{{Tap, Tap}} Is this thing on?

I’ve been away so long that the WordPress interface has changed and I have to relearn it.  Damn.

Anyhoo,  a lot has happened recently, much of it I can’t really discuss just yet.  We’ve still got a lot of ups and downs but it’s OK for now.

To get the old mind-finger thing going again, I thought I’d start off with a banana bread recipe that I made yesterday with the ingredients I had hanging around the kitchen.  This turned out pretty good, considering this was my first banana bread from scratch and I was just going by some online recipe guidelines.  Slather the thing toasted with a shmear and you’re good to go.

Banana Bread

1/2 cup butter, softened
3/4 cup dark brown sugar
2 eggs
1-2 tsp pure vanilla extract
3 mashed ripe bananas
1/4 tsp cinnamon
1/8 tsp nutmeg
2 cups self rising flour 
(or 2 cups all purpose flour + 1 tsp baking soda + 1/2 tsp salt)
1/2 cup chopped walnuts

In a standing mixing bowl, cream together the butter and brown sugar.  Add eggs  and vanilla and beat until relatively smooth.  Add bananas, cinnamon and nutmeg.  Beat together.  Slowly add self-rising or flour mixture.  Beat until all ingredients are moistened but don’t over beat.  Fold in walnuts.  Pour into a well greased loaf pan.  Bake in 350° oven for about 50 minutes or until top feels firm and butter knife inserted in top comes out clean.

Ok, that felt good.  I’ll be back tonight, after my guitar lesson.  Be good, no wild parties.

One more thing: this winter is exhausting.  We’ve had so much snow and frigid temps that it’s enough to make even Pittsburghers question the global warming thing.  It’s like a mini-ice age.  This is what I saw when I opened my door yesterday morning:

IMG_2187

The snow melted last weekend but it was back again in no time.  Yesterday, the temps didn’t get out of the teens.  It was single digits last night. And it has been like this for months.  When I moved here last May, we had already experienced a pretty cold spring. There was a brief heat wave in July but the rest of the summer was cool and rainy.  Sweater weather in August.  My vegetables never really took off and the tomato plants never set fruit.  The rain and cold continued into the fall and we got snow early so I wasn’t able to rake the leaves out of my back yard.  Winter came on Halloween and hasn’t let up yet.  Pittsburgh must be in the center of the polar vortex corridor.  Enough already.  Unfortunately, the forecast says that after a brief and insufficient respite this weekend, we’re going straight back to subfreezing temps next week.  It has been so bad here that the township ran out of salt and 3000 additional tons they need are on backorder.  They only salt the top of the hills so your car doesn’t go flying like it’s on the Thunderbolt at Kennywood Park.  The road crew is so behind on repairs that they were jackhammering and filling a pot hole on my street at 11 pm last Monday night.  On top of it all, the rivers are going through several freeze thaw cycles.  Last weekend, it warmed up enough that we had rain instead of snow.  The Allegheny was high and had white caps on it.  I can’t wait until spring but won’t be surprised if the Point is under water.

I’m going to deck the next person who says they prefer cold weather.

I’ve been listening to a lot of Of Monsters and Men recently.  This one’s pretty good:

There are real jotuns out there.  More on that later…

In addition (but related to Jotuns mentioned above):  I saw this post at Digby this morning about the Ohio job listserv tyrant and just want to relate that this kind of reaction to job seekers seems to be quite common.  I have a story that  will curl your hair.  Someday, I will write it all down in a book and the characters I write about will become notorious and iconic of the malicious narcissists our society has given an inordinate amount of power to lately.  Petty, selfish and vain people have got nothing on them.  We’re talking about a lack of compassion, unethical behavior and gratuitous meanness that makes the Ohio list server lady look like an amateur.  Unfortunately, the heartless, manipulative, sabotaging behavior is so harsh and nasty that it might not be as funny as the rest of the book.  I might have to lighten these people up to make them believable and not Dickensian.

Snowy Weekend Kickoff

IMG_1860Hard to tell how much snow we’re going to get.  The weatherpeople made it sound like the blizzard of the millenium but it’s been snowing on and off here all day and all we have is a light frosting that’s just beginning to stick.

Just in case, I bought some duraflame logs.  There’s plenty of boxed milk.  And as long as the cable holds up, enough Netflix, Amazon Prime and iTunes to keep us entertained.  Just to round it all out, we have a jar of Russian Tea mix that should warm us up in case we have to go out and shovel for awhile.

So let’s kick this off with a song.  Here’s one by Frightened Rabbit that I just added to my library.

Your turn…

 

Monday: Promises, Promises or Why Does Robert Samuelson Hate America?

From Global-Greenhouse-warming.com: the ecology of snow.

There is snow in my driveway.  I thought this stuff was supposed to turn to rain.  Already, the rhythmic scraping snow shovel on asphalt is coming from my neighbors’ driveways.  I have to get out there and shovel before I’m the only one with snow in my driveway and the cul de sac shuns me for non-compliance.

Let’s get on with the news.

First up, Robert Samuelson tries to justify the stingy, selfish, hard-hearted, cheatin’ ways of the Villager class when it comes to Social Security in On Medicare and Social Security, be unfair to the boomers.  See, it’s not the wealthy’s fault.  It’s YOURS for being so demanding of your money.  But Samuelson is trying to make a case for cutting boomer benefits because to not do so would be unfair to future generations.  So, let’s be pre-emptively unfair to boomers:

If we don’t, we will be condemned to some combination of inferior policies. We can raise taxes sharply over the next 15 or 20 years, roughly 50 percent from recent levels, to cover expanding old-age subsidies and existing government programs. Or we can accept permanently huge budget deficits. Even if that doesn’t trigger a financial crisis, it would probably stunt economic growth and living standards. So would dramatically higher taxes. There’s a final choice: deep cuts in other programs, from defense to roads to higher education.

Yet, neither political party seems interested in reducing benefits for baby boomers. Doing so, it’s argued, would be “unfair” to people who had planned retirements based on existing programs. Well, yes, it would be unfair. Indeed, it’s hard to imagine a worse time for cuts. Unemployment is horrendous; eroding home values and retirement accounts have depleted the elderly’s wealth. Only 19 percent of present retirees are “very confident” of having enough money to live “comfortably,” down from 41 percent in 2007, reports the Employee Benefit Research Institute.

But not making cuts would also be unfair to younger generations and the nation’s future. We have a fairness dilemma: Having avoided these problems for decades, we must now be unfair to someone. To admit this is to demolish the moral case for leaving baby boomers alone. Baby boomers – I’m on the leading edge – and their promised benefits are the problem. If they’re off-limits, the problem is being evaded. Together, Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid represent two-fifths of federal spending, double defense’s share.

{{rolling eyes}}

There’s more garbage where that came from.  Samuelson does acknowledge that outside his mighty fortress of wealth and privilege, there are little people who are being crushed by this Recession and can’t put money in their tax deferred 401Ks.  But I don’t think he is getting the full picture like I am where I am literally *surrounded* by the walking dead former employed high salaried baby boomers who no longer have access to a tax shelter.

Let me count the ways that Robert and his ilk are wrong and should be strenuously resisted:

1.) In the 1980’s, the tail end of the baby boom generation, that would be people like *me*, were assured by the Reagan Administration that if we accepted higher payroll taxes on our minute, nascent post college salaries, we would be paying for our future social security benefits that required a surplus fund “because we are too menny”.  Is this not true, Robert?  We’ve already made our sacrifice.   We were promised that if we deferred our compensation, it would be there when it was time to retire.  If it is not there and we are asked to take a cut in future benefits, that would be equivalent to imposing a significant extra tax over the past 30 years on those of us in the younger cohort of the babyboom generation because people like Robert and David Broder and Sally Quinn liked their Bush era tax cuts.  Robert has a lot of nerve lecturing us about unfairness.

2.) The problem is not social security, or at least, it wasn’t until the latest boneheaded tax deal.  The problem is everything else that needs to be paid for.  It’s funny how social security recipients are always being asked to foot the bill though.  How about we end the costly wars before we ask future old people to retire in poverty?  Or why don’t we end the Bush deficit increase plan early?  I know!  Robert and his friends can volunteer to pay the taxes they’ve gotten away with not paying in the past 10 years!  That would be the unselfish thing to do.  No?  Then, shut the fuck up, Robert.

3.) In all the turmoil over stimulating the economy, I find it odd that the one thing I did not hear was giving anyone who is forced to tap into their 401ks a tax break.  There are a lot of people who have been out of work for so long that they have to use their 401Ks to pay for calories and shelter.  But they are taking a huge hit in taxes in order to do so.  How come a tax holiday on the 401K was never offered to the long term unemployed?  Wouldn’t that have had a more stimulative effect on the economy than the measly 2% break on social security, which is too small to do anything with and too large to make up for with money from the general fund?  But curiously, the 401K tax penalty was never put on the table.  Does it have anything to do with the idea that the stock market would take a hit if the long term unemployed siphoned money from the casino?  Whoa!  We can’t have that.  That would be unfair to the bonus class, not to mention the giant 401K Ponzi scheme that Robert’s business buddies forced those younger boomers into in lieu of pensions so that Robert could retire on his investments.

4.) When you issue a promissory note to people you borrowed money from, that means you are promising to pay it back at some future date.  If the rich of this country took money from future social security beneficiaries, in order to pay for the tax breaks they got so they wouldn’t have to pay for infrastructure and dirty stuff like that, they need to realize that there is a time that they will have to pay it back.  And when they do, they will have to pay for it with taxes on the wealth that they accumulated in the past 30 years while they imposed an additional tax on the 2o somethings they burdened with an additional payroll tax.  You know, like the way you stuck us younger generation boomers with this burden and now you want to stick us again so we don’t pass it on to our children?  Do we look like we fell off the turnip truck, Robert?   We’re not stupid.  You gave us IOUs, now we want our money back.

Don’t try to sell us on the idea that we can retire at a later age.  I won’t be able to use a microscope and fish crystals out of a 1 uL drop with a tiny nylon loop when I’m 70.  I’m sorry, we’re not all janitors.  Some of us will still need fine hand-eye coordination if we’re lucky enough to still have the highly technical jobs we already have.

And don’t try to make it sound like those of us with higher salaries can afford to take this hit.  As I’ve mentioned before, a high salary in Kansas means nothing in NJ.  On 100K around here, you’re barely middle class and there is not a lot of disposable income to sock away for a rainy day.  But more than that, I’ve seen people with salaries much higher than mine who a few years ago thought social security was beneath them who have now been brought low by this Recession and for whom social security is their life saver.  For them, social security is serving the purpose for which it was originally intended.  If people of Robert’s class are having an “Oh, shit! Now we have to pay back the surplus fund with higher taxes” moment, too fucking bad.  Pay up, Robert.

What we do with the money we get from social security is nobody’s damn business.  I won’t have someone asking me to account for buying a nice steak someday.  I won’t have a bench of tut-tutters asking me what I intend to do with the money.  Social security is not a welfare program.  It’s my retirement money, I paid for it and damn it, I want it back without strings attached.  I don’t ask Robert how many summer houses he owns at the shore using money he’s been stealing from the surplus fund over the last 30 years.  If he and his class pay it back by taking a modest hit in taxes, I won’t press him on the matter.  Just return the money and no questions will be asked.

Here’s the thing, Robert.  A promise is a promise.  This country made a promise to the future elderly that they would not retire in poverty.  And they took our money promising to pay for those future benefits.  And the rest of us relied on that promise so that we could plan our lives, family size, mortgages, savings accordingly.   And now that the country has fallen on hard times, through no fault of the hard working people who believed in those promises, the wealthy and well connected want to reneg on those promises in a manner that is no different than some corrupt third world country run by some petty dictator and his greedy retainers.  That’s where you’re taking us, Robert.  Why do you hate America?

We’re not just going to hang ourselves to relieve you of the burden of caring for us, Robert.  We  have every right to expect to get our money back.  So, take the austerity plan that you and your friends have cooked up for us and stick it where the sun don’t shine.  Pay up or shut up.

In other news:

Cancer is complicated.  Multiple genes and proteins are involved and then there are feedback mechanisms and the intricate machinery of a cell that, once unbalanced, is difficult to set straight.  To make it even more maddening, the cell adapts by developing resistance to chemotherapy drugs over time.  Now, researchers are asking the dying to help them figure out which mechanisms are causing drug resistance so that the next patient on therapy benefits.  In Enlisting the Dying for Clues to Save Others, the NYTimes illuminates the research process:

Lacking tumor samples from patients in the Roche trial, Dr. Lo instead sought to replicate the cancer’s resistance to the drug by feeding a steady diet of the drug to melanoma cells taken from three previous patients who had never received it. When the few cancer cells that survived the onslaught began to grow in their petri dishes, he used those, now resistant to the drug, to begin his search.

It could have been straightforward. Many researchers believed the answer would be that the gene whose mutation initially made the protein that drove the cancer’s uncontrolled growth had mutated again, as had happened in other cancers. In a few cases, a new drug tailored to the new mutations had lengthened remissions.

But Dr. Lo found no evidence of this. Nor did he find the smoking gun in several other genes linked to the growth of other cancers.

Instead, he began the painstaking process of measuring the activity of hundreds of proteins that might have driven the cancer’s uncontrolled growth. The experiments required modifying the levels of each protein in the drug-resistant cells, dosing them with the drug and checking every few hours to see how fast they were growing. With only two junior scientists and a technician in his laboratory, Dr. Lo performed much of the work himself.

Even so, he knew, nothing he found in the cells whose resistance he had artificially bred in the lab would matter unless he also found it in the patients who had relapsed.

It’s a painstaking process of trial and error and careful observation.

Last but not least, the vaginal steam bath:

Pungent steam rises from a boiling pot of a mugwort tea blended with wormwood and a variety of other herbs. Above it sits a nude woman on an open-seated stool, partaking in a centuries-old Korean remedy that is gaining a toehold in the West.

Vaginal steam baths, called chai-yok, are said to reduce stress, fight infections, clear hemorrhoids, regulate menstrual cycles and aid infertility, among many other health benefits. In Korea, many women steam regularly after their monthly periods.

There is folk wisdom — and even some logic — to support the idea that the carefully targeted steam may provide some physiological benefits for women. But there are no studies to document its effectiveness, and few American doctors have even heard of it.

“It sounds like voodoo medicine that sometimes works,” said Dr. Vicken Sahakian, medical director of Pacific Fertility Center in Los Angeles.

Niki Han Schwarz believes it worked for her. After five steams, she found she had fewer body aches and more energy. She also became pregnant eight months ago at the age of 45 after attempting to conceive for three years.

So, there you go!  Sit over a vaginal steam bath, get pregnant!  And my health teachers used to say such things weren’t possible.

Oh, those crazy Koreans.

What are you finding around the web?

Friday Morning News and Views

Good Morning Conflucians! TGIF.

The weather continues to be very very strange. We in southern New England are being left out of another terrible winter storm. I’m reading that there is an “intense winter storm” in the Northeast:

A huge, windy winter storm lingered Friday over the Northeast, cutting power to at least a half-million customers, fanning a hotel fire in New Hampshire, and disrupting air and road travel across the region.
Power failures were so bad in New Hampshire that even the state Emergency Operations Center was operating on a generator. Winds across the region were near 50 mph as utility companies prepared for even more outages due to toppled trees and near-blizzard conditions.

Public Service of New Hampshire, the state’s largest utility, reported power cut to at least 237,000 customers and said it would take days before everyone’s lights flickered back on.

New Hampshire? How did this storm miss us here in Boston? I’m looking out my window and I see sun. We did have strong winds blowing around last night and some rain, but that was it.

Officials in Massachusetts said the storm had knocked out power to 100,000 homes and businesses by early Friday, mostly in the northeastern part of the state. The numbers were 200,000 in New York, mostly in the Hudson Valley north of New York City, 25,000 in Vermont and more than 1,500 in New Jersey.

In New York City, 10 inches of snow had fallen before dawn and more was expected. A man was killed by a falling snow-laden tree branch in Central Park, one of at least three deaths being blamed on the storm.

The storm it somewhere in Massachusetts apparently, but not in my part of the state. I hope all you Conflucians who did get it are surviving okay.

In other news, the President held a “health care summit” yesterday. I missed the whole thing, but I got updates from the live blogs here at TC. It didn’t sound to me like much got accomplished. I don’t see a whole lot of new reaction in the big media outlets. I wonder if the whole thing is just going to fall down the memory hole.

Via right wing blog Hot Air, self-important pompous ass and CNN talking head David Gergen thinks “the Republicans had their best day in years and that they were intellectually superior to the Democrats in their arguments. Is he for real?

The Boston Globe lists some “exchanges” that took place at the “summit.” It’s a pretty short article for the highlights of a 7 hour meeting.

Jake Tapper posted a kind of open thread at his blog Political Punch, but didn’t even get many comments. This one was pretty good:

What an interesting look into the fall-out of “accelerated promotion.” You have a junior member of congress who catapults into the presidency after serving only 28 months in the body. The setting yesterday revealed Obama’s continued need to prove himself worthy of his title. What he lacks in experience and rapport with other members of congress is replaced with bravado-the only card he can play..as if his arrogance in some way makes up for his lack of qualifications in the eyes of the people in that room-most of whom, up until last year, vastly “out-ranked” him.

I think most Americans have just about given up on this administration doing anything for anyone but giant corporations.

Looking at more liberal media outlets, Lindsay Beyerstein at Alternet had this to say:

arguably, the real purpose of the summit was to captivate the attention of the media while House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., figured out how to push ahead with health care reform through budget reconciliation — a parliamentary procedure that would sidestep the filibuster and the 60-vote supermajority required to overcome it, allowing Democrats to pass Senate legislation by a simple majority of 51 votes.

I still have no idea what is in this bill. Does anyone know? If they still plan to force me to buy crap insurance I can’t afford, I’m not sure what to do.

At Talking Points Memo, Greg Sargent tries to put the best possible face on Obama’s performance, while not sounding very confident about it. Sargent seems to agree with Beyerstein that the only point of the summit was to put the Republicans’ arguments on display and then go ahead and push the bill through. But did Americans get the message that Obama wanted them to get? I don’t know.

In other news, David Patterson is in more trouble in New York.

A range of political allies and even some close friends urged Mr. Paterson privately and publicly to end his bid for election. They said his political standing had been irreparably damaged by revelations on Thursday that the State Police had contacted the woman pressing a domestic violence complaint against a close aide, and by the allegation that the governor had spoken with her a day before she was due back in court.

While no prominent Democrat called for Mr. Paterson to resign, several said it would be impossible for him to both govern and run a campaign while dealing with the allegations, which the governor has asked Attorney General Andrew M. Cuomo to investigate. Other officials said that if an inquiry showed that Mr. Paterson tried to influence the woman’s decision not to continue the case, he should resign.

While I was at Alternet, I found this fascinating and horrifying article by Mark Ames on Ayn Rand, who is the favorite author of many of the public officials who are destroying our country:

Ayn Rand, Hugely Popular Author and Inspiration to Right-Wing Leaders, Was a Big Admirer of Serial Killer

There’s something deeply unsettling about living in a country where millions of people froth at the mouth at the idea of giving health care to the tens of millions of Americans who don’t have it, or who take pleasure at the thought of privatizing and slashing bedrock social programs like Social Security or Medicare. It might not be as hard to stomach if other Western countries also had a large, vocal chunk of the population who thought like this, but the US is seemingly the only place where right-wing elites can openly share their distaste for the working poor. Where do they find their philosophical justification for this kind of attitude?

The answer is Ayn Rand’s writings. Among her fans are

former Fed Chair Alan Greenspan and SEC Commissioner Chris Cox — along with other notable right-wing Republicans such as Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, Rush Limbaugh, and South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford.

The loudest of all the Republicans, right-wing attack-dog pundits and the Teabagger mobs fighting to kill health care reform and eviscerate “entitlement programs” increasingly hold up Ayn Rand as their guru. Sales of her books have soared in the past couple of years; one poll ranked “Atlas Shrugged” as the second most influential book of the 20th century, after The Bible

And according to Rand’s biographer, the novelist based her most famous male characters, John Galt and Howard Roark, on a serial killer named Walter Hickman, with whom Rand was obsessed and described as “genuinely beautiful soul.” You can read more about Hickman at the link. This is a must-read.

Speaking of serial killers, I’m guessing Rand would also have been an admirer of Amy Bishop. The latest news on Bishop’s case is just incredible. There’s video at the link of Norfolk County DA William Keating making an announcement last night that the case of Bishop’s shooting of her younger brother Seth in 1986 has been reopened, and he is asking for an inquest. The reasons for this are first that Bishop’s parents have refused to speak to investigators and second that new evidence has been found.

Keating also said there were inconsistencies in the police reports, including two different accounts of Seth Bishop’s body position when he was found, with one saying he was face-up and another saying he was face-down.

And he said that a crime scene photo from that era showed that next to the rifle shells found in Amy Bishop’s bedroom, there was a newspaper with an article that chronicled a similar attack to the one she allegedly committed.

Keating said he questioned whether the shooting was truly accidental, and he added that an inquest could lead to a homicide charge against Amy Bishop.

During the press conference, Keating said that the article lying next to Bishop’s bed was about someone who killed a family member and then escaped by stealing a car from a dealership, which is exactly what she tried to do. What more can come out about this woman? My only question is, was she planning to kill her brother or her father? The father is the one she had had an argument with just before she went upstairs to get the shotgun. Keating wants to know what that argument was about.

So what are you reading this morning, and are you buried in snow?

HAVE A FABULOUS FRIDAY!!!!!!!

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