Grand Canyon 2019, Day 1, part 1

And we’re off again![1]

This time we’re headed back out to Arizona to spend a week at the Grand Canyon, my second favorite place on the planet. (My first favorite is my labyrinth, of course.)

This will be our third trip to the Canyon and will be the longest time we’ve spent there, as well as being the first time we’ve stayed inside the park. This time we’re going because my very short bucket list includes watching a thunderstorm roll in over the Canyon while sipping a cocktail.[2]

We’re at the ATL, an hour before the flight leaves. Already it’s been an experience: when my bin came out of the security machine my hat was in someone else’s bin, and one of my shoes was four bins behind, all by itself. I’ve trained myself to bring a ziplock bag to put all my pocket stuff in, but I had to scramble because, mirabile dictu, even though PreCheck had failed to come through again, a line opened up right in front of me and I zoomed right into the bin area.

So I was flustered with the shoe and then with discovering that my little magnet thing that holds my glasses was missing, i.e., I had failed to remember to look for it since it didn’t get put into the ziplock bag.

Also my laptop.

Yep, I made it to the gate and sat down to write this blog post, only to discover I had no laptop. Somehow TSA had separated all my earthly possessions from the one bin and scattered them to and fro.

As it happened, it was no huge deal to get back to security to retrieve it. I mean, I did have to ask directions from no fewer than three people, but apparently this happens enough that everyone knows the drill. When I finally made it back to the main checkpoint, my laptop was sitting safe and secure at a desk you’ve probably never even noticed. I was asked to log in, and that was that.

Now to bear the unbearable miracle that is modern transcontinental flight. Next stop: Phoenix.

—————
[1] This is your customary warning that we leave the house fully protected. I always have to mention this since my Lovely First Wife insists that both readers of this blog are hardened burglars. You know who you are.

[2] You probably will need to keep that in mind as we mosey through the week.

Let us count the ways.

Here’s an image that popped up on Twitter:

Okay, my little Trumpsters, let’s count the ways you’re willing to be lied to and manipulated.

First of all, it’s OK to acknowledge that you’re an amygdala-based lifeform, that you require regular doses of fear and anger to make your brain work. You are not alone; many people’s brains work like yours. It’s nothing to be ashamed of, and it’s certainly not anything you can change.

However.

It is also very important for the future of our world — I need you to listen very very closely to this — to learn when your brain is addicted to fear and anger and craves them so much that it invents things to be afraid of and angry about.

Which leads us to the image above, which is from a Trump fundraising[1] website.

First, count the glittering generalities. “Liberty,” “independence,” “born free,” “stay free” vs. “coercion,” “domination,” “control,” and most of all, SOCIALAMISM, KENNETH! We’re not sure what policies are being advocated here — because none are being offered — but we know we’re supposed to feel warm and fuzzy with the first set and scared and angry about the second.[2]

Second, we should look at the historical record.  The Constitution was created out of whole cloth by the Constitutional Convention in 1787, which was not their charge. Those men were supposed to be patching up the Articles of Confederation, which had issues because it didn’t allow for “government control,” but they didn’t do that. They invented a whole new government, a federal government, and to quote Wikipedia: “The delegates were generally convinced that an effective central government with a wide range of enforceable powers must replace the weaker Congress established by the Articles of Confederation.”

Ooooh, “government coercion.” You’re soaking in it.

Your mindset that “government control” is a menace to your personal freedoms springs from Ronald Reagan, a happy-go-lucky frontman for a small set of very very rich people who have funded immense propaganda efforts to drill that idea home since the Roosevelt administration. Remember what Reagan said? “The most terrifying words in the English language are: I’m from the government and I’m here to help.”

I wonder how the people of Oklahoma, etc., are feeling about that right now. Because the government is not there to help.

Finally, once again, socialism is not what you think it is. What you think of as socialism, what you’ve been told to think of as socialism, to fear as socialism, is probably communism, and most definitely the totalitarian implementation of communism. Five-Year Plans, Pravda, gulags, show trials, Stalin, etc etc etc. You think socialism means “government control” of the economy. Certainly that’s what has made Venezuela the poster child of your president (who imprisons children).

However, we’re already a socialist country: we pool our resources to pay for schools, police, Social Security, roads. We don’t do it for healthcare because no one knows why; the entire rest of the planet has universal healthcare. We can’t do it, we’re told, because it would TAKE AWAY OUR FREEDOMS KENNETH, but every now and then some Republican person will slip up and tell the truth: it would hurt the insurance industry.[3]

But pooling our resources to assist farmers “hurt by the trade war,” that’s not socialism because reasons. Even though it’s clearly government control of the economy. Because reasons. (Here’s the funny part: a lot of that money is going to huge agribusiness corporations, many of which are owned by foreign companies. That’s right, because of a pointless trade war with China, we’re going into debt, borrowing money from China, so that we can pay companies owned by China. Are you not amused? What is your brain telling you now?)

I think I won’t even go into the historical antecedents of that photo:[4]

—————

[1] “fundraising”: there’s your first clue. Someone wants your money.

[2] “So give us your money.” Are you beginning to catch on? Does this blatant manipulation not make you a little bit… angry?

[3] “Give us your money.”

[4] I will say that part of the way your brain works is that, having identified all those terrible things that make you scared and angry, it seeks a Strong Man to fix it for you. A Strong Man who can fix things is good, of course, but beware the Strong Man who keeps feeding you fear and anger that only he can fix.

Life’s small pleasures

A simple task in my to-do app: Call Medicare. This is my prompt to call Anthem/Blue Cross to double-check on my Medicare coverage, which kicked in on May 1.

Why? Because I continue to receive mailings from Anthem asking me to sign up for Medicare coverage as well as mailings confirming my coverage. I want to know exactly what I am signed up for, especially whether I’m signed up for Part D, which covers prescriptions.

No, I’m not explaining Medicare coverage to you. You have to go through that dark period all on your own.

So I call the number on the latest flyer I got. The first thing I did was to ask the nice lady to turn up the volume on her mic, because I couldn’t hear her—and no, it wasn’t because I was old.

I explained what I needed. She said I should talk to Medicare. I asked why, if I needed to talk to Medicare, was I holding an Anthem/Blue Cross coverage card in my hand that said they were handling my Medicare Preferred (PPO) coverage?

Fine, she said; she’d connect me with the PPO customer service. Please hold.

Dee dee deet: the number you are trying to call is not available from your calling zone. (WTH?)

Hang up.

Call again.

This time it’s a young man who understands what I’m asking. He offers to hook me up with the correct people. I ask for the number just in case. He gives it to me.

This time the transfer works, and I get another young man. We’ll call him Nathan.

Nathan understands what I’m asking about, so he asks for my Member ID number. I give it to him.

He can’t find me in the database. I give him my name, birthdate, and the Member ID again.

Nathan says he needs to look in another database. Nathan says he needs to transfer me to someone who can actually answer my question. Please hold.

I hold.

I order those nifty Celtic cloak pins for 3 Old Men to use when the ambient temperature is a little chilly during our rituals.

I order more copies of Stephen Mitchell’s translation of Tao te ching to give as graduation presents.

Nathan comes back on, and they’re having a fire. (I can hear the alarm.) He’ll have to call me back. I wish him luck.

And scene.

The great message of spam you needed

I’m always excited to get an email saying there’s a comment that needs moderation because it means someone has read the blog and was moved to respond.

However, it’s almost always spam because—let’s face it—nobody really reads this thing. Fine. I continue to fill the universe with words it didn’t need FOR ITS OWN GOOD, KENNETH.

This time, the spam was brilliant in its ineptitude:

Undeniably imagine that that you stated. Your favourite justification appeared to be at
the web the simplest factor to be aware of. I say to you, I certainly get annoyed
even as people consider issues that they plainly do not know about.
You controlled to hit the nail upon the top and defined out the
entire thing with no need side-effects , folks could take a
signal. Will likely be again to get more. Thank you

Is this not glorious? You’re welcome. “Hit the nail on the top” is now part of my lexicon. Probably “Folks could take a signal” as well.

Carry on.

(For the record, the URL of the commenter was bestbariatricsurgeon.org from Mumbai. And it was a comment on GinTonic No. 7.)

UPDATE, 3/24: Another spam message to be approved:

I felt any buzz from it, however, not off the wall. First,
you have to be experienced what unlimited hosting really means.
The instant their pr release released, the media frenzy began.

New Cocktail: the MDL GinTonic No. 7

I seem to have skipped MDL GinTonic Nos. 3–6. I’ll have to go back and try them again to make sure they’re worth posting.

However, MDL GinTonic No. 7 is a good one:

Half-consumed, but isn’t it a lovely color?

MDL GinTonic No. 7

  • 1.5 oz gin
  • .5 oz hibiscus-infused gin
  • .25 Violette syrup

It is distinctly floral without being sweet. I’m still thinking about bitters; I thought I had some 18•21 Bitters hibiscus bitters, but apparently I’m out.

Hibiscus-infused gin

This is stupid-easy: put some gin in a glass container, throw in some hibiscus buds, let it sit for an hour or two. Strain. Done.

Violette syrup

So you can see that this is kind of an Ultimate Gin gintonic, with three different approaches to gin all piling together.

Highly recommended.

You might very well think that…

… and I will have a comment for you.

In order to be diagnosed with narcissistic personality disorder, you formerly had to meet five of the following nine criteria.[1]

And here were the criteria for antisocial personality disorder.  (You had to check off three or more to get this diagnosis.)

My comment is in the form of two questions:

  1. To whom do you think I am referring?
  2. Why did you think that?[2]

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[1] These criteria are actually no longer officially used. The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) revamped the personality disorders for DSM-5 in 2010. Their reclassification met with some criticism for its decision to drop this specific diagnosis from the new edition. But you get the picture.

[2] We now await the tapdancing from those who will try to avoid saying they recognize any of these traits in the person I’m talking about, and that it’s just because of my well-known dislike of this person that allows them to answer Question 1 with certainty.

Saying the pledge

After the tsimmis last week of the kid being arrested for not saying the pledge to the flag[1] in a Florida (!) school, I have studiously avoided writing this post — and to be honest I thought I had already written it. But I think the story is worth telling.

First, let me state up front that I find this country’s hyper-patriotism more than a little problematic, and the idolatry enveloping the flag is particularly offensive to me since it involves the forced public display of my-country-right-or-wrong-oh-yeah-why-don’t-you-just-move-somewhere-else devotion.

Until the early 90s I was agnostic about the pledge. As long as we all understood that it was an empty gesture, who cares? But then something happened that was so vile, so disgustingly hypocritical, that I became about as anti-pledge as you can be.

It was summer, probably 1993 though the exact year escapes me, and I was once again in Valdosta as the chair of the media department at the Governor’s Honors Program [GHP]. One day I ventured into the TV room of the faculty dorm, where the usual gang was glued to C-SPAN. (GHP is one big nerd camp.)

What was going on that had them so enthralled? The Republicans in the House of Representatives had introduced, as was their wont, an amendment to the Constitution to “protect” the flag, and a vote was in process.

Let me repeat that: ignoring the fact that the Constitution has never been amended to protect the government from the people — quite the reverse — the Republicans were attempting alter our foundational document to “protect” a piece of cloth.

Their cynicism was visible from space: their goal was to wrap themselves in that flag and cast the Democrats in the House as UNPATRIOTIC, KENNETH, for not wanting to gut the freedom to criticize our government. THE FLAG, KENNETH! SACRED SYMBOL OUR TROOPS FREEDOM ARGLE BARGLE HENNGGGHHH…

Now, Dale, I hear you asking, how are you so sure that the Republicans were cynically manipulating the legislative process to provide empty talking points to their amygdala-based base? How do I know that they no more cared for “protecting” the flag than they do protecting poor people?

Easy. We were watching the vote, remember, and it was slow going as the representatives clicked their little buttons at their desks: yeas and nays slowly edged up. The suspense was palpable. Would the amendment pass? Would it be sent to the states for ratification, where of course state legislators would be too craven to vote against it?

An amendment requires two-thirds of both chambers of the Congress to vote for it to be passed, which in the House would be 290 votes. That meant that if it got 146 nay votes, it failed.

Slowly the yeas and nays climbed. The yeas were slightly ahead. Savvy political junkies that we were, though, we watched the nays. Suddenly the vote tally clicked to 146 nays. The proposed amendment was dead.

And that’s when the yea votes soared. Once it was certain that it couldn’t pass, once they knew that this stupendously bad-faith legislation was safely dead — all those Republican cowards rushed to vote for it so they could go home and point their virtuous fingers at all those traitorous Democrats for defeating an amendment to “protect” our flag sacred symbol our troops freedom argle bargle hennggghghh…

In other words, the Republicans didn’t want this thing to pass. If they had wanted it to pass, all those yea votes that rushed into the public record when it was too late to make a difference would have been cast to begin with. They deliberately waited until enough of their peers had the guts to kill it before they cast their vote. Even more: they proposed this pernicious amendment to the Constitution in the first place and brought it to the floor for a vote knowing it should not be passed.

That’s how I know the whole pledge thing is a bogus, cynical ploy to suppress dissent, to shame people who think maybe our allegiance is not due to a piece of cloth, to draw a bright circle around those who are uncritically “patriotic” and to keep the rest of us out.  I have not said the pledge since then; I refuse to be a part of or to support that sham.

Your mileage may vary of course, and I have no objection to your choosing to say the pledge with all your heart. You may however want to think about the fact that the very people who keep telling you that saying the pledge is simple, virtuous patriotism — and anything else is not —have been manipulating you. I’ll let you decide why.

— — — — —

[1] Of course it’s a little more complicated than that, but whatever happened was triggered by the flag-worshiping substitute teacher worshipping the flag and not the Constitution for which it stands.

New Cocktail: MDL GinTonic No. 2

MDL GinTonic No. 2

  • 1.5 oz London dry gin
  • .5 oz Galliano
  • .25 oz hibiscus-infused gin*
  • tonic water, lime wheel

Sweetness, then the floral bitterness of the hibiscus. This is a nice one.

* Dump a tablespoon or two of dried hibiscus into a cup or so of gin. Let steep for a couple of hours. It will turn dark red. (You could also do a light steep for pinker look, and that concoction is more drinkable on its own. The full steep is a bit much.)

New Cocktail: the MDL GinTonic No. 1

During our travels through Italy last fall, I was delighted to discover the European GinTonic: a gin and tonic with some differences, some tasty, tasty differences. First, it’s not served in a highball glass — it’s served in a big red wine glass. It’s got tons of ice, and rather more tonic than we use here in the States.

The big difference though is the palette that is offered by such a setup. Just as here, you have the full range of gins to start with — London dry, Old Tom, Plymouth, modern botanicals —and if you’re picky, the type of tonic water. Then you can add stuff: garnishes, other spirits, etc., and the sky is the limit. The result is a universe of flavors and sensations, and that is the universe I have begun exploring in a new series of cocktails. I’m calling them MDL GinTonics because my initials are MDL; it’s all about the branding, you see. I vacillate between ‘#’ and “No.” in the naming system, so historians, here’s your fair warning: there may be contradictory evidence in your research.

At the moment, I’m going with 1.5 oz of gin, .5 oz of some other spirit, and .25 oz of something else to add another layer. Stay tuned.

MDL GinTonic No. 1

  • 1.5 oz barrel-aged gin
  • .5 oz Amaro di Angostura
  • .25 oz Isle of Skye blended Scotch (slightly peaty)
  • tonic water
  • lime wheel

Stir the first three ingredients with ice, then strain into a balloon-shaped wine glass filled with ice. Add tonic water and lime wheel.

This GinTonic is very tasty, with the oak/woodiness of the gin forward, followed by the spiciness of the Amaro, and finally a return to the earthy/woodsy tones of the Scotch. It is now one of my favorite drinks.

Variation notes: I tried using Laphroaig instead of Isle of Skye, but the strength of that single malt was too much. I also tried bumping the Scotch up to .5 oz, but the drink is better, more subtle, at .25 oz.

Shopping notes: the Amaro Angostura is becoming more common in liquor stores catering to the cocktail crowd, but barrel-aged gin can be hard to find, and Isle of Skye is uncommon. Buy them when you see them!

UPDATE: Famous Grouse Smoky Black works as a substitute for Isle of Skye and is much more readily available.

Hey, Southtowne Marketing, can we talk?

Hey, Mark! Can I call you Mark? It’s OK if that’s not your name, because clearly you don’t know my name either.

How do I know that? Because you addressed the envelope like this:

That’s my first clue that you’re working off a database that only selects the first name, i.e., you don’t know me personally and probably only want me to give you money. Normally I can spot a computer-printed  “handwritten” address, but yours looked real enough. Sure, I thought, it’s possible that some minion out at Southtowne (to which I’ve been multiple times for minor reasons over the past few days) might have sent me a thank you note or a survey or summat. So I opened it.

Ah, a newspaper clipping! Sometimes local companies will do that, send you a clipping of something you’ve done that ends up in the Newnan Times-Herald. However, I haven’t done anything recently that has been in the paper. But this had a sticky note on it.

Again with the ‘Martin.’ And who the hell was ‘B’? Barbara? Bill? Burgoyne? At this point, it was clear that I had been scammed again. It was nothing more than an ad:

Sorry for the crumpled page. I was heading to throw it in the fire when I decided to blog about this.

So, someone sat down and went through a stack of Times-Heralds or other newspaper, tore this out, folded it, (artfully tearing the middle), wrote a sticky note, attached it, and mailed it to me?

Not quite.

If we look at the top of the page, we find that there’s no publication info. This is not from a newspaper.

Sure, it says it’s from ‘Automotive • D-6,’ but where’s the newspaper name? The date? This is clearly a fabricated ad.

Even more data:

It’s not even a real stock market report. It’s a picture of a stock market report.

So, Mark — if I can call you Mark — let’s talk.  Let me explain to you that far from making me want to hit your ‘sale’ (which is when, exactly? you give days and times, but no dates), this kind of thing makes me want to call out there and berate whoever answers the phone. It’s dishonest and scammy, right in line with those phone calls that start out with “DON’T HANG UP!” or “THIS IS NOT A SALES CALL.” You’re faking a personal connection to trick me into giving you my attention. It is fraudulent in intent. I have no beef with Southtowne — I love my Equinox, and my service rep (the inestimable Paul Hardegree) is a dream, and once I decide I need a new car, I will more than likely deal with the Southtowne sales staff than not — but Mark, you need to be fired. Your tactics are slimy and offensive, not what I’ve come to expect from Southtowne.

Sincerely yours,