Wednesday, April 30, 2008

The Hooplah: Breakfast Thoughts II - The Brunchening

Bad coffee in a good mug tastes bad. However, the same dark brew ensconced in Styrofoam is passable to decent. Is it the gradual melting of the Styrofoam under the intense heat, a melting that takes so long it really doesn't happen, that improves the palatability? The mug I am using today is quite nice, with a slight tapering in the middle and a sturdy heft. I don't think it's breaking apart inside and tainting the coffee. But an identical cup, poured at the same time into Styrofoam, tastes better. It's almost like diet vs. regular Coca-Cola. What an oddity. Yet I refuse to switch back to Styrofoam. God, aren't I eco-friendly! Maybe it's the heat-conductive properties of the two materials, ceramic vs. Styrofoam, that impact the flavor. This calls for an experiment. As the great man once said, "Stand back! I'm going to try science!"

* * *

I posted not long ago that some women smell. Well some men smell too. Like women. It is very disconcerting to note in a hallway or elevator a strong floral aroma, like a funeral parlor or retirement home, only to realize the space is shared by another man. What is he thinking? Do the women in the world desire men to who smell like their great-aunts? This barbarity must be stopped. Conversely, a rotund basement-dweller filled my train car with the chewy aroma of B.O. this morning. Does no one remember the shower and simple three-swipe deodorizing that follows?! Are we all French that we forget good hygiene*?

* * *

How is David Archuletta not being torn apart by the judges on American Idol? (Yes, I watch it. Wanna make something of it?!) The boy signs like he's in a high school summer camp variety show and yes, there is talent there. But to win American Idol and against the folks he's up against? He cannot hold a candle to some who have gone before him (Michael Johns, Carly Smithson) or those still there (David Cook, Syesha Mercado [supermarket?]). His butchering of two Neil Diamond songs did nothing to break the thralldom in which the judges find themselves whenever he opens his mouth. Do you want as your next pop sensation a boy who looks like he's halfway between crying and peeing his pants whenever given words of encouragement? Vote Cook or die trying.

* * *

In honor of Buck's bacon-infused post, I too must make a confession. Yesterday, I had a chicken salad sandwich. I know I need to stay healthy (the di-uh-beetus and all...), and my initial thought was to have it on multi-grain bread with lettuce and tomato. The latter two remained, but the bread was swapped out for a croissant. Not content to stop there, I added a thicker-than-normal slice of pepperjack cheese and then the pies-de-resistance! Bacon. That sandwich sung. Add some Diet Pepsi (look, Mom - no sugar!) and nacho cheese Doritos (...sigh. There's nothing healthy there. Powdered cheese? It probably causes AIDS) and you've got yourself a meal.


*Just kidding. The French are a clean and industrious people with a rich cultural heritage.

Read on, faithful few!

Buckshot: Better Living Through Bacon

A new Buckshot's coming this weekend, with goodies from the upcoming slate of summer blockbusters. (Hopefully, that includes new trailers for The Dark Knight and Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull.)

But until then, I just had to share this latest menu item from Taco Bell. I've been hearing radio ads for this for a week or so, and every time I shake my head at the sheer ridiculousness of it.

Because when I think authentic Mexican recipes, I think bacon. Besides, using quality ingredients would have just seemed silly.

- Buck

(And you needn't point out that Taco Bell isn't authentic Mexican food. Trust me, I know.)

Read on, faithful few!

Monday, April 28, 2008

The Hooplah: Hey dashtard,-- take care...

Ah yes, a post without politics, in which we look at signs around the country, argue about the devilish salutation "Take care," and mourn the dashtard...we hardly knew ye.

First, here are some interesting signs, gathered from the four corners of my brain.

* * *

Now that that foolishness is over, the heart of the matter.

* * *

"Thanks for calling, y'all. Take care."

Who among us hasn't had a phone conversation end that way, with a complete stranger wishing you well with just those two words? More and more these days I find myself told to "take care" by people I don't know. Ordinary people - normies, I call them - would see that as a sign that we're all coming together as one people, wishing bounteous health and prosperity on our fellow man.

But doesn't it feel to you, instead of just idle words, "take care" is like a hug from someone you just met or the villainous "kiss hello" of Seinfeld fame?

I shake hands when I meet people. I tell them to have a good day, to enjoy themselves. I'll even go so far as to say "you, too" if they end the conversation in a congenial enough manner that doesn't impose on the relationship. But ever so rarely would I tell someone to "take care." It can be a sinister phrase, followed by an ellipse in my head ("Take care..."), with the image of a mustachioed man in shadows whispering into a dirty phone booth receiver before lightly replacing it in the cradle, the click of termination indicative of more than just the end of our call.

This is a paranoid perspective, I am told.

That perfect strangers wish me harm instead of good after a few minute phone call is a thin theory, to say the least. More likely than not, the wholesaler or tech-help guy or dentist's secretary doesn't care one whit about me or mine and has a rote "goodbye" that isn't so abrupt and impersonal, but in the act of standardizing such a phrase, that's also an unexpected outcome. So aside from making me squirm, thinking that some person is sending gooey vibes across the country, they're also taking a perfectly innocent phrase and robbing it of its sentimentality.

I do use the phrase on exceedingly rare occasion, and respond well if I know the person. I don't hug you just because I've met you, or we shared a few dozen words over long-distance phone lines. If I don't feel it, why say it? If I they don't mean it, why belabor the point and introduce an awkwardness to our connection?

Doctors and health care professionals can use the phrase with impunity because it is their business to take care of us, so by extension, they'd remind us at the last point of interaction. "Take care [while you're away from me]," they imply.

(Now lawyers.... "Take care [to engage in hazardous activity that results in a beautiful paycheck for at least one of us].")

Am I crazy? Does this make me crazy? I'm an optimistic guy, anyone will tell you (despite the red, white and blue elephant on my key chain). Actively, I wish no harm on the bulk of the general population and good favor on a select bunch. To be so indiscriminate when using that phrase - it rings cold to me.

* * *

Perhaps I had a thought,-- but oh, another! Notice the curious but grammatically well-lineaged punctuation in the midst of that sentence.

",--" It is the noble dashtard, and it has fallen into disuse and death.

Interspersed across centuries of European writing, the dashtard, a mixing in various fashions of a comma or semi-colon followed by several dashes, suggests a break more pronounced than any of its component parts. There's substance in them thar pause between thoughts.

Today, pretentious writers use the dashtard to stand out, to appear truly in-the-know to have used such an odd and unknown piece of linguistic history.

Nicholson Baker, the essayist and novelist, dedicated hundreds of words to the praise of the dashtard, its uses and its eventual doom beneath standardized formatting. There is no room in the MLS handbook for punctuation that depends on the writer for 1) form and 2) meaning.

Do lists follow a ";--" or a whole new sentence? Why use ",--" when I could use ";" or "-" by their lonesome? There is little logic to the choice, just eccentricity on the author's part. Guidebooks cannot do their job without concrete examples that can be backed up if need be. There are a lot of sentences out there that use periods, so it's hardly an issue to find them. But how many use dashtards? And in the same manner?

But you now know of the dashtard, and can begin using it in your writing. Maybe it never appears in print;-- the idea, my friends, does live on.


Read on, faithful few!

Sunday, April 27, 2008

TPH: Numbers, Numbers, Numbers

The Political Hoedown
Hillary Wins PA; Numbers; Superdelegates

Despite being outspent 2:1 by Sen. Obama's blitzkrieg campaign, Sen. Hillary Clinton pulled out a win in Pennsylvania...that we all said was a foregone conclusion months ago. Regardless, it's a big deal for her. Another big state - a state of national prominence - it further solidifies (in her mind) the argument that she can pull the strands of the party together better than Barack.

Her lead in the state was in the double-digits weeks out from the primary, but shrank to single-digits as the contest approached. In fact, some polls showed Obama ahead of her. But the reality of her voting base and the scrutiny facing Obama's controversial associations proved too much for any major upset, and the polls closing in on April 22nd showed her regaining or holding the lead by a comfortable amount.

Obama ran an odd campaign in the state. He pumped millions into it and, as I said, expended twice as much cash as Clinton. Yet in the week before, he and his campaign admitted that they had no illusions of victory. Were they trying for an underdog win, or spelling out plainly that they really didn't have a chance? I'd go for more of the latter. Were I Obama's treasurer or finance guru, I'd be a little upset at the outlay of funds for a losing battle - a battle that six weeks ago they knew was lost. The polls done in Pennsylvania back then weren't in a vacuum; the electorate knew Hillary was behind Barack but still gave her such a lead. Unallocated votes in the meantime swayed more for him, boosting his numbers, but hers weren't much degraded. So theirs was a stop-gap maneuver, doing their best to hold their position with little chance of gain. And it cost them millions to do it.

It all hashed out (roughly) 54.7% to 45.3%, Clinton over Obama. Of course, she claims the victory goes beyond a simple win for her and continued campaigning; it threatens his electability in a general election. That is fair, but it is also fair to say that most of her voters would stick with him in the fall. If she speaks of the broad view, of pulling in independents and Republicans who fall in the middle/middle-right, there's more credibility to her argument. But to really look at that, one must look at the numbers.

* * *

Do you know how long it takes to wade through the dozens of exit polls done in the last few months? You can go through each candidate's victory column and cobble together, through numerical and statistical manipulation, a case for them for president. According to the Pennsylvania exit poll, when asked if Clinton can improve the economy, "Yes" respondents were at 75% while "No"s were at 23%. Using the same question with Obama as candidate, the Yes:No's were 65% to 33%. That's huge right there, and a key hitting point for the Clinton campaign, that more people have faith in her economic vision, based on a (flimsy) exit poll.

For while exit polls do provide us with "valuable insights" into the demographic breakdown, as well as fodder for cable news shows, they aren't cannon voter indicators. 2,217 people out of 2,306,326 - or .001% - participated. Pollsters make their living out of choosing certain people to fulfill national demographic categories in order to reflect the country as a whole, thereby gaining the nebulous "valuable insights" we need to digest voting results. But are they to be trusted?

Certainly by going through the PA results, we see that Clinton was leading in most categories, and mirrored her overall victory. BUT notice how, even with these in hand, CNN waited until about 20% of the state-wide results were in, including key precincts around major cities, before calling for Hillary. The numbers are only so good, and again, easy to manipulate. It's exit polling that got the networks and cable news channels into so much trouble with early, pre-poll closing calls.

Clinton lost Wisconsin by a sizable margin, yet looking at the results, you could make a case that white Democrats prefer her as their President. 53% of exit pollers were white Democrats, and they chose 51% to 49% Clinton to Obama. You can easily use those numbers by removing them: over half of white Democrats choose Hillary. While you can't really run that sort of ad, it helps with positioning amid the media, in smaller press releases to couch a loss with a statistical victory in one small area ("But Chris, we did win in this very key demo...").

In the coming weeks (and, potentially, months), both campaigns will be courting the remaining ~300 Superdelegates/PLEOs (Party Leaders & Elected Officials), using these same numbers and the demographic make-up of their victory states to firm up support.

* * *

But what are the Superdelegates to do? Do they go with 1) whoever has the most competitively won votes, 2) the greatest popular vote or 3) the best argument for November electability vs. McCain? In a true democracy (which we are not), they'd go with #2. But, if they are practical (that goes against a true, shouting democracy), they'd look at #1 and #3, ignoring #2, and hash out their response.

The main goal for the Democrats this year cannot be a policy victory. It's a popularity contest or, at worst, a referendum of GWBush. And we already had that in 2006, with the public giving the Dems the Congress in a sweeping win for the minority party. Now, with a little less than two years of blah under their belt, along with mortgage, credit and gas crisises, they pray the momentum of the primaries will allow them to keep their seats in the fall.

Obama's camp claims that, since he has the most non-PLEO delegates, meaning the public is on his side, his case is the best for a fall victory. Hillary understands he's won a bunch more states than she, though many are "red" and not likely to go "blue" even if he was the candidate. However, her victories have been in states that have to be won, the ubiquitous national states, and count for more...right?

Which make up the Republican party more: black people or white? And of those whites, how many really are billionaires sitting in golden palaces amidst acres of servants and luxury? So we can agree that most Republicans are white and probably middle-class and below. Might one collar? Do you see where Hillary can take this, how she can use the "I pull from the demographics that THEY use" argument to trump Obama's youth/disenfranchised/black base?

Any presumptive Democratic candidate must realize that to overcome the foot soldiers of the Republican party, the white folk, they'll need the same. While an Obama candidacy will guarantee more black voters, in states like Illinois, New York and South Carolina (low electoral vote count) it won't matter. The grand picture, Clinton can argue, means a big tent that has those necessary blue collar whites as the linchpin (!) of the whole deal.

But Obama has more votes.

How would you decide?


Read on, faithful few!

Monday, April 21, 2008

TPH: The Next (Last? HA!) Do-or-Die for Sen. Clinton

The Political Hoedown
Pennsylvania; the DNC?!; Immigration Follow-up

It's the elephant in the room, the Pennsylvania Primary, and the media is deciding to ignore it. Look to Indiana, to North Carolina, they say, predicting a Hillary win already. And that sort of prediction when the race has been anything but predictable shows someone's got stones.

Or is an idiot.

The logic goes, unless Hillary loses, any win by her will be enough to see her through to Indiana and North Carolina, the next set of "decision" states, so why bother? Polling data puts her ahead by a little to a fair amount, depending on your source, and it stands to reason that she's going to come out of April 22nd with another win in her column, if few actual delegates. Because let's be honest: she's not winning more delegates than Obama at this point.

He's got the "competitive" delegate lead, and is doing better with PLEOs/Superdelegates than her, though she still retains a slim lead on that count. Howard Dean wants this over as quickly as possible, saying by July it should be done - by the end of June, even. There are a few extant Superdelegates, no doubt, who honestly haven't come to a conclusion yet. They are waiting to see what Clinton can do and if Obama can smooth over the last few weeks' worth of negative press.

A telling indicator that Obama is in trouble - or that his staffers worry he might he - would be his use of attack ads and the dredging of the sniper story. He did declare at the last debate that the sniper story - and all "politics" of that kind - should be off limits. Clean campaigning, right? Then why are some of his campaign staffers holding media conference calls and bringing Hillary's tarmac dash back up again and again? There was a feisty back and forth between Clinton's and Obama's chief strategists yesterday (Sunday) that shows a no-holds-barred approach to Pennsylvania's primary, not to mention the remainder of the campaign (however long that might be, and the media certainly wants it to drag on as we've seen with their eagle eye already on the next contests, eagerly anticipating the overtime checks, personal interest stories, political infighting, garish graphics, secured employment).

Maybe it's smarter for the two candidates to let their proxies duke it out, dig up the dirt.

* * *

That sort of segues into the candidates being above it all, elites if you will in the political process. But does that make them elitist?

Hillary has made a big stink about Obama's "bitter" remark about Pennsylvanians ("...they get bitter, they cling to guns or religion or antipathy to people who aren't like them..."). Anything said on the campaign trail, whether at a rally in front of thousands or a private fundraiser with a few dozen people, is fair game. Certainly Obama gets that now, much to his chagrin.

It's not rightly "fair" of Hillary to try and judge someone else an elitist when she is Hillary Freaking Clinton, but when has fair really entered into politics in our nation's history? She is rightly taking advantage of his political weakness, jumping like a badly coiffed lion on his confused zebra. But, like with the Rev. Jeremiah Wright debacle, he's not really impacted all that much. His numbers have dipped a little, perhaps, but not noticeably. It's sort of a moot point for these two to argue the "elitist" card, because not only are both part of the very top of earners in the country, not only are they some of the very few elected to national politics, but they are presidential candidates. Mark Helprin of TIME magazine said it right when he claimed you can't get more elite than that.

It's quite common for Democrats to label others elites, or out-of-touch with reality. Certainly Hollywood liberals have never met a better-than-you comment they haven't wanted to hurl the Republicans' way. We recognize the irony, that people who demand eight-digit salaries (or maybe even just seven...) for a few months' work are claiming they have a finger on the pulse of the common man and are more in the trenches than Those Right-Wing Politicians In Washington(!!). I think we'd all be a lot better of if the word "elite" never came up in politics unless someone was mocking gamer speak ("Hillary claims I am l33t, but it's time she pwned up to reality...." The kids will get it, old people, don't worry).

However, Hillary's attack-dog stance on his "bitter" comments isn't necessarily a wrong one. It shows an incredible lack of thought? intelligence? tact? on Barack's part to even think what he said, much less say it. And it speaks to a personal ideology that, while not elite to a degree greater or less than any politician, is condescending to a social viewpoint. Certainly Obama is not a gun-toting, Bible-thumper; the culture is not his, per se.

There is a gap between him and those who do fall into that category, and I can imagine this will be highlighted in the fall if he's the candidate. Posing with a firearm or carrying a Bible in his briefcase won't necessarily help him. After all, he still faces John McCain who, if not a born-again Pentecostal, certainly knows his way around a weapon and has what spin artists call a "quiet faith." Fake machismo or religiosity will win him more scorn and late night talk show punchlines than votes. In fact, I don't think religion will play the part in this fall's election regardless of the candidate, simply because McCain isn't going to play that card. Barring shameful discussions of Obama's name and its Islamic implications, expect this race to ignore to a large degree the religious groups that made the last eight years' worth of elections some of the most frustrating in our nation's history.

(I speak as an individual happy there is a separation of church and state, full of a hearty dislike of nasty preachers on both sides who feel God chooses their politicians, when really everyone is trying to help their fellow man, just with different mechanisms. The sooner we let our faiths guide our morality and choices, and not fuel attack ads and unfair pigeon-holing the better.)

But going back to Obama and the "common man." He regrets the wording his chose, but does not apologize, when asked about the "bitter" comment. This circles around to the condescension mentioned above. He stands by the idea of his words, but realizes he could've said it without making people understand the derogatory nature of the remark. There is a semantics war being fought here; no apology, no "I'm sorry." Those denote a sense of remorse about the act, whereas regretting something doesn't mean you were wrong, just that you wish you'd done something differently. Unapologetic regret is possible, and alive in the Obama campaign.

* * *

I thought I'd post something about immigration, seeing as the recent special edition of the Political Hoedown garnered actual discussion on-site after the posting. But to use this platform for a retort, buried under election twaddle, feels unfair. Expect a fuller response later, in which I address points raised, NEW points and old points in sequined jumpsuits.

* * *

Let's not forget that I've addressed the Rev. Jeremiah Wright concern, and the religion question in general. Some of you readers may've been laying low when I tossed that sucker up.

* * *

I wrote a little blurb about McCain not being negatively affected these days in the polls while Obama and Hillarious duke it out. There's also a little about more about conservatives, him and how he might frame himself to be viewed as not Bush's third term.


Read on, faithful few!

More Buckshot's On The Way

I got a lot of positive feedback on the last Buckshot, so I feel rather guilty that it's been almost two weeks since I posted anything new. But once again, grad school has reared its ugly head and demands most of my attention. I'm in the home stretch though, so look for some new material in a little over a week. In the meantime, enjoy Hooper's ravings. And remember...

For relaxing times...

Make it Suntory time.

- Buck

Read on, faithful few!

Saturday, April 19, 2008

TPH: How is he doing this?!

The Political Hoedown
Just a few words to tide you over...

John McCain is holding up well in the With President Bush's approval rating at a stunning 28% (and, even more awe-inspiring, that isn't the lowest Presidential approval rating since they were measured...), support for continuing presence in Iraq faltering (to be kind) and Obamamentum barreling past controversy and missteps, McCain should already be half-beaten in the gutter waiting for November to put him out of his misery.

What magic devils doth he implore to keep him neck-and-neck in virtually every national poll?

If you guessed gypsy magic, you'd be wrong. Flashy and tricksy, but wrong. Simply put, he doesn't look that bad in comparison to his fellow contenders. Hillary is making up her international experience faster than an imaginary sniper's bullet. Obama is suffering from a variety of negative stories in the press, and this brings a hint of doubt to his audience. So what is left?

John McCain.

I've spent a lot of electronic ink (electro-ink? e-ink? eeenk?!) talking about the Democrats and peppering my "reporting" with commentary. What about that other guy, you know, Old Man John 'Soon-I'll-Gum-My-Food' McCain? Do I think he's The One? No, of course not, but I am a fan of his approach to politics and the world. Obviously, I have to ask myself if a Cold War Warrior, a Reagan Footsoldier, is right for the 21st Century. More than GWBush's 3rd term in McCain, might it be Reagan Mark 3? What does that even mean?

Right now, everything bad that happens to the others casts better light on him. He's not being very loud right now, not very divisive. He can't be, since a chunk of Republicans are, to say the least, wary of him as their candidate. It's worth mentioning that though he isn't losing, nor is he gaining. Aside from that, he's solidifying his political base.

Not the Evangelicals, but the broader Republican base: the libertarians, social conservatives, economic conservatives and the hawks. I don't factor in the Evangelical vote this year because while it will play a part, it's role will be less than in 2000 and 2004, simply because McCain isn't Bush. And he probably doesn't like those guys all that much. They have to realize that you can play for the same team without liking every player, but you pull together for that last drive down the field (hey, a successful sports metaphor!).

Bush cast himself as a crusader, and McCain is too pragmatic to wear that armor. Reagan was the Cold War Warrior, fighting against the Big Idea of Communism around the world, through its most powerful proxy, the USSR. McCain could take a page from this book and, instead of bringing to mind half-hearted images of Bush-as-Woodrow Wilson, espousing broad freedom around the world through intervention, envision himself as the inheritor of Reagan's mantle. There is a difference between stubbornly following an ideology and structuring an argument for one as The Better Choice. See our protesters not being jailed, hear our church bells and imans and spinning dreidels, and etc.

It's about positioning, McCain proving he's a conservatives the likes of which Reagan was, not a polarizing extremist some in the party have become. While a conservative in many ways aready, he confounds them also by not walking the straight party line and sometimes approaching policy and legislation from other than the far right. Will the internecine warfare of the Democratic Party last long enough to see him hit 50% in the polls when put head-to-head with Obama or Hillary? Good question.

Ask me again after the Pennsylvania primary.


Read on, faithful few!

Thursday, April 17, 2008

TPH: The Need of Our Own

A Political Hoedown Special Edition

Disclaimer: The opinions of Hooper McFinney are his own, and do not reflect yours, so don't worry. You won't get a mild case of intolerance from reading the following.

I read an interesting article in today's Chicago Tribune (credited to the LA Times, by Anna Gorman): "Illegal immigrant's case raises transplant issues." Ana Puente, the article tells us, is waiting for her fourth liver transplant. She received her first as an infant and other two in 1989 and 1998, all at UCLA Medical Center. The "approximate cost for a liver transplant and first-year follow-up," according to the article, is $490,000.

Ana is also an illegal immigrant. Does anyone else see something wrong with this picture?

To preface, I am not a heartless monster who thinks a child in need should be denied care. We need medical safety nets in place to make sure that children of all stripes are provided with responsible pediatric attention. I'd of course argue that the children of the wealthy deserve the coverage, but shouldn't be eligible, just like the requirements certain schools have regarding scholarships. The redistribution of wealth, as some Democrats might say, to the youth of this country is a finer thing than broad welfare spending on able-bodied adults. I digress, though.

What we're faced with is slap in the face, a people - and yes, I will stereotype and generalize, and to be sure, I'm talking about illegal Hispanic immigrants - full of a skewed sense of entitlement. Puente was quoted as saying, "It doesn't matter if I'm undocumented...they should take care of me at UCLA for the rest of my life because I've been there since I was a baby."

The waiting list for liver transplants in California alone is 3,700 people long, and only 767 transplants were performed in 2007. As many as 75 of those were for non-US citizens, the number for illegals unavailable.

We have a health care crisis in our country, no one denies it. People go without or with too little because of insurance, medicinal availability or full patient dockets at public hospitals. While the crisis is not necessarily widespread, it is still pervasive and threatens millions of people with, at the least, inadequate care. Why then are we so eager to give our services, our time, our tax dollars and our medicine to people who have violated federal law to be here?

I understand the "people are people" argument put forward by Dr. Michael Shapiro. "When you make an incision in an organ donor, you don't find little American flags planted on their organs." If you come to this country legally and get placed on a donor list, but your citizenship status is Iranian, you shouldn't be denied because you aren't a US citizen. But you're here legally, you went through the right channels; you didn't swim under them.

The executive director of NumbersUSA, Roy Beck, was right when he said transplants are about rationing. It's a needs-based system, but one that should also have built in it a legality component for those competent enough to seek their own health care. Basically, if you are in your twenties, like the two illegal immigrants in the article who are awaiting further transplants, there's a reason you're kicked off the state health care bill. You are old enough to make any decision you want, and perhaps the first one is to go home.

Home being, in these cases, Mexico. Seek its donor lists, wait with your countrymen, allow our citizens who paid for your livers - plural - to get one of their own, because they deserve it more than you. I know you couldn't choose where you were born, that those of us in the US don't realize how good we have it. It's a foregone conclusion!

But if you want to stay here, to take our benefits without putting anything else in the pot, how dare you demand our service.

Jose Lopez, the other illegal 20-year-old in the article awaiting another transplant, said, "You can't just leave a person to die. That's pretty much what they're telling me: 'You're illegally here. We're just gonna let you die.'"

Damn you for placing that burden on us! For putting the responsibility of your life at our feet! The sword of human dignity cuts both ways. If you want to live, don't say it's our ethical imperative to provide that life; man up! Run back across the border, apply for a worker visa, for citizenship or stay there and use your own nation's health care system.

It is not the responsibility of the United States to care for the world. I'm no isolationist, but on this there can be no argument. We have to order our own house, heal our own people who are in dire straights. The plight of a Mexican child with a bum kidney or livery might be heart-rending to hear, but if it's the difference between them and the child of an Ohio steelworker, or a Dakotan farmer or a Maine fisherman, there's no choice. I place us before them.

"Selfish" easily describes that action, but it's a small word for this, and makes the action small by relation. But this isn't a kid in a playground pouting and taking his ball home; it has to do with protecting the health, welfare and future of a whole nation. The more we allow programs like Medi-Cal, which seems to be a loophole program letting illegals get medical service at the cost of the state, to prosper, the less service we offer our own.

Think of it this way. Ana Puente, conservatively, has cost the state of California at least $1,000,000 (unadjusted) over the last two decades, Jose Lopez a little less. These two - just two - illegal immigrants by the end of the year, if all goes to plan, will have spent over $2,500,000 overall in California-taxpayer money by manipulating the structure of state health care systems. Illegal immigrants, mind you.

California has a program set up to provide quality health services for the poor, exactly who need the benefit. Medi-Cal in theory is great, but in at least this instance tragically flawed if it allows the downtrodden of our country to be beaten into the dust even more by those flagrantly ignoring federal law to seek our superior medical capabilities. Medical service that should be intended for the truly less fortunate of
our country, not Felipe Calderon's or Alvaro Colom Caballeros' or Antonio Saca's.

I get frustrated with people who demand we treat the 12 million illegals as though they were already citizens when we have our own citizens dying from lack of the same medicine these illegals are utilizing. The economic benefit of cheap, head-down-cash-only labor does not outweigh the suffering of our own people. Again, it's a sense of entitlement, that because we are the "land of the free," that means it's free for any to walk all over and abuse.

Some argue it's our Christian duty to provide this much-needed care to the "undocumented," but not all taxpayers are Christian. If an organization independent of our state, local and federal governments wants to provide funding in a private clinic setting for illegal workers at no cost to the taxpayers, or detriment to poor US citizens, more power to them. That's one great thing about our country, the amount of private giving. Our charities do a great job complementing Federal programs and aid. Let's have them take a larger role.

But I do not see how, in clear conscience, we can continue to provide medical benefits to illegals above and beyond what we give our own citizens.

The University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine's ethics department chair, Arthur Caplan, stated, "Physicians and institutions do have a duty to these patients once they transplanted them. . . . Insurance running out is no excuse for abandoning them." The latter statement is correct, but greater need is an excuse. The need of our own sick and dying.

How can we lead the world, like all politicians preach we will if only you vote for them, if our own country has its very foundations crumbling due to disease and avoidable medical calamity?


Read on, faithful few!

Friday, April 11, 2008

A Girl & Her Guitar

Howdy, folks! Who wants to hear some great music? I know I do, what with the drunk kids and their hip pop and their untied shoes and innane lyrics.

So why not come down to Dolce's Saturday, April 19th at 6:30PM for a night with Margo Jean of The Rubes?

Playing rompin', rowdy, original roots music, she'll get you tapping your feet and singing along with bawdy choruses of "What would you do with a drunken sailor?".

You can find Dolce's, directly south (across the street) from Westmont's train station, at 15 W. Quincy (630-663-0401). There'll be no cover charge to this event, so come out and enjoy the food, beer, wine and coffee in this great new space.

You can check out the Rubes at either their label's website or their MySpace page (so the punk kids won't feel so weird venturing away from their electroconfines).


P.S. - She's also my neighbor, so if you don't go and make this big, she knows where I live...

Read on, faithful few!

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Buckshot: In which I rant like a cranky old man.

Do you look at the fashions of today and shake your head in disbelief? Do you long for the days when style simply meant hanging an onion on your belt? Then today's Buckshot is for you!

This is something in a similar vein as Hooper’s latest Hooplah, in that it’s also a commentary on how people present themselves in public. Whereas his dealt with the olfactory presentation, mine deals with the visual side of things. In short, do you people even look at yourselves in the mirror before you leave the house?

Denis Leary agrees: Pull up your pants!

It’s certainly not a new topic, but let’s take a moment to address the pants of today’s youth. Why, in the name of all that is just and true, are your pants around your knees? I know it’s not because you forgot your belt. You forget your belt, your pants sag slightly. They don’t fall to your knees, requiring you to walk around all day with your hand on your crotch to hold them up. You know who walks around all day with their hands on their crotch? Perverts.

The other pants trend is the so-called “skinny” jean. Basically they’re tights made of denim, covering the legs snug as a leotard. I’ve yet to see them on one person where it didn’t look completely stupid, especially on men. Guys, it just looks like you got dressed in the dark and put on your girlfriend/sister’s pants by mistake. What’s the appeal here? Some latent desire to be a superhero, and you figure denim tights are more socially acceptable than spandex? Hell, if you just wore the spandex instead of paying $100 for those dumbass pants I wouldn’t give you a second glance. (Well, that’s not entirely true. Spandex always gets a second glance, even if it’s not flattering on the wearer. Especially if it’s not flattering.)

These next couple are complaints about accessories rather than the clothes themselves. First up, backpacks. Not in all situations, obviously. Sometimes you’re going somewhere and have a legitimate need for one. No, I’m talking the parents with backpacks. The ones who are already pushing a stroller with crap in the basket under the kid and a diaper bag perched on top the stroller filled with more crap. You’re wearing a backpack. What couldn’t you leave the house without that necessitated yet another bag full of junk? And usually your kids are wearing backpacks too! We saw this on at least half the families when we visited the Kennedy Space Center last month. I saw one family: mom, dad, and four kids, and they were all wearing a backpack. What treasures are you secreting around in these things? It’s almost enough for me to advocate the return of the fanny pack. They may have been unsightly, but at least they were small enough they didn’t give you an excuse to slug half your belongings everywhere you went.

Next up, the Bluetooth earpiece for your cellular phone. These are only acceptable if you’re actually using it. Otherwise, stop walking around with the damned thing on your head all the time. Look, I get the convenience of it, I really do. But if I ever get one, it’s going to stay in my pocket unless the situation calls for it. I’ll just answer my phone *gasp* the old-fashioned way, and if I feel the call is going to last a while, I’ll say, “Hang on a second, I’m going to get out my hands-free so we can keep talking while I scale this fish.” Seriously, have they become some sort of status symbol and I just missed the memo? Bottom line, they look ridiculous. And should I ever get one, I’ll probably look ridiculous wearing it. But when I’m finished using it, I’ll put it away and stop looking like an idiot. The only person who is allowed to wear a Bluetooth all the time is this guy:

Quick test: Are you Lobot?
A) Yes.
B) No.
C) Has anyone seen my socks?

If you did not answer A), please put the damned Bluetooth away.

Finally, this is one that Mrs. Buck has pointed out to me on several occasions: Women shopping in the juniors section who have popped out at least one kid. Congratulations on losing the baby weight. Now dress age-appropriate, you tramp. Just because it fits doesn’t mean it looks good. I can squeeze into pants or a shirt a size smaller than what I normally wear; doesn’t mean I should. Contrary to popular belief, you can dress your age without looking like your mother. When you’re pushing a stroller while wearing a barely-there tank top and shorts with “Juicy” written across the ass, it’s not too hard to see how you ended up pregnant in the first place.

- Buck

Read on, faithful few!

Sunday, April 6, 2008

The Hooplah: Some women smell & other thoughts

I have been subjected to several very aromatic women in the last few days in the elevator, waiting for food, walking down a hallway at work. I am sure these women bathe, or at least stand in the tub and look expectantly at the shower head hoping clean will wash over them. But they stink.

It's not even body odor around them, though it certainly hints at the edges.Can I say they are unique smells? Let's take an example.

A woman, let's call her Julia since I know no Julias, stands next to me waiting for the elevator to whisk her downstairs. We've all just come from the lunchetorium with our salads and carvery sandwiches and inexpertly made stir-fry. We carry this food in our hands, full of thoughts of eating, drinking and the sustenance and enjoyment such acts bring. What do we all hate to intrude on our dining experience? Bad odor. Julia smells, a mixture of decaying leaves and a Chinese fish monger.

And she's laughing!

Her friends must be drunk or stoned, because they too are full of merriment. Maybe it's because of the cloud of funk their friend is in. "My God, do you smell that woman?!" one whispers to the other by the fruit counter. "I know," replies the woman with water wing fat waddles hanging off her arms. "Someone should tell her..." Do they? They laugh!

It's like a story I heard somewhere,-- maybe at work or church or in the local bars I don't frequent because I'm not really that "hip" with it. A man wearing khakis and a button down, long-sleeve white shirt goes to the bathroom. He is in there for a suitable amount of time for No. 2, and exits after hand-washing and so forth. He returns to his cube space, perhaps nodding hey to the girls around him. Part of his shirt is hanging out the back, improperly tucked. And what do these same girls see, smeared like so much fresh mud across the bottom of his crisp, blanco shirt? That's right. How he did it remains a mystery to this day, but he somehow managed to twist the front of his shirt into the path of the toilet paper. Or else there was a Vesuvian burst that no one could control, much less contain, and the shirt was the least of his concerns.

But the point is thus: no one told him. He worked the rest of the day - hours, people - with poo on his untucked shirt. And so "Julia" smelled, and probably smells, because no one told her it was bad form to roll in a compost heap behind General Chang's fish bazaar. Are we sparing people the shame and embarrassment, or just getting some cruel laughter in at their pitiful expense? Hm....

"Guadalupe", another woman with a memorable bouquet about her, did not bring to mind Gorton's discards. Hers was an odd smell, sort of dry. I want to say like death, but death can be wet. But that's the best I've got. It was a faded smell, like old books you pull down from your Great Uncle Johann Frucht's shelves. When you open them, these whithered words try to escape the page at the same moment time is attempting to break down the book into dust. It slaps your septum before settling behind your eyes, that old book smell. Guadalupe had something like that, only for people,-- and she was young! Too young to smell like Uncle Johann with one foot in the grave and other in a Kleenex box because he forgot where he put his slippers.

Stink and smell hold a special place in my heart. How could they not, when I have as a pet the basset hound Neville, who sometimes releases time-delay bombs of such exquisite pungency that I question whether or not his bowels produced them or he purchased them off an ex-pat Iraqi scientist. I was talking to a co-worker about scent memory, which is very strong for me, an important part of the day-to-day. I constantly find smells triggering some random memory from years ago, and usually I'm left frustrated that I can't exactly rebuild the entire scene where that certain recollection came from. But such strong funk recall is why days after the fact, I can still recall the aromas of these women who really need some better lotions or fragrance-masking soap. Dial, for example.

I could on for hours about Dial soap and what its particular redolence means to me, but I've taken up enough of your time already.

Until we meet again, and I share my peculiar relationship with sports and how they loathe me.


Read on, faithful few!

Friday, April 4, 2008

Buckshot: Scattershot

Some fun linkage to end the work week. Enjoy!

Blount County, TN has a new police cruiser. And it's fantastic.

Continuing the law enforcement theme, we have this guy. "One of the stupid criminals," according to the Palm Beach County, FL Sheriff's office.

Still, I'm not sure he's got anything on this criminal mastermind from Chicago.


A custom-made Futurama LEGO set. Bite my shiny plastic ass.

Speaking of LEGO, I stumbled upon this, which is all sorts of awesome:

Okay, the real-life Mario isn't too bad, but the real-life Homer Simpson will haunt your dreams.

This is either complete genius or utter insanity. I can't tell which.

It's a little much, but at only $49.99 it's an affordable conversation piece.


Personal confession: I am way too addicted to the "Pieces of Flair" application on Facebook. These are probably my two favorites of what I've found so far:


Video! I've been embedding these, which seems to work all right. But if anyone's having trouble viewing these, leave a message in the comments and I'll just start using links.

Presenting Troy McClure in: Stop the Planet of the Apes, I Want to Get Off!

An F4 Phantom is driven into a concrete wall at 500mph to test how a nuclear reactor would stand up to a plane being crashed into it.

And a couple of music selections. First up, Alison Krauss and Robert Plant doing Led Zeppelin's "Black Dog."

And here's "When the Levee Breaks" from the same show.

Finally, The Who perform "A Quick One While He's Away." From 1968's The Rolling Stones Rock and Roll Circus. Four guys in their prime, clearly having one hell of a time.

That will do it for this edition of Buckshot. And as always, thanks for stopping by The Den of Mystery. We appreciate your business. Oops, almost forgot to give you your receipt.

~ Buck

Read on, faithful few!

Thursday, April 3, 2008

The Breaking of the Hour...Part 4!

At last we've come to it, the penultimate chapter in Rick Slade's fight against Max Hitler, the twisted creation of Nazi superscience and an unhealthy love between a Fuhrer and his propaganda minister.

How have we gotten here? Catch up with the first three parts in a glorious collected edition post extravaganza! And when you're done?

Press on, if you dare, to Part Four of Rick Slade, Adventurer, starring in...

The Breaking of the Hour!

The strong cross-breeze at this altitude batted at Slade's legs, impeding his ascent. But hand over hand, teeth clenched against the bracing air, he moved upwards to the zeppelin's underside. Max Hitler steered the airship forward at a slow pace, heading due north to the city. Rick knew what was coming, the conflagration set by the crash, the sheer physical violence of the fall.

At any cost, he had to stop it. He hadn't remained long enough before to see if Max had followed the crashing of the zeppelin with any further torment, but knowing the motherless Nazi it was only the first act.

He reached the mooring anchor above the gondola and, pushing himself off the side several times, managed to kick a window in. Rolling over the glass, Slade got to his feet and surveyed the empty passenger deck. No one had boarded before Max Hitler had commandeered the airship; there were no whimpers from under tables or muffled cries from behind cracked doors.

To face Max, Slade knew his fists wouldn't be enough. He grabbed several knives off a table and broke a chair against a metal railing, taking two to of the legs with him as clubs. Taking a deep breath to slow his heart, he walked forward.

Lesser men would claim they were too old for work like this, the adventuring of a younger man. Throughout his life, Slade had never demurred from a task at hand, despite the pain caused, the moral quandaries he'd slogged in. Age and experience provided the tempering flame to his youthful abandon, but he'd never lost the spirit of excitement when faced with a challenge.

Now, well past sixty years old, he'd sometimes wake to knuckles swollen with pain. His right hip and ankle hummed with a dull ache from injuries long put behind him. Two bullets still in his back from his years in the Orient grew cold when a storm was on the wing. But he'd trade nothing for the life of a regular man.

At the closed door to the pilot's cabin, Slade halted and listened. He didn't hear any movements, but that meant nothing. Hefting one chair leg high over his shoulder, the other in front of his chest, he slammed his left foot into the door handle. Cracking against the wall, the door flew open, bits of frame hitting the forward windows and broken controls. And the slumped corpses of the zeppelin's intended pilots.

Slade checked the controls and saw a course laid in, frozen due to the damage wrought by a clip of bullets. If nothing was done to arrest its progress, the zeppelin would fly over the heart of Chicago's Loop. But he'd seen it crash well south of there, into a neighborhood off the south branch of the river and just east of the train yards.

He doubled back through the public areas to the stairs leading up to the crew cabins inside the zeppelin itself, small rooms running a quarter of the length of the ship back to the engine nacelles. The drone of the engines pulsed through the metal deck and support pylons. From the memory of his last trip through the belly of zeppelin, he remembered where the main engine room was, a low-lying room along the bottom with open-air access hatches for repairs.

The perfect place for a critical escape.

Passing an emergency station, Slade dropped the two chair legs and lifted the fireman's ax off its cradle. He tested the edge on a calloused thumb and approved. Twenty more steps and he faced a staircase down to the clanking, vibrating cacophony of the engine room. Before starting down, a chance look at the superstructure above halted him in his tracks. Four bulbous cannisters nestled in the crooks of the steel girders.

"That looks like trouble," Slade whispered.

The noise drowned out his shoes on the metal steps, and once below the deck-level, Slade saw Max Hitler, absorbed in some work over a lever-and-geared console. A gun was fastened into its holster on his right leg, buttoned in; a knife rested against the other thigh. Leaning against the control podium's side was the round hovering disc, looking like a child's sled.

In three quick steps, Slade had closed the distance, swinging the ax at Max's neck but purposely too far forward. An armored brace from a previous tussle protected the Nazi. The handle bounced off the metal collar, Hitler rocking to one side before spinning around, reaching for his gun.

"I wouldn't do that, Max. Helium."

Face contorted, mustache twitching, Hitler started to speak- "You--!" -but was cut short when Slade pulled the ax back one-handed, the blade hooking Max's neck and brining him stumbling forward right onto a left hook. A tooth flew out an open hatch into thin air, falling to the city below.

Bringing the ax back over his left shoulder, Slade paused and saw the explosives attached to the console Hitler had been furiously laboring over. Seizing the opportunity with his knife, Hitler slashed back and forth, forcing Slade to the stairs before he could recover. The ax came around again, with a focused rage behind it, and clanged into a girder.

"I would stay around, mein stummster Feind..." Max took a step back and grabbed the disc "But the view will be better from out here!"

"No!" Slade dashed forward, dropping the ax and reaching out for a shred of Hitler's clothing to pull him back, force him to explain what was going to happen. Alas, he grabbed thin air, and the remnant of the Third Reich settled onto his floating platform and drifted away.

"Do no worry, Herr Slade," yelled Hitler as he donned a gas mask, "you were never smart enough to stop this. I've been planning it for years, since I first worked out where you lived. Worked. Gespielt mit Freunden. Your world will burn as mine did."

Max Hitler kept talking as he moved away, but Slade ignored it. There was a time to despair and a time to act. He picked up the ax, and chose.

Whatever happened, the gas mask was the key. If Hitler feared the air, there was a reason. One longer look at the detonator and explosives confirmed Rick's first guess - he didn't have the skill to disarm it. Jumping up the stairs, Rick ran along the crew deck and searched around for a clue - anything to point to-

There, up above: the four cannisters.

At this part of the ship, climbing a dozen feet on the metal struts and girders was no song and dance, but he made it. They weren't even fastened in place. Collecting all four he wondered how he'd get them out of here without rupturing them as surely as they would have if they remained in here when the bomb went off, spreading a cloud of who knew what over everything south of Congress Parkway.

The axhead slammed through a closed cabin door, and another and another until Slade found what he was looking for. Running some cord through metal brackets around the nozzles of the would-be chemical bombs, Slade lugged them and his other cargo back to the engine room. The timer on the detonator shows less than a minute to get clear.

Strapping a parachute to his back, Slade checked the knots connecting the other one to the four cannisters and jumped. He did not hear the high-pitched beeping as the timer reached its last seconds. Tearing the ripcord on the loose parachute, he angled away as the cannisters jerked up, carried away and down on the northern wind. An eye kept on where they were headed, Slade pulled his own ripcord as the zeppelin burst into a new sun.

Looking up, he saw the disc speed southward and vanish in a bending of light and space.

Max Hitler had gotten away.

* * *

To be concluded in the gripping finale of this Rick Slade serial adventure!

(c) 2007-8, E. M. Held, all rights reserved

Read on, faithful few!

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Review: Justice (DC Comics)

This is the first of what we hope will be many reviews here at the DoM. There probably won't be one particular medium or genre that we focus on. Music, movies, books, graphic novels, whatever. If we have something to say about it, we'll review it. And leading things off is Justice, the recent limited series from DC. I believe I summed it up to Hooper simply as "Justice is a hoot."

The Legion of Doom is going to save the world. That’s the basic set-up behind DC’s Justice, a 12-issue series from writer Jim Krueger and artists Alex Ross and Doug Braithwaite.

Though it's been out in hardcover for a while, I still don't want to give too much away. Here's the basic story...Lex Luthor, Captain Cold, and the rest of the Legion of Doom are all having the same nightmare: The world is going to end, and when it does, the Justice League is powerless to stop it. Night after night, Armageddon comes in their dreams, and night after night Superman, Wonder Woman, and the rest fail to prevent it. So the Legion decides they’re going to have to be the ones who rescue humanity from the coming apocalypse. But since the JLA obviously won't trust that they have honorable intentions, they're going to have to incapacitate the League first.

There’s a little more to it than that, of course. The robotic villain Brainiac has a separate agenda that comes to light as the story progresses. Still, it’s a good set-up, and Krueger and Co. build the tension well through the first four issues. One standout sequence sees Superman going up against the combined might of Bizarro, Solomon Grundy, Metallo, and the Parasite. Things really start to hit the fan in issue 5, as we build to one heck of a showdown between the Justice League and their foes, with the JLA wearing beautiful Ross-designed suits of armor to withstand the combined might of their foes.

The JLA line-up is essentially that of the Satellite Era from the Silver Age of comics, when the team had their orbiting headquarters high above Earth. What has become the classic seven-member line-up (Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, Green Lantern, Flash, Aquaman, and Martian Manhunter) is there, as well as several reserve members. The only notable exception I noticed from that old line-up was Firestorm. I’m wondering if Krueger and Ross have something against the character, or if they simply couldn’t find a spot for him in the story. It’s a shame, because he’s always been one of my favorite DC heroes. But maybe it’s just as well, because at times the sheer number of characters in the story is almost overwhelming. Just for kicks, here are the line-ups. With all these characters to juggle, I suppose I can’t begrudge the lack of one.

Justice League of America:
Wonder Woman
Green Lantern
Martian Manhunter
Phantom Stranger
Green Arrow
Black Canary
Elongated Man
Red Tornado

JLA reserve members: Plastic Man, Captain Marvel

Also appearing are the Doom Patrol, Doc Magnus and the Metal Men, the Teen Titans and some other secondary heroes.

Legion of Doom:

Lex Luthor
Poison Ivy
Black Manta
Solomon Grundy
Black Adam
Captain Cold
Gorilla Grodd

The Joker also appears, though not as a member of the LoD. He’s a wild card in their plans, which is befitting.

Even with so many characters running around, the characterization is strong and their voices ring true. Still, I wish Batman wasn’t so infallible. Thankfully though, he’s not written as the smartest man in the world, as recent writers have made him out to be. Everyone gets some nice character moments, with Green Lantern’s journey before he rejoins the heroes being a standout in my opinion. And Aquaman, so maligned and mocked by today’s pop culture, really gets to be something of a badass. His son has been taken by Brainiac as part of his plot, and come hell or high water (no pun intended) he’s going to get him back.

The series is set just outside current DC continuity, with appearances by some characters who are either currently deceased (Barry Allen, the Silver Age Flash), or currently appear in some other incarnation (the Teen Titans, Supergirl, etc.) While it features more Silver Age-inspired characters, it looks to be set in the present day, with a throwaway reference to the internet being the only real hint.

The art is a two-man job. Breakdowns were done by Braithwaite, with Ross painting over his pencils. It’s the first time Ross has done this on a long-form project, and it looks quite good. It’s not seamless, but it certainly gets the job done. The afore-mentioned armors are gorgeous, and while they’re certainly a bit of an indulgence, they do serve the story.

Justice probably isn’t going to be held in as high regard as Kingdom Come, Ross’ last high-profile project for DC. And it doesn’t need to be, because its aspirations aren’t as high as that story. Kingdom Come had an epic feel to it, whereas Justice is simply good old-fashioned superhero action. And sometimes, that’s all you need.

If you enjoy Justice, Buck also recommends:
Kingdom Come
Invincible Vol. 1: Family Matters
Astro City Vol. 1: Life in the Big City
Superman: Up, Up, and Away
All-Star Superman Vol. 1

~ Buck

Read on, faithful few!