Surly Curmudgeon

   The human race divides politically into those who want people to be controlled and those who have no such desire. The former are idealists acting from highest motives for the greatest good of the greatest number. The latter are surly curmudgeons, suspicious and lacking in altruism. But they are more comfortable neighbors than the other sort.
-- Robert A. Heinlein
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    Friday, December 26, 2008

    Holiday Potatoes

    They're not exactly on Jenny Craig's menu or a good choice for the lactose-intolerant, but they're a big favorite in my family. My dad has been known to make extra on the holidays just so he can have "leftovers" in the days/weeks following.

    So by way of explaining to commenter Xyzabc, here's the recipe:

    Holiday Potatoes

    3 pounds potatoes
    4 oz cream cheese, softened
    cup margarine
    cup milk
    cup sour cream
    1 tsp salt
    2 eggs, slightly beaten
    cup chopped onion

    Peel potatoes, boil until cooked, drain. Use mixer to beat potatoes while still hot. Toss in cheese and butter. Add sour cream, eggs, milk, and onions. Add salt and a dash of pepper. Pour into buttered casserole dish and refrigerate overnight.

    Bake at 350 for 45 minutes, or until brown on top.

    One batch makes about 8-12 servings, by my reckoning, but my serving size is pretty big because they're so good. They're awesome with or without gravy, but once you've had these, regular mashed potatoes will just seem kind of boring.

    Posted by Tom, 12/26/2008 7:06:46 AM (Permalink). 0 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Thursday, December 25, 2008

    Christmas with the Curmudgeons

    Got a nice ham in the crockpot...

    Got a batch of Holiday Potatoes chillin' in the fridge...

    Got a pumpkin pie (sadly, not homemade) ready for the dessert needs...

    Got a stack of DVD's from Blockbuster...

    Got some Bailey's Irish Cream for that extra bit o' holiday cheer...

    I think we're all set.

    Posted by Tom, 12/25/2008 5:12:44 AM (Permalink). 1 Comment. Leave a comment...

    Monday, December 22, 2008

    Why I Love Dogs

    I saw this on the interweb and thought it perfectly summed up what's so great about dogs:

    I've seen my dogs do this countless times. One of the reasons I like having at least 2 dogs is because when the wife and I are arguing, we each have someone to talk to while we're cooling off. Dogs don't understand the intricacies of who was supposed to do the dishes or mow the lawn, but they know when you're upset and try to share the moment with you.

    Cats would rather you just disappeared after the food bowl is full and the litter box empty.

    Posted by Tom, 12/22/2008 7:13:19 AM (Permalink). 0 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Friday, December 19, 2008

    Fractal economics

    This article at is well worth a read on its own merits, but I wanted to highlight something in particular:

    You would not suggest giving a teen who has just maxed out their first credit card more credit so they could somehow spend their way out of the financial hole they have made, nor will this approach work for a business or a nation. The delusion and mysticism that is called upon by the business and economic establishment have obscured the fact that the economic realities of your own homes are not fundamentally different from those of a business or nation. If you are unable to pay your debts, you are insolvent. In some cases, credit can help you bridge a "low" time. If, however, this credit only increases debt you still cannot afford, then the inevitable has merely been postponed.

    (emphasis mine)

    I have long believed this to be true, and it's good to see someone affirming that belief. People have argued with me that the economic realities at the national level are somehow "different", that something in the scale of things makes it so that ordinary rules don't apply. But I've never seen anyone actually detail what that something is. It is largely my impatience with that lack of explanation that led me to Austrian economics, which endeavors to explain the realities in relatively simple terms, and manages to make sense without relying on ideas like "as the economy grows, a critical mass is reached, and magic happens so that reality no longer applies".

    The fact is, everything that happens when government interferes with the economy can be explained with the average household checkbook. The person who can't explain things in those terms isn't necessarily smarter, they just know more big words for small concepts. Granted, there are some things that are relatively obscure (witness my trouble with "mortgage-backed securities"), but they can still be explained with effort on someone's part.

    Posted by Tom, 12/19/2008 7:28:48 AM (Permalink). 1 Comment. Leave a comment...

    Wednesday, December 17, 2008

    Club Soda and Dr. Pepper

    I've long had a bad case of Dr. Pepper addiction. I don't drink coffee, and instead start my caffeine day with a Dr. Pepper. I can't even say that it tastes good... it just tastes better than Pepsi or Coke. One Dr. Pepper a day would not be so bad, but I tend to drink 3 or 4. At 250 calories a bottle, it adds up quickly to become a significant portion of a 2000-calorie diet.

    The reason I drink so much is mostly (once I'm past the daily caffeine fix) for the carbonation. It cuts through the phlegm that constantly accumulates in my throat from a combination of low-grade sinus infections, head colds, and allergies. It also gives me something to do while I work. So a little while ago, I decided to try orange juice and club soda, mixed at about 1:3. This is about 1/5 the calories and the sugar in the OJ may just be a little healthier than the high fructose corn syrup in the Dr. Pepper.

    Eventually, I just started buying 12-packs of club soda in cans. It's zero calories per can, being comprised of carbonated water and baking soda. Now I'm drinking it straight, going through 4 or 5 cans a day. I don't know if the carbonation process or the baking soda ruins the health benefits of water, but I like to think that "at least I'm drinking my daily water". It doesn't really taste any better than Dr. Pepper, but at least it doesn't taste any worse. And it's helping me cut way back on my Dr. Pepper consumption, the way methadone works for heroin addicts.

    The only problem is that Wal-Mart doesn't seem to carry it in cans; the only grocery chain around here that does is somewhat inconvenient to visit. I wonder if I can mail order it...

    Posted by Tom, 12/17/2008 5:30:25 AM (Permalink). 0 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Tuesday, December 16, 2008

    Excuse me while I wallow in fandom...

    I found a site that's hosting a very high-quality version of the trailer for the new Wolverine movie, due out next summer. I haven't been this excited since X-Men came to the big screen. Wolverine is a relatively young character, created in 1974, but is almost certainly one of Marvel's most popular. He's my favorite, and I even did a fairly complicated project for my high school Graphic Arts class based on an X-Men cover featuring him. That work still hangs on the wall in my parents' basement.

    With the greatness last year that was Iron Man, the improved Hulk movie, and the final rescue of the Punisher from bad-movie hell, Marvel is on a roll with their movies. Wolverine is kind of a mascot for Marvel, and it would be a serious travesty if they messed this one up. I'm confident that they know this, and are making every effort to do this one right.

    That said, I'm not planning to read anything about the movie. I don't want to hear about it. The Dark Knight was completely ruined for me by the excessive hype, and I watch the Batman movies more out of a dedication to the genre than any personal affection for the character. But if anyone similarly ruins my Wolverine viewing, stuff's gonna get broke.

    Posted by Tom, 12/16/2008 6:03:37 AM (Permalink). 0 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Sunday, December 14, 2008

    The Day the Earth Stood Still


    But the trailer for the new Wolverine movie blew me away.

    Posted by Tom, 12/14/2008 12:52:22 PM (Permalink). 3 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Thursday, December 11, 2008


    I just got the call, and my dad tells me that Aunt Deb has been pronounced cancer-free, almost exactly 1 year after learning that she had it. We were told early on not to expect anything like this -- there's probably some kind of odds or something that would make it all rational, but I'm going to choose to call it a miracle.

    I don't know whether to laugh or cry, but today is a great day.

    Posted by Tom, 12/11/2008 5:05:52 PM (Permalink). 2 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Sunday, December 7, 2008

    Punisher: War Zone

    The Punisher is a Marvel character who is basically an amalgam of every revenge-driven antihero from Charles Bronson's Paul Kersey (Death Wish) to Arnold Schwarzenegger's John Matrix (Commando). His wife and kid(s) are killed by the mob after they witness an execution, he survives, and goes around on a one-man killing spree that eventually turns into a "mission" to "Punish the guilty", especially those who escape the law. Rounding out the cliches, he's of course an ex-Special Forces operative, a gimmick right up there with Tom the Impaler's beloved ninjas.

    Now that the schlock is out of the way, let me say that as a teenager, when the Punisher was introduced, I thought he was really cool, and I always wanted to see a movie adaptation of the comic. Happily enough, along came a film in 1989... with Dolph Lundgren as the Punisher. Unhappily enough, it SUCKED. They didn't get a full license, so he couldn't wear his costume. Dolph couldn't (can't?) speak English very well, and he's just all wrong for the part. The Punisher is not a body builder. He's burly and muscular, but he shouldn't be winning any beauty pageants. And of course, this was during the time when everyone in Hollywood thought that a cool license or a big name actor (even if he was second fiddle to the likes Arnold Schwarzenegger and Sylvester Stallone) meant you didn't have to bother with bothersome tripe like acting and plot.

    Dolph's Punisher killed the franchise for a good long while, until 15 years later when Marvel decided to give it another go, having had huge success with their Spider-Man and X-Men projects. This time, they hired pretty boy actor Thomas Jane, which wasn't much better than Dolph. Sure, he wasn't all 'roided out like Dolph, but he was just too handsome. And again, they re-told the story of the Punisher's origin as the main plot of the movie. This is where I think the movie really failed. We've all seen the movie where "they killed my loved ones, and now I'm gonna kill them". It's old news. If you want to bring that to the big screen nowadays, you have to add something new, something original, and I'm sorry, but a black t-shirt with a stylized skull doesn't cut it (though it does look cool).

    Apparently deciding the third time was the charm, Marvel gave it one more shot, with the just-released Punisher: War Zone. I went in fully prepared to hate it and declare the Punisher a lost cause for movie-making. Judging by the slim attendance at the movie, most of the viewing public has already written off the Punisher as a cursed license, much as Star Trek has been for video games (Elite Force notwithstanding). This time, they did much better.

    I'm not going to say that they knocked this one out of the park, but I was pleasantly surprised. This time the casting was perfect for the Punisher, as Ray Stevenson has the "grizzled veteran" look down pat. He also somehow manages to show the strain that 4 years of revenge work has had on the character. Like Thomas Jane, he can speak unaccented English, which helps considerably. Physically, he's the burly-muscular-but-not-winning-pageants type that was absolutely needed to play the character with any interest at all.

    Better still, the movie doesn't try to get into the Punisher's origin so much as simply acknowledge it and move on. This was what really set it apart from the others. We find the Punisher 4 years into his war on criminals, with various law enforcement trying to bring him in, and various arguments going on about whether he's a good guy or a bad guy. And we see the Punisher as someone who's not so much an implacable killing machine as a person who's very good at what he does but who also makes mistakes and regrets them deeply. I'm not saying the character is "deep", but he shows a lot more humanity than the typical revenge-driven vigilante character we get in the movies.

    There were a couple of scenes that really shone for the character, and some that were stupid action-movie tripe. Early in the film, he's trapped in a room with enemies coming in from multiple entrances. He hangs upside-down from the chandelier and spins in a circle, firing full-auto like a scene out of Underworld. I threw up in my mouth a little. But later on, when the audience is expecting some kind of long, drawn-out hand-to-hand duel with a trio of parkour-loving thugs, he simply takes them from range in a very Punisher-like way.

    Beyond that, the movie is typical action-movie fare, with guns and explosions and people getting killed in various ways. I really don't see a future for the character as a franchise, because there's only so much you can do with him. He would be good as a cameo character in other superhero movies, because the best Punisher scenes from the comics are the ones where he's set up as a foil to the more do-gooder types like Spider-Man and Daredevil.

    As a childhood Punisher fan, I'd call this one an 8, and the character can finally be laid to rest on a good movie that tells his story without being any more cliched than it had to be. Fans of action movies in general (the TNT set) will probably find it a 6. The rest of you probably won't want to bother.

    Posted by Tom, 12/7/2008 4:22:50 PM (Permalink). 2 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Laying blame where it belongs

    This recent article at goes a long way toward explaining how we got where we are today. It also points out the tremendous errors on the part of the conservative movement that helped create the mess. The funny (or disturbing) thing is that that the article was written in 1967, and the exact same errors are still being made; the only difference is that now the enemy is "terrorism" instead of "communism".

    The recently emerging group of "libertarian conservatives" in the United States have grasped a part of the recent picture of accelerated statism, but their analysis suffers from several fatal blind spots. One is their complete failure to realize that war, culminating in the present garrison state and military-industrial economy, has been the royal road to aggravated statism in America...

    Another conservative blind spot is their failure to identify which groups have been responsible for the burgeoning of statism in the United States. In the conservative demonology, the responsibility belongs only to liberal intellectuals, aided and abetted by trade unions and farmers. Big businessmen, on the other hand, are curiously exempt from blame (farmers are small enough businessmen, apparently, to be fair game for censure.) How, then, do conservatives deal with the glaringly evident onrush of big businessmen to embrace Lyndon Johnson and the Great Society? Either by mass stupidity (failure to read the works of free-market economists), subversion by liberal intellectuals (e.g., the education of the Rockefeller brothers at Lincoln School), or craven cowardice (the failure to stand foursquare for free-market principles in the face of governmental power).

    One might point to the banks and automobile manufacturers as modern-day parallels, and "conservatives" like Tom Cole and other apologists for bailout economics as being of the same breed as their 1960's forebears.

    And of course, there's plenty to go around for the liberals as well:

    The cruelest myth fostered by the liberals is that the Great Society functions as a great boon and benefit to the poor; in reality, when we cut through the frothy appearances to the cold reality underneath, the poor are the major victims of the welfare state....


    The poor are victimized too by a welfare state of which the cardinal macroeconomic tenet is perpetual if controlled inflation. The inflation and the heavy government spending favor the businesses of the military-industrial complex, while the poor and the retired, those on fixed pensions or Social Security, are hit the hardest. (Liberals have often scoffed at the anti-inflationists' stress on the "widows and orphans" as major victims of inflation, but these remain major victims nevertheless.)...

    The rest of the article is certainly worth a read. Take a look.

    Posted by Tom, 12/7/2008 9:35:22 AM (Permalink). 0 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Wednesday, December 3, 2008

    Secret Millionaire

    We just watched the premiere of this show. Basically, millionaires go "undercover" to poor communities for a week, meet some folks, and then at the end of the week they tell some of these people that they're millionaires and hand them a big fat check.

    I am all for highlighting acts of charity, and I like the way the show profiles the poor people who wind up getting the money. What I don't like is all the artificial, made-for-TV drama. The rich folks basically have to go and tell their new friends that they've been lying to them the whole week, and the camera work and music and commercial interruptions play up the drama to the hilt. You feel like you're watching a game show like Who Wants to be a Millionaire or Deal or No Deal. They've taken one of the most beautiful acts of humanity and turned it into a cheap moment of suspense. It's ridiculous.

    I don't understand why there can't just be a show about rich folks (or even not-so-rich folks) who go and check out the situation, perhaps don't reveal all of the truth but don't tell any lies, and at the end of the week simply say "I like what you're doing here and I'd like to help." I'll probably watch the show for a few more episodes, but the unnecessary drama is really killing it for me.

    Posted by Tom, 12/3/2008 8:12:46 PM (Permalink). 0 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Christmas Lights

    Brother Jim sent a joke picture to my dad and me of his supposed "Christmas light effort" (it's not even his house):

    Dad of course had to make a joke at the expense of both of us, something to the effect that our lights are probably identical. I am therefore forced to defend my honor:

    The second picture was taken by setting the camera on the driveway, because all of my other efforts make it look like I was having a seizure. Tiny little colored lights betray the slightest motion, and I'm apparently incapable of standing still for the length of time it takes to click the shutter.

    Of course, one might say that if it weren't for my wife's desire to have Christmas lights in the first place, I wouldn't have any. But I'll never admit to it. Even if it's true.

    Posted by Tom, 12/3/2008 5:09:21 PM (Permalink). 1 Comment. Leave a comment...

    Tuesday, December 2, 2008

    The Fading of the Wondrous

    When I was about 12 years old, I got an old, yard sale copy of Conan the Flame Knife. Overnight, I became a fan of fantasy and science fiction, and still am to this day.

    Many years later, I remarked to a college friend named Mike that I was getting tired of constantly reading fantasy stories where the magic is going out of the world. It's a theme in everything from the Dragonlance novels to Tolkien to C.S. Lewis. We even see it in comic books -- characters like Superman don't get created these days. Modern characters have more weaknesses, lower power levels, and are generally more "reasonable".

    In all these cases, magic is being lost. The dragons are dying off. The elves and fairies are going to their version of paradise. Or whatever. Mike agreed with my assessment of this overarching theme, and called it "the fading of the wondrous". I've pondered it off and on for the past 15 years or so since that conversation, and I've come up with a couple of new thoughts on the subject.

    The first is that this theme is a metaphor for growing up. Little children will believe almost any nonsense you care to tell them, but as they get older they develop the skill of skepticism. This is reflected in Lewis' books, where as the children age they are no longer able to travel to Narnia. Maturity means the loss of the ability to believe in magic.

    The second thought is somewhat more profound, and produces all sorts of issues. I have not fully grokked it yet, but I'll lay out the things I have considered.

    Just as fantasy literature is overwhelmingly concerned with the fading of the wondrous, so too is the Bible, and perhaps even the entire story of Christianity. The God of Genesis is immediate and present; He performs world-shaping miracles on a grand scale. He seems to be quite chatty, talking to just about every major character He runs across. As the story goes on, the Father aspect seems to withdraw from the world as His miracles get smaller and smaller. When the Son aspect (Jesus) arrives and begins His ministry, the miracles are almost entirely on a very personal scale: heal a person here and there, raise a child from the dead, etc.

    Post-biblical Christianity has continued this trend to the point of eliminating the miraculous altogether. Most modern Christians I know profess a belief in angels, demons, miracles, and God, but will paradoxically look askance at any person claiming to have personal experience with any and all of the above. As the saying goes, it's OK to talk to God, but if He talks back, you need psychiatric help. Modern Christianity has all but eliminated God's power, including His ability to communicate.

    Christianity even went through a time where claiming to have witnessed a miracle was evidence enough to be burned at the stake for being a witch. I still haven't figured that one out.

    There are some (like me) who believe that miracles happen all the time, they're simply not recognized as miracles. When a person has a change of heart, or forgives a longstanding grudge, or gives generously and cheerfully, I see God's hand moving in their lives and the lives of those around them. Others simply see a change in behavior, for whatever reason.

    When I first attended the Walk to Emmaus, I witnessed miracles on a grand scale -- I even described it as faith moving mountains. Looking back on the experience, I can pick it apart and rationalize every piece. The entire thing can seem so subjective if I look at it in a certain light. And it makes me wonder... is there room for an interpretation of the Bible that says "maybe these miracles were mostly subjective as well"? Even more to the point, does it matter?

    What I'm getting at is this: Modern Christians, especially the evangelical lot, seem to want a magic show. They're looking for a literal pillar of fire to lead them through the desert, or something equally stupendous. But at the same time, they're limited by either their own lack of imagination or the fact that we know so much more about the world today than folks did in Biblical times.

    Example: When I read the Bible, I can find no mention anywhere of people with mental illness caused by chemical imbalances or severe emotional trauma, but there's lots of people possessed by demons. Maybe it's not that the wondrous is fading, but that the wondrous wasn't so wondrous as we've made it out to be. As a result, we spend our time looking at the sky and missing the more profound miracles right under our noses.

    Another friend of mine, Richard, is a pastor. Recently we discussed the future of the church, and he said that he believes Christianity will need to undergo another major reformation in the next 100 years, or it will die out. The Church has placed itself at odds with the best scientific knowledge we have to date, and it cannot stand long in opposition to that which the average person's senses tell them. I agree.

    Today, we have entire churches insisting that as a matter of law, children should be taught that the earth is only 6000 years old, and that this is the most profoundly important mission for the Church to pursue. I'm not going to get into the debate over intelligent design, because I think it misses the point entirely. Rather than ask ourselves whether the earth is young or old, we should be asking ourselves this: does knowing or teaching the age of the earth, either by science or scripture, change the way Jesus taught us to live? If the earth is in fact 6 thousand years old and the rest of the world believes it's more like 6 billion, is it more important to get them to believe in the magic of a young earth, or to be an example of how to live on this earth, no matter how old it is?

    As "God" famously said in Bruce Almighty:

    Parting your soup is not a miracle, Bruce. It's a magic trick. A single mom who's working two jobs, and still finds time to take her son to soccer practice, that's a miracle. A teenager who says "no" to drugs and "yes" to an education, that's a miracle. People want me to do everything for them. What they don't realize is *they* have the power. You want to see a miracle, son? Be the miracle.

    I'm very much a "book of James" Christian in my attitude towards the faith, and I believe this quote pretty much sums it up. That's not to say I'm any good at living up to it, but that's the direction I try to aim for. And maybe I'm completely missing the literalness of Jesus' injuction to "believe like little children", and the whole problem of the fading of the wondrous is that we just don't believe in the wondrous anymore. I can only point to the many instructions in Proverbs that tell us to get wisdom, understanding, and knowledge, and spread my hands helplessly.

    Some will ask why I struggle so much, trying to integrate the reality I experience through my physical senses with my spiritual beliefs. I understand the appeal of simply accepting what you're told, but so many times what I'm told doesn't match what I can plainly see. Perhaps this is the fundamental problem with Christian culture that I've been trying to describe. Whatever the relationship, I am simply unable to go on believing in multiple disparate realities. All of it has to make sense together. I am also rather firmly convinced that if one's faith goes unchallenged, uncontested, and unexamined, it's probably not worth much.

    Richard once said to me, "we must be careful not to confuse our faith in God with a belief in magic." Too many times, I've seen children being taught to believe in magic as a way of gaining faith, as though God is little more than a Las Vegas stage magician playing for a worldwide audience. Maybe all we're doing is bringing the Bible down to a child's level, but I can't help but wonder if we're not doing irreparable harm to their faith when we tell them that Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny aren't real, but somehow they still have to believe in the "other" magic (albeit carefully, lest they be branded a lunatic or burned as a witch). I guess what I'm getting at is that I believe it's possible to approach the Bible with a steadfast non-belief in magic and still come away with faith. If that's not possible, I think we should question the value of the Bible as a resource.

    Maybe I'm just cynical and worldly and all those other bad names Christians call those who don't show sufficient love for the magic show. My impatience with those who "wait for a sign" rather than "doing the work" is probably a huge character flaw for which God will have some sharp criticism. I can't help but think that I'm right, as does everyone, and I don't believe anyone has all the answers. These are just the ones that make the most sense to me.

    Posted by Tom, 12/2/2008 5:06:18 PM (Permalink). 1 Comment. Leave a comment...

    Monday, December 1, 2008


    It's said to be the better part of valor. I believe it's also a key indicator of maturity. I'm still learning it, but I've made more progress than some.

    Case in point: Mrs. Curmudgeon and I participate in various group efforts at charity. Today we found out that one of the organizers of one of the efforts we're involved with likes to gossip. Ordinarily this would be none of my concern, but it turns out that one of the topics of gossip is who contributed how much to the pool. Other participants are now discussing how much they should give in light of contributions being gossiped about. Hard feelings are starting to surface. For those who've already given, what was supposed to be a private matter is now being talked about in the most embarrassing ways.

    Before this incident, I would've thought it obvious that contribution amounts should be confidential. Every time I've organized such a thing, that's the way I've done it, simply out of consideration for the privacy of the participants. Charitable efforts are difficult enough to get organized, and when people don't feel like they can give privately, without having their generosity picked apart by everyone in the gossip chain, things get even harder. The damage this one incident can do to charity in general is unconscionable.

    As it is, Mrs. Curmudgeon and I don't know if we'll be giving to this effort next year. It's a hard thing to contemplate. We believe in the cause being supported, and the person doing the organizing is a great recruiter for it. But now we know that they also have little regard for our privacy. Of course, if we don't give, we'll probably be gossiped about as being stingy or uncharitable. Unless we can find some other conduit for contributing to this cause, allowing us to say that "we gave elsewhere", it really is a no-win situation: give, and have our giving discussed by everyone else, or don't give, and become known as a Scrooge.

    Posted by Tom, 12/1/2008 6:19:13 PM (Permalink). 1 Comment. Leave a comment...

    Kids and Guns

    Conventional wisdom has it that kids and guns should always be kept separate. So what are we to make of this story (hat tip, David Codrea):

    A break-in at an Ashtabula home forced a teen to open fire, and a man accused of breaking in is recovering after being shot.

    The suspect was shot by a teen who was home alone with his brother and police said the young man did the right thing.

    The incident happened at a home on West 43rd Street.

    Linda Hanna's 15-year-old nephew shot one of three men in the leg when they broke into his home during an apparent robbery attempt.

    A 15-year-old boy had access to a firearm while home alone. He knew where it was, knew how to use it, and knew the circumstances under which its use was appropriate. I hereby nominate his parents for Parent of the Year. It sure beats the average parenting job on the gun topic, where kids are taught to be afraid of them and never to touch them. I'm forced to wonder how it would have turned out if these burglars had come across a couple of witnesses who were unable to defend themselves.

    Who would have thought that age-appropriate education would be superior to ignorance and infantilization? I have honestly come to believe that anyone whose kid has reached 15 years without knowing anything about how to defend themselves from violent attack, is probably guilty of child abuse. "Cower and whimper" should not be the sole survival strategy for adults or soon-to-be adults.

    Contrast this with the Mumbai terrorist attack, where armed police officers apparently stood around and waited to be shot:

    ...what angered Mr D'Souza almost as much were the masses of armed police hiding in the area who simply refused to shoot back. "There were armed policemen hiding all around the station but none of them did anything," he said. "At one point, I ran up to them and told them to use their weapons. I said, 'Shoot them, they're sitting ducks!' but they just didn't shoot back."


    The militants returned inside the station and headed towards a rear exit towards Chowpatty Beach. Mr D'Souza added: "I told some policemen the gunmen had moved towards the rear of the station but they refused to follow them. What is the point if having policemen with guns if they refuse to use them? ..."

    And where's a 15-year-old when you need one?

    Posted by Tom, 12/1/2008 6:11:05 PM (Permalink). 0 Comments. Leave a comment...

    The Advice Thing

    Almost right after ranting about being asked for unpaid services, I began remembering all the times I've tried the same thing, and of course felt incredibly guilty. So now I'm back to wanting to help people with their computers if they ask, but just fervently hoping that the issue doesn't turn into a weekend-chomping grind. I'm also sort of morally convicted/convinced that I need to offer (or insist on) payment for those services that I consume. This is what I did a while back when I sought the advice of a personal trainer. He called it 20 bucks, and I called it a deal.

    A week or so ago, I ran into a friend whose phone number I'd been trying to remember so I could call him and arrange an appointment. This particular friend is a physical therapist, and I've been needing to see someone about my right elbow. It's funny that I can do all sorts of weight with compound exercises, even to the point of deadlifting 315 pounds, and feel no discomfort whatsoever. Then I changed my routine and started doing bicep curls like mad, and now my right elbow feels like it's been tearing itself apart.

    Anyway, I ran into Jay and got his phone number, intending to make an appointment with him. Phone tag ensued, and he wound up talking to me on the phone instead, and gave me some ideas for dealing with the pain. My workout schedule was greatly disrupted by the holiday, but now I'm back to it, and yesterday we stopped by Academy and checked out some braces and wraps for it. Jay and I are supposed to follow up in a week or so. I haven't had the opportunity to pay him, but I'm going to insist on at least buying him lunch. It's all part of my new "treat professional friends like professionals" strategy to assuage my guilt over being so stingy with my own time and so generous with that of others.

    Posted by Tom, 12/1/2008 5:45:12 PM (Permalink). 0 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Black Friday

    There's a reason I don't go to the store on Black Friday. By now we've probably all heard the story of the guy at Wal-Mart who was trampled to death in New York. There's another story about two idiots at a Toys R Us shooting each other to death after their girlfriends got into an argument over a toy.

    One of our local radio stations, Bob FM, had a call-in session this morning to see what other Black Friday brawls people had witnessed or participated in. There was the usual stuff about people grabbing items out of other peoples' hands. But the ones that truly shocked my sensibilities were the stories people told about adults literally assaulting children to get various items away from them. The stupid thing about the call-in program was that the hosts seemed to think it was inappropriate for parents to stand up for their kids.

    Pushing and shoving and general rudeness I can understand. You may even grab something from me before I've purchased it. I may try to grab it back, I may be angry for a while, but that's about it.


    I'm not a parent, but I can imagine the situation if I were out with my nephew Oliver, and someone came up and attacked him for whatever reason, even if it was so trivial as to get a toy from him. Snatch something out of Oliver's hands, make him cry, and you might get some choice language and harsh looks while I dry his tears. But slap, hit, or (as one story went) bite him? Call the cops, cuz Uncle Tom's gonna serve up a beatdown. Nobody lays a hand on my O-Dawg.

    Posted by Tom, 12/1/2008 7:14:41 AM (Permalink). 1 Comment. Leave a comment...