Link Me Up, Scotty - Hate and Fear Edition

Monday, April 15, 2019

Is empathy eroding in the United States? This journalist sure thinks so, and I am hard pressed to gainsay researchers' conclusions. I see this not only on-line, but in people I know and care about. Hell, I saw it in me for a while, when I was routinely "discussing" politics on Facebook and found myself liking myself less and less. Which is why I (typically) don't discuss anything more important than why the Night's Watch in Game of Thrones don't wear hats when it's snowing. It actually pains me to see people I feel like I used to know disregard the pain and suffering of others. But I'll be damned if I know how to fix it.
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Morehouse College is America's only all male traditionally black college, and they have decided to change their policies to admit transgender men. This story makes my heart happy, as this type of inclusiveness goes a long way toward changing attitudes about transgender folk in communities where they've long been looked upon with suspicion.  Nicely done, Morehouse Trustees. Nicely done, indeed.
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My favorite Christian Pastor has something to say about MAGA Christians and their God. As an Atheist, I typically leave criticism of specific groups of the faithful to other persons of faith, since the entire social construct of religion is a complete fucking mystery to me. Luckily there are people in the world whose basic religious teaching boils down to kindness and compassion (two of my own core values), and who are courageous enough to call out those who don't comply with their own professed belief system.
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It's Peep season! And each year, Peep art becomes more and more elaborate. I myself am particularly fond of RGPeep.
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Tiger's back! I have to say I'm happy for him, coming back after so many years of physical and emotional struggle. Please note I am in no way excusing his personal shortcomings as they relate to his poor choices. But I can't help admiring his grit.
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There's a lot I don't like about Speaker Nancy Pelosi. But I'll give credit where credit is due, and give her props for being an extremely adept political operator. Especially when dealing with 45, she comports herself in a way that makes it obvious that she's the one in the room who is adulting, and refuses to let him drag her down to her level.
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Anti-Vaxxers make me apoplectic with rage. Their Dunning-Kruger attitude and disregard for public health spits in the eye of the greatest medical achievement in the history of the world, and they seem not to care about the consequences of their stupidity. APOPLECTIC WITH RAGE, Y'ALL.
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The link between cancer and obesity. I've been struggling with my weight since I hit 40, and these types of analyses motivate me to try and keep it in the healthy range. Yikes.
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Video of the Week: This gave me a terrible ear-worm, so of course I'm sharing. A charming version of the Beatles' Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da by young  Gabriela Bee.


Link Me Up, Scotty - Change on the Rise

Wednesday, April 10, 2019

Scientists are getting their first real look at black holes, which, when you think about it, are just the most bizarre fucking things ever.
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The field of Democrats pursuing the Presidential nomination just keeps growing and growing. For those of us who tend toward liberalism (or, to be fair, those who tend away from the dumpster fire that is our current administration), it's an embarrassment of riches. For myself, I will not be considering any candidate over 60 this year. The old white dudes have had their chance for the last 243 years, and I am Not Impressed. I want some new blood in there, with flexible minds and fresh ideas. Also: The first 45 fan-boi who tries to disparage any Democratic candidate for their lack of experience is going to get a crash course in the dangers of hypocrisy, as well as the point and laugh treatment for their lack of critical thinking skills.
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Have any of my readers used Groupon for travel? I'm digging the options and prices, but am hesitant to relinquish that much of the planning process to someone I don't know. And if you call me a control freak, I will say, "Yes. Yes, I am."
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Speaking of young Democrat Presidential candidates, I love the way Pete Buttigieg addresses his sexual orientation as an aspect of who he is, without making it ALL that he is. Aside from being a mayor, a war veteran, a Harvard graduate, and a Rhodes scholar, Buttigieg is a deeply faithful man, and it informs his positions, policies, and life. And strangely enough, I find it does not offend me or make me nervous. He doesn't want to legislate his faith on anyone else, he simply wants our country to behave in ways that are decent and kind (the fundamental message of Jesus, if I'm not mistaken), rather than otherwise. I can get behind that.
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And out of Texas (because of course it is), there is a state law under consideration which would "criminalize abortion without exception, and make it possible to convict women who undergo the procedure of homicide, which can carry the death penalty in Texas." I can't fucking believe we're still having this conversation. Margaret Sanger must be rolling over in her grave.
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In other news, 45 is losing his shit over his self-created "crisis at the border." I swear to Cthulhu, if there's a way for a leader of the free world to shoot himself in the foot, this chuckle-head will find it.
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New Zealand has passed a law banning most semiautomatic weapons less than a month after the mosque massacre. Because apparently the rest of the world doesn't rely on "thoughts and prayers" when violent events occur within their borders.
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From the "I love the universe" files: 21 of the year's best photos of our solar system and beyond.
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Video of the Week: My celebrity platonic boyfriend, Avi Kaplan, sings Change on the Rise.

Midnight Ramblings

Wednesday, April 3, 2019

As most of my readers know, I have chronic, anxiety driven insomnia for which I take medication. Sometimes it's great, and I'll go weeks without an incident, and sometimes it's bad, and I'll have several bad nights in a week, for several weeks in a row.

Right now I'm living in the second category because reasons, and crap on a cracker, my brain is such an asshole. You want to know what kind of crap runs through my head while I'm laying there not sleeping? Here's a sample.
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I wonder whatever happened to that youngest Osmand kid...Jimmy? I always felt bad for him. He always seemed like the "also ran" in that family.*
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I cannot believe white people don't realize how much they're telling on themselves when they post dog whistle commentary on social media. Such blatant racism makes me feel like I'm living in an episode of Dear White People. They might as well start each proclamation with, "I'm not a racist, but..."

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Once again, Colorado has been named a top ten state for well-being in the United States. Makes me feel bad for other communities, especially in the deep South, where poverty, crappy education, and minimal health care puts them in the bottom ten.
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How come my left leg hurts when I wake up? It's a deep pain, like it's in the bone. I'll bet it's bone cancer, and my leg's going to explode from the inside out, like that episode of House where the soccer athlete broke her leg.

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Do Christian conservatives realize how very hypocritical they are when it comes to 45's behavior? When it was Clinton engaging in non-biblical congress with his intern and lying about it, it was worth impeachment, but when 45 does that and more and also lies like a dog about every fucking thing, then "it's not for them to judge" his personal life. Yeah, right.
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Man, crowds suck the big one. They make me feel like I'm being squeezed, and not in a good way.
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Seems like most of the countries with very high well-being all use a form of Democratic Socialism or Social Democracy. Must be a coincidence. Has to be.
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Turns out Douglas County [where I live] is the healthiest county in America according to U.S. News. Amazing how lots of money, access to fresh, healthy foods, and plenty of open space will affect populations.
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Dude, the "Fountain of Youth" attraction in St. Augustine is like the poster child for pro colonial white washing. The exhibits make it look like Ponce de Leon flounced into Florida and held Kum-Ba-Yah sessions with the native population rather than killing them with disease, kidnapping and raping their women, and forcing them to convert to Christianity. I guess the actual truth wouldn't attract many visitors at $15.00 a pop for admission.

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*He's not, for those interested. His musical career was pretty successful, he's still working in the entertainment industry, and is apparently happily married with four kids. 

Some Thoughts on Disney World

Monday, April 1, 2019

Or as Moe's BFF calls it, "Didney Worl."
Last month, the Smart Man and I took a vacation to Florida. One of the things we did there was visit Disney World with our awesome, awesome niece and her parents. We were there for 5 full days, and I have some observations on our visit.

1. Disney World is crowded. Really crowded. And because of where people are what they're doing, people who are there have a profound lack of situational awareness. They stop in the middle of foot traffic, turn around abruptly with no clue who's behind them, block the only available foot path with their strollers. I decided on day one not to get wrapped about it so as not to drive myself crazy, but by day five my patience was wearing thin. The driver that took us to the rental car place at the end of our stay told us that the current crowd wasn't that bad, since we were off-season. He said the worst is New Year's, when the Parks are so full they're at capacity, and people wait in line to enter the Park only after someone else leaves. Yikes. You will never catch me there at New Year's.

2. Disney World is not a fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants type vacation. If you don't plan ahead, there are lots of things you and your kids won't be able to do because the lines are too long or all the slots are taken. Disney has this thing called a "fast pass" whereby you can essentially make a reservation at a ride or a show and skip the plebe line. Each ticketed guest gets three of these per day, and once you use them, you're relegated to the plebe line. The issue is that in order for the Fast Pass line not to turn into the plebe line, they have to limit the number of Fast Passes for every hour on every attraction. So if you don't reserve early, you'll be SOL. This is good in some ways - if you're a planner, you can manage your day in such a way that that you can skip the most egregious lines. If you're not a planner, however, be prepared to spend at least half your day in lines, and also be prepared for the fact that your kid isn't going to get to do some things they want, such as have dinner with specific characters, visit the "Bippity Boppity Boutique," or attend the Jedi Academy. Remember the Navy adage, kids - Piss Poor Planning leads to Piss Poor Performance.

3. There are benefits to staying on a Disney owned resort. We did not have to rent a car while we were there because Disney provides free transportation to and from all their properties, and the buses have designated entrances to the Parks, while private vehicles do not. There were a couple of days where the line of cars waiting to get into the parking lot (where you have to pay to park, natch) was pretty long, and we sailed right past. Additionally, Disney guests gain entrance to the Parks an hour before they're open to the plebes.

4. Disney is expensive, especially if you eat on property. So bring money, especially if you like a cocktail.

5. Speaking of cocktails, they are, in fact, available in the Parks. The Magic Kingdom has stricter rules about it than the other three Parks, but if you are so inclined, you can find a beer or a fruity drink.

6. Disney is known for their customer service, and I have to say - they deserve it. Chronic issues just don't happen there. For example, how often do you overhear employees bitching about management, their hours, their pay, etc. in public places? This does not happen at Disney. How often do service people make you feel like you're imposing on them when you ask them to do their jobs? This never happens at Disney. The staff is relentlessly cheerful, helpful, and most importantly, empowered to ensure their guests get what they need to be satisfied and cared for. Every time there was the slightest problem, the employee on the ground had the authority to make an on the spot decision to make things right. No "I have to speak to my manager," or "It's against policy." They just fix it, immediately. Trust - it's not just for Special Prosecutors anymore.

7. Did I mention it was crowded? Popular rides often had waits of 120 - 180 minutes, or longer, in the plebe line. And there was a line for everything. By day five, I never wanted to get in line for another thing as long as I lived. And we saw one set of parents who had lost their four year old daughter in the crowd and my heart broke for them. Their fear was palpable and overwhelming, and I sincerely hope they found her none the worse for wear.

8.  Be prepared to walk and walk and walk. Make no mistake - Disney makes every effort to accommodate people with disabilities and/or limited mobility, and they're good at it. But unless you want to rent a scooter, you're going to be walking about seven miles a day. So make sure you take a lap or two around the couch before going so you're not gimpy by day two.

9. Disney is fun, especially if you're enjoying it with a kid. Our awesome niece is an old pro when it comes to Disney World (this was her third trip), and I think she enjoyed showing us around and playing tour guide to her bumpkin Auntie and Uncle. Of special note - the women who played Cinderella's step-sisters were delightful in a "I'm a mean character, but I won't take it too far and scare the kiddies" kind of way. Watching those two mug was one of the best parts of the trip.

10. While we thoroughly enjoyed our time there, I think introverts like us are going to need a good, long break before we consider going back.

Paying Homage to Those Who Came Before

Tuesday, March 12, 2019

Last year I read a book called Rise of the Rocket Girls: The Women Who Propelled Us, from Missiles to the Moon to Mars, by Nathalia Holt. It was given to me by my dear friend Michelle, who knows I like to learn about women in STEM.
In the 1940s and 50s, when the newly minted Jet Propulsion Laboratory needed quick-thinking mathematicians to calculate velocities and plot trajectories, they didn't turn to male graduates. Rather, they recruited an elite group of young women who, with only pencil, paper, and mathematical prowess, transformed rocket design, helped bring about the first American satellites, and made the exploration of the solar system possible.
It was a lovely book. These women worked as mathematicians at JPL before there even was a JPL, and the prowess and determination of the Rocket Girls made me proud to be a woman who works in STEM.* They paved the way for women not only in the field of aerospace, but in all STEM fields. If their accomplishments had actually been taught in schools, perhaps whole generations of kids would not have assumed that girls were "bad" at mathematics.

One of the things they talked about in the book was the fact that they used tools called French Curves in their work to graph trajectory. Evidently these tools were expensive in those days, so they shared a set to perform their work. 

Which got me to thinking, always a dangerous turn of events. 

What if I had a set of beautiful French curves to hang in my office to remind me of where I came from, professionally speaking? 

So I contacted my buddy Karl, an accomplished artist who lives in Alaska, and asked him what he thought about taking on the project. Since he's classically trained as a draftsman, he was excited about the idea, and agreed to design and build them. 

Well, they arrived yesterday, and they were so worth the wait. 

Displayed on their temporary home, the sideboard.

The inside of the lid.

Top - parabola; middle - irregular curve; bottom left - hyperbola; bottom right - ellipses

I don't want to damage the case, so I'll probably have to mount skinny shelves with a lip on the wall, and then put the pieces on those, leaning up against the wall.

The case is walnut, the curves are sapele with cast pewter edges, and the fabric in the case is green wool.

I can't wait to get them on the wall. Thank you, Karl - they're lovely.
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*I am in no way comparing myself to these amazing women. I'm a complete and utter slacker compared to them...I'm just happy and flattered to say we all worked in STEM.

The Ball in the Box

Saturday, March 9, 2019

Grief is a strange and unpredictable thing. We can't really control it, nor can we schedule its arrival when it's convenient for us.

Today I following a link on Facebook to an explanation of something called "The Ball in the Box." The woman who wrote the Twitter string on this concept shared an idea her doctor discussed with her about grief and how it affects our lives.

The idea is that our emotional life is a box, and is filled with all the feelings we have - love, joy, happiness, etc. Within that box is a "pain button," that reacts when one of those feelings bounces up against it.  When we lose someone we love, the ball that represents our grief is huge, and bounces around inside our emotional life constantly and crazily, pressing the pain button again and again, making our pain constant and unrelenting. It pushes all the other emotional balls out, leaving room for only grief and pain.



As time goes on, the ball that represents grief becomes smaller, which means it hits the pain button less frequently. There comes a time when there's room for other emotional balls, and it becomes possible to function in our daily lives without being overwhelmed all the time. But it's still present, and when the ball hits the button, it hurts just as much as it did when the ball was large.




The size of the ball shrinks and expands, depending on the time of year, outside factors, current mental health status, and other factors. But it never, ever goes away. And it sneaks up on you when you least expect it.

This happened to me about a month ago. I had a complete and total meltdown in the middle of the grocery store on my way home. I saw a kid picking out his Valentines for school, and it reminded me of an incident that occurred between Moe and me when she was a child. It was one of those incidents that when you look back on it, you know you could have made better choices at a parent, and you wish you could take it back, even though it was twenty years ago.

Well, that morphed into the "what if" thought process that leads into me blaming myself for her death, wishing I had been a better mother, and tearing myself up inside because I miss her so much. I utterly lost my shit. By the time I got home, I was wracked with sobs, and cried so long and hard I couldn't breathe. I haven't had a grief incident like that since the first year she was gone, the worst year of my life, and I was exhausted and bereft after I finally stopped crying. For some reason, when my grief ball hit my pain button that day, it was huge and overwhelming, and there was no way I could have predicted it, or prepared for it. It was just there, and demanded all my emotional energy until it passed.

At this point, I know that ball of grief will always be a part of my emotional life, and that it will wax and wane for the rest of my life. It doesn't make it easier to bear, but it does give me a framework I can use to think about my grief, and understand it when it overwhelms. 

Of Two Minds

Monday, February 11, 2019
Mind 1: Crap on a cracker. LOOK at all these kids waiting to board the plane to Orlando.

Mind 2: So what? They’re probably off-track and their families are going to Disneywirkd.

Mind 1: But they’re so LOUD.

Mind 2: Quit being such a curmudgeon. They’re just excited. I expect our awesome, awesome niece will also be excited when the extended family goes to Disney World later this year.

Mind 1: Well, yeah. But I like her.

Mind 2: They’re not hurting you, nor are they misbehaving in any way.

Mind 1: Maybe I’ll go join their fathers at the bar.

Mind 2: Maybe you should. You’re harshing my mellow.

Mind 1: You’re so intolerant of my intolerance.

Mind 2: Don’t resort to the Tolerence Paradox with me, woman. I’m not the one who wants to drown kids who kick the back of our seat.

Mind 1: True. You’re the Pollyanna if the group.

Mind 2: You say “Pollyanna,” I say, “Purveyor of common human decency and kindness.”

Mind 1: Oh, that.

Mind 2: Yes, that. Bitch.

Mind 1: Whatever. You can’t tell me you enjoy flying with kids. Seen and not heard and all that.

Mind 2: We’ll, I don’t mind it, per se. It just depends on how tired and anxious I am.

Mind 1: Story of our lives, sister.

Mind 2: You said it. Let’s just try and enjoy their excitement, shall we?

Mind 1: Pollyanna.

Mind 2: Bitch.

Link Me Up, Scotty - Horrified Edition

Friday, January 18, 2019

The story of Sonia Vallabh and Eric Minike, who changed their entire lives in order to seek a cure for a genetic disorder called Familial Fatal Insomnia. Sonia carries the gene for the disease, which has a 100% mortality rate, and I admire their passion and dedication. 

Note: This is the same disease that runs in Sistah Stacey's family, so I have more than a passing interest.
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7 Things I've learned from the loss of my child. As true now as when it was written, these are the things you should know about bereaved parents. 
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The smarty-pants over at CERN have a vision for their next-gen particle collider. #ScienceRules 

Now waiting for the whack-a-doos to come out of the woodwork in 5...4...3...
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There's a recent report in the Navy Times about the fatal collision of the USS FITZGERALD. As a Senior Non-Commissioned Officer who was also a qualified Combat Information Center Watch Officer (CICWO), I cannot emphasize enough how incredibly distressing I found this report. The conditions described in this article constitute a complete and utter failure in leadership all the way from the Commanding Officer to the lowest Petty Officer. The failure was so utterly complete, at every level, I cannot tell you how appalled I am. 

Because they are my cohort, I'm especially disturbed by the failure of the Chief's Mess to take what action was necessary to maintain good order and discipline among the enlisted ranks. As a group, young sailors are going to try and get over if they can - especially if their operational tempo is such that they're tired and stressed all the time. But it's the role of the Chief to lead these sailors in such a way that they continue to try to do their best, and comply with the ship's standing orders at all times. To allow a systemic breakdown in discipline such as is described by the Fort report indicates something about that Mess that bears close and deep examination and remediation. 

Please also note that the Navy Times, as a journalistic effort, has always primarily the mouthpiece of the brass. It's really nothing less than a propaganda rag, and for them to actually publish an investigative article that leaves the Navy with such a huge black eye tells me that the situation described in the Fort report is probably even worse than described. 

HORRIFIED, Y'ALL.

Link Me Up Scotty - Living and Dying Edition

Monday, January 14, 2019


Houston Chronicle journalist and high school chum Chris Tomlinson has a piece on how giving felons a chance to work and live a decent life is what's best not only for them, but for our country as a whole.
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Speaking of leaving people to struggle and die without a second thought, Washington Post Magazine has a piece up on how the high cost of insulin has really painted diabetics into a corner. You know the corner - where you have to decide between buying your insulin and paying your rent. This is a life and death issue (literally) for many diabetics.
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Meanwhile, back at the pharmacy, many drugs that retain their efficacy are being tossed because they're beyond their "expiration date." I read this story when it originally came out in 2017, and it appears that exactly NOTHING has changed since then.
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45's new Attorney General nominee, William Barr, believes Mueller should be allowed to complete his report. Now taking bets on two outcomes: Whether he'll be confirmed, and if confirmed, how long will he keep his job?
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In other news, turns out there's no national emergency along our Southern border, since most undocumented persons don't sneak across the border. "Facts are stubborn things; and whatever may be our wishes, our inclinations, or the dictates of our passion, they cannot alter the state of facts and evidence." ~ John Adams.

Too bad 45's intellectual prowess makes him look like a trained seal next to John Adams. And well, EVERY other President in history, really.
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In a surprise move, 45 has denied being a Russian agent. You know, I don't know if my heart can take all these shocking revelations every day. /sarcasm
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Video of the Day: Randy Rainbow, America's National Treasure, has a few words on 45 and his desire for a wall:


Link Me Up, Scotty - Monday Morning Edition

Monday, January 7, 2019

Virginia Heffernan of the Los Angeles Times has something to say about the current crop of Right-Wing Blowhards and the fact that they're losing their shit over the number of indecorous women in politics these days. She rightly notes that younger women (and their supporters) are now at the point where the traditional thinly veiled misogynistic insult solicits not apologies or shame, but a point-and-laugh response with a side order of public exposure of the dog-whistle. I find this especially gratifying, since these fabulous feminists are treating this bull-pucky with the response it deserves.

Bonus Gratification: If there's one thing that infuriates a Misogynist Right-Wing Blowhard more than not being taken seriously, I don't know what it is.
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From the "Living History" files: WWII Army nurse Elva Bertha just turned 100, and she was there when the Japanese came to surrender to MacArthur.
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Artificial Intelligence (AI) is an emerging part of the technologies I design for customer interaction. But I'm far more interested in its medical use, as in this case, where AI is able to detect Alzheimer's Disease in the brain six years before a diagnosis.

Disclaimer: I haven't read the actual study, only this synopsis, so I have no certitude that it's been reported appropriately.
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From the "What comes around, goes around" files.
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Video of the Week: Mongolian band The HU, performing Wolf Totem. 


A Matter of Character and Hope

Wednesday, January 2, 2019

Those who know me well know I believe opposing ideas and viewpoints are the heart of democracy. The presence of a "loyal opposition" is critical to keeping any one organization from gaining too much power in a representative democracy.

So my issues with the Republican Party aren't personal. I can disagree with their platform while still understanding their participation in our Republic is critical to its success.

But issues of character are an entirely different matter.

Regardless of political party, I want persons of good character to represent me in public office. Due to the changing tides of political opinion, sometimes those people are Democrats, and sometimes they are Republicans. There are plenty of examples from both sides of the aisle where character has been in short supply, and also examples where character was the hallmark of service. 

Which is why I was so very pleased to see Mitt Romney's January 1st opinion piece in the Washington Post where he criticized 45's character. 

Make no mistake - I disagree with Senator Elect Romney on almost every issue. I voted against him in 2012, and I consider some of his policy positions to be in direct opposition to my own values. I don't want him to be our President, because at this point in the political life of our country it's almost a foregone conclusion that a Democratic candidate would be preferable to a Republican one, given my priorities. 

But I think it's fair to say that in general, he is a man of good character. Which makes him far and away a better candidate for the Presidency than the incumbent.

I have no personal animus towards the Republican Party. I think their platform is misogynistic, awash in white privilege and victim blaming, and profoundly immoral on a number of levels. Given their current platform, it's extremely unlikely I would vote for a Republican for any representative office under any circumstances.* But I recognize their role, and understand its necessity. 

It becomes personal, however, when their policy decisions and platform results in their election of someone like 45 to the Oval Office. Due to their own dog-whistle politics and campaign strategies that build on fear of the Other, they elected the most ill-equipped, unqualified, immature, megalomaniacal person of bad character to ever run for President. And then refused to gainsay him when he went off the rails, again and again and again.

I won't forgive this anytime soon. The Republicans reaped what they sowed in this regard, and I've been waiting and waiting for them to wake up, and turn on 45 as they should have years ago, and bring their party back to seriousness and intelligence. 

Nothing would please me more than to see the Republican Party support a primary challenger to 45 in the 2020 election. Someone serious. Someone intelligent. Someone with a modicum of experience. Someone qualified. Someone with even a blush of good character. 

Is Senator Elect Romney's OpEd the first salvo in that conflict? I don't know. Was it written and published for self-serving reasons, since Senator Elect Romney has never supported 45 and is positioning himself as a viable alternative in 2020, with or without the support of his Party? I don't know. If someone does challenge 45 in the primaries, will Republican primary voters recognize their mistake and work to correct it for the benefit of all? I don't know. 

But I can hope.

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*I will (and did, in the midterm) vote for a Republican for a non-representative office, where qualification is the key factor in my choice.

My Reasons for Gratitude, 2018

Tuesday, January 1, 2019

The Smart Man and I celebrated our 20th anniversary with a Western Caribbean cruise in April. While the vacation was wonderful, spending 20 years with my partner and friend is all the celebration I need.

Half way through the fiscal year, I was reassigned to an account that required an engineer with my skill set, and was subsequently given the highest performance mark for the year. I'm grateful to be well regarded in my field and my company, as it helps me to gainsay my imposter syndrome when it rears its ugly head. 

I took charge of my health, shaving 7.4 points off my BMI and 44 lbs off my body. I still have some left to lose to achieve my health goals, but I consider this a noteworthy accomplishment. Mostly I did it for health reasons (my Doc was displeased with my BMI), but not carrying around excess weight is better for my organs, my joints, my energy level, and my outlook.

I went back to school (again) with an eye towards a degree in anthropology. Enrichment learning isn't exactly an inexpensive hobby, and I'm grateful to have the resources to be able to feed the Elephant's Child when I want to.

I was nominated for a "Trustee of the Year" award this year for my service to the Library Board. In my nomination letter, I was paid the highest personal compliment I've ever had: "With self-authenticity that demands alignment between what you say you are about and what you do, Murphy leads the way in 'being the change you wish to see.'"

I completed 4.5 years of service to the local library as a trustee this year. While my service was a labor of love, and it broke my heart to do so, I resigned my appointment because the role was negatively affecting my health and distracting me from other activities I thought were important. But I am grateful to have gotten the chance to serve an institution that meant so much to my Moe-Moe, however briefly.

The Smart Man and I were able to cross off two more ball parks from our list - Wrigley Field for the Cubs, and Guaranteed Rate Field for the White Sox. Bonus gratitude: This time Sister Stacey and Brother JR were able to join us.

We spent two long weekends in Rocky Mountain National Park with Sister Stacey and Brother JR this year. RMNP was one of Moe's happy places, and spending time in the Park makes me profoundly happy, and no matter how long we stay, it's not long enough.

Every year the Smart Man and I donate a bunch of toys to Toys for Tots. We buy throughout the year, and store our purchases in the basement until the first part of December, when we make one larger trip, then take everything to a drop off point. While she lived, Moe always participated with us, using her own money to buy items she could afford for the donation. This year, we decided to include our fabulous niece, who is seven. We gave her a set amount of money, and told her she had to buy for other kids, and buy nothing for herself. That's a tough order for a second grader, and she did great, working hard to understand what was going on and the value in giving to others. I'm grateful to pass on this tradition to our niece, and have the opportunity to help instill the values of generosity, service, and charity to the next generation.

We made it through the year without losing any of our nearest and dearest. After the previous seven years, we're grateful to have had a year where the loss of those we love hasn't ripped out our hearts and left them on the floor.