Monday, April 22, 2019

A Path Forward


The Democratic primaries are heating up, and I am already seeing purity tests of various stripes filtering across the intertubes. Bernie supporters are claiming they will sit out the election if bernie doesn't win the primary. Same from Kamala voters, Warren voters, Biden voters. Booker, Gillibrand, O'Rourke ...

None of that is helpful, and all of it will guarantee another four years of the mango nightmare.

So here's the deal.

During the primaries, if you want to suit up and go to battle for your candidate, then by all means do so. However, make your approach positive. Instead of pointing out where all the other candidates fall short of your fave, why don't you instead point out what your guy (or woman) has going for him or her that will best serve the country? Make the case that your person is the best, instead of trying to make all the rest of them the worst.

Now, I understand that some people have difficulty with the whole concept of "opponents are people too," so below is a quick primer with some examples of what not to do ...

Helpful
Unhelpful
Pointing out that your candidate has a Medicare for All plan, for example, and discussing the various aspects of that. Pointing out that some of the others have not signed on to this plan and accusing them of being shills for corporations/Republicans/trump/North Korea/Russia/aliens from the planet Zontar.
Stating that you do not want to support a candidate that takes corporate donations, a perfectly valid stance. Declaring that, if the nominee turns out to have accepted corporate donations, you will not vote for him or her and will instead vote for Yosemite Sam, Donald Duck, donald trump, or some other cartoon character.
Reposting a story from a reputable source that highlights sketchy behavior of one of the candidates during a campaign event (the actual nature of the misbehavior is unimportant to this example). Reposting a story with a lurid headline about one of the candidates sexually assaulting an underage dolphin because it's sensational and it will generate likes for your post, only to discover a couple of hours later that it was pure bullshit ... something that could have easily been avoided if you had just done your due diligence.
Allowing that the other candidates have perfectly legitimate ideas that, while not your first choice, are a drastic improvement over our current situation. Demanding complete and total ideological purity and throwing a tantrum if that is not met.

The long and short of it is this: regardless of who your candidate is in the Democratic primaries, we will not prevail in 2020 if we are continually engaging in circular firing squads. So yes, Cory Booker might not be your cup of tea, or you may be enamored of Kamala Harris or Mayor Pete (and I'll be damned if I'll ever be able to spell his last name without looking it up), or you might think Elizabeth Warren has the best ideas, or Beto O'Rourke, or you may want to go old-school and vote for Biden.

All that's fine. You do you. What I am saying is that, during the primary season, we need to focus on what these candidates say they will do. We need to run positive campaigns, in which we discuss ideas for the future, not negative campaigns in which the goal is to destroy the others and leave them writhing in agony in the smoking shrapnel of an ugly campaign.

We definitely don't want to Al Franken these people. Sure, if they engage in disreputable behavior, call them out on it. But immediately resorting to hysterics and demanding that they step down/resign/commit seppuku will accomplish nothing of substance and will simply drown out the things the other candidates are saying that we need to hear.

And then, next summer, when the nominee is named, we -- all of us, without exception -- need to get behind that person 100%. Sure, the odds are there are going to be some policies this candidate espouses that aren't your first choice. They may be too grumpy for your liking, or too glib, or too ... something. The fact remains, that no matter who the Dems pick in 2020, they will have one salient quality that cannot be denied, and that has to be factored in:

They are not donald trump.

We outnumber Republicans. The fact is that trump only got into office through a quirk of the Electoral College (and for all those shrieking that we need to abolish the EC, stop for a second and think it through. Take a moment and think of how that could come back to bite us on the ass later, a la eliminating the filibuster for judicial nominees ... that worked out well for us, didn't it?). If we show up at the polls, and present a united front, then the GOP will be sent scurrying back to the depths from which the likes of trump and Mitch McConnell emerged and we can actually start repairing the damage of the last two years.

And once that person is in office, we can hold them accountable to stick to their promises and govern all of America, not just the "base."

I gotta lie down.

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Tuesday, April 02, 2019

And The Oscar Goes To ...

Yeah, yesterday's column? Um ... no.
Yesterday I posted that I had undergone a change of heart, a radical shift in my political leanings, and that I was supporting trump in the 2020 election. This was partly an April Fool's gag, but also an experiment to see a) who believed it, and 2) what the subsequent reaction was.

And the results are in: very few people bought it.

This was kinda what I expected. It turns out this probably would have worked a lot better if I had spent a couple of months building up to it ... but then it would have been a whole thing, and I would have had to get the cooperation of the mainstream media (who, as you well know, follow every word of this blog slavishly) it just ain't worth the trouble.

So, as far as the "let's see if they believe this" thing, well ... they didn't. And as far as April Fool's pranks go, it kinda fizzled and fell flat.

Better luck next year ...

I gotta lie down. Please like and share this post from my Facebook page at www.facebook.com/blowhardpundit, and please consider making a donation to my advertising fund at www.gofundme.com/blowhardpundit.

Monday, April 01, 2019

The Time Has Come


Well, it's happened.

Let me start by saying, despite it being April 1, this is not an April Fool's gag.

There may be one or two of you out there who have been wondering where I've been and why my usual firebrand style of liberal rhetoric has been quite blatantly missing from my posts. The reason for this?

I have been having doubts.

This has been fueled in large part by the Democratic Party's unwillingness to be straight with me. They have been so caught up in anti-Trump propaganda that they have lost sight of their mission to govern effectively, and have actually worked against the best interest of the country simply to spite the president.

Don't get me wrong. The Republicans have been just as bad in many ways (especially Mitch McConnell, a lying, propagandizing hack of such monumental proportions that he makes Joseph Goebbels look like a failed use car salesman). However, at least they have remained true to their core principles, whereas the Democrats have pretty much been about nothing else than being against President Trump.

Don't get me wrong. There is still a lot about our president of which I disapprove -- the constant lying, the petty bickering, and so on. But I dare you to point to a politician who doesn't lie ... it can't be done. It's almost a job requirement.

And after seeing the hysterics and mental gymnastics performed by those on the left who refuse to give the president any credit for anything, combined with recent polling data, and culminating in the release of the Mueller report and the subsequent revelation that there was no evidence of collusion, I have been forced to re-evaluate my position.

it wasn't easy, let me tell you. One of the most difficult things any person -- right, left, male, female, black, white -- can do is to utter the words "I was wrong." History is replete with examples of people who were willing to accept extreme punishment and abuse -- sometimes even death -- in favor of saying those three words.

Therefore, I will be supporting the re-election of Donald Trump in 2020. There's simply too much at stake, economically speaking, to do otherwise. Since he has taken office, we have seen the Dow soar to unprecedented heights, falling unemployment, and increases in take-home pay for average Americans. These are all salutary effects.

We have also seen foreign policy positions that are unprecedented (or "unpresidented," since people like to make as much hay out of slips of the tongue as possible) in American history. From negotiations with North Korea to shutting down Iran's nuclear program, President Trump has staked out positions that are bold, fearless, and with a tenacity and fierceness never before seen in our history.

Look, the guy's not perfect. I get that. He's coarse. He plays fast and loose with the truth. He doesn't seem like a very happy person. But he is very clear on where his interests lie and what his goals are, and that lack of ambiguity is refreshing.

Now, I know this will engender screaming vitriol from my friends on the left. It's unfortunate, but it is what it is. Sadly, there is no litmus test, no magic bullet to which I can point that will help them understand that this was not something I undertook lightly. Also sadly, this will likely spell the end of some friendships, given the highly polarized state in which we are currently embroiled. I wish it wasn't so, but such is the nature of America in 2019, I guess.

I gotta lie down.

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Monday, March 25, 2019

So Here's What Happened ...


For those of you who don't already know, I spent a couple of days in the ICU over the weekend as a result of collapsing during one of the performances of a play (it happened at intermission, in the green room). It turns out to be physiologically a bit interesting ...

So the events transpired thusly:

On Thursday, March 21, I was performing as Verges in the Steel River Playhouse production of William Shakespeare's "Much Ado About Nothing." Verges is a tiny role, so I only have four scenes in total: two in act I and two in Act II (I'm talking about the acts as set up by the director, not by Billy Shakes ... he had six acts in this play).

About halfway through my first scene, my right foot abruptly went completely numb. At the time I wasn't too concerned; this had happened before as a result of the costume not being a perfect fit (hey, it's a volunteer gig, so it's not like there's a professional seamstress on staff to attend to the costume alteration requests of seventeen people). However, when I came off stage and sat down, it didn't go away.

I figured that the first scene was my biggest one, I only had one more to go before intermission, and the final two scenes basically involved me standing there and reacting to Dogberry, so I could just power through and get a good night's sleep and everything wold sort itself out.

I was wrong.

During intermission, in the green room, I was leaning up against a counter. My arms started shaking, then my right leg announced that it was no longer happy with its working conditions and therefore was going on strike. I collapsed. I was still somewhat lucid, but my entire right side had become pretty much useless, there was significant facial drooping -- all the classic signs of a stroke.

I had suffered two strokes pervious to this: one on February of 2017 that was centered in the pons (a region of the cerebellum that, my neurologist informed me, was arguably one of the best places to have a stroke). The second was in June of 2017 and was rather inconclusive ... the neurologist at the hospital described the MRI as "fuzzy" and that as best as she could figure out it was something that happened in the white matter in the brain.

And here's where it gets interesting. But first, a little anatomy lesson.

The vertebral artery
In the diagram above, you can see the aortic arch. The aorta, as you are undoubtedly aware, is the main artery coming from the heart. It loops up by the collarbone (from whence the carotid artery splits off) to supply blood to the arteries of the head, face, and neck, before descending into the lower part of the body. In the diagram above, you can see the vertebral artery (in red) emerging from the aortic arch and ascending along the spine -- not inside the spinal column itself, but tucked into the spinal processes. There are actually two vertebral arteries, one on each side.

Diagram of the vertebral arteries at the base of the brain
Above is a sort of schematic of the vertebral artery system. These arteries are located at the base of the brain, as shown below.

The vertebral arteries in relation to the brain.
As you can see, these things are tucked right up against the underside of the brain in an area that is virtually impossible to get to surgically (this will become relevant later).

Given my symptoms both in June of 2017 and this past Thursday, it looked for all the world like I was having a stroke or, at least a TIA (transient ischemic event). The difference between the two? A stroke leaves permanent footprints on the brain, whereas a TIA is just what it sounds like: a temporary blockage of an otherwise healthy blood vessel that leaves no residuals.

My stroke in February of 2017 left me with a 5-10% strength deficit on my right side. Most of the time it's not at all apparent, but when I get tired (say, if we've spent the day at Longwood Gardens walking a lot) I will develop a limp and my right eyelid will droop. Other than that I was extremely lucky in that there were no other permanent effects.

For the these last two events, though, they didn't quite fit either classification. They couldn't be considered actual strokes in that there were no marks left in the brain, but they couldn't necessarily be thought of as TIAs either due to the severity and the fact that TPA (Alteplase IV r-tPA, a clot buster drug) reversed symptoms (as far as I know, tPA has no effect in a TIA situation).

On Saturday I met with the neurologist on staff. I was curious as to why it took two days to see the guy, but this became clear when he presented his hypothesis.

His thinking is that one of the vertebral arteries at the base of the brain, where the spinal cord enters the medulla, is malformed (a birth defect) as shown in the amateurishly photo-shopped diagram below:

The hypothesized arrangement of the arteries in my brain.
According to the doc, what has been happening is that this artery, being undersized and with narrower walls, really isn't sturdy enough to hold itself open; it relies on my blood pressure to do that. However, after the first stroke, I was prescribed medication to reduce my blood pressure -- which, let's face it, wasn't really that bad off to begin with, but it is accepted practice to prescribe blood thinners to stroke patients.

What this did was to reduce the blood pressure enough so that it was right on the cusp of being insufficient to support this artery. The doctor's hypothesis is that, both in June 2017 and on Thursday, my blood pressure dropped enough to pass that threshold. As a result, blood flow to that portion of the brain was cut off, and stroke symptoms emerged. However, with the administration of tPA, my blood became thin enough that it could squeeze through this artery and force it back open, restoring blood flow.

In retrospect, this makes a whole lot of sense. Several times over the past coupe of years -- too many to count, to be honest -- I have noticed that my right side weakness would become a little more severe, or I would notice facial drooping in the mirror, etc. In all of these situations my reaction was "Oh, crap. Not again" and I would started getting a little torqued up ... which would (presumably) elevate my blood pressure, open the artery back up, and the symptoms would subside.

At this time my only course of treatment is to stop taking the blood pressure meds. I will be consulting with my neurologist, at which point there may be other options. Based on everything I have been told, though, it doesn't look like a surgery to go directly at it and expand the artery is possible based on its location. It may be possible to have a stent put in via catheterization, but then again I'm not a doctor and really have no idea what the hell I'm talking about.

So this was my weekend. How was yours?

I gotta lie down. Literally.

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Saturday, March 23, 2019

When A Song Gets Stuck In Your Head ...


So for the past several weeks I have been posting semi-regular updates about the music that has appeared unbidden in my noggin, often with absolutely zero relevance to what has been going on in my life at the time. A couple of been monumentally annoying, others have been sublime, and most of them have been simply enjoyable.

What has been surprising to me is the relative under-representation of the music of the 60s and 70s in this list. While there are some notable entries, (Frank Zappa, CSNY, Bowie, George Harrison from the 70s, the Beatles and Marvin Gaye from the 60s) the majority seems to be coming from the New Wave movement in the 80s.

Regardless, one of these days I am going to take all of these and compile them into a killer, somewhat odd and disturbing, playlist. For now, y'all can pick and choose as you see fit.

Enjoy!


-->
Posting dateArtistTitle
1/31Rick SpringfieldSpeak To The Sky
2/3The Pointer SistersHe's So Shy
2/5David BowieStarman
2/6Ozzy OsbourneFlying High Again
2/7GenesisDuke (the whole album)
2/8SqueezeBlack Coffee In Bed
2/9Henry ManciniBaby Elephant Walk
2/12ChumbawumbaTubthumping
2/14PUPSleep In The Heat
2/16The RembrandtsTheme from "Friends"
2/17Sonny JamesYoung Love
2/18Marvin GayeAin't That Peculiar
2/19Frank ZappaFlakes
2/20Frank ZappaCosmic Debris
2/22Sigh No More, LadiesFrom the Kenneth Branagh film of Shakespeare's "Much Ado About Nothing"
2/23Jimmy Eat WorldThe Middle
2/24George HarrisonGive Me Love
2/25The Osmond BrothersDown By The Lazy River
2/26The CarsMy Best Friend's Girl
2/27UnknownTheme from "Last Week Tonight With John Oliver"
2/28Bee GeesNight Fever
3/2UnknownBaby Shark
3/4CSNYWoodstock
3/6Giacomo PucciniMusetta's Waltz, from La Boheme
3/7The CureLove Cats
3/8GenesisOne For The Vine
3/9Level 42Tracy
3/12INXSDon't Change
3/14INXSThe One Thing
3/16The BeatlesI'm A Loser
3/17The CranberriesZombie
3/19Tai BachmanShe's So High
3/20Van HalenBeautiful Girls
3/21The BeatlesI've Just Seen A Face
3/22Santo & JohnnySleep Walk
3/23The Icicle WorksWhisper To A Scream

I gotta lie down.

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Wednesday, March 06, 2019

A No Politics Post


Sunday night was a rare event: the entire family was home for dinner at the same time. The general consensus was that we were going to have lasagna, but there was a problem: my stepdaughter has a pretty severe sensitivity to tomatoes. The last time we had lasagna she was miserable for hours afterward.

So we tried something new: chicken pesto lasagna, and it was amazing. In fact, it was so good that I am sharing the recipe with you so you can take a swing at it.

Things you'll need:
Twelve lasagna noodles
2 lbs ricotta cheese
1 lb shredded mozzarella cheese
2 lbs boneless, skinless chicken breast
1 lb pesto sauce
Italian seasoning

Preheat your oven to 400 degrees.
Cook the lasagna noodles according to package directions and set aside.
Slice the chicken breasts into short, thin strips. Sprinkle with Italian seasoning and cook until the juices run clear.
In a 13 x 9 baking dish, lay down four lasagna noodles, then cover with 1/2 the ricotta, pesto, and chicken, and 1/3 the mozzarella. Repeat for a second layer.
Top with the last four lasagna noodles and the remainder of the mozzarella cheese.
Bake for 30 minutes at 400 degrees.

If you use premade pesto and precooked chicken strips, the entire process is wicked simple.

Enjoy!

I gotta lie down.

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Monday, March 04, 2019

The First Proposal


A short while ago I announced that I was running for President in 2020. This has garnered widespread support from my legions of imaginary followers, but I'd like to maybe get a few real people on board. With that being said, let's begin ...

There is a lot of ink being spilled, airtime being used up, and online arguments IN ALL CAPS about the failings of our government and who is to blame. Republicans blame Democrats and illegal immigrants. Democrats blame Republicans and evangelical Christians. Liberals and conservatives constantly scream at each other. All of them, either overtly or covertly, hold donald trump responsible for the outrage du jour to some extent. Each side is firmly convinced that the other is stupid/traitorous/dishonest/evil/corrupt.

Both sides are, to a certain degree, correct in this assessment.

However, all of us -- Republican, Democrat, liberal, conservative -- are being played for suckers. How?

If a piece of legislation is being considered in Congress, and there is universal support for it (100% of the American public is behind it), then there's roughly a 30% chance of that legislation being passed1. Conversely, if a piece of legislation is being considered that has absolutely zero support from the American public, then there's about a 30% chance of that legislation being passed.

Or, to quote the study cited below, "... the preferences of the average American appear to have only a minuscule, near-zero, statistically non-significant impact upon public policy."

If you limit the survey of support to those who make large (over $10,000) campaign donations, though, then the likelihood of a bill's passage tracks pretty closely with support from this subgroup.

The people who make these large donations are part of a very small percentage -- 0.05% -- of the American population. This means that, out of the 350 million people or so in the United States, about 175,000 of them actually have a say in how government works while the rest of us are left to shriek at each other over emails or Russia or spray tans or Benghazi or border walls or ...

In 2018, campaign spending climbed to its highest levels in history. In the table below are the top five most expensive House races from the 2018 election cycle:

PA-01 Raised Spent Cash
Scott Wallace (D) $14,172,465 $13,535,808 $636,654
Brian Fitzpatrick (R) • Incumbent • Winner $3,383,112 $3,412,246 $116,635
TOTAL $17,555,577 $16,948,054 $753,289
WA-08
Kim Schrier (D) • Winner $8,127,418 $8,057,759 $69,660
Dino Rossi (R) $4,805,707 $4,780,546 $25,160
TOTAL $12,933,125 $12,838,305 $94,820
GA-06
Karen Handel (R) • Incumbent $8,685,781 $8,598,091 $87,689
Lucy McBath (D) • Winner $2,673,521 $2,454,836 $218,684
TOTAL $11,359,302 $11,052,927 $306,373
CA-25
Steve Knight (R) • Incumbent $2,573,689 $2,582,818 $28,064
Katie Hill (D) • Winner $8,407,103 $8,342,521 $64,582
TOTAL $10,980,792 $10,925,339 $92,646
MI-08
Mike Bishop (R) • Incumbent $3,385,093 $3,374,608 $111,073
Elissa Slotkin (D) • Winner $7,420,375 $7,401,141 $19,235
Brian Ellison (L) $8,023 $5,153 $2,870
TOTAL $10,813,491 $10,780,902 $133,178
GRAND TOTAL $63,642,287 $62,545,527 $1,380,306
The fact that four out of the five victors in these races were Democrats is, for purposes of this argument, irrelevant.

All of which is fine as far as it goes, but what does it all mean and how do we fix it?

The answer, boys and girls, is actually quite simple: eliminate private funding for general election campaigns. Not reduce, not "reform" ... eliminate.

Under our current system of private campaign financing, an incumbent member of the House of Representatives has to spend 70% of his or her time fundraising, and they must raise an average of roughly $2,500 per day.

That's not per week, or per month. Per day. As in, "I have to raise more money in a single day than many people make in a month." And they have to do it every day -- weekends, holidays, snow days, days during which Vogons show up to destroy the Earth to make room for a hyperspatial bypass2 -- no matter where they are or what they are doing.

I propose a new approach to election funding. This will be based around a Federal Election Fund, administered jointly by the Federal Election Commission and the states.
  • This fund will provide all the money that is used to run a campaign, and will be divided equally among declared candidates.
  • Private donations will be accepted, but they will not go to specific candidates, or even PACs. Instead, all money collected via donation will be deposited into the Election Fund.
  • Rules regarding "independent expenditures" will be rewritten. These regulations will be tightened and reworded so that independent groups will have to demonstrate that their message is not intended to benefit one candidate over another ... regardless of whether or not there was any coordination with the campaign.
  • Campaign funds will be allocated monthly and equally based on a formula that includes the number of declared candidates and the number of people being represented by that office.
Right about now someone is probably asking how this prevents the American people from being played for suckers. Quite simply, by removing private fundraising, we are removing one prong of the profit motive from running for office. Given that about 50% of members of Congress fall into the 0.05% mentioned above, it is pretty clear that holding office has become nothing more than an ATM for officeholders.

Granted, there are plenty of other ways in which members of Congress enrich themselves off the backs of the American people, and there are even a few (very few!) of these that are legitimate. The problem is that corruption, graft, and self-serving greed have become the norm and doing the work of the American people has shunted into a secondary role. Eliminating the need to "work the phones" for up to six or seven hours per day to raise money means that members of Congress will be able to devote that time to ... oh, I don't know ... doing their jobs.

This does not favor Democrats over Republicans, conservatives or liberals, and so on. It does, however, favor one group in particular:

All of you.

For far too long the average American has been pushed aside in favor of those who can throw wheelbarrow loads of cash at Congress. No more. I will make sure that our government is truly of the people, by the people, and for the people.

I gotta lie down.

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1https://www.cambridge.org/core/journals/perspectives-on-politics/article/testing-theories-of-american-politics-elites-interest-groups-and-average-citizens/62327F513959D0A304D4893B382B992B/core-reader
2With a shout-out to Douglas Adams and The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy.

A Path Forward

The Democratic primaries are heating up, and I am already seeing purity tests of various stripes filtering across the intertubes. Bernie ...