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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.


Posted In: Life
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by Bruce | Link | Comments Off on Well I Guess That Wasn’t Shining Armor After All…
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.


Posted In: Life
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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.


Posted In: Life
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by Bruce | Link | Comments Off on Message In A Bottle: The Overratedness of Sex
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.


Posted In: Art Life
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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.


Posted In: Life
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by Bruce | Link | Comments Off on Yeah…that…

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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by Bruce | Link | Comments Off on Getting Tired Of It
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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by Bruce | Link | Comments Off on Guess It’s Time To Start Realizing This
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…!
April 21st, 2019

When I Was Between Grass And Hay

I could gaze into this photo for hours…

 

 

It takes me back. I’m a kid again, and the world is big again. I can breathe the air of those days, feel its wind in my hair. Just looking at this photo I can walk all those paths again. I’ve been gazing at it off and on now for days. At some point I’m going to make a print of it and stick it on the wall behind the bar in my art room.

This photo was posted on a Facebook page I follow about growing up in Montgomery County Maryland. Most of us posting there are oldsters like me. Some of us were kids back in the 1960s. Photos like this are often shared, but none have ever struck so deep a chord in me as this one. Why? Well, just try driving that road today. It’s true, you can’t go home again.

But, in some sense, you can. Always. If there are photographs. Alas for me, this time period was before I really got heavily into photography, so I don’t have many shots of this period of my life. This particular photo was taken sometime in the early 1960s. The person who posted it to the Facebook group couldn’t say exactly when, but I lived there and I can see the timeframe in the details. It’s Rockville Pike, then called East Montgomery Avenue, looking toward southwest from just south of Rockville. One tell of the timeframe is the bus coming toward us on the left side of the road. By it’s colors it’s an old DC Transit bus. DC Transit was the private bus company owned by O. Roy Chalk until 1974. But that’s one of the old buses. They were replaced in the late 60s with the new GM “New Look” bus which had bigger windows and a modern look.

The other tell is the cars. That’s (I think) a ’64 Ford Galaxy on the left coming toward us. It looks like there’s a touch of frost in the shadows on the right, so it’s late autumn. This explains the rolled up windows on the car. Most cars didn’t have AC back then…it was an Expensive luxury. But central Maryland is brutally humid and hot in the summer months.

Also, the large field on the right…that was a working farm. Now it’s just another ugly shopping center. Back then corn grew there. The field is empty in this photo, because the corn has been harvested, and the stalks gathered into bundles, and the earth plowed and ready for next spring. That was the cycle of life on that field I came to know all the years I lived there…

…there…in the apartments to the right of the large building in the distance on the right of the Pike. That building is the Tenley Building, which must have just been recently completed. I don’t know the name of the other building a bit further on across the Pike, but when mom moved us into the apartments, then called Courthouse Square, it was also just being finished and the top two floors of the Tenley Building were in the process of having their rooms and offices built out. The Tenley Building was built for doctors and dentists. Mom dragged me crying miserably over to it for my shots. The needle terrified me, and memories of diseases that killed many when she was a girl terrified mom. So I got my shots.

What takes me back the most, something almost completely unbelievable now about this photo, is all the wide open space in it. You’d think this was somewhere out in the sticks. And I suppose it was when we moved there from Hyattsville. My earliest memories are of the apartment we had in NE Washington DC. Mom moved us to Hyattsville when I was 5 and in Hyattsville I could still believe I was in the city. We moved to Rockville when I was 8 and into a Much nicer garden apartment with a big glass window with a door that opened onto a private balcony. And it had AC! You will never appreciate AC like I do if you didn’t grow up in Washington DC and Maryland without it in the summer. There was a swimming pool, and playgrounds and barbecues for the tenants. I thought we’d hit the big time.

And there was so much open space, I felt like a changed bird suddenly set free. The sky above was huge. The stars at night were vivid. A massive private country club abutted the apartment complex, and evenings I could walk out to a hill in a field behind the apartments and look out across it and see the lights from the WMAL radio towers in the distance. One afternoon shortly after we moved in I was standing on our balcony marveling at how far up in the world we had come, and looking across the Pike glimpsed a train go by. Huh!? I had no idea there were railroad tracks so close by and I immediately had to go see. I walked across the Pike and a small parking lot and clambered down onto tracks that I later learned were the main B&O Railroad line west out of Washington DC. The tracks ran straight as arrows toward Rockville, and back the other way to Washington, and I remember gazing into the distance while some deep and powerful urge developed within me to go see what was there, to explore those horizons.

It was all so wonderful. I was between grass and hay as they say, just old enough to be allowed to wander on my own, but not so old that I didn’t have to be back home by supper. I went to an elementary school in Hungerford, close in to Rockville for a year, then the school boundaries changed and went to Congressional elementary. It was my first experience riding a bus to school. It felt like we were living in the country. Every spring the farm behind the apartments would plant for corn. Every summer I’d watch the corn growing until it was taller than me. Every July 4th mom and I would walk to a hill next to the farm and watch the fireworks light the sky from the Richard Montgomery High School play field. Every autumn would come the harvest, and the smell of cut stalks. Then came the Rockville Fireman’s Carnival.

Summer days I’d walk down the Pike to Congressional Plaza, stopping first at the newly built Talbot Center (It was but a dug out hole in the earth the day we moved in to the apartments next to it) and the Minute Mart there for a soda to drink whilst walking. Then I’d stop at Children’s Supermarket, later to be renamed “Toys R Us”, and inventory their model car shelves for anything new. Then I’d hit the People’s Drug Store in Congressional for any new magazines and comic books (Mad was a favorite), and then check the model cars at the Kresge five and ten, and the Murphy’s. On the way home with my loot, if any, I’d hit the McDonald’s for a burger and shake.

Just re-reading this now it strikes me how much a single divorced mother could provide to her kid, including even an allowance that made it possible for him to indulge in his model car hobby, back in a time when women made maybe 60 cents for every dollar a man doing the exact same job made. But those were the Kennedy days. Things started coming apart for the working class when Reagan promised everyone a shining city on a hill if only the chains of government were taken off big business and finance. But…I don’t want to remember what came later now. We’re all living it anyway.

This photo takes me back into a different world. Classrooms smelled of mimeograph paper and chalk. Telephones had wires connecting them to the wall, and long distance was anything beyond the city limits and horribly expensive. TV came like radio over the airwaves, not a cable, and there were only four local channels, and if the conditions were right and you got the rabbit’s ears tweaked just right maybe you could get the three Baltimore stations with only a little static. There was a legendary Harrisburg station that you could sometimes see the ghost images of amidst the static. There was three daily newspapers, the Post, the Star and the News. And there was a great big beautiful tomorrow shining at the end of every day…

And I wandered. Lots. Mom felt safe letting me do that there. To this day I have to end my days with a walk, though sometimes I take a drive. But I still love to just wander. In many ways the world was so much smaller then, not nearly as interconnected as it is now. And I have my driver’s license and I’ve taken my cars from this side of the country to the other. Were I to transport many of you reading this back to those days you might get a case of claustrophobia from the sense of isolation. To me it brings back memories of a world just beginning to open up to me. I discovered the horizon here, and all its mysteries, because for the first time I could actually see it.

Just there in the photo, to the right of the Tenley Building, is the row of apartments we lived in. I can almost see my bedroom window. I used to gaze out at this stretch of road often and to the city and the horizon beyond. I can half close my eyes just now, and do that still.


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by Bruce | Link | Comments Off on When I Was Between Grass And Hay
April 18th, 2019

Between The Silver Lining And The Angry One…

Facebook helpfully provides me with Memories. That’s when you log in for the first time that day and Facebook offers to show you all the posts you made on that day, going all the way back to your Facebook beginnings.

Today’s memories hold two posts of interest to me. April 18, 2014…two years after The Crisis…whatever the hell it was…

I’m cutting off my Walt Disney World vacation early and driving home in tears. Had I come of age in a better world I’d have got this over and done with back in ’72 or ’73. Anyway…then this happens…

…So I decided to wander back home instead of staying at Disney World. But it’s been a torrent of rain all the way, so I can’t exactly get out of the car and look around anywhere with my cameras. Several big accidents on I-95 blocked traffic for miles. But the worst of it was the car complaining about things that…once again…should have already been taken care of by R&H Motors.

First I started getting messages to check the fuel filter. That was supposedly replaced at the 40k service, and R&H charged me about 450 bucks to do it since (they said) it was a dual filter and more expensive for the diesels. I could buy that…you really need to filter diesel oil…just look at a diesel pump nozzle if you doubt that. But I strongly doubt I’m only getting 16k out of a new set, when I got 40k out of the set that came with the car. So I start worrying the car is going to suddenly stall out on me because the fuel filter never got changed and now it’s all blocked up.

And of course it’s a holiday weekend so I doubt I can get any actual Mercedes service done on the car until Monday.

Then I started getting notices that I was running low on Diesel Emissions Fluid (DEF). The DEF tank gets topped off every 10k and I only have 6.4k on the current tank. No way it’s almost empty now. If you run out of DEF the emissions system prevents the car from starting until you fill the tank again.

So I bought a gallon of some generic DEF at one of the truck stops along the way. DEF is supposed to be just a simple solution of about 35 percent (or thereabouts) synthetic urea and the rest distilled water. I checked the label that that is what I bought and hopefully the car accepts it even though it isn’t Genuine Mercedes-Benz DEF but I was in a panic.

I stopped for the night at South Of The Border because all their rooms have private covered car ports I could pull into and empty the trunk and fill the DEF tank with the gallon I bought. That stopped the complaining about low DEF. Hopefully the car won’t notice that it isn’t Genuine Mercedes-Benz DEF on the leg home tomorrow and stall out on me somewhere far from anything.

I began my trip home massively depressed. Now I am massively pissed off at R&H Motors. That seems better somehow. I guess every cloud has a silver lining, except the ones that have an angry lining. You work with what you get.

It’s amazing how a big dose of Anger can blow all the sadness in your life away. At least for as long as it persists. It gives you something else to focus on besides that knife in your heart. Maybe this accounts for the Fox News effect on us old people. Maybe this accounts for why that audience wants to be angry all the friggin’ time. Good thing I don’t watch much TV anymore. Besides that my bullshit buffer overflows the instant I see Tucker Carlson on a TV screen anywhere and it’s a good thing I don’t have a brick handy.

Anyway…riddle me this: how is a car dealership like a flirt who wants into your pants as long as their spouse doesn’t find out?

 


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by Bruce | Link | React! (1)
March 25th, 2019

Coincidence? I Think Not…

I subscribe to MeUndies. I like the fit and the material, and it’s one less thing I have to buy at the store. But mostly what I like about MeUndies is the fun, colorful new patterns they come up with every month. Raised in a gloomy Yankee Baptist household where disapproval at anything smacking of personal vanity was always in the air, nearly all my life since I left the nest I’ve been trying to give myself permission to…well…just be myself. I like color in my wardrobe, even the parts not generally visible in public. Well…except for my blue jeans. Blue jeans must be blue. It’s tradition. But I want color everywhere else. Ask me about the electric blue streak I sat in the chair for three and a half hours to get in my hair. Lately I’ve taken to wearing a bandanna hanging out a back pocket again, like I used to when I was a younger guy, only now I get ti-dyed bandannas, partly to confuse anyone who thinks I might be signalling something (ask me how much I Hate that damn hankie code!) , but mostly because I like the idea of tie-dyed bandannas. Next winter I swear I’m going to buy some new flannel shirts like I do every winter, but this time I’m going to bleach them white and then tie-dye them.

So…anyway…the Very Day before I got on my train to Florida and Walt Disney World, MeUndies sends me a new pair with their latest pattern… 

Llamas. They sent me Llama underwear. Well of course I wore it to my Biergarten dinner reservation.

 

 

Dude, it’s hilarious. You’re hilarious. Good thing you’re not reading my blog or this post might piss you off.


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by Bruce | Link | Comments Off on Coincidence? I Think Not…
March 21st, 2019

We Can Rise

There is a renewed effort to ban the practice of ex-gay therapy on kids. Adults it seems, will just have to take their own risks with this brutal quackery. But at least the movement to keep it away from kids has some momentum. In large measure, this is why…

Meet the Conversion Therapists Who Turned Against Conversion Therapy

Some of the most powerful voices against conversion therapy are those of ex-conversion therapists, who have now come out as LGBT and formed their own support group.

One of them, Michael Bussee, co-founder of Exodus International, had this to say about his road to Damascus moment after leaving Exodus because he had fallen in love with another Exodus member…

At first, he wanted to heal in private: Bussee himself is gay, and had left to be in a relationship with Gary Cooper, a man who also belonged to the Christian-based organization known as Exodus International. Together, they tried to forget about Exodus, which went on to become one of the most influential conversion therapy organizations in the world until its 2013 closure.

But at some point in the 1980s, Bussee finally came to terms with what Exodus had done—and it nearly destroyed him.

“When the full extent of what Exodus had done to people hit me, I must have sobbed for days,” he told The Daily Beast. “It was just gut-wrenching. The guilt was overwhelming, crushing guilt. I thought, ‘How am I ever going to deal with this guilt?’”

Many have been deeply wounded by groups like Exodus and others of their kind. And not just the ones who submitted themselves to it, or were thrown into it like so much human garbage, but also the many who were simply collateral damage in the right wing culture war against the hated Other. Those of us who might have found love but for the brutalization of so many, and the lies told about us.  

I cannot forgive them for what they did to others, that is not my prerogative. But if you ever wondered what integrity is you are looking at it here. It isn’t the apology that costs you little or nothing. It is the acceptance of guilt, and a willingness to make amends even though many of those you have wronged will probably never forgive you. Because you had your road to Damascus moment and now you know, and now you must go on knowing, and so you must set things right. Because there is no other way. These men will probably have to walk through fire for the rest of their lives, but they want to put as much of it right as they can. I cannot help but admire them for it.

Because it is the ones among us who can admit they were wrong, and own the damage they caused, despite the costs to themselves, and do their best to make things right again, that are civilization’s final hope. Think of everything you have seen and heard in the last two years…all the cheating, all the excuses, the lies, the abject moral squalor, coming from the highest offices in the land. Some days it seems like the human gutter has overflowed and we are drowning in its depravities. Still, despite everything, there is a nobility to the human spirit, rough-hewn though it may be. We can rise from the fallen state. We can turn this around. 


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by Bruce | Link | Comments Off on We Can Rise
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