Sausage Making

Jon Stewart made a suggestion the other night. He wondered why all this Federal financial bailout/rescue money shouldn’t go to consumers, who will then pay the banks what they owe on credit cards, mortgages, etc. Then the banks would get their money and Americans would get out of debt and things would be peachy. Good one, Jon.

I heard a caller on a talk show (sorry, error in judgment for a moment in the car) make the same argument. Give it to us, he said, so we can pay off our mortgages. He was a teacher. Good one, too.

I mean, it’s 800 billion dollars. We can’t conceive of the number, not really, but it’s OUR money, right?

Well. Actually it will belong to our grandchildren, since we don’t actually HAVE it, we’re BORROWING it, but that may be too fine a point for the discussion.

A finer point might be this: Spread that 800 billion among the citizenry, and what you end up with is a check for about $2500 bucks for each of us. Make sure you build part of a bridge or something with yours.

This is big picture stuff, but most of us don’t see big pictures, or want to. We want to say. “I live on a budget, why can’t the government?” without acknowledging that the government is nothing like a family, or should be. Lots of things would make more sense if we thought about them a little more.

Still, it’s ugly to watch this stimulus package get tossed around. Lots of questionable items in it at the moment. Some will get taken out, some will stay, some will be added before it’s all over. And all of it looks like a crap shoot from here. Maybe it will help.

I’m in the sausage factory at the moment, although it has nothing to do with what’s on the news. It’s the nuts and bolts of areas I never get into. Scary areas, to me, or at least strange. Legal areas, financial areas. Emotional areas. We are at Defcon Something in this house, and have been and will be.

Put it this way. You know me. You know my life. You maybe know too much, but you know what I think and what I feel. So think of the worst thing that could happen to me, outside of the realm of personal habits or health. Or income. Or pets. There. Other than that, think of the worst thing.

Not that.

Nope, not that either.

There you go. That’s it.

There have been actual nightmares, and then metaphorical ones. There have been intense meetings with people whose professions are known to me only through TV shows. There have been scenarios spun, worst-case and others. I’ve had a good look at the innards of life and law and health and safety, and most of the time I want to throw up or crawl under the bed.

I’ve been saved by lots of things. Good friends. Strong marriage. Sobriety. Some serenity, even if challenged lately.

Just a friendly warning: If one of you kind people thinks to comment, “God won’t give you more than you can handle,” I will do my best to block your IP address from this Web site in the future. That statement helps NOBODY, and never has. Just saying.

And through all of this — and there is a lot — I still believe we will have something that will pass for a happy ending. I will still be living in this house. I will still have this blog, and my column. My family will be goofy but intact, no one will die a horrendous death, no one will be in prison, no one will be living on the street.

But I’ve seen those images, and I’ve seen how they’re created and dealt with, in ways I didn’t expect to, and I can’t realistically expect to ever be the same.

Or eat sausage, actually, but then I don’t really do that anyway.

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We’re dealing with serious family issues here, which I’ve hinted at before, and things are going to get very busy. Blogging will possibly be light, certainly not very personal, and maybe nonexistent for a while. On the other hand, I can’t help but notice things.

If you haven’t noticed this, you might want to. Photographer David Bergman marked the recent inauguration by taking a massive photo of the event, stitching together multiple images to form a picture of almost 2000 megapixels. What it means is that you can play secret agent man and zoom in on any aspect with amazing clarity. You can see Justice Thomas appear to be sleeping, try to discern celebrities under all the layers of clothes, peek in distant windows, etc.

Read how he did it here. The resulting image file was nearly 2 gigabytes (in other words, the size of a long movie).

I’ll be around.

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Justice For All

I mentioned the other night at dinner with friends that I’d become more cynical in the past few years, but that’s not correct. I’m at a loss for terms; realistic or skeptical, in relation to where I was and what I thought, might be closer, but still no cigar.

I’m also more and less judgmental, if I can get away with that (and I can, it’s a blog). In the past couple of years, sort of simultaneous with defogging in my personal life, as the world has changed and thought about changing, particularly in this country and its politics, I wander around, reading pundits, journalists and a lot of average people on their own blogs and journals, opining. A lot of it is silliness, and I get less agitated than I used to. I won’t read if I don’t find something to like, but usually I can. But if you write about subjects you’re not prepared to learn about, not prepared to do the research on or take the time to consider — when so much is available, at our fingertips — then you’re not a serious person and I move on. I still like you, though. I just don’t care so much what you think on certain subjects.

I fall into this trap, too, but I aim for improvement. And as far as realism or skepticism or even cynicism goes, I seem to be less willing to entertain the theatrical passion I used to. I see more gray, in other words.

But here is Andrew Sullivan, today, himself passionate about all sorts of things, including hero worship of Thatcher and Reagan and disdain for the “nanny state,” suspicious of entitlements and national health insurance, a fierce proponent of the Iraq war until he got disillusioned, and clear-eyed about the threat we still face from the jihadists. On the Dark Side:

The men who ordered a man tied to a chair, doused in water, and chilled to hypothermia so intense he had to be rushed to emergency medical care, the men who presided over at least two dozen and at most a hundred prisoners tortured to death, the men who ordered an American servicewoman to smear fake menstrual blood over a Muslim’s face in order to win a war against Jihadism, the men who ordered innocents stripped naked, sexually abused, terrified by dogs, or cast into darkness with no possibility of a future, and did all this in the name of the Constitution of the United States, the men who gave the signal in wartime that there were no limits to what could be done to prisoners of war and reaped a whirlwind of abuse and torture that will haunt American servicemembers for decades: these men will earn the judgment of history. It will be brutal.

I’m as partisan as anyone, and as blind as anyone at certain times, but if you think my knee is jerking here or I’m getting theatrical, well. You don’t know me, I guess.

The former President and Vice-President, among others, no matter what their good qualities are and how much their families and friends love them, are by any serious definition war criminals. They won’t pay the price for that, I’m sure, at least not in anything resembling a court, but it’s worth saying out loud, if only so we don’t forget.

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Sunday, Snow, Sugar

It’s snowing currently, inoffensive snow, Teflon-coated snow. Fun to watch, not bad to walk around in, nothing like December. Just a little snow for Sunday, when a boy’s mind turns toward broccoli.

You can’t teach people how to segue like that. They either have it or they don’t.

I’m trying to eat more broccoli, although I don’t particularly like broccoli. It’s a taste I’ve never acquired; I don’t mind eating it, though, and I know it’s good for me, so I do. It’s just that after a big bowl of broccoli, I have a vague feeling that someone is going to come and milk me.

I picked broccoli because it’s easy to cook (steam for a couple of minutes, done) and I can dip it in hot sauce. And it’s got lots of nutrients, and I’m all for nutrients.

Mostly, though, I eat broccoli because it’s got a small adipose footprint. If you were to eat a pound of broccoli, which I can’t recommend in good conscience, you’d get about the same caloric bump as from an Oreo cookie.

Although a pound of broccoli in the winter, even on sale, might run you a buck, and you probably wouldn’t pay a buck for an Oreo, and thus we have a problem and another issue for another time.

I’ve paid attention to calories for 16 months now, pretty much daily. It seems odd, I know, but then maybe on the same level of oddness as someone who daily notes down debit card withdrawals in a little book; not that odd, and you get used to it.

So I know what I need, I know what I use, I know when I make bad choices and I see the consequences. I have 16 months of data and the picture is clear.

Last fall, when I had a physical exam, my doctor’s scale put me at 188 pounds. I resented my shoes for that, but it was pretty much accurate. I’ve been around 185 or so for a year now, sometimes dropping into the 170s and occasionally nudging over 190, as in December. According to statistics, 185 is about the maximum for a guy my size to not be technically overweight; with my history, I’ll take that.

And I should note that my last weight at the doctor’s office was 240, and that was on the low side; she didn’t have to dig far in her chart to find a 265. This is all good.

But when my absolutely fabulous lab results came back, one of them bothered me, although my doctor said nothing except, “Great job! Fantastic numbers!” She didn’t say that, just wrote it, but you know.

I had a fasting blood sugar level of 106. Diabetics might scoff at this, but my last reading was 99, where it should be; 106 puts me in the low pre-diabetic range. Sure, it could be an aberration, maybe a Splenda spike from my morning coffee or an indiscretion the night before, but I didn’t like it one bit. I have enough of an ominous future without looming diabetes.

I figure there are two ways to hedge my bets. First, I can avoid stress on my pancreas, like finally getting around to watching the latest Indiana Jones film (mildly entertaining) while eating a gross amount of chocolate ice cream at 2am last night.

Second, I can lose more weight. Statistics also show that, in general, the healthiest weight for me would be 159 pounds. I can’t see that happening, although I wouldn’t be skinny, just slim. Still, in the interest of longevity I guess I should work on this.

So broccoli. Budgeting calories. More exercise. Moderate goals. I’ve lost around 12 pounds in January, although I think that’s a bogus number and more like 5 (I plumped up at Christmas along with the snow level and the cookie count, so today I’m only back to baseline). If I can manage 1-2 pounds a week, that’s fine with me. At some point in the summer, then, if all goes well, I’ll be leaner and we’ll get another blood sugar level.

It’s a modest proposal. Some tinkering, is all. Proactive. Taking better care of the aging carcass. Hoping for the best. Staying off the chocolate ice cream and not looking twice at Oreos.

Harrison Ford looks pretty good at 65, I would add. No sign of diabetes, but sometimes you don’t see that. It’s sneaky that way.

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Say It Ain't So

The ACLU has had to cut 10% of its work force; this is sad news, of course, or absolutely fabulous news, depending on…you know.

But why? Idealists tend to work cheap. Is the economy that bad? Have all constitutional wrongs been righted? Are the big battles over?


Bernie Madoff strikes again. This guy should have his own theme music.

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Apples And Apples

There’s been a lot of sneering from the usual suspects about the cost of the recent inauguration, particularly in these troubled times. What hypocrisy! What a waste of money! Why, just compare it to the last inauguration! does.

Yeah. About the same.

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Commentary For The Day

The anniversary of the most prominent Supreme Court decision in my lifetime (how Bush v. Gore ends up in history still being a big question), Roe v. Wade, came and went quietly. Like Martin Luther King Day, it had the bad luck to land in Hopeyville. There were marches and speeches and prayers, not much attention was paid, and then everyone went home to wait for next year.

One thing about the last year leading up to the inauguration that’s encouraged me has been the fuzzing up of ideologies. President Obama followed through on a campaign promise yesterday and signed the order closing the Guantanamo prison within a year. The retired generals and admirals surrounding him all seemed very pleased and proud, and the picture cried out for some counterfactual Photoshopping. Since, if we believe such things as campaign promises, President McCain would have done exactly the same thing.

A lot of this is economic. The Left will squawk but, as the President said in his address, entitlements will be looked at and some shaving will be done. The Right will screech but the federal government, sitting atop a 15-trillion-dollar flailing economy, is the only entity big enough to reverse course, so money will be spent (and borrowed).

And maybe we’ll return to semantic roots and “conservatives” will be cautious and “liberals” will be dreamers, and the art of politics will return to compromise and possibilities and things will change. I am not that hopey, but I watch.

But abortion will remain the game changer, at least for a while. If jobs are created and people don’t starve and wars end and a new grid appears, there might be some mutual Kumbaya-ing but not with this.

Nope, we draw the line at killing babies

This was the question Rick Warren asked the candidates back in the fall at Saddleback. “At what point does a baby have human rights?” he asked, and McCain gave the “life begins at conception” response, which was stupid, and Obama said, “That’s above my pay grade,” which was stupider. I was screaming at the TV.

All babies have human rights, the same as you and me. Discussion over.

It’s when we start talking about fetuses and embryos and zygotes that some people start wondering. It’s when we start talking about scared 14-year-olds and a collection of cells no bigger than your fingernail that some people get thoughtful.

Other people, not so much. “Life begins at conception” is logical and understandable and leaves the big questions alone. Start at the beginning, call it done, call it life, don’t mess with it, protect it.

Of course, no one knows when conception actually begins. No bell rings, no face flushes, no blood test turns positive. And if this is life, God or Nature kills lots more babies every month than Planned Parenthood. Not to mention the thousands of women who every day have surgery to remove an ectopic pregnancy, a definite conception that unfortunately lands elsewhere. Failure to “kill” this “life” would often result in the death of the mother, particularly in a fallopian tube, but if life begins at conception…

Ah. Technicalities. Always the rub with stuff like biology.

I don’t mean to be light with such a serious subject. I’m a romantic; I believe that pregnancies, even to scared 14-year-olds, are joyous events, if complicated.

It’s just that this has driven our politics for 35 years, and it’s not going away, and it bothers me that there’s so little understanding among so many. Abortions were legal before Roe, they would be legal if Roe were overturned. And even if you still think overturning is a good idea, it obviously makes no difference who the President is, or the Congress, or what they believe. The Supreme Court has turned over completely plus one since Roe (Sandra Day O’Connor came and went); all but 2 of the 10 were appointed by Republican presidents, and 7 of those 8 by staunchly prolife presidents, and here we are.

And that’s not going to change any time soon. The Supreme Court justices most likely to retire and give President Obama openings are the liberal-leaning ones; the court isn’t like to change much at all, in other words, no matter what.

But it will fill coffers and campaign chests, driven by demagogues and charlatans, persuading their followers that babies are being ripped, squalling and smiling, out of wombs by Democrats and liberals. Meanwhile, concerned people who just want babies to be born and loved find themselves in mixed company, and the battle continues, marches are made, speeches are given, statements are made. Even if anniversaries are sort of overlooked sometimes, and even if the facts sometimes get fuzzy.

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