Wednesday, April 30, 2008

I've Been Stimulated

Stolen from Dave Barry.

Q. What is an Economic Stimulus Payment?

A. It is money that the federal government will send to taxpayers.

Q. Where will the government get this money?

A. From taxpayers.

Q. So the government is giving me back my own money?

A. Only a smidgen.

Q. What is the purpose of this payment?

A. The plan is that you will use the money to purchase a high-definition TV set, thus stimulating the economy.

Q. But isn't that stimulating the economy of China?

A. Shut up.

John McCain, Welfare King

Apparently John McCain receives $58,358 pension that is completely tax-exempt. The reason it is tax-exempt is that he is considered to be 100% disabled. He avoided about $18,000 in taxes in 2007 because of this exemption.

His reported income was over $400,000 for 2007.

McCain suffered terrible physical abuse in the service of his country. Far be it from me to cast aspersions about his disability. I'll let him do that himself, as he runs around the country claiming that he is fit enough to be president -- fit enough, he says, to hike across the Grand Canyon. Fit enough that he was again qualified for flight and commanded a Navy squadron. Qualified by the same organization that, ummm, declared him 100% disabled.

Does that make him a welfare cheat? Is he really entitled to it? I'm just asking. Even if he is entitled to it, is it ethical of him to continue to accept it?

Was the intent of the law to exempt wealthy Senators from paying taxes? How do you think other disabled vets -- who may or may not be collecting disability benefits from the government -- feel about this?

I know if I had avoided paying $18,000 in taxes in 2007 that I legally should have paid, someone at the IRS would be getting paid to make my life miserable. If I was collecting disability benefits but could hike across the Grand Canyon, someone would eventually call me on it and try to get that money back. I'd be guilty of fraud.

Is anyone who wants to be president actually honest and ethical enough to be president?

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Third Time's the Charm?

Amazon shipped me a third copy of the book that I've twice received damaged. The thing is, this one was packaged exactly the same way -- in one of those tear-open flat boxes, with no padding or wrap of any kind. This copy happened to arrive in decent condition, but I think it was just by accident; maybe it was thrown around less. Nothing in the packaging would have prevented it getting all chewed up in shipping.

Just by way of comparison -- every one of the dozens of dollar-plus-shipping used book I've ordered from a mom-and-pop bookstore via ABE has arrived more securely packaged against damage. Every one.

I was a bit shocked to browse through my orders and realized I've placed over eighty separate orders from Amazon since 1998. I haven't given up on them yet, but if my next box indicates that Amazon really has made it policy to no longer package books for shipment in any way other than throwing them loose in boxes, I'll have to stop ordering from Amazon. Which Grace would appreciate -- she's been reminding me for years that I should be supporting locally owned and managed stores, or at the least, unionized or cooperatively-owned businesses.

I would miss Amazon's selection and pricing, though; I have often taken advantage of their ability to get me some extremely obscure titles over the years.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

The Last Journalist

Helen Thomas asks questions like she has nothing to lose, while her colleagues have apparently all been replaced by plastic bobble-head dolls.

She is 87 years old.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Pennsylvania and Race

According to AP:

"About one in five voters said the race of the candidates was among the top factors in deciding how to vote. About as many said that about the candidates' gender. White voters who said race was a factor supported Clinton over Obama by 3-to-1, while whites who said race wasn't a factor divided between Clinton and Obama more evenly."

Congratulations, Pennsylvania. You not only talk the racist talk, apparently you walk the walk. It's astonishing to me that Pennsylvanians are so open about their racial bias that they admitted it to pollsters.

You know, I spent most of my childhood in Pennsylvania, living there from 1972 to 1985, when I left for college. I've occasionally had thoughts of moving my family back there -- perhaps trying to go back to Erie or North East and bring my skills and experience, to perhaps try to find work teaching. My wife loves small towns and working with groups like Pax Christi. My mother was always trying to convince me that there were lots of good reasons to live in Pennsylvania -- of course, she also wanted her grandchildren around.

But if race is so important among Pennsylvanians, it certainly would be irresponsible of me to bring my black wife and black children to live there. I don't want them to be be discriminated against for such an arbitrary and unscientific reason. I don't want my daughter or either of my sons teased or abused on the grounds of skin color, or to feel like they have to "pass." I got enough of the teasing and abuse as a fish-belly-white child. So I would have to think very hard about ever moving back.

By way of apologizing for my home state, I've just made a $100 contribution to the Obama campaign. I'm not even particularly supportive of Obama; I've been very disinterested in this year's campaign. As a Michigan resident I was not even able to vote for my preferred candidate in the primaries, due to a party politics fiasco. I just can't abide the thought of Obama losing on the basis of his race, and I want to send a message to that effect.

Pennsylvania, when you realize your entire population consists of bitter white retirees and impoverished state assistance recipients, and you look around and wonder where all your children have gone, perhaps you'd better first look in the mirror.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Smelt Night!

Sometimes, certain items at the grocery store just speak to me. This past Saturday it was a pound of fresh smelt on ice. They looked so tasty that Grace was threatening to eat smelt sashimi.

Michigan DNR on Smelt Dipping

I rinsed and drained them, rolled them in a seasoned cornmeal, and pan-fried them for just a couple of minutes. We ate them with a salad and some homemade cocktail sauce and pretty much nothing else. A cold beer would have been nice but we had to settle for juice.

I had read that you don't need to take the spines and bones out, and they are supposed to be a good source of calcium. After chewing up a few whole ones I started following Grace's example and peeling the spines out. The bones are small but they can be a little rough going down. I think I might still be digesting some of them...

I don't think I've eaten smelt in at least 20 years! They were quite tasty, although best when still quite hot, and needed a bit of something salty to bring out the flavor. Once they cooled down they were not quite so appealing, but that's true of most cooked fish.

Again next year!

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Amazon Tries Again

I'm returning the second copy of the damaged book I received from Amazon, and they just shipped me a third copy, free of charge. I'll be very curious to see if it is packaged more securely this time!

Monday, April 14, 2008

Amazon Shipping Declines?

I got a small box of books from Amazon recently, as I have been known to do on occasion; like, oh, say, monthly. For the first time, these books were not wrapped or tied down in any way, they were just stacked loose in the box. The box was pretty chewed up -- torn through in a couple places, in fact -- and all the books were a little dinged up. Oh, there was one of those little balloons rattling around in there with them, but it had been completely ineffective. Most of the damage was not too bad, although all of it was completely unnecessary, given just a little care in packaging. But one nice hardcover had its dust jacket badly torn. When you put a heavy book with a dust jacket loose in a box with some more heavy books and then kick the box around, the results are very predictable.

So I returned that one. They pay return shipping, but I paid for a box and packing, because I wanted it to be well-packed, to make it clear that the return shipping did not cause the damage. They cross-shipped a replacement.

Today I got the replacement. Again, there was no wrapping or any kind; the book was just loose in a box. And so the dust jacket was once again torn, although not quite so badly this time, because it was the only book in the box. The box wasn't damaged, but do they think these things don't get thrown around?

Amazon used to take a piece of cardboard and firmly shrink-wrap the stack of books to the cardboard, by size, so that the books did not shift around. The piece of cardboard fit tightly into the bottom of the box. Sometimes they'd throw in a couple of those balloons on top so the whole bundle was held snugly in the box. They almost always arrived in fine shape when packaged like this, even if the box was damaged or dented. I'd get an occasional cracked CD case or a DVD case with a broken spindle, but those cases are fragile and I easily replaced from my stash of spare cases.

I have written Amazon a note inquiring about why they have changed their shipping practices. We'll see what they say. I'm a big fan of Amazon because of their support for small press and obscure titles, but if they can't get books to me in one piece, I can find other sources.

FOLLOWUP: Amazon replied with a boilerplate message advising me to return the damaged book for a refund, but the text seems to indicate they think the issue is specific to this particular item.

"We're investigating and will make sure this doesn't happen to anyone else. While we research this issue, the item may be temporarily unavailable for purchase from, though it may be available from other merchants on the website. When you see that the item is available again from, then you can be assured that we have resolved this problem and it should be safe to order the item again."

That's a non-answer, so I wrote them yet another note. At some point it becomes wasted flapping of gums, I suppose.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Blood Tea and Red String

This is one of the most fascinating movies I've ever seen. It's about an hour long, has no spoken dialog whatsoever, and was made for to nothing by a woman who started shooting scenes before she had a clear sense of how the whole thing fit together.

But it's fascinating. It has some of the most amazing, detailed, stop-motion animation I've ever seen. The action and the story is right out of the unconscious mind. The sets are built by hand from found objects and the puppets are dingy and threadbare, making it serve as an amazing antidote for the slickness of modern computer animation; it feels real.

It's billed for adults, but it's not rated. It's not terribly violent, and some of the imagery is a bit disturbing, but it's not presented in a gratuitous manner. Veronica even wanted to watch it a second time. So we did. It isn't nightmare material, just surreal and dreamlike and occasionally grotesque.

Imagine, the woman who made it worked on it for years and years; on a "good day" she might complete ten seconds of film.

This film is one of the few films that we might put in our permanent collection. I highly recommend it.

Tell Your Friends: Bush Personally Approved Torture

It's now incontrovertible, and documented. Yep, not only did Bush know, but he explicitly authorized this treatment. In the loop. Every step of the way. See this Daily Kos story.

Impeachment's no longer sufficient. If Bush and his whole cabal aren't tried for war crimes, the concept of of a war crime no longer has meaning.

This was done with your money, in your name. By those troops, you know, the ones we support, by ordering them to do this kind of thing. Aren't you proud?