Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Gah!

Sorry this is so late.  Things have been bat$#!+ crazy as we get ready for the holidays.  Practicing for an octet number for the Christmas Eve service; buying / wrapping /  mailing the presents; filling out the cards and getting them off in time; decorating the house, decorating the tree, etc., etc., etc.

It's been nuts.

I'm close to being done.  All that's left is putting together the fresh food items for Christmas dinner and it's still a touch early for all that just yet.  Soon, though.

All this trouble.  And me an unbeliever.

Happy Holidays, no matter what you celebrate.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Campus Rape at U.Va.

I am a graduate of the University of Virginia.  I graduated in 1976 after receiving Bachelor of Arts degrees in History and Drama.  I was in the minority of students who did not participate in "Greek life."  I did not join a fraternity, but I'm ashamed to say that it was not for lack of trying.  See, when I first attended U.Va. they were in the process of transitioning from an all-male school to a coeducational institution.  There had never been enough dormitory space, and even off-campus apartments were at a premium.  The tradition was that most young men joined a fraternity during their first year at school, and lived at the frat house during their second year (sophomore year to everybody else, but at U.Va. there are no freshmen, sophomores, etc.  Students are First Year, Second Year and so on.)  By the third year, students would take over the lease of a graduating fraternity brother and live in that inherited apartment until graduation.

When I realized that there were very few options, I rushed one of the fraternities.  Most of them were located on one street near the main campus.  Purely through coincidence the fraternity that offered me a bid also offered bids to the majority of men on my dorm floor.  I should have seen the trouble coming right there.

I freely admit that I was not a popular guy in college, at least not at first.  I was a scholarship student and was about as poor as I could be.  I did not realize that, at least during my first year, the tradition was  that men wore a coat and tie to class.  I owned one sport jacket, and two ties.  I took a lot of grief for wearing the same clothes again and again.  Also, on the day I left for university my parents admitted to me that they had taken the money from my savings account and that I had almost no cash for school.  My father had also neglected to enroll me in the school meal plan, so I had no food, no means, and no money to enroll in it myself.  I took a part-time job as soon as I could find one and ate in the dorm.  I ate whatever I could afford -- it wasn't much -- and subsisting on care packages from my grandmother.  I also caught serious grief from my hallmates about that.

So it should have come as no surprise when one afternoon in May, just before the end of the school year, my Resident Adviser, my "big brother" (my sponsor at the fraternity) and the fraternity president all showed up at my room to inform me that in the final admissions vote of the year at the frat, I had been blackballed from joining.  I had the dubious honor of being the first pledge ever to do so.  The blackballer(?) was a graduating senior from my home state of New Jersey who did not know me, and would never have had to live with me or deal with me.  I sometimes wonder if he had been put up to it because there would be no way for me to pursue it.  That, or maybe he was just a douche.

At any rate, I found myself with no place to live and with less than two weeks to find something before I had to leave town for the summer.  Somehow I found a vacant rathole apartment in a former rooming house that had been built in 1854.  The rooming house was nicknamed "Roach Haven" by its residents and for $55 per month I got to live in a slant-floored bedroom and to share a single toilet and shower with six other residents who found themselves in similar straights.

And it was the best thing that could have happened to me.

Greek culture at U.Va. by then was abhorrent to me.  I had gone along with it because I needed a place to live but I was not then and am not now the kind of guy who hangs out with his "brothers" and drinks beer and watches sports.  I learned later that some of the other brothers were pretty pissed off at the guy who blackballed me, because they desperately wanted my 4.0 grades to boost the House average.  But for some reason he would not be moved, and I am grateful to him.

During my pledge year I was never privy to any sexual misconduct at my own fraternity, but I heard stories.  U.Va. even then had a reputation as a party school and as a school with a lot of alcohol abuse.  So I was unsurprised to learn that the following article was recently published in Rolling StoneA Rape On Campus

I am deeply saddened to learn that not much has changed since I graduated.  I believe that the University then as well as now has an attraction for a certain kind of person.  Fraternity life at the university then suited this type of sexist, entitled personality to a T.  I say this because my one indirect experience with date rape occurred, not at a fraternity, but in a neighboring dorm.  During my first year I was visited by a high school classmate who was attending Mary Washington College.  At that time, Mary Washington was an all-female college and was considered a sister school to the recently-all-male U.Va.  It was a surprise visit and I had prior plans that I could not change, so my friend went off with her roommate, who had come with her to Charlottesville.  The two of them visited a friend of the roommate, whose entire floor in a neighboring dorm was having a party.  At that party, the roommate and her U.Va. friend lost track of my classmate.  My friend was drugged and raped in the dorm.  I did not learn of this until the following Sunday morning.  It was reported to the authorities but to my knowledge nothing was done about it.  My friend left Mary Washington after that semester and shortly afterwards severed ties with me because the memory was too painful for her.  To the best of my knowledge, the guilty party was not punished.  In fact, when I sought advice from my Resident Advisor, I was told that this young man came from an old and wealthy Virginia family and that no good would come of pursuing charges.  The man was confronted by several of his hallmates, though, and he ultimately elected to leave the University "under a cloud," as the expression went.  While I was glad to see the back of him, I regret not doing more to see that he was punished for his crime.  That the culture of rape and alcohol in Greek life and at U.Va. in general has not changed much in the last 38 years is a source of great personal pain.

Even greater is the pain that I still have from my failure to change my plans that night so I could stay with my friend.  It's the one thing in my past that I truly wish I could change.  It is a regret that has colored a great deal of my life, and continues to do so by the mere fact that how this incident affected me is NOTHING compared to how it affected the life of my one-time friend.

She and I briefly spoke after 20 years at a high school reunion.  My friend indicated that she had no hard feelings or blame for me, but neither did she spend any time with me after those few exchanged sentences.  I expect the association was still too painful.  

I have never seen or spoken with her again.  

And it kills me to learn that absolutely nothing has changed at the University of Virginia.

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Guys: "No" means NO!!!

So.  Last night, my daughter finally came out of her shell long enough to come with her mother and me to a fundraiser at our church.  The annual Auction.  Instead of just spending the evening with her old fart parents, she reconnected with some friends her age whom she had not seen in a few years.  All was going well.

Then some asshole, not someone in her circle of friends, came over with his phone.  He asked if any of the girls wanted to see a baby animal.  Of course, they said "yes" and he showed them some cute picture.  Then in a creepy sort of voice, according to my daughter, he asked if they wanted "to see where it came from?"  My daughter, who is no dummy, saw what was probably coming and said, "No."

He grabbed her and shoved the phone at her so she could see his stupid video of animals mating.

Now my daughter is a pretty modest kid.  She always has been.  And church for her, even though she's an atheist like her old man, has always been a place where she could feel safe.  That all changed last night.

Her reaction to this incident was somewhat out of proportion to the circumstances, but not unreasonable, especially not when you consider that in her freshman year of college she had what in polite society used to be called a "bad sexual experience."  Her first serious boyfriend at college turned out to be an abusive, controlling, possessive thug.  So grabbing her and forcing something on her to which she had already said "no" triggered all of her insecurities and anxieties.  When I finally realized that something was wrong, I got her out of there and took her home.  She was tearful, and shaking, and clearly very, very upset.  She settled down almost immediately when we were in the car and was almost normal by time I got her home.

But now a place where she always felt safe has been crossed off of that list for her, perhaps forever.

Men, I cannot stress this strongly enough:  When a woman says "no" to you, you cannot ignore her.  Period.  You don't know what her story might be, and frankly, you don't need to know.  The "no" is enough for you to stop.  Always.  Add to that the basic fact of the Golden Rule and damn it, you just have to treat her the way you yourself would want to be treated.  Or your mother to be treated.  Or your sister.  Or your grandmother.

I don't know who did this to her.  She won't spill, and I hope for her sake that I never find out.  Because  he and I will have words.

And I don't know that I will listen to him when he says "no."

Sunday, November 2, 2014

The Time Change: An Encore

The following is an encore of my rant against the switch to Daylight Saving Time last spring.  I equally hate switching back.  WE NEED TO PICK ONE TIME SET, AND STICK WITH IT.  We're not idiots.  It's time to prove it.

The more you know about why we change our clocks twice each year...the more you'll hate it.

I'm usually set off into a major rant by this thanks to the switch back and forth with Daylight Saving Time (and yes, it's "Saving," not "Savings.")  I've always hated it and thought it was a stupid idea.  Sadly, we humans are essentially sheep who keep doing the same dumb thing over and over again because it has become habit.  Nowhere is this more true than with the semiannual switch between standards of time.

As a kid growing up, I heard all the reasons for it; reasons which all turned out to be wrong.  That the switch was to accommodate farm schedules and give farmers "an extra hour of daylight" in which to tend crops.  That it was to create energy savings in time of oil crises.  And every single reason I ever heard as to why we had to do this idiotic thing to ourselves twice a year is complete bull.

(Yeah, I'll get my hoe ready.  So I can shove it up your....)

I will spare you all the Wikipedia entry -- you can go read that for yourselves -- but the short version is that Daylight Saving Time was instituted in the 19th Century because of the independent efforts of two men.  One was an entomologist in New Zealand who wanted the extra daylight to hunt bugs for his collection after his workday was over.  The other was a builder in London who wanted more time for golf after work since dusk came too soon to suit him.

That's it.  That's why millions of people blindly put up with this crap every year.  Bugs and golf.

Bugs.  And.  Golf.

Early studies showing substantial energy savings turn out to be flawed.  If there are any savings at all -- and studies disagree even on that point -- those savings are in the neighborhood of less than one percent.  In fact, in 2000, parts of Australia began DST in late winter and promptly found that overall electricity consumption did not decrease.  Instead, the morning peak load and electricity prices both increased.  And it turns out that the majority of those farmers in whose name we do this stupidity hate it.  Absolutely hate it.

Just to be absolutely clear on a purely scientific point -- changing the clocks does not give us an "extra hour of daylight."  Our changing a clock does not make the sun stay in the sky for an extra hour.  The sun shines when the sun shines.  Which is why farmers are not fans of DST.  Farmers were never responsible for it.  No other profession works more with the sun itself -- not some arbitrary number on a dial -- than farmers.  They go out when there's light and work until it gets dark.  Period.  The time change has nothing to do with harvests or crop tending or anything else.  And changing their clocks and their schedule to deal with the rest of us who do change our clocks is a huge inconvenience for these selfsame farmers.  It's a big ol' nuisance for them.

Bugs and golf.

I never thought I'd admire the state of Arizona for anything.  I find their laws concerning immigration, and their statewide reluctance to recognize Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s holiday, and just their overall conservatism offensive.  But I have to admire them for getting rid of DST over 40 years ago.  And the way they did it was genius.  They countered stupid reasons with their own stupid reason:  that DST gave them, not an extra hour of light, but an extra hour of DESERT HEAT, which was burdensome to their population.  So the federal government granted them an exemption.  Genius.

So while I can't believe this sentence is coming out of me -- we can all learn a lot from Arizona.  Get rid of the time change.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Oh, For C#®!$+'s Sake!

This is going to be a very politically incorrect rant.  You have been warned.

It's no secret that more and more I really, really, really dislike Facebook.  One reason I dislike it so much is one I haven't shared yet:  it's the soapbox platform that Facebook gives to people that otherwise I like and respect.  This is what set me off today:


There is an assumption here that "of course all of my friends will agree with this" that I absolutely and viscerally resent.  It's right up there with those obnoxious "98% of the people reading this won't have the guts to repost it" messages.  It's bullying, and presumptuous.  Even when I agree with the message, I won't repost it, and it has nothing to do with how gutsy I might or might not be.

This one, the Halloween one, just rubs me the wrong way.  Not the overall sentiment, no; just the "holier than thou" attitude it reeks of between the lines.

Let me put it as simply as I can:  If your kid has any of the problems listed, you need to BE WITH him or her at Trick or Treat.  Please don't dump your political correctness into my lap.  THE KIDS RINGING MY DOORBELL ARE NOT MY PROBLEM.  It's the parents' job to deal with this, not the person handing out the candy.  A person, I might add, who could have just turned off the porch light and made you buy your own damned candy.

There.  I said it.  Yes, I'm an awful person.

Yeah, the kid grabbing a handful of candy may have poor fine motor skills.  He may also be a greedy little s.o.b. in sore need of some polite, gentle correction.  I will surely be nice about it, but I don't have to let it slide.  Then if Mom or Dad steps in and says, "I'm so sorry, but Timmy has poor fine motor skills," I can sympathize with them while I nicely ask them to give back a portion of the giant wad of Kit-Kats Timmy just seized.  After all, IT'S EVERYONE'S HALLOWEEN, right? So let's save a few Kit-Kats for the other kids, okay?

"Motor planning issues?"  I have no idea what in Hell those are.  I'm happy to choose for Timmy if too much of my home's heat is leaching out into the cold Halloween night.  Again, if Timmy is that limited, Mom or Dad needs to be there to tell me that Timmy prefers M&M's.  Same goes double for the allergy problem.  If all I have left is PayDays and Timmy has an anaphylactic peanut reaction just thinking about elephants, Mom or Dad needs to be there to spot for him.  IT'S NOT MY FREAKING PROBLEM!  But if Mom or Dad is polite enough to explain the situation to me, I'll gladly drop a few bucks into Timmy's goody sack instead.  At our house we actually make sure that we have a few bucks set aside for just such a situation.  Just because I don't have the "right" treat is no excuse for a kid to pull a face.  That's just rude.  And Mom and Dad should have dealt with teaching what is polite long before they all arrived at my door.

I'm also not some a-hole who snidely asks kids, "What do you say?" when I pass out candy.  (No, I saved that for my own kid when I took her trick-or-treating. You know, to teach her proper manners.)  Silence is just fine.  Ringing a stranger's doorbell to ask for a handout is terrifying enough.  And I don't give a flying jump at the Moon whether or not your kid has a costume.  I've been so poor as a kid that I couldn't swing a costume.  You ring my bell on Trick or Treat Night, you get candy.  Period.  That's how I do it, and that's how my friends and neighbors do it.  In my neighborhood, it wouldn't be Halloween if we didn't get a passel of uncostumed teens ringing the bell for a candy handout.  Half of 'em only barely mumble "Trick or treat," and maybe as many mutter a thank-you.  I don't care!  It's Halloween!  I choose to give out treats to whoever comes to my door.  For me, that's what it's all about.  In other words, if I had a problem with passing out candy, I wouldn't answer the door.

Yes, "it's everyone's Halloween."  So could we please not PC all of the fun out of an already besieged holiday?  The religious nuts who are convinced that it's Satan's Birthday (because they apparently don't realize that "Halloween" is an archaic form of "Hallowed (as in "holy") Evening," but that's another column for another day) already make celebrating Halloween enough of a pain.  But I digress.  My point is, I'm already "nice" and "patient" when I answer the door, and I don't need a smug, superior-attitude reminder to behave that way.  I don't think anybody does.  The folks who do aren't the type who answer the door on trick-or-treat night.  They leave the porch light off and go to the movies, and good riddance.

What it all boils down to is, yes, I need to treat the kids who ring my doorbell with the respect and kindness I would want shown to my own children.  But it's not all on me.  The people trick-or-treating have just as much of a responsibility to treat me in accordance with the Golden Rule as well.

Because it's everyone's Halloween.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Fixing Facebook

A while back I complained about the way Facebook was forcing its Messenger app on all of us who used to like to check Facebook on our mobile devices.  The only alternative to the Facebook/Messenger one-two punch and its concomitant invasion of privacy was to use the browser on your device to see and use the full version of Facebook.  It is buggy as hell and frequently dies even on my iPad...but it's better than giving Facebook the right to send texts and calls on my phone, along with all the other nasty little hidden surprises and tricks that are used by the marketing tool which Facebook has become.

For about ten minutes it looked like something called Ello would actually have a chance at replacing Facebook, but that appears to have fizzled out for now, leaving us stuck with Facebook the way we were stuck with VHS and Blu-ray even though Betamax and HD were better.

So I guess we need to try to fix Facebook "from within," as it were.  Here's how I would want to begin if this were my private universe:

• I don't want to see any more photos of your restaurant food.  I'm glad you are enjoying your meal but I don't need to see it.  Now, if the lasagne you just made yourself looks like it should be in a cookbook, that I do want to see.  But if you like the look of the soufflĂ© you were just served at Le Bon Pain, just eat the damned thing.

• Please, no more reposts of other peoples' cat pictures or funny videos or whatever.  If it's not your own experience, keep it to yourself.  Everybody already sees what George Takei has posted.  Pretty sure we all see Upworthy and all the others too.

• No more pictures of your tattoos.  Please.  It's way too much information, especially those still-inflamed close-up shots.

• Please post nothing that starts along the lines of, "98% people won't repost this...."  You're right.  We won't.  I personally resent the hell out of feeling bullied even when it's to agree with a cause that I already support.  Post your own impassioned plea for vaccinating children, rescuing pit bulls, or sympathizing with those who suffer from depression.  It means so much more.

• Please do share your important life events.  I want to know what happened with your life and your family.  I want to know when your kids achieve something or say something cute.  Hell, I want to know when your cat achieves something or does something cute.  As long as it's YOUR cat, not some bloody generic Internet cat.

• If you are posting for a site or cause that I support, DON'T SPAM.  I used to be a big fan of pages like "Being Liberal" and "Doctor Who" until they began posting ten freaking times every hour, twenty-four hours a day.  It's enough to send you screaming into the arms of Fox News.  It's too much.  [EDIT: As I write this addendum early on a Sunday morning, 12 of the 20 most recent notifications posted to my Facebook wall are from Being Liberal.  TWELVE.  It's exhausting.]

I could go on, but this is already starting to spam you.  You get the idea.  Keep it about you and let the rest of us decide for ourselves which of the big, popular sites we want to look at.  It's you that I love.  It's you with whom I want to keep in contact.  When I want an "Ohh myyy" I'm perfectly capable of checking out George Takei all by myself.

Saturday, October 4, 2014

31 Days of Hallowe'en

One film for every night in October.  Go nuts.











(I remember seeing this turkey on the Million Dollar Movie as a kid in NJ.  Enjoy!)

(Another personal favorite.  You can't beat Bruce Campbell and his Boom Stick!)









(Fritz Lang's silent classic, "The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari.")






(A lovely old film with an unexpected cast.)


(Absolutely my favorite movie on this list!)


(And we cap things off with the obligatory 1950's Giant Insect Fear Film!)

Have a Happy Hallowe'en!!!