Apolitical doesn't mean without an opinion

          When times are tough (many seem to think those times are now—a topic for another day) people in general and especially Americans look for a scapegoat.  The whipping-boy du jour is illegal immigration.  The state of Arizona has claimed that illegal immigration is a special drain on their economy and recently enacted some yet-to-be-tested-in-court laws, which appear to be blatant racism.

          In Arizona (when/if the law goes into effect) if you are unable to understand the police officer speaking to you in English...you're under arrest.  He may not have had probable cause before, but he does now.  A city in Nebraska has followed suit.  (Apparently, elderly republicans fear the whipping-boy du jour more than the rest of us; I wonder if FOX "news" has anything to do with that.)

          Years ago, I worked for a brief period of time—in Arizona—for a hotel.  I was their handyman.  I replaced broken toilets, rewired light fixtures, maintained the pool, cleaned fireplace soot, built a table to fold sheets and towels on...stuff like that.

          The new management instructed the old housekeeping staff to provide proof of work-eligibility.  Within a week, half of them collected paychecks and never returned.  The remaining housekeepers provided Non-Resident Alien cards (green cards).  Several appeared altered.  One was legitimate and the picture could have been maybe Maria's face (but was probably her sister) however, the name wasn't close—it didn't even begin with an M.  When asked, Maria said, "I go by Maria.  Ever since I was a little girl.  But if you make my checks out in my real name, that's OK."

          The hotel management turned a blind eye to the probable infractions because there wasn't many other people wanting to clean hotel rooms for minimum wage and they had complied with the letter of the law.

          But if they are illegal (the complaint goes) they're not paying taxes.

          FACTS:  Every employee was paid the same way—by check—FICA, Medicare, Medicaid, Sate taxes, Social Security, workman comp, unemployment comp...all deducted.  The illegal immigrants would (will) never be able to file a tax return nor obtain a refund, never be able to apply for medicare or medicaid, and never be eligible for social security or unemployment or workman comp.  All their money went (is going) into the Federal and State treasuries and never being withdrawn.

          Over 43% of American citizens pay no taxes but 100% of the illegal immigrants do (if not being paid under-the-table). 

          Employers paying cash off the books are the true law violators.   Employers of this ilk are not only un-American but are acting like communists—and not in a 'everyone contributes for the benefit of all' way, but more in the manner of the 'bourgeoisie sucking the lifeblood of the proletariat'.

          SOLUTION:  Financially cripple every employer who hires from the parking lot of Home Depot, who pays migrant workers in cash at the end of the day, and who never deducts taxes/social security from their "contract" employees wages.  Extremely heavy fines (sufficient to drive these violating employers to bankruptcy) will cause those who are not caught to alter their practices.

          RESULT:  It'll cost you $8-$10 for a package of berries or nuts and $200-$500 a month to have your lawn maintained.  All the places where illegal immigrants have been "invisibly" working will have to raise their rates in order to compensate (car wash, construction, kitchens, etc).  Oh, and the immediate drop in un-refunded/un-claimed state and federal monies will obviously have to be rectified...I suspect with an large increase in everyone's taxes. 

Tolerationthe greatest gift of the mindrequires the same effort of the brain that it takes to balance oneself on a bicycle. —  Helen Keller (Born 130 years ago today)

solstice twen-ten

Keep your face to the sunshine and you will not see the shadows. — Helen Keller

Astroturfing-sockpuppets and Rickrolling-trolls

          I don't like people much.

          That's the answer I give when asked why I don't chat, or aren't on Facebook or Twitter.  I suppose I could calmly explain my golfing preference (in perfect weather); cat-hiking (on windy or cloudy days); book-reading, creating art, and gaming (during inclement weather); watching films (at night), et cetera...but who's going to sit still for all that? 

          Although I read a few dozen blogs, I don't spend much time elsewhere, nor do I frequently send messages or read communiqués (forgive my transgressions Squire).  Today, however, I wandered along many strands of the web and learned about internet sockpuppets and trolls as well as Astroturfing and Rickrolling.

          I still don't like people much—but they can be very entertaining.

People do not like to think.  If one thinks, one must reach conclusions.  Conclusions are not always pleasant. — Helen Keller

Google Maps Oil Slick

          I envy anyone who got the opportunity to visit Yellowstone National Park prior to the 1988 fires, which devastated over a third of it.  A few years ago I traveled to see Yellowstone's wonders—now surrounded by mile-upon-mile of ugly burned hillsides.  It'll never attain pre-1988 nice in my lifetime.

          If you always wanted to enjoy the Gulf of Mexico, but you have been putting off that beach vacation for one reason or another—you've got a brief window of (maybe) a few months to visit clean Gulf beaches, and to scuba, snorkel, and swim in clean waters.  It'll never attain pre-2010 nice in our lifetime.

Until the great mass of the people shall be filled with the sense of responsibility for each others welfare, social justice can never be attained. — Helen Keller

Red Dead Redemption

          After playing this game for a few weeks, I highly recommend it if—like myself—you specifically enjoy 'side games'.  If you normally prefer to stick to the main mission, finishing it without much deviation...this game is NOT for you.  If you are considering this game, it's probably because you've played a sandbox-style game before (like Grand Theft Auto) and enjoyed the open world format.

          In Red Dead Redemption, Rockstar Games has moved side-games from optional to mandatory.  In GTA4 accomplishing mini-games (like racing and going to arcades or bars) improves your relationships, but there's no measurable penalty for not doing so.

          Choosing to not accomplish the mini-missions in Red Dead, is detrimental to accomplishing the main mission.  This is done with two meters:  your fame meter (which begins at the bottom) and your honor meter (which begins in the middle).  As you successfully finish tasks (main and mini) you become more famous; increased fame makes life much easier.  If you "turn a blind eye" to mini missions (or fail them) your fame decreases.  For every good deed you accomplish (save villagers from bandits, rescue a person from attacking animals, choose to disarm a criminal rather than kill them, etc.) your honor increases.  For every bad deed (whether by choice or accident) your honor decreases.  The more honorable or dishonorable you become the more you are loved or feared, which alters the way you are treated by both law enforcement and people in general.

          Although you can decide to become an infamous outlaw or a famous legend of the old west, the game makes it possible to be both at the same time, to effectively "become a wolf in sheep's clothing."  This is done with outfits, which you earn by accomplishing various mini-tasks.  As an example, one outfit is that of a bandit-gang.  If you wear that outfit with a bandanna on your face not only can you commit crimes without your honor being affected, but you can freely enter the bandit gang's camp.

          Advertisements for Red Dead focus on the shooter-aspect, on the old west environment, and on the outlaw with a heart of gold.  They all fail to mention the strong element of hunting-as-necessity and hunting-as-sport.  If you have no problem killing and looting the bodies of video game stagecoach-robbers or cattle-rustlers but wouldn't enjoy the concept of killing and skinning innocent animals for food or sport, then this game is NOT for you.  There are several dozen different birds and animals in this game—some are predators who stalk and kill you and your horse if you enter their territory (unless you kill them first), some scurry fast through the brush, some glide slowly overhead, some dart quickly trough the trees—all need to be shot and skinned (or feathers removed) at some time or another, in order to sell their meat, hides, and feathers; in order to accomplish mini-games; in order to survive in the game.

          The biggest reason I appreciate and enjoy this game:  it successfully incorporated the key elements of every spaghetti-western and cowboy movie from my childhood—from dueling in the street to cheating at poker, from herding cattle to breaking broncos, from gold mines to searching for buried treasure with treasure maps, from stopping a hanging (by shooting the rope) to stopping a runaway train.  The notable historical exceptions (so far, I've not finished the game) are the absences of slaves and Native Americans.
No pessimist ever discovered the secret of the stars or sailed an uncharted land, or opened a new doorway for the human spirit. — Helen Keller

It's eleven eleven, do you know where your superstition is?

The sentence—I'm proud that I am smart enough to not have any superstitious beliefs—is vainglorious and condescending; but, it's also true.  A few months ago, I had a brief conversation about ghosts with our resident rapscallion (my paramour's teenage son).  All conversations with youth are brief, so this one might almost count as a lengthy one.  We were watching tv, and I was jumping over a commercial logjam in 30sec hops with the DVR remote (for unaware Europeans: American TV has a few-minutes of commercials every ten minutes).  My last hop advanced into the show, so I made a couple 10sec back-jumps and we watched a portion of a commercial for one of those shows where a group of people walk around at night, with night vision cameras, in old buildings (for unaware Europeans: most Americans think one-hundred year old buildings are ancient).

"Do you believe in ghosts?"
"No."  I said (as I paused the TV).
"So, ummm, what do you think happens after you die?" 
"Where were you before you were born?" (My default teach-a-teenager position has become—answer a question with a question.  It can, occasionally, cause an additional sentence to be added to the conversation.)
"So, like, that's it?  Nothingness?"
"You almost sound upset."
"Well, it's kinda sad...you know...blip and we're done."
"I'm not telling you what to believe.  You can pick from dozens of religions that say you go someplace magical.  Also, if you want to think ghosts move old dusty chairs in basements of derelict buildings or float around as orbs...well, that's your prerog™."  (Clipping a suffixplus is kinda lame, but I get a kick when he repeats them.  In a month I'll overhear him with a friend playing Guitar Hero, "If you don't wanna use the mic while I play guitar that's your prerog bitch.")
"But you don't.  And you're happy with that."
"Not only am I content with 'blip and we're done' (as I said blip I snapped my fingers) I'm amazed and confused by anyone who wants and believes their existence to be infinite and forever."
"Amazed and confused—isn't that a Led Zep..."
"Dazed and confused is Zep.  Amazed and confused is Neil Diamond."
"You sure?"
"About the song titles...yes."

This conversation got me thinking about my lack of superstitious beliefs.  I realized that I do have one thing which can only be explained as superstitious ideation.  It also could just be a big coincidence (I once had a co-worker who said there were no such things as coincidences, but I think he might have been superstitious).

Almost every time-telling device in my possession, or around our home, is digital.  I don't wear a watch (and haven't for many years).  Since I don't live a life of deadlines, schedules, or appointments (and haven't for many years) I'm usually not concerned with knowing what time it is.  This lack of concern results in my not looking at the digits on the stove or the front of the DVR.  I can answer my cell, talk, and hang up...all without looking at the time.  I probably check the time about six times a day.

I usually need a strong reason to look at a clock.  If I'm woken and it's still dark out, I'll point my eyes at the digits on the nightstand.  If someone rings our doorbell at night, the clock will tell me if it's too late for our resident rapscallion to have visitors.  If I've been reading for hours and wonder if I could squeeze in another hundred pages, I'll let those same digits on the nightstand decide.  If I'm hungry, but we have dinner plans this evening, the digits inform me if a snack is necessary.  A round of golf could take 4 hours.  The film starts at 5:45.  The store closes at 9.  Even in my lackadaisical life there are reasons to look at the time.

Lately (and by that I mean for the last several months) when I do, it seems, more-often-than-not, the digits are all the same.  An inordinate amount of the time, when I check the time, it is either 1:11, 2:22, 3:33, 4:44, 5:55, or 11:11.  And I read somewhere, enough years ago that I've forgotten when and where, that when that happens regularly it means something important is going to happen—and, that something is going to either be fortuitously good or viciously evil (I also forget which).

I'm not saying that every time I check a clock it's always all-same-numeral time.  But out of a possible 720 different minutes in every 12-hour period, there are six times it occurs (for unaware Europeans: Americans use a.m. and p.m. instead of the 24-hour clock).  That's a dozen opportunities out of every day, or—to be specific—only a 0.83% chance for it to happen every day.

I woke up at 4:44 to use the bathroom last night.  My landlord had people clean-out the rain gutters today; they arrived at 11:11.  I can go a day or three without it happening, but it's so frequent that I've begun to seriously wonder at the odds.

If I was completely non-superstitious, I wouldn't even notice if I sat down to watch TV at 5:55 or went to bed at 1:11.  But since I can't seem to stop noticing it happen, I must be a little superstitious.

[After writing this essay, I began to look for appropriate images and, in so doing, discovered more than a few e-groups discussing the 'phenomenon' as communications from the other side or somesuch.  They were a comfort to read, because then I realized that all I'm doing is pattern-recognizing.  If I see it's 10:52, I immediately forget the time and note to myself, "almost eleven."  But when I started the car last week and it was 2:22—that immediately got saved in long term memory because it's a signpost, of course!]

AAAhhhh me.  Once again a superstitiousless idiot.

Security is mostly a superstition.  It does not exist in nature, nor do the children of men as a whole experience it.  Avoiding danger is no safer in the long run than outright exposure.  Life is either a daring adventure, or nothing. — Helen Keller (blind and deaf author-activist)

I Don't Do Decoration Day

          When I was asked how I celebrated Memorial Day, I tried out the reply:  I don't celebrate May 31st.  It seems I say something similar almost every holiday.  This time, I decided I'd try to come up with something polite, and truthful, and which wouldn't set me up for follow-on questions.  And, it didn't work.

          "What do you mean?  You were in the service."  She said with a southern accent; maybe Texas near the Oklahoma border.  It came out—Whadja mean, yaw're enda sarvace!

          I must have made a scowl or something.

          In the past I've tried an abbreviated, "I don't celebrate," which only seemed to imply I didn't drink or party and, once, I attempted the über-short, "I didn't"—but that person assumed I must have had to work.  I was now thinking I might regret not choosing the put flags on graves outright lie.

          "I'm surprised you don't acknowledge our fallen heroes, retired army an all.  Betcha think it's alright that Obama didn't lay a wreath at Arlington then."
          Although indignation seemed to be familiar territory for her, we didn't know each other well enough for her to pull indignant, so I said, "I look at it the same way I look at December 25th...I try to be polite all year, not just the holidays...and, I try to remember my heroes all year round, not just the first day of summer.  And here's something you should know:  working in the military was just a job.  And, like any job, there's maybe one hero for every couple-thousand ass-hats.  Dieing doesn't make you a hero.  Cemeteries are filled with ass-hats."

The world is moved along, not only by the mighty shoves of its heroes, but also by the aggregate of tiny pushes of each honest worker.  — Helen Keller (1880-1968)