Detour ahead

Life throws detours at you. Might as well just get used to that fact.

This morning we tried to get from Lawrenceville to the South Side for church. A few blocks away, we came to a barricade on Butler Street.

No problem for this yinzer. We’ll just zip down to Smallman and get around it. Another barricade on Smallman.

DIgging deep into my yinzer GPS, I decided to go old school and try the little alleys and backways. Barricades, barricades, barricades.

Eventually, our car ended up here.

photo-25

As any Pittsburgher knows, there are times you just have to say, “Yeah, you can’t get there from here.” All you can do is say, “Well played, 10K race!” Then you turn around and retrace your path back home.

Yesterday was another detour day. Got a call from my dad saying that my mom was about to go in for brain surgery.

That’s strange, I thought. I don’t remember hearing anything about this.

It was my dad’s stoic way of telling me that he had found my mom on the kitchen floor in a pool of blood that morning. She has bleeding on her brain and they are going in. Oh, and the doctor said it’s a pretty risky surgery that could result in paralysis or death. Talk about burying the lead.

Mom’s health has been deteriorating recently, but not in an easily diagnosable way. She’s had dizzy spells, falling, insomnia at night and sleeping all day, and just seeming out of it. She’s passed stroke tests with flying colors. And it seems more physical than an Alzheimer’s mental thing. They had an appointment to see both a sleep specialist and a neurologist. Then, Saturday happened.

The surgery was successful. Mom will be in the hospital for a week to 10 days. Then she’ll go to a rehab center. Beyond that, it’s all wait and see.

At first, I thought I’d go down later in the week, so I could use the weekend instead of vacation days. I also have a big sales presentation on Monday. I really wanted to vote in a key election on Tuesday. But a couple “mom friends” of mine both said, “As a mother, if you are not on a plane on Sunday, I’d be pissed!”

Jean also helped in my shock-and-awe state of decision making. “You only have one Mom. She could still get worse this week. Your dad wouldn’t ask for help if he lost both arms and legs. You should be there.”

detourLife throws detours at you. You have to roll with it. All your firm plans can change in one phone call. One moment, you are at the mall on a Saturday morning, with your whole week planned out; Sunday afternoon, you are on an airplane to Phoenix. Thanks for any thoughts and prayers you can send my way. I’ll update from the desert next week.

Things that go bump in the night

Day late and a Twix bar late with this post, but I was too exhausted last night. But I seem to remember a day when Halloween was not about sexy adult costumes and zombies and bar parties and office “dress-up.” It was about being truly scared.

I remember some friends who held their own haunted house every Halloween. It wasn’t the kind where people hid behind doors and shouted “boo!” when you walked by. It was more tactile. You went through it blindfolded. And you had to touch stuff. They would use things like raw meat (internal organs) and thick liquids (blood) with peeled grapes (eyeballs). As you went through with spooky sound effects in the background, you had to touch each item and guess what it was. It was gruesome and freaky.

cfhI remember old scary movies. On Friday and Saturday nights, WGN (then, only a Chicago station) had a show called Creature Features with old black-and-white monster movies. I think they also ran some of the Dark Shadows TV show. This was in the days when I still had an enforced bedtime. But on weekends, and especially when friends spent the night, we were allowed to stay up late watching these old movies down in the darkened basement.

Today, you don’t see these movies on the Top-whatever list of great horror movies. Most of these films were made back in the 40s, but we didn’t care. The masterful ways in which they used lighting and shadows in black and white films has been lost today. Even by the early seventies, on a little black-and-white TV, they could take you to some pretty dark places. Actors like Boris Karloff, Bela Lugosi, Lon Chaney Jr., and Vincent Price would don some make-up and hide in the shadows.

frankkarloff

Karloff, an English actor, is most known today for his narration on The Grinch Who Stole Christmas. But he earned that role by spending decades playing Frankenstein. He also played the Mummy, but he was even more menacing as the fez-wearing crypt-keeper of the Mummy.

Bela_Lugosi

Bela Lugosi as Dracula was a Hungarian actor, and probably part vampire himself. With Frankenstein’s flat head, scar, and neck bolts, and Dracula’s dark eyebrows and starched collar, both Lugosi and Karloff took what had been only descriptions in novels and brought them to life in ways that have pretty much become standard depictions of these characters ever since.

ChaneyPhantomoftheOperawolf man

Chaney played a great phantom of the opera — less of the tragic, romantic baritone, and more of the deranged psychopath — but I remember him more from his wolf man movies.

Some of these movies later included Abbott and Costello, who were always stumbling into danger without knowing it.

abbot

These movies were not big on blood and gore or the nudity you see in today’s horror films. They scared you by hiding in the shadows of black-and-white film and stalking you throughout the movie. Hey, it may have been the fact that I was ten years old, but these films were great. Plus, they were all the more scary when you stayed up late with friends and suddenly noticed every creak and groan that a house can make at that hour.

So you can have your Michael Myers and Freddie Krugers. I’ll take the old-time monsters every time.

Lies, damned lies, and statistics

Wouldn’t you know it. I was rousted from my fall blogging slumber by the lie machine that is Fox News.

“Hold on, just a minute there, young man,” you say, astutely judging both my gender and general age range. “Just because you’re a liberal-commie-pinko-MSNBC-watchin’-athiest doesn’t mean you have to constantly degrade the fine people who are fighting the good fight over there at Fox News.”

To that, I say it’s time for a little lesson on how exactly Fox News spins their web of biased deceit.

Just this past week, Fox News used this chart in their newscast. I would imagine it raised the ire of many a Fox News viewer.

Fox_welfare-jobs-ff-1

“That’s what I’m talking about,” you declare. “Look at it. That’s exactly what’s wrong with this damned country, right there in one chart! Why, it makes me want to go out and buy more gold from that nice Glenn Beck fella! Our Founding Fathers didn’t storm Normandy Beach in order to sign the Constitution just so a bunch of lazy, shifty welfare blood-suckers could take all the hard-earned money from those of us with our noses to the grindstone!”

But here’s the problem. When you deal primarily in rage and hate, you soon lose the ability to reason and to look at things with a healthy dose of skepticism.

Lie #1 — Scale

At first glance, it looks like there is a huge difference between those two bars. But look at how short the 101.7 million bar is. Now look at what a big difference an extra 7 million makes on the other bar. Yeah, out here in the real world, those numbers really aren’t very far apart at all.

Lie #2 — Source

Admittedly, to judge the source, you have to know something about how the census bureau collects data. As Media Matters points out, that 108.6 million figure is from participation in means-tested programs. That means it includes everyone in a household in which one or more people receive government benefits.  Thus, if there are 5 people in your household and 1 gets benefits, all five of you would go into that 108.6 million figure, even if four of you have full-time jobs. Conversely (and conveniently for Fox’s bias), the “people with a full-time job” figure only includes individuals with a job. Thus, if a household of five people is supported by one person with a job, only the one person is counted in the 101.7 figure.

Plus, many of those counted in the welfare number are children (as much as half), the disabled, or the elderly — people whom we wouldn’t expect to be holding down a full-time job. But Fox News sure expects that. Moochers.

Lie #3 — Non-exclusiveness

These are not mutually exclusive groups, as the graph would suggest. There are plenty of people– more and more these days — who work full-time, minimum-wage jobs at McDonald’s or WalMart or Taco Bell who also depend on assistance such as food stamps, rent assistance, or other forms of aid.

The people at Fox News are many things, but stupid is not among them. They know all these things. But they really don’t care if a graph can help them to stigmatize poor people and gin up support for gutting the safety net.

And while they are welcome to their political bent and opinions, the big problem here is that this kind of thing is passed off as hard news, fact, truth, fair and balanced. When it’s not. It’s not even close.

Of course, this type of post is probably just a waste of time. For most of you, I’m just preaching to the choir and saying things you already know. For others of you, I’m just taking pot shots at people who are doing God’s work. This was just one instance. Why get worked up about it?

fox graph

Only Fox can survey 120% of the American public. No wonder they thought Romney won the election.

Here’s one telling you how much Obama has raised the price of gas.

fox gas

“Damn that Obama!” Of course, they are hoping you don’t notice that the time period between Last Year and Last Week is equal to the time between Last Week and Current. But what is not so easy to see is what happened in between those points. Here is the same data as plotted on the green line by AAA, the source.

AAA

That’s totally the same thing, right?

People used to depend on the news to tell the truth and put things into a proper context. Now, we really just want the news to tell us what we want to hear and to blame those we want to blame.

Thus, I say, our country’s dysfunction and polarization is not entirely Congress’ fault. In fact, here’s the result of my study…

funny graph

Numbers iz hard.

The loneliest metaphor

planet2A planet has been found. Don’t you love it when we discover a new planet? This lonely sphere has the catchy name PSO J318.5-22. It looks cool (at least according to these artist’s renderings) and has some interesting qualities that would make it a great metaphor for something. If only there were some prominent news story for which this little guy could serve as a useful metaphor. Here are some of its qualities…

→ It has no host star, no orbit, no path. It’s just wandering out there through space. Scientists call these bodies “rogue planets.”

→ Scientists believe that this one was probably kicked out of a star system at some time.

→ It’s made up of mostly gas, or hot air.

→ It’s now drifting out there, all alone. As one researcher said, “It has all the characteristics of young planets found around other stars, but it is drifting out there all alone. I had often wondered if such solitary objects exist, and now we know they do.”

→ It will be easy to study in the coming years because researchers won’t have to contend with the brightness of a nearby star.

planet1→ It was found by scientists who were studying and searching for failed stars, or brown dwarfs.

→ This one was discovered because it was very red. Redder than even the reddest known brown dwarfs. IT IS VERY RED, PEOPLE!

→ According to the London Daily Mail (I swear I did not doctor this): “It’s movement isn’t structured, scientists do not understand how it formed and they are baffled by what — if anything — controls it.”

Wandering without a path, rogue-like. Rejected by more respected galaxies. Made up of hot air. Out of control. Redder than red. Unencumbered by brightness. Nowhere close to a star.

Oh science. Will you never cease to amaze us with your life lessons and wisdom?

Hey, maybe we can end that government shutdown thing by wishing upon a star, if only we had one.

The party of presidential assassination

I’m starting to think that the Republicans have it out for the president. “Duh!” you say. Wait, I’m not talking about Obama. I’m talking about the White House. I’m talking about the office of the presidency. I’m beginning to think that Republicans are throwing in the towel regarding ever again winning a national election. Now, they seem to be all about neutering the oval office and ruling the country from the safe confines of the House of Representatives.

gop votersAfter the last failed attempt at the presidency, the GOP did some soul searching. They had just lost the popular vote in 5 of the last 6 national elections. Their exhaustive study, optimistically called the Growth and Opportunity Project, came up with two major lessons the GOP had to learn if it ever wanted back in the White House:

1) “The Republican Party needs to stop talking to itself. We have become expert in how to provide ideological reinforcement to like-minded people, but devastatingly we have lost the ability to be persuasive with, or welcoming to, those who do not agree with us on every issue.”

2) “[A]mong the steps Republicans take in the Hispanic community and beyond, we must embrace and champion comprehensive immigration reform. If we do not, our Party’s appeal will continue to shrink to its core constituencies only.”

Initially, they were all excited about making the prescribed changes. There was eager talk about immigration reform and of efforts to reach out to women and minorities. Now, with midterms in the cross hairs, these prescriptions are lying trampled in the streets like New Orleans on Ash Wednesday. Instead, they have doubled down on becoming the party of white men for white men, serving the needs of white men. First, they killed immigration reform. Next, they successfully gutted the Voting Rights Act and passed legislation across the country severely curtailing women’s access to reproductive healthcare. Finally, House Republicans delinked the farm bill from the food stamp program in order to more easily hollow out federal nutrition assistance, all while lavishing farmers and corporate ag interests with huge subsidies.

Now they’ve set their sites on the crown jewel: Obamacare. They firmly believe the law is unpopular. They ignore the fact that a good portion of those against it are those from the Left who prefer a single-payer system. They also ignore the fact that it depends on how the question is asked. If you ask about the actual parts of the law, things like access to preventative screening, no denials for preexisting conditions, and such, it is extremely popular. It only becomes unpopular when you call it Obamacare or ask people if they are “for or against an egregious expansion of government power into their healthcare.” Still, there is no getting around the fact that the law is especially unpopular amongst white men .

But make no mistake, this D.C. showdown is about more than just Obamacare. It’s far more insidious than that. This seems to be a Republican attempt to completely disempower the office of this president and of all future presidents. The GOP knows that if they can use the country’s financial purse strings to bring a president to his knees and negotiate away unpopular initiatives (even if they’ve been voted on by the people, passed as law, and upheld by the Supreme Court), they can basically rule the country from their safe and secure gerrymandered districts.

That’s why this stalemate is about much more than just trying to kick-start a negotiation about Obamacare. It’s essentially a Tea Party coup, an attempt to grab the reins of power without having to compromise a single principle by appealing to voters or working on legislation.

GOP messageOf course, it’s also doomed to failure. It’s doomed because their rabid base is an ever shrinking section of pie. It’s doomed because at some point, they will begin to devour their own, as coups are want to do. They will devour their own because their aging base is also becoming more and more dependent on government through Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, food stamps, and disability payments. Solidly red states use way more of these programs than blue states do. It’s also doomed because the GOP is mortgaging their future in the thin hopes of winning the next election. If this trend didn’t change after two Obama victories, I don’t see it ever changing.

hostage_1_500_350The Republicans have a hostage they really don’t want to kill. They have nothing else to offer the president. They certainly aren’t going to offer policy issues like gun control, immigration reform, or tax increases in exchange for Obamacare deimplimentation. (Not that Obama would agree to that.) Thus, their only play is to kill the hostage, which will severely impact their own base, even if their base hasn’t made the connection yet.

The GOP is about to slow-motion implode. It would be enjoyable to watch if people weren’t already suffering as a result.

A summer fling

21Pittsburgh’s summer Bromance with the boys of summer has gloriously extended into October. Nobody saw this coming. Nobody.

Last spring, we were putting our shaky hopes into the winning-record-basket, but we certainly weren’t betting the mortgage on it. Even yours truly, who has looked at the Pirates through rose-tinted glasses the past few years, even I thought the Pirates might take a small step backward this year. I didn’t believe that Burnett could bring it again at his age. I didn’t believe in Francisco Liriano, a post-Tommy John surgery free agent who broke his arm at home in the off-season. I didn’t believe a new .240-hitting catcher would make that big a difference. I didn’t believe in Jason Grilli as a closer to replace Hanrahan. And I was beginning to think that Pedro Alvarez might just be a bust.

Then, summer happened. And as the calendar turned to September, the Pirates refused to turn into pumpkins, as they had in seasons past. They just kept on winning. And this city revealed itself to be a true baseball town, waking up after a two-decade-long hibernation. And you know what happens after you wake up from hibernation? You are ravenously hungry.

I have been a baseball fan since 1969, when Ernie Banks, Ron Santo, Ferguson Jenkins, Billy Williams and the rest of the Chicago Cubs were in first place for 155 games before losing 17 of their last 25 and allowing the Miracle Mets to pass them by. You never forget your first heartbreak, even at age 7. Especially at age 7. Since then, I can count on one hand the number of times a baseball team I cheered for has played in the postseason. And for the most part, those postseasons have been houses of horror.

Gack!

Gack!

There was 1984, when Leon Durham let a dribbler through his legs and the Padres (the frigging Padres!) came back from down 0-2 to win the last 3 games and go on to the World Series. I still have a gag reflex whenever I see Steve Garvey or those brown, gold, and red uniforms that made their players look like Taco Bell employees.

There were other brief and failed appearances by the Cubs against the Giants and Braves. And then came 2003, when the Cubs were 6 outs away from the World Series and fan-boy Steve Bartman interfered with Moises Alou’s attempt to catch a foul ball. The Cubs proceeded to lose their water, the game, and the next game, and the Marlins (the frigging Marlins!) went on to the World Series.

My baseball playoff history is the stuff of nightmares. My World Series history is non-existent. Oh, I went to a World Series game between the Diamondbacks and Yankees in 2001 (one month after 9/11), but I really didn’t have a horse in that race. I watched the White Sox (the frigging White Sox!) win the 2005 World Series by sweeping the Astros. It was all just salt in the long-festering wound.

But this year is different. I can honestly say that this is my favorite baseball season ever. Mostly because it was unexpected. But also because of the way Pittsburgh fell back in love with baseball and the Buccos. We nonchalantly passed the 82-win mark in early September. We battled for the division lead before settling for a Wild Card spot. We entered the dreaded one-game playoff and all the critics said that the Pirates were just happy to be here. And we won. Decisively.

We entered the divisional round and got killed in the first game 9-1. Once again, the critics said the Pirates were just happy to be here. That this was as far as it would go. Then we came back and won game 2 just as decisively… in St. Louis. Then we came home and won game 3.

I headed out to game 4 hoping for some real baseball magic. I was pretty confident that the Buccos would wrap this up at home and win the series and I would be there.

It was a beautiful fall day. The temps had dropped around 30 degrees from game 3 the day before. This was fall baseball.

PNC playoffs

The crowd was huge. It would set an attendance record by four people. I think they are dribbling out a few more SRO tickets each game to set a new record each time. That’s cool. I’m assuming we were 2 of the four that set the record. The only tickets I could get were standing room only. On the plus side, they were cheap. I didn’t have to plunk down $75 per seat. As soon as I got there, I paid homage to the statue of Willie Stargell and began to look for a good place to camp out.

stargell

I could tell that getting a good spot to watch the game was going to be rough. The rotunda was already filling up and about 3 people deep. I knew that Jean wouldn’t be able to see. The crowd was ready for a heavy weight bout, or a rock concert. Forty thousand-plus were absolutely out of their minds. I think it was the closest I will ever come to experiencing what an English soccer game must be like. They were ready to explode at any moment and were hanging on every pitch.

PNC crowd

Lucky for me, Jean had a stroke of Jean-ius! She came from work and proceeded directly to the Rivertowne Brewing restaurant directly below the scoreboard. They have an outside observation deck where Jean had grabbed a table. She called me and I hauled my booty there. Again, genius. We had seats and they brought food and beer directly to us! No waiting in line. And how about the view!

PNC view

We stayed there the entire game, although we were still standing with everyone else for most of the game. It was chilly. There was a stiff and constant gale blowing from home plate straight at us. But we were bundled up and comfortable. Jean even had her own personal heater, which looks a lot warmer than it actually was.

jean heat

Of course, the magic never quite materialized. But the crowd never gave up hope. They cheered. They sang. They beat the shit out of that stadium as a rhythm section to the cheering. As I said before, they were locked and loaded to go completely bonkers. They had one opportunity when Pedro homered. And the ninth inning was deafening. All we wanted was a chance, which we got when McCutchen came to the plate with two outs and the tying run on first. A part of me truly thought he was going to jack a walk-off blast that would break the stadium. But, alas, his bat was just an inch too low and he popped it up. With that, the crowd went from totally insane to “let’s go home” in a matter of seconds.

But here’s the thing about my favorite baseball season ever… there’s no heartbreak this year. Sure, we could lose tonight. Sure, it will be sad to see it end. But it doesn’t diminish from the epic ride it has been. And this team tends to come up big just when you think they can’t. It would be just like this team to pull one out tonight and keep this fling going a couple more weeks. Isn’t it something for it to be the second week of October, and people for the most part couldn’t care less about football? It’s all about the Buccos!

So don’t give up hope for tonight. The sun hasn’t yet set on the Pirates’ season. If this is as far as it goes, it’s been a magical summer. If they keep it going tonight, my favorite baseball season ever will have gone to a whole new level. Let’s go Bucs!

Flag 2

Friendly fire in the hole!

No, I didn’t blow up the old blog. It’s just a little tattered from lack of use lately.

Dr-Stangelove-001But from the “I can’t believe this isn’t a bigger story” file, I recently read about how we almost blew up North Carolina. And while I suspect that there are some who wouldn’t mind seeing them wiped off the map today — what with their recent legislative agenda aimed at suppressing the rights of voters, women, and the poor — I think we can agree that nuking them into oblivion seems a little harsh.

But back in January 1961, just 3 days after JFK’s inaugural address, and a little more than a year before yours truly burst upon this mortal coil, a B-52 bomber began to break up over the tar heel state. As a result, two Mark 39 hydrogen bombs were accidentally dropped over Goldsboro. Each bomb carried a payload of 4 megatons – the equivalent of 4 million tons of TNT. If you’re keeping score at home, that is 260 times more powerful than the bomb at Hiroshima. Had the device detonated, lethal fallout would have been deposited over Washington, Baltimore, Philadelphia and as far north as New York city – putting millions of lives at risk.

One of the Goldsboro bombs.

One of the Goldsboro bombs

The released bombs performed exactly as designed. Their parachutes engaged and their triggers were activated. Three of the four safety mechanisms designed to prevent unintended detonation failed. When the bomb hit the ground, a firing signal was sent to the nuclear core of the device and it was only the fourth fail-safe, a low-voltage switch, that prevented a big boom.

We know this not because the government felt that enough time had passed for them to fess up and do the right thing, but because investigative journalist Eric Schlosser filed a request to release the files under the Freedom of Information Act. As a result of the requests, he discovered that at least 700 “significant” accidents and incidents involving 1,250 nuclear weapons were recorded between 1950 and 1968 alone. Imagine what’s in the files that have not been released yet.

Thus, not only is the U.S. the only country to have used nuclear weapons against a foreign foe, but now we also know that nobody has ever come closer to nuking the U.S. than we have ourselves, thank you very much.

For the record, the government claims that at no time was the U.S. public ever in danger from any of these events. Ooooooookay.

So what do you think? Is this valuable information to have, even though it was more than 50 years ago? Or is ignorance bliss, and maybe it would be better not to know stuff like this, since what good does it do us now? Surely the military never makes mistakes like that anymore, right?

And surely our own government wouldn’t have any more ideas about blowing up our own country and economy, right congressional Republicans?

Are you handling it well?

Life’s been pretty heavy lately. Not for me directly, but for people around me, and sometimes that makes it worse.

My own problems are more like what birthday boy Louis CK would call “White People Problems.”

louis CK white people

Love me some Louis CK. His comedy is brilliant, though it never fails to cross the cringe line at some point. I think he feels he hasn’t done his job if he hasn’t offended everyone listening at some point in his act.

My problems at this point would definitely fall under the “white people problems” category. Why do I have to keep resetting my WiFi signal? Why doesn’t it just stay on? Why do they keep putting dumpsters on my street so that I have to park a block away from my house? Do you know how hard it is to walk a block!? Why, when it gets hot, does my front entryway smell like cat piss when cats haven’t lived in my house for a good seven-and-a-half years? Why do I have to extend every show I record on my DVR by a minute or else it cuts off the final 30 seconds, which can be disastrous? My favorite coffee shop closed down for 6 weeks and it is throwing off my entire commute!

Nobody knows the trouble I seen….

But seriously. There are people around me going through heartache and trial. My friend at work, Bethany, is 27. She’s worked at our company for 10 years. She’s just this bubbly Korean girl who was adopted into a great family. Five weeks ago, she was fine. Four weeks ago, she had abdominal pains. Three weeks ago, they told her that she is full of cancer. Everywhere. Yesterday, she was moved to hospice, because there’s really nothing more they can do. They’ve turned her pain meds all the way up. She probably has a few weeks left, if that. Oh, and earlier this year, her parents lost their home to mine subsidence and they are living with friends as they start to rebuild.

And the whole Tammy saga has been a roller coaster with more downs than ups. Turns out, it is surprisingly hard to get a bartending job. They are few and most bars either hire people they know or they have a specific “type” they are looking for — young, pretty, hot, hipster, punk, etc.  She’s gone for some waitress jobs but she doesn’t have much experience with that on her resume. I also have this feeling that as soon as any job hits Craigslist, there are fifty people going for it that day. There are tons of jobs out there for cooks. She had one bite but the people kind of lied to her about what she would make. They only paid her $2 an hour and the tips were way less than she was led to believe. It was almost costing her money to work there. She’s having to revert to jobs she was trying to get out of. Life doesn’t always have Disney-esque happy endings, and not every problem has a “solution.”

Patti works around the corner from me. This past August, her daughter died. Last weekend, her son-in-law, a cop on disability leave, shot and killed a guy in a Bloomfield bar. “He’s going away for life,” she told me, matter-of-factly. The guy is married to her other daughter and has two grade-school-aged kids. Patti has that thousand-yard stare of a Vietnam vet.

handleWhen you see people go through stuff like that, inevitably you hear a common phrase: “God will never give you more than you can handle.”

I think that’s a bunch of crap. It’s not from the Bible and it’s not true. I think it comes from a verse claiming that God will never tempt you beyond what you can endure (1 Cor. 10:13). But that’s about overcoming temptation; it’s not about facing the slog of trial and struggle that life throws at you. It sure seems like all bets are off when it comes to the heartbreak of life. And statements like that are damaging for two reasons.

  1. If we could handle everything thrown at us on our own, we’d never have a need for God, or anybody else.
  2. It shames people who are struggling and not “handling” it. To them, it says, “Well, if you can’t handle your struggles, there must be something wrong with you, because you’re supposed to be able to handle it.”

I’ve heard it said that “White Privilege” is assuming that your experience of the world applies to everybody else. In other words, if you’ve never been discriminated against in applying for a job, you probably don’t think that discrimination is that big of a problem. If you’ve never struggled to put food on the table, you probably don’t think that hunger is that big of a problem. If you’ve never been laid off or unemployed for long stretches of time, you probably think that it’s pretty easy to get a job. If you’ve never been openly judged because of your race or gender or age or disability or sexual orientation or whatever, you probably don’t think that those things are big problems, either. Those are just some of the ways we project our own experience of the world onto others. And it keeps us from empathizing with them. It keeps us from being as compassionate as we could be.

Of course, at the other end of the spectrum are those of us who have become so cynical about life’s problems that we’ve given up hope. You don’t want to go there, either.

louis CK nice

I choose to remain an optimist, but not so much of one that I fail to recognize life falling apart around me.

So. if your life is mainly filled with “white people problems” that make you grumble about little things, because that’s all there is… thank your lucky stars. Be grateful. Breathe deep, because someday you may (will) face some real issues. And keep your eyes open with compassion for those around you who are in valley of despair today. I promise you, they are all around you, but you can’t see them because of your disastrous DVR problems.

82. It matters.

champagne-pittsburgh1I know I’m about 24 hours late here, but I was surprised at how satisfying it felt to see the Buccos nail down their 82nd W yesterday. I’ve only been here for about 40 percent of the record setting (in all 4 sports!) 21-year losing streak. but in the past 8 years, the curse has seemed to settle heavier and heavier over Pirate baseball each year.

And after the near misses caused by August and September the past two seasons, I was beginning to have my doubts that this group would do it. Don’t get me wrong, I love me some Hurdle and Cutch and Marte, but I was doubting the development of Alvarez and Burnett wasn’t getting any younger and our big off-season move was a catcher?

That’s why I don’t make a living in baseball. The Pirates took over baseball this year to such an extent that the winning season became inevitable in June. As we watch the standings and try to remember how to calculate a magic number and what it means, all we can think of is making the playoffs — something that seemed a pipe dream last Spring. The winning season just wasn’t that big a deal.

Then, last night, we hit it and you could almost feel the weight lifting off this baseball city. For perspective, let’s remember what was going on the last time the Pirates finished above .500 — the day this happened.

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It was October 14, 1992.

George H. W. Bush was in his final month as President.

Gerrit Cole was four days old.

This was on the newsstand…

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This was the top movie:

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Ross Perot was running for President. A week earlier, Dan Quayle and Al Gore faced off in a presidential debate.

Howard Stern’s TV show premiered that week.

Madonna, who was promoting a coffee table sex book, criticized Sinead O’Connor for ripping up a photo of the Pope on Saturday Night Live.

The three highest-rated TV shows were Roseanne, Murphy Brown, and Coach.

Garth Brooks had the best-selling album, but Boyz II Men had the #1 song.

The was the Dream Team that year.

LEAD Technologies Inc. V1.01

Charles Barkley was skinny, y’all.

And the Steelers would go 11-5 with Neil O’Donnell at QB and leading rusher Barry Foster.

That’s a lot of water under the bridge. But now it’s done.

82 wins matters, after all. The losing is over.

The monkey is off our back.

The curse is buried. Good riddance.

Now, it’s World Series or bust.

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The future is happening in Pittsburgh

bttfBack in the 1970s, I think we all assumed that certainly there’d be flying cars by 2013, if soylent green hadn’t taken over. Okay, so innovation has not really kept up with the imagination of Back to the Future. The improvements in automobile technology in the past 40 years has mainly been in the areas of gas mileage, GPS, anti-lock breaking, air bags, and mini-van movie screens. Oh, and advanced cup holder technology? We haz it.

While most of the futuristic movies (from Back to the Future to Blade Runner to The Fifth Element to Total Recall to The Jetsons) all assumed that cars would fly one day, what they missed on was their assumption that a human being would still have to be behind the wheel. The real future is not in flying cars (well, maybe long after we’re all gone) but in driverless cars. No more drunk drivers. No more texting while driving. No turning the wrong way down a one-way street. No more high-speed police chases. You just get in your car, kick back, and read a book or watch a movie or take a nap, while a computer does all the heavy lifting. And it turns out that this kind of innovation is not coming from Detroit or Tokyo or Berlin or even Silicon Valley. No, it’s coming from Pittsburgh, and faster than you think.

srxcaddy_300x250Yesterday was sort of the Kitty Hawk moment for driverless cars, as the brainiac mad scientists from Carnegie Mellon demonstrated that their driverless car — a very normal looking 2011 Cadillac SRX — could negotiate congestion and highway traffic while safely changing lanes and merging during a challenging 33-mile drive from Cranberry, Pa., to Pittsburgh International Airport. And there were no crash test dummies riding inside. The white-knuckled passengers were U.S. Rep. Bill Shuster (R-Pa), chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, and Barry Schoch, secretary of the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation. A human was in the driver’s seat as a safety precaution, but all of the driving was done by Carnegie Mellon’s innovative software, relying on inputs from radars, lidars (is that a thing?), and infrared cameras.

srxinterior_350x200In addition to controlling the steering, speed and braking, the computers also detect and avoid obstacles in the road, including traffic cones and barrels, as well as pedestrians and bicyclists, pausing until they are safely out of the way. The systems provide audible warnings of obstacles and communicate vehicle status to its passengers using a “human-like” voice. This Cadillac SRX also can communicate with instrumented traffic lights and other vehicles equipped with wireless communication devices to enable cooperation.

No word on whether it can lay on the horn, ride the bumpers of cars that cut it off, or flip the occasional bird to moronic driverless cars around it with sub-par operating systems.

Raj Rajkumar, who directs CMU’s U.S. Department of Transportation-funded transportation research center, says the main goal of CMU’s driverless car is to reduce accidents, thereby decreasing injuries and fatalities. “The car’s electronics are simply more reliable than people and will protect drivers from their own bad behavior as well as those of others, such as drinking or texting,” More than 40,000 Americans lose their lives each year in traffic accidents. Rajkumar suggests that self-driving vehicles will begin to be commercially available around 2020 as near-term costs as well as social and legal concerns are addressed. In other words, the insurance companies have to decide who will be liable when a car’s computer gets a virus and plows into a house. Details, details….

I know there are a lot of people out there who actually enjoy the activity of driving. I imagine that there will be the opportunity for human override as this technology is unveiled. But doesn’t that defeat their purpose? And can you imagine those cross-country trips where the people are sleeping in every car you pass? How weird is that going to be? motorolabagphone2I guess it will be no weirder than it was in the 1980s to see someone talking on phones in their cars. Ah yes, that there Motorola bag phone was some pretty freaky Buck Rogers shit in its day.

So what do you think? Do you embrace the future? Bring on the computers! I can play Words with Friends all the way to work!

Or are you going to go there kicking and screaming and demanding your right to be able to change lanes abruptly and without signaling…? Because this is America, damn it!

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