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August 10th, 2019

The Final Escape Hatch

I’m not saying it wasn’t arranged…those of us who came of age during the Nixon years understand perfectly well the futility of believing that there are limits to what powerful people in positions of power are capable of. They get that notion of godhood into their brains and it’s absolute power corrupting so on and so forth.

But consider Epstein until very recently had a life few people who have ever lived will ever grok. He had his own island, jets, a staff, socialized with billionaires and powerful men who considered him one of their own, lavish estates, and teenage girls at his beck and call. Also apparently well positioned people in the Administration, the Justice Department and the courts. He had more than enough reason to believe he was beyond the reach of the law. Until a few weeks ago.

Now he finds himself in a cell, looking at spending the rest of his life in prison, and so I’m told child molestors don’t do very well in prison. You might think of him all alone in a tiny cell where before he had his own island to enjoy, but he is not alone, and his companions are not the sort of people you find in the pages of The Robb Report or Elite Traveler. And he has to know it isn’t even rock bottom. Not yet. But rock bottom is coming.

It really isn’t surprising he would consider suicide as the only way forward. To assert it was impossible because he was on a suicide watch is to believe in a kind of prison bureaucratic infallibility I just can’t buy into. Say it would be very hard, sure. But Epstein was very smart, and so they say, affable. How do you think he got young girls to trust him? And…rich people with their money. He was a schemer and a manipulator and you don’t get to the heights he did without being good at it. Means and opportunity. A man like that could figure it out. After his near miss with the law last time he probably spent a lot of time thinking about it.

And knowing his suicide would throw grit into the machinery of justice, and even better, spawn a bazillion conspiracy theories to bedevil everyone who brought him down forever, might have actually given him some comfort on his way to oblivion.


Posted In: Life
Tags: , ,

by Bruce | Link | React!
August 5th, 2019

Lowest Common Denominator Politics

This came across my Twitter feed today…

Yeah…that. As a gay man having lived through the times I have, I’ve often read these manifestos to try and understand the mindset. But it always comes back to how stunningly alike they all are. You read the manifestos, the pamphlets, the long drawn out posts on various online social forums (I joke that I’ve done my time on USENET…) and such…even on their damn cars and trucks you can sometimes see the brain dump…and the one thing you’re struck by is their disturbing similarity, regardless of the specific target of hate.

Some years ago I was watching a documentary on the history of San Francisco’s Chinatown, beginning with the railroad’s importing large numbers of Chinese men to work on building the first transcontinental line. There was an editorial in one of the city newspapers concerning the “Chinese Problem”, and it recited a litany of things Chinese people did (so it claimed), that degraded city life. Drugs, crime, sexual predation, they were ignorant and lazy, but also clever and sly and took the jobs of decent white folk. What struck me about the editorial was how you could have replaced every usage of “Chinese” with a letter “X” and it could have been about any hated minority, then or now.

It’s as if this sort of blind reflexive hate is what you’re left with when you peel away the higher brain functions and we’re back to being east African plains apes that see everything that isn’t the tribe as either something to kill, something to fuck or something to eat. Australopithecus waving a gun, or a bible, howling into microphones on the TV, or throwing ink like it’s shit on the editorial page.


Posted In: Politics
Tags: , ,

by Bruce | Link | React!
August 4th, 2019

Until He Opened Fire, The El Paso Shooter Was Perfectly Legal Walking Into WalMart With That Rifle

This came across my Twitter feed today…

I was walking to work at a Very early hour a few days ago, and as I walked through the Giant parking lot and passed by the doughnut shop, a young woman parked nearby, exited her car and walked inside. I noticed she was wearing a gun on her hip. For an instant I paused and looked more closely. She wasn’t in any sort of uniform, but this is Maryland and even in our (allegedly) crime and rat infested city the crooks don’t open carry. So I assumed she was either an off duty policewoman or a private security person of some sort, and I just walked on.

Here in Maryland, precisely because it’s a nearly impossible mountain to climb for a private citizen to get a concealed carry permit, let alone an open carry one, I can pretty reasonably make that assumption. If you’ve got it on your hip where everyone can see it then you’re licensed and you’ve passed numerous background checks and it’s more likely than not that you can be trusted with that weapon.

That’s not the case in “shall issue” “open carry” states, and people have been warning about this for years now. The El Paso shooter just walked into that WalMart with his rifle and Pierce is right; the police or any security personnel challenged him he could have sued. And that is exactly the sort of unassailable right the NRA republicans want to make it.

Here’s the problem with that: you can’t tell is someone is about to shoot someone in the store you’re in, let alone about to go on a crazed shooting spree, until they open fire, and even if there is a “good guy with a gun” nearby it’s going to take them a moment to react and grasp the situation and by then the shooter has killed dozens.

No. Just…no. It isn’t too much to ask that you need a license to carry, and that getting one requires a serious background check and the same sort of pertinent fitness testing that you need to get a driver’s license, plus a reasonably good rational for obtaining it. Plus whatever it is you carry it can’t be anything more than a defensive weapon. You want to walk around with a military style rifle go join the army.

But there is more going on here than just the completely expectible result of laws made to the specifications of gun fetishists. And to focus on the racial hate that motivated the shooter is important yes, but dig a little deeper. It’s not about guns specifically. On Twitter, David Roberts posts: 

Another reminder: an atmosphere in which random violence is always possible, in which catastrophic loss of healthcare is always possible, makes people fearful, anxious, & angry. They draw their circles of concern inward. They literally become *more conservative*.

To which Roy Edroso replies:

I’ve been saying this for years. Conservatives are anti-intellectual because they know educated people are less likely to be conservative. Similarly they want to arm everyone to promote social mistrust, which also promotes conservatism.

It’s more than they’re in the pocket of the NRA and it isn’t simply about guns or the right to own your own in a democracy. It’s precisely about breaking down the social bonds between Americans that were developing since the civil rights movement, because at a gut level the concept of neighbor doesn’t reach very far with them. They don’t even see those bonds. They think of America they think of other white folks just like them, who dress like they do, speak like they do, go to the same churches they do, read the same newspapers and listen to the same Fox News and Talk Radio they do. And when liberals speak of America in more encompassing terms they start yap yap yapping about socialism and communism because to them it’s taking Their America and giving to to all those horrible mostly not white others.

An armed society so they say, is a peaceful one. But here comes the evidence and it’s twofold. No it isn’t peaceful, it’s fearful, and yes, actually that’s not a bug, it’s a feature. They want us all to be afraid because, yes, that promotes conservativism. But more importantly they want their own kind, white, protestant, presentable and mannerly on the outside, simple and mean on the inside, to be afraid of everyone else. So the ranks hang together and vote as a block to keep the Others in their place. It actually is about promoting social mistrust. Because in a ghastly fundamental way, they are afraid of…well…damn near everything. It’s not so much a plan as a knee jerk reflex to undermine anything smacking of social progress because oh dear lord the darkies will be using our swimming pools next thing you know, and the wimmen folk will be wanting a say in their reproductive lives, and the homos good god almighty will be holding hands in public, and atheists will be teaching our children about evolution!

At some level I’m sure there are many conservatives that are genuinely horrified by these mass shootings, but also weary about liberal bellyaching about it, as if mass shootings were a bigger threat to the nation than universal healthcare, gay marriage, socialism, the Islamic hordes, antifa and…well…white replacement.


Posted In: Life

by Bruce | Link | React!
July 29th, 2019

My Hellhole City…

Morning in my hell hole city…

I get up early these days, make some sandwiches for lunch, put food and fresh water out for the calico. Many street cats here in Baltimore like her have one ear tipped. It’s a sign that she’s been fixed and given at least an initial round of shots. The city would like it very much if you don’t bother the tipped ear cats. They keep the rodent population down, and also the street cat population since they can no longer breed.

I live where I can walk to work when the weather is nice. This morning I’m out the door just after 5am. I was up at 4. It’s my insomnia. I try to make it work for me. When it gets me up early enough, but not too early, I just stay up. Flex time means I get to go home early too, and maybe do some work at the drafting table before bed. The early morning summer dawn lights my way, but the street lights are still on. I go out the back door because I don’t want the calico following me.

The alley behind my little Baltimore rowhouse is still and quiet. Everyone here has done their backyard up a little differently. Some have big expansive gardens, others have put in parking pads or big outdoor decks with barbecues and deck furniture. Trees, probably planted decades ago, have grown taller than the utility wires strung down the alley, and have to be regularly trimmed. A couple dogs wander close to their fences as I pass by, but do not bark at me. I’m a familiar human. They will rise a hellacious din when an unknown human walks down the alley. Or a known human walking their dogs.

Or a squirrel. In the years I’ve lived here I’ve seen maybe a few hundred squirrels for every rat. Or maybe it’s just a couple squirrels and they just get around. Tree branches and utility wires are all the same to them. The street cats do their job keeping the rat population down. Also the city. You have to make a really big mess of your property for the city to complain about it, but a single rat sighting will get animal control knocking on your door faster than the speed of sound. But it’s not all just squirrels and rats and pigeons. I’ve seen deer and foxes, which probably come down the Jones Falls river (creek trickle stream) from the ‘burbs. Last winter I looked out my front bedroom window one night and saw a deer feasting on the ivy buried under some freshly fallen snow.

Deer in fact, were a frequent sight in my neighborhood, which is just a couple miles from the urban core. I’ve seen foxes too. One night I opened the front door to see if the Calico needed feeding and found a raccoon by the empty food dish giving me a look as if to say, well, where’s the food buddy!? You got a food dish here and it’s empty! What’s up with that!? Hawks, owls and falcons are regular visitors, especially around Wyman Park and Jones Falls. Snakes too, alas, but so far I have seen no venomous ones. But the empty lot at the end of my street where the wildlife used to gather has been turned into expensive luxury townhomes. Starting price was 350k and most of them sold for over 400k. The development was completed just last spring, and now the model home is the only one left unsold. A storage container factory that used to be located not far away was closed and the building demolished and they are building even more expensive townhomes on the site as I write this. Another empty lot behind the Giant Food grocery store a couple blocks away was turned into a luxury townhome development that was completed last fall.

On my way to work this morning I walk past the Giant. There are places in this city that are food deserts, but my neighborhood isn’t one of them. I live within a short walk of the Giant, and there is one of those trendy organic food stores in “The Rotunda”, a largish old building that was once the headquarters of some big insurance company, and is now a small city mall with stores and offices in it. What was the big parking lot behind it has been turned into a 400+ luxury apartment complex, with rents ranging from just under a thousand bucks a month to just over 3,800 for a space that’s still fewer square feet than my little Baltimore rowhouse. I have no idea who is paying that kind of money for those units or where they work, but they seem to be nearly all rented out now.

There is a Starbucks among the Rotunda shops that opens at 5:30am. I stop in for an ice coffee and danish to take with me as I walk to work. The Rotunda is a halfway point in my walk. A few delivery trucks are parked at the loading docks, but the morning is still very quiet. The day shift is just getting started. There is the Mom’s (that trendy organic grocery store…), the Starbucks, a drugstore, a barber shop, a UPS store, a couple restaurants and a dine-in movie theater here. The folks who live in the apartments above them probably have it even better than me when it comes to walkability, especially if they work in the Rotunda, as some of my coworkers do.

I go on my way, down 40th street to University Parkway. Now I am walking through what is probably Baltimore’s most upscale neighborhood: Roland Park. My path just gives it a glancing blow but even here the homes are big and lovely. There are large English style rowhomes, with slate shingle roofs and large patches of lawn and garages behind them, accessible through the alley. Even at the money I am making in my current job I could never afford one of these. They’re all old, solid, and beautiful. And they adjoin Wyman park, which itself adjoins the Johns Hopkins University, which is where I work. Not for Hopkins, but for AURA, the Association of Universities conducting Research in Astronomy.

We operate the Hubble Space Telescope here, and are working on the ground systems for the upcoming James Webb Space Telescope. Hopkins graduate programs in Biological, Biomedical Sciences, Engineering (Biomedical, Electrical & Environmental), Human Development and Family Studies, Health Sciences, Humanities, Physical and Mathematical Sciences and International Affairs and Development, all rank among the top 10 of their respective disciplines. Students come here from all over the world. It’s a lovely campus to work at, and taking my lunchtime strolls I hear languages of the world spoken among the kids. But this is not an inexpensive university to attend. These kids, unless they got grant money, come from money. But it’s a different kind of atmosphere here, than one I suppose I might find at a Yale or a Harvard. These kids are here mostly to become scientists, researchers, astronomers, or engineers. Some days I walk among the carefully maintained greens between the campus buildings, or along the walkways of San Martin Drive with Wyman Park on one side and the University on the other, and I feel like I’ve died and gone to heaven.

Now I walk through Roland Park to University Parkway, and from there across a bridge over Wyman Park to San Martin Drive, which winds and bends between the university and the park. Tall trees and forest on one side of the road, I could imagine myself in one of the national parks, perhaps somewhere along Skyline Drive. I go past the Lacrosse field on the other, and the ROTC. Soon I am at my workplace. I have to use my key card to open the door as it is very early, and sign in at the security desk. Security is tighter here now, than when I first started working here, since we began building the Mission Operations Center for James Webb here. One of my key cards grants me access to the building, and I have access to several computer rooms configured on it. Two other cards on my strap grant me access to the James Webb MOC and to Goddard in Greenbelt Maryland.

I am but a mere integration and testing person, not a flight engineer, and I also write business software for progress tracking and reporting. So when my phase of the work is completed they’ll probably take away my MOC access. But I can say I was there, and was a part of it all. I have participated in testing James Webb’s optical and science instrument assembly (OTIS), and watched it speaking its first words on my telemetry screen as I helped capture data for later replaying and testing of the ground systems we’re developing here.

Here. In my hell hole rat infested city. Except it isn’t. It’s one of America’s vibrant, busy, energetic cities and there is lots more going on here than you might think if all you ever watched was The Wire or read Donald Trump’s and his peanut gallery’s tweets. I feel as though I lucked out unreasonably getting the job here I did, and the little Baltimore rowhouse I have within walking distance of that job, and the grocery stores, and the lovely bars and restaurants and shops that compass everything I might need on a day to day basis. The nightlife hub locally is called “The Avenue” and it’s become so popular most of the bigger places have valet parking now. But I can walk to it so that’s another perk of where I live.

I grew up in the suburbs of Washington DC. I thought I’d live in the ‘burbs all my life. Then I discovered what it’s like to have everything you need in walking distance. My city neighborhood is as safe as any suburban development I’ve ever lived in, and since we are all more tightly packed together here than in the ‘burbs we know each other perhaps a little better, and we can keep an eye on our neighborhood a little better. Diversity. It works. My neighborhood is largely white, but has a growing mix of black, Asian and Hispanic leavening it. But that’s just one part to diversity. My neighborhood also has a nice mix of older retired folk and younger professionals, and that means there is always someone here during the day keeping an eye on things, and at night not everyone keeps the same bedtime schedule. The neighborhood never really sleeps, it just gets quiet. Which is a relative term here in the city. The entire neighborhood doesn’t just empty out during business hours like some of the suburban apartment developments I’ve lived in. And older rowhouse neighborhoods like those here in the city, have Front Porches! This is something the new “luxury” townhouses are sadly leaving out. Front porches are places where people sit when the weather is nice, and chat with each other, and passing neighbors out for an evening stroll. People like me.

City life is Wonderful. Baltimore is wonderful. Yes, it has its problem zones, like all big cities do. And if Donald Trump and his constipated voter base think otherwise they can certainly help improve the livability of this and other American cities by staying out.

My thanks in advance!


Posted In: Gently Tapping My Pulpit Life
Tags: , , ,

by Bruce | Link | React!
June 9th, 2019

Responsibility: Yours Whether You Want It Or Not

So I’m told, once upon a time in the old west, some good folks decided executing criminals was an act they could not morally put upon another human. To make someone into an executioner, even if the sentence was arrived at in a completely legal and prudent way, was morally wrong. So they devised a system, whereby the condemned would be made to stand on a trap door, the noose around their neck, and their weight would cause a valve to open and water would drain out of a bucket until a lever dropped far enough the trap door would open and the sentence was carried out. There…no human hand pulled the lever, so nobody had that death on their hands. It was the condemned’s own weight that did it. Our hands are clean. We are not responsible.

One of my first jobs as a contract software developer was at my local utility company’s household appliances division, which sold and serviced everything from washing machines to central heating and air conditioning systems. A couple years into the work I was tasked with developing a work measurement reporting system for the field technicians, to work in conjunction with the new mobile data terminals they were installing in the field technician’s trucks. The idea, as it was told to me, was to treat each field technician as a “virtual business”. Track what the expenses were in terms of parts and labor, track the revenue in terms of billing and whether it was a warranty job.

The techs who were, luckily for them, unionized, forced considerations as to the difficulty of the work, and the skills of the technician. If you only did a few jobs that week, but they were among the most demanding, that was factored into the system. It took them 18 months to reach an agreement as to how the system should measure the profitability of the field technicians. I gave them a system that crunched the numbers from their mobile data terminals, the warranty system and the payroll system, just the way they spec’ed it out. But by then it was starting to make me a bit nervous. I was still pretty new at this trade, but I’d started at it by building my own computers from parts and teaching myself how to write programs, and I knew intuitively that there was nothing really all that special about them. They were machines, just with transistors instead of gears and motors. Bazillions of transistors that could do bazillions of calculations in a fraction of a second…but still machines. Tools, in other words. Helpful when used right, dangerous when used carelessly. 

Under all this was the utility company trying to prove that it wasn’t subsidising their household appliances division from the utility side of the company which was a protected monopoly. The appliance division technicians could also do utility side work when needed, or when they didn’t have any appliance work to do that week. All the independent contractors hated the big utility company for this because it gave the utility company a massive competitive advantage over them. Which of course, it denied.

Until they saw the first run of my reporting system. So I was told later, jaws dropped in the boardroom when they saw how much the utility side was actually subsidising the household appliances division. So plans were made to spin it off, before state regulators stepped in.

And then the layoffs came. And they used my reporting system to tell them who were the most costly and least productive field technicians to lay off. And I kept telling anyone who would listen that you can’t just blindly let a blind, deterministic, computer algorithm substitute for managerial judgement. But who listens to a little computer geek? So I saw a lot of good people get laid off, and a few not so good ones stay on board. One really nice guy, who always had a smile for me whenever we crossed paths in the hallways, died so I was told, when he had a heart attack just a couple days after being laid off. He was at the dinner table with the rest of his family and suddenly keeled over. I think about this. Lots.

This is Silicon Valley’s biggest blind spot. Well…this and libertarianism, which is so closely related they might as well be one and the same. Just get the algorithm right and everything magically takes care of itself.  It was my own hallucination back in my Ayn Rand days. We can reduce it all to just a few simple rules and presto…civilization just happens! But no. Computers can crunch the data, but then again garbage in garbage out. In my trade we say beware the hidden assumptions in a system. What do you know, and how do you know it? There are no substitutes for human judgement.

Or to put it another way: you can’t escape responsibility by off loading it onto a computer. Or a bucket of water.

Link to article Here.


Posted In: Thumping My Pulpit
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by Bruce | Link | Comments Off on Responsibility: Yours Whether You Want It Or Not

Maybe They Could Just Call It Traffic Hell Instead Of Baltimore-Washington

I really wanted to do the road trip thing later this month when I go down to Walt Disney World for the Disney Villains After Hours party at Magic Kingdom. I really did. But once again the traffic nightmare that is the Baltimore-Washington Beltways made me look at taking the train again.

Problem is, these ad hoc Disney trips are out of budget and I need to keep my expenses as low as possible. And overnight train fare can be expensive if you get a room. I am not doing overnight in coach. The annual pass means I don’t have to pay for park tickets or parking. So there’s that. And I got a very sweet deal on a hotel within walking distance to Disney Springs (formerly known as Downtown Disney and Pleasure Island…). I figured if I took my car down I’d just have to buy fuel, food and motel rooms. Low budget road trip travel tests my willingness to avail myself of low budget motel rooms for the night, but I can deal with it if I must. Time was a trip down to Orlando would cost me two nights in a motel…one night there and one night back, a tank and a quarter each way, plus road snacks and dinner before bed. The biggest expense is always the motel rooms. 2-250 about for the round trip. Cost of fuel varies, but it’s never more than 120 round trip. On the flat coastal plains if I don’t drive with a heavy foot, Spirit, my Mercedes, gets in the low forties mpg. So maybe $400 for the round trip if I drive it myself.

But the traffic nightmare throws a wrench into all of this, and every year it gets a little worse, a little more hellish than I thought possible. When I started going down to Walt Disney World and Key West, starting back in 2007, I could do it with just one motel stop for the night on the way down, and just drive all the way home on the way back. Now, unless I’m willing to leave at 3 in the morning…which I’m not…getting around both beltways and to Richmond can take as long as four hours…five or more if there’s an accident or two. Or three. My alternative is a bridge that scares the hell out of me. It’s taking rt 301 through Waldorf and La Plata and cross the Governor Harry W. Nice Memorial/Senator Thomas “Mac” Middleton Bridge, also known as the Potomac River Bridge. Just look at this goddamned thing…

That’s two way traffic, one lane each way. Hell no. And even going this way is its own traffic nightmare anyway, what with all the traffic and traffic lights going through Waldorf and La Plata just to get to it, although once across the Potomac River it is actually a very nice drive. But that bridge. That bridge almost has as much No going for it as the Bay Bridge..

So the time delay built into getting past the traffic nightmare means that nowadays I usually have to stop for the night twice in each direction, which doubles the motel cost, and adds to the food costs. That’s what makes a train ticket, even with the added cost of getting a roomette, comparable. It’s about 6-700 bucks for the round trip if I do it all on the Silver Meteor, which has a dining car. About 200 bucks less if I do it all on the Silver Star which does not. (The difference for sleeper car passengers is your meals in the dining car are included, so on the train without one you get a discount). This is do-able. When the money’s there.

But the fly in the ointment here is the cost of renting a car when I get there. I could probably get by with a taxi or Lift to and from the hotel, and then take advantage of the Disney Parks busses. But I have no patience and waiting in the hot Florida sun for a bus isn’t my idea of a good time.  Plus, you do your own grocery shopping for breakfast and lunch and you save money for the nice places to eat dinner. So I want a car while I’m there.

I did the math and really didn’t want to have to spend that money. So taking the car seemed the best bet. If I could just do it…somehow…and avoid the two beltways traffic nightmare.

I have looked at all sorts of other routes down to Richmond from Baltimore and none of them really offer any advantages. You get off the Interstates and onto the secondary roads and highways and there is lots of local traffic to deal with, plus the added fun of all the traffic lights and uncontrolled intersections. So yesterday I decided to try an insane experiment: Baltimore to Richmond by way of Hagerstown.

Hear me out…I get on the Baltimore beltway and take I-70 west to Hagerstown. Then I pick up I-81 south. That’s the route I used to take to visit mom down in Hillsville and I know it well. Plus, when I’m going west and it’s too cold and snowy to take I-70 all the way I take I-81 to I-40 in Tennessee. So I know that stretch of I-81 through Virginia like the back of my hand. It’s very familiar territory. But this time instead, when I get to Staunton I take I-64 back east to Richmond, then get back on I-95 going south. Coming back hitting the Baltimore beltway where it connects to I-70 gets me past nearly all the bad traffic and it’s just a short hop to I-83 and home, which would be a Much better way to end a vacation. 

Yes…it’s Waaaay out of the way. But my theory was if I could just keep moving and not get stuck in bumper to bumper traffic for hours the time difference might not be too much. And I could at least get past Richmond and not be all stressed out from traffic.

So yesterday morning I gave it a shot. Bright and early Spirit and I set out to see if this crazy detour around the two beltways might be a workable solution. I had a secondary motive in mind as well. I’ve not done a really big road trip in a while because I’ve been loving the train a lot. So I wanted to get myself re-acquainted with the road and its culture.

I settled back into it pretty nicely. And the journey was almost completely free of heavy traffic. But by the time I got to Richmond I was deciding against it. Yes the drive was lovely, but it was a couple hundred miles more than just taking a straight shot. Time-wise it was four and a half hours from Baltimore to Richmond, not counting the detour I took for fuel that morning.

But this was Saturday morning, and so I’m turning back north from Richmond and thinking to myself, let’s compare travel times now and see what it looks like. It’s Saturday, so the worst of it from Fredericksburg to the Mixing Bowl shouldn’t be that bad, and I can get a baseline of travel times based on ideal traffic conditions.

Hahahahahahaha… No.

It was gawd awful bumper to bumper almost all the way back to Baltimore. And I’m sitting there in atrociously heavy traffic on a Saturday afternoon thinking…what the hell…if this is Saturday I don’t even want to know what business hours are like here anymore.

It took me four and a half hours to get to Richmond, and three and a half hours to get from Richmond back to Baltimore. And it was ugly the whole way back. So now I’m thinking the crazy detour is viable after all. I’m not losing more than an hour of travel time going that way and it’s a nice relaxing drive the way these road trips used to be.

So I get back to my little Baltimore rowhouse all stressed out from just three and a half hours in traffic from Richmond and now I’m so tired and wrung out I’m thinking maybe for this next ad hoc vacation I’ll just take the train instead. But the expense. I really need this one to be inexpensive, because the next one is two weeks on my birthday and I’ve been saving for that one for months now. I didn’t want to have to use any of what I’ve saved for that one, for this one.

If it was just the train it would be do-able. But both the train and a week of car rental was more than I wanted to spend. Then I remembered something: I have a sh*tload of Amtrak points I’ve been accumulating for nearly three years now, including the bunches I got from those two big cross-country in deluxe bedroom trips. 

So when I got home I fired up one of the household computers and logged onto the Amtrak website, wondering if at this late stage are there any roomettes still available. I entered my travel dates and low and behold there Were rooms available on the Silver Meteor, both ways, which meant my food would be included. And I didn’t even use half the points I’d accumulated.

So the trip down and back is basically free and all I need to pay for is a rental car, which makes it even less expensive than driving it myself.

This is good, but for my birthday vacation I probably still need to take the car. Last year I took the AutoTrain and got stuck for a while in Disney World (not the worst place to get stuck) when a hurricane flooded most of South and North Carolina and even the trains stopped running. If I hadn’t had my car with me it could have been weeks before I was able to get back home. So…new rule of thumb: when going to Walt Disney World during hurricane season I have to drive it myself, or at least take the AutoTrain. 

And…I still want to keep doing road trips. Before I’m too old to do them any more.


Posted In: Life

by Bruce | Link | Comments Off on Maybe They Could Just Call It Traffic Hell Instead Of Baltimore-Washington

Well I Guess That Wasn’t Shining Armor After All…

I tell myself that in a better world I’d have figured this out back in high school, had a good cry over it and moved on. But even in a better world back then I’d have still been a thoroughly twitterpated teenager with no life experience and no common sense, so probably not.

 

Sometimes, what the lover perceives as shining armor is actually a carefully woven, pretty little cocoon around a soul that never learned to love itself enough to laugh back at prejudice. And then one day you find yourself stunned, wondering how that could possibly really be fear and shame because loving them swept all yours away.

Oh well. Maybe LonerNoMore can post a comment here about how I’m still living in the past and that today is a gift and that’s why it’s called the present.


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June 6th, 2019

Flashback: Disney Summer Vacation 2015 – Wanderwonder

Something I posted to Facebook some years ago, that I should have posted here instead because this is what a life blog is for

—–

Walt Disney World, June 6, 2015, 2:07 AM

I’m up on the 12th floor of the Dolphin. I have a great view of the surrounding terrain from my hotel window. First thing you notice is how flat this part of central Florida is.

My room is situated such I can leave the windows wide open and still have privacy. It’s night, I have insomnia, and from my bed I can see lights from various objects near and far. In the middle distance to the north I can make out the Contemporary hotel, and to the left of it Space Mountain and to the left of that Cinderella’s Castle. Closer in there is a line of very bright amber-ish lights I’m guessing is the parking lots around the Transportation Center. Headlights from cars driving down the highway from there towards I-4 blink through the trees.

If I get up and go to the window and look to my west, I can make out the Expedition Everest ride at Animal Kingdom. Beyond that,intriguingly on the far horizon, twinkle lights from some distant city or town I can’t place without looking at a map. Which for the moment I don’t want to do. They can remain a beckoning mystery for now. Time was, before in car navigation systems, I’d have grabbed a compass, taken my bearings, and when morning came hopped in the car and tried to find some roads to take me to where the lights were without even consulting a map. Sometimes even the compass was not needed. As a young boy I was fascinated by a particular string of lights I could see at night, twinkling down the coast from Ocean City New Jersey. They were so regularly spaced and uniformly bright they stood out from the rest and I figured it had to be the boardwalk at Avalon, which was the next big beach resort town down the coast. Visiting again later as an adult with a car of my own, I traveled down coastal roads and over bridges, stopping here and there to evaluate the streetlights at each little barrier island along the way until I finally found the string of them I was looking for. It wasn’t Avalon, but another barrier island, and they weren’t boardwalk lights, but street lights. That one little narrow barrier island didn’t have a boardwalk at all, but the road came close to the shore and its streetlights stood out because there were so few other lights on it.

So I’m looking out my 12th floor window at Dolphin and wondering what that town I’m seeing in the distance is. I suppose Tampa is too far away for it to be them. Kissimmee would be more to my east which I can’t see from my room. I’m wondering what’s there. I know what’s coming next. They say the journey is the destination, but for me the journey is also in the wondering and imagining. Lights twinkling like stars on distant horizons have called to me since long before I got my first driver’s license. They’re as mysterious and fascinating as the stars in the sky above, but unlike the stars those lights are reachable. I can go see what’s there at some point, and savor the mystery in the meantime.


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by Bruce | Link | Comments Off on Flashback: Disney Summer Vacation 2015 – Wanderwonder
June 3rd, 2019

Message In A Bottle: The Overratedness of Sex

Fark thread about a dad who is supportive of his diagnosed sociopathic daughter brings a comment from a user who first claims that he ticks

“…boxes on a number of DSM scales, enough that analysts tend to take notice. Everyone likely has some behaviors that would, it’s the number of these, their frequency and severity that matter.”

He goes on to list the good points of his personality thusly:

“I have no criminal record and I’ve never been arrested. I’ve never assaulted anyone that didn’t attack me or someone else first. I don’t self medicate with drugs or alcohol.”

Okay. Fine. Sociopaths aren’t necessarily dangerous people, just…disconnected. As I understand it, every human interaction is entirely left brain with them. Sympathy, empathy, just aren’t there. People are things that one must deal with. But they aren’t quite real now are they? Then he lists what he considers to be his not so good points. This quickly ratchets up my attention…

“I am impulsive. Dangerously so. Intimacy is illusive. Sex is mechanical, but being proficient makes my partners feel good, that feels like a reward so therein lies my motivation. But I have little or no desire for it personally. I think sex is the most overrated thing in history. I am very self focused. Everything you do, you do for yourself anyway. There is no such thing as altruism.”

Apart from the impulsive thing, this reminds me Very Much of things a certain someone once told me nearly word for word. Mind you, not about himself specifically, but in a manner of trying to educate me about some elemental life truths I seem to have missed.

This guy at least, didn’t compare sex to farting. But no…for some folks it’s about not having desire, asexuals do exist after all, and the ones I know personally are capable of love, sympathy, empathy, and form deeply emotional bonds with the ones they love. But for others it’s about not having the politically correct set of desires. Why is that queer kid from school calling you? Why did you give him our phone number? It isn’t sex that’s overrated, it’s third party approval that’s overrated. Love and desire, linking bodies and souls, heart to heart, can move mountains. Which is why authoritarians fear them. Courage. Too late to learn that now I suppose.


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May 29th, 2019

After Work At The Drafting Table

Just whiling the after work time away on my iPad Pro yesterday…

…in between working on the backyard deck, which is turning into an all-summer project. 

In another Facebook group I follow, dedicated to the underground comix of the 60s and 70s, I recently saw one of R. Crumb’s cartoons where he obsesses over his “ideal” female form and then another where he starts beating himself up over the fact that he just can’t stop his libido from doing that to him and what goddess would want him anyway…and so forth. The running joke in A Coming Out Story is how low key and apologetic my libido is, almost the complete opposite of Crumb’s, and yet still manages to be totally relentless and thoroughly single minded about it. So I thought to try my hand at a cartoon about that while riffing off one or two of Crumb’s. 

Still working on the figure above…I might give him a hat like the one a bartender at a local eatery I favor, who I can’t stop gawking at any better than Crumb could, wears. Also maybe a bandanna hanging out of one of his back pockets. If I manage to get it finished I’ll post it here.


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by Bruce | Link | Comments Off on After Work At The Drafting Table
May 27th, 2019

Boomer

Normally on Memorial Day I simply give a silent nod of thanks to those who served and died for their country and for the American Dream. When I bought the house my nextdoor neighbor was a man named Joe who had served during WWII in the merchant marines. We would somedays find ourselves out on our front porches (Baltimore rowhouse front porches are where you really get to experience what a neighborhood is) and he would tell me stories about the war, often insisting that he was no hero, just some guy who moved supplies back and forth across the ocean because it was his job.

Me: So tell us again Joe about that time your ship got itself into a minefield and you looked over the side and saw a mine almost right up against it…

Joe: (slightly amazed voice even after all these years…) Oh yeah…that was a Big one too…

Through him I came to realize that the heroes to those guys were the ones that didn’t come back. So I usually refrain from calling them heroes or saying rote thank-you-for-your-service because I never know whether I’m making someone who was there feel better or digging at old and terrible wounds.

My generation’s war was Vietnam. I came close to getting drafted but failed the pre-induction physical, and before they could call me back in for another go at it Nixon had turned off the draft and I was spared the Vietnam experience so many of my generation were thrown into. So when Memorial Day comes along I don’t feel as though I have the requisite life experiences other do, to get too enthusiastic about this holiday.  And considering what it is we’re memorializing (our war dead) it strikes me as offensive to make it a celebration. It’s a solemn day of remembrance. People, young kids mostly, died in our wars. Some of them were unavoidable and there was no other way. But not all of them, and perhaps this is not the day to be bringing that up. But there’s one other thing I think that needs some discussion, especially today, while the veterans of the Vietnam war are still with us. When you use the word ‘Boomer’ as a curse, who is it you think you’re spitting on?

This was posted on a Facebook memory group I follow. The group is focused on memories of growing up in Montgomery County Maryland, which was my stomping ground for much of my kidhood in the 60s and 70s. Those are times we remember fondly, most of us. Boomers, as we are called nowadays…usually by much younger people who have no idea what a Boomer actually is. Lately I’ve begun to feel like I don’t know what it is and I’ve always been one. This man is 70. I am 65. The difference between us is he was drafted, and had no choice but to go, and I just barely escaped it. But we both had to walk into our local draft board office the instant we turned 18, we both had to carry our draft cards with us at all times, and I was called and went for my pre-induction physical. He must have passed his. Then this happened to him…

WHAT I AM ABOUT TO SHARE IS A VERY PERSONAL STORY.IT HAPPEND 51 YRS AGO IN VIETNAM WHEN I WAS JUST A 18YR OLD FROM WHEATON MD. AND I ALWAYS CONSIDERED MONTGOMERY COUNTY HOME…I NEVER TOLD THIS BECAUSE COMMING HOME NO ONE WANTED TO HEAR ABOUT NAM OR THEY JUST WOULDNT BELIEVE.I WAS DRAFTED IN JULY OF 67 AND WENT TO NAM IN JANUARY 68 JUST BEFORE THE 68 TET OFFENSIVE.AFTER DOING SOME RESEARCH I HAVE FOUND THE GRAVE SITE OF MY GOOD FRIEND GENE COLLIER WHO IS BURIED IN A GRAVE YARD IN EASTON MD..I PLAN TO GO THIS WED. AND PLACE A QUARTER ON HIS GRAVE WHICH MEANS THE PERSON WHO PLACED THE QUARTER ON THE HEAD STONE WAS WITH THE SOLDIER WHEN HE DIED.GENE WAS THE FIRST GOOD FRIEND THAT I LOST AND THE FIRST MAN I EVER SAW DIE..IT WAS PRETTY DRAMATIC FOR THIS 18YR OLD…I REMEMBER FEELING SO HELPLESS AND CRYING LIKE A NEW BORNE…I STARTED CUSSING GOD AND CALLED HIM EVERY VILE NAME I COULD EVEN THROWING HAND FULL OF DIRT AT THE SKY..AND I DIDNT CRY AGAIN UNTIL ALMOST 40 YRS LATTER.GENE WAS THE FIRST I SAW DIE BUT NOT THE LAST.I TURN HARD AND COLD HEARTED .ONE TIME OUR COMMO BUNKER BLEW AND KILLED 3 GUYS INSIDE.WE WERE MADE TO GET DOUBLE ARM INTERVALS AND HANDED A EMPTY SAND BAG AND TOLD TO GO THROUGH THE COMPANY AREA AND LOOK FOR PEICES OF THE THREE..I SAW PEICES ON TOP OF THE SUPPLY TENT AND THEN I LOOKED DOWN AND SAW A BABY FINGER AND RING FINGER ATTACHED TOGETHER.AS I WENT TO PICK UP THE FINGERS A STRAY DOG RAN UP AND SNATCH THEM UP AND RAN OFF.IF I HAD MY RIFLE OR PSTOL I WOULD HAVE SHOT THE DOG BUT I THOUGHT HOW DO YOU TELL A MOTHER OR WIFE THAT A DOG RAN OFF WITH PART OF THERE LOVED ONE.THERE WERE OTHERS CHICO AND BOB WETZEL JHONNY AYERS AND MEDAL OF HONOR WINNER TERRY KAWAMURAI NEW TERRY AND HE WAS KILLED AFTER I WAS HOME BRAVE MEN ALL.BUT GENE WAS THE HARTEST.YOU SEE HE GOT A LETTER FROM HIS WIFE THAT HE WAS THE FATHER OF A LITTLE NEWBORNE BABY GIRL.SOME HOW WE FOUND A 1/2 BOTTLE OF SEGRAMS TO CELEBRATE.A MONTH LATTER GENE WAS DEAD..THIS IS WHY MEMORIAL DAY IS AND ALWAYS WAS SPECIAL TO ME..I AM 70 YRS OLD NOW AND HAVE THOUGT OF ALL WHO I SERVED WITH THROUGH THE YRS.I HAVE CRIED AND MADE PEACE WITH MY PAST AND WITH GOD..I WAS JUST A YOUNG PARRATROOPER FROM WHEATON MD WHO HAD TO GROW UP FAST..WAR IS SUCH A WASTE..FIRST TIME I EVER TOLD THIS BUT HELL I’M AN OLD MAN NOW AND JUST HELD ON TO THEM ALL THESE YRS…STAY SAFE THIS WEEK END..AND NEVER FORGET WHY YOU ARE STILL FREE..P.S. VERY APPREHENSIVE ABOUT SHARING AND POSTING THIS AND I THINK I KNOW WHY…FROM ALL THE NEGETIVE CRITICISM OVER THE YRS ABOUT SERVING AND THE WAR…BUT HERE IT GOES

How about on Memorial Day we rededicate ourselves to fighting right wing war mongering, and the leaders, pundits, and classless morons who never served, let alone actually saw combat, that cheer us on into the next splendid little war? How about we rededicate ourselves to not letting this happen to our teenage sons and daughters for no reason other than realpolitik, or national pride, or the sick vanities of celebrity politicians and pundits? And next time you hear someone say Boomer with contempt remember this man and consider there are thousands like him. ‘Boomer’ is too general a word to describe a generation just over half of which had the draft and Vietnam haunting them then…and now…and just under half who never had to carry a draft card in their wallets on threat of arrest and imprisonment if they didn’t always have it on them. I am on the cusp of that divide, and I see across it. They are more different landscapes than ‘Boomer’ can embrace with a shred of meaning, let alone understanding.

And there was more going on back then besides the war. There was the civil rights movement. The struggle to integrate the public schools. There was women’s liberation. There was the fight against censorship (After Grove Press published Henry Miller’s “Tropic of Cancer” in 1961 obscenity lawsuits were brought in 21 states against booksellers that sold it. Also in 1961 Lenny Bruce was arrested for using the word ‘c*cksucker’ in a comedy routine on stage. This was even before the underground comics started rattling cages everywhere.). There was the gay rights movement. And yes, there were people in our generation on both sides of those fights…which is partially my point here. But mostly it’s this…

…AND THEN I LOOKED DOWN AND SAW A BABY FINGER AND RING FINGER ATTACHED TOGETHER.AS I WENT TO PICK UP THE FINGERS A STRAY DOG RAN UP AND SNATCH THEM UP AND RAN OFF…

People bled. Inside and out. People are Still bleeding from what happened to them back then. I see it all the time. I don’t have the horrific memories some do (I have my own struggle with things that happened to me as a gay teenager and young adult), but I walk among my generational peers and I see this stuff and it makes me angry, livid at times, to hear ‘Boomer’ thrown around like a spitball. If you can offhandedly lump everyone born between 1946 and 1964 together with a single word spoken like a curse then you have no clue about that period in your own country’s history, let alone the threads in this one that have their origins in that one. Read this man’s testimony. And maybe understand why, when I hear anyone use the word Boomer with contempt (Hi Ezra Klein and VOX!) I block them. Instantly. You have nothing to say to me. Or to anyone else, really.


Posted In: Life Politics Thumping My Pulpit
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by Bruce | Link | Comments Off on Boomer
May 24th, 2019

Yeah…that…

Aaannd… She’s back. And I’m feeding her again. And I put out a freshly washed blanket for her. Because I’m a sucker.


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Getting Tired Of It

Out for a cigar walk this evening, after drinks and dinner at Rocket To Venus. Thinking over things. I came home and the feral calico cat I’ve been feeding and providing shelter and food for, came up to the porch looking for an evening meal. I brought the dish out for her and, as usual, tried to keep her a tad away from the bowl as I put it down. She’ll swat at me if my hand gets too close, which it will if she gets too close to the bowl as I put it down. Usually, this involves me putting my foot between her and the bowl until I get it situated on the concrete porch floor. This time accidentally, I managed to step on he paw and she yelped and now I’m the enemy and she won’t come close. I called and called and apologised profusely. But of course cats don’t understand any of that. So she’s gone. For now. Eventually I suppose she’ll come back. There is food and water here after all. But I’ve just about had enough.

Enough of all these one-way relationships in my life. I let myself put my heart into these relationships that never give much if anything back and I’m tired of it. She’s a feral, granted. I knew that when I first started putting food out for her, but it’s like a recurring thread in my life I am getting really tired of. She won’t let me touch her, she’s so skittish. but I’ve grown fond of her nonetheless and I get almost nothing back out of it but her occasional rub up against my door or my foot if she’s feeling safe enough. I didn’t mean to step on her paw but she’ll swat at me and draw blood if I get too close. If she doesn’t come back I will be heartbroken but such is what it is. My other neighbors feed her too so she won’t go hungry. I’ve become accustomed to this sort of heartbreak.

I don’t need these sorts of relationships in my life anymore, where I put my heart into it and I get nothing back. It’s how my life has gone for…well…mostly all of it. And I’m tired of it. Crushes, attempted boyfriends, putting my artwork out there and getting silence back, wearing my heart on my sleeve and getting battered, so it goes. I need to assert some degree of self respect in these things. I know…cats. Especially the feral ones. They’re not domesticated. They don’t trust humans and they’re skittish and they have to be to survive. Some gay guys too. Especially ones of my generation. But I’m tired of it. I need to be loved back. At least a little. She can go somewhere else and that would be good. I’d actually like to be able to sit on my front porch again and enjoy the evenings. Alone I suppose, but at least not loving someone that won’t love me back.


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May 23rd, 2019

Guess It’s Time To Start Realizing This

I will take the light rail out to Hunt Valley to eat and drink, rather than drive it, because then I don’t have to worry about the drinking part. There are two favorite spots; the Texas Roadhouse and Bar Louie, both easy access from the light rail stations, and Bar Louie makes a great chicken quesadilla and a pitch perfect Godfather margarita. But running hard to catch a light rail train home last night I feel like I might have over exerted and hurt myself. Now my legs are aching, and the rest of me feels like a squeezed out dishrag. Plus, I felt chest pains last night. It has me concerned, and not just about having a heart attack. I need to remember how old I am. Surprisingly that’s a bit difficult.

A shrink I went to for a while after mom died told me once that I “present young”, which I took to be a polite shrink-speak way of saying I don’t act my age, even when I’m just sitting down and having a chat with someone. But I am what I am and I’ve accepted for a long, long time now that my mental sense of self isn’t quite in sync with my actual physical self. Inside I still have that same sense of self I had in my twenties. All the life experience I’ve accumulated haven’t attenuated that a bit. And it extends to my sense of my physical self. When I’m not looking in a mirror, my mental image of my face and body is lots younger than it is. When I actually look at myself and see the signs of aging I tend to give them a sniff of disapproval and put the subject back out of my mind.

Up until now it’s caused me only minor grief, like when I plan on doing some home cleaning or simple repairs, and it turns out to take three times as long to do it because I don’t have the energy I expect to have for chores like that. So far when that happens it’s just been an irritant. Last night sitting on the light rail train and nearly passing out from over exertion, it was a bit more than that. So I reckon the reckoning with age is finally here. If I don’t at least acknowledge that my body is in its middle sixties now, even if my mind isn’t, I’m going to hurt myself worse eventually.

I’ll just have to left brain it. Right brain is not going to be any help at all with this because that’s where I’m still a twenty something. No Bruce…let that train go on by and catch the next one. Pissed off fidgeting impatiently on the platform because you just missed the train isn’t as hard on your body, and it’s still keeping you active.

I don’t mind getting old as a concept. I mind getting old as a thing.


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May 5th, 2019

I Know It’s In Here Somewhere…!

When your level of frustration trying to find something in the top drawer of your drafting table reaches a critical mass and you decide to repack it…

 

Every now and then I’d chance across some of these old drafting tools at a flea market or garage sale and snap them up. But the dividers at the far right I bought for myself back when I was a working architectural modelmaker. They’re precise, each tong hand ground so the distance between each one is exact. Props to whoever knows what the odd tool at the lower middle of the photo is for. The one above it is a ruling pen. It’s what they used in the days before the Rapidograph, and they still come in handy.

I must be on a repacking jag lately, or the household clutter has developed to a stage where my inner neatness geek is getting antsy. A few weeks ago I was looking for a screw of a particular kind and ended up digging through the entire bin of miscellaneous nuts and bolts and nails and screws I’ve accumulated since…well since I was a teenager. I never throw out things like that, and it gets progressively more and more difficult to dig through it all just to find that one perfect fastener you need. So I decided then and there to repack and sort everything, and of course I ended up with a bunch of miscellaneous odds and ends I could not categorize, like you do, and thereby find a container for. Little bags I’d collected over the decades of odd sized spare screws and fasteners and widgets of various sorts. It’s maddening sometimes because indecision can grind everything to a halt if I can’t work my way past it.

This is why I save coffee cans. But as always, the problem is how to label it so I’ll know which can to open when I’m looking for something…

I expect this can to be too full to put anything more into it in a couple years. Plus I’ll need to sort what’s in it.


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by Bruce | Link | Comments Off on I Know It’s In Here Somewhere…!
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