kerry, kerry, why you buggin?

I saw John Kerry’s acceptance speech at the Democratic National Convention last night. It wasn’t bad. I thought that he hit some interesting points. It was frankly refreshing to hear some talk about issues near and dear to a Democrat such as myself… especially after a Republican President and Republican-dominated Congress has largely set the national policy agenda for the last two years.

Yet, I don’t know the man any better after the speech than I did before it. Mrs. Geek asked me if I would vote for him because of something I liked about him, instead of the fact that he is a Democrat and not “the Dubya”. Political speeches are so full of artifice and platitude these days, that it’s hard to know exactly who John Kerry the man, really is. The only way to really get to know John Kerry is to let him be President for 2-3 years, and see what he does. After all, that’s the way anyone outside of Texas ever really got to know the Dubya… and probably the way a few people inside Texas got to know him too.

All that said, I think there are a few things about John Kerry that I can infer from his past that speak well of him. He has a lifetime of public and political service behind him… from time in Vietnam, to time in the Vietman anti-war movement, to nearly two decades in the Senate. He also understands the complexity of both sides of an issue. I know that some people see this as a character flaw because it often means that John Kerry can ramble a bit and seem to come down on both side of an issue. I often do that myself, and I can say that it is no flaw. In fact, I’d rather have this than someone who just reflexively says “ok, just bomb them into the stone age.”

Still, I’m not yet toasting the Kerry Presidency. Mrs. Geek pointed me at an address that former Texas Governor Anne Richards gave to the Wisconsin Delegation this week. She pointed out that white men haven’t voted in a majority for the Democratic candidate in a Presidential election for something like 70 years. No, this election is likely to be decided by someone who is probably a single mom of any race with one to two children in Ohio, who won’t even decide if she’s going to vote until about a week before election day. I just hope and pray that this person, whoever she is, recognizes that she’s more likely to get money for Head Start and After School programs for her kids with a Democrat in the White House.

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The evils of capitalism

One of the raging debates going in the greater metropolitan area in which Mrs. Geek and I live is whether or not to allow Walmart to “assimilate” us into its mighty empire. When it comes right down to it, I hope the answer is no. Why? Because I tend to think that Walmart is evil. Not in an “the CEO of Walmart is the child of the devil and about to spit up pea soup” kind of way, but evil none the less.

Why? I think it ultimately because Walmart doesn’t play well with others. It is not willing to co-exist with other retailers; it wants to destroy other retailers. It does this by offering lower wages and less health benefits than its unionized competitors, and, if certain lawsuits are correct, by hiring contractors who employ illegal immigrants to work unsafe working conditions (janitors locked in the stores at night to work 7-day, 70-hour weeks for $1500 a month.) It also does this by negotiating massive, nationwide discounts with bargain suppliers that other chains cannot match — which, by the way, drives out the suppliers profit margin and forces them to pay their workers less.

Well, I know someone must ask, isn’t lower prices a good thing? After all, that little happy face in their TV ads looks so well, calm and people pleasing.After talking with my parents recently about this, an example from the land of my birth illustrates the problem.

There are four municipalities near where I grew up that we’ll call A, B, C, and D. I actually grew up in B, the largest of the four. Just about the time I left, some land developers bulldozed an old drive in movie theater in A (one of the smallest of the four) and turned it into a shopping mall. Walmart showed interest and residents of A were thrilled because they anticipated that tax revenue from the store would reduce their property taxes. The store was eventually built and people in A were enthusiastic. The store brought jobs and the mall prospered beyond everyone’s expectations.

Then some not-so-great things happened. People in A found out that their taxes weren’t going to go down, at least not immediately. It turned out that Walmart only built their store in exchange for 5 years of tax forgiveness and millions of dollars in infrastructure improvements to the site where the store was built. Not only that, the increased traffic on the roads leading to the mall created increased travel times, maintenance costs and noise that disturbed some residents.

Plus, there was a local retail chain that had stores in B, C, and D that couldn’t compete with Walmart, so it went out of business after decades of operation. This created some large empty buildings, which were eyesores on certain aging business districts. These local stores were also “anchor businesses” that were primary attractors of customers, and other nearby businesses in B and C began to feel the pinch. So, more than one major business in B is moving to A next to Walmart so it can continue to compete.

So, let’s review the picture in total. Walmart came to A and brought jobs that paid less than everyone else with fewer health benefits, forcing its employees to rely more on government provided services such as health care. Walmart increased road maintenance costs, caused traffic delays, and forced A to pay for material improvements up front, without paying any taxes for five years. Meanwhile, Walmart killed other local businesses in B, C, and D, creating unemployment and leaving those municipalities to deal with large empty buildings and reduced shopper traffic in their business distrcts. This, in turn, forced remaining businesses in B, C, and D to relocate to A in order to remain competitive. Finally, Walmart profits are not channeled into the A, B, C, or D, the way a local chain would… they are sent to Arkansas.

That Walmart smiley face doesn’t seem quite the jolly fellow he once was.

Of course, I tend to think that the land of my birth will be spared the final act of the drama that is Walmart. This is the one where Walmart closes up several of its regular stores in a region and puts down a “Superstore” nearby. Hopefully, A will keep their Walmart for some time because A, B, C, and D are the only large municipalities in for at least 60 minutes by highway in any direction.

I think the solution is going to be twofold. First, I think that someone is going to have to unionize Walmart. I know, I know… unionization has been a dirty word for the last 30 years or so. There are just too many memories of big unions in the rust belt resisting cuts in salary or workforce because of changing economic conditions.

Yet, unions exist for a reason — to avoid the needless exploitation of workers. We have let the pure capitalists have their way, largely unrestricted, for decades now and we find ourselves confronted with legions of upper level managers who see stock price and their own performance bonuses as the sole measure of corporate worth. I tend to believe that the pendulum has to start swinging back the other way one of these days. That will no doubt have negative consequences down the road, but what doesn’t?

The other part of the solution has to be an awareness on the part of local government that interest on the part of Walmart is not necessarily a reason to throw a parade. If Walmart is going to be a responsible member of the business community, then these huge tax breaks and need to stop… because communities have bills to pay and Walmart is a part of what’s causing them.

ubermedia

I’ve been thinking lately that, given ridiculous amounts of free time, I should form a production company I would call it Dr. Geek Ubermedia. Here are a few of the projects I imagine I would have in development:

A roadside museum attraction called “Remember the time (with her)” dedicated to the leading ladies of Michael Jackson videos. At the best count that I can muster, there are about six women on the list from almost 25 years of video making: Ola Ray (Thriller), Tatiana Thumbtzen (The Way You Make Me Feel), Iman (Remember The Time), Naomi Campbell (In The Closet), Janet Jackson (Scream), and Lisa Maria Presley (You Are Not Alone). A good sized “double wide” trailer should be good enough… Each woman would have a small shrine in a separate closet… except for Janet, who would have a full size anatomically correct mannequin in the middle of the living room (tattoos and all). Hopefully, I could get video loops of Quincy Jackson, Camille Paglia, and Carson Kressly (of Queer Eye) deconstructing Michael Jackson’s videos, the importance of women in them, and why he bothers having women in them at all. It probably wouldn’t draw worth a damn… but I figure that if I couple it with a roadside produce stand that sold regionally made candies, jams and jellies, and had a two headed snake in a big empty aquarium, Dr. Geek Ubermedia could make a buck or two.

A movie sequel to the film Dumb and Dumber entitled Dumb and Dumber 3: The Road To Dumbville. The one line tag: Hope and Crosby were never like this.The last Dumb and Dumber sequel lacked some serious star power. So this one will be a road trip with a million guest stars to play blithering idiots that Harry and Lloyd meet on the way to visit Lloyd’s long lost family. I figure it shouldn’t be hard to get the likes of Bobcat Goldthwait, Paul Reubens, Randy Quaid, Christopher Lloyd, William Sanderson, Charles Nelson Reilly, Don Knotts, Tim Conway, and the Grand Master of them all — Jerry Lewis. Hopefully, a competent director could lay in just enough social satire that, when coupled with the Jerry Lewis role, the movie would play well in France… if nowhere else. Hmmm… maybe the best strategy would be to simply sell the screenplay and then attribute it to “Alan Smithee” in order to protect my reputation for future projects.

On the music side, I could put together a band called the “Wah Waaz”. It would be a funk/reggae/fusion outfit with a schizophrenic penchant for late 60’s rock & funk, 70’s disco, 80’s rap, and 90’s hard core heavy metal. It would be fronted by a slap-bass playing refugee from a 70’s P-Funk “Dr. Funkenstien” show simply called “Superfro”. All non-vocal and non-percussion instruments would use wah-wah petals. I could already see ripping 10 minute versions of “Get up (I feel like being a) sex machine”, “We are family”, “Jive talkin'”, “Ace of spades”, “All along the watch tower”, “Gonna make you sweat (everybody dance now)”, and “Enter sandman”.

food politics

First, a word from our sponsor:
Beakman’s Vegetarian Based Powdered Chicken Stock— Remember how everyone told you ‘tastes just like chicken’ when you were a kid? Well it does.

Yes, my fellow campers, I found myself wandering the aisles of the local megamart this morning in search of a bottled low-fat yogurt smoothie to boost my protein intake, when what did I find in the bulk food aisle? There was a bin full of beige powder that was labeled ‘Chicken Stock (Vegetarian Based)’. It’s amazing what they can do with yeast extracts these days. Of course, I always say that if a vegetarian diet has still got you yearning for meat, you’re not doing it right!

This is just one more interesting data point in my latest thinking about how screwed up the modern American diet is. You see, food has been much on my mind since I paid a visit to the doctor a couple weeks ago. Though the maladies that took me to my general practitioner turned out to be minor, they took my vitals, including weight and blood pressure. Both, I’m sorry to say, are up over what they were just 3-4 short years ago. So, my doctor has “advised” me to lose some weight.

The modern American diet is so screwy, it’s kind of sad. I keep thinking back on the words of a French foreign exchange student who visited my high school french class almost 20 years ago. Her words: “beaucoup frité” or more idiomatically “so much fried food”. It’s true… from hush puppies to fried chicken to french fries to chicken wings to deep fried turkey to pork rinds, we Americans love our greasy fatty, fast foods.

And it’s killing us. We’ve managed to turn the traditional weight pyramid — where fat people are admired because they actually live well enough to get fat — inside out. Now it’s only really wealthy people who can afford a buff, chiseled, thin body thanks to personal chefs and personal trainers. Barring those folks who have the metabolism of hummingbirds, the rest of us can’t “just eat whatever we want” without fear… because getting fit has become hard work.

For those who fear that I will now head off the deep end into the murky world of Atkins, fear not. After talking with my MD a little bit, the big thing I need to do is watch my portion sizes. I’ll just be “saving a little room for dessert” and then not having dessert is all. As far as Atkins-ism is going, I am trying to cut my starches a little… but only because a little more protien, a touch of carbohydrates, and a lot of bright green veggies seems like the thing to do right now.

Well, that and a few M&M’s once in while… after all, life completely without chocolate wouldn’t be living, would it?

sometimes you don’t want to know…

All my writing energy this week has been taken up by a report for my manager on the new features of the 2.6 Linux operating system kernel. I know… I know… to many of you it’s all “blah… blah… yadda-yadda… strange word… yadda.. blah.” Hey, it’s what I do for a living… though I find that writing all day at work leaves me less than enthusiastic about writing just for, you know, fun.

I’ve been heading back to the gym seriously this week (more about that another time), and I’ve been lately reminded that there are just some things about people you don’t want to know. Unfortunately, you often find these things out while dressing and undressing together in the men’s locker room at the gym. (No ladies, it’s not all towel snapping, intimidation, and horse play in some vulgar display of latent homosexual urges… we are adult men. We save that for all the cuthroat business tactics we engage in outside the gym… and well, on the basketball court… which is why I don’t do well at basketball.)

Anyway, you end up finding out all sorts of things about your fellow man in the locker room even with the most casual glance. Some are harmless. Like that guy who makes me recall a comedy act describing a hair removal product where someone utters the words “that isn’t a hairy back, that’s a pelt.” Or the guy I saw the other day who wears toe socks. Socks with toes, like fingers on gloves. Who knew that such things existed in men’s dress socks?

Today, however, I saw something that fell more into the “I really don’t need to know that, thanks… no really… honestly” category. I turned around and saw that a fellow across the way had tan lines across his butt. Really thin tan lines… straight across his upper buttocks, parallel to the floor. The kind you don’t get wearing just a Speedo, but the kind you get wearing a g-string.

Ewwwww.

I’m sorry. I just have to say that again.

EWWWWWW.

That, I most definitely did not need to know.

AWOL wedding guests and other final wedding tidbits

One of the few less-than-bright spots about our wedding day concerned one table of eight people we sat together at the reception: only two out of the eight guests showed up. The table consisted of two professors on my doctoral dissertation committee and their spouses, a good friend from my grad student days and his wife, and a friend, S., who introduced me to one of my groomsmen and his wife. None of these eight actually showed. The grad school friend and his wife sent their youngest son (who I know fairly well) and his girlfriend along in their place. The remainder were AWOL.

Now that the wedding has passed, news about some of the AWOL guests has started to trickle in. My dissertation advisor’s wife has been having upredictable health problems for the last year, and a sudden flare-up prevented them from attending. There is no exact word yet about what happened to the other professor, but, he’s been sighted by friends of mine… so at least he is not dead.

S.’s absence has us rather annoyed. She more or less bullied herself onto the guest list by asking point blank several months ago “So am I going to be invited to your wedding?” on at least three occasions. When called on this behavior, she tried to beg off by saying “several people close to me have not invited me to their weddings and it hurt me.” In the end, I decided that it would be a bad situation politically to not invite her since one of her closer friends was one of my groomsmen and she introduced us. S. said she was thrilled to be invited and would definitely come when she got the invitation back in April.

Well, that was then. Her only excuse about her non-attendance was made to my groomsman’s spouse. It seems that her boyfriend is selling his house and had to host an open house that weekend. She didn’t want to travel to the wedding alone — in spite of the fact that two very good friends were also attending. What has Mrs. Geek and I annoyed is that she obviously knew about this well in advance of our wedding day and did absolutely nothing to tell us about it. She’s flaked on invitations of various, smaller sorts before. Oh well. Mrs. Geek and I now feel that there is absolutely no reason to invite her to any events we’re hosting again. Good luck and God bless, S. You’re getting no more invitations from us.

One of the other small aspects of my wedding day that still pokes at an old sore spot regards my cousin J. I’ve written about him, his wife K., and their daughter Ka. here more than once. Mrs. Geek and I love them all, and feel very close to them especially since they asked us to be Ka.’s godparents. On the basis of relationship, J. quite naturally was asked to be one of my groomsmen. This is all fine and good.

The problem, if it could be called that, was that J. just as naturally charmed almost everyone he met at the wedding. I can recall one point late during the wedding reception when more than one of the bridesmaids commented on this, and it stirred an old sense of envy that I thought was long dead. The moment was far too reminiscent of a number of points in high school when I got to hear more than one pretty girl say “oh, he’s such a fox”. J. has the conscious ability to walk into a room and quickly turn all eyes to him. I don’t, simply because I am a very different sort of person.

I find it odd and slightly embarassing that this old sense of envy still bothers me at all. I suppose that is because one reasonably expects to let go of most adolescent emotional baggage by the age of 35. I have a much better sense of who I am now… and about what the strengths of my personality are. I also know that the bridesmaids who commented on his charm hold me in good esteem for somewhat different but equally valid reasons — and I will likely hold on to the praises of one of them in particular from the reception for a long time.

Well, this is enough of wedding-related flotsam and jetsam. I suppose that I should be bracing myself for the next inevitable question to be asked by relatives, in-laws, and friends: “so when are you and Mrs. Geek going to have children?” We’ve been married for less than three weeks and already this question has been asked more than once.

Evicted!!!

Well, it seems that there was some excitement at our apartment building during our absence. Corvette Guy and his wife were evicted from their apartment while we were gone.

The first sign that something was up was the sight of plainclothes Sheriff’s deputies with badges showing walking up to an apartment across the way as I was leaving for work last Friday. I heard them knock on an apartment door, say “XXXX County Sheriff”, and then try the door. The building manager walked up as they were doing this. He said “they’re gone already”. They asked him who he was, he told them, and then let them inside. I asked the manager what was going on, and he said that someone had been evicted.

Mrs. Geek and I didn’t immediately deduce that it was Corvette Guy, but quickly developed our suspicions. None of the usual Corvette Guy vehicles (the Corvette, the Ford Escort, the Cadillac Seville, the Contractor Truck) were in any of the usual spaces. I also knew that Corvette Guy lived in one of the apartments across the way somewhere… we just didn’t remember which one and two were now empty.

Confirmation came when Mrs. Geek asked the apartment manager about the eviction. Evidently Corvette Guy and his wife were lousy neighbors and lousy tenants. There had been multiple complaints about noise during the middle of the night. Corvette Guy’s wife evidently has a little trouble holding her liquor and occasionally took to pounding on neighbors doors early in the morning, thinking that they were the door to her apartment in the midst of a drunken stupor. She had also been caught smoking in one of the building storage areas by the manager only to be told that it was a no smoking area. She evidently then denied that she was smoking while a burning cigarette was still between her fingers. Oh yes, remember those flat tires on the Cadillac Seville? It seems she slashed them.

So, it seems that the building owner recently had enough of these shenanigans and Corvette Guy and wife are now out on the street… leaving a VERY messy empty apartment in their wake.