Thursday, November 10, 2016

I'll be fine.

I'll be fine.
I’m a heterosexual cisgender male WASP with a decent job that provides health insurance. As an added bonus I’ve even got a life membership in the NRA and a pickup truck parked out front. I've been shooting guns and driving boats longer than I can remember and flying airplanes since I was fifteen. I'm perfectly capable of shooting, cleaning, and cooking game and it is rare that anything mechanical or electrical keeps me flummoxed for long. I enjoy my whisky neat and my beer dark.
But it’s not about me.
It’s about everyone who isn’t me.
My LGBTQ friends, families, and acquaintances. Young and old. Single, married, and committed. (There are even some of them who don’t agree with or desire same-sex marriage, just to mix things up a little more.) The ones who are securely hidden in the closet because their generation didn’t tolerate their sexual orientation. The ones who have recently come out, the ones who have always been out, and those who are still trying to figure it out. The ones with families now living under the ominous threat of their marriages being nullified. The younger ones now faced with a VP-elect who is an advocate of “conversion therapy.” (Note - For years I’ve asked every non-heterosexual person I've met if they could tell me when they “chose” to be gay, I have yet to find anyone who can give me an answer.) This group has more than ample reason to be fearful.
It’s about females who have found themselves marginalized in the past and the ones concerned about dealing with the possibility in the future. It's about those with gender ambiguity, and those who are transgendered. I won the lottery in this regard from a socially normative standpoint. I was born male and I’m quite comfortable being male. As I get older there are some annoying body hair issues I’d love to dispose of, but that’s a small price to pay for pretty much having the world designed around me. I really don’t have to worry about being groped, grabbed, or having someone force themselves on me, but others do, and that’s simply wrong. You can love women, appreciate the female form, and even participate in “locker room talk” without catcalls or whistling, much less advancing to the level of intimidation, physical assault, or rape. (Note - admission of any form of sexual assault is not "locker room talk.") No one should feel threatened in the security of their body, especially in the United States of America. Now we have a President-Elect who has openly boasted of getting away with sexual assault because he’s a celebrity. Casual sexual assault has been normalized, and women are fearful.
It’s about my friends of different complexions and ethnicities. I can walk down the street with a significant degree of anonymity, assuming I’m dressed in an unremarkable fashion and don’t do anything to draw attention to myself. No one is likely to confront me or, for the most part, question my right to be anywhere I choose to go. Again, assuming I’m not being deliberately provocative nor overtly trespassing. I take advantage of this quite often. As long as I present an air of authority and “belonging” I can go places others are turned away from, without ever being questioned. I don’t have to defend who I am or how I chose to worship. I’m of (mostly) European descent. Just an "average white guy” with ancestors primarily from the UK, sprinkled with a touch of German, Swedish, and Native American I’ve got brown hair, hazel eyes, and I’m pretty average height. More invisibility. The recent campaign has given a voice to the most extreme elements of society. The KKK marched openly in North Carolina the morning of November 9. People are already threatening others on public transit who “don’t belong” with weapons as well as words. Children in schoolyards are chanting about building walls. Those who don't look like me are fearful, and rightfully so.
It’s not about me, it’s about people having the option to make safe, appropriate, personal choices about reproductive issues. How in the world do you move past a VP-elect who thinks condoms are “too modern” and a President-elect who says there should be “punishment” for terminating a pregnancy? Someone in my extended family was faced with a horrific choice recently when it was determined a pregnancy wasn’t viable and the mother was at significant medical risk. Thankfully they were able to make the best decision for their situation and had access to safe and appropriate treatment. Overly-intrusive state laws still limited their options, so they were forced to abandon their support network for a short time, but everything worked out in the end. This isn’t a political issue, nor a religious issue, it’s a medical issue, and as such the decision should be between the parties involved and their health-care providers. The incoming administration has vowed to make extreme modifications in this regard. Many don't have the option to travel (if required) for treatment in these situations, and people are fearful.

It's about those who are developmentally different. Those with physical, mental, or behavioral impediments who have been mocked and ridiculed by the person who will soon hold the titles "Leader of the Free World" and "Most Powerful Man on Earth." A 19th Century Masonic publication bears this quote;
"He cannot act on their judgment, but must be governed by his own. As he has great responsibility, he has great power, and is bound by the strongest obligations to maintain that power and the dignity of his office." Until such time as we see evidence to suggest that the power and dignity of the Presidential Office will be maintained and that the President-elect is motivated to care for "the least of these" then those among us who care for the differently abled have every right to question and fear their potential treatment under the coming administration.

Thankfully I have health insurance (excellent health insurance, actually) that covers my wife’s pending kidney transplant. I’ll not bore you with the costs involved with this process, except to say that it is outrageous (tens of thousands of dollars just in testing and screening of potential donors) and we haven’t even gotten close to an operating room yet. In the long term dialysis is more expensive (and more taxing on the patient) so we’re hoping to avoid that. I can’t imagine how anyone with marginalized health due to chronic disease could manage the kinds of bills we see without solid insurance. When the top line is well over $15,000 and the bottom line is less than $500 if gives me pause and I give thanks for our good fortune. For many the choice is, simply, life and death. For us it's a slight inconvenience. We’re an inherently unhealthy nation for a variety of reasons, but no one should be punished for a congenital issue any more than they should suffer for the color of their skin. All my children are now adults. One has a solid entry-level position that provides good insurance benefits. Another is in graduate school, but who knows how long I’ll be able to keep them on my insurance if the ACA is ditched (we have no idea what the replacement might look like.) My third child has coverage under the ACA, so what happens there, is coverage just going to disappear? I’m not saying the ACA is ideal, but doing away with coverage for over ten million people is no better. I’ve got friends who went for years and years without coverage until the ACA because of cost. They're trying to figure out how they'll afford necessary medication without insurance coverage. I’ve got other friends who are paying through the nose for coverage because of the fractured implementation of the ACA and that’s not acceptable, either. Years and years of effort have been wasted whining about the ACA instead of trying to improve it. Now people are faced with having what little protection they have stripped away, and they are appropriately fearful.
Good solutions aren’t easy and easy solutions aren’t good. You can’t fix the problems with Washington overnight any more than you can clean out your car with a flamethrower. Well, you probably can, but the results in both situations are going to leave you with a gutted, smoking, worthless hulk.
So don’t confuse fear with whining. People are only reacting to what they’ve been told these many months, and they have every right to be fearful based on the evidence presented.

*Please accept my apologies for any errors with respect to pronouns or adjectives as used to reference the rainbow of people I discussed above, they are purely unintentional.

Sunday, September 18, 2016

Student Visa Adventure

When my son applied for graduate school in London earlier this year I assumed the process would be simple and straightforward. A US citizen who has traveled a respectable amount of Europe who holds undergraduate degrees in German and Political Science going to a UK university for a Masters in International Relations - could it be any simpler?

  1. Pick University
  2. Apply to University
  3. Receive Acceptance
  4. Do paperwork
  5. Pay fees
  6. Make travel plans
  7. Complete coursework
  8. See Europe during breaks
  9. Come home
Well, it turned out to be much less simple than I thought it would be. The first snag came at item #3. The first acceptance was a "Conditional Acceptance" which doesn't get you very far. The Golden Ticket comes in the form of an "Unconditional Acceptance" and that is when you are supplied with all the tools you need to complete the process of applying for a student visa. The conditions placed on his acceptance were quite minimal: graduate the current course of study and meet minimum GPA requirements while doing so. No problem! Upon graduation all the conditions were met and a copy of his final grade report was dispatched to the university admissions office, thus satisfying the requirements.

Or so we thought.

If only it were that simple.

After weeks and weeks of emails and phone calls we were eventually (read: the end of July) informed that they needed an official transcript to make the switch to "unconditional acceptance" from "conditional acceptance." So we scrambled to have an official transcript delivered, which only takes a day thanks to the miracles of the digital world. Now they can make the change from "conditional" to "unconditional" - right? In theory, yes. Unfortunately the time to complete this daunting task was quoted as approximately two weeks.

So, we wait.

As we close in on the two week mark we call and are told to anticipate a CAS (Confirmation of Acceptance for Studies) in a couple of days. The CAS is required to complete the student visa application; no CAS, no visa. It takes about two weeks for them to process a student visa application and return a decision. We're just over four weeks from departure, so things are starting to get a little interesting. (Yes, tickets were already purchased, as we knew when orientation began and buying tickets last minute is less than affordable, plus the whole Brexit ordeal resulted in a sharp drop in prices to London, so I rolled the dice.)

But that information wasn't completely accurate. You see, after the Unconditional Acceptance is issued you have to pay a deposit before they will issue the CAS. After finally speaking to someone on the phone who could provide information instead of platitudes the urgency of the situation was communicated. The deposit was paid through their online system and we made a return call with the confirmation number in hopes of moving things forward at least a little faster, since it generally takes two to three days for the business office to inform the admissions office that payment has been received. These were days that we could not afford to lose.

Five days later the magic email arrives with the CAS number included. In a flurry of activity (which includes a comprehensive list of seemingly everywhere you've traveled in the last three centuries) the visa application is completed and submitted electronically. However, the system is in transition between the hard-copy and electronic world, so you must forward the hard copies after your biometric data (photo and fingerprints) has been collected at your local enrollment center. Our "local" center is 130 miles away and the first appointment available wasn't for three business days - a Tuesday, precisely two weeks and one day prior to our scheduled departure.

This is where things get really exciting. You see, there are several ways to accelerate the processing of a visa application. All of them cost money (from $200 and up, the limit of "up" depending upon your ability and desire to travel to New York and what level of service you are inclined towards to deliver you to your appointment at the Consulate) and, depending upon your level of investment and degree of urgency, shave days or even weeks off the processing time. The "basic" service puts your application at the top of the regular pile upon arrival, reducing processing time to several days from the anticipated two weeks. We dig through an assortment of checklists, none of which correspond to each other on a consistent basis, and assemble a daunting packet of documents. Visa application, biometric data sheet (the old one, that has a spot for you to attach a passport-sized photo which is no longer required since they take digital photos at the enrollment center) proof of financial resources (to show you're not going to just show up and become a burden on the system) copies of the CAS letter (even though the CAS is prominently displayed on every official form you've filled out) and a return Fed Ex shipping envelope, complete with a pre-paid return air bill attached.

Tuesday morning we leave just before 9 a.m. for a noon appointment. The drive is just over two hours without traffic, but we pad it a little just in case. This would later prove to be a fortuitous move on our part. The drive was uneventful, save the last couple of miles when the GPS determined that a gravel road made more sense than the Interstate, but it was worth a chuckle after all the hurdles that had been overcome to that point. We arrived at the processing center at 11:25 and, heeding the warnings plastered on the door, left all electronic devices in the car and proceeded to the check-in counter, documentation in-hand.

Our joy for having reached the final physical hurdle was short-lived.

You see, there's a cover sheet for your biometric data collection appointment, along with the actual biometric application.

All they want to see at the support center is the cover sheet. Nothing else.


So, how do we overcome this hurdle after having driven over two hours to make the appointment? Why, you visit the local public library, of course! Located just ten minutes away, you have a choice of toll roads or a maze of twisty streets, all alike. I opted for the toll roads (total expense = $1.84, round-trip) and away we went. Finding the library wasn't a problem at all. Figuring out how to navigate through the parking lot was an entirely different story. Since when did parking lots become creative expressions of the landscape architect and not utilitarian spaces designed around efficiency of vehicle movement and storage? After several twists and turns we managed to park the vehicle and made our way in to the building.

We located a service desk and explained our plight to the librarian. After hearing that we needed to print a couple of pages from an email account she asked to see our library card.

We live over 100 miles from the county we're standing in.

We don't have a library card.

We have to have a library card to print something.

So I hand over my driving license and in a few minutes time I'm presented with a shiny new library card.

We're directed to a monitor where we have to log in with the excruciatingly long number on the library card, then agree to several legal agreements. I'm not sure, but there may have been something there about a blood oath and perhaps granting a lien on my house.

After a few more machinations the email with the cover sheet for the biometric appointment has been located and we submit it to the print queue. We log out and scurry to the circulation desk to retrieve our freshly printed documents, or so we thought.

First, we must pay the required ransom to release the print job from the queue and send it scurrying along the network to the chosen printer. I hand over the requisite $1.00 ($.50 per page) and we're instructed to go back to the printer located at the end of the row of workstations we were just standing at to wait for our print job to appear.

After what seemed like five or six days, but probably wasn't longer than two or three minutes, the printer sprang to life and the elusive biometric application cover sheet miraculously appeared. Back in the car, out of the parking lot (much easier since we had already plotted a course on the way in) and back on the toll road for the return trip to the application support center.

After another interrogation concerning electronic devices we were checked in and my son was directed to one area while I was directed to wait for him in another. The person at reception wasn't busy and we exchanged a few words concerning the multiple layers involved in the visa application process. As we talked she produced a checklist and asked if I had a copy.

I did not.

This checklist was an expanded version of the checklist found on the UK Visa and Immigration website. It included items not on the other checklist and omitted a few items included on the other checklist. Ugh.

Not to worry, we made plans to visit a friend after lunch and print the "missing" documents to put in the overnight letter. At this point we adopted the attitude that it was better to be safe than sorry. My only fear at this point was that we might exceed the weight limit on a FedEx letter, but we could deal with that later.

Finally, everything was printed, in the envelope, and placed in a FedEx drop box. Time to wait some more! At least this time we'd be able to see when the passport (and hopefully, visa!) were on their way back by watching the tracking information from FedEx.

Delivery was confirmed Wednesday morning. While we hoped it would be on the way home by Friday, our expectations were more realistic. Even with expedited handling sometime towards the end of the following week was more likely.

We were pleasantly surprised on Tuesday when an email arrived;

"Dear applicant,

We are pleased to inform you that your visa application has been successful.  Your visa will now be placed in your passport and returned to you.

-For standard and Priority Service visa applications lodged in the USA, and for all applications lodged in the Bahamas, Barbados, Bermuda, the Cayman Islands, the Dominican Republic, Guyana, Haiti, or St. Lucia:  Your documents will be returned using the prepaid waybill your provided with your application.


The package containing your documents will be dispatched from New York either this afternoon or the afternoon of the next business day.   If you did not submit a prepaid waybill when you submitted your application, your application cannot be returned until you have provided VFS Global with an appropriate waybill.



UK Visas and Immigration
New York"

Since we included (per the instructions) a prepaid waybill attached to a return envelope we anticipated the documents by Thursday at the latest.

Thursday evening the FedEx tracking information gave no indication that the package was in their hands.

Houston, we have a problem.

Friday morning I call the only phone number available that gives any indication that they might be able to help solve our mystery. After connecting to a consultant and agreeing to the £1.37 per minute fee I'm informed that FedEx is not an "appropriate" waybill as the Consulate does not deal with FedEx, they ONLY deal with UPS. Note that this information is not provided anywhere - they only stipulate that you include a return waybill and packaging.

I go online and purchase a UPS return waybill (including Saturday delivery, just in case it manages to depart New York on Friday) and email it to the provided address for missing waybills. (Obviously this is a routine occurrence, which would lead you to expect that, perhaps, someone might try to figure out why this happens so often.)

As luck would have it, by Friday night the UPS tracking system shows no movement. Obviously there wasn't an update on Saturday. By Monday morning (two days before departure) I'm looking for someone, anyone, who can help me solve a problem. I don't need someone to read directions or tell me what should happen, I need someone capable of dealing with problems and offering solutions.

I may as well have asked for my own Lear Jet.

A direct call to the Consulate only connects to a surly individual who acts as gatekeeper. Only after begging do they even direct you back to the £1.37 service as your only option. Before that point they don't even listen to your problem, their only purpose is to repeat loudly and firmly that they cannot provide any information on visas. I didn't need information on a visa, I already knew it was approved. I needed to know what it was going to take for the person in charge of shipping to stuff everything in an envelope and apply the provided label.

So, another round of calls to the £1.37 remedial education line and I'm told "It should go out any minute."  When I impress upon the gentleman that "should" was not my concern and I needed to know when it would go out he promised to call the Consulate and find out what was going on.

Shortly thereafter I received another email, asking what I wanted to cancel. SMH.

Finally, at about 4:00 p.m. the UPS website indicated that the package had been picked up and would be delivered by 10:30 the following morning.

Tuesday morning at precisely 10:01 a.m. a UPS driver rang our doorbell and brought the entire ordeal to conclusion.

UKVI advises students to travel with all the documentation used to apply for the visa, in the event an immigration officer wants to see anything at the border. Ironically enough, this was the most hassle-free customs experience we've ever had entering the U.K. I presented our three passports and cheerfully informed the officer "Two regular, one student" - at which point he scanned and stamped our passports while requesting a thumbprint scan from my son. He then bid us a good day and off we went!

Friday, September 2, 2016

Read a book, already

My social media newsfeed has been filled with rants and raves that largely reflect the theme "This is what's wrong with America." Most of them are thinly-veiled bigotry of some description, mostly political, racial, or religious, but other aspects are covered as well.
From my point of view all of these complaints fall short of the true issue, which is willful ignorance. It's one thing to dismiss or refute someone's position based on information and after consideration, but to be dismissive based only on superficial attributes that have no bearing in substance only perpetuates the problem.
If you think that granting someone else rights that you already enjoy compromises your standing then it's time to educate yourself. It's not a zero-sum game. When they are granted the rights that have been denied it doesn't mean there are less rights for the rest of us, it just means that they now have a seat at the table with us. (The parable about building a larger table instead of a higher fence comes to mind.) If you find yourself objecting to focused groups ask yourself what really bothers you. Don't take the lazy path and pick the low-hanging fruit, since I'd bet you eschew all those lazy people collecting food stamps (low hanging fruit) and you don't want to be a hypocrite. Dig deep, challenge yourself, even if you don't have a change of heart at least be honest with yourself. Do you find the concept of same-sex marriage intolerable? Why? Have you ever spent time with any same-sex couples? (If you haven't I'll offer the observation that other than the ratio of X and Y chromosomes being different there's little else of note to differentiate a heterosexual couple from a same-sex couple.) Does your perception of their sex life make you uncomfortable? Does your curiosity make you uncomfortable with yourself? If your objection is based on religion then do you hold the same objection to other prohibitions outlined by your religion of choice? For example, if you maintain that homosexuality is an abomination based on Leviticus then do you also eschew shellfish and clothes made of blended materials? If not, why not? What are your positions on shellfish and pork? (My position is that they are both quite tasty, when properly prepared and presented. If some of my LGBT friends are interested in sharing then they can bring the wine.)
Outside social media most people don't read anything other than an occasional instruction manual (and that's usually for a new device that they're going to use to access social media.) Of those who do bother to read anything beyond the average, a large percentage of those only read things that confirm their world view. There are millions of books in dozens and dozens of genres. If you aren't interested in reading anything factual there's nothing wrong with a nice work of fiction to help expand your mind. How about the Guinness Book of World Records or a graphic novel (aka comic book?) Nothing is more powerful than knowledge. Reading is a simple and effective path to knowledge.
If you're not doing something to combat ignorance and enhance your understanding of the world then I've got news for you, YOU are the problem. The noise is drowning out the signal (if you don't understand what that means, click this ) and the culture of instant gratification combined with willful ignorance creates a caustic environment. If you're going to dislike someone or something, at least make sure you're disliking for good reason. Don't ride a bandwagon, make your own decision based on information from reputable sources.
In an age where we have easier access to more information than ever before we have fewer people availing themselves to that information. Ask questions, read books, and talk to people (especially people who aren't like you.) I promise the worst thing that will happen is that you might just learn something about others.
If you're lucky you might even learn something about yourself.

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Do You Even?

Sometimes you come across situations that simply leave you scratching your head. No matter how you approach the issue you simply can't make sense of the thought process involved. Perhaps my problem is assuming that there has been any critical thought applied in the first place.

About 3-4 years ago a local company built a new facility for their operations, replete with a well-lit (read: nearly blinding for drivers after dark) stainless-steel sign and attractive landscaping. It seemed as if overnight the building was vacated and a "For Lease" sign posted by the road. Given the constant flurry of activity around the building I couldn't fathom that the business had run aground, and it wasn't long before I discovered them in a new location, just down the road in an industrial park. Apparently their business outgrew the new building and they moved to a facility that is at least five times larger (a conservative estimate, it may well be upwards of ten times larger, but it's difficult to estimate due to the location and position of the new building.) By any metric this business has flourished over the past five years or more in order to require not one, but two moves to new facilities.

So, you must scratch your head in astonishment when a local rally is announced for a Presidential campaign and they're supporting the group that insists that the current party (the one their business has flourished under) are a bunch of idiots that destroy business.

I'd really like to see a time that PT Barnum is proven wrong, but that isn't likely to happen. Until then we'll have a large segment of the population susceptible to senseless rhetoric who are thirsting for a magic potion that doesn't exist.

Friday, July 15, 2016

Borrowed Without Permission

I found this on FaceBook and wanted to post a link to the original article on but due to the design of her site that doesn't appear to be a readily available option. So, I'm posting the entire essay here, with attribution and without explicit permission, as I found it particularly poignant from the perspective of a white male raised in the south.

The Need for Southern Heresy

“Be willing to ruin the party.” --Danielle LaPorte

I am a white woman who was born and raised in the South. I have a lot of white friends who were born and raised in the South. I haven’t witnessed them commit violent acts of racism. No one I know has been shooting black people in the streets. 

What I see and hear about is far more subtle than that.

It’s the white construction worker who will share a drinking cup with his white co-workers but not his black co-workers.

It’s the white guy who tells a woman he doesn’t want to date her if she’s been with a black man.

It’s the white housewife who won’t let non-white yard workers use the restroom inside the house.

It’s the man who ends his story about a burglary with the statement, “And of course the guy was black.”

It’s the guy who tells jokes and stories to his white buddies that he would never tell in the presence of blacks.

It’s the white woman who uses 5 exclamation points in her comment that “All lives matter” when she see a #BlackLivesMatter post on Instagram.

These are real examples from my immediate community.

These are not uneducated, hateful morons. These are people who send me Christmas cards.

They are respected in their communities. They hold advanced degrees. They donate when their friends walk for cancer research. They are church deacons. They volunteer. They adopt dogs from the shelter. They’re generous, thoughtful, respectful people.

None of their white friends would label them as “racist.”

You see, most Southern whites think that racists are "bad people." Racists throw rocks through windows, burn crosses, and hang people from trees. But that nice lady who brings donuts for the staff on Fridays? Not her. Because she dresses well, lives in a nice house, and shares photos of her wholesome family trip to Hilton Head on Facebook.

White Southerners don’t seem get that you can be wholesome AND racist. That you can be generous AND racist. That you can be a nice person AND racist.

Racism is having or acting on the belief that a particular race is superior to another. Period. That’s the entire definition.

There is no sub-clause that says “but those who shop at Dillard’s and donate to the bake sale are exempt.”

This is the point where some people are going to get all hot and tell me that making a joke about black people is not the same as shooting them. And of course it’s not.

But what these nice, kind, white Southerners do is create a culture of permissiveness.

In this culture, it’s ok for anyone to be *a little* racist, as long they’re an otherwise “good person.” Which means that it’s ok to devalue the lives of others *a little bit.* Not “try to keep them from buying the house next door” devalued, but “assume the worst about them and think of them as fundamentally ‘other’” devalued.

And that’s a problem. A big, big problem.

Because they’re not the people who are going to pull a trigger, but they are the ones who are going to turn away when they see someone else do it.

As a white woman born and raised in the South, I was taught two competing ideas:

1. To think for myself and do what I think is right.
2. To keep quiet. Don’t make a fuss. Don’t cause a scene. Don’t be difficult. Don’t make people uncomfortable. Keep it private.

Southerners prize politeness. It’s time we accept that being polite and being honorable are not the same. Staying silent in the presence of a quieter, gentler racism is still staying silent in the presence of racism. We’ve got to stop valuing Emily Post above Alton Sterling.

I’ve held my tongue when I’ve overheard racist comments because I don’t want to start a thing. I know I won’t change anyone’s mind. It would be easier to just move the conversation along. But I’m done with that. I’m not going to lecture anyone, but I’m not going to stay in tacit agreement by saying nothing.

So consider this your notice: I am willing to ruin the party.

If I witness a comment or action that degrades a human, I will absolutely speak up on your special day when it will be inconvenient and uncomfortable for you and everyone else.

This baby shower? Just got weird. Thanksgiving dinner? Totally awkward. Your birthday party? “Who invited HER?”

I’ll say things like:

“I disagree.”
“I wish you wouldn’t say that.”
“Would you say that if a black person were here?”

I’m not going to speak up because I’m the race police or want applause from my black friends. I’m going to do it because it’s the fucking decent thing to do.

And it’s going to piss some people off. Because in Southern white culture, not sweeping things under the rug with everybody else is a betrayal. Speaking up is heresy.

We need heresy. We need to be leaders in our own families and communities. We need to be willing to ruin the party.

Friday, June 24, 2016

A Quick In-and-Out Referendum

Apologies to John Oliver for hijacking his line for my title.

Yesterday the citizens of the UK voted, in what is widely considered a referendum that wasn't really even needed, to leave the European Union. While the EU leadership in Brussels has never been accused of efficiency nor having exceptional long-range vision, this is quite a move. Some in the UK are extolling the virtues of not having to deal with "immagrints" [sic] while others are applauding the opportunity for self-determination. Those of us in the USA can appreciate the self-determination aspect, after all we had our own "exit" referendum back in 1776.

The significantly shortsighted aspect that I see in all of this is that the UK has not removed themselves from the trade regulations of the EU, they've only abandoned any opportunity to make changes to the trade regulations from within. If they want to sell anything to the EU they'll have to follow the EU regulations, it's that simple. Yes, the UK has been paying a significant amount to the EU as a participant, but the monies paid in have opened up markets and returned dividends over time. Immigration isn't likely to change a significant amount, as England has such deep roots all over the globe due to their prolific historic colonization activities. The immigrants that have been coming in from other EU countries have largely been skilled laborers, not pond-scum looking to survive on government benefits.

For now we watch the financial markets reel from the shock and work to dampen out the volatility created over the past 24 hours. Personally, I have my fingers crossed that the GBP doesn't recover too quickly as I've got some upcoming financial obligations to cover in England and would at least like to enjoy an advantageous exchange rate if I am able.

It will take at least two years after the UK formally notifies the EU that they intend to exit. It could be months before they issue that official notification. Over that two year period negotiations will take place as to how the UK will interact with the EU after the exit. Those terms will be largely determined by the EU members without the input of the UK. Furthermore, should two years not be long enough, the negotiating period can be lengthened by a vote of the EU members.

It's not going to be a quick fix, and I'd wager that a new referendum in a year's time would produce different results now that people in the UK have some level of understanding as to what it is they actually voted on yesterday.

Sunday, June 12, 2016

Have dogs? Need chews?

A shout out to my source for the best dog chews I've found. Michigan Antler Art sells what are apparently cast-offs as chews for dogs. I have only found one article that says to avoid them, and that was due to the fact that giving them to your dog will eliminate venison as a "novel protein" should you need to investigate different food sources for your dog in the future due to allergies or skin conditions. (My personal opinion on this is that there are so many foods on the market these days with proteins ranging from beef to fish that the risk of eliminating venison from the list poses a negligible and tolerable risk for pet owners.)

Rawhide isn't digestible, pig ears are greasy an average of 3.2 seconds, hooves are smelly and bully sticks are a bit much for smaller dogs (not to mention having 4 of them laying around would create quite a scene.) Sterilized bones are an option, but size becomes an issue with them as well. We do give pig ears on occasion, usually as an in-crate treat, as the greasiness has the potential to cause stomach upset.

At first I ordered medium density split antlers. My guys cleaned them out and gnawed them down in a matter of a couple of weeks. The next batch or two I selected hard splits. They lasted about twice as long. My most recent order was a fortuitous mistake, as I wasn't paying close attention and ended up getting whole (un-split) antlers. They've been working on them for several weeks and have chewed one down about half-way and have a good start on the end of another, with two that still appear untouched.

We've noticed, and our veterinarian has commented, that their teeth are markedly cleaner. This leads to better breath and healthier gums. One of our corgis was approaching the need for a dental, but after having antlers to chew on the past several months his teeth are almost as clean as a young pup. When I balance that against the moderate (not inexpensive, but not outrageous) cost of the antlers I think they provide excellent value.

Have you seen any damning evidence against quality antler chews?

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Complete Satisfaction? Not really!

I purchased a freestanding wine cooler (wine cellar, if you prefer) from Wine Enthusiast in 2011. It wasn't the top-of-the-line, it was their own brand (N'Finity) and my assumption was that if it was good enough for them to put their name on it then it myst be a reasonably solid unit.

Not so much!

Last summer (2015) it formed a block of ice on the rear wall inside the cooler. In hindsight this was the beginning of the end. Over course of the last six to eight months the unit has labored, running continuously while the internal temperature crept slowly upward to ambient. Initially I thought the coils were in need of cleaning, so I unloaded the contents of the cooler, fortunately not quite the 170 bottle capacity, thanks to the vagaries of inconsistent bottle sizing in the wine industry. After moving ~150 bottles (three and four at a time) I maneuvered the unit away from the wall and cleaned the coils thoroughly, checked the drain pan, wiped down the interior and exterior, and moved it back in position. I re-loaded all of the wine (not having enough counter space to allow 150 bottles to sit around and still have a functional kitchen) and waited a few hours to power the unit up so that the refrigerant would have plenty of time to settle in the system.

Started the unit up and let it run overnight. Internal temperatures substantially identical to ambient temperature. Thinking that there's a lot of thermal density in those 150 bottles of liquid I give it another 24 hours. No detectable change.

Cue the appliance repairman. I describe the failure mode (starting with the ice block a year ago) and he starts poking around. No refrigerant, appears to be a failed condenser. Since this is a sealed unit (read: not designed for serviceability) repairing it won't be inexpensive, but the repairs will convert it to a completely serviceable unit if/when any future issues arise.

Repairman calls Wine Enthusiast, technicians are not available so he leaves a message, tells me he will call when he hears from them.

A couple of hours later the repairman calls. Do I want the bad news or the worse news? Bad news - they no longer have parts because the systems were such pieces of crap that they discontinued that design. Worse news - I now own a large paperweight as no one has parts available.


I have no reason to doubt the repairman, he's with a company that we've used several times over the years and they always do excellent work at fair rates, but I want to see what Wine Enthusiast has to say to a customer who has purchased a fair bit of hardware from them, this being one of two wine coolers (the other belongs to a family member) not to mention a long list of other items.

So I send an email, describing the situation, telling them what the repairman said, and asking if they can help. They reply after a couple of days with instructions to give them a call. So I call. The tech is apologetic and reiterates nearly verbatim what my repair guy told me. Nothing they can do. I ask him about their Complete Satisfaction Guarantee (so boldly posted in their website.) He says there's nothing they can do. I ask if he has any idea what they mean by "Complete Satisfaction" and he doesn't. I express my discontent over having a large, 250 pound paperweight and the fact that they are selling disposable junk instead of quality products that should last more than four or five years. He finally says that we can probably find a suitable condenser from a local refrigeration supply house and offers to send me schematics and parts lists immediately via email.

I wait, and wait, and wait, and...well, you get the idea. Nothing. Check the spam folder, still nothing.

I fill out contact forms on their website. Nothing. It's obvious that their "Complete Satisfaction" guarantee isn't worth the electrons that it takes to display on your screen and the company could really care less about customer service. This isn't to say the folks answering the phone and email don't care (current evidence to the contrary.) But whomever conceived advertising "Complete Satisfaction" is suffering from cranio-rectal inversion and needs to read the book "You Will Be Satisfied" so they can learn a thing or two.

That said, if you're looking for a wine cooler, or a corkscrew, or anything else that has to do with wine, do yourself a favor and look anywhere other than Wine Enthusiast. Their products are crap and their service is crappier.

I'm in the market for a free-standing wine cooler, capacity of around 170 bottles (no larger, as they won't fit the space I have available.) Let me know if you have any suggestions.

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

American Blind Justice

An affluenza swimmer who attends Stanford gets 6 months for sexual assault (I suppose because he only managed to penetrate her with a foreign object and didn't accomplish same with his own genitals.)

Meanwhile we're sending people away for years to life for growing marijuana for their own use.

The asshat father of the sexual predator bemoans how his "20 minutes of action" shouldn't carry such harsh consequences. He obviously suffers from severe cranio-rectal inversion and hasn't stopped to consider the impact of his son's "20 minutes of action" on the young lady he assaulted.

Her sentence is for life, and she didn't break any laws.

America will be great when our laws are fair, just, and based more on logic than on the false morality of the ruling party and justice isn't for sale to the highest bidder.

Friday, May 27, 2016

The Graduate

Generally speaking I don't post much here about my immediate family (the previous post notwithstanding, I see it as much a PSA about organ donation as a post about my wife.)

But a proud father has to brag a bit every once in a while.

My younger son, the middle child in the family, closes the book on his undergraduate studies tomorrow. He's graduating with a double major in German and Political Science and will be attending grad school in London this fall for a Master's in International Relations. After that he's thinking about law school, but he's keeping his options open in that regard for now.

He's never had to call me for bail money and has posted solid grades while enjoying a robust social calendar and completing his studies in four years. He even made Dean's List a couple of times. Here we are in Manhattan his Senior year of high school.

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Organ Donation - The Gift of Life

Anyone old enough to hold a driver's license has been informed to some degree of organ donation. Many people consent to the program and indicate their participation with a small icon on their license. In the event of death this tells the medical team in attendance what to do. Assuming no underlying issues one organ donor has the potential to help save or improve the lives of as many as fifty individuals. In addition to the obvious organs (heart, lungs, liver, kidneys, pancreas) other tissues such as corneas, tendons, skin, and bone can also be transplanted. Even with nearly 51% of the
population of the USA listed as organ donors 22 people die each day due to the lack of timely organ donation.   An often overlooked and nearly universally misunderstood aspect of organ donation is the role of live donors. Most often used for kidneys, live donation can also be successful for partial transplantation of liver, lung, and pancreas. In the former case the donor donates their "spare" kidney, in the latter cases a portion of the organ is transplanted and the organ regenerates itself, returning to full function. After the initial recovery period live donors generally have nothing more than a scar to remind them of the incredible gift they have provided.

While post-mortem organ donation enjoys tremendous success (Nationally, kidney transplant success rates approach 95% overall) live donation results in even higher successful outcome percentages in addition to greater efficiency. In cases of live donation the kidney is removed from the donor and, quite literally, "walked across the hall" to an adjacent surgical suite where it is immediately placed in the recipient. This minimizes the shock on the organ and, in most cases, it never has an opportunity to realize that it has a new home, so it just keeps on functioning. With cadaver kidneys they have (more than likely) been transported some distance using cold-preservation techniques, resulting in a temporary shutdown. It may take from several hours to a couple of days for these kidneys to "wake up" and start performing their assigned task, which adds additional stress on the recipient in the form of supportive therapies such as dialysis. The most troubling aspect of cadaver donation is timing. Many people are killed in car crashes over the weekend and statistics show that organs that become available between Friday evening and Sunday morning stand a 25% higher risk of not being utilized.

Live donation has many other benefits as well. In most cases a transplant involving a living donor can be scheduled based on everyone's mutual convenience, often mitigating, if not completely eliminating, any peripheral health concerns that might be present. It also allows the transplant team to maximize the utilization of the native kidneys, thereby reducing the amount of time that the recipient is forced to take immunosuppressant drugs, avoiding their side effects for as long as possible.
Using a concept known as paired exchange live organ donation has produced "transplant chains" - the longest of which currently stands at 51 transplants! Donor pairing takes incompatible (but qualified) donor-recipient pairs and matches them with other donor-recipient pairs that are in the same situation. This graphic from the Living Kidney Donors Network illustrates how a simple case of two incompatible donor-recipient pairs can be matched to create two compatible donor-recipient pairs. Adding an altruistic donor (meaning someone who comes forward to donate a kidney without a direct link to a potential recipient) generally sets off a chain of transplants, resulting in multiple matches. There are over 100,000 people in the United States awaiting kidney transplant and millions of potential donors. Live donation presents minimal risk to the donor and no medical expense related to the donation or any future concerns that might arise due to the donation.

The most compelling example I've seen can be found here, six individuals who either donated or received kidneys participated in the Ragnar Relay as team Run Kidney Run to raise awareness for live donation. Six people running 200 miles - that's well over a marathon per person. Each of them with one kidney. I think that's pretty convincing evidence that donating a kidney won't have a significant negative impact on your future. It may, however, give you an overwhelming feeling of having made a significant difference in the world!

If you've read this far you're probably wondering why I chose to discuss this topic. Well, my wife suffers from PKD and is in end-stage renal disease. We have been fortunate enough to have several friends and family members undertake the screening process for potential donors. Even if one of those turns out to be a perfect match the process has shown us that the need for advocacy will not end until the waiting list disappears.

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Bureaucracy Run Amok

Someone posted photographs on Facebook today of a newly remodeled locker room for a college basketball team. It's a small NCAA Division 1 program that has made a couple of appearances in the tournament over the years. The school has about 10,000-12,000 students. A reasonable size school. I offer all of this by way of perspective.

The newly finished locker room has an ADA compliant shower stall as well as an ADA compliant bathroom stall.

Let that sink in.

Do you need a moment more?

See my confusion?

In what universe does it make sense to spend money on facilities to accommodate people who will never use those facilities? That's like putting a wet bar in a Baptist fellowship hall.

OK, maybe that's not the best analogy, but you get the idea.

Sometimes rules need to be applied with common sense. This time that's definitely not the case.

Sunday, May 8, 2016

Is this thing on?

Well, they say the road to hell is paved with good intention. By that metric I'm well on my way. I completely forgot about this little project, which is a shame because I've experienced some real doozies over the past 6 years or so. Things have changed a bit, so I'll try and keep up a bit better (I could hardly do much worse!) and share the more "interesting" things that come my way.