Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Decision '08: Total Coverage or Anti-Blog Bomb Shelter?

I VERGE BETWEEN TWO extremes when it comes to following the many — and no doubt eventually far more than many — politics blogs into the coming chaos of the 2008 electoral period. (I don't say "2008 campaign," as that debatably began two years ago.)

Part of me is very concerned about making the right decisions on the state and federal level next November, and therefore urges me to amp up my absorption of the available facts. I'm talking way beyond my fascination with the shuffling of the primary dates. Left, right, centrist, read 'em all, with a hefty dose of the daily newspapers to get something held to someone's idea of a journalistic standard.

The other part of me – and I admit I picked this idea up from someone on the Net whose name escapes me – wishes nothing more than to stop reading all politics blogs until I am sealed in the voting chamber next year. The concept of reading ten blogs a day that obsess over minutiae, without addressing the core issues and all of the sorts of things the national media failed to unearth about, say, Dear Leader, makes my spine hurt. One counterargument here is that the entire media, not just the blogosphere, will probably also make this sort of hay over unimportant bullshit of the most minuscule importance . . . probably right after picking up a few column breakers from their own blog grazing.

All I know is that I plan to take, at least, Election Day 2008 off, and possibly the next day, as I did in 2004 to monitor the results from my compound. Though I am no Hunter S. Thompson, who could absorb slugs of political junk by the veinload and cover the story, for good or ill. By that Wednesday, the results were not yet settled, and I decamped to Atlantic City, radio reports of disputes in Ohio booming in my car. I remember quite clearly seeing the news of Kerry's concession while in the Borgata poker room. I happened to go to the cage to buy more chips, and I broke the news to the cashier. Her mute, shocked silence, her stricken demeanor, spoke volumes.

Friday, October 19, 2007

How Not to Deliver Good News

SOMEWHERE IN THE PHANTOM CEO handbook, which manifests only to those with the keys to the executive brothel washroom, it ought to say something about not having the Human Resources director in the conference room after you've invited an entire department in to inform them of a couple of promotions. I guarantee you'll have a roomful of people thinking one or all of them are going to be laid off. This scene — played out today in my office — had me flashing back to last November's layoff meeting. I tensed mentally for the news, which fortunately didn't come, but between the HR person and the exec, they reeeeeeally needed to see the staging of this announcement through our eyes for a moment.

I'm certainly glad I don't have to look for work a second time this year, but, as always, I had a plan. If this had turned out to be a replay of last year's meeting, I'd finish out my time gracefully, accept whatever package (if any), sign up for unemployment and COBRA . . . and then book my ass a week in Las Vegas.

I had planned, well before the November layoff news, to take 2007 off in anticipation of a Strip-hotel stay in the grim bastinado session of a year that Decision 2008 will be. The layoff made such a delay mandatory, but I still hated to lose even the option of a last-minute long weekend in Sin City while digging around for a new source of buffet money. News of a second layoff would trigger my recessive "fuck it" gene as it relates to money, and I guarantee the trip would have been booked within an hour. Face it: I'd be just as unemployed while throwing chips across the felt at the Venetian as I would here, renovating my CareerBuilder profile and emailing my former-former coworkers to expect a new round of reference checks from future potential employers. Why not take a real vacation before descending into that madness again?

Fortunately, the chance to book the next Vegas trip still appears a calmer affair, to be done at greater leisure, albeit in a year where I'll only get 10 days off aside from company holidays. Assuming, of course, inept delivery of another departmental promotion doesn't cause me to enter a coma.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Not Cueing Up "Don't Fear the Reaper" Just Yet

NOW COMES THE SUPERBUG. The news media has been infected with reports of the superdeadly form of Staphylococcus aureus, in particular the surprisingly high death toll attributable to this germ in 2005. JAMA published the results today, which indicated that this methicillin-resistant Staph. aureus, or MRSA, slipped through our standard antibiotic pickets to infect over 94,000 people two years ago, killing a fifth of them. Assisting this story's spread is news that a Virginia teenager succumbed to this bug on Monday, prompting a mass closure of schools in the area.

Drug-resistant infections are no joke but should be no surprise. You can expect to find bacteria-killing hand soap in just about every American kitchen and bathroom. Reports periodically filter out (sometimes sponsored by antiseptics manufacturers) on the nightmarish germ traps that our computer keyboards harbor. With this frantic all-front jihad against hostile microorganisms, it's simple Darwinism to predict that some bugs will survive. And now that a media connection to children at risk has been made, the nation will add another layer of bubble-wrapping to their already overprotected children.

A lot of dollars are being sunk into pointless overkill that is only making the problem worse. Common folks already possess a potent weapon against all bugs: Wash your hands with hot water and soap. No need to go apeshit with the preop-grade disinfectant. Just be smarter about controlling the most common routes of infection. Most people know not to touch their mouths after contacting germs, for instance, but they don't make the same connection when it comes to avoiding contact with other mucous membranes, particularly the eyes.

I'm not making light of this problem as it currently affects hospitals and nursing homes, to say nothing of prisons. Anywhere you have a static concentration of people, even a casino or cruise ship, you risk outbreaks of nasty shit like Legionnaire's disease and norovirus. Anyone who's seen the gruesomely septic poker chips at Atlantic City's Trump Taj Mahal will agree that too many hands can literally spoil the pot. But some casinos are already installing Purell dispensers, which have an advantage over the bactericidal soaps in that they destroy organisms with alcohol, rather than targeting their genetics or reproduction.

A local A&P recently relaunched itself as a food-porn Whole Foods clone. Visitors during its grand reopening received a generic bottle of alcohol solution. As a frequent casino habitué, and a player in a home game in which players don't let any medical condition save a missing accelerator foot stop them from playing each week, I happily accepted the gift. I don't intend to wall myself away from the horrors of MRSA, but I will stay vigilant with the simple hygiene expedients I was taught as a child.

UPDATE 10/18/07: Jim Macdonald, EMT and occasional medical commentator on the excellent Making Light blog, has a post up about the art and science of washing your hands. Aside from the trial and salvation of a newbie, there's some good discussion there on the topics on which I, above, only touch. Specifically, the main value of soap appears to be the ability to expedite the physical removal of germs by water. Also some hints about immunity in germs to the most common antibacterial compound in soaps touted for that purpose.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Further Wrangling Over Primary Dates

CHAOS IS ERUPTING OVER the 2008 presidential primaries, as the New York Times's Caucus blog indicates:

The first lawsuits have been filed over the Democratic National Committee's decision not to seat Florida's delegates at the convention, over its shift of the primary date. Disenfranchisement is the hook for this suit, in a state already sensitive about making every vote count and seeing elections decided by the judiciary. The Democratic candidates are still avoiding campaigning there, as per their pledge, although they haven't surrendered their right to shake down the Sunshine State for cash. Toeing the DNC line is one thing; socking in enough dough to outlast one's rivals and still have enough under the couch cushions to take on whichever Republican emerges from Thunderdome is another matter entirely.

South Carolina Democrats may try to match Republicans in moving their own primaries to January 19. If they stay on January 29, they fear, they'll be drowned out by the media storm over Florida's primary, which also would be on the 29th. This would make the January Democratic calendar look like this:

IA 1/5

NH 1/8

NV 1/12

MI 1/15

SC 1/19

FL 1/29

Democratic worries over having two states voting on the same day might ask Delaware Democrats how they feel about opening their polls on February 5, the same day as California, New York, and 17 other states to commit a total of 1,943 delegates to one clown or another.

Now comes Iowa, whose Republicans began itching late last week to move the caucus to January 3 — 2 days before the Dems trudge to the polls under frozen prairie skies. No word yet on how the Democratic party bigwigs feel about this not-unprecedented move.

Further insanity surely awaits. The field could drop off sharply, both for Dems and Repubs, by the All-Star Game if things continue in this vein. I will not venture to predict the two contenders, but I will predict that by April or so, we shall be aggressively sick of the whole process.

Saturday, October 06, 2007

Autumn Missing, Presumed Dead

THIS IS THE SECOND of two days on which the mornings have been swathed in dense fog. Driving to work yesterday was a bizarre experience for an October. Most un-autumnal.

I would expect those walls of mist to accompany me on a late-March commute. I've seen thick fogs arise from fields old snow along my commutes through the Meadowlands or past the golf course in Emerson. With just the right temperature and humidity, a thick layer of vapor enshrouds these low-lying areas. Seeing this, I would half-expect a mounted war party to emerge from it, armor damp and ringing in the morning air, piercing the fog and centuries of time to invade the present day.

In March I expect it. With snow on the ground I expect it. Not in early October. Not in the fall.

We had a fleeting week of true fall weather some time ago. Mornings braced the skin and nights brought cool relief from three awful months. Autumn has been usurped by waves of summer-temperature days, and with it the asinine spectacle of running the air conditioner in a two-digit month.

If I wanted 80º temperatures at sundown, I'd take advantage of the subprime meltdown and move to Las Vegas. As someone who likes the seasonal swirl of falling leaves and the double-whammy of cider and doughnuts fresh from the farmstand, however, my place is here, much as I love the Neon Havens.

Vexing to say the least. I expect a confused polar bear loping through town is next.

Monday, October 01, 2007

Baking Words and Banana Bread

I HAVE CELEBRATED THIS first day of autumn with baking and prose.

With the weather cool enough to make evening use of the oven possible without risking heat stroke, and two near-moldering bananas at hand, I broke out my copy of Bittman's How to Cook Everything and my baking gear for a mess of banana bread. The result is cooling (far too slowly, might I add) in the kitchen. I am surprised at how far the bread crowned up. It's nearly as tall as the pan in which it baked. I have butter and milk at hand for when it cools to the point where I can sample it.

It's really into fall and winter where I do a lot more cooking. With only one window wall, I have no cross-breeze, and so virtually all heat generated in here, stays here. I tend to celebrate Labor Day by making pasta sauce or chili in bulk. Once April rolls around, the party's over, and I have to mark the passing of decent weather by making extra supplies and packing the freezer full, sometimes resorting to my parents' freezer in the basement for auxiliary space.

I also joined Amy in starting a new 100 Words month. The entries will be listed under Schizohedron, but only after I complete a full 31 days. I'm hoping I can equal the other two months' worth I did back in (gasp) 2004, which brought a smile to my face when I reread them. I wasn't blogging back then, but it did get me to write every day, which is never bad.

Oh, I'm eating the banana bread now. Shaking some cinnamon into the mix was the smartest thing I did all day. This is quite lovely. Still hot enough to liquefy the butter, and richly fragrant. This will be a good week.