled to the ground.  What kind of Boy Scout is he? (Answer: the kind of Boy Scout who attracted the immediate attention of the PR Director for Boy Scouts of America, who was quick to condemn Mr. Taylor’s actions.)*

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As a former Girl Scout who remembers that the Girl Scout Law includes the promise to do my best to “make the world a better place,” I’d like to turn this story into an educational opportunity and tease out some Lessons Learned from this now infamous Boy Scout.

Lesson 1: Boy Scout standards could use some shoring up.

Did the folks in charge over at Boy Scouts of America spend so much time worried about gay scout leaders that they forgot to be concerned about obese, disrespectful, law-breaking scout leaders?  A quick read of the Boy Scout Oath reveals references to protecting national resources, making wise choices, taking care of your body, and obeying our country’s laws. Tsk, tsk, Glen Taylor.

Lesson 2:  What took Mother Nature around 160 million years to create is apparently no match for one ignorant idiot.

Or seven billion idiots who insist on stripping the earth of every last drop of accessible fossil fuel – but that’s a subject for another day.  Glen Taylor reminds me a bit of Homer in the classic Simpsons episode where he travels back in time and manages to squish the first fish to emerge from the sea on legs.

Lesson 3:  Despite their physical vulnerability to destructive Boy Scouts, our country’s parks have really cool names.

If you’re feeling a bit depressed after watching the video, let me cheer you up with some awesome National Park Names:  Badlands.  Crater Lake.  Death Valley. Gates of the Arctic.  Mammoth Cave. Zion.

Utah has some pretty sweet State Park Names as well: Goblin Valley (the setting of this story), Antelope Island, Yuba, Gunlock, Kodachrome Basin, Dead Horse Point, and my personal favorite, This Is The Place.

This Is The Place State Park in Utah

This Is The Place State Park in Utah

Lesson 4:  YouTube is not private.

This particular lesson may seem mind-bogglingly obvious, but apparently it bears repeating.

Lesson 5:  God has a sense of humor (as if we needed further proof).

The saving grace of this story is an exclamation point on Lesson #4.  One particular person was very interested to see Mr. Taylor’s proud athletic moment as he single-handedly toppled the boulder.  That person is Alan Macdonald, who is being sued by Mr. Taylor for injuries he claims to have sustained during a car accident caused by Mr. Macdonald’s 16-yr old daughter.

The personal injury lawsuit (filed just last month) claimed that Mr. Taylor suffered “disability” and “impairment” as a result of that crash.

Imagine the delight of all concerned (save perhaps Mr. Taylor’s attorney) to discover, thanks to the YouTube video, that Mr. Taylor seems completely healed and strong enough to manhandle enormous stones!  What a miracle.  Praise God, indeed.

I do wonder what lesson Glen Taylor has learned from all this – he now claims he was just trying to make the park safer by preventing what was clearly a dangerous accident waiting to happen (although it was “waiting to happen” for 160 million years) and that in retrospect, he should have left the rock alone and alerted a ranger about his concerns.  He is overflowing with too-late remorse and wisdom brought on by that damn viral video.

It’s probably safe to say he learned Lesson #4.

*The Boy Scouts leadership did their Good Turn Daily by booting these fools out of the organization.

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Who Supports the Troops?

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According to bumper stickers and political stump speeches, the answer is EVERYONE.

After all, even our disgracefully bumbling legislators moved quickly to ensure members of the active duty military continue to receive paychecks during the current government shutdown. 

But as time passes, it is becoming obvious that the government shutdown has unintended consequences (shocker!).  Bit by bit, the media is reporting heart-wrenching stories of Americans hurt by the lack of government services.  What if a hurricane hits the Gulf Coast and FEMA isn’t there to help?  What about the many sick patients being denied participation in clinical trials that represent their last hope for survival?

The mother lode of media sympathy rained down this morning on another group of Americans impacted by the shutdown: families of active duty troops who are killed in action.

Perhaps some members of congress have forgotten that we are at war – after all, they consume the same media as the rest of us and embedded reporters in Kabul aren’t exactly headlining the evening news.  So they might have missed hearing that on Sunday – 2 days ago – four US soldiers were killed in Afghanistan. 

After such a weekend, care to guess what the lead stories were on Monday morning’s Today show?

  1. A 9-yr-old boy in Minneapolis slipped by the TSA and a gate agent to board a flight to Las Vegas without a ticket
  2. The Olympic torch went out and was re-lit by a stranger in the crowd
  3. Miley Cyrus was “raunchy but hilarious” when she hosted Saturday Night Live

There were many other stories (the upcoming debt ceiling deadline, the capture of an Al Qaeda leader, the new Supreme Court term), but NOTHING about the war or the soldiers who died fighting it.

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Those soldiers made the news today because the government shutdown not only prevents their families from receiving death benefit payments (what an oxymoron – “death benefits”), but also keeps the families from traveling to Dover Air Force Base to pay their respects to the returning flag-draped coffins.

So that’s how the media dishes up this particular report from the front – selfless patriotism at its best, with a side of political BS.  At least we’re hearing about it.  These combat fatalities would have never made the news if not for the shutdown.  Politicians will pay attention to them for a nanosecond, each spinning last weekend’s violence to support the position of his or her party.  My fellow Americans:  take cover from the sound-bite shrapnel.

One party will surely demand that the other pass a special spending bill to pay for the death benefits that have now come due, and the other party will in turn demand a comprehensive funding bill that never should have been withheld in the first place.  And on and on we go.

I’m heartbroken for the servicemen and woman who lost their lives this weekend, and for those who have been killed or injured in the 13 years (!) since the war in Afghanistan began.  The behavior of our political leaders is like salt in the wounds of this war: at best, they are forgetful and distracted; at worst, willfully negligent.

Meanwhile, the stalemate continues and our government supports no one.  Not me, not you, and not the troops.

On the plus side, Miley Cyrus is finally out of the news cycle.  For now.

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The Truth About Non-Essential Employees

One of my favorite radio programs put a caller on-air who had this to say about the current government shutdown: “So if the government can function without non-essential employees, why are they on the payroll to begin with?”

This is but one of many, MANY examples of how seemingly normal Americans (even those with the wherewithal to listen to NPR and call in to a show with comments) are surprisingly, depressingly stupid.  Exhibit A is Jimmy Kimmel’s recent segment interviewing people on the streets of Los Angeles to gauge their support for Obamacare or the Affordable Care Act (spoiler alert: Obamacare and the Affordable Care Act are the same thing, which none of the respondents knew despite having strong opinions about which was better and why).

“Non-essential” is an unfortunate and misleading description of employees whose temporary absence from work doesn’t result in immediate chaos or danger.  I got the inside scoop the shutdown from a friend of mine who is a scientist at the National Institutes of Health.  Technically, she’s non-essential.

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While she and her PhD colleagues sit at home catching up on crossword puzzles and laundry, essential employees like laboratory technicians are making sure millions of dollars and years of research aren’t wasted.  They “feed cell lines” (I’m not a scientist so I imagine them dropping little mini sandwiches into test tubes, but the reality is probably somewhat different).  They take care of the mice.  They maintain all the living, evolving aspects of the lab until the scientists come back.

No actual science is happening, despite the dedicated work of the essential employees.  Our tax dollars are still being spent, but they are only maintaining a massive, complex operation that’s accomplishing nothing.

Sound familiar, Congress? (By the way, they’ve classified themselves as “essential.”)

But I digress.  Back to who’s essential and who’s not – this question comes down to a matter of perspective and timing.

Let’s use McDonald’s as an example.  If that company faced a shutdown, which employees would be essential?

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For the first 8 hours or so, the cooks and cashiers matter most.  Without them, McDonald’s can’t deliver its most basic services.  The entire corporate office could probably go dark for a few hours and nobody in the drive-through line would be the wiser.  Does that mean the suits in Oak Brook, Illinois are non-essential?

Not exactly.

Eventually the stores would run out ketchup and napkins, and somebody in procurement would need to order more.  The logistics team would have to make sure milk was delivered.  Someone in the legal department would have to respond to complaints about too-hot coffee. And so on.

Likewise in the NIH.  The “essential” employees may be enough for now, but the entire mission of the organization has been put on hold.  What’s essential in the short term is not the same as what’s essential in the long term.

Perhaps this concept is too challenging for some Americans to grasp.  If so, it joins a long list of other thought nuggets that seem obvious to me but are far from universal (climate change is a thing, evolution is established science, what “fair and balanced” actually means).

Today’s “non-essential” employees become more essential by the day, as federal government agencies around the country tread water.  I want the NIH to fund important scientific research and find cures for diseases. I don’t want it to be an expensive hotel for mice.

As a rule, all employees are essential eventually.

So to the caller who thought non-essential employees are non-essential forever – I hope we can at least agree that as this shutdown continues, two things are clear:

First, Congress classified itself incorrectly.

Second, they may be the exception to the rule.

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