#NOFLYNOBUY Are You Listening @WarcraftDevs ?

Once again the moderators have struck.  I had a pretty decent thread going over on the forums.  This morning at 4am or thereabouts it was 7 pages long.  I had managed to avoid blatantly violating any rules by directly discussing bannings that the moderators have inflicted on me in the past.  Managed not to talk blatantly about any of the rules which govern the boards. Managed to keep myself from fucking cursing every other fucking word, so they couldn't pretend that bitching was something vulgar this time. Thought it was going swimmingly until I logged on this afternoon to see if anything else had posted.

Not only had nothing else posted, but the entire thread had disappeared into a black hole, like every other thread I've started on Blizzard's forums. No matter how many times Blizzard's customer service representatives in-game assure me that the developers want to hear from you, go post on the forums I know from experience that the opposite is true.  They really don't want to hear from me.

I'm generally well-school in dancing around the sensitivities of others. Just last week I managed to piss of the acting Guild Master of my now-former Horde raiding guild (Crimson Retribution - Terenas) because I dared to suggest that not only was he wrong about flight always being a perk in World of Warcraft , but that if his training as a systems administrator instructed him that all hackers are criminals (right after he had called me a criminal for rooting my cellphone) I didn't think much of the value of his education.

Funny part of that was that he stopped talking to me because I insulted his education.  The dust-up wasn't over his accusation that I was a criminal.  No, that insult to me was completely overlooked. His tender feelings were hurt. So I left the guild, because that is what happens when those with lesser authority have a disagreement with higher authorities.  You move on.  It is not a threat, it is what reasonable people do.

Similarly, there is no winning when the entire structure of a company wants to silence what you have to say, when the only place you can say it is on their forums and have it reach an audience. If you read over the Blizzard forum guidelines it should become painfully clear that any subject that isn't praise for Blizzard and World of Warcraft generically will not live very long on their forums. They have (like so many other forums on the internet) created an echo-chamber for self-congratulation.

...and why not? I mean, Blizzard has created what is inarguably the most popular game in all the history of electronic gaming. World of Warcraft (or WoW) still boasts subscriptions that are North of five million, which is a number that nearly any other gaming company would give their firstborn children to have access to.  Never mind that at its peak WoW  boasted a subscriber base of over twelve million people, or that the release of Warlords of Draenor did not lift subscriber numbers from their slow downward slide for longer than a month or two.

They have a certified hit, a cash cow. But how to keep milking that cow without killing it? That really is a tricky question, the multi-million dollar question that speaks to the future of the company. I mean, Blizzard isn't alone out there. Some would say that they aren't even at the forefront of gaming any longer.

My children only play Blizzard games because I play them. Left to their own devices, they like their Steam games, playing any number of them for pretty much as long as we allow them to play (him anyway, and only for a few years more) when the daughter heard that Legion would be the next expansion for World of Warcraft her only request was that I get her one of the art books.  The game? Well, if you are playing dad, sure.

Steam has tapped into something that only Facebook is doing better at; and that because it doesn't require any real talent to be on Facebook. You just have to have the connection and you can share memes till the end of time, play flash games till you die of repetition.  Facebook is to the internet was TV was to broadcast. Radio was informative and entertaining, TV had pictures!

I can't explain what it is that Steam offers.  I haven't been impressed with many of the games. I'm certainly not impressed with their business tactics involving the children that make up a majority of their player base (I've mentioned this before) But they have a loyal following, and Blizzard has noticed this, which is why they introduced Battle.net and its launcher.

Battle.net is a pale comparison to Steam and it's myriad of indepedent developers, though. Blizzard is now facing the same kind of broad-based competition that Microsoft laughed at when Linux was introduced.  Microsoft is no longer laughing now that Android (also Linux/Unix) runs on more systems than their software; similarly, Blizzard (or more accurately Activision/Blizzard) cannot long outpace a group which can essentially grow to incorporate all programmers who don't work for them.

I had several players insist to me that Blizzard would stop WoW at level 100 for in-game characters, back in the days when I was writing about Cataclysm and its failings. I knew then just as I know now that there won't be an end to World of Warcraft so long as Blizzard continues to see a profit. With the announcement of Legion and its 110 level cap, the notion that World of Warcraft might stop anytime soon has been left in the dust.

The sad part of all this is that the same developers are still beating the same dead horse that was the established lore for Warcraft more than a decade ago, and trying to draw out the final few dollars they can milk from this story before it stops being profitable.  They could re-invent parts of the game as they did with professions in the current expansion (much to their detriment in this player's opinion) but that carries risk, and large companies are nothing if not risk-adverse. (I offer Overwatch as an example of this; a pretty game but essentially a re-hash of Team Fortress 2. Not that there isn't room for more of the same kinds of games)

Risk adverse developers throttle player content, rather than expand playability.  Warlords delivered this in spades, extending the amount of work and time spent in the game to achieve even less than you could do in previous versions of WoW.  Only now, after the announcement of the next expansion, do they finally grudgingly give players the last piece of playability we had in previous versions of the game.  The next patch will finally give the players the ability to fly in Draenor, the ability to use the mounts all of us have paid for with time, effort and real money.  Finally fulfilling the implied contract when they sold us flying mounts a year and more ago.  Those mounts will finally fly.

But is it too little too late?  Speaking for myself, it might be. I'm thoroughly burned out now.  Try as I might, there just isn't enough content in the game to keep me interested; or rather, there doesn't appear to be any one type of play that the current game encourages aside from the narrow channel of developer intent to progress through the garrisons and outposts. Without flight, exploration, pet battling, archeology, etc all become tedious slogs through NPC's you've already killed repeatedly.  Giving me flight now just reminds me how much of the game I liked in Pandaria that I'm already too far behind on to catch up now.

Which is why this article starts and ends with a hashtag. I'm not even going to contemplate playing WoW after the next expansion releases unless the developers include flight in the game from the beginning. Not just flight, but flight for all levels (as it was in Wrath of the Lich King at least) available at the time the expansion releases.

I'm done with being throttled, of playing Activision's version of a Blizzard game that reminds me more of Facebook games than it does of the MMO's and RTS' of previous years. Most of all, give me the sky to fly in, or I'll find some other game to play in the future. #NOFLYNOBUY
"I don't care, I'm still free, you can't take the sky from me" - Sonny Rhodes

Rotational Vertigo

I've had several requests to describe what Rotational Vertigo feels like to me.  It is actually quite hard to describe in a way that the average person might be able to visualize. When I'm pressed for time I frequently say something like imagine the worst drunken binge you've ever been on. For most people (a majority, sadly) that gets an enlightened response.

But that really doesn't do the symptom justice.  For me, being drunk (even mildly intoxicated) can be vertigo inducing, has always been vertigo inducing.  I don't drink and go to sleep anymore. That almost never happens.  If I feel like having a glass or two of brandy or cognac, I'm generally up for the duration of the effect (8 hours or so) because lying down makes the vertigo worse.

So what is rotational vertigo really like?

First, imagine you are at the center of a merry-go-round.  The merry-go-round is spinning. It doesn't even have to spin fast, it can spin quite slowly, just enough that you can't fixate on a single point in the background.

This is the key problem with the spinning. It isn't real, but your body doesn't know this.  Your body doesn't know that the balance mechanism in the ears is broken. So your eyes try to track the spin that isn't there, causing your vision to dance back and forth (this is why reading can be a chore when you have a problem with vertigo) mimicking the spin the balance mechanism says is occurring.

So you are on a spinning merry-go-round. Now imagine that every stationary object you want to interact with is spinning at the same rate. There is no fixed point to anchor to (if you concentrate really hard you might just be able to override this. Maybe) so the handrails on the stairway, the walls of the shower, the glass of water to wash your pills down with dance madly around you while you try vainly to grab them from thin air.

Now imagine that this dance continues for the rest of your life; figuratively, if not in reality. Because it feels like forever. I've fought this thing for days at a time in the past, just because I'd already slept for what felt like days and I just couldn't sleep anymore no matter how many pills I took.

I can't describe it better than that. I don't dare go looking for video to describe it.  Just seeing video that includes rotation in the theater can bring on sympathetic feelings of spinning.  I frequently must look away from films with rapid rotation (Gravity was torturous. Loved that film, couldn't watch half of it. Go see Gravity in the IMax and sit real close with your hands trapped at your sides) or hold my hands up in front of my face so that I can see that there is a stationary object in view.

The real answer is you don't want to know.  You can trust me on this subject.

World of Warcraft & the Engineering of Scarcity

Was browsing the forums today and noticed a thread titled Can't Do It AnymoreWhat is this it that someone can't do? Against my better judgement, I clicked on the link;
I ran 20 instances yesterday, 17 of them had DPS pulling ahead of me and dying regularly. I managed to get a number of them removed from group but in 2 groups they removed me instead, once during the final boss fight. I simply can't tank anymore. One less tank in your queues. I won't do it, it's not fun, it's an exercise in total frustration.

Good luck to those that weren't complete morons. I feel sorry for you on the queue times but I can't be a part of this anymore.
The first responses were predictable troll responses to hurry up and pull then and so forth, the kinds of things the worst of the worst players might say. However the thread goes on for 17 pages and there are some real gems in there.

None of them really addressing the point I felt needed to be made.

I don't queue as DPS (Damage Per Second. In a 25 man raid there are usually 17 of these spots, 2 tanks and 6 healers) DPS queues are astronomically long, a half-hour or more. I won't wait to get into anything (Hearthstone has started popping up queue times and I'm going to quit that too if that keeps happening) one of the reasons I despise amusement parks and shopping centers.

Don't get me wrong, I'm not into instant gratification. I just despise the false scarcity forced on things which could be readily available if people were just more sensible. Amusement parks and shopping centers aside, most scarcity is engineered into the framework of the world outside; either by reality itself in the form of temperate zones on the surface of our planet that limits arable land, and through that, food and space to live in, or by the systems we humans create.

False scarcity, human engineered scarcity, is all around us.  It is present in the wasteful food systems we in the US enjoy (nearly half of all food going to waste while people starve right next door) It is reflected in the vehicles that we are sold (marketed as exclusive) the schools we attend, etc, etc, etc.

Group efforts in World of Warcraft are a hallmark of this. The reason that queues for DPS are so long is because DPS is relatively easy, whereas tanking and healing have specific duties which must be performed if the battle is going to be successful.  DPS'ers will argue that DPS is anything but easy, but the proof is in the structure that Blizzard has been forced to craft to cope with the relatively few people willing to heal or tank.  DPS queues are long specifically because DPS is relatively easy.  If it were hard, the structure would reflect that in tanking queues.

Tanks do not queue, and healers rarely queue. If you tank (and I do) you will be placed in a group almost immediately upon placing your name in the list as a tank. Be prepared though. No role is kicked more often (as represented numerically in raids) than tanks are. I mercifully am almost never kicked. I rarely let DPS die no matter how stupid they act. I try to pull as soon as the group is ready, try to keep damage off of my healers, who in turn try to keep me alive.

All DPS has to do is deal damage and move out of bad (if it's on the floor, it is likely hurting your character, GET OUT OF IT!) the amazing part of this equation is how few of them can seem to do even that much.

So the queue structure in World of Warcraft accurately reflects your talent as a player.  If you don't want to wait in queues, tank or heal.  DPS is where slackers and bots go to hide.  Don't pull if your tank is slow, you will get nothing but grief from it. Patience is a virtue (my most typed phrase while tanking) learn to meditate, you'll live longer.

Meditating is essential when caught in systems of engineered scarcity. Peace and serenity far more rewarding than being consigned to the prison queue when you finally snap after waiting half your life to get on whatever ride that is popular this year. Enjoy your summer.

Greece in Perspective

This was the piece I was working on before writing Sidelined by Illness.  It is important enough that I felt I needed to post it belated as it is.  Or maybe it is still current. In any case...
When I was in high school and later in trade school, I sacked groceries after school as a way to help the family.  It was common in those days (1980's) for high school students to have jobs on the side, and it was common for children to start working as soon as they showed interest in work, if not being forced to work simply to feed themselves.

We were a poor family. My mother was on her own at that point, had been on her own for several years. Dad had remarried, but found the chore of raising 5 unruly children too much to deal with so he sent us back to our mother in Texas to live. Mom was trying to get an education at the time, living in what would loosely be called 'campus housing' (Avenger Village next to what was then TSTI. An interesting history if you are into that) so the 5 of us crammed ourselves into whatever housing she could afford on the wages for whatever jobs she could get.

Which wasn't much. It was also typical back then for women to leave college once they had found a husband, sexist as that statement might sound; but women weren't expected to be wage earners, bread winners. They were expected to be mothers and housewives and to put up with whatever their husbands asked of them. So mom started a family with no real job skills of her own beyond the ability to raise children, and when she finally refused to put up with dad's behavior she was on her own with 4 kids and no skills.

We interrupted her education again, but she never complained about it. She just went back to working at fast food joints, bars and restaurants, the odd convenience store job as the demands for housing, clothes and food for her growing children required.

I had already had my first job by that point, my one and only experience with fast-food work (a job you couldn't force me to do again) if you count work that dad found for me to do the fast-food work was my 3rd job, having worked off and on in his gas station for change to buy comics and sodas with, and then worked in the fields hoeing weeds with a one-armed hispanic friend of my fathers (he could work faster with one arm than I could with two and 20 years less mileage on the meter) but in any case I was no stranger to having to work to get the things I wanted, so back to work I went, paying for my own car as a senior, as well as feeding the family whenever I could afford it.

Which wasn't often, and not often enough.  There were many days where there simply wasn't enough food.  Oh, we never really starved, mother was sure of that. We survived on government issued milk and cheese, bread when we could get it.  Proud as my mother was, she wasn't willing to turn away a hand-out of perfectly good food.  She wouldn't take food stamps (to this day she refuses them, looks down on people who take them) but she would work at almost any job that was offered. As I said, sometimes three or four jobs at once. So we didn't starve even if we didn't have much adult supervision.

So here I was working at a grocery store, often hungry, my job being to haul people's groceries out to their cars for them, making minimum wage.  Rumor has it that in other states bag-boys (as we were called) got tips. Not in Texas.  In Texas you only tip the cute waitresses and the bartenders who give you a little extra alcohol in your drinks. You certainly don't tip uppity teenagers who carry your groceries for you.  Teenagers should learn to work hard, because hard work is all you can look forward to in this life.

Part of my job was cleaning the store at closing time (I can mop a floor clean enough to eat off of to this day) Part of that job was taking out the trash at the end of the day. Boxes went into the recycler even back in the bad old days, but there was always trash generated during the day that had to be taken out.  Sometimes in this trash there were unopened containers of food. Being an innovative lad, I would arrange things at the end of the shift so that I could drive around back and pick up the food that I deemed safe to eat, and take it home to my family.

That was, until the new night manager took over. The night manager took an instant dislike to me. He knew I was a poor kid, up to no good.  Set the manager against me so that I was watched specifically to be caught setting food aside.

There was a brand of cookie that came in paper bags back then (even more now) No matter how many times the night stockers were told not to open the boxes with box cutters, without fail, they always opened them with box cutters and slit the bags open. This happened so routinely that if the staff wanted a quick snack, there was always a bag or 10 laying around that the stockers had made unsellable by cutting the bag. Of the 20 or so people working in the store who knew this, I was the only one specifically targeted for reprimand for setting the cookies aside.

Starting at about that time, this petty little modo would check to make sure that I destroyed all the food deemed unsellable. Slice open the milk jugs. Shred the bread bags. Whatever it took.  If people wanted food they would have to buy it through the front door.  No one was getting free meals from the dumpster at their store.

This is the mindset of the average working-class American, in a nutshell. If you want anything, you work for it. If you don't work for it, you starve. If you can't work for it, you will starve even sooner. Handouts are for lay-abouts and slackers; no-one who takes a handout is worth anything in life.  Sick people are different; but sick people get better.  That poor soul in the wheelchair, we feel sorry for him, but we don't give him more than enough to keep him off the streets.  We certainly don't give lay-abouts enough that they can survive on without work; and if they do work their benefits are cut off.  If you can work you don't need any help.

You might well ask at this point What in Hell does this have to do with Greece? The title of the piece is Greece in Perspective.

Yet another person on Facebook blocked me over this difference in perspective.  No amount of reasoning with this person was going to break through her preconceived notions of the unworthiness of those lay-about Greek people. No recitation of facts concerning the equally ruinous nature of US policy; of our loophole filled tax structure, underfunded and understaffed taxing authority, the low tax rates that the wealthy enjoy (if they pay any taxes at all) Nothing would dissuade this person from her single-minded determination that Greece should be made to suffer for its peoples laziness.

Never mind that an entire country cannot be compared to one person, whose laziness might or might not be determinable just by looking at them. Never mind that wealthy US business firms instructed Greek authorities on just how to cheat the system, the same firms that then later had to go begging to the US government for bailouts (which shouldn't have been given in my estimation) in order to avoid the same penance that the Greeks are now willing to go down in flames over rather than pay.

Because they can't pay. Because Greece isn't Germany, in the same way that Germany isn't the US, and that whole regions and political entities cannot be summarized in the behavior of a single individual.  Because you can't get blood out of a stone no matter how hard you squeeze it.

Sometimes people really can't provide for themselves.  Sometimes lazy people really aren't lazy at all; sometimes the seemingly lazy lay-about really is sick.  Laziness is itself a survival trait, a reward for not expending energy the body might need to go that one last inch to get to water.

The final straw for me on this subject was when an acquaintance of mine described his daughter as lazy, because instead of going to college and following the track he had planned out for her, she got married and had a child.  Her husband is working, risking his life in the military. She's working even if she doesn't have a job.  She's raising a child, and that is the hardest work of all. Lazy isn't the word to describe this person.  You can question her intelligence, but not her willingness to struggle with life.

Sometimes the demands placed on people are just too high. Looking at Greece today we would be better served to remember Germany right before World War Two, rather than dismiss them as that slacker kid who mooched off of you back in college. The missed opportunity of all missed opportunities. Watching the suffering of the German people under the debt burdens laid on them following World War One, the rest of the world could have had pity and eased the burden, given them hope.  Instead we hardened out hearts and forced them to do the thing that made sense to them, empower the only man and his political party that gave them hope.

Shall we descend into war and chaos? Or will we be more like General Marshall? General Marshall who, after the destruction of World War Two and understanding that hopelessness was what motivated the Germans to such desperate acts, proposed what became known as the Marshall Plan.  Altering from that time forward how victors treat the vanquished.  Or so we should hope.

A bit of perspective, to brighten your day.
"The cost of war is constantly spread before me, written neatly in many ledgers whose columns are gravestones." - General George C. Marshall.

Sidelined Due to Illness

Sports metaphor.  That should be the first sign I'm not myself.  I have no use for sports, but an upbringing at the foot of a man who never missed a game (Baseball, Football, you name it) has layered my subconscious with a multiplicity of sports metaphors that lend themselves to almost any situation.  Sadly.

Was working on a piece for the blog a week ago when this latest round of Meniere's fun started.  Haven't had a spell like this in living memory.  I've had short-term worse recently (a drop attack about a month ago lasted less than 10 hours) but I haven't felt this ill for this long since I gave up work in 2005.

I have been on the Meclizine for the last few days. The affected ear has been hypertussive (all sound hurts) for over a week now. The tinnitus has been off the charts loud, and I've been off and on vertiginous for the whole time. Every thought feels like it has to be forced through jelly to get out of my head and onto the page.  More than a week avoiding sound, bright lights, etc.  Going a bit stir crazy, I think.

I'm pretty sure this is my allergies acting up. I haven't been eating or doing anything out of the ordinary that could have caused it.  Unless the excavation going on in the neighbor's back yard is releasing something into the air (mostly joking) I can't think of anything else that could be the cause.

Which is the big problem with this disease.  It just hits you.  You're down, can't think of anything you might have done wrong, so you play association games trying to figure out what triggered this attack that you'd rather die from than suffer through.  That's how you get to conclusions like low-salt diets and alcohol and caffeine causing the symptoms.  The truth is that there doesn't need to be a cause, and nothing you remember doing actually is as fault.  It is a disease, and the symptoms occur because you have it.

Allergies are a known trigger with me, though. Pollen levels for various plants are generally elevated when my symptoms are bad. It was spring and fall pollen season that first triggered symptoms for me way back in the 1980's and 90's. To top it off I quit getting my allergy shots a few years back because I had concluded that I wasn't getting any additional benefit from continuing them.  I had been getting shots for over a decade, I really didn't see the point in continuing.

Given what I'm suffering through now, perhaps stopping treatment was a mistake. Time to head back to the allergist and see if the shots can't get me back to something resembling normalcy.  Shots twice a week again, really looking forward to that.  Beats the alternative, as the saying goes.



Woke up to a Huffpost story on chronic pain in my Twitter feed. 15 things no one tells you about chronic pain as a 20-something. I identified with number 4 on the list almost immediately, since the first order of business today was to take my first shower since Friday or Sunday. Given that I can't remember when it was, combined with my inability to stand my own smell, today is shower day one way or the other.

It was glorious and at the same time frightening, since balance in the shower is of paramount importance.  I try not to think about how clean the shower walls are when leaning on them.  Cleaner than I am after 5 days, in any case. Now back to vegitating and re-watching last season of The Walking Dead.  Prepping for next season early, since in my currently hazy state I barely remember watching the episodes before anyway.



I posted this on the 13th of July.  It was July 8th when I started the piece I wanted to write next. Today (July 21st) I finally got out of the house and went for a three mile walk.  First time I've gone on a decent walk since (checking Endomondo) the 10th. My how time crawls when stuck in a rut.  Felt like it had been a month or more.  Got dizzy while walking but I'll take it. Best day in over a week so far.



I gave up updating this every day that I felt moderately well enough to write. On my birthday it was a month since I wrote this piece and today (August 22nd) I felt like writing; felt like writing if only my ears would stop trying to pop out of the side of my head.

I received a brand new Nexus 5 for my birthday, and that has kept me beautifully distracted since I got it. I can finally play some of the games I've been wanting to play and install several apps that just were too big for the HTC Evo Shift that I've been using for the last two years. My heartfelt thanks to the friends and family who made the gift possible.  It really was the only thing I wanted, one of the few things I can use while essentially bedridden for days at a time.

But I don't write on a phone, I write on a keyboard. I have to feel well enough to get out of bed, not collapse in the easy chair with Netflix to comfort me, sit down in front of a computer or with a laptop and write. Then I have to have something in mind to write about.

Back to the ears again. Pressure and sensitivity to sound again today.  The tinnitus drowns out thought and makes long chains of reasoning virtually impossible. Next week I will go to the allergist and probably get myself tested again, start shots again.  I don't know what else to do, so I'll return to allergy treatments and see if that helps.

Just felt like letting everyone know I was still alive.  Here's a picture of my dog wearing my walking hat to cheer everyone up;


My Blog entry on Treating Meniere's & Its Symptoms.  A frequently referenced post for me.

Independence Day

For the last few years my July 4th celebrations have been limited to watching my favorite holiday film and the wife's favorite holiday film; which are 1776 watched on the dusty old laserdisc player (the only complete version of the film in existence, although the blu-ray comes close to it) and ID4 which can be watched on any format as long as it includes surround sound.

For me it's hard to beat the patriotic zeal of John Adams and his co-conspirators plotting to remove the American colonies from under the heel of their English masters. A good portion of it set to music, and sung quite well by the original broadway cast, directed by the same director. I own and have watched the blu-ray version of this film.  It is quite good, but it is not the same film that was released on laserdisc; nor does it have the secondary audio track describing the painstaking effort spent on reassembling the film after it was cut by Jack Warner with a pair of scissors; this after it had been put to bed by the director and assumed finished.  The cutting included the removal of a pivotal song in the middle of the film Cool, Considerate Men at the request of President Nixon, personally.  The song portrays the views of conservatives of the time who did not want to risk their lives, wealth and property on the very slim chance that Washington would ever be victorious against the British army.

The pro-slavery song Molasses to Rum should be especially poignant this year, given the tragedy enacted in Charleston a few weeks ago.  History is a fine teacher, if you don't deafen yourself to its advice.

On a lighter note, the wife loves ID4. When the pool was functional, she was frequently alone in the living room watching it while the rest of us retired to the pool. One year she begged a projector from friends and we watched it on the patio from the pool.  That was a good summer.  The best part of the film for me is the scene where Houston, having been destroyed by the aliens earlier in the film, is nuked in a defensive attempt to destroy the invading aliens.  Any film that destroys Houston twice is a watchable film in my book. Sorry Houston residents; the truth hurts, I know.

A sequel to ID4 is slated for release next Independence Day (2016) titled Independence Day Resurgence which they shorten to IDR. I Don't Relate to that title very well.  Maybe the film will make up for it.

Robert Reich on Patriotism
The most common form of Independence Day celebration, fireworks, are only a memory for me. As a kid it was my favorite holiday because of the fireworks. We'd always have a decent personal show set up in the street in front of our house, or in our back yard. I constructed models just to blow them up with fireworks on the 4th of July. I remember fondly the first time Leoti paid for a firework display, laying in the middle of the football field watching the fireworks go off overhead.  I also remember many a summer where I temporarily deafened myself standing too close to explosives when they went off.

Another point of history that should be instructional.

As my disability has progressed, sensitivity to noise has increased. Any loud noise can set off vertigo quite easily. Flashes of light are painful, not enjoyable. Combustion fumes alone have been known to send me into a vertigo spell, so the great American pastime of trying to set the neighborhood on fire on Independence Day occurs without my active participation.

In Austin the city display is the only display allowed by law, a fact I find ironical as well as sensible.  There is always a neighbor who defies the ordinance and sets fireworks off anyway, usually several of them. The police and firemen are kept running all night long responding to calls.  At least the region is well watered this year. Won't be any county-wide grass fires set off by fireworks this summer.

Oatmeal's America Explained to Non-American's on a Facebook friends wall inspired this introspection.  I can't link the image, you'll just have to go to his site and soak up the glory that is American Independance Day.  Looking back, as I've alluded to twice already, I wonder why the obvious desperation of July 4th celebrations isn't apparent to more Americans. We so desperately want to demonstrate to the world how happy we are being free.  One would think that the joy of real freedom would be enough, if only we know what that elusive thing really is.

Partnership by Any Other Name

Since this is topical once again, I moved it forward from its original April 30th publication and added an addendum to the end discussing current events. If I had perfect knowledge of future events before they happened, like a god, I would have held off posting this and Homophobia in Denial until now.   
On The Other Hand, If god is really what people say he is, he could have fixed this problem as well as the slavery problem in advance by giving detailed instructions to the people who wrote his books; rather than letting them write down their own customs and fears as if they were instructions from him.  But then I was going to leave that specific discussion to Jim over at Stonekettle Station. Trying to stick to the legality issue here.  


It slipped my mind that I was actually being topical with my piece Homophobia in Denial; that the SCOTUS was going to be debating the legality of marriage being broadened to include two people of the same sex.  Given the contents of that piece, it should be pretty obvious that I have no problem with two people of the same sex getting married.

I actually go a bit farther than just not having a problem with that. I really don't see the point in marriage in the first place, as far as being separated from other business contracts.

I know, I know, I'm a soulless bastard that has no emotions. Trust me, I've heard that a few times. Still, I have to wonder why marriage is different than any other joint partnership? Why are there special rules for this business arrangement that are completely different from all the others?

The Wife and I have a prenuptial agreement that involves a rather grisly death if either of us strays, sexually.  I know that I wouldn't have to make that deal with a business partner.  But I also know that we are complete weirdos and discuss every point of an agreement before we enter into them.  This is true with everything we purchase, not just with the agreement that started our relationship.

Most people don't even know what their partner wants in the case of medical incapacity. We've discussed so many different scenarios that I'd be hard pressed to name an event we haven't discussed and what her wishes would be.  Without that level of discussion, marriage is just a business arrangement, with no more emotional investment than the subject of which TV to buy.  Fully half of the people who get married will stay married less than 5 years.   The first TV they buy as a couple will still be working when the divorce is settled.

That is not a sacrament, that is an agreement made on an emotional whim. A moment of sexual lust, lost as soon as the dopamine receptors become habituated to the reward.

Given that marriage is expected before sexual gratification is achieved because of religious teachings, who is to blame for its being entered into so lightly? Not the government, which is tasked with simply keeping track of the business agreements made in its jurisdiction.  That blame rests solely on the shoulders of religious leaders who push the agenda of sexual abstinence (which is in reality a perversion) onto our unsuspecting children. The selfsame leaders who are now leading the charge against so-called gay marriage.

I'd like to offer the counter-argument that gay marriage is actually better than heterosexual marriage. How is that possible, you ask? Because homosexuals who want to get married have at least thought about what marriage means. Have at least talked to their partner about future plans. Want to tie each other together in a binding relationship that means more than a few months of hot sex. They at least understand that marriage should be a lifetime commitment, not something entered into because they have to do it before sexual gratification occurs.

Courtesy Girl Du Jour & Jim Wright
The real sacrament, if there is one at all, is the gay marriage; because they're making a pledge with the full knowledge of what that pledge means, not blinded by the passion of unfulfilled lust.

As for how to address those naysayers out there who think that marriage is some holy union too good for homosexuals to share in, I'll leave that to Jim over at Stonekettle Station.  He does a much better job of taking them apart than I ever could;
You are the very absolutists, the very religious fanatics, this country was designed to protect its citizens from. -- Jim Wright, Stonekettle Station



The NYT article that debunks the 50% divorce rate myth (yes, it is a myth) has a lot of good information in it on the subject of marriage and divorce.
About 70 percent of marriages that began in the 1990s reached their 15th anniversary (excluding those in which a spouse died), up from about 65 percent of those that began in the 1970s and 1980s. Those who married in the 2000s are so far divorcing at even lower rates. If current trends continue, nearly two-thirds of marriages will never involve a divorce, according to data from Justin Wolfers, a University of Michigan economist
 Among the many facts in the article is the notation that the less educated, more traditionalist male-lead households still suffer from divorce rates at the previous high levels. So it is a myth for every group outside of traditional christian households lead by a male breadwinner.

It is also worth noting that the progressive changes of the 70's persist today. The feminist revolution, the achievement of reproductive rights for women, and the more relaxed attitudes towards living together before marriage have lead to reduced rates of divorce, with women holding an equal place in modern society alongside men. This comes as no surprise to me, that women being formally allowed to now pick their mates instead of being prizes handed out by their fathers has lead to fewer bad marriages.

Fewer people marry these days.  That statistic has also lead to a reduction in divorce.  Can't get divorced if you never marry.

The point that is made statistically in the article is synonymous with the point I made in this blog post; that marriage has already changed and will continue to change. That escaping from the confines of christian dogma has been a positive change in US society. That testing a relationship with co-habitation before actually getting married is a very good idea.

Courtesy Coffee Party
The Wife hates that I compare marriage to a business arrangement.  She has always hated that comparison when I have made it. I'm sure most romantics of both sexes hate the very notion that marriage is anything like a business deal.  Their rejection of this observation doesn't actually change the reality of the situation. That there are financial concerns that have to be addressed when contemplating any union. That marriage is desirable to homosexuals because it fixes problems with custody of children, inheritance and survivor's benefits. These are largely financial calculations, and marriage exists to address them.  Not because of love. The notion of romantic marriage was an unrealized ideal before the 1970's.  That is the hard-nosed fact about marriage that romantics ignore.

When seen in that light as opposed to the notion of fee for sex being the business arrangement (you dirty-minded people. I wasn't even thinking of it that way) it becomes understandable that the largest concerns in any marriage are financial.  If you fail to discuss these issues before tying the knot, you will regret it later.



The SCOTUS did render the correct decision and not force the people at large to add marriage equality to the long list of changes we're going to have to make when the Constitutional Convention is called to reverse Citizens United.  It would have been nice if the court had made its decision based on the unconstitutional sexual discrimination which all the objections to same-sex marriage exhibit, as discussed in this article on Salon;
The Supreme Court has long held that laws that discriminate based on sex must be presumed unconstitutional and invalidated unless the government can prove that they can pass rigorous, heightened judicial scrutiny. Relying on that doctrine would answer the crucial question why the Court was deciding the same-sex marriage question at all. The sex discrimination shifts the burden of proof to the state, and the state hasn’t met that burden. The argument is clear and based on decades-old precedent. An amicus brief I coauthored developed this claim, and Chief Justice Roberts raised it when the case was argued.
But any vehicle that gets you where you want to go is better than no vehicle at all.

No need to repeal DOMA now. That act has been rendered invalid with the decision handed down last week.  We still need to repeal RFRA and apologize to religious minorities and the non-religious for ever passing it in the first place.  Still hoping for a congress that is more useful and less obstructionist than it has been for as long as I can remember now.

One way to get that might be to hold certain attorneys feet to the fire.  Attorneys like Greg Abbott and Ted Cruz who have violated the ethical rules for their profession;
The American Bar Association designed the Model Rules of Professional Conduct to define ethical duties of attorneys. State Supreme Courts have adopted versions of the Model Rules as binding upon attorneys who practice law in their jurisdictions. Attorneys are not free to ignore them–compliance is conditioned upon being licensed to practice law–and failure to obey could result in disbarment.
Disbarring them for ethical violations (Cruz's behavior on several subject warrants this, not just this one) would be a supreme irony, considering the arguments that they are making.

Robert Reich's Big Picture for Fixing the Economy

The series of  linked videos below highlight ideas to fix the economy, the top 11 12 points on Robert Reich's mind when it comes to our current economic problems.  These aren't rocket science or socialism, just some pretty hard-nosed factual recommendations; and we'd do well to follow them.  They run contrary to the long debunked refrain of Reaganomics or trickle-down economics that has held sway in the US since Ronaldus Maximus was President, long before most of the people currently breathing on this planet were born.

They also run counter to most current libertarian economic theory. It is painful to say this, but most libertarian thought on the subject of economics is so woefully uneducated that I almost balk at calling them out. Doing so is not likely to be profitable based on the standard of keeping old friends. As I was crafting this article a post from a good friend on Facebook showed up, trumpeting the flat tax proposals of Libertarian darling Rand Paul.

A flat tax will do nothing to recapture the ill-gotten gains of the wealthiest Americans, the people who profited from the latest boom and bust, as well as the previous boom and bust cycles. Cycles that have grown shorter and shorter since deregulation went into effect under...  Ronald Reagan, who was also influenced by libertarian ideas of his time.

Recapturing this cash and redistributing it to the vast majority of Americans through increased pay and investment in infrastructure is essential if we are going to build a functioning economy and not fuel the next cycle of boom and bust.  It is the outrageous amounts of cash that allow the 1% to engage in risky stock market betting like we've seen since the 1980's.

But I'm getting ahead of myself.

A word about the composition of this post. Linking videos that are native on Facebook is a stupidly fiddly process, and Facebook is where I found these videos first. Consequently the text intro for each is a Facebook link, while the videos are from Youtube, giving me the ability to watch and comment on each video while it is running.

#1 is raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour.



There are several common misconceptions about the minimum wage. He hits most of those points in the video. The free market types who object to minimum wage laws on the basis that it interferes with employer/employee contracts, or that it could cause inflation, only see part of the bigger picture which Reich addresses in the video.  Commerce relies on the majority of the population being able to afford the goods generally available to that population.  That means paying the working class enough for them to live on.

#2 is to make work family friendly.



I quit my regular job to raise our second child. We could not afford to put our child into expensive daycare; and really, I wanted to spend time at home with what I knew would be our last baby, having missed seeing much of our firstborn's early years due to the demands of an architectural career in the job climate prevalent in the US.  Had it been possible for me to take on outsource work at home, work from home, etc. the impact on our families' finances would have been less drastic. Had it been possible for the Wife to spend meaningful time with the baby while still working in her tech career, I might not have had to give up architecture for a few years longer, might have enjoyed my final years in my chosen profession before being sidelined with a disability.

#3 is to expand Social Security.



As a current Social Security beneficiary, I should probably recuse myself from commenting on this video. Still, it bears mentioning that the the cap that he focuses on is far too low (because of past inflation) and that rather than set a dollar figure cap, if a higher cap is the compromise solution, there should be a median income calculation involved in determining what the cap should be.  Inflation will continue. Wages will continue to rise. Upper range incomes will continue to get higher unless we re-institute confiscatory income tax (90% as it was when introduced) for high wage earners. Might as well write laws that take it into account.

#4 is to bust up Wall Street.



How I wish this one stood a chance of happening.  I only do business with a bank when I'm required to; unfortunately that happens more today than it did in decades past. The reason for this is the lax rules on banks that should never have been relaxed in the first place.

Most of what is happening today is reminiscent of what occurred at the turn of the last century.  One of the books I'm currently reading is The Bully Pulpit: Theodore Roosevelt, William Howard Taft, and the Golden Age of Journalism much of the battle the occurred then is re-occurring now.  Nearly daily I get a sense of deja vu reading the news.  I recognize this struggle.  It is a shame that more people do not learn from history.

#5 is how to reinvent education.



This one carried no real news for me. Having gotten one child through college and working on getting the second one through high school, and being an involved parent, has left me with few delusions about the state of US schools.  They are pathetic.  So pathetic, in fact, that I paid for private school for my children (Montessori) until their needs weren't met by the school. Then I took the time to make sure they went to good charter schools, magnet schools, etc.  Anything except the standard schools offered to average Texans.

The objection often raised to charter schools is that they are religious in nature.  While it is true that some alternative schools are religious, the schools I selected for my children have actually had less religious content (generally) than the public schools in Texas promote.  Sometimes people seek alternatives for very good reasons.

#6 is to end corporate welfare.



This is an old favorite of mine.  If corporations get handouts then everyone should get handouts; because the corporations demonstrably don't need anything to continue existing.  They have no physicality to maintain, being figments of law in the first place.  We would be much better off handing money to every citizen rather than handing it out to corporations.

#7 is to strengthen labor unions.



I've never been a fan of unions; still, it is hard to argue against the positive effects that collective bargaining can bring to the employment side of the equation.  Collective bargaining levels the playing field when negotiating with large employers.  Unionization lead to days off, 8 hour work days, breaks for meals, extra pay for overtime, etc, etc, etc.

When capitalists spit at socialism in my presence these days, I point out the benefits that have come to the working masses due to the influence of socializing forces like unionization.  If you don't want to go back to working nude in the same place you sleep, with your children huddled around you at night for warmth because your employer is too cheap to heat the workplace (read The Bully Pulpit as mentioned previously) unions are a good thing to have.

#8 is to raise the estate tax on the very wealthy.



Everyone who can work, should work.  The existence of a wealthy class who feel entitled to live off of the earnings of their parents and grandparents is contrary to the ideals that the US was founded on. Contrary to the Midwestern work ethic most of us grew up with. It is hard enough for me as a disabled person who is lucky to get from the bed to the chair some days to justify not working.  I can't even fathom the thought processes of the 1% who wouldn't dream of working for a living.

Or to quote Chris Rock 'If poor people knew how rich the rich are, there would be riots'.

This isn't one of the series I'm commenting on here, but it bears reposting;



It and the other videos in the playlist talk about this same subject, how wealth inequality is worse than it has been in almost a century, and the last time it was like this, the economy didn't improve until after we fought the second world war.  That should not be a direction we should head in this time around.

Also in that playlist is a trailer for Robert Reich's excellent film Inequality for All.  I have viewed the film several times on Netflix and recommend it to anyone who wants to get a feel for the problems America currently faces.  This as opposed to repeating trickle-down mantras in the hopes that they will self-correct and prove themselves true in the long run.

#9 is to make polluters pay US.



I can still hear the screaming raised against the carbon tax back when President Obama first took office and suggested some of these very things.  Six plus years later, it is even clearer that the only solution is to do exactly what this video suggests. Make the oil companies and energy companies pay to use carbon producing fuels.  Incentivize the use of green technologies.  CO2 is over 400 now.  We can't keep adding it to the atmosphere.  We just can't, if we want our species to continue.

#10 End mass incarceration, now!



This is probably the biggest point of agreement with libertarian/anarchist thinking on the subject of governance and the economy. The kind of thinking I was most frequently exposed to while active in the LP of Texas for about a decade. The business of keeping prisoners has been a target of small government types for years, long before the average American or the re-emerging liberal majority took notice of it. It is a serious embarrassment that the US has 2.5 million members of its population behind bars; more than any other nation on the face of the planet.



Needless to say, as soon as the 10 were out, there was a glaring need for one more item on the list (isn't that the way it always works?) So here is the latest one;

#11 Medicare for all.



The problem with most free market approaches to healthcare is that modern medicine is too complex. It's ability to function, to deliver its product (if health is even a product that can be sold) is tightly linked to corporate structures that are themselves an imposition on free markets. Price gouging is a part of the calculation of every new drug introduced to the market, how much can we get away with charging for this drug? And testing and development of these drugs requires large staffs, deep pockets, wide access to the population. The only way to counter the corporate nature of modern medicine is to either subject them to public control directly (which would be socialism with all the baggage that a state-run organization brings to the table. This would stifle innovation) or to leverage the pricing of the drugs and services produced with collective bargaining. It has to be one way or the other. Neither solution is pretty, but the group purchasing option that medicare provides leaves the companies free to do what they do best, produce goods for the general public.



He swears this is the last one.  Makes an even dozen.

#12 Get Money Out of Politics.



I've been on this bandwagon for about a year now.  Maybe longer.  I blogged about this subject after reading several scholarly articles on the subject of campaign finance, and reading Lawrence Lessig's book Republic, Lost: How Money Corrupts Congress--and a Plan to Stop It which is free online now. In my article from last November, following the election, I list the various groups working to get money out of politics.  If you want to get involved in politics, if you want to see any of these many points acted on and made policy, then I suggest you contact one of those groups or get involved in your local precinct for whichever flavor of the two major parties that you prefer (D or R) if you object and say "I want more choices than that" then I need to be frank with you.  Including more choices than those two on ballots requires more work than even the 12 points addressed here would require.  You're welcome to engage in that struggle if you have the strength for it. Or just go vote when the time comes. If you don't know where that is, go here.

His book Saving Capitalism should be in bookstores (if you can find one) soon.  You can vote on which one of these 12 ideas will be a new campaign for Moveon to promote here.  Has to be #12 for me.