A Quick Word of Appreciation for our Veterans

It’s no secret that I am morally opposed to war. I was vehemently against the invasion of Iraq. But no matter how I feel about any particular conflict, I will always, always, support the men and women who, at the request of our government, drop everything and risk their lives defending our country’s best interest.

Flag2Here is where I would normally go off on some political rant about “false patriotism” but I think the majority of United Sates citizens, regardless of their political slant, are patriotic. So, for now, I’m setting aside the political posturing for a more important message.

To every man, woman, and beast who has risked or lost his or her life in the defense of these United States, I thank you.

Military-dogs-06For more on military dogs, check out NPR’s “Military Dogs Enjoy Brighter Future After Service” by Gloria Hillard

“All Hallows Eve” – a short story.

By 10 pm the last of the trick-or-treaters had come and gone. I gazed up and down the street for stragglers before closing and locking the front door for the night. I put away my empty glass and gathered discarded candy wrappers for the trash bin. Then, turning off the lights, headed up to bed. Sleep came without a fight.

I can’t tell you what roused me, but I suppose it’s not really important at this point. I was wide awake. It was the middle of the night. The curtains had been drawn together tightly, preventing even the tiniest sliver of light into the room. I stared into the quiet darkness, listening. The beating of my heart ticked away the minutes. In the distance, I heard the faint sound of a lonely train clickety clacketing it’s way to parts unknown. My eyes searched for the dimmest of illumination and settled on the dim pattern of moonlight filtered through the trees and dancing on the wall just outside my bedroom. I watched the shadows of the leaves shimmer and then fade, as a cloud shrouded the moon, leaving the room enveloped in blackness. I counted the moments until the moonlight returned, briefly, then disappeared again. My eyes stared into the empty space where light once was, waiting. To track time I counted heart beats. One minute. Two. Three minutes. Four. The minutes ticked by. My eyes strained to make out the faintest light. Then, as the moonlight slowly returned, there it was.

On the wall just beyond the bedroom door, a shadow; an almost human form materialized. I don’t know how long I watched, waited, wondering. I stared, unblinking at the spectral form. I dared not move a muscle. My eyes glued to the ghostly shadow. Was I dreaming? We’ve all had those moments between sleep and wakefulness when our imagination plays tricks on us. But was this real? Was I awake? I bit down on my tongue and winced at the sharp pain. When I opened my eyes, the ethereal image was still there.

I was terrified. The drum beat of my pulse echoed in my ears. I fought to keep my breathing steady. In. Out. In. Out. I could hear him breathing, or was that me? No. The rhythm is different. Time to take stock of the situation.

I needed to keep my head, perhaps literally. If there’s someone in the hall, more than likely he thinks I’m asleep. There must be a reason that’s important. Why else would he just stand there? Then I had a thought. What if there’s more than one of them? My brain was in overdrive. My options were limited. It’s so deathly quiet, even the smallest move is bound to be heard. If he’s armed, any sudden movement on my part could be fatal. I was in a tough spot. So I watched, and waited, while the moon danced among the clouds, creating a slow, hypnotic rhythm of light and dark.

fullmoonSleep must have returned because the next thing I knew it was morning. Early sunlight washed away the haze of the night before. I chalked it up to a bad dream and made my way to the bathroom for my morning rituals. That’s when it happened. As I passed through the door to the bathroom a dark shadow enveloped me. The oppressive darkness squeezed the air from my lungs. Gasping for breath, I tried to pull myself out from under the impossibly dark veil of doom which had me in it’s death grip. This can’t be happening! This can’t possibly be real!

My oxygen deprived lungs burned. My vision dimmed. With one last ditch effort I screamed, “Please! Wake up! Why can’t I wake up?” But no words escaped my lips. In fact, nothing was heard from me again.

 

Voter ID and ME… with update.

UPDATE: The following was written a year and a half ago. Since then I’ve tried three more times to correct the disparity between my driver’s license and my voter’s registration. As it stands now, my driver’s license spells my last name all one word but my registration separates the ‘De’ from the rest. The poll workers know me but tell me if Pennsylvania’s voter ID law goes into effect, I will not be permitted to vote.

Yeah. Don’t tell me voter ID is about fairness.

 

 

I AM PISSED!!

I’m a registered voter in Pennsylvania, one of the numerous states whose Republican Governors have proposed laws to require voters to present “State Approved Identification” in order to cast a vote in upcoming elections. On the surface, these sound like common sense laws. In reality, they are bureaucratic nightmares. These laws are solutions to problems that do not exist. But that’s not what this post is about.

During last November’s general election, the courts had put a stay on Pennsylvania’s new Voter ID law. They found that there wasn’t enough time to provide proper ID to the thousands of Pennsylvanians who didn’t have it. The lines at the PA DMV were so long that people were being turned away. It was decided that voters would be asked for ID, but it would not be required to vote. Poll workers were also instructed to ensure that each voter’s ID correctly matched what was on record, and to advise the voter to rectify it before the next election. There were leaflets and everything.

I didn’t think this would be an issue for me. I had my ID. So, with ego properly inflated, I confidently marched up to polling place and proudly presented my driver’s license.

The woman behind the table carefully examined my driver’s license, expelled a sigh, and looked up into my smiling face. “It appears we have a problem,” she said. “The way your name is printed on your driver’s license does not match the way it is printed on our records.”

What?

Apparently, my middle name is spelled out on my driver’s license, but my voter’s registration shows only an initial. My registration also shows a “Sr” after my name, as in Frank Senior. This is ostensibly a problem because I don’t have a son named Frank Jr..

NOTE: Other than my address, the information on my voter’s registration has not changed in almost three decades.

After voting, I thanked the nice woman and promised I would fill out a new registration form with the correct information. All was well with the world.

Being the procrastinator that I am, I filled out the new registration form at the end of March. There were a myriad of reasons why I waited. There always are. Three weeks later my new voter’s registration arrived by mail.

The new registration is printed exactly the same as my old one, with the exact same errors. What gives? How difficult is it to copy information from a piece of paper? How hard is it to check the information found on my driver’s license, and enter it into a database? Wasn’t that the reason I was asked to provide them with my license number?

I contacted the Election Commission and spoke to a very patient gentleman who was as puzzled as I was. He accessed my driver’s license information to verify my identity. He looked at a scanned image of my new application, which had the correct information. and couldn’t understand why the records hadn’t been updated. After a few questions, I was told that my new registration should arrive within a week.

It took almost four weeks for the new voter registration to arrive, just in time for Pennsylvania’s Primary Election. This time, my last name was altered.

I have an Italian last name with a “De” prefix, as in DeNiro, DeLuca, or DeAngelo. Pennsylvania driver’s licenses use all capital letters, and the De is not separated from the rest of the surname. On the new voter’s registration however, the prefix IS separated. You wouldn’t think this was an issue. Apparently, the poll workers thought it was enough of an issue that it needed to be addressed. I was told that I could be turned away because of that simple technicality. REALLY??

Now I have to contact the Election Commission AGAIN, and walk them through the correct spelling of my name.

Does anyone else see the problem, here?

I vote every election. I take it very seriously. It’s about more than just selecting a new Mayor, Judge, Senator, or President. There are ballot questions and referendums. The voting booth is one of the few places in which my opinion matters. In the words of ronsuperman, I don’t vote “because campaigns have been drilling it into our heads reasons why we should or should not vote for a particular candidate. But I will be voting because voting = power, and I cannot sit back while decisions are made around/about me, and I have no input.”

I also don’t want some inattentive paper pusher’s mistake to prevent me from casting my vote.

How can they ask for proper ID if they’re not going to ensure that the information they record is correct? Why must I jump through hoops if a bureaucrat can’t get it right?

If we can’t ensure that everyone can easily obtain the proper ID required to cast a vote, then we need to stand down on aggressive laws designed to make it virtually impossible to engage in our Federal Voting Right.

Speaking of constitutional rights…

The logic of the GOP astounds me. :\

I threw that last thought in there as an expression of my angst.

Seriously though… If anyone, regardless of criminal background, can order an assault weapon online without proper identification, why should my middle initial, or the prefix of my ethnic surname cause so much trouble at the polling place?  #smh

PS: The point of this rant is simple. I’m surviving on minimal resources. If I’m having trouble meeting the requirements for “State Approved Identification”, what about the people who don’t even have what I have?

“My Mamma Taught Me Not To Pee On My Hands” is not an excuse!

When was the last time you washed your hands?

Was it this morning?

Did you wash your hands before leaving the restroom? Everyone says they do but I still see more people leave the restroom without washing their hands than those that do. The most common reason given for not doing so is, “My mamma taught me not to pee on my hands.” I have a real problem with that kind of arrogance. It disregards the well being of everyone you encounter for the rest of the day. It’s a giant “F- You!” to the rest of us. I wash my hands twice in public restrooms. The additional washing is on the way in because I want my hands to be as germ-free as possible before I handle the family jewels.

I am fairly obsessed with hand washing, not just around restrooms. I’m not really a gernaphobe. It’s just that, over the years, I’ve gotten used to washing my hands fairly often. From when I was a little boy helping my grandmother in the kitchen, to a teenager slicing lunch meat at the deli counter, and then as an adult working in the food and beverage industry, clean hands have always been very important. As obsessions go, hand washing is pretty mundane. But it does have it’s drawbacks. As any bartender will tell you, all that hand washing makes for dry, chapped hands.

One of my biggest pet peeves is the overuse of those stupid plastic gloves that have become the mainstay of the food service industry. Those gloves have made people lazy. I watched a deli worker at my local supermarket begin to fill my deli order wearing the same single use gloves I saw him wearing while wiping down his work area. Single use gloves are not supposed to take the place of hand washing. In fact, according to the Minnesota Department of Agriculture, single use gloves are only effective if placed on properly washed hands and changed at appropriate times during the food operation. I told him to stop, change his gloves, and start my order again. He got upset, so I left without my order. Of course, I spoke to the manager first.

Another concern is the proliferation of hand sanitizer, which has become a substitute for hand washing. When used properly, hand sanitizers kill 99% of germs. But soap and water are still more effective than hand sanitizers at removing or inactivating certain kinds of germs, like Cryptosporidium, norovirus, and Clostridium difficile. Furthermore, according to the Canadian Medical Association Journal (CMAJ), hand sanitizers may increase the risk for outbreaks of highly contagious viruses.

“It’s widely recognized that improper use of antibiotics contributes greatly to the development and spread of super bugs in health care settings, but the link between hand sanitizers and bacterial resistance is less clear.”- Lauren Vogel CMAJ

However, according to microbiologist Stuart Levy of Tufts University School of Medicine, Antibacterial products leave residues where they are used. They linger and continue to kill the bacteria, but not effectively or randomly. The naturally stronger bacteria that survived the initial assault develop new defense mechanisms against the chemicals. This selection process gives rise to a new generation that is resistant to the offending compounds. (source)

I suspect Mr Levy is referring to alcohol-free antimicrobial hand sanitizers that are made with triclosan or povidone-iodine which, as shown in the video below, are ineffective at best.

In the following video, which aired in February 2013, ABC’s Dr. Richard Besser compares the best ways for killing germs, including E Coli.

So, in order for your hand sanitizer to be effective it has to be alcohol based (>63% alcohol), you must use enough to cover your hands, and you need to work it into your hands and let air dry for about 30 seconds.  Why not just wash your hands with soap and water?

How many times a day do you touch your face?

In a scene from Contagion (2011) Dr. Erin Mears (Kate Winslet) claims that the average person touches their face between two and three thousand times a day, or 2-5 times every waking minute.

According to researchers at the University of California at Berkeley, the reality is closer to 16 times an hour. That’s still a lot. Each time you touch your face, you’re transmitting whatever is on your fingers to your face. Touching your face with dirty hands, or cellphone, is the most common way to spread diseases like Influenza and Ebola.

We’ve become so reliant on quick fixes and magic bullets that we’ve forgotten the basics. I don’t mean for this to be a rant. I’m just curious how we’ve come to rely on these products that were only meant to be used in addition to, not in place of, good hygiene. And it’s kinda strange to me that, with all the paranoia over Ebola, people aren’t taking the simplest precaution.  Just 20 seconds of soap and water. If that’s all it takes, why not wash your hands??

For more info, check out the CDC Show Me The Science Hand Sanitizer vs Hand Washing and the CDC Guidelines to Washing Your Hands.

Seducing The Muse. …more like a desperate plea.

Did you miss me? Well I missed you too!

Sorry for my absence. I promise I have a good excuse though. Well, it’s mostly a good excuse. I’ve been fighting the forces of evil with a couple of groovy friends, a stoner, and a talking dog. What? What do you mean you don’t believe me? Yeah, well it sounded good in my head.

The truth is rather boring. I’ve been having technical difficulties.

The good news is that, after scrimping and saving, and doing more research than an undergrad studying for his finals, I bought a new laptop. Yay!

The bad news is that, a few hours after finishing the final draft of “What’s Going On“, my wandering rant about race in America, my two month old laptop got the dreaded ‘blue screen’.– NOOO! Not my baby! — Needless to say I was heartbroken. Fortunately, the remedy was relatively painless. Customer service could not have handled the situation better. The woman on the phone was able to remotely diagnose the trouble. I sent the laptop to the Texas care center on the Friday before Labor Day and received it back ten days later.

Yeah. I was surprised too.

The whole reason for the laptop was to encourage me to write more. I’m one of those people that have ideas flying through my head all day long but the moment I sit down in front of the computer… nothing. Then there’s the issue of my grammar, which needs improvement. I live in constant fear of the run-on sentence so I tend to drop commas every few words in the hope that a few land in their proper place.– Even a broken clock is correct twice a day. — The point is that I wanted to start putting thoughts to paper (screen?) and thought a laptop might make it a little easier.

In high school I loved creative writing. Of course, in high school, I had English teachers who gave us direction and deadlines and… Dickens! — Sorry. Then in tech school I got to let my imagination run free. Tech school was essentially an introduction to communications. We covered the basics of radio and television. The idea was to give you enough knowledge that upon graduation you could easily find an interning position or continue your education. My dream was editing for television so that’s where I focused my energy. My specialty was short subjects. I wrote a lot of commercials. My magnum opus was a hidden camera short where I pranked our instructor. The poor guy was the target of much of our humor. He was a good sport though. He never asked us to compromise our creativity, no matter how ill conceived our ideas. Our world would be a much better place if we had more teachers like Ed Gannon.

There’s truth to the old adage, “If you don’t use it you’ll lose it”.

It’s been a long while since I’ve had to engage my imagination on a regular basis. I’ve been so preoccupied with writing big and brilliant that I forgot a few basic rules. Write, write what you know, write some more and, for God’s sake, Keep It Simple Stupid! — KISS for short.

So, for me, the trick is to try to get in the habit of writing again. That’s what this meandering mess is: an exercise to get the juices flowing, an attempt to seduce my elusive muse, to just write whatever pops into my head at this particular moment. — Even if it means boring you all to death. 😉

Bubbling Anger, a plea for sanity.

Everyone is angry.

I’m sure that you have noticed.

We are all angrier than usual these days.

Everyone is talking.

Loudly.

No one is listening.

Eyes glaze over.

The volume increases.

The cacophony fades like static into the background

as we scream

and shout

desperately seeking to be heard.

But still

no one is listening.

It’s almost like we’re living in some alternate reality

created by Springer

and populated

almost entirely

with Mamma Grizzlies and gun crazy Hee Haws.

Self centered righteous indignation

leads to anger.

Anger breeds more anger.

No one is immune.

Even I have become angry.

It’s scary.

Sometimes I can’t identify the source of my anger.

That makes me uncomfortable because,

if I can’t determine the cause, I risk taking it out on the innocent.

And that is just not right.

So I withdraw

from life

from social interaction

just so I don’t inadvertently unleash my aggression on some poor unsuspecting soul.

Fresh air helps.

…a little.

Music helps.

…a little.

The political climate does not help.

…at all.

Everything

is blown out of proportion.

Everything

is a scandal.

Everything

is an emergency.

How are we to identify real crises when everything demands our immediate attention?

News is no longer balanced.

Facts are twisted.

No one reads past the headlines.

Everyone has an opinion based often, on assumptions.

Never mind discourse.

Never mind trying to understand

another point of view,

another person’s experience

Never mind accepting

another person’s existence.

There’s little common courtesy.

It’s my way or the highway.

If your opinion differs, then you are the enemy.

And every day we get more angry.

So stop!

Please.

Clear you mind.

Breathe.

Turn off the TV.

Put the phone away.

Power down the electronics.

And Listen.

Carefully.

Before

it’s too late.

It’s Been A Rough Week, So…

I thought I’d share a cute video by Steve J Boyle called “I Hit Send, or Modern Meltdown“. It’s a poetry reading about Steven’s first crush, post-coming-out.

Some of the language may not be appropriate for all audiences, but it’s adorably funny.

I figured a little light humor would be good thing after such an unbelievably bad week.

Enjoy!